Lord’s Day 4: But He Is Also Just

Catechism and Psalter

This past weekend, Reformed Christians in many places across the globe enjoyed a special “fireworks show” of sorts in commemoration of the Heidelberg Catechism’s 450th “birthday” (its preface by Frederick III was dated January 19th, 1563).  There was a small explosion of conferences, webcasts, sermons, and blog posts related to the Catechism and its lasting importance to the church of Christ.  One of the most significant developments was the launching of a brand-new website sponsored by the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary.  Heidelberg-Catechism.com is intended to be a kind of “Grand Central Station” for all things related to this historic document; I heartily recommend it to anyone interested.

Meanwhile, for our humbler part here on URC Psalmody, it’s time to return to our weekly series on the Heidelberg Catechism.  Today we turn to Lord’s Day 4—an exposition on the doctrine of original sin, a stinging reminder for complacent Christians, and a death-knell for those who live in rebellion against God.

9 Q.  But doesn’t God do man an injustice by requiring in his law what man is unable to do?

A.  No, God created man with the ability to keep the law.
Man, however, tempted by the devil,
in reckless disobedience,
robbed himself and his descendants of these gifts.

10 Q.  Will God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?

A.  Certainly not.
He is terribly angry
about the sin we are born with
as well as the sins we personally commit.

As a just judge
he punishes them now and in eternity.

He has declared:
“Cursed be every one who does not abide by
all things written in the book of the law,
and do them.”

11 Q.  But isn’t God also merciful?

God is certainly merciful,
but he is also just.
His justice demands
that sin, committed against his supreme majesty,
be punished with the supreme penalty—
eternal  punishment of body and soul.

Suggested Songs

61, “The Trespass of the Wicked Man” (Psalm 36)

“Man, however, tempted by the devil, in reckless disobedience, robbed himself and his descendants of these gifts.”  Psalm 36 contains a candid description of the characteristics of the wicked.  This setting skillfully captures the catechism’s ideas of “reckless disobedience” (in stz. 1) and the loss of God’s good gifts (in stz. 3):

The trespass of the wicked man
Most plainly testifies
That fear of God’s most holy Name
Is not before his eyes.

The words he utters with his mouth
Are wickedness and lies;
He keeps himself from doing good,
And ceases to be wise.

8, “O Jehovah, Hear My Words” (Psalm 5)

“As a just judge he punishes [our sins] now and in eternity.”  With a balance of petition and praise, Psalm 5 declares that the almighty God is the supreme Judge of humanity; it belongs to him alone to reward righteousness and punish wickedness.  For this study, the second stanza of Psalter Hymnal number 8 is particularly fitting:

Thou, Jehovah, art a God
Who delightest not in sin;
Evil shall not dwell with Thee,
Nor the proud Thy favor win.
Evildoers Thou dost hate,
Lying tongues Thou wilt defeat;
God abhors the man who loves
Violence and base deceit.

94, “God, Be Merciful to Me” (Psalm 51)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“God is certainly merciful, but he is also just.”  While it is not completely literal to the text of Psalm 51, “God, Be Merciful to Me” powerfully brings out the coexistence of the Lord’s mercy and justice, especially in the second stanza:

My transgressions I confess,
Grief and guilt my soul oppress;
I have sinned against Thy grace
And provoked Thee to Thy face;
I confess Thy judgment just,
Speechless, I Thy mercy trust.

294, “Lord, Hear Me in Distress” (Psalm 143)

“His justice demands that sin, committed against his supreme majesty, be punished with the supreme penalty—eternal  punishment of body and soul.”  Psalm 143 is a fitting response to the entirety of Lord’s Day 4.  As we read these sad truths about our condition, our reaction should be one of distress, a “suppliant cry” to the Lord:

In judgment do not cause
Thy servant to be tried;
Before Thy holy laws
No man is justified.

Later in the Catechism (Q&A 127), we learn that we have three principal enemies: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  Thus we can legitimately sing, “The enemy has sought/My soul in dust to tread,” in reference to the depths of our own sin.  We realize that the Lord must have mercy on us, “lest bitter death I taste” (stz. 4).  As we reach the end of this song, however, we rest in the assurance that he certainly will.

Lord, save me from my foe,
To Thee for help I flee;
Teach me Thy way to know,
I have no God but Thee.
By Thy good Spirit led
From trouble and distress,
My erring feet shall tread
The path of uprightness.


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