This question contains the statement and division of the whole catechism and at the same time accords with the division of the Scriptures into the Law and Gospel, and with the differences of these parts, as they have already been explained.
I. A knowledge of our misery is necessary for our comfort, not that it of itself administers any consolation, or is any part of it, (for of itself it rather alarms than comforts,) but it is necessary:
First, because it excites in us the desire of deliverance, just as a knowledge of disease awakens a desire of medicine on the part of the sick. Where there is no knowledge of our misery, there is no deliverance sought, just as the man who is ignorant of his disease never inquires after the physician. Now if we do not desire deliverance, we do not seek it; and if we do not seek it we will never obtain it, because God gives it only to those who seek, and knock, as it is said--"To him that knocketh, it shall be opened." "Ask, and it shall be given unto you." "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden." "I dwell with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit." (Matt. 7:6; 5:6; 11:28. Isaiah 57:15.) That now which is necessary for the purpose of exciting in us a desire of deliverance, is also necessary for our comfort. But a knowledge of our misery is necessary for the purpose of creating in us the desire of deliverance. Therefore it is necessary for our consolation; not, indeed, as being in its own nature the cause, but as a motive, without which we would not seek it; for in itself it terrifies, yet this terror is advantageous when it leads to the exercise of faith.
Secondly, that we may be thankful to God for our deliverance. We should he ungrateful if we did not know the greatness of the evil, from which we have been delivered; because, in this case, we could not correctly estimate the magnitude of the blessing, and so would not obtain deliverance, since this is granted only to such as are thankful.
Thirdly, because without the knowledge of our sinfulness and misery, we cannot hear the gospel with profit; for unless, by the preaching of the law as touching sin and the wrath of God, a preparation be made for the proclamation of grace, a carnal security follows, and our comfort becomes unstable. Sure consolation cannot stand in connection with carnal security. Hence it is manifest that we must commence with the preaching of the law, after the example of the Prophets and Apostles, that men may thus be cast down from the conceit of their own righteousness, and may obtain a knowledge of themselves, and be led to true repentance. Unless this be done, men will become, through the preaching of grace, more careless and obstinate, and pearls will be cast before swine to be trodden under foot.