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Heidelberg Catechism – Lord’s Day 7B



* Before you begin: Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-9

21. What is true faith?
True faith is not only a sure knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word,(1) but also a hearty trust,(2) which the Holy Ghost(3) works in me by the Gospel,(4) that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God,(5) merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.(6)

(1)Jas. 1:6. (2)Rom. 4:16-18; 5:1. (3)II Cor. 4:13; Phil. 1:19, 29. (4)Rom. 1:16; 10:17. (5)Heb. 11:1-2; Rom. 1:17. (6)Eph. 2:7-9; Rom. 3:24-25; Ga. 2:16; Acts 10:43.


After Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded in the tower of London, they found in his Bible these true and striking lines, written the night before his death: “Even such is time, that takes in trust Our youth, our joys, our all we have, And pays us but with age and dust; Who in the dark and silent grave, When we have wandered all our ways, Shuts up the story of our days. But from this earth, this grave, this dust, My God shall raise me up, I trust!”
All the things of this world he had lost, but he had kept his faith; and faith spoke to him of a hope and life beyond the grave.

As the catechist reminds us: faith is:_
A SURE KNOWLEDGE! – a conviction that everything God’s Word is the complete, entire, true WORD OF GOD.
A HEARTY TRUST! – COMPLETE ASSURANCE IN GOD which is created in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, applying the preached WORD of God, the GOSPEL to my heart – and to the hearts of others. So faith is THE GIFT OF GOD, given to us freely by God. Such ‘deep rooted assurance’ is NOT deep rooted ARROGANCE! We do not despise those who have doubt. Jude 1:22 And have mercy on those who doubt.

Free gifts that God gives us through faith:

  • Forgiveness,
  • Everlasting righteousness, Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Hebrews 11:1-2. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.
  • Salvation.

These gifts are given by grace through faith alone, through Christ alone, so, since forgiveness, righteousness that extends into eternity and salvation are free gifts, – even the faith by which we accept them is a gift, so boasting is excluded! Ephesians 2:7-9 …so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. FAITH BRINGS US TO OUR KNEES IN HUMILITY!

We often talk about having a ‘PERSONAL FAITH IN CHRIST.’ As a boy, I knew the Gospel – I’d heard the simple Gospel story from a local Presbyterian elder, who’d faithfully held children’s meetings on the walkway steps in our neighbourhood, heard that God loved sinners, and the Jesus had died on the Cross so that we could come to him, and have all our sins forgiven. I went to a large fundamentalist church in Belfast on Sunday evenings. I knew the gospel, I’d heard all the appeals, and I’d seen people raise their hands and walk to the front and shake hands with the preacher, and make their way into the counselling room. I kept my eyes open, when ‘all heads are bowed, and all eyes are closed” and I watched with a complete sense of detachment. I knew the facts, I saw the responses. It meant nothing to me. UNTIL, one day, listening to a preacher explaining Isaiah 53, God opened my eyes to realise that Christ’s atoning death on the cross was for MY sins. It was only then could I regret the offence that I had caused The Lord, and fully realise that my sins were so serious that God had to punish his holy and spotless son so that my sins could be cleansed and I could be forgiven. Only then could I be so sufficiently appalled by my sin that I was led to repent, believe and be saved.
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.


22. What, then, is necessary for a Christian to believe?
All that is promised us in the Gospel,(1) which the articles of our catholic, undoubted Christian faith teach us in summary.
(1)Jn. 20:31; Mt. 28:20. II Pet. 1:21; II Tim. 3:15.
23. What are these articles?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

My local church is a constituent part of the Congregational Union of Ireland. That church body is a fairly broad church, within an evangelical framework. But fifty or sixty years ago the CUI was largely liberal, – as was the Congregational Union of England and Wales. That liberalism manifested itself in a form of acredal, non-dogmatic churchmanship. One of the leading figures in the Union at that time wrote a leaflet to explain what Congregationalism was about. He mentioned the (greatly exaggerated) importance of local church independence, and some other supposed congregational distinctives, and one of those was that in Congregationalism we are able to believe totally different things (presumably within vaguely Christian parameters) and still agree to disagree. One of the distinctive features of Congregationalism was ‘gentlemanliness’. In fact he described that as ‘the genius of Congregationalism’. And the reason that we could all agree to disagree so amicably, was that we had no creeds! It was almost a badge of honour, that the churches were acredal.

Liberalism in Irish Congregationalism is no longer in fashion. It has taken its toll, and it has largely given way to baptistic, revivalistic evangelicalism, but even so, in some churches, the acredal position remains. Until very recent times it has been possible to pick up leaflets in local churches which make a doctrinal statements like, “Our church has no creed but the Bible”. That sounds very pious, but in fact it is wrongheaded and dangerous. The historic creeds do not REPLACE Scripture, they aim to DISTILL Scripture into a simple statement of faith, which provide an essential basis – the minimum doctrinal understanding required to be part of Christ’s Church.

What is a creed? A statement of belief. Even simple statements of faith are ‘credal’ – like: ‘I believe in God’ so in fact to say that we have no creed but the Bible is a ridiculous statement. Historical creeds include the ‘Apostle’s Creed’ – (the Apostle’s Creed was not written by the Apostles. – it was a summary of apostolic doctrine). ‘‘The Nicene Creed’ The Athanasian Creed’. The Reformed Confessions also are Credal Statements – Like the Westminster Confession, or The Savoy Declaration, or the London Baptist Confession.An easy test for people to make sure that what they are hearing is Biblical.

Do we still need creeds? I firmly believe that we do, and more so than ever! They are an easy test for people to make sure that what they are hearing is Biblical. Today, many churches are not preaching doctrinally – they preach morals, or homilies that are centred more on the churchgoer, or seeker, than on the Saviour. What if we were to hear a sermon, then publicly recite the creed, to compare what we have heard with what the church has historically believed? Would that not be good method of teaching basic Christian truths to the congregation? Traditionally, unlike Anglicans, evangelical or reformed churches have not used a formal credal statement in public worship – usually because the ideal was that doctrine was taught from the pulpit. Perhaps that should now change!

The Heidelberg instructor insists that in order to be saved, – to be a Christian BELIEVER there is an irreducible minimum of truth that we must believe, teach and confess. Faith is about believing – with the head and with the heart. It is an intellectual assent and a hearty Amen to the Apostles Doctrine and Faith. The catechist then states that the irreducible minimum is summed up in the words of the Apostles Creed. The apostle Paul also insisted that there is an irreducible minimum of doctrine when he wrote:
1 Corinthians 15:1-9. Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Think about it!
Think of your own church. Would your church benefit for a weekly or even occasional verbal statement of the historic faith of the church?

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