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 26, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q103

“For what I [know I should do], that do I not; but what I hate, that do… For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” These two verses (Rom. 7:15, 19) describe with clarity our battle against sin in the Christian life. Often, the struggle is not with knowing what we ought to do, but with doing it. As we consider the third petition in the Lord’s Prayer, notice the specific request—that our rebellious, unyielding, and self-centered hearts would be made “able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things,” by our Lord’s sovereign and omnipotent power. This is no slight request, for every time we breath this prayer heavenward individually or collectively, we confess our agreement with Paul in Rom. 7:18 that “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” And so, as Paul did on the road to Damascus, we cry, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6) And we pray, like Christ, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thy will [be done]” (Matt. 26:39, 42).
We are tempted by way of our familiarity with the Lord’s Prayer to overlook the deep implications contained in these gentle words. But there is nothing gentle about “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” This petition does violence to the very core of our being, and its affirmation bridges the deep chasm from our sin-wrecked soul into the blessings of Rom. 8, and all that follows the proclamation of our union and victory in Christ: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”
Again, let us approach our study in prayer that the Lord would make these things a living reality in our thinking, our speaking, and our doing the Christian life. We pray, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven, and let it begin anew each day with us!
WSC Q103. What do we pray for in the third petition?
A. In the third petition, which is, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven, we pray, that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things[a], as the angels do in heaven[b].
[a] Ps. 19:14; 119; I Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20-21
[b] Ps. 103:20-21; Heb. 1:14
Question 103 asks what we pray for in the third request and answers that in the third request (your will be done on earth as it is in heaven) we pray that by his grace God would give us the capability and will to know, obey, and submit to his will in everything, as the angels do in heaven.
Comments and considerations:
We pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to 1) know, 2) obey, and 3) submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven. Note first how our fathers point us to God’s enabling grace in knowing, doing, and submitting to his will. This must be the starting point. Our fathers listed the entirety of Ps. 119 as one of the Scripture references for this catechism answer. Amidst the 176 verses of that psalm, we see this: “Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments” (Ps. 119:5-6)—a prayer that the Lord would stir up and enable the psalmist’s heart to know and keep the Lord’s commandments! If we wish to see the Lord’s will done in earth, as it is in heaven, it begins with us and our heart’s desire and prayer for his enabling grace. It also includes the willingness to do all that he commands.
But it is more than willingness; we pray for ability to take action; as Christ said, “Take up your bed and walk” (John 5:8). Again from Ps. 119 we find several applicable verses: “Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Ps. 119:33-34). The Christian call is an active call. The Bible was not given to satisfy my curiosity or be a mere amusement, but to change my life, to make me able and willing to know, obey, and submit gladly to the Lord to his will in all things!
Note the progression of thought. First, as Lazarus lay insensitive in the dark tomb held in the grip of death, he was made able to arise by the gracious voice of God, then made willing to come forth from the comfort of Abraham’s bosom—but not of his own strength, since he was still bound by his death wrappings. (Have you ever considered that maybe Lazarus would have preferred to stay where he was, in the comforts of paradise? It wasn’t for his benefit to be risen from the dead –see Phil. 1:21-24—but for the Lord’s benefit and for others).
Next we must know what we are to do, and then obey and/or submit. I use the “and/or” on purpose: Obey and submit are not redundant terms; if we have learned anything by now, we know our fathers were skilled in the craft of words. No, there is a subtle difference between these two words, and a sharp distinctive as well.
First, the subtle difference: Sometimes to obey may mean simple compliance, but our heart is really not in it. How often have we said (or heard our children say), “Okay, if I have to do it, I will”! There are differences in degrees of obedience, from a frowning compliance to a joy that goes beyond even mere submission. In this we recognize the necessity and reality of growth and maturity, which coincides even with the enabling, willing, and knowing factors! Second, there is another important distinctive that is found in what I like to call Factor 29 - Deut. 29:29. Here we have the doctrine that speaks to the secret or decretive will of God, as opposed to the revealed will of God.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
There are other verses we could add here, but Deut. 29:29 is the classic and definitive verse which teaches that God has 1) revealed his will throughout Scripture in the Ten Commandments, the many case laws that followed, the many imperatives in the OT and NT, the history of redemption, and the nearly endless narratives and parables with instructive meanings and implications for our learning and obedience. But Deut. 29:29 also describes 2) the secret will of God, defined as his divine decrees whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. This is his will being worked out in his decrees in the works of creation and providence (WSC 7&8, WLC 12&13); we are to submit to this will in all things as well, even as the angels do in heaven. Even the fallen angels, the demons arrayed against the Lord of Glory, can only do what they are allowed to do. If that were not true, then all things would not “work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28b)—but they most emphatically do!
It is this submission to the secret will of God that strengthened the faith, resolve, and character of Joseph. As his story began to unfold, he had not a clue what God was doing on the other side of the curtain of God’s revealed will and promise-filled Word! Yet he knew what his duty was in compliance to the expressed will of God, knowing that the current of events were in the hands of a provident God “who works all things according to counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). As one older and wiser than he would say elsewhere, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15). It was this sure knowledge and submission that allowed him in the end to say to his betrayers: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good!” (Gen. 50:20).
When we pray Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven, we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his revealed will in all things with a glad and joyous mind and heart; and that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to most gladly and with quiet, confident contentment submit to his secret will in all things as the Lord Jesus so instructs his people to do! For he himself said against all opposition, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou” (Matt 26:39b).
To God alone be the glory!
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.           Read Matt. 7:21. This is a sober verse with meaning that must not be ignored. Restate it in your own words and summarize what it means. What is an indicator of one who truly belongs to the Lord in faith?
2.           As creator of all things, God works his providence in all things. Because of this, what should be our attitude about the circumstances of our life according to I Pet. 4:19?
3.           Because sin distorts our understanding as well as our doing of God’s will, what—according to this catechism question—should motivate our prayers? See Col. 1:9 and I Pet. 3:16-17.
4.           In our prayers, we seek that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. How does Ps. 103:20-21 describe this?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q103, WLC Q192
WSC Q103. What do we pray for in the third petition?
A.  In the third petition, which is, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven, we pray, that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things[a], as the angels do in heaven[b].
[a]  Ps. 19:14; 119; IThess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20-21
[b]  Ps. 103:20-21; Heb. 1:14
WLC Q192. What do we pray for in the third petition?
A.  In the third petition,  (which is, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven[a],) acknowledging, that by nature we and all men are not only utterly unable and unwilling to know and do the will of God[b], but prone to rebel against his Word[c], to repine and murmur against his providence[d], and wholly inclined to do the will of the flesh, and of the devil[e]: we pray, that God would by his Spirit take away from ourselves and others all blindness[f], weakness[g], indisposedness[h], and perverseness of heart[i]; and by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things[j], with the like humility[k], cheerfulness[l], faithfulness[m], diligence[n], zeal[o], sincerity[p], and constancy[q], as the angels do in heaven[r].
[a]   Mat. 6:10
[b]   Rom. 7:18; Job. 21:14; 1Cor. 2:14
[c]   Rom. 8:7
[d]   Exod. 17:7; Num. 14:2
[e]   Eph. 2:2
[f]   Eph. 1:17-18
[g]   Eph. 3:16
[h]  Mat. 26:40-41
[i]    Jer. 31:18-19
[j]    Ps. 119:1, 8, 35-36; Acts 21:14
[k]  Micah 6:8
[l]    Ps. 100:2; Job 1:21; 2Sam. 15:25-26
[m] Isa. 38:3
[n]  Ps. 119:4-5
[o]  Rom. 12:11
[p]  Ps. 119:80
[q]   Ps. 119:112
[r]   Isa. 6:2-3; Ps. 103:20-21; Mat.18:10
Question(s) for further study:

Again we see how the Larger Catechism expands on the answer to the Shorter by listing how many scriptural proofs compared to the two in the Shorter?  What are some of the phrases and words our fathers use here to define our hearts being prone to rebel against his Word… and murmur against his providence?  Are these not convicting, calling for grace [to] make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things, with the like humility?

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