Here’s my interview with Cornelius VanKempen about his book The Way of Salvation As Seen Through the Heidelberg Catechism. n.p., 2017, 206 pp., paperback.
Thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed about your meditations on the Heidelberg Catechism. Here are some of my questions for you about your work:
1. Can you please tell us more about yourself and the occasion in which you wrote your book?
I was born in the Netherlands and came to the United States with my folks and sister at age 6 in 1949. I spent my childhood on a farm in Coopersville, Michigan. Most importantly, I was raised in a Christian home. To be right with God was emphasized as the one thing needful. As a teenager, sports became an obsession which led me away from where I should have been. God sent callings into my life. At age 15 I came down with rheumatic fever, not being able to get out of bed for 3 months (all summer). My life was stopped and I had much time to think. I made promises to God that I would change my ways and live to His honor if He would heal me. God did, and for a few weeks I was healed, but soon I went back to my old ways, now to the sorrow of my parents, although I continued to go to church every Sunday, outwardly I looked like a Christian. This continued for many years. I married a wonderful woman, Susan GeBuys in 1965 and together we had 5 children (4 boys and 1 girl). I worked in the automotive field my whole life, still obsessed with sports. But God was not done with me, in the eighties through the preaching of His Word I came to see my wasted life; sin became sin. The most concerting was that God brought the vow I had made when I was 15 to my conscience. All I could expect was to be cast away for the Bible says, “it is better not to make a vow than to break it.” At the same time my whole life was a testimony against me. I became a lost sinner with no hope of ever being saved. I had sinned against God’s love. But I began to earnestly reform my life, sports were out, God’s Word was studied. Good books were read. I became legalistic trying to impress God. But the more I tried the more sin surfaced, until I cried out, “I am undone, O God be merciful to me!” No hope only condemnation for me. I came home from work one evening, there was a mid-week service and I felt compelled to go. Dr. Joel Beeke was preaching. His text was from Hosea 14:4, “I will love them freely.” The Holy Spirit opened my heart to see that all my work would amount to nothing, but it was because of God’s love that made the difference. All my repentance before was only trying to escape judgment, but God gave true repentance and forgiveness of sins for His own name’s sake. This brought hope into my heart that it could also be for me. The cross of Christ became my refuge and my hope, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus would do.” God was and is so merciful. All that I am I own to Him! Reading, meditating, and praying on God’s Word became my life. There is still much sin that brings grief, but when God again shows Himself through His word, by preaching and reading, He opens for me that fountain filled with blood by which I must daily be cleansed.
My book came about some years ago by the Spirit awaking me during the night many times with the words, “What is thy only comfort.” This puzzled me and in prayer would ask God what are you saying to me? I’m not able to write. I don’t have the training to do this great work. But it just kept coming back. I sought out help and went to the seminary and as I drove up, Dr. Jerry Bilkes came out. I spoke to him and he asked me how my writing was doing. I told him what was on my heart and my inability for such a work. He told me it is God that gives the ability. Then he said to me, “follow Him, pray to Him and write.” What happened then is inexpressibly. Never had God drawn so near and so dear as one question after another opened up showing in each one that it is the Triune God, through Jesus Christ who is the only comfort. Yes! It was a special time in my life which I shall never forget. I had more blessings myself than ever the book will be to whoever reads it.
2. What is the Heidelberg Catechism and why should one spend time studying or at least reading it?
The Heidelberg Catechism is one of the three Articles of Unity adopted by the Reformed churches as to our beliefs. The Catechism is known as the “Book of Comfort.” It brings forth the preciousness of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, through the God-Man Jesus Christ. The Heidelberg Catechism was written at the request of Elector Frederick III to bring harmony to the Protestant teaching and to the establishment of the Reformed Faith. He appointed Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus to write it to address the errors of the day, bringing out the doctrines necessary to know for this life, but also for the life to come.
The Catechism is broken down into three main categories of the experiences of God’s people: misery, deliverance, and gratitude. It has been and still is a blessing for God’s people, and as a preaching tool, it brings out many of the doctrines of the Bible which would otherwise be forgotten.
3. A number of commentaries or meditations have already been written on the Heidelberg Catechism. What do you think is the unique contribution of your book to the study of this catechism?
There are many commentaries written on it, but short meditation on it, are few and far between. To sit down and read a commentary takes much discipline and soon it is left setting on the table. These meditations are short and bring you to search the Bible for the truths found in the catechism. In our times meditation time becomes secondary to our way of life. I find that though they are short, they may open the heart by God’s grace, so that we may find enjoyment in them. We were created to do all to God’s glory and honor. My prayer is that God would use it for His glory.
4. In your study of the Heidelberg Catechism, what did you find to be the catechism’s strengths and weaknesses?
Its strengths are the doctrines that are expressed in it, leading us to learn who we are, but also who God is. It lifts us above the things of this world to see the glory of the Triune God in Jesus Christ. Its weaknesses I guess I don’t see because the more I study it the more precious it becomes.
5. The Heidelberg Catechism has 129 questions and answers. What is your favorite of all of them? Explain why.
I love the whole Catechism, but since question and answer 1 was so laid upon my heart, it has a special place in my heart. Salvation is a personal experience. It must be for me! When reading this, take notice of the personnel pronouns. Salvation is a precious doctrine, but as precious as it is, it must be for me! The plot as you read through it, it shows man in his desperate need for deliverance which he cannot earn for himself, bringing us to the only way of salvation, When this is experienced there cannot but be gratitude for so great salvation.
Question: What is thy only comfort?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of death, and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to life unto him.
This question and answer is the summation of all the 129 question and answers in the precious Heidelberg Catechism.
6. What projects are you currently working on?
I write short meditation on many texts as God opens them for me. I do have a complete set on all 150 of the Psalms, the beatitudes, the Christian Armor, and the Seven Cross Words. My hope and prayer is that God would use them for His glory and the salvation of sinners.