Happy Heidelbirthday: Lord’s Day 1

All you need for this study!

All you need for this study!

The year was 1563.  The place was a town in Germany.  The story involved two young men, ages 26 and 28, and the ruler of the most influential German province.  The event was the publication of a small German booklet containing something called a catechism.

Yes, it was in January 1563, 450 years ago, that the Heidelberg Catechism of Frederick III, Zacharius Ursinus, and Caspar Olevianus was first published.  Since then it has become the fourth most widely read work in the world; it has been translated into the languages of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and is certainly the most beloved defense of the Reformed faith.

Although it is known the world over, we in the continental Reformed tradition “own” the Heidelberg Catechism in a unique way; the great Synod of Dort approved it in 1618-1619, and since then it has comprised one of the “Three Forms of Unity” of the Reformed churches, along with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort.

To understand the value of the Heidelberg Catechism, one has only to read it.  What I’d like to begin today, therefore, isn’t another commentary on the catechism—there are plenty of those already.  Instead, I’d just like to post an excerpt from the Heidelberg each Wednesday in 2013 (after all, the catechism is conveniently divided into 52 sections for year-round preaching) and suggest a few songs from the Psalter Hymnal that reinforce its themes.

Incidentally, this might be a great model for a personal devotion time.  Imagine sitting down comfortably with your pocket Psalter Hymnal (if you are fortunate enough to own one!), turning to the back to read from the catechism, studying its accompanying Scripture texts, then singing one of these psalms or hymns each morning or evening.  That’s what I hope to do along with you as I prepare these posts!

So, without further ado, let’s begin with these opening words of comfort from the Heidelberg Catechism:

1  Q.  What is your only comfort in life and death?

A.  That I am not my own,
but belong–
body and soul,
in life and in death–
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

2 Q.  What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A.  Three things:
first, how great my sin and misery are;
second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery;
third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.

Suggested Songs

Before I delve into some specific psalms and hymns for portions of the catechism, I ought to note that the entire first Question and Answer was paraphrased and set to music in the 2010 URCNA Hymn Proposal.  The tune is EWING, and the text begins, “I have no other comfort/Which life and death endures,/Than that I am my Savior’s,/Whose death my life secures.”  Now that the Hymn Proposal has faded into the sunset, sheet music for this song may be hard to find; nevertheless, it could certainly be utilized well here!  Having said that:

288, “Lord, Thou Hast Searched Me And Dost Know”
289, “All That I Am I Owe to Thee” (Psalm 139)

(288 on YouTube | 289 sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul…” The very first songs that come to mind here are the same ones I shared with you yesterday to celebrate New Year’s.  While it deals with a broad range of topics, Psalm 139 is at its simplest an expression of our total dependence on God.  Perhaps the creators of the 1912 Psalter had the first words of the Heidelberg Catechism in mind as they paraphrased Psalm 139:13, 14:

All that I am I owe to Thee,
Thy wisdom, Lord, has fashioned me;
I give my Maker thankful praise,
Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.

22, “When in the Night I Meditate” (Psalm 16)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“…in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…”  The psalmist David knew the comfort that comes only from resting in God in life and in death when he wrote, “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.  You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:10, 11 ESV).  “When in the Night I Meditate,” a beautiful versification of this portion of Psalm 16, reminds us of our Savior on whom we must rely.  “Because on Him my trust is stayed,/My flesh in hope shall rest.”

114, “Praise Waits for Thee in Zion” (Psalm 65)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“…He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood…”  Psalm 65 is a jubilant expression of praise to God for his free forgiveness and awesome deeds.  Two sections from the Psalter Hymnal’s paraphrase tie this song closely to the message of Q&A 1:

Our sins rise up against us,
Prevailing day by day,
But Thou wilt show us mercy
And take their guilt away.

In all earth’s habitations,
On all the boundless sea,
Man finds no sure reliance,
No peace, apart from Thee.

469, “By the Sea of Crystal”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“…and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil…” The beloved hymn “By the Sea of Crystal” is typically viewed as a song for funerals, or for the close of a service.  But William Kuipers’s hymn is not merely about the New Jerusalem; it is a glorious snapshot of the redemption worked for us by Christ.  How can we fail to be moved by these words?

Out of tribulation,
Death, and Satan’s hand,
They have been translated
At the Lord’s command…

132, “From Days of Early Youth, O God” (Psalm 71)

“…He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”  The entirety of Psalm 71 is a picture of confident trust in God, but I find the versification of Psalter Hymnal #132 particularly poignant.  The psalmist extols God for teaching him “from days of early youth,” and pleads, “O gracious God, forsake me not/When I am old and gray,/That unto those that follow me/I may Thy might display.”  Near the end of this beautiful psalm, he declares:

Thou Holy One of Israel,
To Thee sweet songs I raise;
The soul Thou hast redeemed from death
Shall give Thee joyful praise.

What a glorious comfort is ours.

–MRK

Catechism and Psalter

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3 Responses to “Happy Heidelbirthday: Lord’s Day 1”


  1. 1 Nancy A. Almodovar January 2, 2013 at 7:53 am

    You pretty much just wrote my intro on the Heidelberg for my dissertation…I’m now going to have to footnote and cite your blog in it. 🙂 love this.


  1. 1 Lord’s Day 2: The Law of God Tells Me « URC Psalmody Trackback on January 9, 2013 at 7:03 am

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