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 12, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q20

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q20 only) is The Covenant of Grace. (see Harmony Index)
Do you have a favorite story from the Bible? I think most children do; but as we grow and spend more thoughtful time in Scripture, it may be harder to choose just one account. Still, we like to choose favorites—those things that strike a chord of delight within, things that match our personal experience or an inner sense of truth; sometimes we’re not even sure of the reasons.
Like many young people, I guess my early-on favorite Bible account was of David and Goliath. Other favorites include events in the life of Joseph, especially at the end where he demonstrates such godly maturity and character. Isaiah 6 is another chapter that I love to review. And today, another favorite comes to mind as we consider the next catechism question in our study—the story of the Prodigal Son. “Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?” My thoughts turn to that wonderful text found in Luke 15:20, “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” What an incredible picture this is of our loving heavenly Father, who out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, runs to embrace with compassion his wayward children, that he might redeem them fully from their lost estate of sin and misery.
Oh, we have much reason to rejoice in our God, and to praise him for his tender mercies and great grace. May the Lord enlarge within each of us a grateful heart and deeper fellowship as we consider together this lesson from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
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WSC Q20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life[a], did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer[b].
[a] Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4-7; II Thess. 2:13-14
[b] Tit. 3:4-7, 1:2; Gal. 3:21; Rom. 3:20-22; Gen. 3:15; 17:7; Ex. 19:5-6; Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 20:28; I Cor. 11:25; Heb. 9:15
Question 20 asks if God left all mankind to die in sin and misery, and answers that from all eternity and merely because it pleased him, God chose some to have everlasting life. These he freed from sin and misery by a covenant of grace and brought them to salvation by a redeemer.
Comments and considerations:
Most of us have read novels in which the author creates multiple mysterious conflicts, with apparently disconnected parallel circumstances and tensions. The meanings, of course, are known only to the author, and will be discovered by the reader as the dots are cleverly and quickly connected in a final chapter filled with revelations and resolutions. As the story, tension, and intrigue is building in that well-crafted novel, each of us has asked, “How is he going to end this?” The answer is, of course, by the author’s mere good pleasure.
In the infinitely more important story of God and his creation, the question arises, “Did God leave all mankind to die in sin and misery?” The last seven questions have been leading up to this one. After describing creation, the covenant of life, the wondrous place in which God had placed our first parents, their fall and its devastating consequences, the catechism’s instruction has taken us along a darkening path of lost communion with God, his wrath, increasing sin and misery, and an apparent, unavoidable future of death and eternal pain. How is he going to end this; will he reverse this tragic tale?
Perhaps you have read C.S. Lewis’s insightful book Mere Christianity. Despite its impact on my early Christian walk, I have always struggled with the title. There’s nothing “mere” about Christianity! But again, words have meaning, and maybe my understanding of mereis faulty. A word study finds our modern understanding of mereto be “nothing more than,” with the idea of limits or bounds as in “a mere pittance,” or something reduced to the bare essentials. But look further and you’ll find another original meaning: “pure and unmixed, as wine, a people, or a language; or completely fulfilled or developed.” It turns out the word was once used to describe wine as “unmixed, pure, clear and/or bright.” Likewise, mere once meant pure in and of itself, or unadulterated. In Webster’s 1828 Dictionary we find this definition: “This or that only; distinct from anything else.” We also discover that a mere was “a pond or lake,” as in a high clear mountain lake. (Think of a mermaid: mere – a body of water + maid = mermaid.) The word was used in literature to define mysterious or inexplicable things: “Sometimes on lonely mountain meres / I find a magic bark” (Tennyson).
You might ask at this point, why go to all this trouble to define one little word; how does this add to my understanding of the question and answer at hand? Well, this is how the fathers of our Confessions would understand the word; its obsolete meanings would not have been obsolete to them. When I stand on the shore of the Yellowstone Lake (which I’ve done several times), I have to wonder at its vastness and volume. It’s a mere that covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shore line, a freshwater lake 7,732 feet above sea level, the largest of its kind above 7,000 feet in North America; it’s a mere that dumps 63,500 gallons per second of ice-cold water over the Yellowstone Falls at nearly twice the height of the Niagara (and that’s not the lake’s only outlet); yet there is no obvious in-flow to account for its hugeness. Yes, this massive mountain reservoir can be explained; there are springs and streams that run into it, underwater in-flows, winter snows, and summer rains… But, this mere is no “mere pittance.” It is vast and marvelous. It is “this or that only; distinct from anything else,” as is our God, who is more. He is “pure and unbound”; he is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth”; he is vast and unending is his reservoir of ever flowing love, tender mercies, and grace. He turns the story of darkness, brings light into the shadow of our fears and despair, and turns our “mourning into dancing” (Ps. 30:11).
All of mankind set to perish in the estate of sin and misery—how is he going to end this?
Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:4-5).
It pleased him to do so; for no other reason than his meregood pleasure, he freed his elect from their sin and misery by a covenant of grace, and brought them to salvation by a Redeemer—and oh, what a Redeemer!
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    When sin entered into creation as a result of the Fall, and with it all the effects of sin and misery, God was not caught by surprise. He had always planned that his people would be his people because of what he would do for them, not because of what they would do for themselves. Now with the terrible consequences of pain, death, and the judgment of God confronting his creation, God proclaimed a comforting promise. Read Is. 53:5-6, 11. How does this passage describe the promise God made following the Fall in the opening chapters of Genesis?
2.    God made a covenant of grace with his people, a promise of goodness and blessing. Each member of the Trinity has an active part in the making and keeping of this covenant. What part does God the Father perform in the covenant of grace? See Eph. 1: 3-6.
3.    Jesus, God the Son, came to accomplish the will of the Father for his people, to give himself that they might have life (John 6:37-40). What part does the Lord Jesus perform in the covenant of grace? See Eph. 1: 7-12.
4.    The Holy Spirit’s part in the covenant of grace includes, among other things, giving blind hearts understanding of the gospel, and changing hearts to turn from sin to faith in Christ. What is another thing the Holy Spirit performs, found in Eph. 1:13-14?
5.    On what basis does God choose some to salvation and not others? Rom. 9: 10-17.
6.    God has always known, loved, and held in his heart those individuals who belong to him in Christ. What did God predetermine about those who would love him and follow Christ? See Rom. 8:28-30.
Harmony of the Standards:WSC Q# 20, WLC Q# 30-35 & WCF VII.I-VI
WSC Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A.        God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life[a], did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer[b].
[a] Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4-7; II Thess. 2:13-14
[b] Titus 3:4-7, 1:2; Gal. 3:21; Rom. 3:20-22;  Gen. 3:15; 17:7; Ex. 19:5-6; Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 20:28; I Cor. 11:25; Heb. 9:15
WLC Q30. Doth God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A.        God doth not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works[a]; but of his mere love and mercy delivereth his elect out of it, and bringeth them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace[c].
[a] I Thes. 5:9
[b] Titus 3:4-7, 1:2; Gal. 3:21; Rom. 3:20-22
WLC Q31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A.        The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed[a].
[a] I Cor. 15:22, 45; Eph. 1:4; II Tim. 1:9; Heb. 2:10,11,14; Gal. 3:16; (Rom. 5:15 to the end); Isa. 53:10-11
WLC Q32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A.        The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator[a], and life and salvation by him[b]; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him[c], promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces[d]; and to enable them unto all holy obedience[e], as the evidence of the truth of their faith[f] and thankfulness to God[g] , and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation[h].
[a] I Tim. 2:5; Gen. 3:15; Isa. 42:6; John 6:27
[b] 1John 5:11-12
[c] John 3:16, 1:12, John 3:36
[d] John 1:12, 13; John 3:5, 6, 8; Gal 5:22,23.
[e] Ezek. 36:27
[f] James 2:18, 22
[g] II Cor. 5:14-15
[h] Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14, 3:8
WLC Q33. Was the covenant of grace always administered after one and the same manner?
A.        The covenant of grace was not always administered after the same manner, but the administrations of it under the Old Testament were different from those under the New[a].
[a] II Cor. 3:6-9; Heb, 1:1, 2; 8:7, 8 ff.
WLC Q34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?
A.        The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament, by promises[a], prophecies[b], sacrifices[c], circumcision[d], the passover[e], and other types and ordinances, which did all fore-signify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah[f], by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation[g].
[a] Rom. 15:8; Acts 3:20
[b] Acts 3:20, 24
[c] Heb. 10:1
[d] Rom. 4:11
[e] I Cor. 5:7; Ex. 12:14, 17, 24
[f] Heb. 11:13
[g] Gal. 3:7-9; Hebrews 11
WLC Q35. How is the covenant of grace administered under the New Testament?
A.        Under the New Testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was, and still is to be, administered in the preaching of the word[a], and the administration of the sacraments of baptism[b], and the Lord's supper[c]; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations[d].
[a] Matt. 28:19,20
[b] Matt. 28:19-20
[c] I Cor. 11:23-26
[d] Heb. 8:6,7
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER. VII.
Of God's Covenant with Man.
I.          The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant[a].
[a] Isa. 40:13-17; Job 9:32-33; Ps. 113:5-6; Job 22:2-3; Job 35:7-8; Luke 17:10; Acts 17:24-25
II.        The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works[a], wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity[b], upon condition of perfect and personal obedience[c].
[a] Gen. 2:16-17; Hos. 6:7; Gal. 3:12
[b] Gen. 2:16, 17; Gal. 3:10; Hosea 6:7; Rom. 5:12, 19; I Cor. 15:22,47
[c] Compare Gen. 2:16, 17 with Rom. 5:12-14; Rom. 10:5; Luke 10:25-28; and with the covenants made with Noah and Abraham.
III.       Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace[a]:  wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved[b], and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe[c].
[a] Matt. 26:28; Gal. 3:21; Rom. 8:3; Gen. 3:15; Isa. 42:6; Heb. 10:5-10
[b] John 3:16; Acts 16:30, 31; Rom. 10:6, 9; Rev. 22:17
[c] John 3:5-8; John 6:37, 44-45; Ezek. 36:26-27
IV.       This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance; with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed[a].
[a] Heb. 9:15-17
V.        This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel[a]:  under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come[b], which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah[c], by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament[d].
[a] Heb. 1:1,2; II Cor. 3:6-9
[b] Rom. 4:11; Hebrews chapters 8, 9, 10
[c] Heb. 11:13; John 8:56; Gal. 3:6-8
[d] Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:30; Gal. 3:7-9, 14
VI.       Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper[a]; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy[b] to all nations, both Jews and Gentile[c]; and is called the New Testament.  There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations[d].
[a] Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 11:23, 24, 25
[b] Heb. 8:6-13; II Cor 3:9-11
[c] Eph. 2:15-19
[d] Gal. 3:17, 29
Questions for further study:
1.    We would note how the Larger Catechism and Confession builds upon the single shorter Catechism question with how many separate points each?
2.    There is great grace and promises that flow out of the questions and answers given in this section pertaining to the covenant of grace. Why is the covenant of grace frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament? To what does this refer to and imply?
3.    What differs in the covenant of grace administration in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel?  How is it one covenant and not two differing in substance?


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