Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 92-93)

Dear Church Family,

This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 92-93. Here is a brief review.

WLC 92  What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience?
A. The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the moral law.

Having acknowledged that the duty which God requires of man is obedience to God’s will (WLC 91), we now take up and consider how God first revealed His will to Adam in the estate of innocence, before the Fall. The catechism teaches us that there are two kinds of laws that God first revealed to Adam in the garden of Eden: (1) a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and (2) the moral law. A later catechism question (WLC 98) teaches us that the “moral law” is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.

We know that Ten Commandments were given by God on tablets of stone to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai after their deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 20); however, here we learn that the moral law as first revealed to Adam in the garden of Eden. This may seem odd, at first, but the catechism is simply pointing us to the fact that since man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), therefore, the moral law was written in man’s heart (Romans 2:14-15).

Since the Fall, man suppresses the truth of God which is evident within him. Yet, man was originally created in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24; WLC 17). And, though man’s nature has been fully corrupted and by nature he is deserving of God’s wrath and dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3), he still retains the image of God (though marred) after the Fall (Genesis 9:6).

WLC 93  What is the moral law?
The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.

Though not discussed in this catechism question, it is helpful to remember the three-fold differentiations (or types) of laws in the Old Testament. The 19th chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches us that the moral law (summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments) was given to Adam and Moses as the perfect rule of righteousness and is forever binding on all people. The ceremonial law (or worship regulations) was given to the church of Israel as a type (prefiguring Christ) and for moral instruction. The judicial law (or civil regulations) were given to the state of Israel, but have expired with the political state of Israel.

The main teaching of WLC 93, however, is to remind us of how the moral law directs and binds every person to “personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience” to God’s will. The law is strict and demanding. Obedience must be personal (Romans 10:5); each person must answer before God for his own sins. Obedience must also be perfect; if a person breaks one law, he has become guilty of them all (James 2:10-11). Obedience must also be perpetual; the first infraction of the law makes one deserving of death (Genesis 2:16-17).

The strictness of the demands of God’s law (and our failure to conform to and obey God’s will personally, perfectly, and perfectly) stands in stark contrast to the free gift of salvation in the gospel. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul (Galatians 3:10-12):

10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.”

Verses 10 & 12 describe the strict demands of the law of God: unless a person abides by all things written in God’s law and performs them, he is cursed; and, if you practice the law, you must live by it. However, in verse 11, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith” (this verse is also quoted in Romans 1:17 and Hebrews 10:38). The lesson that Paul draws from the verse Habakkuk is this: no one is justified by the Law before God.

Thus, we see here in this short passage from Galatians that there are two ways by which one may be right before God: (1) personally, perfectly, and perpetually conform to and obey God’s will, or (2) place your faith in One who has personally, perfectly, and perpetually conformed to and obeyed God’s will, namely Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1). This contrast is sometimes referred to as “the law-gospel dichotomy” or “the law-gospel distinction.” In this distinction between the law and the gospel, we find that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).

Louis Berkhof summarizes this distinction well: “The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 612).

The Sunday school class will be on a break over the holidays, but we’ll return to our continuing 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