Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 4
Lord's Day 4
Is God, then, not unjust
by requiring in His law
what man cannot do?
for God so created man
that he was able to do it.
But man, at the instigation of the devil,
in deliberate disobedience
robbed himself and all his descendants
of these gifts.
Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?
He is terribly displeased
with our original sin
as well as our actual sins.
Therefore He will punish them
by a just judgment
both now and eternally,
as He has declared:
Cursed be every one
who does not abide by all things
written in the book of the law,
and do them (Galatians 3:10).
But is God not also merciful?
God is indeed merciful,
but He is also just.
His justice requires
that sin committed
against the most high majesty of God
also be punished with the most severe,
that is, with everlasting,
punishment of body and soul.
Q. & A. 9 Culpable Inability
- In the preceding Lord's Days we confessed that man cannot fulfil the law of God, not even in part. The question now being asked is, therefore, cogent: Is it not an injustice on God's part to require of man what he is unable to do? For it is unjust to demand of a child what only an adult can do. But the sinner is not a child. He was supplied with the tools to complete the required work (God so created man that he was able to do it). But man threw his tools away (robbed himself . . . of these gifts). He did not do this in ignorance, but in deliberate disobedience. Foolishly, he placed the suggestion of the devil above God's commandment. That is why his inability is culpable.
- No one will contradict that all this applies to Adam. But what about us? For we never enjoyed the gifts that Adam received. It is, therefore, understandable that the Compendium inserts the following question at this point:1“Does the disobedience of Adam concern us?” and the Answer reads: “Yes, indeed, for he is the father of us all and we have all sinned in him.” The Catechism does the same here by speaking about man and intimating that the action of the first man concerned all his descendants.
- Adam was not just any man, one of many. For people do not stand on their own. God made all mankind out of one person (Acts 17:26). He created mankind so that they stood in relationship to each other, as an organic whole, in the same manner as the branches are connected to the tree and the members of your body to your head. But we can say more. The cohesion of man is not just material, it is also spiritual. There is not only the bond of blood, but also that of the covenant, the covenant of works (see Introduction, D, 4)!
- In accordance with this covenant Adam is not just our father, but also our legal representative. Our relationship to Adam is so close that Scripture says: Because All Men Sinned (Rom 5:12)2.
Adam did not merely sin for us, or also on our behalf, but we ourselves sinned in him (that is how close and real the relationship is). We ourselves have, in him, rejected our excellent gifts!
- Hence, we are culpable in Adam. Even before we commit any actual sin, we are already guilty before God (Ps 51:7). Rom 5:19 says: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous."
This guilt of Adam's, which extends to us, is called original guilt (see also 1 Cor 15:21ff).
- We already spoke about original pollution. Hence, we distinguish between original guilt, i.e., that in Adam we are culpable before God; and original pollution, i.e., that the corrupted nature of Adam extends to us.
- Our sinful hearts resist the allegation that we are guilty in Adam. They protest our inclusion in Adam's guilt. But was God not free to create man as he wished, and was he not entitled to establish the covenant? It is not what God did that made us miserable. We are miserable because we ruined what God made good and we employ the good things God gave for corrupt purposes. It behooves us only to be silent and to pray to the Lord. He also works deliverance according to the same law of “one for all.”
B. Cross References
- See BC, art. 15 about original sin.
- Also the CD I, 1 confesses the righteousness of God in the condemnation of sinners.
- The CD III/IV, 1-3 also speak of the fall and its consequences.
- Note also how this confession is reflected in the first question in the Form for the Baptism of Infants (Address to the Parents) and the second question in the Form for the Baptism of Adults (Public Profession of Faith).
- Why is it that man cannot keep God's law?
- Does Adam's disobedience concern us?
- Was Adam more than just our father?
- How did God create mankind?
- What binds us together in addition to the bond of blood?
- What does Scripture say in Rom 5:12 and 19, respectively?
- What is original guilt? What is original pollution?
Q. & A. 10 God Punishes
- Punishment is retribution; it serves to restore the law that was broken. Of course, the punishment must be commensurate with the crime (Ex 21:24, 25). God's law was broken by our sin. To restore the broken law the offender must now undergo punishment. He who does evil must suffer evil!
- Or do you suppose that God might let the sin go unpunished? But he is Terribly Displeased with all sin. Hab 1:13 says: "Thou who art of purer eyes than to behold [i.e., tolerate] evil. . . ."
God's anger is his hatred of and opposition to sin. God's entire holy being abhors sin. He is not indifferent to it. Scripture even says in Ps 7:11: "God is a righteous judge, and a God who Has Indignation every Day."
His anger is terrible! Ps 90:11 says: "Who considers the power of thy anger, and thy wrath according to the fear of thee?''
God is not a judge who punishes because the law prescribes it but who is himself unmoved by the offence. On the contrary, God himself in his anger opposes the sinner. God's entire holy being opposes itself to the sinner.
- While man's anger works unrighteousness, God's anger is righteous. He does not become angry because he is evil, but because he is holy. He does punish in holy passion, but “by (i.e., in accordance with) a just judgment.” Thus, from him to whom much has been given, much will be demanded. It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for Capernaum and Bethsaida (Mt 11:20-24).
- God judges both original as well as actual sins. The latter are those we do ourselves, by commission or omission.
- God's punishment is in part “natural” in the sense that it flows “naturally” from sin (sin punishes itself: adultery, intemperance). In part it is “external” in the sense that it is imposed on the offence by God. It is temporal, since it is experienced already in this life (in all interruptions of wealth and peace: sickness, war, discord, contrition), and eternal (after this life). Scripture depicts eternal punishment mostly in images, such as: outer (most extreme, worst) darkness, unquenchable fire. Just as no eye has seen what God has prepared for those who love him, so also the heart of man has not conceived what God will do to those who hate him.
2 Thess 1:9 says: "They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might."
- The essence of the punishment is the Curse. It is the personal displeasure of God. It arises first in God's heart: he Hates the workers of iniquity; then in his word: he has no kind words for them but curses them; finally in his deed: he gives them over to corruption – God pushes them away from himself!
- What is punishment? What is its purpose? What principle must it satisfy?
- What is God's anger? What is God's position over against sin? What is “original” sin? What is “actual” sin?
- How does God punish sin? Who bears the heaviest punishment?
- With what does God punish sin?
- What are “temporal” and “eternal” punishments?
- What is the essence of punishment?
- What do Hab 1:13 and Ps 90:11, respectively, say?
Q. & A. 11 God is Faithful
- Here the Catechism demonstrates the futility of the final attempt to escape the argument. The sinner refuses to accept that he, dead in sin and misdeeds, is subject to eternal punishment. When he knows of no other escape, he says in a frivolous and unconcerned manner, “but God is merciful”! This is true. Rom 5:8 says: ''. . . God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.''
But in his mercy God does not abandon the word he has spoken. He is just and his justice, i.e., the fact that he keeps the word he has spoken, requires that sin be punished by the most severe, i.e., everlasting punishment.
- This punishment is not too heavy, for: (a) the sin was committed against the most high majesty of God; and (b) by its nature the sin was eternal, since it was not subject to repentance.
- The sinner also deserves to be punished in body and soul. For he sins with both body and soul. He will, therefore, be punished accordingly, unless he be delivered by Christ.
- It is evidence of God's mercy that he causes this to be preached to us so seriously and with insistence. Thereby he urges us to consider as yet what serves for our peace and, knowing the fear of the Lord, to repent.
- It behooves us to consider eternal punishment in humility. The subject contains many mysteries.
B. Cross References
- This Answer of the Catechism is repeated almost word for word in the CD II, 1.
- See also BC, art. 20 about the justice of God.
- The doctrine of conditional immortality. According to this doctrine no person is immortal unless he satisfies the condition of faith. Hence, so it is supposed, only the believers will have eternal life, while the unbelievers will cease to exist when they die (Jehovah's Witnesses).
- Others are of the view that all persons in hell will, in time, come to repentance. This is in direct conflict with Scripture.
- Is God not also merciful? How has he demonstrated his mercy?
- Does God in his mercy set aside the punishment?
- Is eternal punishment not too heavy?
- Is eternal punishment only a spiritual suffering?
- Is it not cruel to speak to man of everlasting punishment in this short life?
- What is the doctrine of conditional immortality?
- What other heresies which deny the eternal nature of the punishment do you know?
- In the work of the Lord concerning our deliverance we can distinguish the following aspects:
a. The Acquisition of the Deliverance.
This is the work of God done For us by the Saviour, Jesus Christ. He fulfilled this work in the state of humiliation. That is when he satisfied God's justice for us and in our place and acquired our deliverance for us, i.e., it became His possession.
b. The Appropriation of the Deliverance.
This is that work of the Lord whereby he brings the deliverance obtained by Christ To us and makes it our Own. We also call it the application or the distribution of salvation. Christ does this in his state of exaltation by the Holy Spirit. This is God's work In us.
Lord's Days 5 and 6 speak of the Acquisition of the deliverance and confess that it was only obtained for us by the Mediator, Jesus Christ.
Lord's Days 7 - 31 speak of the Appropriation of the deliverance and confess that this happens by faith.
- The distinction between obtaining and appropriating the deliverance was distorted by the Arminians (Remonstrants). They taught that Christ died for all people and obtained forgiveness of sins for all, and that it now depends upon us to appropriate this work (see CD II, RE 6). However, both are the work of God! Christ has obtained the deliverance only for those to whom it is appropriated and it is appropriated only to all those for whom Christ obtained it.
- Which Lord's Days speak about the deliverance?
- What distinctions do we draw in the work of deliverance?
- What is obtaining the deliverance? Who obtained it? When did he complete it? How did he complete it?
- What is appropriation of the deliverance? Is it also known by other terms? Who completes this work? When does he do so?
- What do we confess in Lord's Days 5 and 6? What do we confess in Lord's Days 7 - 3