Friday, July 28, 2017

WCF LC Commentary

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Westminster Larger Catechism # 4

Q4: How doth it appear that the scriptures are the word of God?

A4: The scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by their majesty [1] and purity;[2] by the consent of all the parts,[3] and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God;[4] by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation:[5] but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.[6]

“In vain were the authority of Scripture fortified by argument, or supported by the consent of the Church, or confirmed by any other helps, if unaccompanied by an assurance higher and stronger than human judgment can give. Till this better foundation has been laid, the authority of Scripture remains in suspense. On the other hand, when recognizing its exemption from the common rule, we receive it reverently, and according to its dignity, those proofs which were not so strong as to produce and rivet a full conviction in our minds, become most appropriate helps. For it is wonderful how much we are confirmed in our belief, when we more attentively consider how admirably the system of divine wisdom contained in it is arranged _ how perfectly free the doctrine is from every thing that savors of earth _ how beautifully it harmonizes in all its parts _ and how rich it is in all the other qualities which give an air of majesty to composition. Our hearts are still more firmly assured when we reflect that our admiration is elicited more by the dignity of the matter than by the graces of style. For it was not without an admirable arrangement of providence, that the sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words. Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have caviled, and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?

Hence there was good ground for the Apostle’s declaration, that the faith of the Corinthians was founded not on “the wisdom of men,” but on “the power of God,” (1 Corinthians 2:5) this speech and preaching among them having been “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 2: 5.) For the truth is vindicated opposing every doubt, when, unsupported by foreign aid, it has its sole sufficiency in itself. How peculiarly this property belongs to Scripture appears from this, that no human writings, however skillfully composed, can affect us in a similar way. Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle, or any other of that class: you will, I admit, feel wonderfully allured, pleased, moved, enchanted; but turn from them to the reading of the Sacred Volume, and whether you will or not, it will so affect you, so pierce your heart, so work its way into your very marrow, that, in comparison of the impression so produced, that of orators and philosophers will almost disappear; making it manifest that in the Sacred Volume there is a truth divine, a something which makes it immeasurably superior to all the gifts and graces attainable by man.” (John Calvin Institutes I.viii.i)

Calvin rightly nails this one very early in his systematic work, in that all the external proofs of man for us to either affirm or deny the Bible as God’s word pale from the testimony of the Bible itself, and more especially the witness of the Holy Spirit within the heart of man.

It appears at first glance the Westminster Divines are mixing answers here, and move from the proof of the Bible as the word of God to salvation. Again we see the insight granted by the Holy Spirit to those assigned the task of developing this Reformed creed. What could bring more glory to God than the conversion of sinful man? For what purpose did God send His Son (the Word manifest in the flesh)? All the blood of all the beasts slain for the Jewish altar could not cause the salvation of one soul, yet the blood of one heavenly lamb is sufficient for all humankind, past, present, and future, and most efficacious for those to whom the Holy Spirit applies it. We see this in the references chosen for this question. While more plentiful than many other questions, the real force of the argument lies in these verses that point to the power of the Bible in the life of man.

Thus we see the most simple write words that appear crude as noted by Calvin, soar to heights attained by no work of man. We watch several score men writing over several centuries attain a continuity and consistency seldom reached by a single author when trying to cover such a scope of material. We see a superb unity in the purpose as the whole points to God’s glory being manifested in His salvation of His elect for His own purpose. Nay, the Westminster Divines rightly point to the real proof of the Bible being the very word of God, for no other could begin to manifest such power. Last perhaps we could point to the very presence of the Bible as proof of its heavenly origin. No other document has been so preserved from the past. Even when we turn to relatively modern writings of men, few if any traces of the originals exist. Despite the efforts of many in several ages to eradicate this word, it has prevailed against edicts of king and prelate throughout the ages.

This is a question that is hard to tie to any particular petal of the TULIP, which has been a goal of this series. Yet, we can rightly say that without this sure authority of the Bible as God’s word, our precious tulip would wither and die. So, it can be said to be the life of all five classic points and sustainer of the Reformed faith. It is here then we must turn for all matters of faith and life. While there is great value to tradition and the teachings of the fathers, it is only where they are in harmony with Scripture, we can accept them without fault nor debate.

by Dr. Chuck Baynard

[1] I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.(Hosea 8:12 AV)

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: (1 Corinthians 2:6-7 AV)

Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:13 AV)

Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. {Open: Heb. Reveal} (Psalms 119:18 AV)

Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me thy law graciously. (Psalms 119:29 AV)

[2] The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. (Psalms 12:6 AV)

Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it. {pure: Heb. tried, or, refined} (Psalms 119:140 AV)

[3] To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:43 AV)

Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: (Acts 26:22 AV)

[4] Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. {guilty…: or, subject to the judgment of God} (Romans 3:19 AV)

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.(Romans 3:27 AV)

[5] For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ. {Christ: or, is the Christ} (Acts 18:28 AV)

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 AV)

Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18 AV)

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. {law: or, doctrine} {converting: or, restoring} The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. {true: Heb. truth} (Psalms 19:7-9 AV)

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4 AV)

And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32 AV)

[6] Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. (John 16:13-14 AV)

But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. (1 John 2:20 AV)

But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. {in him: or, in it} (1 John 2:27 AV)

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20:31 AV)

by Dr. Chuck Baynard

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