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Tuesday
Dec272011

Theological Term of the Week

Westminster Confession of Faith
The Reformation statement of faith written by the Westminster Assembly in England in 1643-1648, and used as a doctrinal standard in Presbyterian churches around the world. 

  • From the Westminster Confession of Faith: 

    CHAPTER V.

    Of Providence.

    I. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

    II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

    III. God, in His ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.

    IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

    V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God does oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.

    VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, does blind and harden, from them He not only withholds His grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts; but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which they had, and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others.

    VII. As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it takes care of His Church, and disposes all things to the good thereof.

  • From Reformed Confessions Harmonized edited by Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson:
  • The Westminster Confession of Faith represents a high point in the development of federal theology, and its inner dynamic is powerfully covenantal. Divided into thirty-three chapters, it carefully covers the whole range of Christian doctrine, beginning with Scripture as the source of knowledge of divine things…. It continues with an exposition of God and His decrees, creation, providence, and the fall (II-VI) before turning to expound the covenant of grace, the work of Christ, and, at length, the covenant of grace, the application of redemption (X-XVIII). While criticism is sometimes voiced that the confession is a deeply scholastic document (e.g., it has no separate chapter on the Holy Spirit), it is now increasingly noted that is the first confession in the history of Christianity to have a separate chapter on adoption (XII)—perhaps the least scholastic of all doctrines. Careful attention is given under various chapter headings to questions of law and liberty, as well as to the doctrine of the church and sacraments (XXV-XXXIII). 

    While the confession was composed by disciplined theological minds, it also displays the influence of men with deep pastoral and preaching experience. It is an outstanding expression of classical Reformed theology framed for the needs of the people of God. 

  • From The Importance and Relevance of the Westminster Confession of Faith by John Murray:
  • The Westminster Confession is the last of the great Reformation creeds. We should expect, therefore, that it would exhibit distinctive features. The Westminster Assembly had the advantage of more than a century of Protestant creedal formulation. Reformed theology had by the 1640’s attained to a maturity that could not be expected a hundred or even seventy-five years earlier. Controversies had developed in the interval between the death of Calvin, for example, and the Westminster Assembly, that compelled theologians to give to Reformed doctrine fuller and more precise definition. In many circles today there is the tendency to depreciate, if not deplore, the finesse of theological definition which the Confession exemplifies. This is and attitude to be depreciated. A growing faith grounded in the perfection and finality of Scripture requires increasing particularity and cannot consist with the generalities that make room for error. No creed of the Christian Church is comparable to that of Westminster in respect of the skill with which the fruits of fifteen centuries of Christian thought have been preserved, and at the same time examined anew and clarified in the light of that fuller understanding of God’s Word which the Holy Spirit has imparted.

    The Westminster Confession was the work of devoted men and the fruit of painstaking, consecrated labour. But it was still the work of fallible men. For that reason it must not be esteemed as sacrosanct and placed in the same category as the Bible. The latter is the only infallible rule of faith and life. The framers of the Confession were careful to remind us of this. “All synods or councils since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as an help in both.” (XXXI, iv). It is not superfluous to take note of this reminder. We are still under the necessity of avoiding the Romish error. One of the most eloquent statements of the Confession is that of I, vi: “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: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

Learn more:

  1. Spurgeon.org: Text of the Westminster Confession of Faith
  2. Theopedia: Westminster Confession of Faith
  3. Justin Holcomb: The Westminster Confession of Faith
  4. Robert Shaw: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith
  5. John Murray: The Importance and Relevance of the Westminster Confession of Faith
  6. Robert Baillie: A Description of the Westminster Assembly
Related terms:

Filed under Creeds and Confessions.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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