[WLC #2-4] [WCF I:I]
The past two Sundays, as we discussed the WLC #1, we got an overview of everything that the Catechism teaches, which is also a summary of everything that the Scripture teaches.
The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. #1 asks:
Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.
Tonight, we’re going to find out how we can know that. We’re going to deal specifically with the characteristics of God’s revelation in Scripture, the characteristics of the Bible, if you will.
Those characteristics of the Bible are summarized for us in WLC #2-4:
Q. 2. How doth it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.
Q. 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.
Q. 4. How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.
If you’re taking notes, we’re going to discuss 10 characteristics of Scripture. (Don’t worry, we won’t be covering all 10 tonight!)
These 10 characteristics make the Scriptures totally unique from all other writings and all other teachings.
The very first chapter in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) mentions all 10 of these characteristics, so we’ll be following that outline as we examine the teaching of WLC #2-4. The WCF is printed in the back of your blue, Trinity Hymnals, so you can follow along there, if you wish. It’s found on pages 673-674 in the back. This is one of the most concise and complete summaries of the characteristics of the Bible that you’ll ever find anywhere.
Each of these 10 characteristics which we’ll be discussing is actually worthy of an entire sermon series in itself, so what you’re going to be getting is a very concentrated summary of these things. Sort of like Cuban coffee instead of American coffee, if you know what I mean. (You get all the caffeine and flavor, but a lot less water.)
Each one of the 10 sections of WCF, Chapter I, describes one of the 10 characteristics we’re going to discuss. We’ll begin, then, tonight, with WCF I:I, dealing only with the first characteristic, “The Necessity of Scripture.”
WCF I:I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation: therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
The first thing I want you to notice is that our Confession does not use that term which is commonly used in theological circles today called, “general revelation.” Rev. Herman Hoeksema, as well as Rev. Herman Hanko, both ministers of the Protestant Reformed Churches, have caused me to change my terminology on that score so as to come more in line with Biblical terminology.
We read in Romans 1:19, “what may be known about God is plain to them [that is, to all men], because God has made it plain to them.”
Or we could translate that, “what is known of God is manifest in them, because God has manifested it in them.”
Paul does not say that this knowledge of God is revealed to them or in them. Whenever the word, “revealed,” is used in Scripture, it’s talking about things that God reveals, by His grace, to His elect only.
Romans 1:19 says that what is known of God is manifest in all creation, even in unbelievers. That is, this knowledge about God is manifested in their hearts and minds. It doesn’t say that God reveals Himself to them through what is commonly called, general revelation. Biblically speaking, that term, general revelation, is never used. In the Bible, all “revelation” is special revelation to God’s covenant people, because the word, reveal, or revelation, is never used in the Bible to describe man’s knowledge of God that’s manifested in creation.
What’s in view here, then, is not revelation from God, but a manifestation of the knowledge of God in the hearts and minds of these people. So this is not the gracious and saving revelation of God by His Holy Spirit. This is the manifestation of God’s existence and His power, given to those who are unregenerate, in what has been created.
Notice how the words, manifest, and reveal, are used in the WCF, I:I:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church...
God’s creation and all men manifest the work of God. God, Himself, reveals Himself to men. The WLC #4 even says that the Scriptures “manifest themselves to be the Word of God.” That means that even an unbeliever should be able to see clearly that the Scriptures are different from all other books. Even unbelievers should know that the Bible is God’s Word. But only God reveals Himself and reveals His Word to men in a saving way.
So I would agree with Hoeksema and Hanko that it’s better to speak of general manifestation in all of creation, and special revelation in the Scriptures.
The point the confession is making under this first section of Chapter I is that this knowledge about God which is manifested in God’s creation is sufficient to leave men without excuse for their sin, but it’s insufficient to bring them to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the confession continues,
...Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church...
This is a reference to God’s special revelation. Those diverse manners included various means of direct communication from God. For example, God revealed His will in such things as dreams, visions, voices, the Urim and Thummim, casting lots, the burning bush, the handwriting on the wall, prophesying and speaking in tongues, and so on. These various means of revelation were used by God in order that men might come to know God rightly and to have faith in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1 refers to this when it says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways...”
Now some people today say, “Wow! That must have been great! To have a direct link to God and have all of those personal, direct revelations coming from God! Wouldn’t it be great if God would speak to us like that today also? In fact, some people believe that God does still speak to us like that today.
But those means of God’s revelation of Himself to men were only temporary. Those means were used only while God was gradually unfolding His revelation of the Gospel throughout history. God had something better in store for us. Eventually, God committed all of His special revelation, His entire revealed will, completely to written form. The Confession I:I puts it this way:
...and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Those preliminary ways of God’s revealing Himself were superseded by the better and more sure comfort given to us today in the completed, written Scriptures.
Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”
In the written Scriptures, God has spoken to us finally and completely through Jesus Christ and His apostles whom He authorized to speak His words.
Along with God’s former ways of revealing Himself ceasing, certain special kinds of messengers of that revelation ceased as well. The Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church-Government, produced by the Westminster Assembly, states on page 398,
The officers which Christ hath appointed for the edification of his church, and the perfecting of the saints, are, some extraordinary, as apostles, evangelists, and prophets, which are ceased.
Others ordinary and perpetual, as pastors, teachers, and other church-governors, and deacons.
No longer are men inspired to speak the very words of Jesus Christ in His place, particularly the apostles, the inspired evangelists and the prophets. Those offices all had in common that one thing: What they spoke in the Name of Jesus Christ and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was the same as Christ speaking it!
Today, Christ’s ministers and preachers still speak “in His Name” and “by His authority,” but their words are the Word of Christ only to the extent that they faithfully proclaim what has already been written down. These officers of the church today are not the bearers of new revelation from Christ and their words are not inspired.
Hebrews 2:1-4 says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels [referring to all God’s OT messengers, not just the angelic ones] was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him [the apostles]. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
In other words, this message which came in those various ways through those various kinds of messengers in the OT has now come in a final form, having been confirmed by the various signs and wonders that marked those who were set apart to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ.
II Corinthians 12:12 speaks of these signs when it says, “The things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance.”
Ephesians 2:20 also speaks of this Gospel which is now complete, having been “...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
These passages indicate that those special miracles and signs and wonders were given specifically as witnesses to “testify” to the authenticity of that Word of God while it was being brought by His extraordinary messengers. Once that foundation had been laid, there was no need for more direct revelation from God. After this completed revelation was written down and attested to, there was no more need for these special signs, attesting that those speaking were speaking as God’s spokesmen.
That’s why the OPC Form of Government (FG) V.1. states, regarding these special messengers of God:
When their testimony was completed their calling and office was not continued in the church, and the powers and signs that endued and sealed their ministry ceased.
I believe that I Corinthians 13:8-10 speaks about the cessation of those special apostolic gifts which attested to God’s revelation. Paul writes, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge [speaking, in the context here, about special revelatory knowledge, not about knowledge in general], it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes [that is, when the whole revelation of God in the Scriptures is finally perfected and written down], the imperfect [that is, the prior, temporary form and manner of such revelation] disappears. When I was a child [Paul uses the word, infant, here], I talked like a child [that is, babbling in an indiscernible tongue], I thought like a child [that is, with only partial understanding], I reasoned like a child [that is, with only partial knowledge]. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now [speaking of that period of history when Paul is writing this, early in his ministry and prior to the completion of much of the canon of NT Scripture] we see but a poor reflection; then [speaking of the time when the Scriptures are completed and perfected] we shall see face to face [this expression means, “personally and completely”]. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
So you see, we haven’t taken a step backwards and downwards when we entered into that time when all those former ways of God’s revealing Himself have ceased. We live in the time when the perfect has come, when the better way has arrived. The revelation we have today in the written Scriptures is a fuller and more complete knowledge than those partial revelations given during the times of the apostles and prophets.
Paul seems to imply in the Scriptures that he is the last of the apostles of Jesus Christ. That would mean that there are no apostles (and therefore no signs of an apostle) today. I don’t care if Benny Hinn does claim to be an apostle and does claim to have the signs of a apostle. I’ve read about the apostles of Scripture and about the signs they exhibited, and believe me, Benny Hinn is no apostle!
In I Corinthians 15:7-9 Paul says, “Then he [Christ] appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles, because I persecuted the church of God.”
That’s why, in his last known letter, written shortly before his death, Paul exhorts Timothy to guard the “deposit” of sound teaching. This implies that Timothy is not to expect “new teaching” or “new revelations.” Rather, Timothy is to guard that completed deposit.
II Timothy 1:13-14 says, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul and the apostles with new revelations from God. But that Holy Spirit no longer fills us with new revelations. Now He helps us to understand the “deposit” of Scripture which has been written down for us to guard.
Similarly, in II Timothy 2:2 Paul writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Notice here that the mode of God’s revelation has now changed from the Holy Spirit inspiring special messengers to bring new revelations from God, to the Holy Spirit helping men trained in the “good deposit” of Scripture to “guard” that completed deposit and to pass it along to others.
The very last book of the Bible to be written down was probably Revelation. This final book closes with a warning which applies not only to the book of Revelation. As a fitting close of the entire “book” of God, it applies also to the whole of God’s special revelation.
Revelation 22:18-19 says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
This isn’t the first time such a warning had come in the Scriptures. The book of Revelation is simply giving the final warning, the summing up of all the previous warnings.
Back in Deuteronomy 4:1-2 already, God had said through Moses, “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”
And Deuteronomy 12:32 said, “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”
And Proverbs 30:5-6 later added, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”
Now that the Bible is complete, God’s Word is complete. It’s all written down. There’s no more new revelation coming from God through the Holy Spirit. Until Christ returns, this is it. Period.
That’s why the Scriptures are necessary. If a person doesn’t have God’s Word in the Scriptures, proclaimed in truth by a minister of the Word of God, he doesn’t have God’s Word. There’s no place else to “git it!” In our day, God has entrusted His Word to Christ’s church. That’s why there’s no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of Christ’s church and apart from the proclamation of that Word, written in the Bible.
God doesn’t reveal His will to anyone today apart from that written Word of God which is to be proclaimed in the preaching of the Gospel. That means that the Bible isn’t optional folks! And hearing the Bible preached isn’t optional either. “Those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased,” the confession says.
That makes the Scriptures most necessary for our salvation.