Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that, without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation: and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.
The question of comfort is placed, and treated first, because it embodies the design and substance of the catechism. The design is, that we may be led to the attainment of sure and solid comfort, both in life and death. On this account, all divine truth has been revealed by God, and is especially to be studied by us. The substance of this comfort consists in this, that we are ingrafted into Christ by faith, that through him we are reconciled to, and beloved of God, that thus he may care for and save us eternally.
Concerning this comfort, we must enquire:
What is it?
In how many parts does it consist?
Why is it alone solid and sure?
Why is it necessary?
How many things are necessary for its attainment?
I. What is comfort?
Comfort is that which results from a certain process of reasoning, in which we oppose something good to something evil, that by a proper consideration of this good, we may mitigate our grief, and patiently endure the evil. The good therefore, which we oppose to the evil, must necessarily be great, and certain, in proportion to the magnitude of the evil with which it is contrasted. And as consolation is here to be sought against the greatest evil, which is sin, and eternal death, it is not possible that any thing short of the highest good, can be a sufficient remedy for it. Without the word of God, however, to direct and reveal the truth, there are almost as many opinions entertained as to what this highest good is, as there are men. The Epicureans place it in sensual pleasure; the Stoics in a proper regulation and moderation of the affections, or in the habit of virtue; the Platonists in ideas; the Peripatetics in the exercise of virtue; whilst the ordinary class of men place it in honors, riches, and pleasure. But all these things are transitory, and are either lost already in life, or they are at best interrupted and left behind in the hour of death. But the highest good after which we seek never fades away—no, not in death. It is true, indeed, that the honor of virtue is immortal, and, as the Poet says, survives men's funerals; but it is rather with others than with ourselves. And it has well been said by a certain one, that virtues cannot be considered the highest good, since we have them witnesses of our calamities. Hypocrites, both within and without the church, as Jews, Pharisees and Mahommetans, seek a remedy against death in their own merits, in outward forms and ceremonies. The Papists do the same thing. But mere external rites can neither cleanse nor quiet the consciences of men; nor will God be mocked with such offerings.
Therefore, although philosophy, and all the various sects, enquire after and promise such a good as that which affords solid comfort to man, both in life and death, yet they neither have, nor can bestow, that which is necessary to meet the demands of our moral nature. it is only the doctrine of the church that presents such a good, and that imparts a comfort that quiets, and satisfies the conscience; for it alone uncovers the fountain of all the miseries to which the human race is subject, and reveals the only way of escape through Christ. This, therefore, is that christian comfort, spoken of in this question of the catechism, which is an only and solid comfort, both in life and death—a comfort consisting in the assurance of the free remission of sin, and of reconciliation with God, by and on account of Christ, and a certain expectation of eternal life, impressed upon the heart by the holy Spirit through the gospel, so that we have no doubt but that we are the property of Christ, and are beloved of God for his sake, and saved forever, according to the declaration of the Apostle Paul:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress… c. (Rom. 8:35.)
II. Of how many parts does this comfort consist?
This comfort consists of six parts:
Our reconciliation with God through Christ, so that we are no longer the enemies, but the sons of God; neither are we our own, but we belong to Christ. (1. Cor. 7:23.)
The manner of our reconciliation with God through the blood of Christ, that is, through his passion, death, and satisfaction for our sins. (1 Peter 1:18. 1 John 1:7.)
Deliverance from the miseries of sin and death. Christ does not only reconcile us to God, but he also delivers us from the power of the devil; so that sin, death, and satan have no power over us. (Heb. 2:14. 1 John 3:8.)
The constant presentation of our reconciliation, deliverance, and whatever other benefits Christ has once purchased for us. We are his property; therefore, he watches over us as his own, so that not so much as a hair can fall from our heads without the will of our heavenly Father. Our safety does not lie in our own hands, or strength; for if it did, we should lose it a thousand times every moment.
The turning of all our evils into good. The righteous are, indeed, afflicted in this life, yea they are put to death, and are as sheep for the slaughter; yet these things do not injure them, but rather contribute to their salvation, because God turns all things to their advantage, as it is said: "All things work together for good to them that love God." (Rom. 8:27.)
Our full persuasion and assurance of all these great benefits, and of eternal life. This assurance is obtained, in the first place, from the testimony of the Holy Spirit working in us true faith, and conversion, bearing witness with our spirits that we are the sons of God, and that these blessings truly pertain to us; because "he is the earnest of our inheritance ;" and secondly, from the effects of true faith, which we perceive to be in us; such as true penitence, and a firm purpose to believe God and obey all his commandments; for we are assured of having true faith when we have an earnest desire of obeying God; and by faith we are persuaded of the love of God and eternal salvation. This is the foundation of all the other parts of this consolation which we have specified, and without which every other comfort is transient and unsatisfying amid the temptations of life. The substance of our comfort therefore is briefly this—That we are Christ's, and through him reconciled to the Father, that we may be beloved of him and saved, the Holy Ghost and eternal life being given unto us.
III. Why is this comfort alone solid?
That this comfort alone is solid, is evident, first, because it alone never fails—no, not in death; for "whether we live, or die, we are the Lord's;" and "who shall separate us from the love of Christ ?" (Rom. 14:8; 8:35.) And, secondly, because it alone remains unshaken, and sustains us under all the temptations of satan, who often thus assails the christian:
Thou art a sinner. To this, comfort replies—Christ has satisfied for my sins, and redeemed me with his own precious blood, so that I am no longer my own, but belong to him.
But thou art a child of wrath and an enemy of God.
Answer—I am, indeed, such by nature, and before my reconciliation; but I have been reconciled to God, and received into his favor through Christ.
But thou shalt surely die.
Ans. Christ has redeemed me from the power of death, and I know that through him I shall come forth from death unto eternal life.
But many evils, in the mean time, befall the righteous.
Ans. But Our Lord defends and preserves us under them, and makes them work together for our good.
But what if thou fall from the grace of Christ? For thou mayest sin, and faint, for it is a long and difficult road to Heaven.
Ans. Christ has not only merited and conferred his benefits upon me, but he also continually preserves me in them, and grants me perseverance, that I may neither faint nor fall from his grace.
But what if his grace does not extend to thee, and thou art not of the number of those who are the Lord's?
Ans. But I know that grace does extend to me, and that I am Christ's; because the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am a child of God; and because I have true faith, for the promise is general, extending to all them that believe.
But what if thou hast not true faith?
Ans. I know that I have true faith from the effects thereof; because I have a conscience at peace with God, and an earnest desire and will to believe and obey the Lord.
But thy faith is weak, and thy conversion imperfect.
Ans. Yet it is nevertheless true and unfeigned, and I have the blessed assurance that "to him that hath shall be given." "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief." (Luke 19:26. Mark 9:24.)
In this most severe and dangerous conflict, which all the children of God experience, christian consolation remains immoveable, and at length concludes: therefore Christ, with all his benefits, pertains even to me.
IV. Why is this comfort necessary?
From what has been said, it is clearly manifest that this comfort is necessary for us; First, on account of our salvation, that we may neither faint nor despair under our temptations, and the conflict in which we are all called to engage, as christians. And secondly, it is necessary on account of praising and worshipping God; for if we would glorify God in this, and in a future life, (for which we were created,) we must be delivered from sin and death; and not rush into desperation, but be sustained, even to the end, with sure consolation.
V. How many things are necessary for the attainment of this comfort?
This proposition is considered in the following question of the catechism, to which we refer the reader.
Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happy?
Answer. Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.
This question contains the statement and division of the whole catechism and at the same time accords with the division of the Scriptures into the Law and Gospel, and with the differences of these parts, as they have already been explained.
I. A knowledge of our misery is necessary for our comfort, not that it of itself administers any consolation, or is any part of it, (for of itself it rather alarms than comforts,) but it is necessary:
First, because it excites in us the desire of deliverance, just as a knowledge of disease awakens a desire of medicine on the part of the sick. Where there is no knowledge of our misery, there is no deliverance sought, just as the man who is ignorant of his disease never inquires after the physician. Now if we do not desire deliverance, we do not seek it; and if we do not seek it we will never obtain it, because God gives it only to those who seek, and knock, as it is said—"To him that knocketh, it shall be opened." "Ask, and it shall be given unto you." "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden." "I dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit." (Matt. 7:6; 5:6; 11:28. Isaiah 57:15.) That now which is necessary for the purpose of exciting in us a desire of deliverance, is also necessary for our comfort. But a knowledge of our misery is necessary for the purpose of creating in us the desire of deliverance. Therefore it is necessary for our consolation; not, indeed, as being in its own nature the cause, but as a motive, without which we would not seek it; for in itself it terrifies, yet this terror is advantageous when it leads to the exercise of faith.
Secondly, that we may be thankful to God for our deliverance. We should he ungrateful if we did not know the greatness of the evil, from which we have been delivered; because, in this case, we could not correctly estimate the magnitude of the blessing, and so would not obtain deliverance, since this is granted only to such as are thankful.
Thirdly, because without the knowledge of our sinfulness and misery, we cannot hear the gospel with profit; for unless, by the preaching of the law as touching sin and the wrath of God, a preparation be made for the proclamation of grace, a carnal security follows, and our comfort becomes unstable. Sure consolation cannot stand in connection with carnal security. Hence it is manifest that we must commence with the preaching of the law, after the example of the Prophets and Apostles, that men may thus be cast down from the conceit of their own righteousness, and may obtain a knowledge of themselves, and be led to true repentance. Unless this be done, men will become, through the preaching of grace, more careless and obstinate, and pearls will be cast before swine to be trodden under foot.
II. A knowledge of our deliverance is necessary for our comfort:
First, that we may not despair. A knowledge of our misery would lead us to despair, did not a way of deliverance present itself to us.
Secondly, that we may desire this deliverance. An unknown good is not desired; because what we have no knowledge of, we cannot desire. If we be ignorant, therefore, of the benefit of our deliverance, we will not long after it, and of course will not obtain it. Yea, if it were even offered to us, or we were to fall upon it, we would not embrace it.
Thirdly, that it may comfort us. A good that is not known, cannot impart any comfort.
Fourthly, that we may not devise another method of deliverance, or embrace one invented by others, and thereby cast a reproach upon the name of God, and endanger our salvation.
Fifthly, that we may receive it by faith; but faith cannot be without knowledge. Deliverance is also obtained by faith alone.
Lastly, that we may be thankful to God; for as we do not desire an unknown good, so we neither appreciate nor feel thankful for it. But the benefit of deliverance is not given to the ungrateful. God is pleased to confer it only upon those in whom it produces its proper effect, which is gratitude. For these reasons, a knowledge of our deliverance, what it is, in what manner and by whom it is effected, and bestowed, c., is necessarily required, that we may enjoy true and solid comfort. This knowledge is obtained from the gospel, as heard, read, and apprehended by faith; because it alone promises deliverance to those that believe in Christ.
III. A knowledge of gratitude is necessary to our comfort:
First, because God is pleased to grant deliverance only to the thankful. It is only in such that his purpose is realized, which is his glory and gratitude on our part. Gratitude is, therefore, the principal end, and design of our deliverance. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." "He hath adopted us to the praise of the glory of his grace." (1 John 3:8. Eph. 1:4.)
Secondly, that we may return such gratitude as is acceptable to God, who will not have us to be grateful under any other form than that which he has prescribed in his word. True gratitude is, therefore, not to be rendered according to our own notion, but is to be learned from the Word of God.
Thirdly, that we may know that whatever duties we perform towards God and our neighbor, are not meritorious, but are a declaration of our thankfulness; for that which we do from gratitude, we acknowledge we have not deserved.
Lastly, that our faith and comfort may be increased; or, that by this gratitude, we may assure ourselves of our deliverance, as we are made acquainted with the causes of things from their effects. Those who are grateful, acknowledge and profess that they are certain of the good which they have received. We may learn what true gratitude is, in general, from the gospel, because it requires faith and repentance in order that we may be saved, as it is said, "Repent, and believe the gospel, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Mark 1:15.) In the law, however, it is taught particularly, because it distinctly declares what works, and what manner of obedience is pleasing to God. We must, therefore, necessarily treat of thankfulness in the catechism.
Objection. It is not necessary to teach that which follows of its own accord. Gratitude naturally follows a knowledge of our misery and deliverance. Therefore there is no necessity that it should be taught.
Answer. There is here an incorrect course of reasoning, in supposing that to be true generally, which is so only in part; for it is not a just inference that because gratitude follows a knowledge of our deliverance from misery, that the manner of it must also necessarily follow. We are, therefore, to learn from the Holy Scriptures, the nature of true gratitude, and the manner in which it should be expressed, so as to be pleasing and acceptable to God. Again; the major proposition is not universally true; for that also which follows of its own accord, may be taught for the purpose of increasing our knowledge and confirming us therein. And it is in this way, that is, through the revelation and knowledge of his Word, that God awakens, increases, and confirms in us, true gratitude.