The Christian’s calling to engage in holy war against the lie and his enjoyment of the blessing of spiritual peace can both be helpfully summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism’s teaching on the five solas of the Reformation (sola is Latin for alone or only). Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone through grace alone to the glory of God alone according to Scripture alone. The solas exclude and so fight against all that “adds” to the truth of the gospel, for, in reality, any addition takes away from it and so denies it. The solas give us peace because they shut us up to the only comfort of God’s rich and free salvation.
We are justified before the Holy One “only by a true faith” (A. 60) or “by faith only” (Q. & A. 61) “without the deeds of the law” (). This is great “profit” to the believer, for he or she is “righteous in Christ before God and an heir of eternal life” (Q. & A. 59)! In short, “we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only” (Q. 65).
This first sola (faith alone) militates against any and all other ways of receiving and applying to ourselves (imputed) righteousness (A. 61) and preserves us so that we “may never be condemned before the tribunal of God” (A. 56). “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” ().
Lord’s Day 11 proclaims Jesus as the “only Savior” (Q. 30) and “the only deliverer and Savior,” since He is the “complete Savior” and we “find all things in Him necessary to [our] salvation” (A. 30). Thus “we ought not to seek, neither can find salvation in any other” (A. 29). With its eye especially on Roman Catholicism, the Catechism asks, “Do such then believe in Jesus the only Savior, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?” (Q. 30). Its answer is simple and direct: “They do not: for though they boast of Him in words, yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Savior” (A. 30). Christ alone negates and opposes all other alleged saviors or co-saviors.
Christ is our “only High Priest,” who redeemed us by “the one sacrifice of His body” (A. 31), for it is “the only propitiatory sacrifice” (A. 37). The Heidelberger emphasizes this truth especially in connection with the sacraments, which direct us to “that one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross” (A. 66) “as the only ground of our salvation” (Q. 67), for “the Holy Ghost teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon the one sacrifice of Christ which He offered for us on the cross” (A. 67).
Regarding the first sacrament, we are “admonished and assured by holy baptism that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to us” (Q. 69), for “the blood of Jesus Christ only [applied by] the Holy Ghost [can] cleanse us from all sin” (A. 72).
Likewise, the Lord’s Supper admonishes and assures us that “that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished” at Calvary (Q. 75) is “the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself accomplished on the cross” (A. 80). This is of unspeakable comfort to the elect, “Because, with respect to the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made no otherwise than by the death of the Son of God” (A. 40, cf. Lord’s Days 4-6), for “only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God” (A. 61).
The gospel of Christ alone explains the origin of, and justifies, the Catechism’s condemnation of the blasphemous sacrament of Roman Catholicism. Since “the mass teaches that the living and the dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered up for them by the priests…the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ” (A. 80).
Christ is the “Prince of Peace” () to those who trust in Him alone, but the divine warrior ( ; ) against all who reject Him or deny Him as the only, complete Savior and His all-sufficient cross.
The Heidelberger’s treatment of “true faith” includes the intimately related doctrines of grace alone and Christ alone: “to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits” (Q. & A. 21).
Lord’s Day 23 mentions all of the three solas we have spoken of so far in this article. I am “righteous before God” (Q. 60) “only by a true faith” and “only of mere grace” (A. 60) “because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God” (A. 61).
The Reformation gospel of grace alone is always engaged in a holy warfare against salvation by man’s works, for “we are delivered from our misery merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours” (Q. 86). Every true believer confesses that it is “without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace” that I am “righteous before God” through Christ (Q. & A. 60).
This is the comforting, antithetical gospel of the sovereign grace of our covenant God: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” ().
God’s Glory Alone!
The “one only true and eternal God” is three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, subsisting in “one only divine essence” (Q. & A. 25). To Him all glory is due for “our creation,” “our redemption,” and “our sanctification” (A. 24).
As the “only true God,” we must “know,” “glorify,” and “trust in Him alone,” and “expect all good things from Him only” (A. 94). Since “the mass teaches that…Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshiped in them,” it is “an accursed idolatry” (A. 80), for “Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God, who has manifested Himself in His Word, to contrive, or have any other object, in which men place their trust” (A. 95).
Because Jehovah is the “only true God,” the first commandment impels us to “avoid and flee from all idolatry, sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, [and] invocation of saints, or any other creatures” (A. 94). Regarding the third commandment, the Heidelberger argues that since God is “the only one who knows the heart,” we must not “swear by saints or any other creatures” (Q. & A. 102). Thus the Catechism proceeds from the truth of God alone and the first and third commandments to condemn especially Romanism for praying to, and swearing by, “saints or any other creatures” (A. 94, 102).
Moving from the Decalogue, which is in the first section of the third part of the Heidelberger on gratitude, we come to prayer, which is the “chief part of thankfulness” (A. 116). We learn here that we must “from the heart pray to the one true God only” (A. 117). The exposition of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer explains that, since Jehovah is “the only fountain of all good,” we must “withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone in [Him]” (A. 125).
God alone is the strength and peace of all His children, as the psalmist confessed, “Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved” ().
The truth that Scripture alone is the supreme standard and rule for faith and life (cf. Belgic Confession 7) is not expressly stated in the Heidelberg Catechism, as are the other four solas, but it may be easily deduced from it “by good and necessary consequence” (cf. Westminster Confession 1:6).
The “one true God only” has “manifested Himself in His Word” (A. 117), and we know of the Mediator “from the holy gospel” (A. 19). Therefore, it is “necessary for a Christian to believe” “all things promised us in the gospel” (Q. & A. 22).
Since Jehovah rules us by His “Word,” which is blessed to our hearts and lives by His “Spirit,” the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” includes praying against “all wicked counsels devised against [God’s] holy Word” (A. 123). The Heidelberger specifies two such ungodly attacks against Scripture: founding good works “on our imaginations or the institutions of men” (A. 91), and worshiping Him “in any other way than He has commanded in His Word” (A. 96).
“Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” ()—this is the call to holy war for the Christian. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” ( )—this is the way of spiritual peace for the believer.
Our Only Comfort!
Beginning with our “only comfort in life and death” (Q. 1), our Catechism includes and presents, both positively and negatively, the five great solas of the biblical and Reformed faith. Only by maintaining these five gospel solas can we and do we confess that our “only comfort in life and death” is “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ” (Q. & A. 1)!