This article is about the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1: Authority of revelation.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1996. 2 pages.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1: The Authority of Revelation

In moving immediately from the fact of inspiration to the question of the Bible's au­thority the Confession of Faith is making a reasonable and logical transition of thought. If the case is so clear that one can identify revelation within clear limits by naming some books as directly inspired by God, and other books as not inspired at all, it is logical to state that these books so inspired are possessed with an authority which other writings do not have.

It is precisely for this reason that denomina­tions which are undergirded by theological liberal­ism leave themselves open to mere human opinions and ideologies and become the breeding ground for religious humanism. On the other hand, churches which accept the fact of the Bible's inspiration accept that the Bible is thereby authoritative as a rule of faith and life.

The Confession also ties together the au­thority of Scripture with the author of Scripture. The reception given to the Bible becomes then a reflection of the place God Himself is given. Thus Van Til is exactly correct to state that "One's theology of Scripture is organically related to and is but the expression of one's theology as a whole" (The Doctrine of Scripture, p. 32). Evangelicals are often accused of Bibliolatry; but the high ground occupied by the Bible in their thinking is only the expression of their Theolatry, their worship of the Triune God. So Van Til continues:

The inspiration of Scripture ... is the climax of a process of redemptive revelation, and this redemptive revela­tion is organically interwoven with revelation in the world as a whole. Therefore one who does not believe this theology cannot consistently believe the Bible of this theology.The Doctrine of Scripture, p. 32

Van Til also makes a connection between the necessity of scripture  (demonstrated in section 1), and its authority. The essence of sin is autonomy; this being so, Van Til argues in his Introduction to Systematic Theology, "There would be no necessity for anything but for an authoritative revelation while, on the other hand, there was an absolute necessity for an authoritative revelation" (p. 134). If we needed the Bible, we needed a Bible which could lord it over us by declaring truth to us.

This fact implies, as the Confession states, that the Bible 'ought to be believed and obeyed'. This obligation is independent of any ecclesiastical statement regarding the authority of Scripture. Declaratory Acts which are designed to weaken obligation to cardinal Scriptural doctrines can never have that effect; the Confession's position is that the Scriptures possess formal authority quite apart from the statements of men or churches. The church which declares the Bible to be the only rule of faith or life is not merely preaching a distinctive ecclesiastical tenet, but fulfilling its obligation under God.

There are, declares the Confession, various witnesses whose evidence testifies to the divine character of Scripture. We can, for example, by the testimony of the church, be moved to a high and reverend esteem of the Bible. In other words, although the Bible's authority does not depend on the church preaching, nevertheless the church's preaching can move men to accord the Bible its rightful place.

At 1.5, the Confession describes the Bible in terms of 'the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole ... the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salva­tion, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof. These are evidences that the Bible is the Word of God; confirmatory witnesses which demonstrate the thesis that the Bible is to believed because it is the Word of God. None of these aspects in isolation, nor even all of them together, amount to a statement of Biblical authority. Nonetheless, they do show to us the character of the Scriptures which makes the Bible quite unique among writings.

The corroboration of the statement of the Bible's authority is thus given in terms of the style and appearance of the Bible itself. It deals with lofty and high themes, each chapter and passage fitting in with the grand, unified message. There is no jarring of doctrines or words, no misplaced text and no passage calling for rewriting. It leaves the reader in no doubt as to his need, or God's provision for it. The description is open. The Bible is incomparably excellent in a myriad different ways; it is a book where "perfect plainness of speech is allied with perfect nobleness" (Matthew Arnold On Translat­ing Homer). Above all, it gives all the glory to God.

Yet the Confession reminds us that a non-Christian, an unconverted man or woman can ap­preciate all of this. One can be moved by the phenomena of Scripture as one can be moved by the phenomena of creation. Is not this the reason for which the study of biblical languages is often in the hands of unconverted men? Men with no interest in the truth as it is in Jesus willingly give the best years of their academic expertise to the study of the Word of God, purely out of an intellectual fascination with its contents.

Even the devils are aware of the incompara­ble excellency of the Word of God. That is why the devil's attack on the cause of truth has always centered around the question 'Has God really said...?'  Intellectual fascination is not enough. There must be the illuminating work of the Spirit of truth, who gives full persuasion and assurance of infallible truth; that is, persuasion that leads to the loving embrace of action as the psalmist expresses in Psalm 119:97 - "Oh, how I love thy law; it is my study all the day".

This infallible assurance is the Spirit's crea­tion, working in and through the word.

We have received, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:12, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

Spiritual illumination gives spiritual assurance of the spiritual nature of the Word of Almighty God.

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