Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Duty of Man

Q. 39: What is the duty which God requireth of man?
Answer: The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will. (WSC)

This catechism question introduces the second half of the catechism. In the first part it explained what we are to believe concerning God: his nature, decrees, and works of creation, providence, and redemption. From this point forward, it will explain the duty that God requires of us.

Fundamentally, the duty God requires of man is obedience to his revealed will. As the confession of faith says, “Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.” God has not told us everything there is to know, but he has told us what he requires from us and has not left it to the free imagination of man. God desires obedience. When God made his covenant with Israel, he had told them, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

We find this point made several times in Scripture. Micah 6:6-8 asks this very question, what does the Lord require? Not extravagant offerings devised by the imagination (6:6-7), but rather, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). The epitome of blind zeal would be King Saul. He repeatedly came up with his own ways of serving the Lord while neglecting what God had told him to do. When Saul spared the spoil of the Amalekites to sacrifice to the Lord, when the Lord had told him to destroy it, Samuel says,
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.”
(1 Samuel 15:22–23)
Reflecting on this passage, William Tyndale remarked,
“Without God’s word do nothing. And to his word add nothing, neither pull anything away therefrom, as Moses everywhere teacheth thee. Serve God in the spirit, and thy neighbour with all outward service. Serve God as he hath appointed thee and not with thy good intent and good zeal. Remember Saul was cast away of God forever for his good intent. God requireth obedience unto his word and abhorreth all good intents and good zeals which are without God’s word. For they are nothing else than plain idolatry and worshipping of false gods.” (The Obedience of the Christian Man, 1528)

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