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Zachary Ursinus (1534–1583) on the Death of Christ

August 29, 2007

Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

The Latin of the Explication of the Catechism was first published in 1591.

Sins of the world and cognate phrases:

1) 2. It was necessary that the ransom which the Redeemer paid should be of infinite value, that it might possess a dignity and merit sufficient for the redemption of our souls, and that it might avail in the judgment of God, for the purpose of expiating our sins, and restoring in us that righteousness and life which we had lost. Hence it became the person who would make this satisfaction for us, to be possessed of infinite dignity, that is, to be God; for the dignity of this satisfaction, on account of which it might be acceptable to God and of infinite worth, although temporal, consists in two things–in the dignity of the person, and in the greatness of the punishment.

The dignity of the person who suffered appears in this, that it was God, the Creator himself, who died for the sins of the world; which is infinitely more than the destruction of all creatures, and avails more than the holiness of all the angels and men. Hence it is, that the Apostles, when they speak of the sufferings of Christ, almost always make mention of his Divinity.” God hath purchased the Church with his blood.” “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” Yea, God himself, in Paradise, joined together these two: “The seed of the woman shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Acts 20:28. 1 John I:7. John 1:29. Gen. 3:15.)

The greatness of the punishment which Christ endured appears in this, that he sustained the dreadful torments of hell, and the wrath of God against the sins of the whole world. “The pains of hell gat hold upon me.” “God is a consuming fire.” “The Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all.” (Ps.116:3. Deut. 4:24. Is.53:10.) From this we may perceive why it was, that Christ manifested such signs of distress in the prospect of death, whilst many of the martyrs met death with the greatest courage and composure. [p., 88.]

2) Or, we may, in accordance with the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth questions of the Catechism, define the gospel to be the doctrine which God revealed first in Paradise, and afterwards published by the Patriarchs and Prophets, which he was pleased to represent by the shadows of sacrifices, and the other ceremonies of the law, and which he has accomplished by his only begotten Son; teaching that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; which is to say that he is a perfect Mediator, satisfying for the sins of the human race, restoring righteousness and eternal life to all those who by a true faith are ingrafted into him, and embrace his benefits. [p., 102.]

3) Q 20. Are all men, then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ? Ans: No; only those ingrafted into him, and receive all his benefits by truth faith.

Having explained the mode of our deliverance through Christ, we must now inquire carefully who are made partakers of this deliverance, and in what manner it is effected; whether all, or only some are made partakers thereof. If none are made partakers of it, it has been accomplished in vain. This twentieth question is, therefore, preparatory to the doctrine of faith, without which neither the Mediator, nor the preaching of the gospel, would be of any advantage. At the same time it provides a remedy against carnal insecurity, and furnishes an answer to that base calumny which makes Christ the minister of sin.

The answer to this question consists of two parts:–Salvation through Christ is not bestowed upon all who perished in Adam; but only upon those who, by a true faith, are engrafted into Christ, and receive all his benefits.

The first part of this answer is clearly proven by experience, and the word of God. “He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:36; 3:3; Matt. 7:21.) The reason why all are not saved through Christ, is not because of any insufficiency of merit and grace in him–for the atonement* of Christ is for the sins of the whole world, as it respects the dignity and sufficiency of the satisfaction which he made–but it arises from unbelief; because men reject the benefits of Christ offered in the gospel, and so perish by their own fault, and not because of any insufficiency in the merits of Christ. The other part of the answer is also evident from the Scriptures. “As many as received him to them, gave he power to become the sons of God.” “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” (John 1: 12. Is. 53 : 11.) The reason why only those who believe are saved, is, because they alone lay hold of, and embrace the benefits of Christ; and because in them alone God secures the end for which he graciously delivered his Son to death; for only those that believe know the mercy and grace of God, and return suitable thanks to him.

The sum of this whole matter is therefore this: that although the satisfaction of Christ, the mediator for our sins, is perfect, yet all do not obtain deliverance through it, but only those who believe the gospel, and apply to themselves the merits of Christ by a true faith. [p., 106.] [*Expiation is the better translation here, rather than atonement.]

4) Obj. 2. All those ought to be received into favor for whose offences a sufficient satisfaction has been made. Christ has made a sufficient satisfaction for the offences 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 believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” ( John 3: 16.) [p., 107.].

5) There are, therefore, four principal parts of the priestly office of Christ: 1. To teach men, and that in a different manner from all others, who are called to act as priests; for he does not merely speak to the ear by his word, but effectually inclines the heart by his Holy Spirit. 2. To offer himself a sacrifice for the sins of the world. 3. To make continual intercession and prayer for us to the Father, that he may receive us into his favor on account of his intercession and will, and on account of the perpetual efficacy of his sacrifice; and to have the promise of being heard in reference to those things which he asks. 4. To apply his sacrifice unto those for whom he intercedes, which is to receive into favor those that believe, and to bring it to pass that the Father may receive them, and that faith may be wrought in their hearts, by which the merits of Christ may be made over to them, so that they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit unto everlasting life. [p., 175.]


Question 37. What dost thou understand by the words, “he suffered?”
Answer. That he, all the time he lived on earth, but especially at the, end of his life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind that so by his passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation; and obtain for us the favor of God, righteousness, and eternal life….

I. What are we to understand by the Passion of Christ, or what did Christ suffer?

By the term passion we are to understand the whole humiliation of Christ, or the obedience of his whole humiliation, all the miseries, infirmities, griefs, torments and ignominy to which was subject, for our sakes, from the moment of his birth even to the hour of his death, as well in soul as in body. The principal part of his sorrows and anguish were the torments of soul, in which he felt and endured the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind. By the term passion, however, we are to understand chiefly the closing scene, or last act of his life, in which he suffered extreme torments, both of body and soul, on account of our sins. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” “Surely he hath borne our griefs. He was wounded for our transgressions.” “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him.” (Matt. 26 : 38; 27 : 46. Is. 53 : 4, 5, 10.)

What, therefore, did Christ suffer? 1. The privation or destitution of the highest felicity and joy, together with all those good things which he might have enjoyed. 2. All the infirmities of our nature, sin only excepted : he hungered, he thirsted, was fatigued, was afflicted with sadness and grief, &c. 3. Extreme want and poverty; “The Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8 : 20.) 4. Infinite injuries, reproaches, calumnies, treacheries, envyings, slanders, blasphemies, rejections and contempt; “I am a worm, and no man; and a reproach of many.” “He hath no form or comeliness, and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him.” (Ps. 22: 6. Is 53 : 2.) 5. The temptations of the devil; “He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4 : 15.) 6. The most reproachful and ignominious death, even that of the cross. 7. The keenest and most bitter anguish of soul, which is doubtless a sense of the wrath of God against the sins of the whole human race. It was this that caused him to exclaim, upon the cross, with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as if he should say, Why dost thou not drive away from me such severe anguish and torments? Thus we see what, and how greatly Christ has suffered in our behalf.

But since the divine nature was united to the human, how is it possible that it was so oppressed and weakened as to break forth in such exclamations of anguish; and especially so when there were martyrs who were far more bold and courageous? The cause of this arises from the difference which there was in the punishment which Christ endured and that of martyrs. St. Lawrence, lying on the gridiron, did not experience the dreadful wrath of God, either against his own, or against the sins of the human race, the entire punishment of which was inflicted upon the Son of God, as Isaiah saith, he was stricken, and smitten of God for our sins: We say, then, that St. Lawrence did not feel the anger of an offended God piercing and wounding him; but felt that God was reconciled, and at peace with him; neither did he experience the horrors of death and hell as Christ did, but he had great consolation, because he suffered on account of confessing the gospel, and was assured that his sins were remitted by and for the-sake of the Son of God, upon whom they were laid, according to what is said, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.”. (John 1 : 29.) Hence it is easy to be accounted for, why St. Lawrence seemed to have more courage and presence of mind in his martyrdom, than Christ in his passion; and hence it is also that the human nature of Christ, although united to the Godhead, was made to sweat drops of blood in the garden, and to give vent to the mournful lamentation, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ?” Not that there was any separation between the natures in Christ; but because the humanity was for a time forsaken by the Divinity, the Word being at rest, or quiet, (as Irenaeus saith) and not bringing aid and deliverance to the afflicted humanity until a passion altogether sufficient might be endured and finished. [p., 212-213.]

7) 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. [p., 215.]

8 ) Hence we are now led to ask, “What is it to believe in Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pontius Pilate?” To this we reply, that it does not merely include a historical faith, but it involves such a belief in Christ as leads us to confide in his passion. It is therefore to believe, first, that Christ, from the very moment of his birth, endured, arid sustained miseries of every kind; and that he, especially at the closing period of his life, suffered under Pilate the most severe torments both of body and soul, and that he felt the dreadful wrath of God, in making a satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, and in appeasing the divine anger which had been excited by sin. It is also to believe, in the second place, that he endured all this in my behalf and has thus satisfied also for my sins by his passion, and merited for me remission of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. [p. 217-218.]

9) 3. On account of the promises made to the fathers, by the prophets, such as that contained in Is. 53, 7: “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep is dumb before her shearers, so he opened not his mouth;” and also on account of the types and sacrifices, by which God signified that Christ should die such a death as would be a sufficient ransom for the sins of the world. This, now, was the work of no creature; but of the Son of God alone. Hence it became him to suffer such a pain ful death in our behalf. [p., 221.]

10) Obj. 3. It is proper and just that he who has received a ransom sufficient for the sins of all, should admit all into his favor. God has received in his Son a ransom sufficient for the sins of the whole world. Therefore he is bound to receive all into his favor. Ans. It is just that he should admit all into his favor, who has received a ransom sufficient for all, and which is to be applied to all. But there is no application of this to all, because it is said, “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.” But a ransom, say our opponents, that is sufficient for all, ought to be applied to all; because it belongs to infinite mercy to do good to all. But we deny that infinite mercy consists in the number, that are saved. It consists rather in the manner in which they are saved. God, moreover, will not bestow this blessing upon all, because he is most wise and just. He can, and will exercise his mercy and justice at the same time. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He that believeth not is condemned already,” &c. (John 3 : 1(5, 18.) It is still further objected: He who receives a ransom that is sufficient for all, and yet does not save all, is unjust ; because he receives more than he bestows. But God is not unjust. Therefore he receives all into his favor. Ans. He, who thus acts, is unjust unless he himself gave the ransom. But God gave it. Therefore he receives of his own, and not of that which belongs to us. Again: it is not the sufficiency, but the application of this ransom which binds God to receive all into his favor. But he has not obligated himself to apply this ransom to all. [p., 295.]

Source: Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans., by G.W.Willard, (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1994).


Proposed by Ursinus in the University of Heidelberg & partly in Collegio Sapentia
Rules and Axioms of Certain Chief Points of Christianity
Of the Office and Person of Christ the only Mediator

II. But the merit of no person which was not God, could not be equal to the sin of all mankind, much less greater than it (Act. 20:28. God has purchased his church with his own blood. Rom. 8:3. Wherein it was impossible to the law in as much as it was weak because of the flesh, God &c.)

III. Such a person also as had been only a creature, could not have been able to endure the weight of God’s anger against the sins of mankind and to deliver himself out of it.

Zachary Ursine, Certain learned and excellent Discourses: Treating and discussing divers hard and difficult points of Christian Religion: Collected, and published in Latin, by David Parreus, out of the writings of that late famous and worthy light of God’s Church, D. Zachary Ursinus. Faithfully translated. (At London, Imprinted by H.L. and are to be sold by John Royston, at his shop at the great North Dore, of Pauls, at the signe of the Bible. 1613), 242.


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