Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”Ecclesiastes 12:13
Q3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A.The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.112 Tim 1:13; 3:16; Jn 5:39; Ecc 12:13.
The book of Ecclesiastes was, I believe, written by King Solomon, the wisest king who ever ruled Israel. At the time, he was probably already a very old man. He wrote in retrospection of his own life.
Solomon was not only the wisest king but also the wealthiest and most glorious king who ever ruled Israel. Under his rule, the nation of Israel extended from Egypt to the Euphrates. And there was peace and prosperity all around. So Solomon could enjoy a great measure of the pleasures of this world. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (1 Kgs 11:3). He built palaces and planted gardens for his enjoyment. He had musicians dedicated to his pleasure. He had a massive collection of jewels and precious stones, as well as plants and animals. He lived a life of such opulence and pleasure that few people in the history of mankind had ever tasted.
And yet, writing towards the end of his life, he declares dolefully: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecc 1:2; 12:8). The word ‘vanity’ is repeated so many times in the book of Ecclesiastes that it is often thought that this book is about the vanity of life in general. However, this is not entirely accurate.
What, then, is the theme of the book? Well, if you read this book, you will not fail to see the phrase “under the sun” repeated over and over again. By the phrase, Solomon is, no doubt, referring to the visible world, or the world of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. It is the world that everyone in the world experiences and interacts with.
This phrase “under the sun” occurs a total of 27 times. You will find it repeated in almost every chapter. I believe the theme may be derived by combining the idea of vanity and of under the sun. The theme, we may say, is: “Vanity of life under the sun.” You see, Solomon is writing from experience. After starting off very well under the blessing of God, he went on to enjoy a life of lust and pleasure. He must have backslidden. How else can we explain the 1,000 wives, whatever the political expediencies might be? But towards the end of his life, he saw his folly and repented and wrote this book to warn others not to follow in his steps.
This is why he took the time to describe the vanity of life under the sun. But now, as he comes to the end of the book, he begins to show how we should respond to this fact. He paints in graphic terms how old age will soon overtake us so that the pleasures of a lifetime will come to nought. Soon our eyes will grow dim; our hearing will grow dull; our hand will tremble; our legs will begin to trouble us; our teeth will drop one by one. If our life comprises only in the enjoyment of things under the sun, then our life will become utterly meaningless at such a time. Indeed, life in the world will end, and our souls will return to our Maker.
Given this fact, how shall we live today? The answer is found in the clincher of this book, namely the text for our consideration in this sermon:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
When we consider the vanity of life under the sun and how our souls will return to God, we must conclude three things. First, we must conclude that there is more to life than what may be seen and felt under the sun. Secondly, we will see that we are answerable to God for how we live. And thirdly, we will conclude that the meaning in life is to be found in living before the face of God in loving obedience to Him rather than in sensual pleasure.
In other words, we must fear God and keep His commandment. To fear God is to love Him and to revere Him. But to do so, we must first know Him. And likewise, to keep God’s commandments, we must first know His commandments.
This is very remarkable coming from Solomon at the end of Ecclesiastes because if you read Ecclesiastes from chapter 1 all the way to chapter 12, you will not find whole paragraphs or chapters dedicated to describing who God is. And neither will you find the commandments of God being listed. Yet, Solomon tells us that the conclusion of all he has written in this book is: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
What can we conclude from this observation? I believe we can conclude that ultimately Solomon’s purpose in writing Ecclesiastes is principally to teach us the fear of the Lord and to keep His commandment. This would also be the purpose of the Holy Spirit in inspiring this book. Indeed, as the Holy Spirit would inform us through the pen of Solomon that the whole duty of man is to fear God and to keep His commandments. This also suggests that every book that the Holy Spirit inspired must ultimately and principally have to do with teaching us to fear God and keep His commandments.
This idea is confirmed in a few other places in Scripture. For example, Moses says in Deuteronomy 6:1-2:
“Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you… 2 That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments…”
Notice how in verse 2, Moses is explaining the purpose of God’s revelation to the people? It is that they might learn to fear God and keep His commandments!
Similarly, look at Psalms 111:10:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.”
Notice how the fear of the LORD is foundational and how obedience to the commandments of God is also of utmost importance.
To fear God, we must first know what to believe concerning God. How do we fear Him if we do not know Him? If we do not know Him, we may end up fearing other gods or even gods of our own imagination.
Thus, we may infer, as our Shorter Catechism teaches us in question 4: “The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.”
In this lesson, we will not be able to go into the details of what it means to fear God and to keep His commandments. This, after all, is what the rest of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is about. From Questions 5-38, we will consider what we are to believe concerning God—who He is? What He has done for us and is doing for us, etc. From Questions 39-107, we will study what duty God requires of us—what His commandments are, the means of grace, how to pray, etc. So, we will leave all that details for subsequent studies if the Lord spares us.
But for now, we want to take a very brief look at each book of the Bible to demonstrate that “the scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.”
There are 66 books, so we will have a lot to cover. Thus, we will not go into any details at all. It will be a touch-and-go introduction. However, I recommend you turn to each book as we go along. Take some notes if you can.
1. Pentateuch: Genesis-Deuteronomy
i. Genesis teaches us that God is our Creator and that God has placed man in a covenant relationship with Him. In this covenant relationship, we must obey Him entirely if we are to enjoy the original purpose of our creation. But man fell into sin.
ii. Exodus teaches us that God is our Redeemer. In this book, we are also explicitly given the Ten Commandments and taught how to worship God through a Messiah to come.
iii. Leviticus teaches us that God is holy, and therefore we must be holy. We are holy only when we are obedient to God.
iv. Numbers reminds us of the faithfulness of God despite the people’s unfaithfulness. It warns us against the consequence of disobedience.
v. Deuteronomy reminds us again that God is a covenant-keeping God. He keeps His promises. It teaches us to remind ourselves of His ways and not to turn to the left or to the right of it.
2. Pre-Monarchy: Joshua-Ruth
vi. Joshua teaches us that we can have victory in the battles we are appointed to fight only when we are led by God’s own Captain. We are reminded that obedience to Him must be wholehearted.
vii. Judges reminds us that God alone can give society stability because He alone is always right. When men seek to do what is right in their own eyes, chaos ensues.
viii. Ruth introduces us to the Messiah as our kinsman-redeemer. He is near of kin, and He will redeem us. We must come under the shadow of His wings if we are to find salvation.
3. Monarchy: 1 Samuel – 2 Chronicles
ix. 1 Samuel teaches us that God knows what is best for us, though He sometimes allows us to have what we desire so that we may learn to trust Him amid our failures.
x. 2 Samuel introduces us to the Messiah through the life of David, a type of Christ. God’s people were blessed when they submitted to David. How much more we shall experience God’s blessing if we submit ourselves under the rule of the Greater David.
xi. 1 Kings continues with the historical account of Samuel. It teaches us that God is a jealous God. He will judge His people when they turn from Him. God’s people must obey God carefully and repent of sin as soon as it is made known how we have fallen.
xii. 2 Kings centres on the theme that God will carry out His threats and that His longsuffering is not infinite. We must repent while there is yet time.
xiii. 1 Chronicles brings us back to the history covered in 1 and 2 Samuel to show that God is faithful to His covenant people. It also teaches us that God’s people are redeemed to worship Him as a holy nation.
xiv. 2 Chronicles covers the same ground more or less as 1 and 2 Kings, but unlike the books of Kings, it emphasises God’s faithfulness. God will send His covenant people to exile, but He would restore them, not because they are good enough, but because He is faithful.
4. Post-Exilic: Ezra – Esther
xv. Ezra picks up the history of God’s people after they were sent to exile. It shows us that God’s faithfulness towards His people includes restoring and gathering them to worship Him in the manner He has appointed. We must respond with contrition and gratitude when He has gathered us.
xvi. Nehemiah is another post-exilic book which focuses on the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. It teaches us that God cares for His people and preserves them. We must respond by covenanting to serve Him and worship Him as a holy people.
xvii. Esther is set in Persia. It teaches us that God will protect His people by His sovereign providence. What is needed of us is to trust Him and to rely on Him.
5. Poetic: Job – Song of Songs
xviii. Job teaches us that God is sovereign over all things, including the sufferings we have to endure. Again, our response must be to believe Him and trust Him even when we are severely tried.
xix. The Book of Psalms provides us with the word of Christ to sing in our worship in union with Him. What duties does God enjoin us in the Psalms? Amongst other things, we are taught to worship Him and to teach and admonish one another using His words.
xx. Proverbs teaches us that God is absolutely wise and intimately concerned with all aspects of our lives. We must respond by walking in fear of the Lord. We must fear Him, keep His commandments and walk according to godly principles.
xxi. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is more than life under the sun because God is there even if He is unseen. Thus, we must live with an eye to pleasing God rather than enjoying the things of this world carelessly. We must fear God and keep His commandments!
xxii. The Song of Songs teaches us that God is love. Christ, the Son of God, is a loving husband to the church, His bride. We must respond in love.
The next prominent section in the Old Testament is the Prophets, of which there are five major and twelve minor.
6. Major Prophet: Isaiah – Daniel
xxiii. Isaiah centres around the theme that Salvation is of the LORD. It is in this book that the virgin birth of Christ and His atoning death is first prophesied. How should we respond, but by faith and gratitude?
xxiv. Jeremiah centres on the LORD’s judgement and compassion upon the occasion of the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. It is here that the New Covenant is first prophesied. It reminds us to follow God’s word carefully rather than allow ourselves to fall into foolishness and complacency.
xxv. Lamentations is also written by Jeremiah. It is a song of mourning for the sin and destruction of Judah because of her sin. It teaches us that God is merciful, compassionate and faithful, but we must respond by mourning for our sins against Him.
xxvi. Ezekiel centres on the theme of repentance and restoration of Israel. It reminds us that unless God gives us a new spirit and a new heart, we cannot serve Him and worship Him rightly.
xxvii. Daniel, like Ezekiel, was written in exile. Ezekiel centred on God’s plan for His people in Judah. Daniel speaks about God’s plan in the world. It reminds us that God promotes one and brings down another. We must serve Him in whatever political situation we live under.
7. Minor Prophet: Hosea – Malachi
xxviii. Hosea centres on the restoration of God’s people who are prone to backsliding and spiritual adultery. It teaches us that God is faithful and longsuffering but reminds us of how wicked spiritual adultery against God is.
xxix. Joel focuses on the Day of the LORD by using a locust invasion as a harbinger for the great day. It teaches us that God will restore the days which the locust have eaten but calls upon us to return to Him and to watch.
xxx. Amos may be entitled the roar of the Lion against Judah. It teaches us that God will judge the world, but He will also judge His unfaithful people. Again the call is to awake out of complacency and to repent.
xxxi. Obadiah is a prophecy against Edom. It teaches us that arrogance against God’s people will not be ignored. It warns man not to touch the apple of God’s eye.
xxxii. Jonah is a famous book that centres on the theme, “Salvation is of the LORD.” It teaches us that God’s ways are not our ways and that God’s ways will always prevail. It calls upon us to humbly submit to His will, knowing it is always right.
xxxiii. Micah teaches us about the justice and mercy of God. It is in this book that we have the words: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic 6:8).
xxxiv. Nahum is a prophecy of judgement against Nineveh. It reminds us that vengeance and vindication belong to God. God’s people must patiently wait upon Him when they suffer injustice.
xxxv. Habakkuk teaches us that God is transcendently holy. It is the first book to teach distinctly that the just shall live by faith. This is the foundation of the doctrine of justification.
xxxvi. Zephaniah teaches us about the LORD’s judgement, vindication and mercy. It is one of the books of the Old Testament that calls out to the Gentile to seek the Lord: “Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth… seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’S anger” (Zeph 2:3).
xxxvii. Haggai is one of the post-exilic prophets. The Lord used him to stir the people to begin to rebuild the temple again after they had left it off for sixteen years. It teaches us that God is worthy of our love and reminds us to consider our ways.
xxxviii. Zechariah is the second post-exilic book. He was used in the same way as Haggai, but his emphasis is on the coming of Messiah as shepherd and king. It is in this book that the prophecy of Christ sitting upon the colt of an ass and entering Jerusalem is given. We are taught here to serve the Lord with hope and reliance upon Him.
xxxix. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. We may call it “The Dawn of the Sun of Righteousness.” In it, we are taught that God sees our hearts and hates hypocrisy. It calls upon us to serve the Lord with sincerity and faith in Christ.
8. Gospels: Matthew – John
xl. Matthew is the first of the Gospels. It contains the most sermons of the Lord amongst the Gospels. It teaches us about the person and work of Christ, the King. It reminds us to serve and obey Him wholeheartedly.
xli. Mark is the shortest of the Gospel accounts. It focuses on the person and work of Christ, the Servant. It reminds us to imitate Christ to serve as He served.
xlii. Luke is the most systematic among the Gospel accounts. It points us to the person and work of Christ, the Son of Man. It teaches us many things about being the disciples of Christ.
xliii. John focuses on the person and work of Christ, the Son of God. It is the most devotional among the four Gospels and emphasises the importance of loving God and believing in Christ for our salvation.
xliv. Acts records the growth of the New Testament Church under the power of the Holy Spirit. It teaches us to be witnesses for the Lord in the power of the Spirit unto the uttermost parts of the world.
9. Pauline Epistles: Romans – Philemon
xlv. Romans is often said to be the greatest book in the Bible. It contains the most precise treatment of the doctrine of Justification by grace through faith alone. God is so holy that only the righteousness that He provides will be acceptable to Him. We have this righteousness by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
xlvi. 1 Corinthians is a very practical letter in which Paul answers many questions posed by the Corinthians. It teaches us that God is a God of decency and order. We must learn to apply Christian principles in every aspect of our life as individuals and as a church.
xlvii. 2Corinthians is much less structured and more devotional than 1 Corinthians. Here we see Paul’s heart opened wide to the Corinthians. Amongst its many lessons, we are reminded that God’s grace is sufficient for us in our sufferings. We must learn to rest in Him and trust Him.
xlviii. Galatians also deals with justification but with a particular focus on Christian freedom. We are taught that though God is concerned about all aspects of our lives, we must not live merely according to a list of dos and don’ts. We must live as the sons and daughters of God, beloved and accepted by God.
xlix. Ephesians centres on the theme of the glory and mystery of Christ and His Church. Here we are taught to walk in His love as imitators of Christ.
l. Philippians focuses on living a joyful and grateful Christian Life. For us to live is Christ. God intends for our lives to be joyful, not dreary. Therefore we must rejoice in Christ!
li. Colossians parallels Ephesians. It is to Ephesians what Galatians is to Romans, for it provides corrective instructions on how Christians should live in union with Christ. Theologically, it provides us with one of the most precise statements on the deity of Christ: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9).
lii. 1 Thessalonians is built upon the doctrine that Christ is coming again. It teaches us how to live in view of the glorious appearance of Christ.
liii. 2 Thessalonians is a follow-up to 1 Thessalonians. It teaches us to stand fast and occupy till the Lord comes. We must not assume that Christ is coming soon and therefore give up everything, including our worldly occupation, to wait for Him.
liv. 1 Timothy is the first of the pastoral epistles. It teaches us that the church is the foundation of the truth and that Christ is the king of the church. All things must be done as per His appointment.
lv. 2 Timothy was Paul’s final epistle before he was martyred. Here he teaches us that all ministers are answerable to Christ who called them. Christ will reward everyone who serves Him faithfully amid all the trials associated with the ministry. Here we are taught to endure hardness as the soldiers of Christ.
lvi. Titus is the last of the pastoral epistle, though it was written before 2 Timothy. Like 1 Timothy, it is an instruction manual for pastors. It reminds us that the head of the church is Christ, our Great God and Saviour. It teaches us to do good works as we wait for His appearing.
lvii. Philemon, at first sight, seems like merely a personal letter from Paul addressed to Philemon. But as part of Inspired Scripture, it teaches us that God is forgiving and reminds us to forgive and receive one another.
10. General Epistles: Hebrews – Jude
lviii. Hebrews may also be included as a Pauline epistle. It has been suggested that Luke could have penned it with the content provided by Paul. It demonstrates the supremacy of Christ and admonishes us to persevere in the faith.
lix. James teaches us that God is sovereign and good. It reminds us that faith without works is dead. Living faith is demonstrated by good works.
lx. 1 Peter reminds us that all suffering is appointed by our sovereign God, and so teaches us how we ought to respond when suffering for Christ.
lxi. 2 Peter presents God as a promise-keeping God. It teaches us to trust Him and to hope in Him as we see the Last Day approaching.
lxii. 1 John speaks of God as light in whom there is no darkness. It teaches us to examine ourselves to see to it that we are truly born again that we may have true fellowship with God.
lxiii. 2 John speaks of God as the God of truth. It teaches us that to love God is to walk according to His commandments.
lxiv. 3 John is another short letter. It reminds us that God is good and that we should walk in the truth.
lxv. Jude teaches us that the only wise God, our Saviour is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. It admonishes us to earnestly contend for the faith and seek to walk in the way of the Lord.
11. Apocalyptic: Revelation
lxvi. Revelation is the only book in this last section. It reminds us that Christ has conquered and is conquering and that we are more than conquerors in Him. Therefore it teaches us to patiently labour on as we await the day when the Lord will come for us.
Here then, are the 66 books of the Bible. The Bible contains a wealth of knowledge. It contains information on history, geography, science, economics, etc. But can you see what the essential points in it are? What is it that can be found in each of the 66 books? What are the two principle points? Can you see how they are: what we are to believe concerning God and what duties God requires of man?
Are you familiar with the Bible? Have you read it? Solomon says: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
Do you know God that you may fear Him? We may only know Him sufficiently if we put together all that is taught about Him in the Scripture. Thankfully, today we have the Confession and Catechisms, which summarise the truths in the Bible. Let us use them and continue to read the Scriptures diligently so that we may be sure that what we are taught in our confession and catechisms is indeed what God has revealed concerning Himself.
And let us also seek to know the duties God require of us. Thankfully this is again summarised in our catechism. But let us also make sure we read the scriptures so that we may both know our duties and the principles that will help us in our daily decisions in matters that are not clearly commanded.
Most of all, as we learn about God, let us fear Him and love Him. We see through the Scriptures that it is only through Christ that we may enjoy and glorify God. Therefore, let us believe in Him, trust Him and rely upon Him, follow him, imitate Him and learn of Him so that Our lives and testimonies may greatly magnify his name. Amen.
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