James Fisher.

The Westminster Assembly's shorter catechism explained : by way of question and answer online

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" Hold fast the form of sound words."— 2 Tim. i. 13.



The Presbyterian Board of Publication, in issuing an
edition of this valuable work, have omitted those questions
and answers relating to the power of the civil magistrate,
which contain sentiments at variance with the standards
of the Presbyterian Church in this country. A few other
questions and answers on points of comparatively trivial
importance, have been stricken out for a similar reason.
There are, however, no omissions which affect the system
of divinity taught by the author.

W. M. Engles.

Printed by

Stereolvped by


No. 7 Pear St. Philadelphuu


The Shorter Catechis77i, composed by the Assembly/ of
Divines at Westminster, with assistance of Com?nissio?iers
from the Church of Scotland, being approved by the Gene-
ral Assembly of the said church in 1648, and ratified by the
Estates of Parliament in the year following, is above any
recommendation of ours ; having its praises already in all
the churches of Christ, abroad and at home, among
whom it has been justly admired as a master -piece of its
kind, both for the fulness of its matter, and the compen-
dious and perspicuous manner in which it is expressed.

Although it is only a human composure, yet being a
form of sound words, agreeable unto, and founded on the
word of God, it ought to be held fast, and earnestly con-
tended for, by all the lovers of truth, in opposition to the
contrary errors that are revived and raging in our day ;
and, in order hereto, it ought to be considered, that a
divine faith is due to the words of the Holy Ghost sup-
porting it, as the evident proofs thereof.

Nothing tends more to the advantage and well-being of
the church, than sound standards of doctrine, worship,
and government ; because, as they are a strong bulwark
against contrary errors and opinions, so they tend to pre-
serve truth in its purity, and the professors of it in unity and
harmony among themselves. On the other hand, there is
nothing more galling to the adversaries of truth, than such
public standards, because they are a very severe check
and curb upon their unbounded and licentious liberty,



being directly levelled against their erroneous schemes,
and plainly discovering the harmonious chain of scripture
truth, in opposition to them.

The divi'tie warrmit for such composures, is abundant-
ly clear from 2 Tim. 1. 13, where we read of the form
of sound ivords wherein Paul instructed Timothy ; and
Heb. V. 12, of the first principles of the oi'acles of God ;
and chap. vi. 1, of tlie principles of the doctrine of
Christ. — Besides, there are several summaries, or
compendious systems of divine truth, recorded in scripture ;
such as Exod. xx. 2 — 18; Matt. vi. 9 — 14; 1 Tim. iii.
16 ; and Tit. ii. 11 — 15, with many others, which are
the examples, or patterns, upon which the Christian
churches, both in ancient and latter times, have deduced,
from the pure fountain of the word, the principal articles
of their holy religion, as a test and standard of orthodoxy
amongst them.

The Sliorter Catechism sets forth the principles of
Christianity in the most excellent method and order. It
would be tedious to give a particular analysis or division
of the several heads of divinity, according to the order of
the Catechism. But, in general, the method of it may be
taken up under these four comprehensive articles, namely,
the chief end, the only rule, the glorious object, and the
great subject of the Christian religion.

I. The chief end of the Christian religion,^vhich is the
glorifying of God, and the enjoying him for ever. Quest 1.

II. We have the only rule of the Christian religion;

1. In its matter ; which is the icord of God, contained
in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Quest. 2.

2. In its principal parts ; which are, first, what man
is to believe concernmg God ; and then the duty which
God requires of man. Quest. 3.

III. The glorious object of the Christian religion ; which
is God ; considered.


1. Essentially ., in his spiritual nature, infinite perfections,
and in his most perfect unity and simplicity. Quest. 4, 5.

2. Relatively or personally., in the three distinct persons
of the Godhead ; and in the consubstantiality, and absolute
equality of these persons. Quest. 6.

3. Efficietitlyy in his acts and operations, which are
either immanent and essential, such as his decrees ; or
transient and external, such as his works of creation and
providence, wherein he executes his decrees. Quest,

IV. The great subject of the Christian religion, which
is man ; considered,

\st^ In his state of innocence^ where the covenant of
works is opened. Quest. 12.

2dly^ In his state of nature^ together with the sinfulness
and misery of that state. Quest. 13 — 20.

?>dly^ In his state of gracCy or begun recovery ; where
the Catechism treats,

1. Of the nature of the covenant of grace. Quest. 20.

2. Of the Mediator of the covenant ; who is described,
in his person, offices, humiliation, exaltation, and in the
application of his purchased redemption by the Holy
Spirit. Quest. 21—32.

3. Of the benefits of the covenant ; in this life, at death,
at the resurrection, and through all eternity. Quest. 32 —

4. Of the duties by which we evidence our covenant
relation and gratitude to God, in the Ten Commandments,
as connected with their Preface. Quest. 39 — 82.

6. Of man's utter inability to obey the law in this life.
Quest. 82.

6. Of the aggravation and desert of sin. Quest. 83,

7. Of the m£ans by which our salvation is carried on
and perfected at death : the internal means, faith and
repentance ; the external means, the word, sacraments,
and prayer. Quest. 85, to the end.



The first part of this catechetical treatise ends with
Quest. 38. Wimt benefits do believers receive from Christ
at the resurrection? containing the doctrines we are to
believe concerning God. The second part respects the
duty which God requires of man.

The 'materials of the following Catechism are collected by
several ministers, and it was recommended to three of their
number, to revise what should be done by so many hands,
that there might be a uniformity of style and method, and
that repetitions might be prevented as much as possible.
It has pleased the Lord to take home to himself one'*' of
these three, who assisted in the composing and revising
of this first part ; but, though he be dead, he yet speak-
eth, and will be spoken of for his excellent works (which
have already, or may hereafter see the light,) by all those
who shall have any relish or taste for sound doctrine and
experimental godliness. — Whatever loss the second part
of this Catechism may sustain, by the removal of such
an able and skilful hand, the other two make not the least
doubt, but the Lord would carry on this work with as
great, or greater advantage, though they were laid in the
grave likewise.

Mean time, that what is here presented to public view
may be blessed of God, for the edification of souls, is, in
the name of our brethren, the earnest prayer of

February, 1753 EBEN. ERSKINE.


* The Rev. Mr. Ralph Erskine, of Dunfermline.



The words of the Shorter Catechism^ being advised with
the greatest judgment, and with a peculiar view, both for
establishing scripture-truth, and likewise for refuting
contrary errors, they are therefore, in this edition,
particularly taken notice of: and to distinguish them, they
are enclosed within brackets^ that the reader may the more
easily discern how they are explained in this treatise.

As the Confession of Faith and Larger Catechism are
granted to be the best interpreters of the Shorter, the
latter is carefully explained by the former ; and several of
the following questions and answers framed from these
standards, as will easily appear by the quotations taken
from them, and the references made unto them.

In this edition, almost every answer is confirmed by
the scriptures ; many are added, where they were former-
ly wanting, and several exchanged, for those that are
thought more apposite. — In the former impressions, the
scripture-proofs were, mostly, subjoined to the end of the
answer ; but noiv, each scripture is immediately annexed
to that part of the answer it is designed to confirm, that
it may be consulted with greater certainty, and less
trouble, by those who incline to bring every position, here
advanced, to the unerring rule and standard of the word.
— Some of the longer answers are divided into two or more,
for sake of the memory ; and some additional questions
are interspersed, through the whole, for illustration. A
short Index is likewise annexed, of the most material

things in both parts.



I have employed my spare time for several months, in
studying to make this edition as correct and useful to the
public as I could ; and now I leave it in the hands of the
God of truths that he may use it for the purposes of his
own glory, in edifying tlie body of Christy till they all
come, i?i the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of
the Son of God, unio a perfect man, unto the measure
of the stature of the fulness of Christ,

Glasgow, Jan. 14, 1765.





Quest. 1. What is tJie chief end of man ?
Ans. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy
him for ever.

Q. 1. What is meant by man's \cMef endll

A. That which ought to be man's chief aim and design ;
and that which he should seek after as his chief happiness.

Q,. 2. What ought to be man's chief aim and design ?

A. The glory of God. 1 Chron. xvi. 28, 29 : " Give unto
the Lord, ye kindreds of the people, — give unto the Lord
the glory due unto his name."

Q,. 3. What should he seek after as his chief happiness?

A. The enjoyment of God. Isa. xxvi. 8 : " The desire
of our soul is to thy name, and the remembrance of thee."

Q,. 4. What connexion is there between the glorifying
God, and the enjoyment of him ]

A. They are connected by rich and sovereign grace,
persuading and enabhng the sinner to embrace Jesus
Christ as the only way to God and glory. Eph. ii. 8 : "By
grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of your-
selves; it is the gift of God." John xvi. 6: — "I," says
Christ, " am the way ; no man cometh unto the Father,
but by me,"

Q. 5. Does the chief end exclude subordinate ends T

A. No : for, in aiming principally at the glory of God,
men may use the supports of natural life for refreshing
their bodies, 1 Cor. x. 31; and be diligent in their par-
ticular callings, that they may provide for themselves and
their families, 1 Thess. iv. 11, 12; 1 Tim. v. 8.

d. 6. Why ought the glory of God to be the chief end
and design of man 1

A. Because it is God's chief end in man's creation, pre-
servation, redemption, and regeneration. Prov. xvi. 4:
" The Lord hath made all things for himself;" and there-
fore it ought to be man's chief end likewise. 1 Cor. vi.
19, 20 : " Ye are not your own ; for ye are bought with a


10 OF man's chief end.

price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your
spirit, which are God's."

Q. 7. How manifold is the glory of God 1

A. Twofold; his essential and his declarative glory.

Q. 8. What is God's essential glory ?

A. It is what he is absolutely in himself Exod. iii. 14 — •


Q. 9. What is his declarative glory 1

A. His showing, or making known his glory, to, in, and
by his creatures, Isa. xliv. 23; 2 Thess. i. 10.

Q. 10. Can any creature whatsoever add any thing to
God's essential glory ]

A. No : for his essential glory is infinite, eternal, and
unchangeable. Job xxxv. 7.

Q,. 1 1. Do not the heavens and the earth, and all inferior
creatures, glorify God?

A. Yes: in a passive way, all his works praise him;
Psal. xix. 1, and cxlv. 10.

Q,. 12. How ought man to [glorify] God?

A. Man being endued with a reasonable soul, ought to
glorify God in an active way, Psal. Ixiii. 4, by declaring
his praise, Psal. ciii. 1, 2; and essaying to give him the
glory due to his name. Psalm xcvi. 7.

Q,. 13. How was man to glorify God in a state of in-
nocence ?

A. By a perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience to
his law, Gen. i. 27; and by giving him the glory of all his
works, chap. ii. 19.

Q,. 14. Has man answered his chief end 1

A. No : for, " all have sinned, and come short of the
glory of God," Rom. iii. 23.

Q,. 1 5. Has God then lost his end in making man 1

A. No : for God will glorify his justice and power upon
some, and his grace and mercy upon others of Adam's
family, Rom. ix. 22, 23.

Gt 16. W\^s ever God glorified by a perfect obedience
since Adam's fall ]

A. Never, until Chbist, the second Adam, appeared as a
new covenant head, Isa. xlii. 21, and xlix. 3.

Q. 17. How did Christ, the second Adam, glorify God,
as our surety and representative on earth 7

A. By finishing the work the Father gave him to do,
John xvii. 4.

Q. 18. What was the work the Father gave him to do 7

A. It was to assume a holy human nature, Luke i. 35 ;
to yield a perfect sinless obedience to the whole law. Mat.
iii. 15; and to give a complete satisfiiction to justice, for
man's sin, by his meritorious sufferings and death, Luke
xxiv. 20.

Q,. 19. How does Ckrist glorify God in heaven!

OF man's chief end. II

A. By appearing in the presence of God for us, Heb. ix.
24, and applying, by the power of his Spirit, that redemp-
tion which he purchased by the price of his blood on earth,
Tit. iii. 5, 6.

Q. 20. When is it that a sinner begins uprightly to aim
at the glory of God]

A. When, through a faith of God's operation, he believes
in Christ : Acts viii. 37, 39. — " The eunuch answered and
said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. — And he
went on his way rejoicing."

Q. 21. Can no man glorify God acceptably, unless he
first believe in Christ ]

A. No : for, " Without faith it is impossible to please
him." Heb. xi. 6 ; and, " Whatsoever is not of faith is
sin," Rom. xiv. 23.

Q. 22. How is it that faith in Christ glorifies God ?

A. As it sets its seal to the record of God, John iii. 33 ;
and unites us to Christ, from whom only our fruit is found,
Hos. xiv. 8.

Q. 23. Is not God glorified by the good works of be-
lievers 1

A. Yes : " herein," says Christ, " is my Father glorified,
that ye bear much fruit, John xv. 8.

Q. 24. What are these fruits brought forth by believers,
by which God is glorified ?

A. They may be summed up in faith working by lov^e,
Gal. V. 6 ; or, their aiming, in the strength of Christ, at uni-
versal obedience to the law, as the rule of duty. Phil. iv.
13: "I can do all things through Christ which strength-
eneth me."

Q. 25. How should we glorify God in eating and drink-

A. By taking a right to the supports of natural life,
through the second Adam, the heir of all things, who has
purchased a covenant right to temporal, as well as spiritual
mercies, for his people, 1 Cor. iii. 21 — 23 ; and thankfully
acknowledging God for the same, 1 Tim. iv. 4, 5.

Q,. 26. How must we glorify God in our religious wor-
ship, and other acts of obedience"?

A. By doing all that we do in the name of the Lord
Jesus, Col. iii. 17; worshipping God in the Spirit, rejoic-
ing in Christ Jesus, and having no confidence in the flesh,
Phil. iii. 3.

a. 27. What is it, next to the glory of God, we should
aim at 1

A. Next to God's glory, we should aim at the enjoyment
of him, Ps. Ixxiii. 25, 26.

Q. 28. Why should we aim at the enjoyment of God ]

A. Because he is the chief good of the rational creature,
Ps. cxvi. 7; and nothing else besides him, is either suitable


to tlie nature, or satisfying to the desires of the immortal
soul, Ps. cxliv. 15.

Q. 29. How may a finite creature [enjoy] an infinite

A. By taking and rejoicing in him, as its everlasting and
upmaking portion, Ps. xvi. 5, 6, and xlviii. 14.

Q. 30. Did our first parents, in a state of innocence, en-
joy God?

A. Yes : there was perfect friendship and fellowship be-
tween God and them ; for, "God made man upright," Eccl.
vii. 29.

Q,. 31. What broke that blessed friendship and fellow-
ship ]

A. Sin : our iniquities have separated between us and
our God, and our sins have hid his face from us, Isa. lix. 2.

Q. 32. Can a sinner, in a natural state, enjoy God, or
have any fellowship with him?

A. No : for, " What communion hath hght with dark-
ness 1 and what concord hath Christ with Belial ]" 2 Cor.
vi. 14, 15.

Q. 33. How may a lost sinner recover the enjoyment of
God, and fellowship with him 1

A. As we lost it by our fall in the Jirsi Adam, so it can
only be recovered by union with a second Adam, Rom. v.
18, 19 ; for there is no coming to God but by him, John xiv. 6.

Q,. 34. When is it that a sinner begins to enjoy God 1

A. When, having received Christ by faith, he rests upon
him, and upon God in him, for righteousness and strength,
Isa. xlv. 24 ; and out of his fulness receives, and grace for
grace, John i. 16.

Q.. 35. What are the external means by, or in which, we
are to seek after the enjoyment of God 1

A. In all the ordinances of his worship, public, private
and secret ; such as the word read and heard, the sacra-
ments, prayer, meditation, fasting, thanksgiving, and the

Q. 36. Are the saints of God admitted to enjoy him in
these ?

A. Yes : they are the tristing places where his name is
recorded, and to which he has promised to come and bless
them, Ex. xx. 24 — " In all places where I record my name,
I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee."

d. 37. What scripture-evidence have we, of their enjoy-
ing God in the duties and ordinances of his appointment ?

A. We find them much employed in religious duties,
Song iii. 1 — 3 ; and expressing the utmost regard for the
ordinances of his grace, Ps. Ixxxiv. 1, 2,

Q,. 38. What satisfaction has the soul in the enjoyment
of God?

OF man's chief end. 13

A. Unspeakably more gladness than when corn, wine,
and all earthly comforts, do most abound, Ps. iv, 7

Q. 39. Is there any difference between the enjoyment
of God in this life, and that which the saints shall obtain
in the life to come 1

A. Not an essential, but a gradual difference, as to the
manne?' and measm'e of it.

Q,. 40. What is the difference as to the manner of the
enjoyment here and hereafter 3

A. Here, the enjoyment is mediate, by the intervention
of means ; hereafter, it will be immediate, without any use
of these means : " Now we see through a glass darkly ;
but then face to face," 1 Cor. xiii. 12.

Q,. 41. What is the difference as to the measure of the
enjoyment, in this life, and that which is to come ]

A. In this life the enjoyment is only partial ; in that
which is to come, it will be full and complete, 1 John iii.
2 — here, the enjoyment is only in the seed, or first fruits ;
there it will be in the full harvest, Ps. cxxvi. 5, 6.

Q.. 42. Is the partial enjoyment of God in grace here, a
sure pledge of the full enjoyment of him in glory here-
after 1

A. It is both the pledge and earnest of it, Eph. i. 13, 14.
Ps. Ixxxiv. 11.

Gl. 43. Does the gracious soul, in that state, fully receive
its chief end 1

A. Yes ; in regard that then it shall be brimful of God,
and celebrate his praises with high and uninterrupted
Hallelujahs through all eternity, Ps. xvi. 1 1 ; Isa. xxxv. 10.

Q,. 44. Why is the glorifying God made the leading part
of man's chief end, and set before the enjoyment of him ?

A. Because, as God's design in glorifying himself was
the reason and foundation of his design in making man
happy in the enjoyment of him, Rom. xi. 26 ; so he has
made our aiming at his glory, as our chief end, to be the
very way and means of our attaining to that enjoyment,
Ps. 1. 23.

Q.. 45. Is our happiness, in the enjoyment of God, to be
our chief end ?

A. No : but the glory of God itself, Isa. xlii. 8 ; in our
aiming at which chiefly, we cannot miss the enjoyment of
him, Ps. cxi. 14, 15.

Q,. 46. Is not our delighting in the glory of God, to be
reckoned our chief end ]

A. No : we must set the glory of God above our delight
therein, otherwise, our delight is not chiefly in God, but
in ourselves, Isa. ii. 11. Our subjective delighting in the
glory of God belongs to the enjoyment of him, whose
glory is above the heavens, and infinitely above our de-
light therein, Ps. cxiii. 4.

Part L— 2



Q,. 47. Whom does God dignify with the enjoyment of
himself, in time and for ever?

A. Those whom he helps actively to glorify and honour
him ; for he has said, " Them that honom' me, I will hon-
our," 1 Sam. ii. 30.

Q,. 48. Does any thing so much secure our happy enjoy-
ment of God, as the concern that the glory of God has

A. No : for as God cannot but reach the great end of
his own glory, so, when he has promised us eternal lile, in
Christ, before the world began. Tit. i. 2, we cannot come
short of it ; because it stands upon the honour of his faith-
fulness to make it good, Heb. x, 23 ; " He is faithful that

Q,. 49. How does it appear, that the enjoyment of God,
which is connected with the glorifying of him, shall be
[for eve7' ?]

A. Because he who is the object enjoyed, is the everlast-
ing- God, Isa. xl. 28; and the enjoyment of him is not
transitory, like the passing enjoyments of time, but the
eternal enjoyment of the eternal God, Ps. xlviii. 14.

Quest. 2. JVIiat rule has God given to direct us how
we may glorify and enjoy him 1

Ans. The word of God, which is contained in the scrip-
tures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to
direct us, how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Q,. 1 . What necessity is there of a rule to direct us how
to glorify and enjoy God ]

A. It is necessary, because, since God will be glorified
by the reasonable creature, nothing can be a perfect rule
for that end, but his own revealed will, Rom. xii. 2.

Q,. 2. Can man, by any wisdom or power of his own,
ever attain to the glorifying of God, and the enjoyment
of him, which he has come short of, by his fall in the first
Ailam !

A. No : his wisdom and knowledge in the things of God,
are become folly and ignorance. Job xi. 12; and his power
to do good is turned into utter impotency, John vi. 44.

Q,. 3. Where has God revealed the way, in which man
may recover and attain the end of his creation \

A. In [the word of God, which is contained in the scrij)-
tures of the Old and New Testaments,] John v. 39, Search
the scriptures, <^c.


Q. 4. How do you know the scriptures of the Old and
New Testaments to be the luord of God ?

A. By the print of God that is evidently to be seen upon
them: for, as none works hke God, Isa. xliii. 13; so none
speaks hke him, John vii. 46.

Q,. 5. What do you understand by the print or impress
of God that is so discernible in the scriptures?

A. That majesty, hohness, light, life, and efficacy, which
shine in the word itself, Rom. i. 16; Ps. xix. 7.

Q,. 6. What may be said of those who do not see that
print of God in the word, though they read it?

A. It may be said, " The god of this world hath blinded
the minds of them that beheve not," 2 Cor. iv. 4.

Q,. 7. Since all men are spiritually bhnd by nature, is it
not in vain for them to read the scriptures ]

A. No : it is the will of God that they should read and
search the scriptures, John v. 39 ; and the entrance of
his word gives light and sight to them that are blind,
Psalm cxix. 130.

Q,. 8. What should a man do that the Bible may not
remain a sealed book to him ]

A. Whenever he looks into the word of God, he should
look up to God, the author of it, saying, " Open thou mine
eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law,"
Ps. cxix. 18. "O send out thy light and thy truth; let
them lead me," Ps. xHii. 3,

Q,. 9. By what arguments may we persuade men that
are infidels, to receive the scriptures as the word of God?

A. We may deal with them by rational arguments
drawn from their antiquity ; the heavenliness of the mat-

Online LibraryJames FisherThe Westminster Assembly's shorter catechism explained : by way of question and answer → online text (page 1 of 46)