Ques. 19. Whence knowest thou this?
Ans. From the holy gospel, which God himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly has fulfilled it by his only begotten Son.
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 4
“Whence knowest thou this?”
Our Catechism confronts us with a most serious question. How do I know that God has eternally prepared a Mediator Who is capable of delivering the lost sinner from sin and death and of giving him eternal life? How do I know that this is my Savior, Who is made of God for me personally wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, yea, a full redemption? On what sure foundation do I base my faith? From what source do I draw this knowledge of faith?
My answer is, along with the church of all ages, “From the holy gospel!”
We cannot help but be impressed by the repeated reference to the holy Scriptures throughout our Book of Instruction. Already in Lord’s Day 2 the Law of God is mentioned as the source of the knowledge of our misery. Here the gospel is referred to as the source of the knowledge of our deliverance. In Lord’s Day 25 the Word of God is said to be the chief means of grace. In Lord’s Day 31 it is called the chief key of the kingdom of heaven. In Lord’s Days 34 to 44 the Word of God is set before us as the law of liberty, our sure guide for a walk in thankfulness. We can appreciate this strong emphasis on the Scriptures and admire our Confession for it.
The holy gospel is for us the glad tidings of salvation. It is God’s Self-revelation in His only Begotten Son, the eternal Word, Jesus Christ. It is God’s own speech to us as the God of our salvation in Christ. In every sense of the word the holy Scripture is GOD’S Word.
Its Divine Origin.
The Word of God is of divine origin. It is divinely planned, revealed, inspired, given its canonicity, and preserved. We do well to think about this a bit more in detail.
It is divinely planned. God conceived of the Scriptures, determined and planned them from eternity. Just as an artist conceives of a painting in all its detail and beauty before his brush touches the canvas, so God eternally planned the books of the Bible as His Self-revelation to us. It is not a mere coincidence that there are sixty-six books, written over a period of some fifteen hundred years. It did not just happen that among the writers were herdsmen, fishermen, learned men, poets, musicians, each serving in his own capacity. It can hardly escape us that there were no women among them. God determined, for example, a Moses, who survived in spite of the death sentence of Pharaoh upon all the Hebrew baby boys, who spent forty years in the palace of the king to be instructed in all the knowledge of the Egyptians, who spent another forty years seemingly wasting away his life as he tended sheep in Midian, and who spent the last forty years of his life delivering Israel from the bondage of Egypt and leading them through the wilderness to the border of Canaan. It was during these last forty years that Moses was ready to be used by God to write the first five books of the Bible. God wanted David as a shepherd boy, as a fugitive from Saul, and later as a theocratic king to become the sweet singer of Israel, and thus to compose his part of the Scriptures. God ordained Jeremiah for his work before he was born. (Jer. 1:6). God determined all the other writers with their various gifts and talents and background to contribute this part to the holy Writ.
It is divinely revealed. In the answer before us our Catechism speaks rather extensively of this revelation of God in the Scriptures. God revealed Himself first in paradise to Adam and Eve by speaking to them as a Friend with a friend. Even after their willful disobedience and their fall God sought them out and showed them His planned salvation for them and for their spiritual seed in the promised Savior. Afterwards God spoke to the patriarchs, sometimes by direct speech, sometimes in visions and dreams, or through that amazing Angel of Jehovah, Who is the Old Testament manifestation of the Christ. God added to this a revelation in types and shadows, He caused Israel to live in a picture world, where Israel was taught by pictures as a child is taught in kindergarten. The priests, the kings, the sacrifices, the tabernacle, later the temple, the feast days, the new moons and sabbaths, the city of Jerusalem founded on mount Sion, the land of Canaan, the clothing Israel wore, the land they owned, the seed they sowed, and the harvest they gathered, all spoke to them of the heavenly blessings God was preparing for them through the sufferings and death of the promised Savior, and the glory that would follow. In the fulness of time God sent His Son into the world, the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We saw Him, we heard Him, we touched Him. Now He is gone into glory, yet He still speaks to us through His apostles who penned His revelation in the New Testament Scriptures. The writer to the Hebrews expresses it this way, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things.” (Heb. 1:1, 2).
It is divinely inspired. “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God.” (II Tim. 3:16). Moses did not write some folk-lore or timeworn tradition when he wrote about creation, the fall, the flood, and the lives of the patriarchs, as some would maintain. Peter contradicted this foolish notion already in his second epistle, where he writes that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” The various writers of the Bible did not give their version of the events of which they wrote, but “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (II Peter 1:20, 21). Jesus Himself maintained the inspiration of Scripture, its inerrancy and authority, by ending all argument with the simple statement, “It is written,” or “The Scriptures cannot be broken.” The holy writers, ordained and called of God for this work, wrote in their own time and style, fully conscious of what they were writing, yet also deeply conscious of the fact that they were writing the inbreathed Word of God as the Holy Spirit moved them to write.
It is divinely canonical. We can marvel that the sixty-six books written by many authors over a broad span of time do form a perfect unity. As many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle form a complete picture, so the books of the Old and New Testaments present us with a complete revelation of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. God carries us from paradise to Paradise through every phase of His mighty work as He gathers, defends, and preserves His church in an evil world, unto the culmination of His salvation in the great Day of the Lord. This is possible only because under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the church preserved the various manuscripts, sorted them out from the uninspired writings, copied and recopied the manuscripts with ardent care, and brought them as a complete collection into one Book, which is our Bible. Let no man try to add or to detract from God’s Book! (Rev. 22:18, 19).
Finally, it is divinely preserved. Throughout the ages God has jealously preserved the sacred writings which He had prepared for us. He did this over against the desperate attempts of the powers of darkness to destroy them. Deceptive writings and pseudo-gospels appeared. Mockers mocked with their vile mockings. Heretics defiantly attacked the Scriptures. Men who presume to be wiser than God consider the findings of the scientists of greater authority than God’s own revelation. Many translations appear on the market, there is even a paraphrasing of the Bible in common, often vulgar language, by which man’s philosophies are introduced into the sacred record. But the hammers lie broken and useless, while the anvil still stands and will stand until our Lord returns.
Its Divine Contents.
The Bible is God’s autobiography, in which He tells of Himself as the eternal, unchangeable, holy, righteous, sovereign God of all love and grace, the ever adorable and blessed. One Who is to be feared. In those holy pages God reveals the secrets of His heart, His eternal thoughts, plans, and purposes with His people in Christ. God tells us of His own covenant life that He lives eternally and perfectly within Himself, and assures us that He establishes His covenant with Christ, and thus with us in Christ, that we may share His life and blessedness forever. He declares, I, Jehovah, am and forever will be your God. He informs us of His mighty works of salvation through the cross, as He delivers the heirs of salvation from sin and death into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, unto the day when He will unite all things in Christ, that we may dwell and bathe in His dazzling glory forever. God always speaks as the sovereign God Who must be feared. Blessed is every one who keeps His commandments, and accursed is every one who does not abide in all that is written in the Book of the Law to do it.
God’s Word is the gospel of His promise to His chosen ones. This promise is always centered in Christ, in Whom all fulness dwells as exalted Lord in heaven. The Old Testament speaks in every page of the promised Savior Who was still to come. By direct speech, by visions and dreams, by the testimony of the prophets, by types and shadows, yes, by every conceivable means God tells of the coming Savior, of His atoning death on the cross, and the glory that follows. God did not give those Old Testament writings, which make up such a large part of our Bible, merely for the benefit of the Jews of the old dispensation; the message of the promise is as important to us today as it was for the church of the shadows. The New Testament speaks of the fulfillment of that promise. Christ has come in the weakness of sinful flesh, the perfect Mediator Who in one person is very God and real, righteous man. As the Lamb of God for sinners slain He brought the perfect sacrifice as a ransom for His people. He saved from death and merited life for us. God put His divine seal upon that accomplished work by raising Christ from the dead and exalting Him to heavenly glory, where we now see Jesus crowned with glory and honor, higher than the angels, preparing to come again in fulfillment of all that is written of Him, even to the very last sentence off the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation.
Its Divine Power.
The Word of God is a savor of life unto life, and of death unto death. It is foolishness to those perishing, but it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.
The carnal Jews of the old dispensation chose idols in preference to the living God. They killed the prophets and stoned those who were sent to them. The Greeks were no better. Their worldly wisdom caused them to sneer at the preaching of Christ’s cross and resurrection. The most civilized of men and the pagan of the jungles, the university professor and the shop worker, the man in authority and the derelict of skid row all agree that the Scriptures are so much nonsense, preaching is a deadly bore. They reject the Word to their own condemnation.
Are you and am I any better? Can we boast of superior intellect or willingness to bow before that Word? Amazing grace has given us a place among the elect for whom Christ died Amazing grace has drawn us out of death into life, humbled us in shame and contrition for our sins, and made our hearts receptive through faith to receive the glad tidings of salvation. Amazing grace teaches us to say: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth!”
Glory be to His blessed Name.