Heidelberg Catechism Lesson 5

Q. 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favour?

God will have His justice satisfied:[1] and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.[2]

[1] Exodus 20:5;  [2] Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Corinthians 5:14–15.

Q. 13. Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction?
By no means;[1] but on the contrary we daily increase our debt.[2]

[1] Job 9:2–3; and 15:14–16;  [2] Matthew 6:12; Isaiah 64:6.

Q. 14.
Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us?
None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man hath committed;[1] and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.[2]

[1] Ezekiel 18:20;  [2] Revelation 5:3; Psalm 49:8–9.

Q. 15. What sort of a mediator and deliverer then must we seek for?
For one who is very man,[1] and perfectly righteous; and yet more powerful than all creatures; that is, one who is also very God.[2]

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:21; Romans 8:3;  [2] Romans 9:5; Isaiah 7:14.


God is not only loving and merciful, He is also perfectly holy and just. Concerning His holiness, the prophet Habakkuk says: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (1:13). Similarly, the Apostle John says: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). This means that God cannot tolerate sin, and no sinners can come into His favourable presence, who remain sinners in His sight. Moreover, as God is sovereign over the universe, and omniscient, we can expect Him to deal with sin rather than overlook them. The LORD Himself says in His Word: “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Ex 20:5), and “I will not justify the wicked” (Ex 23:7). Thus we can expect all sin to be punished no matter how minor they may appear to man. In order to satisfy the perfect justice of God, a sinner must either be punished for his sin himself, or someone else must be punished on his behalf.

But fallen man can never make satisfaction for his own sin by himself, not only because his sin against God is of infinite heinousness, seeing that God is infinitely pure, but because he sins constantly, and even all his righteous deeds, including any deeds of penance, are filthy rags in the sight of God, so that he increases his debt even as he tries to pay it. This is why the reprobate must remain in eternal damnation away from the favourable presence of God.

The only way that sinners may be reconciled to God is by having a substitute, who have not incurred the wrath of God and who would not incur the wrath of God, pay on his behalf. So in the Old Testament, the people were taught to offer animals as their substitutes. Animals are amoral, and therefore do not sin against God. But “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb 10:4). Animals, being amoral, have no righteousness, and animals are not made in the image of God as man is. The Old Testament sacrifices therefore do not satisfy divine justice. They must point to a greater sacrifice. This sacrifice must share the same nature as man, and yet he cannot be an ordinary man because, he must be without sin, and yet able to endure the wrath of God against all the sin of the elect against God. This man is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who is fully man, perfectly righteous, and fully God. Not only does He represent man to satisfy divine justice, but as the God-Man dying for men, He demonstrated the forgiveness of God for our sin, since in Him God paid our debts.