by Dr. Zacharias Ursinus
In presenting the English Reader with a translation of the Theological Lectures of Dr. Ursinus, upon the Heidelberg Catechism, it is presumed no apology is necessary, at least as far as the German Reformed Church is concerned. Considering the character of Ursinus, his acknowledged ability, and relations to the whole Reformed interest it is a matter of great surprise, that some one has not long since been found to undertake the arduous and difficult task which we have very imperfectly accomplished. Many other works greatly inferior to this, have been favored with translations, whilst no pains have been spared to give them an extensive circulation, and yet no attempt has been made of late years to place these lectures in the hands of the English reader. And what is stranger still, is the fact that the name of Ursinus himself, than whom no one is more worthy of grateful and honorable recollection, is in a great measure unknown. We have, therefore, been led to undertake the difficult task of translating these lectures, being fully convinced that we shall in so doing contribute no little to the dissemination of sound theological views, and at the same time bring to favorable notice one whose memory deserves to be held in grateful recollection. The writings of Ursinus are well deserving of a place in every minister s library, by the side of the works of Luther, Melancthon, Zuingle, Calvin, and others of blessed memory, and will not suffer in the least by a comparison with them.
The old English translation by Parry, made over two hundred years ago, is not only antiquated and unsuited to the taste of the modern English reader, but is also out of print, and not to be had except by the rarest chance. Few copies are to be found at the present day. The copy now in our possession, which we constantly consulted in making the present translation, was printed in the year 1645, and seems to have been gotten up with much care and expense. We had seen notices of the work, and had for several years made constant efforts to secure it, but without success, until about two years ago an esteemed friend placed in our hands a number of foreign catalogues in which we saw three copies of the works of Ursinus, one Latin and two English, advertised. We immediately gave orders to have them imported, and in this way came into possession of the copies we now have. The Latin copy from which we have made the present translation, was published in Geneva in the year 1616, and is without doubt a copy of the best and most complete edition made by Dr. David Pareus, the intimate friend and disciple of Ursinus. It is in every respect greatly superior to another Latin copy, the use of which we secured from the Rev. Dr. Hendron of the Presbyterian church, after having made very consider able progress in the work of translation. This last copy was published in the year 1585, and is probably a copy of one of the earliest editions of the works of Ursinus, of which notice is taken in the excellent “Introduction” from the pen of Dr. Nevin, which will be read with much interest, and throw much light upon the life and character of the author of these Lectures.
Great pains have been taken with the translation so as to render it as complete as possible. In every instance we have been careful to give the exact sense of the author, so that the translation is as literal as it could well be, without being slavishly bound to the text, the style of which we found in a number of instances to be of such a peculiar character as to require some liberty on the part of the Translator. Yet with all the care that has been taken, a number of errors will no doubt make their appearance, in reference to which we ask the indulgence of the reader. The work has been gotten out under many disadvantages, the translation having been made, whilst attending to our regular pastoral duties in the congregation which we have been called to serve in this city. .
The old English translation contains considerable matter which is not to be found in either of the Latin copies now in our possession. We have in several instances taken the liberty of inserting short extracts, changing the style, and construction of many of the sentences as to adapt it to the taste of the modern reader. Whenever this is done it is marked by the word “addenda.”
It is not deemed necessary to say any thing in reference to the merits of these lectures. All who have any acquaintance with the character of Ursinus, and of the important position which he occupied in the church in the sixteenth century the time of the glorious Reformation can have but one opinion respecting their merits. We may add, however, that a number of important testimonies might readily be furnished ; but we prefer rather to let the Book speak for itself, having the assurance that none can peruse its pages with proper care, without being instructed and profited.
These lectures present a complete exposition of all the leading doctrines of the Christian religion in a most concise and simple form, adapted not only to those who are accustomed to read and think, but also to a very great extent to the common reader. Nor is this done in an outward, mechanical manner, but it introduces us at once into the inmost sanctuary of religion, which all are made to feel is not mere form or notion, or doctrine, but life and power, springing from Christ, “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
To the German Reformed Church these lectures should possess much interest. No work could well be published at this time, which should be in greater demand. It may indeed, be said to meet a want which has been extensively felt in our church, not only by the ministry, but also by the laity. Many persons have often asked for some work which would give a complete and faithful exposition of the doctrines contained in our excellent summary of faith the Heidelberg Catechism. Such a work has been greatly needed for years past, and cannot fail to accomplish a number of important and desirable ends. And as Ursinus was the chief compiler of this symbol, he must always be regarded as the most authoritative expounder of the doctrines which it contains. Great exertions should, therefore, be made to have his Commentary placed in every family belonging to our Reformed Zion.
But whilst these Lectures possess a peculiar interest to the German Reformed Church, it should not for a moment be supposed that they have merely a denominational interest, which may be said to be true of many works. They are like the excellent symbol of which they pro fess to give a complete and faithful exposition, truly catholic and general. Nor could the book well be otherwise if true to itself. A faithful exposition of the Apostles creed, the Decalogue and Lord s Prayer, which enter so largely into the Heidelberg Catechism, cannot fail to be of general interest to all those who love and pray for the prosperity and coming of Christ s kingdom. May we know therefore, fondly anticipate a rapid and extensive circulation of the book in the different branches of the Christian Church.
We do not of course intend to be understood as giving an unqualified approval of every view and sentiment contained in these lectures. It is sufficient to say that they are, as a whole, truly orthodox, and well adapted to promote the cause of truth and godliness. They are characterized throughout by earnestness and independence of thought. The writer every where speaks as one who feels the force and importance of the views which he presents. It should also be borne in mind that the value of a book does not consist in its agreement and harmony with the views and opinions generally received and entertained, which may be said to be true of many works which after all do not possess any great value, containing nothing more than a repetition of what has been often said in a more impressive manner. Such, however, is not the chief recommendation of the book which we here present to the Christian public : for whilst it may be said to be in harmony with the doctrines which have been held by the church from the very beginning, it is at the same time earnest, deep, and independent, and well calculated at every point to awaken thought and enquiry.
Conscious of having labored hard and diligently to give a good and faithful translation of these lectures, we now commit them to the public, not without much diffidence, with all the imperfections attending the present translation, with the hope and prayer that they may accomplish the objects we have had in view, and that the reputation of the lectures themselves may be made to suffer no injury from the form in which they now appear.
GEO. W. WILLIARD.