THE

SHORTER CATECHISM

EXPLAINED


QUESTION 89. How is the word made effectual to salvation?

ANSWER: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.


Q. 1. What is meant by the word in this answer?

A. The whole of divine revelation, contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

Q. 2. What has God appointed with reference to his word, that it may be effectual to salvation?

A. He has appointed the reading, John 5:39; "but especially the preaching thereof," 2 Tim. 4:2.

Q. 3. "Is the word of God to be read by all?"

A. "Although all are not permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation, Deut. 31:9, 11, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, chap. 17:19, and with their families, chap. 6:7."[108]

Q. 4. What is the meaning of these words in our Larger Catechism, "all are not permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation?"

A. The meaning is: not, as if there were an order of men appointed by Christ, to be READERS in the church, distinct from ministers; but only, that none ought to read publicly to the congregation, except those whose office it is, not only to read the word of God, but to explain it to the edification of others, Neh. 8:8 -- "So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the SENSE, and caused them (namely, the people) to understand the reading."

Q. 5. Why is the reading of the scriptures apart by ourselves necessary for every one?

A. Because the scriptures are a sword for defence, Eph. 6:17; a lamp for direction, Psalm 119:105; and food for nourishment, Jer. 15:16; in all which respects they are necessary for every Christian travelling Zion-ward, 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.

Q. 6. May not the reading of the scriptures in our families, supersede the reading of them apart by ourselves?

A. No; the doing of the one ought by no means to jostle out the other.

Q. 7. What is essentially requisite in order to capacitate the unlearned to read the scriptures?

A. That they be "translated out of the original into vulgar languages, 1 Cor. 14:11."[109]

Q. 8. How is the word of God to be read?

A. "The holy scriptures are to be read with a high and reverend esteem of them, Neh. 8:5; with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God, 2 Pet. 1:21; and that he only can enable us to understand them, Luke 24:45."[110]

Q. 9. Why should we read the scriptures with a high and reverend esteem of them?

A. Because they are dictated by the Holy Ghost, and "are able to make us wise unto salvation," 2 Tim. 3:15.

Q. 10. Why should we read them with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God?

A. Because without this we can never build our hope on them, as containing the words of eternal life, 1 Thess. 2:13.

Q. 11. Why should we read them with a persuasion that God only can enable us to understand them?

A. Because, without this, we cannot exercise a dependence upon him, for that spiritual and internal illumination, which is necessary to a saving and experimental knowledge of them, 1 Cor. 2:10.

Q. 12. "By whom is the word of God to be preached?"

A. "Only by such as are sufficiently gifted, Mal. 2:7, and also duly approved and called to that office, Rom. 10:15; 1 Tim. 4:14."[111]

Q. 13. Who are they that are sufficiently gifted?

A. They are such as are not only of a blameless moral walk, and "have a good report of them that are without," 1 Tim. 3:7:but likewise such as have a competent stock of human literature, Tit. 1:9; and are, in the judgment of charity, reputed to be pious and religious men, 2 Tim. 1:5.

Q. 14. What is it to be duly approved and called to that office?

A. It is not only to be approved by the presbytery, who have the sole power of trying the ministerial qualifications, and of ordination to that office, 1 Tim. 4:14; but likewise to have the call and consent of the people, who are to be under the pastoral inspection and charge, Acts 1:23, and 14:23.

Q. 15. "How is the word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?"

A. They are to preach sound doctrine "diligently, plainly, faithfully, wisely, zealously, and sincerely."[112]

Q. 16. What are we to understand by sound doctrine?

A. The whole system of divine truth, contained in the holy scriptures, or evidently deducible from it; particularly whatever has the greatest tendency to depreciate self, and to exalt Christ, who ought to be the main and leading subject of all gospel-preaching, 2 Cor. 4:5.

Q. 17. What is it to preach sound doctrine diligently?

A. It is to be instant "in season, and out of season," 2 Tim. 4:2[113] embracing every opportunity of doing good to souls; and watching for them, "as they that must give account," Heb. 13:17.

Q. 18. What is it to preach plainly?

A. It is to essay it, "not in enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power," 1 Cor. 2:4.[114]

Q. 19. What is it to preach the word faithfully?

A. It is a "making known the whole counsel of God," (or at least a not shunning to do so), Acts 20:27.[115]

Q. 20. When may ministers be said to preach wisely?

A. When in studying, or preaching, they are wholly taken up in applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers,"[116] Luke 12:42; 1 Cor. 3:2.

Q. 21. When do they preach the word zealously?

A. When they do it "with fervent love to God, and the souls of his people,"[117] 2 Cor. 5:14, and 12:15.

Q. 22. How is the word preached sincerely?

A. When there is an "aiming at God's glory," and his people's "conversion, edification, and salvation, 1 Thess. 2:4; 1 Cor. 9:22; 1 Tim. 4:16."[118]

Q. 23. Who is it that makes the reading and preachin of the word effectual to salvation?

A. (THE SPIRIT OF GOD), 1 Cor. 2:11 -- " The things of God knoweth no man, but the SPIRIT of God."

Q. 24. How does he make them effectual?

A. By accompanying them with his divine power upon the soul, Rom. 1:16.

Q. 25. Of what is it that the Spirit of God makes the reading and preaching of the word an effectual means?

A. He makes them an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto Salvation.

Q. 26. Does the Spirit make more frequent and ordinary use of the reading, or of the preaching of the word, for these valuable ends?

A. He makes more frequent and ordinary use of the preaching of the word; and therefore there is an ESPECIALLY prefixed to it in the answer.

Q. 27. How do you prove, that the preaching of the word is honoured as the most ordinary means?

A. From express scripture testimony to this purpose, Acts 4:4 -- "Many of them which heard the word believed;" chap. 11:20, 21 -- "And some of them -- spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."[119]

Q. 28. May not people be more edified in reading good sermons at home, than in hearing from the pulpit, such as are not perhaps, so well digested?

A. If they are in health, and not necessarily detained from the public ordinances, they have no ground to expect any real and saving benefit to their souls in the neglect of hearing the word preached: because it pleases "God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe," 1 Cor. 1:21; and "faith cometh by HEARING ," Rom. 10:17.

Q. 29. What use does the Spirit make of the reading, but especially of the preaching of the word, with reference to sinners in a natural state?

A. He makes use of them as an effectual means of convincing and converting them, 1 Cor. 14:24; Acts 26:18.

Q. 30. What does the Spirit convince sinners of by the word?

A. Of their sin and misery.[120]

Q. 31. Is it by the word of the law, or the word of the gospel, that the Spirit convinces of sin?

A. It is ordinarily by the word of the law, Rom. 3:20 -- " By the LAW is the knowledge of sin."

Q. 32. What of sin does the Spirit convince sinners by the law?

A. Both of the nature and desert of sin.

Q. 33. In what consists the nature of sin?

A. In the want of conformity to, and transgression of, the law of God.[121]

Q. 34. What is the desert of sin?

A. The wrath and curse of God, both in this life and that which is to come.[122]

Q. 35. How does the Spirit convince men effectually, by the word, that they are sinners?

A. By convincing them, from it, that they are unbelievers, John 16:8, 9 -- "He the Spirit will reprove or convince the world of sin, because they believe not on me," says our Lord.

Q. 36. What influence has a conviction of unbelief, upon convincing a person that he is indeed a sinner?

A. Were a person once convinced, that unbelief is a rejection of the only method of salvation, devised in infinite wisdom, or treating of God's unspeakable gift offered in the word, with the utmost contempt, he could not but conclude himself, on this account, to be the greatest of sinners, and that he deserved the severest of punishments, Heb. 10:29.

Q. 37. How does the Spirit make the word an effectual means of converting sinners?

A. By making use of it "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God," Acts 26:18.

Q. 38. Do all convictions of sin issue in conversion?

A. Far from it: many may be very deeply convinced of sin by the law, and yet never have a thorough change wrought upon their hearts; as in the instances of Cain, Judas, and others.

Q. 39. What is conversion?

A. It is the spiritual motion of the whole man toward God in Christ, as the immediate effect of the real and supernatural change, that is wrought in regeneration, Jer. 3:22.

Q. 40. Is there any difference between conversion and regeneration?

A. They are as inseparably conjoined, as the effect is to its cause. Regeneration, or the formation of the new creature (in which we are wholly passive), is the cause; and conversion, or the motion of the soul to God, is the effect, which infallibly follows, Hos. 6:2.

Q. 41. Cannot man be the author of his own regeneration?

A. No; he can neither prepare himself for it, nor co-operate with God in it.

Q. 42. Why can he not prepare himself for it?

A. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, and remains so until regenerating grace take place in the soul, Rom. 8:7, 8.

Q. 43. Why cannot man co-operate with God in this work?

A. Because there can be no acting, without a principle of action. Regeneration, being the infusing of spiritual life into the soul, it is impossible the creature can co-operate or concur with God in it, any more than Lazarus in the grave could concur in his own resurrection, till the powerful voice of Christ infused life and strength into him.

Q. 44. What would be the consequence if man could co-operate with God in regeneration?

A. The consequence would be, that God would not be so much the author of grace, as he is of nature; nor have such a revenue of glory from the one, as from the other.

Q. 45. How are regeneration and conversion denominated in scripture, to prove that God alone can be the author of them?

A. They are called a "creation," Eph. 2:10, and a "resurrection," chap. 5:14.

Q. 46. Why called a creation?

A. Because there is nothing in the heart of man, out of which the new creature can be formed; "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart" being "only evil continually," Gen. 6:5.

Q. 47. Why called a resurrection?

A. Because it is God only "who quickeneth the dead, and calleth things which be not, as though they were," Rom. 4:17.

Q. 48. What influence has the word upon the conversion of sinners?

A. It has no physical or natural influence of itself, but only as it is an instituted means, in the hand of the Spirit of God to that end, John 6:63.

Q. 49. What is the efficacy of the word, in the work of conversion, compared to in scripture?

A. It is compared to a fire, to a hammer, Jer. 23:29; to rain, Deut. 32:2; and to light, Psalm 119:105.

Q. 50. Why compared to fire?

A. Because as fire purifies the metal, separating the dross; so the word, in the hand of the Spirit, purifies the heart, purging away the dross of sin and corruption that is there, Isa. 4:4.

Q. 51. Why compared to a hammer?

A. As a hammer "breaketh the rock in pieces," Jer. 23:29, and thus fits it for the building, so the Spirit of God, by the word, breaks the hard heart of man, and fits it for being built on the foundation God has laid in Zion, Prov. 16:1.

Q. 52. Why compared to rain?

A. Because as the rain falls irresistibly, so there is no withstanding the efficacy of the word in the hand of the Spirit, Isa. 55:11.

Q. 53. Why compared to light?

A. Because as light discovers things that were indiscernible in the dark; so the Spirit, by the word, discovers the latent wickedness of the heart, 1 Cor. 14:25, and the matchless glory and excellency of Christ, as IMMANUEL, "God with us," John 16:14.

Q. 54. What use does the Spirit make of the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, with reference to SAINTS, who are brought into a state of grace?

A. He makes use of it as an effectual means of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation, Acts 20:32; Rom. 15:4.

Q. 55. Is holiness necessary in order to our justification before God?

A. It is necessary in the justified, but not in order to their justification; because this would found their justification upon works, contrary to Rom. 3:20 -- "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight."[123]

Q. 56. Is it necessary as the ground of our title to heaven?

A. It is necessary to clear our title; but our title itself can be founded only in our union with Christ, and the imputation of his righteousness, 1 Cor. 3:22, 23 -- "All are yours, and ye are Christ's "compared with Rom. 8:30 -- " Whom he justified, them he also glorified."

Q. 57. Why are the saints said to be built up in holiness?

A. Because the work of sanctification, like a building, is gradually carried on towards perfection until death, Prov. 4:18.

Q. 58. How does the Spirit make the reading and preaching of the word, an effectual means of building up the saints in holiness?

A. By giving them, in the glass of the word, such clear and repeated discoveries of the glory of Christ, as to transform them more and more into the same image with him, 2 Cor. 3:18.

Q. 59. How does he, by means of these ordinances, build them up in comfort?

A. By conveying with power to their souls, the great and precious promises, which contain all the grounds of real and lasting comfort, Gal. 3:29, and 4:28.

Q. 60. Through what instrument is it, that the Spirit makes these means effectual, for building up the saints in holiness and comfort?

A. It is through faith, 1 Thess. 2:13.

Q. 61. What instrumentality has faith, in the hand of the Spirit, for building up the saints, in holiness and comfort?

A. It rests upon God's faithful word for the promotion of both, Psalm 138:8 -- "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me."

Q. 62. To what end does the Spirit, by means of the word, build them up in holiness, and comfort through faith?

A. It is unto their complete and eternal salvation, Rom. 1:16.

Q. 63. What may we learn from the Spirit's making the means effectual to salvation?

A. That as no special blessing can be expected from God, in the wilful neglect of the ordinances, Prov. 28:9; so we may sit all our days under a pure dispensation of the gospel, without reaping any spiritual profit, unless divine supernatural agency concur, 1 Cor. 3:6.


[107] Larger Catechism, Question 108. See them all explained, on the Duties required in the Second Commandment.

[108] Larger Catechism. Question 156.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Ibid. Question 157.

[111] Ibid., Question 158.

[112] Ibid., Question 159.

[113] Ibid.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Ibid.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid.

[119] See Acts 2:37, 6:7

[120] Part I. On effectual calling.

[121] Part I. On sin in general.

[122] See above, On the desert of sin.

[123] See Part I. On Sanctification, Question 45.


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