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, January 27, 2020

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q76


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q63-81) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The Second Table. (see Harmony Index)
We now come to the ninth commandment as we continue through the catechism using Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds. Consider the significance of this lesson as it relates to our speech, which in fact gives witness to the nature and state of our hearts and minds. Jesus said that, “those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man” (Matt. 15:18). The training of our heart and mind will impact what comes out of our mouths. As James says, “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” It might be wise at this point to read carefully James 3:1-11, and add this to our study of the ninth commandment.
May we once again approach our study in prayer that the Lord would add to our thoughts and actions the things that most please and honor him.
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WSC Q76. Which is the ninth commandment?
A.   The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
[a] Ex. 20:16; Deut. 5:20
Question #76 asks what is the ninth commandment, and answers that the ninth commandment is: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
Comments and considerations:
As has been previously pointed out (see discussion of WSC Q74), there appears to be a progression within the Ten Commandments; they build upon one another to form a cohesive whole. I believe this is one of the reasons James says that if you break one, you are in fact breaking all— “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10). They are like a chain stitch; when one stitch is broken, the whole project comes apart. This is because obedience is a heart issue; if you cannot keep one commandment faithfully, you cannot keep any (Rom. 7:7).
In the second table of the law, after dealing with the issue of basic authority, the sanctity of human life, marriage, and the protection and promotion of private property, we come now to truth-telling. As Jesus said, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matt. 5:37). This commandment deals with keeping our word within human contracts and covenants, and speaking the truth when giving witness. Words have meaning, regardless of what today’s celebrities might think to the contrary.
I’ve always found the wording of the ninth commandment interesting. It could have been put so many different ways, and lying is very simply prohibited elsewhere. But here, the prohibition is very specific: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. Older translations say instead, Thou shalt not bear false witness. The word bear means to carry or transport, to convey, to possess and bring. The dictionary gives a long list of definitions and applications; among them you’ll find a sense of ownership and accountability. Again, words have meaning, and the misuse of the tongue has dire consequences (see Jas. 3:1-12). This command appears to be dealing with the weight of evidence one might carry against a neighbor, forbidding the bearing of false evidence. We serve a God who is truth, and calls us to truth:
Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth (Ps. 31:5).
I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth (I John 2:21).
The word truth comes from troth; to pledge a troth, as in a vow in the marriage covenant. There is a binding of the participants to the very words they speak, and this is not something we can hold in an abstract. When a man speaks a lie, he is a liar himself; his words bear witness against him! His words are not trustworthy, and neither is he! He bears the burden that he is a false witness, not to be trusted.
Our God is the God of truth. He is the covenant-keeping God, bearing forth what he has bound to himself, his very word of promise, an immutable oath to save his own to the uttermost—all those who put their trust and confidence in him who cannot lie.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:13-19).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        Read Zech. 8:16-17. How important is the truth, and the telling of truth? What are examples of places or daily experiences where telling truth is not only important, but required? Why does it matter so much? What does Zech. 8:16-17 say on this matter?
2.        In the Old Testament, when a person was found guilty, those who had testified against him were often directly involved in his execution. Their words had severe consequences. God warns us about the severity of our talking about others in Prov. 14:5 and Lev. 19:16a.
3.        The truth and the telling of truth are important, especially in relation to our Lord who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The Bible speaks much on this in several places. Read Psa. 15, and count and consider the references to speech and conversation.
4.        What is hateful to God? See Prov. 6:16-19.
5.        What is the ill that comes from lying and bearing false witness? What is another result of untruthfulness? See Prov. 19:5.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q76 and WLC 143
WSC Q76. Which is the ninth commandment?
A.  The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour[a].
      [a]  Ex. 20:16; Deut. 5:20
WLC Q143. Which is the ninth commandment?
A.  The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor[a].

      [a]  Exod. 20:16

Monday, January 20, 2020

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q75


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q63-81) is The Means of Grace: The Commandments: The Second Table. (see Harmony Index)
One little exercise I enjoy is taking one word from a text under consideration, looking up its meaning and usage both in the English language and in Scripture, and then putting the word back into the text to gain deeper understanding within the full context. As we study what is forbidden in the eighth commandment, we might choose to do this with the word unjustly. The words justly and unjustly are found in relatively few places in Scripture. But one occurrence which is relevant to the present study is Micah 6:8—“He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” This verse ought to be considered in its context, and a parallel reference helpful here is Hosea 6:6, and its context as well.
We serve a God who by his very nature—infinite, eternal, and unchangeable—is just. As we are called to give witness to him, may we prayerfully consider what it means to “do justly,” and shun the unjust hindering of “our own, or our neighbor’s, wealth or outward estate,” as we serve one another and honor God. To do otherwise is to do violence to the very heart and purpose of our God.
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WSC Q75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A.   The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour’s, wealth or outward estate[a].
[a] Prov. 28:19ff; Eph. 4:28a; II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:8
Question #75 asks what the eighth commandment forbids, and answers that the eighth commandment forbids anything that either does or may unjustly take away money or possessions from us or anyone else.
Comments and considerations:
In our previous study, we looked at the requirements of the eighth commandment, the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others. We focused on the term lawful, seeing that God has revealed his law in both his Word and nature; we are to study these things and reason rightly to the wellbeing of ourselves and others (II Tim. 2:15). Now we consider this commandment from another perspective - that which it forbids. Once again, our fathers refer to the law, mentioning justice, which is the fruit of the law: we are not to do those things that would unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour’s, wealth or outward estate.
To say that God is interested in justice is an understatement. He is quite emphatic when he says through the prophet Micah, “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:8). The Apostle Paul warns, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Ideas have consequences. The imaginative ideas of men - loosened from the anchor of sound reasoning and wisdom captive to the thoughts of Christ (II Cor. 10:5) - will often look for easy answers to difficult questions. In time, their plans will run aground, the deceitful heart being full of greed, selfishness, and man-centered philosophies opposed to godly thinking. Notice how this consideration demonstrates the weight of the phrase whatsoever doth, or may unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour’s, wealth or outward estate. There is no room here for trifling debates about what God clearly commands; we are accountable for our actions and for their real and potential outcomes as we seek to be responsible stewards with the talents that the Lord has entrusted to us for our own and our neighbor’s welfare (Matt. 25:14ff). The implications of this commandment are certainly far-reaching.
What does it mean to hinder something? Without going into the etymology of the word, which is quite interesting, the word simply means to impede, hamper, to cause delay, prevent from doing or making progress, encumber. This has many eighth-commandment applications (e.g., paying off debts, conducting business and personal financial affairs, making wise investments to assist community enterprise). But at the core, the commandment forbids everything from theft to foolish financial decisions - anything that might prevent, impede or hamper our own or our neighbor’s productive wellbeing. Instead, we are to do those things which promote that well-being within the bounds of God’s law; we are to act justly, considering not only what is needful for man’s outward welfare, but for his soul’s need and discipline as well. What should be our concern for the able-bodied individual who refuses to work, or refuses to heed wise counsel while being foolish in the management of financial affairs? Is it just to allow that person to continue on a destructive path “unhindered?” On that point, our fathers referenced these verses:
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat (II Thess. 3:10).
Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Eph. 4:28).
Read carefully Prov. 28:19 and the several verses that follow it: “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough!” Proverbs is filled with wisdom and illustrations regarding those who are unproductive and a drain upon others, rather than seeking blessings to be a blessing!
Again, drawing upon “Lessons from the Garden:” One day my wife asked why I was clipping bright green shoots off the lower base and trunk of a wonderful orange tree in our backyard. I explained that I had to remove these devilish little shoots called suckers, or they would suck energy from the tree, producing no fruit, and becoming a haven for insects and disease. To not remove this bramble would be to unjustly hinder the wealth or outward estate of that plant and its neighbors. Think about it! Allowing those suckers to remain on the tree would eventually hinder the forming of blossoms and sweet nectar, causing trouble for the joyful honeybee whose labor blesses us.
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.        The eighth commandment specifically forbids stealing. However, stealing is more than taking the property of another; it includes careless actions that cause others to lose what belongs to them. Read Ex. 22:1-6. What are the different ways an individual can be deprived of personal property? What is required of the person responsible for the loss?
2.        Read Prov. 20:17. When we obtain something by deceit, our sinful nature expects pleasurable sensations to follow. But what will be the eventual outcome? What are some ways we can deceitfully obtain things that do not belong to us? Look up deceit or deceitful in the dictionary.
3.        Prov. 25:13, refers to how we are to do our job when we work for others. What lesson is taught in this text?
4.        A person’s good name or reputation can also be unjustly stolen. See Prov. 22:1. How does that happen?
5.        Greed and the love of pleasure cause an ungodly desire for things. According to Prov. 21:17, what will be the outcome of such desires, and where is found the real treasure of life? See Prov. 15:16.
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q75 and WLC 142
WSC Q75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A.  The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour's, wealth or outward estate[a].
      [a]  Prov. 28:19ff; Eph. 4:28a; II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:8
WLC Q.142. What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A.  The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required[a], are, theft[b], robbery[c], man-stealing[d], and receiving any thing that is stolen[e]; fraudulent dealing[f], false weights and measures[g], removing landmarks[h], injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man[i], or in matters of trust[j]; oppression[k], extortion[l], usury[m], bribery[n], vexatious lawsuits[o], unjust enclosures and depopulations[p];  engrossing commodities to enhance the price[q]; unlawful callings[r], and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves[s]; covetousness[t]; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods[u]; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them[v]; envying at the prosperity of others[w]; as likewise idleness[x], prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate[y], and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us[z].
[a]   Jam. 2:15-16; 1John 3:17
[b]   Eph. 4:28
[c]   Ps. 62:10
[d]   1Tim. 1:10
[e]   Prov. 29:24; Ps. 50:18
[f]    1Thes. 4:6
[g]   Prov. 11:1; 20:10
[h]   Deut. 19:14; Prov. 23:10
[i]    Amos 8:5; Ps. 37:21
[j]    Luke 16:10-12
[k]   Ezek. 22:29; Lev. 25:17
[l]    Mat. 23:25; Ezek. 22:12
[m] Ps. 15:5
[n]   Job 15:34
[o]   1Cor. 6:6-8; Prov. 3:29-30
[p]   Isa. 5:8; Micah 2:2
[q]   Prov. 11:26
[r]    Acts 19:19, 24-25
[s]   Job. 20:19; Jam. 5:4; Prov. 21:6
[t]    Luke 12:15
[u]   1Tim. 6:5; Col. 3:2; Prov. 23:5; Ps. 62:10
[v]   Mat. 6:25, 31, 34; Ecc. 5:12
[w]  Ps. 73:3; 37:1, 7
[x]   2Thes. 3:11; Prov. 18:9
[y]   Prov. 21:17; 23:20-21; 28:19
[z]   Ecc. 4:8; 6:2; 1Tim. 5:8
Question(s) for further study:

The Larger Catechisms expands upon the Shorter providing specific sins forbidden under the eighth commandments.  How many categories do our fathers list, and how might one summarize the extent, degree and manner of those things forbidden?