Rev. Kleyn is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan. Previous article in this series: November 15, 2008, p. 85.
Lord’s Day 1
Q. 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
A. 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, hath 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, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.
Q. 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
A. 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 to God for such deliverance.
Dear Christian reader, “What is your only comfort?
This is a crucial question.
The Heidelberg Catechism is a lengthy summary and explanation of all the truths taught in Scripture, but before it begins to unfold so many truths, it asks this all-important summary question. Before we begin examining these truths piece by piece, we must know that we are looking for one central treasure and truth, and that is “my comfort.” It is just as when a miner attacks a pile of rock, he is looking for one gem or one nugget, and he carefully sifts through the rocks, turning them over and examining them, to find that treasure. So, the catechism examines each truth carefully to bring to us our only comfort.
What Is Comfort?
A comfort is a good thing that takes care of a bad situation. The comfort does not always remove the bad situation, but it makes us able to live through the evil, and it gives confidence that the evil will turn to our advantage. Comfort gives an inner peace. It gives strength and hope through and beyond the evil. It is the overwhelming awareness of a good thing that defeats the pain of evil.
There is a universal need for comfort. “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). “For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night” (Eccl. 2:23).
A hospital, a nursing home, a funeral, a cemetery, a war-torn country, refugees without clothes or shoes, the homeless without food or shelter, a broken relationship, bankruptcy, theft, murder—all these show man’s need for comfort. Daily life, with its physical troubles of sickness and disease, with its internal anguishes of fear, anxiety, hurt, and depression, proves our need for comfort.
This is a need for the present but also for the future. What about tomorrow and its troubles? And then there is one thing we cannot forget, inevitable for every man, death! We need comfort for the soul as well as the body, for death as well as life.
But so few seem to possess it. Some find comfort when things in life are going well, when life is good and they have all that they want, good health and few problems. Others find solace in their ability to brush aside the bad, to have a strong will, to see a silver lining in every cloud. They say, “Things could be worse” and “There are better days ahead.” Still others find their comfort in escaping the realities of life, with a vacation, medication, partying, drink, the love and warmth of human relationships, or an escape into the fantasy world of the movies. Or there are the creature comforts that put a smile on our face, the pleasures and luxuries of the modern world, the advances of science and medicine that give doctors the answer to so many afflictions.
But what is your comfort? Will these things do? From where do you draw your strength? What enables you to go on?
The Only Comfort
There is but one comfort because there is but one cause for man’s misery.
We need comfort because we are all descendants of Adam and Eve. As their descendants we inherit (even if we are ignorant of it) three things: a sin-cursed world, an evil nature, and a liability to the wrath of God.
In the beginning God created a perfect world, but when Adam and Eve sinned against God, profound changes occurred. God drove them from the Garden of Eden. God cursed the ground for their sakes. God sent death, and with it sickness and disease. Adam and Eve became sinful in character. Sin began to exercise its power over them. Sin multiplied in their offspring so that there was crime, lawlessness, murder, and grief. The world became a dangerous place to live. Life for man is filled with trouble and sorrow, and the only explanation is sin.
And then there is the wrath of a just God. All of man’s misery is the expression and experience of God’s wrath. His curse rests on mankind and creation. God hates sin, and because He is just, He must punish it. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath” (Ps. 90:8-9). As every man and woman lives and dies in this world, he/she knows that there is a day of reckoning in which all will stand before God and be judged. The troubles of life create fears that are ultimately fears of death and facing God. A fierce hurricane or earthquake shakes the earth, and men tremble at the thought of meeting God.
What is your comfort? Is there a remedy, a solution for man’s great need? Something that will give comfort for death as well as life, for soul as well as body? Something to overcome the great obstacle of sin? You see, this is a crucial question.
The Christian has an answer. The Bible gives an answer. God provides the answer in the saving work of His Son, Jesus Christ. He comes and deals, not just with the symptoms of our misery—He doesn’t just take away human pain—but with the cause of our misery and the curse of God.
I Belong to Jesus
The catechism is very rich and warm. The need for comfort is universal, but the solution is given as a personal confession. Jesus is the solution for me. “I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me….”
Jesus comes and pays the price for the sin of His own. He removes the curse of God from their daily life. He frees them from the bondage and power of sin. He liberates them from the power of Satan. He brings them into God’s favor and fellowship. Jesus Christ is our only comfort. Christianity alone can bring comfort to man.
But this is personal, “I belong to Him.”
What does that mean?
It means I am His property. When He came and gave His precious blood, it was to purchase me. He owns me and takes full responsibility for me before God. He will keep me and lead me into His everlasting kingdom.
It means I am united to Him by faith. His death was for my sins. He removed God’s wrath from me. Hell no longer looms in front of me. I need not fear God and the judgment day. In faith, I trust His death as the sufficient and satisfactory payment for my sins. God looks on me with the love that He has for His Son.
It means that He rules me by His grace and Holy Spirit. “Sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14). Because I am His, sin is no longer my master. Satan is defeated. And though sin is still present, it does not rule anymore, it is a rebel spirit that remains present, but its day is coming.
It means that He preserves me. All things are now controlled by Christ at God’s right hand. All the events of my life are used by Him for my spiritual and eternal profit. None of the problems or pains of this present life can crush me or sever the blessed union that Christ has established. Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.
It means I can cast all my cares upon Him, knowing that He cares for me (I Pet. 5:7). I have only to look at what He has done for me, and I can be confident that He will continue to use His power, in heaven and earth, for me.
What a comfort! The misery of man is great, but the work Christ has and continues to do is still greater.
Living and Dying Happy
This comfort is not just for those days of fear. It is not a bomb shelter to which I retreat only when I need it. Rather, it is my daily medicine and delight.
Often we read Lord’s Day One at the bedside or at a funeral and it revives the faith rooted deep in our souls. That is entirely appropriate. Often a dying saint who is beyond responding to anything said or anyone present will respond to these familiar words.
But we should not reserve these beautiful confessions only for these occasions. Instead, we can and must live every day as a comforted and strengthened people. This comfort is the power by which we live today, and this comfort will give strength to the dying only when it is used as a daily medicine.
What is your joy and your comfort today? This comfort gives happiness and purpose to the life of the believer every day. This is an all-sufficient comfort, adequate not only for death, but for every obstacle every day. No matter whether it is a fair-weather day or a stormy day, no matter what evil enters my life or how manifold my creature comforts, the knowledge that I and my life are always in the hands of Jesus and that all things serve my good is my daily comfort and joy.
I Am Not My Own
True faith relinquishes all to Christ. To know this comfort I cannot rely on myself or any human wisdom or strength to see me through. We often think otherwise. We have ideas and plans to get us through life. We face trouble, and in our pride we think that we can do it by our own strength. “We are strong, we are capable, we are ready, we can do it,” we think.
How impossible! Paul says in I Corinthians 6:19, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” You are not your own. What a dreadful thing to think that you are. If I were my own, then I would be personally responsible for an enormous debt of sin that I could never wipe out but only increase daily. Envision your day and your destiny as in your hands. There is no joy and no hope and no comfort for such.
An Ever Growing Knowledge
In order to live and die happily in the comfort of belonging to Jesus, we must know three things: “Guilt, Grace and Gratitude” or “Sin, Salvation, and Service.” “First, how great my sins and misery are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and misery; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.”
The second question does not ask, How do you get this comfort? but, How do you enjoy it? Getting something is not always so hard, but enjoying it and using it appropriately can be.
The knowledge we have is a higher knowledge, taught by the Holy Spirit. The three parts are not three stations on the road to happiness. No one masters the first and moves on to the second and third. As knowledge of sin increases, so does our faith in Christ the Savior, and so does our growth in holy living. But none of these is ever perfected. We will never know the depths of our sin; we will never be able adequately to express the glories of Christ; and we will always have only a small beginning of the new obedience. There is always need for growth. Yes, there can be a superficial knowledge of these, but it produces only a superficial faith. The true believer has a deep, and ever deepening, knowledge of his sin; a warm, and ever closer, knowledge of his Savior; and a profound, increasing sense of gratitude. The result is an ever increasing awareness of a good thing, belonging to Jesus, that defeats all the evils that threaten. And I live in comfort and peace.
Questions for Discussion
1. What is comfort?
2. What things show man’s need for comfort?
3. Why is comfort one of our deepest needs?
4. What are some things people substitute for true comfort?
5. When do we need comfort? Is it only in the bad times?
6. Why does the Christian alone have comfort?
7. Many people today abhor the idea of belonging to someone. Do you think it good to belong to someone else? To whom? Why is this good?
8. What are the three main sections of the Heidelberg Catechism? Why is it important to go over them again and again?