As we saw last time the Westminster Confession began with the subject of Revelation. God HAS revealed himself to his creatures. He has revealed himself in a general revelation and through verbal revelation which has been written down and recorded in the Scriptures. The written revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures are the authoritative standard of what God desires for us to believe and do. The children’s catechism puts it nicely, “where do you learn how to love and obey God? A: In the Bible alone.
But then one might ask what is the bible? Or, where do I find the Holy Scriptures? The Confession answers that question in section 2. It lists the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments that are in your bibles. These are the books that have been recognized as inspired by God and authoritative.
Section 3 goes on to deny that the writings known as the “Apocrypha” which the Roman Catholic Church declared authoritative after the Reformation (and in part as a spiteful reaction to it) are in fact inspired or authoritative. These books were never accepted as inspired or authoritative by the people of God before the coming of Christ, were never quoted by Christ or the apostles, and were never recognized as authoritative by the early Church. A few contain some historical information and positive moral instruction but they also contain inaccuracies, legendary material, and doctrines contrary to the accepted Scriptures.
Though not addressing this question directly, this section also speaks to the writings that were falsely claimed to be from apostles or authoritative in the early Church (2 Thess. 2:2). Some of these were written by imposters others were written by later gnostic sects trying to take advantage of the growing popularity of Jesus to present their own teachings (“gospel of Thomas, Judas, etc.) Despite all the media publicity these books are not inspired by God nor were they ever recognized as inspired.
Section 4 emphasizes an important point. Even though the Church is formally recognizing certain books and denying others in this confession, THE CHURCH DOESN’T GIVE THE BOOKS AUTHORITY. IT DOESN’T MAKE THEM AUTHORITATIVE. The authority or God’s Word is established by God himself speaking in the Word. Therefore no man and indeed no Church can nullify the authority of the inspired books by failing to recognize them. And in fact no man and no Church can make an uninspired book authoritative by declaring it so.
Section 5 deals with proof. It says that there are many arguments and evidences which point us to the fact that the Holy Scriptures are indeed the Word of God BUT to be fully persuaded of the truthfulness and authority of God’s Word the Holy Spirit must work by and with the Word in our hearts. This of course reminds us that Salvation is of the Lord and we need to pray that the Lord would accompany his Word in our hearts as well as the hearts of those we love or are sharing Christ with. In any case the arguments and evidences are:
-The Testimony of the Church – The people of God recognized the Old Testament Scriptures before the coming of Christ. Jesus and the apostles also did the same. The early Church had a remarkable agreement on the inspired books of the New Testament. This agreement has largely remained.
-The testimony of the bible itself – Scripture refers more than three thousand times to it’s own inspiration.
-It’s spiritual subject matter – The bible speaks presents all things from a profound spiritual perspective.
-The effectiveness of its teaching – when men, women, and children are enabled to believe its doctrines and obey it’s precepts we see a beautiful life of love to God and to others; respect, dignity, justice, mercy, etc.
-Majesty of its style and the consent of all its parts – The bible includes 66 books written by some forty different authors some highly educated some having little education. Yet not only are there no contradictions in it, but it presents one amazing story of God’s good creation ruined by sin and rebellion and the fierce determination of God to save a people and restore all things through his Son. As the story is told it uses prose, poetry, wisdom literature, prophecy, apocalyptic visions, and more to impress upon us these things in a truly impressive manner.
-Unified aim to give glory to God – The bible in all it’s parts glorify God whether as Creator, as Ruler, as Redeemer, or as Judge.
-The discovery (revelation) it makes of the only way of man’s salvation – The bible reveals everything we need to know and believe about Jesus and the salvation that comes by grace through him. It also reveals everything which God requires of his people and teaches us how to live our lives in Christ.
-It’s many other incomparable excellencies and its complete perfection – We could in fact list hundreds ways the Holy Scriptures show themselves to be exceedingly excellent. In fact they are perfect in every way.
Again these are strong arguments and proofs that the Word is in fact inspired by God and so authoritative however the Holy Spirit alone can lead us to be fully persuaded and convinced.
May he give us all confidence in his Word
In chapter 1 of the confession we have been looking at the revelation of God. God is there and he is not silent.
First we saw that in addition to natural revelation he has given us verbal revelation which is found in the Holy Scriptures.
Second we looked at which books were inspired and given by God and so make up the Scriptures and how we can be sure that they are the Word of God.