Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Reformation Day Review: The Quest for Comfort (The Story of the Heidelberg Catehchism)



First and foremost, I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to the author, William Boekestein, for being generous enough to send his little book to a virtual stranger like myself, pro bono. We've only known each other through the Internet for a short while, and I am both humbled and honored by his good gesture.

The thing about the book that hit me like a freight train was the new information that I received from it. I have indeed gone through the Heidelberg Catechism, and have been unanimously edified by the Gospel truths contained in it. However, I was not very well acquainted with its three authors, and this little biographical book has shown me that, once again (!), God has proved Himself to favor the Underdogs when it comes to the carrying out of the work of the Gospel! The Heidleberg Catechism was forged by Underdogs Caspar Olevianus, Zacharias Ursinus, and Frederick III.

The book starts off with Caspar Olevianus as a young man doing what most young men do—basically hang out and do nothing. LOL. But then a fork-in-the-road event happens, and Caspar finds himself in a situation not different from Martin Luther's lightning storm experience. The things is, one of his buddies in the group drowns while they were having a good time down by the river. The young guy who winds up dead is Frederick III's own son. The book does not explicitly state that the event is the primary instigator of Caspar's sudden decision to enter the ministry, but it does say that "Then and there Caspar decided to become a minister after he finished his studies in law." It appears the issues of life and death were suddenly thrust upon him by virtue of that heart-breaking event.

Caspar couldn't have had better theological training than he did, eventually being schooled under John Calvin. He then proceeded to minister in Treves, Germany. But like clockwork, the Roman Catholic authorities came down on him, and after refusing to vacate his position, he was then imprisoned. But if there ever was a perfect time to throw one's weight around, it was this, and Frederick III, as the top man of the Palatinate (a German state), used his political clout to secure Caspar's freedom and brought him to Heidelberg to preach and teach. Underdogs look out for each other for the glory of God!

The second key player in the story is Zacharias Ursinus. The books describes him as a "calm and shy person." Once again, I am reminded of another magisterial Reformer who had the same Underdog temperament, namely, John Calvin. Like Calvin, Zack preferred a life of quiet study, away from the pressures of public life. But then God's call comes (see Moses), and the comfort of "My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9) hits home, and he is given to the denial of himself for the ministry of his Lord's sheep. In fact, Zack also suffered from the rejection of his congregation. The book describes the latter as "often rude to their pastor."

In the midst of his church troubles, one of his best friends, another eminent Reformer who shared his Underdog temperament, Philip Melanchthon, dies. This was the proverbial "last straw" and Zack flees to Zurich, Switzerland for relief. It was here that he received and accepted Frederick III's invitation to preach and teach in Heidelberg.

The last of the players is Frederick III. Fred was born into a noble, political family. Interestingly enough, it was his girlfriend, a German princess named, Maria, who introduced him to the Reformed faith.

The godly couple got married and built a godly family, albeit a family not exempt from the woes of living in a fallen world. As mentioned before, Fred's son, Herman, died of drowning, and a daughter, at the age of fourteen, was lost as well. Undoubtedly, these were devastating blows, blows that, far from weakening Fred's faith, undoubtedly deepened his Underdogism even more.

Upon being thrust into a position of political power at the death of his uncle, and witnessing the disarray of the church in Heidelberg (an example of which the book gives is the brawl that ensued between a minister and a deacon in the middle of a worship service over differences in opinion about the Lord's Supper!), Fred set in motion the plan to further reform the church in Heidelberg through the acquisition of the two aforementioned men. The Heidelberg Catechism was born!

Fred, being the catholic Reformed guy that he was, had the document inspected and reviewed by many pastors and teachers. No less than John Calvin gave approval and lauded Fred as the "most illustrious prince" for his "labor to cherish and promote true religion."

Besides the edifying revelation that "the most influential of all the Reformation catechisms" was planned and penned by Underdogs, the artwork done on the book by Evan Hughes is superb. The book is a feast for the eyes, as well as the heart and mind.

Joel Beeke, in a sermon entitled "Calvin on Marriage and Family" stated:

"Family worship is the most powerful means for child-rearing. The Puritans believed that the most important thing you do in this world is engage in daily family worship."

and

"The Puritans believed that family was a gift of God. They believed that how we handled family was really an index of our sanctification."

This little book is a book for the family. It is meant to foster in our children the love and deep appreciation for the truths of Scripture confessed by the Reformation and put into writing by men who suffered and loved much. It will inspire them to do the same, and in the process hasten the sanctification of both the catechizer and the catechumen.






5 comments:

  1. Very nice! My church just finished going through the Heidelberg catechism on Sunday evenings. Lord willing, one day soon I'll add this to my Luther and Calvin children's books.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Comfort, assurance. More Christians could certainly use a lot more of those things.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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