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The Crisis of Our Age

Our Grievous General Defection from Faith in Holy Scripture, its Terrible Consequences, and the Urgent Necessity of Repentance

The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them? (Jeremiah 8:9)

Our Duty to Discern the Character of Our Age

No observant person will argue the plain fact that our world is in crisis. Most people probably think that there is not much use in discussing it, because the problems we face seem to be unsolvable. But Christians must resist this defeatist mindset with all that is within them! For no believer in the God of the Bible can ever have reason to despair. God is working out His good purposes, after all. And He has no limitations whatever — He is just as capable of changing the course of the world as He always has been. It may be that things are not really as dark as they seem to us. Or it may be that God is waiting for a still darker day, so that when the light suddenly shines out, it will be all the more glorious! Or it may be the time for a terrible season of judgment. In any case, God knows what He is doing, and He is right on schedule!

But what concerns us is to discern the time, so that we will then be able to do our duty in this world, in a way appropriate to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We cannot dismiss the question “What is the character of our age?” for we are obligated to decide “What is our duty at this particular time?”

Unbelief, Impotence, and Despair

I submit to you that the single most significant aspect of our world today is its rampant skepticism and unbelief. Men no longer believe in the God of the Bible, and as a result, they are adrift upon a shoreless, bottomless sea of relativism. They have no way to anchor nor any place to land. For there is no other source of truth or of meaning than the Creator whom they deny. Hence, not only has religion been corrupted — but man’s relationships with his fellows, with himself, and with the natural world have all been corrupted as well. Having forsaken reality for a fantasy world of his own making, in which time and chance are ultimate, modern man has become impotent to deal with reality. His apparent success in manipulating the physical world through advanced technology is an illusion, for he is not in control of his technology — he has instead become its slave, dominated by it and powerless to control it. For despite all his marvellous works, he is still in bondage to the real powers of his world — calamity and the fear of calamity, death and the fear of death. These things he cannot control, and they haunt him day and night, blighting all his enjoyments, troubling his dreams, driving him to constant, restless activity. He has seen his idols fail, one by one, yet he refuses to renounce them, and worships them still. Science, the state, wealth, fame, power, and pleasure still find him willing rather to humiliate himself before them in degraded worship than to humble himself before the God of the Bible.

How did We Get Here?

“Very well”, you say, “but hasn’t the world always been this way? Haven’t most people always been unbelievers?” Granted that unbelief is not new. And granted that unbelief has never been in short supply. But there are two things that make us different. First, we are descended from men of faith. And second, the many who profess faith now show little evidence of the reality. So the question may well be asked,”What happened?” How did we get from a state in which many people were distinguished by an active, living faith to a state in which few even profess to have faith, and even fewer show any evidence that their faith is real?

As we consider this question, it will be useful to distinguish the immediate from the ultimate causes of our plight. For it is impossible to analyze the complex chain of actors and actions that are responsible for the change. The most detailed histories of the war on the faith of Western man are only approximations to what actually happened, since the hearts of men — the battleground of this conflict — are known only to God. But it is possible to analyze the ideas that have been used to drive men from the rock of biblical faith. It is possible to demonstrate the broad effects of these false ideas upon society. It is possible, and it is salutary to expose the falsehood of these ideas and to show that we have been duped into selling our birthright for a mess of pottage. It is necessary that we understand where we went so terribly astray, and that we return to the old way before we stray so far that we cannot find our way back.

Historically, the key to understanding the peculiar situation which the Western European Peoples find themselves in today goes back to the so called “Renaissance”, which was a movement among the educated strata of society toward a Classical Humanism. Reacting to the tyrannical dogmatism of the apostate Roman church, it romanticized the Greco-Roman culture and its supposed freedom of inquiry, advocating a return to the sources of Western culture — the original authors of the great works that had shaped it.

This principle, that scholars ought to be skeptical of the dogmas of the age, and to go directly to the texts that were the fountains of knowledge, was also applied to the Scriptures. The Papist cult made little use of the Bible, and its priests were wholly ignorant of it. Likewise, few of the peoples of Europe had the Bible in their own language. It was time, then, for a resurgence of interest in, and study of, the holy Scriptures. It was this re-discovery of the Bible, more than anything else, that brought the revival of biblical faith called the Protestant Reformation.

At first, there was an uneasy alliance of humanistic Renaissance scholars and Reformers against the common enemy of Romanism, but as time went on, the humanists first compromised the Reformation, then repudiated it. When the Reformation began to falter, a humanistic reactionary movement called “The Enlightenment” began to question the dogmas of the Reformation, as the Rennaisance had the dogmas of the medieval church — with a crucial difference. Instead of urging a return to the fountains, the new humanists of “the Enlightenment” were now advocating a new ideology of Modernism. The fundamental principles of Modernism can be stated either negatively or positively:

1. Skepticism Toward Authority or Belief in the Autonomy and Ultimacy of Reason

2. Contempt for Tradition or Cultural Evolutionism

3. Denial of Natural and Special Revelation or Belief in the Neutrality of Facts and the Objectivity of Science

4. Denial of God’s Providence or Belief in the Inevitability of Progress

5. Denial of Eternal Judgment or Secularism

6. Denial of Universal Standards or Cultural Relativism

7. Denial of Biblical Christianity or The Religion of Humanism

The Modernists imagined that they had found a new source of truth, and no longer needed to depend upon the ancient springs of knowledge — secular or sacred. They claimed that objective scientific inquiry was the only reliable source of knowledge, and that all the supposed certainties of former times should be mistrusted unless they could pass the test of critical scrutiny. Presupposing that the autonomous mind of man is competent to know all that can be known, and that the God of the Bible does not exist, they mounted a determined and sustained assault on all the fixities of biblical Christianity that has continued to this day, and that has well-nigh succeeded in wiping out the gains of the Protestant Reformation.

The Enlightenment began to influence Christian thinkers when the latter attempted a defense of the faith that assumed a “common ground” of neutral facts and logic shared by unbeliever and believer, from which Christianity could be proved. By adopting such a stance, and trying to win the skeptics without drawing a clear line of demarcation between the reasoning of faith and unbelieving thought, they failed to challenge the false presuppositions of the Enlightenment philosophers. Obviously, if someone wants to believe that he — not God — is the ultimate judge of reality, no amount of argumentation is going to make him willing to accept biblical Christianity unless that presupposition is first identified as the wicked lusting of his evil heart after an autonomy that can never be; and unless he is convicted of the sinfulness of attempting to usurp the place of the Creator, and is brought to repentance.

But not only did this apologetic method fail; it effectively undermined the Christian faith. For Christianity does not need to be proved — it is ultimate truth, and self-evidencing. It needs to be proclaimed, and unbelievers need to be reasoned with on the basis of the true presuppositions of Christianity — even if they do not accept them — rather than on the false basis of a supposedly neutral body of facts. In attempting to establish Christianity by argument, they unwittingly granted the claim of the skeptics that Christianity is not ultimate truth, and that it may be falsified.

Modernists seized the opportunity presented by the weakness of the Christian defense, aiming their attack — not directly at the doctrines of the Bible — but at the Bible itself. An all-out assault was made on the foundation of our faith, rather than upon the superstructure. This was an effective approach, for it would not be necessary to argue abstract doctrines at all if the concrete written text of Scripture could be discredited. The dogmas of Christianity would then fall under their own weight, lacking a foundation.

Naturalistic text criticism was already a well-developed science, which enjoyed universal credibility. If it could be shown, using accepted canons of criticism, that the text of Scripture was itself uncertain, and therefore unreliable, using the actual manuscripts available to scholars, then verbal inspiration and infallibility would no longer be possible to maintain. If it could be shown that the text had changed significantly in the course of transmission, then it would be clear that there was no special Divine providence guarding the purity of the text, as the Protestant dogmaticians claimed. Then it would follow that the Bible is not the word of God, but a merely human book, like other religious books. The Protestant faith would then be indefensible, and the Modernists would be free to reconstruct everything on their “scientific” principles.

The first major work to implement this strategy appeared in the seventeenth century. In his essay, “John Owen Versus Brian Walton: A Reformed Response to the Birth of Text Criticism” (The Ecclesiastical Text, p.145ff.) Dr. Theodore Letis documents the controversy generated by the publication of Walton’s Polyglot, which contained thousands of “various readings” gathered from every available manuscript containing a part of the Scriptures. Making no difference between significant variations and obvious scribal errors (which occur, as far as we know, in every copy), and failing to assess the quality and credibility of the manuscripts from which they were taken, the obvious intent was to collect and display in one place as many variants as possible, and thus to make the impression that the copies of the Scriptures from which the English Bible was translated were in a hopeless state of disarray and disagreement with each other.

While this book seemed to many to be nothing more than a scholar’s reference work, an aid to philologists and text critics, John Owen saw it for what it was, and he challenged it directly. Walton he knew, for he had been a bishop of the Laudian party during the vicious persecution of Calvinists under King Charles. Walton was an Arminian, an Anglo-Catholic, and his associates were Papists. Rome was at that time busily buttressing their case for the Latin Vulgate as the true word of God, over against the copies of Scripture in the original languages. In the historical context, the issuing of Polyglots must be seen as a Romish ploy to get the Vulgate into the hands of Protestant scholars, and to present it as at least an acceptable — if not a better — alternative version of Holy Scripture.

Owen’s concern was with the false impression that would be given to many that the text of Scripture had not been kept pure by a special Divine providence. His position was based on theological arguments drawn from the Protestant doctrine of Holy Scripture. Presupposing the truth of what Scripture teaches about itself, he knew that the data as it was being presented could not possibly represent the true state of affairs. Sadly, his presuppositional apologetic would soon be abandoned by Owen’s successors, who had not Owen’s clear-sighted faith in God’s word.

After Walton, the collection and collation of manuscripts became a recognized profession, and the destructive criticism of the text of Scripture a major field of study at the world’s great universities. Joined with the new science of literary (higher) criticism (equally destructive), it was a powerful engine of unbelief that eventually infiltrated the seminaries under the cloak of a true science. Unlike John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles, who never made an idol of learning, or ever cared for the frowns of scholars, the sons of the Reformation in successive generations began to be so impressed by scholarly credentials that they were reluctant to condemn even the most egregious contradictions of Scripture, if they were but put forth by men of erudition. They thus became vulnerable to the pretentious claims of the highly-learned Modernists.

Christian thinkers were taken in by this strategy, as they were also taken in by the claims of specialists in geology when they claimed that impartial, objective, scientific study of the earth proved that it is much older than the mere thousands of years that Christians have always believed it was. Since they were unable to answer the experts’ technical arguments, they assumed that their claims must be true, and adjusted their thinking (and even their interpretation of Scripture) accordingly — with disastrous consequences. Scripture was to be no longer the judge of the words of men — but was now to be tested, judged, and even “corrected” by men. And so it is today.

Not the Bible, but We Have Suffered

The Bible itself has not suffered from all the attacks upon it put together. It remains as trustworthy as ever, and is the sure guide to heaven that it has always been. Not one of its words has been proved false, though the wicked have scoured heaven and earth for arguments and proofs to discredit it. The Bible is the rock of ages, settled forever in the heavens. Not one jot or tittle shall pass from God’s law while the earth stands.

The Bible has not suffered, but we have suffered grievously for our mistrust of the Bible, and have only made matters worse by trying to erect a sytem of proof that would be acceptable to God’s enemies. By trying to demonstrate Scripture’s veracity by collateral proofs, we as much as admitted that we thought it could not stand on its own merits. By resting our belief in God on proofs that appealed to autonomous reason, we said that reason — not God’s word — is the ultimate authority. We erected scaffolding and bracing that could not even support itself, in fear that God might topple if we did not come to his rescue! Trembling before the wise men of the academy and “the assured results of historical (or scientific, or textual) research”, we bent and warped and twisted God’s word, trying in vain to make it fit the faddish fashions of human theories.

The scholars said “Jump!” and we, in our idolatry of learning, responded “How high?” They told us that we could not believe in the chronology of the Bible any more, and we believed them. They told us that our sacred texts were corrupted and that only they could fix them. We thanked them, and entrusted our Bible to them to be corrected. We were grateful when they reassured us that most of it was usable, much of it could be restored eventually, and that only a few major changes would be needed. They informed us that the traditional authorship of some books were wrong, and that the traditional dates of composition were impossible. They told us that the historicity of Genesis was under review, and that a revised understanding of the first few chapters would definitely be necessary. (Now that evolution has been proved, we know the world is billions of years old.) They gave us new translations that incorporated their new learning, correcting and updating our tired old Bible for us — over and over again! We were proud when they asked us to consult or to join their translation teams, and we promoted each new version as it came out, encouraging the doubters that our new Bible was going to be better than ever.

And where has all this ignoble bowing and scraping and grovelling before our idol of scholarship left us? It has left us with a Bible in flux, that is nothing more than a human book, dependent for its form on what the scholars say on any given day! It is, to us, no longer the Word of Life, the God-breathed and supernatural book that our Fathers believed in. It is, to us, no longer the Truth of God, upon which we can safely rest our souls for time and eternity. We have seen it stripped of its magical power, slain, skinned and gutted before our eyes, that we might no longer fear it. We see it as a mere book — like any other ancient book of myths and legends, religious taboos and traditional wisdom. It would be foolish and superstitious to trust it anymore, as our fathers did, in their ignorance.

It would be wrong to lay all the blame on those misguided scholars whose unbelief, pride, and foolish vanity led them into such grave mistakes. The scholars are as guilty as Hell for their high-handed abuse of God’s word; but the chief blame lies with the ministers, whose sacred obligation it was to uphold and authoritatively declare the word of truth. It was not the people that surrendered — they would have held out in spite of the high-sounding claims of the Academy, for all its false air of final authority. It was the priests and the prophets in Israel, the ones who kept the keys of knowledge, who treacherously yielded to the enemy. The motivation is not far to seek — it has ever been that the desire for men’s approval and the blessings that it can bring has with most men outweighed the praise of God. We looked up to our leaders for answers that would strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees — answers that would confirm our faith. Instead, we received empty words of capitulation, of accomodation, of surrender of the precious deposit of truth upon which our hope of heaven depends! We were betrayed by false shepherds!

False and Faithless Shepherds

Despite the consensus of the Academy, following instead the teaching of the LORD Jesus Christ, this author holds to a Scripture that “cannot be broken”, God’s infallible word: verbally-inspired, preserved in the original languages by a special providence, and authoritative in faithful translation. Most of the church’s leaders have been mis-educated by men, and in institutions, that have embraced the destructive Modernistic criticism of the Bible. Accordingly, they have given up the defense of the actual Word of God that is in our hands, preferring instead to “defend” the theoretical “inerrancy” of the long-lost original autographs, and meanwhile allowing unbelieving critics (or believers using the same unbiblical methodology — the result is the same) to decide for us what parts of the Bible we are still allowed to believe. They have thus surrendered the sacred texts of Christianity — the foundations of our faith — to the infidels. Their unfaithfulness has left the church’s enemies feeling confident that no case can any longer be made for a religion of Biblical authority in the modern, scientific age.

These same unfaithful stewards of God’s mysteries have aided the for-profit publishing industry in giving us one unacceptable, mediocre Bible version after another, none of them a fit replacement for the venerable King James Version. Most people now think that it does not matter what version they use, for respected church leaders have endorsed them all. So why be particular about one interpretation or another? Why memorize the exact words of any version? We have God’s word in every translation — sort of — and they all agree on the essentials, don’t they?

Is it possible that our leaders do not realize the thoroughness with which the people’s faith in the Bible has been undermined by their acceptance of Modernistic criticism and their endorsement of conflicting Bible versions? Or can it be that they themselves no longer care, having lost their faith long ago, when they went to seminary, and were taught that the Received Text and the Authorized Version were full of mistakes, and needed to be replaced? I suspect that in very many cases this is exactly what happened.

Is it any wonder, then, that these men, once installed in pulpits, have gone on to surrender every scriptural doctrine and every biblical practice that would make Christians stand out from the world? That they have created a “Christianity of least resistance”? That they have effectively reduced the sphere of biblical authority to nothing by neglecting the painful particulars of God’s law (so ably expounded in the catechisms, which are no longer taught), while exalting “liberty” and the individual conscience? That they have practically surrendered the doctrine of scriptural authority altogether by incorporating into their theology the most popular elements of modern ideologies — pluralism, evolutionism, egalitarianism, relativism — ideas that contradict Scripture and the tenets of historic Christianity?

There is no option for true Christians but to reject such leadership, to free ourselves from the bondage of human authorities who would undermine our faith in God’s word, and whose teachings conflict with it, and to return to a believing and obedient confession of Scripture’s authority in every area of knowledge, and over all of life.

Of the holy Scripture.

A Commentary on the First Chapter

of

The Westminster Confession of Faith

Setting Forth

The Orthodox Reformed Doctrine of Holy Scripture

The following originally appeared in my bi-weekly e-journal, FOUNDATIONS, in a series of articles called “A Layman’s Concise Commentary on the Westminster Confession”. The first chapter of the Presbyterian “Westminster” Confession of Faith (1646), “Of the holy Scripture”, was incorporated without significant alteration into both the Congregationalist “Savoy” Declaration (1658) and the Baptist “Old London” Confession (1689). It thus represents a consensus of seventeenth century Reformed theology, and in the judgment of this author, the best formulation ever written of the doctrine of Scripture that is taught in Scripture.

The commentary is chiefly intended to illuminate the text, and to encourage the reading and study of the Confession itself. However, I have used freedom in offering my opinion on anything in the Confession, whenever it has seemed to me likely to be useful to my readers, or particularly relevant to our current crisis. I have therefore laid stress, at times, on points that were not so stressed by the framers of the Confession, but which in my view need special emphasis, in view of the peculiar challenges to scriptural orthodoxy that we face in our age of unbelief.

THE NECESSITY OF SCRIPTURE

Article 1: Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.

These words contain a twofold argument for the necessity of Scripture. The first is, that nature is not sufficient to guide us to a saving knowledge of God. The second, that only in the Scriptures do we find the revelation of God’s way of salvation.

Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable;

Although we don’t hear this term much today, “the light of nature” was a key doctrine to theologians of former generations. The Westminster divines expected the readers to know what they meant by it, and they used it in several places in this document (I.6, X.4, XX.4, XXI.1) A related term, “the law of nature” appears in XXI.7, and what amounts to the same thing “the law written in their hearts” in IV.2. The light of nature is simply that built-in knowledge that gives us the capacity to reason and to judge right and wrong. Even though our minds are marred by sin, we are not destitute of reason – even the most depraved and ignorant of us possess some natural light.

Now, the Confession mentions innate knowledge because, through it, we are able to observe the created order and to see the way that God works to sustain the world, and man in it. What we ought to learn from that revelation of God in creation and providence is that God exists, and that the God who exists is infinitely good, wise and powerful. Rom. 1:19, 20 tells us:

“That which may be known of God is manifest in them (i.e. in men), for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”

There is no denying the overwhelming evidence of the creation, for its testimony to the glory of God is ubiquitous and inescapable; so that, if we fail to live accordingly, as worshipers and servants of God, it is our own fault — we are utterly without excuse.

yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation;

Nevertheless, the light of nature cannot possibly lead us to salvation; both because we are fallen creatures, in bondage to sin and blind to His natural revelation, and because natural revelation does not reveal the gospel. Salvation is the most glorious work of God, in which He puts forth all his wisdom and skill to do what nature would have told us is impossible: namely, to bring life out of death, to make man and God one, to justify the ungodly. The gospel is not accessible to mere reason.

therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church;

God has used many means to make Himself known. Not only different instruments: from great men to children to even a donkey; but different ways of speaking: dreams, visions, angelic appearances, miracles, symbols; and different literary forms: history, poetry, law; and at different times and seasons: both of triumph and defeat, of blessing and judgment. The Bible is unique among the self-professed “sacred books” in its variety and diversity in all these respects.

It’s worth noting that the Confession uses the term “Church” broadly here. By “the church” is meant the congregation of the faithful in all ages, from Adam’s family of worshippers to Abraham and his household to the children of Israel at Sinai to the disciples in the upper room. We’ll look at this more closely later, in chapter XXV especially; but I mention it because this will sound foreign to many readers, who think of only the New Testament church when they hear that word.

and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing;

What this says is that – while Divine revelation was given in many forms throughout history, the truth was not wholly committed unto writing at that time. Even while the books of the Bible were being written, God’s will was being revealed in various ways, and only some of it was being written down. But now (since the canon or “rule of faith” has been completed) all those ways of God’s revealing himself are forever ceased, so that the only authoritative revelation of God’s will that remains is the Scriptures.

Two reasons are given why it is advantageous for us to have the revelation permanently and entirely in writing: “for the better preserving and propagating of the truth”, and “for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church”. The first is obvious. If you want to make sure that everyone hears the same story, don’t rely on word of mouth. Write it down. The second takes into account the three main enemies to the salvation of men and hindrances to the establishment of the church – the world, the flesh and the devil. By having the whole revelation of God in writing, the church is protected both from its own imperfection and carnality, which tends to corrupt, suppress or ignore truth; from the claims of new revelation made by false prophets; and from all the attacks made on the truth that are inspired by the malice of Satan and his co-conspirators.

which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.

The conclusion is, that the Scripture is now strictly necessary, since it is the only source of the truth that brings salvation.

THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE

Article 2: Under the name of holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the Books of the Old and New Testament, which are these:

Of the Old Testament

Genesis Ecclesiastes

Exodus The Song of Songs

Leviticus Isaiah

Numbers Jeremiah

Deuteronomy Lamentations

Joshua Ezekiel

Judges Daniel

Ruth Hosea

I Samuel Joel

II Samuel Amos

I Kings Obadiah

II Kings Jonah

I Chronicles Micah

II Chronicles Nahum

Ezra Habakkuk

Nehemiah Zephaniah

Esther Haggai

Job Zechariah

Psalms Malachi

Proverbs

Of the New Testament

The Gospels according to: II Thessalonians

Matthew I Timothy

Mark II Timothy

Luke Titus

John Philemon

The Acts of the Apostles The Epistle to the

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans Hebrews

I Corinthians The Epistle of James

II Corinthians The First and Second

Galatians Epistles of Peter

Ephesians The First, Second, and

Philippians Third Epistles of John

Colossians The Epistle of Jude

I Thessalonians The Revelation

Article 3: The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.

The “Canon of Scripture” means nothing else but the “canon” or rule of faith and practice which is holy Scripture. It is not a rule for determining the admission of a book to, or its exclusion from, the approved list of inspired books; nor is it that list; but it is that unchanging rule and standard of truth which consists of the books themselves. Hence, the canon is the collection of the very texts preserved in authentic original language copies that the church has always preserved for its use. It is not to be found in the divergent and aberrant manuscripts found elsewhere than in the possession of the church and foreign to its usages. Therefore, Christians are not authorized to edit the Received texts, to synthesize new texts using various aberrant manuscripts, or to use any such speculative reconstructions of the texts in place of the canonical texts. To do so is to violate the canon; which is, in principle, apostasy from God and His true word.

Under the name of holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the Books of the Old and New Testament, which are these:

In Article 1, we saw that the whole revelation of “the knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation” has now been committed to writing in holy Scripture. Since this is true, it becomes necessary to define what is meant by holy Scripture. This the framers of the Confession do, both positively and negatively. For the first, by way of positive definition, they list all the books which the ancient Jews had recognized to be canonical Scripture, followed by a listing of the canonical books of the New Testament.

There are many questions which have been raised concerning the process by which the various books gained official recognition which we cannot answer. But the assurance that we have the true Word of God does not depend on our ability to reconstruct ancient history. What is important for us to know is that each book of the Bible has evidenced itself to be the Word of God from the time when it was written. Just as God’s natural revelation, the creation, bears within it the undeniable marks of God’s handiwork and clearly shows his perfections, His special revelation also manifests the glory of its Divine Author. God’s people in times past were able to recognize the voice of their Shepherd in the inspired writings of His prophets. Guided by God’s Spirit, they collected these inspired books, carefully preserving and copying them for future generations. Over the course of thousands of years, the Old Testament Canon was deposited into the hands of the nation of Israel.

The books of the New Testament were written in the space of less than forty years. They were all authored by the apostles and other men closely associated with them, like Luke the physician. Books that bore the clear marks of inspiration were recognized as such, treasured accordingly, and carefully preserved and copied. Though we have no complete and official list of the canonical books before the fourth century, the authority of the New Testament documents had been recognized long before. The writings of the Fathers of the church abound in citations from, and allusions to, all the books of the New Testament; showing that they regarded them as authoritative, inspired Scripture.

Those few canonical books that were challenged at one time or another had already gained firm acceptance in much of the church. Some of the questions arose because of the geographical and cultural distance between the Eastern and Western churches. Further complications ensued because of the circulation of heretical pseudo-gospels and pseudonymous epistles. Ultimately, such questions were resolved to the satisfaction of all using the objective tests of “Apostolicity”, “Ecclesiastical Usage”, and “Doctrinal Congruity”. Thus, all the inspired writings of the New Testament gained a universal acceptance.

The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.

Negatively, the Westminster divines explicitly excluded the “Apocryphal” books from the Canon. These are sixteen books of Jewish origin that had been included in the “Septuagint” Greek Translation of the Old Testament, but were not considered as inspired scripture either by the Jews or by the early church. Jesus quoted freely from the canonical books, but never from the Apocrypha. While some of them may be alluded to in the New Testament, they are never quoted — while every canonical book is quoted in some place or other. Some of them contain fabulous stories. For all of these reasons, they were judged to be uninspired works, and so were not included in the Christian Canon.

When the Confession of Faith was written, the Church of England — even though it had been “Reformed” by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and others during the reign of Henry VIII, and had officially rejected these books from the Canon — was still reading from the Apocryphal books in its services, and the Apocrypha were bound with the canonical books in the early editions of the Authorized Version of the Bible. The Council of Trent had given eleven of them the status of canonicity in 1546, thus enforcing their use in Roman Catholic churches, so this was a live issue still in the 1640s, when the Confession of Faith was written. This section of the Confession was intended to support the exclusion of the Apocrypha from the public worship of the churches of the British Isles, and from its Bibles.

THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE

Article 4: The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

How can we be sure of anything? Is real certainty possible? Or do we have to be content with a degree of uncertainty in everything? We all crave certainty in those matters that are of the greatest importance to us. Who would want to gamble his eternal destiny on a mere probability? The answer to the problem of certainty is in a full appreciation of the fact that God has spoken, and that He has given us His word and covenant in writing.

One way to settle a question of fact is to make an appeal to authority. In a dispute between two men, an expert on the subject in dispute can be called in as an authority. If he finds the judgment too difficult, he might appeal to someone more qualified than himself. That judge in turn may find it necessary to appeal, and so on, until the most reputable expert in the field has no one else to appeal to. Each time an appeal is made, there is an increased assurance that the correct judgment will be made. In human affairs, this does not necessarily happen, but in the matter before us, complete certainty is possible.

For not only is God the ultimate authority by right, but he is “truth itself”. This means both that He is incapable of error or mistake, and that He cannot lie. In both the knowledge that He possesses and in the use He makes of it, He is utterly reliable. The written Word of God is therefore the ultimate authority, from which there cannot be any appeal.

The holy Scripture is to be believed and obeyed, not because the church – or anyone else — says that it is God’s Word, but because it is God’s Word. The authors of this Confession recognized that the ultimate cannot depend on anything outside itself. To return to the analogy – the final judge in the dispute did not owe his credibility to the lesser judge who appealed to him. The authority of God’s Word likewise cannot rest on any kind of proof or validation outside itself. In the language of the next section, the Bible “evidences itself to be the Word of God.” If it did not, then nothing else could prove that it was, and we would be without a sure foundation for our faith and life.

THREE WITNESSES TO SCRIPTURE

Article 5: We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

A fundamental principle of Scripture is that facts must be established by witnesses. Most of the books of the Bible consist of eye-witness accounts (cf. Luke 1:1-4) The resurrection of Jesus is a fact established by many witnesses (I Cor. 15:4-6). Jesus defended his claim to be the Son of God by appealing to his works as witnessing to truth of his claim (John 10:25, 37-38). Viewed properly, these works represented the testimony of the Father (John 8: 16-18). In this section, the Confession sets forth three witnesses to the truth and authority of the Bible: the church, the Scripture itself, and the Holy Spirit of truth.

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture;

This is a careful and conservative statement of the church’s role as the “witness and keeper of holy writ” (to use a memorable phrase from the prayerbook). In the Protestant view, the church does not stand above the Scripture, deciding what is Scripture and what isn’t – nor alongside Scripture, as an equal authority – but under Scripture, subservient to its authority, bearing witness to its truth. The church rightly esteems the Scripture to be no less than the Word of the Living God. The credibility of the church as witness suffers when through unfaithfulness she fails to live consistently with her witness, but there has always been a godly remnant willing to shed its blood in martyrdom for the truth’s sake. This is the first witness – the holy catholic church.

and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God;

This beautiful and majestic passage hardly needs comment. It movingly sets forth the manifold internal evidences of the Divine origin and nature of holy Scripture. This is the second witness – the Scripture itself.

yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

The authors of the Confession exhibit a marvelous balance throughout the document. Here is an example of the way that they give due weight to both objective truth and subjective conviction. They maintain that Scripture fully evidences its own divinity and yet at the same time that the inward testimony of the Spirit of Truth is essential to our conviction. Thus, the Scripture stands on its own, but the work of the Spirit is fully honored.

Word and Spirit are never in conflict. The Word does not teach us to resist the Spirit, nor does the Spirit teach us to disobey the Word. Even the work of the Spirit in the heart of the believer is described as “bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts”. Neither the intellectual nor the emotional aspect of human nature is exalted at the expense of the other. This is the third witness – the Holy Ghost.

THE SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE

Article 6: The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

I have titled this installment “The Sufficiency Of Scripture”, but what does this expression mean? What is the Scripture sufficient for? Remember that the Confession earlier told us that Scripture was intended to “give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation”. For this, Scripture alone is sufficient. Whatever may be found lacking to this end in natural revelation, Scripture provides. There is no need for any other kind of revelation of equal or greater authority to supplement it. This is the doctrine often referred to as sola scriptura – scripture alone.

The doctrine was first enunciated in opposition to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the authority of the Church and to its doctrine of tradition, which Romanists use to justify imposing commandments that are not found in God’s word, and to defend practices which are contrary to God’s word.

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture:

This statement rests firmly upon the foundation of the doctrine of Scripture expounded in the previous sections of the Confession. It has already declared that Scripture is necessary, that it is a final and complete revelation, and that it possesses ultimate authority. This clause simply makes explicit an implication of those truths, and explains the precise relationship of the truth revealed to the written word.

Scripture reveals “the whole counsel of God”, but some things are explicit in it, and some are implicit. Not all that Scripture teaches is “expressly set down” in writing. Some truths are revealed as implications of what is written. This is extremely important. The writers of Scripture often draw logical conclusions based on particular texts, which they then enforce with the same authority as Scripture. (An example is Paul’s frequent use of the argument from the less to the greater “if… then how much more”.) God’s revelation is therefore more than the mere words of Scripture – it includes all those truths which “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced” from it. This makes possible a great variety of applications of Scripture, and also makes possible the systematization of the truth of Scripture (theology).

unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

This clause is connected with the last word of the previous clause, “scripture”. The Canonical Scripture is not subject to augmentation. The church will discover more accurate ways of expressing some of the doctrines of the Bible. She will discover implications of known truths that have not been noticed before. She will make new applications of truth to circumstances never encountered before. But she will never add to that deposit of truth “once-for-all committed to the saints”.

Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word;

Nevertheless” indicates an important qualification. The authors of the Confession wanted to make clear what they were not saying. The Scripture’s sufficiency does not preclude the necessity of the work of the Spirit. Objectively, it is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, but we as the subjects of revelation are not sufficient to understand it of ourselves. The Confession therefore acknowledges that each man must experience “the inward illumination of the Spirit of God” if he is to “savingly understand” the Word of God. Interpreting Scripture is not merely an exercise of the intellect, nor is learning the chief qualification to its proper understanding.

and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

This section then concedes that there are matters which the church must decide without specific commands from Scripture, and defines the areas where subjective judgment legitimately applies. Those aspects of worship and church government which the church has in common with other human societies, while always governed by “the general rules of the Word”, must also take into account “the light of nature and Christian prudence”.

Scripture is not exhaustive of all truth and wisdom. The light of nature has a role to play in the ordering of circumstances which are not unique to the worship and government of the church. There is a discretion granted to the rulers of the church which allows them to take into account the peculiar circumstances which might affect such things as the time of day when the church meets for a given purpose, the exact forms used for the appointed ceremonies of the church, how to structure its services, etc. Once again, Scripture is given to provide that necessary knowledge which would otherwise be inaccessible to us, not to prescribe every application of its truths, or to make the acquisition of other knowledge unnecessary.

Specifically, this section applies to church order, but the principle is broader than that, as the proof texts indicate. I Corinthians 11:13 is cited to show that Paul appeals to the law of nature in support of women wearing head coverings (The highlighted words are “is it comely”). Verse 14 of the same chapter is cited similarly, in which the apostle uses the phrase “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”

The Westminster divines clearly understood that an innate sense of propriety is an integral part of human consciousness. It is a part of “the law of God written on the heart”, or “conscience”. Cultural influences can obscure and confuse the conscience, and one can become so habituated to disregarding it that one is practically blind to moral issues, but the knowledge of right and wrong are ultimately ineradicable from the human soul. That is why even the most hardened sinners are susceptible to conviction of sin.

It is a truth of general application that Scripture does not restate everything that God has already revealed to mankind. Sola Scriptura cannot therefore legitimately be pressed so far that it negates the binding authority of natural revelation in those areas which Scripture does not address. Christians who claim that we are only morally bound to what is explicitly commanded in Scripture are therefore greatly mistaken.

THE CLARITY OF SCRIPTURE

Article 7: All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

The doctrine set forth here used to be called “the perspicuity of Scripture”, but “clarity” is the modern equivalent. While many Christians have never heard this term used to describe God’s word, it is a key concept that has been important in theological debate, and it is highly relevant to us all.

Plain speaking was once regarded as the mark of an honest man, and a virtue. The thinking was that the purpose of speaking or writing was not to deceive, but to impart truth. For this reason, one who spoke obscurely when he could have spoken clearly was regarded as dishonest. This is a sound principle, and it is unthinkable that God would give a revelation to men that was obscure. This would imply that either he was unable to communicate clearly, or that he did not really want us to know the truth – either of which is blasphemous.

But if the Bible is clear, then it must be accessible to people without special qualifications. Scripture should therefore be translated into the language of the people and made freely available to all. The Romanists claim that Scripture is too difficult for most people to interpret correctly, and insist that they alone are capable of interpreting the Scripture for the rest of us.

The section begins with a double disclaimer:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves,

It is not that there are no hard places in Scripture. Some obscurities arise because of our unfamiliarity with objects, customs and events that were familiar to the original readers of Scripture. Others result from our imperfect understanding of the original languages. Still others are difficult in themselves, as Peter said of “some things hard to be understood” in Paul’s writings. To say that Scripture is clear is not to say that all of it is equally clear.

nor alike clear unto all;

There is an advantage in learning. A scholar in the original languages of the Bible can easily resolve many of the difficulties we have as English readers. A Spiritual man is going to understand things that confound the carnal. It therefore becomes us to advance our own opinions with humility in due proportion to our attainments, and to respectfully listen to the teaching of those who have evidently devoted themselves to the prayerful study of God’s word for many years.

yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

There is a crucial distinction between those things that are essential to each individual’s personal salvation and those things that are not. There is nothing in the essential doctrines of the gospel too abstruse to be grasped by an intelligent child. But “a due use of the ordinary means” is expected of us. We may not be able to understand a given passage merely by reading it for ourselves. We may need to ask a more mature man of God, or listen to a sermon on the subject in order to grasp the teaching. Those who neglect these means run the risk of error, since their own perspective will be limited and flawed if not corrected by a broader exposure to the faith of the universal church.

THE TRANSMISSION OF SCRIPTURE

Article 8a: The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them.

I have chosen to handle this article in two parts, because the matters it addresses are of such great importance, and because the view taught here has fallen into disfavor in this age of theological Liberalism and Modernism. In this first part, I will address briefly the Westminster view of the authenticity of the original language texts. In the second, I will discuss the important subject of translation.

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them.

The main idea of this sentence is that the final court of appeal “in all controversies of religion” is the text of Scripture in the original Hebrew and Greek. Roman Catholic apologists sometimes insisted that the Latin Vulgate

was more authoritative than the originals because it was the “official” Bible of the church. This section makes clear the Protestant doctrine.

It asserts that the actual copies of the original-language Scriptures which the church uses as the final appeal in all controversies, and from which translations are made, are “authentical”. It does not distinguish between the “original autographs” and the Received Text because to the authors of the Confession it was unthinkable that there could be any significant difference between the two. The proof of this is that they rested the Scriptures’ authenticity upon two basic facts: Divine inspiration and providential preservation. The authenticity of the copies which the church has always relied upon and which it has deliberately chosen to copy does not depend on the dubious conclusions of Modern scholars, some thousand of years removed from the autographs, who in their arrogance imagine themselves capable of reconstructing the history of the text by digging through the wastebaskets of the ages. Rather, it rests upon the sure foundation of God’s “singular care and providence” by which the text has been “kept pure in all ages”.

We owe to the skeptical scholars of the Enlightenment the origin of the prevalent view that the Scriptures were significantly altered in the course of transmission through the ages and that the Received Text is the worst of all texts. The divines of the Westminster Assembly were convinced that God would not have given the Scriptures by a process which guaranteed their inerrancy, only to then abandon them to the vicissitudes of time and the malice of the Enemy. This would have defeated the very purpose of committing the scriptures to writing in the first place, which was ”…for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world” (See Lesson 1, “The Necessity of Scripture”)

Modern textual critics who insist that they must not let theological presuppositions interfere with their “objective and scientific” method, and that we must treat the Bible “the way we would any other ancient book” have largely succeeded in undermining confidence in the word of God. Instead of providing for “the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church”, they have created doubts in the minds of many whether we have a reliable word from God or not. The mind yearns for consistency, and one cannot consistently maintain a belief in verbal inspiration apart from a belief in the providential preservation of the original text. It is time to recognize Modernistic textual criticism for what it is – an attack upon the reliability, veracity and authority of God’s Holy Word.

THE TRANSLATION OF SCRIPTURE

Article 8b: But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the language of every people unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.

We have already looked into the first part of this section, which teaches that the extant faithful copies of the original-language texts are the final court of appeal in all controversies of religion. No translation – no matter how well-executed – can take the place of the originals. However, this does not mean that translations are useless. On the contrary, they are most necessary. The Protestant Reformation flourished as it produced faithful translations in the vernacular languages of the various European peoples. Here is the reason why a man like William Tyndale risked his life to bring the Bible to the English people in their own tongue:

But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the language of every people unto which they come,

The Westminster divines recognized that the Scriptures were given to the whole people of God – not just to the ministers of the church. By now it should be clear that the doctrines of the clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture are all interwoven with the Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of believers. This integrated doctrine of Scripture is the basis for Bible translation.

The argument proceeds on the double footing of rights and responsibilities. God’s people ”have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures”, which argues that the church must make them available “in the language of every people unto which they come”. The people also ”are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them”, not merely to listen to their teachers expound them. Ideally, each family should own a Bible, so that it can be read and studied in each home, every day.

that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner

Because the only acceptable way to worship God is in accord with his Word, it is requisite that every worshipper be well schooled in the Scriptures. God is to be worshipped “in truth” – that is, as he has revealed himself to be. Acceptable worship presupposes a correct understanding of the Scripture’s doctrine of God, man, sin and grace.

and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.

It is also fitting that all God’s people should have access to the comfort of Scripture, which lies chiefly in the sure and certain hope of eternal life, that they may learn to be patient in all their tribulations.

For all these reasons, the Scripture should be ”translated into the language of every people unto which they come”.

THE SELF-INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE

Article 9: The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself;

Because Scripture is the Word of God, it is unique in many respects. As the final and absolute authority, it cannot be authenticated by a higher authority: it is self-authenticating. Likewise, it is self-interpreting.

and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

This is related to the idea of the clarity of Scripture. If one place in Scripture is less than clear, another that speaks to the same subject with greater clarity can usually be found. The importance of a doctrine is generally reflected by a proportional number of places that set it forth. Thereby we are assured, for example, of what Paul meant when he spoke of “justification by faith”, for there are many parallel statements of the doctrine throughout his writings, as well as elsewhere in the Bible.

This doctrine, like many others, was developed in conscious opposition to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the authority of the church. The Reformers were accused of interpreting the Scripture in novel ways – to which they responded by quoting the Church Fathers. They were charged with opening the door to anarchy in the interpretation of the Word. To this they responded by articulating a method of interpretation drawn from the Bible itself. They claimed to be interpreting the Bible in the way that the writers of Scripture interpreted it. For example, Jesus and Paul referred to the Genesis accounts of creation and Noah’s flood in a way that shows they understood it to be literal history, so we should interpret it in the same way.

the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one)

One of the basic rules was the principle of “normal” interpretation – that the words of Scripture were whenever possible to be interpreted in the normal manner, according to the normal rules of language, as opposed to looking for allegories everywhere. Another rule was that each Scripture has a single meaning. Once that has been discovered, one cannot legitimately ascribe to it another meaning. That would be to make it a “nose of wax”, to be shaped by each interpreter according to his whim.

THE SUPREMACY OF SCRIPTURE

Article 10: The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined,

This article sums up the Westminster doctrine of Scripture with the affirmation of Scripture as the “Supreme Judge”. We have seen throughout this chapter the consistent assertion of Scripture as unique and ultimate – as the very Word of the Living God. We have seen that it is the unique, and therefore necessary revelation of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. We have seen that Scripture defines itself, interprets itself, witnesses to itself, authenticates itself. We have seen that God himself stands behind the Scripture, inspiring it, preserving it, guiding the church into the recognition of it and into the truth of it. We have seen that Scripture is abundantly sufficient for the purposes for which it was given. Now it is fitting that we pause and reflect upon its infinite supremacy over any other authority that can be named.

and all decrees of councils,

When there arose a question about the necessity of circumcision for Gentile converts in the early church, a council of church leaders was convened at Jerusalem to decide the issue for the peace and unity of the church. Under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, they ruled with wisdom. Thus a precedent was set for the settling of controversies in the church. But councils can err, and have erred. They have been known to contradict each other. The decrees of councils cannot be ultimate – Scripture alone can give the final word.

opinions of ancient writers

Among the ancients, there were many men of extraordinary learning, piety, eloquence, courage and genius. Men like Jerome and Augustine and Athanasius deserve to be honored for devoting their lives and considerable talents to the church of God. But gifted men are men still. And learned opinions are only opinions. God’s word judges all.

doctrines of men,

Theology is the “queen of the sciences”, a noble and necessary endeavor after the highest and most perfect understanding and articulation of the system of truth taught in Scripture. Theology gives us a language to use in speaking of the things taught in Scripture and helps us to define the inter-relationships and fine distinctions of truth. But the formulations of doctrine made by theologians have no authority of their own, for the doctrines of men are always and everywhere subject to the authority of holy writ.

and private spirits,

By this term is meant the individual interpreting the Scripture for himself in isolation from the church. To many, the Protestant doctrine of the right of private judgment becomes a license for doctrinal anarchy. The only thing worse than the tyranny of the one is the tyranny of the many. The man who exalts his own judgment in opposition to the historic doctrine of the church is not interpreting the Word, but perverting it. The prayerful study of Scripture does not lead to division, but to unity with the company of the faithful in all ages.

are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest,

Scripture stands over all these things as the final and un-challengable authority.

can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

For it is the medium chosen and created for the conveyance of God’s message to mankind. The written Word is the perfect expression of the mind of the Holy Spirit. By it, the Spirit reveals the incarnate Word, speaking to men with resurrection power, bestowing life upon whom He will.

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