The Pearl of Christian Comfort is a dialogue between Petrus Dathenus (1531-1588) and Lady Elizabeth de Grave. It is based upon letters Dathenus wrote to Elizabeth in 1584 that were later collected and published in 1624. Dathenus is more mature in the Christian faith and in this dialogue graciously explains to Elizabeth how to rightly distinguish between law and gospel and to find comfort in the work of Christ. Those familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism will find many echoes of it throughout this wonderful little book. Below are a few extracts from this wonderful book.
To set the context, Elizabeth confesses faith in Christ but finds herself with heaviness of heart due to her failures. “First of all, I feel that I am one of those who knows Gods will but does not do it (Luke 12:47). Therefore I can only expect to be afflicted with many stripes. After all, the Bible says plainly that all those who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law; for not those who hear the law but those who do the law will be justified (Rom. 2:12-13).” (p. 5)
Dathenus on the Law:
“The law is a declaration of the unchangeable will of God. By the threat of eternal damnation it binds everyone to complete and perpetual obedience, to fulfill all that God has commanded in His commandments (Deut. 5:6; 27:26). Wherever either the Old or New Testament teaches that this perfect obedience is required of us, there the law is emphasized and taught (James 2:10; Gal. 3:12)… All precepts that admonish us and exhort us to perform all that we owe to God and to our neighbor are law. For example, the entire fifth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus says to us, ‘But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause;…whosoever shall say, Thou fool’ (Mat. 5:22); ‘whosoever looketh on a woman to lust’ (Mat. 5:28); and all similar statements they are all the law, which demands of us that which we are not able to keep and requires what we are not able to perform. Just to cite another example, where Jesus says, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.’ (Mat. 19:17). There He speaks of and prods us with the law; also wherever He requires something similar of us. So also for various reasons Paul, Peter, John, and other apostles have done, in their writings and exhortations.” (p. 8)
While it may seem unfair that the law commands perfect obedience, Dathenus in his counsel wisely directs Elizabeth to consider Adam, being created upright in the Garden. He writes, “The law had its beginning when God created Adam in His image and implanted His law in Adam’s heart. The law of God was there then, as the image of God in which Adam was created, made as Paul says, in true righteousness and holiness.” Elizabeth acknowledges “…Adam was created to rightly know and love his Creator, to obey Him and to do good to his neighbor in love.” Both here are echoing Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 6:
Question 6. Did God create man thus, wicked and perverse?
Answer: No, but God created man good and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.
Dathenus then draws out the distinction between Adam’s moral ability prior to the fall and our inability in our post fall condition to obey God perfectly as he has commanded.
“God not only gave Adam His law but also the ability and liberty to completely fulfill the law. For Adam, as he was created, was wise, pure, and immortal. Once Adam had fallen from innocence, he became a servant and slave of sin and of the devil. Adam stood before the choice of life and death, and by the exercise of his own free will, he chose death. By this fall Adam not only brought death to himself, but also to all his descendants.” (p. 10)
When Elizabeth questions the justice of God, Dathenus writes, “Notice that in creating humanity, God gave humans the freedom and ability to keep His law perfectly. How can it be unjust of God to require back from us what He has once granted us?” (p. 12)
Once Dathenus has laid the initial groundwork of the law, the discussion ensues regarding the Gospel.
Dathenus on the Gospel:
“The Greek word for gospel denotes joyful good news which causes people to speak and sing joyfully and be glad in heart, just like the good news that came to Israel that David had triumphed over the arrogant Goliath and slain him (1 Sam. 18:6).
Such also is the good news of the gospel that proclaims to us and tells us that God will be gracious to a poor sinner, and will forgive and forget our sins (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12). Yes, for Christ’s sake (1 Tim. 1:15) God will regard us as holy and righteous (2 Cor. 5:21), out of pure grace, by faith alone, without adding any works (1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 3:28).” (p. 17)