Frederick III, the Pious, elector of the- province called the Palatinate in the Germany of the 10th century established the Reformed faith and not the Lutheran or the Roman Catholic faith. In his concern for the development of the faith which had been delivered to the saints through Scriptures and by the true development of the truths of the Scriptures, he patronized and created a Reformed school, and made provisions for the writing of a Reformed confession. Frederick III attempted to make the University of Heidelberg a school where students could be piously and religiously educated. To this school Zacharius Ursinus was called to be the principal and rector. To the city of Heidelberg Caspar Olevianus had been called to be the court preacher. In the city of Heidelberg, Germany, the Reformed faith was established and developed. In Heidelberg the truth came to early expression in the well-loved Heidelberg Catechism, which has become a creed, a confession, a book of instruction, and a source of comfort during the four centuries of the Reformed or Calvinistic Protestant movement.
This monumental and comforting confession, which has become one of the three forms of unity (not union), comforts and instructs the Christian pilgrim on his way through life. The Catechism was intended to be a confession and a book of instruction. It is used in this way in the divine worship services and in the catechism classes of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America. It was also intended to be a book of comfort. It is that for the Reformed Christian. Comfort and happiness is the keynote of the catechism. Many times during the course of the Catechism’s instruction it calls the attention of the questing reader to the comfort that a particular doctrine gives to the believer. That unsurpassably beautiful first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, which has been such an immense source of joy and comfort to the Reformed Christian, is perhaps the most notable example of this keynote of the Catechism. “What is your only comfort in life and death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior 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, therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.”
That succinctly and accurately states the whole truth of the Word of God. That is the fundamental message of Heidelberg Catechism. That is the Reformed truth. That is Christian psychology. That every Reformed Christian ought to learn and that he must believe so he can live and die happily.
The Holy Spirit assures the Christian of eternal life and also makes him sincerely willing and ready to live unto Christ. Christ is the power of the Christian life. When the Christian lives, he lives out of Christ, and all things in life and even death are possible. There is nothing in this valley of the shadow of death that becomes impossible for the Christian because Christ gives the power that the Christian needs.
Reformed theology has stated, however, that man is so corrupt that he can do nothing good. This is the message of the confessions; this is the message of the Word of God. The personal approach of the Catechism puts the truth in the first person and says, “We are so corrupt and so incapable of doing any good and we are so inclined to all wickedness that except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God we can do no good.” (Cf. question and answer 8, Heidelberg Catechism.) All the good that we do, therefore, comes and is produced in us and through us by the sovereign grace of God, who regenerates and converts us.
There is, nevertheless, that predominating “yet so” found in question and answer 111 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which prevents the catechism from becoming a tool in the hands of the antinomian. Antinomianism and perfectionism are two equally horrible evils which sinful man has invented to justify himself or exalt himself before the majestic and just God of heaven and earth.
Question and answer 114 of the Heidelberg Catechism answers these two pernicious errors which arise in the Churches where the Reformed Scriptural truth is faithfully preached. These two errors called by their names (antinomianism and perfectionism) describe the errors they represent. They are dealt the deathblow in one masterful stroke in this question and answer which reiterates a truth which is variously confessed throughout the Catechism.
But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments? is the question. The implication of the question is that the Christian does keep the commandments but he cannot keep the commandments perfectly. This formulation destroys the error of antinomianism, which says that because we are out of the image of God, we cannot do any good — we cannot keep the commandments. Good works are an impossibility in antinomian theology because they do not understand the Scriptural and Reformed teaching concerning the law that is written in our hearts.
The question includes the adverb, perfectly. Although we cannot keep the commandments perfectly we nevertheless keep them. That’s why God will have them so strictly preached. (Cf. question and answer, 115, H.C.) “. . that we constantly endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.”
The answer to question 114 is equally significant and beautiful. With confidence and assurance the Catechism says: “No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so (italics mine, a.l.) that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.” Do you observe the similarity between this answer and the answer to question one of the Catechism? In both the final emphasis falls on faith which is activated — an activity of faith which is the fruit of God’s grace in the heart and life of the redeemed Christian.
The redeemed man does not nor is he called to sit and wallow in the mire of sin and say that he has nothing to do with this. This is not the spiritual psychology of the Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions. Although the Reformed Christian will not be profane and say that he can perfectly keep the commandments of God, because perfection is only possible when man and God become one in Christ, he will say with assurance and confidence, with a smile of triumph in the face of sin, which is represented by his own flesh, the devil, who never ceases to assault us, and to the world that taunts and tempts us with its pleasures, “YET SO.”
The Reformed man fights Pelagianism and all Arminianism with all his heart and mind and soul and strength because this is what the Confessions controvert and this is what the Scriptures deny. In this way the Reformed man is fighting the leaven of perfectionism. At the same time the Reformed man fights against the horror of antinomianism, which suggests that we can sin because we can’t help but sin and we are saved nonetheless. The apostle Paul thundered at such unbelief in Romans 6 with a “God forbid! How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” The Heidelberg Catechism speaks with an equally intense, “By no means: for it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.” (Cf. questions and answers 64, 87.)
Grace abounds only in the way of repentance, sorrow for sin, and faithful performance of the commandments of God. Grace abounds only in the way of the “YET SO” of question and answer 114 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
“Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works? Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ.” (Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 87.)