The Shorter Catechism, 4
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Q11: What are Godís works of providence?
A: Godís works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.
God preserves and governs the whole world in a most holy, wise and powerful way. He preserves the things He once has made, so that they remain in the state He wishes. He also governs all things which happen, so that they do what He wishes. All His living creatures are in His hand, and He keeps and governs them, so that they do His will.
Nothing happens, nor can happen without His will. Even the smallest things, which seem to us unimportant, are ruled by Him. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matt.10:29)
Let none think that he can do something independently of God. When it is said that God rules over *all*, then it also *does* rule over all. Let none think that his thoughts are independent of God. Let none imagine that he can choose without God, that he can act without Him, or that he can think without God. God rules all. Even the smallest thought is ruled by Him.
Q12: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
A: When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.
When God had created man, he commanded them that they should obey Him, and that they should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they had obeyed God, they would have earned eternal life. This is called in our answer a "covenant of life". The condition of that covenant was perfect obedience. When you obey My voice, said God, then I will give you eternal life. If not, then your reward is death. "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen.2:17) That death was the result of transgression is clearly enough described in Genesis. But that life was promised through obedience, we read elsewhere. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is speaking of the difference between faith and keeping of the law. He says of the commands of the law: "The man that doeth them shall live in them." (Gal.3:12) Here you see that life was promised when one would keep the law. So, also Adam, when he would obey Godís voice, he would have earned eternal life.
That covenant, which God made with Adam in his first estate, had two sides. It promised life on obedience, and it threatened death as a result of sin. The choice was Adamís.
Q13: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
A: Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.
The story of the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, is well known. They were created in a state of free choice. They could obey, or not obey. Through the freedom of their own will, they chose to sin against God. Their will was without any defilement; it was pure; it was free. Yet, they chose to sin against their Maker. If even the free and undefiled wills of Adam and Eve chose to sin, how much more will our wills, which are defiled and bound, chose to sin against God! In Adam and Eve, we see which choice a real free will makes. Then there is no doubt about the choice of a defiled will.
Our first parents, being left to their own choice, fell away from their holy estate, wherein God had created them. "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." (Eccl.7:29) God made men upright, but they are, as it were, daily seeking our much inventions, wherewith they can bring destruction upon themselves. By this, they daily show themselves to be Adamís true children.
Q14: What is sin?
A: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.
The law says: "Do this", and "Refrain from that". So, the law required that we 1) do what it asks, and 2) refrain from what it forbids. If it were possible that somebody did not transgress the law, then it still cannot be said that he has kept the law. For, the law also *requires* something. When one, for example, does not steal, murder, lie, etc., but he also does not help his neighbour, nor love him, then he still has not kept the law. That is why our answer says: "Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God". A want of conformity unto the law, that means, that we do not the things required. A transgression of the law of God, that means, that we do the things He has forbidden. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." (1 Joh.3:4)
The law is the standard. Who does not live conform to that, is sinning. And there is nobody who can say that he is free from sin. "[There is] not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." (Ecclesiastes 7:20) "[There is] no man that sinneth not;" (1 Kings 8:46)
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,
and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins,
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar,
and his word is not in us.
(1 John 1:8-10)