Kersten, Heidelberg Catechism, Volume 1
The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons
Rev. G. H. Kersten, Late Minister of the Netherlands Reformed
Congregation, Rotterdam, Holland
Volume I
(Lord's Day 1-26)
Translated from the Holland and printed by the Netherlands Reformed
Congregations in America
    The committee in charge of translating and publishing this
exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism requested me to write an
introduction to this important work. Actually, as far as I am
concerned, I feel this to be superfluous, since the late minister
who wrote this book was widely known to be, through the grace of
God, a scribe well instructed in the Kingdom of God. As another Paul
he determined, both in his preaching and in his writings (many
sermons, a dogma, and an explanation of the Compendium) "not to know
any thing, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2).
Already during my youth the Rev. G. H. Kersten wrote meditations on
the Heidelberg Catechism in "De Saambinder" which were widely read,
with much profit and edification.
    Toward the end of his life his exposition of the Catechism in
sermon form was published in the Netherlands, and this book was also
gladly received and read by our Dutch-speaking congregations in
America and Canada. After our Synod had obtained the necessary
permission, it decided to undertake the translation of this
extensive work into the language of these countries.
    The Rev. Kersten was a dogmatist par excellence. His greatest
ambition was, by the grace of God bestowed on him, to clarify,
explain, and defend the doctrine which is according to godliness. He
did so from the pulpit. This was more than evident wherever he
preached; especially the congregations which he served as a pastor
during his lifetime can testify to this. At meetings he was a
champion of the Reformed doctrine. The same was true in his
Catechism classes. He always strove to present and teach the
fundamentals of the truth simply and clearly, in order that his
pupils might retain them and never depart from them. For years he
gave his best talents as an instructor at the Theological School
which was founded in 1927 at Rotterdam.
    When I was accepted as a student in 1924, the late Rev. W. den
Hengst from Leyden was in charge of the training of theological
students. He was a humble but very wise teacher, who himself had
received his education at the Free University of Amsterdam and could
speak many languages fluently. When this minister could no longer
perform this task on account of physical weaknesses, Synod
unanimously voted to entrust the training of future ministers to the
Rev. Kersten. In spite of the many labors already burdening him, he
accepted this new task. How solemnly, yet how faithfully and
lovingly he tried to train us in the solid and immovable foundations
of the truth! How he urged us to search the writings of the Reformed
fathers! And constantly, with tears, he admonished us to stand fast
in the truth and never to depart from it either to the right or to
the left.
    This beloved servant of God knew the truth, because God by His
Spirit had declared and revealed the truth in his heart. The truth
had made him free; he was squarely founded on the truth and he loved
the truth. Both in his life and teaching, the honour of God was his
highest goal.
    In this work, too, the reader will discover that the Word of God
always occupies the place of preeminence. The author constantly and
earnestly endeavors to search for the true meaning and intent of the
Holy Spirit in the exposition of the truth. On the other hand, he
also constantly insists on an experimental and practical, personal
knowledge in one's own heart and life. He places the foundation of
our salvation in eternity; or, to say it differently, he begins with
eternity and ends with eternity. With all the power and talent God
gave him, he preached man's state of death in Adam and man's life in
Christ, thereby always emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit, Who
must apply the truth to man's heart. Only then can follow a
believing acceptance on man's part.
    When I was a boy of sixteen, the Lord led me to go and hear the
Rev. Kersten preach. This was on a Thanksgiving Day. No sooner had
he opened his mouth and spoken the solemn words. "Our help is in the
Name of the Lord who made heaven and earth," then they sank into my
soul so deeply that I could feel the unction of the Holy Spirit that
attended these words. I sat stricken under his preaching the rest of
the day. I shall never forget that day, although at that time I
could not have dreamed that one day I would be sitting at his feet
as one of his students, and far less that there would come a time
when we would be laboring together in the Lord's vineyard for about
eleven years in one and the same city, Rotterdam.
    By the grace of God this servant was given to build on the solid
foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ is
the chief cornerstone. The reader will observe this throughout this
exposition of the Catechism, which we wholeheartedly recommend for
use both in the reading services in the congregations and for
personal study in your homes. May the fruit thereof shake like
Lebanon (Ps. 72:16)!
     In 1955 our congregations received with joy the translation of
another exposition of the Catechism by the late Rev. G. van Reenen,
and these sermons, as well as many of his others, are being read and
retread in the congregations because they so beautifully expound the
blessed work of the triune God. Also concerning this servant, with
whom I was so intimately acquainted for seven years during my first
pastorals at Leyden, can be said, "The memory of the just is
blessed" (Prov. 10:7). Eternity will reveal to which extent the
simple exposition of the Catechism has been blessed to the hearts of
many, also on this side of the ocean.
    Nonetheless, everything here below is imperfect; sermons are
too, whether they be orally delivered or read in translation. In
many of the notes of approbation that are printed in the books of
our Reformed fathers, we read in the recommendation: "... leaving
the burden of proof for some of the explanations and opinions on the
author. As far as the contents and the basis are concerned, these
are according to the Word of God and the Doctrinal Standards of the
Reformed Church." My first instructor, the Rev. W. den Hengst, used
to say concerning minor matters: "These are subject to differences
of opinion."
    It is my heartfelt wish and prayer that the King of His dearly
bought Church, Christ Jesus, may richly bless the publication of
this translated exposition of the Catechism to the honour of God's
thrice-holy Name, to the true and eternal salvation and well-being
of many souls, and to the instruction and edification of the
congregations. May it also lead to a closer examination of, further
instruction in, and confirmation of the old and proven truth, also
on the part of the rising generation and the generations to come!
Whereas on every side the truth is being denied and undermined, may
the unadulterated truth remain in our midst, namely, the doctrine
that glorifies God to the uttermost and debases the sinner to the
uttermost; the doctrine that insists on the sovereign and one-sided
work of God in Christ through the operation of the Holy Spirit; the
doctrine that glorifies Christ as the Son of the living God, as the
Surety and Mediator and Head of the covenant of grace, and as the
only Name given under heaven unto salvation whereby man must be
    May the Lord be pleased to use this book as a means in His hand,
through the operation of the Holy Spirit, to snatch many souls out
of the power of Satan and to bring them into the Kingdom of the Son
of God's eternal love! The Lord will and shall use His Word through
the application of the Spirit unto the perfection of the saints and
the completion of the body of Christ. May He bless the reading of
this work unto the hearts of His elect people! May He use it for the
discovering of hidden depths and the uncovering of false grounds,
but also for their instruction, encouragement, and comfort, indeed
for the strengthening of their common, undoubted Christian faith!
For then not man, but God only will receive all the glory unto all
eternity. May God's exalted approbation rest on this publication!
    In 1936 and 1939 the late author, who passed away in 1948, was
privileged to visit the congregations in America and to preach for
them for some time. His labors at that time, too, have not been vain
in the Lord.
    Finally, in the name of our Synod I wish to express our sincere
thanks to all who have contributed of their time and talents to
undertake the translation of this work. Many days and months have
been spent on this task. The Lord has given understanding, insight,
and strength, without which it would have been impossible to
accomplish it. Once again, our heartfelt thanks, and may God be
given all the honour!
                                For Synod,
                                Rev. W. L. Lamain
Grand Rapids, Michigan
September 1967
To The Reader - Greetings:
    They who have repeatedly urged me to publish an explanation of
the Heidelberg Catechism have been very patient and after I
announced my decision to comply with that request, have sent in
their order to the publisher of "The Banner" to have the proof made
up. If they will consider that the cause of the delay was an illness
which forced me to limit my work as much as possible, I may trust
that the long delay will not be taken amiss. I have hurried to issue
the first Lord's Day to the consistories before the New Year, in the
hope that the Lord will give strength and courage so that I can send
out one sermon each week. The finished work shall be published in
two bound volumes, the first of which shall appear at the middle of
the year (D.V.).
    Many congregations follow the good custom of reading the entire
Catechism each year. There is a reason why this book of comfort is
divided into fifty-two parts. The continual repetition makes it
easier to follow the explanation of the doctrines, and (I may speak
from experience in this matter) does not decrease the interest in
the treatment of the Catechism. The continual repetition of the
material which this precious textbook offers concerning the doctrine
of misery, deliverance and gratitude, demands continual new
preparation, especially as some hearers have the commendable habit
of making notations of the sermons. That preparation deepens, by the
illumination of the Holy Spirit and the insight of the minister,
causing new light to fall each time on different parts. Therefore I
could never agree to change the habit of speaking from one Lord's
Day each week. Knowing that many vacant churches follow this order,
I have tried to send the first sermon out before the first Sunday of
the year, so if they desire to read these sermons in church, they
can start with the first sermon.
    It is with much fear that I begin this task. The extensive
duties laid upon me do hardly give enough time and I fear that the
finished work will show too many traces of the hasty preparation of
the manuscript, for which I ask the kind reader's pardon. Especially
am I troubled with the thought that the churches are very familiar
with the honorable explanations of the Catechism by the many old,
orthodox writers. Far be it from me to think that I can do better
than they. On the contrary, I am burdened with the realization that
I cannot stand in their shadow. Nevertheless, many churches desired
this publication so there would not be a necessity to read these
sermons by the same author so often, and to receive what our fathers
have left us in today's language and style. I do not blush to say
that I have always used and still read their works. and I am
strongly persuaded that we must not deviate from the doctrine of the
Reformers and their faithful followers. Therefore do I encourage the
reader to consult various well known writings as offered by Ursinus,
Bastingius, Smijtegelt, Vander Kemp, Justus Vermeer, Voetius,
d'Outrein and many others.
    Do not allow the longing for something new that seems universal,
to tempt you to leave the pure doctrine. We would especially warn
you against Barthianism in our country, presented by Dr. Niftrik and
strongly recommended as a textbook for high schools and colleges.
There is scarcely any of the old heresies that have not reappeared
in Barthianism in a new form. The concept of God: the revelation of
God, whereby He is known unto life eternal, according to Barth, "He
remains the Unknown One." The fall in Adam; redemption in Christ;
the ministry of the Holy Spirit; the doctrine of the sacraments and
whatever article of our Reformed religion I would mention, Barth
represents it contrary to the Reformed doctrine.
    We must also seriously admonish against a spreading, erroneous
concept of the Covenant of Grace, which strips it of its strength.
Although they mean to oppose the doctrine of presupposed
regeneration with this new theory of the covenant, they are
replacing it with that which makes men rest upon deceptive grounds
in a different way, neglecting the application of the Holy Spirit
and thereby the experience of the saints. In one word, it deviates
from the doctrine of the Reformed fathers. After the dispute I waged
against this new teaching, I was very happy that Dr. C. Steenblok
had this printed in our church paper by appealing to God's Word and
our very best, old theologians. Listen to these explanations before
you are carried along in the wake of the shallow theology of our
times, by which the foundations of God's church are undermined.
    To me it is superfluous and incomplete to read a text along
with each Lord's Day as some have made it a custom: superfluous,
because the congregation accepts the Catechism as being entirely in
accord with God's Word; and incomplete because with each Lord's Day,
four or five texts would have to be read to confirm the various
matters mentioned therein, as there are many texts noted with each
sermon. Standing in the midst of a congregation that embraces the
doctrine of the Heidelberg Catechism, the minister need only
strengthen it in its persuasion, point out the heresies and explain
the way of life for the comfort of God's elect church. Is this not
the great value of the Catechism, that it is a book of comfort? The
doctrine of Scripture is maintained objectively, but also treated
    Our Catechism does not speak of a pleading on the promises of
the gospel without the discovering work of the Holy Spirit, which
precedes the opening of the gospel. Thus the doctrine of man's
misery is discussed first, in its state, in its origin and in its
inevitableness, by which all hope of salvation is cut off. After
this the way of salvation is opened only in Christ Jesus. Herein the
instructor is so earnest and faithful that when the distressed
sinner asks whether there is a way by which he can be reconciled
with God, instead of instructing him to "Simply believe" of "Just
accept the promises of God", he points to the implacable
righteousness of God, that must be and is satisfied only by the
Mediator, Who is very God and also very Man, and perfectly
righteous. This is the language of the heart of God's people. It is
the experience of their souls that with all the benefits received
they are lost, and under the justice of God they faint unless they
may be found in the only Mediator. The Lord grant that we may remain
with this doctrine and be established in it, so that the sirenian
song heard these days on the Reformed arena will not seduce us and
cause us to land on Scylla or Charybdis.
    Especially do I urge our young people to search the old, tried
doctrines. I would make Comrie's words my own as I urge you not to
believe because I say so; but to search the writings of the fathers
and you will find the subjects as I hope to present them. The church
must be built of our youth; the officers must be chosen from our
young men. Do not waste the precious time of your youth; do not be
caught by the trivial literature of our days; seek a firm foundation
upon which you can build for the future. Do not fear the conflict
that awaits you. Above all, may the Lord sanctify the truth to your
hearts for your salvation and awaken in you a steadily increasing
interest in the doctrine presented in the Catechism.
    May it please the Lord to use the publication of these sermons
to the comfort of His people, to their growth in the knowledge of
our Lord Jesus Christ, that they may be rooted and built up in Him
and established in the faith.
    May I commend myself, along with this work, in the prayers of
God's people, so that this publication may carry His appropriation
and may be crowned with His blessing.
                        Rev. G. H. Kersten
Rotterdam, Holland
December 1947

Lord's Day

1 - The Christian's Only Comfort in Life and Death

2 - Of the Knowledge of Our Misery

3 - The Dreadful Cause of Man's Misery

4 - God's Righteousness Vindicated  Against Fallen Man

5 - The Anguished Cry of a Convicted Sinner for Deliverance

6 - The Person of the Mediator Revealed

7 - True Faith, the Line of Separation

8 - Faith in the Holy Trinity

9 - God's Fatherhood

10 - The Providence of God

11 - The Name of Jesus

12 - The Significance of the Name Christ for the Mediator and for
    His elect

13 - The Glory of Christ

14 - The Incarnation of the Word

15 - Christ's Mediatorial Suffering

16 - The Death of Christ and His Descent Into Hell

17 - The Profit of the Resurrection of Christ

18 - Of the Ascension of Christ

19 - The Heavenly Glory of Christ

20 - Of the Holy Ghost

21 - The Church of God

22 - The Eternal Bliss of the Church of God

23 - The Justification of the Sinner Before God as the Benefit of

24 - The Relationship of God Works to the Justification of the
    Sinner Before God

25 - Of the Author of Faith and the Means of Grace Appointed by Him

26 - The Relation of Holy Baptism to the Sacrifice of Christ

(continued in part 2...)

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