RPM, Volume 19, Number 19, May 7 to May 13, 2017

The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

By Dr. Zacharias Ursinus


Question 37. What dost thou understand by he 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.


We have, thus far, in our remarks upon the second part of the Creed, spoken only of the person of the mediator. We shall now proceed to speak of his office, which is included in the remaining part of the second division of the Creed, which treats of God, the Son and our redemption. And we shall, in the first place, speak of the humiliation of Christ, (the first part of his office) which we have comprehended in the fourth Article: Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell. The passion or suffering of Christ is placed immediately after his conception and nativity; 1. Because our entire salvation consists in his passion and death. 2. Because his whole life was one continued scene of suffering and privation. There are also many things which may, and ought to be profitably observed, in the history of the life which Christ spent on earth, written by those who were eye-witnesses of the facts which they record. For this does not only prove him to be the promised Messiah, in as much as all the predictions of the prophets meet, and are fulfilled in him; but it is also a consideration of the humiliation and obedience which he rendered unto his Father.

Those things which are to be considered in relation to the suffering of Christ, properly belong here; such as the history of Christ's passion, agreeing, as it does, with all that had been foretold concerning it, and the wonderful events with which it was connected -- the causes and benefits of his suffering, and the example which Christ has furnished us, teaching us that we too must enter into glory through suffering.

But, for a more complete exposition of this Article, we shall consider more particularly,

I. What we are to understand by the term passion, or what it was that Christ suffered:
II. Whether he suffered according to both natures:
III. What the impelling cause of his suffering was:
IV. What the final causes and fruits of his sufferings were.


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 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. 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 i 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.

The satisfaction, therefore, which Christ made, or the suffering which he endured, differs from the torments of others. 1. Inform. Christ felt and endured, both in body and soul, the entire wrath of God, which no one else has ever experienced. 2. In the impelling cause. Christ suffered not for his own sins, but for the sins of others. 3. In the final cause, or end. The passion of Christ is the ransom and only propitiatory sacrifice for our sins: the sufferings of others do not partake of this character, but are merely punishments, or trials, or attestations to the truth of the Gospel.

Obj. 1. According to the order of divine justice, the innocent ought not to suffer for the guilty: for justice demands the punishment of the offender. But Christ was an innocent person. Therefore his punishment is in opposition to the rule of justice; because, he being innocent, suffered for us, who were guilty. Ans. We reply to the major proposition, that the innocent ought not to suffer for the guilty, 1. Unless he willingly offer himself in the room, and stead of the guilty. 2. Unless he who thus voluntarily suffers, be able to make a sufficient ransom. 3. That he may be able to recover himself from these sufferings, and not perish under them. 4. That he may be able to bring it to pass, that those for whom he makes satisfaction, may not in future offend. 5. And that he be of the same nature with those for whom satisfaction is made. If such a satisfier as this can be substituted in the place of the offending, there is nothing in it that is contrary to the order of divine justice: for thus, both he who suffers, and those for whom it is endured, are saved. Christ, now, is such a satisfier; for he has accomplished all these things, and is not only a man of the same nature with us, but we are also members of his. And it is on account of this, our union with Christ our Head, that his punishment is truly ours, and that the Apostles everywhere teach, that we all suffered, and died in Christ: for when the body is afflicted, all the members suffer with it. This argument, however, will be enlarged, when we come to speak of the article of the forgiveness of sins. To sum up the whole: that any one may make satisfaction for others, these things must be present, and harmonize -- it must be a sufficient satisfaction -- it must be voluntary, and satisfy him to whom it is due; all of which conditions meet, and concur in the satisfaction of Christ.

Obj. 2. There must be a proportion between the satisfaction and the crime. But there is no proper proportion, between the sufferings of one man, and the sins of an infinite number of men. How, therefore, can the ransom which Christ alone paid, correspond with the sins of a vast number of men? Ans. It can, for these two causes: First, on account of the dignity of his person; and secondly, on account of the greatness of the punishment which he endured; for he suffered that which we were bound to suffer to all eternity. His passion, therefore, is equivalent to everlasting punishment, yea it exceeds it; because, that God should suffer, is more than that all creatures should perish. This was the greatest miracle, that the Son of God should cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me."

Reply 1. God cannot suffer and die. Christ suffered and died. Therefore, he is not God. Ans. We reply to the major proposition -- God, that is, the person which is only God, cannot suffer, or is impassible, according to that in respect to which he is God. But Christ is not only God, but also man. Or we may concede the whole argument, if it be rightly understood for Christ is not God, in respect to that in which he suffered and died, that is, in respect to his human nature.

Reply 2. If Christ is not God, according to that which suffered, then that which is said, that God purchased the church with his own blood, is false. Ans. This is spoken according to the communication of properties, or according to the figure of speech, called synecdoche, which is true only in the concrete. God, that is, that person which is God and man, purchased the church with his blood, which he shed in respect to his humanity. By this communication of properties, we attribute to the whole person, what is peculiar to one nature, and that in the concrete only; because the term concrete signifies the person in which both natures centre, and the property of that nature of which this is predicated. Hence, there is nothing in the way of our affirming of the whole person, what is peculiar to one nature, provided that property reside in the person; whilst on the contrary, by the term abstract, only the properties of that nature are predicated of which they are peculiar. Let this, which is spoken incidentally, suffice.

Obj. 3. There is no just proportion between temporal and eternal punishment. Christ suffered only temporal punishments. Therefore, he could not make satisfaction for eternal punishments. Ans. There is, indeed, no proportion between temporal and eternal punishments, if it be in the same subject, but there may be, in different subjects. The temporal punishment of the Son of God, exceeds in dignity and worth, the eternal punishment of the whole world, for the reasons already explained.

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.

Obj. 5. But there were also propitiatory sacrifices under the law of Moses. Ans. These were not properly expiatory, but were typical of the sacrifice of Christ, which alone is truly expiatory: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls, and of goats should take away sins." "The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin." "He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world." (Heb. 10:4. 1 John 1:7; 2:2.)


Christ suffered, not according to both natures, nor according to the Divinity, but according to the human nature only, both in body and soul; for the divine nature is immutable, impassible, immortal, and life itself, and so cannot die. But he suffered in such a manner, according to his humanity, that by his passion and death, he satisfied for the sins of men. The divine nature sustained the humanity, in the sorrows and pains which were endured, and raised it when dead unto life. "Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." "Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh." "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." "I am he that liveth, and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore." "have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it up again." (1 Pet. 2:18; 4:1. John 2:19. Rev. 1:18. John 10:18.) These declarations testify that there was in Christ another nature, besides his flesh, which did not suffer and die. Irensaeus says, "As Christ was man, that he might be tempted, so he was the Word, that he might be glorified; the Word resting in him truly, that it might be possible for him to be tempted, crucified, and to die, and yet united to his humanity, that he might thus overcome temptation,".

Obj. But it is said that God purchased the church with his own blood; and hence the Deity must have suffered. Ans. This does not follow, because the form of speech is changed. When it is said God died, this is spoken figuratively by a synecdoche, or by the communication of proper ties, as we have already explained. But when it is said, the Deity suffered, this is spoken without a figure, because the subject is taken in the abstract. Again, no consequence from the concrete to the abstract is of any force. The concrete (which is God) signifies the subject having a form; the abstract (which is Deity) signifies the naked form, or the nature only. In this doctrine, therefore, the concrete is the name of the person, and the abstract the name of the nature. Hence, as this consequence does not follow: Man is composed of the elements, and is corporeal; therefore, the soul is composed of the elements, and is corporeal; so also it does not follow, Christ who is God died; therefore, the Deity of Christ died.


The cause which moved God to give his Son for us was: 1. His love towards the human race. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." (John 3:16.) 2. The compassion of God towards those who were fallen in sin and death. "According to his mercy he saved us." (Titus 8:5.) 8: The desire and purpose of God to revenge and repair the injury of the devil, who, in contempt and reproach of God, turned us from the Most High, and spoiled his image in us.


The final causes, and fruits of the passion of Christ are the same, but in a, different respect. In respect to Christ who suffered, they are the final causes; but in respect to us, they are the fruits. The principal final causes of the passion of Christ, are the revelation and manifestation of the love, mercy and justice of God, in that he did not spare his Son for us; and that his passion might be a sufficient ransom for our sins, or for our redemption. There are, therefore, two chief final causes, the glory of God and our salvation. The knowledge of the greatness of sin, pertains to the former, that we may perceive how great an evil sin is, and what it deserves. Our justification belongs to the latter, in which we have comprehended all the benefits which Christ merited by his death, and which he confers upon us by his coming forth from death. Hence we know that death is not hurtful to the godly, and is, therefore, not to be feared.

Question 38. Why did he suffer under Pontius Pilate, as his judge?

Answer. That he, being innocent, and yet condemned by a temporal judge, might thereby free us from the severe judgment of God, to which we were exposed.


Mention is made of Pilate in the passion of Christ: 1. Because Christ obtained from this judge the testimony of his innocence. 2. That we might know that he, though declared innocent by this judge, was nevertheless condemned, and that by a regular judgment. 3. That we might be impressed by the fulfillment of prophecy. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is." "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come." (Ez. 21:27; Gen. 49:10.) The name of Pilate is then mentioned that we may be fully certain, that Jesus is the Messiah that was to come: for then already the scepter was taken away, because he was condemned by a Roman judge.

But why was it necessary that Christ should suffer under a judge, and be condemned by the ordinary course of the law?

1. That we may know that he was condemned of God himself, on account of our sins, and that he has, therefore, made satisfaction to God for us, that we may not be condemned by his severe judgment, just as he suffered death for us, that we might be delivered from it. For he who directs, and presides over ordinary judgments is God himself.

2. That Christ might obtain a testimony of his innocence from the very judge by whom he was condemned. Therefore it was not proper that he should have been secretly carried away by the Jews, nor put to death by a tumult; but when there was a lawful process and trial, and an investigation of all the accusations brought against him, the Father willed, first, that he should be examined that his innocence might thus be made to appear. Secondly, that he should be condemned that it might appear, that he being before declared innocent, was now condemned, not for his own, but for our crimes; and that thus his unjust sentence to death might be in the place of our most righteous condemnation. Thirdly, that he should be put to death, as well that the prophecies might be fulfilled, as that it might be made manifest that both the Jews and Gentiles were the executioners of this wicked deed. This circumstance, therefore, in the passion of Christ is to be carefully considered that we may know that this Jesus who was condemned by Pilate is the Messiah, and that we, through him, are delivered from the severe judgment of God.

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, and 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.

Question 39. Is there anything more in his being crucified, than if he had died some other death?

Answer. Yes, there is; for thereby I am assured that he took on him the curse which lay upon me; for the death of the cross was accursed of God.


The death of the cross is an aggravation of the punishment of Christ, and a confirmation of our faith. For if Christ was crucified, then he has taken upon himself the curse, because the death of the cross was a figure, or sign of the curse; and not only so, but he has also endured the curse for us, inasmuch as he was righteous in himself.

God, therefore, willed that his Son should endure the punishment of such an ignominious death, for these most satisfactory reasons:

1. That we may know that the curse which was laid upon him was due on account of our sins; for the death of the cross was accursed of God, according to what is written, "Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree." (Deut. 21:23.)

2. That the punishment might thus be made the heavier, and that we may, so much the more, be confirmed in faith, confidently believing that Christ, by his death, has taken upon himself our guilt, and endured the curse in our behalf that he might deliver us there from. Paul teaches this when he says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth upon a tree." (Gal. 3:13.)

3. That we may be excited to greater gratitude, considering what a detestable thing sin is, inasmuch as it could not be expiated unless by the most bitter and ignominious death of the only begotten Son of God.

4. That there might be a correspondence between the truth and the types. This was necessary in order that we may know that the types are all fulfilled in Christ. For the ancient sacrifices, which shadowed forth the sacrifice of Christ, were laid upon the wood, and before they were burned, they were lifted up on high by the priest, that it might be signified thereby that Christ should be lifted up upon the cross, that he might offer himself a holy sacrifice to the Father in our behalf. The same was adumbrated in Isaac who was laid upon the wood for the purpose of being sacrificed by his father. Finally, the brazen serpent, which Moses set upon a pole in the wilderness, was a type of Christ, as is evident from the application which Christ himself made of it when he said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (John 3:14; 12:32.)

What, therefore, is it to believe in Christ crucified? It is to believe that Christ was made subject to the curse for me, that he might deliver me therefrom.

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