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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

Alexander Whyte

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery? A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a Covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

With this question we enter on the region of Christology, the doctrine of Christ, or Soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, "the Immanuel's Land of theology." "We have already sailed over one sea, that of man's corruption, a dead sea, as I may call it; and we are now entering into another, a far vaster and deeper, of God's love and free grace" (Introduction to Goodwin's Sermon on Ephesians 2:4).

mere good pleasure—" Of His mere love and mercy" (Larger Catechism). The Scriptures always trace up man's salvation to the sovereign grace of God. Christ Himself is the gift of the Father. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." "The Apostle Paul saw as deeply as any other man the difficulty of making salvation depend on the elective love of God, but be saw more deeply the difficulty of making it depend on anything else. . . There may be difficulties in referring salvation to the election of God, but there are still greater difficulties in trying to refer it to the election of man" (Moore).

elected some to everlasting life—The first time this word occurs in the Bible, it is already put to its very highest use. It is applied by Jehovah in Isaiah to the Messiah Himself: "Mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth." And another passage taken out of the same prophet is by an apostle applied to our Lord, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, elect, precious." Jesus Christ is thus described in both Testaments as God's elect. The unfallen angels are also characterized by this lofty title, as in the apostolic commission to Timothy : "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels." Israel as God's people are often called by this distinguishing name (Isaiah 45:4, 65:9). In the New Testament this designation is applied to all true believers, as in Romans 8:33 : "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" And as the designation is made a ground of comfort to the Roman Christians, so is it used as a ground of counsel to the Church at Colossae : "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies." And lastly, the word is applied to persons eminent for the display of the Christian graces, as in John's Second Epistle: "The elder unto the elect lady ;" and again : "The children of thine elect sister." "Such is the great scheme of doctrine known in history as the Pauline, Augustinian, or Calvinistic, taught, as we believe, in the Scriptures, developed by Augustine, formally sanctioned by the Latin Church, adhered to by the witnesses of the truth in the Middle Ages; repudiated by the Church of Rome in the Council of Trent, received in that Church by the Jansenists, adopted by all the Reformers, incorporated by all the creeds of the Protestant Churches of Switzerland, France, Holland, England, and Scotland, and unfolded in the Standards of the Westminster Assembly, the common representative of all Presbyterians in Europe and America" (Hodge). some — Dr. Morison's explanation in another connection is applicable here: "The distinction is not between some and many, but between some and all; for even many are only some, if they are not all." a covenant of grace—See under covenant, Answer 52.
Grace means favour, merry, pardon. (Students should see Dr. Morison's note, "Grace, Philologically viewed," in the Expositor for July 1880.) Grace and love are essentially the same, only grace is love manifesting itself and operating under certain conditions, and adapting itself to certain circumstances. As, for instance, love has no limit or law such as grace has. Love may exist between equals, or it may rise to those above us, or flow down to those in any way beneath us. But grace, from its nature, has only one direction it can take. Grace always flows down. Grace is love indeed, hut it is love humbling itself. A king's love to his equals, or to his own royal house, is love: but his love to his subjects is called grace. And thus it is that God's love to sinners is always called grace in the Scriptures. It is love indeed, but it is love to creatures, and to creatures who do not deserve His love. And therefore all He does for us in Christ, and all that is disclosed to us of His goodwill in the gospel, is called grace. (See Owen's or Goodwin's Index, under grace. See Confession, vii.)

"The covenant of grace was made with Jesus Christ, as the Second Adam, party-contractor (Psalm 89:3 ; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Romans 5:15-21; Galatians 3:16). And Christ, in this covenant, represented all the elect, as the spiritual race, the parties contracted fur. Then the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace are not two distinct covenants, but two names of one covenant under different considerations. By a covenant of redemption is meant a bargain of buying and selling; and the second covenant was such a covenant to Christ only (1 Peter 1:18, 19). By a covenant of grace is meant a bargain whereby all is to be had freely; and it is such a covenant to poor sinners only (Isaiah 55:1)" (Boston).

"Dear Charles,—My dear love to thee, and to my dear Biddy, who is a joy to my heart, for what I hear of the Lord in her. Bid her be joyful and rejoice in the Lord once and again: if she knows the covenant, she cannot but do so. For that transaction is without her: sure and stedfast, between the Father and the Mediator in His blood; therefore, leaning upon the Son, or looking to Him, thirsting after Him, and embracing Him, we are His seed : and the covenant is sure to all the seed. The compact is for the seed; God is bound in faithfulness to Christ, and in Him to us; the covenant is without us: a transaction between God and Christ. Look up to it. God engageth in it to pardon us : to write His law in our hearts: to plant His fear so as we shall never depart from Him" (Carlyle's Cromwell, Letter cxxix.).

by a Redeemer. By one who is to buy us back, ransom us, make atonement for us. Who He is, and how He does His redeeming work, will immediately appear.

"The doctrines of God's absolute sovereignty and free grace in showing mercy on whom He would show mercy, and man's absolute dependence on the operations of God's Holy Spirit, have very often appeared to me as sweet and most glorious doctrines. These doctrines have been made my delight. . . I have loved the doctrines of the gospel; they have been to my soul like green pastures. The way of salvation by Christ has appeared most glorious and excellent, most pleasant and most beautiful. It has often seemed to me that it would in a great measure spoil heaven to receive it in any other way" (Jonathan Edwards' Personal Narrative).

1. "The doctrine of this high mystery is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending to the will of God in His word, and yielding obedience thereto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election" (Confession, iii. 8).

2. "Chosen to be holy and without blame;" "ordained untogood works;" "elect unto obedience." This is the end of election. It is not to any earthly dignity or worldly glory. It is not to any possession or privilege that other men will envy ttsem, for all men may have the portion of the elect if they choose. Election bars no man from blessedness ; it only secures its own subjects that they shall not come short of it. Election is not in any sense a decree of exclusion ; its whole design is to he am instrument of security. Election shuts no one out; but it is so contriverl that it shuts the elect effectually in.

3. And just as holiness is a certain issue of election, so holiness is the only sure evidence of election.

4. "Can you give yourself to Jesus Christ to be saved by Him? Then were you given to Him to be redeemed by Him. Your faith on Him speaks your election in Him. True faith is ‘the faith of God's elect' (Titus 1:1). Go on in trusting Him, and in living by faith on Him, and He will make you know that He loved you, and gave Himself for you" (Robert Traill).


1. Remark on Whately's words: The preacher, in short, is to act, in all respects, as if the doctrine of election were not true. Consult Cunningham's criticism in his essay, Calvinism, and its Practical Application.

2. Show how election and predestination differ.

3. Explain the saying: Election depends not on good works, bnt good works depend on election.

4. Give the root idea of the name Redeemer. Trace the rise and growth of the name in Scripture.

5. The whole Scripture, and all divine institutions from the beginning, do testify that this way of God for the saving of sinners is by commutation, substitution, atonement, satisfaction, and imputation (Owen, v. 409). Consult Answers 25, 27, 33, and 86; end then explain and support from Scripture the above description of the Redeemer's work.

6. Explain the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23), and the redemption of the purchased possession (Ephesians 1:14).

7. Explain and distinguish love, grace, and mercy, and show reasons why the Scriptures never say God is grace, or God is mercy.

8 Explain Christology and Soteriology, and derive and show the application of Dr. Pope's happy phrase: The Immauuel's Land of theology.

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