THE

SHORTER CATECHISM

EXPLAINED


QUESTION 41. Wherein is the moral law summarily comprehended?

ANSWER: The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.


Q. 1. What is it to be summarily comprehended?

A. It is to be briefly summed up, in such few and well chosen words, as to take in a great deal more than what is expressed, Rom. 3:9.

Q. 2. Where is the moral law thus briefly summed up?

A. In the Ten Commandments, Deut. 10:4.

Q. 3. Where is the law more largely and fully set forth?

A. In the whole scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, Psalm 119:105.

Q. 4. By whom were the Ten Commandments first pronounced and promulgated?

A. By God himself, Exod. 20:1; "GOD spake all these words."

Q. 5. Whether was it God essentially considered, or God considered as in the person of the Son, who spake these words?

A. It was the three-one God considered as in the person of the Son, who was the speaker of them; as is evident from Acts 7:37, 38, where the Prophet, whom the Lord was to raise up unto the Jews of their brethren, like unto Moses, is expressly called the angel which spake to him in Mount Sinai. See also Heb. 12:25, 26.

Q. 6. What was the peculiar work of God about these words, after he had spoken them with an audible voice, in the hearing of all Israel?

A. He wrote or enjoyed them with his own finger, on two tables of stone, Deut. 9:10.

Q. 7. Was each of these tables written on both sides?

A. It is said expressly that they were, Ex. 32:15. "The tables were written on BOTH their sides; on the one side, and on the other were they written."

Q. 8. What did this signify?

A. The tables being fully written on both sides, signified that nothing was to be added to the words of the law, or taken away from them, Deut. 4:2; and likewise, that the whole man, soul, spirit, and body, must be sanctified wholly, 1 Thess. 5:23.

Q. 9. How often were the commandments written on tables of stone?

A. The first being broken by Moses, on occasion of the idolatry of Israel, Ex. 32:19, the Lord condescended to write on two other tables, the very same words that were on the former ones, chap. 34:1.

Q. 10. Was there any difference between the first two tables and the second?

A. The first two, which were entirely the work of God, (the polishing as well as the engraving,) were broken beneath the mount, Ex. 32:16, 19; but the second, which were hewed by Moses, the typical mediator, were put into the ark, Deut. 10:3, 5.

Q. 11. What spiritual mystery was represented by this?

A. That though the covenant of works, made with the first Adam, was broken and violated by him, yet it was fulfilled in every respect by Christ the true Mediator, who "restored that which he took not away," Psalm 69:4.

Q. 12. Why were the Ten Commandments written on tables of stone?

A. To intimate the perpetuity, and everlasting obligation of the moral law, Psalm 111:8.

Q. 13. What was signified by their being written with the finger of God?

A. That it is the work of God, alone, to put his laws into the mind of sinners, and to "write them in their hearts," Heb. 8:10.

Q. 14. Where was the law of the Ten Commandments thus expressly revealed?

A. At Mount Sinai, which is also called Horeb, Deut. 5:2.

Q. 15. In what form was the law of the Ten Commandments given out at Mount Sinai?

A. In the form of a COVENANT, Deut. 5:2 -- "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb." Accordingly, the Ten Commandments are called the words of the covenant, Ex. 34:28; and the tables of stone are termed the tables of the covenant, Deut. 9:9.

Q. 16. Was the Sinai transaction in the form of the covenant of works, or in the form of the covenant of grace?

A. There was, on that solemn occasion, a repetition of BOTH those covenants.

Q. 17. In what order were these two covenants repeated on Mount Sinai?

A. The covenant of grace was first promulgated, and then the covenant of works was displayed, as subservient to it.

Q. 18. How does it appear that the covenant of GRACE was first promulgated?

A. From these words in the preface, prefixed to the commands, I am the Lord thy God, spoken to a select people, the natural seed of Abraham, as typical of his whole spiritual seed, Gal. 3:16, 17.

Q. 19. How are the Ten Commandments to be viewed, as they stand annexed to this promulgation of the covenant of grace on Mount Sinai?

A. They are to be viewed as the law of Christ, or as a rule of life, given by Christ the Mediator to his spiritual seed, in virtue of his having engaged to fulfil the law, as a covenant, in their room, Rom. 7:4.

Q. 20. How does it appear that the covenant of WORKS was likewise displayed on Mount Sinai?

A. From the thunderings and lightnings, and the voice of the living God, speaking (the words of the Ten Commandments) out of the midst of the fire, Ex. 20:18; Deut. 5:22, 26.

Q. 21. What was signified by the thunderings and lightnings, and the voice of God, speaking out of the midst of the fire?

A. These awful emblems represented that infinite avenging wrath, which was due to all of Adam's family, for the breach of the covenant of works, by which the whole of God's holy law was violated and infringed, Gal. 3:10.

Q. 22. Why did God make a display of the covenant of works in such an awful and tremendous manner?

A. That sinners of mankind might be deterred from the most remote thought of attempting obedience to the law as a condition of life; and be persuaded to fly to, and acquiesce in the undertaking of Christ, who engaged his heart to approach unto God, as Surety in the room of an elect world, Jer. 30:21.

Q. 23. If both covenants, of grace and works, were exhibited on Mount Sinai, were not the Israelites, in that case, under both these covenants at one and the same time?

A. They could not be under both covenants in the same respects, at the same time; and therefore they must be considered either as believers or unbelievers, both as to their outward church state and inward soul frame.

Q. 24. In what respects were the believing Israelites, in the Sinaitic transaction, under both covenants?

A. They were internally and really under the covenant of grace, as all believers are, Rom. 6:14, and only externally, under the above awful display of the covenant of works, as it was subordinate and subservient to that of grace, in pointing out the necessity of the Surety-righteousness, Gal. 3:24.

Q. 25. In what respects were unbelievers among them, under these two covenants of works and grace?

A. They were only externally, and by profession, in respect of their visible church state, under the covenant of grace, Rom. 9:4; but internally, and really, in respect of the state of their souls, before the Lord, they were under the covenant of works, chap. 4:14, 15.

Q. 26. Which of the two covenants was the principal part of the Sinai transaction?

A. The covenant of grace was both in itself, and in God's intention, the principal part of it; nevertheless, the covenant of works was the more conspicuous part of it, and lay most obvious to the view of the people; for they SAW "the thunderings and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking," Ex. 20:18. "And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake," Heb. 12:21.

Q. 27. What effect had this tremendous display of the covenant of works upon the Israelites?

A. It tended to beat them off, in some measure, from that self-confidence which they had expressed before the publication of the law, Ex. 19:8; and to discover the necessity of a Mediator, and of faith in him as the sole foundation of all acceptable obedience, Rom. 16:25, 26.

Q. 28. How does it appear that it had this effect?

A. From their own words to Moses, after the terrible sight which they saw, Deut. 5:27 -- "Speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will HEAR [that is, believe] and DO." On which account the Lord commends them, ver. 28, 29 -- "They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!"

Q. 29. In what respect had they said well in what they had spoken?

A. In as much as they had made faith, or believing, the source and spring of acceptable doing; for, "whatsoever is not of faith is sin," Rom. 14:23.

Q. 30. How many commandments are commonly allotted to each of these two tables of the law?

A. Four to the first table, containing our duty to God; and six to the second, containing our duty to man.

Q. 31. How are the precepts, which are naturally moral, distinguished from those that are but positively so?

A. The precepts which are naturally moral have, in them, an innate rectitude and holiness, which is inseparable from them; but the precepts which are positively moral have their rectitude, not from their own nature, but from the positive command of God.

Q. 32. What example may be given of this for illustration?

A. The Fourth Commandment, as it requires God to be worshipped, is naturally moral, founded in the very nature of God; but as it enjoins, that he be worshipped on such a particular day of the week, it is positively moral, founded entirely in the will of God.

Q. 33. What is the difference between the commands that are expressed in affirmative, and those that are expressed in negative terms?

A. "What God forbids is at no time to be done, Rom. 3:8; what he commands is always our duty, Deut. 4:8, 9; and yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times, Matt. 12:7."[53]

Q. 34. Why are negative precepts binding at all times?

A. Because what is forbidden is at all times sinful; and ought never to be done, on any pretext whatsoever, Gen. 39:9.

Q. 35. What are the peculiar properties of the law of the Ten Commandments?

A. That it is perfect, Psalm 19:7; spiritual, Rom. 7:14; and exceedingly broad, or most extensive, Psalm 119:96.

Q. 36. What rule is to be observed for the right understanding of the perfection of the law?

A. "That it binds every one to full conformity in the whole man, unto the righteousness thereof, and to entire obedience for ever; so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty and to forbid the least degree of every sin, Matt. 5:21, to the end, James 2:10."[54]

Q. 37. What rule is to be observed for understanding the spirituality of the law?

A. That it reaches to the thoughts and motions of the heart, as well as to the words and actions of the life, Deut. 6:5.[55]

Q. 38. What rule is to be observed for the right understanding of the breadth or extent of the law?

A. That, as where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden, Isa. 57:13; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded, Eph. 4:28:so, when any duty is commanded, all the causes and means of it are commanded also, Heb. 10:24, 25; and when any sin is forbidden, all occasions and temptations to it, are likewise forbidden, Gal. 5:26.[56]


[53] Larger Catechism, Question 99. Rule 5.

[54] Ibid., Rule 1.

[55] Ibid., Rule 2.

[56] Ibid., Rules 4, 6.


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