The following information is taken from AA Hodge’s Outlines of Theology, published in 1866. Hodge graduated from Princeton Seminary and served as a missionary to India and a pastor. He later served as a Professor and Chair of Theology at Princeton Seminary. Hodge was an associate and contemporary of the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, and his Systematic Theology text was used at Spurgeon’s Pastors College.
What Baptists Believe
Article I, Paragraph 10 of the London Baptist Confession states:
The supreme judge by which all religious controversies are to be settled, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, human doctrines and individual thinkers are to be examined, can be none other than the Holy Scriptures delivered by the Spirit. In the verdict of Scripture our faith is finally determined.
As an application of the above, the Baptist catechism of 1695 teaches:
May all men make use of the Scriptures?
A. All men are not only permitted, but commanded and exhorted, to read, hear, and understand the Scriptures. (John 5:39; Luke 16:29; Acts 8:28-30; 17:11)
Outlines of Theology (AA Hodge), Chap 5
19. By what direct arguments may the doctrine that the Scriptures are the final judge of controversies be established?
That all Christians are to study the Scriptures for themselves, and that in all questions as to God’s revealed will the appeal is to the Scriptures alone, is proved by the following facts:
1st Scripture is perspicuous, see above, questions 11-13.
2nd Scripture is addressed to all Christians as such, see above, question 13.
3rd All Christians are commanded to search the scriptures, and by them to judge all doctrines and all professed teachers.— John 5:39; Acts 17:11; Gal. 1:8; 2 Cor. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1-2.
4th The promise of the Holy Spirit, the author and interpreter of Scripture, is to all Christians as such. Compare John 20:23 with Luke 24:47-49; 1 John 2:20,27; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16-17.
5th Religion is essentially a personal matter. Each Christian must know and believe the truth explicitly for himself; on the direct ground of its own moral and spiritual evidence, and not on the mere ground of blind authority. Otherwise faith could not be a moral act, nor could it “purify the heart.” Faith derives its sanctifying power from the truth which it immediately apprehends on its own experimental evidence.— John 17:17-19; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:22.
20. What is the objection which the Romanists make to this doctrine, on the ground that the church is our only authority for believing that the scriptures are the word of God?
Their objection is, that as we receive the scriptures as the word of God only on the authoritative testimony of the church, our faith in the Scriptures is only another form of our faith in the church, and the authority of the church, being the foundation of that of Scripture, must of course be held paramount.
This is absurd, for two reasons:
1st The assumed fact is false. The evidence upon which we receive Scripture as the word of God is not the authority of the church, but –
- God did speak by the apostles and prophets, as is evident (a) from the nature of their doctrine, (b) from their miracles, (c) their prophecies, (d) our personal experience and observation of the power of the truth.
- These very writings which we possess were written by the apostles, etc., as is evident, (a) from internal evidence, (b) from historical testimony rendered by all competent cotemporaneous witnesses in the church or out of it.
2nd Even if the fact assumed was true, viz., that we know the Scriptures to be from God, on the authority of the church’s testimony alone, the conclusion they seek to deduce from it would be absurd. The witness who proves the identity or primogenitor of a prince does not thereby acquire a right to govern the kingdom, or even to interpret the will of the prince.
21. How is the argument for the necessity of a visible judge, derived from the diversities of sects and doctrines among Protestants, to be answered?
1st We do not pretend that the private judgment of Protestants is infallible, but only that when exercised in a humble, believing spirit, it always leads to a competent knowledge of essential truth.
2nd The term Protestant is simply negative, and is assumed by many infidels who protest as much against the Scriptures as they do against Rome. But Bible Protestants, among all their circumstantial differences, are, to a wonderful degree, agreed upon the essentials of faith and practice. Witness their hymns and devotional literature.
3rd The diversity that does actually exist arises from failure in applying faithfully the Protestant principles for which we contend. Men do not simply and without prejudice take their creed from the Bible.
4th The Catholic church, in her last and most authoritative utterance through the Council of Trent, has proved herself a most indefinite Judge. Her doctrinal decisions need an infallible interpreter infinitely more than the Scriptures.
22. How may it be shown that the Romanist theory, as well as the Protestant, necessarily throws upon the people the obligation of private judgment?
Is there a God? Has he revealed himself? Has he established a church? Is that church an infallible teacher? Is private judgment a blind leader? Which of all pretended churches is the true one? Every one of these questions evidently must be settled in the Private judgment of the inquirer, before he can, rationally or irrationally, give up his private judgment to the direction of the self-asserting church. Thus of necessity Romanists appeal to the Scriptures to prove that the Scriptures cannot be understood, and address arguments to the private judgment of men to prove that private judgment is incompetent; thus basing an argument upon that which it is the object of the argument to prove is baseless.
23. How may it be proved that the people are far more competent to discover what the Bible teaches than to decide, by the marks insisted upon by the Romanists, which is the true church?
The Romanists, of necessity, set forth certain marks by which the true church is to be discriminated from all counterfeits. These are
- Unity (through subjection to one visible head, the Pope);
- Apostolicity, (involving an uninterrupted succession from the apostles of canonically ordained bishops.)
– “Cat. of Council of Trent,” Part 1., Cap. 10. Now, the comprehension and intelligent application of these marks involve a great amount of learning and intelligent capacity upon the part of the inquirer. He might as easily prove himself to be descended from Noah by an unbroken series of legitimate marriages, as establish the right of Rome to the last mark. Yet he cannot rationally give up the right of studying the Bible for himself until that point is made clear.
Surely the Scriptures, with their self-evidencing spiritual power, make less exhaustive demands upon the resources of private judgment.