The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section I.7
“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all.” We all have those parts of scripture which are not plain. Even those parts that seem clear, like “In the beginning God,” seems clear enough on the surface, but what does it mean? When one seeks an answer to this question, one soon discovers that it means a lot of things! In the previous paragraph, the authors of the Confession made the key point that some things are “expressly set down in Scripture.” It is a critical issue, because the scriptures are the means by which one must know “all things necessary,” first of all for God’s glory. Much attention is placed upon what follows this, namely “man’s salvation,” and certainly getting this right is a critical issue. However, as the catechisms state, ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” (WLC) Now right away, even here in the Confession we see that the faith is like a tapestry, made with threads of many colours, and who can plumb its depth? We are left in awe at both God and the beauty of that salvation which he has wrought.
Every age of the church is always in a battle to both defend and propagate these truths, and perhaps we feel the need to array our armor to defend the fundamentals, so to speak, and we don’t spend the time and thought to see just how wide and deep is this salvation message. Furthermore, the fathers of the Confession didn’t confine themselves to the things necessary for salvation, as far wide, and deep as this is, but it all begins first with everything which pertains to God’s glory, which is everything! So that our “faith” also pertains to everything, as does our “life”. This is just another way of saying that the Christian faith is a worldview pertaining to all of our ‘faith and life’. Salvation, the message of the gospel, is the gospel of the kingdom, and to this end is God’s glory displayed, and why the Lord instructed us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the scope of the salvation which the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One has procured and continues to exercise in his threefold office as prophet, priest, and king. This is one reason why we must know how to understand the scriptural testimony.
Again, as noted above, in paragraph 6 they also introduced what we call ‘hermeneutics’, or methods and principles of scriptural interpretation. First among those principles is letting scripture interpret scripture. When we come to those truths which are not “expressly set down,” we can and must “by good an necessary consequence” deduce “from Scripture.” This is one side of the same coin, so to speak, the other side being expressed here in paragraph 7, namely applying the same method or principle to understanding what may not be “plain in themselves.” What this all means is that the scriptures, according to our authors, are viewed as a whole body, ‘perspicuous’, that is clear unto all, if we follow certain basic principles, some of which they chose to lay down here in the Confession. Furthermore, they believed that this wasn’t just true for the scholarly, or ecclesiastical order, but for the laity as well. However, we must not miss what they added here, that though all can know how to read their bible, nevertheless there are some, so gifted by God, who have a greater clarity.
God has not only gifted some for the task of a greater comprehension, but he has done so for the benefit of his church, so that these must not be proud nor selfish in the exercise of these gifts, but understand the purpose for why they are given, namely God’s glory. No doubt there is a sense in which the big things, the things indispensable to know in regards to salvation, are of the utmost import, and it was the conviction of the fathers that these matters are clear, when some basic principles of interpretation, such as are found in the scriptures themselves, are understood and applied. These principles, among other things, they call “the ordinary means,” including the means of teachers that God has gifted to the church to this end. The means are actually many and manifold, such that they are indeed “sufficient” to give an understanding of the things therein laid down. Through the proper use of the means provided, one may comprehend what is necessary for salvation, as far, wide, and deep as all things done to God’s glory. Also, it is not enough to know these things, but to then ‘observe’ them, or put them into practice.
“The first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith has made statements about the necessity of Scripture, the canon of Scripture, the authority of Scripture and the sufficiency of Scripture. Here we are told about the clarity of Scripture.”1 Sincere study and interpretation to gain greater understanding, is worlds apart from doubt motivated from an antithetical disposition. The fathers, in their context in particular, wanted to make clear, contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine, that anyone can read the scriptures, even those translated into their mother tongue, sufficient to make one wise unto salvation. We don’t need, as desirable as it often is, anyone else to interpret them for us, least of all those who are opposed to the very fundamentals of that word itself. We must acknowledge, that this is an area of spiritual warfare. “It is the original lie of Satan that God, speaking in his Word, needs an interpreter to give man infallible guidance (Gen. 2:17, 3:4).”2 One must realize that in an appeal to any other source for the authority that would supposedly be clearer than the word, is to place that source above the word.
This also holds true for those who are convinced that there are errors in the bible, and since there is, one must decide that which is authoritative and what is not. Even among so-called ‘evangelicals’ there are those who believe that the scriptures are only inerrant on matters of faith. However, who decides what is a matter of ‘faith’, and also, who decides that those parts regarded as such do in fact pertain to those matters. For all their claims and desire for so-called ‘cultural relevance’, these ‘evangelicals’ so truncate the gospel and discipleship in thought and deed, that ‘the faith’ so-called, is only that which is left to someone who has accepted lock, stock, and barrel a secularistic worldview, where so-called ‘faith’ of any sort is but a private socially irrelevant species. Even this Confession itself, attests to being only one interpretation of the word. It cannot be otherwise. “The authority of creeds is determined by scripture, not determinative of scripture.”3 This author fails to see how one can speak of the authority of scripture, when one is engaged in a subjective determination of what parts are without error.
How can the scriptures be clear, if they contain errors? Authority in these matters is inescapable. Scripture claims to be its own authoritative interpreter, and in can be so, logically, because in addition to being the words of men, it also happens to be the word of God, which as Jesus stated, includes every Greek iota, Hebrew yod, and the smallest stroke of a letter (Mt. 5:18). However, clarity does not mean that there are not some things hard to understand. As anyone who enjoys reading can testify, reading is as much an active exercise as is writing. Effort must be expended for good work to be achieved. “Peter reminds us that there are in Scripture “some things hard to be understood” (II Pet. 3:16). It is not the Scriptures but some things in Scripture which are declared difficult to understand.”4 If, as the fathers believed, the scriptures are clear, though some parts are hard to understand, then it clearly means that they are able to convey the truth as we understand it from God himself. His word conveys univocal, unambiguous truth. For this reason it is not warranted, nor is it necessary, to conceive of our knowing as only ‘analogical’.5
Furthermore, “if God has not spoken clearly, how can we be sure that others understand what we cannot.”6 “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. iii. 15-17; Acts xvii. 11; John v. 39. (b) From the fact that the Scriptures are addressed either to all men or to the whole body of believers. Deut. vi. 4-9; Luke i.3; Rom. i.7; 1 Cor. i.2; 2 Cor. i.1; and the salutations of all the Epistles except those to Timothy and Titus. (c) The Scriptures are affirmed to be perspicuous. Ps. cxix. 105, 130; 2 Cor. iii. 14; 2 Pet. i.18, 19; 2 Tim. iii. 15-17. (d) The Scriptures addresses 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.”7 Williamson has a different fourth point from A. A. Hodge which is relevant, but not found in this author’s copy. “The Scriptures address men as a direct divine law to be personally obeyed, etc (Eph. 5:22, 25, 6:1,5,9; Col. 4:1; Rom. 16:2 etc.).”8
1. (Van Dix Hoorn, 21)
2. (Williamson, 13)
3. (Ibid., 13)
4. (Ibid., 13)
5. (This refers to the irrational conception of epistemology and language, or the study of knowledge and its transmission, as espoused by Cornelius Van Til).
6. (Ibid., 13)
7. (A. A. Hodge, 40)
8. (Williamson, 14)