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, April 24, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q58


“I require you to rest!” You’d think people would welcome that command. It seems strange that we even need to be instructed to rest. Why doesn’t the command say, “Now look, there are seven days in a week; be sure to apply yourself diligently to work during six of those days,” assuming that it would be natural to take a break on the seventh? Well, God knows our nature better than we; and experience demonstrates that as simple and beneficial as this command might be, we struggle to obey it. In fact, the world’s present attitude towards the Sabbath is to ignore this command in just about every way imaginable, refusing to honor and enjoy the Sabbath as God commands.
As I think about this, a few images come to my mind. When I was a child, my mother (a single mom after the early death of my father) took care of our family by running a preschool. I remember watching the daily drama of afternoon naps, as my mother and her staff battled to put many high-energy little ones to bed. And what parent hasn’t struggled to put their children to bed at the end of the day? Why do we resist such a necessary pause in our cycle of daily activities to rest and renew our strength? Well, I can think of at least one, and it has to do with how we perceive ourselves. Simply put, we really do not like to relinquish supposed control of our lives to another person, thing, or principle. We are by nature opposed to outside forces, determined to choose for ourselves what we will or will not do. Even when we know a command is right and good for us, our sinful hearts naturally revolt against that authority. The fact that we must be commanded to rest and enjoy our God one day out of seven speaks volumes about the sad condition of our rebellious hearts. Some people seem to struggle over the Sabbath issue, while others are more inclined to welcome and enjoy it. But of course there are untold numbers who give it no thought at all as a special day set apart for their blessing and God’s glory.
Let us pray that we would enjoy the precious truths of the Sabbath in this present study. As we prayerfully consider this lesson, may we remember that the catechism is a part of our confessional statement; it is what we believe to be true, our guide for faith and practice. May our Lord give us hearts that properly understand, appreciate, and obey the fourth commandment.
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WSC Q 58. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A.   The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy Sabbath to himself[a].
[a]   Ex. 31:13, 16-17
Question 58 asks what the fourth commandment requires, and answers that the fourth commandment requires us to set apart to God the times he has established in his Word—specifically one whole day in seven as a holy Sabbath to him.
Comments and considerations:
Phil. 4:6-7 commands us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” We are commanded not to worry but to be at peace; one thing that keeps us from obeying such a daunting imperative is our apparent inability to just stop one day out of seven and focus on our chief caregiver and provider. Notice I used the word caregiver. The reason for that is the word anxious in Phil. 4:6, which means to be full of care, having distracting thoughts or worries.
Heb. 4:9-11a, speaks of rest as a blessing which we should seek: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest.” That last phrase sounds a bit like an oxymoron: “be diligent to enter that rest;” it seems odd that we have to work at resting. But due to our human nature, that is precisely what we must do if we are to keep the Sabbath, and keep it holy.
Interestingly, the writers of the catechism chose verses from Ex. 31 to proof text this catechism answer. Ex. 31:13 says “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” Notice that Sabbaths is plural. There were many Sabbaths other than the one-day-in-seven designed to illustrate the Sabbath-rest principle, the need for God’s people to rest and rely upon him in every way. Thus the catechism correctly includes, “keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word,” in addition to “expressly one whole day in seven.” Again, be anxious for nothing, but with continuous thanksgiving (worship and prayer) be at peace, resting in his care and the light of his glory. God provides for his own; and when we cease from the labors which he blesses on the other six days, we acknowledge his providential care. It is sad, as well as sinful, when people and nations do not keep this blessed day holy.
We are reminded of this lesson as we look back at the Lord’s provision of manna in the wilderness. Each day God’s people were to gather this precious heavenly food; but they were only to gather enough for one day at a time, or it would spoil and rot (Ex. 16). Yet they were not to gather manna on the Sabbath, so how would they eat on that day? Answer: JEHOVAH-JIREH—the LORD will provide! The day before the Sabbath, the people were commanded to gather a double portion, and God promised to preserve it an extra day for their use on the Sabbath. This is another picture of the Sabbath rest that remains for God’s people, as he preserves, protects, and prepares them to serve him afresh each Lord’s Day and in the week that follows. Ex. 31:13 promises that the Lord, whose Sabbath we keep, is the one who sanctifies us.
This is a creation ordinance, shifted from the last to the first day of the week by the Resurrection of our Lord; it is the Lord’s Day, a day of victory and resurrection celebration that looks forward to Christ’s return and the eternal Sabbath that awaits the covenant people of God.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     When was the Sabbath ordained? (1) God calls his people to honor the Sabbath by resting from all their everyday work. There are also Old Testament laws requiring people to give the land a Sabbath. Every seven years, the land was to rest and no farming was to be done. What was the purpose of all this resting?
2.     Even though it is good for human beings to set aside regular times of rest from their work, and for farmland to have times of being unused, this is not the first reason for the Sabbath ordinance. Read Ps. 62:1, 5. What is the primary purpose of the Sabbath?
3.     Throughout Scripture, God provides word pictures of principles he wants us to understand. The Sabbath presents us with just such a picture. As a principle of rest, what do we learn from the words of our Lord in Matt. 11:27-29? What do we learn in Heb. 4:8-11?
4.     There is for the Christian an “active” rest, something we do in the process of resting in the Lord each day. How does Heb. 4:1-3a describe this? How does Heb. 3:16-19 describe those who fail in this area?
5.     Now that Christ has come and provided a “so great salvation,” a rest from the burden, the curse, and the stain of sin, how ought we to respond and live before God, especially on that day appointed by him for the gathering of his people in worship? See Tit. 3:4-8.
Answer:
1)        At the time of creation (Gen 2:1-3)
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q58, WLC Q116 & WCF XXI.VII
WSC Q8. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A.  The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself[a].
      [a]  Ex. 31:13, 16-17
WLC Q116. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A.  The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian Sabbath[a], and in the New Testament called The Lord's day[b].
      [a]  Deut. 5:12-14; Gen. 2:2-3; 1Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7; Mat. 5:17-18; Isa. 56:2, 4, 6-7
      [b]  Rev. 1:10
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER XXI.
Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day.
VII.      As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him[a]: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week[b], which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's day[c], and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath[d].
      [a]  Exod. 20:8-11; Isa. 56:2-7
      [b]  Gen. 2:2-3; I Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7
      [c]  Rev. 1:10
      [d] Matt. 5:17-18; Mark 2:27-28; Rom. 13:8-10; James 2:8-12
Question(s) for further study:

The Larger Catechism and Confession add to the Shorter the teaching and reasoning regarding the Sabbath day observation shift in the New Testament. What new identity or name is affixed to this change?  The Father’s refer to “the law of nature” as a witness to the necessity of a day of rest supported by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment.  What might is witness be?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q57


Our catechism study now takes us to the fourth commandment which concerns the Sabbath. This commandment opens with the word remember. That’s worth thinking about: the Sabbath, which is so obviously designed for our benefit and God’s honor, is so easy to forget! The blessing and necessity of the Sabbath have eluded both our society and, woefully, the church as well. Why is that? As we ponder this lesson, let us pray that we would appreciate the precious truths and joys of the Sabbath and that we might respond faithfully as God’s worshippers.
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WSC Q57. Which is the fourth commandment?
A.   The fourth commandment is, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.[a]
[a] Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15
Question 57 asks what the fourth commandment is, and answers that the fourth commandment is: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Comments and considerations:
This commandment is reviewed in six questions instead of only four; there is much to be considered. Future questions deal with what is required and forbidden in the fourth commandment, which day of the week is the Sabbath, how it is to be hallowed, and the reasons for doing so. This first question and answer simply state the commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It is a creation ordinance: “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Gen. 2:1-3).
For the moment, let us consider the word Sabbath.
I remember when I first came into the “Reformed Camp,” a place of “Sabbath Keepers.” Yes, I came from a Christian home with an evangelical background. But although the Lord’s Day was important in our understanding, it didn’t hold the Old Testament significance in this Dispensation of Grace, this Church Age, when supposedly any day, time, or place could be dedicated to worship, or—better—praising God; the Sabbath Day was thought to be an ordinance for a different time and people. So I had some unlearning to do, and I studied afresh what Scripture taught on this topic. Struggling as I was under this new Sabbath understanding and burden, I had an observant pastor say to me one day that I was completely missing the point; the Sabbath is not a burden, but a blessing. It was meant to free me from my labors and cares, and provide me a blessed rest and enjoyment of God’s promises and provisions. The Sabbath is a blessing, not a burden! There are none so blind as those who will not see; and I was totally blind to the blessing of the Sabbath until that faithful Reformed Presbyterian pastor spoke those words.
The word Sabbath means figuratively “a time of rest or repose; intermission of pain, effort, sorrow, or the like”; and we know it as “a season or day of rest; one day in seven appointed for rest or worship” (Webster’s 1913 Dictionary).
I have several valued fruit trees in my backyard, but the fig tree is my favorite; it not only provides wonderfully large, dark, and abundantly sweet figs, but gives summer shade and beauty, too. However, I recall in the winter on a particular Sunday when there were several folk at our home, enjoying an afternoon lunch and fellowship. One of them noticed my fig tree, which looks rather pathetic. “What wrong with it?” they asked. “Nothing,” I responded. “It is in its dormant season. I trimmed it back—pruned it—getting it ready for the spring’s warm sun and the new growth and joy it will bring.” When you think about it, that fig tree is enjoying its Sabbath rest. God has built in to the creation order a cycle which gives rest and protects, nourishes, revitalizes and restores his creatures; he prepares the fig tree for new growth and fresh fruit produced for his glory and our enjoyment. 
This is the Sabbath principle.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read Gen. 2:1-3. In six days God created all things from nothing, and he rested on the seventh day. Was he tired after all his labors? Did he run out of ideas for additional things to be created? Of course not. But the fact remains that for his good purpose, God chose to make the seventh day a special day of rest and peace, a day to ponder his wondrous creation and providence. For this and many other reasons, “the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
2.     In the Law, the Lord commanded the keeping of the Sabbath. He also established other special days (and even years) as a time of Sabbath rest. According to Ex. 31:12-13, what was one reason for doing this?
3.     At times in his earthly ministry, Jesus did things on the Sabbath that angered the religious leaders (the Pharisees). In one particular incident found in Matt. 12, how did Jesus identify himself in verse 8?
4.     After Christ completed his work on the cross, rose from the grave, and was seated at the right hand of the Father, the Sabbath continues on the first day of the week. According to Acts 20:7, on which day of the week did the church meet? What did they do? Also see I Cor. 16:2.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q57, WLC Q115
WSC Q57. Which is the fourth commandment?
A.  The fourth commandment is, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it[a].
[a]  Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15
WLC Q115. Which is the fourth commandment?
A.  The fourth commandment is, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested in the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it[a].
      [a]  Exod. 20:8-11
Question(s) for further study:

Look at the last phrase of our Catechism proof test.  It is often thought that wherefore means where, but in fact it is a conjunction meaning why, for what reason, because of what. It could also be phrased therefore.  So the question is, as a concluding point why, for what reason did our Lord set-up as special (hallowed) the Sabbath day? It was always meant to be a what?