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, February 26, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q99

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q99
Look below at the question and its paraphrase, which is taken directly from Starr Meade’s book Training Hearts, Training Minds. Do you see a difference in wording between the original catechism question and the paraphrase? The paraphrase is missing the word rule.
This is not meant as a criticism of Starr Mead, who, being a godly individual, most assuredly embraces the idea of rules and authority; I don’t mean to imply any negative intention behind the paraphrase. But it’s worth observing that there has been a cultural shift in modern society that is both subtle and invasive to the way we think about rules and authority. Sometimes our opposition to rules is very blatant, and sometimes we don’t even recognize it. We like our liberty and are very much affected by the “question authority” culture in which we live—more than we would like to admit. We don’t like rules, especially about something private and personal like prayer. We like shortcuts and easy solutions; the concept of delayed gratification is felt as an evil, not merely an inconvenience. We have been told, and have been given no reason not to believe, that all we need is the right credit card in our wallet, and the entire world is ours. It does not make sense to the modern mind that there are, and ought to be, rules to direct our behaviors and relationships to things around us and to God.
But there are rules about the physical world, health, and human conduct that when obeyed bring blessings and benefit, and when violated bring adversity, chaos, and ruin. The fathers of our Confessions understood this in a way that seems to have been lost upon their children. So we must listen to the fathers of our faith so that we may “redeem the time,” living “not as unwise but as wise,” and understanding the “will of our Lord” (Eph. 5:15-17). May we teach and exhibit the truth to our children and children’s children. Question 99 asks what rule, axiom, principle, fundamental truth, or ordinance God provides to direct us in prayer; it answers that the whole Word of God, but especially the Lord’s Prayer, which Christ taught his disciples, is the rule, axiom, principle, fundamental truth, or ordinance which God has so designed and ordered to direct our prayers. When it comes to rules, God’s law-word does not suggest; it commands us.
As we approach this study, let us do so prayerfully, with boldness and humility, and with great expectation, knowing that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” And it is his will that we be a praying people, entreating the power, purpose, and authority of our God upon all that we are, do, and say. May God abundantly grant us the answer to this prayer.
WSC Q99. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer[a]; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.[b]
[a]        I John 5:14
[b]       Matt. 6:9-13
Question #99 asks how God directs us to pray, and answers that the whole Word of God, but especially the Lord’s Prayer, which Christ taught his disciples, directs our prayers.
Comments and considerations:
As we look at the answer to this catechism question, we have at first an excellent reminder regarding every matter in which we would seek guidance; that is, the whole Word of God is of use to direct us no matter what the issue or direction we seek. By this simple statement we are reminded that the whole counsel of God should direct our thoughts and actions, not just one verse or passage. Scripture interprets Scripture, and the obscure is clarified by the clear. Often a text taken out of its context has led to error and damage to individual lives and the Church; as the axiom states, a text taken out of context can become a pretext. The best safeguard against false doctrine and life is the whole counsel of God. So what can we learn about prayer from the whole counsel of God?
Yet the Word does speak specifically to specifics, bringing truth to light in the biblical narrative, developed over time in the history of redemption. Here on the topic of prayer, our fathers rightly emphasize that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.
It is indeed commonly called The Lord’s Prayer, and is universally considered as such by believer and unbeliever alike. However, some see it as a prayer not so much prayed by our Lord, but taught to his disciples for their instruction and use; for that reason, it could be termed the Disciples’ Prayer.
As we study the Lord’s Prayer, we must begin by looking at its context in Scripture. The catechism quotes Matt. 6:9-13. That context is the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). But there is another place where the Lord’s Prayer is found—a more personal moment of instruction between the Lord and his disciples in Luke 11:2ff. Observe closely the context of that instruction. It immediately follows the Lord’s visit in Martha and Mary’s home, and the lesson he gave concerning worship and service. After this we read, “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). The Lord responded, “When you pray, say: ...”
The disciple’s question is an interesting one, is it not? How do we teach someone the necessity of a thing? Teach me to work; teach me to love my wife; teach me to be kind; teach me to be patient. They say the best way for someone to learn to be patient is to become one, a patient. Did you know that the etymology of the word patience is exactly that, a hospital patient? You see, you can’t hurry up healing; it takes time, and a sickly patient simply has to practice patience and let the body and healing hand of God do the work.
So our Lord teaches the disciples to pray by wisely teaching them how to pray, knowing that through time, practice, and providence, they will learn to pray—and even to pray “without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). As with all things we learn to do well, it takes patience and much practice.
The remaining catechism questions will look at the instructions found within the several parts of the Lord’s Prayer.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read I John 5:14. What is the direct instruction from this verse, and what are some implications we can draw from it?
2.     I John 5:14 says, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hear us.” In other words, it is not necessarily our desires that should direct our prayers, but rather our seeking the things that God wants for our lives. What does James 4:2-3 say about prayers directed towards what we want? Are the things we want necessarily things we ought to obtain?
3.     Often when we read Scripture, we are tempted to read a verse out of the context, missing the meaning and right application. Read Luke 11:9-12, considering what is being said; then read verse 13. What did Jesus instruct the disciples to pray for, and why is this important to the Christian life?
4.     Question 99 teaches us that all of Scripture provides instruction in prayer; but our Lord gives special instruction, not only in the so-called Lord’s Prayer. See Luke 11:2-3 and John 11:41-42. What might we learn about the manner in which Jesus approached his prayers in these two portions of Scripture?
5.     The Lord’s Prayer can be used in two ways, as a prayer in itself or as a pattern for how we ought to pray (see Matt 6:9). What caution should we use regarding the use of the Lord’s Prayer? See Matt 6:7.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q99, WLC Q186-188
WSC Q99. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?
A.  The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer[a]; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord's Prayer[b].
[a]  IJohn 5:14
[b]  Matt. 6:9-13
WLC Q186. What rule hath God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?
A.  The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of prayer[a]; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which our Savior Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord's Prayer[b].
[a]  1John 5:14
[b]  Mat. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4
WLC Q187. How is the Lord's Prayer to be used?
A.  The Lord's Prayer is not only for direction, as a pattern, according to which we are to make other prayers; but may also be used as a prayer, so that it be done with understanding, faith, reverence, and other graces necessary to the right performance of the duty of prayer[a].
[a]  Mat. 6:9 Compared with Luke 11:2 (See Q. 186 {[b].)
WLC Q188. Of how many parts doth the Lord's Prayer consist?
A.  The Lord's Prayer consists of three parts; a preface, petitions, and a conclusion.
Question(s) for further study:
The Shorter Catechism and its parallel Larger Catechism Question are nearly identical except for three words added to the Larger.  What are those words and what significance might one draw from them? How does WLC Q187 add to our understanding of this?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q98

We near the end of our catechism study as the Shorter Catechism concludes with the topic of prayer. Rossetti, the 19th-century Italian poet, patriot, and evangelist once commented, “The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.” Thanksgiving is so much a part of an active prayer life, but it is only one aspect. There is so much to consider on the issue of prayer, and the catechism dedicates the last ten questions to this topic.
What is your view and practice of prayer? Hopefully it corresponds with the Church’s view as spelled out in our confessions and the believer’s primary standard of Scripture itself. Much has been said about the mystery, necessity, and blessings of prayer. Prayer is one of the means of grace that our Lord uses to draw near to, and sanctify, his people. Abraham Kuyper wrote that prayer is “a holy watchfulness and distrust of one’s self, a consistent prayerfulness, a trustful dependence on God to fulfill all that he has purposed” (The Biblical Practice of Godliness). Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” In a way that is a sad commentary; prayer ought not to be our last resort after we have exhausted all other avenues; prayer ought to be the start. But our nature is to react, driven by circumstances and necessity, rather than by vision and forethought.
We shall see in this and the next several studies that prayer is central to our service of our Lord and one another. On the topic of prayer, Matthew Henry has said, “When God begins to bless his people, he sets them praying for blessing which he desires to give them.” Let us pray for God’s blessing upon this study and what is to follow.
WSC Q98. What is prayer?
A.  Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God[a], for things agreeable to his will[b], in the name of Christ[c], with confession of our sins[d], and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.[e]
[a]  Ps. 10:17; 62:8; Matt. 7:7-8
[b]  I John 5:14
[c]  John 16:23-24
[d]  Ps. 32:5-6; Dan. 9:4-19; I John 1:9
[e]  Ps. 103:1-5; 136; Phil. 4:6
Question 98 asks what is prayer and answers that prayer is offering our desires to God in the name of Christ for things that agree with his will, confessing our sins, and thankfully recognizing his mercies.
Comments and considerations:
We come now to the second great section of the Catechism. Having considered “what man is to believe concerning God,” we now consider “what duty God requires of man.” But we do well to remember that these two things can never be separated in the life of the Christian. There is no true faith without obedience. And there is not real obedience without faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). And faith without obedience is dead (James 2:22).
The above quotation is from The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, Volume 2 by G.I Williamson, in his introduction to WSC Q39, which asks what God requires of man. The answer is God requires man to obey his revealed will. G.I. Williamson goes on to say in those opening comments,
It is man’s duty to obey God. The reason for this is that God is the creator and man is a mere creature. Because God created man He therefore has “a right” to require what He will from man. Because man is only a creature, he has “no right” to “go his own way, and do his own will.” No, the only “right” for man is to obey God. So, in the very nature of the case, the will of God is the rule by which man ought to live.
We are reminded of the structure of the catechism, consistent as it is with the Scriptural pattern; it first teaches us what we are to believe concerning God, and then gives imperatives as to what God requires in light of his revelation (Deut. 29:29). It is fitting that the catechism should conclude with the topic of prayer. For if we have learned anything in the path of study we have we just traversed, it is that we can do nothing of our duty unless God provides. Prayer is the means of grace to our Lord’s provisions, the offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.
We would do well to consider the Scripture verses our fathers picked in support of this five-point definition of prayer.
1) offering up of our desires unto God:
Ps. 10:17- LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear.
Ps. 62:8 - Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Note that “Selah” means to take pause and mediate.)
Matt. 7:7-8 - “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
2) for things agreeable to his will:
I John 5:14 - Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. We should note here the importance of praying intelligently. God’s will is his revealed Word. True obedience goes beyond just keeping the commands. It is of the heart, a joyful fulfilling of God’s desires for us—the heart of man seeking and knowing the heart of God in fact and principle. James warns, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). How many times have our children asked for foolish things? Yet when they ask wisely, the hand of blessing gladly opens wide.
3) in the name of Christ:
John 16:23-24 - “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Our union and communion in Christ, the authority and power of our Savior’s name—these are but a couple of principles that come to mind.
4) with confession of our sins:
Ps. 32:5-6 - I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. - Selah - For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they shall not come near him.
Dan. 9:4-19 - Space does not allow printing this long reference here. But it would be good to open Scriptures and consider it.
I John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If this is verse is not thoroughly memorized and applied in faith in its entirety, consistently and without ceasing, then we will fail to find the intended and necessary blessing it so adequately provides.
5) thankful acknowledgement of his mercies:
Ps. 103:1-5 - Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. I once had a pastor who used the metaphorical phrase, “chew on the Word of God.” If ever there was a passage that provided substance to what he meant, it is Ps. 103:1-5. Pause for a moment and chew on the phrases: Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, Who redeems your life from destruction, and so on. Often we begin to pray in sore despair with a heavy burden; yet in the end we find renewed strength and vigor, renewed hope and faith so that [our] youth is renewed like the eagle’s. That is the blessing and power of prayer.
Ps. 136 - Again, space does not allow printing this long reference here. This psalm rehearses the praise, glory, and faithfulness of God in Israel’s history.
Phil. 4:6 - Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. This last reference is a beacon of light that commands and clarifies our understanding and approach to prayer. It encompasses the depth of faith and the extent to which everything is to be brought to the throne of grace in the high privilege and ministry of prayer, with thanksgiving.
There is much to consider when it comes to prayer. Prayer can be passionate and eloquent; it can also be childlike pleas aimed heavenward day by day: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) The next several catechism lessons will conclude our study with a look at this last topic and very important means of grace.
To God alone be the glory!
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.            Read Prov. 15:8, 29. What can we learn about prayer from these verses? How do they inform us about how we are to approach God in prayer?
2.            How does Col. 1:9-10 instruct us in how we ought to pray? What specific things does Paul pray for, and for others?
3.            The catechism refers to prayer as desires, agreeable to God. In one way this speaks of our heart, motive, and direction of our prayers. How does I Thess. 5:16-18 apply to this aspect of prayer?
4.            What does it mean when we pray “in the name of Christ”? See John 16:23-24 and Eph. 3:11-12. (1)
5.            The catechism speaks of two specific things following our coming to prayer in Christ. How significant do you think these two things are? See Ps. 66:18 and Phil. 4:6.
Further thoughts: 1) Think in terms of a judge or law enforcement officer who performs his duty “in the name of the law.” What he is referring to is the authority of another who is greater, and who empowers the lesser to perform a duty and responsibility.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q98, WLC Q178-185
WSC Q98. What is prayer?
A.  Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God[a], for things agreeable to his will[b], in the name of Christ[c], with confession of our sins[d], and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies[e].
[a]  Ps. 10:17; 62:8; Matt. 7:7-8
[b]  IJohn 5:14
[c]  John 16:23-24
[d]  Ps. 32:5-6; Dan. 9:4-19; IJohn 1:9
[e]  Ps. 103:1-5; 136; Phil. 4:6
WLC Q178. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God[a], in the name of Christ[b], by the help of his Spirit[c]; with confession of our sins[d], and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies[e].
(a)   Ps. 62:8
(b)   John 16:23
(c)   Rom. 8:26
(d)   Ps. 32:5-6; Dan. 9:4
(e)   Phil. 4:6
WLC Q179. Are we to pray unto God only?
A.  God only being able to search the hearts[a], hear the requests[b], pardon the sins[c], and fulfill the desires of all[d]; and only to be believed in[e], and worshipped with religious worship[f]; prayer, which is a special part thereof[g], is to be made by all to him alone[h], and to none other[i].
(a)   1Kng. 8:39; Acts 1:24; Rom. 8:27
(b)   Ps. 65:2
(c)   Micah 7:8
(d)   Ps. 145:18-19
(e)   Rom. 10:14
(f)   Mat. 4:10
(g)   1Cor. 1:2
(h)  Ps. 50:15
(i)    Rom. 10:14
WLC Q180. What is it to pray in the name of Christ?
A.  To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake[a]; not by bare mentioning of his name[b], but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation[c].
[a]   John 14:13-14; 16:24; Dan. 9:17
[b]   Mat. 7:21
[c]   Heb. 4:14-16; 1John 5:13-15
WLC Q181. Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?
A.  The sinfulness of man, and his distance from God by reason thereof, being so great, as that we can have no access into his presence without a mediator[a]; and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone[b], we are to pray in no other name but his only[c].
[a]  John 14:6; Isa. 59:2; Eph. 3:12
[b]  John 6:27; Heb. 7:25-27; 1Tim. 2:5
[c]  Col. 3:17; Heb. 13:15
WLC Q182. How doth the Spirit help us to pray?
A.  We not knowing what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, by enabling us to understand both for whom, and what, and how prayer is to be made; and by working and quickening in our hearts (although not in all persons, nor at all times, in the same measure) those apprehensions, affections, and graces which are requisite for the right performance of that duty[a].
      [a]  Rom. 8:26-27; Ps. 10:17; Zech 12:10
WLC Q183. For whom are we to pray?
A.  We are to pray for the whole church of Christ upon earth[a]; for magistrates[b], and ministers[c]; for ourselves[d], our brethren[e], yea, our enemies[f]; and for all sorts of men living[g], or that shall live hereafter[h]; but not for the dead[i], nor for those that are known to have sinned the sin unto death[j].
[a]   Eph. 6:18; Ps. 28:9
[b]   1Tim. 2:1-2
[c]   Col. 4:3
[d]   Gen. 32:11
[e]   Jam. 5:16
[f]   Mat. 5:44
[g]   1Tim. 2:1-2
[h]  John 17:20; 2Sam. 7:29
[i]    2Sam. 12:21-23
[j]    1John 5:16
WLC Q184. For what things are we to pray?
A.  We are to pray for all things tending to the glory of God[a], the welfare of the church[b], our own[c] or others, good[d]; but not for anything that is unlawful[e].
[a]   Mat. 6:9
[b]   Ps. 51:18; Ps. 122:6
[c]   Mat. 7:11
[d]   Ps. 125:4
[e]   1John 5:14
WLC Q185. How are we to pray?
A.  We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God[a], and deep sense of our own unworthiness[b], necessities[c], and sins[d]; with penitent[e], thankful[f], and enlarged hearts[g]; with understanding,[h] faith[i], sincerity[j], fervency[k], love[l], and perseverance[m], waiting upon him[n], with humble submission to his will[o].
[a]   Ecc. 5:1
[b]   Gen. 18:27; 32:10
[c]   Luke 15:17-19
[d]   Luke 18:13-14
[e]   Ps. 51:17
[f]   Phil. 4:6
[g]   1Sam. 1:15; 2:1
[h]  1Cor. 14:15
[i]    Mark 11:24; Jam. 1:6
[j]    Ps. 145:18; 17:1
[k]  Jam. 5:16
[l]    1Tim. 2:8
[m] Eph. 6:18
[n]  Micah 7:7
[o]  Mat. 26:39
Question(s) for further study:

The Shorter Catechism and its parallel Larger Catechism Question both list five instructive points, but there is one difference in the five.  What is that difference and what other Larger Catechism Question(s) in this harmony address those points?  What significance might one make from this different reading?