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.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q91

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork.” Spend a moment reflecting upon Ps. 19, and then think of all those unexplainable marvels of Divine engineering and beauty that surround us. How can these things be? An insignificant fleck of parched brown substance, so small as to be held at the end of a child’s fingertip, if given a little water, warmth, and soil, will burst forth into a beautiful, living plant that pleases the eye or satisfies hunger. Volumes upon volumes are filled with attempts to explain the mysteries of creation, from the beating wings of a humming bird to—well, there is no end to the list. We are surrounded by wonders that our best scientific minds—like children in a sandbox—can never quite explain. These are the things of God, the one who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, who alone is to be enjoyed and glorified. Oh, that we were like the little child who seems to see so clearly the wonder and glory we grownups so often fail to appreciate! And that brings us to the present catechism lesson.
So many theologians have tried to answer this question: “How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?” How does it work, we ask? But the catechism answer doesn’t really explain the how as we might desire to understand it. So often we try to dissect such teachings like a science class dissects a frog. Both procedures can be messy. In fact, in our examination of this topic, we would do better to marvel and rejoice at the gift of the sacraments, like the boy who pulls a lively little frog from his pocket, with a big grin on his face, than to cut it to pieces for analysis. God has revealed only some, not all, of the complexities of our salvation (Deut. 29:29). The writers of our confessions purposely kept things simple. Christ blesses, the Holy Spirit works, and we receive by faith. That’s what the Scriptures teach.
It has been said that we believe that we might understand. Often it is not our understanding which is the problem; it is the degree to which we believe. A desperate father, seeking the power and blessing of Jesus cried out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). As we approach this lesson, let each of us express the wisdom of that prayer as our own, as we seek God’s blessing upon our study and worship of him.
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WSC Q91. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A.   The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them[a].
[a] I Cor. 3:7; cf. I Cor. 1:12-17
Question 91 asks how the sacraments become effective means of salvation, and answers that the sacraments become effective means of salvation, not because of any special power in them or in the people who administer them, but rather by the blessing of Christ and the working of his Spirit in those who receive them by faith.
Comments and considerations:
These catechism lessons are tied to Starr Meade’s excellent family devotional book on the Shorter Catechism, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds. She begins her comments on Q91 like this:
“There are two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This question and answer explain how God uses these sacraments in our salvation. It is not ‘because of any special power’ in the sacraments themselves. Being baptized is not like waving a magic wand. Eating the Lord’s Supper does not magically make good things happen. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be received with faith.”
She goes on to point out that while some might think that those who perform the sacraments have some kind of special power that make the sacraments effective, that is not true. When the Lord’s people obey him, the Lord himself blesses them. There is no special power in any priest or pastor or elder to save people (I Cor. 3:6-7).
Why do our confessions teach only two sacraments when other traditions point to as many as seven? G.I. Williamson points to four reasons:
1.        For a sacrament to be valid, it must be commanded by Christ.
2.        It must be a sign—an outward, visible representation of an inward, invisible work of grace.
3.        It must be shown from Scripture that the ordinance is perpetual—that Christ commanded his church to perform it until his return.
4.        It must be shown that the ordinance is a seal intended to confirm and strengthen the faith of the recipients.
As outward signs of an inward work of grace and seals to confirm and strengthen the faith of the recipients, they are effectual: not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.
Again we must look at the word salvation. I fear that so often we have a truncated view of salvation—a “sweet-by-and-by, when I get to heaven, fire insurance policy” perspective. That is not the view of Scripture. Our Lord is about making disciples; salvation is about saving his people (Matt. 1:21), not only from the ultimate condemnation of sin, but from its present defilement and power (Rom. 6). We are not saved in the classic understanding of that term by being baptized or by participating in the Lord’s Table; but our deliverance from the effects of sin is our sanctification as effected by our Lord’s established means of grace. When we rejoice in Eph. 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”—there follows also the sober reality of verse 10—“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” So we must continually be confirmed and strengthened in the faith by every means available. In addition to the ministry of the Word, the sacraments have been established by our Lord as two imperative means of growth in grace and knowledge.
How is it that these simple acts and elements are such means, effectual to the strengthening of the frame and fiber of our faith? The answer: They are effectual by faith; when they are received by faith, they come with the promised blessing of Christ and working of the Holy Spirit. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). It really is by consistently availing of ourselves of all the God-ordained means of grace that we find our Christian life strengthened and enlivened. When we believe and obey the instructions of our Lord, his joy is ours, and we experience the Confident Christian Life (Neh. 8:10; cf. Is. 30:15).
Paul told the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (I Cor. 3:6-7). I really do not know how things grow (another “Lesson from the Garden”). In the summer months my fig tree is loaded with fruit; but the days wane and get shorter as fall approaches, no longer warm enough for the fruit of this Mediterranean tree to ripen. What is going on within my beloved tree as it interacts with the sun, earth, and the air around it? I know that the mystery of the tree is beyond my control; yet I also know that if I break the chain of daily gardening, as mundane, routine, and laborious as my efforts might be, my tree won’t bear healthy fruit in season, the branch will wither away, and it may even die. Yet if I care for it properly, with consistent, joyous vigor, the plant will flourish and survive the attacks of insects and storms.
The sacraments are part of our corporate worship, our regular exercise of faith: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). “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, …not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:19-25).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     There are two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This question and answer explain how God uses these sacraments in our salvation. It is not “because of any special power” in the sacraments themselves. Being baptized is not like waving a magic wand. Eating the Lord’s Supper does not magically make good things happen. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be received with faith. Read Acts 8:9-13, 18-23. What is the main point of this account, and what did “a certain man called Simon” fail to understand?
2.     Some might think that those who administrate, or perform the sacraments, have some kind of special power that makes the sacraments effective. But what does I Cor. 3:6-7 say on this issue?
3.     What is one of the blessings of Christ which is seen, understood, and enjoyed in the sacraments according to I Cor. 10:16 and 12:13? (1)
4.     Therefore, do all people have a right to the sacraments? Are they to be enjoyed by all without regard to their relationship to God in Christ? See Mark 16:15-16; I Cor. 11:27-29.
 (1) Unity, the things of Christ we share in common
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q91, WLC Q161 and  WCF XXVII.III
WSC Q91. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A.  The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them[a].
      [a]  1Cor. 3:7; cf. 1Cor. 1:12-17
WLC Q161. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A.  The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted[a].
      [a]  1Pet. 3:21; Acts 8:13, 23; 1Cor. 3:6-7; 12:13
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER. XXVII.
Of the Sacraments.
III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it[g]: but upon the work of the Spirit[h], and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers[i].
[g]  Rom. 2:28-29; 1Pet. 3:21
[h] 1Cor. 12:13
[i]  Matt. 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20; Matt. 28:19-20; 1Cor. 11:26
Question(s) for further study:

The harmony here between the Catechisms and Confession is very exacting yet with some variation.  What word is used in the Larger Catechism and Confession that differs from the word “virtue” in the Shorter, and what implications might we draw from our father’s choice of that word in the deeper instructions?    

Monday, December 18, 2017

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q90

We continue in the section of the catechism that explains how salvation is communicated in our lives. We know that the power of God’s Word as applied by the Holy Spirit brings the truth to bear upon our conscience, reshaping our thinking and obedience. But as this week’s question teaches, we have a responsibility to apply ourselves to the ministry of the Word “with diligence, preparation, and prayer.”
Let us even now give ourselves to this instruction with all diligence, preparation, and prayer.
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WSC Q90. How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A. That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer[a]; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives[b].
[a]  Deut. 6:6ff; Ps. 119:18; IPet. 2:1-2
[b]  Ps. 119:11; IIThess. 2:10; Heb. 4:2; Jas. 1:22-25
Question 90 asks how is the word to be read and heard in order to become effective for salvation, and answers that for the word to become effective for salvation, we must pay careful attention to it, prepare ourselves, and pray for understanding. We must also receive it with faith and love, treasure it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
Comments and considerations:
At the time when I finally got serious about my Christian walk, I often listened to a particular preacher who forcefully recited the same three verses at the start of every message:
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (II Tim. 3:16-17).
Therefore: Study to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15).
I memorized those verses, having heard him recite them so often; and after all these years, I can still hear his voice reminding me of these fundamental truths:
1) God’s Word is powerful and piercing to get to any heart of the matter and mind like a surgeon’s knife.
2) All of Scripture is profitable to cover and provide for all and every need without exception.
3) Therefore, we must, as our first priority, apply ourselves diligently to the acquisition of all the treasures of Christ stored away within His word.
In other words, the Word of God is the effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation (WSC Q89). That salvation is whole-orbed, involving every aspect of our lives from beginning to end, even unto eternity, as we have seen before. If we understand this, and give ourselves to the study of God’s Word as Paul commands Timothy in II Tim. 2:15, we will lack nothing “pertaining to life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:2). The “joy of the Lord will [indeed] be our strength” (Neh. 8:10) and the source of a confident Christian life.
But notice now how our fathers put the case, and what Scriptures they draw upon to instructs us how this is to be done, how this power of the Word becomes effectual as it is read and heard by a Christian. Here are a few observations:
Notice that the Word may become effectual. Whether it does, and to what degree, is a matter of choice. The Word comments better than I can on this point:
Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you (Isa 55:2-3)
Next we see that we must attend to the Word with diligence. Again our faithful fathers use an imperative must; it is not an option. At the very least to attend means “to be present, to pay attention, to be engaged.” Whether in private devotions, personal or group study, or the preaching and teaching of the Word, all three definitions are significant. Are we “there” when the Word is taught? Do we apply ourselves diligently, making a conscientious effort and working at it? Nothing of value is ever achieved by ease.
But even before we attend to the Word, there must be preparation and prayer. It has been said that any achievement is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. But a large part of the perspiration is preparation, and, for the Christian, plowing the ground with prayer. I have worked on many a project and task over the years, and the outcome has always been dependent upon the work done before the constructive effort began. The best outcomes are achieved only when we have the right tools, a careful plan, and the right attitude and approach. Thus our fathers point to next requirement: receive it with faith and love.
The Word is to be received with faith and love. “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24) We begin our journey with that first step of faith, given on the basis of grace (Eph. 2:8-9); and we continue in faith, given if we ask for it. One of my favorite verses is Col 2:6—“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We received Him on the basis of faith; we are to continue in like manner. But it is a faith unto love—love of Christ and His Word. How does the old hymn go? “O how love I thy law! It is my mediation all the day.”
As always, it this is fundamentally a heart issue. The Word is to be kept in our hearts. The heart is the seat of our affections, will, and emotions. What we store away in our heart determines who we really are (Prov. 23:7). As our Lord said: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matt. 12:35).
And finally, we must practice it in our lives. A volume could be written on this point, could it not? The root word and origin of practice is “practical work.” How do we learn biblical doctrines and godly behaviors? How do we come to be rebuked, corrected, and instructed unto every good work (see II Tim. 3:16-17 and Eph. 2:10)? We practice them until we get them right! Yet we do not practice them alone or in our own strength, but in the Lord; he strengthens us to the task and promises us victory that overcomes, even our faith (I John 5:4; cf. Phil 4:13; 2:12-13; 1:16)! This is how the Confident Christian Life is achieve,
For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel:
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15a).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
The following is directly quoted from Starr Meade’s book which we are using for this study: “God’s Word is unlike any other book in the world. Because it is the Word of God, it has the power to make great changes in people. It can change people who hate God into people who love and live for Him. It can change people from being selfish and wicked to being loving and holy. God’s word is ‘effective for salvation.’ God uses His Word to bring people to faith in Christ and to make them like Jesus…Jesus told a parable to show the different kinds of people who hear and read God’s Word.”
1.        Read Luke 8:4-15. Summarize the different approaches to the Word, and the one that is effective for salvation.
2.        We do some things simply because they are required, but our heart may not be in it. Sometimes we have a real heart’s desire to perform the task. The outcome of an action has a lot to do with our attitude about the task and how we apply ourselves to it. What do I Thess. 2:13 and Prov. 2:1-5 say about how we ought to approach God’s Word? What will be the outcome?
3.        The success of what we do often depends on our personal preparation, and how we apply ourselves to the doing. What does James 1:21 say about our preparation? What do verses 22-25 say about application?
4.        Jesus said, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6). How did Job and David demonstrate their hunger and thirst for the things of God? (See Job 23:12; Ps. 119:72; and Ps. 131).
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q90, WLC Q157 - Q160
Q.  90. How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
A.  That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer[a]; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives[b].
[a]  Deut. 6:6ff; Ps. 119:18; IPet. 2:1-2
[b]  Ps. 119:11; IIThess. 2:10; Heb. 4:2; Jas. 1:22-25
WLC Q157. How is the Word of God to be read?
A.  The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them[a]; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God[b], and that he only can enable us to understand them[c]; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them[d]; with diligence[e], and attention to the matter and scope of them[f]; with meditation[g], application[h], self-denial[i], and prayer[j].
[a]   Ps. 19:10; Neh. 8:3-10; Exod. 24:7; 2Chro. 34:27; Isa. 66:2
[b]   2Pet. 1:19-21
[c]   Luke 24:45; 2Cor. 3:13-16
[d]   Deut. 17:10, 20
[e]   Acts 17:11
[f]   Acts 8:30, 34; Luke 10:26-28
[g]   Ps. 1:2; 119:97
[h]  2Chro. 34:21
[i]    Prov. 3:5; Deut. 33:3
[j]    Prov. 2:1-6; Ps. 119:18: Neh. 7:6, 8
WLC Q158. By whom is the Word of God to be preached?
A.  The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted[a],  and also duly approved and called to that office[b].
[a]  1Tim. 3:2, 6; Eph. 4:8-11; Hos. 4:6; Mal. 2:7; 2Cor. 3:6
[b]  Jer. 14:15; Rom. 10:15; Heb. 5:4; 1Cor. 12:28-29; 1Tim. 3:10; 4:14; 5:22
WLC Q159. How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?
A.  They that are called to labour in the ministry of the Word, are to preach sound doctrine[a], diligently[b], in season and out of season[c]; plainly[d], not in the enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power[e]; faithfully[f], making known the whole counsel of God[g]; wisely[h], applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers[i]; zealously[j], with fervent love to God[k] and the souls of his people[l]; sincerely[m], aiming at his glory[n], and their conversion[o], edification[p], and salvation[q].
[a]   Tit. 2:1, 8
[b]   Acts 18:25
[c]   2Tim. 4:2
[d]   1Cor.14:19
[e]   1Cor. 2:4
[f]   Jer. 23:28; 1Cor. 4:1-2
[g]   Acts 20:27
[h]  Col. 1:28; 2Tim. 2:15
[i]    1Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14; Luke 12:42
[j]    Acts 18:25
[k]  2Cor. 5:13-14; Phil. 1:15-17
[l]    Col. 4:12; 2Cor. 12:15
[m] 2Cor. 2:17; 4:2
[n]  1Thes. 2:4-6; John 7:18
[o]  1Cor. 9:19-22
[p]  2Cor. 12:19; Eph. 4:12
[q]   1Tim. 4:16; Acts 26:16-18
WLC Q160. What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
A.  It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence[a], preparation[b], and prayer[c]; examine what they hear by the Scriptures[d]; receive the truth with faith[e], love[f], meekness[g], and readiness of mind[h], as the Word of God[i]; meditate[j], and confer of it[k]; hide it in their hearts[l], and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives[m].
[a]   Prov. 8:34
[b]   1Pet. 2:1-2; Luke 8:18
[c]   Ps. 119:18; Eph. 6:18-19
[d]   Acts 17:11
[e]   Heb. 4:2
[f]   2Thes. 2:10
[g]   Jam. 1:21
[h]  Acts 17:11
[i]    1Thes. 2:13
[j]    Luke 9:44; Heb. 2:1
[k]  Luke 24:14; Deut. 6:6-7
[l]    Prov. 2:1; Ps. 119:11
[m] Luke 8:15; Jam. 1:25
Question(s) for further study:
There are four Larger Catechism questions that expand upon the shorter in this harmony.  What significant point is being made regarding the “hearing” of Word as to its delivered to the ear, mind and heart, and the reception of that Word on our part?