RPM, Volume 19, Number 34 August 20 to August 26, 2017

The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

By Dr. Zacharias Ursinus




Having now considered the misery of man, and his deliverance through Christ, the doctrine of gratitude or thankfulness is necessary, 1. On account of the glory of God, inasmuch as the chief end of our redemption is thankfulness, which comprehends acknowledgement and praise for the benefits of Christ. 2. On account of our consolation, which consists in our deliverance by the free grace of God. None now obtain this deliverance, but those who desire to show their gratitude to God. 3. That we may render unto God such worship as is lawful, and acceptable. God disapproves of all worship which grounds itself in self-will. We must, therefore, show from the word of God, what is the nature of true thankfulness, which is the worship due to God. 4. That we may know that all our good works are expressions of thankfulness, and have no merit in the sight of God.

Thankfulness in general is a virtue acknowledging and professing the person from whom we have received benefits, as well as the greatness of the benefits themselves, with a desire to perform towards our benefactor such reciprocal duties as are becoming and possible. It includes truth and justice. Truth, because it acknowledges and makes mention of the benefits received: and justice, because it desires to return thanks equal to that which has been received.

True Christian thankfulness, therefore, which is here taught, is an acknowledgement and profession of our gracious deliverance, through Christ from sin and death, and a sincere desire to avoid sin, and everything that might offend God, and to conform the life according to his will; to desire, expect, and receive all good things from God alone, by a true faith, and to render thanks for the benefits received.

This thankfulness likewise consists of two parts -- truth and justice. Truth acknowledges and professes the benefit of our free redemption, and renders thanks unto God for it. Justice offers unto God such a return as he requires from us, which is nothing else than a true worship of him, consisting of obedience and good works. The doctrine of prayer belongs to truth; whilst that of good works to justice. That in which both these things root and ground themselves, is the conversion of man to God: for the works of none but those who are regenerated, are good and pleasing to God. Hence we must, under this division of the Catechism, treat of man's conversion to God, and of the law of God. There are, therefore, four principal Common Places which belong to this general division of thankfulness; Man's conversion -- good works -- the Law of God, and prayer.

The order and connection of these several parts 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 worshipped 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.

Question 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?

Answer. Because that Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that everyone may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.


This Question, with respect to the moving causes of good works, is placed first, even before the Question relating to man's conversion, not because good works precede conversion, but because the things which follow are in this way more strikingly connected with what precedes. Human reason argues in this way from the doctrine of free satisfaction: He is not bound to make satisfaction, for whom another has already satisfied. Christ has satisfied for us. Therefore, there is no need that we should perform good works. We reply, that there is more in the conclusion than in the premises. All that legitimately follows, is: Therefore, we ourselves are not bound to make satisfaction, which we grant, 1. In respect to the justice of God, which does not demand a double payment. 2. In respect to our salvation, which, in other respects, would be no salvation. Yet we are, nevertheless, bound to render obedience, and perform good works, for the reasons which are referred to, and explained in the above Question of the Catechism:

1. Because good works are the fruits of our regeneration by the Holy Spirit, which are always connected with our free justification. "Whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified." "Such were some of you; but ye are washed; but ye are sanctified; but ye are justified," &c. (Rom. 8:30. 1 Cor. 6:11.) Those, therefore, who do not perform good works, show that they are neither regenerated by the Spirit of God, nor redeemed by the blood of Christ.

2. That we may express our gratitude to God for the benefit of redemption. "Yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." "That ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service," &c. (Rom. 6:13; 12:1.)

3. That God may be glorified by us. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." "That they may, by your good works, which they shall be hold, glorify God in the day of visitation." (Matt. 5:16, 1 Pet. 2:12.)

4. Because they are the fruits of faith that by which our own faith, as well as the faith of others is judged of. "Give diligence, to make your calling and election sure; "after which certain copies add the words, by good works. Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." "Faith worketh by love." "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." (2 Pet. 1:10. Matt. 7:17. Gal. 5:6, 22.)

5. That we may bring others to Christ. "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." "Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may, without the word, be won by the conversation of their wives." "Let us follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." (Luke 22:32. 1 Pet, 3:1. Rom. 14:19.) These causes, now, must be explained and urged with great diligence, in our sermons and exhortations to the people; and here we may cite, as being in point, the whole of the sixth chapter, and the first part of the eighth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans, down to the sixteenth verse.

For a further explanation of the first cause, we may remark, that the benefit of justification is not given without regeneration: 1. Because Christ has merited both; viz., the remission of sins, and the habitation of God within us by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, now, is never inactive, but is always efficacious, and so brings it to pass that those in whom he dwells are made conformable to God. 2. Because the heart is purified by faith: for in all those to whom the merits of Christ are applied by faith, there is kindled the love of God, and a desire to do those things which are pleasing in his sight. 3. Because God bestows the benefit of justification upon none, but such as render true gratitude. But no one ever renders true gratitude except those who receive the benefit of regeneration. Therefore, neither of these can be separated from the other.

We must also observe the difference which exists between the first and second causes. The first shows what Christ effects in us by virtue of his death; whilst the second teaches to what we are bound in view of the benefits received.

Question 87. Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing in their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?

Answer. By no means; for the holy Scripture declares that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like shall inherit the kingdom of God.


This Question naturally grows out of the preceding one; for since good works are the fruits of our regeneration -- since they are the expression of our thankfulness to God, and the evidences of true faith; and since none are saved but those in whom these things are found; it follows, on the other hand, that evil works are the fruits of the flesh -- that they are manifestations of ingratitude, and evidences of unbelief, so that no one that continues to produce them can be saved. Hence, all those who are not converted to God from their evil works, but continue in their sins, are condemned for ever, according to the following declarations of the word of God: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, &c., shall inherit the kingdom of God." "Of the which I have told you in times past that they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God." "For this ye know; that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God; for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience." "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." (1 Cor. 6:9. Gal. 5:21. Eph. 5:5, 6. 1 John 3:14.)

We may also observe, that another reason for good works may be deduced from the consequence which results from evil works; viz., that all those who perform evil works, and continue in their wicked and ungrateful lives, cannot be saved, inasmuch as they are destitute of true faith, and conversion.

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