A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.3: The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

1689conf

Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures, Paragraph 6

6._____The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

( 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Galatians 1:8,9; John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:9-12; 1 Corinthians 11:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 14:26,40)

 

Understanding the Confession

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

I. The Sufficiency of Scripture

The Confession’s doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture must first be defined. Note first of all what is not asserted in this definition—what the sufficiency of Scripture does not mean. Clearly, the sufficiency of Scripture does not mean, in the first place, that all we need to know about the matters mentioned in the Confession are stated explicitly, in Scripture or, we may add, literally. The phrase, ‘or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture’, is equivalent to the phrase in the Westminster Confession it is intended to clarify: ‘or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture’. What may be by sound logic deduced from Scripture, that is to say, what is necessarily contained in it, has the authority of Scripture itself.

It is evident, secondly, from the Confession’s definition that the sufficiency of Scripture does not imply its ‘omni-sufficiency’. Sufficiency is always to be defined with reference to some purpose. The first question in this matter must always be: ‘Sufficient for what?’ While the issue of the exact nature of the purpose for which the Scriptures are sufficient will be enlarged upon below, it ought to be clear that the sufficiency of Scripture is very carefully stated. The Bible is not all- sufficient for every conceivable purpose. The Scriptures, for instance, are not sufficient as a textbook in math, biology or Spanish. The sufficiency of the Scriptures does not mean they all are we need for the purpose of learning geometry or algebra. The Westminster divines confessed their faith in the sufficiency, but not the omni-sufficiency of Scripture.

What, then, is the purpose for which the Scriptures are sufficient? The sufficiency of the Scriptures is nothing more nor less than their sufficiency to achieve the purposes of redemptive revelation. Surely this is clear from the qualifying statement of the Confession: ‘all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life’.

It is often said that the Scriptures are sufficient for showing us the way of salvation. This is liable to be misunderstood today because of the minimizing mentality abroad which is intent on reducing the way of salvation to its barest elements. It surely must be clear that such an understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture is a deviation from the historic Reformation understanding articulated in the Westminster Confession. ‘All things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life’ is far more than the ‘Four Spiritual Laws’. It is nothing less than sufficiency for the redemption of man both individually and corporately in the whole ethical and religious sphere of life that is asserted.

We must reflect on the breadth of this assertion. When we remember that the area of religion and ethics is the supreme sphere of human life and knowledge, we become increasingly aware of the magnitude and value of this doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Though it is not an assertion of the omni-sufficiency of the Scriptures, it is saying that they are sufficient to be the basis and starting point for every other scientific endeavor. The Scriptures are not a textbook of biology, but they sufficiently provide those ethical and religious perspectives basic to any proper science of biology. The Bible is not sufficient for all that we do, but it does speak to all we do sufficiently as to the glory of God, the way of salvation and the path of duty.

One further point must be underscored with reference to the sufficiency of the Scriptures. It is, historically speaking, the most basic. The sufficiency of the Bible means its sole sufficiency. It is sufficient to achieve the purposes of redemptive revelation without supplementation by new revelations (claimed by some Anabaptists and others) or traditions of men (like those extra-biblical traditions claimed by the Roman Catholic church).

It is this and no other view of the sufficiency of the Scriptures which must now be demonstrated.

The redemptive revelation originally given by God must surely be regarded as sufficient for the purposes for which it was given. To think anything else is to impugn the wisdom of God. To this theological argument must be added the specific data of Scripture which clearly asserts that in the inscripturated redemptive revelation we possess a sufficient revelation of the will of God.

Not surprisingly, the classic assertion of the sufficiency of the Scriptures is found in a passage crucial to other attributes of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15–17). There are three assertions in this passage important with reference to the question under consideration. There is the assertion of verse 15, ‘the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation …’ Here is the explicit assertion that the Scriptures contain all the wisdom necessary for our salvation. There is the assertion of verse 16, ‘All Scripture … is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.’

The fourfold usefulness of the Scriptures enumerated here by the apostle surely implies that the Scriptures are a sufficient handbook for young Pastor Timothy. He faced a bewildering array of needs in Ephesus which demanded in turn many kinds of ministry. He must often have asked himself, ‘How am I to meet these multiple challenges?’ Paul’s assertion is to the effect that the Scriptures are able to equip Timothy for every ministry he is called upon to give. There is the assertion of verse 17, ‘that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work’. This assures us that the Scriptures are not merely moderately useful to the man of God, but thoroughly sufficient for all his needs as a man of God.

Many other texts of Scripture bear witness to the sufficiency of inscripturated redemptive revelation (Deuteronomy 4:2; Acts 20:20, 27; Psalms 19:7; 119:6, 9, 104, 128).

It is important at this point to issue several cautions so that false inferences are not drawn from the sufficiency of the Scriptures. This the Confession does. In the opinion of the writer these cautions are particularly necessary in our day of heightened individualism.

The sufficiency of Scripture does not negate the necessity of the individual’s diligence. This doctrine is no excuse for mental laziness. The Confession (1:7) emphasizes the importance of the ‘due use of the ordinary means’ (Proverbs 2:4).

The sufficiency of Scripture does not negate the necessity of the Spirit’s teaching. This doctrine is no excuse for intellectual pride. The Scriptures are not sufficient or clear to the one devoid of the Spirit. The Confession asserts, ‘Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word …’ (1:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14).

The sufficiency of Scripture does not negate the necessity of common sense. Natural reason is assumed in those to whom the Scriptures are addressed. Such reason is, itself, the creation of the Word of God. The Confession assumes this when in 1:6 it acknowledges ‘that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.’

 

Primary Resource

Waldron, Sam. A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Durham, NC: Evangelical Press, 1999.

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