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.