Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 89-91)

Dear Church Family,

This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 89-91. Here is a brief review.

WLC 89  What shall be done to the wicked at the day of judgment?
At the day of judgment, the wicked shall be set on Christ’s left hand, and, upon clear evidence, and full conviction of their own consciences, shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them; and thereupon shall be cast out from the favourable presence of God, and the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels, into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels for ever.

The picture of Christ setting the wicked on His left hand at the day of judgment comes from Jesus’ teaching concerning what will happen when the Son of Man comes in His glory (Matthew 25:31-46). Christ will sit on His glorious throne nations, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The goats are the wicked who are put on Christ’s left hand. After passing judgment, Christ as Judge, He will cast the wicked out from His presence and into “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). In this place, they will endure eternal punishment for their sins (Matthew 25:46).

This catechism question describes hell as being “cast out from the favourable presence of God.” Just so, we find that Scripture speaks of those paying the penalty of eternal destruction as being “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). At the same time, the Scriptures also speak of the final punishment of sins as the presence of God – specifically, the presence of “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:15-17).

Suffice it to say that hell is a real and terrible place of eternal punishment and suffering reserved for those who die in their sins apart from Christ (John 8:24). “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). With these truths in mind, the next catechism describes what is done to the righteous, to those who have eternal life in Christ Jesus.

WLC 90  What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?
At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and for ever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.

This catechism question lists four general things that are done to the righteous at the day of judgment.

1. Acquitted – Set on Christ’ right hand and “openly acknowledged and acquitted.”

To be “openly acknowledged and acquitted” means that Jesus, as Judge, will declare that those who have believed in Him belong to Him (Matthew 10:32). And, Jesus, as Judge, will also pronounce them not guilty because they have been justified by faith (John 6:40).

John Fesko describes the final acquittal of the righteous well:

“Only those who are justified are raised according to their inner man. On the final day, the eschatological verdict that is passed in secret in the present, is revealed through the resurrection of the outer man. The resurrection reveals who is righteous. On the final day, when Christ returns, the righteous are immediately transformed. Again, without God uttering a single syllable, the righteous will be able to look around them and know immediately who has been declared righteous and who is wicked. There is no future aspect of justification but rather only the revelation of the verdict through the resurrection. Or, we may say that justification is ‘already,’ and what remains ‘not yet’ is the revelation of the verdict that has already been passed on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, which the believer possesses by faith alone.” (John Fesko, “Paul on Justification and the Final Judgment”)

2. Made Judges – Join Christ in judging the reprobate angels and men.

In Jesus’ parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50), he describes the final judgment and how the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Both the wicked and the righteous will be brought forth to the final judgment. At the same time, the Scriptures also describe how the saints will join Christ in judging the world and apostate angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

3. Made Perfect – Received into heaven where they will be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery.

As we studied and learned in a previous question, the souls of the righteous are made perfect in holiness immediately after their death (WLC 86). In the resurrection, the bodies of the righteous will be raised in power, spiritual, and incorruptible (like Jesus’ glorious body), and will be reunited to their souls forever (WLC 87). Here, the final reception into heaven of the righteous is described as making them “fully and forever freed from all sin and misery” (WLC 90). Christ washes His bride, the church, with the water of the word in order that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory on the last day, having no spot or wrinkle, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27). We will be made like Christ in perfection and holiness (1 John 3:2).

4. Made Joyful – Filled with joy and made holy and happy both in body and soul in the company of the saints and angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of the Triune God for all eternity.

In the presence of the Lord, the righteous will be filled with inconceivable joys (Psalm 16:11) and made perfectly holy and happy in body and soul (Hebrews 12:22-24). The catechism speaks of how the righteous will be especially joyful and happy “in the immediate vision and fruition” the three Person of the Trinity. Fruition is not a word that we use very often. Fruition can mean one of two things: to enjoy something or the state of bearing fruit. In the context, the meaning is mostly likely the former: in the presence of God, the righteous will experience the chief and highest end of man (WLC 1): to glorify God and to fully enjoy Him forever (Psalm 73:24-28; John 17:21-23).  

The resurrection of the dead and the full enjoyment of God in heaven is the greatest hope and desire of every believer. Indeed, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). So, even as it is necessary for us to remain in the body (Philippians 1:24), we recognize that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

WLC 91  What is the duty which God requireth of man ?
The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.

Way back in WLC 5, we learned that the Scriptures principally teach two things: (1) what man is to believe concerning God, and (2) what duty God requires of man. The first ninety questions of the WLC describe what the Scriptures teach concerning what man is to believe concerning God. Beginning in WLC 91, the remainder of the questions describe what the Scriptures teach concerning what duty requires of man.

Here is a general outline of the second half of the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q91-152  – The Law of God

   Q 91-97     – The Moral Law
   Q 98-100   – Introduction to the Ten Commandments
   Q101-148  – Exposition of the Ten Commandments
   Q149-152  – Sin and Its Consequences

Q153-196  – The Outward Means of Grace

   Q153-154  – Introduction
   Q155-160  – The Ministry of the Word
   Q161-177  – The Sacraments
   Q178-196  – Prayer
   Q186-196  – Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer

We’ll have one more Sunday school class this coming Sunday, December 17th, before we take a break over the holidays. We’ll resume Sunday school and our study of the WLC in the new year on January 21st. I hope you will join us!

The Lord be with you!
Pastor Peter M. Dietsch