LORD’S DAY IV
Q. 9 Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?
A. Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and of his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.
Q. 10. Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?
A. By no means; but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he hath declared, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.,,
Q. 11. Is not God then also merciful?
A. God is indeed merciful, but also just; therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.
This Lord’s Day is the last chapter of the first part of our Heidelberg Catechism, whose main theme is “the Misery of Man.” The three questions and answers contained in it are very intimately related. They are based on a common principle. They have a common source. All three questions might be expressed in the one query: Is there a way out as far as sinful man is concerned? Is there a possibility for man in his fallen state and depraved condition to be blessed, to escape the wrath of God and punishment? Considered in this light the three questions represent a very common attempt on the part of fallen man to persuade himself that he can maintain himself in his sin without suffering the consequences. The attempt is characteristic of unregenerate man. He is not really sorry for his sin. On the contrary, he has his delight in iniquity. If only there were no evil consequences connected with the service of sin, if only he could sin with impunity, he would not worry about sin at all. But he is afraid of the results. He dreads the punishment of sin. He would like to escape death and hell. He likes to feel safe and secure in the service of sin. It is this fundamental characteristic of the unregenerate man, this urge to escape the dire results of sin for himself and for society in general, that frequently constrains him to curb his lust, and to have a certain regard for virtue and for an external orderly deportment. It is also to this deeply rooted desire that many a social reformer, who denies Christ and His atoning blood, who will have nothing of forgiveness based on God’s justice and denies the power of regeneration, appeals in his battle against all sorts of crimes and vices. “Crime does not pay” is their slogan, and by a vivid picture of the misery and suffering connected inseparably with a life of dissipation they attempt to frighten men into a life of external virtue. Man loves sin, but he dreads hell. And so he makes an attempt to escape the one while continuing in the other. And it is this possibility that is the subject of discussion in this fourth Lord’s Day.
However, there is only one conceivable way in which this attempt to sin with impunity could possibly be successful; or rather, that one imaginary way is really quite inconceivable: God must be changed! And the sinful heart and mind do indeed make the bold attempt to change the living God. It is thus that the sinner tries to entrench and fortify himself in his sin! He makes a god of his own imagination, after his own sinful heart, before whose face he can sin and feel safe. He invents his own god, an idol that is wholly like unto himself. He deprives God of His sterner attributes of righteousness and justice, and speaks of a god of mercy and love that will wink at sin, and make the ungodly the object of His blessing. And thus he tries to quiet the voice of his own conscience, and partly succeeds to create for himself a sense of safety in the way of sin, until he meets the living God in the day of the revelation of His righteous judgment and discovers that he believed a lie, that he followed after a delusion, and that the eternal God cannot be mocked!
It is this truth which the Catechism expounds in the three questions and answers of this fourth Lord’s Day. Can God foe changed? Can He be changed in His demand of the law that we love Him with all our hearts and mind and soul and strength, so that He comes down to the level of the sinner, and can be satisfied with what sinful man is able and willing to do? We cannot perform the demands of the law. Well, then, if God could be satisfied with the best we can do, all would be well or, if that is not possible, cannot God relinquish the strict demands of His justice, so that He does not empty the vials of His wrath upon us, but leaves our sin unpunished? If only we could feel that there were no hell and damnation, our sinful heart would be at rest, and we could safely continue in the way of iniquity. And if, finally, the answer to this second inquiry must be that God’s justice is unchangeable, can we not make an appeal to His mercy? Is it not possible to conceive of Him as a God whose mercy overrules His justice, so that, even though His justice should urge Him to cast us into everlasting hell, His mercy so moves Him with pity and compassion, that He could, not possibly behold us in the throes of His wrath? These three inventions of the lying imagination of sinful man the Catechism here investigates, and exposes as so many delusions of the darkened mind of the sinner.