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, October 23, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q82


We all know the adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Along those lines, author Hermann Melville wrote, “Toil is man’s allotment; toil of brain, or toil of hands, or a grief that’s more than either, the grief and sin of idleness.” It is (or should be) humbling to realize that we sin not only in our doing, but also in our not doing what God commands. Starr Meade opens her comments on Question 82 with this statement: “When God tells us not to do certain things, He tells us to do the opposite of those things.” That brings to mind the catechism’s definition of sin, which concerns both transgressing God’s Law and omitting to perform it in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Let us give heed and prayer to this lesson, that we might learn and do all that our God has commanded (Matt. 5:48), and rejoice because of both the saving and the enabling power of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2: 8-10).
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WSC Q82. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A.   No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed[a].
[a] Gen. 8:21; Rom. 3:9ff, 23
Question 82 asks if anyone perfectly keeps the commandments of God, and answers that since the fall no ordinary man can perfectly keep the commandments of God in this life but breaks them every day in thought, word, and action.
Comments and consideration:
I have always experienced a sense of foreboding when the Ten Commandments are read in a worship service, as I think to myself, “Who is able?” I marvel at the arrogance of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18ff), who proclaimed that he had kept all God’s commands from his youth; of course, Jesus revealed that he still failed to measure up to the bar of God’s demands. I suspect the Lord was being gracious with him, as he is with all of us, and could have brought to light many more layers of sin and unbelief in that young man’s life. When the Law examines us, it does not bring with it a message of hope and relief for the weary soul. God’s law is a necessary light that probes the darkness of our hearts, showing us the character of God and what is meant by the summary statement, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45, I Pet. 1:16). When we come to the end of the Law, we truly come to the end of ourselves; we know - if we are willing to face the truth and not suppress it in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18) - that No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed. This is the conclusion we must reach after studying the previous 41 catechism questions, the requirements and prohibitions of each of the Ten Commandments. Pick one and ask yourself, have I kept it perfectly ...in thought, word, and deed? As we behold the holiness of God, we must say with Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips (Is. 6:5). In fact, “There is none righteous, no, not one... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 9:10, 23). As a result of the Fall “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21).
But we are not left there, are we? After the reading of the Law, a good worship service continues with a proclamation of pardon and comfort, or a gospel proclamation of good news and hope. Consider the word mere, found in the catechism answer: if left out, the answer is filled only with fear and despair; but that single word gives not only hope, but the sure promise of salvation and redemption. A man, and no mere man was able, and did in [his] life perfectly keep the commandments of God, ... in thought, word, and deed. That man is the unique God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone kept the Law perfectly and was uniquely qualified to satisfy the justice of God on the cross, delivering his people from the condemning effects of sin; he provided redemptive power to purchase them out of their slavery to sin; he brought “them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces” (Ps. 107:14).
In the catechism lessons that follow (WSC #83-89), we will see more of this “so great salvation.” But for the moment, let us be mindful of this. We have come to the end of the Ten Commandment study with its threatening implications. Let us remember however, that the Law is intended as a blessing. As the Apostle of our faith rightly recorded, we “would not have known sin except through the law (Rom. 7:7); thus being forewarned is a blessing if we seek an answer to our dilemma and do not despair. And we need not despair, for our Lord in his tender mercies and loving kindness did provide an answer: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read James 3:2. Look at the context and consider the implications of what is said. Do we recognize the full extent of the effect of sin in our lives? We not only sin by what we say; we also sin by what we want, what we like and do not like, what we think and feel, and, of course, by what we do. Clearly, none of us keeps the commandments of God. When God commands us to behave in certain ways, he also commands us to think and feel in certain ways. If we realize that, we realize that we cannot keep God’s commandments perfectly.
2.        When we are convicted of sin by the Law, what purpose is the Law performing? See Gal. 3:24.
3.        In the Christian life we struggle to do what the Law commands. Yet God has not left us alone in our struggle; he gives us by grace what we need towards obedience. What does Gal. 5: 6-17 say about this?
4.        God calls us to holiness (Matt. 5:48), yet we know that we do sin. In our plight we can go to God again and again for help in time of need. According to I John 2:1-2, what does Jesus provide for us when we sin? (See in context of I John 1:8-10.)
5.        The answer to Q82 says, “No mere man…is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God.” When we give serious thought to that statement, what implication gives us hope? How is it a comfort for the weary sinner? See Heb. 4:14-16 and I John 3:2.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q81 and WLC 149
WSC Q.82. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A.  No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed[a].
      [a]  Gen. 8:21; Rom. 3:9ff, 23

WLC Q149. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A.  No man is able, either of himself[a], or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God[b]; but doth daily break them in thought[c], word, and deed[d].
[a]   Jam. 3:2; John 15:5; Rom. 8:3
[b]   Ecc. 7:20; 1John 1:8, 10; Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:18-19
[c]   Gen. 6:5; 8:21
[d]   Rom. 3:9-19; Jam. 3:2-13
Question(s) for further study:

What is the difference between the Larger and the Shorter Catechism in what is asked and answer?  What reason might be surmised as to why our fathers changed the way the question is asked in the larger catechism and its answer? How do the additional scripture references in the Larger Catechism assist us in the understanding the answer?

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