Afflictions as Sermons (Ursinus)

The Commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism This morning I happend to run across Zacharias Ursinus’ discussion about affliction in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.  The entire section is helpful and worth reading.  Here’s a small sample, one that I thought was especially edifying.  I’ve edited a bit in light of the context to make it easier to read.

The godly are sometimes afflicted on account of sin, not for the purpose of making satisfaction to the justice of God, but that sin may be acknowledged by them, and removed [dealt with], through the cross. They are paternally chastised, that they may be led to a knowledge of their faults. These chastisements are to them sermons, and call to repentance. “When we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (1 Cor. 11:32; Ps. 119:71). …He corrects and improves the character of the godly through the cross. 

The godly are afflicted that we may be exercised and tried, that thus our faith, hope, patience, prayer, and obedience, may be strengthened and confirmed; or that we may have matter and occasion for exercising and proving ourselves, and that our faith, hope, and patience, may be made manifest both to ourselves and others. When all things go well, it is an easy thing for us to glory in regard to our faith; but in adversity, the grace or beauty of virtue becomes apparent. He that has not been tested by affliction, what knoweth he? “Experience works hope.” (Rom. 5:4.)

 Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 72-3). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Puritans on the Law/Gospel Distinction

One thing I always appreciate about the Puritans is the fact that they make the proper distinction between the law and the gospel.  From Thomas Watson to John Bunyan to William Perkins, the Puritans did not mix the law with the gospel or the gospel with the law.  I got to thinking about this again recently when looking over the chapter on the law and the gospel in A Puritan Theology.  As I noted before, this is one of the weaker chapters in an otherwise helpful book.  I’ve written extensively on the law/gospel distinction here before, but I thought it would be beneficial to give a few more examples of how the Puritans distinguished between the law and the gospel.  First, here are a few quotes from Thomas Goodwin:

“The law was a dead letter, and though it shewed us the will of God, yet it changed us not into the image of it; but the gospel reveals the glorious image of Jesus Christ to true believers, and changeth them into the same image, yet so as by degrees, from one degree of glory to another, this glorious image being perfected by little and little, till we come to the full stature of Christ” (Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1863), 218).

“Now what is the gospel? Truly it is nothing else (take it strictly in the special sense and meaning of it) but that doctrine which holds forth the grace of God justifying, pardoning, and saving sinners, and which holds forth Jesus Christ made righteousness to us. Now then, this gospel it is called in a peculiar respect ‘the word of faith;’ and for what respect but this? because it is a special object of a special faith which God saveth us by. The apostle, in Rom. 10:8, speaking of the gospel in distinction from the law, and from all else in the Scripture, saith, ‘This is the word of faith which we preach….’” (Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 8 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 286.)

Here’s Thomas Boston:

That which I aim at, and intend therein, is to show unto myself, and others that shall read it, the difference betwixt the Law and the Gospel — a point, as I conceive, very needful for us to be well instructed in, and that for these (two) reasons:

  1. Because, if we be ignorant thereof, we shall be very apt to mix and mingle them together, and so to confound the one with the other; which, as Luther on the Galatians truly says, “doth more mischief than man’s reason can conceive;” and therefore he doth advise all Christians, in the case of justification, to separate the Law and the Gospel as far asunder as heaven and earth are separated.
  2. Secondly, Because if we know right how to distinguish betwixt them, the knowledge thereof will afford us no small light towards the true understanding of the Scripture, and will help us to reconcile all such places, both in the Old and New Testament, as seem to be repugnant; yea, and it will help us to judge aright of cases of conscience, and quiet our own conscience in time of trouble and distress; yea, and we shall thereby be enabled to try the truth and falsehood of all doctrines…”  (Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 7 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 459.)

I like how Goodwin explained the power of the gospel and how Boston listed the benefits of knowing how to distinguish between the two.  Indeed, as the author of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharius Ursinus, said,

“…The law and gospel are the chief and general divisions of the holy scriptures, and comprise the entire doctrine comprehended therein” (Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 2.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Guilt, Grace, Gratitude

As many of our readers already probably know, the Heidelberg Catechism has three sections: 1) Guilt, 2) Grace, and 3) Gratitude (structured after Paul’s epistle to the Romans).  Here’s how one of the authors of the Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus, talks about the third section – Christian gratitude or thanksgiving.

“The order and connection of these several parts [of the Catechism] may be thus explained. We have learned, from what has been said upon the two former general divisions of the Catechism, that we are redeemed from sin and death, that is, from all the evils of guilt and punishment by no merit of ours, but only by the mere grace of God for the sake of Christ’s merits. From this, it follows that we ought to be thankful to God for this great benefit.”

“We cannot, however, show and approve ourselves thankful to God, except we are truly converted: for whatever is done by those who are unconverted, is done without faith, and is, therefore, sin and abomination in the sight of God. Hence, those things which are to be spoken concerning man’s conversion to God, are first in order. Then follows the subject of good works, since true conversion cannot be without them, and we in this way especially show our gratitude to God.  Afterwards, there is subjoined the doctrine respecting the law of God, from which we learn what constitutes good works. Those now are in reality good works in which God is worshiped aright, and by which we declare our gratitude to him; which are done by faith, according to the command of God’s law, and with the design that we may honor and glorify God thereby. And seeing that God desires to be chiefly honored and praised by us, by invocation and prayer, it follows, lastly, that prayer is likewise necessary, in order that we may properly express our thankfulness to God.”

This quote is found in the introduction to section three of Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.

shane lems