The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith

by A. A. Hodge

A. A. Hodge

Chapter I

Of the Holy Scripture

SECTION I.--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 unexcusable;[1] yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.[2] Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal; Himself, and to declare; that His will unto His Church;[3] and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing:[4] which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;[5] those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. [6]

Scripture Proof Texts

[1] Rom. 2:14, 15; Rom. 1:19, 20; Ps. 19:1, 2, 3; Rom. 1:32, with chap. 2:1. [2] 1 Cor. 1:21; 1 Cor. 2:13, 14; [3] Heb. 1:1; [4] Prov. 22:19, 20, 21; Luke 1:3, 4; Rom. 15:4; Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; Isa. 8:19, 20; [5] 2 Tim. 3:15; 2 Peter 1:19; [6] Heb. 1:1,2.

This section affirms the following propositions: -
1. That the light of nature and the works of creation and providence are sufficient to make known the fact that there is a God, and somewhat of his nature and character, so as to leave the disobedience of men without excuse.

2. That nevertheless the amount and kind of knowledge thus attainable is not sufficient to enable any to secure salvation.

3. That consequently it has pleased God, of his sovereign grace, to make, in various ways and at different times, a supernatural revelation of himself and of his purposes to a chosen portion of the human family.

4. And that subsequently God has been pleased to commit that revelation to writing, and that it is now exclusively embraced in the Sacred Scriptures.

1.The light of nature and the works of creation and providence are sufficient to enable men to ascertain the fact that there is a God, and somewhat of his nature and character, end thus render them inexcusable.

Three generically distinct false opinions have been entertained with respect to the capacity of men, in their present circumstances, to attain to any positive knowledge of the being and character of God.

(1.) There is the assumption of all those extreme Rationalists who deny the existence of any world beyond the natural one discoverable by our senses, and especially of that school of Positive Philosophy inaugurated by Auguste Comte in France, and represented by John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer in England, who affirm that all possible human knowledge is confined to the facts of our experience and the uniform laws which regulate the succession of those facts; that it is not possible for the human mind, in its present state, to go beyond the simple order of nature to the knowledge of an absolute First Cause, or to a designing and disposing Supreme Intelligence, even though such an one actually exists; that whether there be a God. or not, yet as a matter of fact he is not revealed, and as a matter of principle could not, even if revealed, be recognized by man in the present state of his faculties.

This assumption is disproved - (a.) By the fact that men of all nations, ages, and degrees of culture, have discerned the evidences of the presence of a God in the works of nature and providence, and in the inward workings of their own souls. This has been true, not only of individuals, communities, or generations unenlightened by science, but pre-eminently of some of the very first teachers of positive science in the modern scientific age, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Sir David Brewster, Dr. Faraday, etc. (b.) By the fact that the works of nature and providence are full of the manifest traces of design, and that they can be scientifically explained, and as a matter of fact are explained by these very skeptics themselves, only by the recognition and accurate tracing out of the evident " intention" which each of these works is adapted to subserve in their mutual relations. (c.) The same is disproved from the fact that conscience, which is a universal and indestructible element of human nature, necessarily implies our accountability to a personal moral Governor, and as a matter of fact has uniformly led men to a recognition of his existence and of their relation to him.

(2.) An extreme opinion on this subject has been held by some Christians, to the effect that no true and certain knowledge of God can be derived. by man, in his present condition, from the light of nature in the entire absence of a supernatural revelation; that we are altogether dependent upon such a revelation for any certain knowledge that God exists, as well as for all knowledge of his nature and his purposes.

This opinion is disproved -- (a.) By the direct testimony of Scripture. Rom. 1:20 -- 24; 2:14, 15. (b.) By the fact that many conclusive arguments for the existence of a great First Cause, who is at the same time an intelligent personal Spirit and righteous moral Governor, have been drawn by a strict induction from the facts of nature alone, as they lie open to the natural understanding. The fact that this argument remains unanswerable shows that the process by which the conclusions are drawn from purely natural sources is legitimate. (c.) All nations, however destitute of a supernatural revelation they may have been, have yet possessed some knowledge of a God. And in the case of the most enlightened of the heathen, natural religion has given birth to a considerable natural theology. We must, however, distinguish between that knowledge of the divine character which may be obtained by men from the worlds of nature arid providence in the exercise of their natural powers alone, without any suggestions or assistance derived from a supernatural revelation -- as is illustrated in the theological writings of some most eminent of the heathen who lived before Christ -- and that knowledge which men in this age, under the clear light of a supernatural revelation, are competent to deduce from a study of nature. The natural theology of the modern Rationalists demonstrably owes all its special excellences to that Christian revelation it is intended to supersede.

(3.) The third erroneous opinion which has been entertained on this subject is that of Deists and theistic Rationalists -- viz., that the light of nature, when legitimately used, is perfectly sufficient of itself to lead men to all necessary knowledge of God's being, nature, and purposes. Some German Rationalists, while admitting that a supernatural revelation has been given in the Christian Scriptures, yet insist that its only office is to illustrate and enforce the truths already given through the light of nature, which are sufficient in themselves, and need re-enforcement only because they are ordinarily not properly attended to by men. But, in opposition to this, the Confession teaches -

2.That the amount of knowledge attainable by the light of nature is not sufficient to enable any to secure salvation.

This is proved to be true -- (1.) From Scripture. 1 Cor. 1:21; 2:13, 14. (2.) From the fact that man's moral relations to God have been disturbed by sin; and while the natural light of reason may teach an unfallen being spontaneously how he should approach and serve God, and while it may teach a fallen being what the nature of God may demand as to the punishment of sin, it can teach nothing by way of anticipation as to what God may be sovereignly disposed to do in the way of remission, substitution, sanctification, restoration, etc. (3.) 'From the facts presented in the past history of all nations destitute of the light of revelation, both before and since Christ. The truths they have held have been incomplete and. mixed with fundamental error; their faith has been uncertain; their religious rites have been degrading, and their lives immoral. The only apparent exception to this fact is found in the case of some Rationalist' in Christian lands; and their exceptional superiority to others of their creed is due to the secondary influences of that system of supernatural religion which they deny, but the power of which they cannot exclude.

Hence, the Confession teaches in this section --
3.That consequently it has pleased God, of his sovereign grace, to make, in various ways and at different times, a super natural revelation of himself and of his purposes to a chosen portion of the human family. And that --

4.God has been pleased subsequently to commit that revelation to writing, and it is now exclusively embraced in the Sacred Scriptures.

Since, as above shown, the light of nature is insufficient to enable men to attain such a knowledge of God and his will as is necessary for salvation, it follows -- (1.) That a supernatural revelation is absolutely necessary for man; and, (2.) From what natural religion alone teaches us of the character of God, it follows that the giving of such a revelation is in the highest degree antecedently probable on his part. Man is essentially a moral agent, and needs a clearly revealed rule of duty; and a religious being, craving communion with God. In his natural state these are both unsatisfied. But God is the author of human nature. His intelligence leads us to believe that he will complete all his works and crown a religious nature with the gift of a religion practically adequate to its wants. The benevolence of God leads us to anticipate that he will not leave his creatures in bewilderment and ruin for the want of light as to their condition and duties. And his righteousness occasions the presumption that he will at some time speak in definite and authoritative tones to the conscience of his subjects. (3.) As a matter of fact, God has given such a revelation. Indeed he has in no period of human history left himself without a witness. His communications to mankind through the first three thousand years were made in very " diverse manners"-- by theophanies and audible voices, dreams, visions, the Urim and Thummim, and prophetic inspiration; and the results of these communications were diffused and perpetuated by means of tradition.

The fact that such a revelation has been made, and. that we ' have it in the Christian Scriptures, is fully substantiated by that mass of proof styled the " Evidences of Christianity." The main departments of this evidence are the following: --

(a.) The Old and New Testaments, whether the Word of God or not, bear all the marks of genuine and authentic historical records.

(b.) The miracles recorded in these Scriptures are established as facts by abundant testimony; and when admitted as facts they demonstrate the religion they accompany to be from God.

(c.) The same is true in all respects with regard to the many explicit prophecies already fulfilled which are contained in the Scriptures.

(d.) The unparalleled perfection of the moral system they teach, and the supernatural intelligence they discover in adaptation to all human characters and conditions in all ages.

(e.) The absolutely perfect excellence of its Founder.

(f.) The spiritual power of Christianity, as shown in the religious experience of individuals, and also in the wider influence it exerts over communities and nations in successive generations.

For the questions concerning the Holy Scriptures as containing the whole of this revelation now made by God to men, see below.

 

Section II.Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testament, which are these:

Of the Old Testament:
Genesis, 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 Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Of the New Testament:
The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul's Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians I, Corinthians II, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians I , Thessalonians II , To Timothy I , To Timothy II, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation of John.

All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.

SECTION III.The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God,[7] nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings. [8]

Scripture Proof Texts

[7] Luke 16:29, 31; Eph. 2:20; Rev. 12:18, 19; 2 Tim. 3:16. [8] Luke 24:27, 44; Rom. 3:2; 2 Peter 1:21.

These sections affirm the following propositions: --
1. That the complete canon of Scripture embraces in the two great divisions of the Old and the New Testaments all the particular books here named.

2. That the books commonly called Apocrypha form no part of that canon, and are to be regarded as of no more authority than any other human writings.

3. That all the canonical books were divinely inspired, and are thus given to us as an authoritative rule of faith and practice.

1.The complete canon of Scripture embraces in the two great divisions of the Old and New Testaments all the particular books here named.

The Old Testament is the collection of inspired writings given by God to his Church during the Old Dispensation of the Covenant of Grace; and the New Testament is the collection of those inspired writings which he gave during the New or Christian Dispensation of that Covenant.

We determine what books have a place in this canon or divine rule by an examination of the evidences which show that each of them, severally, was written by the inspired. prophet or apostle whose name it bears; or, as in the case of the Gospels of Mark and Luke, written under the superintendence and published by the authority of an apostle. This evidence in the case of the Sacred Scriptures is of the same kind of historical and critical proof as is relied upon by all literary men to establish the genuineness and authenticity of any other ancient writings, such as the Odes of Horace or the works of Herodotus. In general this evidence is (a) Internal, such as language, style, and the character of the matter they contain; (b) External, such as the testimony of contemporaneous writers, the universal consent of contemporary readers, and corroborating history drawn from independent credible sources.

The genuineness of the books constituting the Old Testament canon as now received by all Protestants is established as follows: --

(1.) Christ and his apostles endorse as genuine and authentic the canon of Jewish Scriptures as it existed in their time. (a) Christ often quotes as the Word of God the separate books and the several divisions embraced in the Jewish Scriptures -- viz., the Law, the Prophets, and. the Holy Writings or Psalms. Mark 14:49; Luke 24:44; John 5:39. (b) The apostles also quote them as the Word of God; 2 Tim.3:15, 16; Acts 1:16. (c) Christ often rebuked the Jews for disobeying, but never for forging or corrupting their Scriptures, Matt 22:29.

(2.) The Jewish canon thus endorsed by Christ and his apostles is the same as that we now have. (a) The New Testament writers quote as Scripture almost every one of the books we recognize, and no others. (b) The Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, made in Egypt B.C. 285, which was itself frequently quoted by Christ and his apostles, embraced every book contained in our copies. (c) Josephus, born A.D. 37, enumerates as Hebrew Scriptures the same books by their classes. (d) The testimony of the early Christian writers uniformly agrees with that of the ancient Jews as to every book. (e) Ever since the time of Christ both Jews and Christians, while rival and hostile parties, have separately kept the same canon, and agree perfectly as to the genuineness and authenticity of every book.

The evidence which establishes the canonical authority of the several books of the New Testament may be generally stated as follows: (a) The early Christian writers in all parts of the world agree in quoting as of apostolical authority the books we receive, while they quote all other contemporaneous writings only for illustration. (b) The early Church Fathers furnish a number of catalogues of the books received by them as apostolical, all of which agree perfectly as to most of the books, and differ only in a slight degree with reference to some last written or least generally circulated. (c) The earliest translations of the Scriptures prove that, at the time they were made, the books they contain were recognized as Scripture. The Peshito, or early Syriac translation, agrees almost entirely with ours; and the Vulgate, prepared by Jerome A.D. 385, was based on the Italic or early Latin version, and agrees entirely with ours. (d) The internal evidence corroborates the external testimony in the case of all the books. This consists of the language and idiom in which they are written; the harmony in all essentials in the midst of great variety in form and circumstantials; the elevated spirituality and doctrinal consistency of all the books; and their practical power over the consciences and hearts of men.

2.But the books called Apocrypha form no part of the sacred canon, and are to be regarded as of no more authority than any other human writings.

The word Apocrypha (anything hidden) has been applied to certain ancient writings whose authorship is not manifest, and for which unfounded claims have been set up for a place in the canon. Some of these have been associated with the Old and. some with the New Testament. In this section of the Confession, however, the name is applied. principally to those spurious scriptures for which a place is claimed in the Old Testament canon by the Roman Church. These are Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and the two books of Maccabees. They also prefix to the book of Daniel the History of Susannah, and insert in the third chapter the Song of the Three Children; and add to the end of the book the History of Bel and the Dragon.

That these books have no right to a place in the canon is proved by the following facts: (1.) They never formed a part of the Hebrew Scriptures. They have always been rejected by the Jews, to whose guardianship the Old Testament Scriptures were committed. (2.) None of them were ever quoted by Christ or the apostles. (3.) They were never embraced in the list of the canonical books by the early Fathers; and even in the Roman Church their authority was not accepted by the most learned and candid men until after it was made an article of faith by the Council of Trent, late in the sixteenth century. (4.) The internal evidence presented by their contents disproves their claims. None of them make any claim to inspiration, while the best of them disclaim it. Some of them consist of childish fables, and inculcate bad morals.

And this section teaches --
3.That all the canonical Scriptures were divinely inspired, and are thus given us as an authoritative rule of faith and practice.

The books of Scripture were written by the instrumentality of men, and the national and personal peculiarities of their authors have been evidently as freely expressed in their writing, and their natural faculties, intellectual and moral, as freely exercised in their production, as those of the authors of any other writings. Nevertheless these books are, one and all, in thought and verbal expression, in substance and form, wholly the Word of God, conveying with absolute accuracy and divine authority all that God meant them to convey, without any human additions or admixtures. This was accomplished by a supernatural influence of the Spirit of God acting upon the spirits of the sacred writers, called "inspiration;" which accompanied them uniformly in what they wrote; and which, without violating the free operation of their faculties, yet directed them in all they wrote, and secured the infallible expression of it in words. The nature of this divine influence we, of course, can no more understand than we can in the case of any other miracle. But the effects are plain and certain -- viz., that all written under it is the very Word of God, of infallible truth, and of divine authority; and this infallibility and authority attach as well to the verbal expression in which the revelation is conveyed as to the matter of the revelation itself.

The fact that the Scriptures are thus inspired is proved because they assert it of themselves; and because they must either be credited as true in this respect, or rejected as false in all respects; 'and because God authenticated the claims of their writers by accompanying their teaching with "signs and wonders and divers miracles." Heb. ii. 4. Wherever God sends his "sign," there he commands belief; but it is impossible that he could unconditionally command belief except to truth infallibly conveyed.

(1.) The Old Testament writers claimed to be inspired. Deut. 31: 19 -- 22; 34:10; Num. 16:28, 29; 2 Sam. 23:2. As a characteristic fact, they speak in the name of God, prefacing their messages with a "Thus saith the LORD. "The mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Deut.18:21, 22; 1 Kings 21:19; Jer. 9:12, etc.

(2.) The New Testament writers introduce their quotations from the Old Testament with such formulas as, "The Holy Ghost saith," Heb. 3:7; "The Holy Ghost this signifying," Heb. 9:8; "Saith God," Acts 2:17; 1 Cor. 9:9, 10; "The Lord by the mouth of his servant David saith," Acts 4:25; "The Lord limiteth in David a certain day, saying," Heb. 4:7.

(3.) The inspiration of the Old Testament is expressly affirmed in the New Testament. Luke 1:70; Heb. 1:1; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet.1:10 -- 12; 2 Pet.1:21.

(4.) Christ and his apostles constantly quote the Old Testament as infallible, as that which must be fulfilled. Matt. 5:18; John 10:35; Luke 24:44; Matt. 2:15 -- 23, etc.

(5.) Inspiration was promised to the apostles. Matt. 10:19; 28:19, 20; Luke 12:12; John 13: 20; 14:26; 15:26, 27; 16:13.

(6.) They claimed to have the Spirit, in fulfillment of the promise of Christ, Acts 2:33; 15:28; 1 Thess.1:5; -- to speak as the prophets of God, 1 Cor. 4:1; 1 Thess. 4:8; -- to speak with plenary authority, 1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Cor. 13:2-4; Gal.1:8, 9. They put their writings on a level with the Old Testament Scriptures. 2 Pet. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:27.

SECTION IV.The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.[9]

SECTION V.We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture.[10] And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does 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.[11]

 

Scripture Proof Texts

[9] 2 Peter 1:19, 21; 2 Tim.3:16; 1 John 5:9; 1 Thess. 2:13. [10] 1 Tim. 3:15; [11] 1 John 2:20, 27; John 16:13, 14; 1 Cor. 2:10, 11, 12; Isa. 59:21.

This section teaches the following propositions: --
1.That the authority of the inspired Scriptures does not rest upon the testimony of the Church, but directly upon God.

This proposition is designed to deny the Romish heresy that the inspired Church is the ultimate source of all divine know ledge, and that the written Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition alike depend upon the authoritative seal of the Church for their credibility. They thus make the Scriptures a product of the Spirit through the Church; while, in fact, the Church is a product of the Spirit through the instrumentality of the Word. It is true that the testimony of the early Church to the apostolic authorship of the several books is of fundamental importance, just as a subject may bear witness to the identity of an heir to the crown; but the authority of the Scriptures is no more derived from the Church than that of the king from the subject who proves the fact that he is the legal heir.

2.That the internal evidences of a divine origin contained in and inseparable from the Scriptures themselves are conclusive.

This is a part of the evidences of Christianity considered under sect. i. The internal marks of a divine origin in the Bible are such as -- (1.) The phenomena it presents of a supernatural intelligence: in unity of design developed through its entire structure, although it is composed of sixty-six separate books, by forty different authors, writing at intervals through sixteen centuries; in its perfect freedom from all the errors incident to the ages of its production, with regard to facts or opinions of whatever kind; in. the marvelous knowledge it exhibits of human nature under all possible relations and conditions; in the original and luminous solution it affords of many of the darkest problems of human history and destiny. (2.) The unparalleled perfection of its moral system: in the exalted view it gives of God, his law, and moral government; in its exalted yet practical and beneficent system of morality, set forth and effectively enforced; in its wondrous power over the human conscience; and in the unrivalled extent and persistence of its influence over communities of men.

3.Yet that the highest and most influential faith in the truth and authority of the Scriptures is the direct work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.

The Scriptures to the unregenerate man are like light to the blind. They may be felt as the rays of the sun are felt by the blind, but they cannot be fully seen. The Holy Spirit opens the blinded eyes and gives due sensibility to the diseased heart; and thus assurance comes with the evidence of spiritual experience. When first regenerated, he begins to set the Scriptures to the test of experience; and the more he advances, the more he proves them true, and the more he discovers of their limitless breadth and fullness, and their evidently designed adaptation to all human wants under all possible conditions.

 

SECTION VI.The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.[12] 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:[13] 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.[14]

 

Scripture Proof Texts

[12] 2 Tim. 3:5 ,16, 17; Gal. 1:8, 9; 2 Thess. 2:2 [13] John 6:45; 1 Cor. 2:9-12; [14] 1 Cor. 11:13, 14; 1 Cor. 14:26, 40.

This section teaches the following propositions: --
1.The inspired Scriptures of the Old. And New Testaments are a complete rule of faith and practice: they embrace the whole of whatever supernatural revelation God now makes to men, and are abundantly sufficient for all the practical necessities 'of men or communities.

This is proved -- (1.) From the design of Scripture. It professes to lead us to God. Whatever is necessary to that end it must teach us. If any supplementary knowledge is necessary, it must refer to it. Incompleteness in such an undertaking would be falsehood. But (2.) while Christ and his apostles constantly refer to Scripture as an authoritative rule, neither they nor the Scriptures themselves ever refer to any other source of divine revelation whatsoever. They therefore assume all the awful prerogatives of completeness. John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:15-17. And (3.), as a matter of fact, the Scriptures do teach a perfect system of doctrine, and all the principles which are necessary for the practical regulation of the lives of individuals, communities, and churches. The more diligent men have been in the study of the Bible, and the more assiduous they have been in carrying out its instructions into practice, the less has it been possible for them to believe that it is incomplete in any element of a perfect rule of all that which man is to believe concerning God, and of all that duty which God requires of man.

2.Nothing during the present dispensation is to be added to this complete rule of faith, either by new revelations of the Spirit or by traditions of men.

No new revelations of the Spirit are to be expected now --
(1.) Because he has already given us a complete and all-sufficient rule. (2.) because, while the Old. Testament foretells the new dispensation, the New Testament does not refer to any further revelation to be expected before the second advent of Christ: they always refer to the "coming" or "appearance" of Christ as the very next supernatural event to be anticipated. (3.) As a matter of fact, no pretended revelations of the Spirit since the days of the apostles have borne the marks or been accompanied with the "signs" of a supernatural revelation: on the contrary, all that have been made public -- as those of Swedenborg and the Mormons -- are inconsistent with Scripture truth, directly oppose the authority of Scripture, and teach bad morals; while private revelations have been professed only by vain enthusiasts, and are incapable of verification.

Traditions of men cannot be allowed to supplement Scripture as a rule of faith, because -- (1.) The Scriptures, while undertaking to lead men to a saving knowledge of God, never once ascribe authority to any such a supplementary rule. (2.) Christ rebukes the practical observance of it in the Pharisees. Matt. 15:3-6; Mark 7:7, 8. (3.) Tradition cannot supplement Scripture, because, while the latter is definite, complete, and perspicuous, the former is essentially indeterminate, obscure, and fragmentary. (4.) The only system of ecclesiastical tradition which pretends to rival the Scriptures as a rule of faith is that of the Roman Church; and her traditions are, many of them, demonstrably of modern origin. None can be traced to the apostolic age, much less to an apostolic origin: they are inconsistent with the clear teaching of Scripture, and with the opinions of many of the highest authorities in that Church itself in past ages.

3.Nevertheless, a personal spiritual illumination by the power of the Holy Ghost is necessary, in every case, for the practical and saving knowledge of the truth embraced in the Scriptures.

This necessity does not result from any want of either completeness or clearness in the revelation, but from the fact that man in a state of nature is carnal, and unable to discern the things of the Spirit of God. Spiritual illumination differs from inspiration, therefore, (1.) In that it conveys no new truths to the understanding, but simply opens the mind and heart of the subject to the spiritual discernment and appreciation of the truth already objectively presented in the Scriptures; and (2.) In that it is an element in regeneration common to all the children of God, and not peculiar to prophets or apostles; and hence, (3.) In that it is private and personal in its use, and not public.

4.That, while the Scriptures are a complete rule of faith and practice, and while nothing is to be regarded as an article of faith to be believed, or a religious duty obligatory upon the conscience, which is not explicitly or implicitly taught in Scripture, nevertheless they do not descend in practical matters into details, but, laying down general principles, leave men to apply them in the exercise of their natural judgment, in the light of experience, and in adaptation to changing circumstances, as they are guided by the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit.

This liberty, of course, is allowed only within the limits of the strict interpretation of the principles taught in the Word, and in the legitimate application of those principles, and applies to the regulation of the practical life of the individual and of the Church, in detailed adjustments to changing circumstances.

 

SECTION VII.All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all:[15] yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.[16]

Scripture Proof Texts

[15] 2 Pet. 3:16; [16] Psalm 119:105, 130.

This section affirms --

1.That the Scriptures are in such a sense perspicuous that all that is necessary for man to know, in order to his salvation or for his practical guidance in duty, may be learned therefrom; and --

2.That they are designed for the personal use, and are adapted to the instruction, of the unlearned as well as the learned.

Protestants admit that many of the truths revealed in the Scriptures in their own nature transcend human understanding, and that many prophecies remain intentionally obscure until explained by their fulfillment in the developments of history. Nevertheless, Protestants affirm, and Romnnists deny -- (1.) That every essential article of faith and rule of practice may be clearly learned from Scripture; and (2.) That private and unlearned Christians may be safely allowed to interpret Scripture for themselves. On the other hand, it is true that, with the advance of historical and critical knowledge, and by means of controversies, the Church as a community has made progress in the accurate interpretation of Scripture and in the full comprehension of the entire system of truth revealed therein.

That the Protestant doctrine on this subject is true, is proved --

(a.) From the fact that all Christians promiscuously are commanded to search the Scriptures. 2 Tim 3:15-17; Acts 17:11; John 5:39.

(b.) From the fact that the Scriptures are addressed either to all men or to the whole body of believers. Deut. 6:4-9; Luke 1:3; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; and the salutations of all the Epistles except those to Timothy and Titus.

(c.) The Scriptures are affirmed to be perspicuous. Ps. 119:105, 130; 2 Cor. 3:14; 2 Pet. 1:18, 19; 2 Tim. 3:15 -- 17.

(d.) The Scriptures address men as a divine law to be obeyed and as a guide to salvation. If for all practical purposes they are not perspicuous they must mislead, and so falsify their pretensions.

(e.) Experience has uniformly proved the truth of the Protestant doctrine. Those Churches which have most faithfully disseminated the Scriptures in the vernacular among the mass of the people have conformed most entirely to the plain and certain sense of their teaching in faith and practice; while those Churches which have locked them up in the hands of a priesthood have to the greatest degree departed from them both in letter and spirit.

 

SECTION VIII.The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical;[17] so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them.[18] But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them,[19] therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come,[20] that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner;[21] and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.[22]

Scripture Proof Texts

[17] Matt. 5:18; [18] Isa. 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39, 46 [19] John 5:39 [20] 1 Cor. 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 27, 28; [21] Col. 3:16; [22] Rom. 15:4.

This section teaches,--
1.That the Old Testament having been originally written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek -- which were the common languages of the large body of the Church in their respective periods -- the Scriptures in those languages are the absolute rule of faith and ultimate appeal in all controversies.

2.That the original sacred text has come down to us in a state of essential purity.

3.That the Scriptures should be translated into the vernacular languages of all people, and copies put into the hands of all capable of reading them.

The true text of the ancient Scriptures is ascertained by means of a careful collation and comparison of the following: --
1. Ancient manuscripts. The oldest existing Hebrew manuscripts date from the ninth or tenth century. The oldest Greek manuscripts date from the fourth to the sixth century. Many hundreds of these have been collated by eminent scholars in forming the text of modern Hebrew and Greek Testaments. The differences are found to be unimportant, and the essential integrity of our text is established.

2. Quotations from the apostolic Scriptures found in the writings of the early Christians. These are so numerous that the whole New Testament might be gathered from the worlds of writers dating before the seventh century, and they prove the exact state of the text at the time in which they were made.

3. Early translations into other languages. The principal of these are the Samaritan Pentateuch, which the Samaritans inherited from the ten tribes; the Greek Septuagint, B.C. 285; the Peshito or ancient Syriac version, A.D, 100; the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, A.D. 385; the Coptic of the fifth century, and others of less critical value.

 

SECTION IX.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 and known by other places that speak more clearly.[23]

SECTION X.The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.[24]

Scripture Proof Texts

[22] 2 Pet. 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16. [24] Matt. 22:29, 31; Eph. 2:20; Acts 28:25.

These sections teach,--
1.That the infallible and only true "rule" for the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself.

2.That the Scriptures are the supreme "judge" in all controversies concerning religion.

The authority of the Scriptures as the ultimate rule of faith rests alone in the fact that they are the Word of God. Since all these writings are one revelation, and the only revelation of his will concerning religion given by God to men, it follows: --
(1.) That they are complete as a revelation in themselves, and are not to be supplemented or explained by light drawn from any other source. (2.) That the different sections of this revelation mutually supplement and explain one another. The Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is the only adequate expounder of his own words, and he is promised to all the children of God as a Spirit of light and truth. In dependence upon his guidance, Christians are of course to study the Scriptures, using all the helps of true learning to ascertain their meaning; but this meaning is to be sought in the light of the Scriptures themselves taken as a whole, and not in the light either of tradition or of philosophy.

"A rule is a standard of judgment; a judge is the expounder and applier of that rule to the decision of particular cases."

The Romish doctrine is, that the Papal Church is the infallible teacher of men in religion; that, consequently, the Church authoritatively determines, (1.) What is Scripture; (2.) What is tradition; (3.) What is the true sense of Scripture and of tradition; and (4.) What is the true application of that rule to every particular question of faith or practice.

The Protestant doctrine is,--

(1.) That the Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice;

(2.) Negatively, that there is no body of men qualified or authorized to interpret the Scriptures or to apply their teachings to the decision of particular questions in a sense binding upon their fellow - Christians;

(3) Positively, that the Scriptures are the only authoritative voice in the Church; which is to be interpreted and applied by every individual for himself, with the assistance, though not by the authority, of his fellow-Christians. Creeds and confessions, as to form, bind those only who voluntarily profess them; and as to matter, they bind only so far as they affirm truly what the Bible teaches, and because the Bible does so teach.

This must be true -- (1.) Because the Scriptures, which profess to teach us the way of salvation, refer us to no standard or judge in matters of religion beyond or above themselves; and because no body of men since the apostles has ever existed, with the qualifications or with the authority to act in the office of judge for their fellows. (2.) Because, as we have seen, the Scriptures are themselves complete and perspicuous. (3.) Because all Christians are commanded to search the Scriptures, and to judge both doctrines and professed teachers themselves. John 5:39; 1John 2:20, 27; 4:1, 2; Acts 17:11; Gal. 1:8; 1 These. 5:21. (4.) Because all Christians are promised the Holy Spirit to guide them in the understanding and practical use of the truth. Rom. 8:9; 1John 2:20, 27.

Top of page

[Chapter 2][TOC][Creeds and Confessions][Home]