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, April 29, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q40


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q39-42) is The Law of God; Christian Liberty. (see Harmony Index)
According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q93, “The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.”
As we enter into that section of the Shorter Catechism that deals with the Law of God, it is good to consider the statement above, with its implications for our daily walk. May our Lord grant us both the knowledge and grace to serve him, and one another, in faithful and joyful obedience to our calling in Christ.
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WSC Q40. What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
A. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience was the moral law[a].
[a] Rom. 2:14-15; 10:5
Question 40 asks what rules God first revealed for man to obey, and answers that the rules he first revealed were the moral law.
Comments and considerations:
There are a couple of things to notice before we get into the heart our study. First, the paraphrase which precedes the comment section of each of these lessons is taken from Starr Meade’s excellent family devotional based on the Shorter Catechism—Training Heats, Teaching Minds—a book I highly recommend to you, the readers of these studies. Notice in this case how the paraphrase refers to “rules” in the plural, rather than “the rule” stated in the original question. That paraphrase is not inaccurate. When we speak of God’s law (or the civil code or law of a land, as another example), we think of one law system, made up of many rules. WSC Q41 teaches that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments, and we know those commandments can be broken down further into more specific applications.
Okay, a second thing to note: neither WSC Q39 nor Q40 are limited to the duty required of the Christian. Both refer to man, believer and unbeliever alike. All mankind is accountable for obedience to the law of God. Even though we know where that moral law is summarily comprehended, and where the detail can be found as well, not all societies and individuals throughout history have had that understanding. Not every culture has been privileged to possess a clear knowledge of God’s inspired and revealed will. It is in that context that the Apostle Paul correctly states that they are still without excuse:
“... for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them ...” (Rom. 2:14-15).
This catechism question recognizes that responsibility of all people everywhere to obey God’s law. The conscience of man, “the work of the law written in their hearts” is eventually manifested in the writing of that law in stone, recorded for the ages: “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them’” (Rom. 10:5). As Paul points out in Rom. 2:15, the Gentiles may not—and in fact, do not—have the words, but they do have “the work of the law written in their hearts.” All men inherit this moral conscience from Adam. As Ecc. 3:11 says, God “has put eternity in their hearts.”
But Scripture makes plain the effects of sin upon man’s moral understanding and knowledge of God. Men “did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Rom. 1:28); they “changed the truth of God into a lie” (Rom. 1:25); “their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21); they loved “darkness rather than light” (John 3:19); they “suppress[ed] the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18); thus “professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). For this reason, the written law was needed. For “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20); it is the schoolmaster that brings us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Paul confessed that though he had been highly religious, he was in fact the greatest of sinners (I Tim. 1:15); and he was made aware of his sin through the law: “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rom. 7:7-9).
However, apart from the commandment, obedience to the moral law is still required. Ecc. 12:13-14 says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” And again, as Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). And James 2:10—“for whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” Thus, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). Therefore we conclude: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        God has revealed his will in the moral law. He gave the Ten Commandments to his people at Mount Sinai; and he revealed more and more of his will over the centuries, recorded in Scriptures. But what about those who have never heard or read the Bible? God made man in his image, with a conscience, an awareness of right and wrong. Even in his fallen state, sinful man knows when he is following God’s rules and when he is not. Read Rom. 2:14-15. Where does this verse say that the requirements of the law are written for those who have never had the law?
2.        Is the moral law of God only for a particular people and time? What did our Lord teach concerning our attitude regarding the law? See Matt. 5:17-19.
3.        The word “sanctify” means (in part) to separate or set something aside for a specific purpose. By honoring and keeping God laws, what do we demonstrate about our God? See Lev. 20:7-8.
4.        God places great emphasis upon the importance of his law. In the law he demonstrates what pleases him and what he desires in our heart attitude. He shows us how we should live before him and in relation to each other. What does Mic. 6:7-8 say about this?
5.        The law provides another important function regarding our seeing the need for salvation. What is that function? See Rom. 3:20.
Also see WLC Qs 92-97, & WCF IXX.I.

Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q40, WLC Q92-97, WCF XIX.I & XX.I.
WSC Q.40. What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
A.  The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law[a].
[a] Rom. 2:14-15; 10:5
WLC Q92. What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience?
A.  The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law[a].
[a]  Gen. 1:26-27; Rom. 2:14-15; 10:5; Gen. 2:17
WLC Q93. What is the moral law?
A.  The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body[a], and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man[b]: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it[c].
[a]   Deut. 5:1-3, 31, 33; Luke 10:26-27; Gal. 3:10; 1Thes. 5:23
[b]  Luke 1:75; Acts 24:16
[c]   Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10, 12
WLC Q94. Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?
A.  Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law[a]: yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate[b].
[a]  Rom. 8:3; Gal. 2:16
[b] 1Tim. 1:8
WLC Q95. Of what use is the moral law to all men?
A.  The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and the will of God[a], and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly[b]; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives[c]: to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery[d], and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ[e], and of the perfection of his obedience[f].
[a]   Lev. 11:44-45; 20:7-8; Rom. 7:12
[b]  Micah 11:8; Jam. 2:10-11
[c]   Ps. 19:11-12; Rom. 3:20; 7:7
[d]  Rom. 3:9, 23
[e]   Gal. 3;21-22
[f]   Rom. 10:4
WLC Q96. What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?
A.  The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come[a], and to drive them to Christ[b]; or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable[c], and under the curse thereof[d].
[a]   1Tim. 1:9-10
[b]  Gal. 3:24
[c]   Rom. 1:20; 2:15
[d]  Gal. 3:10
WLC Q97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
A.  Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works[a], so as thereby they are neither justified[b] nor condemned[c]; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good[d]; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness[e], and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience[f].
[a]    Rom. 6:14; 7:4, 6; Gal. 4:4-5
[b]  Rom. 3:20
[c]   Gal. 5:23; Rom. 8:1
[d]  Rom. 7:24-25; Gal. 3:13-14; Rom. 8:3-4
[e]   Luke 1:68-69, 74-75; Col. 1:12-14
[f]   Rom. 7:22; 12:2; Tit. 2:11-14
CHAPTER. XIX.
Of the Law of God.
I.    God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it[a].
[a]  Gen. 1:26-27; Gen. 2:17; Eph. 4:24; Rom. 2:14-15; Rom. 10:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; Gal. 3:10, 12; Ecc. 7:29
CHAPTER. XXI.
Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day.
I.    The light of nature sheweth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.[a]  But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture[b].
[a]  Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1-4a; Ps. 50:6; Ps. 97:6; Ps. 145:9- 12; Acts 14:17; Ps. 104:1-35; Ps. 86:8-10; Pa. 95:1-6; Ps. 89:5-7; Deut. 6:4-5
[b] Deut. 12:32; Matt. 15:9; Acts 17:23-25; Matt. 4:9-10; Deut. 4:15-20; Exod. 20:4-6; John 4:23-24; Col. 2:18-23
Questions for further study:

In this harmony, how many Larger Catechism questions expand upon the base instruction of the Shorter, and what are the basic points?  What do we learn regarding Adam’s ability to keep the law prior to the fall?

Monday, April 22, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q39


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q39-42) is The Law of God; Christian Liberty. (see Harmony Index)
WSC Q3 asks what the Scriptures principally teach, and answers that they teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is divided into two basic sections— what we are to believe and what we are required to do regarding God. That is a common structure we find throughout Scripture. In the wisdom literature of the Bible, Solomon records, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecc. 12:13). WSC Q38 completed the first part of this wisdom of what we are to believe concerning God; now we commence the second section regarding our duties before our covenant-keeping God.
As always, we approach our study in prayer that the Lord would bless our understanding and obedience to his word that both instructs and commands us.
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WSC Q39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a] Deut. 29:29; Mic. 6:8; I John 5:2-3
Question #39 asks what God requires of man, and answers that God requires man to obey his revealed will.
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).
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.
The above quotation is from Lesson 1 of The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, Volume 2, by G.I Williamson. It provides an excellent beginning for our study of the second half of the catechism. It also reveals wording that might cause some to squirm, representing the line between those who would “fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecc. 12:13) and those who would rather “...be like God, knowing [determine for themselves] good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Comments like “God ... therefore has ‘a right’ to require what He will from man” are at odds with fallen man’s rebellious heart; sinners are not receptive to the idea that they have “no right” to go their own way. When we speak of human rights, rarely do we concede that the “only ‘right’ for man is to obey God.” Yet in the pursuit of happiness, looking for that which would fill the hole in his heart, Solomon—who had at his disposal everything he needed to plumb the depths of the issue—said in the end, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Eccl. 12:13).
To quote G.I Williamson again, “in the very nature of the case, the will of God is the rule by which man ought to live.” The operative word is, of course, ought. That word is defined as an “obligation to pay; to be bound in duty or by moral obligation, to pay what is owed” (Webster’s Dictionary). A synonym is should, but whereas both words imply obligation, ought is the stronger. Should implies a mere obligation to what is proper, while ought denotes an obligation of duty. G.I. Williamson has used the right word here, as it denotes “the duty which God requires.” We covered this term duty back in WSC Q3; and as we now close the first section and commence the second, the definition of duty warrants repeating.
Duty derives its meaning from the idea of “dues,” or “that which is owed.” Thus one of the tertiary definitions for duty is a “tax” or “toll.” However, we are more familiar with duty as it relates to personal responsibilities—that which a person owes to another and is bound, by moral or legal obligation, to pay or perform. The term finds further definition in words like obedience, respect, reverence, forbearance, and submission. The fathers of our faith chose their words carefully, and the implications of this definition must be pondered. Duty conveys a sense of moral commitment and results in actions, not merely in feelings and the passive recognition of authority. It involves personal sacrifice. Duty is active, a personal commitment that comes at a cost.
We must remember that these catechism questions are linked; they must be understood as a whole. Consider again our chief end as stated in Question 1, to glorify and enjoy God forever. It has been said that events belong to God, but duties belong to us. When we study God as our forefathers intended, we see his sovereign power, wonderful grace, and awesome majesty. Our response is a glad and continuous act of duty to manifest his glory as his image bearers, the recipients of a so great and wondrous salvation; in so doing, truly “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).
The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
As followers of Christ, we pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In times of crisis, when we are tempted to go either way, as “imitators of Christ” (I Cor 11:1), we pray with a heart to obey, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will [Your will be done]” (Matt. 26:39). This is the proper response of the true follower and disciple of Christ.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read Ps. 95:1-6. What does verse 6 tell us about who we are? What does verse 3 tell us concerning God? Putting these two verses together, what must we acknowledge, and how does this relate to the catechism lesson under consideration?
2.     Read Deut. 29:29. There are some things that God has not revealed, which remain hidden in his wisdom and purpose. But a large body of knowledge has been made known to us. According to Deut. 29:29, what is required of us regarding what has been revealed? Also see James. 1:22-25.
3.     When the catechism says, “God requires,” what does it mean? Does God understand that we are not perfect, and is he content with us as long as we try to do our best? Does it make a difference who we are socially, or in relation to others? For example, does God have a different expectation for those who are raised in a Christian family, as opposed to those who are not? Read Rom. 2:9-13 and I Pet. 1:14-17. What do these references says concerning this?
4.     Let us not be confused concerning these things. We are not accepted by God according to our works. Salvation comes to us by virtue of the perfect work of Christ on our behalf, received by faith. God requires that we be holy, and that holiness come by the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed, or accounted to us, unto salvation. However, even though we are saved by grace and not by works, God still requires of us a behavior that gives witness to him and his perfect character and law. Read Matt. 7:21-27 carefully. What is Christ teaching in this account?
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q39, WLC Q91
WSC Q39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a] Deut. 29:29; Mic. 6:8; I John 5:2-3
WLC Q91 What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A.  The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will[a].
[a]  Rom. 12:1-2; Micah 6:8; 1Sam. 15:22
Questions for further study:

Though these two question and answers are identical, what are the variations in scripture references the fathers chose to use?