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 27, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q9


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q9-11) is Creation and Providence. (see Harmony Index)
Many people like to talk about human creativity and the things human beings create. Yet we ought to ask, do we? Do we create? Or is “create” a term that ought to be reserved for God alone?
A Christian school teacher once told me that many years ago, educators referred to writing assignments as “compositions.” The teacher continued, “We don’t create anything. We only compose or recompose what is already there. Whether in music, art, or words, we arrange or compose things that already exist. Even the art and skill we use in doing this is a gift from God; we apply our God-given talents in the composition of what God has already created for us to discover and enjoy.” Nevertheless, more recently, “creative writing” has become the standard term in educational circles. This change in terminology seems to reflect a shift from a God-centered to an increasingly man-centered perception of reality.
As people of the Word, we must be aware of the implications of the words we choose to use. The widespread use of the word “create” as a human activity is not necessarily wrong. However, God’s creative acts should be clearly differentiated from the activity of human beings. May the Lord grant us a proper understanding of his creative acts and purposes.
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WSC Q9. What is the work of creation?
Answer: The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good[a].
[a] Gen. 1:1-31; Ps. 33:6, 9; Heb. 11:3
Question #9 asks what is creation, and answers that it is God’s making everything out of nothing by his powerful word in six days—and all very good.
Comments and considerations:
This answer is a precise, concise statement of Scripture’s teaching: By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Ps. 33:6, 9). By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible (Heb. 11:3).
The Biblical account of creation has been often attacked by so-called scientific studies. Yet recently, as the result of extensive research, some scholars have concluded that the handiwork of a Designer is very evident in the created order. But even as the physical evidence for the Intelligent Design position increases, and the tide of understanding turns, we must base our faith ultimately upon God’s Word. That Word is steadfast and unchangeable; Scripture has taught throughout the ages that God made “all things of nothing, by the word of his power, …and all very good.”
There is, of course, room for discussion. We might debate how our fathers understood “the space of six days,” and much has been written on that topic. Yet whether the days are to be understood literally, or as ages, or within some other framework, we should certainly note that God could have created everything in a single instant, without pause or deliberation. But he didn’t. His work of creation took place one day at a time, in a deliberate progression from the incomplete to the complete; from good to very good. Have you ever noticed that God, after having completed the work of creation, went back and planted a garden? In so doing, he gave further dignity to work and to its fruits.
So today, we consider the word “work.” We all know what work is, but dictionaries still give plenty of space to its definition: “To exert one’s self for a purpose; to put forth effort for the attainment of an object; to labor; to be engaged in the performance of a task, a duty, or the like; the exertion of strength or faculties; physical or intellectual effort directed to an end; industrial activity; toil; employment; sometimes, specifically, physically labor; to set in motion or action; to direct the action of; to keep at effort; to govern; to manage.” These are just some of the 23 points that can be found in Webster’s 1913 Revised Unabridged Dictionary. In our appreciation of work, human ingenuity and industry, we even celebrate labor and its contribution to society with a national holiday.
Modern Marvels, a popular TV program started on the Discovery Channel, has produced over 650 episodes that document human inventiveness in science, technology, electronics, mechanics, engineering, architecture, industry, mass production, manufacturing and agriculture. (Whew!) As we saw in our introductory comments, human beings have plenty to work with. God created a universe for us to discover, shape, and put to use; he created “all things of nothing” as the only Creator who is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (WSC Q4).
So think about that the next time your little one runs up to you and says, “Look mommy, look daddy, look what I have made!” You can respond, “Yes, look what you have made; look how you have used crayons and colors to fashion a wonderful composition of art! What God-given talents you display; how he has blessed your work!” Think about that when an engineer walks into your office and says, “Look what I’ve discovered about this new process or new material!” You can reply, “Yes, isn’t it amazing what God has hidden away in his creative order to be discovered, applied, and ‘enjoyed forever’!” (WSC Q1).
O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth, who have set your glory above the heavens!
Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants you have ordained strength, because of your enemies, that you may silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained,
What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?
For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen— even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8)
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    Read Heb. 11:3 and Rev. 4:11. How do these verses describe the manner and purpose of God’s creation?
2.    The answer to WSC Q9 uses the expression “powerful word.” How is God’s power observed in the acts of creation? Read Ps. 33:6-9.
3.    Can you list in order what God made on each of the six days of creation? Now read Gen. 1:1-27. How close did you come to getting it right?
4.    Read Ps. 147. What does God call by name (v4)? What does God give (v8)? What does he provide for the birds and animals (v9)? Verses 16 and 17 talks about snow, ice, and hail. What causes those things (v15)? What melts them (v18)? How do all these things described in Psalm 147 relate to God’s decrees?
Harmony of the Standards:WSC Q# 8; WLC Q#’s 15&16, and WCF IV.I 
WSC Q9. What is the work of creation?
A.  The work of creation is, God's making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good[a].
 [a] Gen. 1:1-31; Ps. 33:6, 9; Heb. 11:3
WLC Q15. What is the work of creation?
A.  The work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good[a].
 [a] Gen. 1; Heb. 11:3; Prov. 16:4; Rev. 4:11
WLC Q.16. How did God create angels?
A.  God created all the angels, spirits[a], immortal[b], holy[c], excelling in knowledge[d], mighty in power[e], to execute his commandments, and to praise his name[f], yet subject to change[g].
[a] Col. 1:16; Ps. 104:4
[b] Luke 20:36
[c] Gen. 1:31
[d] Matt. 24:36
[e] II Thes. 1:7
[f] Ps. 103:20-21
[g] II Pet. 2:4
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER. IV.
Of Creation
I.    It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good[a].
 [a] Gen. 1:1-3; Ex. 20:11; Jer. 10:12; Col. 1:16; John 1:2-3; Heb. 1:2; Heb. 11:3; Ps. 104:24; Gen., chapter 1.
Questions for further study:
What aspect or element of creation is brought to our attention in the Larger Catechism and Confession of Faith, not mentioned except by implication in the Shorter?  How does the Confession describe these two dimensions?  (1)

1 - Ans: all things therein whether visible or invisible,



Monday, August 20, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q8


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q7-8) is The Decrees, or the Eternal Purpose of God. (see Harmony Index)
The catechism continues with the theme begun in Question #7—the decrees of God, which “are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” Now the question is this: How does God carry out (or execute) his eternal purposes? In other words, how does God do what he has foreordained?
Knowing and doing—as we have all experienced, it is one thing to know what to do, but altogether another thing to actually do it! We observed this pattern in a previous catechism question, and it is repeated often in Scripture. Do you recall this two-part principle for the Christian life, and which question defines it? (See Note 1 below, for the answer.)
May the Lord grant his Church a deeper appreciation for his infinite wisdom and providence, and provide us with obedient hearts as we continue our mediations in the Confessions of the Church.
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WSC Q8. How doth God execute his decrees?
A.  God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence[a].
    [a] Rev. 4:11; Eph.1:11; Ps. 148:8; Is. 40:26; Dan. 4:35; Acts 4:24-28

Question #8 asks how God carries out his decrees and answers that God carries out his decrees in creation and providence.

Comments and considerations:
God executes his decrees in the works of creation (designing and bringing all things into existence) and providence (maintaining His purposes in every detail of unfolding events). Look carefully and prayerfully at the Scripture references associated to this answer. If you have a Bible with marginal cross-references, you will most likely find many more verses to ponder on these points.
Again, we appreciate the care with which our fathers in the faith selected each word. In this study, we consider what it means that “God executes.” The root of the old English word “execute” touches upon the word “seek,” which carries with it the idea of going beyond merely performing or doing a thing. Literally, it means “to follow out or through; hence, to perform; to do; to effect; to carry an undertaking to completion.” There is a deliberate nature to this word; it implies the authority and the power to carry out a thing with an unimpeded finality. Applied to legal matters, we might discuss “the execution of law or justice;” in this context, “execute” means “to carry into effect the law, or the judgment or sentence on a person; to inflict capital punishment on; to put to death; as, to execute a traitor.”  The word can also be used to mean “to complete, as in a legal instrument, as by signing and sealing a legal document; as, to execute a deed or trust”.
Why is this significant? Well, this is how our fathers understood the way our God insures that all he has foreordained comes to pass. There is one final entry for “execute” in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: “To perform the proper office; to produce an effect.” We could spend much more time considering the authority of God’s “office,” and the infinite power at His disposal “to produce an effect” with unimpeded finality in all His decrees in the works of creation and providence.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    God always works to carry out his eternal plan and to cause all things to happen exactly as he has foreordained that they will. God carries out his decrees in two ways: 1) in creation, so that it would work as he purposed, and 2) in providence, so that all events occur as he wills. Read Ps. 135:5-6. What does the Lord do? Where does he do this? Read Dan. 4:35. With what two kinds of creatures does God do whatever he pleases? Who can stop him?
2.    According to the “laws of nature,” at what temperature does water freeze? What always follows after winter and spring? Does water flow uphill? Why is there fragrance in a flower? There is a seemingly unending quantity of these so-called “natural occurrences”—patterns which we can count on, like mathematical equations and scientific certainties that allow us to aim at the planet Mars and land a robot there. Why does the universe “obey” these laws, these divine decrees?  Read Ps. 104:5-9.
3.    Read Ps. 104:10-30. What things listed here are examples of God carrying out his decrees in creation?
4.    When we study science, we study God’s decrees in creation. But what would be our course of study if we wanted to observe God’s providence? Read Dan. 2:21 and Acts 17:25 (see Note 2).
5.    Each individual event of Joseph’s life reported in Genesis might appear to be made up of unconnected and random details. In the end, however, how does the Bible describe them through Joseph’s lips in Gen. 50:20? What NT verse does this compare too? (See Note 3.)
6.    As it must have been for Joseph, it is often very difficult or even impossible for us to know how evil events and actions carry out God’s decrees. Even the disciples of the Lord Jesus had a hard time understanding the reason for the death of Christ (Matt. 6:21-23); yet in the end what did they finally come to understand?  Read Acts 4:27-28.
Notes
1- Q-3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
Ans: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
2- Answer: History
3- Answer: Rom 8:28
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q# 8; WLC Q# 14 
WSC Q8. How doth God execute his decrees?
A.  God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence[a].
 [a] Rev. 4:11; Eph.1:11; Ps. 148:8; Isa. 40:26; Dan. 4:35; Acts 4:24-28

WLC Q14. How doth God execute his decrees?
A.  God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will[a].
 [a] Eph. 1:11; I Peter 1:1,2
Questions for further study:

Thought the self-same question, how does the answer to the Larger Catechism differ to the shorter and what bold proclamation is being reinforced?

Monday, August 13, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q7


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q7-8) is The Decrees, or the Eternal Purpose of God. (see Harmony Index)

When I was young, my mother placed a decorative plaque in a prominent location in our kitchen. On the plaque, along with an image of a little flower, were the words, “Bloom Where You Are Planted.”
Now, every spring there is a particular flower in our backyard that comes out of its winter nap and offers up a beautiful bloom of color in the warm, renewing rays of the lingering sun. I don’t remember planting it. It dies off in the late summer, is forgotten, and then returns every year to surprise and delight the family. It continues to bloom where it was planted, bringing beauty to its place, and joy to those around.
Each spring when that little plant reappears, I think of my mother and her plaque, which very much typified her Christian witness to the apostle Paul’s statement that “...I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). It is a simple lesson, but not easily learned; still, it is an imperative if we are to truly “glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” The following catechism question provides a critical ingredient for blooming brightly in the soil of God’s providence.  May the Lord bless his church and each individual in comprehension of and obedience to this vital confessional truth.
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WSC Q7.  What are the decrees of God?
A.  The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass[a].
[a] Ps. 33:11; Is. 14:24; Acts 2:23; Eph. 1:11-12
Question #7 asks what are the decrees of God, and answers that the decrees of God are his eternal plan based on the purpose of his will, by which, for his own glory, he has foreordained everything that happens.
Comments and considerations:
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations. He has sworn, saying, “Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, and as I have purposed, so it shall stand.”(Ps. 33:11; Is. 14:24) 
We are not particularly familiar or comfortable with “decrees.” As Americans, we view ourselves as free, self-governing people; we understand the “rule of law,” but the idea that those in power may make rules without our consent rubs us the wrong way. So the definition of a decree from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary — “In general, an order, edict or law made by a superior as a rule to govern inferiors”—may go unappreciated. On the other hand, the term also has its meaning tied to “judicial decisions, or determinations,” or a “an edict made by a council.” Webster adds to the list of definitions: “In theology, predetermined purpose of God; the purpose or determination of an immutable Being, whose plan of operations is, like himself, unchangeable.” (To this we might correctly add “...in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,” from WSC Q4.)
Our unfamiliarity with the word “decree” has a lot to do with our history, our forefathers’ battles to overthrow absolute and abusive power. We distrust those who would rule rather than serve the people (Matt. 20:24-28). Yet the concept of “decree” has sovereign power at its very root. According to Webster, the verb form means “to fix or appoint; to set or constitute by edict or in purpose.” He adds a quotation from Job 22:28—“Thou shalt decree a thing, and it shall be established”—and concludes, “Let us not be solicitous to know what God has decreed concerning us.” Why? Well, because along with his other infinite, eternal, and immutable attributes, our God who decrees all things by his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will and for his own glory, is also all wise, holy, just, good, and true. By his power and authority alone, “he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” To those who know his grace and infinite tender mercies, this is cause for humility, rejoicing, and glad submission.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.    Read Psalm 33:11. What happens to the plans we make? Why are they subject to change? Is God ever surprised by things that happen? If not, why? 
2.    A wise man once said that the wisdom of the ages is found in discovering what God is doing and following his purposes. According to the Bible, for what purpose has God created all things? Read Hab. 2:14; Is. 40:5; Ps. 19:1; Is. 43:7; Ps. 96:3, 8.
3.    A decree is an order issued by a king that everyone in his kingdom must obey. Read Ps. 148:1-12; Ps. 2:6-8. What are two things that has God decreed? 
4.    To what extent—how far and how many things—does God foreordain (decree), plan, and order in advance? Read Is. 45:6-7; Jer. 1:5; Acts 13: 48.
5.    Some people think that God, knowing all things, looks ahead into the future and makes his plans (decrees) around what he knows will happen. Is this what the Bible teaches? Read Is. 46:9-10 and Is. 55:10-11.

Harmony of the Standards:WSC Q# 7; WLC Q#’s 12 & 13; WCF III.I-VIII.
WSC Q7. What are the decrees of God?
A.  The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass[a].
 [a] Ps. 33:11; Isa. 14:24; Acts 2:23; Eph. 1:11-12
WLC Q12.  What are the decrees of God?
A.  God's decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will[a], whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time[b], especially concerning angels and men.
[a] Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33, 9:14-15, 28
[b] Eph. 1:4, 11; Rom. 9:22-23; Ps. 33:11
WLC Q13. What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
A.  God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory[a]; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof[b]; and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favor as he pleaseth) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice[c].
[a] I Tim. 5:21
[b] Eph. 1:4-6; II Thes. 2:13-14
[c] Rom. 9:17-18, 21-22; Matt. 11:25-26; II Tim. 2:20; Jude 4; I Pet. 2:8
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER. III.
Of God's Eternal Decree.
I.   God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass[a]; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin [b];  nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established[c].
[a] Ps. 33:11; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Acts 4:27; Matt. 10:29; Eph. 2:10
[b] Ps. 5:4; James 1:13-14; I John 1:5; Hab. 1:13
[c] Acts 2:23; Matt. 17:12; Acts 4:27-28; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33; Acts 27:23, 24, 34, 44
II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions[d]; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions[e].
[d] I Sam. 23:11-12; Matt. 11:21, 23 
[e] Rom. 9:11, 13, 16, 18
III.  By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life[f]; and others foreordained to everlasting death[g].
[f] I Tim. 5:21; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29, 30; John 10:27-29
[g] Eph. 1:5-6; Rom. 9:22-23; Prov. 16:4; Jude 4; Matt. 25:41
IV.  These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished[h].
 [h] John 13:18; II Tim. 2:19; John 10:14-16, 27, 28, 29; John 17:2, 6:37-39; Acts 13:48
V.  Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid[i], according to his eternal and immutable purpose[j], and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will[k], hath chosen, in Christ[l], unto everlasting glory[m], out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto [n]; and all to the praise of his glorious grace[o].
[i] Eph. 1:4
[j] Eph. 1:11
[k] Eph. 1:9
[l] I Tim. 1:9
[m] Rom. 8:30; I Pet. 5:10
[n] II Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:6; Eph. 2:8,9
[o] Eph. 1:5, 6, 12
VI.As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto[p].  Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ[q], are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season[r], are justified[s], adopted [t], sanctified [u], and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation[v].  Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only[w]
[p] I Pet. 1:2; Eph. 2:10; II Thess. 2:13; Eph. 1:4
[q] I Thess. 5:9-10; Titus 2:14; Rom. 9:11
[r] II Thess. 2:13, 14; Rom. 9:11; I Corh. 1:9
[s] Rom. 8:30
[t] Eph. 1:5;
[u] Eph. 1:4; I Thess. 4:3; II Thess. 2:13
[v] I Pet. 1:5;  John 10:28
[w] John 17:9; John 6:64, 65; John 8:47; John 10:26; Acts 13:48; I John 2:19
VII.  The rest of mankind God, was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or witholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by[x]; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin[y], to the praise of his glorious justice[z].
[x] Matt. 11:25-26
[y] Rom. 2:8,9; II Thess. 2:10, 11, 12; Rom.9:14-22
[z] Rev. 15:3,4
VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care[aa], that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election[bb].  So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God[cc]; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel[dd].
[aa]  Rom. 9:20; Rom. 11:33; Deut. 29:29
[bb]  II Pet. 1:10; I Thess. 1:4-5
[cc]  Eph. 1:6; Rom. 11:33
[dd]  Rom. 11:5-6, 20; Rom. 8:33; Luke 10:20; II Pet. 1:10
Questions for further study:
There is certainly much to consider in the study of the decrees of God and all that He has foreordained. But in the end, what is of utmost importance in handling the high mystery of predestination?  (1)


1- See and carefully consider WCF III.VIII