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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

by
Alexander Whyte


Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind by their fall lost Communion With God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.


All mankind by their fall—On "The Fall," see Answer 13.

lost communion with GodCommunion is only possible when there is community of mind, when the communing minds are animated by the same spirit. Now, though the Catechism does not put it in this way, yet the great loss that man suffered by his fall was just the loss and withdrawal of the Holy Spirit, whose indwelling constituted and sustained the image of God in the human heart. Hence it is part of the apostolic benediction that the "communion of the Holy Ghost" be with all over whom it is pronounced. He left the soul of man at the fall, and he is restored in regeneration and union to Christ our Second Head. "Communion with God is by faith in the understanding and love in the will" (Goodwin).

wrath and curse—Wrath, Old English, anger, indignation. "People that are but little acquainted with the terrors of the Divine Wrath are not much afraid of trifling with their Maker. For my own part, I would sooner take Empedocles' leap and fling myself into Mount Etna, than I would do it in the slightest instance, were I in circumstances to make an election. Wrath in comparison with mercy is but slightly touched upon in Scripture, because it is not so much a discovery of wrath as of forgiveness" (Cowper). "Curse, Swedish kors (cross) ! interjection ; A.S. corsion, to execrate by the sign of the cross" (Wedgwood). "The verb from which the word comes denotes to cut off, thence to devote, to withdraw from common use, and consecrate to God = sacrare. The word itself, used actively, means the devotement of anything by Jehovah, His putting it under a ban, the result of which is destruction. . . And passively the word denotes the thing devoted, doomed, laid under the ban." (See Maclear's scholarly note on Josh. 6:17. See also Cruden's analysis under the word. Cruden is always as excellent as he is unambitious.)

miseries in this life— "Miser, an avaricious man, niggard. It sometimes means merely a wretched creature, as in Spencer. Probably connected with Greek misos, hatred, from which Lat. miseria, wretchedness" (Skeat). "What are the punishments of sin in this world ?—The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections: or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all the other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments: together with death itself" (Larger Catechism). (See a sternly humorous passage in Edwards in refutation of the Pelagian frivolity that the curse lies upon the ground, but not upon man, Gen. 3:17.)

Plutarch says that Homer attributes to man the unhappy primacy of having the superiority in miseries

"What wretched creatures of what wretched kind, Than man more weak, calamitous and blind "I now must change

These notes to tragic: fool distrust, and breach Disloyal on the part of man, revolt, And disobedience: on the part of heaven, Now alienated, distance and distaste, Anger and just rebuke, and judgment giv'n, That brought into this world a world of woe, Sin and his shadow Death, and Misery, Death's harbinger."—MILTON.

death itself—James 1:15.

"Thou therefore on these herbs, and fruits, and flowers Feed first; on each beast next, and fish, and fowl: No homely morsels; and whatever thing The scythe of Time mows down, devour unspared; Till I in man residing through the race, His thoughts, his looks, words, actions, all infect, And season him thy last and greatest prey. —Sin to Death in Paradise Lost.

"Men look upon death as the extreme limit of all punishments, but in the view of the divine tribunal it is scarcely the beginning of them" (Philo). pains of hell for ever. "Pain, French peine, pain, penalty, punishtnent. From poena, retribution, a word which, from the prominence of the idea in religious teaching, would readily be carried into all European languages" (Wedgwood). "Hell, the place of the dead; the abode of evil spirits. . . From a Teutonic base hal to hide. So that the original sense is the hidden or unseen place" (Skeat). "I wish you could but lay your ears to hell, that standing as it were behind the screen, you might hear sin spoken of in its own dialect by the oldest sons of perdition there; to hear what Cain says of murdering his brother Abel; what Saul says of persecuting David and the priests of Jehovah; what Balaam and Ahithophel say of their cursed counsels and policies; what Ahab says of his oppression of Naboth; and what Judas says of treason; and indeed hear how the least sin is there spoken of" (Goodwin).

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace And rest can never dwell, hope never comes That comes to all."—Milton. See ii. 570-628

Cf. Dante:—

‘ Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lest for aye. Before me things create were none, save things Eternal, and eternal I endure. All hope abandon ye who enter here."—Inferno, iii.


Uses.
Whyte had none listed for this question.


QUESTIONS.

1. Exhibit the shallowness of the Pelagion interpretation that the curse does not lie on man, but on the ground. Gen. 3:17.

2. Explain Satan's cry: Which way I fly is hell: myself am hell.

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