Suffer me, my worthy reader, to detain thee yet a little, while I say something to thee concerning our excellent Heidelberg catechism. When, being yet a young man, I entertained a desire, and being doubtful of myself, I had a serious disposition to work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I presently set a high value upon this little book, because I perceived that it would contribute to the attainment of my object, I observed that it proposed in a very perspicuous manner the method in which God conducted sinners to salvation by discovering to them their misery, deliverance and gratitude: it shewed me the true nature of the exercises of miserable souls, of those who were seeking to be saved, and of those who were thankful; and what seemed exceedingly striking and beautiful to me was, that the instructor introduced his pupil, as speaking concerning the exercises of a convinced, believing, and holy person, as his own, and not proposing the heads of doctrine only as positive truths. The more I saw these things in this little book, the more I was enamoured with it. I was exceedingly grieved, when I heard Papists, Socinians, and Remonstrants, with whom, I conversed much in my youth, speak reproachfully of it. But I do not regret it, it hath been of so much the more service to me. I was also induced thereby to publish this treatise of mine upon that little book, that I might, if possible, edify others by it, heartily wishing that they may derive the same, yea, greater advantage from it, than I have derived. Let no man nevertheless be so ill natured, as to think that I, or any other of our denomination, look upon the catechism as a little bible. We would rather see it and all other good books banished out of the world, than that it should be equalled with the word of God, which was immediately and infallibly inspired by him. We believe the doctrines of the catechism, not on account of the catechism, but only on account of the word of God, out of, and according to which the catechism was composed. Do we esteem this little book, we nevertheless love the word of God still more. We commend this treatise, only because it explains the book of God clearly to us, and recommends it to us. They who report of us that we consider the catechism as our little bible, know better; at least they would know better, if they did not foster bitter envy and strife in their hearts. No man will speak disparagingly of the catechism, who knows how it was introduced into the world, for what purpose it was composed, in what manner it was received, combatted and established, and of how great advantage it hath been to the church.
It is known, that it was composed by Zacharias Ursinus and Casparus Olevianus, both exceedingly famous divines and professors in the university of Heidelberg, at the command of Frederick the third, prince Palatine, surnamed the pious. The occasion of composing it, was, that the Ubiquitists, a sect of Lutherans, who held that the body of Christ was omnipresent, being desirous of introducing their opinion in a violent and furious manner, opposed the orthodox by every method: "The schools," says that famous prince Palatine, in the preface to the catechism, "were fallen into contempt, the tender youth were neglected, there was no steady nor uniform method of teaching the doctrines of christianity. Hence it came to pass, that the unskillful youth were not rightly instructed, or according to any certain rule; but just as every teacher fancied; or they were not instructed at all, but remained entirely stupid and ignorant," &c. It was the design of that excellent prince to establish by this catechism a general form of harmonious doctrines for the churches and schools. Thus he speaks in his preface, "Therefore we ordered our divines, and the pastors of the churches in our electoral principality to compose a catechism, that is, a brief oral instruction in the principal doctrines of the christian religion, in German and Latin, from the word of God; that the preachers and schoolmasters might have a certain and fixed form, according to which they might instruct the tender youth in the churches and schools, to the end that they might not bring in new doctrines, according to their own fancies, or propose such as agreed not with the word of God." See also Melchior Adams in the life of Ursinus, pag. mihi, 534.
Thus was this catechism composed, revised, and, as agreeable to the word of God, approved by the principal divines of the Palatinate, assembled for that purpose. It was printed first at Heidelberg, in the year 1563, and recommended to the churches and schools of the Palatinate, that it might serve for the maintenance of an uniform method of instruction, in order to prevent divisions and schisms and to avert the reproaches, that were cast upon the doctrine of the Palatine churches. Moreover, the pious Prince Palatine sent this catechism to all the Reformed churches, in every part of Christendom, who approved of it, as appears from the answers of those churches, deposited in the archives of the Palatinate. See the ecclesiastical history of James Trigland, page 360. The light of evangelical truth, beaming forth with so much splendor in the Palatinate, shone too bright to remain within the limits of that country, it broke presently through to our dear Netherlands, where this catechism was also soon known, translated and printed, and, as agreeable to the word of God, adopted in the synod of Embden, in the year 1571 where it was also thought necessary, that we should use it in the churches of the Netherlands; this was further renewed, and enjoined in the national synod of Dordrecht in the year 1578. And once more in the national synod of Dordrecht, in the year 1618 and 1619, where it was revised, approved, and established, and highly commended by the foreign divines, who were invited to the synod, and especially by the divines of Great Britain. Hear what Trigland saith of this in his history of the church, page 1145. "I well remember," saith that learned man, "what I have also frequently, and upon different occasions related, that the divines of Great Britain highly extolled that little book, and said that neither their churches, nor the French had such a suitable catechism: that the men who had composed it, had been unusually assisted by the Spirit of God at the time, that they had in sundry other matters excelled several divines, but in composing that catechism, they had excelled themselves."