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, April 23, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q107

The writer of Ecclesiastes ends his treatise with this conclusion: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man’” (Ecc. 12:13). Like bookends, the first and last questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism state a similar theme for all that lies between them. We have learned what our chief end is (WSC Q1), and now we come to the conclusion of the catechism in the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen.”
That very last word, Amen, deserves special comment. The dictionary defines it this way: “used to express solemn ratification (as of an expression of faith) or hearty approval (as of an assertion).” There is in this one word agreement with all that has preceded it, and even the idea of an oath of commitment. Words have meaning, both by definition and implication as they are lived out in our daily life. The very material of our being is to his glory, for truly to him alone be the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. As we approach this final study, we must pray to the end that this, and all that has preceded it in 106 questions and answers, may be a constant reality and “amen” breathed into our every thought, word, and deed. And to that, all God’s people vow in saying, “Amen!”
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WSC Q107. What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A.   The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen, teacheth us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only[a], and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him[b]; and, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.[c]
[a] Dan. 9:4, 7-9, 16-19; Luke 18:1, 7-8
[b] IChron. 29:10-13; I Tim. 1:17; Rev. 5:11-13
[c] ICor. 14:16; Rev. 22:20
Question 107 asks what the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer teaches us, and answers that the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer (for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever) teaches us to be encouraged only by God in our prayers, and to praise him by acknowledging that kingdom, power, and glory are his. To show that we want to be heard and have confidence that we are, we say, Amen.
Comments and considerations:
We begin with the end of this catechism answer, the meaning of Amen. The word is nearly a transliteration from Hebrew, Greek, and other ancient languages; it is almost universal in its pronunciation, and also in its meaning. It denotes “concurrence in belief” or “assent or final word.” We know that God has written eternity upon our hearts (Ecc. 3:11), and that we undeniably know the truth, though we may suppress it in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). It makes sense that people of every language would share an Amen, imprinted upon our thoughts and speech, an Amen that signifies faith and trust beyond ourselves. For that is really what Amen means.
As a verb, it signifies to confirm, establish, verify; to trust, or give confidence; as a noun, truth, firmness, trust, confidence; as an adjective, firm, stable… It is equivalent to “truly,” “verily.” It is used to denote: concurrence in belief, or in a statement; assent; the final word or act; Christ as being one who is true and faithful (Webster’s 1828 & 1913 Dictionaries).
Paul writes, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (II Cor. 1:20). Notice here, the double emphatic as it relates to the promises of our covenant-keeping God: Yes and Amen. The Greek Amen carries with it the meaning of “trustworthy; surety; so be it.” The verbal adjective means “firm, faithful,” and the adverbial sense is “asserted or confirmed.”
Why spend so much time focusing on a single word? Because, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). Our whole life and calling is to be a breathing and walking Amen, asserting and confirming the trustworthinesssurety, and so be it of the kingdom, power, and glory of our God. John wrote in his gospel (21:25), “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” And yet the testimony remains and continues to manifest itself in the lives of God’s covenant-keeping people, for we “are [the apostles’] epistle…, known and read by all men; clearly [we] are an epistle of Christ, ... written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (II Cor. 3:2-3), that we might show forth his praise, honor, and glory until his return. To this end, we pray, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him; and, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen. It is this for which we were made and given dominion (Gen. 1:26, 28); this is our chief end (WSC Q1); for this we are to strive and pray.
Once again, it is good to look at some of the Scriptures to see what passages our fathers used to shape this instruction.
Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said: “Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. “Now therefore, our God, We thank You and praise Your glorious name” (I Chr. 29:10-13).
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1Tim. 1:17).
And finally, the conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer teacheth us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only.
We have looked at this word encouragement before (see WSC Q105). Now, how should we emboldened, comforted, cheered, strengthened, en-heartened, and take confidence in prayer from God only? The answer ought to be obvious by now; if not, study the previous 106 catechism questions as a reminder! Or open your Bible and consider what caught our fathers’ attention in Dan. 9:4, 7-9, 16-19, and Luke 18:1, 7-8. Here’s but a taste:
And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments...” (Dan. 9:4).
We can take our encouragement in prayer from God only because he is a covenant-keeping God, “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20). “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (I Thess. 5:24KJV).
Furthermore:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, ...And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:1, 7-8)
As we close our catechism instruction, we take comfort in knowing that God is ever open; he always invites and loves the prayers of his people. We are also reminded that we are called unto his purposes and glory, for we are not our own. Being comforted thus, we are also challenged to consider, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” In retrospect, that is a really good question, especially as it is the Lord of glory who asks it. It is not a rhetorical question, but one that commands an answer from each of us; we will each one day give an account and be judged. As we have learned that faith is not just what we believe, but what we do, it is sobering to consider whether we will in fact hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant... enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25: 14ff), spoken by our Lord at the judgment seat of Christ. “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:2).
Thus we are encouraged to pray to our Savior from the depth of our being, “Sanctify [us] through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17 KJV).
To God alone be the glory!
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.           According to Dan. 9:18, why can God’s people can be confident when they pray?
2.           In addition, thinking about the very nature and character of God encourages us to come to our Father in prayer. What are some reasons for this as described in Eph. 3:20-21 and Matt. 7:7-11?
3.           In what way are we instructed to bring our petitions and prayers to God in Phil. 4:5-7 and II Chron. 29:10-13?
4.           When we pray, “Amen,” we are saying, “Let it be so,” or, “It shall be so.” What then does this little word mean to us and to our God as he listens to our prayers? Consider the account of Hannah’s distress in I Sam. 1, and especially the conclusion of this incident in I Sam. 1:17-18.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q107 and WLC Q196
WSC Q107. What doth the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer teach us?
A.  The conclusion of the Lord's Prayer, which is,For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.teacheth us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only[a], and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him[b]; and, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.[c]
[a]  Dan. 9:4, 7-9, 16-19; Luke 18:1, 7-8
[b   IChron. 29:10-13; ITim. 1:17; Rev. 5:11-13
[c]  ICor. 14:16; Rev. 22:20
WLC Q196. What doth the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer teach us?
A.  The conclusion of the Lord's Prayer, (which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen[a].) teacheth us to enforce our petitions with arguments[b], which are to be taken, not from any worthiness in ourselves, or in any other creature, but from God[c]; and with our prayers to join praises[d], ascribing to God alone eternal sovereignty, omnipotency, and glorious excellency[e]; in regard whereof, as he is able and willing to help us[f], so we by faith are emboldened to plead with him that he would[g], and quietly to rely upon him, that he will fulfil our requests[h]. And, to testify this our desire and assurance, we say, Amen[i].
[a]   Mat. 6:13
[b]   Rom. 15:30
[c]   Dan. 9:4, 7-9, 16-19
[d]   Phil. 4:6
[e]   1Chro. 29:10-13
[f]   Eph. 3:20-21; Luke 11:13
[g]   2Chro. 20:6, 11
[h]  2Chro. 14:11
Question(s) for further study:

How does the Larger Catechism commence in instructing us regarding our approach to God in prayer and help us as to know how we are to take our encouragement in prayer from God only as stated in the Shorter? What does the Larger Catechism tell us that we may be emboldened to plead with him …that he will fulfil our requests?  

Monday, April 16, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q106

The six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer provide a good summary of what the Christian life is all about: the honor of our God, the coming of the Kingdom, his will to be done, our daily needs, the effects of sin that call for forgiveness in our relationship with God and each other, and finally, the daily occurrence of temptation to sin (“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”). In Starr Meade’s commentary, she says, “To a Christian, it often feels like there is a war going on inside him. There is! The war is between new desires to please God and old desires to sin and please self. Read Gal. 5:17.” I would add, read Rom. 7:14-23.
We must never forget that the ungodly world and hostilities that surround us are the result of the Fall, when our first parents succumbed to the temptations they faced. Temptations, and how to deal with them as followers of Christ, are no small matter. So we must know and understand the foundational instructions of this lesson, and the entire Catechism.
We are studying the Lord’s Prayer, and it is in prayer that God answers our hearts’ request to serve and please him in knowledge and obedience to his will. As we begin this study, may he bless us once again to know and do what is well-pleasing in his sight.
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WSC Q106. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
A. In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin[a], or support and deliver us when we are tempted[b].
[a] Ps. 19:13; Matt. 26:41; John 17:15
[b] Luke 22:31-32; I Cor. 10:13; II Cor. 12:7-9; Heb. 2:18
Question 106 asks what we pray for in the sixth request, and answers that in the sixth request (And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one), we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin or support and deliver us when we are tempted.
Comments and consideration:
It is wise to look at the associated scripture references, and prayerfully consider what each says, means, and commands as it contributes to this catechism’s answer. Let’s consider the first: “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression” (Ps. 19:13).
In this verse, we see a foundational principle which is also found in the sixth petition—a recognition of the sovereign power, rule, and necessary aid of our God in keeping us from sin. From previous studies we know that God is not the author of sin; from Scripture and sanctified reasoning, that is clear. Yet as our Savior from the condemnation, power, and defilement of sin (Rom. 8:1; 6: 9; Ps. 51:7), he can and will deliver us from the “fowlers snare” (Ps. 91:3) of sin’s entrapments. Our fathers rightly point out that our God will keep us from being tempted to sin, if we seek him faithfully. Herein lies the secret of the Christian life; we must live in deliberate dependenceupon God. Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), which must be read along side the emphatic words of Christ who said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). There is really no middle ground.
In current speech, we often hear the phrase the tipping point. It means that point where the preponderance of evidence and/or information shifts the balance of reasoning in one direction or another. We see ourselves as reasonable individuals who can be persuaded and influenced by rational arguments. “Just the facts” is all I need, and I presuppose I’ll do the right thing. To be truthful, I’ve frequently found that not to be the casewith myself or with others.
When I became an elder in Christ’s church I thought, “Now I’ll get to handle weighty matters; I’ll sit on the councils and committees of the church, plumbing the depths of theological issues and discussing nuanced matters of faith and truth. What I found was something quite different. Instead of dealing with tipping-point theological matters, I dealt almost entirely with the cause and effect of tripping-pointsin. It isn’t so much that people don’t know whatto do (the facts, the truth, the theological matters at stake); it is more that they don’t know howto do it. The problem is not knowledge, but the ability to overcome the stumbling blocks within (Rom 7:14ff)—sin and unbelief. There is only one factor which causes the world’s physically and spiritually polluted condition, and that is sin. In spite of mankind’s advance in this supposed age of information and logic, sin continues to plunge us into the irrational… all sorts of foolish rationalities for evil doing—self-centered, self-serving, self-consuming sin is the problem. That is why Jesus looked his disciples in the eye and said, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
We have just spent nearly two years reviewing 105 catechism lessons that teach us what we are to believeconcerning God, and what dutyGod requires of man (WSC Q3). But knowing what we are to believe and do, as incredibly important as that may be, is really not the issue. It is not a head issue, but a heart issue, from hearts that remain affected by sin. We are prone to constantly run afoul of the snares, traps, and enticements of this sin-polluted world.
Let us look further at the verses our fathers supplied for our mediation:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. John 17:15
And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” Luke 22:31-32
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. I Cor. 10:13
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. II Cor. 12:7-9
For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. Heb. 2:18
In the prayer And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we ask God to direct our ways “in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3), that he would keep us from evil and the evil one, and that our faith would not fail in the face of the temptations that are common to all until the great restoration and deliverance from the very presence of sin, in the final regeneration of all things (Matt. 19:28). Further we ask God to uphold us in our weakness, for he knows our frame, what we can endure when put to the test, and that he has supplied all we need for life and godliness (II Pet. 1:3), being “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Is. 1:18). But the psalmist says, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Is that just literary hyperbole, or is there something more that the psalmist is pointing out?
The issue is sanctification, the ongoing process of being separated from sin, putting off the old and putting on the new in Christ. Our Lord teaches that if he makes us clean, we shall be clean indeed (Is. 1:18, etc.). But sin is ever present; while we are in the flesh, we face the moment-by-moment need to confront and deal with it (I John 1). The beauty and accuracy of the Ps. 51:7 metaphor is that each snow crystal has a false appearance of purity: Each crystal is actually formed around a single particle of dust in the atmosphere (which is also why raindrops cause water spots when they land and evaporate). To be made “whiter than snow” is to be cleansed within, in anticipation of the day when “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for [all] the former things have passed away. And there shall be no more curse” (Rev. 22:2-3).
Until then, we pray with deliberate dependenceupon our perfect Advocate, the Lord Jesus. We pray for the Holy Spirit’s enabling power and application of the cross upon the ever-present threat of sin, and our self-centered disposition: lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.And with Augustine, we add, “Lord, grant what you command and command what you will.”
To God alone be the glory!
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.           Read Gal. 5:17. What does this verse describe? Read 1 Pet. 5:8. What does this verse describe, especially in relation to Gal 5:17? How does Jer. 17:9 fit into this consideration?
2.           We know from previous studies that God does not tempt us to sin, but that he does control the circumstances of our life. Often we find ourselves faced with situations that lead us into temptations. How does John 17:15 and Ps. 19:13 relate to this?
3.           We also know that we can be strengthened as we face and overcome difficult situations. How does 1Cor. 10:13 and 2Cor. 12:7-9 relate to this? What are we taught in these verses?
4.           While we can entrust ourselves to God’s care and the ordering of our circumstances, we also know that God holds us accountable for our own attitudes, the situations that we place ourselves in, and our use of time. What instructions and warnings are given to us in 2Tim. 2:22 and Eph. 4:26-27?
5.           As long as we live in this world, we will face challenges to our faith and obedience. We make decisions every day, and in our prayers we seek certain things from our God. How does Eph. 5:15-16 and Eph. 6:13-18 relate to this? What do these verses teach?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q106, WLC Q195
WSC Q106. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
A.  In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin[a], or support and deliver us when we are tempted[b].
[a]  Ps. 19:13; Matt. 26:41; John 17:15
[b]  Luke 22:31-32; ICor. 10:13; IICor. 12:7-9; Heb. 2:18
WLC Q195. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
A.  In the sixth petition, (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil[a],) acknowledging, that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations[b]; that Satan[c], the world[d], and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us[e]; and that we, even after the pardon of our sins, by reason of our corruption[f], weakness, and want of watchfulness[g], are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations[h], but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them[i]; and worthy to be left under the power of them[j]: we pray, that God would so overrule the world and all in it[k], subdue the flesh[l], and restrain Satan[m], order all things[n], bestow and bless all means of grace[o], and quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them, that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin[p]; or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation[q]; or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it[r], and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof[s]: that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected[t], Satan trodden under our feet[u], and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, forever[v].
[a]  Mat. 6:13
[b]  2Chro. 32:31
[c]  1Chro. 21:1
[d]  Luke 21:34; Mark 4:19
[e]  Jam. 1:14
[f]  Gal. 5:17
[g]  Mat. 26:41
[h]  Mat. 26:69-72; Gal. 2:11-14; 2Chro. 18:3; 19:2
[i]   Rom. 7:23-24; 1Chro. 21:1-4; 2Chro. 16:7-10
[j]   Ps. 81:11-12
[k]  John 17:15
[l]   Ps.51:10; 119:133
[m]2Cor. 12:7-8
[n]  1Cor. 10:12-13
[o]  Heb. 13:20-21
[p]  Mat.26:41; Ps. 19:13
[q]  Eph. 3:14-17; 1Thes. 3:13; Jude 24
[r]  Ps. 51;12
[s]  1Pet. 5:8-10
[t]  2Cor. 13:7, 9
[u]  Rom. 16:20; Zech. 3:2; Luke 22:31-32
[v]  John 17:15; 1Thes. 5:23
Question(s) for further study:

We see again how the Larger Catechism expands the scope of instruction found in the Shorter starting out with what assumption regarding the temptations we face; and demonstrating the magnitude and significance of our plight and condition with how many points for reference compared to the two of the Shorter?  In the end, what advance and blessings are offered in this important petition?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q105

We continue with the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, where we are called to seek forgiveness as we forgive others. This is a singularly significant instruction, which our Lord reinforces immediately following this prayer in Matt. 6:14-15. At the center of our Christian understanding is the need for the forgiveness of sin and the wondrous means by which forgiveness is secured. After praying for God’s honor, the coming of the kingdom, his will to be done, and our daily bread, the Lord brings us to our greatest spiritual problem—our alienation from God and one another. Many banners of truth fly over the pavilion of our Christian faith; and forgiveness, with the empowerment to forgive others, is one banner utmost to be proclaimed and enjoyed. This theme is repeated often in the New Testament. Hear it again proclaimed from the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against any: even as Christ forgave you, soyou also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. …… And whatever you do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ. But he that does wrong shall be repaid for that which he has done: and there is no partiality.”
Let us pray that these truths would be raised high above us in all our worship, thoughts, and deeds. May the Lord so bless us as we bring honor to his name, seek his kingdom first, do his will above all things, and daily labor in love for one another; and in so doing, fulfill the commands of our Lord and Savior.
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WSC Q105. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A. In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins[a]; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others[b].
[a] Ps. 51:1-2, 7, 9; Dan. 9:17-19; I John 1:7
[b] Matt. 18:21-35; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13
Question 105 asks what we pray for in the fifth petition and answers that in the fifth request (Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors), encouraged by God’s grace, which makes it possible for us sincerely to forgive others, we pray that for Christ’s sake God would freely pardon all our sins.
Comments and considerations:
The fifth petitionisone that needs explanation. We know that because immediately following in this model prayer in Matt. 6, the Lord further explains, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”(Matt. 6:14-15). Of the six petitions, this one has probably garnered the most discussion. Let’s see what we can learn from our fathers’ perspective.
The answer states that it is for Christ’s sake that we seek to see our sins—or debts—freely pardoned. We owe our perfectly righteous God and Father a debt that we cannot pay; our many sins reveal our bankrupt condition. Christ alone paid that debt through his active and passive obedience, imputing to us the righteousness due him, as our sins were imputed to him, and he paid our debt on the cross. We have seen all this in prior lessons; and the Scriptures abound with promises of our pardon, for Christ’s sake, due to his atoning work—redemption accomplished and applied. Thus: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ...And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (I John 1:9; 2:1-2).
Yet more seems to be implied in the convicting words found in Matt. 6:15—“Butif you do not forgive men their trespasses...”Is God’s forgiveness of us conditional upon our forgiveness of others? Notice how our fathers interpret Christ’s words: we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others. Encouraged? How does that mesh with “do not, ...neither will” in Matt. 6:15? Our Lord was straightforward on this point, and later he tells the story of the unforgiving servant to drive the point home; that illustration is even included in the references to this catechism answer (Matt. 18:21-35).
Our first principle of interpretation must be to use the whole counsel of God. As we near the end of our catechetical study, we ought to know that we are neither saved nor forgiven by works. But our Lord does expect fruits of righteousness; he holds high expectations of those who carry his name. That great statement of the gospel—“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9)—is followed by this often overlooked but equally important truth: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). James is quite clear that our faith must be an active faith if its truth is not to be questioned (James 2:14ff). Thus the Lord’s point is that the recipients of salvation have been forgiven much and are expected to pass it forwardin forgiving others.
We also see in this petition the importance of unity among God’s people. I never weary of pointing out that after three chapters of doctrinal discourse in Ephesians, whereby Paul shows all the wondrous treasures we own in Christ, he opens the last three chapters’ application with this: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthyof the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unityof the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). In other words, you have been forgiven much, so you are to be living witnesses to that fact—teaching, advocating, encouraging, modeling and mentoring others in “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” When our great Adversary tempted the first Adam, and sin came into this world, it resulted in disunity and a discord that our Lord hates (Prov. 6:19). The second Adam reverses that destruction; he calls and empowers his own to rise above their petty self-centered sinfulness; we are called to something far greater in the “life out of death” principle (Mark 10:21), dying to self that we might live Christ.
One of the greatest gifts of grace is the abilityto forgive!See how our fathers put it: because by his grace we are enabledfrom the heart to forgive others. That word enabledmeans provided with the ability, released, freed; supplied with sufficient power, physical, moral or legal. We are given the enabling power of Christ! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). When Christ makes us free, we are free indeed (John 8:36)—free to do what we ought and now have the ability to do! Whereas before I had no concept or power of forgiveness, nowin Christ, I have many opportunities to demonstrate forgiveness in forgiving others as I have been forgiven. In my flesh, such opportunities (offenses calling for my forgiveness) may appear problematic, but in the spiritthey are just the opposite, or should be. Which brings us to this supposed “problematic” word our fathers used to instruct us saying, rather encouraged to ask. As we have seen so often before, our fathers selected their words carefully, and a moment of musing will prove so once again.
Our Lord knows our frame; he knows we need grace and knowledge, faith and courage. To encourageis to instill courage, call for courage, inspire, raise hope and confidence, embolden, comfort, cheer, strengthen, en-hearten. We are taught here the two directions of forgiveness, and both directions take courage and faith—sometimes great faith for great courage: We must seek forgiveness for our own sins from our God and Father; and we must forgive others from the heart (see Matt. 18:21-35). It is a matter of courage rather than mere compliance; only the Lord can accurately measure the heart as we struggle to obey and forgive (Jer. 17:9) as we have been forgiven.
So it is, the apostle of grace repeats this instruction saying, “and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32; cf. Col. 3:13).
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” To God alone be the glory! (Eph. 2:10).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.           Read II Cor. 5:21. Ponder this verse for a moment as you consider this particular catechism question. What debt do we owe God? In ourselves, what hope do we have of paying that debt? In light of our bankrupt spiritual condition, how significant is it to know that the death of Christ has paid the debt his people owned?
2.           We do not deserve to be forgiven of our sins, yet God in his mercy has provided a way out. Read Psa. 51:1 and Isa. 53:4-6. According to these two passages, what moved God, and how did he affect a means to forgive us?
3.           Psa. 51: 8-12 describes the attitude and desire of one who honestly prays the fifth petition. List the things that are prayed for here.
4.           Immediately following our Lord’s instruction regarding the Lord’s Prayer, what lesson does he reinforce? (See Matt. 6:14-15.)
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q105, WLC Q194
WSC Q105. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A.  In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,we pray that God, for Christ's sake, would freely pardon all our sins[a]; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others[b].
[a]  Ps. 51:1-2, 7, 9; Dan. 9:17-19; IJohn 1:7
[b]  Matt. 18:21-35; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13
WLC Q194. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A.  In the fifth petition, (which is, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors[a],) acknowledging, that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God; and that neither we, nor any other creature, can make the least satisfaction for that debt[b]: we pray for ourselves and others, that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith, acquit us both from the guilt and punishment of sin[c], accept us in his Beloved[d]; continue his favour and grace to us[e], pardon our daily failings[f], and fill us with peace and joy, in giving us daily more and more assurance of forgiveness[g]; which we are the rather emboldened to ask, and encouraged to expect, when we have this testimony in ourselves, that we from the heart forgive others their offenses[h].
[a]  Mat. 6:12
[b]  [Rom. 3:9-12, 19; Mat. 18:24-25; Ps. 130:3-4
[c]  Rom. 3:24-26; Heb. 9:22
[d]  Eph. 1:6-7
[e]  2Pet. 1:2
[f]  Hos. 14:2; Jer. 14:7
[g]  Rom. 15:13; Ps. 51:7-10, 12
[h]  Luke 11:4; Mat. 11:14-15; 18:35
Question(s) for further study:

We see here how the Larger Catechism expands the scope of instruction found in the Shorter by first showing what aspect of the human condition before a just God? Expanding at length on the degree of favor and grace extended, what does the answer focus upon at the end?