The Church’s Book of Comfort, Willem van ’t Spijker (ed.), Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009. Hardcover, 291 pages, $30.00 USD.
Celebrating its 450th birthday this year, the Heidelberg Catechism is probably the best-loved of the Reformed confessions. Warm, pastoral, and personal, it has taught the rudiments of the Christian faith to generations of Reformed believers all over the world. Translated into multitudes of languages, it has a proven ability to transcend both ages and cultures. It has truly been a blessing. Unfortunately, it is only too easy to take this blessing for granted. The Church’s Book of Comfort will serve to awaken a fresh sense of appreciation for this old friend.
This volume was originally published in Dutch in 2005. It is a collection of essays by a number of Reformed professors and ministers from the Netherlands. The effort was overseen by Prof. Willem van ‘t Spijker, an emeritus professor from the Theological University of Apeldoorn. The translation is by Gerrit Bilkes and seems to be well done.
The opening chapter surveys the history of the German Reformation and especially its Calvinistic side. The next two chapters trace the development of the Catechism. The fourth chapter (by the editor) is a helpful overview of the theology of the “Heidelberger.” Chapters five and six are devoted to its reception and use in the Netherlands. A concluding chapter by the editor argues for the continuing relevance of the Catechism, drawing attention to its great strength: a faithful summary of key Biblical teachings, especially focussed on the centrality of Christ and the gospel. Everything points to him; everything flows from him.
There are some really wonderful things to commend this volume. Besides the solid main content which is filled with all kinds of information about the background of the Catechism, there are also numerous sidebars with translations of various sources having to do with the Catechism. So, for instance, there are a couple of excerpts from Franciscus Ridderus on the necessity of catechism preaching (192-193). Another excellent feature of the Church’s Book of Comfort is the fact that it is richly illustrated with numerous pieces of art. Finally, there is an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources for those wishing to do further research.
It is a shame that so much of the rich history of our Reformed heritage is still in Dutch, locked away for the vast majority of Reformed believers in North America. The Church’s Book of Comfort gives a much-needed glimpse of some of those riches. Let the editor’s concluding words be the final commendation for this book:
The Catechism has many great qualities. It serves simplicity without ignoring the broader dimensions of God’s truth. Virtually everywhere and always it recognizes the central fact of God’s love in Christ, which through atonement wins over the sinner to faith and strengthens him in this faith. What ultimately was the secret of the Reformation according to Luther, Bucer, Zwingli and Calvin – namely, communion with Christ – is also the secret of this presentation of doctrine. At the center are the cross, Christ’s blood and Spirit in atonement, forgiveness, renewal and assurance. (272)