Ursinus On The Two Kingdoms


The points of difference are many, and such as are apparent.

1. Ecclesiastical discipline is exercised by the church; civil power by the judge or magistrate.

2. In the state, judgment is passed according to civil and positive laws; in the church, according to the divine law or word of God.

3. The power of the keys committed to the church depends upon the word of God, and the church exercises her power by the word, denouncing the wrath of God upon the impenitent; punishes the obstinate with the word of God alone, yet in such a way that this punishment takes hold even upon the conscience: civil power employs the sword, and compels the refractory to submit to its authority by temporal punishment alone.

4. The church has different steps of admonition, and if the offender is brought to acknowledge his sin and repents of it, it does not proceed to execute punishment in his case; the magistrate punishes the offender even though he repent.

5. The church in the exercise of discipline, looks to the reformation and salvation of the offender; the magistrate to the execution of justice and the public peace.

6. As the church exercises discipline in the case of none except the obstinate and disobedient, so it is bound to reverse its decision, and to remove the punishment, whenever there is sufficient evidence of repentance on the part of the offender. The magistrate when he has once inflicted punishment neither reverses the decision, nor removes the punishment. The thief that repents upon the cross, or in the hour of death, is received by Christ into Paradise; the magistrate proceeds to the execution of the punishment to which he is sentenced, and sends him into exile. So Christian discipline often takes cognizance of things which the state does not notice, as when the church casts out of her communion those who do not repent, and refuses to recognize them as her members, whilst the magistrate, nevertheless, tolerates them; and so, on the contrary, the state may banish those whom the church receives. The magistrate may, for instance, inflict capital punishment upon adulterers, robbers, thieves, &c., and yet the church may receive them, if they give proper evidence of true repentance. The difference, therefore, between ecclesiastical and civil power, is clear and apparent.

Zacharius Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharius Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, 3rd American Edition. Trans. G. W. Williard (Cincinnati: T. P. Bucher, 1851), 450 (HT: Chris Smith).


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  1. Scott,
    Your post stimulates some thoughts.
    From the 2k perspective flows the spirituality of the church which of late is unfairly dissed. The Church is born from above and aligned with a kingdom not of this world just like her Lord. She is an outpost on earth of the heavenly kingdom and her ministers/ambassadors operate only in the context of that kingdom and the commands of her Sovereign Lord. Her members are dual citizens (civil and heavenly) but the Church herself, as a grain of wheat on this earth, is only of the kingdom of heaven .

    Church, stay in your lane…

    • It would help us much if we Christians would consistently distinguish between our roles as individuals (and groups) in society and the vocation of the church as church, as an institution.

  2. Dear Dr. Clark,
    Thank you for your post! I am currently working on a full German translation on Ursinus’ commentary from the Pareus version from 1612. I saw that there is not much research done on this commentary. Is it really so heavily ignored? Or am I overlooking something? Do you know some good works on this?
    Thank you for your time and your great work on this blog!
    Greetings from Heidelberg

    • Damian,

      There is not a great deal of work on it. I am using it for a large project. John Platt worked on it for his work on Dutch Reformed Scholasticism. Richard Muller has worked on it. Todd Smedley wrote an excellent PhD diss. on Ursinus’ covenant theology. I’m not sure if it is in print but it’s well worth reading but you’re right that there is not a great deal of work published on Ursinus. To some degree I regret not realizing that sooner or I might have done my doctoral work on Ursinus.

  3. Dear Dr. Clark,
    thank you very much for your insight and help! This is really helpful to me! I will look up their works!
    And by the way, I am really blessed by your blog and podcast. Keep on going.
    God bless you,

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