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, August 28, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q74


Before we commence our study of WSC Q74, quickly answer this question: What is the summary of the Law of God? Hopefully you won’t need help with this answer, but if you do, check Matt. 22:7-40. Now, in light of that summary, what does the eighth commandment really deal with? Answer: How we are to love both God and others.
Descriptions of love can be abstract and subjective. What does “love my neighbor” really look like in terms of inward attitude and outward actions? Now, let’s turn our attention to the question under consideration: “The eighth commandment requires the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.” We have no problem understanding our affections in advancing the financial wellbeing of family and ourselves. But, when it comes to loving others by seeking their financial wellbeing, even over our own—herein lays the significance of our Lord’s summary his Law Word. Love towards God and others cannot be defined on our terms. Love is “keeping the Law” (John 14:15), with a grateful and glad heart. Love is not just a “Hallmark Card” sentiment or “happy thought” (James 2:15-16). Rather, it is a verb demonstrated in measurable actions toward others, active in seeking after the material advance and wellbeing of others so that they too might enjoy the benefits of this life and the infinite blessings of our God.
Again, we approach our study in prayer that the Lord would instruct and enable us to both believe and do all that he has commanded, out of a pure heart of love for him and our neighbor.
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WSC Q 74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
A.   The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others[a].
[a] Lev. 25:35; Eph. 4:28b; Phil. 2:4
Question #74 asks what the eighth commandment requires, and answers that the eighth commandment requires that we lawfully acquire and increase our own and others’ money and possessions.
Comments and considerations:
We ended the previous lesson with this comment: The eighth commandment is quite clear. To use a modern phrase, “What part of Thou shalt not steal do we not understand?” Well, looking around our society these days, apparently quite a lot!
The eighth commandment is quite clear, and yet men employ a seemingly endless array of methods and means to take what is not theirs to begin with! If we were to examine all the devices used to rob others of property, reputation, and wealth, well... there would be no end to the stories that could be told. To that, every novelist and screenwriter would heartily say “Amen, and thank you for providing me a wealth of material for drama and intrigue!” No, the problem is not that we don’t understand God’s commandments. The problem is in our “want of conformity unto and transgression of the law of God” (Rom. 7:14-15 and WSC Q14).
In this lesson, we could explore what it means to procure and further “the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others” by what the writers of the catechism referenced in two helpful imperatives:
Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Eph. 4:28).
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
But instead, I would have use take a step back and consider the word lawful, which precedes the command to procure and further material possession. God has written his law and design into all that he has purposed and created! And that one word—lawful—is the key not only to our understanding of this question and answer, but also to our success or failure in this life. God has written both the moral law, revealed in his Word, and natural law as well. Interwoven in both are economic laws, principles of commerce, guidelines for weights and measures, covenants and contracts. All these are intended to govern the affairs of men (see WLC Q141). Such laws and principles have no less significance than the law of gravity. I do not understand how a huge 747 airliner can take flight and carry cargo and hundreds of passengers across land and sea. Even if an aeronautic engineer were to explain to me the principles of gravity, drag, and aerodynamic flow until my eyes glassed over, I still wouldn’t get it; but I know what would happen if the pilot of one of those massive modern marvels were to shut off the fuel at a height of 30,000 feet! The law of gravity would stand alone in the absence of the other laws of God written infallibly into creation! We cannot go about procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others apart from lawful means, those ways and means that God has defined and revealed in his word! Some people might suggest that violating certain laws of God in “certain situations” is justified, but it is not. Apparent short-term gain will not bring long term advantage, and will ultimately do damage.
That is why we are commanded, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing [understanding] the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15 KJV). The word study in II Tim. 2:15, used in the KJV, is translated “be diligent” in newer versions, and helps us understand the necessity to think God’s thoughts after him as we bring “every thought captive to Christ” (II Cor. 10:5)! For example, when someone, even a professed Christian, tries to justify gambling as an approved method for providing for their family’s basic necessities, that person is not “rightly dividing [understanding] the word of truth.” The Scriptures are clear; there is a seemingly endless list of Proverbs that illustrate such thinking as unwise.
The eighth commandment requires the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others. We serve an industrious God whose primary interest is in redemption, renewal, and sanctification. He is a builder of things (read Ps. 19 again!). He does not see as we see; he looks beyond the immediate, and he intends all the consequences of his actions.
Someday I’m going to write a book (Lord willing), entitled Lessons from the Garden. I’ve got something of a green thumb, which I must have acquired from my beloved mother who loved to garden. I like to plant and see things grow, and I’ve noticed that if things don’t grow at some point, they soon die. There is a principle of putting off the old and putting on the new. If that principle (that law) gets short-circuited—if it’s cut off by malnutrition, disease, or a parasite, or if the plant is weak and unable to resist harsh circumstances—it will succumb to the law of consequences. A plant must maintain the pattern of rest and growth or it contracts and dies!
And then there are weeds! They grow all by themselves; they need no help, no good soil; they have no natural enemies, and they suck the life and energy of all that surround them; they are toxic, hard to kill, and spread like a cancer unattended. Again, weeds have no natural enemy except one, the lover of the garden who will hunt them down, and pull them out by the root, one by one.
We hear a lot these days about unintended consequences when a decision is made which seemed at the time to be a good idea, but proven to be wrong later on. A wise man once said, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history;” the information is there, but we fail to heed the lessons of the past. How many thousands of years ago did God say, “Thou shalt not steal?” What are the applications and implications of that command? What are the consequences for obeying or disobeying that wisdom of our covenant-keeping God? He that has ears to hear, let him hear.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read Prov. 14:23 and Prov. 10:4. What do these two proverbs say?
2.        When God created Adam, what was the first instruction given to him? Read Gen. 2:15. What first principle can we derive from this fact?
3.        We have seen how keeping God’s commands must begin with our thought patterns. What does Prov. 28:19 teach us?
4.        Not only what we do, but how we do a job will determine the results. What does I Thess. 4:11-12 say about work?
5.        Our labors are not only for the benefit of our family and ourselves. What other reasons are there for being diligent in our responsibilities? See Gal. 6:10; Eph. 4:28, and Prov. 14: 31 (also Prov. 17:5a).
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q74 and WLC 141
WSC Q74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
A.  The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others[a].
      [a]  Lev. 25:35; Eph. 4:28b; Phil. 2:4
WLC Q141. What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
A.  The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man[a]; rendering to everyone his due[b]; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof[c]; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others[d]; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods[e]; a provident care and study to get[f], keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition[g]; a lawful calling[h], and diligence in it[i]; frugality[j]; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits[k], and suretiship, or other like engagements[l]; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own[m].
[a]   Ps. 15:2, 4; Zech. 7:4, 10; 8:16-17
[b]   Rom. 13:7
[c]   Lev. 6:2-5; Luke 19:8
[d]   Luke 6:30, 38; 1John 3:17; Eph. 4:28; Gal. 6:10
[e]   1Tim. 6:6-9; Gal. 6:14
[f]   1Tim. 5:8
[g]   Prov. 27:23-27; Ecc. 2:24; 3:12-13; 1Tim. 6:17-18; Isa. 38:1; Mat. 11:8
[h]  1Cor. 7:20; Gen. 2:15; 3:19
[i]    Eph. 4:28; Prov. 10:4
[j]    John 6:12; Prov. 21:20
[k]  1Cor. 6:1-9
[l]    Prov. 6:1-6; 11:15
[m] Lev. 25:35; Deut. 22:1-4; Exod. 23:4-5; Gen. 47:14, 20; Phil. 2:4; Mat. 22:39
Question(s) for further study:

Here we see how the Larger Catechism expands, actually provides a lengthy preface to the Shorter Catechism instruction which is listed at the end of the answer.  How many points do our fathers reference in this implied preface, and what is the specific difference in the points being made as stated in the question itself; what do our fathers call these points?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q73


We now begin to look at the eighth commandment. In considering this, it may be prudent to view Fisher’s catechism instruction, and note the following comments in Q&A form:
Q. 1. What is the subject matter of this commandment?
A. The wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.
Q. 2. What does it require with reference to these?
A. The procuring and furthering of them.
Q. 3. In what manner does it enjoin us to procure and further them?
A. Only in a lawful manner; for it requires the LAWFUL procuring and furthering of them.
Q. 4. Whose wealth is it we should procure and further?
A. Our own wealth, and that of others.
Q. 5. By what lawful means should we procure and further OUR OWN wealth?
A. By labour and industry in some honest calling, Eph. 4:28.
It is interesting to note that Fisher goes on to list a total of 28 Q&As regarding catechism questions 73 and 74. I mention this because as we approach this commandment—and, in fact, each of the Ten Commandments—we might think we already understand the point. After all, we already understand that we are not to steal, isn’t it quite obvious on the mere face of it?  Maybe so, but as we go “deeper” in our studies we know the heart is deceitful above all things; we’ll find there are actually many ways we can apply the instruction of the eighth command to our daily activities beyond mere surface understanding. The great fathers of our faith had much to say on this matter, and their commentaries and sermons provide a wealth of instruction, worthy of further examination.
Again, may we humbly approach our study of these things in prayer that the Lord would teach and enable us to believe and do all that is pleasing in his sight.
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WSC Q73. Which is the eighth commandment?
A.   The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.[a]
[a] Ex. 20:15; Deut. 5:19
Question #73 asks what the eighth commandment is, and answers that the eighth commandment is: You shall not steal.
Comments and considerations:
Our catechism instruction continues its cycle of instruction, first asking, which is the eighth commandment, and then, what is required and forbidden in it. Asking, “Which is the eight commandment?” reminds us that God has carefully placed each one of his commandments for our learning. We have mentioned before that the first four commandments address our vertical relationship with God and that the last six deal with our horizontal relationships with one another. The fifth commandment addresses the fundamental relations within that first divinely established institution—the family—dealing with the respect children owe to their parents. From this basic foundation for an orderly society comes the protection of human life in the sixth commandment; then the protection of marriage and the covenant union of man and women in the seventh commandment; and then the sanctioning of ownership and protection of personal property.
From the eighth commandment we learn the principle of stewardship. Man has been entrusted with the wealth of creation, and has command over it. That was God’s providential purpose from the very beginning:
“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. (Gen. 1:26-29)
We are not our own. God has given each of us gifts and a place to serve as stewards of what he has placed in our care. Our Savior speaks of the opportunities of stewardship in the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-29); although theft is not directly mentioned there, we come to understand that ultimately “The earth is the Lord’s and fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1). We are mere stewards, called to go about our business his way, respecting and honoring the order, authorities, and boundaries he has established for the welfare of society, human life, marriage, and personal property. Faithfulness in stewardship brings blessings; but failure to heed the covenant mandate brings danger.
As is my practice, I’m choosing one word for further study; this time, it’s the simple word steal. The definition is straightforward and unsurprising: 1) to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force - as in “A pickpocket stole his watch;” 2) to appropriate (ideas, credit, words, etc.) without right or acknowledgment. Nothing unexpected there; but notice a third definition: 3) to take, get, or win insidiously, surreptitiously, subtly, or by chance. The sins prohibited by this commandment range from petty theft, to great bank robberies; from cheating on one’s taxes, to Wall Street embezzlement. These days, the phrase “culture of corruption” is common; a shoplifting teenager, an unwise policymaker who has been entrusted with the welfare of our nation and its future—both could be described as insidious, surreptitious, and subtle; and both are taking a chance as they gamble with the future and the judgment of God upon those who violate his covenant law with apparent impunity.
The eighth commandment is quite clear. To use a modern phrase, “What part of Thou shalt not steal do we not understand?” Well, looking around our society these days, apparently quite a lot!
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        In Starr Meade’s Shorter Catechism devotional guide, several significant points are made in the first paragraph related to this eighth commandment. Read Rom. 13:7-8 and her comments, and answer the following questions:
o   What do the first four of the Ten Commandments focus upon?
o   What do the first four commandments warn us against?
o   How or in what way(s) do we fail if we do not heed this warning?
o   What do the last six of the Ten Commandments focus upon?
o   What are some of ways we are to respect and love others in the keeping of the eighth commandment?
2.        The keeping of the eighth command is expressed in various ways throughout Scripture; for example, see Matt. 7:12. How can this familiar verse be applied to the command, “You shall not steal”?
3.        Taking what does not belong to us begins with our thoughts. What does I Tim. 6:6-10 warn concerning our thinking patterns?
4.        What is the opposite of greed (the inordinate desire for things and possessions)? See Phil. 4:11-13.
5.        We see in Phil. 4 how the apostle Paul had learned the right attitude about worldly possessions, as others have demonstrated in various parts of Scripture. For example, what lessons can we learn from the words of Job in Job 1:20-21?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q73 and WLC 140
WSC Q73. Which is the eighth commandment?
A.  The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal[a].
[a]   Ex. 20:15; Deut. 5:19
WLC Q140. Which is the eighth commandment?
A.  The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal[a].
      [a]  Exod. 20:15
Question(s) for further study:
The Shorter and Larger Catechisms are virtually identical here.  But for further consideration, it has been said that the eighth commandment is the one commandment that can be applied to all the other commandments.  Is that true, and if so, how?