Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 5
Lord's Day 5
Since, according to God's righteous judgment
we deserve temporal and eternal punishment,
how can we escape this punishment
and be again received into favour?
God demands that His justice be satisfied.
Therefore full payment must be made
either by ourselves or by another.
Can we ourselves make this payment?
On the contrary, we daily increase our debt.
Can any mere creature pay for us?
In the first place,
God will not punish another creature
for the sin which man has committed.
no mere creature can sustain
the burden of God's eternal wrath against sin
and deliver others from it.
What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?
One who is a true and righteous man,
and yet more powerful than all creatures;
that is, one who is at the same time true God.
Q. & A. 12 No Reconciliation Except Through Satisfaction
- In the confession of our deliverance, we must not neglect anything contained in the part about our sin and misery. For God does not overlook any aspect of our misery at all. That is why the second part of the Catechism begins with a full admission of the conclusion to which we came in the part on our sin and misery, viz., that “according to God's righteous judgment we deserve temporal and eternal punishment.” The question is then asked: How, or by what means (for it will not be automatic), can we escape the punishment and be received again into God's favour?
Escape this punishment is not the same as be again received into favour. For one can give a guilty person a discharge, thereby absolving him of the punishment, without accepting him into favour again (see 2 Sam 14:24).
Escape this punishment means to escape God's covenant wrath.
Be again received into favour does not mean that God extended grace in the sense of guilt-forgiving favour to Adam before the fall. Rather it means: share again in God's covenant blessing, in his communion.
- The deliverance will only happen if justice has its course. Isa 1:27 states: ''Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.''
For God is just. He maintains his word once spoken forever. Ex 23:7 says:''. . . for I will not acquit the wicked.''
And Ex 34:7 says: ''. . . who (i.e., the Lord) will by no means clear the guilty. . . .''
In order to achieve reconciliation (i.e., to restore the friendly relationship) with God, satisfaction must occur. God demands that his justice be satisfied.
We must make Payment to God's justice. The noun “payment” indicates precisely what the matter is all about. For when Paying it is essential that you hand over exactly what is demanded. Otherwise you are not given a receipt, or remission, for you have not paid. Further, “payment” connotes a quid pro quo for what is required. Paying does not confer a right, but fulfils an obligation! This “payment” must be Full, says the Catechism.
- Already in Paradise man had to “pay,” i.e., fulfil the demand of the covenant. This payment meant that the law had to be fulfilled completely. Thus, this is the first thing that we must pay: we must be obedient in our actions and fulfil the law. This is active obedience. After the fall the obligation to suffer the punishment was added to this obligation. This is passive obedience.
We must pay. Payment must be made by man, from whom God has expected it from the beginning.
This payment must be made either by ourselves or by another. But also in the latter situation, We must do it through the other person. Hence, we must take an active part in the payment made by Christ, viz., by our faith, which places Christ's satisfaction before the Father, with the supplication that he will show us grace for Christ's sake. Man does not earn anything with this “payment.” He merely accepts what God gives.
- Why does the Catechism ask in Q. 12 how we can escape the punishment?
- What does “escape this punishment” mean? What does “be again received into favour” mean?
- What does Isa 1:27 say? What is necessary for reconciliation? What is reconciliation?
- What does the word “payment” connote?
- What did man already have to pay in Paradise? What was added to that after the fall?
- What do the terms “active obedience” and “passive obedience” connote?
- Who must pay? How must we pay? If payment is made by “another,” do we have nothing to do with it? Do we, in that manner, still give something to God?
Q. & A. 13 and 14 Neither Man nor Other Creature Can Make Satisfaction
- The Catechism now asks first whether “we ourselves” can make the required payment. But that is impossible, even though the sinner believes that he can do so in various ways, such as: sacrifices, repentance, self improvement, good works, etc. Man has devised many ways to make God content. But no matter what he does, he increases his debt daily.
This is not hard to understand. Man is duty-bound to make full payment, i.e., to fulfil the law, every day. But no matter what he does, he cannot fulfil the law. That is why he increases his debt day by day. Even the converted, those who desire to serve God, must pray every day: “Forgive us our debts. . . .”
Guilt must be distinguished from sin. But it must never be separated from it, for sin is guilt! But sin is the crime, the wrongdoing, whereas guilt is the crime which is accounted to us (i.e., brought into account, put on our account).
- Is there somewhere, perhaps, a mere creature that can pay for us? The question contemplates a creature that is endowed only with the powers of a creature, one that has only created powers at its disposal.
- But no “mere creature” can pay for us, for:
a. God will not punish another creature for the sin which man has committed. Payment must be made to God by a human being. Ezek 18:4 says: ". . . the soul that sins shall die."
b. No mere creature can sustain the burden of God's wrath and deliver others from it. The creature can suffer that wrath and will do so. But “payment” implies an action of which one can say at some point: It is finished. And a creature cannot do that. The finite cannot bear away the infinite.
Nah 1:6 says: "Who can stand [i.e., stand firm] before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?" (See also LD 6, Q&A 16 and 17, Note 2).
- In Israel the Lord used sacrifices of animals in the service of reconciliation. But those did not reconcile. Heb 10:4 says: "For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins."
Israel knew that too. Ps 40:3 (rhymed version) begins: "No sacrifice didst Thou, O Lord, require. . . .''
These sacrifices taught the people of Israel the necessity of the only sacrifice of Christ and assured them it would be brought.
- Can we “ourselves” make the required payment? How does man try to do this? What does he accomplish thereby?
- What is the distinction between “sin” and “guilt”?
- What is meant by the expression “mere creature”?
- Why can a mere creature not pay for us?
- What does Nah 1:6 say?
- What was the purpose of the sacrifices in Israel?
Q. & A. 15 A Mediator Is Needed!
- The question, “What kind of mediator and deliverer must we seek?” does not, of course, imply that we ourselves are going to determine that issue in the Catechism. Also in this Answer the Catechism merely confesses, i.e., repeats, what the Word of the Lord tells us.
- A mediator is someone who works in a conciliatory manner between two or more parties. He reconciles the offended party to the offender. Generally, in such circumstances, it is usually possible for the mediator to persuade both parties to concede something and bring about the reconciliation thereby. But, as between the offended God and offending man, there can be no question of concession, for:
a. the sinner has nothing to concede; he has only guilt; and
b. God neither can, nor will retreat from his righteous demand for justice in any way. He overlooks nothing.
- Hence, in order to effect reconciliation, the Mediator between God and man must:
a. make satisfaction for the injustice that was done (by his passive and active obedience) - this is the acquisition of the reconciliation; and
b. ensure that the sinner does not harden himself in his sin and continues to offend God - this is the appropriation of the reconciliation.
Thus, the Mediator has to act as vicarious Surety. He has to take our place. That is how he is the Deliverer!
- We must seek this Mediator. This does not mean that we should try to find him somewhere. God has given him and made him known. But we must seek the Mediator who has been revealed to us. We must go to him, plead on his completed work, and follow him.
- The requirements of the Mediator are: He must be a true and righteous (i.e., not guilty, holy) man and also true God.
B. Cross References
- You will find the term “Surety,” used above, also in CD II, 2.
- Does the Catechism itself determine what kind of Mediator we require? What does it do, then?
- What is a mediator? Can reconciliation between God and man occur by each party conceding something? Why not?
- What must the Mediator do to accomplish reconciliation? How must he, therefore, act?
- What does it mean that we must seek the Mediator?
- What are the requirements for the Mediator?