To recall the street named Aldersgate is to be reminded that the history of the Church is, among other things, the history of the effort to hold in balance correct doctrine and vital experience. Names like Chrysostom, Luther, Zinzendorf, and Kierkegaard signal the struggle, which in 1563 reached a pinnacle in the Heidelberg Catechism of Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, both Reformers of the second generation.
In this year of the 400th anniversary of this acknowledged masterpiece, we do well to celebrate its doctrinal fidelity and devotional warmth. Its first question keynotes the depth, comfort, and beauty of the entire catechism, penetrating immediately to the heart of evangelical piety. Observe well the stress upon personal experience of doctrinal truths:
What is thy only comfort in life and in death?
Answer. That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.
Modern confessional statements somehow do not sound like this. Nor is ours noted as an age of devotional classics, of Christian saints towering over journeyman Christians. William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God, Richard Baxter’s The Saints’ Everlasting Rest—such titles fall strangely upon the modern ear; they have a distant ring. ...1
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