Today I begin a new series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the Confession and read along with me.
The Necessity, Contents and Authority of Scripture
I always find it comforting when a doctrinal statement begins with the Bible (but we will come onto why that is important later).
Initially the Confession sets out the necessity for Scripture. Even though creation clearly displays God’s invisible attributes, such as eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20), this is not enough to bring salvation. In fact, as Paul writes to the church in Rome, it only leaves humanity ‘without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20). Therefore, it is necessary to have some means of bringing humanity the knowledge required to bring salvation. Scripture is that means: ‘the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3:15). Helpfully, the Confession then sets out the contents of this necessary means – the 66 books of the English Bible.
The authority of this book known as Scripture is then asserted to be found in its source. As the Confession puts it:
- 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. (pg. 28)
In other words, Scripture comes from God, and since it comes from God it is endued with the authority that comes from the omnipotent Sovereign. Peter writes this himself:
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)
Can I be sure?
How can I then be sure that the Confession is correct in its claims about the necessity, content and authority of Scripture?
According to the Confession there are many things which evidence that Scripture is from God, and therefore deserves our ‘high and reverent esteem’ (pg. 28). The things noted, among many other excellencies, are the: testimony of the church of God, heavenliness of the matter contained within, efficacy of the doctrine, majestic style, consent of all parts, scope of the whole and light it shines on salvation (pg. 28). However, even though these things are evidences, it is only really the Holy Spirit who can cause assurance in our hearts concerning the necessity, content and authority of Scripture. As the Confession reads, ‘yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit’ (pg.28).
Moreover, the process is the same with salvation. While Scripture contains clearly and explicitly all that is necessary for man’s salvation, faith and life it is only the Holy Spirit who can bring about a saving understanding of the contents of Scripture (pg. 29).
For All People
Another vital, yet almost incidental, point made by the Confession is that Scripture is for all people – as opposed to a few religiously qualified people. That being said, it is not naive in its assertion. Scripture itself acknowledges that parts of it are difficult to comprehend. Peter, in referencing Paul’s letters as Scripture, admits ‘[t]here are some things in them that are hard to understand’ (2 Peter 3:16). Therefore, the Confession reads:
- 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. (pg. 29-30)
These facts are further supported as the Confession proceeds to encourage serious, rigorous study of Scripture by urging that points of debate be settled by appealing to the sacred texts in their original languages; while, at the same time promoting the translation of Scripture into the common languages of all people so that the Word of God may dwell plentifully in them.
Beginning and Ending with the Bible
We end this reflection by referencing our opening comment. It is important for doctrinal statements to begin with Scripture, because in the end Scripture interprets Scripture and is the ultimate rule under which all of life is to be worked out.
In concluding I cannot better the words of the Confession:
- 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.
- 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. (pg. 31)
Surely we must love, know and obey Scripture in light of the above!