The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly
Explained and Proved from Scripture
by Thomas Vincent
LXXXII. Ques. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
Ans. No mere man since the fall is able, in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them, in thought, word, and deed.
Q. 1. What is it perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. To keep perfectly the commandments of God, is to keep all the commandments of God, and at all times, without the least breach of them, in regard of’ disposition, inclination, thought, affection, word, or conversation.
Q. 2. Was ever any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. Before the fall, the first man, Adam, was able perfectly to keep God’s commandments, he having power given unto him in the first creation, to fulfil the condition of the first covenant of works, which required perfect obedience; but since the fall no mere man is able to do this.
Q. 3. Was not the Lord Jesus Christ able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. The Lord Jesus Christ was both able and also did perfectly keep the commandments of God; but he was not a mere man, being both God and man in one person. “He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”— Heb. 4:15. “Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.”— Rom. 9:5.
Q. 4. Shall ever any mere man be able perfectly to keep God’s commandments?
A. The saints, who are mere men, though not in this life, yet hereafter in heaven they shall be made perfect themselves, and be enabled perfectly to obey God in whatsoever it is that he shall require of them. “We are come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”— Heb. 12:22, 23.
Q. 5. Do not the saints on earth keep the commandments of God?
A. The saints on earth do keep the commandments of God sincerely, but not perfectly. “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in godly sincerity we have had our conversation in this world.”— 2 Cor. 1:12. “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand ?”— Ps. 130:3.
Q. 6. Do no saints attain perfection here in this life?
A. 1. All saints ought to endeavour after perfection, and that they may attain higher and higher degrees thereof. “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”— Matt. 5:48. 2. No saints on earth ever did attain absolute perfection, so as to obey God in all things, at all times, without any sin.
Q. 7. How do you prove that no saints ever did attain perfection in this life?
A. That no saints did ever attain perfection in this life may be proved— 1. Because the best of saints in this life, are renewed but in part, and have remainders of flesh and corruption, which do rebel and war against the Spirit and renewed part in them. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”— Gal. 5:17. 2. Because the Scripture telleth us expressly that none are without sin; and that such are deceivers of themselves, and make God a liar, that affirm the contrary. “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”— Eccles. 7:20. “For there is no man that sinneth not.”— l Kings 8:46. “For in many things we offend all.”— James 3:2. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 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. 3. Because the Scripture hath recorded the sins of the most holy that ever lived. Abraham’s dissimulation concerning his wife. “And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister.” — Gen. 20:2. The like dissimulation of Isaac. “And he said, She is my sister; for he feared to say She is my wife.”— Gen. 26:7. Jacob’s lie to his father. “And he said, Art thou my very son Esau? And he said, I am.”— Gen. 27:24. Joseph’s Swearing by the life of Pharaoh. “By the life of Pharaoh, ye shall not go hence, except your youngest brother come hither.”— Gen. 42:15. Moses’ unadvised speech. “They provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.”— Ps. 106:33. The Scripture recorded Noah’s drunkenness; Lot’s incest; David’s murder and adultery; Job’s and Jeremiah’s impatience, and cursing their birthday; Peter’s denial of his Master with oaths and curses, and his dissimulation afterwards before the Jews; Paul and Barnabas’ contention. And if such persons as these, who were filled with the Holy Ghost, and had as great a measure of grace as any whom we read of; either in the Scriptures or any history, were not perfect, without sin, we may safely conclude that no saints, in this life, have ever attained unto absolute perfection.
Q. 8. Doth not the Scripture tell us,”Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God ?”— 1 John 3:9. And if the saints are without sin in their life, are they not perfect?
A. 1. If the sense of this place should be, that such as are born of God do not commit sin at all, then no regenerate persons which are born of God would ever be found committing sin; but the Scripture doth record the sins of many regenerate persons, as hath been shown, and experience doth evidence the same, that such as are born of God commit sin; and therefore that cannot be the meaning of the place, that such as are born of God do not commit sin at all. 2. Such as are born of God do not commit sin; that is, (1.) They do not commit sin with the full consent of their will, which is in part renewed; and which, so far as it is renewed, doth oppose sin, though sometimes it may be overpowered by the strength and violence of temptation. (2.) They do not live in a course of sin, as the unregenerate do. (3.) They do not commit sin unto death. ” All unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not;” that is, not unto death.— 1 John 5:17, 18.
Q. 9. Doth not God himself testify concerning Job that he was a perfect man? “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him upon the earth, a perfect man ?”— Job 1:8. Doth not Hezekiah also plead his perfection with the Lord when he was sick? ” Remember now how I have walked before thee with a perfect heart.”— 2 Kings 20:3. And doth not Paul also assert himself; and other Christians, to be perfect? ” Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.”— Phil. 3:15. And how, then, is perfection unattainable by the saints in this life?
A. 1. This perfection which is ascribed unto the saints in the Scripture, is not to be understood of absolute perfection and freedom from all sin, for the reasons already given, which prove the contrary; but it is to be understood of sincerity, which is evangelical perfection, or at the farthest, of comparative perfection, not an absolute perfection. 2. Thus we are to understand the perfection which God testifieth of Job. “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect man?” that is, so perfect as he is, “a perfect and upright man.” His perfection did consist in his uprightness and sincerity; and that Job was not absolutely perfect doth appear from his sin a little after, in his cursing his birth day. “Let the day perish wherein I was born.” Job 3:3. And after he is charged with sin. “He multiplieth his words against God.”— Job 34:37. 3. So also Hezekiah’s perfection, which he pleadeth, was no more than his sincerity. “Remember I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart.” And the Scripture doth note his sin a little after, which is a clear evidence that he was Dot absolutely perfect. “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore wrath was upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem.”— 2 Chron. 32:25. 4. In the same place where the apostle Paul doth assert himself and other Christians to be perfect, he doth acknowledge that he was not perfect. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended,” &c.— Phil. 3:12, 13. Therefore the perfection which he had attained, which he speaketh of verse 15, is to be understood of evangelical perfection; the perfection which he had not attained, is to be understood of absolute perfection. It is evident, therefore, that no saints do attain absolute perfection in this life; and such as do pretend unto it, it is through their ignorance of themselves and of God, and the extent of God’s law.
Q. 10. Do all the children of men, and the saints themselves, break the commandments of God in this life?
A. The saints themselves, and much more such as are no saints, do daily break the commandments of God in thought, word, and deed. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth “— Gen. 8:21. “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison “— James 3:8. “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”— John 3:19.
Q. 11. Are all thoughts of sin breaches of God’s commandments, when they are without evil words or actions?
A. All thoughts of sin are breaches of God’s commandments, without evil words or actions, when they are accompanied with evil inclinations, desires, and affections. “‘Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”— Matt. 5:28. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, foruications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” — Matt. 15:19.
Q. 12. May not the saints in this life be kept from sinful thoughts, words, and actions?
A. 1. The saints in this life cannot be wholly free from all sinful thoughts, words, and actions, because all, even the best of saints, through remaining corruption, are subject to daily infirmities and defects. 2. The saints in this life may be kept from all~gross sins of thoughts, words, and deeds, and they are kept from the reigning power of any sin.
Q. 13. How are the saints kept from gross sins, and the reigning power of any sin?
A. The saints are kept from gross sins and the reigning power of any sin— l. By the reigning of Christ in their hearts. 2. The mortification of sin in the root of it through the Spirit. 3. By watchfulness against sin in the thoughts. 4. By avoiding occasion of sin, and resisting temptations unto it.