The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1653 by two young pastors in what was then the emerging Reformed branch of Protestant Christianity, Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus. They wrote this catechism at the direction of Frederick III, the Elector of Palatine, who wanted a tool to teach those people living under his rule the basics of Christian belief. Ursinus and Olevianus wrote 128 question-and-answers to provide, in a thorough yet manageable manner, the information they believed should be known by all who profess faith in Christ. These question-and-answers were then grouped into 52 parts so that a pastor could preach one of them each week and thereby work through the entire catechism over the course of one year.
Within many Reformed congregations there has been a habit of worshipping twice on Sunday, with the evening service devoted to the teaching of the catechism. This is the framework for which G. H. Kersten has written The Heidelberg Catechism in 52 Sermons (Sioux Center, IA: Netherlands Reformed Book and Publishing, 2nd ed., 1992).
I have read the Heidelberg Catechism several times and once read Andrew Kuyvenhoven’s excellent study of it, Comfort and Joy. I had never heard of Kersten before coming across this book but now, having read it, I view Kersten’s work perhaps a bit like John Sutter may have felt when he found gold at his mill in California, for Kersten has written a rare treasure for all who want to understand the riches of God poured out in Christ.
Kersten is a methodical preacher and each sermon uses a set structure. There is an introduction, a reading of the catechism question-and-answer, a brief outline of the points of the sermon followed by a fuller discussion of each point, and then closing with a section of application to one’s daily life.
Kersten’s preaching is saturated in scripture. Each answer of the Catechism, as written by its authors, is based in scripture but Kersten goes far beyond those scriptures, using both the Old and New Testaments, to dig deeply into each point that is being taught. He is also both warm and practical in his preaching. He cares deeply for those who are hearing God’s Word explained, and he never loses sight of the fact that not all of his hearers will be believers, so his purpose is always two-fold, being to bring non-Christians to faith and to deepen the faith of those who already know Christ as their Lord and Savior.
At the time he wrote and preached these sermons Kersten’s ministry context was in the Netherlands, just a few years after World War II. As a result of those circumstances he very occasionally touches on issues that were very relevant to his congregation, such as the spread of Communism across parts of Europe, that are not really a concern today for the reader in North America in the 21st century.
Those rare context-specific thoughts aside, Kersten has produced a real treasure for all who want to understand more deeply the riches of Christian belief to be found in the Reformed tradition. This is a book which will nourish faith again, and again, and again.