Zacharias Ursinus on the death of Christ

In the Introduction to Zacharius Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism Mr. Nevin (J.W.N) writes:

“Ursinus was a native of Bresslau, the capitol of Silesia…The proper family name Beer, (Bear) which, according to the fashion of the learned world in that period, was exchanged for the more sonorous corresponding Latin title, Ursinus” (ix).

Dr. Curt Daniel writes concerning Ursinus:

“Taught at Heidelberg, Neustadt and Breslau. Co-author with Olevianus of the epochal Heidelberg Catechism, on which he wrote an extensive commentary and systematic theology. Studied at Wittenberg, much influenced by Bucer and Vermigli. A major leader in German Reformed Church.”

The following are excerpts of Ursinus’ exposition on various questions in the Heidelberg Catechism concerning the redemption of Christ (some paragraphing mine–CD):

“Question 20. Are all men, then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?

Answer: No; only those ingrafted into him, and receive all his benefits by truth faith” (p. 106).

In the course of his exposition, Ursinus puts forth the following objection and then answers the objection:

“Obj. 2. All those ought to be received into favor for whose offences [sic] a sufficient satisfaction has been made. Christ has made a sufficient satisfaction for the offences [sic] of all men. Therefore all ought to be received into favor; and if this is not done, God is either unjust to men, or else there is something detracted from the merit of Christ.

Ans. The major is true, unless some condition is added to the satisfaction; as, that only those are saved through it, who apply it unto themselves by faith. But this condition is expressly added, where it is said, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3: 16.) (Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans., G.W. Williard (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1994), p. 107).

Please note that Ursinus concedes that the major premise is true, which is that “All those ought to be received into favor for whose offences [sic] a sufficient satisfaction has been made.” The conclusion of the objector’s syllogism makes it clear that everyone without exception “ought to be received into favor.” Ursinus is granting that everyone without exception would be saved (“received into favor”) except for “some condition [being] added to the satisfaction.” Thus the heretic Ursinus believes a “sufficient satisfaction” has been made for those who are received into favor and those who are not.

Believing in the Son is NOT a condition, but an immediate and inevitable fruit (result) of everlasting life freely bestowed by God (John 3:16; cf. Romans 3:24, 11:5-6). Zacharias Ursinus is obviously ignorant of the ONLY GROUND of favor and acceptance with God — the efficacious satisfaction of Jesus Christ which consists of His atoning blood and imputed righteousness. Ursinus has a zeal for God to be sure, but it is not according to knowledge (Romans 10:1-4).

Further on in his commentary on Question 37 (“What dost thou understand by the words, ‘he suffered?'”), Ursinus puts forth a similar objection to the one quoted above and answers it:

“Obj. 4. If Christ made satisfaction for all, then all ought to be saved. But all are not saved. Therefore, he did not make a perfect satisfaction.

Ans. Christ satisfied for all, as it respects the sufficiency of the satisfaction which he made, but not as it respects the application thereof; for he fulfilled the law in a two-fold respect. First, by his own righteousness; and secondly, by making satisfaction for our sins, each of which is most perfect. But the satisfaction is made ours by an application, which is also two-fold; the former of which is made by God, when he justifies us on account of the merit of his Son, and brings it to pass that we cease from sin; the latter is accomplished by us through faith. For we apply unto ourselves, the merit of Christ, when by a true faith, we are fully persuaded that God for the sake of the satisfaction of his Son, remits unto us our sins. Without this application, the satisfaction of Christ is of no benefit to us” (Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans., G.W. Willard (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1994), p. 215).

Ursinus writes that Christ “fulfilled the law in a two-fold respect.” This is true. For the demands of God’s Law are twofold: First, death as the wages of sin, the transgression of the Law (Galatians 3:10). Second, perfect righteousness as the condition for eternal life (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 10:5). Jesus Christ fulfilled the strict and SOLE condition for eternal life set forth in passages such as Galatians 3:10-12 and Romans 10:4-5.

Ursinus is ignorant of the strict demands of God’s law and thus necessarily seeks to ADD TO and supplement the work of Christ. Clearly Ursinus does not truly hear and understand the law (Galatians 4:21). He says that “by a true faith, we are fully persuaded that God for the sake of the satisfaction of his Son, remits unto us our sins.” But since Ursinus believes that Christ made a “sufficient satisfaction” for those whose sins are NOT remitted, then clearly, it is NOT “for the sake of the satisfaction of his Son” that sins are remitted. It is obvious that Ursinus does NOT believe that Christ’s efficacious death and perfect satisfaction ensures and demands the salvation and remission of sins for all whom He represented at the cross.

It is NOT the law-fulfilling work of Jesus Christ that makes the difference between salvation and damnation in Ursinus’ scheme of things; and since it is not, Ursinus is a debtor to keep the whole law (Galatians 5:3-5).

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