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 13, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q7

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q7-8) is The Decrees, or the Eternal Purpose of God. (see Harmony Index)

When I was young, my mother placed a decorative plaque in a prominent location in our kitchen. On the plaque, along with an image of a little flower, were the words, “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
Now, every spring there is a particular flower in our backyard that comes out of its winter nap and offers up a beautiful bloom of color in the warm, renewing rays of the lingering sun. I don’t remember planting it. It dies off in the late summer, is forgotten, and then returns every year to surprise and delight the family. It continues to bloom where it was planted, bringing beauty to its place, and joy to those around.
Each spring when that little plant reappears, I think of my mother and her plaque, which very much typified her Christian witness to the apostle Paul’s statement that “...I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). It is a simple lesson, but not easily learned; still, it is an imperative if we are to truly “glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” The following catechism question provides a critical ingredient for blooming brightly in the soil of God’s providence.  May the Lord bless his church and each individual in comprehension of and obedience to this vital confessional truth.
WSC Q7.  What are the decrees of God?
A.  The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass[a].
[a] Ps. 33:11; Is. 14:24; Acts 2:23; Eph. 1:11-12
Question #7 asks what are the decrees of God, and answers that the decrees of God are his eternal plan based on the purpose of his will, by which, for his own glory, he has foreordained everything that happens.
Comments and considerations:
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. He has sworn, saying, “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, and as I have purposed, so it shall stand.”(Ps. 33:11; Is. 14:24) 
We are not particularly familiar or comfortable with “decrees.” As Americans, we view ourselves as free, self-governing people; we understand the “rule of law,” but the idea that those in power may make rules without our consent rubs us the wrong way. So the definition of a decree from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary — “In general, an order, edict or law made by a superior as a rule to govern inferiors”—may go unappreciated. On the other hand, the term also has its meaning tied to “judicial decisions, or determinations,” or a “an edict made by a council.” Webster adds to the list of definitions: “In theology, predetermined purpose of God; the purpose or determination of an immutable Being, whose plan of operations is, like himself, unchangeable.” (To this we might correctly add “ his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,” from WSC Q4.)
Our unfamiliarity with the word “decree” has a lot to do with our history, our forefathers’ battles to overthrow absolute and abusive power. We distrust those who would rule rather than serve the people (Matt. 20:24-28). Yet the concept of “decree” has sovereign power at its very root. According to Webster, the verb form means “to fix or appoint; to set or constitute by edict or in purpose.” He adds a quotation from Job 22:28—“Thou shalt decree a thing, and it shall be established”—and concludes, “Let us not be solicitous to know what God has decreed concerning us.” Why? Well, because along with his other infinite, eternal, and immutable attributes, our God who decrees all things by his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will and for his own glory, is also all wise, holy, just, good, and true. By his power and authority alone, “he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” To those who know his grace and infinite tender mercies, this is cause for humility, rejoicing, and glad submission.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    Read Psalm 33:11. What happens to the plans we make? Why are they subject to change? Is God ever surprised by things that happen? If not, why? 
2.    A wise man once said that the wisdom of the ages is found in discovering what God is doing and following his purposes. According to the Bible, for what purpose has God created all things? Read Hab. 2:14; Is. 40:5; Ps. 19:1; Is. 43:7; Ps. 96:3, 8.
3.    A decree is an order issued by a king that everyone in his kingdom must obey. Read Ps. 148:1-12; Ps. 2:6-8. What are two things that has God decreed? 
4.    To what extent—how far and how many things—does God foreordain (decree), plan, and order in advance? Read Is. 45:6-7; Jer. 1:5; Acts 13: 48.
5.    Some people think that God, knowing all things, looks ahead into the future and makes his plans (decrees) around what he knows will happen. Is this what the Bible teaches? Read Is. 46:9-10 and Is. 55:10-11.

Harmony of the Standards:WSC Q# 7; WLC Q#’s 12 & 13; WCF III.I-VIII.
WSC Q7. What are the decrees of God?
A.  The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass[a].
 [a] Ps. 33:11; Isa. 14:24; Acts 2:23; Eph. 1:11-12
WLC Q12.  What are the decrees of God?
A.  God's decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will[a], whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time[b], especially concerning angels and men.
[a] Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33, 9:14-15, 28
[b] Eph. 1:4, 11; Rom. 9:22-23; Ps. 33:11
WLC Q13. What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
A.  God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory[a]; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof[b]; and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favor as he pleaseth) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice[c].
[a] I Tim. 5:21
[b] Eph. 1:4-6; II Thes. 2:13-14
[c] Rom. 9:17-18, 21-22; Matt. 11:25-26; II Tim. 2:20; Jude 4; I Pet. 2:8
Of God's Eternal Decree.
I.   God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass[a]; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin [b];  nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established[c].
[a] Ps. 33:11; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Acts 4:27; Matt. 10:29; Eph. 2:10
[b] Ps. 5:4; James 1:13-14; I John 1:5; Hab. 1:13
[c] Acts 2:23; Matt. 17:12; Acts 4:27-28; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33; Acts 27:23, 24, 34, 44
II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions[d]; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions[e].
[d] I Sam. 23:11-12; Matt. 11:21, 23 
[e] Rom. 9:11, 13, 16, 18
III.  By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life[f]; and others foreordained to everlasting death[g].
[f] I Tim. 5:21; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29, 30; John 10:27-29
[g] Eph. 1:5-6; Rom. 9:22-23; Prov. 16:4; Jude 4; Matt. 25:41
IV.  These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished[h].
 [h] John 13:18; II Tim. 2:19; John 10:14-16, 27, 28, 29; John 17:2, 6:37-39; Acts 13:48
V.  Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid[i], according to his eternal and immutable purpose[j], and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will[k], hath chosen, in Christ[l], unto everlasting glory[m], out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto [n]; and all to the praise of his glorious grace[o].
[i] Eph. 1:4
[j] Eph. 1:11
[k] Eph. 1:9
[l] I Tim. 1:9
[m] Rom. 8:30; I Pet. 5:10
[n] II Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:6; Eph. 2:8,9
[o] Eph. 1:5, 6, 12
VI.As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto[p].  Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ[q], are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season[r], are justified[s], adopted [t], sanctified [u], and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation[v].  Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only[w]
[p] I Pet. 1:2; Eph. 2:10; II Thess. 2:13; Eph. 1:4
[q] I Thess. 5:9-10; Titus 2:14; Rom. 9:11
[r] II Thess. 2:13, 14; Rom. 9:11; I Corh. 1:9
[s] Rom. 8:30
[t] Eph. 1:5;
[u] Eph. 1:4; I Thess. 4:3; II Thess. 2:13
[v] I Pet. 1:5;  John 10:28
[w] John 17:9; John 6:64, 65; John 8:47; John 10:26; Acts 13:48; I John 2:19
VII.  The rest of mankind God, was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or witholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by[x]; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin[y], to the praise of his glorious justice[z].
[x] Matt. 11:25-26
[y] Rom. 2:8,9; II Thess. 2:10, 11, 12; Rom.9:14-22
[z] Rev. 15:3,4
VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care[aa], that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election[bb].  So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God[cc]; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel[dd].
[aa]  Rom. 9:20; Rom. 11:33; Deut. 29:29
[bb]  II Pet. 1:10; I Thess. 1:4-5
[cc]  Eph. 1:6; Rom. 11:33
[dd]  Rom. 11:5-6, 20; Rom. 8:33; Luke 10:20; II Pet. 1:10
Questions for further study:
There is certainly much to consider in the study of the decrees of God and all that He has foreordained. But in the end, what is of utmost importance in handling the high mystery of predestination?  (1)

1- See and carefully consider WCF III.VIII 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q6

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q4-6) is The Being, Attributes and Persons of the Godhead. (see Harmony Index)

Our study in the Shorter Catechism continues with the doctrine of the Trinity. May the truth of this teaching and its implications guide and strengthen our Christian walk in the Triune God, who has authored, performed, and applied a so great salvation to the beloved sheep of his pasture. Truly we are the recipients of great grace and tender mercies.
WSC Q6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
Answer:  There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost[a]; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory[b].
[a] Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19; II Cor. 13:14; I Pet. 1:2
[b] Ps. 45:6; John 1:1, 17:5; Acts 5:3-4; Rom. 9:5; Col. 2:9; Jude 24-25

Question #6 asks how many persons are in the one God, and answers that there are three persons in the one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and that these three are one God, the same in substance and equal in power and glory.

Comments and considerations:
We have come upon a doctrine, an understanding, yes, a very word, that is uniquely Christian and cannot really be understood in any other context: “Trinity.” Were it not for the manifestation of the person of Christ, this word would probably not exist, at least not as it is here defined. There have been many attempts to use analogies from nature to describe the unique character and nature of the Godhead. Although some are helpful, they all fall short; ultimately, the infinite is incomprehensible to the finite.
The Trinity is a tri-unity, a three-in-one unity; it finds its sole definition in a Christian statement: It is the union of three persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) in one Godhead, so that all the three are one God as to substance, but three persons as to individuality. From here the word finds its way into our vocabulary, to such an extent that the church belief in the Trinity is a test of orthodoxy. This doctrine has implications that govern every aspect of the church’s faith and practice.
The three-in-one nature of God is generally considered in two parts, the ontological and the economical or functional aspects of the Godhead. The ontology of God relates to the nature of his being, qualities, and attributes. Thus the catechism speaks to the unity, “these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”  The economical or functional description deals with the three-part aspect of the persons, their order or relationship. 
Again, there are earthly analogies that can be used to show this tri-part existence of God. Over years of parenting and teaching, I’ve found endless examples of singular things made of three (or many) parts to show how this could work. A flower, the stem of a plant, or a single ray of light with its spectrum of colors can serve as an object lesson for the nature of the Trinity. Even our nation, held together (so far) by its form of civil government and a unique motto—E Pluribus Unum—provide an idea embedded in Western thought which is found nowhere else.
Even at the very beginning of time God gave us an analogy in the institution of marriage, so that we might see the unity of a man and women who are made “one,” yet who retain different functional responsibilities within their union. This picture is oft repeated in Scripture, and Paul uses it to describe the mystery of Christ and the Church, and our union in him, as many, yet one (Eph. 4). Again, all these earthly analogies are helpful, but they do not give us a complete picture of the infinite wonder of the Godhead as taught in Scripture. 
In the end, how are we to comprehend this vital teaching? The answer is simply, “By faith” (Deut. 29:29). We are Trinitarian, and that statement holds deep-seated implications. The one and the many, and which of those takes precedence, has been a problem for societies throughout the ages. But where Christ rules and every thought is brought captive to that inspired wisdom from above*, true unity prevails, founded on the commands of his Word.
*Note these Scriptures:
II Cor. 10:5 - …casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…
James 1:17 - Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Eph. 4:3 - ...endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
John 14:27 - Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
Prov. 3:5-7 - Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    Question 5 tells us that there is only one God. Yet from Scripture we know that the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. We must therefore understand that there is one God in three persons. What does Job 11:7-8 say about our ability to fully grasp this teaching? How does our finite understanding affect our ability to understand the infinite God?
2.    The Scriptures speak of one God, yet in three persons. In the plan of salvation—the work of redemption—what is the Father’s role? Read I John 4:14.
3.    Jesus is equally God, yet different in that He became a man (Col. 1:15-16). What is the Son’s role in the plan of salvation? Read Col. 1:19-20.
4.    The Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son. What is the Spirit’s role in the work of redemption? Read John 3:3-5 and Gal. 5:22-23.
5.    The Bible is clear that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “one in substance” even though they differ in “function.” One of the many ways they are described as being equal is that each and all deserve worship and praise. Read Eph. 4:6; John 4:23; Matt. 1:23; Ps. 2:10-12; II Cor. 3:17-18.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q# 6; WLC Q#’s 9, 10, & 11; WCF II.III. 
WSC Q6 How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A.  There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost[a]; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory[b].
[a] Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19; II Cor. 13:14; I Pet. 1:2
[b] Ps. 45:6; John 1:1, 17:5; Acts 5:3-4; Rom. 9:5; Col. 2:9; Jude 24-25

WLC Q9 How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A.  There be three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory: although distinguished by their personal properties[a] .
 [a] I John 5:7; Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19; II Cor. 13:14; John 10:30

WLC Q10 What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A.  It is proper to the Father to beget the Son[a], and to the Son to be begotten of the 
      Father[b], and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son, from all eternity[c].
[a] Heb. 1:5-6, 8
[b] John 1:14, 18
[c] John 15:26; Gal. 4:6

WLC Q11 How doth it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?
A.  The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names[a], attributes[b], works[c], and worship[d], as are proper to God only.
[a] Isa. 6:3, 5, 8; John 12:41; Acts 28:25; I John 5:20; Acts 5:3-4
[b] John 1:1; Isa. 9:6; John 2:24-25; I Cor. 2:10-11; Heb. 9:14
[c] Col. 1:16; Gen. 1:2; Psa. 104:30; John 1:3
[d] Matt. 28:19; II Cor. 13:14

III.In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost[a]: the Father is of none, neither begotten, not proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father[b]; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son[c].
[a] Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19; II Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18
[b] John 1:14, 18; Heb. 1:2-3; Col. 1:15
[c] John 15:26; Gal. 4:6

Questions for further study:
What consideration does the parallel Larger Catechism #9 add to the Shorter #8?
What is the key word that our Fathers used to instruct us as to the relational nature of the Trinity? (1)
What definitions of this word may be found to help understand this Confessional instruction? 

1- Properties