Pastor Rick Duncan
Introducing the Ten Commandments and covering Commandments #1 and #2
The Westminster Confession and catechisms were penned in the 1640’s. It was a dynamic and complex period of British history. King Charles I and his royalist army were at war with the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell. Amidst the bloody civil war, parliament called for an ecclesiastical assembly for the purpose of uniting the churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland under one confession of faith, church government, form of worship, and catechesis. The meetings were held in London at the Westminster Abby from 1643-52.
Several well-known catechists were among the members of the Westminster Assembly. Herbert Palmer, described by at least one member of the assembly as “the most notable catechist in England,” was chosen to lead. After some delays and disagreements about the form and content of Palmer’s catechism, however, a new committee was formed to assist Palmer. Unable to agree on the theological depth of the new catechism, the committee was eventually tasked with writing two catechisms rather than one — a shorter catechism for children and new believers, and a larger, more exhaustive, catechism for mature believers and the corporate church. The two catechisms were completed in the fall of 1647.
What follows are questions and answers 91-110, the section of the Westminster Larger Catechism that introduces the Ten Commandments and covers Commandments #1 and #2.
You can find the entire catechism with scriptural support here: The Westminster Larger Catechism.
Having Seen What the Scriptures Principally Teach Us to Believe Concerning God, It Follows to Consider What They Require as the Duty of Man
91. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to His revealed will.
92. What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of His obedience?
The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in Him, beside a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law.
93. What is the moral law?
The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and bonding 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.
94. Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?
Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law; yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.
95. Of what use is the moral law to all men?
The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of His obedience.
96. What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?
The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ; or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable, and under the curse thereof.
97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned: yet, beside the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use to show them how much they are bound to Christ for His fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
98. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?
The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments, which were delivered by the voice of God upon Mount Sinai, and written by Him in two tables of stone; and are recorded in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. The four first commandments containing our duty to God, and the other six our duty to man.
99. What rules are to be observed for the right understanding of the Ten Commandments?
For the right understanding of the Ten Commandments, these rules are to be observed:
That the law is perfect, and bindeth every one to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof, and unto entire obedience forever; so as to require the utmost perfection of every duty, and to forbid the least degree of every sin.
That it is spiritual, and so reacheth the understanding, will, affections, and all other powers of the soul; as well as words, works, and gestures.
That one and the same thing, in divers respects, is required or forbidden in several commandments.
That as, where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden the contrary duty is commanded: so, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and, where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included.
That what God forbids, is at no time to be done; what He commands, is always our duty; and yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times.
That under one sin or duty, all of the same kind are forbidden or commanded; together with all the causes, means, occasions, and appearances thereof, and provocations thereunto.
That what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.
That in what is commanded to others, we are bound, according to our places and callings, to be helpful to them; and to take heed of partaking with others in what is forbidden them.
100. What special things are we to consider in the Ten Commandments?
We are to consider in the Ten Commandments, the preface, the substance of the commandments themselves, and the several reasons annexed to some of them the more to enforce them.
101. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?
The preface to the Ten Commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Wherein God manifesteth His sovereignty, as being Jehovah, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having His being in and of Himself, and giving being to all His words and works: and that He is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all His people; who, as He brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so He delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom: and that therefore we are bound to take Him for our God alone, and to keep all His commandments.
102. What is the sum of the four commandments which contain our duty to God?
The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God, is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.
103. Which is the first commandment?
The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
104. What are the duties required in the first commandment?
The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of Him; believing Him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in Him; being zealous for Him; calling upon Him; giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to Him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please Him, and sorrowful when in anything He is offended; and walking humbly with Him.
105. What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?
The sins forbidden in the first commandment are atheism, in denying, or not having a God; idolatry, in having or worshiping more gods than one, or any with, or instead of the true God; the not having and avouching Him for God, and our God; the omission or neglect of anything due to Him, required in this commandment; ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions, unworthy and wicked thoughts of Him; bold and curious searching into His secrets; all profaneness, hatred of God; self-love, self-seeking, and all other inordinate and immoderate setting of our mind, will, or affections upon other things, and taking them off from Him in whole or in part; vain credulity, unbelief, heresy, misbelief, distrust, despair, incorrigibleness, and insensibleness under judgments; hardness of heart; pride; presumption; carnal security; tempting of God; using unlawful means, and trusting in lawful means; carnal delights and joys; corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal; lukewarmness, and deadness in the things of God; estranging ourselves, and apostatizing from God; praying, or giving any religious worship, to saints, angels, or any other creatures; all compacts and consulting with the devil, and hearkening to His suggestions; making men the lords of our faith and conscience; slighting and despising God and His commands; resisting and grieving of His Spirit, discontent and impatience at His dispensations, charging Him foolishly for the evils He inflicts on us; and ascribing the praise of any good we either are, have, or can do, to fortune, idols, ourselves, or any other creature.
106. What are we especially taught by these words before me in the first commandment?
These words before me or before my face, in the first commandment teach us, that God who seeth all things, taketh special notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god; that so it may be an argument to dissuade from it, and to aggravate it as a most impudent provocation; as also to persuade us to do as in His sight, whatever we do in His service.
107. Which is the second commandment?
The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in His Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto Him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God Himself; the making any representation of God, of all, or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.
110. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it?
The reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it, contained in these words, For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God’s sovereignty over us, and propriety in us, His fervent zeal for His own worship, and His revengeful indignation against all false worship, as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate Him, and threatening to punish them into divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love Him and keep His commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations.