The Heidelberg Catechism

Introduction

The Heidelberg Catechism, the second of our "Three Forms of Unity," (Heidelberg Catechism, Netherlands Confession, and the Canons of Dordt) received its name from the place of its origin, Heidelberg, the capital of the German Electorate of the Palatinate. There, in order that the Reformed faith might be maintained in his domain, Elector Frederick III commissioned Zacharias Ursinus, professor at Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, the court preacher, to prepare a manual for catechetical instruction. Out of this initiative came the Catechism, which was approved by the Elector himself and by the Synod of Heidelberg and first published in 1563. With its comfort motif and its warm, personal style, the Catechism soon won the love of the people of God, as is evident from the fact that more editions of the Catechism had to be printed that same year. While the first edition had 128 questions and answers, in the second and third editions, at the behest of the Elector, the eightieth question and answer, which refers to the popish mass as an accursed idolatry, was added. In the third edition the 129 questions and answers were divided into 52 "Lord's Days" with a view to the Catechism's being explained in one of the services on the Lord's Day. That salutary practice is still maintained today, in harmony with the prescription of the Church Order of Dordrecht.

In the Netherlands the Heidelberg Catechism was translated into the Dutch language as early as 1566, and it soon became widely loved and used in the churches there. It was adopted by several National Synods during the later sixteenth century, and finally included by the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-1619, among our "Three Forms of Unity," a place which it has to this day.

A Brief Topical Index to the
Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day

Lord's Day #

  1. Our Only Comfort and its Enjoyment
  2. The Knowledge of our Misery by the Law
  3. The Source of our Misery, not by Creation but by the Fall, and its Extent
  4. The Justice of God and the Necessity of Satisfaction and Atonement
  5. The Way of Satisfaction, not by any mere Creature
  6. The Mediator We Need, Jesus Christ
  7. Saved by Christ of Grace though True Faith
  8. The Triune God
  9. God the Father, Creation
  10. The Providence of God
  11. Jesus the Complete Savior
  12. Christ's Anointing and Ours in Him
  13. The Only Begotten Son, Our Lord
  14. The Birth of Christ, our Mediator
  15. Jesus Suffering an Accursed Death
  16. Jesus' Death, Burial, and Hellish Agony
  17. Jesus' Resurrection
  18. Jesus' Ascension to Glory
  19. Jesus' Exalted Glory and Coming to Judge
  20. The Holy Ghost
  21. The Church of Christ
  22. The Resurrection of the Body and Life Everlasting
  23. Righteous before God in Christ by Faith Without Works
  24. Works, Not our Righteousness but its fruit and Graciously Rewarded
  25. Faith Wrought of the Spirit by the Word and Confirmed by the Sacraments
  26. The Sign and Seal of Baptism
  27. The Washing by the Blood and Spirit of Christ, Signified, Embracing also the Infants of Believers
  28. The Sign and Seal of the Lord's Supper
  29. The Spiritual Presence of Christ, Signified, and Communion with Him
  30. The Error of the Mass and the Necessity of Supervision of the Lord's Supper
  31. The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, Preaching and Church Discipline
  32. The Necessity of Conversion and the Fruit of Good Works
  33. The Grace of Conversion and its Elements
  34. The Law the Rule of Gratitude and the First Commandment
  35. The Second Commandment
  36. The Third Commandment
  37. A Godly Oath in God's Name
  38. The Fourth Commandment
  39. The Fifth Commandment
  40. The Sixth Commandment
  41. The Seventh Commandment
  42. The Eighth Commandment
  43. The Ninth Commandment
  44. The Tenth Commandment and the Imperfect Christian
  45. Prayer the Chief Part of Gratitude, The Requisites of Prayer
  46. Our Father, Which Art in Heaven
  47. Hallowed be Thy Name
  48. Thy Kingdom Come
  49. Thy Will Be Done
  50. Prayer for Daily Bread
  51. Prayer for Forgiveness of sins
  52. Temptation and Deliverance, Concluding Prayer
For a discussion of preaching the doctrine contained in the Word of God from the viewpoint of its summary in the Heidelberg Catechism, a distinctively Reformed practice, which has the goal of a systematic, personal, knowledgeable faith see the following in the worship section:

For a discussion of catechism as a scriptural method of instruction see:

Doctrines of Grace or the Five Points of Calvinism

The Catechism sets forth the truth of God's sovereignty over all things, Lord's Days 9 and 10. The Catechism also confesses the truth of Sovereign Grace or the five points of Calvinism. The approach of the catechism in treating the doctrines of grace is, in the order in which they are presented, experiential.

In Lord's Day 3, Q/A 8, the Catechism teaches the truth of total depravity, the bondage of the will, and the spiritual death of man through the fall. It teaches the necessity of being born again or regeneration by the Spirit of God, Q/A 8, as the answer to man's depravity.

In Lord's Day 7, contrasting Adam's headship in the fall with that of Christ, the Catechism denies that Christ saves every man. Rather, following the experiential order it emphasizes that believers only are saved, "for all men have not faith" (II Thessalonians 3:1) This faith the catechism conceives of in Q/A 20 as a work of ingrafting grace. This is further explained in Lord's Day 25, Q/A 65 where the Catechism explains that faith is wrought by the Holy Spirit. The Catechism teaches irresistible grace.

This work is rooted also in the effectual working of Christ, by His atoning death and resurrection, as the power that saves through payment and satisfaction ( Lord's Days 5, 6 and 15). This atoning death removes the curse (Q/A 39) and is also the power by which the elect die to sin and are converted (Q/A 43). Jesus' resurrection is also the power that raises us up to spiritual life Lord's Day 17. The Catechism teaches a limited, effectual atonement as a power which saves all those for whom he died. While the catechism speaks of the "sins of all mankind" in Q/A 37, it does not have in view every man, head for head, but mankind from the viewpoint of God gathering His church out of all nations and in that elect body, redeeming His church and the organism of the human race.

In harmony with this, the catechism teaches that Christ brings to eternal glory the elect, his "chosen ones" in the day of judgment, Lord's Day 19 Q/A 52. It sets forth a church, gathered out of all nations and through all time, which is "chosen to everlasting life."

That elect believer and elect body of Christ the Catechism views as kept, defended, and preserved by Christ unto everlasting glory. It sets forth the perseverance of the saints by the grace of their preservation in faith and by the grace of conversion wrought in them.

The Catechism therefore teaches:

  • Total depravity ( and inability)
  • Irresistible grace,
  • Founded on a limited effectual atonement
  • Grounded in sovereign election
  • Preservation and perseverance

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Lord's Day 1