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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

Alexander Whyte

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

The student who would understand and appreciate the Shorter Catechism must at every turn attend to the construction and development of this orderly and elaborate work. The foundations of all religion, natural and revealed, have already been laid in the doctrine, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever." And now the second question naturally and logically asks, "What rule God hath given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?"

The wordThe Word of God is the title of a Divine and Eternal Person before it is applied in a subordinate and historical sense to the communications made through Him, and recorded in the Holy Scriptures (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1; Rev. 19:13). And all the divinity and authority of the written word are ultimately derived from the original diviuity and authority of that Divine Person who is the Eternal and Living Word. "Therefore, as all revelations from heaven are duly designated by the title of the Word of God, so the highest place must be assigned to that substantial Word, the source of all inspiration, which, as being liable to no variation, remains for ever one and the same with God, and is God" (Calvin).
The word of God in the text, however, does not bear this high sense. "The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience" (Larger Catechism).

the scriptures—Anything written, writings, documents; but now universally used by way of distinction to describe the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.

the Old and New Testaments—Ths word testament was originally a term of law. And in legal language it still designates that testifying instrument by means of which a man declares his will as to the disposal of his possessions after his death. The word is used repeatedly in this sense in the Epistle to the Hebrews. To explain fully how it came about that this word testament stands as the translation of covenant, first in the Latin versions of the Scriptures, and then through the Latin in our own version, would lead us into matter unsuitable for this Commentary. Suffice it to say that the original Greek term is seen passing into our testament through the Scotch law word disposition, and that the words Old and New Testaments are now appropriated to designate the two collectionsof canonical books belonging to the txvo great economies or covenants under which God has successively placed His people. "The Greek word for covenant was never naturalized in the Latin of the Western and African Churches, and the writers of those Churches were for a time undecided as to what equivalent they should use for it, and wavered between fndns, a ‘covenant;' instrumentum, a ‘deed ;‘ and testamentum, a ‘will.' The earlier Latin writers, such as Tertullian, use both the latter words, but state that the last was the more generally accepted term. As such, it passed first into the early Latin versions of the Scriptures, and then into Jerome's Vulgate, and so became familiar through the whole of Latin Christendom" (Plumptre). "Tertullian, A.D. 160—240, is the first writer, I believe, who uses the word ‘Testamentum'in its ordinary acceptation, though it seems to have been current before his time" (Westcott). (See Confession, chap. 7.4—6. It will repay the student to consult the article "New Testament" in Fairbairn's Bible Dictionary.) the only rule—A rule in its proper and original signification is an instmment by means of which we draw the straightest and shortest line from one point to another (Greek, canon, a reed or rule, whence come a series of English words, all implying the idea of straitness, "cane," "canal," "channel," "cannon," etc. See a very instructive note on the history of the word canon in Westcott's Canon of the New Testament, Appendix). And accordingly, when the term is used in a moral and religious sense, it imports nothing else than a direction, or instruction, or command, by attending to which a man best attains the end desired. In the polemical phrase, only rule, there is a trace left of those burning controversies in which the Reformers and Puritans were engaged with Popish and Prelatic divines. This position was taken up against the Romish and Anglican practice of adding apocryphal wntings and oral traditions to the rule of faith as it is contained in the canonical Scriptures. Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, the greatest work of English theology, and one of the chief ornaments of English literature, rose out of this hot contention. It is a standard work on Anglican doctrine, and as such it is a via media between Romanism on the one hand and Puritanism on the other. The Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms on the other hand, are thoroughgoing Protestant symbols on this as on other disputed questions. And the present doctrine of the Catechism is drawn directly against the Romanist position, which maintains that revelation is partly written and partly unwritten; and that the rule of faith includes both Scripture and tradition.—" Tradition is always represented by Romanists as not only the interpreter, but the complement of the Scriptures. The Bible, therefore, according to the Church of Rome, is incomplete. It does not contain all the Church is bound to believe; nor are the doctrines which it does contain therein fully or clearly made known" (Hodge). But one who once occupied the via media on this question, while yet he occupied it wrote thus: "Scripture has a gift which tradition has not; it is fixed, tangible, accessible, readily applicable, and besides all this, perfectly true in all its parts and relations; in a word, it is a sacred text. Tradition gives us little or nothing that can be handled and argued from. We can argue only from a text, we can argue freely only from an inspired text. Thus Scripture is in itself specially fitted for that office which we assign to it in our Article: to be a repository of manifold and various doctrines, a means of proot, a standard of appeal, an umpire and test between truth and falsehood in all emergencies. to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

"Lead me to holiness, the road
That I must take to dwell with God:
Lead to Thy Word, that rules must give,
And sure directions how to live."

1. Alas! many have the Bible, and use it but little; and many use it amiss, because they know not its right name. It is well and warrantably called, from its contents, on its title-page, the Old and New Testaments of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But how few, in reading this title, mind the use and virtue of the blood of Christ Jesus, which turned the covenant of God's grace into the testament of Christ, and thereby sealed and confirmed all thu good words and good things in that covenant!" (Robert Traill).

2. "Concerning the actual state of man in this world; considering, I say, what he is, any standard of duty which does not convict him of real and multiplied sins, and of his utter inability to please God of his own strength, is untrue; and any role of life which leaves him contented with himself, without fear, without anxiety, without humiliation, is deceptive; it is the blind leading the blind; yet such, in one shape or other, is the religion of the whole earth beyond the pale of the Christian Church" (Newman).

3. Read Faithful's apology before Judge Hategood at Vanity Fair.


1. Give the passages where the Son of God bears the name Word of God. Draw Out their meaning.

2. Explain the expressions—Moses, Luke 24:27; revelation, 2 Cor. 12:1, Rev. 1:1; scripture, Gal. 3:8, 2 Tim. 3:16; volume, Ps. 40:7; testament, Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:16.

3. Explain Hooker's words: It is a matter merely accidental to the Word of God to be written.

4. Analyze the fourth answer in the Larger Catechism. Cp. Confession, I.5, and explain the phrase the consent of all the parts. 5. Distinguish between the biblical record and the biblical inculcation.

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