Some time ago I listened through a set of conference tapes put out by Westminster West, and blogged on that experience, calling the series something like “Yelling At My Windshield.” That series of posts is in the archives here, located somewhere under Auburn Avenue Stuff. I mention it now because this particular part of my oeuvre was alluded to in a comment to my post on the Westminster Confession’s teaching on baptism. In that comment, Aaron Cummings said, “I listened to one of the Westminster West profs lambaste you, saying, ‘Doug Wilson, if you’re listening to this and pounding the windshield, please, give your comments on Heidelberg #21 and #60.’ Would you be so kind as to fulfill this request?”
Sure. So let me say this about HC 21 and 60.
First, at Christ Church our liturgy follows the church year, and recitation of the Heidelberg Catechism is part of our worship every Lord’s Day morning. Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, so we have six weeks to go before the entire congregation confesses together the first of these two questions, and twenty-two weeks to go for the second. The entire congregation answers these questions, confessing our faith together.
Second, I am teaching the Lordship Colloquium at New St. Andrews this year, and one of the class requirements is to memorize key portions of the Heidelberg Catechism. As it turns out, just last week our freshman class all memorized Q60. In Jerusalem Term, they memorized Q21 (along with a number of others). This morning, before receiving this question, I just finished drafting the written portion of their final, which requires them to write out completely two of the answers that they have memorized this term. I would like to inquire of this professor at Westminster West if his students can stand at the beginning of each class period, as my students do, and recite together the most recent question they have memorized.
Third, we do this because we believe it. We are confessing our faith, learning our faith, and deepening in our love for our faith.
And fourth, lest this all be dismissed as some kind of nutso classical college parrot-drill — where it is alleged that we might know what the Heidelberg Catechism says, but we don’t really believe it, as opposed to those true souls elsewhere who believe it, but don’t know what it says — let me summarize each of these answers in my own words.
What is true faith?
It is not only a certain knowledge by which I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word, but also a wholehearted trust which the Holy Spirit creates in me through the gospel, that, not only to others, but to me also God has given the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation, out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s saving work.
I take this to mean that true faith is not just a confident knowledge that whatever God has revealed in Scripture has to be true, but also that it is a settled trust and confidence (this also a work of the Holy Spirit in my heart through the gospel) that God has not just saved other people, but that He has bestowed the grace of salvation on me also. This salvation, a sheer gift of nothing but grace, brings with it forgiveness for my sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation. This is all done through Christ’s work of obedience alone. In the work of salvation, Christ did His part and I did mine. He did the saving, and I got in the way.
How are you righteous before God?
Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have not kept any one of them, and that I am still ever prone to all that is evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of my own, out of pure grace, grants me the benefits of the perfect expiation fo Christ, imputing to me his righteousness and holiness as if I had never committed a single sin or had ever been sinful, having fulfilled myself all the obedience which Christ has carried out for me, if only I accept such favor with a trusting heart.
I take this to mean that the true faith, described above in #21, is the sole instrument that God uses to declare me righteous before Him. Even though my conscience can accuse me of gross violations of God’s commandments, having broken all of them, with a tendency still to veer off toward evil, nevertheless God, without accepting or regarding any moral or ethical contributions from me, but rather out of unadulterated grace alone, gave and imputed to me all the perfections of Christ. These perfections included the perfect satisfaction of His death, not to mention the righteousness and holiness of His perfect sinless life. The result of this unspeakable grace is that it is as though I had never done anything wrong at all in my entire life, and also as though the perfect life that Christ actually lived had really been lived by me. All this is mine to extent that I accept such benefits with a believing heart, in true faith. And amen.
That said, let me make just a couple of concluding remarks. I believe all of this, and I believe it with a whole heart. I am even largely comfortable with the assertion in #21 that true faith accepts everything that God has revealed, meaning that those who deny the infallibility of Scripture are at the very least susceptible to the charge that theirs is not a true faith. Does our Westminster West friend come with me this far? Does he believe that “true faith accepts as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word,” and that if someone holds as false something that God has revealed as true, that such faith is quite likely not a true faith?