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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

An Exposition of the Assembly's
Shorter Catechism

by John Flavel


Of keeping the Law.

Q. 82. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No mere man since the fall is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.


Q. 1. Wherein doth the perfect keeping of Godís law consist?
A. It consists in the perfect and constant conformity of the internal and external actions of heart and life, to every command of God; Galatians 3:10. Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Matthew 22:37-39. Jesus said unto them, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Q. 2. But if a man commit no external act against the law, may he not be said perfectly to keep it, although in mind or thought he should trangress?
A. No; for an inward motion of sin in the heart, that never breaks forth into act, is a violation of the law, and brings the soul under the curse of it; Matthew 5:21-22. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill: And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment, &c. And ver. 27, 28. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Q. 3. May not a man keep the law if he keep some of its commands, though he cannot keep every one of them punctually?
A. No, he cannot; for the transgression of any one command in the least degree, is a breach of all, and brings the curse of the whole upon a manís soul; James 2:10. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

Q. 4. Was the law never kept by any since it was made?
A. Yes, Adam in his innocent state kept it; for he was made upright; Ecclesiastes 7:29. God made man upright, &c. And Christ perfectly kept it; Matthew 5:17. Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Q. 5. What is the first reason why no mere man in this life can fulfil and keep the law of God perfectly?
A. It is because the law of God is perfect, and the best of men in this life are imperfect; Psalm 19:7. The law of the Lord is perfect, &c. Ecclesiastes 7:20. For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

Q. 6. But may not men perfectly keep it when regenerate, and born of God?
A. No; because even in the regenerate there is a law of sin, which wars against the law of God; Galatians 5:17. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, &c. Romans 7:22-23. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, &c. And though they are said not to sin, 1 John 3:9. Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin, &c. That is not to be taken absolutely, but comparatively, as they once did, and others still do.

Q. 7. But did not Christ command the young man to keep the law?
A. It is true that Christ did put the young man upon this task; Matthew 19:17. If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. But it was not on a supposition that he was able to do it; but to convince him of the impossibility of justification that way.

Q. 8. But doth not the apostle say, that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in believers?
A. It is true that the apostle doth say, Romans 8:4. but the meaning is not, that we fulfil it in our own persons, by our complete obedience to it; but it is fulfilled in us, by our union with Christ, who perfectly kept it; and the righteousness of the law, which is in Christ, becomes ours, by Godís imputation of it to us; Romans 4:23-24. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.

Q. 9. What is the first inference from hence?
A. That justification .by our own works is utterly impossible to the holiest of men; Galatians 2:16. For by the works of the law no flesh can be justified; Psalm 103:3. If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities; O Lord, who shall stand?

Q. 10. What is the second inference from hence?
A. Hence we learn what an infinite mercy it is, that God sent Jesus Christ made under the law; Galatians 4:4-5. But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, &c. To do that for us we could never do for ourselves; Romans 8:3-4. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us; who walk not after the flesh, hut after the Spirit.

Q. 11. What is the third inference from hence?
A. That the dreadful curse must needs lie on all unbelievers that are out of Christ; John 3:36. He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. And seek their justification by the deeds of the law; Galatians 3:10. For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse, &c.

Q. 12. What is the fourth inference from hence?
A. That a deluge of sin and misery brake in upon the whole world by the fall of Adam, and all his posterity being by him plunged under both; Romans 5:12. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin: And so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.

Q. 13. What is the fifth inference from hence?
A. That the Popish doctrines of merits, and works of supererogation, are false and groundless doctrines, springing out of the ignorance and pride of manís heart.

Q. 14. What is the last inference from hence?
A. That all Godís people should sigh under their unhappy necessity of sinning; Romans 7:24. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death! And long to be with Christ in the perfect state; Hebrews 12:23. And to the spirits of just men made perfect.

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