Warfield: What the Perspicuity Of Scripture Does And Does Not Do

The third property of Scripture adduced, is its perspicuity (section 7): and here again the Confession is no less precise and guarded than clear and decided in its assertions. The perspicuity of Scripture is sharply affirmed, in the sense that the saving truth is declared to be placed in Scripture within the reach of all sincere seekers after it. But the limitations of its perspicuity are very fully and carefully stated. It is only “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation” that are said to lie perspicuously in Scripture. Even these things are not said to be plainly delivered on every occasion in which they fall to be mentioned or treated in Scripture; but only “in some place of Scripture or other.” Nor is it even stated that they all are anywhere so clearly propounded and opened as that they may easily be understood unto perfection; but only so as that “a sufficient understanding of them” may be attained. Nor yet are they affirmed to be equally understandable by all; but only that they are so clearly spread on the face of Scripture that every man, learned or unlearned, may attain a sufficient understanding of them to secure his salvation and peace. The variety of Scripture is here fully recognized—its frequent obscurities, its difficulties, its problems, and its profound depths darkening to all human gaze. The variety of mental acumen and teachableness of heart brought to the study of Scripture, is sufficiently recognized. But the fact that the Scriptures, despite all their obscurities, are a people’s book, is sharply and decisively asserted; and with it the right of the unlearned man to them, and his capacity to make full use of them for the main purpose for which they were given; and as well, the openness of the Scriptures to the “due use of the ordinary means.” In a word there is combined here an adequate recognition of the profundity of the Scriptures and their occasional obscurity, with an equally clear assertion of the popular character of the Word of God as a message to every one of His children.

We must not overlook, in passing, that it is by “a due use of the ordinary means” that the learned and unlearned alike are said to be able to attain a sufficient knowledge of the saving message of Scripture. By the phrase, “a due use of the ordinary means,” not only is the need of an infallible interpreting Church denied; but also all dependence on extraordinary revelations, the “inner light” of the mystical sectaries, and the like, is excluded. Within the “ordinary means” is included that “inward illumination of the Spirit of God,” which is declared to be necessary to the saving understanding of Scripture in section 6, and which is here declared to be an ordinary endowment of the children of God. Within them is included all the religious and gracious means which God has placed at the disposal of His people, in the establishment of His Church and its teaching functions. But in this phrase is also included the implication that Scripture is to be interpreted, as other books are interpreted, in the ordinary processes and by means of the ordinary implements of exegesis. There is included here, therefore, the charter of a sound and rational system and method of exposition; and we are accordingly not surprised to find the Westminster Divines dealing constantly in their extant writings with the question of “how to read the Scriptures,” and laying down well-considered and reasonable canons of interpretation.

—Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, vol. 6 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 232–34.

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