Larger Catechism

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STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 55. — What is forbidden in the third commandment?

A. — The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known.

Scripture References: Mal. 2:2; Isa. 5:12; Ps. 139.20; James 1:13; Matt. 26:74.

Questions:

1. In what ways does God make Himself known?

As we learned in the prior commandment, He makes Himself known by His names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works.

2. How are these ways profaned or abused by man?

They are abused “by blasphemy, perjury, sinful cursings, oaths, vows and lots” (Larger Catechism, Question 113)

3. How can man profane God’s names, titles and attributes?

Man can profane these when he thinks hatred toward God; when he speaks irreverently toward God; when he swears by the name of God in a wicked way; when he blasphemes the name of God; when he curses himself or others in the name of God; when he uses the the name of the Lord in superstitious ways.

4. How can man profane His ordinances?

Man can profane the ordinances of God by being irreverent or irreverent or irregular in His attendance upon them; by attending to them not in the spirit but being in the flesh by allowing His mind to wander; by having a false and insincere profession of their faith in Christ and still partaking of them.

5. How can man profane His word?

Man can profane the word of God by denying parts of the Word or by perverting it; by teaching false doctrine as it pertains to the Word; by misapplying the Word of God.

6. How can man profane His works?

Man can profane His works by using His body in the wrong way; by being forgetful of God’s mercy and wonderful works to the children of men; by murmering against the Lord in the midst of adversity.

TAKING HEED TO THE WORD

One of the greatest responsibilities-and privileges-of the born again believer is that of taking heed to the Word. James tells us, “Let every man be swift to hear …. ” (James 1:19). This particular commandment, the third, is pertinent to us as each Lord’s Day and each Wednesday evening we go to hear the Word of God preached. Jeremy Taylor once said, “When the word of God is read or preached to you, be sure you be of a ready heart and mind, free from worldly cares and thoughts, diligent to hear, careful to mark, studious to remember, and desirous to practice all that is commanded, and to live according to it; do not hear from any other end but to become better in your life, and to be instructed in every good work, and to increase in the love and service of God.” (The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, p. 181).

Many times the Christian misses what the Lord has for him In the worship service because he comes unprepared. In the same first chapter of James there is a suggested outline regarding the duties of the Christian in his attendance at the house of God. Verse 21 tells hlm of his duties before the sermon: that Gf laying apart anything of filth, of sin. Verse 21 also tells him of his duties during the sermon: that of receiving with meekness the engrafted (implanted) word. Verse 22 tells him of his duties after the sermon: that of being a doer of the Word and not a hearer only. God’s people will receive far more benefit from the preaching of the word of God, and will be able to apply it more effectively, if they have prepared their hearts beforehand for the hearing of the word.

How do we prepare ourselves for the hearing of the Word? So many times on the Lord’s Day our preparation consists of reading the Sunday paper, of sleeping late, of neglecting prayer and study of the Word. It is to be wondered what the result would be if the church on the Lord’s Day were filled with Christians who had actively prepared themselves for the preaching of the Word. Christians who had come with willing and obedient heart; with a deep-seated desire to hear the Word; with hearts in tune with the Almighty, Sovereign God. Indeed, the result would be a doing of the duties set forth in the Word, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God.

Published By: The SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol. 4 No. 51 (March, 1965)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 41. — Wherein is the moral law summarily comprehended?

A. — The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.

Scripture References: Matt. 19:17-19; Deut. 10:4; Rom. 3:8.;Deut. 4:8.

Questions:

1. What do we mean by “summarily comprehended?”

We mean that the sum and the chief heads of the law are therein contained. The moral law is more fully set forth in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

2. When was the moral law first published?

The moral law was first published when God wrote it on the heart of Adam.

3. Where are the ten commandments found in Scripture?

The ten commandments are found in the twentieth chapter of Exodus and in slightly a different form in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. However, the differences are very minor and include nothing essential.

4. How are the commandments divided?

We divide them today as “ten commandments” as was done by the Greek Church in early days. There is also the division of the duties towards God and those duties towards our fellow-man.

5. Could we say that the ten commandments includes all of the moral law?

We could say that the ten commandments are an amazingly comprehensive summary of the moral law. They include both things required of the inward man and of the outward behavior. Within them there is an amazing teaching in that if a sin is forbidden, in the words of God there is a duty commanded.

6. How can we have a better understanding of the ten commandments?

Our Larger Catechism, in answer to Question 95 gives us certain :’;,,’::0 for a right understanding of the commandments. It would be good for all of us to memorize all eight of the rules given and the proof texts too. Too many of us are woefully ignorant of these eight rules, rules that, rightly applied, will indeed lead us to a closer walk with our God, all to His glory.

OBEDIENCE-AND LOVE

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto Him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy

heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Thus our Lord Jesus Christ gives the first part of the summary of the law, agreeing perfectly with Deut. 6:5. And thus he ties up the matter of obedience to Him for the obeying of his commandments is the essence of obedience to Him—with the matter of our love for Him. The two are woven together throughout the Bible.

An excellent question is: How do we know we love God? Seven wonderful signs were given by Thomas Watson many years ago. He lists:
(1) Our desire will be after Him.
(2) We cannot find contentment in any thing without Him.
(3) We hate that which would separate us from God, namely sin.
(4) We have sympathy for one another.
(5) We labor to render Him lovely to others.
(6) We weep bitterly for His absence.
(7) We are willing to do and to suffer for Him.
All of these have to do with the matter of our obeying Him for unless these characteristics are part of us we will not obey Him.

The question was once asked by a student: “Why do we not obey Him as we should?” The answer that came to mind was simply. “We are not burning in holy love.” Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Ephesus was “That Christ may dwell.in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,” (Eph. 3:17), It would be well for us, if we are really serious about obeying Him, to engage in some real prayer regarding our love for Him—praying that the Holy Spirit will give us a love such as we have never had before, praying that we might show forth some real labors of love in the days ahead; heart-felt prayer that we might have a love for Him that will always be glowing; heart-felt prayer that it may never be said of us, “Thou hast left thy first love.”

A wise preacher once said that love is involved with delighting in an object. It is possible that our difficulty is in not delighting in Him enough, not delighting in his Word, in prayer, in telling others about Him! When was the last time we prayed, “Lord, I love Thee!” When was the last time we felt this? When was the last time we told Him that we love Him more than anyone or anything on this earth. If it has been some time this may well be the reason for our lack of obedience.

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD. {NC.
Vol. 3 No. 41 (May 1964)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Similarities and Differences in the Two Sacraments

The month of November must have been the month when all Presbyterians went on Sabbatical!  We have never had so many dates when this writer has been forced to say that little or no significant dates of Presbyterian history have been found.  But December will be better for Presbyterian dates.  For now, on November 30, we go to two questions and answers from the Larger Catechism, and together these will end our extended study on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Question and answer 176 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree?  A.  The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and his benefits; both are seals of the same covenant, are to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none other; and to be continued in the church of Christ until his second coming.”

Question and answer 177 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ?  A.  The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in  him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.”

Both of these questions would be great questions to ask potential officers of our churches, including those who would seek to be pastors in our presbyteries, for they require an overall understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Indeed, they are an excellent teaching tool for the Christian parent to prepare the children for church membership.

There are five areas of agreement between the two sacraments. For both, the author is God.  Christ and His benefits are represented as being instituted. Both are seals of the covenant of grace. Both are church sacraments.  And both are to be practiced until we see Christ in the flesh at His second coming.

The differences are simple and understandable.  The outward elements are water, in the one, contrasted with bread and wine in the other sacrament. Then too, the timing of Christ’s benefits to the believer differ, in that baptism speaks of the beginning of the Christian life, while Communion speaks of its continuance. Baptism is to be done once and not repeated. The Communion is to be done often. Baptism includes infants while the Lord’s Supper implies the ability to discern the elements.

Words to live by:  Our two catechisms considered today are definitely doctrinal in scope.  Yet at the same time, they presuppose a basic understanding of the two sacraments which will enable God’s people to participate in them with a greater  understanding.  Let us make sure that their spiritual experience describe us, not just their outward and external experience.  “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?. . . .” (ESV – 2 Corinthians 13:5c)

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 20:2 ; Romans 1 – 4

Through the Standards:  Rules for keeping some from partaking

WLC 173 — “May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, be kept from it?
A.  Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ has left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Waiting Upon  God When You Take Communion

It was back on November 14 that the duties prior to the serving of Communion were laid down for our readers in Larger Catechism 171. Now we arrive at the duties of Communion while the Supper is being served, taken from Larger Catechism 174.

This catechism asks and answers “What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the time of the administration of it?  Answer: “It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait unto God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fulness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.”

We are, as our title puts it, “to wait unto God with all holy reverence and attention.”  In one sense, this is to be our attitude and action with respect to the worship service itself. This writer could speak and write volumes about some people who do anything and everything but worship the Lord during the church. Generally speaking, American Christians have lost the sacredness of worshiping the holy God. But this reverent and attentive waiting upon God should especially be true of us during this ordinance which particularly takes us back to our Savior’s atonement on our behalf. An undivided focus is absolutely necessary, especially if we follow the requirements enunciated in this catechetical answer.

First, we are to “diligently to observe the sacramental elements and actions.”  Outwardly, those elements are “bread and wine,” but spiritually, they are our Lord’s body and blood.  Do we “discern the Lord’s body?” in this sense, or do we just see them as bread and juice? Obviously, there is required some doctrinal knowledge of this sacrament, and a historical understanding of what took place at the first observance of the sacrament. An earnest listening to the reading of 1 Corinthians 11:23 – 34 is called for by the participant.

The sacramental “actions” are also to be observed closely. There is so much ignorance of this in our congregations. First, the Savior took the elements from the table. This signifies Christ taking a human nature (body and soul) unto Himself when He was born in Bethlehem. Then, Jesus put His blessing on the elements, giving thanks for them, and setting them apart from their ordinary usage to a special religion usage. Our Savior Himself was set apart for His special  work as the Redeemer of God’s elect. Next, He broke the bread, an action signifying His body broken on the cross for us. Fourth, He gave the elements to the apostles, signifying the gift of Christ to sinners by God’s infinite grace. The next action was by the communicants, as they received the elements, as sinners receive Christ as Savior by grace alone through faith alone. And last, communicants eat the bread and juice, signifying our dependence on Christ for spiritual life and growth.  All these are the needed observation of the sacramental actions, which you and I must observe.

The rest of the answer speaks of our spiritual attitudes and actions at the communion table.  We are to judge ourselves, sorrowing for our sins.  There must be an intense desire for fellowship with our Savior.  What about an attitude of dependence upon Him, not just in our salvation, but also in our sanctification?  All this is found in “feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fulness, trusting in her merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace.”  And last, but not least, the true nature of the sacrament, which is a military term speaking of loyalty and obedience and faithfulness to our commander, is necessary. To the captain of our salvation, we renew our covenant to belong to Him, and mutual love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Words to live by: The next time you observe the Lord’s Supper in your congregation, take this catechism either with you, or remember its attitudes and actions. It is your duty during the administration the occasion of the Lord’s Supper. Let it be then a revival of your soul in your renewed love for the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved you and gave Himself for you.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Corinthians 4 – 6

Through the Standards: Manner of partaking the Lord’s Supper.

WLC 170 — “How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord’s Supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein?
A. As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Excluding Some from Partaking of the Lord’s Supper

It was back on November 20th that this historical devotional began to look at what the Larger Catechism states about  partaking of the Lord’s Supper.   We continue with that theme on this day, November 25, finding no specific Presbyterian topic for our consideration.   What is involved in excluding some people from the Lord’s Supper.

Larger Catechism question 173 asks “May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, be kept from it?  And the answer, “Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding  their profession of faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ has left in the church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.”

It is clear that this catechism answer speaks of some “who are found to be ignorant or scandalous” being excluded from the participation in the Lord’s Supper. On their part, they have a profession of faith and an equal desire to partake of the elements of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  And so many might think that the issue is settled.  They believe and they have the desire to participate. Isn’t that enough? Our Confessional fathers answer that it is not enough of a reason to participate in this Sacrament.

First, there may be by these ready participants an “ignorance” about their profession of faith.  This ignorance may be the result of simply an absence of what biblical Christianity is, or on the other end, they might believe and accept some theological errors regarding biblical Christianity. Both of these constitute a reason to exclude them from the Sacrament when it is offered by the church.

Then there is another exclusion, and it is with respect to a “scandalous” manner of life.  The profession might be present, but the possession of faith is doubtful due to a carnal or fleshly lifestyle. The individual is openly carrying on a conduct which violates the Ten Commandments, for example. Such an individual shows that he or she does not understand the work of sanctification in the Christian life.

Now, in both of these cases of ignorance and scandalous living, the Catechetical fathers do not specifically state what they mean. They wisely leave it up to the spiritual courts of session, presbytery, and general assembly to determine this.  Sometimes, a local church will designate conduct which it believes is contrary to Christian doctrine and living.The “power which Christ has left in his church”refers to biblical church discipline which must be carried on by each church for its overall purity. And with most of our Presbyterian and Reformed churches, that is the purpose of the Book of Discipline in our Book of Church Order. There are found specific guidelines with respect to the use of “that power which Christ has left in his church.”

This catechism holds out the remedy to any who might be precluded, namely, “until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.” There is a place, and it usually is found in the membership class held to any who wish to join the church, for “instruction” with respect to both faith and life as seen in the Bible. When reformation is manifested after instruction is given with respect to their manner of lives, (and it may have to  happen for a definition or indefinite period of time,) then the door will be opened to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Words to live by:  In the early part of our country’s history, in Presbyterian circles, this was the task of the pastor, and Session of Elders, if there were any, to examine the participants as to their faith and life.  Finding an understanding of the things which were of God, and hearing about their conduct, they then gave each potential participant a metal token, which was then turned in on the day of Communion. That practice has gone away and it  is then dependent upon the discernment of the Session of Elders that they have a spiritual understanding of the members under their shepherding care in determining their qualifications to partake of the break and wine. Pray for your elders—teaching and ruling elders—in this important ministry.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 13 – 16

Through the Standards:  Elements of the Lord’s Supper remain unchanged

WCF 29:5, 6
“The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.  That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yes, of gross idolatries.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper

With no observable reflection of Presbyterian history on this November 14, we look at the necessary preparation which every Christian must have before they partake of the Lord’s Supper.  In colonial days and up to the present in some churches, there was a spiritual examination of every member of the congregation by the pastor as to their readiness to come to the Lord’s table.  Those who were found ready were given tokens, or little round metal pieces, which were then exchanged for the privilege of partaking of the bread and wine.  Those who failed that examination were forbidden to partake, and urged to do the necessary spiritual work to partake aright the next time the sacrament was offered.  Such practices are few and far apart in Reformed congregations and people today, though some Scottish and Irish Presbyterian churches continue the practice.

It is good to know then of a Larger Catechism which speaks to the need for self-examination so as to prepare ourselves properly for the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Larger Catechism 171 states, “They that receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants; of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.”

Self-examination!  Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:28 tells us that one must not come and partake of the Lord’s Supper without it.  “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”  (KJV)  Before partaking, examine yourself to see if you are worthy to partake of the elements of bread and juice.  The content of this self-examination is as follows.

First, are you really a child of God?  Have you by faith come to Christ, confessing your sins and your need of His saving grace and mercy?  “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves. . . .” (2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV).

Second, examine yourself of your sins and wants. Examine the living out of the faith that you profess. Are there sins of commission and omission found in you? If so, if you have failed to confess and acknowledge their presence in you, then do so. Separation from the sins which so easily beset us is needed before we partake of the Lord’s Supper.

Next, self-examination of the truth and measure, the reality and growth of our spiritual knowledge, faith, repentance, love both upward to God and outward to man, including charity to all, with forgiveness extended to those who have wronged us, our desires after Christ, and our practice of obedience to God and His Word.  Our Confessional fathers have given us a lot of areas to spiritually “chew upon”, but each and every one by self-examination can be used by the Holy Spirit to revive us spiritually, and prepare us for participation in the right observance of the Lord’s Supper.

When we find shortcomings, or as we find shortcomings in these graces, we can then renew ourselves in the exercise of them, by serious meditation and fervent prayer.

Words to live by:  Before you come, whether it is the preceding week, the Saturday night before the Lord’s Day, the Sunday time proceeding church, or the preparatory service conducted by the church, here are your spiritual “marching orders” of preparatory attitudes and actions. Christians today need to pay closer spiritual attention to preparing for their observance of the Lord’s table. How will you do so?

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 13 – 14

Through the Standards:  The necessity of baptism

WCF 28:5
“Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Celebrations at a Memorial Service

With few Presbyterian historical events to remember on this date, we turn our attention to Shorter Catechism question and answer number 96.  It asks, “What is the Lord’s Supper?” and answers “The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.”

Here is the other Sacrament after the initial one of baptism.  Its essence is by “giving and receiving bread and wine,” Christ’s death is “showed forth.”  In one phrase, the truth of the substitutionary atonement of Christ dying in place of sinners is represented.  Christ clearly appointed that meaning when he instituted it near the end of His earthly life.

The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is put forth as a spiritual edification or building up of the Lord’s people. That this is so, is made clear by our Confessional fathers when they specifically state that “the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, make partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.”

The churches of the Reformation divided over the manner of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Roman Catholics believe that the actual body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine. Lutherans believe that the actual body and blood of Christ are in, with, and under the elements. Presbyterians believe that Christ is spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper, while He in His physical body is in heaven as a glorified body, seated at the right hand of God. So, when we partake of the elements of bread and wine, we do  in a spiritual manner partake of His body and blood. Rightly partaking of them will strengthen, encourage, and spiritually build us up in the totality of the Christian faith and walk.

Words to live by: In succeeding days, when we have nothing to report of historical persons, places, and things of Presbyterianism, we will look at the Larger Catechism’s treatment as to what duties we are to perform before, during, and after our observance of the Lord’s Supper. For now, do not be carelessly absent when the Lord’s Supper is offered at your congregation. It is a means of grace to our souls, a channel of blessings of the covenant of grace.

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 10 – 12

Through the Standards:  The subjects of baptism according to the Shorter Catechism

WSC 95 — “To whom is baptism to be administered?
A.  Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Have You Been Improving Your Baptism?

Without a meaningful Presbyterian topic on this November 10th, we close our out confession and catechism study on Baptism by noting Larger Catechism question and answer 167.  It deals with a needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism.  It states, “The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration  of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privilege and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”

Neither one of the other creedal statements in the Confession or Shorter Catechism  make reference to this duty of improving our baptism.  There is one phrase in the Confession which leads into it however.  It is when our confessional fathers state in chapter 28, section 6, that “the efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time, wherein it is administered.”  Frankly, this false concept that we Presbyterians tie the efficacy of Baptism to the exact time the infant or adult is baptized, is one of the reasons why people oppose this sacrament.  But we believe that baptism is not tied to the time it is initiated in a person’s life, but that baptism applies to the whole life of the baptized person.  We are to improve our baptism, that is experience its meaning and work out its application to our spiritual lives.  The fact that this is misunderstood so much shows in the Fathers making reference to “the needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism.”  It was needful and much neglected duty back in the seventeenth century, as it continues to be today in the twenty-first century.

Especially are we to fulfil this duty when we are in times of temptation and/or present when the vows are taken at baptism of others, including infants.  In the first case, when we are tempted by sin, we need to remember that we are God’s people, not  only in name, but also in practice.  We have covenanted, or our parents have covenanted for us, that we are to live godly and righteous in this world.  The other occasion of improving our baptism is when the sacrament takes place, and we hear the questions charged to either parents or adults, overhearing their affirmative answers.  We can reflect on our answers taken in the past,  indeed, we can reaffirm our covenant vows at that time again with respect to ourselves or our children.

The rest of the catechism answer deals with several ways of  improving our baptism. It speaks of being humbled for the remnant of the sin nature still within us.  It describes our growing more and more in the realization of pardon of sin.  We are to be constantly drawing strength from the atonement of Christ, to put sin to death and not have it reign over us, as well as saving and sanctifying grace being realized more and more.  We are to conduct ourselves in holiness and righteousness as we live by faith and for faith.  And one last point is given.  We are to walk in brotherly love, understanding that we are one body.

Also this day:

Words to live by:  It is very possible that you as a baptism person did not know that there was to be improvement in your baptism.  Well, now you do!  Let it be said of you that this improvement of your baptism is to be no longer a neglected duty in your spiritual life.  Indeed, let it be a needful duty for you, your family, and your friends.

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 1, 2

Through the Standards: Mode of baptism

W.C.F. 28:3

“Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

How to Listen to a Sermon

Finding no persons, places, or things in Presbyterian history on October 16, the companion catechism to our focus on October 12—about how your preacher is to proclaim sound doctrine—is Larger Catechism No. 160.  It deals with how you are to listen to a sermon.  It says, “It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God: meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.”

Presupposed in this answer is that we “attend” unto the preached word with our attendance in the services of the Lord’s Day.  Our Lord was the Son of God, and yet it is said in Luke 4:16 that his “custom” or  habit was to be in His place of worship on the sabbath day.  We are to  not to “forsake or neglect to assemble together [as believers].” (Amplified of Hebrews 10:25)

As we attend to it, we are to do it “with diligence, preparation, and prayer.”   In other words, simply warming a pew or chair by our posture does not fulfill our duty with respect to the preached Word. The church member, and even the visitor, should not be passive, but active to the sermon.  You would not be persistently late to show up for your work or school, so don’t come late to the worship of God, and disrupt the other worshipers.  Preparation to worship the Lord is necessary also.  Take care of your business or assignments so that you won’t be reviewing them during the sermon or planning them.
Are you prepared to pray the prayer of the Psalmist David “Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law.” (Psalm 119:18 NASB)

Should the worshiper accept everything the preacher says?  Certainly not!  Our confessional fathers urged us to be like the Bereans of old (See Acts 17:11) and “examine what they hear by the scriptures.”   You should test what you hear by the Bible.

But  having said that, the catechism speaks of “receiving the truth with faith, love, meekness,and readiness of mind, as the word of God.”  In other words, it is important to have a receptive heart and mind, not a continual critical heart and mouth with respect to the preaching of the Word.  This will be facilitated if we learn how to “meditate” and “confer of it,” like what does it mean, and what does it mean to me.  A discussion in the family as to what was the application of it to each members of the family.  Some churches encourage Bible studies on sermons heard the previous week, which is profitable indeed.

Hiding it in our life and bringing forth the fruit of it in those lives, are two neglected exercises in modern-day Christians.  Yet both are biblical.   David prayed in Psalm 119:11 “Your word have I treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”  James in his book, chapter 1, verse 22 wrote about “proving yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  In other words, show that you are a Christian by doing what you have heard in church.

All this is required — it is your duty — with respect to the preaching Word of God.

Words to live by:  Happy is the church whose minister preaches sound doctrine in the manner of Larger Catechism 157 and whose members listen to the preached word in the manner of Larger Catechism 160.  In fact, write this answer on the flyleaf of your Bibles, and review your reception of the Word in comparison to it.  If you have a good memory, commit the answer to memory.  God’s Word is too important, and the challenges of the world, the flesh, and the devil are so serious, that the Church cannot afford to have lukewarm Christians.

Through the Scriptures: Matthew 5 – 7

Through the Standards:  Proof texts for the Church

Ephesians 4:11, 12
“And His gifts were [varied: He Himself appointed and gave men to us] some to be apostles (special messengers,) some prophets (inspired messengers), some evangelists (preachers of the Gospel, traveling missionaries), some pastors (shepherds of His flock) and teachers.  His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward building up Christ’s body (the church).” (Amplified)

Matthew 16:18
“And I (Jesus) tell you, you are Peter [Greek: Petros — a large piece of rock], and on this rock [Greek, petra — huge rock like Gibraltar] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades (the powers of the infernal region) shall not overpower it [or be strong to its detriment or hold out against it]. (Amplified)

 

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Reminder to the Preachers 

With persons, places, and things of historic Presbyterianism difficult to find for this October 12, I want to follow our last devotional in the Larger Catechism (See October 4) with another emphasis on the Word of God, only this time with an emphasis to the preaching pastors of our readership.  Larger Catechism number 159 reads: “They that are called to labor in the ministry of the word, are to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, and fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, edification, and salvation.”

What strikes this writer first is the biblical nature of this catechism, taking phrases straight out of Scripture. Titus 2:1 speaks of “the things which become sound doctrine.” (KJV)  Apollos, in Acts 18:25, “spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord.” (KJV)  The phrase “in season and out of season” come literally from 2 Timothy 4:2. That we pastors are to speak plainly thought “not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” is right out of 1 Corinthians 2:4. Making known “the whole counsel of God,” was Paul’s testimony to the Ephesians in Acts 20:28. Inspired Scripture can be found in all the remaining phrases as well.

Standing out second of all, to this retired pastor  are all the adverbs which describe the manner of our preaching, fellow pastors. We are to preach “diligently,” “plainly,” “faithfully,” “wisely,” “zealously,” and “sincerely.” Now here is a check list for us on Monday morning, as we listen again to the tape recording of our sermons the previous Sunday. (I once had the embarrassing case of falling asleep, listening to my recorded sermon the following day.  If I did that to my own preaching, what did the people do when they listened to it the first time?)  Review the adverbs of our answer, and ask yourself, do those characterize my proclamation in the pulpit?

Last, are the ends of my preaching those mentioned in this Larger Catechism?  Am I preaching sound doctrine in season and out of season?  If my people took one of those tests so often mentioned in our newspapers, would they know anything more than the poor records of Americans?  Am I depending on the Spirit and His power, and not in my own wisdom?  Is the whole counsel of God my focus, or am I riding some theological hobby-horse over and over again? Am I conscious of my people’s spiritual necessities and capacities, resulting from my in-home visitation with them? Or am I preaching over their theological heads and  hearts instead of down to their level? When it gets down to it, do I love God and my people being the people of God?  Do I aim at God’s glory, and if so, is He happy with my sermons? Is the final end their conversion, edification, and salvation?

These are questions which you alone might answer. Or, if you are really courageous, take them to a loved one, or even your ruling elders, or a beloved brother in the church, and find out their answers, and whether they agree with your answers.

Words to live by:  It is a good idea to write this catechism on the flyleaf of your Bible, and refer to it often, or place it in a noticeable place in your study, so you can use it as a guide in sermon preparation. Further than that, I tried to read a good sermon “how to” book at least once a year, taking from it principles and practices which I could incorporate into my sermons. And if you are a layperson who is reading this devotional guide this day, make the above catechism answer your prayer for your pastor in his pulpit ministry. Encourage him in these statements and compliment him when he engages in them. Lay the others matters before God. In short, your regular prayers for your pastor in the pulpit can make him a powerhouse for God in the hearts of God’s people.

Through the Scriptures:  Nehemiah 7 – 9

Through the Standards:  Definition of the visible church

WCF 25:2
“The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

WLC 62 — “What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.”

 

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