Excerpts from the Larger Catechism of Zacharias Ursinus
Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) was the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism. This short
extract is taken from sections 30-39 of Ursinus’ relatively unknown Larger Catechism (english
translation by Fred H. Klooster and John Medendorp, used by permission). The electronic edition
of this text was made available by Shane Rosenthal for Reformation Ink. It is not in the public
domain, and may only be used when acknowledged as a translation made by Klooster and
Q: Where then do you get your hope of eternal life?
A: From the gracious covenant which newly established with those who believe in Christ.
Q: What is that Covenant?
A: It is the reconciliation with God gained by the mediation of Christ in which God, because of
Christ, promises those who believe in him that he will always be a gracious father and will give
them eternal life. They in turn respond to him by accepting his blessings in true faith and, as is
fitting for thankful and obedient children, by glorifying him forever. And both parties publicly
confirm this mutual promise by visible signs which we call sacraments.
Q: Why is this Covenant also called a Testament?
A: First, because the term testament began to be used in the church instead of the term covenant.
Second because just as a testament is not valid without the death of the testator, so also this
covenant could not be valid without the death of Christ.
Q: What is the difference between the Old and New Testament?
A: It is the same testament or covenant of God with all the elect from the first promise given in
Paradise, concerning the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent, to the end
of the world. But they are called Old and New Testaments because some of the circumstances
and signs of the covenant were changed. First, in the Old they believed in the Christ who was
still to come; in the New we believe in the Christ who has been revealed. Second, the Old
contained the promise of the preservation of the nation of Israel until the time of Christ; in the
New we have only the general promise of the preservation of the church under various
governments. Third, the Old had levitical ceremonies, for which, having been abolished in the
New, Christ instituted baptism and the Lord’s supper. Fourth, the Old was more obscure; the
New is clearer.
Q: How do we know that God Establishes such a Covenant with men?
A: From the Gospel.
Q: What does the Gospel teach?
A: It teaches what God promises us in the covenant of his grace, how we are received into it, and
how we know we are in it; that is, how we are set free from sin and death and how we are certain
of this deliverance.
Q: What is the difference between the Law and the Gospel?
A: The Law contains the Covenant of nature established by God with man in creation; that
means, it is known by man from nature, it requires perfect obedience of us to God, and it
promises eternal life to those who keep it but threatens eternal punishment to those who do not.
The Gospel, however, contains the covenant of grace; that means, although it exists, it is not
known at all from nature; it shows us Christ’s fulfillment of that righteousness which the law
requires and its restoration in us through Christ’s Spirit; and it promises eternal life freely on
account of Christ to those who believe in him.
Q: Does the Gospel then teach that all are in the Covenant of Grace?
A: It certainly calls all to this covenant, but no one becomes a member of it except those who
accept and keep it, that is, those who by true faith receive Christ, who has been offered to them,
and his blessings.
Q: What is Faith?
A: It is firmly to assent to everything taught us in God’s Word, and a firm assurance by which
each one is personally convinced that forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life have
been freely given him by God because of Christ’s merit, and through him, and which, having
been created in the hearts of the elect by the Holy Spirit, makes us living members of Christ and
produces in us true love and prayer to God.
Q: What then is the summary of those things which the Gospel presents for us to believe so that
we may be members of God’s Covenant?
A: It is summarized in the articles of faith, or the Apostle’s Creed.
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