Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 6-9.
IV. WHAT ARE THE EVIDENCES BY WHICH THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, OR THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH IS CONFIRMED?
There are a great number of arguments which go to establish the truth and certainty of the teachings of the church, some of which convince the conscience; as is the case with the first thirteen, which we here subjoin, whilst those which follow, incline and convert the heart. These arguments we shall present in the following order:
1. The Purity and Perfection of the Law.
1. The purity and perfection of the Law. It is not possible that that religion should be true and divine, which either invents and tolerates idols, or approves of those forms of wickedness which are in plain opposition to the law of God and the judgment of sound reason. Now all the different forms of religion, except that which has been revealed in the sacred Scriptures, and which is received and acknowledged by the church, evidently do this. For all of them, (as has already been said,) either entirely abrogate the first table of the Decalogue, which has respect to the one true God and his worship, or they shamefully corrupt it; whilst they, at the same time, retain only a small part of the second table, relating to external propriety, and civil duties. It is only the church that retains both tables of the Decalogue entire and uncorrupted, according to the Scriptures. Hence, it is only the doctrine of the church that is true and divine.
2. The Purity and Perfection of the Gospel.
2. The same may be argued from the gospel, which points out the only way of escape and deliverance from sin and death; for, most assuredly, that doctrine and religion is true and divine which reveals a method of deliverance from these great evils, without doing any violence to the justice of God, and which administers solid comfort to the conscience, in relation to everlasting life. Now, as the doctrine of the church is the only system of religious truth that has ever discovered and proclaimed a way of deliverance from the evils of sin and death, which alone affords real and substantial comfort to the conscience, it must be true and divine.
3. The Great Antiquity of Biblical Doctrine.
3. The great antiquity of this doctrine affords evidence of its truth; for no other system of religious truth besides that which we have delivered in the Holy Scriptures, can trace its origin to God, and prove its certain and continual descent from the beginning of the world. All the various histories of the world unite their testimony with that of sacred history, in affirming that all other religions took their origin subsequent to this, and are new in comparison with it. Inasmuch, therefore, as the most ancient religion challenges the highest regard, and has the strongest evidence of truth, (for men ordinarily receive and regard the first religion as having come immediately from God,) it follows that the doctrine of the church alone is true and divine.
4. The miracles by which God confirmed the truth of this doctrine, from the beginning of the world, bear testimony to its divine character; which miracles the devil cannot imitate, even as far as it has respect to their external appearance; such as the raising of the dead, making the sun stand still and go backward, the dividing of the sea and rivers, making the barren fruitful, and others of a similar character, all of which bear the strongest testimony to the truth and divine character of this doctrine, inasmuch as they were wrought by God, (who could not bear such testimony to what is false,) for the confirmation of those things which were spoken by the prophets and apostles.
5. Fulfilled Prophecy.
5. The prophecies and predictions, of which there are very many, both in the old and new Testament, that have received a most complete and exact fulfilment, establish in the most satisfactory and conclusive manner the divine character of the teachings of the church, inasmuch as no one but God can utter such declarations.
6. Harmony of Biblical Doctrine.
6. The harmony of the different parts of the doctrine of the church, is an evidence of its truth. That doctrine which contradicts itself can neither be true, nor from God, since truth is in perfect harmony with itself, and God cannot contradict himself. And as all other religions, except that which is taught in the writings of the prophets and apostles, differ very much from and among each other, even in points which are regarded chief and fundamental, this alone, which harmonizes so fully and perfectly in all its various parts, must be true and from God.
7. The Acknowledged Excellency of Christianity by its Enemies.
7. The acknowledgement of the superior excellency of the christian religion by its enemies, may be urged as an argument in favor of its truth. The devil himself was constrained to confess, “Thou art Christ, the Son of God.” (Luke 4:41.) Other enemies have also been repeatedly induced to bear testimony to the superior excellency of the teachings of the church. Yea, it may be said that whatever goodness and truth may be found in other religions, the same is also contained in the religion of the Bible, only much more clearly and fully; and it may very easily be shown that they have borrowed these things from the teachings of the church, and that they have commingled them with their own inventions, as the devil himself is accustomed, as an imitator of God, to unite certain truths with his falsehoods, that he may thus the more easily deceive men. Therefore, those things which the various Sects have in common with the teachings of the church are not to be opposed, because they have borrowed them from us; but those things which are in opposition to the doctrine of the church may easily be refuted, since they are nothing more than the inventions of men.
8. The Malignity of Satan.
8. The malignity of Satan, and his various emissaries, against the doctrine of the church is an evidence of its truth: for most assuredly that religion is true and from God, which the devil and wicked men, with one mind and purpose, despise and endeavor to destroy. Truth generally calls forth opposition from the wicked, and the devil, we are told, was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth. Now, it is manifestly true that the world and Satan do not hate and impugn any other doctrine so violently as that of the church, which results from this, that it reproves them more sharply, calls their errors in question, exposes their fallacies and frauds, and more severely condemns all their idols and vices, than the various Sects which connive at these things, and even, in many instances, defend them. “The world hateth me because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.” “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, therefore it hateth you.” (John 7:7; 15:19.)
9. Its Preservation.
9. The wonderful protection and preservation of this doctrine, notwithstanding the malice and rage of Satan and other enemies, is a proof of its truth; for, since no other religion has been so fiercely and constantly assailed by tyrants and heretics as that of the church, which God has, notwithstanding, wonderfully protected against the rage of its enemies and the gates of hell, so that it alone remains to the present time, to the astonishment of the world, whilst other religions, in the meanwhile, have degenerated and disappeared from the earth, with little or no opposition; we may, therefore, safely conclude that the doctrine of the church is approved of and cared for on the part of God, or else he would never have extended to it the protection which he has.
10. God’s Judgment on the Church’s Enemies.
10. The punishments and various judgments which God has, at different times, inflicted upon the enemies of the church, declare the divine character of her teachings; for that religion is doubtless from God, against which no one can array himself with impunity, which may be said to be true, as all history testifies, of that system of religion delivered in the writings of the prophets and apostles. And, although the wicked may often prosper in the world, and the church seem to be trodden under foot, yet, this does not come to pass, as the final issue of these events abundantly testifies, and as the Scriptures everywhere teach, by mere chance, or because God has greater pleasure in the wicked than in the church; for the church is always preserved, even amidst the greatest persecutions, and at length obtains deliverance from her most violent opposers, whilst, on the other hand, the short season of prosperity and triumph of cruel tyrants and wicked men is followed by a most awful destruction. Nor is the force of this argument weakened because all the persecutors of the church are not, in this life, punished in the same tragical manner, as Antiochus, Herod, and others; for whilst God, for the most part, avenges himself upon his enemies in this life, he declares plainly enough, by these judgments, what he will have us think of others of a similar character who are not thus severely punished, viz: that he regards them as his enemies, and will cast them into everlasting punishment unless they repent and seek his favor.
11. Constancy of the Martyrs.
11. The testimony and constancy of martyrs who testified in the midst of the most excrutiating pains that they did truly believe as they taught, that they were most firmly persuaded in their hearts of the truth of the doctrine which they professed, and that they drew from it that comfort which they had preached unto others, that they were indeed the sons of God for the sake of Christ, and that God had a care for them, even in the midst of death, may be regarded as an evidence of the truth of the christian religion; because God, by sustaining and supporting them with the precious consolations of the gospel, declared that he approved of the doctrines on account of which they were thus called to suffer.
12. Holiness of the Human Authors of Scripture.
12. The piety and holiness of those who wrote the Holy Scriptures, and professed the doctrine contained therein, is a strong confirmation of its truth; for that religion which makes men holy and acceptable to God must itself necessarily be holy and divine. Now, as the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and others who have, as well as those who now sincerely embrace and believe this doctrine, greatly excel the adherents of other religions in virtue and practical piety, as every one may most clearly see who will but make a proper comparison, we may reasonably conclude that the teachings of the church have stronger and more satisfactory evidences of truth and certainty than those of any other system of religion that has ever been devised.
13. The Candor of the Human Authors of Scripture.
13. The candor and honesty which those whom the Holy Spirit employed in committing this doctrine to writing, in speaking of and condemning their own faults, as well as those of others, may be urged as an argument it favor of the truth of what they wrote.
14. The Internal Testimony of the Holy Ghost.
14. Lastly, we may mention in confirmation of the truth of this doctrine, the testimony of the Holy Ghost, by whose inspiration the Scriptures were given. By this testimony we mean a strong and lively faith, and a firm persuasion, wrought in the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit, that the Scriptures are the word of God, and that God will be gracious to us according to what is affirmed in the Scriptures, which faith is followed by love to God and a calling upon his name with an assured hope of obtaining every thing that is necessary for our comfort here and in the world to come, everlasting life. This assurance and abiding consolation of the godly does not rest upon the testimony of man, nor of any other creature, but upon that of God, and is the proper effect of the Holy Spirit. As such it is experienced by all those who truly believe, in whom it is also strengthened and confirmed by the same Spirit, through the reading, hearing, and study of the doctrine delivered by the prophets and apostles. Hence, it is chiefly by the testimony of the Holy Ghost that all those who are converted to Christ are confirmed in the truth of this heavenly doctrine, and have it sealed upon their hearts. This argument being also applicable to the unregenerate, does not only convince their consciences of the truth and authority of the holy Scriptures, but it also moves and inclines their hearts to assent to this doctrine and to receive it as the truth of God. This argument, therefore, is the most important of all those which we have advanced; for, unless those which precede this be accompanied with the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit, they only convince the conscience and stop the mouths of gainsayers, but do not move or incline the heart.