Experiencing Our Only Comfort: A Post-Reformation Refocus In The Heidelberg Catechism -- By: Jan Van Vliet

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:2 (Jul 2014)
Article: Experiencing Our Only Comfort: A Post-Reformation Refocus In The Heidelberg Catechism
Author: Jan Van Vliet


Experiencing Our Only Comfort: A Post-Reformation Refocus In The Heidelberg Catechism1

Jan Van Vliet

Last year marked the 450th anniversary of the publication of the Heidelberg Catechism. In celebration of this momentous occasion and as a reminder of the contemporary applicability of this highly-regarded confessional document, this essay examines the earliest and most complete Puritan commentary extant: that of second-generation Puritan thinker William Ames (1576-1633), protégé of William Perkins (1558-1602), the “father” of the Puritan movement. We examine methodological considerations and two topical issues that arise when the venerated Catechism is placed in the hands of a practically oriented, post-Reformation divine for whom theology was none other than “living to God”: Theologia est doctrina deo vivendi.2 It will become evident that this package of catechetical instruction carries as much— perhaps more—practical relevance today as when it was first authored four and a half centuries ago.

William Ames’s Commentary On The Heidelberg Catechism: Methodological Considerations

In 1635, William Ames’s catechetical teaching entitled Christianæ Catecheseos Sciagraphia came off the press. This posthumously published work was released in English in 1659 and entitled The Substance of Christian Religion: Or, a plaine and easie Draught of the Christian Catechisme in LII Lectures, on Chosen Texts of Scripture, for each Lords-day of the Year, Learnedly and Perspicuously Illustrated with Doctrines, Reasons and Uses.3 This lengthy title underscores both close similarities and differences in method, emphasis, and content with the model from Heidelberg upon which his exposition is based.

According to the author introducing the work, Ames “takes up an especially appropriate text from the word of God, breaks it apart and explains it succinctly, draws out lessons containing the catechetical doctrine, and finally applies them to their use.”4 With Ursinus, Ames judged the teaching of the substance of Christianity to be presented most effectively in Sunday preaching over the course of the year. Ames’s topical choice is also borrowed from his Reformed predecessors: there is one-to-one topical correspondence between each of Ames’s fifty-two Lord’s Days and those of the Heidelberg Catechism. It is in the method that the differences are most notable. First is the absence of the unifying topical structure which gives the Heid...

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