Ursinus: True Faith, In The Act Of Justification, Is Not Formed By Affections Or Love

Ursinus Was Not Edwards

Justifying faith is properly that which is defined in the catechism; according to which definition, the general nature of saving faith consists in knowledge and an assured confidence; for there can be no faith in a doctrine that is wholly unknown. It is proper for us, therefore, to obtain a knowledge of that in which we are to believe, before we exercise faith; from which we may see the absurdity of the implicit faith of the Papists. The difference, or formal character of saving faith, is the confidence and application which every one makes to himself, of the free remission of sins by and for the sake of Christ. The property, or peculiar character of this faith, is trust and delight in God, on account of this great benefit. The efficient cause of justifying faith is the Holy Spirit. The instrumental cause is the gospel, in which the use of the sacraments is also comprehended. The subject of this faith is the will and heart of man.

Justifying or saving faith differs, therefore, from the other kinds of faith, because it alone is that assured confidence by which we apply unto ourselves the merit of Christ, which is done when we firmly believe that the righteousness of Christ is granted and imputed unto us, so that we are accounted just in the sight of God. Confidence is an exercise or motion of the will and heart, following something good—resting and rejoicing in it. The German has it, vertrauen, sich ganz und gar darauf verlassen. Πιστις and πιστευειν the former of which means belief, and the latter to believe, are from πεπεισμαι, which means strongly persuaded; whence πιστευειν, even among profane writers, signifies to wax confident, or to rest upon any thing; as we read in Phocilides, “Believe not the people, for the multitude is deceitful.” And in Demosthenes, “Thou art confident in thyself, &c.

Justifying faith differs from historical, because it always includes that which is historical. Historical faith is not sufficient for our justification. The same thing may also be said of the other two kinds of faith. Justifying faith, again, differs from all other kinds of faith, in this, that it is by it alone that we obtain righteousness, and a title to the inheritance of the saints. For if, as the Apostle says, we are justified by faith, and faith is imputed for righteousness, and by faith is the inheritance, then this faith must be one of the four kinds of which we have spoken. But it is not historical faith; for then the devils would also be accounted just, and be heirs of the promise. Neither is it temporary faith; for Christ rejects this. Nor is it the faith of miracles; for in that case, Judas would also be an heir. Hence it is by justifying faith alone that we obtain righteousness, and an inheritance among the saints; which the Scriptures properly and simply call faith, and which is also peculiar to the elect.

No man, however, truly knows what justifying faith is, except he who believes, or possesses it; as he, who never saw or tasted honey, knows nothing of its quality or taste, although you may tell him many things of the sweetness of honey. But the man who truly believes, experience these things in himself, and is able, also, to explain them to others.

1. He believes that every thing which the Scriptures contain is true, and from God.

2. He feels himself constrained firmly to believe and embrace these things; for if we confess that they are true and from God, it is proper that we should assent to them.

3. He sees, embraces, and applies particularly, to himself, the promise of grace, or the free remission of sins, righteousness and eternal life, by and for the sake of Christ, as it is said: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” (John 3:36.)

4. Having this confidence, he trusts and rejoices in the present grace of God, and from this he thus concludes in reference to future good: since God now loves me, and grants unto me such great blessings, he will also preserve me unto eternal life; because he is unchangeable, and his gifts are without repentance.

5. Joy arises in the heart, in view of such benefits, which joy is accompanied with a peace of conscience that passes all understanding.

6. Then he has a will and an earnest desire to obey all the commands of God, without a single exception, and is willing to endure patiently whatever God may send upon him. The man, therefore, who possesses a justifying faith, does that which is required of him, regardless of the opposition of the world, and the devil. He who truly believes, experiences all these things in himself; and he who experiences these things in himself, truly believes

…The effects of justifying faith are, 1. Our justification before God. 2. Joy and delight in God, with peace of conscience. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” (Rom. 5:1.) 3. Conversion, regeneration, and universal obedience. “Purifying their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:9.) 4. The consequences which belong to the effects of faith, such as an increase of temporal and spiritual gifts, and the reception of these gifts by faith.
The first effect, therefore, of justifying faith, is our justification. After this has once taken place, all the other benefits which follow faith are made over unto us, which benefits, we believe, are given unto us by faith, inasmuch as faith is the cause of them. For that which is the cause of a cause, is also the cause of the effect. If faith be, therefore, the last cause of our justification, it is likewise the cause of those things which follow our justification. “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Luke 8:48.) In a word, the effects of faith are justification, and regeneration which is begun in this life, and will be perfected in the life to come. (Rom. 3:28; 10:10. Acts 13:39.)

…The forgiveness of sins is granted and received by faith alone, which the Holy Spirit works and kindles in us. It may be said then, that the forgiveness of sins is granted at the time when it is received by faith. God has, indeed, determined from everlasting to pardon the sins of those whom he has chosen in Christ, for the sake of his satisfaction, but he pardons the p 309 sins of every one, and of all that believe in Christ, at the time when he accounts them as righteous, and works in their hearts by the Holy Spirit a sense of this pardon, so that they may forever remain certain in regard to it. The decree of God, therefore, concerning the forgiveness of sins is everlasting, but the execution of it takes place at the time when we apply to ourselves by faith the forgiveness which the gospel offers unto us. It is in the same way that God always loves his people, but he does not shed abroad this love in their hearts before their repentance. But those who do truly repent obtain at length the testimony of their conscience, by the Holy Spirit which is given unto them, that they are beloved of God, and so enjoy the forgiveness of sins.

…It is commonly said, that we are justified by faith correlatively, by which it is meant that we are justified by that which faith has respect to, which is the merit of Christ; or by that which it apprehends: for faith and the satisfaction of Christ have a mutual relation to each other; the one is that which receives, and the other is that which is received. This form of speech is correctly used, because when we thus speak, faith is understood to mean the formal cause of our justification, and the sense is, that the merit of Christ justifies us, and not faith; or that we are justified by that which is apprehended, and not by the instrument which apprehends. But justification may also be correctly attributed to faith, as the instrumental cause, without any such relation, for we may correctly say that we are justified by faith, meaning by it, that we are justified by it as a means: for the effect of an efficient cause is ordinarily attributed to the instrument. But when it is said,” faith is counted for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:5.) and when expressions of a similar character are used, they must necessarily be understood correlatively, in as much as faith is the instrument by which we apprehend the righteousness of Christ, or it is the hand with which we receive the righteousness of Christ.

…We are said to be justified by faith only:

1. Because we are justified by the object of faith alone, that is by the merits of Christ only, without which we can have no righteousness whatever: for we are justified for Christ’s sake. Nothing but the merit of Christ can be our righteousness in the sight of God, either as a whole, or a part only. We are justified only by believing, and receiving the righteousness of another, and not by our own works, or merit. All works are excluded from our justification, yea even faith itself in as far as it is a virtue, or work.

2. Because the act which belongs properly to faith is to apprehend, and apply to itself the righteousness of Christ; yea, faith is nothing else than the acceptance itself, or the apprehension of the merits of Christ.

3. Because faith alone is the instrument which apprehends the satisfaction of Christ. Hence it is plain, why the exclusive particle only should be added, as it is in the Catechism, and be maintained against the Papist. It is done, 1. For the purpose of expressing what Paul affirms when he says:” “We are justified freely by his grace, without the deeds of the laws:” And what Christ says;” “only believe.” (Rom. 4:24, 28. Mark. 5:36.) 2. That all our own works, and merits, as well as those of others, may be excluded as being the cause of our justification, that faith may be understood correlatively. We are justified by faith only, that is, by the merits of Christ alone.

3. That not only all our merits, but that even faith itself may be excluded from that which is received by faith; so that when we say, we are justified by faith only, the sense is, that it is not by meriting, but only by receiving; as when it is said, This beggar is enriched only by receiving alms, all works and merits are excluded therefrom, yea, even the very acceptance of alms, in as far as it is viewed as a merit. It is for this reason, that Paul always says, that we are justified by faith, and through faith, as by an instrument; and never on account of faith, as the Papists will have it, who indeed admit both forms of expression, as if faith might be the application of Christ’s righteousness, and be also at the same time a certain work, or merit, by which we are counted worthy of being declared righteous, which is directly opposed to the very nature of faith. For if we were justified on account of our faith, then faith would no longer be the acceptance of the righteousness of another, but it would be the merit, and cause of our own righteousness; neither would it receive the satisfaction of another, for it would no longer stand in need of it.

4. That we may understand the necessity of faith for our justification, and may know that we are justified, not by the merit of faith, but yet just as little without faith, to receive the righteousness of Christ; because it is the province of faith to appropriate this to itself. 5. The orthodox Fathers often use the same form of speech, by faith only. Origen writes:” “The Apostles say, that the justification of faith only is sufficient, so that if any one only believes, he may be justified, even though he does not perform any works.” Ambrose says:“They are justified freely, who, without working or rendering any thing in turn, are justified by faith only as the gift of God.” Again; “How can the Jews suppose that they are justified by the works of the law, seeing they have the justification of Abraham set before them, who was justified, not by the works of the law, but by faith only. The law, therefore, is not necessary, when the sinner is justified before God by faith only.“And again.”God has decreed that he who believes in Christ, should be saved without works, receiving the remission of sins freely by faith only.” We are therefore justified by faith only, which means that it is by the merits of Christ alone, apprehended by faith.

This we must firmly maintain, and believe: 1. For the glory of God, that so the sacrifice of Christ may not be impaired. 2. For our comfort, that we may be assured that our righteousness does not depend upon our works, (for if this were the case we should lose it thousands of times,) but upon the sacrifice and merit of Christ alone.

Zacharias Ursinus | The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Williard, (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888, 113, 110–11, 308–09, 331–32. [“Holy Ghost” revised to “Holy Spirit”]


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  1. Dr. Clark, are there any good editions of his commentary for sale? I did a google search and could not find any. Also what commentaries would you recommend on Galatians? I appreciate your blog and podcast, both have been a blessing.

    Ed Morris

    • Ed,

      The Galatians answer is on the Heidelcast. Honestly, I’m not sure on which episode but I’ve been answering questions on the show. I recommend Perkins (vol 2. Works available via Reformation Heritage Books). When you order it please tell them that the Heidelcast sent you since RHB is helping to sponsor the Heidelcast. Luther’s commentary on Galatians (1536) is very important and Calvin’s is very good too.

      Ursinus is available via cheap reprint or used. It’s out of print and needs to be redone. This is a project I would like to do via the Heidelberg Reformation Association if we can get the funds.

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