Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 7
Lord's Day 7
Are all men, then, saved by Christ
just as they perished through Adam?
No. Only those are saved who by a true faith
are grafted into Christ and accept all His benefits.
What is true faith?
True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all
that God has revealed to us in His Word.
At the same time it is a firm confidence that not only to
others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of
sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere
grace, only for the sake of Christ's meits.
This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.
What, then, must a Christian believe?
All that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of
our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a
What are these articles?
I.1. I believe in God the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
II.2. I believe in Jesus Christ,
His only begotten Son, our Lord;
3. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary;
4. suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell;
5. On the third day He arose from the dead;
6. He ascended into heaven,
and sits at the right hand
of God the Father almighty;
7. from there He will come to judge
the living and the dead.
III.8. I believe in the Holy Spirit;
9. I believe a holy catholic Christian church,
the communion of saints;
10. the forgiveness of sins;
11. the resurrection of the body;
12. and the life everlasting.
Q. & A. 20 Sola Fide
- Compare the expression “saved by Christ” with LD 5, Q&A 12, Note 2. What the question asks is whether all men again share in the communion with God through Christ.
- All men are damned through, or in, Adam. They are not merely damnable, but damned. And not all are delivered out of their damnation by Christ. Holy Scripture teaches this clearly. Thus, Mt 22:14 says: "For many are called, but few are chosen."
It is true that 2 Pet 3:9 states that the Lord does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance, but this does not mean that all will be saved. Rather, it means that the Lord postpones the judgment in his forbearance, so that all his elect should come to faith and repentance. Similarly, while 1 Tim 2:4 says that God desires all men to be saved, this means that he desires that all kinds of people, rich and poor, distinguished and simple, be saved. These and other texts do not contradict the fact that the gate that leads to life is narrow and that those who find it are few (Mt 7:14).
- The CD II, 6, states: "That, however, many who have been called by the gospel neither repent not believe in Christ but perish in unbelief does not happen because of any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross, but through their own fault.''
For the death of the Son of God is, as CD II, 3 states: ''. . . of infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.'' (Cf. 1 Jn 2:2).
But this sacrifice, which is sufficient for the whole world, only bears fruit and was also brought only for those who believe in Christ. Thus, Jn 3:36 says:''He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.''
Similarly, in Jn 17:9, the Saviour says: ''I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine.''
Christ has, therefore, brought his sacrifice, which was sufficient for all, only for those who are his (CD II, 8).
- Thus, only those who believe in Christ are saved by him – those who by a true faith are grafted into Christ. For by faith we become one plant with him (being grafted into him): we become one body with him. Faith is the means whereby we embrace Christ (accept all his benefits), and whereby the life-giving nourishment of the vine (Christ) passes to the branches (members of the covenant). (Jn 15:1-8; Rom 11:16-24). In that we become one body with Christ by faith, all that is his becomes ours, and we become partakers of the treasures which he earned.
- The Catechism speaks of being grafted, thus using the passive voice, for this is something that God does. We do not do it. We do not make ourselves a part of Christ. The Holy Spirit does that. But he does it through faith! Thus, our responsibility is not excluded. For the Lord calls us to faith. (For further detail, see CD III/IV, 9-10).
- Faith is, therefore, necessary for us to be delivered by Christ. The requirement of faith did not just appear after the fall. Also Adam in Paradise found life only by faith. But faith did acquire a different content after the fall. It is now directed to Christ and accepts his benefits.
B. Cross References
- The CD I, 4 states: "The wrath of God remains upon those who do not believe this gospel. But those who receive it and embrace Jesus the Saviour with a true and living faith are delivered by Him from the wrath of God and from destruction, and are given eternal life." (Cf. Jn 3:16; Mk 16:16).
- The BC, art. 22 also states: ". . . the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith. This faith embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, makes Him our own and does not seek anything besides Him."
- The idea that faith does nothing but make us realize that we have been ingrafted into Christ immediately (without means).
- False passivity.
- What do Lord's Days 7 - 31 successively speak about? Are all men saved? Prove that Holy Scripture rejects this question. What does it mean when Holy Scripture says that God desires all men to be saved? Why are not all who are called also saved?
- Is Christ's work not sufficient for all? Who alone benefits from this work? For whom was it accomplished?
- What happens through faith? What does faith do?
- Who grafts us into Christ? What means does he use?
- Was the demand to believe made only after the fall? What did change after the fall?
Q. & A. 21 Knowledge and Confidence
- This question asks: What is true faith? For there is also an imitative, artificial faith. But it is not faith, any more than artificial sweetener is sugar, although it may look like sugar. Imitative faith is a reaction to the Word, but not an acceptance of the Word, as true faith is. Scripture calls this faith dead. Jas 2:20 says: ". . . faith apart from works is barren."
We recognize the following faith-like reactions to the Word:
a. Historical “faith.” It does not contradict Scripture, believes that the facts related in Scripture happened, but is then indifferent to the Word and does not work repentance.
b. Temporal “faith.” This runs away with the content of the Bible, thinks it interesting and loves to talk about it, but it has no depth; it is not real. That is why it ends when difficulties or oppression arise. It only exists for a time.
c. Miracle “faith.” This believes, on the basis of Scripture, that miracles can happen and likes miraculous events, but does not repent in obedience. (For all of these, see Mt 13:1-23, the parable of the sower).
- The Catechism gives two marks of living, true faith:
a. Knowledge: sure (i.e., certain) knowledge whereby we accept God's Word as true.
b. Confidence: whereby I apply God's promise to myself.
The Knowledge referred to is not simply an intellectual knowledge, but a knowledge in love. It is a knowledge whereby we accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word, whereby we approve it, concur in it, and assent to it. We say “Amen” upon it. When the Catechism also speaks about Confidence, it does not refer to something distinct from this knowledge. This confidence is not something that can accompany the knowledge (and it is good when it does), but does not have to (and that is allright too); rather, knowledge and confidence are one in this context. True faith is not only knowledge, but also confidence. It is both. It is such a knowledge that it includes confidence. We see this beautifully in the life of Abraham, of whom Rom 4:18 testifies: "In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, So shall your descendants be.''
- This knowledge and confidence extends to the entire Word of God. Faith accepts All that God has revealed in his Word. It does not judge and criticize the Word, but accepts it and obeys it. (See LD 23, Q&A 59).
And the firm confidence is that God granted forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ's merits not only to others, but also to me. Faith calls out “mine,” “that's for me,” in response to God's promises, meaning: that suits me and I want to have it, I draw it to me. Thus, faith appropriates, draws towards itself what the Lord promised to his covenant people (“others”). We acknowledge and understand that the promises which God gave to his people, and in them to us, apply not only to others, but also to us!
- True faith, therefore, does not mean: “having confidence in something.” Everyone has that, simply because everyone was created to be dependent and needs something in which to trust. Rather, it is placing confidence in the revealed promise of God. Faith does not exist when Scripture is rejected, nor when a person does not know the Word at all. Further, disdain for the Word is not a work of faith. On the contrary, faith says: I chase after it and expect my salvation from it.
- Faith in Christ is nothing else than to accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word. For Christ comes to us in that Word, both in the OT and in the NT. By accepting the Word as true, we surrender ourselves to him. There can, therefore, be no faith in Christ if Scripture is rejected.
- The person who works this faith is the Holy Spirit. He kindles it in our hearts by the gospel. (We will discuss this in greater detail in LD 25, Q&A 65). Through this faith we receive forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation. (We will deal further with this in LD 23).
B. Cross References
- See Q&A 20, Cross References 1 and 2.
- CD V, 10 states that the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, ". . . is not produced by a certain private revelation besides or outside the Word, but by faith in the promises of God. . . ." Read the rest of this article also.
- The idea that faith is produced by ourselves.
- The idea that Christian faith and communion with Christ can coexist with rejection or criticism of Scripture.
- The idea that faith is only the inclination to accept what the church regards as true.
- The idea that there is a “kernel of faith” which is placed in us apart from the gospel.
- Why does the Catechism ask about “true” faith? Is there also an imitative faith? Is it a true faith? What does Scripture call it? How many types of this imitative faith do you know? In which parable do we read about them?
- Which marks of true faith does the Catechism list? What kind of knowledge is meant? Is the confidence separate from the knowledge?
- What must we know? What must we have a firm confidence about?
- Is “believing in something” also true faith? Does faith exist separate from Scripture?
- Who works faith in us? By what means? What do we receive by faith?
Q. & A. 22 and 23 The Catholic Faith
- Question 23 asks what a Christian must believe, not what he believes. For faith is incomplete for each Christian; it is full of error and fault. That is why we must constantly compare our faith with what is necessary for faith, viz., God's Word. And we must not burden each other with, or bind to, anything other than what is necessary for faith.
- One could say: A Christian must believe all that God has revealed to us in his Word (see Answer 21), but the current Answer states: “All that is promised us in the gospel.” For the Word of the Lord is full of promises. In his Word the Lord does not just say: I am X, and this is what I do, but I am he who does all this for you who believe in me.
When the Answer speaks of promise, we should note carefully that this is God's promise. People will sometimes say: Oh, well, what's a promise? But when God promises, it is certain; he grants what he promises. But only if we believe the promise! The Lord did, indeed, promise Canaan to all the Israelites who set out from Egypt (i.e., he, on his part, granted it), but the majority never entered Canaan and did not receive it, because of their unbelief (Heb 3:19).
- All that is promised us in the gospel is summarized in “the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith.”
A “summary” is a brief summation. (Cf. the “sum” in arithmetic).
An “article” is a part, or a member. The confession is one body which consists of more than one member. He who treats one member ill, injures the body! (Cf. the word “all” in LD 23, Q. 59).
The faith described in the articles is “catholic,” i.e., universal. It is the faith of the church of all ages. And it is “undoubted,” i.e., it has never been called into question by the church. We may not do this either. To call into question, to doubt, is sin; it makes God a liar. Further, it is called “Christian,” for is revealed by Christ, has him as content, and affords communion with the Triune God through him.
- We call these articles the Apostles' Creed. Not because it was drafted by the apostles, for it developed out of the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, originally asked at baptism. It was not until the year 500 that it had attained its present form. But it presents us with the faith taught us by the apostles. Hence its name.
- The Canadian Reformed Churches1give a more detailed account of the faith contained in these articles in:
a. The Belgic Confession, containing 37 articles, and drafted by Guido de Brès in 1561. In it the church makes known to those outside the church what it believes.
b. The Heidelberg Catechism, drafted by Ursinus and Olevianus in 1563, at the behest of the Elector of the Palatinate. In it the church instructs its children what it believes.
c. The Canons of Dort, or the Five Articles against the Remonstrants, drafted by the Synod of Dort of 1618/19. In it the church maintains its faith against error.
Together, these three are called: the Three Forms of Unity. For the confession demonstrates and fosters the unity of believers.
- The church is entitled to formulate the content of Scripture in this summary fashion. For the Word was entrusted to the church. It is also the duty of the church to do so. For it was placed in this world as a pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).
- The authority of these confessions is not superior or equal, but subservient to the Bible. The confessions do have authority, but it is derivative authority. The Bible has original authority. Should discrepancies between the confession and the Bible be demonstrated, the confession must be changed accordingly. Only the church can make such changes, for the confession belongs to it.
- The confessions serve to:
a. give public testimony of the truth of faith and the doctrine of the church (BC);
b. preserve the truth for the coming generations (HC);
c. maintain the truth over against error (CD); and
d. demonstrate and preserve the unity of the believers (Three Forms of Unity).
- We further willingly receive (BC, art. 9) the creeds of Nicea (about the Godhead of the Son) and of Athanasius (about the Trinity).
- Also of importance for the knowledge of the doctrine of the church are its liturgical forms. You will find these in the back of our Book of Praise. They contain a wealth of knowledge which no one may keep buried away in a napkin (Lk 19:20).
- The word “form” derives from the Latin “forma,” and means “fixed.” For the liturgical forms give a fixed expression to the confessional and liturgical actions of the church.
- The notion that the confession promotes division.
- The belief that the confession enslaves the conscience.
- The idea that the confession conflicts with the belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.
- The false contrast between “church of the confession” and “confessing church.”
- Why does the question ask about what is necessary to believe?
- What must a Christian believe? What is the nature of God's Word? What does it ask of us in that respect?
- What is a summary? Why do we speak about articles? Why is faith called “catholic,” “undoubted,” and “Christian,” respectively?
- How did the Apostles' Creed originate? Why is called “Apostles' Creed”?
- Which other confessions do the Canadian Reformed Churches have? Relate what you know about them.
- Is the church entitled to formulate the content of Scripture? Does it have a duty to do so?
- What is the authority of the confessions?
- What purpose do they serve?
- Recite the Apostles' Creed?