Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 19-20)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 19-20. Here is a brief review.

WLC 19  What is God’s providence towards the angels?
God by his providence permitted some of the angels, wilfully and irrecoverably, to fall into sin and damnation, limiting and ordering that, and all their sins, to his own glory; and established the rest in holiness and happiness employing them all at his pleasure, in the administrations of his power, mercy, and justice.

This catechism deals with a topic for which there is often much unfounded speculation: angelology. Yes, that’s actually a word which, according to Merriam-Webster, means “the theological doctrine of angels or its study.” WLC 16 dealt with the creation of angels, here we are concerned with the fall of some angels and the work of angels in general.

First, we learn that God providentially permitted some of the angels to willfully and irrecoverably fall into sin and damnation. The word “irrecoverably” refers to the fact that, according to what we learn in Scripture, there is no plan of salvation for fallen angels as there is for fallen men (John 8:44; Hebrews 2:16). And there are at least two places in Scripture that speak of the fall of some of the angels and their subsequent judgment:
(2 Peter 2:4) “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…”
(Jude 1:6) “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day…”

Commenting on the passage in Jude, John Calvin writes, “like military deserters, they left the station in which they had been placed.”

But what is the job of the angels? For what purpose did God create the angels? The catechism summarizes the job of the angels by speaking of how God employs them, at His pleasure, in the administrations of His power, mercy, and justice. Simply put, they perform the word of God, obeying the voice of His word (Psalm 103:20-21) and thus do all that He commands in order show mercy and execute justice. Regarding God’s people, one of the specific jobs of the angels is to serve and protect believers; the angels are “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:13-14).

WLC 20  What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created?
The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the Sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

The next series of questions in the WLC deal with God’s providence toward man in his original state of innocence, his fall into sin, and God’s provision of redemption from the fall. We begin, in this question, with a description of God’s providential provision to man in the garden of Eden. And, God’s providential provision includes at least six things:
(1) Habitat: God placed man in paradise in order to dress (or work) it, along with the freedom to each of the fruit of the earth (Genesis 2:8, 15-16)
(2) Dominion: God gave man rule over the creatures (Genesis 1:28)
(3) Companionship: God ordained marriage for his help (Genesis 2:18)
(4) Communion: God afforded man an intimate relationship with Himself (Genesis 1:26-29; 3:8)
(5) Order: God instituted the Sabbath day (Genesis 2:3)
(6) Covenant: God entered into a covenant of life with man (Genesis 2:16-17; Hosea 6:7)

This covenant which the Lord entered into with Adam in the garden is called a “covenant of life” because the promise for Adam’s obedience was the tree of life (Genesis 2:9). Though we do not know how long this probationary period could have lasted, it would seem that if Adam had not sinned, he would have been granted access to the tree of life.

Later in the catechism, this covenant is also referred to as the “covenant of works” (WLC 30 & 97) because Adam was required to maintain person, perfect, and perpetual obedience to the Lord (Galatians 3:12; Romans 10:5). In other words, Adam had to work – do works of righteousness in obedience to God’s law – or incur God’s judgement (Gensis 2:17).

Conclusion & Application

Understanding the covenant of life (or works) is of the utmost importance for understanding the gospel. This covenant, which Adam failed to uphold by sinning against God, is parallel to God’s provision of redemption through the covenant of grace. Understanding how Adam fell, as the head of the human race, is a necessary component of understanding the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18).

The Bible teaches us that when Adam sinned and broke the covenant of life (or works), all mankind sinned in him and fell with him. But all those who belong to Christ, the second Adam, receive the forgiveness of sins and inherit eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). The Apostle Paul summarizes this good news of the gospel in this way:

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:17-19)

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch