Shorter Catechisms

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We return today to Leonard Van Horn’s series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Today we come to Catechism Question 3.

Instruction in the Westminster Standards.

The Historic Standards of Presbyterian Denominations.

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM

Q. 3 What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Scripture References: Micah 6:8. John 20:31. John 3:16. 2 Tim. 1:3. Questions:

  1. Why does our Catechism place such importance on the Scriptures? There could be no Catechism without the Scripture, for the foundation of the Catechism itself is in the acceptance of the full truthfulness of the Bible as the Word of God. It is within the Word of God we find our way to eternal life. “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15)
  1. What is meant by the word “principally” in this question?

It means that though all things revealed in the Scriptures are equally true, yet everything in it is not equally necessary to salvation.

  1. What are the two important teachings of the Word of God?

The two important teachings are what we believe and what we should do.

  1. What is belief according to the Scriptures?

It includes three parts: (1) To be persuaded of the truth. (2) To credit the truth of a person. (3) To trust, to have confidence in a person. We must have faith (belief) in the words of God and in the God who speaks them. This is a personal trust in the living God through the living Christ.

  1. Why is belief placed before duty?

This is the order of Scripture. The Christian is saved by grace through faith and is created unto good works. The foundation of the faith, “I am the Lord thy God” is presented in the Law before God presents His people with the Commandments. What we believe is important in order that we might do what is well-pleasing in the sight of God. Alexander Whyte says, “An orthodox faith and an obedient life is the whole duty of man.”

  1. Could there be any significance in the fact that both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms have this same question?

Yes. True happiness for man comes only when he recognizes three important teachings of the Bible: First, that he is a lost sinner. Second, that Jesus Christ is his Redeemer from sin. Third, that he is to live a holy life based upon the revealed will of God, the Scriptures.

Our title is rapidly becoming a popular question of this age within the walls of the church. Back some years ago the cry was, “No Creed but Christ!” This slogan was accepted by many and led many away from established systems of belief. As a dangerous trend in the life of the church, this departure prompted some to look for “revelations” outside of the revealed Word of God. Even this trend though can not be compared to the danger that is spreading throughout the church today, the danger of suggesting what we believe is not really important.

It is important to note that Question No. 3 of the Shorter Catechism places the matter of our belief in a prominent place. Our Lord did the same thing. In Matthew 22:37, 38 he says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy MIND.” The Bible leaves no doubt in the mind of anyone that what we believe is important.

Today in many Presbyterian churches there is a prejudice against creeds, against doctrine. This is shown in our failure to teach our Standards. It is also seen in the failure always to insist that candidates for the ministry be thoroughly conversant with the Standards. Again it is seen in the growing emphasis within the church today of obedience to the church as an institution without regard to the teaching of the Bible or of the accepted Creed.

Does it matter what we believe? It certainly does, if we are going to be a confessing body. It certainly does, if we want to continue to hear a gospel message in our church. The very heart of the gospel message is that we may receive the gift of salvation by believing (trusting) in Christ as our Saviour. Without this act of faith or belief we are lost, with it we are saved. Thus what we believe does make a difference, namely, where we shall spend eternity — heaven or hell.

It is equally true that it matters what we believe because the duty which God requires of us is based on what we believe. The widely accepted definition of belief is that “it is the assent of the mind to what is told us on competent and credible authority.” Our Bible is our competent and credible and infallible authority. Our Standards contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. Therefore any indifference to doctrine, any attempt to bypass or alter it to suit modern man, any movement to permit, as acceptable practice, less than a complete committal to our doctrinal standards should be recognized as contrary to historic Presbyterianism.

Originally published by THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Dedicated to instruction in the Westminster Standards for use as a bulletin insert or other methods of distribution in Presbyterian churches.

Vol. 1, No. 3    March, 1961

By Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Bonus – An Outline of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

The Catechism uses 107 Q. & A. to give an overview of the central teachings of Scripture.

Q. 1-12 : concern God as Creator.
Q. 13-20 : Original sin & man’s fallen nature.
Q. 21-38 : Christ our Redeemer & the benefits of redemption.
Q. 39-84 : The Ten Commandments.
Q. 85-97 : The Sacraments of Baptism & Holy Communion.
Q. 98-107 The Lord’s prayer.

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Faithful and Beloved

Last year on this date, this author found no Presbyterian person, place, or thing, so he wrote on one of the Shorter Catechisms.  This year however, the person and ministry of the Rev. Dr. James Crowell comes into This Day in Presbyterian History as a result of the Encyclopaedia of the Presbyterian Church, by Alfred Nevin.  And in that volume, we are told that Dr. Crowell was born on June 9, 1827 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of a druggist and apothecary shop owner.

Nevin doesn’t give us much in the matter of his early years in either the home or the church, but there must have been a commitment to the Presbyterian church at some time.  He attended the College of New Jersey in 1848, graduating fourth in a class of eighty students.  He taught for one year at West Chester Academy after graduating, but soon found his next training at Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating in 1851.  His faculty during his student days were Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, James Addison Alexander, James Waddel Alexander, and William Henry Green.  With spiritual mentors like these, he would be adequately trained for his life calling to the pastorate.

For six years, Rev. Crowell served the Lord as pastor of the Upper Octorora Presbyterian Church in present day Parkesburg, Pennsylvania.  Nevin says that “he was greatly loved by the congregation and prospered in his labors.”  [Note: It is one of the early buildings of this congregation which which we have chosen for the masthead (see above) of This Day in Presbyterian History.]

Continuing his pastorate, James Crowell served for twelve years as pastor of Seventh Presbyterian Church in his home town of Philadelphia.  Again it was stated that he labored there as the preacher and pastor of the flock with great fidelity.

Two years were spent at St Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, where his spiritual labors were once again blessed by the Lord.

His last pastorate, from 1870-1882, was again taken up in his home town of Philadelphia, at the Woodlawn Presbyterian Church, where he was described as being faithful in his ministry, and beloved by his flock.

What stands out to this author is that here we have a man of God committed to his pastoral calling, faithful, and as a result, fruitful in leading men and women to saving faith in Christ.  He was universally loved by the people of the Lord in these Presbyterian congregations.

Nevin concludes his treatment of James Crowell by stating that “he was a cultivated gentleman, an exemplary Christian, a good preacher, and highly esteemed by all who knew him.” (p. 167)

Words to Live By: 
To those followers of This Day in Presbyterian History who are called to be pastors of the flock of God, the focus of our post today, the Rev. James Crowell, stands out as an exemplary undershepherd who obviously loved the Word of God, who preached that Word in all its fullness to edify the hearts and minds of the people of God, and most importantly, who lived out the eternal principles and practices of the Word of God before the watching world.  Oh for teaching elders today to have such a zeal for the God’s Word in their present ministries.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

The Westminster Standards are the Standards of the Presbyterian Church

We have already considered the meeting which took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which stopped an impending schism in the infant Presbyterian Church by The Adopting Act of 1729, as was presented on September 17. But there was another important commitment made by the infant church as part of this multi-day meeting on this day, September 19, 1729.  And it was the adoption by the presbyters of this American Presbyterian Church of the Westminster Standards (together, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism) as their subordinate standard, behind that of Scripture itself, as their required standard for ordination.

The exact words as taken from the Minutes of that Presbytery meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were the following:  “we are undoubtedly obliged to take care that the faith once delivered to the saints be kept pure and uncorrupt among us, and so handed down to our posterity; and do therefore agree that all the ministers of this Synod, or that shall hereafter be admitted into this Synod, shall declare their agreement in, and approbation of, the Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as being in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine, and so also adopt the said Confession and Catechisms as the confession of our faith. And we do also agree, that all the Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate of the ministry into the exercise of the sacred function but what declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession, either by subscribing the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms, or by a verbal declaration of their assent thereto, as such minister or candidate shall think best.”

It might surprise our readers to think that a full twenty-two years after the first Presbytery in 1707, finally such a doctrinal commitment was made by the infant Presbyterian church.  But this is not to say that the ministers who made up this church did not automatically confess this subscription. Remember, the first page of the 1707 minutes were lost to history.  It well might have been part and parcel of that document.  Further, while not found in subsequent recorded minutes, all of the ministers had confessed their faith in the mother countries by subscription to the Westminster Standards. Up to this time in the colonies, their attention was taken up with church extension and government.  But finally, the historic creed which had fed the faith of the Presbyterian Church for three hundred years is made the foundation of the infant Presbyterian church in America.                                                                                      

Words to live by:  A historic document is made the subordinate standard of an infant church.  All ministers, past, present, and future, are to receive and adopt it before they can be ordained.  The young church is placed on a Reformed foundation.  While members must hold to a credible profession of faith, they know  that the preaching and teaching will be the depth and historical content of  the greatest theological statement ever produced by godly men. This is why we have included the Confession and catechisms in this historical devotional guide.  Read and ponder its words. Memorize its shorter catechism answers.  This writer has done so, and it has enabled him to stand in the test of perilous times.

Through the Scriptures: Ezekiel 28 – 30

Through the Standards:  The sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, according to the Shorter Catechism  

WSC 106 “What do we pray for in the sixth petition?”
A.  In the sixth petition, (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,) we pray, That God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Benefits of God’s Grace

Without any historical person, place, or thing found  in Presbyterian history, we turn back to one of the more comforting Shorter Catechisms in our Westminster Standards. Question and answer 36 speaks of those benefits which flow during our lifetime from justification and adoption and sanctification. These latter benefits are the three great foundational benefits.   But God has also given us from them five other benefits in this life. They are: assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance unto the end.  Let’s briefly look at each one.

Assurance of God’s love is promised to believers. All through Scripture we have many precious promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Romans chapter 8 is filled with such promises, especially verses 28 – 39. He assures us of His love by His written word and His wonderful providence in our life. No believer should be content to go through life without the assurance of God’s love.

Peace of conscience is closely associated with the last benefit.  Being assured of God’s love, we know that we are the son or daughter of God, that all judgment against us has been paid by Christ’s own death, burial, and resurrection, that nothing can accuse us successfully, our sins are under the blood of Christ, and we have the promise of eternal life.  If God can be for us, who then can be against us? Answer: No one!  That produces peace of conscience.

Joy in the Holy Ghost or Spirit is the third benefit in this life.  All of the above which is written about the three foundational benefits plus the two above which flow from them causes us to rejoice in the Holy Ghost.  This is a Scriptural expression, found in Romans 14:17, where we read of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (KJV)  It is true that being still sinners, though not under its power any more, we still sin.  And that causes sorrow to us.  But the joy of our salvation can be restored to us.  David prayed that in Psalm 51.  And the entire book of First John is to cause us to have joy in the Holy Spirit.

Increase of grace is to be our daily experience.  We are to be growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.  It is true that on some days we may be advancing in grace and other days declining in grace.  It may be one step forward and two steps backwards. But this increase in grace is to be our disposition always.

Last, we are to persevere to the end.  We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.  But at the same time, we as believers must  persevere in holiness.  We must press on to the prize of the high calling of God in salvation.

All these are benefits in this life.

Words to Live By: 
What a great catechism for self-examination.  Which of these benefits do we enjoy in this life?  What has occurred in our life that has caused us to lose any of them?  How must we re-possess them?  These questions cannot be answered by anyone else except you?  Pastors may help.  Parents may be a guide.  Close personal friends can encourage.  But essentially it comes down to you, your Bible, prayer, and other means of grace which will help you.  What are you waiting for?

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 37 – 39

Through the Standards: The significance of father and mothers of the fifth commandment

WLC 124 — “Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?  A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts, and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.”

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