Mrs. Pekoe often made tea. She kept a plain little teapot on a low shelf near her stove and brewed a cup of tea in it for herself every day. She kept a larger fancy teapot on a higher shelf, and whenever guests arrived, she made some tea in the fancy pot for them. Mrs. Pekoe needed both of her teapots, and she enjoyed using both of her teapots—she loved tea!
Unfortunately, her teapots were not very happy. In fact, they were miserable. Every day the plain little teapot looked up with envy at the fancy teapot. It saw its graceful curves arching above, its hand-painted flowers, and its gilded edges. Then the plain little teapot would look at itself and see its own dull color with only chips and a crackled glaze for decoration. If only it could be beautiful like the fancy teapot!
But every day the fancy teapot looked down with envy at the plain little teapot. It saw its position on the lower shelf where it could be easily reached, and saw how often Mrs. Pekoe would take the little pot down and make a cup of tea in it. Then the fancy teapot would look at itself and see its own hand-painted flowers and golden edges merely gathering dust while it waited to be used. How important that little teapot must be to be chosen so often!
If only the teapots really knew . . ..
Connie is the mother of 5 children and attends Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
A catechism had been written, beautiful and clear, a catechism that people would love and confess for 450 years—and more if the Lord tarries. What is so special about this catechism that it should stand this test of time? The document answered a burning question of its day about the Lord’s supper, but that would not fully explain why we teach, preach, and confess this creed still today. The questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism were written in 1562. In 1563 this set of questions and answers became an official creed of the church. It is an official creed of Reformed churches everywhere still today. And people of God still love this confession as much as people of God did in 1563. Why?
God used all of the problems, chaos, and turmoil of the days when it was written to help the authors see what the questions needed to be, and then to see the answers. They are answers for all time because life on this earth is always filled with troubles and trials. Why is there always trouble in this life? Because of sin. We sin even when we do not want to. That leaves us miserable.
Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus were young men who saw that misery all around them and in themselves. They had been taught about that misery from their faithful teachers. But they also had been taught what the answer to that misery is. They saw the answer in all of Scripture: we are delivered in Jesus Christ alone. His work is finished, full, and free. There is nothing we must do or can do to be delivered from sin and death. He has simply done it all. That is the answer.
This was new doctrine in 1563. People were only beginning to understand the truths of the Reformed faith. The Roman Catholic Church had explained Scripture differently. Rome said you had to work to be delivered: Jesus delivers you, but you have to do something too; he didn’t do it all. So the Heidelberg Catechism was important. It explained Scripture rightly. In all its questions and answers, it proved from the Bible what we must believe: Jesus Christ did it all.
“What? He did it all? Then you won’t try to earn your salvation anymore,” Rome said. “Sinning won’t matter to you.”
Ursinus and Olevianus saw the answer to that accusation too. That’s right: we won’t try to earn our salvation anymore. God is not pleased with us if we do! What pleases God? Gratitude. Giving thanks to God for such full, free, and complete deliverance. That is what pleases God, that’s what we want to do, and that is what we can and must do because that is why he saved us: so we would be thankful.
Misery—deliverance—gratitude. God led Ursinus, Olevianus, and their teachers to see this theme in all of Scripture, to hear this melody that rings in glorious three-part harmony on every page of his word, to comfort the people of God, young and old, in life and in death on this earth. God led Ursinus and Oliveanus to write it all down for us to treasure still today, and to be comforted.
In God’s providence and grace, such is the turn of events.
Luther had nailed his ninety-five theses to the door at Wittenberg nearly fifty years ago. Now it was 1562 and many doctrines still needed further explanation. Lack of understanding especially about the Lord’s supper caused much chaos and confusion in the land. The need for clear explanation of doctrine was great. This would be a year for creeds and confessions.
Elector Frederick III ruled from his castle in Heidelberg, Germany. He saw the need for a new and clear catechism to be written. His own wife was Lutheran and tried to persuade him to see the Lord’s supper from the Lutheran point of view, but he was not sure. What if Calvin’s view was right? There had been much trouble and confusion in Heidelberg over the Lord’s Supper, and now he did not know where to turn, except to God.
Frederick shut himself alone in his rooms to pray and to study the Scriptures. God answered those prayers. Frederick came forth with confidence. The Calvinistic view was the scriptural one. He was sure. He also knew what kind of men ought to write the new catechism.
Twenty-eight-year-old Zacharius Ursinus had recently become a professor of doctrine at the university in Heidelberg. Twenty-six-year-old Caspar Olevianus was the new pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit there. Both men had already shown themselves to be extremely gifted in teaching, preaching, and godliness. Both had been taught by John Calvin, Peter Martyr, and other important Reformers. Frederick assigned the task to them.
Frederick could not have known that the words these men would write would be just as important 450 years later as they were in his day. But God knew. God had brought these men to Heidelberg. God had prepared them for the task. Olevianus’ bold and eloquent preaching would combine with Ursinus’ logical and poetic mind to result in writing that would be amazingly clear and beautiful.
The Lord’s supper would be explained too. In all their studies, Ursinus and Olevianus came to understand that Luther had gone too far in saying Christ’s body and blood were present in the Lord’s Supper in a physical way. What is the biblical view? Jesus Christ is indeed present in the Lord’s supper, but in a spiritual way. This truth would now be made clear to all. In 1563 the Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by the church and received with much thanksgiving. The issue of the Lord’s supper was settled.
But one truth never stands alone from the rest. Confusion over the Lord’s supper helped to make the time ripe for a godly ruler to call for a catechism to be written, but all truths fit together in perfect harmony. God led both writers of the catechism to see that as well. Out of the chaos of those times, they wrote a document that would show the way of peace and comfort to all God’s people, for all time, in all circumstances. Such would be the turn of events….
He was a quiet and gentle boy. He loved books and he loved to study. He was well-suited to be taught in the best of schools. But his father, a tutor, could not afford this. The senate of Breslau, however, noticed how intelligent this boy of their town was.
Zacharius Ursinus was sixteen years old when he was sent to the University of Wittenberg by the senate of Breslau. When he was finished with his studies, he would return to Breslau to teach in the university there. That was the senate’s plan, and that was fine with Zacharius.
Breslau, Germany was deep in Lutheran country, so Luther’s school in Wittenberg was the natural place to send Breslau’s gifted son. Although Luther had died four years earlier, Melanchthon, who carried on after Luther, still taught there. Melanchthon noticed this quiet, serious boy too. They became close friends. Ursinus studied under Melanchthon for seven years and then traveled throughout Europe for one final year of education. He visited some of the most important places of the Reformation, including Zurich and Geneva. While in Geneva, John Calvin also noticed this talented and godly young man. Zacharius was given a signed set of Calvin’s books by the author himself. Finally Zacharius was ready to return to Breslau to teach.
At first this went well. A quiet, peaceful teaching position was all that Zacharius wanted. But people started whispering about him, and then they openly accused him. Why? In all his studies, Ursinus had not only learned Reformation doctrine from the Lutheran point of view, but he had also been taught about the Lord’s supper from the Calvinistic point of view, and he believed Calvin’s view. But Breslau was Lutheran and believed Luther’s view of the Lord’s supper. After only a few short years of teaching, Ursinus was no longer welcome there. He would have to leave his home and family. But where would he go?
His old friend in Wittenberg, Melanchthon, had died, so he could not go there. Zurich, Switzerland was his next choice. Peter Martyr lived in Zurich. Martyr was a Reformer who explained the Lord’s supper in the Calvinistic way, and did so perhaps better than any other man at that time. Living in Zurich, Ursinus saw the doctrine of Lord’s supper even more clearly.
Ursinus saw something else clearly as well. Peter Martyr had received a request to come to Heidelberg and teach in the university there, but he was too old to go. Martyr had some advice for Heidelberg, though: take Ursinus instead. Now what would Ursinus do? He knew that going to Heidelberg meant even more trouble and controversy. Two professors had already been thrown out of Heidelberg for fighting over the Lord’s supper. Oh, to be hidden in a corner of some quiet village! Such were Ursinus’ thoughts. But Ursinus was exactly the man God had prepared for the work there. Ursinus packed his bags to go. Such would be the turn of events…
Caspar Olevianus had tried to save a close friend from drowning, and almost drowned himself. In the terror of the moment, Caspar had vowed to be a preacher of the gospel of the Reformed faith. Now it was time to keep his word. As soon as his studies in law were finished, he turned his attention to the doctrines of sovereign grace. Peter Martyr, Beza, Farel, and John Calvin were all Reformers of renown under whom Caspar Olevianus studied. Caspar learned those Reformed doctrines well.
He was in his early twenties and ready to begin preaching the true gospel. But where should he go to preach? Farel persuaded Olevianus to return to his hometown of Treves, a stronghold of the Roman Catholic Church. Olevianus desired this as well, but there were problems. Treves had no Protestant church in which to preach, and a Protestant preacher would likely not be welcomed. All he could do was teach Latin in the university there. Yet, true to his vow, he moved to Treves and waited for an opportunity to preach.
August 10, 1560 was Olevianus’ twenty-fourth birthday. It was also a special holy day for Roman Catholics, and he knew the people of Treves would be attending an early mass. He invited them to the university afterwards to hear him speak. It was a daring thing for this young Latin teacher to do.
A great assembly came to listen, young and old, and rich and poor. In fearless and eloquent words Olevianus told them why the mass and other Roman Catholic practices were wrong. He pointed them to the truth of Scripture. Some of the people were convinced, including the city’s mayor. Others were not. Olevianus was promptly forbidden to use the school again for such assemblies, although he was allowed to begin preaching at another location for a time. It would be for a very short time.
Hundreds came to hear the words of truth proclaimed by this young preacher. But word also got back to Rome. Archbishop John came with a company of cavalrymen to stamp out that truth. He began by persecuting the city from outside its walls, and finally stormed the gates. Olevianus and the mayor of Treves, along with others, were thrown into prison.
What would become of Caspar Olevianus now? What would result from the chaos in Treves?
Frederick III, ruler in Heidelberg, Germany, heard of Caspar’s plight—the same Frederick whose son Caspar Olevianus had tried to save from drowning. Frederick sent for him to come to Heidelberg. Frederick had to pay a huge ransom to set Olevianus free, but the treasure of truth that Frederick would receive would far outweigh any trunk full of florins he had paid. Such would be the turn of events…
Caspar Olevianus was a boy born into a wealthy family in the city of Treves, a stronghold of the Roman Catholic Church. His father was head of a baker’s guild, and in the 1500s if parents had money, they sent their children to school. Caspar was sent to many Roman Catholic schools.
One day at one of these schools a faithful priest put his hand on Caspar’s shoulder and said, “My boy, you must never forget that salvation and comfort are found only in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” Olevianus could not know what those words would mean to him some day, but he never forgot them.
For now he was a growing boy, busy learning and going to more schools. When he was fourteen years old, his grandfather sent him to France to study law. At one of the schools there, he met Herman Louis, a son of Heidelberg’s elector, Frederick III. The two boys became close friends.
France was not only a good place to learn law, it was also home to the Huguenots. Some of these persecuted Calvinists were students there as well. Caspar and Herman Louis met with them in some of their secret meetings. These new Calvinist ideas began to take root in Caspar’s soul—maybe deeper than he realized.
One day Caspar Olevianus, Herman, and Herman’s servant valet were walking along the river that ran close to the school. Caspar and Herman wanted to go to the other side in a small boat that was tied to the shore, but a group of loud and riotous drunken students was already climbing in. The boat dangerously rocked.
“Come on! Come on!” they shouted for Caspar and Herman to join them.
Caspar refused, but Herman decided to get in the boat with them. The other side was not so very far away, though the current was swift. They pushed off while Caspar looked on.
In midstream the drunken students took up another of their loud songs and swayed even more. Suddenly—the boat capsized!
“Herman!” Caspar jumped into the cold waters of the river. He must help his friend—but how? He could not find him, and now Caspar himself was being swept away. Fear engulfed him as the water completely surrounded him. It was in this terror and panic that the Reformed faith he had begun to learn sprang up in his heart. He vowed at that moment to devote his life to preaching the true gospel of grace, even to staunchly Roman Catholic Treves, if God would spare his life. Finally his head was above the surface of the water and he gasped for air.
Trying to save Herman, Herman’s valet managed to grab Caspar instead and pull him to shore. Sadly, amidst all the chaos and confusion, Herman still could not be found.
Caspar’s close friend had drowned, and now the whole direction of Caspar’s life would change. In the providence of God such would be the turn of events…
Unscramble the letters to read the words of Psalm 31:7:
I LLIW EB LAGD DAN CEEROJI NI HYT REYMC: ORF HOUT SHAT
DOINEEDSRC YM LORBTUE; OTUH HATS WONNK YM LUSO NI
More chaos was in the land in 1560. Two leading men had been cast out of the Protestant town of Heidelberg, Germany: the Lutheran Dr. Hesshuss and the Calvinist Klebitz. Their wrestling match during a church service was the last straw. But the views they had been fighting over—views about the Lord’s supper—were far from settled. The Reformed faith was still new to many people. People saw the truth of the new doctrines, but they did not fully understand them. Because the printing process was also new, not everyone owned a Bible yet, and not many catechism books had been written. The few catechisms they had were either too short or too long to be useful for teaching children. The result of all of this was much confusion over the Lord’s supper and many doctrines— confusion for those who were trying to teach, and confusion for those who were trying to learn.
Elector Frederick III saw the need. As ruler of the land, he had only recently come on the throne. He was a very educated man and had been brought up in the best of Roman Catholic schools because his father had been a strict Roman Catholic. So how was it that Frederick now saw the need for teaching clear and consistent Reformed doctrine to the church and its children?
As a young man he began to see the corruption and hypocrisy that was in the church of Rome. As a young prince it was proper that he marry a young princess—even if she was a Lutheran one. Under her influence, it was not long until he was converted to Protestantism. Frederick’s father was not happy about his conversion. He kept Frederick, his wife, and the children they would have nearly penniless for many years. At times this royal family lived like the poorest of paupers in the land, persecuted by their own ruling father.
But now Frederick’s father was dead, and so was the former elector of Heidelberg. Now it was Frederick’s lot to rule in Heidelberg, Germany. It was in the providence of God that he was here in this place at this time. It was in the providence of God that he saw the need for teaching doctrine to the youth of the church. It was in the providence of God that he would have the desire and the means to do something about it.
Frederick knew that Heidelberg was an important city for the work of the Reformation, and with Hesshuss gone, Heidelberg needed a new professor and a new preacher who would help to correct this state of confusion. But who?
God was preparing two young men for the work. They would boldly and faithfully preach and teach the doctrines of Scripture in truth. They would work to teach those doctrines to the church and its children. They would work to change the chaos and confusion in the land to comfort and order. Such would be the turn of events…
He was a man of great intellect and strong opinions, but where would his opinions lead? Dr. Thieleman Hesshuss taught at the new seminary in Heidelberg, Germany in 1560. Professors holding to various religious opinions taught at this school at this time, and Hesshuss held his Lutheran views on the Lord’s supper very highly. Differing views on the Lord’s supper were a big issue. Luther had nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenberg only forty-three years before. People were not yet clear on all the doctrines of the Reformation, especially doctrines about the Lord’s supper. Calvin held different views on it than Luther did. On top of that, in most of Europe the tides of persecution were swelling and many a Protestant, whether Lutheran or Calvinist, was dying for his faith. For the time being Heidelberg was a safe haven from this flood. But if such persecution could not be brought to Heidelberg, the devil would find a crack from within to let a tide of trouble seep in. Hesshuss was his man.
Dr. Hesshuss was also minister of a large and important church in Heidelberg, the Church of the Holy Spirit. Hesshuss had the opinion that the psalms ought not be sung in worship because they were too “Calvinistic,” and that eating bread in the Lord’s supper should be done with a napkin lest someone drop a crumb. Hesshuss’ views were so strong that even Luther would not have approved of them.
Wilhelm Klebitz was a student under Dr. Hesshuss at the seminary, as well as a deacon in his church, and Klebitz was a young man who also freely voiced his opinions. Klebitz wrote a thesis paper defending Calvin’s view on the Lord’s supper. When it was time for Klebitz to graduate, the professors at Heidelberg not only approved of his paper, they also appointed him to be a professor there. All this happened while their fellow professor, Dr. Hesshuss, was out of town. Hesshuss was furious when he returned.
Hesshuss immediately preached against Klebitz and his views. Klebitz fired back with equal venom. The mayor of Heidelberg tried to calm the situation, but to no avail. The tide of trouble was rising. The following Sunday Hesshuss announced from the pulpit that both the mayor and Klebitz were excommunicated from the church.
Now Elector Frederick III, the ruler of the land, became involved. He called Hesshuss and Klebitz to silence, but neither would give up. The very next Sunday during Lord’s Supper, Dr. Hesshuss and Deacon Klebitz began to physically wrestle and fight in front of church!
A flood of chaos had come. What was the result? Hesshuss and Klebitz were thrown out of Heidelberg, Germany, and now Heidelberg needed another pastor and professor. Who would fill these important places without causing more trouble? The devil took glee in the chaos he had caused, but God was in control of it all for the good of his church. Such would be the turn of events…
What is my only comfort?
That I am not my own.
My faithful Savior owns me,
Whose blood for me atoned.
The devil’s strength is broken.
My Savior’s on the throne.
What is my only comfort?
That I am not my own.
My Keeper so preserves me,
Each hair of mine is known.
No trials thwart salvation;
His plan they serve alone.
What is my only comfort?
That I am not my own.
His Spirit now assures me
Eternal life he’s sown
Inside me so I love him
For such great love he’s shown!
“Just hang on!”
Emma’s knees jittered against the side of the climbing wall as she looked up at her friends waiting for her at the top. She had never been so high off the ground before. They tried to encourage her.
“You can’t fall!”
Emma knew it was true. The harness around her was secure. The ropes were strong. But she was still afraid. She put her hand on the next peg. Her sweaty palm made it hard to grip.
Somehow she hoisted herself onto the last ledge. Her body shook, either from fear or from muscle exertion—she did not know, but she was finally at the top. Her friends grabbed her hands as soon as she was free, and cheered.
The following Sunday Emma was in church with her family, listening to the sermon. The minister talked about perseverance. We can be set back in our walk, like David and Peter were, but only for a time. God preserves us and keeps us from falling. Not one elect saint will be lost. Not one elect saint can be lost. It is God’s work to save us entirely, and to bring us home to himself where he is. That is our comfort, and that is his glory. The text was from Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help….” Emma remembered the last two verses: “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.”
Emma thought about her climb on the wall. Perhaps it was not a full picture of what the minister was talking about, but the effort gave her a vivid idea of what it means to be kept safe from falling. Hanging onto those pegs and ledges high off the ground was a fearful thing. But there was nothing to fear. So it is when we know our heavenly Father holds us. There is nothing to fear. He will take us through all the trials of this life, to be with him forever. All we can do is thank him. The Reformed faith is beautifully simple and sure.
* * *
“Thus it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy, that they do not totally fall from faith and grace…which with respect to themselves is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His counsel cannot be changed, nor His promise fail….”
Canons V, Article 8
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