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 18, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q90

We continue in the section of the catechism that explains how salvation is communicated in our lives. We know that the power of God’s Word as applied by the Holy Spirit brings the truth to bear upon our conscience, reshaping our thinking and obedience. But as this week’s question teaches, we have a responsibility to apply ourselves to the ministry of the Word “with diligence, preparation, and prayer.”
Let us even now give ourselves to this instruction with all diligence, preparation, and prayer.
WSC Q90. How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A. That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer[a]; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives[b].
[a]  Deut. 6:6ff; Ps. 119:18; IPet. 2:1-2
[b]  Ps. 119:11; IIThess. 2:10; Heb. 4:2; Jas. 1:22-25
Question 90 asks how is the word to be read and heard in order to become effective for salvation, and answers that for the word to become effective for salvation, we must pay careful attention to it, prepare ourselves, and pray for understanding. We must also receive it with faith and love, treasure it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
Comments and considerations:
At the time when I finally got serious about my Christian walk, I often listened to a particular preacher who forcefully recited the same three verses at the start of every message:
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (II Tim. 3:16-17).
Therefore: Study to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15).
I memorized those verses, having heard him recite them so often; and after all these years, I can still hear his voice reminding me of these fundamental truths:
1) God’s Word is powerful and piercing to get to any heart of the matter and mind like a surgeon’s knife.
2) All of Scripture is profitable to cover and provide for all and every need without exception.
3) Therefore, we must, as our first priority, apply ourselves diligently to the acquisition of all the treasures of Christ stored away within His word.
In other words, the Word of God is the effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation (WSC Q89). That salvation is whole-orbed, involving every aspect of our lives from beginning to end, even unto eternity, as we have seen before. If we understand this, and give ourselves to the study of God’s Word as Paul commands Timothy in II Tim. 2:15, we will lack nothing “pertaining to life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:2). The “joy of the Lord will [indeed] be our strength” (Neh. 8:10) and the source of a confident Christian life.
But notice now how our fathers put the case, and what Scriptures they draw upon to instructs us how this is to be done, how this power of the Word becomes effectual as it is read and heard by a Christian. Here are a few observations:
Notice that the Word may become effectual. Whether it does, and to what degree, is a matter of choice. The Word comments better than I can on this point:
Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you (Isa 55:2-3)
Next we see that we must attend to the Word with diligence. Again our faithful fathers use an imperative must; it is not an option. At the very least to attend means “to be present, to pay attention, to be engaged.” Whether in private devotions, personal or group study, or the preaching and teaching of the Word, all three definitions are significant. Are we “there” when the Word is taught? Do we apply ourselves diligently, making a conscientious effort and working at it? Nothing of value is ever achieved by ease.
But even before we attend to the Word, there must be preparation and prayer. It has been said that any achievement is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. But a large part of the perspiration is preparation, and, for the Christian, plowing the ground with prayer. I have worked on many a project and task over the years, and the outcome has always been dependent upon the work done before the constructive effort began. The best outcomes are achieved only when we have the right tools, a careful plan, and the right attitude and approach. Thus our fathers point to next requirement: receive it with faith and love.
The Word is to be received with faith and love. “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24) We begin our journey with that first step of faith, given on the basis of grace (Eph. 2:8-9); and we continue in faith, given if we ask for it. One of my favorite verses is Col 2:6—“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We received Him on the basis of faith; we are to continue in like manner. But it is a faith unto love—love of Christ and His Word. How does the old hymn go? “O how love I thy law! It is my mediation all the day.”
As always, it this is fundamentally a heart issue. The Word is to be kept in our hearts. The heart is the seat of our affections, will, and emotions. What we store away in our heart determines who we really are (Prov. 23:7). As our Lord said: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matt. 12:35).
And finally, we must practice it in our lives. A volume could be written on this point, could it not? The root word and origin of practice is “practical work.” How do we learn biblical doctrines and godly behaviors? How do we come to be rebuked, corrected, and instructed unto every good work (see II Tim. 3:16-17 and Eph. 2:10)? We practice them until we get them right! Yet we do not practice them alone or in our own strength, but in the Lord; he strengthens us to the task and promises us victory that overcomes, even our faith (I John 5:4; cf. Phil 4:13; 2:12-13; 1:16)! This is how the Confident Christian Life is achieve,
For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel:
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15a).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
The following is directly quoted from Starr Meade’s book which we are using for this study: “God’s Word is unlike any other book in the world. Because it is the Word of God, it has the power to make great changes in people. It can change people who hate God into people who love and live for Him. It can change people from being selfish and wicked to being loving and holy. God’s word is ‘effective for salvation.’ God uses His Word to bring people to faith in Christ and to make them like Jesus…Jesus told a parable to show the different kinds of people who hear and read God’s Word.”
1.        Read Luke 8:4-15. Summarize the different approaches to the Word, and the one that is effective for salvation.
2.        We do some things simply because they are required, but our heart may not be in it. Sometimes we have a real heart’s desire to perform the task. The outcome of an action has a lot to do with our attitude about the task and how we apply ourselves to it. What do I Thess. 2:13 and Prov. 2:1-5 say about how we ought to approach God’s Word? What will be the outcome?
3.        The success of what we do often depends on our personal preparation, and how we apply ourselves to the doing. What does James 1:21 say about our preparation? What do verses 22-25 say about application?
4.        Jesus said, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6). How did Job and David demonstrate their hunger and thirst for the things of God? (See Job 23:12; Ps. 119:72; and Ps. 131).
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q90, WLC Q157 - Q160
Q.  90. How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A.  That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer[a]; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives[b].
[a]  Deut. 6:6ff; Ps. 119:18; IPet. 2:1-2
[b]  Ps. 119:11; IIThess. 2:10; Heb. 4:2; Jas. 1:22-25
WLC Q157. How is the Word of God to be read?
A.  The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them[a]; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God[b], and that he only can enable us to understand them[c]; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them[d]; with diligence[e], and attention to the matter and scope of them[f]; with meditation[g], application[h], self-denial[i], and prayer[j].
[a]   Ps. 19:10; Neh. 8:3-10; Exod. 24:7; 2Chro. 34:27; Isa. 66:2
[b]   2Pet. 1:19-21
[c]   Luke 24:45; 2Cor. 3:13-16
[d]   Deut. 17:10, 20
[e]   Acts 17:11
[f]   Acts 8:30, 34; Luke 10:26-28
[g]   Ps. 1:2; 119:97
[h]  2Chro. 34:21
[i]    Prov. 3:5; Deut. 33:3
[j]    Prov. 2:1-6; Ps. 119:18: Neh. 7:6, 8
WLC Q158. By whom is the Word of God to be preached?
A.  The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted[a],  and also duly approved and called to that office[b].
[a]  1Tim. 3:2, 6; Eph. 4:8-11; Hos. 4:6; Mal. 2:7; 2Cor. 3:6
[b]  Jer. 14:15; Rom. 10:15; Heb. 5:4; 1Cor. 12:28-29; 1Tim. 3:10; 4:14; 5:22
WLC Q159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A.  They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine[a], diligently[b], in season and out of season[c]; plainly[d], not in the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power[e]; faithfully[f], making known the whole counsel of God[g]; wisely[h], applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers[i]; zealously[j], with fervent love to God[k] and the souls of his people[l]; sincerely[m], aiming at his glory[n], and their conversion[o], edification[p], and salvation[q].
[a]   Tit. 2:1, 8
[b]   Acts 18:25
[c]   2Tim. 4:2
[d]   1Cor.14:19
[e]   1Cor. 2:4
[f]   Jer. 23:28; 1Cor. 4:1-2
[g]   Acts 20:27
[h]  Col. 1:28; 2Tim. 2:15
[i]    1Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14; Luke 12:42
[j]    Acts 18:25
[k]  2Cor. 5:13-14; Phil. 1:15-17
[l]    Col. 4:12; 2Cor. 12:15
[m] 2Cor. 2:17; 4:2
[n]  1Thes. 2:4-6; John 7:18
[o]  1Cor. 9:19-22
[p]  2Cor. 12:19; Eph. 4:12
[q]   1Tim. 4:16; Acts 26:16-18
WLC Q160. What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
A.  It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence[a], preparation[b], and prayer[c]; examine what they hear by the Scriptures[d]; receive the truth with faith[e], love[f], meekness[g], and readiness of mind[h], as the Word of God[i]; meditate[j], and confer of it[k]; hide it in their hearts[l], and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives[m].
[a]   Prov. 8:34
[b]   1Pet. 2:1-2; Luke 8:18
[c]   Ps. 119:18; Eph. 6:18-19
[d]   Acts 17:11
[e]   Heb. 4:2
[f]   2Thes. 2:10
[g]   Jam. 1:21
[h]  Acts 17:11
[i]    1Thes. 2:13
[j]    Luke 9:44; Heb. 2:1
[k]  Luke 24:14; Deut. 6:6-7
[l]    Prov. 2:1; Ps. 119:11
[m] Luke 8:15; Jam. 1:25
Question(s) for further study:
There are four Larger Catechism questions that expand upon the shorter in this harmony.  What significant point is being made regarding the “hearing” of Word as to its delivered to the ear, mind and heart, and the reception of that Word on our part? 

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