Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 19
Our Estate of Misery
Q&A 23, 27-29
When I was younger I used to think it would have been nice to be born into a family full of riches. Perhaps you did—or do—as well. Now that I am more mature I am thankful I wasn’t, though. Why? Now I appreciate what I have I look back and compare life now with life before. This is also true with us spiritually. If we were born merely sick from sin and not dead in sin or if we were born slightly defected by the Fall of Adam but we still had an untainted free will, we would not appreciate our salvation as much. To know that you were a totally lost, hopeless sinner who has now come to experience God’s abundant grace fills the heart with thankfulness. It means that we grasp our life before Jesus Christ was harder, more painful, and full of sorrows spiritually; but knowing that is worth it because we have come to know God in Jesus Christ.
As question and answer 23 says, we were born into “an estate of sin and misery,” that is, into a condition of our existence (Oxford English Dictionary). Having meditated upon the sinful condition of our existence we now meditate upon the miserable condition of our existence, Our Estate of Misery.
First, let us come to realize its problem. We were born into a situation like the Israelites, of whom the Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Ex. 3:7; NIV). We, too, were born enslaved to another master, namely, Satan. Later, the psalmist described this situation of the Israelites as “dwel[ling] in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains” (Ps. 107:10).
This problem of our existence is why the Catechism describes our misery with the following descriptions. We were born with “the loss of communion with God” as we are no longer his created friends in covenant with him, but his enemies (Rom. 5:10). We were born with “his displeasure and curse,” as he hates all workers of iniquity (Ps. 5:5). We were born “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We were born “bond slaves to Satan” (2 Tim. 2:26). What a striking description of our true nature as sinners outside of Christ! Our existence was one of not serving the Lord, but serving Satan. We were born “justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.”
Let me apply this in a way that might not seem so obvious. One of the challenges those of us who were converted later in life are going to face, whether we have children now or later, is that we want our children to experience the liberating message of the gospel as we experienced it. One of the things we see in Scripture and history is that while the first generation experiences something in a powerful way, inevitably the second generation has a let down and takes that previous experience for granted. The temptation for us, then, is to become content that we were converted or that our children were baptized, are “in the covenant,” are being catechized, or are around their Christian peers. As churches we all need to be in serious prayer for each and every child that is born into the church that they, too, would come to know the greatness of their sin and misery from the depths of their souls so that they, too, might experience the wonder of grace.
Its Punishment Now
Second, as we meditate upon our estate of misery let us come to realize its punishment now. There are two kinds of punishments in this world: inward punishments that we may not necessarily see and outward punishments that we do see (Q&A 28). Every human born into this world outside of Jesus Christ suffers and experiences in this life the internal miseries of blindness of mind (Eph. 4:18), a reprobate sense, meaning, consciously knowing life is being lived outside of Christ (Rom. 1:28), strong delusions as a result of sin and Satan (2 Thes. 2:11), hardness of heart (Rom. 2:5), horror of conscience of knowing God is wrathful towards them (Isa. 33:14), and vile affections, such as those Paul describes so graphically in Romans and that are so prevalent today (Rom. 1:26).
In this life there are also outward punishments that all children of Adam experience. First and foremost is the curse of God upon the creation because of Adam’s sin. All creation is groaning to be liberated from its frustration (Rom. 8:19–22). And all of us experience this every day. There are also all other evils that we feel in our bodies, with sickness and disease. There is the evil that befalls our names when we are slandered and dragged through the mud. There is the evil that we experience in our “estates, relations, and employments,” meaning, in every corner and crack of our lives. Finally, there is death itself that last enemy of all (1 Cor. 15:26).
How should we then live, as those delivered from our natural estate of sin and misery? First, since we know that everything is under the control of our Almighty and Fatherly God’s providence, we are to entrust ourselves to him wholly. Sin exists in us and in the world and evil is going to befall us; but trust in your God in the midst of them. Second, we should be moved to fear and tears for the sake of the lost around us. Are we praying for God to convict the lost of their estate? Are we living holy lives before them to show them another way of living? Are we boldly opening our mouths when we have the opportunity to share with them the good news? They need it not just because of what they are suffering now, but because of what they will ultimately suffer.
Its Punishment Later
This leads to our final point of meditation about our estate of misery: let us come to realize its punishment later after this life, in the world to come. And when we do, what we believe theologically must become a part of us practically. The terrible punishments of eternity are just that: terrible!
Those who choose their miserable estate over that offered in Christ will experience “everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God” (Q&A 29). Notice that. Hell is not the absence of God, but the absence of the comforting presence of God. It’s not that God is not there, but there he is only there to the unbeliever in justice, vengeance, and wrath.
Those who choose their miserable estate over that offered in Christ will experience “most grievous torments in soul and body without intermission in hell-fire forever” (Q&A 29). There will be no relief. There will be no pause. There will be no chance for change.
Oh brothers and sisters, do you appreciate your estate of riches in Christ? Do you realize what you have left behind and what you have gained?
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church