Originally published on January 19, 1563, it is one of the "three forms of unity" in the Calvinist or Reformed heritage (alongside the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt). It has been rightly loved and studied for over four centuries because of its deeply personal and devotional character.
For example, while the Westminister Shorter Catechism begins with the doctrinal and abstract, "What is the chief end of man?" (though, admittedly an excellent and necessary question). The Heidelberg Catechism begins with the more pastorally-driven, "What is your only comfort in life and death?" Now, that's really where the rubber meets the road, is it not? The answer:
That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.Now, if you believe that by His grace, you will be sustained through much sorrow on the way to the Kingdom. (For more on question 1, see Riddlebarger, What is Your Only Comfort? from Tabletalk [April, 2008]; to understand Question 1 as a protest against Roman Catholicism, see Trueman, Terrible Beauty, Beauty, and the Plain Terrible; for an applied-overview of the whole, see Kevin DeYoung's The Good News We Almost Forgot).
Theology professor at Talbot Seminary, Fred Sanders, has served us in Today is the Heidelberg Catechism's 446th Birthday by offering several reasons for studying this Catechism:
- It’s Personal.
- It’s Devotional.
- It’s Biblical.
- It’s Ecumenical (read what he means by the "e-word" before freaking-out)
- It’s Irenic.
- It’s Pastoral.
- It’s Didactic.
- It’s Confident.
- It’s Dense.
- It’s Free.
It is designed not simply to instruct you or exhort you, but to set you before the face of God, confessing to him who you are, what you need, who he is, and what he has promised.If reading, memorizing, and meditating upon a catechism is not already part of your private worship repertoire, might I suggest you add it? This is especially helpful for those of us shepherding the young hearts in our homes, not to mention for regularly meeting with another to "breathe life" to them (see yesterday's post).
Since we're on the topic, another great catechism - and probably more easily adapted for us "free-churchy" folks - is Spurgeon's Catechism (adapted from the London Baptist Confession of 1689). For a more recent adaptation, see John Piper's revision of the same in A Baptist Catechism.