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, November 5, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q19

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q14-19) is Original Sin. (see Harmony Index)
“Why? Why, Mommy? Why, Daddy? Why?” At a very young age children begin to ask this question; their inquisitive minds wonder and search for answers in a world full of strange new things, apparent problems, and very real difficulties. For parents, the word whycan become either an irritant or an opportunity. From the Bible’s perspective, when children ask, “What does this mean?” (Ex. 12:26), parents have an opportunity to teach the meaning of a divinely created order turned chaotic by Adam’s sin. Don’t miss those opportunities to instruct your children in the ways of God. It’s been said that if you want to get to the core of an issue or problem, ask, “Why?” five times, to dig down to the root cause. Our children, and even our own questioning hearts, are God-given spurs toward finding truth and meaning in the things that confound us.
Asking why and seeking the answer in Scripture is a critical element to Christian growth. The catechism spends considerable time dealing with sin and the sorrowful estate in which it has placed God’s creatures. It was in the contrast of God’s holiness and man’s personal sin that Isaiah saw the greatness of his God and the divine claim and duty owed to his Creator (see Is. 6). The significance of WSC Q1 is so often forgotten, or inconsistently applied to our daily experiences and frustrations, all to our personal detriment and the loss of God’s glory.
As we study this question and answer, let the answer to the “why” we find in God’s eternal Word come to heart and mind, and let it dwell richly in our hearts so that God may be glorified and enjoyed to the fullest!
WSC Q19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind, by their fall, lost communion with God[a], are under his wrath and curse[b], and so made liable to all miseries in this life[c], to death[d] itself, and to the pains of hell forever[e].
   [a] Gen. 3:8, 24; John 8:34, 42, 44; Eph. 2:12; 4:18
   [b] John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 2:3; 5:6
   [c] Romans 5:14, 6:23
   [d] Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 5:12; 6:23
   [e] Matt. 25:41, 46; II Thess. 1:9; Rev. 14:9-11
Question #19 asks what is the misery of man’s fallen condition, and answers that by their fall all mankind lost fellowship with God, and brought his anger and curse on themselves. They are therefore subject to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.
Comments and considerations:
“Misery is really the fruit of vice reigning in the heart, as tares are the produce of tares sown in the field.” Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “misery” as “great unhappiness; extreme pain of body or mind.” It goes on, “A man suffers misery from the gout, or from great afflictions, distress, calamity, and other evils. Misery expresses somewhat less than wretchedness.” As a sample usage, Webster provides a further quote—very fitting given the topic of this catechism lesson: “Misery is really the fruit of vice reigning in the heart, as tares are the produce of tares sown in the field.”
If you were to ask the average person’s opinion concerning the human condition, would they embrace the catechism’s answer? I don’t think they would. Most people deny a “lost communion with God.” Oh they might admit to a certain empty feeling or occasional restlessness—a hole in their heart—but God as an answer to that emptiness?-Probably not. And what about “God’s wrath and curse,” and “miseries in this life?” Apart from an occasional hurricane or earthquake, and certain diseases like cancer, most people live a fairly insular and prosperous existence. They might know some degree of anxiety and moments of crisis, but most (at least those living in western cultures) live comfortable and happy lives. Or do they? Is it just a façade? The routine “Why yes, things are okay, thank you very much,” may just be an expression of denial, hiding the fearful knowledge (see Rom. 1:18) that a train wreck is inevitable: “death itself” and “the pains of hell forever.”
I love words, especially as God’s primary means of communication. That’s why I often pick a word to focus on when I do one of these studies. This time, in addition to “misery,” I discovered another fascinating little word, “tares.” In the past, when considering Matt. 13 and the Parable of the Tares, I’ve thought of tares as weeds sown in the field by the enemy, a parable concerning the Kingdom and its evil opposition. Except for the idea that someone would actually go to the trouble to sow weeds to destroy a neighbor’s crop, the illustration seems straightforward. But in coming to today’s definition of misery from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, we find an allusion to self-induced suffering in the parable of the tares. So just what are tares, and how did Webster understand them in the context of this definition of misery? Well, here’s where it gets interesting…
Tares (mentioned eight times in Matt. 13) are not just your garden-variety weeds, they are a weed called darnel or false grain. In the early stages of growth they look exactly like wheat, so much so that an expert can’t tell the difference. (Now just think about that for a moment. Go get a second cup of coffee, and do a little musing here… Okay, ready?) So initially, in comparing a darnel to a young, immature stalk of wheat, one could be easily fooled as to what was real—with deadly consequences. But I’m getting ahead of myself regarding those consequences.
Now consider this: at maturity (near harvest time) the observable difference between a healthy stalk of wheat and a stalk of tares is unmistakable. Unfortunately, by this time it’s too late to do anything about it. With the plant and root structures so entangled, the darnel cannot be extracted without damaging the true wheat growing alongside. But the lesson doesn’t end there. Besides the obvious threat to the good grain as the darnel robs it of nutrients, the darnel seed is small and useless in making flour; worse yet, darnel is dangerous, often poisonous due to its propensity for carrying a deadly fungus.
Words have meaning, and our Lord uses them selectively, carefully, and insightfully. What lesson can we draw from this fuller understanding of tares? On the surface, life in this world can seem pleasant. Yet there are many dangerous attractions and distractions to occupy our hearts and minds. They may at best seem harmless, and at worse, of equal value with what is truly true (Phil. 4:8-9). But no matter how firmly we deny what resides behind this façade, as much as we suppress the truth we know concerning “the misery of that estate whereinto [all men] fell,” the tares—the darnel or false grain—willgrow to maturity eventually. What was thought to be of value, according to an idea planted by the enemy of all, will be proven false. It will become self-evident; but that knowledge will come too late; the Lord and owner of the field and of the harvest will protect his own until the harvest is gathered in; then he will deal with the poisonous fruit, bringing them to an inglorious end. 
Webster certainly understood the subtle significance of the tares. So ought we.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    Read Is. 59:2 and Eph. 2:12. What do these verses say about man’s condition and relationship with God? The first catechism question says: “Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” How does the fall affect the very thing God created man to do?
2.    Men do not like to consider the anger of God. Yet how does the Bible speak of God’s anger and judgment? Nah. 1: 2-3, 6.
3.    Man is miserable because he is separated from God, and subject to his anger. How does Rev. 6:5-17 portray this separation and anger in the end of time?
4.    Gen. 3:17 speaks about the curse upon the ground because of man’s sin. How does Ecc. 2 describe the fallen condition?
5.    What will be the outcome in this misery of life for those who refuse God’s saving grace? Ps. 49:10; Ps. 103:15-16; II Thess. 1:8-9.
Harmony of the Standards:WSC Q# 19, WLC Q# 27-29 & WCF VI. VI
WSC Q19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A.  All mankind, by their fall, lost communion with God[a], are under his wrath and curse[b], and so made liable to all miseries in this life[c], to death[d] itself, and of the pains of hell forever[e].
[a] Gen. 3:8, 24; John 8:34, 42, 44; Eph. 2:12; 4:18
[b] John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 2:3; 5:6
[c] Romans 5:14, 6:23
[d] Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 5:12; 6:23
[e] Matt. 25:41, 46; II Thess. 1:9; Rev. 14:9-11
WLC Q27. What misery did the fall bring upon mankind?
A.  The fall brought upon mankind the loss of communion with God[a], his displeasure and curse; so as we are by nature children of wrath[b], bondslaves to Satan[c], and justly liable to all punishments in this world and that which is to come[d].
      [a] Gen. 3:8, 10, 24
      [b] Eph. 2:2-3
      [c] 2Tim. 2:26; Luke 11:21,22; Heb. 2:14
      [d] Gen. 2:17; Lam. 3:39; Rom.5:14, 6:23; Mat. 25:41, 46; Jude 7
WLC Q28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?
A.  The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind[a], a reprobate sense[b], strong delusions[c], hardness of heart[d], horror of conscience [e], and vile affections: or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures of our sakes[f], and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments[g]; together with death itself[h].
      [a] Eph. 4:18
      [b] Rom. 1:28
      [c] II Thess. 2:11
      [d] Rom. 2:5
      [e] Isa. 33:14; Gen. 4:13, 14; Matt. 27:4; Heb. 10:27
      [f] Gen. 3:17
      [g] Deut. 28:15-68
      [h] Rom. 6:21, 23
WLC Q29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
A.  The punishments of sin in the world to come are, everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever[a].
      [a] II Thess. 1:9; Mark 9:43-44, 46, 48; Luke 16:24; Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 14:11; John 3:36
Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the
Punishment thereof.
VI.Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner[a] whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God[b], and curse of the law[c], and so made subject to death[d], with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal[e].
      [a] Rom. 2:15; Rom. 3:9, 19; I John 3:4
      [b] Eph. 2:3; Rom. 5:12
      [c] Gal. 3:10
      [d] Rom. 6:23; Gen. 2:17
      [e] Matt. 25:41; II Thess. 1:9; Eph. 4:18; Rom. 1:21-28; Lev. 26:14 ff; Deut. 28:15 ff.
Questions for further study:
How does the large catechisms expand on the instruction found in the shorter; and describe and differentiate the miseries of this world? 

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