Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 1 of 10:
1. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience 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 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 afterward 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 Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 2:14,15; Psalms 19:1-3; Hebrews 1:1; Proverbs 22:19-21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19,20)
The Confession is a document that is very rich in meaning; this is accomplished by the economic use of words. The dense meaning can make interpretation a challenge, requiring us to slow down and pay attention. For example, in the first statement the Confession, we are immediately confronted with this statement: The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. There is a lot of meaning packed into these words. Sometimes I find that diagraming statements can help one to better understand it. Diagraming helps to assure that one is properly considering the arrangement, function, and relationship of each word within the sentence. Here is my diagram of the first statement in the Confession:
From this diagram, we can see the subject is Scripture and the object is rule. This helps to see the core meaning so we do not lose sight of it: Scripture is the rule. So let’s move through this statement slowly.
We see that Scripture is holy, which means “set apart” or “other than.” We understand then that Scripture is set apart from other writings. The Scriptures are sacred and thus the title The Holy Bible is a fitting one.
Further, the Holy Scripture is the rule. The word rule refers to a standard of measurement. Just as a measuring ruler is the standard we use to measure and judge the size of physical objects, so Holy Scripture is the rule or standard by which we judge particular things. What things? Holy Scripture is the rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience; we will get to each of these words in a moment. What kind of rule is the Bible? It is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule; we will also get to these words in a moment.
Holy Scripture is the only. The word only is an exclusive word and it serves the purpose of excluding the rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience to the Scriptures alone. By the use the word only, we are reminded of the doctrine of sola scriptura (Latin for ‘Scripture alone’). This entire chapter teaches the Reformation principle of Scripture alone. Only compliments (i.e. adds enriching meaning) to each of the following words, sufficient, certain and infallible. This whole phrase is related to the word rule. We could expand out the phrase to say, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, only certain, and only infallible rule.”
Sufficient means “of a quality, extent or scope adequate to a certain purpose or object.”The Bible has a particular aim or object, and it fully accomplishes it. Sufficient, in this context, does not mean merely adequate. Samuel Waldron helpfully states:
- It is often said that the Scriptures are sufficient for showing us the way of salvation. This is liable to be misunderstood today because of the minimizing mentality abroad, which is intent on reducing the way of salvation to its barest elements. It surely must be clear that such an understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture is a deviation from the historic Reformation understanding articulated in the Westminster Confession. “All things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life” is far more than the “Four Spiritual Laws.” It is nothing less than sufficiency for the redemption of man both individually and corporately in the whole ethical and religious sphere of life that is asserted.
Isaiah 55:10-11 speaks to the issue of the sufficiency of God’s Word:
- “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)
Thus far in our analysis, the Confession states: The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient… rule for all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.
This begs the question, “If the Bible is the only sufficient… rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience, are there things for which it is insufficient?” Yes. Waldron states:
- “The Bible is not “omni-sufficient.” It is not “all-sufficient” for every conceivable purpose. The Scriptures, for instance, are not sufficient as a textbook for math, biology or Spanish. The sufficiency of the Scriptures does not mean they are all we need for the purpose of learning geometry or algebra.”
The Bible is not only sufficient for its aim, but it is also certain. The word certain is defined as “sure, unerring, not liable to fail, to be depended upon, wholly trustworthy or reliable.” Indeed, the Bible is certain. It is sure; it is a firm foundation. It is the only certain… rule. We can and should build our lives upon its certainty. Jesus said:
- “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matt 7:24-27 (ESV)
I am reminded of the first stanza of “How Firm a Foundation”
- How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
- Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
- What more can He say than to you He has said,
- To you, who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, only certain… rule. It is also the only… infallible… rule. This is the third and last word the Confession uses to modify the word “rule.” The word infallible is defined as “incapable of error.” It is compatible with our modern word inerrancy. The belief that the Bible is incapable of error has been attacked over the last one hundred and twenty-five years or so. In the modern era these attacks have become sophisticated. The Bible, however, has stood up against all of the attempts to discredit it; none of attacks on it have been able to show that the Bible is in error; the reason for this is that there are no errors since it’s author is incapable of error (Isaiah 40:8). The Bible is the only sufficient, [only] certain, and [only] infallible Rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
Having commented on the nature of the rule of Scripture, we now discuss what the Scriptures are the rule of. The Holy Scripture is the only… rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. This further implies that since the Bible is the only rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience, then all saving knowledge and obedience are found only there. While the previous only serves to exclude all other rules (i.e. measure of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience), all serves to show that everything needed for salvation is in the Bible.
The word saving modifies and clarifies the phrase knowledge, faith and obedience (i.e. saving knowledge, saving faith, and saving obedience). Saving refers to salvation of course, but salvation from what, or who? It is salvation from God.
Please allow me to digress slightly; let’s consider what saving ultimately refers to. We use the term “saved” often; we may forget what it is referring to. Truly, if we consider salvation down to its most raw form, it is God that we are saved from? We often refer to salvation “from sin”, or “from hell”, but these are all secondary threats to us. God himself is our greatest threat. What did Jesus tell us? “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell” (Luke 12:5 ESV). Perhaps the criminal should not fear jail so much as the judge who can determine the length of the imprisonment. God will cast the sinner he has not pardoned into hell, and thus it is God who is the greatest threat to the sinner; it is God whom we have provoked, to his face no less, with our sin. To be saved is to be saved from God, the judge of all. We need to remember that hell is a place where God personally pours out his wrath upon the unrepentant sinner. Hell is not some kind of Deistic automatic mechanism where sinners are punished while God turns his face and walks away.
When we think of salvation as being saved from God himself, we realize that the glory of the gospel is this: we are saved from God, by God, for God. Is that not profound to consider? Of course, salvation is not just being saved from something (God’s direct and personal wrath against us), but it is being saved to something (ultimately for God himself).
But getting back to the Confession itself; of ultimate importance is the fact that the Bible is the only source of saving knowledge. When it comes to all saving knowledge, Scripture provides the knowledge needed for salvation. Consider this passage: “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15 ESV). Knowledge is required in order to be saved, but what kind of knowledge? Well, the answer is saving knowledge. What is that? The knowledge that saves is the knowledge of the gospel. Of course, mere knowledge of the gospel does not save us; we will get to that shortly. The Confession states then: The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, [only]certain, and [only] infallible rule of all saving knowledge.
Does knowledge of the gospel save you? No, but when saving faith is exercised with saving knowledge it does. We are justified by faith alone, not by knowledge alone. The knowledge or wisdom referred to in Second Timothy did not save Timothy, but it made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Confession states: The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, [only]certain, and [only] infallible rule of all saving… faith. Rather than expand in detail upon what saving faith is, we will have to save that (no pun intended) for chapter 14, Of Saving Faith. Needless to say, we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works (Eph.2:8).
There is no need to get hung up on the phrase saving obedience, as if the Confession is promoting works based salvation. A well balanced view of salvation is one that understands that the purpose for which God saved us is not only to be saved from his wrath and from sin and death, but also that we might be holy (i.e. walk in obedience). The Bible tells us, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4 ESV). We know that we are saved by faith alone, but the caveat is that saving faith is not alone. In other words, saving faith will be followed by saving obedience. Obedience does not save us, but obedience indicates something saving exists in us. But saving obedience is a little more than that. To be saved from sin is not just to be saved from its punishment, but to be saved from it. It is to get sin out of us, not just forensically, in justification, but practically–resulting in actual measureable obedience. This is of course the work of the Spirit and not the flesh, but make no mistake, we are involved and it is work. The Scriptures tell us to train ourselves for godliness. Paul said he buffeted his body. So this saving obedience is no mere passive event in our lives.
Perhaps Ephesians 2:8-9 sum this saving faith and saving obedience best: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”(Eph 2:8-10 ESV). We are saved by grace, through faith; we also grow in sanctification. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3a ESV). Salvation is something that has happened, is happening, and will happen. We are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Again, salvation is not merely justification (we are saved), but a whole process by which we die more and more unto sin and live more and more unto righteousness (we are being saved), and thus saving obedience refers to sanctification. We will be saved, refers to glorification. The consummation of salvation is when we will be made perfect in holiness, and our bodies will be raised incorruptible and will be united to our souls at the Last Resurrection.
In chapter 16, Of Good Works, it is made clear that the rule of all obedience is to be found in the Word of God alone. The Bible gives us sound, objective, and measurable standards of obedience to God. Some people would prefer a vague and subjective measurement of obedience, but surely it is up to God to decide how we are obey him; all that is left for us to do is to obey. So having hopefully established what saving obedience is, we see that the Confession is saying: The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, [only] certain, and [only] infallible rule of all saving knowledge, [saving] faith, and [saving] obedience.
The Baptist Catechism sums it up this way:
- 4. Q. What is the word of God?
- 4. A. The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, and the only certain rule of faith and obedience.
The Baptist Catechism also states:
- 6. Q. What things are chiefly contained in the holy scriptures?
- 6. A. The holy scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man.
These are helpful questions and answers that instruct in Bible doctrine with succinct and accurate statements; these are worthy of memorizing.
The Confession continues in paragraph 1:1: 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;
The next section is a comparison of sorts. Having covered what the Bible is sufficient for, we now see the insufficiency of natural revelation, also known as general revelation. We will go over these terms in a moment.
What does the light of nature mean[*]? Let’s break down the phrase. Light refers to knowledge, not physical light. Nature refers to things that are natural, versus supernatural. We are talking about knowledge that is natural, i.e. knowledge gained by natural means, and not by supernatural means (i.e. The Spirit’s inspiration of the Word of God). The light of nature is natural revelation, also known as, general revelation. Revelation refers to the unveiling of hidden things or mysteries. There are two types of revelation, natural revelation (or general revelation) and special revelation. We will talk about both of these as we continue. For now let’s look at natural revelation, which we will refer to by its more common terminology–general revelation.
Paul talks about natural or general revelation in Romans 1:
- For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20
This passage tells us that God has made plain to mankind two of his invisible attributes, through the creation of the world, and in all the things he has created. These make plain God’s eternal power and his divine nature; these attributes are clearly perceived. God has shown it to them! This is revelation and it is transmitted by God in nature (creation). This revelation is clear and plain as to whom the audience is: all mankind. The clarity of the revelation renders mankind without excuse due to their utter failure to worship God first and God alone. Romans here explains that the role of the works of creation is the manifesting, or revealing certain attributes of God, and in serving as a rule or standard by which to render man without excuse. Notice, general revelation is a rule of judgment, whereas Scripture is a rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
R. C. Sproul gives us this helpful statement about general revelation:
- “General revelation, unlike special revelation, comes to us basically through nature and is called general for two reasons. First, the audience is general; God gives knowledge of himself universally, so that every human has this revelation, which is built into nature. Second, the content of general revelation gives us a knowledge of God in general. It reveals that he is eternal; it reveals his power, deity, and holiness. General revelation, however, does not disclose God’s way of salvation. The stars do not reveal the ministry of Christ. In fact, general revelation reveals just enough knowledge of God to damn us, to render us without excuse.” R.C. Sproul 
General revelation also comes to us through God’s works of providence. How does providence manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God? God’s works of providence are a result of something that happened first, namely, God’s eternal decrees. How so? Before God acts, he first issues decrees. Before God made creation, he decreed that he would do it. As will be stated in chapter three, Of God’s Decrees, and in Chapter five, Of God’s Providence, the first cause of everything that God does is his eternal decree. The decrees of God are of fundamental importance to understanding a theology that is truly Biblical.
The Baptist Catechism states:
- 10. Q. What are the decrees of God?
- 10. A. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:4, 11; Rom. 9:22-23; Is. 46:10; Lam. 3:37).
We see this evidenced in passages like these:
- “He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Eph 1:5 (ESV)
- “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Eph 1:11 (ESV)
Although these passages refer to the decree of election, it demonstrates that his decrees come before the execution of the decrees. All his works are done by the counsel of his will. Thus we see that God does not act “on the fly”, but he acts according to his counsel, or decree. God’s actions are the carrying out or execution of his counsel or decree, which is referred to as providence. The Baptist Catechism states how God’s decrees are executed (i.e. carried out):
- 11. Q. How doth God execute his decrees?
- 11. A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.
The Baptist Catechism then elaborates in questions 12-13 what the works of creation are, namely, the making of creation including mankind. And then we see in question 14 a description of the works of providence:
- 14. Q. What are God’s works of providence?
- 14. A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, (Ps. 145:17;) wise (Is. 28:29, Ps. 104:24), and powerful preserving (Heb. 1:3) and governing all his creatures, and all their actions (Ps. 103:19; Mt. 10:29, 30, 31).
The catechism tells us that God provides for his creation. Providence is the second cause. But the first cause is God’s decree. Every action of God follows a decree. Providence is the provision or PROVIDEnce for what God decreed. Since providence is the action of God in carrying out his decree, providence reveals something of God’s character. It reveals not only God’s action but something of his decree. It manifests his goodness, wisdom, and power. For example, in the study of history, we are studying God’s providential acts of goodness, wisdom and power as we see it carried out in his-story. This brings out the best reason of all to study history; the glorification of God by the carrying out of his decrees in providence.
Again, we will cover further God’s decrees in chapter three, and providence in chapter five, but for now we are in the middle of paragraph one dealing with the limitation of general revelation, compared to the sufficiency of Scripture to reveal God’s will for salvation.
While natural revelation (general revelation) has limits, it also has benefits. And though it is general, it is still nonetheless truly revelation from God, and thus it has value. Its value is not of a saving quality, but it is of a revealing (God has shown them) and judging quality (they are without excuse for not honoring God). It is also a revelation that glorifies God, and leads God’s children to rejoice and give thanks for his wonderful works. “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” Psalms 92:5 (ESV)
We see in this verse of Psalm 92 that God’s works are great; this causes us to praise God. We also see that his great works cause us to marvel at his very deep thoughts and counsels that bring forth such works. In the end, God’s works do not reveal to us what God’s very deep thoughts are; that is the role of special revelation.
So, what is special revelation? Special revelation is supernatural (i.e. the Holy Spirit’s work of inspiration in the writing of Scripture). In special revelation the audience is specific and the content is specific. The specific audience is the Church. The specific content explains how creation came about, its purpose (general revelation could never do that), the meaning of God’s acts of providence (general revelation also could not do that), and God’s will for our salvation. Using general revelation, we deduct what God is doing, or at least try, but in special revelation, God explicitly explains what his actions mean. Special revelation tells of redemption through God’s only Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Special revelation is inscripturated in the Word of God of the Old and New Testaments.
The Confession continues, yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. The limitation of general revelation is that it cannot reveal what matters the most (or should) to fallen humanity. It cannot give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. General revelation cannot give saving knowledge of the gospel. The lost sinner cannot deduce from general revelation anything about the gospel. This point is covered in more detail in the Confession in chapter 21, Of the Gospel and the Extent of Grace Thereof. This makes the preaching of the gospel essential.
Along these lines, I see Christians who are scientists trying to demonstrate how creation teaches us about the gospel, but they are in error. In reality, what they are doing is taking special revelation from Scripture and reading it back into creation, but creation itself actually does not reveal gospel truths. Once you know the truth it is easy to think you see clues of it throughout creation. General revelation was never intended to communicate the gospel, and so it would do us well to not spend time looking for special revelation in general revelation.
I read a booklet some time ago which discussed how the gospel was revealed in a blade of grass. I do not remember what the connection was that they had in mind, but it was a case of taking special revelation and applying onto general revelation. Why spend the time looking for the gospel in a blade of grass, when we are told in Isaiah that the grass withers (Is. 40:8), but the Word of God stands forever?
If the special revelation in Scripture had not been given, man would never be able to discover the mystery of the gospel, for it was hidden until it was God’s time to reveal it. Now that it is revealed, let’s not look for it anywhere else but in the Word of God.
- “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” Romans 16:25-27 (ESV)
Some might argue that Jesus used creation to explain the Kingdom of God, but that is not the case. Jesus used creation analogies in his parables to explain the gospel of the kingdom of God, but these were similes, parables, and allegories, and if Jesus had not added his explanations to the analogies then the meaning of the parables would be unknown. Jesus’ explanation of the earthly comparison was the special revelation, not the earthly comparison. Jesus–the great Teacher–knows that to educate someone about unknowns, you must build the known to get them to the unknown. Surely this is one of the reasons he employed earthy parables to get to hevenly truths.
In the book, The Shack, an attempt is made to say that God speaks (i.e. reveals Himself and truth) through art, music and other such human or natural works, but this is an error than can lead to doctrinal problems. It is looking for special revelation in all the wrong places. It is a category error related to revelation, and it leads to a false reliance upon imagined inner revelation which is based upon mere subjective impressions and emotions. Further, it undermines the sufficiency of Scripture, which is the only sufficient, certain and infallible Rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
The Confession now gives us a rather long sentence of the remaining portion of paragraph one:
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 afterward 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 Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
Therefore points back to the fact that general revelation is not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. As a result of this insufficiency, it pleased the Lord… to reveal himself and to declare that his will unto his church.
The Confession indicates that it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself and to declare his will to the church. At sundry times means God spoke in various portions, degrees, and with diversity of genre (i.e. the Law, Prophets, Psalms) about himself and his will for the church. I think that the NASB does a better job in its translation than the KJV here in these three words (“at sundry times” KJV). NASB says, “in many portion”, which I think is more precise. I would encourage the reader to study carefully Hebrews 1:1-2a, as there is a great deal of meaning there. It is hard to unpack it briefly here. In divers manners means, he transmitted the special revelation in various modes.
What are those modes? In David Dickson’s book, Truth’s Victory over Error, he asks: “What were the sundry times and divers manners?” He answers the question by covering 6 modes of revelation God used in the past. We do not have the space here to review each mode, but this list is helpful and the references provided allow for further study:
- By inspiration (2 Chron. 15:1; 2 pet. 1:21)
- By visions (Num. 12:6-8)
- By dreams (Job 33:14-16; Gen. 40:8)
- Urim and Thummim (Num. 27:21; 1 Sa. 30:7-8)
- By signs (Gen. 32:24-32; Exod. 13:21)
- By audible voice (Exod. 20:1, Gen. 22:15)
Dickson then adds, “All which do end in writing (Exod. 17:14), which is a most sure and infallible way of the Lord’s revealing his will unto his people.”  This is an excellent statement summing up much of our current paragraph in the Confession.
It pleased the Lord… to reveal himself. Had God not bent low and condescended to reveal himself, what would we know of God? Further, it pleased the Lord… to declare that his will to his church. God has graciously declared his will to his church, and for this we are grateful. When and how has he declared his will to his church? As it says in Hebrews 1:1-2a, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV). Christ is the culmination of revelation to his church, but revelation to his church started “long ago” (long before Christ’s ministry).
There is a word in the phrase, it pleased the Lord… to declare that his will to his church, which seems odd to me, and perhaps also to other modern readers. It is the word ‘that’. I spent quite some time trying to make sense of this oddly placed word. It probably seems odd only us modern readers. After spending more time than I care to admit trying to make some sense out of this word placed just so, I finally found what I believe to be the solution. It seems to be an echo of a previous clause. I refer to, yet are they [general revelation] not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of his will which is necessary unto salvation. This previous clause seems to make use of an ellipsis (the omitting of a word or words, previously used which are inferred, thus omitting unnecessary words). If I remove the ellipsis, then the phrase would state this: that knowledge of God and that knowledge of his will which is necessary unto salvation. Clearly there is a concept parallel between the two clauses cited. The phrase that his will is surely a textual marker, pointing back to that knowledge of his will (that knowledge of being an ellipsis). The challenge initially of finding what ‘that’ was pointing back to was the fact that its referent was partially hidden behind the ellipsis.
This graphic may help to point out the parallel concepts and words between the two clauses discussed.
The significance of the clause, “it pleased the Lord to reveal himself and to declare that his will,” pointing back to the prior clause, “yet they are insufficient to give that knowledge of God and that knowledge of his will unto salvation,” is that it highlights the fact that it pleased the Lord to reveal what was needed for salvation, since general revelation did not.
There is another important word for us to consider in the clause: it pleased the Lord… to declare that his will to his church. The word is church. We should not import our own definition of ‘church’, or even a denotative definition (dictionary definition) if we expect to understand the Confession’s use of church. To find the sense the Confession is using of the word, we must find the connotative meaning (i.e. the meaning as used in its own context). We are fortunate, because the Confession itself tells us what it means by the word church. Thus, we can be confident that the use of the word ‘church’ throughout the Confession is consistent with its own definition, unless otherwise stated. This is important since the word ‘church’ is used 55 times throughout the Confession.
Here is the Confession’s use of the word found in chapter 26, Of the Church in paragraph one, of fifteen:
- “The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Chapter 26:1.
- “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.” Chapter 7:3
- “The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.” Chapter 11:6
So when the Confession refers to the church, it is referring to God’s elect from the Old Testament time as well as the New Testament. The 1689 Confession is not a dispensational document; it is a covenantal document. All of God’s covenants are of grace, both the old covenant and the new, if there was no grace there could be no salvation for any of Adam’s fallen race. We will get to more on that in a future chapter.
The reason it is essential to understand how the Confession uses the “church” is because of the time reference given for the special revelation. The Confession states:”Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church;” If you limit your understanding of the church to the New Testament time and forward, you may find yourself a bit confused as to what time frame the sundry times are speaking of. The Confession quotes from Hebrews 1:1 as we said, and there we see the time frame referenced as “long ago.” Therefore, the time frame when God revealed himself and declared his will unto the church extended as far back as revelation started, thus implying he revealed himself and declared his will to the Old Testament church as well as the New Testament church, “The… church… consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof” (26:1). “The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament” (11:6).
The Confession is saying that since general revelation is insufficient to bring the knowledge needed for salvation, therefore it pleased the Lord to reveal himself and his will long ago at many times and in many ways to his universal church (i.e. the elect of the Old and New Testaments), and to commit it unto writing. To further support my point, we should remind ourselves that God was the first one to commit his revelation to writing using his own finger on Mount Sinai; then Moses continued to write the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament). Thus revelation was committed to writing well before the New Testament. The reasons it was committed to writing are about to be discussed.
The Confession indicates and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth. The words and afterward connects this current parenthetical phrase (i.e. for the better preserving and propagating of the truth) to the previous “it pleased the Lord…to reveal himself and his will” and with the latter clause (i.e. to commit the same wholly unto writing). “It pleased the Lord” is omitted (an ellipsis), but could be placed between ‘and’ and ‘afterwards’. The result would be this, “It pleased the Lord… to reveal himself and to declare that his will to his church, and it pleased the Lord afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth…to commit it wholly unto writing.
The benefit of having the revelation written is that it better preserves the truth. Having it in writing also better propagates (meaning promotes) the truth. A modern example might be that the Gideon’s; the Gideon’s cannot leave a person in every hotel room, but they can leave the written revelation there. We could list many such benefits to inscripturated revelation. We also might note that in God’s wisdom, we have many copies of the original autographs of the Bible and copies of those copies. Humanly speaking, it might seem like it would be more reliable to have the original autographs, but in this way God has made the Scriptures virtually indestructible in terms of the physical copies. It would take a world-wide simultaneous effort to actually destroy every Bible, and every manuscript, but even then some people would likely hide copies which could be published at a later time. The Bible has fully preserved and propagated the truth over the ages; it has preserved and propagated the truth despite all the attacks upon it. This section described the benefits to the truth being committed to writing.
God also committed the revelation to writing for the benefit of the church. The Confession states, 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 it wholly unto writing. I believe we have another ellipsis in the omitting of “it pleased the Lord” after ‘and’ and before “for the more…” just as in the previous statement. So we could replace the ellipsis and it would read like this: “It pleased the Lord… to reveal himself and to declare that his will to his church, and it pleased the Lord, for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church…, to commit it wholly unto writing. The replacing of the ellipsis helps me retain the structure of meaning which otherwise might get lost.
Here the Confession states that that the Holy Scripture provides for a more sure establishment (meaning, a strengthening or support ) of the church against her three enemies. Spurgeon calls these three enemies “the horrible trinity of the world.” In addition to a more sure establishment, it provides a more sure comfort of the church so that she may better guard against the horrible trinity of the world.
The corruption of the flesh is the first aspect the Bible helps the church to fight against. The corruption in this world, the corruption in the wicked, and even the remaining corruption in those who are regenerate is a power to be reckoned with, and as such can hardly be over emphasized. To ignore this battle front is to lose not just the battle, but also the war. Can we over emphasize the value of God’s Word in fighting against the corruption of the flesh? No we cannot; if we do not wield the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), we cannot advance in the battle against the corruption of the flesh. But the Confession does not just refer to the more sure establishing… of the church against the corruption of the flesh, but the Bible also provides for the more sure…comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh.
In regards to the second aspect of this horrible trinity, the Confession refers to the malice of Satan. It is interesting that the Confession did not just refer to Satan as a person, or as an enemy, but to the malice of Satan. We should never ignore the malice of Satan towards Christ’s bride. Malice means: “The desire to injure another person; active ill-will or hatred.” Scripture is full of the mention of Satan’s hatred towards the church, and we would be naïve to ignore it.
How did Jesus deal with the malice of Satan? Jesus used God’s word to counter Satan’s words. Jesus said, “It is written” and cited Scripture to fight Satan. This is how we also are to fight the malice of Satan. The Confession reminds us that God gave us the Holy Scriptures for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the malice of Satan.
The word malice also applies to the world. The third part of the horrible trinity is the malice of the world. As if the church did not have enough on her hand, she also has to contend with the malice of the world. Using our previous definition, it would do us well to remember that the world hates and kills the servants of God, of whom the world is not worthy (Heb. 11:38a). To be friends with the world is to forget who you belong to; it is to cease to be a friend with God. The world is God’s enemy, and it should be ours as well. Why do we try to be friendly with a worldly system that hates us and is full of malice towards us? We must remember the malice of the world, and make use of the Bible to fight it; God gave it to us to firmly establish and comfort the church.
Take a moment to read where we are in our progress through the last part of paragraph one:
- “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 afterward 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;”
Since general revelation is insufficient to give us the knowledge of God and his will for our salvation, therefore, it pleased the Lord…to reveal himself and his will to his church, and…to commit the same wholly unto writing. Again, we come to an ellipsis in the omission of “it pleased the Lord.” The ellipsis goes after the word ‘and’ and before the words ‘to commit’. Thus without the omission of the ellipsis it would state: “It pleased the Lord… to reveal himself and to declare that his will to his church, and it pleased the Lord to commit the same wholly unto writing.” The words the same refer back to the revelation in God’s revealing himself and declaring his will to his church. By the use of the word wholly, are we to conclude that all of the revelation God ever revealed to the church (the Old and New Testaments) was written down?
Samuel Waldron states: “It is not that everything once revealed is written, but that everything now revealed is written. The redemptive revelation contained in the Bible is an accurate and sufficient epitome of the whole of redemptive revelation.” I do not believe the framers of the Confession would have us to press the word wholly too far. The context of this statement must be considered in this paragraph, and that context is that the Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. In that sense, all his revelation unto salvation is present in the Bible.
The Confession continues by stating, which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary.” This last clause is related to the reasons above that God committed his revelation to writing (for the truth and for the church). We could sum up the last part of the paragraph this way: Since general revelation is insufficient to reveal God’s will for our salvation, the Lord was pleased to reveal his will for our salvation, and after doing so, the Lord committed it to writing so that the truth could be better preserved and promoted and so the church could be better equipped to fight against the corruptions she is exposed to. For all these above reasons, it makes the Scriptures necessary. There is however one last reason the Scriptures is most necessary, and that is to follow momentarily.
David Dickson asks:
- Is the Holy Scripture most necessary to the Church? Yes. (2 Timothy 3:15, 2 Peter 1:19)
He then answers:
- Well then, doth not the popish church err that affirms the “true church to be infallible in teaching and propounding articles of faith, without and against Scripture: and that their unwritten traditions are of divine and equal authority with the canon of Scripture? Yes. Because unwritten traditions are subject and liable to many corruptions and are soon and quickly forgotten.
The Confession ends this paragraph by stating: those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. For this reason also, the Scriptures are most necessary.
The former ways God revealed himself and his will to the church have now ceased and something better has come in its place. The former ways have ceased, and so this makes the Scriptures most necessary.
Despite this truth, many people still seem to prefer the “former ways”, or at least what they perceive as the former ways. They believe God speaks privately in the form of personal revelation. This is a serious error which leads to many difficulties both personally corporately in the body of Christ. One such problem is that it leads to the undervaluing God’s written Word. As a former Pentecostal/Charismatic, I could elaborate on that, but I will not, as that would lead to a digression.
This has been a very long commentary and for a good reason; what follows in the chapters of Confession are founded upon the view that the Confession establishes here. It is the view that only Scripture is sufficient to reveal God’s will for our salvation, and that creation and providence are insufficient for such a task; further, God has determined it better for the truth and his church that his special revelation be written. These are foundational concepts and truths. These will continue to be hammered out in the next nine paragraphs of chapter one.
This concludes the commentary on Chapter 1, Paragraph 1 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
 1689 adds this wording; it is not in the Westminster Confession or the Savoy Declaration. The original source is presumably the 1677 meeting with Collins.
 Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford, Oxford University Press): “The OED [Oxford English Dictionary] is an indispensable tool for determining the seventeenth-century meaning of English words. This, and not the modern meaning of the words of the Confession, is our first interest. The question is that of authorial intent, a concern which has vanished to an alarming degree in our post-modern world.” This is quoted from Robert Martin in his essay entitled The Second London Confession on the Doctrine of Scripture: An Exposition of Chapter 1: “Of the Holy Scriptures” (Part 1), Reformed Baptist Theological Review, Vol. IV No. 1, pg. 61. We will make well use of this dictionary as we go through the study.
 Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Darlington, England, Evangelical Press), pg. 43. This Westminster Confession wording is used by the 1689 Confession, chapter 1, paragraph 6.
 Ibid., pg.43.
 Oxford English Dictionary, (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
[*] There is another Baptist confession not so far removed from the time frame of the Confession; I found it helpful in looking at the meaning of the light of nature in man. Article thirty-seven of the Orthodox Creed (not to be confused with the ancient orthodox creeds) states: “Nor yet do we believe, that the works of creation, nor the law written in the heart, viz.natural religion, as some call it, or the light within man, as such, is sufficient to inform man of Christ the Mediator, or of the way to salvation, or eternal life by him;” This was written after the 1689 Baptist Confession (written in 1677), but it provides perhaps additional insight by its re-articulation of the Confession we are studying.
 R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (New Jersey, P&R Publishing), Volume 1, pg. 6-7.
 Paul Young, The Shack (Windblown Media: 2007). This book is full of bad doctrine and heresy despite its popularity among Evangelicals. One of the many problems with this book is that he seeks to minimize the nature of special revelation in the Bible and exaggerate the nature of general revelation. Once one does this, one may begin to confuse categories by claiming to receive special revelation from silly places and of the silliest kind. The exact reference above is found on page 200, in which Sarayu (a ghostly Asian woman who represents the Holy Spirit), states: “Of course. You might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in creation, or in joy and sorrow. My ability to communicate is limitless, living and transforming, and it will always be tuned to Papa’s goodness and love. And you will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship—a way of coming to be with us.” Young further claims that people put God in a box (page 67-68) by believing that special revelation is found only in the Bible, thus in Young’s mind the need exists for Christians to look for God in other places beside just the Holy Scripture; apparently they should also look for revelation in a Shack (or in The Shack). The careful observers will note that what Young does is minimize the Bible and maximize his book, so that his readers will find revelation in The Shack. If you are interested, I have written a critique of The Shack, found here: www.theshackled.wordpress.com.
David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 4-5…This book is especially relevant for our study of the 1689 Confession because this book is one of the oldest commentaries on the Westminster Confession, being first published in 1684. This puts us fairly close to the time frame that the 1647 when the Westminster Confession was written and thus gives us a contemporary lens in which to view the wording of the Confession.
 Oxford English Dictionary, “A means of establishing; something that strengthens, supports, or corroborates.”
 C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, July 25, Morning.
 Oxford English Dictionary
 Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Evangelical Press, Darlington, England: 1989), pg. 32-33.
David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 2-3
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 2 of 10:
2. Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these:
OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation.
All of which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life (2 Timothy 3:16).
This section of the 1689 Confession is rather straightforward. Having defined the Word of God, it is important to state which books are the Word of God or canonical (I will cover later what ‘canon’ means). This list of canonical books implies that all other books are non-canonical, including the books the Roman Catholic Church wrongly accepts as canonical. Those books are called the Apocrypha (the Confession will specifically cover that in a later paragraph).
From the outset, the 1689 Confession is settling matters of authority; this is necessary. If you are going to make a claim of authoritative truth, as the Confession does (based upon Scripture), the source of that truth must be made clear.
The Confession states that all of these books are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life. One of the key Scriptural references for this statement is found in 2 Timothy:
- All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
R.C. Sproul states what is meant by the inspiration of God. “When Paul says that all Scripture is inspired, or God- breathed, he is technically saying that Scripture is breathed out of the mouth of God, where it originates.”
It follows that since these books are the Word of God and thus given by inspiration (straight out of the mouth of God), they are thus the rule of faith and life. In other words, they are the standard (rule) for what we should believe (faith), and how we are to live (life). This phrase, the rule of faith and life is not a new statement or idea in the Confession, but rather a reiteration in short form of the phrase from paragraph one, which states that the Scriptures are the “rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.”
As we pointed out in the last paragraph, this truth is stated in Baptist Catechism 6:
- 6.Q. What things are chiefly contained in the holy scriptures?
- 6.A. The holy scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man (2 Tim. 1:13; 3:15,16).
 1689 and Savoy add this to the WCF.
 R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (New Jersey, P&R Publishing), Volume 1, pg. 11.
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 3 of 10:
3. The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine , inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings. (Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 3:2 )
The Roman Catholic Church holds the Apocryphal books to be canonical. They are books written during the Inter-Testamental period. Books of the Apocrypha are:
- I Esdras, II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The rest of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah, The Song of the Three holy Children, The History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, I Maccabees and II Maccabees.
Protestants do not hold these books to be inspired for good reason. For one, there are inaccuracies in history and other areas that show them to be fallible. They do not have the marks of inspired. There are errors and citations that contradict the word of God.
The 1689 states: “Therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings.”
It is not to say that the Apocrypha has no value historically, culturally, or literary speaking. The 1689 Confession is NOT saying that the Apocrypha or any other human books are not to be read, or that they have no value. Humans books are not sufficient, certain or infallible as a rule of saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
Here is a word about the canon of Scripture from James White that is very useful:
- “Canon refers to a standard or rule. In this case, the rule, standard or canon refers to which books are inspired or God breathed. Which writings are inspired and which ones are not.”
- “The canon is a function of the Scripture themselves. The canon is not just a listing of books; it is a statement about what is inspired. The canon flows from the work of the author of Scripture, God Himself. To speak of the canon outside of speaking of what “God-breathed” is to speak nonsense. Canon is not made by man. Canon is made by God. It is the result of the action of His divine inspiration. That which is God-breathed is canon; that which is not God-breathed is not canon. It’s just that simple. Canon is a function of inspiration, and it speaks to an attribute of Scripture.”
- “The Roman error lies in creating a dichotomy between two things that cannot be separated, and then using that false dichotomy to deny sola Scriptura.” “Often two separate but related issues get confused when this topic is discussed: (1) the canon’s nature, and (2) how people came to know the contents of the canon. An illustration might help. I have written eight books. The action of my writing those books creates the canon of my works. If a friend of mine does not have an accurate or full knowledge of how many books I have written, does this mean there is no canon of my books? No, of course not. In fact, if I was the only one who knew how many books I had written, would that mean that the canon of my books does not exist? The point is clear. The canon is one issue, and it comes from God’s action of inspiring the Scriptures. Our knowledge of the canon is another. Our knowledge can grow and mature, as it did at times in history. But the canon is not defined by us nor is it affected by our knowledge or ignorance.” James White
The Apocrypha has been pronounced by the Roman Catholic Church to be canonical along with the rest of the Bible, but she has no authority to do so. The only authority of canon is from God who inspired the particular document; a church council or human decree cannot pronounce inspiration.
The canon that the Protestants hold to is based upon time tested proof of the inspiration of the given books of the Bible. This became obvious as time went on as to which books were inspired; their usage in the early churches were basically already established, there just came a time when it was generally acknowledged in a more official way.
Only to the extent that human writings, be it Creeds, Confessions, commentaries or otherwise, accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture does it have any authority at all, and even that “authority” does not originate within the human writing itself, but proceeds only from the Bible.
This concludes this brief commentary on Chapter 1, Section 3 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
- 1689 adds this to WCF and Savoy
-  James White, The Roman Catholic Controversy, pg 93-94
- Here is the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession on-line: http://www.vor.org/truth/1689/1689bc00.html
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 4 of 10:
4. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God. ( 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 5:9 )
The 1689 Confession states that the authority of the Bible depends not on the: “testimony of any man”.
- “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” 1 Thess. 2:13 (ESV)
It is likely that the papacy and his claim to the sole right of interpretation were in mind here.
The 1689 Confession states that the authority of the Bible does not depend on the: “testimony of any church”. It is likely that the Roman Catholic Church was in mind here.
- “Well then, do not the popish church err, who maintain the Scripture to be an imperfect rule, and therefore to stand in need of a supply of unwritten traditions?” David Dickson
The 1689 Confession states that the authority of the Bible depends: “but wholly upon God”.
- If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 1 John 5:9 (ESV)
And we might add here that nothing is to be added to the word of God:
- You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Deut. 4:2 (ESV)
- Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. Prov. 30:5-6 (ESV)
- I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Rev. 22:18-19 (ESV)
The 1689 Confession states of God, the author of the Scriptures that He is “truth itself” and as a result the Bible is “Therefore it is to be received as the Word of God.”
This concludes this brief commentary on Chapter 1, Section 4 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
-  David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 9.
- Here is the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession on-line: http://www.vor.org/truth/1689/1689bc00.html
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 5 of 10:
5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of Godto an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and 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, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections 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. ( John 16:13,14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; 1 John 2:20, 27)
This section points out three ways we may know the Bible is from God Himself (the third being the ultimate means):
1) The Church is a testimony to the Scriptures, and if the Church is fulfilling its role she may help us to “be moved and induced to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures.” This is different from the Church being the only testimony to the authority of the Word of God, or the Word of God being dependent on the testimony of a church (see section Chapter 1, section 3).
- Many Churches are not fulfilling their role in holding up a high and reverent view of the Scriptures for their members. They are neglectful, either by flat out denying the inspiration of the Bible, or by teaching things such as therapeutic methodologies, and pragmatic wisdom, while the exposition of the Scriptures take a back seat.
- Another way the Church can fail to hold a high and reverent view of the Bible is by denying proper and full perspicuity (clarity and scope) to the Scriptures; this is done by saying that this particular issue or that particular issue is not addressed with sufficient clarity so as to understand. In other words, it can be an excuse to say that the word of God does not address whatever the particular issue is, so we are free to do as we please. For example, a particular denomination determined that women could be elders because the perspicuity of Scripture did not forbid it. Of course, if you close your eyes, nothing is clear.
- A low view of Scripture can come out in many ways, but it WILL come out, and it will be communicated to and will affect the congregation. I would argue most churches today do not hold Scripture as high as their doctrinal statements say they do.
2) From the character of the Scriptures themselves.
Besides the Church holding up a high and reverent esteem for the Bible as a witness to its infallibility, the following list from this section are evidences and arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God:
- the heavenliness of the matter
- the efficacy (power or capacity to produce effects) 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
- and many other incomparable excellencies
- and entire perfections thereof
- are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God;
3) By the inward work of the Holy Spirit. This inward work of the Spirit is referring the persuasion and assurance that the Bible is infallible; it is not referring to obtaining a proper interpretation of the Bible.
The 1689 Confession states: “yet notwithstanding all of this” (i.e. the excellencies of the Bible and the testimony of the church):
- Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority of the Bible, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
- It is still ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit that convinces and bears witness to us that the Bible is the Word of God. Let us keep that in mind as we do our best to hold high the Scriptures even when others do not; it is the work of the Spirit of God ultimately.
This concludes this brief commentary on Chapter 1, Section 5 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
- 1689 adds this to the WCF and Savoy
- 1689 adds this to WCF and Savoy
-  Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford, Oxford University Press)
- Here is the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession on-line: http://www.vor.org/truth/1689/1689bc00.html
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 6 of 10:
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 or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation 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 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. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Galatians 1:8,9; John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:9-12; 1 Corinthians 11:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 14:26,40)
The Confession states: The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture. This statement echoes what has already been shown in paragraph one of chapter one and advances it. What has already been established is that the writing of God’s revelation (of himself and his will), has been wholly committed to writing. Further, that special revelation is the whole counsel of God, not merely a part of counsel of God.
It is concerning all things necessary. This means that the whole counsel of God concerns everything (all things) needed (necessary) for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life. This is what the Scriptures are about.
Let’s look at what the Bible is not. The Bible is not just a book full of ancient literature. Years ago, as a young Christian I was attending a community college, and I enrolled in a class entitled, The Bible as Literature. The teacher had no reverence for the Bible as the whole counsel of God. To him it was just literature. No, in fact, it was worse than just literature to him, since Shakespeare or Herodotus would have been treated better than he treated the Bible. This appalled the Christians in the classroom who held the Bible to be the whole counsel of God. My point is when you treat a redemptive document as though it is merely literature, you cannot understand the Bible.
As well, the Holy Scriptures are not a guide book for various disciplines of study. It is not designed to be a book for archeology, historians or anthropologists. It contains aspects of these areas of study, and is infallible in all it says about them, but the Bible should not be looked upon solely as a book from which to gain data for some particular discipline, interest, science or art, without regard to the Bible’s actual aim. For example, the Bible is not a physical science textbook. But too often the scientist, presumably a Christian, in trying to obtain biblical data for his area of study, often wants more than the Bible addresses in his area of specialty. This can lead to a straining of what a given text actually means, which leads to misinterpretation. The misinterpretation of Scripture is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Bible. A better approach for the scientist is to let the Bible be what it is, realizing that for his particular field he is likely only to find incidental data. One would not study a geology book in the hopes of obtaining information about the field of American literature. It may be that there is an incidental mention of American literature, but that is all it will be-a minor point.
I am not saying the Bible has nothing to offer science. It reveals God created the heavens and the earth, which has major implications for science, but even there, Genesis was written by Moses for a redemptive purpose for the children of Israel who had been delivered from Egyptian slavery. The Bible is the recording of the unfolding redemptive revelation given in its organic historical setting. This revelation is the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.
The things necessary for God’s own glory are in the Scripture. All things required for man’s salvation are in the Bible. All things required for us to believe or place our faith in are in God’s Word. All things concerning how to live and have life are in the Bible. We could dive into these aspects of the counsel of God, but though space limits us here, this is really what the whole Confession is about, and we will get there.
The whole counsel of God–concerning these things–is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture. Expressly means explicitly or directly stated. Set down means, in the context of chapter one, to put, commit, or set down to writing. Some things are directly stated (expressly set down), such as Thou shall not kill. Other things are necessarily contained in the Bible, and are to be understood by deduction. For example, Thou shall not kill, implies that we shall do whatsoever is in our power to save and preserve life.
We are to not only to accept what is directly stated (expressly set down), but to apply our hearts and minds to discover what is implied. Whether expressly set down, or necessarily contained, what is needed for the glorifying of God, man’s salvation, faith and life, is contained in the Holy Scripture. It is all there, but it may require diligence of mind–the use of reason and logic– to gather all that is contained in the Bible. If you diligently seek me you shall find me.
We should become educated in the discipline referred to as ‘sacred-hermeneutics’ (the science and art of interpreting Scripture) so that we will be properly equipped to mine all the riches of God’s Word. Little will be gained by a lazy and passive approach to understanding the Bible. Rather, effort is required. Whatever education we have attained to, all of it, and more will be required in order to study the Scriptures. While I do not want to under-estimate the Spirit’s work in illuminating the Scriptures to us, we should realize the Spirit is not going to reveal material found in a reference book. The Holy Spirit will not ‘instruct us’ in matters of say, Hittite culture, the historical background leading to the hatred of Samaritans, or Greek verb ending. We must make the effort to learn these things, and the Spirit will bless that effort by giving us further illumination as we apply that knowledge to better interpreting the Bible.
When we think of the whole counsel of God, we may recall Paul’s departing words to the elders at Miletus before he set sail to Cos:
- “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Acts 20:26-27 ESV
The fact that the Scriptures are the whole counsel of God has ramifications, some of which are still to be presented in the next portions of paragraph six, and some in the remaining four paragraphs of chapter one.
The Confession states that since we have the whole counsel of God in writing, nothing at any time is to be added. It’s like the person who says, “I am committed one hundred and ten percent!” We all know one person can only be committed one hundred percent, but in typical American fashion we overstate matters–some may call it hyperbole. I think a better word is exaggeration. The point is this: if we have one hundred percent of the counsel of God, there is nothing to add to that percentage. One whole is one hundred percent. We cannot add anything to God’s word, and even if we tried, it would be either redundant or in error. We must accept what is revealed because there is no more. It is mathematically impossible in relation to our illustration to add more to Scripture. Scripture is sufficient.
We are not to add anything, at any time to the whole counsel of God. God’s counsel was given at sundry times and committed to writing. This began with God’s own finger,  writing the Ten Commandments and ended with the book of Revelation written around A.D.90. After this whole counsel was given, what need is there for further revelation? It is all there in full, in whole. I am afraid many believers do not realize how the sufficiency of Scripture has eroded in their minds.
Whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men, we are not to add anything at any time to the whole counsel of God. During the time of the writing of the Confession, there were several groups claiming ongoing revelation. Just to name a couple, there were the Quakers who promoted the belief that revelation continued even after the closing of the canon. The Papists believe that the traditions of men are authoritative and supplementary to the Scripture. This means they believed in ongoing revelation after the close of the canon. David Dickson asks:
- “Well then, do not the Papists err who maintain that things necessary to salvation are obscurely and darkly set down in Scripture; and that without the help of unwritten traditions and the infallible expounding of the church the Scriptures cannot be understood? Yes. Because the Scripture enlighteneth the eyes and maketh the simple wise (Psa. 19:7-8).” David Dickson
In modern times, we still have the Quakers, the Roman Church, and also the Charismatics, Pentecostals and even Neo-Evangelicals (many who believe in ongoing personal revelation). In fairness, there are some important differences in how these various groups view new revelation–some are more dangerous than others–but when it comes down to it, all these view the Bible as insufficient. This is shown by their belief that they need more revelation than the Bible gives.
The Confession is a Cessationist document, and while it does not deny God’s supernatural providence in the world, it does deny that revelation can be added to the Bible, or to the believer’s life. These matters have much relevance for us today–for some the impact is salvation–for others it affects the strength of their Christian walk.
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. The Confession does not take a Deistic view of Scripture. While the Confession states that the Spirit has completed the work of revelation as recorded in Scripture, the Confession acknowledges that the work of the Spirit within a believer is needed to understand that revelation.
The Confession uses the word, illumination. There is a critical distinction to be made between revelation and illumination. The difference between revelation and illumination is like the difference between the sun and the moon. Illumination is like a lamp which lights an existing path. Revelation is like the creation of the path. God’s Word–his revelation–is already in existence. We seek not for more revelation, but to understand what’s already been given. Revelation given needs illumination not to be revealed again.
We should be careful about saying, “The Lord revealed this or that to me.” It may reflect unclear thinking about the nature of revelation in the Christian walk, and I am sure it will communicate to others muddled ideas about revelation. To look to the Holy Spirit for illumination, rather than revelation, is to honor him for what he has already given–the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.
It is worth noting that when we seek the Spirit’s help to interpret Scripture–we call his interpretative assistance illumination. We should not claim authoritative interpretations based upon the Spirit’s illuminative work, or we should at least be thoughtful how we go about it. There is an extremely helpful quote along these lines by Alexander Carson:
“No man has the right to say, as some are in the habit of saying, The Spirit tells me that such or such in the meaning of such a passage. How is he assured that it is the Holy Spirit, and that it is not a spirit of delusion, except from that the interpretation is the legitimate meaning of the words?”
Thus, humility is needed, and when challenged about an interpretation, do not fall back on the claim that the Holy Spirit revealed it, for it might be a wrong interpretation, and then account will need to be given for whose spirit really showed you that interpretation. The better approach is to use proper hermeneutical methods, and argue the interpretation from that basis. Scripture tells us:
- “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” 2 Peter 1:20 (ESV)
My application of the Confession’s wording here is not the precise meaning of the Confession. In terms of illumination, the Confession is speaking more along the lines of a saving understanding of revelation, and not–strictly speaking–hermeneutics. The point is that reading the Bible or hearing it preached will not give you saving understanding (i.e. saving knowledge) by itself; that is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
The Confession is well balanced and acknowledges a wide variety of situations with which life has to do. It states: there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and 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.
We come across this phrase again, the light of nature. As we discussed in chapter one, paragraph one, it refers to natural revelation or general revelation. So the point here is that there are some situations that may not be expressly stated or implied in the Bible which relates to: the worship of God, and government of the Church. These would be situations which have to do with human actions and societies as related to matters of worship and government in the church. In these situations the rules to apply are found in natural revelation (i.e. light of nature) with Christian prudence. Both of these are to be guided by the general rules of rules of the Word of God. These general rules of the Bible are always to be observed in all situations.
I think of the rules my church has for our membership meetings. They are not specifically or expressly from a particular passage, but they are rules of order that could be helpful to any meeting that needs to have order. These rules could have been derived from someone who has gathered them by observing natural revelation. The specific rules, while not directly derived from Scripture, are ordered by the general rules of Scripture such as from 1 Corinthian 14:40: “But all things should be done decently and in order.”
This concludes this commentary on Chapter 1, Section 6 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
1689 adds this to WCF and Savoy
1689 omits from this location”or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” from the WCF and Savoy
1689 adds this to the WCF
 The Baptist Catechism 73, states: Q. What is required in the sixth commandment? A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life (Eph. 5:28, 29) and the life of others (1 Kings 18:4). It is implied by the “Thou shall not” that there is a thou shall.
 There is a very insightful article which addresses some of the ramifications of God being the first one to put his revelation in writing personally by his own finger as Exodus 31:18 records. The article is by Brian Lee, entitled, “Is Reformation Christianity Just for Eggheads?” Modern Reformation, 21, No.5 (September-October 2012): 17-20.
David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 11-12.
 Alexander Carson, Examination of the Principles of Biblical Interpretation, p. 32, as quoted by Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Baker Book House:1970), pg. x-xi.
In R.C. Sproul’s book, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (New Jersey, P&R Publishing), Volume 1, pg. 22, he make an interesting point that throughout the church age general revelation has been thought of as infallible just as special revelation is infallible. It is apt to be misinterpreted, but that does not nullify its voice.
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 7 of 10:
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 ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.(2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)
The 1689 Confession States: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all. This is an echo of the previous paragraph with an expansion of thought. Previously, paragraph six mentioned that “all things concerning his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life are either expressly set down, or necessarily contained in Holy Scripture.” All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all, means not all things are “expressly set down.” Some things are “necessarily contained” (i.e. implicitly contained). But regardless of the explicit or implicit words of Scripture, all things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are clearly stated.
They are clearly propounded. The word propounded means, “To put forth, set forth” (Oxford English Dictionary). Paragraph six used the words “set down“, which seems to be a similar to propounded. What is necessary to be known is clearly propounded, and it is opened in some place of Scripture or the other. This is why it is important to read the entire Bible—that we may know what it teaches.
It is not only clearly propounded and opened in some place or other, but it is so clear that not only the learned, but unlearned…may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. It is noted though that the learned and unlearned in a due use of ordinary means, may understand them. So though the learned and unlearned may understand, it will require an ordinary level of intelligence, and means that are ordinary, meaning typically used to gain understanding. This statement in the Confession is no doubt a response to the Roman Church which felt the Bible could not be understood by the masses, but needed a priest to explain the Scriptures. Of course, if the Roman Church keeps the Bible in Latin, not the native tongue of the masses, they would be unable to even attempt to read it. They must first have the Bible in their native language. But assuming that step has been taken, contrary to the Roman Church, the Confession is stating the Bible is for all people–unlearned and learned. We have become so accustomed to this obvious truth we do not think a lot of it, but in during the Reformation this is a profound new way of thinking. The light of the Reformation shines into the darkness illuminating none other than the Word of God. This changed everything!
The Confession states: may attain a sufficient understanding of them. I would like to highlight two words: sufficient and them. As you may recall from paragraph one, sufficient means “of a quality, extent or scope adequate to a certain purpose or object” (EOD). The word them refers back to those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation. This echoes paragraph one which referred to the Bible as the “rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.” These are the things for which the learned and unlearned by attain a sufficient understanding of.
To sum up this paragraph, saving knowledge, saving faith, and saving obedience are clearly set forth in the Bible so that all of God’s people–learned and unlearned–may understand what God has said in the Holy Scriptures. The ramifications are that each believer may read, hear and understand God’s word for themselves. They do not need to go through the Roman Church’s hierarchy to get to God’s Word–whether that be from a translation barrier (i.e. Latin to English, German or other language), or be that the understanding of God’s Word (i.e. the Roman Church’s official “infallible” interpretation). God’s word is for each person of God; it is personal. May we never forget the blessing of a Bible in our own language and in our own hands to read and understand– for our salvation and sanctification!
This concludes this commentary of Chapter 1, Section 7 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 8 of 10:
8. 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 authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a 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 vulgar language of every nation 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. ( Romans 3:2; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39; 1 Corinthians 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28; Colossians 3:16 )
This paragraph starts with this statement: 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). The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. This was the common language which the people of God from that time spoke. It was their native language. This is not merely an observation of fact; it points to what the Confession later states–the Scriptures should be translated into the native tongue of each nation.
The New Testament was written in Greek. Again, this was the common language of the Jewish and Gentile peoples of that time. It is a marvelous providence of God that Greek was so commonly used at that time in what might be called, the known world. It was God’s workings so that God’s Word could go forth in a common language to Jew and Gentile.
Each testament was written in a unique language, and yet both were “immediately inspired by God.” Immediately means: directly, without any other intervening or mediating means.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16-17 (ESV)
It is not a difficult for God to breath out his words into the Scriptures in two different languages. These are the two original languages God used to immediately inspire his Word. Further, it is not difficult for God to preserve the immediately inspired first autograph using copies called manuscripts. God has “by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages the Holy Scripture, and he has done so by his own care and providence. He has done so himself alone and done so directly. As a result of God’s work, the Holy Scriptures are therefore authentic. Authentic meaning the copies have preserved the original autograph of the inspired writer.
The 1689 Confession does not go into the details of textual criticism, the discipline that takes the thousands of copies of the original autograph and the copies of copies to determine or extrapolate what the original words of the autographs stated. The Confession simply states that God has preserved by his own care the words of the immediately inspired autographs.
“For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Matthew 5:18 (ESV)
Because the work of God has given us the authentic Words of God, the Confession states: all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. Them, of course, refers to the Old Testament and New Testament that are immediately inspired. Dickson’s statement comes in handy again:
“Well then, do not the Papists err who maintain that the Church of Rome, and the pope are the supreme judges of all controversies of faith; and that his decrees and determinations are to be believed without examination, and implicitly to be believed by all believers? Yes. Do not likewise the Quakers err who maintain that the light within which teacheth the elect in the only judge of all controversies? Yes.
“To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. Isaiah 8:20 (ESV)
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 (ESV)
Scripture alone is the constant theme throughout chapter one of the Confession.
The 1689 goes on and states: they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come. Just as the Old Testament was written in the native tongue of God’s people, and the New Testament written in the common language at that time, so should God’s Word be placed into the vulgar language of each nation, tongue and tribe. The word vulgar could be misunderstood here. It simply refers to the common language used from each nation.
This would not be the position of the Roman Church at that time, nor at the present. Those that did translate the Bible into the vulgar language of the people were either killed or persecuted at the hands of the Roman Church. This work of translating the Bible into the vulgar language was done at great risk to themselves and their families. Many continue in this work today, thankfully without persecution for the most part.
Why should they have the Word of God in their own language? That the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all. Scripture states:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” Col 3:16a (ESV)
Why should the Word of God dwell plentifully in all? So that they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.”
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4 (ESV)
This concludes this commentary on Chapter 1, Section 8 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
 David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 16.
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 9 of 10:
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 must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. (2 Peter 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16)
The Confession states: The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself. Here is the first and foremost rule of hermeneutics: Scripture interprets Scripture. Why is it the infallible rule of interpretation? Scripture is the infallible rule, and when it interprets itself, that interpretation is infallible.
Would it not be wonderful to have an infallible set of commentaries? Actually, we do. The Bible is the infallible commentary of itself. Start first and foremost there for interpretation.
The 1689 confession gives us the application of this infallible rule of interpretation: therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.
So now we know the principle. How do we use it? The Confession states: If you have a question about the true sense and the full sense of any Scripture, then do this: search by other places that speak more clearly.
When the Confession states: (which is not manifold, but one), it is saying, “Oh, by the way, that passage you are seeking to find the true and full sense of, it only has one meaning, not many.
Scripture does not have many different interpretations in a given passage. The inspired author in any given sentence or phrase has a particular meaning in mind, and it is only the inspired writer’s intended meaning that is the meaning we should seek. There are some possible exceptions: a prophet may give a prophecy that has a dual fulfillment—an immediate and a latter one. But potential duel fulfillment passages must be handled case by case and with caution. We ought to consider again what Peter wrote:
- “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” 2 Peter 1:20 (ESV)
Search by other places that speak more clearly. Never use obscure passages to form doctrine, rather seek out the clear passages. One of the common mistakes people make, which this rule corrects, is to teach the right doctrine from the wrong text. Find the texts that are clear on a given doctrine and use those to form an interpretation. Never use the less clear to interpret the more clear. Let light shine on the dark, not the dark on the light.
The study of hermeneutics is very important if we are to properly understand the Bible; I highly recommend it, but of the many principles for proper interpretation, the one that is first and foremost is: let Scripture interpret Scripture.
This concludes this commentary on Chapter 1, Section 9 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
1689 removes [and known] from the WCF and Savoy here.
Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures, Section 10 of 10:
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 Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved. ( Matthew 22:29, 31, 32; Ephesians 2:20;Acts 28:23)
Let’s look at this structurally for a moment:
The supreme judge, by which:
- all controversies of religion are to be determined,
- all decrees of councils
- opinions of ancient writers
- doctrines of men
- private spirits,
are to be examined
and in whose sentence we are to rest,
can be no other than the Scripture delivered by the Spirit,
into which Scripture so delivered:
our faith is finally resolved.
At the core of this statement it says: The supreme judge of our faith is Scripture. This is in essence what paragraph one stated: Scripture is the rule. And so as we reach the last paragraph of chapter one and this is restated: Scripture is the judge. We are to judge all things by the rule of Scripture.
We see the word supreme judge here. If ministers or lay persons are to be disciplined, whether heresy, sin, or otherwise, Scripture is ultimately and supremely the judge of the action that should be taken against a person, not ultimately the confession, creed, or other such rules of faith. The Confession is obviously not ruling out other authorities, judges, or tests. We can conclude that by the use of supremely. We can also conclude that because the Confession itself is a judge, authority and test to be used by churches. This is part of the function of a Confession, but it is not the supreme judge and can only be used to the extent it can be shown to be truly Biblical.
We are to rest only those sentences that have been examined by Scripture, and have been proven to accurately reflect Scripture. Only to the extent that human writings, be it Creeds, Confessions, commentaries or otherwise, accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture does it have any authority at all, and even that “authority” does not originate within the human writing itself, but proceeds only from the Bible.”
The Scriptures are delivered (i.e. given) to us by the Holy Spirit, who is God and cannot lie. Since the Scriptures are delivered by the Spirit, our faith is finally (i.e. fully and forever) resolved (i.e. set firmly, settled).
- But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. Matt 22:29-33 (ESV)
Jesus judged all things by Scripture, and in this passage we see the judgment he rendered: “You are wrong.” “You know neither the Scriptures.”
The 1689 Confession has laid a foundation of the doctrine of Scripture. We have now an excellent foundation from which to base the rest of the doctrine presented in the Confession. And this Confession should be judged by the Word of God as the rule and supreme judge.
The beginning of everything is God, and one might think the Confession would start there, but the fact is without the special revelation of the Bible we would not know very much about God. Without the Bible, we would be taking guesses about God, with the exception of what God has shown us about himself through general revelation.
With the Scriptures as the foundation, we can go beyond general revelation to specific precise revelation and doctrine. Praise God for this gift of the Bible; without it we would be groping in the darkness.
This concludes this commentary on Chapter 1, Section 10 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, and this concludes the commentary of chapter one.
1689 removes “Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”here from the WCF. The Savoy also removes it.
1689 and the Savoy add this wording to the WCF.