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, December 30, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q72


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q63-81) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The Second Table. (see Harmony Index)
The answer to this question uses the word chaste. In her paraphrase of Q72, Starr Meade uses the phrase “sexually pure.” Chaste is not a word we hear much in our times; the dictionary shows that it’s meaning is directly connected to sexual purity in thought and conduct. Further definitions include “decent and modest,” and even the idea of being “pure or simple in design or style; austere.” For the moment, consider the word modest. The idea and concept of modesty has almost totally escaped modern attitudes and behaviors, to the point of being nearly non-existent.
Well, rather than comment further at that point, let us commence our study of these things, and in prayer ask our Lord to sanctify our thoughts, words, and actions by his word of truth (John 17:17).
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WSC Q 72. What is forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A.   The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions[a].
[a] Matt. 5:28; Eph. 5:3-4
Question #72 asks what the seventh commandment forbids, and answers that the seventh commandment forbids thinking, saying, or doing anything sexually impure.
Comments and considerations:
We come now to the other side of our discussion of the seventh commandment, turning from what is required to what is forbidden. In a sense, the answers are essentially the same; we are required to preserve our own and our neighbour’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior (WSC Q71), and are therefore forbidden all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions (Q72).
There is a difference in the three words used in each answer to express the implications of this commandment. Q71 mentions “heart, speech, and behavior,” while Q72 mentions “thoughts, words, and actions.” Is the difference significant? Why did our fathers choose these words? Is there something to be learned in the subtle nuance we see here?
Upon closer consideration, there is a difference between mere thoughts and the heart. Heb. 4:12 speaks of a razor-sharp distinction between the “soul and the spirit” and the “thoughts and intents of the heart.” This distinction is often made in Scripture. The heart is described as the root of one’s soul and character; “for as [man] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). In Heb. 4:12 we see that the heart of man is the seat of both motives (intents) and thoughts, which are derived from one’s innate values, conscience, or sense of right and wrong.
WSC Q71 begins with the heart of the issue—the heart, whereas Q72 mentions the out-workings of the heart—thoughts, words, and actions. Q72 places the emphasis on individual accountability for chaste (or unchaste) thoughts, words, and actions, rather than on heart orientation and motive. Our motivations are the crux of the matter in God’s eyes: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.’” (Mark 7:6). Yet the Bible is very clear that humans are unable to rightly assess our own or our neighbor’s motivation; we must therefore examine ourselves and others on the basis of actions, not motivations. We cannot see into the heart (I Sam. 16:7). Even though Jesus speaks to the heart issue in the matter of the heart, he still is firm in his declaration that people “will [be known] by their fruit” (Matt. 7:16). Our hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9) to the point that we will even lie to ourselves and suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18) in the battle that rages within (Rom. 7:13ff).
So why am I making a point of this? Does it not seem that in these postmodern times, our society is more concerned with a person’s motive for committing a crime than with the action itself? Blame is fixed upon anything and anyone—environment, society, parents, teachers—except the actual law-breaker himself! I heard a prominent voice say the other day, commenting on a recent heinous, senseless, violent crime, that (and I paraphrase) in our unwillingness to fix blame solely upon the perpetrator, we are refusing to admit the presence of evil that resides in each and every one of us. In trying to shift the blame, we are denying that we are capable of the same senseless violence. That, he said, is a moral evil in its own standing. To that I added under my breath, “Amen.” When we see such things, we ought to say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Each individual is responsible for his or her own actions - thoughts, words, and deeds. In the seventh commandment, the Lord of lords and King of kings rightly forbad all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions. If we find ourselves struggling in this area, as Paul told us we would, we have 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!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.  Rom. 7:24-25
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. Rom. 8:1-5
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read Phil. 4:8. How would practicing the Apostle Paul’s admonition in this verse affect our lives and daily activities? How would this affect the use of entertainment, literature, and other things that influence our thinking and doing? What does Starr Meade say about the supposed “suddenness” of sin in our lives? Also see James 1:14-15.
2.        Scripture tells us we need to take care of what we think, say, and do, that we might not sin against our God. The places we go and the things we look at can tempt us to drift away from the right activities and thoughts. In the OT, Job made a commitment to guard himself from sinful desires. What did he do? See Job 31:1.
3.        When we think about the seventh commandment, we must think about how our actions affect others and their purity of thought. What does I Tim. 2:9-10 tell us about this? Does this apply only to women?
4.        Compare Eph. 5:3-4 and Eph. 4:29 in regard to this issue.
5.        What example does Joseph give us to follow when tempted to sin in this manner (Gen. 39:6-9)?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q72, WLC 139, and WCF XXIV.IV-VI
WSC Q72. What is forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A.  The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions[a].
      [a]  Matt. 5:28; Eph. 5:3-4
WLC Q139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A.  The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required[a], are, adultery, fornication[b], rape, incest[c], sodomy, and all unnatural lusts[d]; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections[e]; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto[f]; wanton looks[g], impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel[h]; prohibiting of lawful[i], and dispensing with unlawful marriages[j]; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them[k]; entangling vows of single life[l], undue delay of marriage[m], having more wives or husbands than one at the same time[n]; unjust divorce[o], or desertion[p]; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness[q], unchaste company[r]; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays[s]; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others[t].
[a]   Prov. 5:7
[b]   Heb. 23:4; Gal. 5:19
[c]   2Sam. 13:14; 1Cor. 5:1
[d]   Rom. 1:24, 26-27; Lev. 20:15-16
[e]   Mat. 5:28; 15:19; Col. 3:5
[f]    Eph. 5:3-4; Prov. 7:5, 21-22
[g]   Isa. 3:16; 2Pet. 2:14
[h]   Prov. 7:10, 13
[i]    1Tim. 4:3
[j]    Lev. 18:1-21; Mark 6:18; Mal. 2:11-12
[k]   1Kng. 15:12; 2Kng. 23:7; Deut. 23:17-18; Lev. 19:29; Jer. 5:7; Prov. 7:24-27
[l]    Mat. 19:10-11
[m] 1Cor. 7:7-9; Gen. 38:26
[n]   Mal. 2:14-15; Mat. 19:5
[o]   Mal. 2:16; Mat. 5:32
[p]   1Cor. 7:12-13
[q]   Ezek. 16:49; Prov. 23:30-33
[r]    Gen. 39:10; Prov. 5:8
[s]   Eph. 5:4; Ezek. 23:14-16; Isa. 23:15-17; 3:16; Mark 6:22; Rom. 13:13; 1Pet. 4:3
[t]    2Kng. 9:30; Jer. 4:30; Ezek. 23:40
CHAPTER. XXIV.
Of Marriage and Divorce
IV. Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the Word.[h]  Nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.[i]
[h]  Lev. 18:6-17; 24-30; Lev. 20:19; I Cor. 5:1; Amos 2:7
[i]   Mark 6:18; Lev. 18:24-28
V.  Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract.[k]  In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce.[l] and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.[m]
[k]  Matt. 1:18-20; see Deut. 22:23-24
[l]   Matt. 5:31-32
[m] Matt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2-3
VI. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage:[n] wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills and discretion in their own case.[o]
[n]  Matt. 19:8-9; I Cor. 7:15; Matt. 19:6
[o]  Deut. 24:1-4
Question(s) for further study:

The Short Catechism provides a principal answer to the question,  “What is forbidden in the seventh commandment” while the Large Catechism gives specifics by changing the phrasing to “what are the sins” forbidden.  In addition to “the neglect of the duties required,” how many separate points do our father’s make regarding the sins forbidden? How serious ought we to consider marriage and sexual purity in the priorities of our Lord?

Monday, December 16, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q71


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q63-81) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The Second Table. (see Harmony Index)
In this catechism study, we look at what is required in the seventh commandment. First, notice that we are not only required to take care of our own behavior, but we are also personally accountable for the preservation of the good behavior of others. In other words, by our thoughts and actions, do we help or hinder others in their self-control and right behavior? Second, notice the progression of “heart, speech, and behavior.” It is the heart that controls our talk and walk.
So let us approach this instruction prayerfully, that He who has promised to supply our every need will do so as he has purposed. May He impress His Word upon our heart and mind to the end that we might know and joyfully do His every command.
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WSC Q 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A.  The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbour’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior[a].
[a] I Cor. 7:2-3,5; I Thess. 4:3-5
Question #71 asks what the seventh commandment requires, and answers that the seventh commandment requires us and everyone else to keep sexually pure in heart, speech, and action.
Comments and considerations:
“[When we] offer morality by external control instead of inner transformation, —when the controls go away, so does the morality.”
–Joel Belz, “Warning Signals” (May 3, 2003, World Magazine).
This quote reminds me of a brief conversation I once had with a Christian woman regarding the Islamic Burqa and her opinion as to merits of wearing such apparel.  I was taken aback by her opinion that leaned toward favoring head-to-foot covering of women in the Muslim religion. Somehow she had missed the point of Jesus’ teaching that it is not so much what goes in (or on) a person that defiles them, but what comes out. “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matt. 15:15-20). Again, Joel Belz puts it well: “Offer morality by external control instead of inner transformation, — when the controls go away, so does the morality.” Thus we see in today’s lesson that what is required in the preservation of our own and our neighbors’ chastity begins with the heart that controls our speech and behavior. And it is multi-directional, having to do not only with guarding my own heart, but also with making sure my speech and behavior do not cause another—my neighbor—to stumble in those same areas.
Again, words are fascinating things, like “well-driven nails” when rightly used (Ecc. 12:11). Our fathers chose the word chastity to explain this seventh commandment requirement; that seems appropriate, and it is. However, looking a little closer we find a fuller understanding of the word. The root of chastity is chaste, which first meant “clean, pure,” and subsequently, “virtuous, undefiled, and sexual purity, celibate.” From there however, we find this definition in the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: “Pure from all unlawful commerce of sexes. Applied to persons before marriage, it signifies pure from all sexual commerce, undefiled; applied to married persons, true to the marriage bed.” Notice this phrase “unlawful commerce.” What did that mean in its original context? We know that commerce has to do with the buying and selling of commodities, the exchange of goods and services         between individuals. Unlawful draws implication from the meaning of the covenant union of marriage, the binding contract of protections and accountabilities. There is much food for thought here, as our definition shows its application before and after marriage. Further, Webster references I Pet. 3:2 in the usage of chaste to reinforce his definition, which in the Greek means again “clean, pure, and innocent.”
Let’s delve deeper into the meaning of innocent. Like most words, it has many definitions. Here its meaning is this: “1) not harmful; free from that which can injure; 2) morally free from guilt; not tainted with sin; pure; upright; 3) free from the guilt of a particular crime or offense; 4) lawful; permitted; as, an innocent trade.” Think about that. How many times have we read or heard of someone who has taken part in a sexual indiscretion and violated the seventh commandment, only to confess afterwards, “I feel like I’ve been used?” We do not have the right, and on the contrary, we are forbidden, to use another or to be used by another for selfish purposes or gain; to do so is a form (within the context of the total Law) of theft, “unlawful commerce.”  Such "unlawful commerce" is the commerce of unbridled passions and lusts, profiting from selfish desires and personal self-centeredness. Covenant intimacy is always to be focused on fulfilling the needs of the other above our own (I Cor. 7:4). This is a heart issue that must be taught and lived out in the preservation of our own chastity and that of our neighbors, young and old alike. If we do not protect the innocence of another, if we do not keep them from harm’s way, we ourselves do moral harm and are not free from guilt.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read Heb.13:4. Again, the excellent comments related to this catechism question from Starr Meade’s devotional book Training Hearts, Teaching Minds are quoted in part for our consideration: “God intended for husbands and wives to use their bodies to show love to one another. The relationship between a husband and wife is the closest human relationship there is. It is much closer than the relationship of parents with children or of friends with each other. Husbands and wives use their bodies to show love to each other in ways that other people may not do. When the answer to this catechism question says that we are required to be sexually pure, this is what it means.”
2.        The thinking of the world often goes against the commands, plans, and purposes of our God. His Word gives wise guidance to help us avoid wrong thoughts and actions. We must be careful in how we listen to others, and how we might lead others to do wrong. See Prov. 2:16-17, and I Cor. 7:4.
3.        How has God made us, and to what purpose? See I Cor. 6:19-20?
4.        This catechism question instructs us about being sexually pure in both our heart and behavior, as God purposed in creation. What is meant by the “heart,” and what does Prov. 4:23 teach about this?
5.        What further instruction do we receive in II Cor. 7:1?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q71, WLC 138, and WCF XXIV.II-III
WSC Q 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A.  The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior[a].
[a]  ICor. 7:2-3, 5; IThess. 4:3-5
WLC Q 138. What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
A.  The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections[a], words[b], and behavior[c]; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others[d]; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses[e]; temperance[f], keeping of chaste company[g], modesty in apparel[h]; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency[i], conjugal love[j], and cohabitation[k]; diligent labor in our callings[l]; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto[m].
[a]   1Thes. 4:4; Job 31:1; 1Cor. 7:34
[b]   Col. 4:6
[c]   1Pet. 2:3
[d]   1Cor. 7:2, 35-36
[e]   Job. 31:1
[f]    Acts 24:24-25
[g]   Prov. 2:16-20
[h]   1Tim. 2:9
[i]    1Cor. 7:2, 9
[j]    Prov. 5:19-20
[k]   1Pet. 3:7
[l]    Prov. 3:11, 27-28
[m] Prov. 5:8; Gen. 39:8-10
CHAPTER. XXIV.
Of Marriage and Divorce
II.  Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife,[b] for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed;[c] and for preventing of uncleanness.[d]
[b]  Gen. 2:18; Eph. 5:28; I Pet. 3:7
[c]  Gen. 1:28; Gen. 9:1; Mal. 2:15
[d]  I Cor. 7:2, 9
III. It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent.[e] Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord.[f] And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.[g]
[e] Heb. 13:4; I Tim. 4:3; I Cor. 7:36-38; Gen. 24:57- 58
[f] I Cor. 7:39
[g] Gen. 34:14; Exod. 34:16 see II Cor. 6:14; Deut. 7:3-4; I Kings 11:4; Neh. 13:25-27; Mal. 2:11-12
Question(s) for further study:

The Short Catechism provides a principal answer to the question,  “What is required in the seventh commandment” while the Large Catechism gives specifics by adding “what” word(s) or phrase to the question?  How is marriage deemed a “help” to individuals, society, and the church?