The question now is: what is that great good, the knowledge and consideration of which is sufficient to be a true and sole comfort in life and in death? The Heidelberg Catechism answers: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Here, too, one might easily be tempted to elaborate so as to anticipate practically the entire contents of the Catechism. He might set out to explain the meaning of “my faithful Savior,” and to set forth in detail what it implies to belong to Him, how one becomes His property, that God has given the elect to Him from eternity, that Christ purchased us to be His own by His precious blood, and that we are united by faith with that faithful Savior. But, evidently, this is not the purpose of this first Lord’s Day. It intends to be introductory, and as such it must be treated. And, therefore, the central idea must be clearly grasped, it must receive all the emphasis in our exposition, and all the details that are mentioned in this first answer must be used only in as far as it is necessary to set forth that central thought in all its significance. And that one idea is this: the fact that I belong to Christ is an all sufficient comfort to me in life and in death, a comfort beside which no other comfort is either necessary or conceivable! To belong to Christ means that all is well. He that is conscious of this relationship to Christ considers all things, in life and in death, in the light of it, and evaluating things in that light, is quite sure that the evil of this present time, including death, must be subservient to the attainment of a great good that could not otherwise be realized!
Clearly and fully you realize the evil of “life and of death.” You do not close your eyes to reality. You know that “life and death” are both “death.” And there is no way out, as far as you can see. You realize your sin. You know that there is a load of guilt, increasing day by day, that make you damnable in the sight of God, worthy of eternal desolation. You know that you are hopelessly in the power of death and corruption, so that sin has dominion over you, and that you can never liberate yourselves from that slavery of sin. You know, too, that God is righteous and just, and that He is angry with the wicked every day. He will never excuse you or acquit you when you appear before Him in judgment. You realize that He judges you every day, every moment of your life, and that His sentence is always: “Cursed is every one that abideth not in all things written in the law, to do them!” And you say: “My sole comfort over against this crushing evil is that I belong to Christ!” And presently you lie on your deathbed. You feel how impotent you are in your struggle against that last enemy. But what is more, you clearly understand that even death is of God. You do not merely die somehow, according to some “law of nature,” perhaps. No, death is the hand of God! God speaks in and through death. And He speaks the language of wrath: “By Thy wrath we pine and die.” And in that last moment of struggle and anguish, when the chill hand of death chokes you, and the cold sweat of suffocation is upon your brow, the “murderer from the beginning,” the devil, that “accuser of the brethren,” reminds you of all your sins and transgressions, and brings them into causal connection with the fact of your death. He impresses upon your mind that death is indeed, the hand of God, and that it is the punishment for sin. He brings you before the tribunal of God, and shows you that you will never be able to stand before Him. Sorrows of death are compassing you and pains of hell get hold upon you. And you do not try to minimize the seriousness of the evil. You do not appeal to extenuating circumstances. You make no attempt to diminish the greatness of your sin. You agree with the tempter, that you are, indeed, damnable. But you do not despair. Facing the full reality of the evil that engulfs you, you say triumphantly: “But this is my only and all sufficient comfort, that I belong to Christ!”
Yes, an only comfort in “life and in death” it is that we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ!
It is your answer, too, in all circumstances of your present life. For life, too, “is nothing but a continual death.” All things seem to go against you, and it seems that your punishment awaits you every morning. There is “depression” in the land, and in vain do you walk the streets of the city to find employment that you may provide for your family. Whatever savings you were able to lay up for such times are soon consumed. You lose your home. You are forced to live on “relief,” or on charity. What is your only comfort? That soon the evil days may be over and prosperity will return to the land? No, but that you belong to Christ! Sickness attacks your frame and day after day, week after week, month, after month, you travel a way of suffering. What is your only comfort? That there are physicians and means to alleviate your suffering; or that you may look forward to recovery? No, but your only consolation is that you belong to Christ! Death enters your home and takes away a dear child, tearing it from your very heart. And again, your only, mark you well, emphatically your only comfort is that you are not your own, but belong to your faithful Savior Jesus Christ! War rages in the world, and the very foundations of the earth are shaken. Perhaps you are called to take up arms, or your sons are sent to the battle. What is your comfort in the midst of all this confusion and suffering of this present time? That the war may soon cease and peace be restored, and your sons return from the battle in safety? No, but your only comfort in all this is, that you belong to Christ! Your relationship to Christ is always sufficient!
But why is this true? How is this possible? What, then, is there in this relationship to Christ that causes it to be the source of such an all-comprehensive comfort? Who is this Christ, to Whom to belong means that all is well?
He is the Christ! That, in brief, explains fully why it is a comfort, why it is the only possible comfort, why it is an all-embracing comfort, to belong to Him. He is the Christ of God! He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. By Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the Church, and as such he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven! (Col. 1:15-20). O, but don’t you see, why it is an all comprehensive comfort to belong to Him? He is Christ, the Lord! He is the Lord of heaven and of earth! God’s Lord is He, the Christ, ordained by Him from before the foundation of the world. He is the firstborn of every creature, and the first begotten of the dead! All things were created with a view to Him, to His revelation, to His final glory and victory! He is the Alpha, and also the Omega! Nothing exists that does exist, nothing moves that does move, nothing develops that does develop, nothing happens that does happen, whether light or darkness, whether sin or grace, whether the devil or antichrist, whether life or death, whether sickness or health, whether prosperity or adversity, whether joy or sorrow, whether war or peace, whether angels or principalities or powers,—nothing in heaven or in earth or in hell exists or acts but for Him! The very world is upheld by Him, governed by Him. All the lines of history converge in Him. He is the center of all things, the reason for all things, the pivot on which all things turn, in order that in and through Him all things might be to the praise of Him that created them! No, “things are not what they seem.” They may seem a hopeless chaos, vanity of vanities, encircled by death, from which there is no way out. But in Christ, God’s Christ, the Lord of life and of death, the Lord of all, they have their reason and their unity. And in Him all things, yes, absolutely all things must and do actually tend to the final and eternal state of glory, in which all things shall be united in Him and God will be all in all. For such was the good pleasure which God has purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth (Eph. 1:10).
Christ, the Lord!
The firstborn of every creature; and the first-begotten of the dead!
O, but do you not see that to belong to that mighty Lord, Who was revealed as Christ, the Lord, in the fullness of time; Who came into the world as Christ, the Lord; Who spoke as Christ, the Lord; Who suffered and died as Christ, the Lord; Who was raised from the dead on the third day as Christ, the Lord; Who ascended into the highest heavens, and is seated at the right hand of the Most High, as Christ, the Lord; Who has all, yes, absolutely all power in heaven and on earth as Christ, the Lord; and Who will come again in due time to judge the quick and the dead, as Christ, the Lord;—that to belong to Him, I say, is absolutely your only comfort in life and in death?
If you do not belong to Him, you are, in a sense, your own, with body and soul, in life and in death. In a sense, for still you are God’s, and strictly you have nothing you can call your own. To Him you owe your very breath and existence. And still He demands of you that you shall love Him with all your heart and soul and strength, that you glorify Him and be thankful. But you are your own in that you stand alone, at your own responsibility, left to help yourself. You are outside of that whole, of that communion, in which Christ is the Lord. And still there is “life and death”. Still there is the load of guilt which you can never pay. Still there is the dominion of the devil and of corruption from which you can never liberate yourself. Still there is death encompassing you on every side. And in the midst of it all you are your own! Your lord is the devil, your god is your belly, your way is corruption, your end is destruction. And you have no answer to anything, no solution of the problem of existence, no way out of death, no comfort in either life or in death!
But I am not my own!
I belong to Christ, the Lord! And that means that He is my Lord in every sense of the word. It means that He owns me, and that I am His property, with body and soul, in life and in death, for time and eternity. It implies that He is responsible for me, for my body and for my soul, for my all in life and in death, responsible, that is, for me as part of that whole of which He is the appointed Lord, and which He must keep and preserve and lead into the eternal glory of His kingdom. It signifies that He is ordained to rule over me, and that He actually does have dominion over me, over my body and over my soul, my mind and my will, over all that I am and have, in life and in death, in time and in eternity! Christ, the Lord, is my Lord! It means that all things are mine; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death (yes, indeed, even death!), or things present, or things to come,—all things are mine. For I am Christ’s; and Christ is God’s! (I Cor. 8:22, 23). It implies, too, that I am more than conqueror, through him that loved us, for neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. Rom. 8:37-39. How could thy? Are they not all Christ’s? Do they not all belong to that scheme of things that is created unto Him, and that is all arranged to cooperate to the final revelation of Him, as my Lord, in glory?
Yes, indeed, a sure comfort it is that I belong to Him. For the fact of my relationship to Him as my Lord is not my work, nor of my choosing. It is of grace, of sovereign grace, and absolutely of grace only. It is a relationship that is rooted in eternity, in the unchangeable good pleasure of the almighty God Himself. For He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He ordained Him Lord of all. It was His good pleasure that He should be the firstborn of every creature, and the firstborn of the dead, and that in Him all the fullness should dwell. It is He, too, that predestinated His own to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He should be the firstborn among many brethren. He gave me to Him. He is my Lord from before the foundation of the world. He it was, Who sent His Son into the likeness of sinful flesh, and Who caused Him to die for me, an ungodly in myself, in due time. And my Lord purchased me at the price of His own precious blood. He it is, that established the unity between Him and me, by engrafting me into Him by a living faith through His Spirit. And so I am assured that I belong to Him, and that nothing can separate me from His love. Christ, the Lord of life and of death, is my Lord forever; to Him I belong with body and soul. And that is my all sufficient, and only comfort in life and in death!
The Heidelberg Catechism enumerates the implications of this relationship somewhat in detail. He, Christ the Lord, is my faithful Savior, who with his precious blood hath fully satisfied for all my sins, so that He is my only comfort over against the present evil of my guilt and damnableness before God: I am justified! He delivered me from all the power of the devil, so that he is no longer my lord, I am no longer his slave, and sin hath no more dominion over me. He preserves me according to the will of my heavenly Father, even so that no hair can fall from my head without His will, for He is my Lord and with body and soul I belong to Him! Nay more, He so governs me and all things,—for He is Lord of all—that they must be subservient unto my salvation! All things! Life and death, sin and grace, heaven and earth, the world and the devil, suffering and sorrow, angels and principalities and powers,—all things must work together for my good, because I belong to Christ, my Lord! And so, this Lord of life and death, who is the firstborn of every creature and firstborn of the dead, assures me of eternal life! Even in this life which is nothing but a continual death, He assures me of life eternal in everlasting glory and perfection through His Holy Spirit! What a comfort! In the midst of guilt and condemnation I am justified, and know that there is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus! In the midst of my present sin and corruption I know that I am delivered from all the dominion of sin and all the power of the devil! And while I still lie in the midst of death, I am assured of eternal life!
And gladly I acknowledge His lordship! Indeed, not as a response on my part to what He did for me, but as the fruit of His own work for me and within me. For He it is, too, who as my Lord makes me His subject, and constantly makes me sincerely willing to live unto Him!
It follows that only in the way of this willingness to serve Him with a thankful heart, I can be conscious of His Lordship and of my belonging to Him, and that, therefore, outside of this way the only comfort in life and in death cannot be my conscious possession.
It is this conscious possession of the only comfort in life and death, to which the Heidelberg Catechism refers in the second question and answer of this Lord’s Day: “How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, (or: in this comfort) mayest live and die happily ? Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude for such deliverance.” It is, indeed, possible for one to possess this comfort in principle, without “enjoying it” consciously, or rather, without having this comfort as the deep motivating principle of his whole life in the world. How often are we, in our actual life, far below the standard that is set up in the first question and answer of the Catechism! Yes, we are Christians, and we belong to Christ. We confess it, if we are asked, more or less hesitantly. And we believe that we have a comfort in death, that is: we hope to have a comfort when we die. But what becomes of “living and dying in this comfort?” Where is the manifestation of this “happy life-and-death” in our everyday walk and conversation? Where is it, when we move about in the world, in our shop or office or on the street; where is it in our home life? Is the Lordship of Jesus Christ really the dominating factor in our life? You know better. If it were, that which is really the only comfort in life and death, that we belong to Him, would also actually occupy the only place in our consciousness; while now the reverse is often true: we have many comforts, and the only comfort is allowed to sink into oblivion, below the threshold of our believing consciousness. If it were, we would surely seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first, always first, believing that all things are ours; while now we are often foolish and seek the things that are below. If it were, we would surely be more than conquerors, while now we often suffer defeat, and are afraid that the world will frown upon us! What, then, is necessary for thee to know?
Yes, comfort is also knowledge. Hence, we may be instructed in this comfort, instructed by the Word of God, and through instruction we may grow in the conscious and full possession of this comfort in life and death. Three things we must know, the Catechism teaches us, know with the spiritual knowledge of faith: our sins and miseries, and the measure of them; the way of our deliverance; and the expression of our gratitude according to the Word and will of God. Do not misunderstand the intention of the Catechism here. It does not mean that we must first learn to know all about our sins and miseries in order, then, to come to the knowledge of our salvation; and, when the latter is finished, enter into tie knowledge of the expression of our gratitude. The three things we must know do not successively replace one another; they are simultaneous, The Christian possesses this knowledge in its threefold fullness. Always he must know his sins and miseries; always he must know how he is delivered; and always he must know how he may express his thankfulness to God for such deliverance. They are three indispensable elements of the one knowledge. They are “the triple knowledge.” And until the day of his death he must increase in this threefold knowledge. There is no end to it in this life. He never graduates. And the more he grows in true spiritual knowledge along the triple line of sin, deliverance, gratitude, the more he will approximate the high standard set up in the first question and answer of this Lord’s Day and be able to say triumphantly: “This is my only comfort in life and death, that I belong to Christ my Lord!”