Larger Catechism, #94-95

The Larger Catechism

Questions 94-95

94. Q. Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?

A. Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law:[402] yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.[403]

95. Q. Of what use is the moral law to all men?

A. The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and the will of God,[404] and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly;[405] to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives:[406] to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery,[407] and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ,[408] and of the perfection of his obedience.[409]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[402] Romans 8:3. 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. Galatians 2:16. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. [403] 1 Timothy 1:8. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. [404] Leviticus 11:44-45. For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. Leviticus 20:7-8. Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you. Romans 8:12. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. [405] 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? James 2:10-11. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. [406] Psalm 19:11-12. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Romans 3:20. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 7:7. What shall we say then? is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. [407] Romans 3:9, 23. What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin…. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. [408] Galatians 3:21-22. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. [409] Romans 10:4. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.



These questions teach us how to use the law. Question 97 explains how believers should use the moral law. Questions 94-95 teach us how the moral law relates to humanity in general and question 96 shows how the moral law functions for the unbeliever (the unregenerate). God’s moral law is useful for everyone because God legislates what every human being must and cannot do.

Some would argue that we cannot “legislate” morality and therefore we have no business telling the world what they can and cannot do. We should not push our own private and personal view of morality on others. Yet, like it or not, someone is always advancing a moral agenda or code. On the other hand, the Larger Catechism focuses primarily on its role on humanity rather than offering a “plan” for national and international laws. Of course one can argue for what the implications of God’s moral law might be in the public sphere (both national and international) but that will not be our concern in this study.


Any Use?

Question 94 raises an important question. Can we even talk about God’s perfect moral law since we fell into sin? (“Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?”) The answer quickly dispenses with a wrong understanding of the moral law (after the fall). The biblical assumption is that “no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law…” No matter how well we obey, we will not become “righteous” sufficient enough to merit eternal life. Gal. 2:26 clearly affirms what ought to be common knowledge among all believers: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law…” This truth must first be grasped before we proceed in our study of the moral law — because of the fall, by obedience to the moral law, we cannot attain a righteousness acceptable to God. Eternal life cannot be gained by our own personal obedience to the moral law. Though God requires perfection (to the moral law), because of our fallen condition, we cannot become righteous through our obedience. Vos highlights this very point when he said, “The truth is that unregenerate people cannot keep the moral law at all so as to please God; even their “good works” are sins that need to be repented of, and true believers in Christ, by divine grace, are enabled to keep the moral law only in a partial and inadequate way, so that their “good works” are acceptable to God only by reason of Christ’s mediation.” (Vos)

The “natural” response to this understanding will be quite simple. If we cannot attain righteousness and life by obeying the moral law, then of what use is it? That answer is not specifically spelled out in answer 94 except the simple declaration that it is of “great use.” God’s moral law is useful to all men, for both the regenerate and unregenerate though its usefulness will ultimately differ between the two. As Paul said, “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1Tim. 1:8)


Use for All Men

Question 95 asks, “Of what use is the moral law to all men?” We should expect the moral law to be useful because God gave it to man. His moral law, when rightly understood, can be useful in five ways.


1. It reveals God’s nature and will.

The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and the will of God…” All men can learn about who God is and what he requires through His law. They reveal His holy nature and His own will for us. In Lev. 20:7-8 we read, “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” God calls His people to be holy because He is their God. In the two verses, a parallelism exists: “be holy” parallels “keep my statutes and do them” because in both verses, God is their God. Yet in Lev. 11:44-45, we learn God’s people must be holy because He is Holy (“Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy… You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”). God is holy and His law expresses His holy nature because in keeping them, we become holy. God is good and therefore He does good so the Psalmists cries, “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” (Ps. 119:68)

Often man’s law can be arbitrary, unrelated to his nature or character. He may demand truthfulness from you while he himself is a liar. But God’s law reveals something about Himself, that He is holy and that He demands our obedience to His will. We should not look upon God’s law as a mere restraint, arbitrarily placed upon us to impede our happiness. His law is always holy, always good (“your rules are good” Ps. 119:39) because God is good and holy.


2. It reveals man’s duty.

The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them… of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly…” Micah declared, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8) In this, Micah plainly states what is good. The good they ought to do had been spelled out in God’s law summarized here as “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” God’s law perfectly reveals what man’s duty entails.

Without the moral law, we speculate and debate — everything remains a fog. Modern secular ethicists appeal to many theories for what is right and wrong but in the end, they increasingly ape the status quo (what is becomes what ought to be). God’s law gives light and clearly sets forth what we ought to do – often contrary to what modern thinkers believe. He binds us to His Word — disregarding it or disagreeing with it does not diminish its binding nature on us. A flagrant thief may disregard all the laws of the land but the officers still act to defend its binding nature (or at least they ought to do that).


3. It convinces them of their sinfulness.

The moral law is of use to all men, … to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives…” God’s law has the ability to convince men and women of their sinfulness. Paul declared this about the tenth commandment: “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”” (Rom. 7:7) Under the light of God’s searching law, we see with clarity where we sinned. Before that, a nagging thought may bring us discomfort but the clarity of God’s law exposes the particulars of our sins.

One can find a perfect example of how this really works in a book about various mission fields. This account comes from J.D. Crowley (somewhere near Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos):

After I taught on the Ten Commandments, a middle-aged man said, ‘I’ve broken every one of these commandments many, many times; how can I possibly be reconciled to God?’ Others nodded their heads as if to say that they were wondering the same thing. In twelve years here, I’ve never had anyone ask me that question or seem to be under so much conviction.

I skipped ahead and gave them a short explanation about the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world on the cross. They actually started clapping and praising God spontaneously, as if a great burden had been lifted. It was a perfect example of God’s law preparing people for God’s grace. I believe that some came into the kingdom right then and there as the light went on in their hearts and minds.[1]

God’s law indeed reveals and convicts us. “Moreover by them is thy servant warned” (Ps. 19:11). Paul declared, “[B]y the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). We think ourselves to be better than we really are; God’s law unmasks us and exposes the pollution of our hearts and undoes us (“the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives”).

The catechism also adds that it convinces humanity “of their disability to keep it.” As it exposes, our failure to keep it convinces us that we are wholly disabled. We can easily imagine that the law simply “corrects” us (like a “Stop” sign). Once we see it, we can happily change our course and do what is right (so we imagine). But it is not so easy. Actually, the law cannot help us or empower us to obey. It can only expose and condemn. We may change here and there but over time (unless deception sets in, and it usually does) we just witness failure after failure. The person either spurns and suppresses the law’s demand or externalizes it so that he can pretend to have kept it.[2] If enough light (by God’s grace) comes in, the person will see his own disability.


4. It humbles them of their sin and misery.

The moral law is of use to all men, … to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery…” That disability we spoke of can humble and compel us to see the gravity of our sins and miseries. When under conviction, we will not offer this trite response, “Well, we’re only human. What can I say? It is just the way it is.” The sinner is compelled to declare that he has come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and that he, if not all men, is under sin (Rom. 3:9). The obstacle to this progression is man’s own hard-hearted sinfulness. Only the Spirit can break through this. Vos observed,

The moral law of God is calculated to humble men because of their sin and misery: the more keenly they realize their failure and inability really to keep the law, the more they must be humbled because of their sinful condition. Only where the lie that the law can be really obeyed is cherished, as by the Pharisees, can men be blind to their own sinfuless and consequently filled with pride. (Vos)

Sadly, most men shirk off this conviction early on. They will not come to terms with it but will drown it with drink, stifle it with busy-ness, suppress it with atheism, etc. Whatever it takes, they seek to silence the conviction of the law to their own damnation. A person with a terminal disease may deny its presence but he cannot repel its reality and eventual consequences. So it is better to admit our lost condition so that we might find healing or remedy for our sinfulness.


5. It points to man’s need for Christ.

The moral law is of use to all men, … thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.” The law should lead us to Christ (Gal. 3:21-22; Rom. 10:4) — when we see our lost condition, Christ will become that much more sweeter to our souls. By grace, we’ll see that Christ obeyed when we haven’t, that He is perfect when we are utterly sinful. Our need for Him becomes clearer only as we see our sinful miserable condition.

Many men and women (young and old) in the church have a vague “feeling” or idea about needing Christ. They hear that Christ is the answer but can’t seem to understand what exactly was the question. They may mouth the words that they are sinners and need Christ but they cannot cry out, “What must I do to be saved?” They cannot believe with all their heart these saving spiritual truths because they have never truly come to terms with their own sinful condition. Like most men (and some women), they don’t feel they need a doctor until it is too late.

We can see how the law relates to the gospel. The law leads us to the gospel and the gospel (once believed) helps us to obey the law. Law, when it has properly done its work, opens the door to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some believe this preparatory work of the law is absolutely required before coming to Christ (which is not true) but have we not overreacted toward the opposite direction? Have we not offered the solution without truly presenting the problem (which is our sin)? Unfortunately, we cannot properly understand our problem until we clearly understand the demands of the law. Since our generation has lost its traditional moral understanding, we desperately need to study the law.


[1] Tim Keesee, Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 102.

[2] A female attorney believed she was quite moral because of her superficial understanding of God’s law. She reasoned, “Since I was not committing adultery or murder, since I wasn’t stealing or lying, since I represented Chinese refugees on the side, I thought I was an exemplary Christian.” Most people would draw the same conclusion. Once we externalize the law’s demands, then we will come out squeaky clean. See the excellent interview in World (July 12, 2014), 28-29.

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