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 4, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q66

The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q63-81) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The Second Table. (see Harmony Index)
Many of us have noticed the natural curiosity found in children; they ask why repeatedly, often to the point of irritation. Interestingly, the commandment dealing with the parent-child relationship (and as we have seen in a more broad context, “everyone in their several places and relations”) carries with it an answer to the question “why” we should do this “obeying.” The reason is found, among other things, in a promise that demonstrates the importance God places on this particular commandment. The Apostle Paul notes this fact in his letter to the Ephesian church, pointing out that it is the first commandment with a promise.
Considering this and noting that the promise attached is for personal benefit and blessing, let us once again pray that as we look at this study, that the Lord would open our understanding and appreciation of these things. May he create in us a heart of loving obedience in response to his great grace and tender mercies as we follow Christ.
WSC Q66. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment is, a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment[a].
[a] Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; Eph. 6:2-3
Question #66 asks what is the reason for the fifth commandment and answers that the reason for the fifth commandment is the promise of long life and prosperity, if these glorify God and are for the good of those who obey this commandment.
Comments and considerations:
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven; and he said: “LORD God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts. You have kept what You promised Your servant David my father; You have both spoken with Your mouth and fulfilled it with Your hand, as it is this day.
Therefore, LORD God of Israel, now keep what You promised Your servant David my father, saying, “You shall not fail to have a man sit before Me on the throne of Israel, only if your sons take heed to their way, that they walk before Me as you have walked before Me.’ And now I pray, O God of Israel, let Your word come true, which You have spoken to Your servant David my father. (I Kings 8:22-26)
In writing this question and answer, our fathers repeat what we have already seen regarding the promise of long life and prosperity, but they add a parenthetical clause: as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good. There is no mention of this caveat in the verses listed with this answer; so where did they find it? Well, our fathers did not simply “proof-text” their work with individual verses; they sought to understand the Scripture as a whole, and the implications of each text within a covenantal understanding. If there is the promise of long life and prosperity to all such as keep this commandment, then there must also be the opposite to those who disobey it. As we saw in the last lesson, that curse is stated in the follow-up to Ex. 20:12, in Ex. 21:17. But we still have this caveat that goes to the heart of obedience, and the greater context of what the Lord seeks from his people. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matt. 15:8 and Is. 29:13). We can appear to keep the commandment, and yet be disobeying all the while. That really is the point to our Lord’s address in the Sermon on the Mount; it’s a matter of the heart truthfulness.
I recall an incident many years ago when I worked at So. Cal. Edison, in one of the generating stations. There was a large piece of equipment that kept malfunctioning so that it required manual override at a certain point during its range of operation. It literally took two men to physically push a large operating lever while the control room operated the hydraulic controller. It was a hot, frustrating, and difficult task, and the Operating Crew became more and more impatient with the company’s apparent unwillingness to fix the problem. To fix it would require shutting down the 220-megawatt steam generator during a very high system power demand; it would be fixed eventually, but not yet. Well, one day, the device stuck again. A supervisor took a young, not-so-happy operator with him to “unstick” it, but as hard as they pushed, the lever wouldn’t move. As a result, the unit had to be shut down and finally repaired. I’ll never forget the grin on that young operator’s face as the Energy Control Center was called by the supervisor and informed that the generating unit was coming off line. What resulted was an unnecessary expenditure of time, money, and manpower to start another generator to replace the downed unit! You see, what the other operators knew (but the supervisor didn’t) was that his helper, the young operator, had faked his effort to move that lever, knowing one man couldn’t do it by himself. He made an “appearance of an effort” that was no effort at all; neither his heart nor muscles were in it!
How does Jeremiah put it? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) But our Lord is not like that supervisor; Jeremiah also points out, “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10).
Our fathers understood the greater context of the covenant, the blessing and cursing that result from our response to God’s call to heart-level faithfulness. The Larger Catechism speaks in a similar manner and adds I Kings 8:25 as a reference. There we see God’s covenant promise and the stipulation only if your sons take heed to their way. It was a heart issue then, and it will always be a heart issue when it comes to true obedience (Matt. 15:8 and Is. 29:13).
One last thought: The phrase “as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good” harkens back the first catechism question: What is the chief end of man? All these matters, these commandments, can be reduced ultimately to this single most fundamental truth: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever! If this were the central habit of our hearts, how different things might be in all and everything that we do?
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read Deut. 5:16. This is a repeat of the commandment found in Ex. 20:12. However, the historical context of Deuteronomy differs from the context of Exodus. What is that difference? In Deut. 5:16, what three reasons does God give for keeping this commandment? By way of implication, what would occur if this commandment were not obeyed?
2.        When this commandment was given, it was to a particular people, in a particular place and time. However, we know that God’s commandments are for all people, places, and times. What commandment is being repeated in the NT, in Eph. 6:1-3?
3.        Inspired by the Holy Spirit, King Solomon wrote much of what we find in the Book of Proverbs. He often speaks of the blessings that follow faith and obedience. How would you summarize what Solomon wants God’s people to know and experience in Prov. 1:1-9? In Prov. 3:1-2? In Prov. 4:20-22? In Prov. 6:20-23?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q66 and WLC 133
WSC Q66. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
A.  The reason annexed to the fifth commandment is, a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God's glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment[a].
      [a]  Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; Eph. 6:2-3
WLC Q133. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment, the more to enforce it?
A.  The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, in these words, That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee[a], is an express promise of long life and prosperity, as far as it shall serve for God's glory and their own good, to all such as keep this commandment[b].
      [a]  Exod. 20:12
      [b]  Deut. 5:16; 1Kng. 8:25; Eph.6:2-3
Question(s) for further study:
The harmony of these two questions and answer differ little except in nuance, the Larger adding one scripture reference to the mix.  What might our fathers be pointing to in emphasis in the Larger with the additional verse and removing of the grammatical parenthesis?

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