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, July 15, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q51

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q43-62) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The First Table. (see Harmony Index)

“And they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor; and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel” (Num. 25, NKJV).
The preceding record is a frightful account of one of Israel’s failures. It immediately follows the account of Balaam’s failed attempt to curse Israel at the behest of Amalek; though Amalek had asked him to speak against Israel, he spoke blessings instead. Ironically, what Amalek could not force Balaam to do, Israel by their own actions actually accomplished themselves. Matthew Henry makes this comment concerning the incident:
“The friendship of the wicked is more dangerous than their hostility; for none can prevail against God’s people if they are not overcome by their [own] inbred lusts; nor can any enchantment hurt them, but the enticements of worldly interests and pleasures. Israel’s sin did that which all Balaam’s enchantments could not do—it set God against them.”
With this in mind, may the Lord grant us the right heart to approach and serve him according to his way, sanctified by the Word of Truth.
Q.  51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A.   The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images[a], or any other way not appointed in his Word[b].
[a] Deut. 4:15-19; Rom. 1:22-23
[b] Lev. 10:1-2; Jer. 19:4-5; Col. 2:18-23
Question #51 asks what the second commandment forbids, and answers that the second commandment forbids our worshiping God with images or in any other way not established in his word.
Comments and considerations:
To some degree, we have already looked at what is taught here. In Q49 we saw how the second commandment contains as our principle duty the command to worship and serve God as he himself commands; and in Q50, we observed the regulative principle of worship in that true worship is what is commanded only, for whatever is not commanded is forbidden. Nevertheless, God’s truth is unsearchable, and the well of understanding is infinitely deep.
As has been my practice, I’d like to focus on one word; and as I believe the issue of “images” and how God wants and regulates his worship is—or ought to be—quite clear by now, the word I’d like us to study is the word forbidden. Generally speaking, it’s not a well-liked word. Tell a child that he is forbidden to do something, and immediately he will particularly desire to do it; the moment Mom says, “Don’t even think about it,” the little tyke will do just the opposite, setting his heart and mind upon doing that which is forbidden. Modern “blank slate” theorists who do not believe in the fall of man or original sin (total depravity, as we Calvinists say, pointing out that every aspect of our being is affected by sin) do not understand why men, literally from birth, can act at times with such utter disregard for what is right and wrong. C.S. Lewis used the word “bent” to describe the undeniable nature of man, and bent we are, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are bent as an arrow is bent, defective and innately unable to hit the target, always lacking conformity to God’s law or blatantly transgressing it. So we know from Scripture, and the doctrine of total depravity, that all of mankind’s being is affected and infected by sin to greater and lesser degrees; thus we need instructions and warnings of what is forbidden and to be avoided at all costs. Consider the proof texts for this question and answer:
1) “Take careful heed to yourselves” (Deut. 4:15a); and again, “Take heed” (Deut. 4:19a).
2) “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). Note: Thinking themselves wise, they were found to be fools in their rebellious and darkened hearts.
3) “Then Nadab and Abihu…offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them” (Lev. 10:1).
4) “Because they have forsaken Me…[and did that] which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind” (Jer. 19:4). Note: They were doing that which had not been commanded.
5) “Let no one cheat you of your reward” (Col. 2:18). “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion…but are of no value” (Col. 2:23). Note: These commandments and doctrines of men are not appointed in God’s Word; in effect, they cheat us of our reward and covenant blessings in Christ.
These extracts ought to be reviewed in context to be fully appreciated. But to return to the word forbidden: to forbid is to command against, to prohibit. It also means to deny, exclude from, or warn off, by express command. Thus we are warned, or warned off by command as it were, lest we become foolish and lose our great reward; forewarned lest we suffer the consequences of approaching the Lord of glory in an attempt to worship him by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read Deut. 4:15-18. What is the prohibition here? What are some reasons God had to make this law? (1)
2.     The second commandment so clearly forbids making idols and using them in worship. Not only were God’s people not to worship statues of other gods; they were not to make statues of the true God to use in worship. God is Spirit. He has no body that can be seen. He does not want his people to make something they can see and then say that it is God or that it looks like God. Read Acts 17:29. According to this verse, where does wrong worship originate?
3.     Read and compare Ps. 97:1-2 and I Tim. 6:15-16. What do these passages tell us about God’s dwelling place, the “habitation of his throne”? What can we conclude from this comparison about our ability to comprehend things about God? See answer below. (2)
4.     What is one of the things that the Apostle Paul warns the church against in Col. 2:16, 20-22? (Also read Matt. 15:3, 8-9.) See answer below. (3)
5.     If we are not to follow our imaginations, personal opinions, or the commandments of men, then what ought to be our guide in all things? See Deut. 13:1-4 and II Tim 3:15-17.
1) Suggested starting point: The temptations to be like other nations around them, who worshiped idols they could see, and Israel’s desire to be like the people around them. Augustine said that as we are made in the image of God, we make God, the creator of all things, bow down to his own creation when we bow before created things. Our worship of created things in effect shames God in bringing God himself low before his creation (The Confessions of Augustine, Book VII).
2) His stature is beyond our ability to understand.
3) Making rules according to mere human judgments, “the teachings of men.”
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q51 and WLC Q109
WSC Q51 What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A.  The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images[a], or any other way not appointed in his Word[b].
[a]  Deut. 4:15-19; Rom. 1:22-23
[b]  Lev. 10:1-2; Jer. 19:4-5; Col. 2:18-23

WLC Q109 What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A.  The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising[a], counseling[b], commanding[c], using[d], and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself[e]; tolerating a false religion[f]; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever[g]; all worshipping of it[h], or God in it or by it[i]; the making of any representation of feigned deities[j], and all worship of them, or service belonging to them[k], all superstitious devices[l], corrupting the worship of God[m], adding to it, or taking from it[n], whether invented and taken up of ourselves[o], or received by tradition from others[p], though under the title of antiquity[q], custom[r] , devotion[s], good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever[t]; simony[u]; sacrilege[v]; all neglect[w], contempt[x], hindering[y], and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed[z].
      [a]  Num. 15:39
      [b]  Deut. 13:6-8
      [c]  Hos. 5:11; Micah 6:16
      [d]  1Kng. 11:33; 12:33
      [e]  Deut. 12:30-32
      [f]  Deut. 13:6-12; Zech. 13:2-3; Rev. 2:2, 14-15, 20; 17:12, 16-17
      [g]  Deut. 4:15-19; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:21-23, 25
      [h] Dan. 3:18; Gal. 4:8
      [i]  Exod. 32:5
      [j]  Exod. 32:8
      [k] 1Kng. 18:26, 28; Isa. 65:11
      [l]  Acts 17:22; Col. 2:21-23
      [m]            Mal. 1:7-8, 14
      [n] Deut. 4:2
      [o] Ps. 106:39
      [p] Mat. 15:9
      [q]  1Pet. 1:18
      [r]  Jer. 44:17
      [s]  Isa. 65:3-5; Gal. 1:13-14
      [t]  1Sam. 13:11-12; 15:21
      [u]  Acts 8:18
      [v] Rom. 2:22; Mal. 3:8
      [w] Exod. 4:24-26
      [x] Mat. 22:5; Mal. 1:7, 13
      [y] Mat. 23:13
      [z)  Acts 13:44-45; 1Thes. 2:15-16
Question(s) for further study:
WLC Q109 defers in asking the question broached in WSC Q51 by seeking out specific sins committed that are forbidden in the second commandment.  How many did our fathers list and enumerate in their answer?

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