Westminster Shorter Catechism

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The Main Purpose for Life

wsc_londonIt seems there are noteworthy people and events to point to for every day of the calendar. But for this day of January 13, we would instead like to turn our attention to the magnificent answer of our Confessional fathers in The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question no. 1. — What is man’s chief end?  Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

The framers of this short answer were concerned about the ”chief” end of man.  There could, and should, be other purposes for both faith and life.  Indeed, every person, and certainly every Christian, should be aware of these purposes as they relate to life in the home, vocation, the church, and society at large.  When changes come into your life, such as a birthday, anniversary, a new calendar year, or even the anniversary of conversion, a time of self-examination is afforded to assess progress in fulfilling these purposes.  But in and through all of these milestones, this all-encompassing chief purpose should be your guide.

The first aspect of your chief and highest aim in life is “to glorify God.”  Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians, “whether, then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NASB)  And that prince of Bible expositors, John Calvin, further defines this glory of God by stating that “the glory of God is when we know that He is.”  But beyond seeing the divine glory in the revelation of Who He is as Creator and Redeemer, we are also given an answer as to how are to respond in our glorification of God.

» An edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, published by the London Sunday-School Union.  J. Rider, Printer, Little Britain, undated [ca. 1803-1810], 63 p.; 10.3 cm. »

Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer, “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou has given me to do.” (John 17:4)  Jesus reflects on his ministry, considering how He had fulfilled His eternal purpose in coming to earth.  Likewise, our chief end in glorifying God is to finish the work which God’s Spirit has called us to do, in the home, our calling in life, through the church, and in society at large.

Our other chief purpose in life is to enjoy God forever.  The psalmist Asaph meditates on this aim when he wrote, “Whom have I in  heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth.” (Psalm 73:25) We are to delight in our God on earth as we shall do in heaven.  That translates out to delighting in God’s Word, the Bible, by  worshiping Him publicly and privately, enjoying His day, the Christian Sabbath, set aside for Him, and fulfilling our calling as spiritual sons and daughters of God in the family, our calling in life, through the church, and in the world at large.

Words to Live By:  By memorizing this answer, the reader will be able to do a quick check of this chief purpose in the words, thoughts, and actions of his/her life.  Use this time of reflection in some meditation, then prayer, and then action to resolve to glorify God and enjoy him this day, tomorrow, the next day, and into the next week, month, and year.

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In All that We Say and Do, Let Us Live to His Glory.

Last year, when we could not tie some Presbyterian event or person to a given date, we had recourse to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. On this day last year, the following was our post, and it seems pertinent this year as well. We pray that all that we have done with our posts has in fact been to the glory of God. May God’s kingdom be firmly established throughout the world. May each of us rest in His grace and prayerfully, obediently seek to be used for His glory.

Remember when this writer said that many Presbyterian people must  have been taking a sabbatical in December?  Well, on this day of December 30, we conclude our substitute study  on The Lord’s Prayer with the last phrase of this prayer. The last Shorter Catechism question [Q. 107] asks, “What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer teach us?” And the answer given is “The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. teaches us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him; and in testimony of our desire and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.”

David in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 prayed, “So David blessed the LORD in the sight of all the assembly, and David said, ‘Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and forever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.  Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your Hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we think You, and praise Your glorious name.’”

All these are arguments to enforce our petitions.  And please notice that they are all based on God, on His works of creation and redemption, on Him alone. You will find no man-made encouragements in this Old Testament text. The conclusion, whether if was truly there originally or not, is God-centered, and whether we use the specific words, or simply other words in our pleading with God, it is a right and noble conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer.

Words to live by:  Our pleading with God must never be based upon our merit, of which we don’t have any in the first place anyhow, but only on the mercy of God. He and He along must receive the praise, and truly His is the kingdom or dominion. His is the power and authority. His is the glory and majesty. May all our prayers, even our most mundane requests, have the glory of God as their greater goal. Amen, and amen.

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“The ripest fruit of the Assembly’s thought and experience.”

wsc_londonIt was on this day, November 25th, a Thursday in 1647, that the British House of Commons ordered the printing of the Shorter Catechism, composed by the Westminster Assembly.

The Westminster Assembly of Divines had first met on July 1, 1643, having been summoned by the two Houses of the British Parliament to advise as to a further and more perfect reformation in the liturgy, discipline, and government of the Church of England. They immediately set about working on a revision of the Thirty-nine Articles. When the Commissioners sent by the Church of Scotland arrived to be seated as part of the Assembly, the work then began to take on a wider scope. The Assembly was now required to prepare creeds and directories, not for the Church of England alone, but for the Churches of Christ in the three kingdoms, so as to bring all of them into the nearest possible uniformity in doctrine and practice.

The documents which are today the authoritative secondary standards of so many Presbyterian Churches throughout the world (and not just English-speaking churches), were prepared by an Assembly of English Divines, men who were episcopally ordained clergymen of the Church of England. That Church was as yet undivided at that time. The members of the Assembly represented the different views of doctrine and order that were entertained within it. Many of the prelatic party who were nominated by Parliament declined to attend the Assembly, but others of them took the required oath, and assisted in the deliberations of the Assembly, at least for a time. The Independents [or Congregationalists, by another term] were represented by seven men who came to be known as the “dissenting brethren” in the Assembly.

The great majority of the members of this Assembly held Presbyterian views of Church polity, and were the successors of the Puritans, who formed a considerable body in the Church of England from the time of the Reformation. They had all along been working for a more primitive organization of the Church, and a freedom from the practices and priestly robes borrowed from the corrupt Roman Church. In the days of Elizabeth they had instituted a voluntary Presbyterian organization of the Church, and they had often suffered in her days, and during the reigns of James and Charles, for refusing to carry out the practices or wear the robes enjoined by the prelates [or high-Church Anglicans].

To this Assembly were added three ministers of the Reformed Church of France, and four learned divines of the Church of Scotland, who were seated as non-voting members, but whose voice carried great weight in the deliberations of the Assembly.

The committee first charged with the work of preparing a Catechism never managed to complete its work. Some time later, the Assembly directed that both larger and a briefer catechisms should be produced, both works keeping an eye to the content of the Confession of Faith. Work then proceeded, first on the Larger Catechism, and only as that work was nearing completion did the Assembly turn its attention again to a Shorter Catechism. A new committee was named and by most accounts, the successful completion of the work is due to the efforts of just four men, and in particular the work of Antony Tuckney, Minister of St. Michael’s, London, and Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge.

Completing their work, the committee presented its report to the Assembly. After some revision of the Catechism, the addition of the Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed were considered. A vocal minority opposed the addition of the Apostles’ Creed, and to settle the matter, the Assembly determined that an explanation of the words “he descended into hell” would be added as a marginal notation. That postscript is typically not found in the American editions.

The work now finished, a message was prepared by a committee to be addressed to the Houses of Parliament when the Catechism was carried up. On Thursday, 25th of November, 1647, the House of Commons was informed that divers divines of the Assembly were at the door. They were called in, and the Prolocutor [moderator of the Assembly] delivered the Catechism and addressed the House. On the following day (November 26th) the Catechism was carried to the Lords. Each House thanked the Assembly for its care and pains in this matter. It was ordered that 600 copies be printed under the care of Mr. Byfield, for the use of the Members of Parliament and of Assembly, and that Scripture proofs be affixed in the margin of the Catechism.

Words to Live By:

One characteristic of the Shorter Catechism has not been sufficiently recognized in the past. It is a statement of personal religion. It appeals to the individual sinner, and helps the individual believer.

One anecdote serves to illustrate:

The Rev. Thomas Doolittle, a famous catechist, took great delight in catechizing and urged ministers to that work, as an effective way of establishing young people in the truth, and preparing them to read and hear sermons with advantage. Accordingly, every Lord’s day, he catechized the youth and adults of his congregation, and this part of his work bore great fruit. Once, when he had come to the question “What is effectual calling,” after some explanation, Rev. Doolittle proposed that the question should be answered by changing the words us and our to me and my. The congregation, hearing this suggestion, a long and solemn silence followed. Many felt the weight of the idea, but none had the courage to answer. At length, one young man stood up, and with every mark of a broken and contrite heart, was able to say, “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing me of my sin and misery, enlightening my mind to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to me in the Gospel.”

The scene was truly affecting. The proposal of the question had commanded unusual solemnity. The rising up of the young man had created high expectations; and, the answer being accompanied with proofs of sincere piety and modesty, the congregation was bathed in tears. This young man had been converted by being catechized, and, to his honor, Rev. Doolittle says, “Of an ignorant and wicked youth, he had become a knowing and serious believer to God’s glory and my much comfort.”

There was an old expression, particularly among the Scottish Presbyterians, who would say, “I own the Confession.” By that, they meant that they had made its doctrine their own; they had taken the content to heart, and saw that indeed it was an accurate reflection of the teaching of Scripture. So too the Catechism, though briefer.

Reader, do you own the Catechism? Have you made it your own? Clearly it is not Scripture; no such claim is made, and that is why we speak of it as part of the secondary standards of the Church. But it is worthwhile reading, and a great help in understanding what the Bible teaches.

[The bulk of the above was based on and freely edited from an historical account written by William Carruthers [1830-1922], which is found bound with a facsimile reproduction of an original printing of the Shorter Catechism. A digital edition of that work is available here.

Image source: Pictured is a later edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, not the original first printing.

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Last year we wrote of the founding of the Presbyterian Ministers Fund on this day, January 11, in 1718. Rather than cover that ground again, and lacking some other significant Presbyterian event or person for this day, it seems good instead to turn to Leonard Van Horn’s commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Rev. Van Horn was born in 1920, educated at Columbia Theological Seminary, and pastored churches in Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and New Mexico. He also served as a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. His work on the ruling elder remains in print, but his series on the Shorter Catechism has, regrettably, never been published. It was originally issued in the form of bulletin inserts, and the PCA Historical Center is pleased to have a complete set of these inserts.

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. Scripture References: I Cor. 10:31. Psalm 73:24-26. John 17:22,24.

Questions:

1.    What is the meaning of the word “end” in this question?
The word means an aim, a purpose, an intention. It will be noted that the word “end” is qualified by the word “chief”. Thus it is noted that man will have other purposes in this life but his primary purpose should be to glorify God. This is in keeping with the purpose for which man was made. It is when we are alienated from God that we have the wrong end or purpose in view.

2.    What does the word “glorify” mean in this question?
Calvin tells us that the “glory of God is when we know what He is.” In its Scriptural sense, it is struggling to set forth a divine thing. We glorify Him when we do not seek our own glory but seek Him first in all things.

3.    How can we glorify God?
Augustine said, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, O God, and our heart is restless until it finds repose in Thee.” We glorify God by believing in Him, by confessing Him before men, by praising Him, by defending His truth, by showing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, by worshiping Him.

4.    What rule should we remember in regard to glorifying God?
We should remember that every Christian is called of God to a life of service. We glorify God by using the abilities He has given us for Him, though we should remember that our service should be from the heart and not simply as a duty.

5.    Why is the word “glorify” placed before “enjoy” in the answer?
It is placed first because you must glorify Him before you can enjoy Him. If enjoyment was placed first you would be in danger of supposing that God exists for man instead of men for God. If a person would stress the enjoying of God over the glorifying of God there would be danger, of simply an emotional type of religion. The Scripture says, “In Thy presence is fulness of joy. . . .” (Ps. 16:11). But joy from God comes from being in a right relationship with God, the relationship being set within the confines of Scripture.

6.    What is a good Scripture to memorize to remind us of the lesson found in Question No. 1?
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: …” (Ps. 42:1,2a). This reminds us of the correct relationship for the Christian, looking unto Him. It is there we find our ability to glorify Him and the resulting joy.

THE PRIMARY CONCERN OF MAN
It is a fact to be much regretted that the average Christian who gives allegiance to the Westminster Standards is a Christian that many times leaves out the living of these Standards in the daily pursuits of life. It is good to believe, it is good to have a creed in which to believe. But there is much harm that can result from believing in a creed and not living it day by day. From such an existence we arrive at a low tone of spiritual living and the professing believer becomes cold, formal, without spiritual power in his life.

We should always recognize that the first lesson to be learned from our catechism is that our primary concern is to be of service to the Sovereign God. Our Westminster Shorter Catechism does not start with the salvation of man. It does not start with God’s promises to us. It starts with placing us in the right relationship with our Sovereign God. James Benjamin Green tells us that the answer to the first question of the Catechism asserts two things: “The duty of man, ‘to glorify God.’ The destiny of man, ‘to enjoy Him.’ ”

It is to be regretted that though we have inherited the principles of our forefathers, in that their Creed is still our Creed, so many times we have failed to inherit the desire to practice their way of living. Many people will attempt to excuse themselves here by stating that we live in a different age, that the temptations and speed of life today divert us from spiritual things. But no matter what excuses we might give, the Catechism instructs us right at the outset that our duty is to glorify God, such is our chief purpose in life. All of us need to note the valid words of J. C. Ryle in regard to our Christian living: “Where is the self-denial, the redemption of time, the absence of luxury and self-indulgence, the unmistakable separation from earthly things, the manifest air of being always about our Master’s business, the singleness of eye, the high tone of conversation, the patience, the humility that marked so many of our forerunners . . . ?”

May God help each of us to stop right now, read again the first question and answer of our Catechism, and pray to God that in the days to come our primary concern might be that we will live to His glory. It is not difficult for us to know the characteristics of such a life. The fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 are plain enough.

The Shield and Sword, Inc.
Vol. 1 No. 3  January, 1961
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Words to Live By:
Given our comments in yesterday’s Words to Live By, it seemed quite appropriate today to touch on this first question from the Catechism. Dr. Van Horn’s summary statements, above, are particularly apt.

Note: Our Through the Scriptures and Through the Standards sections have now been replaced by RSS feeds which appear at the top of right-hand column.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Moral Law

Presbyterians must have still been on vacation during the latter days of August as there is very little national Presbyterian history recorded on these last days, including today August 28!  So following up our recent post in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we look at another catechism which really goes along with it, namely, question and answer number 40.  It reads, “What did God at first reveal to man  for the rule of his obedience?”  And the answer reads, “The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.”  The next answer in the Catechism tells us that this moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.

The moral law, definition wise, is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience. (See Larger Catechism no. 93)  As such, it applies to every part of our being, body and soul.  It instructs us to perform duties of holiness to God and righteousness toward man, especially those of the house of faith.

Now it is easy for us — for you and for me — to glibly say those words in the above paragraph.  And yet, we immediately understand that it is utterly impossible for us to fulfil this moral law personally, perfectly, and perpetually.  If anything, this law immediately convicts us of our sinfulness.  And yet it clearly reveals the person and work of the Lord Jesus who kept this law personally, perfectly, and perpetually.  It was this which was imputed to us, even as our sinfulness was imputed to Jesus on the cross of Calvary.  We then seek to conform our lives to this moral law, not to gain salvation, but rather with a thankful spirit to all He has done for us.

Words to live by:  The moral law is summarized up for us in Exodus 10:1 – 17.  Choose any faithful Bible version you wish, and make it your aim to memorize the Ten Commandments, or review them from memory if you have done so before.  All Christians should have on their hearts and tongues an understanding of the moral law of God.

Through the Scriptures:  1 Chronicles 24 – 26

Through the Standards: Lawful and unlawful subjects of prayer in the catechisms       

WLC 183
“For whom are we to pray?  We are to pray for the whole church of Christ upon earth; for magistrates, and ministers, for ourselves, our brethren, yea, our enemies; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter; but not for the dead, nor for those that are known to have sinned the sin unto death.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

The Christianizing of the Christian

With no relevant date readily associated with historic Presbyterianism on this June 30th day, we turn to the benefit of effectual calling known as sanctification.  Question and answer 35 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks and answers that “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed, in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live  unto righteousness.”

If you can remember the answers to justification and adoption (S.C. 33 and 34), you see immediately that this benefit is a “work of God’s free grace,” not an “act of God’s free grace.”  The latter definition for justification and adoption spoke of something completed at once by God’s Spirit.  Sanctification is a work, that is, one of progress in this spiritual life.  As our title puts it, it is the Christianizing of the Christian.

The sphere and extent of this work of sanctification is “in the whole man,” or throughout the whole man.  Sanctification, like depravity, is total in extent, though partial in degree. Why is that?  Because sanctification is imperfect in this life.  There abides in each one of His people still some remnants of the corruption of sin in every part of us.  Paul realized this in Romans 7, when he acknowledged in verses 22, 23 “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (ESV)  The result of this is continual conflict between the flesh and the spirit, which are two opposite principles.

This work of God’s free grace has two aspects to it.  The first speaks of “dying unto sin.”  To die unto anything is to become indifferent to it, to shake off its power, to be superior to its attractions.  In sanctification, the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed and the several lusts are to be more and more weakened and put to death.

The other aspect of sanctification is “living unto righteousness.”  Holiness is to be our constant aim and lifestyle.  In fact, “sanctification” and “holiness” come from the same root word in the original.

The end of sanctification is “the image of God.”  Through His Spirit and Word, we are seeking to have a better likeness of God in our life.  He is to be seen in our thoughts, words, and actions.  This is the whole issue of sanctification.

Words to Live By: So, how is the work of sanctification going in your life?  Are you going forward or backward?  Two steps forward and one step backward?  This work is a lifelong work.  One day, in glory, we will have the final victory.  Look forward to that day, and be zealous in growing in grace and the knowledge of the LordJesus Christ on this day.

Through the Scriptures: Amos 7 – 9

Through the Standards: The Second Commandment: duties required

WLC 107, S.C. 49 — “Which is the second commandment?
A.  The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;  and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

WLC 108 — “What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A.  The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God; and vowing unto him; as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.”

WSC 50 — “What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requires the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed in his Word.”

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