For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q75

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q63-81) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The Second Table. (see Harmony Index)
One little exercise I enjoy is taking one word from a text under consideration, looking up its meaning and usage both in the English language and in Scripture, and then putting the word back into the text to gain deeper understanding within the full context. As we study what is forbidden in the eighth commandment, we might choose to do this with the word unjustly. The words justly and unjustly are found in relatively few places in Scripture. But one occurrence which is relevant to the present study is Micah 6:8—“He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” This verse ought to be considered in its context, and a parallel reference helpful here is Hosea 6:6, and its context as well.
We serve a God who by his very nature—infinite, eternal, and unchangeable—is just. As we are called to give witness to him, may we prayerfully consider what it means to “do justly,” and shun the unjust hindering of “our own, or our neighbor’s, wealth or outward estate,” as we serve one another and honor God. To do otherwise is to do violence to the very heart and purpose of our God.
WSC Q75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A.   The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour’s, wealth or outward estate[a].
[a] Prov. 28:19ff; Eph. 4:28a; II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:8
Question #75 asks what the eighth commandment forbids, and answers that the eighth commandment forbids anything that either does or may unjustly take away money or possessions from us or anyone else.
Comments and considerations:
In our previous study, we looked at the requirements of the eighth commandment, the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others. We focused on the term lawful, seeing that God has revealed his law in both his Word and nature; we are to study these things and reason rightly to the wellbeing of ourselves and others (II Tim. 2:15). Now we consider this commandment from another perspective - that which it forbids. Once again, our fathers refer to the law, mentioning justice, which is the fruit of the law: we are not to do those things that would unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour’s, wealth or outward estate.
To say that God is interested in justice is an understatement. He is quite emphatic when he says through the prophet Micah, “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:8). The Apostle Paul warns, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Ideas have consequences. The imaginative ideas of men - loosened from the anchor of sound reasoning and wisdom captive to the thoughts of Christ (II Cor. 10:5) - will often look for easy answers to difficult questions. In time, their plans will run aground, the deceitful heart being full of greed, selfishness, and man-centered philosophies opposed to godly thinking. Notice how this consideration demonstrates the weight of the phrase whatsoever doth, or may unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour’s, wealth or outward estate. There is no room here for trifling debates about what God clearly commands; we are accountable for our actions and for their real and potential outcomes as we seek to be responsible stewards with the talents that the Lord has entrusted to us for our own and our neighbor’s welfare (Matt. 25:14ff). The implications of this commandment are certainly far-reaching.
What does it mean to hinder something? Without going into the etymology of the word, which is quite interesting, the word simply means to impede, hamper, to cause delay, prevent from doing or making progress, encumber. This has many eighth-commandment applications (e.g., paying off debts, conducting business and personal financial affairs, making wise investments to assist community enterprise). But at the core, the commandment forbids everything from theft to foolish financial decisions - anything that might prevent, impede or hamper our own or our neighbor’s productive wellbeing. Instead, we are to do those things which promote that well-being within the bounds of God’s law; we are to act justly, considering not only what is needful for man’s outward welfare, but for his soul’s need and discipline as well. What should be our concern for the able-bodied individual who refuses to work, or refuses to heed wise counsel while being foolish in the management of financial affairs? Is it just to allow that person to continue on a destructive path “unhindered?” On that point, our fathers referenced these verses:
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat (II Thess. 3:10).
Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Eph. 4:28).
Read carefully Prov. 28:19 and the several verses that follow it: “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!” Proverbs is filled with wisdom and illustrations regarding those who are unproductive and a drain upon others, rather than seeking blessings to be a blessing!
Again, drawing upon “Lessons from the Garden:” One day my wife asked why I was clipping bright green shoots off the lower base and trunk of a wonderful orange tree in our backyard. I explained that I had to remove these devilish little shoots called suckers, or they would suck energy from the tree, producing no fruit, and becoming a haven for insects and disease. To not remove this bramble would be to unjustly hinder the wealth or outward estate of that plant and its neighbors. Think about it! Allowing those suckers to remain on the tree would eventually hinder the forming of blossoms and sweet nectar, causing trouble for the joyful honeybee whose labor blesses us.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        The eighth commandment specifically forbids stealing. However, stealing is more than taking the property of another; it includes careless actions that cause others to lose what belongs to them. Read Ex. 22:1-6. What are the different ways an individual can be deprived of personal property? What is required of the person responsible for the loss?
2.        Read Prov. 20:17. When we obtain something by deceit, our sinful nature expects pleasurable sensations to follow. But what will be the eventual outcome? What are some ways we can deceitfully obtain things that do not belong to us? Look up deceit or deceitful in the dictionary.
3.        Prov. 25:13, refers to how we are to do our job when we work for others. What lesson is taught in this text?
4.        A person’s good name or reputation can also be unjustly stolen. See Prov. 22:1. How does that happen?
5.        Greed and the love of pleasure cause an ungodly desire for things. According to Prov. 21:17, what will be the outcome of such desires, and where is found the real treasure of life? See Prov. 15:16.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q75 and WLC 142
WSC Q75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A.  The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour's, wealth or outward estate[a].
      [a]  Prov. 28:19ff; Eph. 4:28a; II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:8
WLC Q.142. What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A.  The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required[a], are, theft[b], robbery[c], man-stealing[d], and receiving any thing that is stolen[e]; fraudulent dealing[f], false weights and measures[g], removing landmarks[h], injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man[i], or in matters of trust[j]; oppression[k], extortion[l], usury[m], bribery[n], vexatious lawsuits[o], unjust enclosures and depopulations[p];  engrossing commodities to enhance the price[q]; unlawful callings[r], and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves[s]; covetousness[t]; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods[u]; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them[v]; envying at the prosperity of others[w]; as likewise idleness[x], prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate[y], and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us[z].
[a]   Jam. 2:15-16; 1John 3:17
[b]   Eph. 4:28
[c]   Ps. 62:10
[d]   1Tim. 1:10
[e]   Prov. 29:24; Ps. 50:18
[f]    1Thes. 4:6
[g]   Prov. 11:1; 20:10
[h]   Deut. 19:14; Prov. 23:10
[i]    Amos 8:5; Ps. 37:21
[j]    Luke 16:10-12
[k]   Ezek. 22:29; Lev. 25:17
[l]    Mat. 23:25; Ezek. 22:12
[m] Ps. 15:5
[n]   Job 15:34
[o]   1Cor. 6:6-8; Prov. 3:29-30
[p]   Isa. 5:8; Micah 2:2
[q]   Prov. 11:26
[r]    Acts 19:19, 24-25
[s]   Job. 20:19; Jam. 5:4; Prov. 21:6
[t]    Luke 12:15
[u]   1Tim. 6:5; Col. 3:2; Prov. 23:5; Ps. 62:10
[v]   Mat. 6:25, 31, 34; Ecc. 5:12
[w]  Ps. 73:3; 37:1, 7
[x]   2Thes. 3:11; Prov. 18:9
[y]   Prov. 21:17; 23:20-21; 28:19
[z]   Ecc. 4:8; 6:2; 1Tim. 5:8
Question(s) for further study:

The Larger Catechisms expands upon the Shorter providing specific sins forbidden under the eighth commandments.  How many categories do our fathers list, and how might one summarize the extent, degree and manner of those things forbidden?

Monday, January 13, 2020

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q74

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q63-81) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The Second Table. (see Harmony Index)
Before we commence our study of WSC Q74, quickly answer this question: What is the summary of the Law of God? Hopefully you won’t need help with this answer, but if you do, check Matt. 22:7-40. Now, in light of that summary, what does the eighth commandment really deal with? Answer: How we are to love both God and others.
Descriptions of love can be abstract and subjective. What does “love my neighbor” really look like in terms of inward attitude and outward actions? Now, let’s turn our attention to the question under consideration: “The eighth commandment requires the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.” We have no problem understanding our affections in advancing the financial wellbeing of family and ourselves. But, when it comes to loving others by seeking their financial wellbeing, even over our own—herein lays the significance of our Lord’s summary his Law Word. Love towards God and others cannot be defined on our terms. Love is “keeping the Law” (John 14:15), with a grateful and glad heart. Love is not just a “Hallmark Card” sentiment or “happy thought” (James 2:15-16). Rather, it is a verb demonstrated in measurable actions toward others, active in seeking after the material advance and wellbeing of others so that they too might enjoy the benefits of this life and the infinite blessings of our God.
Again, we approach our study in prayer that the Lord would instruct and enable us to both believe and do all that he has commanded, out of a pure heart of love for him and our neighbor.
WSC Q 74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
A.   The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others[a].
[a] Lev. 25:35; Eph. 4:28b; Phil. 2:4
Question #74 asks what the eighth commandment requires, and answers that the eighth commandment requires that we lawfully acquire and increase our own and others’ money and possessions.
Comments and considerations:
We ended the previous lesson with this comment: The eighth commandment is quite clear. To use a modern phrase, “What part of Thou shalt not steal do we not understand?” Well, looking around our society these days, apparently quite a lot!
The eighth commandment is quite clear, and yet men employ a seemingly endless array of methods and means to take what is not theirs to begin with! If we were to examine all the devices used to rob others of property, reputation, and wealth, well... there would be no end to the stories that could be told. To that, every novelist and screenwriter would heartily say “Amen, and thank you for providing me a wealth of material for drama and intrigue!” No, the problem is not that we don’t understand God’s commandments. The problem is in our “want of conformity unto and transgression of the law of God” (Rom. 7:14-15 and WSC Q14).
In this lesson, we could explore what it means to procure and further “the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others” by what the writers of the catechism referenced in two helpful imperatives:
Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Eph. 4:28).
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
But instead, I would have use take a step back and consider the word lawful, which precedes the command to procure and further material possession. God has written his law and design into all that he has purposed and created! And that one word—lawful—is the key not only to our understanding of this question and answer, but also to our success or failure in this life. God has written both the moral law, revealed in his Word, and natural law as well. Interwoven in both are economic laws, principles of commerce, guidelines for weights and measures, covenants and contracts. All these are intended to govern the affairs of men (see WLC Q141). Such laws and principles have no less significance than the law of gravity. I do not understand how a huge 747 airliner can take flight and carry cargo and hundreds of passengers across land and sea. Even if an aeronautic engineer were to explain to me the principles of gravity, drag, and aerodynamic flow until my eyes glassed over, I still wouldn’t get it; but I know what would happen if the pilot of one of those massive modern marvels were to shut off the fuel at a height of 30,000 feet! The law of gravity would stand alone in the absence of the other laws of God written infallibly into creation! We cannot go about procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others apart from lawful means, those ways and means that God has defined and revealed in his word! Some people might suggest that violating certain laws of God in “certain situations” is justified, but it is not. Apparent short-term gain will not bring long term advantage, and will ultimately do damage.
That is why we are commanded, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing [understanding] the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15 KJV). The word study in II Tim. 2:15, used in the KJV, is translated “be diligent” in newer versions, and helps us understand the necessity to think God’s thoughts after him as we bring “every thought captive to Christ” (II Cor. 10:5)! For example, when someone, even a professed Christian, tries to justify gambling as an approved method for providing for their family’s basic necessities, that person is not “rightly dividing [understanding] the word of truth.” The Scriptures are clear; there is a seemingly endless list of Proverbs that illustrate such thinking as unwise.
The eighth commandment requires the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others. We serve an industrious God whose primary interest is in redemption, renewal, and sanctification. He is a builder of things (read Ps. 19 again!). He does not see as we see; he looks beyond the immediate, and he intends all the consequences of his actions.
Someday I’m going to write a book (Lord willing), entitled Lessons from the Garden. I’ve got something of a green thumb, which I must have acquired from my beloved mother who loved to garden. I like to plant and see things grow, and I’ve noticed that if things don’t grow at some point, they soon die. There is a principle of putting off the old and putting on the new. If that principle (that law) gets short-circuited—if it’s cut off by malnutrition, disease, or a parasite, or if the plant is weak and unable to resist harsh circumstances—it will succumb to the law of consequences. A plant must maintain the pattern of rest and growth or it contracts and dies!
And then there are weeds! They grow all by themselves; they need no help, no good soil; they have no natural enemies, and they suck the life and energy of all that surround them; they are toxic, hard to kill, and spread like a cancer unattended. Again, weeds have no natural enemy except one, the lover of the garden who will hunt them down, and pull them out by the root, one by one.
We hear a lot these days about unintended consequences when a decision is made which seemed at the time to be a good idea, but proven to be wrong later on. A wise man once said, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history;” the information is there, but we fail to heed the lessons of the past. How many thousands of years ago did God say, “Thou shalt not steal?” What are the applications and implications of that command? What are the consequences for obeying or disobeying that wisdom of our covenant-keeping God? He that has ears to hear, let him hear.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read Prov. 14:23 and Prov. 10:4. What do these two proverbs say?
2.        When God created Adam, what was the first instruction given to him? Read Gen. 2:15. What first principle can we derive from this fact?
3.        We have seen how keeping God’s commands must begin with our thought patterns. What does Prov. 28:19 teach us?
4.        Not only what we do, but how we do a job will determine the results. What does I Thess. 4:11-12 say about work?
5.        Our labors are not only for the benefit of our family and ourselves. What other reasons are there for being diligent in our responsibilities? See Gal. 6:10; Eph. 4:28, and Prov. 14: 31 (also Prov. 17:5a).
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q74 and WLC 141
WSC Q74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
A.  The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others[a].
      [a]  Lev. 25:35; Eph. 4:28b; Phil. 2:4
WLC Q141. What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
A.  The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man[a]; rendering to everyone his due[b]; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof[c]; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others[d]; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods[e]; a provident care and study to get[f], keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition[g]; a lawful calling[h], and diligence in it[i]; frugality[j]; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits[k], and suretiship, or other like engagements[l]; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own[m].
[a]   Ps. 15:2, 4; Zech. 7:4, 10; 8:16-17
[b]   Rom. 13:7
[c]   Lev. 6:2-5; Luke 19:8
[d]   Luke 6:30, 38; 1John 3:17; Eph. 4:28; Gal. 6:10
[e]   1Tim. 6:6-9; Gal. 6:14
[f]    1Tim. 5:8
[g]   Prov. 27:23-27; Ecc. 2:24; 3:12-13; 1Tim. 6:17-18; Isa. 38:1; Mat. 11:8
[h]   1Cor. 7:20; Gen. 2:15; 3:19
[i]    Eph. 4:28; Prov. 10:4
[j]    John 6:12; Prov. 21:20
[k]   1Cor. 6:1-9
[l]    Prov. 6:1-6; 11:15
[m] Lev. 25:35; Deut. 22:1-4; Exod. 23:4-5; Gen. 47:14, 20; Phil. 2:4; Mat. 22:39
Question(s) for further study:

Here we see how Larger Catechisms expands, actually provides a lengthy preface to the Shorter Catechism instruction which is listed at the end of the answer.  How many points do our fathers reference in this implied preface, and what is the specific difference in the points being made as stated in the question itself; what do our fathers call this points?