The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section I.6
“The whole counsel of God,” is of course a phrase taken directly out of the bible, in the context of Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian elders concerning their roles and responsibilities in the church of God (Acts 20:27). It also happens to be the title of an excellent trilogy by Richard C. Gamble, serving the same purpose.1 For the authors of the Confession it includes several things. First of all, echoing the answer to the chief end of man in the Catechisms, it starts with everything “concerning all things necessary for his own glory.” Paul began his speech by declaring that he had “kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (vv. 20-21)
Keeping back nothing was the flip side, as it were, of the whole counsel of God. There is much here to commend one to the ministry. It concerns both public proclamation, and house to house counsel. Paul’s procedure was to go to the Jews first, but as with him, so with us, it surely also means going to all people. The subject we must begin with, the subject of our proclamation to the world, nevertheless does have a beginning. Repentance and faith then, is the beginning of the whole counsel. This is the beginning of “testifying to the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24). This is also described as “preaching the kingdom of God” (v. 25). For Paul, and for any who would also be faithful, we do this that we might be “innocent of the blood of all men” (v. 26). One could go on to explicate further points made by Paul.
However, suffice it to show that this was in the forefront and context of the authors of the Confession. As mentioned, one of the chief ends, along with enjoying God, was to glorify God in all things (Cf. I Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17; WSC & WLC Q & A 1). Therefore, we must not limit, or pick and choose, what we want to highlight from the scriptures, but instead we must be concerned with the comprehensive and coherent world and life view attitude of the whole of scripture. It is all of one seamless garment. Further reasons for being so all inclusive, concern all things necessary for our salvation, which must needs go beyond the introduction of repentance and faith, to include all that follows, namely faith, and life. Let it therefore not be argued that the Confession is not concerned with a Christian, that is a Biblical world and life view.
However, they did not conceive of our relationship to the word, and its place in a Christian worldview, in any kind of a wooden perspective. Of course it includes everything “expressly set down in Scripture,” that is not just some things, but it also included those things that could, “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” There is a broad or expansive space in the faith and life of the Christian and the church, for addressing all of our life in the world. “Logical consequence is a fundamental concept in logic, which describes the relationship between statements that hold true when one statement logically follows from one or more statements.”2 To ‘deduce’ is to draw out the logical conclusions or consequences of one’s reasoning.
“‘All Scripture’ is declared to be ‘profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’; but all these ends cannot be obtained, unless by the deduction of consequences. Legitimate consequences, indeed, only bring out the full meaning of the words of Scripture; and as we are endued with the faculty of reason, and commanded to search the Scriptures; it was manifestly intended that we should draw conclusions from what is therein set down in express words. By ‘perfection’ of scripture, then, we mean, that the Scripture, including necessary consequences as well as the express words, contains a complete revelation of the will of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life. The Scripture represented as ‘perfect’, fitted to answer every necessary end (Ps. 19:8,9).
It is sufficient to make ‘the man of God perfect’, and able to make private Christians ‘wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3:15-17). So complete is the Scripture, that its author has peremptorily prohibited either to add to, or to diminish ought from it (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18,19).”3 However, what sets Dt. 4:2 from Rev. 22:18-19 is, Moses laid down in Deuteronomy the guidelines for judging further canonical words in his discourses on true an false prophets (13; 18:15-22). So he was clear that nothing could be added to his composition of The Five Books, but he also laid down the rules for determining the canonicity of future revelations of the word of God. “Christ and his apostles have foretold the rise of false prophets, and warned us not to give heed to their pretended revelations (Matt. 24:11,24).
The Apostle Paul denounces a curse upon all who preach any other gospel than that which is contained in the Scriptures (Gal. 1:8,9).”4 On the other hand, the authors of the Confession wanted to make clear that “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence.” This section alerts us to a reality then present, that not all those who participated in the Assembly were Reformed Presbyterians, and it really was out of a desire to put in writing what they could all agree to, that they settled on these words. However, these RPs, certainly had very distinct conceptions concerning ‘The Regulative Principle Of Worship’, and of Presbyterian church government.5
Of course there are many different conceptions of the application of the regulative principle of worship, as there are different forms of church government. However, the fathers of the Confession decided to deal with these specific applications elsewhere. Nevertheless, this does not take away the fact that they did lay down the principle that there are principles which may be derived from scripture to address these and other areas. “Because these principles are so all-encompassing we ought to do all (whether we eat, or drink or whatsoever we may do”) to the glory of God. And because each person must, as an image of God, apply these principles to his own particular circumstances, etc., it is of the utmost importance to insist upon Christian liberty (See Ch. XX).6
Some of these things have to do with the location or exact time of worship (Cf. Acts 2:46; 16:13, 25; 17:10-11; 18:7; 20:7). “The principle remained always in effect (Ex. 20:8), but the principle was carried out under varied circumstances concerning which God had not given every possible direction. We are not at liberty to modify the principle in any degree. But we are at liberty to work out the principle according to changes in circumstances, etc. (We may move the place of assembly from one building to another or from one hour to another, but not from one day to another.) Nothing other than the circumstances could be changed legitimately. We see this distinction in matters of worship and government.”7
Williamson is certainly on solid ground, given the make-up of the vast majority of the participants at the Assembly, that both worship and government of the church had clear scriptural justification. “The organization of the church with presbyteries and general assembly is of divine appointment, but the details of Church order is left to men.”8 Furthermore, Williams is also correct to highlight the connection that exists between redemptive acts, and accompanying revelation. The scriptures are indeed sufficient to provide everything we need for our salvation. “Paul’s testimony in II Timothy 3:15-17 plainly indicates that there is no such deficiency, since they are able to furnish the believer unto perfection. What would a comparison between Hebrews 10:10 (or 10:12, 7:27, etc.) and Jude 3 lead to?
Can Christ’s ‘once for all’ sacrifice be added to? If it cannot, then how can ‘the faith…once for all delivered to the saints’ be added to either?”9 “In making this point, the authors of the confession refer to Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, in which he tells them to ignore even ‘an angle from heaven’ should he come to them with another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). The teaching of Christ and his apostles is sufficient for us. Their explanation of Christianity is definitive.”10 “This section teaches (1) that God’s finished revelation (now inscripturated) is entirely sufficient for all of man’s spiritual needs, (2) that it is sufficient for all time (it cannot be added to), and (3) yet it is sufficient in terms of principles rather than details (leaving it to men to apply general principles according to their image function in particular instances).”11
“We are not restricted to the explicit words of Scripture. God is wisdom, and Christ is the Logos or Reason of God; we were created in his image, and are therefore required to accept conclusions deduced from Scripture ‘by good and necessary consequence.’ Christ himself, in arguing against the Pharisees, frequently drew out the implications of the Old Testament. John 10:34-36 is such an argument. Another example of implication, though not from the words of the Old Testament, is found in John 8:42. Paul in Ram. 3:20 draws a conclusion from a series of Old Testament verses. This same process of implication, which characterizes the New Testament, must also be applied today. Really, the trouble is not the justification of logic. The trouble is that some people doubt logic.”12
The primary source, or first axiom of a Biblical or Scriptural worldview, is of course the Scriptures themselves. To this end the fathers of the Confession reiterate the canonicity of the Bible which they delineated in the previous sections (I.1-5). In this respect, the canon being closed in the last days of the old covenant administration, and the inauguration of the new age in Jesus, stands alone, “unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” The first section of this sentence also reiterates the concluding words of the first section which stated, “those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.” By adding the “traditions of men,” they primarily had in view the Roman Catholic dictates.
However, it also surely applies to any traditions of men, including that with which Jesus had to contend, when he said to the Pharisees of his day that they made “the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Cf. Mt. 15:3-6; Mk. 7:13) Although the Old Testament refers to the new administration of the one covenant of grace, “the New Testament does not refer to any further revelation to be expected before the second advent of Christ.”13 Quite the opposite is in fact the case, as John in the final ‘Revelation’ of the new covenant states (Re. 22:18-19 Cf. Jn. 20:31; II Tim. 3:15-17). “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.”
“Of course, the validity of logic does not guarantee our infallibility. We may make mistakes in inference, and, what is more frequent, we may misunderstand some portions of Scripture. Especially with regard to a saving understanding of Scripture, we need the illumination of the Spirit of God. One of the reasons is that a saving understanding goes beyond an ordinary understanding. The worst infidel can easily understand that the Bible means to say that David was King of Israel and that Christ was Messiah. But in order that this information may be saving information, a man must accept it as the Word of God.”14 The necessity for the illumination of the Spirit “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.”15
Supplementary scripture: Is. 59:21; Jn. 6:45; 16:13; I Cor. 2:9-12; 11:13-14; 14:26, 40; Gal. 1:8; II Th. 2:2; I Jn. 2:20.
3. (Shaw, 51)
4. (Ibid., 51)
5. (David W. Hall)
6. (Williamson, 11)
7. (Ibid., 12)
8. (Ibid., 12)
9. (Ibid., 10)
10. (‘Confessing The Faith’ Chad Van Dixhoorn, 18)
11. (Clark, 20)
12. (Williamson, 10)
13. (A.A. Hodge, 38)
14. (Clark, 21)
15. (A.A. Hodge, 39)