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, March 5, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q100

The Lord’s Prayer is found in two places in Scripture, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, and in response to a request in Luke 11. In the later instance, a disciple asked Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” As some commentators point out, that in itself is a prayer, with many of the elements found in WSC Q100. The disciples were familiar with prayer. There was no want of examples of prayer in their religious culture. But they observed something different in their Lord’s approach to prayer. He drew near to God with a holy reverence and confidence, as a child to his loving father—a father who was able and ready to help in every way his beloved child; he prayed with and for others in a way that was unusual among men of their time.
How do we pray? What is common with us, among us, and among men of our time? The disciple’s request is just as fitting now as it was then. So, as we approach this catechism instruction, let us pray, “Truly, Lord, teach us to pray.”
WSC Q100. What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A.   The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence[a] and confidence[b], as children to a father[c], able and ready to help us[d]; and that we should pray with and for others[e].
[a]  Ps. 95:6
[b]  Eph. 3:12
[c]  Matt. 7:9-11, cf. Luke 11:11-13; Rom. 8:15
[d]  Eph. 3:20
[e]  Eph. 6:18; I Tim. 2:1-2
Question #100 asks what the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us. It answers that the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father in heaven) teaches us to draw near to God with completely holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father who is able and ready to help us; it also teaches us that we should pray with and for others.
Comments and considerations:
To begin, why did the writers of the catechism view the opening words of our Lord’s instruction as a preface? A preface is “something spoken or written as introductory to a discourse, a book or essay; intended to inform the hearer or reader of the main design or purpose to follow. In general, it is meant to inform… the understanding of the discourse, book or essay” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary). The word preface itself means “to speak beforehand.” Synonyms like prologue and preamble carry the same idea of providing a statement of reason or intent; they prepare our minds for what follows. It can be hard to follow a book or a speech without such an introduction.
We know that prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies (WSC Q98). We also trust that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). So our fathers in the faith were wise to consider the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer a preface. Our Father which art in heaven, informs and provides us with the right understanding and purpose of prayer. This ought always to be our orientation, as we direct not only our prayers, but also our hearts and minds toward our heavenly Father’s desires. How often the Lord emphasized this focus for our priorities! At the very onset of his ministry, when the disciples were worrying about earthly needs, Jesus pointed them to the precedence of kingdom priorities in Matt. 6:33. This preface places our focus where it should be—on our infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Father, the source of all blessings and the one whose ear is ever turned towards His own.
Yet there is still more to learn from this simple phrase. The fathers of our faith instruct us that it teaches us to know a fourfold blessing as well. First, it teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence. “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Ps. 95:6), “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him,” (Eph. 3:12). How many times in Scripture are we encouraged to draw near to our holy yet loving heavenly Father? Isaiah saw the beauty of his holiness and was undone (Isa. 6), but “now in Christ Jesus [we] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13), that we may now “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). We are instructed to come with reverence and also with confidence. Heb. 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” A few verses later, the same passage says, “Do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (Heb. 10:35), for this “is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (I John 5:14).
Next, this two-part encouragement teaches us to draw near to God as children to a father. It is said that we get our first impressions of God as we observe our earthly fathers. God designed the human relationship that way; if our fathers are good, so are our first impressions. Yet all earthly fathers are at best mere men of flesh, with many shortcomings. How often as an elder I have counseled men or women struggling with sins that can be traced to the words or actions of a sinful father! Even then, however, there is the opportunity to point to the perfect Father who never fails, who even runs to embrace his erring child (Luke 15:11ff). As Jesus said, “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:9-11)
Paul speaks of that unique and intimate relationship of child to a father in those wonderful, comforting words of Rom. 8:15—“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
This then, teaches us to draw near to God as a father able and ready to help us. We know those who are most able, but not ready or willing to help us. Then, there are those who would help if they could; but they are without means to help those in need. But it is not so for him who owns the “cattle on a thousand hills” (Psa. 50:10), “who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20). To him, you need merely “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).
Finally, the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to draw near to God that we should pray with and for others. Whereas we are inclined to pray to our heavenly Father for our own needs, it is in fact a family affair. He is the Father of us all, and we are to pray one for another and with one another within in the blessed covenant community of the faith. What a high privilege we possess within that royal and priestly heritage of Christ! We are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that [we] may proclaim the praises of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light; [we] who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (I Pet. 2:9-10). We have the privilege and the responsibility to pray “always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).
This is how we are to draw near to Our Father which art in heaven in prayer. Amen?
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    Read Rom. 8:15-16 carefully. What significant statement and analogies are used to describe our old and now our new relationship with God? What illustrations can you draw from this text while considering earthly relationships of father and child?
2.    When we approach someone with a request, we can beg them to respond, make a case to convince them, or demand our own way. What does Mal. 1:6 say regarding our approach to God? What actions and attitude does Malachi reference in the context of these verses? How does Psa. 131 apply to our observations found in Mal. 1:6?
3.    The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer are “Our Father which art in heaven.” What does Ecc. 5:2 teach regarding that title? What about Rom 8:32 and Eph. 3:20-21?
4.    When we come to our Father in prayer, we are often mindful of our own needs. But what does our catechism teach us regarding this? See Eph. 6:18 and I Tim 2:1-2.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q100, WLC Q186-189
WSC Q100. What doth the preface of the Lord's Prayer teach us?
A.  The preface of the Lord's Prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence[a] and confidence[b], as children to a father[c], able and ready to help us[d]; and that we should pray with and for others[e].
[a]  Ps. 95:6
[b]  Eph. 3:12
[c]  Matt. 7:9-11, cf. Luke 11:11-13; Rom. 8:15
[d]  Eph. 3:20
[e]  Eph. 6:18; ITim. 2:1-2
WLC Q189. What doth the preface of the Lord's Prayer teach us?
A.  The preface of the Lord's Prayer (contained in these words, Our Father which art in heaven[a],) teacheth us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness, and our interest therein[b]; with reverence, and all other childlike dispositions[c], heavenly affections[d], and due apprehensions of his sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension[e]: as also, to pray with and for others[f].
[a]   Mat. 6:9
[b]   Luke 11:13; Rom. 8:15
[c]   Isa. 64:9
[d]   Ps. 123:1; Lam. 3:41
[e]   Isa. 63:15-16; Neh. 1:4-6
[f]   Acts 12:5
Question(s) for further study:

The Larger Catechism expands on the answer to the Shorter, giving emphasis to what central aspect and focus in the answer?

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