Dear Church Family,
After a brief overview of the Westminster Larger Catechism, in our Sunday school lesson this past Sunday we began our study of the actual questions and answers. In the present context, it would be too much to give a detailed account of the class, but here are some of the highlights as we studied the first three questions.
WLC 1 What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s Chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
The “chief and highest end” refers to the ultimate purpose for which something exists. The Scriptures declare that everything has been created from God, through Him, and to Him, for His glory (Romans 11:36); specifically, believers are admonished to do all that they do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s the purpose for which God created us: to glorify Him and fully to enjoy Him forever.
In our sinful fallenness, however, man creates idols and false “ends.” For example, utilitarianism says that man’s ultimate purpose is to seek the greatest good for the greatest number of people. While seemingly noble, it is a man-centered way of thinking. Then there is hedonism which espouses the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good. Living in a therapeutic culture as we do, hedonism seems to the be the order of the day.
WLC 2 How doth it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only, do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.
This second question provides a biblical epistemology (a theory of knowledge, how we know things). Specifically, it speaks of two ways that we know that there is a God: general and special revelation. General revelation has two components: the light of nature in man (the fact that all men are created in God’s image) and the works of God (the created universe). Both this inner and external revelation declare plainly that there is a God.
But the catechism is quick to add that there are two things that are necessary to sufficiently and effectually reveal God to men so that they may be saved: His word and His Spirit. One of the clearest places that we find this teaching in Scripture is in the first chapter of Romans. The knowledge of God is evident within man and His invisible attributes are revealed through what has been made; this general (or natural) revelation is only sufficient, however, to leave men condemned and without excuse before a holy God (Romans 1:18-20). In his natural state, man suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness and exchanges the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creature (Romans 1:21-25).
The two things which are necessary to reveal the will of God for our salvation (actually, one is a Person) are His Word and Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). One of the implications of this truth is that those who have never read the Bible or heard the preaching of gospel are not able to be saved. It drives home the imperative and necessity of sending missionaries and preachers out into the world, for “how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:12-17). And, this truth also reminds that the Word of God – or the preaching of the gospel – is not alone sufficient. Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) and the Holy Spirit works faith in us before we may believe and understand His Word (2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8). Both His Word and His Spirit are necessary.
WLC 3 What is the word of God?
A. The Holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.
The Bible declares itself to be the inspired Word of God: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So, all of the doctrines that we believe (faith), and all of our moral activities (obedience) are to be governed by God’s Word. It is the only rule of faith and obedience.
Even from the early days, Christians were referred to as “the people of the Word.” However, throughout history people have sought to displace or augment God’s Word with other man-made “rules of faith and obedience.” Some have sought to elevate tradition, while others have looked within themselves to a supposed inner light for guidance, but the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments is our final authority.
If that is the case, then the question might be posed: why do we use a confession and catechisms? The answer is that our confession and catechisms are not a rule of faith and obedience. They are simply systematic summaries of what the Bible teaches. They are only legitimate and useful insofar as they are faithful to the teachings of Scripture.
The catechism begins with some very important questions and answers about epistemology, natural revelation, and Scripture. It might seem odd that the catechism begins this way, rather than with the doctrine of God, Himself. But if you think about it, this just makes sense. First, we must know how we know and where to find the truth. Then, we may begin to discover and speak about the truths which are given to us in Scripture. So, it’s actually very important to begin with the doctrine of Scripture, and then to consider what the Scriptures teach, which is the next topic of the Westminster Larger Catechism.
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch