Where did this document come from, and under what circumstances? The following quotation is from the preface of the PCA's The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms with Scripture Proofs:
In 1643, during a period of civil war, the English “Long Parliament” (under the control of Presbyterian Puritans) convened an Assembly of Divines (mostly Puritan ministers, including a few influential Scottish commissioners) at Westminster Abbey in London. Their task was to advise Parliament on how to bring the Church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland and the Continental Reformed churches. The Westminster Assembly produced documents on doctrine, church government, and worship that have largely defined Presbyterianism down to this day. These documents included a Confession of Faith (1646), a Larger Catechism (1647), and a Shorter Catechism (1647), often collectively called “the Westminster standards.”
Parliamentary efforts to reconstitute the established Church of England along Presbyterian lines were soon thwarted by the rise to power of Cromwell (who favored Independency) and the expulsion of Presbyterians from Parliament in 1648, and then the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, which quickly led to the reinstitution of Episcopacy and the suppression of Puritanism.
But things were different in Scotland. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland adopted the Confession of Faith in 1647 and the Catechisms in 1648. The Scottish Parliament ratified them in 1649 and again (after a time of political and religious strife) in 1690. The Presbyterian character of the Church of Scotland was safeguarded when Scotland and England were united under one crown in 1707. Numerous Presbyterian bodies have been formed since then, both in the United Kingdom and around the world, and they have always been constituted on the basis of the Westminster standards (although declension from them has sometimes followed)."
The Larger Catechism was the last of the three great documents produced by the Westminster Assembly, and though often overshadowed by the Shorter Catechism and the Confession of Faith, it is by no means inferior to the others. In fact, the Larger Catechism exhibits the Assembly’s most mature theological reflection and insight. While the Shorter Catechism is still used in the training of the young, the Larger Catechism has lost its place as the authoritative basis for adult Christian education. Though it is very well suited to be used as a ready-to-hand outline for teaching the whole body of Christian doctrine and practice, it is not commonly used in Reformed and Presbyterian churches today at all. My opinion is that this is a great loss to the church, and shows a failure to appreciate the prodigious labor and great learning that went into this document.
The impression of modern Christians, when confronted with the Larger Catechism, is that its doctrine is too dogmatic and excessively detailed, and that its practical requirements are far too demanding and unrealistic.
First, I suspect that one reason moderns find it unacceptable is that its doctrine is the same high Calvinism that we find set forth in the Confession of Faith. And second, I think it is probable that the typically Puritan intensity of its piety and the seriousness of its perspective on sin and holiness are also a reason why moderns neglect or reject it as a guide to Christian practice.
But perhaps a third reason is that it expounds -- as none of the other Westminster Standards do -- the particulars of God's law. While the Confession and the Shorter Catechism also define sin as the transgression of God's law -- a fact which makes it possible to define sin and holiness; only the Larger Catechism takes the time to actually do so. In an antinomian age, the Larger Catechism is simply viewed as legalistic, and worse than useless.
I say antinomian (which means a doctrine that is against law) because that is the spirit of this age. The law of nature and nature's God, the transcendent and immutable law that determines what is right and what is wrong beyond any appeal, is profoundly unpopular today. The very idea is repugnant to those who have shaped and those who are re-shaping the modern world. They want the power to change whatever stands in their way -- be it long-standing tradition, cultural taboo, religious observance, common sense, but especially the dictates of revealed religion. God's law is nothing to them, if it inhibits their grasping for power and riches.
Criminals of all sorts, sexual deviants, hedonists, atheists are increasingly making bold demands to eliminate God's moral law from the laws of our nation.
The Christian religion has also been corrupted by antinomian doctrines -- some claiming that the law of God cannot have any bearing on Christian conduct; because this is supposedly the "dispensation of grace"!
The traditional Protestant perspective is different. Both Lutherans, Anglicans, and Reformed Christians hold that the law is a rule of life for Christians. In both the Confession and the Larger Catechism, the doctrine of the law of God is treated only after the scheme of redemption is fully expounded. This reflects the biblical fact that the law is so far from being irrelevant to redeemed men that only in the saints does the law fulfill its natural and essential function -- that is, as a guide to the will of God. The other two uses of the law, the restraint and the conviction of sinners, are incidental to this fundamental purpose, functions that owe their existence to the fact of the fall.
Christ redeemed us from slavery to sin that we might become slaves of obedience ount righteousness. Just as Israel was first delivered from Egypt, and then given the law of righteousness to direct them in obedience to God, the Christian is freed from sin and its consequences so that he may bring forth fruits pleasing to God -- that is, those things which he has declared to be His will in His holy law. Grace does not annul the law; it establishes it. Without grace, the law will never be kept; but by grace, we become by degrees more cognizant of the law, more appreciative of it, more convinced of our inability to keep it. But, at the same time, we are more deeply disappointed at ourselves for esteeming it as little as we do, and more desirous of having in our souls a greater love for God and a more perfect obedience.
The law does not take the central place in the exposition of Christianity, and it does not become the sole focus of the Christian life. The glorious Gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ provides the meaning and the motivation for the Christian life, as well as the way of deliverance from sin and guilt. But after that, it ought to be a matter of thankfulness to have as clear and complete a definition of the requirements of God's law as we have in the Larger Catechism, so that we may actually pursue holiness.
Beginning at question 91 "What is the duty that God requires of man?" and continuing to question 152 "What doth every sin deserve at the hand of God?" we are treated to a full and immensely practical exposition of the law of God. At the heart of this exposition is a series of questions regarding the decalogue. Question 98 begins this section: "Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?" The answer is "The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments..." Then follows, question 99 "What rules are to be observed for the right understanding of the ten comandments?" There are eight rules given, which provide the basis for interpreting the words of the law throughout the section.
The pattern for expounding each commandment is as follows: "Which is the (first or second or third, etc.) commandment?" the answer being words of the commandment precisely as it was given. Then follows "What duties are required in the (nth) commandment?" with a listing of the various duties included in it. This is often a long paragraph. At least one proof text is indicated for each one. This is meaty -- solid food -- not for babes. Then the question is asked "What sins are forbidden in the (nth) commandment?" and the answer is a catalog that may, with the proof texts, cover several pages. Finally, a supplemental question is asked such as "What are we specially taught by these words [before me]..." or "What are the reasons annexed..." The pattern varies from one commandment to another; but this is the basic structure.
I intend, God willing, to give readings and commentary on selected portions of this section on the ten commandments. Let me just whet your appetite with a short reading on the ninth commandment (Q143-145).
Howard Douglas King
January 1, 2018 A.D. [6064 A.M.]