1689 Vs. The Westminster Confession (3): The Play-By-Play

Our comparison and contrast of the WCF with the 2LC continues through chapter 1, “Of the Holy Scriptures.” After the first section, the documents are identical until section 2, where the the Savoy and the 2LC add a definite article to the last sentence after the list of canonical books.

WCF

2LC

2. All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life. 2. All which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of Faith and Life.

There is no material difference here.

In section 3, the 2LC adds the words or rule to explain the word canon. Here the 2LC modified both the WCF and the Savoy.

In section 4, the first paragraph of the WCF and the Savoy says “believed and obeyed.” The 2LC omits it.

WCF

2LC

4. IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed…. 4. The Authority of the Holy Scripture for which it ought to be believed…

This is an interesting omission, which was retained in 1689. Of course, the Baptists did not mean to imply that the Word of God does not require belief and obedience. File this under interesting discrepancies.

WCF

2LC

5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church, to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture…. 5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church of God, to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures….

There are two interesting discrepancies here. The second is rather minor but the first might illustrate a more profound difference. The 2LC revised both the Savoy and the WCF by adding the phrase “of God” to “Church.” The Westminster Divines were speaking of the visible church and responding to claims of authority made by the Roman communion. What did the Baptist divines intend by qualifying “Church” with “of God”? Perhaps it means nothing but perhaps it signals something about the Particular Baptist ecclesiology? Does it signal a dissatisfaction with Westminster’s (and Savoy’s) notion of the visible church? One wonders.

The 2LC changed the singular Scripture (so WCF and Savoy) to “Scriptures.” This does not seem significant or suggestive of any significant difference.

The 2LC also diverges from the other two when it adds, under sect. 5, a conjunction to a series of phrases:

WCF

2LC

5…the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies…. 5…the Majesty of the stile, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God) the full discovery it makes of the only way of mans salvation, and many other incomparable Excellencies….

Perhaps this is just a difference in style? Why interrupt the list to add a conjunction when the final conjunction is yet to come?

The divergence in section 6 seems potentially significant (or it could be simply a stylistic difference).

WCF

2LC

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 in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…. 6.The whole Councel of God concerning all things necessary for his own Glory, Mans Salvation, Faith and Life, is either expressely set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture….

There is a difference between the way the Particular Baptists read Scripture and the way the Reformed read Scripture. For the Reformed, Scripture norms our theology, piety, and practice (sola Scriptura by its explicit teaching and by those things that are a good and necessary consequence). “Good” means that the proposed consequence follows from the text. “Necessary” means that it is unavoidable. For the ancient Christian church, for the medieval church, for the magisterial Reformation churches, and for the orthodox Reformed churches of the seventeenth century, the inclusion of the children of believers is a good consequence and it is a necessary consequence of Scripture. We do not impose the same test that the Baptists do. We do not insist that the New Covenant Scriptures repeat the Abrahamic promise and substitute the word baptize for the word circumcise (Gen 17) in order for infant baptism to be valid. We know from Romans chapter 4 and Galatians chapter 3 (among many other places) that we are in the same covenant of grace as Abraham. We see Paul appealing to the permanence of the Abrahamic covenant against the Judaizers (who appealed to the Mosaic). We see it necessarily implied in Acts 2:39, where Peter connects the Abrahamic promise with baptism.

Our Baptist friends, however, are unmoved by our appeals to good and necessary consequences. The substitution of the phrase “necessarily contained” is a deliberate revision of the WCF and the Savoy. It is not an explicit repudiation of the Reformed hermeneutic and rule but the omission of “good” and “consequence” does signal what is coming.

Under section 7, the 2LC has “attain to” where the other two have “attain unto a sufficient understanding.” This is inconsequential.

Under section 9, the 2LC omits “and known” from the WCF and the Savoy.

WCF

2LC

9.The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly. 9. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the (u) Scripture it self: And therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold but one) it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

This almost seems like an oversight. It is unclear what significance its omission has since it is difficult to imagine that the Baptists were suggesting anything by the omission.

In section 10, both the Savoy and the 2LC add two clauses:

WCF

2LC

10.The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined; and in whose sentence we are to rest; can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. 10. The supream judge by which all controversies of Religion are to be determined, and all Decrees of Councels, opinions of antient Writers, Doctrines of men, and private Spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.

The WCF stops with “Scripture.” This, of course, is a classic statement of the formal principle of the Reformation: sola Scriptura. Scripture is the final rule for the Christian faith and the Christian life. No ecclesiastical assembly may require us to confess or compel us to do anything that is not taught (or deduced by good and necessary consequence) in Scripture. Here we stand. We can do no other. This is our Acts 5:29 rule: we must obey God rather than humans.

The Savoy (followed the 2LC) seems intent on making clear again that our final rule is not the product of the church but of the Holy Spirit and received submissively by the church. To this all the orthodox Reformed say, “Amen.”

In chapter 1, then, we have seen some inconsequential variations, some puzzling variations, and some that are suggestive of the deeper subterranean differences to come.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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