Aware of Our Firm Foundation
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 41-44)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
God’s creation is beautiful, vast, and amazingly complex.
Our Creator’s nature and glory are infinite and eternal. The immensity of his power and purpose is stamped upon everything he made. As Psalm 19:1-2 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.”
We were created with the ability to observe and to be a part of that declaration of God’s glory. There is a lot to take in, so much to understand.
Knowing our limitations as finite creatures, God made to be able to group things together, and to sum up complicated ideas. Our ears take in sounds people make, and our brains are able to organize them into words that make us able to communicate. We can see marks people make on paper, then turn them back into sentences. We learn to recognize people from a quick glance at their facial features. We have learned how to teach and to remember the flow of history, the findings of science, and relationships in mathematics. We summarize what we learn with charts, diagrams, and generalized rules.
After long conversations people often have to ask, “What’s your point?” When we have read all the details in business contracts we often ask, “So what’s the bottom line?” Parents often teach simple rules to children like, “Don’t talk with strangers,” “Ask permission before you go somewhere,” “Bed time is at 9:00,” “Eat your vegetables.”
Without going into all the reasons behind them, simple rules help us. We need to simplify things to be able to make fast judgments and daily decisions.
God also summarizes the things he reveals
so we can remember and handle them better.
There are parts of the Bible that summarize the long history of God’s people. Our main duties and God’s grace are summarized in simple verses we can learn. His redemption is summarized in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Our obligations to our Creator/Redeemer are summarized in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”
These summaries are not meant to be exhaustive. They are given to us to point out main principles to help us organize God’s truth and to remember what he teaches us.
It is reasonable to expect the moral principles God
built into His world would be summarized too.
Question 41 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “Wherein is the moral law summarily comprehended?”
Answer: “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.”
God made himself known by giving us his word in the Bible. His basic moral principles are summed up in the 10 Commandments.
When asked, Jesus summed up the moral law even more concisely in Matthew 22:37-40. There he gave us two general principles that sum up what is right: ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
The Answer to Question 42 of our Catechism quotes this comment by Jesus. It says,
“The sum of the ten commandments is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.”
The Bible regularly links love and obedience. We were created to live morally, doing the things that show respect to our Creator. When we live that way, intent on truly honoring God and helping the people around us, we are being loving and therefore are keeping his commandments inwardly as well as outwardly.
Love for God and others is expressed by keeping his moral commandments. In the commandments God defines what things are loving.
This connection was made by Jesus many times in his ministry. For example, the Gospel of John records some of his direct comments about this.
John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…”
John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:14, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
John 15:17, “These things I command you, that you love one another.”
Then in 1 John 5:2-3 the Bible says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”
Love does not mean much if we do not show it by our attitudes, thoughts, and actions. John 13:35 says, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
God’s summation of his moral principles help us remember and obey what honors him. It is how we fulfill what we were created and commissioned to be. It is how we love. It is what real “love” looks like.
This summation by Jesus fits exactly with the order of the Commandments God gave through Moses.
The Ten Commandments divide into these two main sections.
The first section is about our loving God above everything else. When Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” he was quoting from the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5.
This sums up the first 4 commandments. It is always wrong to worship other gods, to make images of God who is pure spirit, to use God’s name without respect, or to forget honoring the Creator’s work on the Sabbath. These first 4 Commandments show us who God is, and how we should worship and live for him.
As the second great commandment, Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Again he was quoting the words of Moses, this time from Leviticus 19:18. We must love our neighbor as we already look out for ourselves.
This sums up the last 6 Commandments. It is never right to show disrespect to those God puts in authority over us, or to murder. No one should be unfaithful in marriage, steal, lie, or covet. These last 6 Commandments show how God designed us to live together.
Moral law is the way things ought to be in a place created by the one True God. They show that we submit to his lordship as our Creator and King, and they teach us how to live lovingly with those God puts around us in our lives.
God’s moral principles are not just baseless rules.
They are founded upon the fact of God.
God introduced his commandments through Moses by explaining his right to issue commandments. Question 43 of the Catechism asks, “What is the preface to the ten commandments?”
The answer simply quotes from Deuteronomy 5:6. This verse leads into the giving of the Ten Commandments. It says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
The preface leads into these moral principles by laying out the foundation for them. Israel was a defeated nation of oppressed slaves in Egypt. There was no hope for them by any efforts they could make on their own. Since God delivered her, and gave her back her nationhood, he alone had the right to say how she should live as a nation.
However, there was more. God was the Creator. He made all things for his own glory, so he alone knew what would honor that glory in a moral way. He also made the promise of a Redeemer, a Messiah who would die for the guilt of his people. Since all deserve eternal bondage to sin and unending separation from their Creator, only he could describe what freedom from sin and fellowship with God would be like.
Just as Israel owed her life to God alone, we all owe ours to him also. He created us to promote his glory, and redeemed us to be his children forever, therefore only he has the right to say what he made and redeemed us to be. That lays out the preface and foundation to this summation of God’s Moral Law.
When I worked in a commercial laundry the employees often complained. We worked hard under rough conditions. They would see the managers in air-conditioned offices and often asked, “who do they think they are to tell us how to do our job?” But, they owed their jobs to the owners and managers. It was what went on in that office that enabled them to earn their living.
Similarly, we owe our lives and salvation to God alone. He is the only one who has the right to describe our purpose and what is right.
In Romans 9:20 Paul put it this way, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ ”
Catechism question 44 explains the reason for this preface to the Commandments. It says,
Answer. “The preface to the ten commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.”
That is how important these commandments are. They were not first given to Israel. They were summarized for Israel. Every moral law in them goes back to creation itself. They show us how we can show our love for our Creator, our Redeemer.
Do you say you love Jesus Christ dearly?
Do you do what he says and live morally as God describes it for you? That is what it is to love God. Do you treat those you meet and work with the way our Creator says you should? That is what loving your neighbor is about.
Satan is subtle and knows how to play to our imperfect nature. He will suggest that such moral ideas have exceptions, and do not always apply. Like Israel in the wilderness we are easily persuaded to set these principles aside, and to take on the standards people accept in our fallen culture.
Since God created us, gives us life day by day, redeemed us, and blesses us, he alone has the absolute right to tell us how he made us to live.
It is not only unwise, but evil, to fail to see this important foundation to all that is right. We need to read these Ten Commandments with the prayerful intent of conforming our lives to them.
In each one, as we peel away the deceptions that hide the moral principle behind it, we see how short we fall in bringing glory to our God. We also see how much our Savior suffered as he took on our guilt. We see a loving light shining on an otherwise dark and confusing path.
God shows us how to be better children in his family. These summary principles teach us to see Grace at work in our otherwise disobedient hearts. They are not laws by which we merit salvation or blessings. We imperfect creatures could never keep them without God’s Redeeming Grace. They light up the unseen opportunities that would otherwise be hidden in the dark. They teach us what glorifies God, and how we enjoy living as his loved children.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)