Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer: Three; (a) the first, how great my sins and miseries are; (b) the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; (c) the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance. (d)
We now look at the answer to question #2, which as I told you last time, serves as the threefold division of the Catechism.
When it comes to knowing how great our sins and miseries are we must first understand that the ability to know our sins and miseries is premised on understanding the Character of God. God is Holy (set apart). Indeed God is so Holy that we find that attribute (character of God) emphasized repeatedly in Scripture. Here are two examples,
Isaiah 6:3 And one (Heavenly Creature) cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
Revelation 4:8 and the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.
The fact that God’s “Holy” character is repeated three times in each of these passages is a Hebraism (Hebrew language technique) in order to emphasize the magnitude of God’s superlative Holiness.
So, when the Catechism teaches that in order to live and die in comfort we must know our sins and miseries we understand that we can not know our sins and miseries apart from knowing something of the Character of God’s Holiness. Another way of saying this is that our sin is seen as especially sinful only in light of seeing God’s Holiness and understanding that in order to have a relationship with God we must be Holy as He is Holy. It is only when we understand how big God is that we begin to have a correct estimate of how small we are.
The whole premise of Scripture is that men must know they are sinners or they will never turn to Christ for deliverance. Why would we petition for deliverance until we first realize that we need to be delivered? Knowing our sins and miseries is unto turning to Christ as the answer for those realities. They do not have the need of a Savior who do not know they need to be saved from their sin.
Matt.11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matt.11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. Matt.11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
This idea of knowing our sins and miseries also serves the purpose of keeping us lost in wonder, awe, and praise that God has so graciously redeemed us by the blood of Christ. Once we get a firm grip (understanding) on our sin we will more inclined to have a firm grip on God’s grace towards us in Christ. The Puritans used to have a maxim that should we desire to be amazed by God’s grace we needed to learn again our sin.
Another positive benefit of knowing our sins and miseries is that such knowledge can go a long away from delivering us from being impressed with ourselves or becoming self-righteous. Too often, when we forget our sins and miseries we begin to become pretty impressed with ourselves. There is nothing more repulsive then a Christian who has forgotten their sins and miseries and has become impressed with himself.
Now, having said all that about the necessity to know our sins and miseries there is a qualifier that must be extended. The purpose of knowing our sins and miseries is not so we might always be miserable about our sin. The purpose of knowing our sins and miseries is so that we can be amazed with God who would, despite our sins and miseries, still enthusiastically claim us for His own. I bring this forth because it does happen from time to time that people can wear it as a badge of honor and become proud in how sinful and miserable they are. Once we become familiar with our sins and miseries it is best to carry that self understanding without getting into contests with others about who is a bigger sinner.
We will always remain but sinners saved by grace. St. Paul reminds those to whom he writes from time to time of that very truth,
Cor.6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
Tit.3:3 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. Tit.3:4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Tit.3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Tit.3:6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; Tit.3:7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
However, that truth is not intended to make us beat ourselves as if the reminding of the fact of it was intended to make us always grovel. No, the truth of being conversant with our sins and miseries is intended to make us always thankful that God would send Christ to rescue and mold into a great people a sinful lot as ourselves. We are a great people because we have a great deliverer.
With the next installation we will look at how it is that we are delivered from all our sins and miseries.