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, October 30, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q83


As we commence our consideration of Question 83, first read it and take a moment to ponder the question. Are you surprised that it is asked? Consider for a moment the next question, Q84: “What does every sin deserve? Answer. Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.” Now, if every sin deserves God’s wrath, both now and in eternity, then what’s the point of Q83? That query provokes considerable thought and might open a discussion of rewards and punishments. But without going further in that direction, what offences are the offenses which the Lord considers “more heinous…than others”?
There is plenty of confessional information to consider, and of course, the Scriptures present even more. Again, let us together consider these things prayerfully, with submissive and obedient hearts, to our Lord’s honor and praise.
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WSC Q83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
A.  Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others[a].
[a] Ezek. 8:6, 13, 15; Matt. 11:20-24; John 19:11

Question 83 asks if all sins are equally evil, and answers that in the eyes of God, some sins in themselves are more evil than others, and some are more evil because of the harm that results from them.

Comment and considerations;
We know that all sin deserves God’s wrath (WSC Q84); that sin consists both of actions that oppose God’s revealed will and of failure to perform it; and that God’s Law doesn’t allow for gray areas, since all areas of sinful behavior are touched upon in the Ten Commandments. So what is at issue here, and why did our fathers consider this question significant? First notice that the answer sets up two propositions: 1) some sins are—as our paraphrase says—more evil in themselves, and 2) some sins are more evil because of what results from them. Next, think carefully about the paraphrase: is evil an acceptable synonym for heinous, the word used in the original question? Not really. Words like wicked, infamous, atrocious, villainous, nefarious, and even monstrous are more in line with the meaning of heinous. You see, the word heinous does not mean evil; it means hateful. It is a very old word that has fallen into disuse; its root is hate, and it means “hateful; hatefully bad; odious; atrocious; great [enormously aggravated] offense” (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary). Yes, our God of infinite love does indeed hate, and not dispassionately; and though all sin deserves judgment, God hates some sins even more than others.
The Larger Catechism provides further insight, and it covers this topic in two questions. WLC Q150 is very similar to WSC Q83; there is some variation in the Scripture references, simply to make a stronger case that there are sins more hateful to God than others. However, WLC Q151 (followed by 60 Scripture references) expands upon the topic by considering four kinds of aggravations which make some sins more heinous.
WLC Q151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
Ans.  Sins receive their aggravations,
1)  From the persons offending: if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.
Comment: To whom much has been given, of him much is expected (Luke 12:48). God grants blessings of material, time, place, and profession to be “paid forward,” to use a modern analogy. I heard a prominent individual once say he prayed every day for blessings so as to be a blessing to others. Those given place and prominence, as a head of a household, business, institution, or state, are to be an example and an encouragement to others. Jesus warned, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). How hateful it is to God when leaders sin!
2)  From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness, and workings against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.
Comment: Need I make comment here? Meditate on what is said. I have not included the Scripture references, but let me select just a couple from the deep pool of wisdom our fathers drew upon. Prov. 30:17 says, “The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it.” And I Cor. 8:12 warns, “But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” It would be well worth your time to look up the 29 other verses associated with this point.
3)  From the nature and quality of the offense: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, willfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
4)  From circumstances of time and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages; if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.
Certain aggravations cause weightier and more serious offense to God’s purposed loving-kindness and tender mercies. James 4:17 says, “Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.” We should consider somberly the fact that God takes special note of sins against the weaker brethren, those in authority, and even solemn occasions, both public and private.
In closing, let us review Prov. 6:16-19, which clearly states, “Six things does the Lord hates”—notice that word again—“yes, seven are an abomination [disgusting] unto him.” What sins does God find more heinous than others? The list in Prov. 6 provides a place to start: The list starts out with “a proud look [arrogance]” and ends with “one who sows discord [disharmony, disunity] among the brethren.” Sowing discord is condemned twice in Prov. 6, the first time in vss. 12-14: “A worthless person, a wicked man, walks with a perverse mouth; he winks with his eyes, he shuffles his feet, he points with his fingers; perversity is in his heart, he devises evil continually, he sows discord.” We serve a God of unity, redemption, and reconciliation, seeking those of a humble and contrite spirit (Ps. 34:18; 51:17). He commands his people to endeavor to maintain “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) in opposition to the proud and self-centered, intent upon discord and disunity.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        The Scriptures teach that to break even one of God’s commandments makes us guilty before God and places us under his anger. We may see something as a small sin, but since all sins are against God, it would appear that there is no such thing as a small sin. All sin makes us guilty of being lawbreakers. But in reality we also learn that some sins will be punished even more severely than other sins, because in God’s eyes, they are more heinous. What kinds of sin are more heinous than others? Read and carefully consider I Sam. 2:17, 23-25.
There are sins against others which are not directed towards God. But the Bible teaches that ultimately even these sins are against God. Then there are sins deliberately against God, like those that defile his name or worship. And then there are those sins that cause others to stumble in their relationship to God and his commandments. What are some of the ways these three categories of sin can be expressed in sinful behavior? How are some more heinous then others, and why?
2.        When we consider that some sins are more grievous then others, one way to acknowledge this is seeing the degree in which harm is done to another by a particular sin. For example, see how two different sins are viewed in terms of the eventual outcome of each in Prov. 6:30-35.
3.        What point does James 3:1 make regarding those in authority or given teaching responsibilities?
4.        Why is sin done by those who say they know and worship God more heinous by degree? See Rom. 2:23-24 and Luke 12:47-48.
5.        It is a great blessing to be raised in a Christian home, to be taught the truth of God as we grow. But there is also a great danger. How does Heb. 10:26-31 describe this danger?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q83 and WLC 150 and 151
WSC Q83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others[a].
[a] Ezek. 8:6, 13, 15; Matt. 11:20-24; John 19:11
WLC Q150. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
A. All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others[a].
[a] John 19:11; Ezek. 8:6, 13, 15; 1John 5:16; Ps. 78:17, 32, 56
WLC Q151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
A. Sins receive their aggravations,
1.     From the persons offending[a] if they be of riper age[b], greater experience or grace[c], eminent for profession[d], gifts[e], place[f], office[g], guides to others[h], and whose example is likely to be followed by others[i].
2.     From the parties offended[j]: if immediately against God[k], his attributes[l], and worship[m]; against Christ, and his grace[n]; the Holy Spirit[o], his witness[p], and workings[q] against superiors, men of eminency[r], and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto[s]; against any of the saints[t], particularly weak brethren[u], the souls of them, or any other[v], and the common good of all or many[w].
3.     From the nature and quality of the offense[x]: if it be against the express letter of the law[y], break many commandments, contain in it many sins[z]: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions[aa], scandalize others[bb], and admit of no reparation[cc]: if against means[dd], mercies[ee], judgments[ff], light of nature[gg], conviction of conscience[hh], public or private admonition[ii], censures of the church[jj], civil punishments[kk]; and our prayers, purposes, promises[ll], vows[mm], covenants[nn], and engagements to God or men[oo]: if done deliberately[pp], willfully[qq], presumptuously[rr], impudently,[ss] boastingly[tt], maliciously[uu], frequently[vv], obstinately[ww], with delight[xx], continuance[yy], or relapsing after repentance[zz].
4.     From circumstances of time[aaa] and place[bbb]: if on the Lord's day[ccc], or other times of divine worship[ddd]; or immediately before[eee] or after these[fff], or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages[ggg]; if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled[hhh].
[a]       Jer. 2:8
[b]       Job. 32:7, 9; Ecc. 4:13
[c]       1Kng. 11:4, 9
[d]       2Sam. 12:14; 1Cor. 5:1
[e]       Jam. 4:17; Luke 12:47-48
[f]        Jer. 5:4-5
[g]       2Sam. 12:7-9; Ezek. 8:11-12
[h]       Rom. 2:17-24
[i]        Gal. 2:11-14
[j]        Mat. 21:38-39
[k]       1Sam. 2:25; Acts 5:4; Ps. 51:4
[l]        Rom. 2:4
[m]     Mal. 1:8, 14
[n]       Heb. 2:2-3; 12:25
[o]       Heb. 10:29; Mat. 12:31-32
[p]       Eph. 4:30
[q]       Heb. 6:4-6
[r]        Jude 8; Num. 12:8-9; Isa. 3:5
[s]        Prov. 30:17; 2Cor. 12:15; Ps. 55:12-15
[t]        Zeph. 2:8, 10-11; Mat. 18:6; 1Cor. 6:8; Rev. 17:6
[u]       1Cor. 8:11-12; Rom. 14:13, 15, 21
[v]       Ezek. 13:19; 1Cor. 8:12; Rev. 18:12-13; Mat. 23:15
[w]      1Thes. 2:15-16; Josh. 22:20
[x]       Prov. 6:30-33
[y]       Ezra 9:10-12; 1Kng. 11:9-10
[z]       Col. 3:5; 1Tim. 6:10; Prov. 5:8-12; 6:32-33; Josh. 7:21
[aa]     Jam. 1:14-15; Mat. 5:22; Micah 2:1
[bb]     Mat. 18:7; Rom. 2:23-24
[cc]     Deut. 22:22, 28-29; Prov. 6:32-35
[dd]     Mat. 11:21-24; John 15:22
[ee]     Isa. 1:3; Deut. 32:6
[ff]      Amos 4:8-11; Jer. 5:3
[gg]     Rom.1:26-27
[hh]    Rom. 1:32; Dan. 5:22; Tit. 3:10-11
[ii]       Prov. 29:1
[jj]       Tit. 3:10; Mat. 18:17
[kk]    Prov. 27:22; 23:35
[ll]       Ps. 73:34-37; Jer. 2:20; 42:5-6, 20-21
[mm] Ecc. 5:4-6; Prov. 20:25
[nn]    Lev. 26:25
[oo]    Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 17:18-19
[pp]    Ps. 36:4
[qq]     Jer. 6:16
[rr]      Num. 15:30; Exod. 21:14
[ss]      Jer. 3:3; Prov. 7:13
[tt]      Ps. 52:1
[uu]     3John 10
[vv]    Num. 15:22
[ww]   Zech. 7:11-12
[xx]    Prov. 2:14
[yy]    Isa. 57:17
[zz]     Jer. 34:8-11; 2Pet. 2:20-22
[aaa]  2Kng. 5:26
[bbb]  Jer. 7:10; Isa. 26:10
[ccc]  Ezek. 23:37-39
[ddd]  Isa. 58:3-5; Num. 25:6-7
[eee]  1Cor. 11:20-21
[fff]    Jer. 7:8-10; Prov. 7:14-15; John 13:27, 30
[ggg]  Ezra 9:13-14
[hhh] 2Sam. 16:22; 1Sam. 2:22-24
Question(s) for further study:

The Larger Catechism questions expand at length upon the Shorter in this harmony. What is unusual in how our fathers present the answer to the question being asked “What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous,” and how many scriptures references do they list in making their points.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q82


We all know the adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Along those lines, author Hermann Melville wrote, “Toil is man’s allotment; toil of brain, or toil of hands, or a grief that’s more than either, the grief and sin of idleness.” It is (or should be) humbling to realize that we sin not only in our doing, but also in our not doing what God commands. Starr Meade opens her comments on Question 82 with this statement: “When God tells us not to do certain things, He tells us to do the opposite of those things.” That brings to mind the catechism’s definition of sin, which concerns both transgressing God’s Law and omitting to perform it in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Let us give heed and prayer to this lesson, that we might learn and do all that our God has commanded (Matt. 5:48), and rejoice because of both the saving and the enabling power of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2: 8-10).
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WSC Q82. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A.   No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed[a].
[a] Gen. 8:21; Rom. 3:9ff, 23
Question 82 asks if anyone perfectly keeps the commandments of God, and answers that since the fall no ordinary man can perfectly keep the commandments of God in this life but breaks them every day in thought, word, and action.
Comments and consideration:
I have always experienced a sense of foreboding when the Ten Commandments are read in a worship service, as I think to myself, “Who is able?” I marvel at the arrogance of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18ff), who proclaimed that he had kept all God’s commands from his youth; of course, Jesus revealed that he still failed to measure up to the bar of God’s demands. I suspect the Lord was being gracious with him, as he is with all of us, and could have brought to light many more layers of sin and unbelief in that young man’s life. When the Law examines us, it does not bring with it a message of hope and relief for the weary soul. God’s law is a necessary light that probes the darkness of our hearts, showing us the character of God and what is meant by the summary statement, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45, I Pet. 1:16). When we come to the end of the Law, we truly come to the end of ourselves; we know - if we are willing to face the truth and not suppress it in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18) - that No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed. This is the conclusion we must reach after studying the previous 41 catechism questions, the requirements and prohibitions of each of the Ten Commandments. Pick one and ask yourself, have I kept it perfectly ...in thought, word, and deed? As we behold the holiness of God, we must say with Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips (Is. 6:5). In fact, “There is none righteous, no, not one... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 9:10, 23). As a result of the Fall “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21).
But we are not left there, are we? After the reading of the Law, a good worship service continues with a proclamation of pardon and comfort, or a gospel proclamation of good news and hope. Consider the word mere, found in the catechism answer: if left out, the answer is filled only with fear and despair; but that single word gives not only hope, but the sure promise of salvation and redemption. A man, and no mere man was able, and did in [his] life perfectly keep the commandments of God, ... in thought, word, and deed. That man is the unique God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone kept the Law perfectly and was uniquely qualified to satisfy the justice of God on the cross, delivering his people from the condemning effects of sin; he provided redemptive power to purchase them out of their slavery to sin; he brought “them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces” (Ps. 107:14).
In the catechism lessons that follow (WSC #83-89), we will see more of this “so great salvation.” But for the moment, let us be mindful of this. We have come to the end of the Ten Commandment study with its threatening implications. Let us remember however, that the Law is intended as a blessing. As the Apostle of our faith rightly recorded, we “would not have known sin except through the law (Rom. 7:7); thus being forewarned is a blessing if we seek an answer to our dilemma and do not despair. And we need not despair, for our Lord in his tender mercies and loving kindness did provide an answer: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read James 3:2. Look at the context and consider the implications of what is said. Do we recognize the full extent of the effect of sin in our lives? We not only sin by what we say; we also sin by what we want, what we like and do not like, what we think and feel, and, of course, by what we do. Clearly, none of us keeps the commandments of God. When God commands us to behave in certain ways, he also commands us to think and feel in certain ways. If we realize that, we realize that we cannot keep God’s commandments perfectly.
2.        When we are convicted of sin by the Law, what purpose is the Law performing? See Gal. 3:24.
3.        In the Christian life we struggle to do what the Law commands. Yet God has not left us alone in our struggle; he gives us by grace what we need towards obedience. What does Gal. 5: 6-17 say about this?
4.        God calls us to holiness (Matt. 5:48), yet we know that we do sin. In our plight we can go to God again and again for help in time of need. According to I John 2:1-2, what does Jesus provide for us when we sin? (See in context of I John 1:8-10.)
5.        The answer to Q82 says, “No mere man…is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God.” When we give serious thought to that statement, what implication gives us hope? How is it a comfort for the weary sinner? See Heb. 4:14-16 and I John 3:2.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q81 and WLC 149
WSC Q.82. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A.  No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed[a].
      [a]  Gen. 8:21; Rom. 3:9ff, 23

WLC Q149. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A.  No man is able, either of himself[a], or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God[b]; but doth daily break them in thought[c], word, and deed[d].
[a]   Jam. 3:2; John 15:5; Rom. 8:3
[b]   Ecc. 7:20; 1John 1:8, 10; Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:18-19
[c]   Gen. 6:5; 8:21
[d]   Rom. 3:9-19; Jam. 3:2-13
Question(s) for further study:

What is the difference between the Larger and the Shorter Catechism in what is asked and answer?  What reason might be surmised as to why our fathers changed the way the question is asked in the larger catechism and its answer? How do the additional scripture references in the Larger Catechism assist us in the understanding the answer?