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Christ’s Law-Keeping and Curse-Suffering for Us: Zacharias Ursinus (1584)

2 April, 2008

b and lily newUrsinus was one of the main authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, whose Q&A 60 has to be one of the most powerful and encouraging statements of the gospel ever written outside inspired scripture:

How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has filfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

brownursinusHere are a few excerpts from the Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, on the necessity of both the passive (suffering) and the active (law-fulfilling) obedience of Christ in his satisfaction for the sins of his people for our justification:

“We cannot make…satisfaction [for our sin] by and of ourselves, neither by obedience nor by punishment.

We cannot make it by obedience, because whatever good we perform we owe to God by present obligation. Hence it is impossible for us to satisfy for our past offences by any present obedience we render to the law of God, for we cannot deserve anything at the hands of God for the present, much less for the time to come…. A more common and popular reason is assigned in the Catechism: because we daily increase our debt. We sin continually, and in sinning we increase our guilt and the displeasure of God towards us. Now he who never ceases to offend can never appease the party offended, just as a debtor who continually adds new accounts to former claims can never release himself from debt.

Neither can we make satisfaction to God for our sins by punishment, because our guilt being infinite, deserves an infinite punishment-one that is eternal, or that is equivalent to everlasting punishment. […]

As we cannot, therefore, make satisfaction by ourselves, there is a necessity that this satisfaction should be made by another, if we would obtain deliverance from our misery. From this we may readily return an answer to the following objection, which is sometimes made: We can never satisfy the law, neither by punishment nor obedience. Therefore the method of deliverance through satisfaction is of no account. Answer: It is not of small account; because although we are not able to make satisfaction through obedience, we are, nevertheless, able to make it through the endurance of a sufficient punishment, not in ourselves, but in Christ, who has satisfied the law both by obedience and punishment.” 83.

“[Jesus Christ] is a saviour in two respects, by his merit and efficacy. He saves us by his merit or satisfaction, because by his obedience, suffering, death and intercession, he has merited for us the remission of sins, reconciliation with God, the Holy Spirit, salvation and eternal life. ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world,’ that is, for the sins of all sorts of men, of whatever age, rank, or place they may be. ‘The blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’ ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.’ ‘Through the obedience of one, many were made righteous.’ ‘The Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all.’ (1 John 2.2, 1.7; Rom. 3.25, 5.19; Is. 53.5).

He also saves us by his efficacy, because he has not only, by his merits, obtained for us remission of sins, righteousness and that life which we had lost, but he also grants and applies unto us the whole benefit of redemption by virtue of his Spirit through faith. For what he merited by his death he does not retain to himself alone; but confers upon us. He did not purchase salvation and eternal life (which he had) for himself, but for us, as our mediator.” 166.

“By [the passion of Christ] 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 he 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…. Objection: 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. Answer: 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.” […] 212, 215.

“The forgiveness of sins consists in the purpose of God, not to punish the sins of the faithful on account of the satisfaction of Christ. Or, it is the pardon of deserved punishment, and the bestowment and imputation of the righteousness of another, even Christ. It is more fully defined in this manner: To be the will of God which does not impute any sin to the faithful and elect; but remits unto them both the guilt and punishment of sin, loves them just as much as if they had not sinned, delivers them from all the punishment of sin, and freely grants them eternal life in view of the merits and intercession of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our mediator. But although God remits unto us our sins for the sake of the merits of his Son, yet he still afflicts us in this life, not, indeed, that he may punish us, but that he may chastise us as a father. Neither must we suppose, because God does not punish our sins, that they are not displeasing to him, for the sins even of the most holy greatly offend him, although he does not punish them for their sins, for the reason that he has punished them in his Son. For God does not remit sins as if he did not regard them as sins, or were not displeased therewith; but because he does not impute them unto us, nor punish them in us, and because he accounts us righteous on account of the satisfaction of another, which we apprehend by faith. It is, therefore, the same thing to have the remission of sins, and to be righteous. Objection: The law does not only demand that we avoid sin, but also that we do good. Therefore it is not sufficient that sin be pardoned, but it is also necessary that perfect obedience be rendered to the law that we may be just. Answer: Even the omission of doing good is sin; for he that can do good and does it not, is a sinner, and accursed (Jam. 4.17). This forgiveness is granted unto us, because Christ has sufficiently satisfied for all our sins. Hence we have in Christ perfect remission of all our sins in such a way, that we are accounted righteous in the sight of God by his merits alone.” 305-6

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11 Comments
  1. enu permalink
    2 April, 2008 9:57 am

    Great read. Thanks for posting that.

  2. 3 April, 2008 5:42 am

    Great thoughts by Ursinus. They are very timely for us to consider, because many Christians, like the Galatians, still do think that they should and can perfect themselves by the flesh by obeying the Law. As you post, Ursinus states: “We cannot make it by obedience, because whatever good we perform we owe to God by present obligation. Hence it is impossible for us to satisfy for our past offences by any present obedience we render to the law of God, for we cannot deserve anything at the hands of God for the present, much less for the time to come…. A more common and popular reason is assigned in the Catechism: because we daily increase our debt. We sin continually, and in sinning we increase our guilt and the displeasure of God towards us. Now he who never ceases to offend can never appease the party offended, just as a debtor who continually adds new accounts to former claims can never release himself from debt.”

    So, what does Scripture mean that states that we are dead to the law? What does Scripture mean that we are no longer under the Law?

    We do know what it does not mean. We do not have a license to sin and that we should not turn our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh to sin. “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Romans 6: 15-18

    But, it does not fully answer the question as to what is the meaning of being dead to the Law and not being under the Law just to say that those verses do not give us a license to sin. It is like someone describing something by stating what that something is not. OK, I agree that something is not that. I agree that we do not have a license to sin and that we should not turn our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh to sin.

    But, what does it mean that we are not under law? What did Paul mean by his many statements such as:
    1. We “are not under law”. Romans 6: 14.
    2. We “are not under law”. Romans 6: 15.
    3. We “also were made to die to the Law”. Romans 7: 4.
    4. We “have been released from the Law”. Romans 7: 6.
    5. “I died to the Law” Galatians 2: 13.
    6. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” Galatians 3: 10.
    7. “However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” Galatians 3: 12.
    8. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” Galatians 3: 24-25.
    9. “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave (to the Law), but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4: 4-9. (Parenthetical remark is Bill’s).
    10. “Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?” Galatians 4: 21.
    11. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5: 1-4
    12. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Galatians 5: 18.

    These are not just a few isolated verses. These Scriptures cover a broad area, even the entire Book of Galatians.

    What does it mean to be dead to the Law,? What does it mean that we are not under the law? How do we avoid being enslaved by the Law?

    Paul talks about “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” Galatians 3: 10. Paul also talks about whoever receives circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you, and if you receive circumcision, then you are under obligation to keep the whole Law.

    Being under the Law is being under commandment to do or not do certain things. Not being under the Law is not just being freed from sin and condemnation. It involves being freed from the rule of Law over our lives. We are no longer under the tutor of the Law. Galatians 3: 24-25. Instead, we are joined to Christ. We are under the rule of Christ. We walk by the Spirit.

    We do not constantly want to check our own righteousness by the yardstick of the Law and try to do what the Law tells us to do. We do not try to perfect ourselves by the flesh by knowing the Law and exercising our willpower to obey the Law. We trust God when He says He has justified us and sanctified us and when He tells us to walk by the Spirit and the Spirit will produce the fruit of the Spirit. We can take him at His word without trying to get outside, higher, independent confirmation of our righteousness, justification, and sanctification by the yardstick of the Law.

    We do not approach sanctification as a process of knowledge of the Law and our exercise of willpower to obey the Law. Rather, we approach sanctification as the work of God through His Spirit within us.

    Some people are under the Law by their thought that it is impossible to become righteous by faith in Jesus Christ because they believe one can only act rightly by complying with that higher, independent standard of truth such as the Law. “Just do it” or “Just obey the Law”: they say.

    Consider the example of travelers through a city. There are those who depend on maps and signs to get them through the city. They trust in their ability to know and understand directions and signs, and they trust in their ability to follow those directions and signs. These are like those who under the law. There are other travelers who have a guide who drives them through the city. They trust that guide and stay with that guide and follow that guide and do not leave the guide to follow the maps and signs on their own. These are like those who are dead to the Law or who are not under the Law but who have the guide of the Holy Spirit to safely get them through life.

    Thank you again for posting this article. “Law-keeping” is certainly a good topic to consider.

    Yours truly,
    Bill Hornbeck
    St. Petersburg, Florida

  3. creedorchaos permalink*
    3 April, 2008 6:31 am

    Bill~

    Well said. I think that we have to be very careful not to make the ‘gratitude’ part of ‘guilt-grace-gratitude’, or the third use of the law, an opportunity for legalism to creep back into our understanding of salvation. Even in the Christian walk of more and more putting on Christ, we are never back ‘in Adam’ trying to ACCOMPLISH any righteousness or holiness. That’s what we should’ve done, failed to attain, and find fulfilled only in Christ’s attainment of all righteousness on our behalf. In and of ourselves, we are ‘still prone always to all evil’, as the catechism so forcefully says; but in and of Christ, we are counted as righteous and holy as he is on our behalf. THAT’s the Christian freedom Paul is talking about in Galatians, and this true freedom of the gospel is the only thing we must appeal to as the motivation for ‘walking by the Spirit’, as Paul goes on to do.

    Even the fruits of the Spirit are the fruits of his work in and through us, and if they were accounted as any part of our standing before God — woe to us! But since they’re the powerful outflow of Christ’s effectual accomplishment of his eternal commission from the Father on our
    behalf — thanks be to God. Our standing before God is always ‘imputational’; for all everlasting, we’ll praise the Lamb as all our righteousness and life.

    Thanks,
    ~B

  4. 3 April, 2008 11:01 am

    Great discussion boyz! Wish I could participate but I need to finish my paper and 2 sermons. But what a great exchange in light of the current confusion of law and gospel.

    Bill’s point #6 in addition to #11’s “you have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5: 1-4)send shock waves of warning down my spine, along with Col 2:20-23 and Rom 7’s insistence on the impotence of the Law. However, those intentionally sharp warnings often fall upon deaf ears so that the Gnomes must continue their futile climb up the old ladder while beckoning the simple to join them.

  5. creedorchaos permalink*
    4 April, 2008 7:00 am

    I found another great quote from Ursinus:

    “The righteousness with which we are justified before God…is the satisfaction which Christ rendered to the law in our stead; or the punishment which he endured on our behalf; and therefore the entire humiliation of Christ, from the moment of his conception to his glorification, including his assumption of humanity, his subjection to the law, his poverty, reproach, weakness, sufferings, death, &c., all of which he did willingly; yea, whatever he did and suffered to which he was not bound, as being righteous, and the Son of God, is all included in the satisfaction which he made for us, and in the righteousness which God graciously imputes to us, and all believers. This satisfaction is equivalent to the fulfilling of the law, or to the endurance of eternal punishment of sin, to one or the other of which the law binds all” (327).

    ~B

  6. 4 April, 2008 12:04 pm

    Thanks B and Chaos!

    Regarding this discussion as to:
    “What does it mean to be dead to the Law? What does it mean that we are not under the Law?
    How do we avoid being enslaved by the Law?

    There are those “mature” Christians who only want to state that: “We do not have a license to sin and that we should not turn our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh to sin.” Granted. We do not argue with those Scriptural points. But, these “mature” Christians do not seem to want to learn and teach the meaning of those statements (that we are dead to the law and not under the Law) despite the sharp warnings of Scripture as to what will happen to those who want to stay under the Law.

    It is ironic that many of those “mature” Christians who want to render those statements (that we are dead to the law and not under the Law) in effect meaningless, that they will resort to argue “faith plus works” Roman-Catholic-type arguments to keep us under the Law. It is also ironic that many “reformed” Christians can get caught up in the same trap. On the one hand, they will be the first and the loudest to argue God’s sovereignty over every step of salvation, but they will also succumb to the temptation to try to prove their own-righteousness (after all they are the elect and should perfectly obey the commandments to please God as if their gratitude will accomplish it). What is with this obsession of gratitude as the “cure-all”?! Should we trust our gratitude any more than our will-power?! Of course, not! We should trust neither!

    In conclusion, it should not be that way. Whether we are “mature” Christians or even “mature, reformed Christians”, we should not continue to seek confirmation of our self-righteousness by standing under the yardstick of the Law to see how tall we are. Rather, we, who begun by the Spirit, should continue to trust God to provide us with the Spirit, to bear fruit, and to work miracles among us. Galatians 3: 1-4.

    Yours truly,
    Bill Hornbeck

  7. 5 April, 2008 11:36 am

    Love it Bill.
    Hey, I just checked out your website. You’re on a great path. Funny how the Lord has brought us all from different places to pursue worshipping him in truth and in Spirit. Have you checked out the stuff on WSCAL.edu? Alot of our profs have super helpful articles to read. You can find a lot of material there. Lots of current issues. Just click “meet our faculty” and then click on a prof or two.
    Also Shane Rosenthal has a website with a ton of stuff on there. I think it’s called ReformedINK. Also,(you might know about this already)but the “White Horse Inn” and “Modern Reformation” and the “Heidelblog” are from here too. Very Reformed stuff engaging contemporary problems. You’ll find some discussion on Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith that jives with your own experience. I, for one, love Calvary Chapel because they were very kind to this impoverished sinner and they taught me to read my Bible without ceasing. And because they kept me in the Bible so often I had no choice but to embrace the Reformed tradition. I pray that my CC brothers who do know the Lord will persist in pursuing him more and more and will see the beauty of the Reformed tradition. That’s part of what C or C is all about 🙂
    Let’s stay in touch brother.

  8. 5 April, 2008 4:52 pm

    Thanks Chaos!

    My website, http://www.reformeddoctrine.org , is “frozen” in the sense that I can neither add new material nor retrieve comments. The last point may be good 🙂 My website needs a major overhaul. But, I am still pleased with what the website expresses. Thanks for your comments.

    Thanks also for sharing the website at WSCAL.edu. I added it as a “Favorite” bookmark. I did already have your “ReformedINK”, “White Horse Inn”, “Modern Reformation”, and the “Heidelblog”. I also like Riddleblog, Confessional Outhouse, House of Cards, Pyromaniacs, and Standard Bearer, among others.

    Speaking of Standard Bearer, what do you think of the Protestant Reformed Churches? I am very much attracted to them because of their faithfulness, passion, and promotion of Reformed doctrine. I also think they are right on their key points of unconditional covenant, their denial of common grace, and their denial of the well-meant offer. Their website is http://www.prca.org which can also bring you to Standard Bearer. They are accused of being Hyper-Calvinists, but I do not agree. The term “Hyper-Calvinist” is too often loosely slung by the accuser at those who are more Calvinist than they (the accuser) are. In any event, please tell me your impressions, good or bad, of Protestant Reformed Churches. Currently, I attend Grace Presbyterian Church, a PCA church.

    I am pleased to see your love and reaching out to Calvary Chapel instead of just dismissing them. I think I alternate from being critical of a group (not just CC) to also reaching out to the group. Your example is a good one for me to follow, so I reach out more. Keep up your good work, your encouragements, your reaching out, your example, and your teaching! God bless you!

    Yours truly,
    Bill

  9. 6 April, 2008 11:24 pm

    Sounds great. I also attend a PCA church here in Escondido. PCA New Life. It’s been great. I can’t say enough about the session there. 3 great pastors and I think around 10 incredible elders. They’ve been so good to us.
    As far as the PRCA goes we’ll have to discuss this after my paper which is not ready for lift off and which is due Tues at 10. A lot of exegetical data that I have to focus into some sort of useful form.
    One recommendation for a different perspective on common grace (it’s good to look at several views):

    http://wscal.edu/bookstore/store/details.php?id=916

    See you when I finish my paper, Chief.

    p

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