Lord’s Day 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism stated that as Christians “we do good…so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us.” This explanation begs another question: How exactly do we show our gratitude to God? Today we’ll turn to Lord’s Day 34 in our URC Psalmody series, which begins a thorough and systematic answer to this essential question.
92 Q. What does the Lord say in his law?
[The Catechism here lists the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus xx.]
93 Q. How are these commandments divided?
A. Into two tables.
The first has four commandments,
teaching us what our relation to God should be.
The second has six commandments,
teaching us what we owe our neighbor.
94 Q. What does the Lord require in the first commandment?
A. That I, not wanting to endanger my very salvation,
avoid and shun
all idolatry, magic, superstitious rites,
and prayer to saints or to other creatures.
That I sincerely acknowledge the only true God,
trust him alone,
look to him for every good thing
humbly and patiently,
love him, fear him, and honor him
with all my heart.
In short, that I give up anything
rather than go against his will in any way.
95 Q. What is idolatry?
A. Idolatry is
having or inventing something in which one trusts
in place of or alongside of the only true God,
who has revealed himself in his Word.
236, “How Blest the Perfect in the Way” (Psalm 119)
“What does God say in his law?” Here the Catechism departs drastically both from the legalism of the Roman Catholic church and the antinomianism of the modern evangelical movement. Is there still a place for the law in the Christian life? Yes—not as an instrument of guilt, but rather as a rule of gratitude.
Having been set free from bondage to sin, we naturally ought to ask, “How can I best please God? What is his will for my life?” To answer this question, the Catechism (along with the historic church) looks to the Ten Commandments given by God to the people of Israel.
The very first section of Psalm 119, as versified in the blue Psalter Hymnal, calls attention to the manifold blessings that result from wholehearted obedience to God’s commandments.
How blest the perfect in the way,
Who from God’s law do not depart,
Who, holding fast the Word of truth,
Seek Him with undivided heart.
Yea, they are kept from paths of sin
Who walk in God’s appointed way;
Thy precepts Thou hast given us
That we should faithfully obey.
248, “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord” (Psalm 119)
“The first has four commandments, teaching us what our relation to God should be. The second has six commandments, teaching us what we owe our neighbor.” Here another setting of a segment of Psalm 119 is especially fitting:
How I love Thy law, O Lord!
Daily joy its truths afford;
In its constant light I go,
Wise to conquer every foe.
Thy commandments in my heart
Truest wisdom can impart;
To mine eyes Thy precepts show
Wisdom more than sages know.
While my heart Thy Word obeys,
I am kept from evil ways;
From Thy law, with Thee to guide,
I have never turned aside.
Sweeter are Thy words to me
Than all other good can be;
Safe I walk, Thy truth my light,
Hating falsehood, loving right.
122, “Let God Arise, and by His Might” (Psalm 68)
“That I, not wanting to endanger my very salvation, avoid and shun all idolatry, magic, superstitious rites, and prayer to saints or to other creatures.” What better starting point of God’s will for our lives could there be than the acknowledgment of his sovereignty? To give any homage to other “gods,” whether or not they may be physical idols, is to disown the very Sustainer of our souls. Even as it offers confidence to the righteous, Psalm 68 declares that any who seek to deny the only God are doomed to destruction.
Let God arise, and by His might
Let all His foes be put to flight;
But O ye righteous, gladly sing,
Exult before your God and King.
Jehovah’s praises sound abroad,
Rejoice before the living God;
Prepare the way that He may come
And make the desert places bloom.
Thou wilt rebuke the fierce and strong
Who hate the right and choose the wrong,
And scatter those who peace abhor,
The nations that delight in war.
The heathen princes yet shall flee
From idols and return to Thee;
Earth’s sinful and benighted lands
To God shall soon stretch out their hands.
282, “Exalt the Lord, His Praise Proclaim” (Psalm 135)
“That I sincerely acknowledge the only true God, trust him alone, look to him for every good thing humbly and patiently, love him, fear him, and honor him with all my heart.” The Heidelberg Catechism wonderfully reflects one beautiful aspect of the Ten Commandments: that they are not just prohibitions. Under these ten simple statutes lies the entire framework of the grateful Christian life, a life that grows increasingly holy and redounds to the glory of God. We see this reflected in the powerful words of question and answer 94, echoing the reverent lines of Psalm 135:
Exalt the Lord, His praise proclaim;
All ye His servants, praise His Name,
Who in the Lord’s house ever stand
And humbly serve at His command.
The Lord is good, His praise proclaim;
Since it is pleasant, praise His Name;
His people for His own He takes
And His peculiar treasure makes.
I know the Lord is high in state,
Above all gods our Lord is great;
The Lord performs what He decrees,
In heaven and earth, in depths and seas.
He makes the vapors to ascend
In clouds from earth’s remotest end;
The lightnings flash at His command,
He holds the tempest in His hand.
Forever praise and bless His Name,
And in the Church His praise proclaim;
In Zion is His dwelling-place;
Praise ye the Lord, show forth His grace.