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, December 4, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q88


We now look to the third aspect of what is required that we may escape God’s wrath and curse due to us for sin—the external means that are used to cause our salvation to become a reality. These are often referred to as the “means of grace,” those things God uses to make real the gracious benefits that are part and parcel of our redemption.
As we have said before, God not only tells us what we are to do, but also how we are to do it. He has specified a particular form by which to communicate the benefits of redemption to his people, and that form carries with it the concept of worship. Often knowing how something is done tells us much about what is actually going on. For example, we would prepare very differently for dinner with the President of the United than for a backyard barbecue with a neighbor. The greater the significance of an event, the more carefully we do it. God places a great deal of importance on the means of grace that he has determined to use to draw us close to himself. How closely does our appreciation and approach to worship and the means of grace align with that of our majestic Heavenly Father?
As we study this catechism question, let us pray that God would enable us to find greater conformity to the means of grace and the spiritual realities they are intended to produce in us, both individually and collectively as the Body of Christ.
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WSC Q88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A.   The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation[a].
[a]  Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:41, 42
Question 86 asks what are the ordinary, external ways Christ uses to bring us the benefits of redemption, and answers that the ordinary, external ways Christ uses to bring us the benefits of redemption are his regulations, particularly the Word, sacraments, and prayer, all of which are made effective for the salvation of His chosen ones.
Comments and considerations:
It has been awhile since we have done a keyword study, so let’s look at the word benefit. “What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines benefit as “an act of kindness, favor conferred; that which promotes prosperity, personal happiness or added value.” One might benefit from a personal promotion and thus “have or gain some form of advantage or improvement in status.” Benefit carries that idea. To be beneficial is “to do good, to be useful, to profit.” In other words, the benefits of redemption are more than nice perks annexed or added on as attachments to that redemption; those benefits are actually part and parcel of our redemption. Yet benefit also implies “additional good, further gain, favor; an abundance of prosperity or charity.” Christ said, “I have come that you may have life, and that [you] may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Christian life should be one of super-abundance! That’s what Eph. 3:20 implies: God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or [even] think.” There are many other references in Scripture to the abundant blessings owned but not fully enjoyed by God’s people (Eph. 1:3 and others); super-abundance is not a hyperbole when applied to the post-redemption offerings of Christ!
Sadly, even tragically, many believers are ignorant of the treasures of Christ, because of their own failure to seek them out. In John 10:10, Jesus uses the subjunctive may, which means potential—might, could, or should. Its root is in the emphatic of “what can be— if!” A vast array of benefits resides within the wonders of redemption accomplished and applied, but hungry hearts must take and eat. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled,” promises our Lord (Matt 5:6).
Of course, all these benefits are made effectual to the elect, being communicated, or conveyed, through the outward and ordinary means of Christ’s ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer. This is how they are acquired, and each of these means of grace will be taken up in subsequent catechism considerations. For now, let’s look at one more word - communicated. It is said that a teacher hasn’t taught until the student has learned. That, of course, presents difficulties for a teacher faced with an unengaged and inattentive student. Scripture warns those who are dull of hearing that they must listen up: “He that has an ear, let him hear.” The benefits of redemption are “communicated,” and both the giver and the receiver must be engaged and fully connected.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Cor. 2:9)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Col. 3:16)
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        The Lord Jesus paid fully to redeem his people when he died on the cross. Nothing more needs to be done to redeem them. But the benefits of being redeemed need to be communicated to his people. This catechism answer lists the ways that this is done. Read I Tim. 4:15-16. If Timothy uses these things, what would result for those to whom he was ministering?
2.        We must understand what God uses to bring us to Christ so that we make use of the right activities towards salvation. But after we come to saving faith, what should we do next according to Jude 20-21? (1)
3.        There are times in Scripture where God has used “extra-ordinary” ways to bring an individual to faith (e.g., Acts 9:1-9ff). However, the catechism describes the means that God uses ordinarily. What is commanded in Matt. 28:18-20? How is this described in James 1:21-25?
4.        Sometimes (more often than not) we forget what we have learned. What is one of the benefits of the ordinary, external ways God uses in the sacrament described in I Cor. 11:23-25?
5.        How is prayer useful as an ordinary, external means used by Christ to bring us the benefits of redemption? See I Tim. 2:1-4.
1) Keep on availing ourselves of the same activities that brought us to saving faith in Christ. (Also see Col. 2:6.)
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q88 and WLC 154
WSC Q88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A.  The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation[a].
[a]  Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 21:41, 42
WLC Q.154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
A.  The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation [a].
[a]  Mat. 28:19-20; Acts 2:42, 46-47
Question(s) for further study:

Though very similar, our fathers chose to word the Larger Catechism a little differently then the parallel Shorter, and selected a different word to describe Christ’s work from which the benefits are derived.  What is that word and what might we observe and learn from it?

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