perhaps none is as well-loved as the Heidelberg Catechism. In the opening question and answer, the personal and distinctive tone of the catechism becomes evident. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” This is not a theoretical question — “What would be necessary if God were to comfort sinners?” Rather, this is a very practical question — “How do I have comfort as long as I live and then when I die?”
The key word in the opening question is comfort (German, trost). The word refers to our assurance and confidence in the finished work of Christ. This comfort extends to all of life and even to the hour of death. As one of the authors of the catechism (Zacharius Ursinus) puts it in his commentary on the catechism, this comfort entails “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 saved forever, according to the declaration of the apostle Paul: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Note that the catechism speaks of our “only” comfort. There is no other such comfort and assurance to be found apart from Christ.
In answering the opening question, the catechism asserts that “I, with body and soul, both in life and in death,” will have this comfort. A paraphrase of Romans 14:7–8 here, we are reminded that God’s care extends to us throughout the course of our lives. Christ has removed the curse; there is assurance of salvation in this life and the resurrection of our bodies at the end of the age (see Q & A 57–58). This knowledge comforts us now and prepares us for whatever lies ahead.
Our comfort derives from the fact that “I am not my own.” These words are taken from 1 Corinthians 6:19–20: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We are Christ’s, and He will do with us as He wills. This comfort is based on the fact that God is sovereign and has the power to do as He has promised. Continue reading