Theological Footnotes 16 - Solid Comfort


Theological Footnotes

I am a pastor-theologian and author creating resources to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus. My goal is to make Christian theology comprehensible so that it will build up the church. I write and publish books through Peniel Press.

Hello Reader,

Thank you for taking the time to check out this issue of Theological Footnotes. I am hard at work translating Zacharius Ursinus' commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, The Body of Doctrine, and I wanted to share a sneak preview with you. I hope you find this snippet both theologically interesting and personally encouraging. It should give you a window into the value of a book like The Body of Doctrine, which weds theological precision and a pastoral heart.

It is always encouraging to hear feedback from all of you. I recently learned that there are two groups reading through Rooted this fall - one in British Columbia and another in Iowa. I also got an email from someone who gave a copy of All Things Hold Together to a pastor friend. If someone shared this issue with you and you would like to receive it in your own inbox, you can sign up by clicking here.

Solid Comfort

Context: This translated piece below comes as part of Ursinus' commentary on the first question of the catechism, "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" The first two sections dealt with the nature of comfort and the six parts of the comfort that we have in Jesus. This third section begins to wrestle with why "belonging to Jesus" is our only comfort. Every other comfort ultimately fails apart from Jesus.

What makes this part interesting (and why I wanted to share it with you) is that Ursinus brings two things together that are usually kept apart. On the one hand, this is part of a scholastic treatise. Ursinus' entire commentary uses the method of question/answer, objection/reply, and making formal logical and biblical distinctions that was used by scholars throughout the Middle Ages. It was a way of debating and thinking that was geared toward teaching students. Because of its abuse, it was initially rejected by some of the first generation of Reformers (including Luther), but Ursinus was one of those who began to rehabilitate this method for use in educating theological students.

So on the one hand, it is a scholastic treatise. But on the other hand, this section sounds a lot like something Luther would say. Luther was deeply concerned about how the Christian faith (and the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in particular) could help Christians stand before the temptations and accusations of the devil. Luther knew these challenges very personally and in his teaching and writings wanted to equip Christians to stand upon a solid foundation when doubts and temptations come.

So when answering the question of why the comfort we have in Jesus is the only comfort that is solid, Ursinus manages to do two things at once. He uses the scholastic method of objection and response, but puts the devil in the place of the accuser and shows how Christian comfort responses to each and every temptation. If this intellectual mashup doesn't grip you, I hope at the very least you find this section personally encouraging when you face temptations of every kind.

III. Why this comfort alone is solid?

That this is the only solid comfort is clear, first, because it alone does not disappear in death, for “whether we live, or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:8) and “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35). Secondly, this comfort alone remains unconquered and sustains us against all these temptations of Satan:

1. Satan says, “You are a sinner.” Comfort answers: Christ has satisfied for my sins, and redeemed me with his precious blood, so that I am no longer my own, but belong to him.

2. Satan says, “You are a child of wrath and an enemy of God.” Answer: Indeed, I am — by nature and before my reconciliation — but I have been reconciled to God through Christ and received into his favor.

3. Satan says, “But you must die.” Answer: Christ has redeemed me from the power of death, and I know that I shall rise up out of death into eternal life.

4. Satan says, “But, in the mean time, many evils befall the faithful.” Answer: Our Lord defends and protects us in them and makes them work together for our good.

5. Satan says, “What if you fall from the grace of Christ? For you can sin and falter, and the road to heaven is long and difficult.” Answer: Christ has not only merited and bestowed his benefits upon me, but he also continually preserves me and gives me perseverance, so that I may not falter or fall from grace.

6. Satan says, “What if grace does not reach to you, and you are not counted among those who belong to the Lord?” Answer: I know that grace has reached me, and that I am Christ’s. 1. because the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am a child of God. 2. because I have true faith. For the promise is universal, reaching to all who believe.

7. Satan says, “What if you do not have true faith?” Answer: I know that I have true faith from the effects of faith. I have a conscience at peace with God and a serious desire and will to believe and obey God.

8. Satan says, “Your faith is weak, and your conversion imperfect.” Answer: Yet it is nevertheless true and not counterfeit. “to him that has shall be given.” (Luke 19:26) “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

In this most difficult and dangerous struggle, which all the children of God experience, Christian comfort stands firm, and then concludes: therefore Christ, with all his benefits, reaches even to me.

(From The Body of Doctrine: A Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism by Zacharius Ursinus, edited and translated by Stephen C. Shaffer - forthcoming from Peniel Press)

Writing Updates

How To Dress A T-Rex by Eden DeVries - We have been working in the background on publishing our first children's book. The author, Eden, is a delightful young woman (only in Grade 8) who has produced a charming little book with excellent illustrations. We are closing in on getting the book finished and I am excited for you all to see it.

The Body of Doctrine - I am almost 40% through translating the first section of the book. Once I am done, I will pass the book through editing and beta readers while I switch back to working on The Sinews of Scripture. There is an outside shot that we could get both books published in 2024, but I am not making any promises at this point.

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Theological Footnotes

I am a pastor-theologian and author creating resources to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus. My goal is to make Christian theology comprehensible so that it will build up the church. I write and publish books through Peniel Press.