Christian: Know Thy Misery

Eye Exam

The wise biblical counselor and counselee are always about the business of discerning the distinctions between law and gospel, and sin and suffering. Errors in these categories are likely to produce ill-effects and poor outcomes as suggested remedies fail to fit the circumstances (i.e. counseling spiritual remedies to physical problems or physical remedies to spiritual probelms).

Fortunately, church history, and in particular, the historic creeds and confessions can help us greatly in our pursuit of discerning right knowing and right application.

Sixteenth century theologian, Zacharias Ursinus, co-author of the Heidelberg Catechism, wrote in his commentary on the catechism's second question of the necessity for Christians to know their misery in order to better comprehend the comfort they possess in Christ (Question 1).

Ursinus was clear that knowing our misery did not, in itself, offer any consolation. Instead, this knowing accomplishes three things in us:

1) A knowledge of our misery is necessary for the purpose of creating in us the desire of deliverance,

2) That we may be thankful to God for our deliverance, and

3) Without the knowledge of our sinfulness and misery, we cannot hear the gospel with profit.

Commenting further on his third point, Ursinus warned:

Unless, by the preaching of the law as touching sin and the wrath of God, a preparation be made for the proclamation of grace, a carnal security follows, and our comfort becomes unstable. Sure consolation cannot stand in connection with carnal security. Hence it is manifest that we must commence with the preaching of the law, after the example of the Prophets and Apostles, that men may thus be cast down from the conceit of their own righteousness, and may obtain a knowledge of themselves, and be led to true repentance. Unless this be done, men will become, through the preaching of grace, more careless and obstinate, and pearls will be cast before swine to be trodden under foot.

In this commentary on Heidelberg Question 2, Ursinus helpfully counsels us to not only "know our misery," but in effect instructs us in the way we must make careful disctinctions between law and gospel, and sin and suffering if we are to be successful in our ministry of biblical soul care as counselors, and our efforts toward meaningful change as counselees.

Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 21). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.