This article consists of notes on Lord's Day 3 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

7 pages. Translated by Albert H. Oosterhoff.

Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 3

Lord's Day 3🔗

6. Question:          

Did God, then, create man so wicked and perverse?


No, on the contrary,
God created man good and in His image, 
that is, in true righteousness and holiness,
so that he might rightly know God His Creator,
heartily love Him,
and live with Him in eternal blessedness
to praise and glorify Him.

7. Question:        

From where, then, did man's depraved nature come?


From the fall and disobedience of our first parents,
Adam and Eve, in Paradise,
for there our nature became so corrupt
that we are all conceived and born in sin.             

8.  Question:        

But are we so corrupt
that we are totally unable to do any good
and inclined to all evil?


Yes, unless we are regenerated
by the Spirit of God.

 Q. & A. 6 In the Image of God He Created Him🔗

A. Notes🔗

  1. Job 34:10 says: ''. . . far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.''

    But the sinner is always inclined to blame God for his misery and for all the evil that exists in the world. That is why the question now posed by the Catechism is necessary.
  2. God created man good. Gen 1:31 says: "And God saw Everything that he had made, and behold, it was Very Good." 

    means efficacious. Man fully satisfied God's will and law. He fulfilled God's plan.
  3. The word “image” used in this Answer combines the two words used in Scripture: “image” and “likeness” (see Gen 1:31). Holy Scripture, thus, uses two words for the same matter to express that matter as clearly as possible.
  4. That man was God's image (not image bearer) means that he resembled God. Similarly, children sometimes resemble their father and it is then sometimes said: those children are the image of their father. When God looked down on Adam, he saw him exercising righteous dominion over all creatures (Gen 1:28; Ps 8). Therein God saw his own image, just as a king sees his image reflected in a faithful viceroy who administers the king's laws. Thus, man showed himself to be God's image in all his conduct by faithfully fulfilling the office (i.e., duty) to which he was called as prophet, priest and king.

    God had created man to this end in (i.e., endowed with) “true righteous­ness and holiness.” Man, therefore, stood in a true relationship to God, his law and his service (righteousness); and he dedicated himself fully to the Lord in complete purity. Man did not have any wrong impulse; he desired solely to devote himself faithfully to God (holiness). Eph 4:24 says: "And put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.''

    We know the original man, who was created in God's image, from the new nature of man (i.e., the nature restored by Christ) of which the Apostle speaks. For when a new statue is made, in accordance with the original drawings, to replace one that has been destroyed, we know from the replacement what the original looked like.

    The reason why God created man like this was so that he might rightly know God his Creator and also the creatures in their relationship to God. This knowledge was pure and certain in Adam; it was also sufficient for the moment, but capable of development.
  5. The requirement of the law is love. It requires man to be the imitator of God, who is love. This was not impossible for man as created by God; in fact, it caused him no difficulty. For he was created in God's image. To be the imitator of God he had only to remain what he was.
  6. God also made this a commandment for man. He must remain what he was and use the gifts which God had given him in accordance with their nature.

    For the Catechism says that God gave him his gifts, “so that he might rightly know God his Creator (i.e., he had to use the gift of knowledge properly as prophet), heartily love Him (i.e., he had to preserve his holiness as priest), and live with Him in eternal blessedness (i.e., he had to exercise his righteousness as king).” Adam, therefore, fulfilled the three-fold office.
  7. However, man profaned his office by sin. He did not faithfully devote his good gifts to God's service, but used them to obey the devil. Thereby God's image became corrupt.

    Man lost all his excellent gifts, received from God, through the fall. It is true that of all these original gifts “some small traces” remain (BC, art. 14). Further, the CD III/IV, 4, states that man still has: ". . . some light of nature, whereby he retains some notions about God, about natural things, and about the difference between what is honourable and shameful. . . .''

    However, these remnants of his original gifts do not suffice for man to remain God's image (Jn 8:44). He misuses the remnants in unrighteousness (see CD III/IV, 4).

    In LD 12, Anw. 32, we confess that Christ restores us to a faithful fulfilment of the original duty of office and thereby renews us to the image of him who created us.
  8. Thus, man did not arise out of the depths of the earth. God gave him a high position. He sinned, not because he was unable to do otherwise, or because he did not know what he was doing, but because of evil wilful­ness. His fall into sin was a falling away from the most high God, also a falling away from the high position in which God placed him.
  9. Man had not yet reached his ultimate destination at the time of creation. He did not yet enjoy eternal life. He was, indeed, good, but still changeable. God wanted man himself to desire the state of goodness. Augustine said: Man had the ability not to sin. Had he made the correct choice, this would have become the inability to sin. Sadly, it became the inability not to sin.

B. Cross References🔗

  1. Article 14 of the BC speaks of our creation in God's image and of our fall, in consequence of which all ability to do good was lost.
  2. Chapter III/IV, 1 of the CD, describes more broadly our creation in God's image and the consequences of our fall. The latter is further elaborated upon in III/IV, 4.

C. Heresies🔗

  1. The Roman Catholic doctrine of the image of God, which that church likes to describe as the “golden rein.”

D. Questions🔗

  1. Why is Q. 6 of the Catechism necessary?
  2. How did God create man? What does it mean that he was created good?
  3. What does it mean that man was created in God's image? Wherein did he show himself to be God's image? With what did God endow man?
  4. What does it mean that man was created in “righteousness”? What does it mean that he was created in “holiness”?
  5. What does Eph 4:24 say? How does this text point us to the first man?
  6. To what end did God create man in his image?
  7. How can you describe Adam's knowledge?
  8. Was man able to keep God's law?
  9. What was man's three-fold office?
  10. What became of man as image of God as a result of sin?
  11. Did man already have eternal life?
  12. What did man's changeability consist of?

Q. & A. 7 By Man🔗

A. Notes🔗

  1. The only one who can inform us about the origin of our misery is God. Most nations have a vague tradition about a fall into sin. But only the Word of God gives us the revelation of history.
  2. This Word, as well as this question about the origin of our depravity, direct us to Paradise. In connection with the previous question we saw that man, who was created good, also had to have the will to be good. The Lord wanted man on his part to accede to God's covenant by loving his covenant God and listening to his Word. In order that man would be able to show that he desired to do this, God gave him the probationary command contained in Gen 2:17: ''But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.''
  3. Probationary Command: It is probationary because the Lord tested man by it.

    Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: Through the presence of this tree and the probationary command, man acquired knowledge of good and evil. The Good consisted of not eating of the tree; the Evil of eating of it. Man was able to choose.
  4. The Lord did not set a trap for man when he gave this probationary command. He warned him of the consequences of disobedience. Further, the Lord did not overburden man. He was forbidden to eat of only one tree. The Lord gave this commandment for (i.e., in furtherance of) life! For the commandment enabled Adam to show that he desired to cling to the Lord, even though he did not understand fully why the Lord demanded of him what he did demand.

    Thereby man would achieve love of his own free will and surpasses all other creatures on earth.
  5. It was at this point, where the Lord gave man the opportunity to proceed to love of his own free will, but where there was also the possibility that man might turn away from God, it was here that our misery began. For man did not obey the Lord. That was his fall. That is why he was cast down from his high position. There is not a single excuse for this disobedience. It was, says LD 4, Answer 9, deliberate, impudent disobedi­ence. Scripture calls it folly.
  6. Read the course of the temptation and man's disobedience again in Gen 3:1-7.
  7. By his disobedience man cut the bond of life with the Lord. He went from a covenant with the Lord to a covenant with Satan. Immediately, this had very sad consequences for man's entire nature (i.e., his existence). Everything in his nature was turned into the opposite. His knowledge became foolishness; his righteousness, unrighteousness; his holiness, impurity. Gen 3:8-13 describes how this immediately became apparent. Instead of being child of God, man became child of the devil! He chose the side of the devil and thereby obtained his nature (Jn 8:42-44; see also BC, art. 14; and CD III/IV, 1).
  8. Man brought forth children of the same nature as he had become after the fall. This followed from the position in which God had placed him in creation (head of the covenant and of mankind). Gen 5:3 states:''. . . Adam . . . became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image. . . .''

    Rom 5:19 says: ''For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners. . . .''

    The word “many” in this text does not imply a mathematical concept. Rather, it means all. These all are called many, because their number is overwhelming.

    Ps 51:5 says: ''Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.''

B.  Cross References🔗

  1. We call this congenital depravity “original pollution” (see BC, art. 15; and CD III/IV, 1, 2, 3).
  2. In the Forms for the Baptism of Infants and of Adults (Doctrine of Baptism) we confess:". . . we and our children are conceived and born in sin and are therefore by nature children of wrath. . . ."

    See also the first question in the Form for the Baptism of Infants (Address to the Parents) and the second in the Form for the Baptism of Adults (Public Profession of Faith).
  3. In the General Confession of Sins and Prayer before the Sermon and on Days of Fasting and Prayer (the first prayer in the Prayers section of the Liturgy, contained in the Book of Praise) we confess: ''We are deeply conscious of the fact that we are conceived and born in sin, and that all manner of evil desires against Thee and our neighbour fill our hearts.''

C. Heresies🔗

  1. Pelagianism.
  2. Arminianism (Remonstrantism).
  3. The denial of the existence of the spiritual world, or of its influence on this life.

D. Questions🔗

  1. What is the only source of our knowledge of the origin of our misery?
  2. What does the probationary commandment say?
  3. What was the purpose of the probationary commandment? Why was the tree called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”?
  4. Was the probationary commandment a trap? Was it unbearable?
  5. What does the word “fall” mean?
  6. What did the fall consist of?
  7. Is there any excuse for the fall?
  8. Relate what Gen 3:1-7 says.
  9. What are the consequences of the fall for human nature?
  10. What do Rom 5:19 and Ps 51:5, respectively, say?
  11. What is original pollution?

Q. & A. 8 No One that Does Good🔗

A.  Notes🔗

  1. Answer 7 has already stated that the corruption caused by Adam's fall extends to All men. Q. 8 now describes how extensive this corruption is in everyone. It is so extensive that we are unable to do any good, but are inclined to all evil.
  2. This confession virtually isolates Reformed Christians. Many believe that a “better person” remains in man. But Scripture says in Gen 6:5: 'The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagina­tion of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.''

    So also, Rom 8:7 says: ''. . . the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. . . .''

    Man is completely corrupt.
  3. Sometimes that is dramatically evident. There are people who are complete criminals. But there are also others. Indeed, most people are intent upon looking after their physical welfare, filling their position in society with honour, making themselves useful toward their fellow man by courteous behaviour, and exhibiting a certain respect for religion. Is all that not good? Indeed, these natural, civil, and outwardly moral and religious actions and attitudes of doing “good” have value for this life. The Lord uses them to ensure that society does not fall apart. But in all of these things man does not fulfil the law of the Lord. For he does not do them in love of the Lord. This is evident from the story about the building of the tower of Babel. Men did “good” to each other in that situation. They did not fight each other, but helped each other in complete harmony. What peace and prosperity! But in the process they helped each other unanimously to forget God and to resist his commandment! Thus, they hated God, while doing “good” toward each other!
  4. We do not deny that man remained a human being after the fall. He still has his intellect and can take up a task with deliberation. Further, he has retained his will, can still make choices and does so. But he does not use these “small traces” of the excellent gifts which God gave him when he was created (BC, art. 14), to serve God; rather, he uses them in the service of his evil designs (see esp. CD III/IV, 4, 5). These “small traces” do not give man any saving knowledge of God, but they do make him inexcusable before God, since he misuses even the good gifts which were left him (see Q&A 6, Note 7).

    The Catechism says that we are inclined to all evil. Not every person commits every evil deed. This is not because man might still have some goodness in him, for each man is inclined to all evil. But God restrains much. He holds back much evil by means of the threat of the law and the punishment meted out by the government. Nonetheless, the inclination of the heart is against God and to do evil. Just like iron has the inclination to hurtle itself against a magnet when it comes near the magnet, so also the sinful heart is inclined to thrust itself at sin.
  5. Man, therefore, has not retained any connection with good. No moral or spiritual rearmament can help. Sin is not an acquired habit; it is not something we have learned. Rather, it is inherited (Gen 8:21; Job 14:4). Only Regeneration can give deliverance. That which exists must die in order to arise in a new life. (“This is what the immersion in or sprinkling with water teaches us” [Forms for the Baptism of Infants and of Adults (Doctrine of Baptism)]). The deliverance can only come about through a miracle of God. But before the Catechism speaks about the deliverance, it will first illuminate our depravity still further.
  6. Regeneration. The Bible speaks of being born again (Jn 3:3, literally, the word “again” says: “from above”). This refers to the complete renewal of life. In LD 33, Q. 88, this renewal is called the “true repentance or conversion.” The CD III/IV, 11, 12, speak of conversion, regeneration, new creation, resurrection from the dead, and making alive. The Holy Spirit works this renewal of life by God's Word. Ps 19:7 (KJV) says: 'The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. . . .''

    Ps 119:50 states: ''This is my comfort in my affliction that thy promise gives me life.''

    Jas 1:18 says: ''Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.''

    Wherever this Word of God is accepted in faith, man is born anew, for, as BC, art. 24 says: "We believe that this true faith, worked in man by the hearing of God's Word and by the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man. It makes him live a new life and frees him from the slavery of sin.''

B. Cross References🔗

  1. CD III/IV, 3 states: ". . . they neither will nor can return to God, reform their depraved nature, or prepare themselves for its reformation.''
  2. In CD III/IV, RE 4, this assertion is substantiated and maintained, with references to Scripture.

C. Questions🔗

  1. Is man still able to do good? Does he want to do good?
  2. What do Gen 6:5 and Rom 8:7, respectively, say?
  3. Are all men complete criminals? In what respect do they do “good”? What value do these “good” actions have?
  4. Does man not fulfil the law of the Lord when he does these “good” actions? Why not?
  5. Were any traces of good gifts left to man in the fall? Is he not able to do good through them?
  6. Do people always commit all sins? Is it because there is sufficient good in them that they do not? If not, why do they not commit all sins all the time? What is man's stance over against sin?
  7. Can we still deliver ourselves from sin?
  8. What must happen for our deliverance? Who, only, can do this?
  9. What is regeneration? What does the Catechism call it in LD 33, Q. 88?
  10. Who works regeneration? By what means?
  11. What do Ps. 19:8 and Jas 1:18, respectively, say?

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