The Duty of Man
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.
1 John 2:3
Question 91 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is the duty which God requireth of man?” It gives the answer, “The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.” This week we begin what could be called the second half of the Larger Catechism. It could be said that the Larger Catechism has a preface followed by two main sections. The preface ends with Question 5, “What do the Scriptures principally teach?” The Catechism answered that “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” This statement then forms the outline for all that follows. For, right before Question 6, we find the first major heading of the Larger Catechism: “What Man Ought to Believe concerning God.” Thus, questions 6 through 90 all fall under the category of what the Bible teaches that human beings ought to believe about God. Accordingly, follow Question 90 we find the second heading of the Larger Catechism: “Having Seen What the Scriptures Principally Teach Us to Believe concerning God, It Follows to Consider What They Require as the Duty of Man.” Thus, today we begin to look at what the Bible teaches is our duty as human beings created in the image of God for the accomplishing of His purposes.
Although today’s question and answer is one of the smallest in the whole catechism in the number of words, it is one of the largest in scope. The duty that God requires of His image-bearing creature, man is obedience to His revealed will. What does that mean? Here, we should remind ourselves that since the Catechism’s primary focus from Question 6 on is to expound the Scriptures, when it speaks of God’s “revealed will,” it is chiefly concerned only to consider special and not general revelation. Special revelation refers to the content of the Bible. It is called “special” because it is the revelation of God found in a book that you have to read in order to see and be aware of. General revelation refers to what God teaches in the creation itself, which everyone generally sees and experiences. Whereas a rational creature must read the Bible to be aware of God’s revelation in it, rational beings cannot avoid the revelation of God in nature. At least ten times the Westminster Confession and Catechisms refer to the “light of nature,” affirming that God does teach us many things generally in and through His works of creation (e.g. Psa. 19). Yet, some things are revealed by God only in the pages of Scripture. As Westminster Confession 1:1 and Larger Catechism Question 2 teach, those doctrines concerning God’s salvation of man are exclusively found in special revelation. Thus, all men know about the nature of water from their experience of it, and all men know the divine and holy nature of God and their duty to fully obey Him from creation, but only those who have read the Bible know something about the saving work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. In conclusion then, even though the Catechism at times acknowledges the light of nature in our duties (Questions 60, 121, 151), its primary focus will be to expound our duty to God as revealed in sacred Scripture.
With this understanding of the terms involved, we see that the Catechism’s understanding of the duty that God requires of man is obedience to the whole Bible. The Bible is God’s revealed will. Every command of Scripture is not merely a suggestion or a good idea, God communicates to us perpetually and without exception, what every single human being owes to Him. Every man must obey every single command of God, perfectly. Perfect and perpetual obedience is our duty to God. To not obey even the slightest command of God, even for a moment, is a clear, inexcusable, and unjustifiable breach of duty. Moreover, since God is good and only requires and commands what is perfectly good, to not do our duty is to do evil.
Furthermore, God has made us fully capable of rending to Him this obedience. To obey God is, as Romans 12:1-2 says, “our reasonable service.” What could me more reasonable? Obeying God is what a good creature would do without hesitation, not only from his own love of goodness, but from his own gratitude and loyalty to such a good and majestic Master and Creator, who out of His mere goodness and benevolence continues to give him life and breath so that he would know and experience and even participate in His goodness! The goodness of our duty to God is summed up in one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). Praise God for the wonderful duty He requires of us!