Zacharias Ursinus (1534 – 1583)
Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
That there is a God, is proven by many arguments common both to philosophy and theology. These arguments we shall present in the following order:
1. The order and harmony which we observe every where in nature, gives evidence of the existence of God. There is, as every one must perceive, a wise arrangement of every part of nature, and a constant succession of changes and operations, according to certain laws, which could not exist and be preserved, unless by some intelligent and almighty being. The Scriptures refer to this argument, atconsiderable length, in the following places: Psalms 8, 19, 104, 135, 136, 147 & 148. Rom. 1. Acts 14 & 17.
2. A rational nature having some cause, cannot exist except it proceed from some intelligent being, for the reason that a cause is not of a more inferior character than the effect which it produces. The human mind is endowed with reason, and has some cause. Therefore it has proceeded from some intelligent being, which is God. “There is a spirit in man,” &c. “Yet they say, the Lord shall not see,” &c.”We also are his offspring.” (Job 32:8. Ps. 94:7. Acts 17:28.)
3. The conceptions or notions of general principles which are natural to us, as the difference between things proper and improper, &c., cannot be the result of mere chance, or proceed from an irrational nature, but must necessarily be naturally engraven upon our hearts by some intelligent cause, which is God. “The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts,” &c. (Rom. 2:15.)
4. From the knowledge or sense which we all have that there is a God. There is no nation, however barbarous or uncivilized, but has some notion or system of religion, which presupposes a belief in some God. “That which may be known of God is manifest in them[that is, in the minds of men], for God hath shewed it unto them.” (Rom. 1:19.)
5. The reproofs of conscience, which follow the commission of sin, and harass the minds of the ungodly, cannot be inflicted by anyone except by an intelligent being “one who can distinguish between that which is proper and improper” who knows the thoughts and hearts of men, and who can cause such fears and forebodings to arise in the minds of the wicked. “Their worm dieth not.” “Thereis no peace to the wicked.” “God is a consuming fire.” “They shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences either accusing or excusing them. (Is. 57:21. Deut. 4:24. Rom. 2:15.) Addenda. These reproofs of conscience, which are common to all men, may be regarded as a sufficient answer to the objection thathas sometimes been brought against the existence of God, that it is a mere subtle device, invented and published by philosophers and legislators for the purpose of restraining men from the commission of crime; for if it be true that it is a mere device, why is it, we might ask, that these men who seem to have detected this fraud are most harassed by their consciences on account of this their blasphemy, as well as for their other crimes. How, too, we might ask, could the mere assertion of a few individuals be sufficient to persuade all mankind into this belief, and cause it to be maintained in all succeeding ages? And if, to weaken the force of this argument, it be asserted that there are those who neither believe in a God, nor are troubled by their consciences, we reply, that this, which they imagine, is most false, for there are none of the wicked who are free from these compunctions of conscience; forhowever much they may despise God and every form of religion, and endeavor to repress their fears, so much the more are they tormented,and made to tremble at every mention and approach of God. Hence we often see those whose lives are for the most part profane and secure, die in despair when they are oppressed with the judgments of God.
6. The rewards of the righteous and punishments of the wicked as the deluge, the destruction of Sodom by fire, the overthrow of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, the downfall of flourishing kingdoms, &c., are evidences of the existence of a God; for these judgments,which are inflicted upon wicked men and nations, testify that there must be some universal and omnipotent Judge of the wholeworld. “God is known by the judgments which he executeth.” “Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.” (Ps. 9:16; 58:11.) Addenda. And although the wicked often flourish for a time, whilst the godly are oppressed, yet examples which are few in number do not weaken the general rule with which most events agree. And if it were even so, that the wicked do not as often suffer punishment as the righteous, yet these very examples, although few in number, testify that there is a God, and that he is also displeased with the offences of others who seem not to be so severely punished. But it is not true of any of the wicked that they are not punished in this life, for all those who are unconverted are sooner or later overtaken by punishment; yea, they most generally die in despair, which punishment is more grievous than all others, and is the beginning and testimony of everlasting punishment. And although the punishment of the wicked in this life is not as great as their sins deserve, yet it nevertheless has some correspondence with the most tragical crimes of the ungodly, so that we are taught, by the doctrine of the church, that the lenity which God here uses towards the wicked, and the severity which he seems to show to the righteous, do not at all weaken his providence and justice, but rather declare his goodness, in that he invites the wicked to repentance, whilst he delays their punishment, and perfects the salvation of the righteousby exercising them with crosses and chastisements.
7. A civil compact or commonwealth, governed wisely by just and wholesome laws, could not possibly be exhibited to men, except bysome intelligent being approving of this order; and as devils and wicked men generally hate and oppose this order, it must of necessity be God who has hitherto preserved it. “By me kings reign and princes decree justice.” (Prov. 8:15.)
8. Heroic enthusiasm, or that wisdom and excellent virtue in undertaking and accomplishing works surpassing the ordinary powers of man, as the dexterity and delight of skillful artificers and of governors in discovering and furthering the arts, and in devising various counsel; also such greatness of mind in performing deeds of renown, and in managing affairs, as there was in Achilles, Alexander, Archimedes, Plato, &c., all give evidence that there must be some superior and omnipotent cause that excites and urges men on tothese things. Of Joshua it is said: “The Lord himself will go before thee, he will be with thee.” “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.””The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” (Deut. 31:8. Ezra 1:1. Jud. 14:19.)
9. The prediction of future events which could have been foreknown neither by human sagacity, nor by natural causes or signs, as the prophecies which had respect to the deluge, to the posterity of Abraham, the coming of the Messiah, &c., are of necessity known onlyby being revealed by him who has both men and the nature of things so completely in his power, that without his will nothing can bedone. He is truly God, who can thus foretell what is to come to pass. “Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods.” (Is. 41:23.)
10. The end and use of things generally are not by mere chance, nor from a being destitute of reason, but proceed from a cause that is wise and omnipotent, which is God. All things now are wisely adapted and ordained to their own peculiar and certain ends.
11. The order of cause and effect is finite, nor can it come to pass that the chain or course of efficient causes can be of infinite extent. There must, therefore, be some first cause which either mediately or immediately produces and moves the rest, and on which all other causes depend; for in every order that is finite there is something that is first and before every thing else.