War and Peace in the Solas of the Heidelberg Catechism
Rev. Angus Stewart
Christian's calling to engage in holy war against the lie
and his enjoyment of the blessing of spiritual peace can
both be helpfully summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism's
teaching on the five solas of the Reformation (sola
is Latin for alone or only). Salvation is by faith alone in
Christ alone through grace alone to the glory of God alone
according to Scripture alone. The solas exclude and so fight
against all that "adds" to the truth of the gospel, for, in
reality, any addition takes away from it and so denies it.
The solas give us peace because they shut us up to the only
comfort of God's rich and free salvation.
We are justified before
the Holy One "only by a true faith" (A. 60) or "by faith
only" (Q. & A. 61) "without
the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:28).
This is great "profit" to the believer for he or she is
"righteous in Christ before God and an heir of eternal life"
(Q. & A. 59)! In short, "we are made partakers of Christ and
all His benefits by faith only" (Q. 65).
This first sola (faith
alone) militates against any and all other ways of receiving
and applying to ourselves (imputed) righteousness
(A. 61) and preserves us so that we "may never be condemned
before the tribunal of God" (A. 56).
being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our
Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1).
Lord's Day 11 proclaims
Jesus as the "only Savior" (Q. 30) and "the only deliverer
and Savior," since He is the "complete Savior" and we "find
all things in Him necessary to [our] salvation" (A. 30).
Thus "we ought not to seek, neither can find salvation in
any other" (A. 29). With its eye especially on Roman
Catholicism, the Catechism asks, "Do such then
believe in Jesus the only Savior, who seek their salvation
and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else?" (Q.
30). Its answer is simple and direct: "They do not: for
though they boast of Him in words, yet in deeds they deny
Jesus the only deliverer and Savior" (A. 30). Christ alone
negates and opposes all other alleged saviors or co-saviors.
Christ is our "only High Priest" who redeemed us by "the one
sacrifice of His body" (A. 31), for it is "the only
propitiatory sacrifice" (A. 37). The Heidelberger emphasizes
this truth especially in connection with the sacraments
which direct us to "that one sacrifice of Christ
accomplished on the cross" (A. 66) "as the only ground of
our salvation" (Q. 67), for "the Holy Ghost teaches us in
the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole
of our salvation depends upon the one sacrifice of Christ
which He offered for us on the cross" (A. 67).
Regarding the first sacrament, we are "admonished and
assured by holy baptism that the one sacrifice of Christ
upon the cross is of real advantage to us" (Q. 69), for "the
blood of Jesus Christ only [applied by] the Holy Ghost [can]
cleanse us from all sin" (A. 72).
Likewise, the Lord's Supper admonishes and assures us that
"that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished" at Calvary (Q.
75) is "the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself
accomplished on the cross" (A. 80). This is of unspeakable
comfort to the elect, "Because, with respect to the justice
and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made no
otherwise than by the death of the Son of God" (A. 40, cf.
Lord's Days 4-6), for "only the satisfaction, righteousness,
and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God" (A.
The gospel of Christ alone explains the origin of, and
justifies, the Catechism's condemnation of the blasphemous
sacrament of Roman Catholicism. Since "the mass teaches that
the living and the dead have not the pardon of sins through
the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily
offered up for them by the priests ... the mass, at bottom,
is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and
sufferings of Jesus Christ" (A. 80).
Christ is the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6) to those who
trust in Him alone, but the divine warrior (Isa. 63:1-4;
Rev. 19:11) against all who reject Him or deny Him as the
only, complete Savior and His all-sufficient cross.
The Heidelberger's treatment of "true faith" includes the
intimately related doctrines of grace alone and Christ
alone: "to me also, remission of sin, everlasting
righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely
of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits" (Q. & A.
Lord's Day 23 mentions all of the three solas we have spoken
of so far in this article. I am "righteous before God" (Q.
60) "only by a true faith" and "only of mere grace" (A. 60)
"because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness
of Christ is my righteousness before God" (A. 61).
The Reformation gospel of grace alone is always engaged in a
holy warfare against salvation by man's works, for "we are
delivered from our misery merely of grace, through Christ,
without any merit of ours" (Q. 86). Every true believer
confesses that it is "without any merit of mine, but only of
mere grace" that I am "righteous before God" through Christ
(Q. & A. 60).
This is the comforting,
antithetical gospel of the sovereign grace of our covenant
by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of
yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should
boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
God's Glory Alone!
The "one only true and
eternal God" is three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
subsisting in "one only divine essence" (Q. & A. 25). To Him
all glory is due for "our creation," "our redemption" and
"our sanctification" (A. 24).
As the "only true God," we
must "know," "glorify" and "trust in Him alone," and "expect
all good things from Him only" (A. 94). Since "the mass
teaches that … Christ is bodily under the form of bread and
wine, and therefore is to be worshiped in them," it is "an
accursed idolatry" (A. 80), for "Idolatry is, instead of, or
besides that one true God, who has manifested Himself in His
Word, to contrive, or have any other object, in which men
place their trust" (A. 95).
Because Jehovah is the
"only true God," the first commandment impels us to "avoid
and flee from all idolatry, sorcery, soothsaying,
superstition, [and] invocation of saints, or any other
creatures" (A. 94). Regarding the third
commandment, the Heidelberger argues that since God is "the
only one who knows the heart," we must not "swear by saints
or any other creatures" (Q. & A. 102). Thus the Catechism
proceeds from the truth of God alone and the first and third
commandments to condemn especially Romanism for praying to,
and swearing by, "saints or any other creatures" (A. 94,
Moving from the Decalogue,
which is in the first section of the third part of the
Heidelberger on gratitude, we come to prayer which is the
"chief part of thankfulness" (A. 116). We learn here that we
must "from the heart pray to the one true God only" (A.
117). The exposition of the fourth petition of the Lord's
Prayer explains that, since Jehovah is "the only fountain of
all good," we must "withdraw our trust from all creatures
and place it alone in [Him]" (A. 125).
God alone is the strength
and peace of all His children, as the Psalmist confessed, "Truly
my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation. He
only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall
not be greatly moved" (Ps. 62:1-2).
The truth that Scripture alone is the supreme standard and
rule for faith and life (cf. Belgic Confession 7) is not
expressly stated in the Heidelberg Catechism, as are the
other four solas, but it may be easily deduced from it "by
good and necessary consequence" (cf. Westminster Confession
The "one true God only" has "manifested Himself in His Word"
(A. 117) and we know of the Mediator "from the holy gospel"
(A. 19). Therefore, it is "necessary for a Christian to
believe" "all things promised us in the gospel" (Q. & A.
Since Jehovah rules us by His "Word," which is blessed to
our hearts and lives by His "Spirit," the second petition of
the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come," includes praying
against "all wicked counsels devised against [God's] holy
Word" (A. 123). The Heidelberger specifies two such ungodly
attacks against Scripture: founding good works "on our
imaginations or the institutions of men" (A. 91) and
worshiping Him "in any other way than He has commanded in
His Word" (A. 96).
thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every
false way" (Ps. 119:104)—this is the call to holy war for
the Christian. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light
unto my path" (Ps. 119:105)—this is the way of spiritual
peace for the believer.
Our Only Comfort!
Beginning with our "only comfort in life and death" (Q. 1),
our Catechism includes and presents, both positively and
negatively, the five great solas of the biblical and
Reformed faith. Only by maintaining these five gospel solas
can we and do we confess that our "only comfort in life and
death" is "That I with body and soul, both in life and
death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior
Jesus Christ" (Q. & A. 1)!