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 22, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q39


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q39-42) is The Law of God; Christian Liberty. (see Harmony Index)
WSC Q3 asks what the Scriptures principally teach, and answers that they teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is divided into two basic sections— what we are to believe and what we are required to do regarding God. That is a common structure we find throughout Scripture. In the wisdom literature of the Bible, Solomon records, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecc. 12:13). WSC Q38 completed the first part of this wisdom of what we are to believe concerning God; now we commence the second section regarding our duties before our covenant-keeping God.
As always, we approach our study in prayer that the Lord would bless our understanding and obedience to his word that both instructs and commands us.
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WSC Q39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a] Deut. 29:29; Mic. 6:8; I John 5:2-3
Question #39 asks what God requires of man, and answers that God requires man to obey his revealed will.
Comments and considerations:
We come now to the second great section of the Catechism. Having considered “what man is to believe concerning God,” we now consider “what duty God requires of man.” But we do well to remember that these two things can never be separated in the life of the Christian. There is no true faith without obedience. And there is not real obedience without faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). And faith without obedience is dead (James 2:22).
It is man’s duty to obey God. The reason for this is that God is the creator and man is a mere creature. Because God created man He therefore has “a right” to require what He will from man. Because man is only a creature, he has “no right” to “go his own way, and do his own will.” No, the only “right” for man is to obey God. So, in the very nature of the case, the will of God is the rule by which man ought to live.
The above quotation is from Lesson 1 of The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, Volume 2, by G.I Williamson. It provides an excellent beginning for our study of the second half of the catechism. It also reveals wording that might cause some to squirm, representing the line between those who would “fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecc. 12:13) and those who would rather “...be like God, knowing [determine for themselves] good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Comments like “God ... therefore has ‘a right’ to require what He will from man” are at odds with fallen man’s rebellious heart; sinners are not receptive to the idea that they have “no right” to go their own way. When we speak of human rights, rarely do we concede that the “only ‘right’ for man is to obey God.” Yet in the pursuit of happiness, looking for that which would fill the hole in his heart, Solomon—who had at his disposal everything he needed to plumb the depths of the issue—said in the end, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Eccl. 12:13).
To quote G.I Williamson again, “in the very nature of the case, the will of God is the rule by which man ought to live.” The operative word is, of course, ought. That word is defined as an “obligation to pay; to be bound in duty or by moral obligation, to pay what is owed” (Webster’s Dictionary). A synonym is should, but whereas both words imply obligation, ought is the stronger. Should implies a mere obligation to what is proper, while ought denotes an obligation of duty. G.I. Williamson has used the right word here, as it denotes “the duty which God requires.” We covered this term duty back in WSC Q3; and as we now close the first section and commence the second, the definition of duty warrants repeating.
Duty derives its meaning from the idea of “dues,” or “that which is owed.” Thus one of the tertiary definitions for duty is a “tax” or “toll.” However, we are more familiar with duty as it relates to personal responsibilities—that which a person owes to another and is bound, by moral or legal obligation, to pay or perform. The term finds further definition in words like obedience, respect, reverence, forbearance, and submission. The fathers of our faith chose their words carefully, and the implications of this definition must be pondered. Duty conveys a sense of moral commitment and results in actions, not merely in feelings and the passive recognition of authority. It involves personal sacrifice. Duty is active, a personal commitment that comes at a cost.
We must remember that these catechism questions are linked; they must be understood as a whole. Consider again our chief end as stated in Question 1, to glorify and enjoy God forever. It has been said that events belong to God, but duties belong to us. When we study God as our forefathers intended, we see his sovereign power, wonderful grace, and awesome majesty. Our response is a glad and continuous act of duty to manifest his glory as his image bearers, the recipients of a so great and wondrous salvation; in so doing, truly “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).
The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
As followers of Christ, we pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In times of crisis, when we are tempted to go either way, as “imitators of Christ” (I Cor 11:1), we pray with a heart to obey, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will [Your will be done]” (Matt. 26:39). This is the proper response of the true follower and disciple of Christ.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read Ps. 95:1-6. What does verse 6 tell us about who we are? What does verse 3 tell us concerning God? Putting these two verses together, what must we acknowledge, and how does this relate to the catechism lesson under consideration?
2.     Read Deut. 29:29. There are some things that God has not revealed, which remain hidden in his wisdom and purpose. But a large body of knowledge has been made known to us. According to Deut. 29:29, what is required of us regarding what has been revealed? Also see James. 1:22-25.
3.     When the catechism says, “God requires,” what does it mean? Does God understand that we are not perfect, and is he content with us as long as we try to do our best? Does it make a difference who we are socially, or in relation to others? For example, does God have a different expectation for those who are raised in a Christian family, as opposed to those who are not? Read Rom. 2:9-13 and I Pet. 1:14-17. What do these references says concerning this?
4.     Let us not be confused concerning these things. We are not accepted by God according to our works. Salvation comes to us by virtue of the perfect work of Christ on our behalf, received by faith. God requires that we be holy, and that holiness come by the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed, or accounted to us, unto salvation. However, even though we are saved by grace and not by works, God still requires of us a behavior that gives witness to him and his perfect character and law. Read Matt. 7:21-27 carefully. What is Christ teaching in this account?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q39, WLC Q91
WSC Q39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a] Deut. 29:29; Mic. 6:8; I John 5:2-3
WLC Q91 What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A.  The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a]  Rom. 12:1-2; Micah 6:8; 1Sam. 15:22
Questions for further study:

Though these two question and answers are identical, what are the variations in scripture references the fathers chose to use?

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