WSC Conclusion


We’ve spent 56 weeks studying our church’s Shorter Catechism together. 56 weeks and 107 questions and answers. And today we’ll spend our time summarising what we’re learned.

Now, you might recall that I’ve often used the image of a house to help us as we’ve worked our way through the Catechism. Think about a house, for a moment. You go into it and immediately you come into the hallway where there’s a choice to make. You can either choose to stay on the ground floor or you can choose to go up the stairs to the upstairs. And, if it’s a stately home you’re visiting, you know that whether you stay downstairs or go upstairs, no matter where you go, there will be interesting things to look at and fine pieces or art or furniture to see and to admire. And I’ve suggested in the past that we can look at the Catechism like that, because the first three questions are like the hallway or the entrance of a stately home. The first question, you might recall, asks:

What is man’s chief end?

And the answer is:

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Okay, where can we find out how to do that? We find out from the Bible. That’s what question and answer 2 is about:

The word of God, which consists of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how to glorify and enjoy him.

And what does the Bible principally teach us? That’s what question and answer 3 is about: The Scriptures principally teach us what we’re to believe about God and what duty God requires of us. In other words, the Bible is about what we’re to believe and what we’re to do. That’s the introduction, the beginning of the Catechism. And the rest of the Catechism can be divided into those two parts: what we’re to believe and what we’re to do; faith and practice. And so, if we were to think of the Catechism as a stately home, the ground floor is all about what we’re to believe. And the first floor is all about what we’re to do. And on both floors, the ground floor and the first floor, there are wonderful things for us to see and to discover and to admire. Wherever we go in the Catechism, we discover one marvellous truth after another about God and our salvation.

What we’re to believe

The first part of the Catechism is about what the Bible says we’re to believe about God. So, what does the Bible teach us to believe about God? Well, in the first room of this house we learnt something about the nature of God. We learnt that God is a Spirit — so he doesn’t have a body like us. And he’s infinite — so he’s not limited or restricted in any way like us. And he’s eternal — so he has no beginning or end like us. And he’s unchangeable — so he does not change like us. And he’s infinitely and eternally and unchangeably wise and powerful and holy and just and good and true. There is no one like him. He’s altogether different — greater — than us.

We learned as well that while there is only one God, nevertheless this one God is a Trinity of Three Persons because there’s God the Father, and there’s God the Son, and there’s God the Spirit. There aren’t three gods. There’s only one God. But this one God is three Persons. This is what the Bible teaches us to believe about God. And so, for instance, we have the story of the Lord’s baptism in the River Jordan. And the Holy Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove. And a voice spoke from heaven, saying: ‘This is my beloved Son.’ And so, you had the God the Father, speaking from heaven. And you had God the Son, being baptised. And you had God the Holy Spirit, descending on the Son. People say they believe in God. Okay, but do you believe in this God: the God of the Bible who has revealed himself to be a Trinity of Three Persons. People say they believe in God. Okay, but do you believe that Jesus Christ is God the Son and therefore should be loved and trusted and worshipped along with the God the Father and God the Spirit? People say that all religions are basically the same. But no — only Christianity believes in this God, the God of the Bible who is one God and yet Three Persons.

We then moved into a new room, because the next set of questions were all about the work of God the Father. And we discovered that God the Father is a planner: he plans things. Now we also plan things. But often our plans come to nothing. We have an idea that we’re going to do this or that or go here or there. But for whatever reason, we don’t get to carry out our plans. Maybe there was something wrong with our plans — we didn’t think of everything. Or maybe something outside of our control occurred which ruined our plans. But, for whatever reasons, our plans come to nothing. But God is very different from us and not only does he plan things perfectly, but he also carries out his plans perfectly.

And we learned that he carries out his plans, first, by creating the world and then afterwards by controlling and sustaining all that he has created. So he made the world in the beginning; and he rules over it and upholds it now. And then, as part of his plan for controlling and sustaining the world, he entered into a covenant with Adam, the first man. God promised Adam (and all his descendants after him) eternal life so long as Adam obeyed God’s special commandment not to eat the forbidden fruit. Obey God’s command and live with God forever in glory. That’s the promise. Disobey God, and you will die away from the presence of God. That’s the threat. And, of course, we know that Adam disobeyed God. And so he (and all his descendants after him) fell into a state of sin and misery.

It’s a state of sin, because we inherit Adam’s guilt and his fallen, sinful nature so that it’s natural for us to sin and to disobey God now. No one needs to teach us how to sin, because it comes so naturally to us. And it’s a state of misery, because our sin separates us from God who is the source of all that is good; and because of our sin we come under God’s wrath and curse. But God, you will remember, is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably good. And God is also a planner. And so, because he is good and because he is a planner, he had a plan to do something good in order to deliver us from our sin and misery and to bring us into a state of salvation. His plan was to send into the world his Son who would redeem us (or free us) from our sin and misery.

And so, we moved into the next room of this house in order to learn more about God the Son. And we learned that God the Son came into the earth as a man in order to be our Great Prophet and Priest and King. As our Prophet he makes known to us God’s willingness to save us from our sins. As our Priest, he offered himself on the cross as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins and to reconcile us to God forever. And as our King, he calls us into his kingdom and he rules over us and defends us and he conquers all his enemies. We learned that he humbled himself: God the Son lowered himself and came down to earth as a man and suffered so much for us and died and was buried. We also learned that afterwards he was exalted: he rose from the grave to resurrection life and then he ascended to heaven and took his seat beside his Father in heaven from where he rules over all things, and from where he will come to judge the world one day. And in the meantime, he sends the Holy Spirit to ensure that the salvation he won for us on the cross reaches us.

And so we moved into the next room of this house and there we learned about the work of God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ the Saviour through faith. We hear the good news of what Christ has done for sinners like us. And the Holy Spirit enables us to believe and to cling to Christ. And whenever the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ through faith, we receive various benefits in this life, and various benefits at death, and various benefits at the resurrection when Christ returns to earth. We receive one good gift after another from believing in the Lord Jesus. And so, we receive justification, so that we’re pardoned for all that we have done wrong and are accepted as righteous in God’s sight for the sake of Jesus Christ alone. And we’re adopted into God’s family so that we’re able to call him ‘Father’. And we’re sanctified, so that more and more we’re enabled to resist sin and to obey our heavenly Father. We’re also assured of God’s love; and we’re given peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Spirit; and we grow in grace and we’re enabled to persevere as Christians right to the end of our lives.

And the gifts don’t stop there, because at death, our souls go to be with the Lord in heaven while our bodies rest in the grave; and at the resurrection, our bodies are raised from the grave and, having been made perfect and glorious, we’re brought — in body and soul — into heaven to enjoy the presence of God for ever and ever. And that, of course, is what we were created for. God made us to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And because of God the Father who planned our salvation, and because of God the Son who redeemed us, and because of God the Holy Spirit who unites us to Christ through faith, we will be brought into the presence of God in eternity to do what we were always meant to do: glorifying him and praise him for all that he has done for us; and enjoying his presence for ever and ever.

What we’re to do

That’s the ground floor; the first part of the Catechism. Then we have the first floor; the second part of the Catechism. And this second part of the Catechism is all about what the Bible teaches us is our duty before God. What does God want us to do? Well, we learn, first of all, that God wants us to obey his moral law which he has revealed to us in the pages of the Bible and which he has summarised for us in the Ten Commandments. So, what does God want us to do? He wants us to keep the Ten Commandments. And the Catechism takes us through the Ten Commandments. The first four are about how we’re to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And the remaining six are about how we’re to love our neighbour as ourselves. And the Catechism goes through each of the ten. And for each one, we’re taught the duties which we’re required to do and the sins which each commandment forbids. So, each commandment is explained positively: do this. But each one is also explained negatively: don’t do this.

But then, when we reach the end of the Ten Commandments, we’re confronted with a massive problem. Question 82 of the Catechism asks whether any of us is able to keep the commandments perfectly? Can any of us do what God requires and keep the commandments perfectly? And the answer is that none of us, since the fall, is able to keep them perfectly and that everyday we break them in thought and word and deed. And then questions 83 and 84 teach us that though some sins are worse than others, nevertheless every sin we have committed deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and in the life to come. God requires us to keep his commandments. But none of us can. And because we haven’t keep his commandments, we deserve to be punished by him.

And that’s the bad news which every person needs to hear and to understand before they’re ready to hear the good news of the gospel. Every person needs to be convinced that they are a sinner who has broken God’s holy law and that they are therefore liable to God’s punishment in this world and the next. We need to be convinced of this because only then are we ready to hear what we learn in question 85 of the Catechism, because question and answer 85 of the Catechism is about what we must do now, now that we have broken God’s moral law. Now that we have broken God’s law, what must we do to escape God’s wrath and curse? What must we do to be saved? Well, the Catechism teaches us that in order to escape God’s wrath and curse we’re required to believe in the Lord Jesus; and to repent of our sins; and, having done so, we’re to make diligent use of the outward means of grace by which our faith is strengthened.

And so, the Catechism explains to us what faith is — it means receiving and resting on him alone for salvation as he is held out to us in the gospel. The preacher offers us Jesus Christ: Here’s the Saviour of the world. And he will save you if you will only take him as your Saviour.

And so, we take him and cling to him and to him alone. And the Catechism explains to us what repentance is — it means being sorry for our sins and hating them so that we turn away from them and turn to God and resolve from now on to obey him. And we’re to make diligent use of the outward and ordinary means of grace. And the means of grace are: the reading and preaching of God’s word; the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and then there’s prayer. Through the reading and especially the preaching of God’s word, God the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and minds to create and to sustain our faith. And so the Catechism explains the value of the public preaching of God’s word as the means appointed by God to strengthen our faith. And through the sacraments, God also works to strengthen our faith. And so the Catechism explains the value of baptism and the Lord’s Supper when God’s promise to wash away our sins forever and to give us everlasting life for the sake of Christ who died for us is set before us in a visible way. And by means of these sacraments God works in us. And through prayer, we’re brought into the presence of God. And by praying we ask God to help us and others. We ask him to help us to glorify his name; and we ask him to help us to come into and and to stay in his kingdom; and we ask him to help us to obey and submit to his will; and we ask him to provide us with daily food and daily forgiveness and daily protection. When we pray, we ask God to help us.

God commands us to keep his commandments. But we can’t. And so we deserve to be punished. So, in order to be saved, we’re commanded to believe in the Lord Jesus, because all who believe in him are pardoned for all that they have done wrong and they’re reconciled to God forever, and they receive the hope of everlasting life in the presence of God. And to enable us to persevere right to the end of our lives, God works graciously in our lives as we gather here Sunday by Sunday to hear his word, and to receive the sacraments, and to pray together, asking for his help.

Summarises the Bible

Let me finish with a few brief points. First of all, we should note that the Catechism is designed to summarise what the Bible teaches. It’s not designed to supplement the Bible as if the Bible were missing something. It’s not designed to add to the Bible or to replace the Bible. It’s designed to summarise and explain the Bible.

So, think of those two halves, those two floors. The first half is about what the Bible teaches us to believe about God. The Bible teaches us to believe there’s only one God. And the Bible teaches us to believe in God the Father. And in God the Son. And in God the Holy Spirit. And the second half is about what the Bible teaches us is our duty before God. The Bible says we’re to obey God’s commandments. And the Bible says we’re to repent and believe and listen to God’s word and receive the sacraments and pray. The Catechism isn’t adding to the Bible. It’s explaining the Bible. It summarises what the Bible teaches.

I’ve said before that the Bible is a big book. It’s a big book which has lots to say to us and to teach us. And it’s often hard to keep track of it all and to understand it all. And so, it’s good that we have something like the Catechism to summarise briefly what the Bible teaches on certain important points of doctrine. It summarises the main things we need to know about God and our salvation and how we’re to live as God’s people.

Now, of course, the Catechism doesn’t contain everything. For instance, if we were to compare the Shorter Catechism to the Larger Catechism, we’d realise that the Shorter one, unlike the Larger one, doesn’t say much about the church. And it doesn’t say much about assurance of salvation. Those topics are important, but not everything can go into a short summary. And the Westminster Confession contains chapters on the civil government and on marriage and on worship and oaths and vows. Those too are important, but not everything can go into a short summary.

Not everything can go into a summary, but it’s good to have a summary to teach us briefly about who God is and what he has done for us and what we need to do in order to be saved. And that’s what the Catechism provides us with: a brief summary of the things we need to know in order to enter eternal life. And if we know the summary — and I hope we’ll all keep studying it — if we know the summary, then we’re able to understand the Bible a lot better than those who don’t know the Catechism.


My second point is that having a summary of what the Bible teaches is actually a biblical thing to do. The apostle Paul wrote two NT letters to Timothy, a young minister. And in his letters, Paul gives advice to Timothy on how the church should be organised. And he instructs Timothy to teach the people. So what should be teach them? Well, listen to what we read in 2 Timothy 1:13. Paul wrote:

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.

The word for ‘pattern’ can also mean ‘standard’. And ‘sound teaching’ is doctrine which is true and biblical. So, Paul is asking Timothy to make sure that what he teaches conforms with this standard of sounding teaching which Paul has given to him. If what he teaches conforms with the standard, then it will be sound. It will be true.

And then, in verse 2 of chapter 2, Paul advises Timothy to pass on to faithful men, or pass on to reliable men, what he had already received from Paul. And what had he received from Paul? This pattern, this standard of sound teaching.

Paul doesn’t mention catechisms or creeds and confessions here, but the phrase ‘pattern of sound teaching’ certainly describes what a catechism and confession is. It’s a standard for sound teaching. If what I teach is consistent with what is in our Catechisms and Confession, they you know that what I’m teaching is sound. Our church, a long time ago, agreed that the Catechisms and Confession faithfully summarise what the Bible teaches. And so, whoever teaches what is in conformity with this pattern of sounding teaching, is teaching biblical truth. And if I, or one of the elders, teach something that contradicts our Catechism, you will know it’s not sound and you should immediately lodge a complaint with the Session or Presbytery. Catechisms help us to determine whether or not a teacher is sound or not, and whether what a teachers says is worth listening to or not. It’s a standard, a rule, to determine whether someone’s doctrine is biblical or not. And whether we should listen to him or not. If it contradicts the pattern of sound teaching in our Catechisms, then don’t listen to it.


Thirdly, the Catechism is great because it’s God-centred. It begins by reminding us that they only reason we’re here, the only reason we exist, is to glorify God. We’re made for God and his glory. And it ends with a praise to God: ‘yours is the kingdom the power and the glory for ever and ever.’ And throughout, the focus is on God. He made the world. He sustains the world. He rules the world. He made a covenant with Adam. When Adam broke it, he made another covenant. He sent his Son. His Son lived and died for us. He sent his Holy Spirit. His Spirit enables us to repent and turn where? To God the Son for salvation. And he gives us everything we need for salvation. To grow as believers, we need to hear his Word. And we need to receive the sacraments which speak to us of his promises. And when we pray, we’re to pray to him. And we pray in his Son’s name. And we pray for his help.

The Catechism is great, because it makes us take our eyes off ourselves, it turns our attention away from ourselves and the world around us with all its changing fashions, and it turns our attention to God who alone is great and who alone deserves all our worship. If ever you come to church and you find that I’m talking about myself or someone else from the pulpit, you have my permission to leave, because the only one who deserves our praise and attention is Almighty God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And the Catechism helps us to remember that our attention should always be aimed at him.


And finally, the Catechism is great because it reminds us that our salvation from beginning to end is God’s work and especially, it’s the work of the Lord Jesus. God the Father appointed him and sent him to be our Redeemer. He came and did all things necessary to save us. The Holy Spirit unites us through faith to Christ. From Christ, we receive all that we need. And as believers, we’re waiting for him to come again. And when he comes, he’ll bring us in to heaven to do what we were made to do, which is to praise God for ever and ever for his Son, our Saviour.