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, September 2, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q58

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q43-62) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The First Table. (see Harmony Index)
 “I require you to rest!” You’d think people would welcome that command. It seems strange that we even need to be instructed to rest. Why doesn’t the command say, “Now look, there are seven days in a week; be sure to apply yourself diligently to work during six of those days,” assuming that it would be natural to take a break on the seventh? Well, God knows our nature better than we; and experience demonstrates that as simple and beneficial as this command might be, we struggle to obey it. In fact, the world’s present attitude towards the Sabbath is to ignore this command in just about every way imaginable, refusing to honor and enjoy the Sabbath as God commands.
As I think about this, a few images come to my mind. When I was a child, my mother (a single mom after the early death of my father) took care of our family by running a preschool. I remember watching the daily drama of afternoon naps, as my mother and her staff battled to put many high-energy little ones to bed. And what parent hasn’t struggled to put their children to bed at the end of the day? Why do we resist such a necessary pause in our cycle of daily activities to rest and renew our strength? Well, I can think of at least one, and it has to do with how we perceive ourselves. Simply put, we really do not like to relinquish supposed control of our lives to another person, thing, or principle. We are by nature opposed to outside forces, determined to choose for ourselves what we will or will not do. Even when we know a command is right and good for us, our sinful hearts naturally revolt against that authority. The fact that we must be commanded to rest and enjoy our God one day out of seven speaks volumes about the sad condition of our rebellious hearts. Some people seem to struggle over the Sabbath issue, while others are more inclined to welcome and enjoy it. But of course there are untold numbers who give it no thought at all as a special day set apart for their blessing and God’s glory.
Let us pray that we would enjoy the precious truths of the Sabbath in this present study. As we prayerfully consider this lesson, may we remember that the catechism is a part of our confessional statement; it is what we believe to be true, our guide for faith and practice. May our Lord give us hearts that properly understand, appreciate, and obey the fourth commandment.
WSC Q 58. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy Sabbath to himself[a].
[a] Ex. 31:13, 16-17
Question 58 asks what the fourth commandment requires, and answers that the fourth commandment requires us to set apart to God the times he has established in his Word—specifically one whole day in seven as a holy Sabbath to him.
Comments and considerations:
Phil. 4:6-7 commands us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” We are commanded not to worry but to be at peace; one thing that keeps us from obeying such a daunting imperative is our apparent inability to just stop one day out of seven and focus on our chief caregiver and provider. Notice I used the word caregiver. The reason for that is the word anxious in Phil. 4:6, which means to be full of care, having distracting thoughts or worries.
Heb. 4:9-11a, speaks of rest as a blessing which we should seek: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest.” That last phrase sounds a bit like an oxymoron: “be diligent to enter that rest;” it seems odd that we have to work at resting. But due to our human nature, that is precisely what we must do if we are to keep the Sabbath, and keep it holy.
Interestingly, the writers of the catechism chose verses from Ex. 31 to proof text this catechism answer. Ex. 31:13 says “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” Notice that Sabbaths is plural. There were many Sabbaths other than the one-day-in-seven designed to illustrate the Sabbath-rest principle, the need for God’s people to rest and rely upon him in every way. Thus the catechism correctly includes, “keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word,” in addition to “expressly one whole day in seven.” Again, be anxious for nothing, but with continuous thanksgiving (worship and prayer) be at peace, resting in his care and the light of his glory. God provides for his own; and when we cease from the labors which he blesses on the other six days, we acknowledge his providential care. It is sad, as well as sinful, when people and nations do not keep this blessed day holy.
We are reminded of this lesson as we look back at the Lord’s provision of manna in the wilderness. Each day God’s people were to gather this precious heavenly food; but they were only to gather enough for one day at a time, or it would spoil and rot (Ex. 16). Yet they were not to gather manna on the Sabbath, so how would they eat on that day? Answer: JEHOVAH-JIREH—the LORD will provide! The day before the Sabbath, the people were commanded to gather a double portion, and God promised to preserve it an extra day for their use on the Sabbath. This is another picture of the Sabbath rest that remains for God’s people, as he preserves, protects, and prepares them to serve him afresh each Lord’s Day and in the week that follows. Ex. 31:13 promises that the Lord, whose Sabbath we keep, is the one who sanctifies us.
This is a creation ordinance, shifted from the last to the first day of the week by the Resurrection of our Lord; it is the Lord’s Day, a day of victory and resurrection celebration that looks forward to Christ’s return and the eternal Sabbath that awaits the covenant people of God.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     When was the Sabbath ordained? (1) God calls his people to honor the Sabbath by resting from all their everyday work. There are also Old Testament laws requiring people to give the land a Sabbath. Every seven years, the land was to rest and no farming was to be done. What was the purpose of all this resting?
2.     Even though it is good for human beings to set aside regular times of rest from their work, and for farmland to have times of being unused, this is not the first reason for the Sabbath ordinance. Read Ps. 62:1, 5. What is the primary purpose of the Sabbath?
3.     Throughout Scripture, God provides word pictures of principles he wants us to understand. The Sabbath presents us with just such a picture. As a principle of rest, what do we learn from the words of our Lord in Matt. 11:27-29? What do we learn in Heb. 4:8-11?
4.     There is for the Christian an “active” rest, something we do in the process of resting in the Lord each day. How does Heb. 4:1-3a describe this? How does Heb. 3:16-19 describe those who fail in this area?
5.     Now that Christ has come and provided a “so great salvation,” a rest from the burden, the curse, and the stain of sin, how ought we to respond and live before God, especially on that day appointed by him for the gathering of his people in worship? See Tit. 3:4-8.
1)        At the time of creation (Gen 2:1-3)
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q58, WLC Q116 & WCF XXI.VII
WSC Q8. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A.  The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself[a].
      [a]  Ex. 31:13, 16-17
WLC Q116. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A.  The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian Sabbath[a], and in the New Testament called The Lord's day[b].
      [a]  Deut. 5:12-14; Gen. 2:2-3; 1Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7; Mat. 5:17-18; Isa. 56:2, 4, 6-7
      [b]  Rev. 1:10
Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day.
VII.     As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him[a]: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week[b], which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's day[c], and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath[d].
      [a]  Exod. 20:8-11; Isa. 56:2-7
      [b]  Gen. 2:2-3; I Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7
      [c]  Rev. 1:10
      [d] Matt. 5:17-18; Mark 2:27-28; Rom. 13:8-10; James 2:8-12
Question(s) for further study:

The Larger Catechism and Confession add to the Shorter the teaching and reasoning regarding the Sabbath day observation shift in the New Testament. What new identity or name is affixed to this change?  The Father’s refer to “the law of nature” as a witness to the necessity of a day of rest supported by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment.  What might this witness be?

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