Question 3. Whence do you know your misery?Answer. Out of the law of God.
Against the grain of fashionable, chipper religion the Catechism asserts that apart from Christ, mankind is in nothing short of a miserable condition. Part of the reason why such a statement is uncommon is that it is unpleasant; most prefer to be optimistic even in the face of hard facts. More importantly, to many the claim seems absurd. They don't feelmiserable. They aren't suffering as much calamity as they could, nor do they all feel burdened by a pressing sense of guilt. Yet, in this division of the Catechism we now consider the prerequisite to repentance and faith, which is knowing the misery from which we need redemption.
As we have said, comfortable people do not seek deliverance from misery. We must understand then how the word misery extends beyond present feelings to include circumstances of which one may not yet be aware, but is nevertheless subject to. Two common definitions of the term are, "wretchedness of condition or circumstances," and, "a cause or source of distress." Thus the Catechism operates on the assumption that circumstances are common to all men which, if they knew them, would reveal their lives to be cast in a miserable condition.
The misery of man's condition may be summarized both in the guilt and effects of sin. Ursinus comments, "the term misery is more comprehensive in its signification than that of sin, for it embraces the evil both of guilt and punishment." Worse than living in a fallen world replete with distress and sorrow is the sobering realization that we must all appear before God's throne for judgment, and those found guilty will be condemned forever to torment and exile. To "know your misery", as the Catechism says, is to learn and believe we are subject to this curse of God against sinners. "The misery of man, therefore, is his wretched condition since the fall, consisting of these two great evils: First, that human nature is depraved, sinful, and alienated from God, and secondly, that, on account of this depravity, mankind are exposed to eternal condemnation, and deserve to be rejected of God." (Ursinus)
This revelation of personal guilt and future punishment is no doubt effected by the Spirit upon the heart of man. However, the Spirit's means for arresting our conviction is the Law of God recorded in scripture. "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Rom 3:20) The Law contains the moral duties which man is obliged to keep, as well as the promise of judgment to any who fall short and offend the holiness of the Almighty.
Next time we will pick up with a more precise look at what duties are contained in the Law. Until then, God bless your studies through scripture.