Sola Scriptura versus Sola Ecclesia

The Roman Catholic argument against Bible Christianity is that without an infallible interpreter, the Scriptures cannot be comprehended. This is an argument against the perspicuity of Scripture.

James White

In the following video, James White presents closing arguments against a Roman Catholic apologist and demonstrates the absurdity of the view that the task of “interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #100).

The Baptist Position

A great summary of the historic protestant position is found in the London Baptist Confession of Faith (para 1.7):

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.

The historic Protestant position has always been that although there are very difficult things found in the Scriptures, those things related to our salvation are plain and clear. Though the Spirit has uniquely gifted particular men with the ability to teach the church, ultimately, men will be judged based on our faith in Christ, NOT our faith in our leaders. Says Charles Hodge:

That the obligations to faith and obedience are personal. Every man is responsible for his religious faith and his moral conduct. He cannot transfer that responsibility to others; nor can others assume it in his stead. He must answer for himself; and if he must answer for himself, he must judge for himself. It will not avail him in the day of judgment to say that his parents or his Church taught him wrong. He should have listened to God, and obeyed Him rather than men.

Additionally, Baptist have always held that the Scriptures may only be properly understood with the help and aid of the Holy Spirit. The following quote is from Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will:

But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from our own blindness or want of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth… Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God…. no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God.

The Scriptures are addressed to people, not to church officers. The Scriptures are commanded to be read to the people and the people are commanded to act on them and to teach them to their children. Quoting Charles Hodge again:

[The Prophets] said, “Hear, O Israel,” “Hearken, O ye people.” Thus, also, the discourses of Christ were addressed to the people, and the people heard him gladly. All the Epistles of the New Testament are addressed to the congregation, to the “called of Jesus Christ;” “to the beloved of God;” to those “called to be saints;” “to the sanctified in Christ Jesus;” “to all who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord;” “to the saints which are in (Ephesus), and to the faithful in Jesus Christ;” or “to the saints and faithful brethren which are in (Colosse);” and so in every instance. It is the people who are addressed. To them are directed these profound discussions of Christian doctrine, and these comprehensive expositions of Christian duty. They are everywhere assumed to be competent to understand what is written, and are everywhere required to believe and obey what thus came from the inspired messengers of Christ.

More on Rome’s View of Canon

Today I’m clearing out some old e-mails and I found the following post from Shane Lems (link at bottom) on the Roman Catholic view of the canon. Since I just posted on this topic yesterday, I thought I’d post some of it here:

In Rome’s view, the canon (Scripture) is determined by the church. Rome rejects the Reformation principle of sola scriptura because she believes there needs to be an external source of authority that tells us what the canon is. So Karl Rahner said, “[Scripture] exists because the church exists,” and one 16th century Catholic cardinal said “The Scriptures have only as much force as the fables of Aesop, if destitute of the authority of the church.” Or, in the words of Hans Kung, “Without the Church there would be no New Testament.”

Here is Dr. Kruger’s helpful critical evaluation of Rome’s view that the canon is derived from the church or caused by the church.

  1. Although the New Testament was not completed all at once, the apostolic teaching was the substance of what would later become the New Testament. And it was this apostolic teaching, along with the prophets, that formed the foundation for the church, rather than the other way around. As Ephesians 2:20 affirms, the church was ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.’ The church is always the creatura verbi (‘creation of the Word’). [Stephen] Chapman sums it up: ‘The biblical canon is not a creation of the church, the church is instead a creation of the biblical canon.
  2. The earliest Christians did have a canon, namely, the Old Testament itself (Rom. 15:4, 1 Cor. 10:6, 2 Tim. 3:15-16), which seems to have existed just fine prior to the founding of the church. There are no reasons to think that the Israel of Jesus’ day had any infallible revelation from God that helped it choose the books of the Old Testament canon.
  3. From the very earliest days, believers received Paul’s letters as Scripture (1 Thes. 2:13), Paul clearly intended them to be received as Scripture (Gal. 1:1-24), and even other writers thought they were Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). Thus, the Scriptures themselves never give the impression that their authority was ‘derivative’ from the church, or from some future ecclesiastical decision.
  4. It was not until the Council of Trent in 1546 that the Roman Catholic Church ever made a formal and official declaration on the canon of the Bible, particularly the Apocrypha. In light of this scenario, what can we make of the Roman Catholic claim that ‘without the church there would be no New Testament’? Are we to believe that the church had no canon for over fifteen hundred years, until the Council of Trent? The history of the church makes it clear that the church did, in fact, have a functioning canon long before the Council of Trent (or even the fourth-century councils).”

J. I. Packer sums it up well:

The church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity…Newton did not create gravity but recognized it.

A Critique of Rome's View of Scripture – Kruger (Part 1).

Martin Luther: Bondage of the Will, part 5

INTELLIGENCE AND FREEDOM OF THE WILL

Luther argues, regarding the power of the intellect, what Christian’s intelligence can be compared to Cicero, Plato, etc.?  If free-will has power, why is it that such men of low esteem become believers (Lk 16:8)?

“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor 1:26-27)

THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH

Another emotional/logical argument from those that oppose predestination is that it has not been popularly held by church leaders throughout church history.  Could it be possible that God has overlooked error in His church for so many ages?

Luther argues that because one is a church representative, does not mean that one is truly a member of the true church.

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Rom 8:14)

THE TRUE CHURCH

For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel (Rom 9:6, ESV)

For example, consider the kings of Israel – NO king is mentioned who did not sin [and grievously] against God. Who knows whether, all throughout church history, there have been those called saints who are not, and called not, who are. With regard to all the contradictory statements that various ‘saints’ have made throughout history, the only thing we can safely say about those statements is that they were said [and nothing more].

So, if the true church is invisible and known only to God Himself, who do we trust? The Roman Catholic view is that Scripture is unclear, so we must rely on the teaching office of the church at Rome. The Protestant view is that this puts man [arbitrarily] above God’s Word. [in other words, the interpreter sits above the message, and therefore the Messenger.]

PROTESTANT VIEW

Protestant view:

  1. We must rather trust the ‘internal’ teaching of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:15). This, of course, only benefits those who actually have the Spirit – the rest can only but be deceived (John 14:17).
  2. We are instructed ‘externally’ by the public ministry of the Word of God (1 Cor 1:21).

So, the Protestants rely on Scripture, well and good; but this brings us back to the Roman argument against the clearness (perspicuity) of the Scriptures. Can they be understood?

Ps 19:8 -> The commandment of the Lord gives light to the eyes.
PS 119:130 -> God’s Word gives light to the eyes [of faith]
Ps 119:105 -> God’s Word gives a light to our path
Is 8:20 -> Go to the law! If one does not, he does not have light of God
Jn 5:39 -> Search the Scriptures!
2 Pet 2:19 -> God’s Word is a light shining in a dark place
Acts 17:11 -> Bereans were more noble because they searched the Scriptures
2 Tim 3:16 -> Scripture is sufficient! [not the Fathers]

WE OUGHT TO OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN (Acts 5:29)

Asks Luther, “is the Word of God clear and testimony of man clear?” If the Word of God is unclear, how can Erasmus quote church fathers who fool-heartedly affirm free-will. Shouldn’t men be at least as unclear as God? How can one even assert the Scriptures to be unclear? Wouldn’t that require a higher measure of clarity in order to decide? If we cannot have confidence in the understandability of Scripture, how can we have confidence in our ability to to understand unclear church fathers who base their understanding on unclear Scriptures?

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Is 8:20)

Formal Sufficiency of Scripture

Pastor David King, author of, HOLY SCRIPTURE: THE GROUND AND PILLAR OF OUR FAITH, guest-blogged a series on TurretinFan’s blog site regarding the Formal Sufficiency of Scripture. There is perhaps no better warrior for defending God’s Word against the idolatry and lies of Romanism today, than Pastor David King.

The sufficiency of God’s Word is, sadly, a self evident truth that should never have to require such an obvious defense; but as long as there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, who do not spare the flock, but have come in secretly to lead men to damnation by leading them astray in the following the traditions of men, rather than leading them by the Word of God, labors such as this will continue to be necessary in every succeeding generation.

The posts are listed below:

Internet Radio Interviews

Last Thursday, TurretinFan was joined by James Swan as guest hosts of The Dividing Line, and interviewed Pastor King.

The mp3 can be found HERE.

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Is 8:10)

On November 10, TurretinFan was on Iron-Sharpens-Iron, to discuss the series (HERE). The MP3 is available HERE.

Practice of Christianity, Herman Witsius, Chap 2 (part 2/2)

Herman Witsius (1636-1708) is one of the greatest of the Reformed theologians in the latter half of the 17th century. He taught theology successively at Franeker, Utrecht, and then Leyden. He wrote many books on theological and philological matters. In addition, he was a pious man who wrote several shorter works of piety, including ‘Practice of Christianity’

For the original post go HERE

See post 1 of this series HERE.
See post 2 of this series HERE
See post 3 of this series HERE
See post 4 of this series HERE

 

Chapter 2 – On the True Religion, Cont.

10. But since the nations that bear the name of Christian are divided into so many different sects, what should someone who is concerned about his salvation do?

He should not be too surprised or be shaken in his faith since he knows that the corrupted reason of man is inclined towards novelty and will worship and that the devil is always trying to forge false doctrines and introduce them among men. But it is necessary for a Christian to examine all these things and test them by the standard of Scripture. He must receive all that is in accord with Scripture and reject all that is opposed to it.

11. But that is a dizzying and hard work and which not all who seek their salvation are capable of doing. Can’t you show me some shorter and more general way to discern the true Christian religion from those that falsely bear the name?

In all the doctrines that have a direct connection with salvation, God gives all His spiritual children such strong sense that they can easily distinguish a saving remedy from poison. Thus, it is impossible that they would be seduced. But to say something more precise and instructive, it is only necessary among all the pretended Christian religions to recognize that which has the following four qualities.

  • The first quality is that it gives God the most glory and recognizes the best that God is the first and sovereign cause of all good, for it is necessary to recognize as divine that which observes and advances the glory of God the best. That is the language of Canaan. It is its Shibboleth. That’s the voice of the true church, “Not unto us, not us, but unto Your Name, give glory” (Ps. 15:1).
  • The second quality is that it humbles man most profoundly, abases him, makes him smallest before God, and makes him recognize his inability, misery, and nothingness. For that’s how the doctrine of Saint Paul made man known that he was nothing (Gal. 6:3). However humbled one may be, he can never be humbled too much for Jesus Christ.
  • The third quality is that it brings man most powerfully to godliness and makes him the most capable of it, for the doctrine of the truth is a doctrine that leads to godliness (1 Tim. 6:3, Tit. 1:1).
  • The fourth quality is that it consoles most efficaciously the beaten down sinner and that it is able to calm the conscience. For that’s a unique property of the true doctrine of the Gospel: “Comfort, comfort My people,” says the Lord (Is. 40:1).

All these things joined together are an assured proof of the truth of the true religion. And to the degree that a doctrine is more or less conducive to these qualities, it participates more or less in the truth.

12. Which of the Christian sects do you think fits these marks the best?

It is the Reformed religion, as it is commonly called, because she has reformed the doctrine by the truth and has purified it from the idolatry, superstition, and human traditions of the papacy, and has returned it to its ancient simplicity.

[Editor’s Note: See Confession of Faith of the Baptists, the Thorough Reformers]

13. I would like you to show me that with a bit more precision. First, how does the Reformed religion give the most glory to God?

The Reformed doctrine attributes to God and His pure grace, the beginning, the progress, and the completion of every blessing and of the salvation of man. And no other religion does it as she does. That someone is elected for salvation is not, says she, because God has foreseen someone’s faith or works (Rom. 9:11), but only because God loved him. That a man is regenerated does not occur, says she, by any good dispositions that he had, or by the powers of free will [Ed. John 1:13], but by the all powerful grace of God who produces in him the power, the will, and the execution of it (Phil. 2:13). That a man is confirmed in grace is not, says she, because he has merited the grace of perseverance or that he had within himself enough strength to accomplish it but because the power of God keeps him by faith for salvation (1 Pet. 1:5). Finally, if a man enters into heaven, it’s not, says the Reformed doctrine, that he has acquired any right of salvation by his works (Eph. 2:8) but it’s because God gives it to him by His pure grace, since Jesus Christ alone has merited for him and thus, says she, all comes from God and by God and through God, to whom alone be the glory forever. Amen (Rom. 11:36).

14. How do you prove that it is the Reformed religion that most abases, humbles, and empties man?

That happens in part from what we just said, for all that we attribute to God for His glory, we take away from ourselves in order to abase ourselves. But further, there is no communion in which one teaches so strongly and clearly the power of sin, the corruption of man, and his inability to do any good, except that of the Reformed. There is no communion in which man is more convinced of his imperfection, since the Reformed teach that it is always attached to our best and most holy works while we are on earth. This is true in such a way that among them one learns to say from the most profound feelings of the heart, “Where is boasting? It is excluded” (Rom. 3:27).

15. How do you prove that the Reformed doctrine is the most conducive to piety?

The true piety of Christians is a demonstration of thanksgiving. Thus, nature itself teaches us that the more that anyone shows to a man that the goods that he has received are great, precious, and purely free, the more that someone excites him by this to gratitude. Thus, who is it who gives the greatest idea of the blessings of God? Is it that religion which says to man, “If you are elected to eternal life, then you have caused God to choose you by your faith or your good works that He foresaw. If you are converted and regenerated, it’s because you have made such a good use of the powers of your free will. If you are justified before God, it’s because of the work of your faith or because of the dignity of your works”? That’s how everyone speaks outside of the Reformed Church. But is not the one who gives the greatest idea of God the one who says to man, “God has elected you because of His good pleasure and grace, and He could have instead left you and ordained you to eternal perdition. He has converted you and brought you to life when you were dead in sins, and you could not have contributed anything more to your conversion than a dead person could to his being raised to life. He has justified you freely when you had merited hell, only because of the merit of Jesus Christ”? That’s how the Reformed speak with the Scriptures. It follows, therefore, that since they give the greatest idea of the blessings of God that they bring man most efficaciously to gratitude, that is to say, to the practice of true piety.

16. Can’t you show that clearly in another way?

Finally, the Reformed, who instruct their people to do all things by the Spirit and by the power of Jesus Christ, effectively bring them to a truly spiritual and living piety. All the others, by contrast, who want to bring about conversion and faith by their natural powers, accomplish merely a worldly and natural change to which a hypocrite can also come.

17. How will you show that the Reformed doctrine is the best able to console a contrite sinner in his affliction?

Because the Reformed faith drives man straight to Jesus Christ, the great, unique, and perfect Savior of all His people, and to His efficacious suffering and merit and says, “blessed are those who trust in Him” (Ps. 2:12). She teaches also that the man who examines his heart well and considers the rule of the word of God can and should be assured of the grace of God in him and for him and say with Saint Paul: “I know whom I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to keep my deposit until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). For faith, according to the description that the Reformed give of it, does not consist only in a simple and naked speculation or in a general assent to the divine truth but in making a particular application of it to one’s self with a firm assurance that Jesus Christ is my Savior and resting in Jesus Christ and receiving Him as my Savior. These are acts that the soul can know and feel unto its inexpressible consolation. Finally, the Reformed doctrine teaches that a man who has once been truly a participant in saving grace cannot be lost; that this source will never completely dry up but that however it may at times appear a bit blocked, it is and remains in such a soul a source swelling up in eternal life (James 4:14).

18. Explain that more a bit more exactly by an example.

Suppose that I find a Christian who, beaten down by the sight of his sins which are great and numerous, was ready to fail with sadness, I would desire, according to the principles of the Reformed to doctrine to console him in this way, “My Brother (or my Sister), why do you appear so overcome with fear and deprived of all hope? Do you not think that God has sent His dear Son Jesus into the world for all dismayed sinners, that He has accomplished all righteousness for them, that He has taken their sins, and that He has expiated them on the wood of the Cross by His passion and sorrowful death? Do you not know, therefore, so little of Jesus that you would not think that one can find in Him all salvation? Only run to Him and throw yourself at His feet and pray to Him to save you, desiring to receive salvation from His hands, and I assure you that He will not be able to refuse you. Do you have trouble conceiving of such a hope, and do you think that there is no salvation for you? Why, then, do you have such hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Jesus Christ? From whence does it come that you make so much of His grace, that you would not want to exchange it for all the world? Why are you, then, so afflicted that you do not feel the sweet movements of His consoling grace? Whence does it come about that you love the people in whom you notice some trace of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ? Tell me, sincerely, and as before God, is it not true that your heart is in this disposition? You must not, then, doubt any longer about the grace of God. For all these things are signs of this grace. Do you not remember also to have seen your sanctification more clearly in the past? Do you not remember that you have felt at other times the movements of the Holy Spirit and that you have had some taste of the love of God? Recall to your remembrance the times past, and if you find that the matter is thus, happily dry your tears, ‘The gifts and the grace of God are without repentance’ (Rom. 11:29) and the One who has began this good work in you will also complete until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).” That’s the way I would console an anguished soul, and there is no other doctrine that can procure a similar consolation.

Practice of Christianity, Herman Witsius, Chap 1 (part 3)

Wes White, fellow Michigander, MARS graduate, and Presbyterian pastor is translating a French translation of Herman Witsius’ book: Practice of Christianity.  The work is so excellent that I’d like to repost portions of it here. For the original post go HERE

See post 1 of this series HERE.
See post 2 of this series HERE

 

 


    Can Unregenerate Understand Scripture?
  1. Are those who are of the world and unregenerate incapable of understanding Holy Scripture? They can understand it to a certain point, as the Apostle demonstrates when he says concerning the Jewish hypocrite: “You know the will of God and examine the things that are difficult, being instructed by the law” (Rom. 2:18). But they can never understand the spiritual sense of Holy Scripture in a spiritual and saving manner as the regenerate can.
  2. How far can the unregenerate advance in the knowledge of Scripture? They can understand clearly and distinctly the literal sense and the meaning of the words which speak of the mysteries of the law and the Gospel and even teach them to others in such a way that they might have the gift of prophecy and be able to know all the mysteries of knowledge and speak in the tongues of men and angels (1 Cor. 13:1-2).

    They can also understand the meaning of these truths clearly enough to be persuaded to receive them as truth and even for divine truth, for Simon the Magician also believed (Acts 8:13). And those who sin against the Holy Spirit renounce, blaspheme, curse and persecute the truth that they know to be divine truth.

    They can have this knowledge not only by their own efforts as one understands what one has learned but also by a general illumination of the Holy Spirit who persuades them internally and brings with Him such rays of His divinity that He makes them receive it as from God. That’s how Scripture can speak of the unregenerate as those who have been illuminated, have been made participants in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God (Heb. 6:4-5). That’s what we see in Balaam who received from God such magnificent prophecies and revelations and who pronounced such beautiful benedictions because God opened his mouth and enlightened his understanding, although his heart was never sanctified (Num. 24:3-4, 15-16). This knowledge can also produce a joy and satisfaction of short duration in the soul. For God says of hypocrites that “they take pleasure at the knowledge of My ways” (Is. 58:2). And it’s also a very natural thing that the mind of man would find pleasure in discovering some truth, just as the heart finds this in enjoying some good. This satisfaction is that much greater when the truth is an excellent and hidden one.

  3. Regenerate Have Spiritual Knowledge
  4. How is the knowledge of the regenerate superior to that of the unregenerate? This advantage is great in every way. For all the knowledge of the unregenerate touches merely the external crust without penetrating to the heart. It is only “an appearance of knowledge and truth in the law” (Rom. 2:20). Their faith is only historical faith or for a time. Their illumination is like the light of lightning which is useful to convince them that “they are inexcusable” (Rom. 1:20). Their joy is only a natural movement. It is quite short and passes easily. All their wisdom is “earthly, human, and of the devil” (Jas. 3:15). On the other hand, a regenerate person does not only understand the literal sense but also the spiritual. He does not only understand the meaning of the words but he also feels the power or the reality of these matters. He feels and tastes the sweetness of this precious food, which is good for strengthening the heart and restoring the soul (Ps. 19:12) and is presented to him in Holy Scripture; whereas, the unregenerate only see these things on the table from afar. Thus, the believer receives the Word with a firm confidence of heart and dares to rest on it in the adversities that he experiences. That’s why David says, “If your law had not been my consolation, I would have perished in my affliction” (Ps. 119:92). Thus, he does not only believe in general that Jesus Christ is God and the Savior of the elect, but he also considers Him in particular as his God and His Savior (Jn. 20:28). And that excites in him marvelous sentiments of reverence, desire, and love for Jesus Christ and an ardent desire to be more and more like Him. That’s what it is “to know the truth as it is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21). This should not astonish us. He at the same time receives this knowledge from the Holy Spirit who sanctifies him and is a seal of his inheritance, and he is taught by Jesus Christ. And that’s what produces an inexpressible sweetness in the heart of believers, such that “they take pleasure in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1:2, cf. Ps. 119:97, 103).
  5. Regenerate Love the Word of God
  6. Do the regenerate always take pleasure in Holy Scripture? We can consider a regenerate person in two ways, either insofar as he is regenerated, when he is in his true state, or insofar as he is still carnal and sometimes able to fall into spiritual desertion and violent temptation. If one considers the regenerate person insofar as he is regenerate and is in the state in which he should be, he certainly takes pleasure in reading the Word of God. For all Scripture is spiritual, and he is too. Consequently, this conformity cannot but give him satisfaction. In all that he finds in Holy Scripture, he sees divine truth and heavenly wisdom, and that cannot fail to rejoice his spirit. He sees that all that is in the law is conducive to holiness, and all that is in the Gospel he finds to be full of consolation. And these two things give a great contentment of heart insofar as it is sanctified and expects salvation.

    Unregenerate Cannot Love the Word of God

    But if we consider the regenerate insofar as he is still in part carnal, the remnants of the corruption of the flesh which are in him can so obscure for a time his understanding and so powerfully disturb the movements of his will, that he does not feel much of the sweetness of the Scripture. This happens all the more when he falls into some spiritual malady where stupidity and disgust enter in. For then he loses courage and the much of his soul (so to speak) is so infected by evil fumes or by a nasty air that what is sweet and delicious appears to him to be tasteless and even bitter. In cases of this nature, it can happen that the soul does not find any taste for some parts of Scripture and is even alarmed by them as if he found in them the decree of his damnation.

Practice of Christianity, Herman Witsius, Chap 1 (part 2)

Wes White, fellow Michigander, MARS graduate, and Presbyterian pastor is translating a French translation of Herman Witsius’ book: Practice of Christianity.  The work is so excellent that I’d like to repost portions of it here. For the original post go HERE

See post 1 of this series HERE.

 

 


Chapter 1 – On Holy Scripture (cont.)

    How We Make Use of the Scriptures
  1. How must we make use of Holy Scripture in order to use this means to advance in our spiritual lives? We must examine it with the greatest attention possible (Jn. 5:39). We must seek out the heavenly wisdom hidden in it as we would search for silver and plumb its depths as if we were looking for treasures (Prov. 2:4). We should never be so loaded with earthly occupations that we would not always reserve some time to at least read the Holy Scriptures, just as David testified concerning himself that since he was occupied during the day with the affairs of the kingdom, he arose early to meditate on the Word of God (Ps. 119:148). In addition, we should pray to the Lord in a few words in our heart that He would open our eyes so that we might see the wonders of His law (Ps. 119:18). Besides that, we must enter as into the sanctuary of God in meditation on this holy book with simplicity of heart, a soul emptied of prejudice, and a humble heart, and with a firm resolution in regulate our faith and conduct, in the smallest as well as the greatest matters, according to all the doctrines that will be revealed to us in it.
  2. Preparation of the Heart to Study Scriptures
  3. By what means can we turn our hearts to this serious attempt to study and meditate on the Holy Scriptures? We must make it our goal to reflect often and with great attention on the following things.
    • First, the Scripture is, so to speak, the Testament of our heavenly Father in which He promises us a magnificent inheritance and shows us the way to it. The Scripture is even “an inheritance of the assembly of Jacob” (Dt. 33:4).
    • Second, we can even with good reason regard it as a love letter that our great God and Lord Jesus Christ has sent us from heaven in order to testify of His unchangeable love for us and in order to stir us up to reciprocate with a holy love for Him. This is like what the Lord Jesus literally did write from heaven to the seven Churches of Asia Minor in Rev. 2-3.
    • Third, we must also be assured that this is the very book of our great God, the infinitely wise Being, and consequently that we find in it the best knowledge, the greatest wisdom, and the most beneficial rules and instructions. And insofar as the wisdom and goodness of the Creator surpass the wisdom and goodness of all creatures, to that degree the instructions of Holy Scripture surpass all that the wisest and best men of the world could have ever imagined.
    • Finally, we must assure ourselves that it is the Word of the Spirit of God and that by consequence it is filled with this Spirit whose breath which penetrates souls has passed over it from above and so has mixed in with it and is found everywhere in it. This is so true that every page and ever verse breathes some movement of the Spirit and transforms us little by little and more and more into the image of Jesus Christ (when we contemplate the Word with attention as it is presented to us) by a secret power of God who works within it.
    Interpreting Obscure Passages
  4. What should we do when we read a passage of Holy Scripture and find a passage that it is obscure or that we cannot readily understand? We should not immediately grieve or rebuke ourselves for it, much less abandon the reading of Holy Scripture, but we should instead think that God, in order to convince us of our stupidity and rebuke our laziness in spiritual matters, has mixed some obscure passages among others that are clear. Thus, in imitation of the Eunuch of Queen Candace (Acts 8:28), we must continue to read until what we find its meaning in other passages that are clearer or where the meaning of the obscure passage is explained clearly. To accomplish this, it would be quite useful to read in our families not only detached places of Scripture (except on occasion) but the whole Scripture, taking it from the beginning and reading unto the end in about one year. In order to understand obscure passages, we can also profit from the wise and excellent remarks of Tossanus and other interpreters of Scripture, which are in the margin of our Bible. [HERE] Every family should buy one of these Bibles, and no one should say that they are too expensive. Further, a reader who wishes to be instructed can consult with those who are more advanced than himself and in particular his Pastor. Besides, in the sermons, one can often find a solution to the difficulties that have given him trouble for a long time. And if by these means, someone is still not satisfied, he must hold firm without murmuring or consternation to the things that he knows well and wait patiently until it pleases God to reveal the difficult articles to us as well. “Let us all be of this mind, we who have been well instructed, and if you think otherwise, God will also teach this to you. However, let us follow by this rule: let us walk in harmony in the things to which we have already attained” (Phil. 2:15-16).
  5. Meditation on Scriptures
  6. But there are many people who read Scripture regularly but after they have done that for a long time, we do not see that they have become visibly better or better instructed. Why does that occur? That can result from various causes. First, there may be a lack of attention and reflection when one reads Scripture more from custom than devotion and when one is not careful to seek out heavenly wisdom, which is hidden like a precious treasure in a silver mine. This is, however, what Solomon and after him, Jesus Christ, demand (Prov. 2:4, Jn. 5:39).
    • Second, our spirit may be full of prejudices. These prejudices make us twist Scripture in order to fit ourselves. That was the problem that the Jews and even the disciples of Jesus Christ had. They were so powerfully overcome by their opinion about an earthly reign of the Messiah that it prevented them from knowing the truth.
    • Third, there may be a proud heart made stubborn with a false wisdom. For humility is the key to true knowledge; whereas, pride is the source of all errors. For “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).
    • Fourth, there may be a lack of proper meditation when someone does not meditate enough over what he has read like Mary did when she treasured up the Word of God and pondered it in heart (Lk. 2:19). We can do this when we do not practice the command that the Lord gives to us to speak of these things in our house, on the way, while laying down, and when we rise up (Dt. 6:7). If we would try to remember each time we read only one or two spiritual points, what a treasure of heavenly doctrine would we not accumulate in less than a year?
    • Finally, there may be a bad conscience, if we hold the truth that we know and confess in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Those who have such a bad conscience experience what Paul says of those who are effeminate, loaded with sins, tossed about with various lusts, always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:6-7). For the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 9:10). And the secret of the Lord and the knowledge of His covenant are for those who fear Him (Ps. 25:14).

Practice of Christianity, Herman Witsius, Chap 1

Wes White, fellow Michigander, MARS graduate, and Presbyterian pastor is translating a French translation of Herman Witsius’ book: Practice of Christianity.  The work is so excellent that I’d like to repost portions of it here. For the original post go HERE

 

 


Chapter 1 – On Holy Scripture

Rule of Faith
  1. What is the sole and perfect rule of our faith and conduct? It is the Word of God which is now contained in Holy Scripture, that is, in the canonical books of the Old and New Testament. This is the rule to which God Himself sends us in the Old Testament, “To the law and to the testimony” (Is. 8:20). Our Lord Jesus Christ does the same thing in the New Testament, “Search the Scriptures” (Jn. 5:39). Besides, we find in Holy Scripture all the promises of God concerning our salvation and everything that relates to that salvation. Saving faith holds onto these promises without going any further (Jn. 20:31). We also find there the commandments of God, which serve as a rule of our conduct (Ps. 147:19). We can do nothing beyond these (Mt. 22:37) and we ought to do nothing without them (Mt. 15:9), for the law of the Lord is perfect (Ps. 19:8).
  2. Scripture is the Word of God
  3. How are you assured that Scripture is the Word of God and that it is truly from heaven? It is not only because Holy Scripture says this about itself, “All Scripture is divinely inspired” (2 Tim. 3:16). “Prophecy did not come about in former times by the will of man, but it is by the movement of the Holy Spirit that holy men of God spoke” (2 Pet. 1:21). We also believe this because Scripture contains such evident marks of its divine inspiration that whoever pays attention to them will find himself powerfully convinced and persuaded of this divine inspiration. But ultimately we believe because the Holy Spirit clearly testifies to it in our hearts. “The Spirit (who speaks in the heart of believers) is the one who witnesses (also in my heart) that the Spirit (who speaks in Scripture) is the truth” (1 Jn. 5:6).
  4. Marks of Divine Inspiration
  5. What are the principal marks of divine inspiration that are so clear and evident in Holy Scripture?
    • First, there are a great number of definite predictions of things that were quite uncertain (in relation to second causes) and depended on the free will of men, which after many years happened exactly as predicted in Holy Scripture in all their circumstances. This is something that everyone regards with good reason as a proof of its divine inspiration. God Himself also mocks the idols of the pagans who cannot predict or announce anything that is going to happen. “Let them come near and tells us the things that are going to happen. What happened in the past? Teach us, and we will pay attention and know their outcome. Or make us understand what will happen. Tell us what is going to happen in the future, and then we will know that you are gods” (Is. 41:22-23). Also, in Is. 46:10, God attributes to Himself alone the power to tell what things are going to happen, saying, “I announce from the beginning the things that will follow, and in advance I announce things that have not yet happened.”
    • The second mark is the perfect holiness and excellence of the commandments which are contained in it. “The law is spiritual. The commandment is holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). For these commandments forbid the least lust or movement that tends toward evil, even those things that precede man’s will. This is something that no man would have known without the revelation of Holy Scripture. That is, he would not have known that these sorts of inclinations are sins. This is clear from what Saint Paul says in Rom. 7, “I would not have known covetousness (that is, that it is a sin), unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’” These laws of God call mean to an angelic perfection (Mt. 6:10) and even a divine perfection (Mt. 5:48). They make someone “perfect, capable of doing every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
    • The third mark is the profound and marvelous mysteries that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and which have not entered into the mind of man” (1 Cor. 2:9). They are explained so clearly in Holy Scripture, even painted, so to speak, before our eyes (Gal. 3:1). These mysteries include the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and others which no human wisdom or reason could have been able to imagine or discover if God had not revealed them in Holy Scripture.
    • The fourth mark is the simple and yet powerful and touching way in which it explains things so that it penetrates the heart of an attentive reader (Heb. 4:12) and causes him to see the finger of God in them just as much as in the miracles that were performed to confirm Holy Scripture. This is an effect that no human word could have produced, at least in the same way.
    • The fifth mark is the beautiful harmony and agreement of the diverse parts and teachings that compose Holy Scripture, even though they were written by various authors in different languages, places, and times. This is a clear and infallible proof that there is one and the same Spirit of God who has inspired it.

    Persuasion of the Holy Spirit
  6. Why, then, is the persuasion of the Holy Spirit necessary, and how does He produce it in the hearts of His elect? The proofs that we have just recounted have their own strength to produce a bare persuasion and an historical faith in the inspiration of Scripture, but they can do nothing more. In order for them to be received with a saving faith, the Holy Spirit must bring the power of these proofs to life in the soul by working with these proofs. He must illuminate the elect for them to see properly in a spiritual manner the perfect holiness of Scripture (Ps. 119:18), taste their inexpressible sweetness (Ps. 39:9), and understand clearly and distinctly the doctrines that have a particular connection with salvation so that they see them, as it were, before their eyes. When the Holy Spirit works in this way, they are firmly resolved to take them for divine rules of their faith and conduct.
  7. Sin Still Works in the Hearts of Believers
  8. But can’t it happen that even in true believers who already have the Holy Spirit that there may be some doubts and disquieting thoughts about the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture? Sadly, it is only too possible. For since even the holiest among us carry with them the remnants of the corruption of the flesh during this life, there is no sin to which they cannot be induced except the sin against the Holy Spirit and an obstinate hardening. Thus, it can easily happen that a certain internal resistance gives place to some doubts about the sublime mysteries of the Word of God which are above reason. This is because we all have the fault that we are inclined in this life to love to walk more by sight than by faith. And Satan sometimes lights this fire when the Lord permits him to do so for His own good and just reasons. And even then, the Lord also directs the whole affair according to His wisdom.
  9. How to Handle Doubt
  10. How should a Christian conduct himself on such an occasion? He should not be too surprised as if something extraordinary were happening to him. He should not for that reason question the truth and sincerity of his faith that he founded at one time on Holy Scripture, since he has also resolved to hold onto this faith firmly. For doubts are not his faith but a type of smoke which obscures somewhat the brightness of his faith and thus can certainly exist with a true faith just as smoke can exist with an ardent fire. But in this case, he must renounce his understanding and his will and push down the doubts as soon as they arise without giving them much attention or examining them with anxiety. He must remember that he has been in the past so powerfully persuaded of the divine inspiration of the whole of Holy Scripture, that he should not in the future have any commerce with the world which might be capable of making him doubt that all of it is good. And if the doubts still return, he must regard them as a rod of the Lord and must use these doubts to learn humility.

The Rule of Faith and Practice, Summary

In summary, the debate with Rome comes down to two options: 1) a man has to interpret the Bible for himself (fallibly), or 2) to interpret the teachings of the Pope (fallibly). For the Bible Christian, the Word of God is the life-giving Gospel message and rule of life, and therefore designed to be read, understood, and obeyed. For the Roman Catholic, the Bible is authoritative alongside the teaching authority of the Pope, but only in so far as Scripture is interpreted by the Pope. The Romanist then, is left with the dizzying and most difficult task of trying to interpret centuries of dogmas, decrees, encyclicals, regional councils, ecumenical councils, canons, catechisms, tradition, etc. – all the work of men.

Roman Catholic Authority

Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, Chap. 4

“Therefore faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God our Saviour, the exaltation of the Catholic religion, and the salvation of Christian people, the sacred Council approving, we teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed: That the Roman Pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to he held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed for defining doctrine according to faith and morals; and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the church. But if any one—which may God avert—presume to contradict this our definition: let him be anathema.”

Protestant Authority

Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Sections 1 and 4

The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule for saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. …Holy Scripture demands belief, yet its authority does not depend on the testimony of any person or church, but entirely on God its author, who is truth itself. Therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God

Relevant Scriptures

Taken from AA Hodge, Outlines of Theology, Chap 5

  1. Scriptures are the Word of God -1 Pet 1:20 – For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

    2 Tim 3:16 – All scripture is given by inspiration of God…

  2. Christ gives Scripture its authority (not the Church) -John 5:39 – Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
  3. The Scriptures Contain All We Need for Salvation -John 17:17 – Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

    John 20:31 – But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

    2 Tim 3:15-17 – And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

    2 Pet 1:19 – We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts

  4. The nobility of studying the Scriptures -Acts 17:11 – These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

    Rev 1:3 – Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

    Isaiah 8:20 – To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

  5. Nothing can be added to (or taken from) the Scriptures -Mark 7:6-7 – He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

    Rev 22:18-19 – For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

    Dt 4:2 – Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

    Dt 12:32 – What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

    Joshua 1:7 – Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.

The Rule of Faith and Practice, Part 6

AA Hodge

AA Hodge

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);
  • Holiness;
  • Catholicity;
  • 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.