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 8, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q37

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q37-38) is Death and the Middle State. (see Harmony Index)
We have completed that part of the catechism that deals with the benefits that in this life accompany our life hidden in Christ. Now the catechism describes the benefits received at death and at the resurrection.
There was a popular cable TV talk show that advertised itself as “The No Spin Zone.” To “spin a story” is to use one’s imagination to bend the truth, in order to interest or convince one’s audience towards their inclination. We tend to want to put a positive spin on a negative or uncomfortable idea or situation, to hear what we want to hear. As the Bible says, sinful man loves to suppress any truth that might be perceived as unwelcome information, to “hold[down] the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). We don’t like to face topics that make us feel uncomfortable, fearful, or unsure, or run contrary to our presuppositions. If we were to list subjects that fall into the category of  “I’d personally rather ignore that topic, thank you,” death would be one of the items at or near the top of the list.
It occurs to me that the answer to this question could be viewed as putting a “positive spin” on a rather negative topic. Notice the words used in the answer to Q37: “made perfect,” “pass into glory,” and “rest.” Mention death at a backyard barbecue, and you wouldn’t be likely to hear those terms, if people were willing to talk about it at all, and especially if those at the gathering were not Christians. But therein lies the beauty of another phrase found in the answer, the phrase “united to Christ.”
Do we truly appreciate the treasure and “pearl of great price” that we own in the great grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? We are not required, nor should we even be tempted to put a positive spin on the topic of the death of believers, simply because even in death, “we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). Through this study, may the Lord grant us the peace and abundant joy that our “so great salvation” brings to us in Christ.
WSC Q37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness[a], and do immediately pass into glory[b]; and their bodies, being still united to Christ[c], do rest in their graves till the resurrection[d].
[a] Heb. 12:23
[b] Luke 23:43; II Cor. 5:6, 8; Phil. 1:23
[c] I Thess. 4:14
[d] Dan. 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15
Question #37 asks what benefits believers receive from Christ when they die. It answers that when believers die, their souls are made perfectly holy and immediately pass into glory; their bodies, which are still united to Christ, rest in the grave until the resurrection.
Comments and considerations:
Phase three, the third and final act, sort of…
Years ago I had a Bible teacher who liked to put things in the simplest of terms, saying that there are three phases to just about any aspect of the Christian experience. For example, the promise of Matt. 1:21—“You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins”—is fulfilled in three phases. Phase 1: he will save his people from the condemnation of sin. Phase 2: he will save them from the power of sin in their earthly experience. Phase 3: he will save them from the presence of sin when they arrive in heaven. This pattern of phases can be seen also in our deliverance from the curse of sin, from the love of sin, and, in the end, from the total effects of sins: Phases 1, 2, and 3.
What about the benefits we discussed last time from Q36? There is that initial taste of assurance (Ps. 48:8) by which we cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). But then we press on to a deeper fellowship and assurance in this life, until we enter into his presence in the end, when all fear and doubts pass away… three phases again. Paul’s pronouncement in I Cor. 13:13, that “now abideth faith, hope, love, these three,” shows the same pattern: Faith is the truth that be believe, the anchor of all we hold fast to for this life and that to come. Hope is our future expectation and confidence in all that is promised and reserved for us in glory. Love is that by which we are known and know now in the Beloved, and are enabled by the Spirit to express towards others (Gal 5:22).
And so we come to Phase Three of Sanctification. We have already seen in Q35 the first two aspects of sanctification 1) renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and 2) enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness, so now we come the third: “the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory.” This is the third and final act, sort of…
It is the third and final act of sanctification, but the story is not over; note the semi-colon at the end of the word “glory” in the catechism’s answer. There is more to come, and the catechism correctly goes on to state, “and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.” This is the intermediate state in which believers are absent from the body, while their souls are in the presence of the Lord. In that state, they remain wholly united to Christ; and they will one day be bodily resurrected for all eternity.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. (II Cor. 5:6-8)
There is yet to come the resurrection of the dead, and the coming of the new heavens and earth, as we shall see in the next catechism lesson.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     We live in an abnormal world, one that does not conform to its original intended design. That may be hard for us to understand, because our present realities are all we have ever known, and seem to us to be expected. Death is accepted as a natural and normal part of our existence, the inevitable course of all living things. We struggle against death, but in our hearts we know it does and will come to all. But is death really “normal” in the grand scheme of divine creation. Read Rom. 5:12. What does this verse teach about the existence of death and sin? Was death part of God’s original creation? Is it natural or unnatural?
2.     This catechism answer teaches us the biblical truth that we are made body and soul. The soul is that immaterial part created by God that animates the body by thinking, reasoning, feeling emotions, and making decisions that direct our movement and actions. The body is the house, or vessel, of the soul that receives information and sense impressions; the body acts out our thoughts and intents, the directions of the soul. In this life they are united, but what occurs at death? See Phil. 1:21, 23 and II Cor. 5:6,8.
3.     When we are young, enjoying the wonders of God’s creation, we may not fully understand the blessings of leaving this life to be with the Lord. With time, we grow to see the reality of death, and to know more fully God’s purpose and process in this life in conforming us to his Son. Since we’re sinful by nature, it is often difficult to submit to God’s purposes. But that struggle ceases in death, and another blessing and benefit is realized. What is that blessing? See I John 3:2.
4.     In death, our souls are separated from our bodies and reside with Christ. Our bodies, without our souls, are lifeless. But that is not the end. A time will come when body and soul will be reunited. What is this called? See John 5:28-29 and I Cor. 15: 42-44.
5.     When death is spoken of, it often brings thoughts of uncertainty and fear. Yet that is not how our catechism presents death. Here it is called a benefit for the believer. This presents an important question that each one needs to consider carefully. What is that question? See John 3:36 and I John 5:11-13.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q37, WLC Q82-87, & WCF XXXII
WSC Q37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness[a], and do immediately pass into glory[b]; and their bodies, being still united to Christ[c], do rest in their graves till the resurrection[d].
[a] Heb. 12:23
[b] Luke 23:43; II Cor. 5:6, 8; Phil. 1:23
[c] I Thess. 4:14
[d] Dan. 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15
WLC Q82. What is the communion in glory which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
A.  The communion in glory which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is in this life[a], immediately after death[b], and at last perfected at the resurrection and day of judgment[c].
[a]   2Cor. 3:18
[b]   Luke 23:43
[c]   1Thes. 4:17
WLC Q83. What is the communion in glory with Christ which the members of the invisible church enjoy in this life?
A.  The members of the invisible church have communicated to them in this life the firstfruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so in him are interested in that glory which he is fully possessed of[a]; and, as an earnest thereof, enjoy the sense of God's love[b], peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory[c]; as, on the contrary, sense of God's revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment, are to the wicked the beginning of their torments which they shall endure after death[d].
[a]   Eph. 2:5-6
[b]   Rom. 5:5; 2Cor. 1:22
[c]   Rom. 5:1-2; 14:17
[d]   Gen. 4:13; Mat. 27:4; Heb. 10:27; Rom. 2:9; Mark 9:44
WLC Q84. Shall all men die?
A.  Death being threatened as the wages of sin[a], it is appointed unto all men once to die[b]; for that all have sinned[c].
[a]   Rom. 6:23
[b]   Heb. 9:27
[c]   Rom. 5:12
WLC Q85. Death, being the wages of sin, why are not the righteous delivered from death, seeing all their sins are forgiven in Christ?
A.  The righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day, and even in death are delivered from the sting and curse of it[a]; so that, although they die, yet it is out of God's love[b], to free them perfectly from sin and misery[c], and to make them capable of further communion with Christ in glory, which they then enter upon[d].
[a]   1Cor. 15:26, 55-57; Heb. 2:15
[b]   Isa. 57:1-2; 2Kng. 22:20
[c]   Rev. 14:13; Eph. 5:27
[d]   Luke 23:43; Phil.1:23
WLC Q86. What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death?
A.  The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness[a], and received into the highest heavens[b], where they behold the face of God in light and glory[c], waiting for the full redemption of their bodies[d], which even in death continue united to Christ[e], and rest in their graves as in their beds[f], till at the last day they be again united to their souls[g]. Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day[h].
[a]   Heb. 12:32
[b]   2Cor. 5:1, 6, 8; Phil. 1:23; Acts 3:21; Eph. 4:10
[c]   1John 3:2; 1Cor. 13:12
[d]   Rom. 8:23; Ps. 16:9
[e]   1Thes. 4:14
[f]   Isa. 57:2
[g]   Job. 19:26-27
[h]  Luke 16:23-24; Acts 1:25; Jude 6-7
WLC Q87. What are we to believe concerning the resurrection?
A.  We are to believe that at the last day there shall be a general resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust[a]: when they that are then found alive shall in a moment be changed; and the selfsame bodies of the dead which were laid in the grave, being then again united to their souls forever, shall be raised up by the power of Christ[b]. The bodies of the just, by the Spirit of Christ, and by virtue of his resurrection as their head, shall be raised in power, spiritual, incorruptible, and made like to his glorious body[c]; and the bodies of the wicked shall be raised up in dishonour by him, as an offended judge[d].
[a]    Acts 24:15
[b]   1Cor. 15:51-53; 1Thes. 4:15-17; John 5:28-29
[c]   1Cor. 15:21-23, 42-44; Phil. 3:21
[d]   John 5:27-29; Mat. 25:33
Of the State of Men after Death, and of the
Resurrection of the Dead.
I.    The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption:[a] but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them:[b] the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.[c] And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.[d] Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.
[a]   Gen. 3:19; Acts 13:36
[b]   Luke 23:43; Ecc. 12:7
[c]   Heb. 12:23; II Cor. 5:1, 6, 8; Phil 1:23; Acts 3:21; Eph. 4:10; Rom. 8:23
[d]   Luke 16:23-24; Acts 1:25; Jude 6-7; I Pet. 3:19
II.  At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed:[e] and all the dead shall be raised up, with the self-same bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever[f].
[e]   I Thess. 4:17; I Cor. 15:51-52
[f]   [John 5:25-29; Acts 24:15; Job 19:26-27; Dan. 12:2; I Cor. 15:42-44
III. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour: the bodies of the just, by his Spirit, unto honour; and be made conformable to his own glorious body[g].
[g]   Acts 24:15; John 5:25-29; I Cor. 15:43; Phil. 3:21
Questions for further study:

The instruction of WSC Q37 is expanded in six Larger Catechism questions and Chapter 32 of the Confession.   The Shorter Catechism uses the word “benefits” to describe what flows from death.  What word is used and repeated in the description found in the harmony, and what is the tenor consistent within the instruction?

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