The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained By Way of Question and Answer
“Fisher’s Catechism,” as this work was popularly known, was for many years Scotland’s favorite exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Says Principal John Macleod, “Fisher’s Catechism thus exercised more of a formative influence in molding the thoughts of religious homes and in making so many of the people of Scotland skilled in theological matters than did any other single catechetical work expository of the Shorter Catechism. It continued to be issued down until the middle of the 19th century; and it found acceptance far beyond the ranks of the Secession. The Presbyterian Board at Philadelphia, in its first forty years, sold almost 20,000 copies.”
Fisher’s Catechism was composed by three founders of the Associate Presbytery (the Secession Church): James Fisher (1697‑ 1775), Ebenezer Erskine (1680‑1754) and Ralph Erskine (1685‑ 1752), and published at Glasgow in two parts, the first in 1753 and the second in 1760. In the excerpts from “Fisher’s Catechism” which follow, we have an exposition of the second commandment, detailing the historic Presbyterian views about worship forms and practice.
Catechetical instruction has a long history in the Presbyterian Church. At the Scottish Reformation, the First Book of Discipline (1560) required that there be a Sabbath afternoon examination of the young children in the catechism, in the presence of the rest of the church, with the minister elucidating the doctrine. At that time, Calvin’s catechism was used. Without knowledge of the main topics covered by the catechism, no one was to be admitted to the Lord’s table. In 1570 the general assembly instructed ministers and elders to examine children at the ages of nine, twelve and fourteen, to know how they are profiting from religious instruction.
Catechizing became a common feature in the church’s life preceding the Lord’s Supper. In 1595 the session in the town of St. Andrews set aside a period of several weeks for the examination of all the people before each communion, postponing the communion if necessary in order to cover all the district. This may help to explain why the administration of the Supper has traditionally been infrequent in Scotland. In time, catechizing became a regular part of the pastor’s labors. The General Assembly of 1639 directed that every minister was to have weekly catechizing in some part of his parish, in addition to his Sabbath sermons. It was an opportunity to present “the chief heads of saving knowledge in a short view.” An early specimen of this instruction is the “Sum of Saving Knowledge” composed about 1650 by David Dickson and James Durham, and often printed in Scottish editions of the Westminster standards.
QUESTION 49. Which is the second commandment?
ANSWER. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
QUESTION 50. What is required in the second commandment?
ANSWER. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.
Question 1. What is the opinion of the papists about this commandment?
Answer. They allege that it is not a distinct precept from the first, but only an explication thereof.
Question 2. What is their practice in consequence of this opinion?
Answer. They constantly leave it out in their catechisms, and public offices, lest the people should observe the manifest contrariety of their image worship, to what is here so expressly forbidden.
Question 3. Wherein then doth the second commandment differ from the first?
Answer. The first commandment respects the object, and requires that we worship the true God, for our God, and no other: the second respects the means of worship, and requires that the true God be worshiped in such a way only, and by such ordinances as he has appointed in his word, in opposition to all human inventions.
Question 4. What is meant by religious worship?
Answer. That homage and respect we owe to a gracious God, as a God of infinite perfection; whereby we profess subjection to, and confidence in him as our God in Christ, for the supply of all our wants; and ascribe the praise and glory that is due to him, as our chief good, and only happiness. Psalm 95:6,7
Question 5. What are these religious “ordinances which God hath appointed in his word?”
Answer. They are “prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church-government and discipline; the ministry, and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God; and vowing to him.” (Larger Catechism question 108)
Question 6. Is prayer a moral duty, founded in the law of nature?
Answer. Surely it is, the necessary dependence of the rational creature upon its Creator, plainly proves it to be so. Hence we find the very heathens practising it, when reduced to straits. Jonah 1:14 .
Question 7. How doth it appear to be an instituted means of worship?
Question 8. What is acceptable prayer?
Question 9. How manifold is religious thanksgiving?
Answer. Twofold: stated and occasional.
Question 10: What is stated thanksgiving?
Answer. It is not only the thankful acknowledgement of mercies daily received, which is a branch of prayer, but likewise the singing the praises of God with the voice, which is a stated act of worship, distinct from prayer.
Question 11. How do you prove, that singing with the voice is a stated act of worship, appointed under the New Testament?
Answer. From the example of Christ and his apostles, who, after the first supper, sang an hymn (or psalm, as on the margin; Matt. 26:30 ); and from the injunction laid upon all Christians to be employed in this exercise, as a stated duty. Eph. 5:18 , 19. James 5:13 .
Question 12. What should be the subject matter of our praises to God?
Answer. The psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, which are dictated by the Spirit of God in Scripture; and not any human composure whatsoever. Col. 3:16 .
Question 13. In what manner should these be sung?
Answer. With grace, making melody in our heart to the Lord: that is, our hearts should go along with our voice, in suitable acts of faith, and elevated affections. Eph. 5:19 .
Question 14. What would be the danger of singing hymns of human composure?
Answer. By such a practice innumerable errors might creep into the church, and will-worship be introduced, instead of the true worship of God.
Question 15. Are not the Psalms of David, as we sing them in our language, of human composure?
Answer. The translation in metre is human, but the sense and meaning is the same with the original.
Question 16. What is occasional thanksgiving?
Answer. It is the setting some time apart, for giving thanks to God, for some remarkable mercy and deliverance, respecting either churches and nations in general, or ourselves and families in particular. Neh. 12:27 . Eph. 5:20 .
Question 17. How ought this duty to be gone about?
Answer. With an humble sense of our utter unworthiness of the least of all God’s favours. 2 Sam. 7:18 .
Question 18. Are reading, hearing, and preaching of the word, acts of worship?
Answer. Although they are not acts of such immediate worship as prayer and praise, wherein God is immediately addressed; yet being the instituted and ordinary means of salvation, they ought to be practised and attended, with that reverence and regard, which is due to the great God our Saviour, who is present in them. Mat. 28:20. Acts 10:33 .
Question 19. How are the administration and receiving of the sacraments acts of worship?
Answer. As therein, by the sensible signs of divine appointment, Christ and his benefits are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. Gal 3:27 . 1 Cor. 2:26.
Question 20. In what sense are church-government and discipline to be ranked among the ordinances of divine worship?
Answer. In as far as they are exercised in the name of the Lord Jesus, the alone head of his church, according to the rule of his word, by church-judicatories lawfully constitute. Matt. 18:20 .
Question 21. Why is the ministry, and maintenance thereof, placed among religious ordinances?
Answer. Because as a standing ministry in the church, till the end of time, is of express divine institution, Eph. 4:11,12 ,13; so the suitable and comfortable maintenance thereof, is as expressly appointed, not only in the Old Testament, Num. 18:21,24 . but likewise in the New, I Cor. 9:13,14. Do ye not know, that they which minister about holy things, live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar, are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel, should live of the gospel.
Question 22. What is religious fasting?
Answer. It is a total abstinence, for a time, from meat and drink, (as far as weakness and infirmity of body will permit) and likewise from such bodily pleasures and delights, as are at other times lawful, as well as ceasing from all worldly business. Joel 2:15 . I Cor. 7:5.
Question 23. Whether is fasting in itself, or bare abstinence from food and worldly labour, a part of religious worship?
Answer. No, it is only a means in order to our being more fitted and disposed for spiritual and solemn exercises. Dan. 10:2,3 .
Question 24. What are these spiritual and solemn exercises, which fasting is designed to dispose us for?
Answer. Deep humiliation of soul before the Lord, on account of sin; free confession thereof, and turning therefrom, as the genuine fruits of our taking hold of God’s covenant; together with an importunate requesting of our gracious God, for that which is the particular occasion of the fast.Ezra 9:6 . Dan. 9:20 . Joel 2:12 . Jer. 50:4,5 . Ps. 35:13.
Question 25. Whether is religious fasting an occasional, or a stated duty?
Answer. It is merely occasional and extraordinary, to be gone about only as the call of providence may require and direct.
Question 26. What are the occurrences in providence, which are a call to this extraordinary duty?
Answer. When any particular sin or evil is, in a remarkable manner, abounding; when any righteous stroke is threatened; and when some special mercy or favour is to be desired. I Sam. 7:3,4. Isa. 22:12 . Dan 9:2,3 .
Question 27. Is swearing by the name of God an act of immediate and instituted worship?
Answer. Undoubtedly it is, and that either when we devote ourselves to God in a covenant of duties; or declare the truth upon oath, when called thereto; because, in both cases, the name of God solemnly interposed and invocated. Deut. 6:13. Jer. 4:2 .
Question 28. To whom are vows to be made?
Answer. To God alone, as the only party and witness in the making and performing of them, Ps. 76:11. Vow, and pay unto the LORD your GOD.
Question 29: What should be the subject-matter of our vows unto God?
Answer. Nothing but what may tend either to promote the practice of commanded duty; or prevent the commission of any sin, to which we are more ordinarily inclined and addicted. Ps. 119:57,106.
Question 30. What doth this commandment require, with respect to all these ordinances, and parts of worship, which God has appointed in his word?
Answer. The receiving and observing them; and keeping them pure and entire.
Question 31. What is it to receive God’s ordinances?
Answer. It is to approve of, and embrace them, as bearing the stamp of his authority upon them. Ps. 84:1,2.
Question 32. What is it to observe them?
Answer. It is to set about the practice of them, or actually to attend upon them. Ps. 55:17 and 119:164. Luke 2:37 .
Question 33. What is it to keep the ordinances of God pure?
Answer. It is to contribute our utmost endeavour to preserve them from all mixture of human invention. Deut. 12:32 .
Question 34. What is it to keep them entire?
Answer. It is to attend upon each of them in their season, so as that one duty may not jostle out another. Luke 1:6 .
Question 35. What doth God require of us in this command with reference to all false worship?
Answer. He requires “the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry. Ps. 16:4. Deut. 7:5 . (Larger Catechism question 108).
51. QUESTION. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
ANSWER. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.
Question 1. What are the leading sins forbidden in this commandment?
Answer. Idolatry and will-worship.
Question 2. What is the idolatry here condemned?
Answer. “The worshipping of God by images;” Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, etc.
Question 3. What is an image?
Answer. It is a statue, picture, or likeness of any creature whatsoever.
Question 4. Is it lawful to have images or pictures of mere creatures?
Answer. Yes, providing they be only for ornament, or the design be merely historical, to transmit the memory of persons and their actions to posterity.
Question 5. Can any image or representation be made of God?
Answer. No, it is absolutely impossible; he being an infinite, incomprehensible Spirit, Is. 40:18. To whom will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? If we cannot delineate our own souls, much less the infinite God; Acts 18:29 . We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
Question 6. What judgment should we form of these who have devised images of God, or of the persons of the adorable Trinity?
Answer. We should adjudge their practice to be both unlawful and abominable.
Question 7. Why unlawful?
Answer. Because directly contrary to the express letter of the law in his commandment, and many other Scriptures, such as Jer. 10 : 14,15. Hos. 13:2. and particularly Deut. 4:15-19 , and 23. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb, out of the midst of the fire,) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, etc.
Question 8. How is it abominable?
Answer. As it is a debasing the Creator of heaven and earth to the rank of his own creatures; and a practical denying of all his infinite perfections. Psalm 50:21 .
Question 9 May we not have a picture of Christ, who has a true body?
Answer. By no means: because, though he has a true body and a reasonable soul, yet his human nature subsists in his divine person, which no picture can represent. John 1:14 . Ps. 45:2.
Question 10. Why then ought all pictures of Christ to be abominated by Christians?
Answer. Because they are downright lies, representing no more than the picture of a mere man; whereas the true Christ is God-man; Immanuel, God with us. I Tim. 3:16. Matt. 1:23 .
Question 11. Is it lawful to form any inward representation of God, or of Christ, upon our fancy, bearing a resemblance to any creature whatsoever?
Answer. By no means; because this is the very inlet unto gross outward idolatry: for, when once the heathen became vain in their imaginations, they presently changed the glory of the incorruptible God, into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Rom. 1:21,23 .
Question 12. What is it to worship God by images, according to the idolatrous practice of the papists?
Answer. It is either to make use of images as pretended helps to devotion; or to worship God before the images of saints, as intercessors with him.
Question 13. Can any feigned image of God, or of Christ be helpful in devotion?
Answer. No. It is the Spirit only who helpeth our infirmities, in all acts of spiritual devotion. Rom. 8:26 . And that faith, which is necessary for acceptance in duty, fixes upon the word of the living God, as its sole foundation, and not upon dead images. Luke 16:31 .
Question 14. Will it excuse the papists from the charge of idolatry, that they pretend to worship the true God before images, or by them, as means of worship, and to the very images themselves?
Answer. Not at all, because this is a mean of worship expressly forbidden in this commandment, which prohibits all bowing down before images, upon whatever pretext it be; “thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”
Question 15. Do they worship images who bow down before them, even though it be the true God they intend to worship by them?
Answer. In Scripture-reckoning they do, Is. 2:8,9. Their land is full of idols: they worship the work of their own hands. The mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself.
Question 16. Was it the ultimate intention of the Israelites in the wilderness, to pay divine worship to the golden calf itself; or to JEHOVAH by it, and before it?
Answer. It was undoubtedly their ultimate intention to worship JEHOVAH, the true God, before that image; as appears from Exod. 23:5 . When Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and said, To-morrow is a feast to the LORD (or JEHOVAH, as it is the original). And yet, because they did this, so directly contrary to the very letter of this commandment, they are charged with worshipping the image itself, verse 8. They have made them a golden calf, and have worshipped it, etc.
Question 17. Do not they who honour the picture of prince, honour the prince himself?
Answer. If the prince forbid the making of his picture, it is a contempt of his authority to have it. God has strictly prohibited all images on religious accounts, and therefore it is impious to have or use them for these ends. Lev. 26:1,30.
Question 18. May images be worshipped at all upon their own account?
Answer. No, because they are the work of man’s hands, far inferior in dignity to man himself. Is. 44:9-18.
Question 19. May they be worshipped on account of their originals, or these whom they are designed to represent?
Answer. No. whether they be designed to represent God or the saints.
Question 20. Why may they not be worshipped as they are designed to represent GOD?
Answer. Because he never put his name in them, but declares his greatest hatred and detestation of them. Jer. 44:2-9 .
Question 21. Why may they not be worshipped, as they are designed to represent eminent saints?
Answer. Because saints, however eminent, are but mere creatures, and therefore cannot be the objects of worship, either in themselves, or by their images. Acts. 14:14,15.
Question 22. Can saints in heaven be intercessors for sinners on earth?
Answer. No, because intercession being founded on satisfaction, none but Christ can be the intercessor, in regard none but he is propitiation for our sins. I John 2:1,2 .
Question 23. Is it lawful to have images or pictures in churches, though not for worship, yet for instruction, and raising the affections, as the Lutheran plead?
Answer. No, because God has expressly prohibited not only the worshipping, but the making of any image whatsoever on a religious account: and the setting them up in churches, cannot but have a native tendency to beget a sacred veneration for them: and therefore ought to be abstained from, as having, at least, an appearance of evil. I Thess. 5:22.
Question 24. May they not be placed in church for beauty and ornament?
Answer. No, the proper ornament of churches is the sound preaching of the gospel, and the pure dispensation of the sacraments, and other ordinances of divine institution.
Question 25. Were not the images of the cherubims placed in the tabernacle and temple, by the command of God himself?
Answer. Yes, but out of all hazard of any abuse, being placed in the holy of holies, where none of the people ever came: they were instituted by God himself, which images are not, and they belonged to the typical and ceremonial worship, which is now quite abolished.
Question 26. Are our forefathers to be blamed, for pulling down altars, images, and other monuments of idolatry, from places of public worship, at the reformation?
Answer. No, they had Scripture-precept and warrant for what they did, Num. 33:52. and Deut. 7:5 . ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.
Question 27. What do you understand by will-worship, the other leading sin, forbidden in this commandment?
Answer. It is the worshipping God “any other way not appointed in his word.”
Question 28. Should there be an express appointment in the word, for every part of divine worship we set about?
Answer. Undoubtedly there should,; otherwise we are guilty of innovating upon the worship of God, and prescribing rules to the Almighty, which is both displeasing to him, and unprofitable to ourselves. Matt. 15:9 .
Question 29. Who are they that are guilty of innovating upon the worship of God?
Answer. All they who presumptuously annex their own superstitious inventions to the divine institutions, under pretence of their being teaching significant Ceremonies; as they of the popish and episcopal persuasion do.
Question 30. What are these significant ceremonies which they add to the instituted ordinances of God’s worship?
Answer. The sign of the cross in baptism; kneeling at receiving the sacrament of the supper; erecting altars in churches; and bowing at the name of Jesus, are a few of many.
Question 31. Why may not such ceremonies be used, when they are designed for exciting devotion, and beautifying the worship of God?
Answer. Because God has expressly forbidden the least adding unto, or abating from the orders and directions he himself has given in his word concerning his own worship. Deut. 12:30,31 ,32. What things soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereunto nor diminish from it.
Question 32. Were there not significant ceremonies in the Jewish worship under the Old Testament?
Answer. Yes, but they were of express divine appointment,: and by the same appointment abolished in the death and resurrection of Christ. Heb. 10:1-15 .
Question 33. May not significant ceremonies be founded on I Cor. 14:40. Let all things be done decently and in order?
Answer. No, because that text speaks only of the decent and orderly observation of the ordinances of God already instituted, and not in the least of any thing new to be added as part of worship.
Question 34. Is reading of sermons, or discourses from the pulpit, an ordinance of God, appointed in his word?
Answer. So far from it, that we find the very contrary practised by our Lord, while he was here upon earth, Luke 4:16-23 ; where, after reading his text out of the prophet Isaiah, it is said, He closed the book, and began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears, etc.
Question 35. How may we be further guilty of a breach of this Commandment, than by idolatry and will-worship?
Answer. When we either neglect, contemn, hinder, or oppose the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed in his word, Heb. 10:25 . Matt. 22:5 . and 23:13 I Thess. 2:16; or tolerate those who publish and maintain erroneous opinions or practices.
Question 36. What is the doctrine of our Confession, concerning the tolerating of those who publish and maintain erroneous opinions or practices?
Answer. That “for their publishing of such opinion, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity, whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation; or to the power of godliness; they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the church, and by the power of the civil magistrate. (See Confession, Chap. 20, sec. 4 and the Scriptures there quoted.)
52. QUESTION. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
ANSWER. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God’s sovereignty over, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.
Question 1. Why doth our Catechism make mention of reasons annexed to this, and the three following commandments?
Answer. Because God himself has been pleased to subjoin to each of these precepts, the reasons, arguments, or motives that should influence our obedience unto them.
Question 2. How many reasons are there annexed to his second commandment?
Answer . Three; contained in the words, “I the Lord they God am a jealous God.”
Question 3. Which is the first of these reasons?
Answer. It is “God’s sovereignty over us,” in these words, I the LORD; or I JEHOVAH.
Question 4. What do you understand by God’s sovereignty over us?
Question 5. Wherein lies the strength of this first reason for worshipping God by means of his own appointment?
Answer. It lies in this, that being our sovereign Lord, it must be his sole prerogative to prescribe to us the means of his own worship; and of consequence that it must be our duty, to make his pleasure herein, both the rule and reason of our punctual observance of what he enjoins. Ps. 95:2,3.
Question 6. What is the second reason annexed to this commandment?
Answer. It is “his propriety in us,” in these words, Thy God.
Question 7. What other propriety has God in us, than by right of creation?
Answer. He has a propriety likewise by right of redemption, intimated in the preface to the commands, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, Exod. 20:2 .
Question 8. Whether is it his propriety, by right of creation, or by right of redemption, that constitutes the federal relation betwixt him and us.?
Answer. It is his propriety by right of redemption, Is. 43:1. I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.
Question 9. What influence should his propriety in us, as his people, have upon our receiving and observing the ordinances of his worship?
Answer. If we are his people, we are ransomed by the blood of his only begotten Son, and so under the strongest ties of duty and gratitude, to cleave to the precise manner of worship prescribed in his word, rejecting all other modes and forms thereof whatsoever. John 24:24 . Hos. 14:8.
Question 10. What is the third reason annexed to this commandment?
Answer. It is “the zeal he hath to his own worship,” in these words, I am a jealous God.
Question 11. In what sense is God said to be a jealous God?
Answer. Jealously is ascribed unto him (after the manner of men,) to denote that he puts no confidence in his creatures; that he has his eye upon them; and is highly offended when they slight him, and bestowth that love upon any other, which is due to him alone. Deut. 5:29 . and 23:15-26.
Question 12. What is it for God to have zeal for his own worship?
Answer. It is to have such a regard for the ordinances of his own institution, as highly to resent and revenge any addition unto, or alteration of them; whereof there is an awful instance in Nadab and Abihu, who offered strange fire before the Lord, Lev. 10 : 1-4.
Question 13. Wherein doth God manifest his zeal for his worship?
Answer. Both by way of threatening, and by way of promise.
Question 14. What doth God threaten as a testimony of his zeal for his worship?
Answer. To visit “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate” him.
Question 15. What is it to visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children?
Answer. It is to inflict punishment upon the children for the faults and offenses of their fathers.
Question 16. Are there any Scripture examples of God’s doing so.
Answer. As to temporal punishments there are: Seven of Saul’s sons were hanged before the Lord, for his offence in slaying the Gibeonites, II Sam. 21:8,9. And for the sins of Jeroboam, his whole house was utterly extinguished, I Kings 15: 29,30.
Question 17. Is this thought just and equal among men?
Answer. Yes, as appears by the common practice of disinheriting the children of traitors and rebels, for the reasonable practices of their fathers; in order to create a greater detestation of these crimes in others.
Question 18. Whether are temporal judgments only, or spiritual and eternal plagues also, intended in this threatening?
Answer. Spiritual and eternal plagues are also intended; because the punishment threatened must bear some proportion to the mercy promised. If the mercy promised to thousands of them that love him, extended to spiritual and eternal blessings, then the punishment threatened to the third and fourth generation of them that hate him, must be of the same extent, in regard it must be such a punishment, as the breach of this, and the other commands, deserveth; which none can deny to be of a spiritual and eternal nature, and not of a temporal kind only. Matt. 25:46.
Question 19. How doth it conflict with the justice of God, to inflict spiritual and eternal judgments upon children for the sins of their parents?
Answer. It is abundantly consistent therewith, because the children punished with spiritual and eternal judgments, are only such as have served themselves heirs to their fathers sins, either by copying them over; or not disapproving of, and mourning for them: by which means their fathers sins become their own. Jer. 31 : 29,30. Ps. 49:13.
Question 20. How can the visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, be reconciled withEzek. 18:20 . The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father?
Answer. This passage in Ezekiel is to be understood of the son, who doth not tread in the steps of his wicked father; as is evident from ver. 14,17. If he beget a son that seeth all his father’s sins–and doth not such like; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live: whereas the threatening in this commandment respects wicked children, who copy after the example of their graceless parents; as Nadab the son of Jeroboam did, who walked in the way of his father, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin, I Kings 15:26.
Question 21. How doth it appear from the threatening itself , that this is the meaning?
Answer. Because the children, on whom God visits the iniquity of their fathers, are expressly said to be the third and fourth generation of them that hate him.
Question 22. Why doth God threaten to visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation only, of them that hate him; and not to all succeeding generations of such children?
Answer. Not but that the haters of God unto all generations shall meet with deserved punishment; but the threatening is limited to the third and fourth generation, for a greater judgment upon wicked parents, some of whom may live to see their posterity of these generations, and so read their own sin in the punishment of their offspring whom they have seduced; as Zedekiah, for his wickedness, saw his sons, and the princes of Judah, slain before his eyes, Jer. 52:3,10 .
Question 23. What if such wicked parents shall die, before they see their third and fourth generations?
Answer. In that case, if their consciences are not quite seared, they will die under the dread and fear of the judgments here threatened befalling their children, Pro. 14:32. Hos. 2:4; as well as of the fiery indignation which shall devour themselves, Heb. 10:27 .
Question 24. May not God sometimes visit the iniquities of the breakers of his commandment upon their godly children?
Answer. He will never visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their godly children, with spiritual and eternal judgments, though sometimes he may do it with temporal strokes; as no doubt many that were godly were carried captive to Babylon for the sins of their fathers, Lam. 5:7 ; which, nevertheless, was for their real good, Jer. 24:5 .
Question 25. What may we learn from this threatening of visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children?
Answer. That as nothing can be more cruel than for parents to cast a bad example before their children; so the example of forefathers will not vindicate their posterity in the way of sin, particularly in the practice of any corrupt or fast worship. Jer. 9:14 , 15. Ezek 20:18 .
Question 26. What is it, on the other hand, that God promises, as an evidence of is zeal for his worship?
Answer. To shew mercy to thousands of them that love him, and keep his commandments.
Question 27. Who are they that truly love God?
Answer. They who, from a faith of his own operation, have complacency and delight in him as their own God and portion. Ps. 5:11.
Question 28. What is it to keep his commandments?
Answer. It is to essay an uniform and self-denied obedience to the law as a rule, because Christ has fulfilled it as a covenant. Rom. 7:4 .
Question 29. What mercy doth God shew to them that love him and keep his commandments?
Answer. He shews strengthening, comforting, directing, and persevering mercy unto them. Ps. 94:18 and 31:;7. Exod. 15:13 . II Sam. 7:15.
Question 30. Doth God shew mercy to children, because they are the offspring of godly parents?
Answer. No, but merely because so it pleaseth him, Rom. 9:15 . I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.
Question 31. What benefit then have the children of godly parents beyond others?
Answer. They have the privilege of a religious education; are the children of many prayers; and may plead the promise, I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee. Gen. 18:19. Job 1:5 . Gen. 17:7.
Question 32. Why doth the threatening run only to the third and fourth generation of them that hate him, and yet the promise to thousands of them that love him?
Answer. To shew that God has far greater pleasure in the egress of mercy, than in the venting of wrath, Ezek. 33:11 ; and likewise for an encouragement both to parents and children, to aim at walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, Luke 1:6 .