Larger Catechism, #102-104, pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Questions 102-104

102. Q. What is the sum of the four commandments which contain our duty to God?

A. The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.[444]

103. Q. Which is the first commandment?

A. The first commandment is, Thou shall have no other gods before me.[445]

104. Q. What are the duties required in the first commandment?

A. The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God;[446] and to worship and glorify him accordingly,[447] by thinking,[448] meditating,[449] remembering,[450] highly esteeming,[451] honouring,[452] adoring,[453] choosing,[454] loving,[455] desiring,[456] fearing of him;[457] believing him;[458] trusting[459] hoping,[460] delighting,[461] rejoicing in him;[462] being zealous for him;[463] calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks,[464] and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man;[465] being careful in all things to please him,[466] and sorrowful when in any thing he is offended;[467] and walking humbly with him.[468]

[444] Luke 10:27. And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. [445] Exodus 20:3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. [446] 1 Chronicles 28:9. And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. Deuteronomy 26:7. And when we cried unto the LORD God of our fathers, the LORD heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression. Isaiah 43:10. Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. Jeremiah 14:22. Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? art not thou he, O LORD our God? therefore we will wait upon thee: for thou hast made all these things. [447] Psalm 95:6-7. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice. Matthew 4:10. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Psalm 29:2. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. [448] Malachi 3:16. Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. [449] Psalm 63:6. When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. [450] Ecclesiastes 12:1. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them. [451] Psalm 71:19. Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee! [452] Malachi 1:6. A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? [453] Isaiah 45:23. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. [454] Joshua 24:15, 22. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD…. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. [455] Deuteronomy 6:5. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. [456] Psalm 73:25. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. [457] Isaiah 8:13. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. [458] Exodus 14:31. And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses. [459] Isaiah 26:4. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength. [460] Psalm 130:7. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. [461] Psalm 37:4. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. [462] Psalm 32:11. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart. [463] Romans 12:11. Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. Numbers 25:11. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. [464] Philippians 4:6. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. [465] Jeremiah 7:23. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. James 4:7. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [466] 1 John 3:22. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. [467] Jeremiah 31:18. I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God. Psalm 119:136. Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law. [468] Micah 6:8. He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?


The Sum of the Four Commandments

LC # 98 stated that the first four commandments contained our duty to God and that the last six pertained to our duty to man. The LC #102 answer copies the lawyer’s response to Jesus’ question of what is written in the law. In terse fashion, the answer summarizes the first four commandments or our duty to God (Lk. 10:27): “The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.” Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22:40)[1]

First of all, let us observe how our duty to God is defined in terms of loving Him. This command comes from Deut. 6:5 and it perfectly summarizes our duty to God. Watson defined this love: “It is a holy fire kindled in the affections, whereby a Christian is carried out strongly after God as the supreme good.”[2] This “holy fire” goes out “strongly after God.” Watson faithfully captures the essential teaching of Scripture. Loving God never meant just an emotional attachment or deference. It required our whole being. Vos explained it like this:

This means not merely an emotional attitude toward God, but an all-inclusive practical devotion to God that leads us to honor and obey him in every element, sphere, and relationship of our life. Everything in our life must be determined by our love to God. Thus there can be nothing in our life separate from our religion. We may not draw a boundary line and mark off any sphere or area of life and say that in that area our relation to God does not count. Whatsoever we do, we must do all to the glory of God.[3]

This makes perfect sense once we consider how love often affects us. If we truly love something, it consumes our attention, affections, goals, mind, strength, imagination, etc. We use the word loosely when we say the following things: “I love snow.” “I love it when he smiles.” “I love eating pizza.” But we understand God calls us to love Him much more differently than that. What we love most drives and captivates us. No one else can call us to love Him as He does because no one else is worthy of it.

Secondly, we should also observe the quality (and quantity) of love God requires of us. We must love God “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.” Our whole being must be involved. All our heart, soul, strength, and mind mean our total allegiance and devotion. The full bent of the individual’s personality (and/or personhood) is towards God. Some take the heart to be the emotions, the soul to be one’s consciousness, the strength to be the person’s drive, and the mind to be the individual’s intelligence or cognitive abilities.[4] However we label the differing faculties of a human soul, all of them must be engaged in loving God. In practical terms, this means (as Vos noted above), we cannot just love God with our emotions and yet despise him with our mind. Furthermore, if we neglect spending any energy and strength in loving and serving him, then our professed “love” to God fails. To love Him with all our strength means that some energy must be expended towards God. Here we meet with a challenge — have we expended any energy on Him? Some church-goers seek the minimalist approach — neither “all our strength” nor “any of our strength” is expended. Easy religion with no demands typifies their love. Life demands so much energy from them that they could hardly spare any for God! May our Lord preserve us from such foolishness. The same could be said for loving God with all our mind (more on this in LC #104). Some pew sitters believe nothing should be required of their minds — they want entertainment and not thought!

Loving God with all our mind demands that we submit our reason to His revelation. Just like submitting our wills to His commands, so we must submit our reason to His Word. If our minds reject His revelation as foolishness or as nonsense then what are we saying? What is it that we love? We can only know God through His Word and to discount it means we reject God. Too many people say they love God but look down on the “petty” and “narrow” demands of the Bible. Surely, God wouldn’t want me to be a fundamentalist? To love God with all our mind embraces all that He teaches and our reason submit, believes, and accepts His revelation — we believe in order to understand and we believe all that He teaches because we love Him with all our mind.

Thirdly, if we love God wholeheartedly, then surely it will manifest itself concretely. A man’s love for his wife rings hollow if he never manifests it in any discernable and concrete manner. He could profess to love her but his actions say something else. Though this logically follows, yet the Bible also expressly teaches this point: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1Jn. 5:3) That is, our love to God must concretely show itself by our obedience. One’s seemingly cheerful demeanor, exuberant emotions, jubilant happiness, etc. as a professing Christian without obedience to God’s Word express nothing less than ungodly hypocrisy. Wholehearted love to God of course involves emotions and this love also becomes evident in the believer’s personality (cheerfulness, etc.) but it must first emerge in one’s obedience to God’s commandments.


The First Commandment

The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3) We do not believe it was by accident that this is the first commandment. In fact, the first four commandments focus on our duty to God because that is the most important. Vos explains why this is the very first commandment: “Because this commandment is the foundation upon which the others depend. Our obligation to God is the source and basis of all to other obligations. It is the primary and fundamental obligation of our life.”[5] Without this commandment, the other three commandments make little sense. As God possesses our exclusive allegiance, it paves the way for the other duties. If God is our God exclusively, then it makes perfect sense why we ought not to take His name in vain.

Given our sinful idolatrous nature, we must first be prohibited from pursuing other deities.[6] In marriage, the man must first be devoted exclusively to his wife. If that is not in place, then all his kind acts and gestures would be meaningless. Similarly, the first commandment is indeed “the foundation upon which the others depend.”


Duties Required in the First Commandment

One of the rules we must remember in order to rightly understand this commandment is, “where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded…” (LC #99). Of course the prohibition from having other gods entails the command to have God as our God. If not, the first commandment implicitly could call for either atheism or indecision. Someone could have “no other gods” and yet not have the true God as his God and this would be atheism. It could also be argued that the person is not supposed to have any other god as their god and yet remain undecided about the true God. This is not merely a logical possibility but actually a constant problem in the church. Many profess to not believe in other gods (Allah, Hindu gods, etc.) and yet remain aloof, “respectfully” distant from, or indifferent to the true God. They acknowledge that God is their creator and that He exists but it goes no further than that.

This is why we must understand the commandment to be more than a prohibition. Using the marriage analogy again, a married man may not pursue other women and yet be utterly indifferent to the woman he married. She is merely a woman to him, not his wife (not withstanding the vows, etc.). This sad state of affairs happens enough in marriages. In this commandment, God does not only push away other suitors but commands the exclusive allegiance of His people because He redeemed them and made them His. The LC therefore offers a very full account of those positive duties to God in the first commandment.


1. Know and acknowledge God

The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God…” In order to acknowledge God, we must first know Him. Solomon was instructed to “know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind…” (1Chron. 28:9). As we know Him, we acknowledge Him, that is, we acknowledge God to be who He is. Notice how the catechism phrases it. We are called to acknowledge God “to be the only true God, and our God…

Looking at this from the opposite perspective will help us to understand its importance. If we acknowledge God to be one of the gods, then we have not truly acknowledged Him. Many in Israel were willing to do this but that is insufficient. Furthermore, our subtle modern method also supplants the teaching of this commandment. Could we not acknowledge God to the true God for me? Making no absolute truth claims, the post-modern novice claims God to his God and is the true God for himself — he never ventures away from his personal claim. “You may claim another to be the true God for yourself and I claim this God for myself. Neither one of us is right or wrong; we are both happy and religious.” There is yet a third way of evading the point (a version similar to the post-modern position). As long as we acknowledge a god to be our god then we are safe! This third option stays clear of atheism but opens itself to polytheism, pantheism, generic theism, etc. Many modern pundits believe we just need to be religious (since all religions are about the same, they claim). The first view is polytheism, the second is subjectivism, and the third is modern (false) spirituality.

To acknowledge or recognize God “to be the only true God, and our God” means that we truly call upon Him as the true God that He has revealed Himself to be. When Israel was mistreated harshly by the Egyptians, the Israelites “cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers…” (Deut. 26:7). To acknowledge Him entails calling upon Him. We dishonor God if we profess to know Him and to not call upon Him. It does not differ from not acknowledging Him. God tells Israel that He had chosen them “that you may know and believe and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there by any after me.” (Is. 43:10) God wanted Israel to know that He is God and that there never was and never will be any other god. All the other “gods” are “false gods” (Jer. 14:22).

The phrase also means that God is also our God! Not only is He alone the true God but He is also our God — by faith, we place our trust and dependence upon God through Jesus Christ. To say God is our God means He is ours through the covenant. A “relationship” exists between God and the individual through the terms God determined. Using the preface of the Ten Commandments, He is our God because He saved us! So the first commandment can only begin to make sense to those who have been saved by God’s grace. With the Psalmist we declare, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Ps. 73:25)


2. Worship and Glorify Him

The catechism states that we are “to worship and glorify him accordingly.” It is a duty to worship and glorify God: “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Ps. 95, 6, 7); “Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” (Ps. 29:2) Jesus refuted Satan by saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Mt. 4:10)

To have God as our God and not worship Him would deny the essential thrust of the first commandment. God is the Creator and our God and by virtue of being an Infinite glorious being, He must be worshipped. God is not an equal to be merely acknowledged or noticed — to truly know Him and acknowledge Him necessitates worship. We are to glorify and enjoy Him forever. That would be the natural response had we not fallen into sin. In Isaiah 6, we see the seraphim worshipping God and the sight of God in Rev. 4 evoked worship (Rev. 4:8-11). A truly refined musician acknowledges and adores wonderful music while an untrained individual hearing the same music might be bored by the musical piece. In a similar way (albeit a very weak analogy), sinners do not naturally worship and glorify God — they cannot recognize God as worthy of worship and honor.

For that reason, God commands and summons His people to worship Him. When in the Spirit, believers yearn for all of creation to praise Him (cf. Pss. 113 & especially 148). To truly acknowledge God means we worship and glorify Him. Again, “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Ps. 95:6, 7) This is what believers want to do!

[1] The second part is of course our duty to man, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:39)

[2] Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970), 6.

[3] Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 260.

[4] Cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 880.

[5] Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism, 260.

[6] Cf. James Fisher, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, By Way of Question and Answer. In Two Parts. (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, nd), 224.

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