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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

Alexander Whyte

Q. 13. Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
A. Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.

being left to the freedom of their own will—It is a very mysterious thing that God should so "innovate upon His own eternity" as to summon into existence a race of creatures, and bestow upon them the perilous gift of free-will—a perilous and in the event a fatal gift: because, as experience proved, the possessor of it might rise up against his Maker, might oppose and obstruct His will, and introduce sin and misery and death where life and love and holiness had been intended to dwell.

"Freedom of will is a power in the will, whereby it doth of its own accord, without force upon it, choose or refuse what is proposed to it by the understanding. And man hath this freedom of will in whatever state he be. In the state of innocency it extendeth to good or evil; in the state of corrupt nature, to evil only; in the state of grace, partly to good and partly to evil; and in the state of glory, only to good" (Boston. See this author's famous Fourfold State).

"The practice of distinguishing, in the exposition of this subject, between the freedom of man's will in his unfallen and in his fallen condition, and indeed of viewing it distinctively with reference to the different stages or periods of his fourfold state,—as unfallen, fallen, regenerate, or glorified,—has prevailed in the Church in almost all ages. These views were fully brought out and applied by Augustine. . . . They were embraced and promulgated by the whole body of Reformers, both Lutheran and Calvinistic. . . They have a prominent place in the Westminster Confession, the 9th chapter, entitled ‘Of Free Will', being entirely devoted to the statement of them" (Cunningham's Essay (ix.), Calvinism, and the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity). Let this essay be mastered by all who would understand this subject.

"God made thee perfect, not immutable;
And good He made thee; but to persevere
He left it in thy power: ordained thy will
By nature free."—Milton.

fell—THE FALL is a technical theological term, appropriated to that catastrophe which is described at length in the third chapter of Genesis, and assumed throughout Scriptuie. The expression in this historical and original sense is not found in Scripture; its earliest use is in Wisd. 10:1. But see Cruden's analysis under the word; also John 8:44, R. V., "Satan stood not." fell . . . by sinning against God. "Judas by transgression fell" (Acts 1:25). "The words crime and criminal belong to every language; but sin and sinner belong exclusively to the vocabulary of the Christian revelation" (de Maistre).

"The word sin, just because it denotes the Godward side of moral evil, branding it as a transgression of moral law, is excluded from the vocabulary of certain philosophical schools, and is seldom heard from the lips of worldly men" (Binnie).

1. "Many there be that complain of Divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress. Foolish tongues! When God gave him reason, He gave him freedom to choose; for reason is but choosing: he had been else a meer artificiall Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions" (Areopagitica).

2. "The sovereign will must be granted a right of freedom—that freedom which by putting it into our wills He surely teaches us to honour in His" (Drummond's Natural Law).

3. "The Bible account of the fall and sin, instead of vilifying human nature, implies the highest view of man and his constitution. . . . It is mere perversion of thought and language, however, to represent man's experience of moral evil as not a fall but a rise" (Laidlaw).

4. Butler shows that the supposition of the fall is the ground of the Christian dispensation.

5. Edward Irving goes further : "The very end of the fall was to put the proper distance between the Creator and the creatures: and to show the creature that the source and the continuance of its being was from God, and not in any way from itself. And if any one ask me, Could not this, without a fall, have been accomplished? I am ready to answer, As to that I cannot tell; but I believe that this was the best way of accomplishing it."


1. Derive and explain estate as it is used in Answers 13, 18, and 20; and point out where in the Catechism we find those various estates most fully drawn out and described.

2. What is meant by saying that a word Is technical, and that it is theological and not scriptural?

3. Cunningham says, Hist. Theol. i. 578, that Calvin repeatedly quotes with approbation the striking and pithy saying of Augustine, that man, by making a bad use of his free—will, lost both himself and it. Explain.

4. Explain also the saying of Klee, a German divine: The fall of man was a twofold process; first he fell out of God into himself and then he fell out of himself into nature (see Luke 15:17).

5. What do Bull and Goodwin mean by the phrases: the lubricity of the will; the vertibility and slipperiness of free-will?

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