Sunday, June 23, 2013

Zacharias Ursinus, Did Christ Die for All?


In answering this question we must make a distinction, so as to harmonize those passages of Scriptures which seem to teach contradictory doctrines. In some places Christ is said to have died for all, and for the whole world. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” “That he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.” “We thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them, and rose again.” “Who gave himself a ransom for all,” &c. (1 John 2:2. Heb. 2:9. 2 Cor. 5:15. 1 Tim. 2:6.) The Scriptures, on the contrary, affirm in many places, that Christ died, prayed, offered himself, &c., only for many, for the elect, for his own people, for the Church, for his sheep, &c. "I pray for them; I pray not for the world ; but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine,” that is. the elect alone. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” “I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” “He shall save his people from their sins.” “ This is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” “Christ was once offered, to bear the sins of many.” “ By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities.” “Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it.” (John 17:9. Matt. 20:28; 15:24; 1:21. Heb. 9:28. Is. 53:11. Eph. 5:25.)

What shall we say in view of these seemingly opposite passages of Scripture? Does the word of God contradict itself? By no means. But this will be the case, unless these declarations, which in some places seem to teach that Christ died for all, and in others that he died for a part only, can be reconciled by a proper and satisfactory distinction, which distinction, or reconciliation, is two-fold.

There are some who interpret these general declarations of the whole number of the faithful, or of all that believe; because the promises of the gospel properly belong to all those that believe, and because the Scriptures do often restrict them to such as believe: “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish.” “The righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe.” “That through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” It is in this way that Ambrose interprets those passages which speak of the death of Christ as extending to all: “The people of God,” says he, “have their fullness, and although a large portion of men either neglect, or reject, the grace of the Saviour, yet there is a certain SPECIAL UNIVERSALITY of the elect, and fore-known, separated and discerned from the generality of all, that a whole world might seem to be saved out of a whole world; and all men might seem to be redeemed out of all men,” &c. In this way there is no repugnancy, or contradiction; for all those that believe are the many, the peculiar people, the Church, the sheep, the elect, &c., for whom Christ died, and gave himself.

Others reconcile these seemingly contradictory passages of Scripture by making a distinction between the sufficiency, and efficacy of the death of Christ. For there are certain contentious persons, who deny that these declarations which speak in a general way, are to be restricted to the faithful alone, that is, they deny that the letter itself, or the simple language of Scripture does thus limit them, and in proof thereof they bring forward those passages in which salvation seems to be attributed, not only to those that believe, but also to hypocrites and apostates, as it is said: “Denying the Lord which bought them.” And, also, where it is said that they “have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins.” (2 Pet. 2:1; 1:9.) But it is manifest that declarations of this kind are to be understood either concerning the mere external appearance, and vain glorying of redemption, or of sanctification; or else of the sufficiency, and greatness of the merit of Christ. That it may not, therefore, be necessary for us to contend much with these captious and fastidious persons concerning the restriction of those passages which speak so generally (although it is most manifest in itself) and that those places which speak of the redemption of hypocrites may the more easily be reconciled, some prefer (and not without reason according to my judgment) to interpret those declarations, which in appearance seem to be contradictory, partly of the sufficiency, and partly of the application and efficacy of the death of Christ.

They affirm, therefore, that Christ died for all, and that he did not die for all; but in different respects. He died for all, as touching the sufficiency of the ransom which he paid ; and not for all; but only for the elect, or those that believe, as touching the application and efficacy thereof. The reason of the former lies in this, that the atonement of Christ is sufficient for expiating all the sins of all men, or of the whole world, if only all men will make application thereof unto themselves by faith. For it cannot be said to be insufficient, unless we give countenance to that horrible blasphemy (which God forbid!) that some blame of the destruction of the ungodly results from a defect in the merit of the mediator. The reason of the latter is, because all the elect, or such as believe, and they alone, do apply unto themselves by faith the merit of Christ's death, together with the efficacy thereof, by which they obtain righteousness, and life according as it is said. “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath everlasting life.” (John 8:36.) The rest are excluded from this efficacy of Christ's death by their own unbelief, as it is again said, “He that believeth not shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36.) Those, therefore, whom the Scriptures exclude from the efficacy of Christ's death, cannot be said to be included in the number of those for whom he died as it respects the efficacy of his death, but only as to its sufficiency; because the death of Christ is also sufficient for their salvation, if they will but believe; and the only reason of their exclusion arises from their unbelief.

It is in the same way, that is, by making the same distinction that we reply to those who ask concerning the purpose of Christ, Did he will to die for all? For just as he died, so also he willed to die. Therefore, as he died for all, in respect to the sufficiency of his ransom; and for the faithful alone in respect to the efficacy of the same, so also he willed to die for all in general, as touching the sufficiency of his merit, that is, he willed to merit by his death, grace, righteousness, and life in the most abundant manner for all; because he would not that any thing should be wanting as far as he and his merits are concerned, so that all the wicked who perish may be without excuse. But he willed to die for the elect alone as touching the efficacy of his death, that is, he would not only sufficiently merit grace and life for them alone, but also effectually confers these upon them, grants faith, and the holy Spirit, and brings it to pass that they apply to themselves, by faith, the benefits of his death, and so obtain for themselves the efficacy of his merits.

In this sense it is correctly said that Christ died in a different manner for believers and unbelievers. Neither is this declaration attended with any difficulty or inconvenience, inasmuch as it harmonizes not only with scripture, but also with experience; for both testify that the remedy of sin and death is most sufficiently and abundantly offered in the gospel to all; but that it is effectually applied, and profitable only to them that believe. The Scriptures, also, everywhere, restrict the efficacy of redemption to certain persons only, as to Christ's sheep, to the elect, and such as believe, whilst on the other hand it clearly excludes from the grace of Christ the reprobate and unbelieving as long as they remain in their unbelief. “What concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Cor. 6:15. See, also, Matt. 20:28; 1:6: 28. Is. 53:11. John 10:15. Matt. 15:24.)

Christ moreover, prayed only for the elect, including those who were already his disciples, and also such as would afterwards believe on his name. Hence he says, “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.” (John 17:9.) If, therefore, Christ would not pray for the world, by which we are to understand such as do not believe, much less would he die for them, as far as the efficacy of his death is concerned; for it is less to pray, than to die for any one. There are also two inseparable parts of the sacrifice of Christ intercession and death. And if he himself refuse to extend one part to the ungodly, who is he that will dare to give the other to them.

Lastly, the orthodox Fathers and Schoolmen, also distinguish and restrict the above passages of Scripture as we have done: especially Augustin Cyril and Prosper. Lombard writes as follows: “Christ offered himself to God, the Trinity for all men, as it respects the sufficiency of the price; but only for the elect as it regards the efficacy thereof, because he effected, and purchased salvation only for those who were predestinated.” Thomas writes: “The merit of Christ, as to its sufficiency, extends equally to all, but not as to its efficacy, which happens partly on account of free will, and partly on account of the election of God, through which the effects of the merits of Christ are mercifully bestowed upon some, and withheld from others according to the just judgment of God.” Other Schoolmen, also, speak in the same manner, from which it is evident that Christ died for all in such a way, that the benefits of his death, nevertheless, pertain properly to such as believe, to whom alone they are also profitable and available.

Obj. 1. The promises of the gospel are universal, as appears from such declarations as invite all men to come to Christ, that they may have life. Hence it does not merely extend to such as believe. Ans. The promise is indeed universal in respect to such as repent and believe; but to extend it to the reprobate, would be blasphemy. “There is,” saith Ambrose, as just quoted, “a certain special universality of the elect, and foreknown, discerned and distinguished from the entire generality.” This restriction of the promises to such as believe, is proven from the plain and explicit form in which they are expressed. “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” “The righteousness of God, which is by the faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe.” “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.” “ Whosever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all that obey him.” And from the words of Christ: “give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye pearls before swine,” &c. (John 3:16. Rom. 3:22. Matt. 11:28. Acts 2:21. Heb. 5:9. Matt. 7:6.)

Obj. 2. Christ died for all. Therefore his death does not merely extend to such as believe. Ans. Christ died for all as it regards the merit and efficacy of the ransom which he paid; but only for those that believe as it respects the application and efficacy of his death; for seeing that the death of Christ is applied to such alone, and is profitable to them, it is correctly said to belong properly to them alone, as has been already shown.

Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, translated by G.W.Willard D.D., pp. 221-225, underlining mine.
It is interesting to note the similarity of some the statements above with those in the Canons of Dort:
"the atonement of Christ is sufficient for expiating all the sins of all men, or of the whole world, if only all men will make application thereof unto themselves by faith. For it cannot be said to be insufficient, unless we give countenance to that horrible blasphemy (which God forbid!) that some blame of the destruction of the ungodly results from a defect in the merit of the mediator... because the death of Christ is also sufficient for their salvation, if they will but believe; and the only reason of their exclusion arises from their unbelief."
Canons of Dort, Second Head, "Article 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves."

1 comment:

  1. I was raised in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a preceding denomination of the now-infamous United Church of Christ. It was a warm, Biblical, evangelical, compassionate, and mission-hearted environment for a boy and a young man to catch the virus of the Holy Spirit's love for all humanity. Works were all works of grace - as in knitting for the children of Africa, sending used Sunday School literature along with the clothing, and running around at the Ice Cream Social each July. In this environment I knew nothing of the "Calvinistic" controversies, Liberalism, or indeed anything but the love of Jesus, and the wonderful Holy Bible. This was the fruit of the Reformation of Bavaria, of which I believe the Heidelberg Catechism is the most beautiful flowering. What can I say? We cannot all 'get along', but we can all believe, if we will.