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 22, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q39


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q39-42) is The Law of God; Christian Liberty. (see Harmony Index)
WSC Q3 asks what the Scriptures principally teach, and answers that they teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is divided into two basic sections— what we are to believe and what we are required to do regarding God. That is a common structure we find throughout Scripture. In the wisdom literature of the Bible, Solomon records, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecc. 12:13). WSC Q38 completed the first part of this wisdom of what we are to believe concerning God; now we commence the second section regarding our duties before our covenant-keeping God.
As always, we approach our study in prayer that the Lord would bless our understanding and obedience to his word that both instructs and commands us.
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WSC Q39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a] Deut. 29:29; Mic. 6:8; I John 5:2-3
Question #39 asks what God requires of man, and answers that God requires man to obey his revealed will.
Comments and considerations:
We come now to the second great section of the Catechism. Having considered “what man is to believe concerning God,” we now consider “what duty God requires of man.” But we do well to remember that these two things can never be separated in the life of the Christian. There is no true faith without obedience. And there is not real obedience without faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). And faith without obedience is dead (James 2:22).
It is man’s duty to obey God. The reason for this is that God is the creator and man is a mere creature. Because God created man He therefore has “a right” to require what He will from man. Because man is only a creature, he has “no right” to “go his own way, and do his own will.” No, the only “right” for man is to obey God. So, in the very nature of the case, the will of God is the rule by which man ought to live.
The above quotation is from Lesson 1 of The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, Volume 2, by G.I Williamson. It provides an excellent beginning for our study of the second half of the catechism. It also reveals wording that might cause some to squirm, representing the line between those who would “fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecc. 12:13) and those who would rather “...be like God, knowing [determine for themselves] good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Comments like “God ... therefore has ‘a right’ to require what He will from man” are at odds with fallen man’s rebellious heart; sinners are not receptive to the idea that they have “no right” to go their own way. When we speak of human rights, rarely do we concede that the “only ‘right’ for man is to obey God.” Yet in the pursuit of happiness, looking for that which would fill the hole in his heart, Solomon—who had at his disposal everything he needed to plumb the depths of the issue—said in the end, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Eccl. 12:13).
To quote G.I Williamson again, “in the very nature of the case, the will of God is the rule by which man ought to live.” The operative word is, of course, ought. That word is defined as an “obligation to pay; to be bound in duty or by moral obligation, to pay what is owed” (Webster’s Dictionary). A synonym is should, but whereas both words imply obligation, ought is the stronger. Should implies a mere obligation to what is proper, while ought denotes an obligation of duty. G.I. Williamson has used the right word here, as it denotes “the duty which God requires.” We covered this term duty back in WSC Q3; and as we now close the first section and commence the second, the definition of duty warrants repeating.
Duty derives its meaning from the idea of “dues,” or “that which is owed.” Thus one of the tertiary definitions for duty is a “tax” or “toll.” However, we are more familiar with duty as it relates to personal responsibilities—that which a person owes to another and is bound, by moral or legal obligation, to pay or perform. The term finds further definition in words like obedience, respect, reverence, forbearance, and submission. The fathers of our faith chose their words carefully, and the implications of this definition must be pondered. Duty conveys a sense of moral commitment and results in actions, not merely in feelings and the passive recognition of authority. It involves personal sacrifice. Duty is active, a personal commitment that comes at a cost.
We must remember that these catechism questions are linked; they must be understood as a whole. Consider again our chief end as stated in Question 1, to glorify and enjoy God forever. It has been said that events belong to God, but duties belong to us. When we study God as our forefathers intended, we see his sovereign power, wonderful grace, and awesome majesty. Our response is a glad and continuous act of duty to manifest his glory as his image bearers, the recipients of a so great and wondrous salvation; in so doing, truly “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).
The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
As followers of Christ, we pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In times of crisis, when we are tempted to go either way, as “imitators of Christ” (I Cor 11:1), we pray with a heart to obey, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will [Your will be done]” (Matt. 26:39). This is the proper response of the true follower and disciple of Christ.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read Ps. 95:1-6. What does verse 6 tell us about who we are? What does verse 3 tell us concerning God? Putting these two verses together, what must we acknowledge, and how does this relate to the catechism lesson under consideration?
2.     Read Deut. 29:29. There are some things that God has not revealed, which remain hidden in his wisdom and purpose. But a large body of knowledge has been made known to us. According to Deut. 29:29, what is required of us regarding what has been revealed? Also see James. 1:22-25.
3.     When the catechism says, “God requires,” what does it mean? Does God understand that we are not perfect, and is he content with us as long as we try to do our best? Does it make a difference who we are socially, or in relation to others? For example, does God have a different expectation for those who are raised in a Christian family, as opposed to those who are not? Read Rom. 2:9-13 and I Pet. 1:14-17. What do these references says concerning this?
4.     Let us not be confused concerning these things. We are not accepted by God according to our works. Salvation comes to us by virtue of the perfect work of Christ on our behalf, received by faith. God requires that we be holy, and that holiness come by the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed, or accounted to us, unto salvation. However, even though we are saved by grace and not by works, God still requires of us a behavior that gives witness to him and his perfect character and law. Read Matt. 7:21-27 carefully. What is Christ teaching in this account?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q39, WLC Q91
WSC Q39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a] Deut. 29:29; Mic. 6:8; I John 5:2-3
WLC Q91 What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A.  The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a]  Rom. 12:1-2; Micah 6:8; 1Sam. 15:22
Questions for further study:

Though these two question and answers are identical, what are the variations in scripture references the fathers chose to use?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q38



The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q38) is The Resurrection and the Judgment. (see Harmony Index)
In our last study, we looked at the benefits which believers receive from Christ at death. Now we consider the resurrection, in this final question of the first division of the catechism—the section on “what man must believe” (WSC Q3). Again, we pray that the Lord would bless time spent in these things, that we might truly grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit glorify our Father in all that we think, say, and do.
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WSC Q38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
A. At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory[a], shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment[b], and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God[c] to all eternity[d].
[a] I Cor. 15:42-43
[b] Matt. 25:33-34, 46
[c] Rom. 8:29; I John 3:2
[d] Ps. 16:11; I Thess. 4:17
Question # 38 asks what benefits believers receive from Christ at the resurrection, and answers that at the resurrection, believers, raised in glory, will be publicly recognized and declared not guilty on the day of judgment, and will be made completely happy in the full enjoyment of God forever.
Comments and considerations:
In our study of WSC Q3 (“What do the Scriptures principally teach?), it began with the following two paragraphs, which now serve as a good conclusion to the first section of the catechism:
My godly stepfather once told me that if people were to fully understand the first four words of the Bible, everything else would fall correctly into place: “In the beginning, God…” A wise man, my stepfather.
The first scripture reference associated with this catechism question is Gen. 1:1, and it must be our starting point for understanding the authority of God’s inspired Word. This catechism question mentions two things—our beliefs and our actions, our faith and our practice. This is, in fact, how the entire Shorter Catechism is arranged. Questions 1-38 deal with what are we to believe, and Questions 39-107 deal with our duties, the sacraments, and prayer.
It is appropriate that this section of the catechism closes with the doctrine of the resurrection. It is a doctrine central to the church and the followers of Christ: 
“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (I Cor. 15:14 -15).
For far too many, this teaching on the resurrection is hard to believe:
“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter’” (Acts 17:32).
In the face of this unbelief we are reminded that faith comes by hearing, and that we believe in order that we might understand. Therefore, though we may not be able to comprehend how a decayed or destroyed human body could one day “stand again” (the literal definition of resurrection), physically raised from the dead and reunited with the soul, we must nevertheless believe it. From beginning to end, nothing changes with our immutable God; he is able and to him who made all things out of nothing, no thing is impossible: “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible’” (Mark 10:27).
Apart from the fact that God is able, there are so many “miracles” of nature that show God’s design and purpose. Jesus himself used the illustration of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, yet springs forth after its kind (John 12). The Apostle Paul used this same analogy in I Cor. 15 to explain the workings of the resurrection; “the body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption” (15:42), and “death is swallowed up in victory” (15:54). As our catechism rightly teaches, “believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”
Then will all God’s people finally reach our “chief end.”  We will fully, completely, freely, and joyfully, glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     At the resurrection, God will bring this sinful world to an end. Jesus Christ will return in power and glory, and he will destroy his enemies. Read John 6:39-40. What great promise for the believer is mentioned here? To whom and to what extent is this promise made?
2.     At the resurrection, those who have died in Christ will be raised up from the dead in new and glorified bodies. But what about those who are alive at his coming? See I Thess. 4:16-17 and I Cor. 15:51-52.
3.     What does it mean that resurrected believers will be “openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment?” See Matt. 10:32 and Matt. 25:32-33.
4.     What does it mean that resurrected believers will be made “perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity?” See Rev. 21:3-4 and 22:3-5.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q38, WLC Q88-90, & WCF XXXIII
WSC Q38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
A. At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory[a], shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment[b], and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God[c] to all eternity[d].
[a] I Cor. 15:42-43
[b] Matt. 25:33-34, 46
[c] Rom. 8:29; I John 3:2
[d] Ps. 16:11; I Thess. 4:17
WLC Q88. What shall immediately follow after the resurrection?
A.  Immediately after the resurrection shall follow the general and final judgment of angels and men[a]; the day and hour whereof no man knoweth, that all may watch and pray, and be ever ready for the coming of the Lord[b].
[a]   2Pet. 2:4, 6-7, 14-15; Mat. 25:46
[b]   Mat. 24:36, 42, 44; Luke 21:35-36
WLC Q89. What shall be done to the wicked at the day of judgment?
A.  At the day of judgment, the wicked shall be set on Christ's left hand[a], and, upon clear evidence, and full conviction of their own consciences[b], shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them[c]; and thereupon shall be cast out from the favourable presence of God, and the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels, into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels forever[d].
[a]   Matt. 25:33
[b]   Rom. 2:15-16
[c]   Mat. 25:41-43
[d]   Luke 16:26; 2Thes. 1:8-9
WLC Q90.
A.  At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds [a], shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted[b], shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men[c], and shall be received into heaven[d], where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery[e]; filled with inconceivable joys[f], made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels[g], but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity[h]. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.
[a]   1Thes. 4:17
[b]   Mat. 25:33; 10:32
[c]   1Cor. 6:2-3
[d]   Mat. 25:34, 46
[e]   Eph. 5:27; Rev. 14:13
[f]   Ps. 16:11
[g]   Heb.12:22-23
[h]  1John 3:2; 1Cor. 13:12; 1Thes. 4:17-18
CHAPTER. XXXIII.
Of the Last Judgment.
I.    God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ[a] to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father.[b] In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged,[c] but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil[d].
[a]   Acts 17:31
[b]   John 5:22, 27
[c]   Jude 6; II Pet. 2:4
[d]   II Cor. 5:10; Ecc. 12:14; Rom. 2:16; Rom. 14:10, 12; Matt. 12:36-37
II.  The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power[e].
[e]   Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-6; Rom. 9:22-23; Matt. 25:21; Acts 3:19; II Thess. 1:7-10
III. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity:[f] so will he have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen[g].
[f]   II Pet. 3:11, 14; II Cor. 5:10-11; II Thess. 1:5-7; Luke 21:27-28; Rom. 8:23-25
[g]   Matt. 24:36, 42-44; Mark 13:35-37; Luke 12:35-36; Rev. 22:20
Questions for further study:

The instruction of WSC Q38 ends the first half instruction of the shorter catechism, rehearsing the benefits that believers receive from Christ at the resurrection.  What other aspects regarding the resurrection does the Larger Catechism and Confession of Faith bring out?  Are there motivations to this life surrounding the doctrine of the resurrection, and if so what might they be?