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, August 19, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q56

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q43-62) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The First Table. (see Harmony Index)
As we continue our study in the third commandment, we see how seriously God takes the use of his name.  Ecc. 7:1 says very simply that, “a good name is better than precious ointment.” How well we understand this. Companies spend a great deal of energy and financial capital to build and protect name identity and recognition; they go to great lengths to punish those who damage their reputation. Yet our culture has little concern for the honor of God’s name, the name that is precious above all else.
It has been said that “names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth’s marvels, beneath the dust of habit” (anon). What is our habit? How do we bear God’s name in our daily activities? Do we use his precious name in ways that bring honor or dishonor?
As we prayerfully consider this issue, we need to be reminded that our God takes the use of his name very seriously, and so ought we. May God grant us the understanding and ability to bear his name rightly.
WSC Q56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A.  The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment[a].
[a] Deut. 28:58-59; I Sam. 3:13; 4:11
Question 56 asks what the reason is for the third commandment, and answers that the reason for the third commandment is that the Lord our God will not allow those who break this commandment to escape his righteous judgment, although they may escape punishment from men.
Comments and considerations:
We come to a fourth study of the third commandment. We’ve seen that we usually think of using the Lord’s name in vain through foul and abusive language. But as we have observed, it goes far deeper than that; God requires the holy and reverend use of his names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works; he forbids their polluting or abuse, since these are how God makes himself known. The commandment ends with this statement: “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.”
Notice how our fathers put the proposition: “the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.” Consider the providence of God and his righteous judgments which will certainly come to pass. As Israel was entering into the Promised Land, Moses gave this sobering warning:
Then Moses said to them: “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before the LORD for the war, and all your armed men cross over the Jordan before the LORD until He has driven out His enemies from before Him, and the land is subdued before the LORD, then afterward you may return and be blameless before the LORD and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:20-21).
“Your sin will find you out.” What is that old adage? “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Well, the fact is we can fool God none of the time; though men may not notice or punish our vain bearing of God’s name, the One who examines the heart will see. There are no more sobering words than what our Lord promised centuries later:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23).
As we studied the character trait of honesty in our Christian school, we discussed hypocrisy and counterfeiting. To illustrate the lesson, one of the fifth grade students wrote a clever story about a den of thieves who made counterfeit money and profited as the fake bills were spread around town; in an unexpected twist of events, they received the counterfeit money themselves in a transaction gone bad, and eventually they were caught by the law. The moral: beware, lest your sin find you out.
We sometimes struggle over the apparent prosperity of the unrighteous: “For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked… They have more than heart could wish. They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth” (Ps. 73:3, 7-9). But then the psalmist writes, “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors” (Ps. 73:16-19).
James cautions us this way: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (Jam. 1:22-24).
Again, however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment:
Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
For what good is the day of the LORD to you?
It will be darkness, and not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him!
 Or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him! (Amos 5:18-19).
As we close this consideration of the third commandment, we must ask, do we hold the Lord’s name in vain? See how the psalmist closes Ps. 73.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works (Ps. 73:23-28).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read Rom. 10:12-13. What does it mean that, “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved”? (Also see the context of Joel 2:32.) Why is it important to know the name of one who has promised to deliver you from trouble, especially the trouble and condemnation of sin?
2.     Righteous judgment has as its goal a change in behavior or attitude, the turning away from sin. In Rev. 16:8-9, what is the outcome of God’s punishment in this incident?
3.     God allows his people to be called, or identified, by his name. In Deut. 28:9-10, what is the outcome of this honor? In Deut. 28:58-59, what ought we to fear if we dishonor his name?
4.     Being so honored as God’s people, bearing his name, how should God’s people conduct themselves? See II Tim. 2:19.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q56, WLC Q114, and WCF XXII.IV
WSC Q56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A.  The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment[a].
[a]  Deut. 28:58-59; I Sam. 3:13; 4:11
WLC Q114. What reasons are annexed to the third commandment?
A.  The reasons annexed to the third commandment, in these words, “The Lord thy God,” and, “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain,”[a] are, because he is the Lord and our God, therefore his name is not to be profaned, or any way abused by us[b]; especially because he will be so far from acquitting and sparing the transgressors of this commandment, as that he will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment[c]; albeit many such escape the censures and punishments of men[d].
      [a]  Exod. 20:7
      [b]  Lev. 19:12
      [c]  Ezek. 36:21-23; Deut. 28:58-59; Zech. 5:2-4
      [d]  1Sam. 2:12, 17, 22, 24; 3:13
Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.
IV. An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation.[i]  It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man's own hurt.[k]  Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels[l].
      [i].  Jer. 4:2; Ps. 24:4
      [k]. I Sam. 25:22, 32-34; Ps. 15:4
      [l].  Ezek. 17:16-19; Josh. 9:18-19; II Sam. 21:1
Question(s) for further study:

The Shorter and Larger Catechism ask the same question here, but are different, the Larger seeking to answer what? How does our being made in the image of God, to give witness to His name as it were, give weight to the implications reasoned here?   

Monday, August 12, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q55

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q43-62) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The First Table. (see Harmony Index)
In times past, policemen in movies and books would knock on doors with the phrase “open up in the name of the law.” Have you noticed that they don’t seem to do that anymore? Now they just shout “police” as they bang down a door and burst in upon a suspect. Why is that? Has the phrase “the name of the law” fallen into disuse because it has lost its significance? Do people no longer respect or fear the law’s authority or its enforcement? Has the phrase been misused to the point that it no longer holds credibility? 
We continue our study in the third commandment, dealing particularly with the misuse of God’s name. In light of the musing above, it is interesting to note James 5:12, one of the Scripture texts attached to this catechism question. This familiar verse says, “Let your yes be yes; and your no, no; so that you do not fall into condemnation.” Does it seem to you that we now live in a society where our “yes” is no longer “yes,” and our “no” is no longer “no,” - where our simplest of words have lost their meaning?  If so, is it because we have profaned those words through misuse and self-serving abuse? And could it be that the respect and fear of our God has been lost for the very same reason—the misuse and abuse of his name—especially by those who claim to be God’s people?
Again we approach our study praying that God would make these things real, that we would both believe and live out the Word of truth in ways that truly glorify our God and Savior.
Q.  55. What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A.   The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known[a].
[a] Lev. 19:12; Matt. 5:33-37; Jam. 5:12
Question 55 asks what the third commandment forbids, and answers that the third commandment forbids our treating as unholy or abusing anything God uses to make himself known.
Comments and considerations:
“He is a man of his word.” or “Trust him, he’ll keep his word.” How many people do you know for whom that is true? In our character trait training at our little Christian school, one of the topics we discuss is honesty. One definition to illustrate the various aspects of honesty is “saying what you mean, and meaning what you say.” That sounds like James 5:12, quoted above.
The verses referenced by the writers of the catechism deal with the swearing of oaths. As we lay claim upon the name of our God, we are to do so in truth, not falsely or in vain. We are forbidden “all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known.” God makes himself known through the instruction of his Word, through his “names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works” (WSC Q54), and through the deeds of his people. Have you heard the saying, “Speak the Gospel always, and when necessary use words?”  I can find some fault with that idea, but it does contain a kernel of truth. Sometimes our actions speak louder than words, and sorrowfully, not always to the good. Peter said, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (I Pet. 3:15). A wise man once said that the reason so many Christians find themselves on the defensive is that so few give credible witness to “a reason for the hope” which is supposedly in them, giving a witness instead to their own need to more fully “sanctify the Lord God in [their] hearts.”
As we saw in the previous study, the first of the Ten Commandments tells us who to worship—God, and God alone. The second tells us how we are to approach God in worship. The third commandment focuses our attention on the heart attitude we are to have towards our God. Our Lord Jesus was succinct when he said that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out, for “those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man” (Matt. 15:7-18).
When we think of using the Lord’s name in vain, we usually think first of foul and abusive language. But as we see here, it goes far deeper than that. To bring this closer to home, consider for a moment changing one word in our catechism question. The word profaning has fallen into modern disuse and might helpfully be updated. A quick look at Webster’s 1828 Dictionary reveals a to-the-point definition: “Violating; treating with irreverence; polluting. Notice the word polluting. That’s certainly relevant in these times of militant environmentalism. So if we were to substitute the word profaning with polluting—see how it reads and muse upon the implications: The third commandment forbiddeth all polluting or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known.
What if the world took this third commandment as seriously as it does the saving of the planet, the whale, and baby seals?  How might current culture differ if individuals were as concerned for soul pollution as society appears to be for environmental pollution?
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     We saw in the last catechism question and answer that God makes himself known to us through his names, titles, and attributes; and in his regulations for coming to him for growth in godliness in word and works. The third commandment requires us not only to use these things rightly, but with reverence. Read Mal. 2:2. How does this verse express the serious nature of the use or misuse of the name of God?
2.     Lev. 24:13-16 describes an event in which an individual misused the name of the Lord as a curse. What did God command Moses regarding this incident, and what was the result? (See verse 23.)
3.     God provides his people with the law and commandments, and makes himself known through the instructions of the Word. Even so, these gifts do not benefit us if we our heart attitude is wrong or we misuse what God has provided. What do the following verses say about this? Ps. 50:16-17, II Pet. 2:16; Hos. 13:6, and Jer. 5:3.
4.     There is a danger in assuming one thing to be true when the fact is just the opposite. Untruth is sometimes very obvious, but sometimes not. We can misuse God’s name and even deceive ourselves. What did the Lord Jesus say about this in Matt. 7:21-23 and what was the “misuse” described in this text?

Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q55, WLC Q113, and WCF XXII.III
Q.  55. What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A.  The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known[a].
[a]  Lev. 19:12; Matt. 5:33-37; Jas. 5:12
WLC Q113. What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A.  The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God's name as is required[a]; and the abuse of it in an ignorant[b], vain[c], irreverent, profane[d], superstitious[e] or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes[f], ordinances[g], or works[h], by blasphemy[i], perjury[j]; all sinful cursings[k], oaths[l], vows[m], and lots[n]; violating of our oaths and vows, if lawful[o] and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful[p]; murmuring and quarrelling at[q], curious prying into[r], and misapplying of God's decrees[s]  and providences[t]; misinterpreting[u], misapplying[v], or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it[w]; to profane jests[x], curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines[y]; abusing it, the creatures, or anything contained under the name of God, to charms[z], or sinful lusts and practices[aa]; the maligning[bb], scorning[cc], reviling[dd], or any wise opposing of God's truth, grace, and ways[ee]; making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends[ff]; being ashamed of it[gg], or a shame to it, by unconformable[hh], unwise[ii], unfruitful[jj], and offensive walking[kk], or backsliding from it[ll].
      [a]  Mal. 2:2
      [b]. Acts 17:23
      [c]  Prov. 30:9
      [d]  Mal. 1:6-7, 12; Mal. 3:14
      [e]  1Sam. 4:3-5; Jer. 7:4, 9-10, 14, 31; Col. 2:20-22
      [f]  2Kng. 18:30, 35; Exod. 5:2; Ps. 139:20
      [g]  Ps. 50:16-17
      [h]  Isa. 5:12
      [i]   2Kng. 19:22; Lev. 24:11
      [j]   Zech. 5:4; 8:17
      [k]  1Sam. 17:43; 2Sam. 16:5
      [l]   Jer. 5:7; 23:10
      [m] Deut. 23:18; Acts 23:12, 14
      [n]  Esth. 3:7; 9:24; Ps. 22:18
      [o]  Ps.24:4; Ezek. 17:16, 18-19
      [p]  Mark 6:26; 1Sam. 25:22, 32-34
      [q]  Rom. 9:14, 19-20
      [r]  Deut. 29:29
      [s]  Rom. 3:5, 7; 6:1
      [t]   Ecc. 8:11; 9:3; Ps. 39
      [u]  Mat. 5:21 to the end (See Quest. 99, number 38.)
      [v]  Ezek. 13:22
      [w] 2Pet. 3:16; Mat. 22:24-31
      [x]  Isa. 22:13; Jer. 23:34, 36, 38
      [y]  1Tim. 1:4, 6-7; 6:4-5, 20; 2Tim. 2:14; Tit. 3:9
      [z]  Deut. 18:10-14; Acts 19:13
      [aa] 2Tim. 4:3-4; Rom. 13:13-14; 1Kng. 21:9-10; Jude 4
      [bb] Acts 13:45; 1John 3:12
      [cc] Ps. 1:1; 2Pet. 3:3
      [dd] 1Pet. 4:4
      [ee] Acts 13:45-46, 50; 4:18; 19:9; 1Thes. 2:16; Heb. 10:29
      [ff] 2Tim. 3:5; Mat. 23:14; 6:1-2, 5, 16
      [gg] Mark 8:38
      [hh] Ps. 73:14-15
      [ii] 1Cor. 6:5-6; Eph. 5:15-17
      [jj]  Isa. 5:4; 2Pet. 1:8-9
      [kk] Rom. 2:23-24
      [ll]  Gal. 3:1, 3; Heb. 6:6
Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.
III. Whosoever taketh an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth:[g] neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believeth so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform[h].
      [g]  Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Jer. 4:2; Hos. 10:4
      [h]  Gen. 24:2-9; Neh. 5:12-13; Ecc. 5:2, 5
Question(s) for further study:
Our Lord Jesus said that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out, and James along with Proverbs has much to say about the use and misuse to the tongue.  Apparently, this point was not lost upon our fathers who expanded the Shorter Catechism’s single scripture reference line to, well … how many lines of reference are listed out in Larger Catechism Q#113?  What is different in how the Larger Question is asked; and what is “vain jangling” found at reference “y?”