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 26, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q57


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q43-62) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The First Table. (see Harmony Index)
Our catechism study now takes us to the fourth commandment which concerns the Sabbath. This commandment opens with the word remember. That’s worth thinking about: the Sabbath, which is so obviously designed for our benefit and God’s honor, is so easy to forget! The blessing and necessity of the Sabbath have eluded both our society and, woefully, the church as well. Why is that? As we ponder this lesson, let us pray that we would appreciate the precious truths and joys of the Sabbath and that we might respond faithfully as God’s worshippers.
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WSC Q57. Which is the fourth commandment?
A.   The fourth commandment is, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.[a]
[a] Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15
Question 57 asks what the fourth commandment is, and answers that the fourth commandment is: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Comments and considerations:
This commandment is reviewed in six questions instead of only four; there is much to be considered. Future questions deal with what is required and forbidden in the fourth commandment, which day of the week is the Sabbath, how it is to be hallowed, and the reasons for doing so. This first question and answer simply state the commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It is a creation ordinance: “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Gen. 2:1-3).
For the moment, let us consider the word Sabbath.
I remember when I first came into the “Reformed Camp,” a place of “Sabbath Keepers.” Yes, I came from a Christian home with an evangelical background. But although the Lord’s Day was important in our understanding, it didn’t hold the Old Testament significance in this Dispensation of Grace, this Church Age, when supposedly any day, time, or place could be dedicated to worship, or—better—praising God; the Sabbath Day was thought to be an ordinance for a different time and people. So I had some unlearning to do, and I studied afresh what Scripture taught on this topic. Struggling as I was under this new Sabbath understanding and burden, I had an observant pastor say to me one day that I was completely missing the point; the Sabbath is not a burden, but a blessing. It was meant to free me from my labors and cares, and provide me a blessed rest and enjoyment of God’s promises and provisions. The Sabbath is a blessing, not a burden! There are none so blind as those who will not see; and I was totally blind to the blessing of the Sabbath until that faithful Reformed Presbyterian pastor spoke those words.
The word Sabbath means figuratively “a time of rest or repose; intermission of pain, effort, sorrow, or the like;” and we know it as “a season or day of rest; one day in seven appointed for rest or worship” (Webster’s 1913 Dictionary).
I had several valued fruit trees in my backyard, but the fig tree is a favorite; it not only provides wonderfully large, dark, and abundantly sweet figs, but gives summer shade and beauty, too. However, I recall in the winter on a particular Sunday when there were several folk at our home, enjoying an afternoon lunch and fellowship. One of them noticed that fig tree, that looked rather pathetic. “What wrong with it?” they asked. “Nothing,” I responded. “It is in its dormant season. It is trimmed it back—pruned—getting it ready for the spring’s warm sun and the new growth and joy it will bring.” When you think about it, that fig tree enjoyed its seasonal Sabbath rest. God has built in to the creation order a cycle which gives rest and protects, nourishes, revitalizes and restores his creatures; he prepares rest for new growth and fresh fruit produced for his glory and our enjoyment. 
This is the Sabbath principle.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read Gen. 2:1-3. In six days God created all things from nothing, and he rested on the seventh day. Was he tired after all his labors? Did he run out of ideas for additional things to be created? Of course not. But the fact remains that for his good purpose, God chose to make the seventh day a special day of rest and peace, a day to ponder his wondrous creation and providence. For this and many other reasons, “the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
2.     In the Law, the Lord commanded the keeping of the Sabbath. He also established other special days (and even years) as a time of Sabbath rest. According to Ex. 31:12-13, what was one reason for doing this?
3.     At times in his earthly ministry, Jesus did things on the Sabbath that angered the religious leaders (the Pharisees). In one particular incident found in Matt. 12, how did Jesus identify himself in verse 8?
4.     After Christ completed his work on the cross, rose from the grave, and was seated at the right hand of the Father, the Sabbath continues on the first day of the week. According to Acts 20:7, on which day of the week did the church meet? What did they do? Also see I Cor. 16:2.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q57, WLC Q115
WSC Q57. Which is the fourth commandment?
A.  The fourth commandment is, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it[a].
[a]  Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15
WLC Q115. Which is the fourth commandment?
A.  The fourth commandment is, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested in the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it[a].
      [a]  Exod. 20:8-11
Question(s) for further study:

Look at the last phrase of our Catechism proof test.  It is often thought that wherefore means where, but in fact it is a conjunction meaning why, for what reason, because of what. It could also be phrased therefore.  So the question is, as a concluding point why, for what reason did our Lord set-up as special (hallowed) the Sabbath day? It was always meant to be a what? 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q56


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q43-62) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The First Table. (see Harmony Index)
As we continue our study in the third commandment, we see how seriously God takes the use of his name.  Ecc. 7:1 says very simply that, “a good name is better than precious ointment.” How well we understand this. Companies spend a great deal of energy and financial capital to build and protect name identity and recognition; they go to great lengths to punish those who damage their reputation. Yet our culture has little concern for the honor of God’s name, the name that is precious above all else.
It has been said that “names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth’s marvels, beneath the dust of habit” (anon). What is our habit? How do we bear God’s name in our daily activities? Do we use his precious name in ways that bring honor or dishonor?
As we prayerfully consider this issue, we need to be reminded that our God takes the use of his name very seriously, and so ought we. May God grant us the understanding and ability to bear his name rightly.
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WSC Q56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A.  The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment[a].
[a] Deut. 28:58-59; I Sam. 3:13; 4:11
Question 56 asks what the reason is for the third commandment, and answers that the reason for the third commandment is that the Lord our God will not allow those who break this commandment to escape his righteous judgment, although they may escape punishment from men.
Comments and considerations:
We come to a fourth study of the third commandment. We’ve seen that we usually think of using the Lord’s name in vain through foul and abusive language. But as we have observed, it goes far deeper than that; God requires the holy and reverend use of his names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works; he forbids their polluting or abuse, since these are how God makes himself known. The commandment ends with this statement: “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.”
Notice how our fathers put the proposition: “the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.” Consider the providence of God and his righteous judgments which will certainly come to pass. As Israel was entering into the Promised Land, Moses gave this sobering warning:
Then Moses said to them: “If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves before the LORD for the war, and all your armed men cross over the Jordan before the LORD until He has driven out His enemies from before Him, and the land is subdued before the LORD, then afterward you may return and be blameless before the LORD and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:20-21).
“Your sin will find you out.” What is that old adage? “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Well, the fact is we can fool God none of the time; though men may not notice or punish our vain bearing of God’s name, the One who examines the heart will see. There are no more sobering words than what our Lord promised centuries later:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23).
As we studied the character trait of honesty in our Christian school, we discussed hypocrisy and counterfeiting. To illustrate the lesson, one of the fifth grade students wrote a clever story about a den of thieves who made counterfeit money and profited as the fake bills were spread around town; in an unexpected twist of events, they received the counterfeit money themselves in a transaction gone bad, and eventually they were caught by the law. The moral: beware, lest your sin find you out.
We sometimes struggle over the apparent prosperity of the unrighteous: “For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked… They have more than heart could wish. They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth” (Ps. 73:3, 7-9). But then the psalmist writes, “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors” (Ps. 73:16-19).
James cautions us this way: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (Jam. 1:22-24).
Again, however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment:
Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
For what good is the day of the LORD to you?
It will be darkness, and not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him!
 Or as though he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him! (Amos 5:18-19).
As we close this consideration of the third commandment, we must ask, do we hold the Lord’s name in vain? See how the psalmist closes Ps. 73.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works (Ps. 73:23-28).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read Rom. 10:12-13. What does it mean that, “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved”? (Also see the context of Joel 2:32.) Why is it important to know the name of one who has promised to deliver you from trouble, especially the trouble and condemnation of sin?
2.     Righteous judgment has as its goal a change in behavior or attitude, the turning away from sin. In Rev. 16:8-9, what is the outcome of God’s punishment in this incident?
3.     God allows his people to be called, or identified, by his name. In Deut. 28:9-10, what is the outcome of this honor? In Deut. 28:58-59, what ought we to fear if we dishonor his name?
4.     Being so honored as God’s people, bearing his name, how should God’s people conduct themselves? See II Tim. 2:19.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q56, WLC Q114, and WCF XXII.IV
WSC Q56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A.  The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment[a].
[a]  Deut. 28:58-59; I Sam. 3:13; 4:11
WLC Q114. What reasons are annexed to the third commandment?
A.  The reasons annexed to the third commandment, in these words, “The Lord thy God,” and, “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain,”[a] are, because he is the Lord and our God, therefore his name is not to be profaned, or any way abused by us[b]; especially because he will be so far from acquitting and sparing the transgressors of this commandment, as that he will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment[c]; albeit many such escape the censures and punishments of men[d].
      [a]  Exod. 20:7
      [b]  Lev. 19:12
      [c]  Ezek. 36:21-23; Deut. 28:58-59; Zech. 5:2-4
      [d]  1Sam. 2:12, 17, 22, 24; 3:13
CHAPTER. XXII.
Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.
IV. An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation.[i]  It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man's own hurt.[k]  Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels[l].
      [i].  Jer. 4:2; Ps. 24:4
      [k]. I Sam. 25:22, 32-34; Ps. 15:4
      [l].  Ezek. 17:16-19; Josh. 9:18-19; II Sam. 21:1
Question(s) for further study:

The Shorter and Larger Catechism ask the same question here, but are different, the Larger seeking to answer what? How does our being made in the image of God, to give witness to His name as it were, give weight to the implications reasoned here?