Where to Find Assurance: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 27


Tomorrow is Lord’s Day 27. Here are the questions from the Heidelberg Catechism for this Sunday.

Q: 72. Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?
A: Not at all: for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.

Q: 73. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism “the washing of regeneration,” and “the washing away of sins”?
A: God speaks thus not without great cause, namely, not only thereby to teach us, that as the filth of the body is purged away by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ; but especially that by this divine pledge and sign he may assure us, that we are spiritually cleansed from our sins as really, as we are externally washed with water.

Q: 74. Are infants also to be baptized?
A: Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.

There is a theme in these sections on the sacraments; assurance. The answer to question 67 says, “The Holy Spirit assures us in the sacraments.” Question 69 says that as surely as I am washed externally with water so I am “certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all pollution of my soul.” And here in question 73 we see that baptism is given so that we might be assured that we are spiritually clean. Not to belabor the point, but the sacraments are given, like the promise of the Gospel, to assure us that Christ has paid all and our sins can be forgiven in him. When we struggle with doubt, we need to look at the gospel, which is given to us in the Word and in the sacraments.  Here is one good reason to have weekly communion and to baptize publicly in worship. We are reminded of Christ’s work every time we take communion and see someone baptized.

Children should be baptized. They belong to the covenant people. To refuse to baptize children is to say they are excluded from the church of God and strangers to the covenants of promise. This is contrary to both the Old Testament and New Testament teaching, as well as the teaching of the Reformers. Bringing children into the covenant is one of the greatest privileges we have as parents and is a great spur to trust in God’s grace as we bring them up.

These questions rule out that baptism automatically saves you or imparts faith. What saves us is trust in Christ and his shed blood. It is possible to be baptized and to eat the Lord’s Supper every week and be damned. Those of us who love the sacraments need to be reminded of this.

Most Recent Events Matter Very Little

T. David Gordon’s book Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns is superb. He does a good job of making us reevaluate our presuppositions concerning the importance of sacred music. Throughout the book there is running critique of contemporary pop culture.  Here is a paragraph on why we should give our attention to events from long ago, but shouldn’t give much attention to what happened recently.

A historian, Sommerville has a predictable thesis: there is wisdom to be gained from giving our attention to things that happened some time ago (say, thirty years or more). The consequences of such events can be observed, and a chorus of interpreters of those consequences can place their thoughts before the public, which can judge whether the interpreters of those consequences are right, and whether lessons can be learned. But this cannot be done with what happened yesterday. We do not and cannot know the consequences of a recent event, nor is there time for competent interpreters to develop their interpretations. The news “makes us dumb” because we give our attention to what can never make us wiser…in giving so much attention to what is recent, Sommerville argues, we become contemporaneists, people who intuitively believe that giving attention to what is recent is more important that giving attention to what is not recent. Otherwise, why would I care to read a newspaper account of someone robbing a convenience store yesterday rather than read an account of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

We often believe and are told that certain recent events will have great impact on the future. That could be laws that are passed or treaties that are made or politicians that are voted into office. But the truth is we rarely can tell the impact of major events until decades later.  Even something as massive as 9/11  with all that followed is hard to evaluate. This does not mean we cannot make value judgments on laws and actions. But it does mean to properly understand the recent past we must immerse ourselves in the distant past. The truth is most recent events that fly across our screens or phones and get us all riled up or excited are transitory and of little significance. Here a couple of closing quotes from this section of Gordon’s book

Many events hold our attention merely because they are recent, proved by the fact that we almost never read a newspaper that is a week old. If a historian wrote a book about the mundane realities that appear in the newspaper ( or on the televised news), no one would read  the book. We expect historians to exercise good judgment about which events are worthy of our attention-an expectation with which we do not encumber “the news.”

The reason The Boston Globe cannot sell me a newspaper is the same reason Time cannot sell me a weekly newsmagazine, which is the same reason I’ve never seen Katie Couric anchor the evening news: I don’t believe recently occurring events are ordinarily worthy of my attention…Further, I am very self-aware of a value issue here: is something worthy of my (limited) attention merely because it occurred recently?