The Westminster Standards
Interaction with the Text of
the Westminster Confession of Faith,
the Larger Catechism, and
the Shorter Catechism
For the courseWestminster Standards (TH320),
Master of Divinity Program
The North American Reformed Seminary
December 18th in the Year of Our Lord 2012
The Westminster Standards1 are a bulwark of Reformed Orthodoxy. Their teachings encompass such things as are necessary for eternal life, whether the doctrine of God, Scripture, justification, ethics, and more. As a public confession of faith, the WCF details basic requirements for officers of Christ’s church, and sets forth a guiding light for the world and the flock of Christ. The doctrines set forth in this confession and catechetical standards cohere together as a system, no part of which can be tampered with or neglected without hazard to the entire system. The profane rationalist and the superstitious idolater each receive a pattern of sound words unto salvation.
In writing a paper interacting with the content of the Confession and Catechisms, one major difficulty is economy. How does one limit oneself to a mere 40 pages? One chapter, or, in some cases, one paragraph could occupy much more than that! In order to narrow and focus my attention, I have chosen to deal with a few instances of how the parts of the system of doctrine in the Confession and Catechisms cohere together. In conclusion I will consider the incomplete and impossible revisions of the Confession made in 1788 by the American Presbyterians.
Chapter One of the WCF deals with the most basic issue for a Christian: where do we find out about God? God has given mankind a book, and this book is “most necessary,” (WCF 1:1). Man’s corruption, and the malice of Satan and the world make this written revelation to be required for the comfort and edification of the church (WCF 1:1). This revelation is the only rule of faith and obedience (WCF 1:2, WLC Q.3), and of a life of glorifying and enjoying God (WSC Q.2).
Yet the teaching of Scripture itself is secured by the unimpeachable authority of God. “It pleased the Lord… to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church,” (WCF 1:2). Thus, Scripture is a revelation of God Himself, and His will! No authority beyond this could be required to secure an authority as deep and wide as that of its Author. Here, first, the Confession weds together the doctrine of God with the doctrine of Scripture.
God is “truth itself,” and this secures that the Scripture is to be believed and obeyed, seeing He is its Author (WCF 1:4). Scripture makes known the attributes of God, and reflects the attributes of God. Is God holy? So is the Holy Scripture (WCF 1:1). Is God majestic? Scripture makes itself known to be His Word by its majesty (WLC Q.4). Thus, because Scripture is God’s law, it reflects the attributes of its Author.
Thus, any doubts or attacks on the attributes of Scripture are ultimately attacks on the God Who gave it. Does Scripture mean what it says? Not in any wooden fashion, which fails to recognize figures of speech, similes, metaphors, etc., but in the proper sense. Any treatment of Scripture which tinkers with it as a series of fables or interesting stories, when, in fact, it is the record of the mighty works of God, is thus an attack on God’s power. Does Scripture record the creation of the world in six days? Indeed, and thus reveals the almighty power and pleasure of God. Men make a mockery of this power when they seek to turn Scripture teaching into fables to suit their own fancy.
Here too we see the coherence of the system of doctrine taught in the Standards. The power of God in creating the world in six days is indisputably taught in the divine Word, and recorded in our Standards as testimony to this mighty God we serve. The WSC even sums up the work of creation with this as one facet, “The work of creation is, God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good,” (Q.9; cf. WLC Q.15 and WCF 4:1). Of the biblical facts of creation, these four were thought a sufficient summary of the work, for children, learned men, and churches to know and confess.
Again, as a system, the Standards stand or fall together. Points cannot be neatly chosen for attack without the whole system coming under danger. To use Samuel Rutherford’s explanation:
This is to teach us to be carried about with every wind of doctrine, whereas faith of fundamentals or non-fundamentals is to believe a truth, because so saith the Lord, that cannot lie, nor speak untruth, but you will men to believe these non-fundamental truths, so as they may be as well lies as divine truths.2
Thus, if something is a divine truth taught in Scripture, teaching men to hold them as if they were false is to make spiritual babies out of them.
Rather, our system must stand together as a summary of the revealed religion in Scripture. Sola Scriptura, then, is a guiding light in the Standards, and assists us to ward off objections and doubts as they arise. God is the source, Scripture is a revelation of Himself and His will, and creation declares the power of our God. And the fact that God created in six days is not some obscure non-fundamental, to be cast aside in infantile love of novelty, or in pursuit of worldly respectability.
The Standards’ doctrine of Scripture is likewise intertwined with its doctrine of worship. Rather than look to unwritten traditions, or human creativity (referred to in Scripture as man’s imagination and the work of man’s hand), God requires that we look to His Word for direction in worship. Man’s natural knowledge tells him that there is such a glorious God, Whom he is to worship, but “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will,” (WCF 21:1). The WSC seconds this doctrine, “The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his Word,” (Q.50).
Thus, to understand the doctrine of worship in the Standards, one must start with the doctrine of Scripture. And to understand the doctrine of Scripture, one must start with the doctrine of God. The authority of God secures His right to appoint all such religious worship and ordinances as please Himself. Therefore, when men appoint such religious worship and ordinances as please themselves, they fundamentally undercut the authority of Almighty God. Hence, in Scripture, the Second Commandment (dealing with worship) is often joined together with turning one’s back on the true God in the First Commandment (e.g., Lev. 26:1).
Yet when one rightly considers the majesty of Almighty God, he will transfer that attribute to His law, wherein He appoints a form of worship for His Name. The WCF does just this, recognizing that God places limits on worship in Scripture. Not only the WCF, but likewise the WLC recognizes the rights of God in His worship. In Q.108 it states that “The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his Word.” In Q.109 it states that “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself… corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it.”
Thus, God not only requires us to keep all that He has said, He forbids us to take away from or add anything to what He has said. These notions, in turn, derive from a careful study of the biblical exposition of the Second Commandment. And this can only be done in an atmosphere of Sola Scriptura, attributing the authority of God Himself to His self revelation.
Moreover, the connection between the various loci of theology in the Standards is clearly displayed in such usage of Old Testament law as the WLC employs in Q.109. If God is authoritative and unchanging, most supreme in His will, and utilizes Scripture to reveal Himself, then His Word will reflect both His will and His unchanging holiness. This is reflected in the Standards’ teaching on the Old Covenant as an administration of the Covenant of Grace, in their teaching on the Moral Law, and a score of related notions.
By what right do Christian pastors draw upon the Law of Moses to limit and direct their theory of Christian worship? This too illustrates the coherence of the Standards in their various parts. God speaks in Scripture, and Scripture therefore reflects divine attributes. When laws are given in Scripture, they will either reflect divine attributes, or the divine will. Of this distinction, the Standards recognize the three-fold law: moral, judicial and ceremonial. The Moral Law is unalterable, simply reflecting God’s character and nature. The Ceremonial Law is totally alterable, simply reflecting God’s positive will. The Judicial Law is either alterable or unalterable, depending on whether the specific law reflects God’s nature or God’s will.
The WCF states that the Moral Law has always been “a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments,” (19:2). Yet as the WLC reveals, the requirements and prohibitions of the Moral Law are discovered throughout the Scripture. For instance, the Eighth Commandment’s prohibition of theft requires duties drawn from parts of Scripture as various as Leviticus, Luke, Ephesians, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, 1 Timothy, Matthew, John, Deuteronomy, Exodus and more (see WLC Q.141 proof texts). The Moral Law, then, is not strictly limited to the Decalogue in a syllable-snatching fashion.
And this Moral Law, we are told, “doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it,” (WCF 19:5). Thus, the authority of God, stamped on Scripture in general, is stamped on the Moral Law in a particular way that guarantees its unalterable authority and relevance. And this is the case in the Second Commandment, wherein God declares His own right to determine in what manner He will be acceptably worshipped. Thus, the citation of a moral law for worship is perfectly within the system of the Standards. Again, the doctrine of God is connected to the doctrine of Scripture, and the doctrine of Scripture is connected to the doctrine of law, which in turn connects to the doctrine of worship, and each of these is connected with all the rest.
Yet because Scripture is one, reflecting the unity of the Godhead, it must be queried why such vastly different means of worshipping God can be commanded in one book. From the Levitical ceremonies to gospel simplicity, there is a world of difference. Yet even this is part of the interwoven system of doctrine in the Standards. The doctrine of divine covenants is that there is one covenant in two administrations, but the context is worship:
Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory; yet, in them, it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations, (WCF 7:6).
Thus the unity of Scripture permits for a diversity of the divine will in appointing the elements of worship.
God is one; His Word is one; His Covenant of Grace is one, though the external means of worship vary. Seeing these matters are appointments of His will, they can as easily be revoked as they were instituted. Thus, the Ceremonial Law of the Old Testament was abrogated when their substance appeared (WCF 19:3).
Even civil ethics fall within this web of sound doctrine. Civil magistrates exist for the glory of God (WCF 23:1), which may only have one rule: the Word of God (WSC Q.2). Thus, in encouraging good and punishing evil doers, the standard of the Moral Law is a guiding light to magistrates, as exegeted throughout the pages of Holy Scripture, reflecting the justice of a righteous God. In this light, the WLC discusses “Thy kingdom come” as teaching us to pray that the true and corruption-purged church of Christ would be “countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate,” (WLC Q.191). In proof of this petition, the WLC cites 1 Tim. 2:1-2, where we are commanded to pray for the conversion of our rulers to Christ, so that we may live quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty. Without converted magistrates, therefore, our lives will not be quiet, peaceable, or lived in all godliness and honesty.
In discussing biblical civil ethics, the WCF is careful to distinguish what was merely a matter of God’s will for Israel, and what binds all men through the Moral Law. As we have seen, the Moral Law is exposited throughout Scripture, and is not childishly locked up in the Decalogue, though it is summarized there. Thus, some mosaic judicial laws are clearly moral in nature, partaking of God’s holiness, and acting as fences for the Decalogue. For example, magistrates are to ensure that “all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed,” (WCF 23:3), as proven by Lev. 24:16; Deut. 13:5-6, 12; Ezra 7:23, 25-28; and the examples of the pious kings of Judah are cited from I and II Kings and II Chronicles. Deut. 13:6-12 is likewise cited to prove that Christian Liberty does not exempt soul-murdering heretics from the power of the civil magistrate. These passages were considered moral judicials, and therefore they were accessories to the Moral Law, not the mere positive will of God.
Yet, the mere positive will of God is manifested through what the divines generally referred to as the laws of peculiar right, or of proper right, or simply judicial laws. These judicial laws were given uniquely to Israel, and because they were accessories to the mere will of God declared for that civil body, they expired together with the state of that people (WCF 19:4). Laws of common right, rooted in the Moral Law do not, indeed cannot expire, since their principal cannot expire.
Thus, Anthony Burgess, a member of the third committee at the Westminster Assembly (that wrote up Chapter 19, “Of the Law of God”) had this to say about certain capital punishments:
Therefore howsoever a great scholar says that those are deceived who think capital punishments are appointed by the law of nature or any perpetual law of God, yet this place [Gen. 9:6] demonstrates the contrary. Neither is it any matter that Plato would have reduced into his commonwealth the abrogation of capital punishments, or that the Romans for a while used no heavier punishment than deportation or banishment. We must live by commands, and not by examples, especially human.3
Thus, the perpetual laws of Scripture, and those dimly reflected in the laws of nature,4 both reflect the character of nature’s God. Again, the doctrine of God ties in here with the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of law, and the doctrine of politics.
Yet the teaching of a three-fold law likewise coheres with the immutability of God. The change in sacraments and external administration of the Covenant of Grace has occasioned some scoffers to object a mutable god. If God “never changes,” then all of His commands must never change, or so the argument runs. Yet when properly understood, God’s immutability is only reflected by immutable, or Moral Laws, rather than mere positive appointments of His will, such as ceremonies of worship, and the municipal code of Israel.
As a brief hiatus regarding the coherence of these loci in the Standards, it would be helpful to ponder how any desire to alter or amend these portions will prove dangerous to their teaching on God, Scripture, law and politics. Since the Moral Law is exposited by those portions of the Law of Moses and the Prophets dealing with civil matters, it follows that any attack on the use of those civil passages is an attack on the Moral Law, and the unchanging character of God Himself. The whole system of doctrine contained in the Standards, as I asserted above, will then begin to unravel, and, sooner or later, the whole house will come tumbling down. And this, it is my contention, is precisely what happened with the 1788 revisions to the WCF, as I will discuss below. Yet this also happens with certain heretical spirits who attempt to deny the three-fold law, feigning an unchanging God requires all laws to be unchanging, and running aground of judaizing errors.
It should also be noted that just as the doctrine of Scripture is first in the WCF because of its logical priority, so the doctrine of God and of the Holy Trinity comes next, and sets the stage for the rest, having the theological priority. For instance, the doctrine of God as “infinite in being and perfection” (WCF 2:1) means that His will and decree can never be made subordinated to the creature. One whose perfections are limitless does not need anyone else to make up or compliment His being. Thus, chapter three of the WCF details the relationship between this independent and infinite God and His eternal decree concerning angels, men, and all things.
The aseity of God guarantees that He stands in need of nothing from His creatures. Moreover, “nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them” (WCF 2:2), His decrees will reflect His aseity. God does not transform Himself into a creature simply because He created. Rather, His divine infinity and sovereign power are utilized for His glory, manifested through the things He created.
God’s decree reflects this aspect of the Godhead, as well as other divine attributes. Is God eternal (WCF 2:1)? So is His decree (WCF 3:1). Is God most wise (2:1)? So is His counsel (3:1). When God chooses to act, He need not consult with anyone else, since He is infinite in wisdom and holiness, and therefore all of His works are truth. Thus, any decline from the doctrine of providence, or doubts about God’s decree are not really about the decree, but are about the nature of God Himself. So when any misled clerics are ashamed to tell the whole story of God’s decree (reprobation or election), they are really ashamed of the attributes of God. The system of the Standards, again, stands or falls together.
Not only God’s decree, but the execution of His decree in providence reflects the nature of God:
The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath 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 proceedeth 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, (WCF 5:4).
Note how the execution of God’s decrees reflects the character of God in various points. Almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness manifest themselves through God’s providence. Moreover, God being perpetually active, and sovereign over all, He wisely and powerfully binds, governs, and orders all things else. Yet this sovereign power does not turn the holy God into a wicked author or approver of sin. His attributes manifest themselves in a harmonious concert of action through providence.
And this powerful providence binds even Adam and the first disobedience and fall, as seen above. Yet the WCF goes on to explain that God permitted this act, “having purposed to order it to His own glory,” (6:1). Thus, again, the system of the Standards holds together the divine attribute of aseity, the doctrine of providence, and the doctrine of sin. God’s almighty power does not let him idly stand by and permit things to take place. No, rather, His permission is a powerful ordering, manifesting His glory in, by, unto, and upon His creatures.
It is also of note that, as mentioned previously, the Standards take the historical accounts of the early chapters of Genesis as God intended, recognizing His power, glory and wisdom in them. As such, the WCF says that “Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit,” (6:1; cf. WSC Q.15 and WLC Q.21). They then have the gall to cite Gen. 3:13 in confirmation of this point, without lame qualifications or effeminate shape-shifting. God is all powerful, His Word is truth, and when it declares that God created the world in six days, and all very good, and that the devil seduced mankind into eating forbidden fruit, it is fully reliable. Again, the Standards marry together the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of sin and much more. To take shots at any of these points singularly is to take shots at the entire system, and should be treated with the same hostility that shots at the so-called vitals would evoke.
In fact, the historical events of the fall are, in both the WLC and WSC preparatory for the teaching on the gospel.5 Thus, if the doctrine of the historic fall is set aside as a mere fable, then what will the rest of the catechisms turn out to be, but vain repetition of cunningly crafted fables. The system in the Standards cannot be attacked piecemeal, nor held as such. All parts support and maintain the others. The notion of defending mere pieces of the Standards is useless, and fit for nothing but to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
Also part of the creation and fall accounts in Scripture is the doctrine of original sin. The Standards’ doctrine of original sin is rooted in Sola Scriptura as the guiding light for knowledge about man, his past and his present. Moreover, the teaching about man in the Standards is tied together with the doctrine of Christ, and salvation. For example, in reference to Adam and Eve, they are “the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation,” (WCF 6:3). Adam is like Christ in his covenant headship, since just as Adam has a natural posterity, so Christ has His people as “His seed,” (WCF 8:1). Just as Adam’s guilt was imputed to his posterity, so God saves His people by “imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,” (WCF 11:1). Just as Adam’s corrupted nature is conveyed to his posterity, so those effectually called “having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection,” (WCF 13:1). In each of these ways, the doctrine of Christ and of man are woven together.
The chapter of the WCF dealing with God’s covenant with man shows the same marks of internal, systematic consistency. God being so gloriously transcendent, as we saw above, yet condescends to make covenant with man:
The distance between God and the creature is go great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant, (WCF 7:1).
Theology proper and the doctrine of law both show up, tied in with God’s first covenant with man. Covenant is not a natural arrangement, but one voluntarily established by God Himself, who has all power over Himself and all things else.
Also of note is how reasonable creatures owe God obedience, under the mere title of Creator. Thus, the Standards do not permit any thought which would undermine the obligation which man naturally has to the Moral Law of God. Though covenants may be voluntary on God’s part, obliging all to obey Him as Creator is not; it is natural. This is tied in with the doctrine of the Moral Law, which obliges man in every state, before the fall, fallen, redeemed and glorified (WCF 19:5-7). Thus, Antinomianism, or the notion that there is some state of man in which the law of God loses its binding power in some way, is as monstrous and unnatural as atheism. In fact, since God’s law reflects His character (as all of Scripture does), a denial of His law is a denial of His glorious power, and is a form of practical atheism.
Also in the chapter on God’s covenant is the doctrine of total depravity, joined with sola fide justification, and the unity of the two testaments to boot. Man is totally depraved, “Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace,” (WCF 7:3). Man’s sin brought inability on himself. This inability means that the terms of the covenant cannot be, in any sense, based upon works. Any covenant that God makes with man after the fall will be one of grace, and the condition will only be faith: “He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved,” (WCF 7:3). Free salvation because of human sin.
Moreover, because of the doctrine of total depravity and justification by God’s free grace, through faith, the Covenant of Grace must always be one, ever since the fall. There is no room for the trash pushed by some that the Mosaic covenant was, in any sense, a covenant of works! The Standards do not permit such ridiculous notions any ground, seeing Israel was a nation of sinners:
This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come: which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called, the Old Testament, (WCF 7:5).
Note, it is one Covenant of Grace with the New, and the signs and seals of that covenant were sufficient and efficacious to build up the elect in faith in Christ to come. The next paragraph goes further, noting that the Old and New are not two covenants of grace “differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations,” (WCF 7:6). To propose the absurd notion of a covenant of works offered to the sinful people of Israel demonstrates a failure to grasp the basic coherency of the Standards.
The next chapter of the WCF deals with Christ the Mediator. Christ’s mediation was purposed from all eternity, terminates with the final judgment, and was and is executed throughout history. Thus, this chapter ties in with the WCF’s teaching on God’s decree, eschatology and the various facets of man’s salvation:
It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man; the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Saviour of His Church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified, (WCF 8:1).
Eternal election of both Christ and His people is here proposed, as well as the effectual work of salvation applied to the elect. Again, the Standards’ teaching is intertwined so carefully that no part can be extracted for analysis without immediately drawing our attention to the rest.
The aspect of eternal inheritance and the perseverance of the saints also comes out a few paragraphs later, “The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him,” (WCF 8:5). Here the obedience of Christ is put as a parallel to the covenant of works (WCF 7:2), while the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is woven into the Incarnation (WCF 2:3) along with final salvation of the elect (WCF 17:1), and their particular redemption (WCF 8:8) are all harmoniously choreographed into one sentence.
One interesting connection made in the WCF relates to the efficacy of Christ’s atonement from the foundation of the world:
Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world: being yesterday and to-day the same, and forever, (WCF 8:6).
Here we have the doctrines of Christ’s incarnation, the atonement, covenant, the historical fall account (serpent and all!), and divine immutability. Again, just as Christ has taught us, the truth of God is one, and it is interwoven with itself in one systematic whole.
In chapter nine, the WCF handles the tricky topic of man’s free will. This study in anthropology, though, gives occasion to touch on various aspects of the Standards’ doctrine. By nature, i.e. in God’s first creation (WCF 4:2, WLC Q.17, and WSC Q.10), man was created in God’s image, with natural reason and liberty, but subject to mutability. This means that prior to man’s fall, he was not “forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil,” (WCF 9:1). Yet by his own fall, man has corrupted himself, and “wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto,” (WCF 9:3). Man’s total depravity, then, has brought his natural freedom into a ruin of bondage. This, in turn, relates again to the doctrine of salvation as a free gift of God, effectual calling as the work of God’s Spirit alone, and God’s glory being exalted in man’s salvation.
Chapter ten’s treatment of effectual calling is likewise related to what has gone before about God, Scripture, man, etc.:
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ, (WCF 10:1).
It is of note that this single paragraph mentions predestination (cf. WCF 3:3), Word and Spirit (cf. WCF 8:8), the state of sin and death (cf. WCF 6:2-3), and Jesus Christ (cf. WCF 8). Again, the Standards are wound so tightly together that seeking to extract one doctrine by itself is impossible. There are no random doctrines that appear without connection with others (unless one considers the 1788 amendments, as I do below).
Chapter eleven discusses the article of a standing or falling church, justification by faith alone. With the background set in God’s righteousness inherent in Himself (WCF 2:1), man created in the image of this holy God, and therefore required to walk in this righteousness (WCF 4:2), the fall of man and revolt against his Creator (WCF 6:1-6), God’s covenants with man (WCF 7:2-6), and the Mediator of the Covenant of Grace and His work (WCF 8), the restoration of fallen men to God’s favor is discussed.
It is important to realize how united these doctrines are in the Standards. If one questions the doctrine of justification sola fide one is immediately subjecting the holiness of God to review. Also, the historic and theological meaning of man’s first creation in the image of God, his fall and revolt from his heavenly Master, God’s covenant and the mediation of Christ likewise fall under review by such doubts. This is no small attack, but a full frontal assault on the doctrines of our holy religion. Thus, when certain self-proclaimed Reformed theologians try to play down this one point of historic Reformed Orthodoxy, and thereby curry favor with liberals, they involve themselves in a well-nigh universal apostasy from the gospel. The Standards are tied together so well that this single point involves the ruin of the rest, if compromised.
Moreover, the doctrine of justification as taught in Scripture takes nothing away from the rights of God’s Moral Law as outlined in WLC Q.20 and 93, and WCF 19:1-2, 5-7. The covenant God gave to Adam in innocency was conditioned upon “personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience,” (WLC Q.20). The Moral Law “is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto,” (WLC Q.93). “Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law: yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate,” (WLC Q.94).
The WCF details what such uses to the unregenerate and regenerate are, stating that “neither doth Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation,” (19:5). For all men in general, they need the law to “inform them of the holy nature and the will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives: to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience,” (WLC Q.95). Thus, the doctrine of justification is set in more beautiful contrast when the authority of the law is clearly portrayed. Christ in all of His glory is magnified, and the perfection of His obedience made more urgently necessary.
Likewise, the Moral Law receives its right in commanding saints who have been freed from its curse:
yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show [the regenerate] how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience, (WLC Q.97).
Thus, justification and the law are perfect companions, particularly in spurring saints on to new obedience to the precepts (violated by them, but kept by Christ in their stead). In this way, the doctrine of justification is a goad on to the saints for greater care to conform themselves to the rule of the law. Much less does it make any saint suppose that they no longer have any need to obey the law, or cool their zeal for the law.
Again, because the doctrines contained in the Standards are one harmonious whole, any declension from the doctrine of the law or the doctrine of justification is an attack on the other. Thus, if men think they will secure greater zeal for God’s law by downplaying the freeness of justification, or its character as by faith alone, they are sorely mistaken. And if others idly suppose that justification by faith alone makes zeal for the law less essential, or lowers their care to walk in obedience to the law’s precepts, they are, in fact, doomed to abandon the doctrine of justification by faith alone in the end.
Anthony Burgess helpfully sums up the proper relation between law and gospel:
Let the use of this doctrine be to direct Christians in their practical improvement of law and gospel, without hindering each other. There are many things in Christianity that the people of God make to oppose one another, when yet they would promote each other, if wisely ordered. Thus they make their joy and trembling, their faith and repentance, their zeal and prudence, the law and gospel to thwart one another; whereas by spiritual wisdom they might unite them. The law for a goad, the gospel for a cordial; from the one be instructed, from the other be supported. When your heart is careless and dull, run there to be excited; when your soul is dejected and fearful, throw yourself into the arms of the gospel. The law has a loveliness in it as well as the gospel; the one is a pure character and image of the holiness of God; the other is of the mercy and goodness of God. So that the consideration of either may wonderfully inflame your affections and raise them up.6
Thus, the law and gospel sweetly comply with each other, and make one harmonious doctrine, despite fools who fall into the ditch on either side of the highway to Zion.
Having considered the various doctrines in the Standards, it appears as clear as day that any attempt to take away from the teaching of any particular point is an attack on the whole. There is, in other words, no rational way to permit “system subscription.” Due to how tightly woven these doctrines are in one tapestry, to pull one thread is to undo the whole. Many modern controversies would be easily resolved were men simply honest in their vows to God, and rational in their reading of the Standards.
In light of these considerations, I will carefully examine the American Presbyterians’ revisions of the WCF and WLC made in 1788.7 My method will be to consider each alteration of the Standards, whether in language or in proof texts, in the light of the system as a whole, particularly any pertinent sections that were unaltered by the men of 1788. My assumption will be that any portions of the actual WCF and WLC that were unaltered were intentionally left untampered with, or, if done in ignorance, I will yet read the meaning of the original Standards back into those portions. First, then, those portions of the WCF that were amended by the men of 1788.
WCF 20:4 deals with Christian liberty in relation to the powers that God has ordained. In particular, Christian liberty is not a license to resist the lawful power of civil magistrates and ecclesiastical courts. The difference resides in the following final sentence, “they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the church, and by the power of the civil magistrate,” (WCF 20:4).
The context for this statement deals with heretics who oppose lawful powers, and the exercise of such lawful powers in church and state. When heretics publish such opinions, or maintain such practices as are contrary to the light of nature or known principles of Christianity, whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation, they disrupt the external peace and order of the church. The WCF says that the civil magistrate may proceed against them by his power, citing Deut. 13:6-12, Rom. 13:3-4, Ezra 7:23-28, Neh. 13:15ff, 2 Kings 23:5ff, 2 Chron. 34:33, 2 Chron. 15:12ff, Dan. 3:29, 1 Tim. 2:2, Isa. 49:23, Zech. 13:2-3, among other passages.
Yet, as we saw above, the Moral Law in the Standards is exposited throughout Scripture, and is not merely locked down to the Decalogue, its summary. Rather, as the WLC makes clear in its section on the Moral Law, political and civil matters are included within the scope and intention of the Moral Law. Only such judicial laws as were given uniquely to Israel as a unique people expired together with the state of that people. Thus, though the language regarding the power of the magistrate is deleted, it is still logically implied in the section on the Moral Law.
That we may know what judicial laws were of common right, and which were of peculiar right to the Jews only, we need look no further than George Gillespie, a Scottish Delegate to the Westminster Assembly:
He answers by the common distinction, [the Christian Magistrate] is obliged to those things in the judicial law which are unchangeable, and common to all nations: but not to those things which are mutable, or proper to the Jewish Republic. But then he explains this distinction, that by things mutable, and proper to the Jews, he understands the emancipation of an Hebrew servant or handmaid in the seventh year, a man’s marrying his brother’s wife and raising up seed to his brother, the forgiving of debts at the Jubilee, marrying with one of the same tribe, and if there be any other like to these; also ceremonial trespasses, as touching a dead body, etc. But things immutable, and common to all nations, are the laws concerning moral trespass, sins against the moral law.8
Gillespie continues by naming crimes against the Decalogue. Thus, even if the deleted portion were granted to the men of 1788, they still kept the portions dealing with the Moral Law, and retained the portion of this paragraph which states that such heretical publications are contrary to the powers God has ordained.
Logically, therefore, under the Moral Law delivered in Deut. 13:6-12, Rom. 13:3-4, Ezra 7:23-28, Neh. 13:15ff, 2 Kings 23:5ff, 2 Chron. 34:33, 2 Chron. 15:12ff, Dan. 3:29, 1 Tim. 2:2, Isa. 49:23, Zech. 13:2-3, and elsewhere, heretics and sectaries should still receive their fair share of civil punishment. The Standards cannot be picked apart in this way, and because the revision was only of matters which had prima facia disagreement with the Enlightenment notions9 of the 1788 men, other parts remain unchallenged.
That the Scripture passages cited are of common right is overwhelmingly confirmed when examined in the light of the Decalogue, certain passages which speak of heathen magistrates (e.g., Ezra 7:23-28 and Dan. 3:29), and the truths still confessed in WCF 20:4. There is nothing uniquely Jewish in those civil sentences, and therefore, they are undoubtedly of common right, binding Gentile rulers in the times of the gospel. Whether the Decalogue deals with such matters “as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity, whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation; or to the power of godliness” is plain. Such matters are well within the purview of the Decalogue, and therefore these civil laws are accessories to the Moral Law, and immutable.
To confirm Gillespie and Rutherford’s sense concerning forensic laws in Scripture which are accessories to the Decalogue, here is a third witness from Westminster Divine, Francis Cheynell:
All divine lawes which concern the punishment of Morall transgressions, are of perpetuall obligation, and therefore still remaine in force according to their substance and generall equity, abstracted from speciall circumstances, Typicall Accessories, and the old formes of Mosaicall Politie, For
1. These divine Lawes are not expired in their own nature.
2. They are not repealed by God.
3. The authority of the Law-giver is the same under both Administrations, old and new; the consciences of Christians as well as Jewes, are subject to his soveraigne and perpetuall jurisdiction.
4. The matter of the Lawes is Morall, and very agreeable to the Dictates of nature, as doth appeare by the severall Lawes and Decrees of Heathens. Dan. 3.29, Ezra 7.23, 25, 26, 27; Ezra 10.3, 5, 8 compared with Numb. 15.30, 31; Levit. 24.15, 16. Deut. 13.8, 9. Zach. 13.3, 6. Seducing, poysoning, slaying of Soules is by the law of Nature and Nations the worst of injuries.
5. The reason of these divine Lawes is immutable, and that reason is sometimes expressed and declared: But it is not necessary that there should be any expresse ratification of every Morall Law in the New Testament, which is plainly delivered in the Old.10
Note that Cheynell uses the passages in Daniel and Ezra to prove that the matter of these forensic laws was moral, and not uniquely Jewish. He traces them to the law of nature, not even the Decalogue. Note also that he categorizes these laws as “Moral Laws,” plainly delivered in the Old, and not requiring reiteration in the New.
Thus, in terms of the original intention of the WCF, the “Moral Law” includes passages like Daniel 3 and Ezra 7. Therefore, since the portion of the Confession dealing with the Moral Law was unchanged by the 1788 men, its original meaning has remained unamended. This is likewise the case when one considers that the amended WCF still states that the general equity of the uniquely Jewish judicials still binds civil bodies now (amended WCF 19:4). Thus, if one were to argue that the power of the magistrate against people who oppose the law of nature and the known principles of Christianity was a uniquely Jewish law, yet the general equity of it would still oblige civil bodies.
Moreover, the amended WCF 23:2 states that Christians may take the office of magistrate, and in doing so “they ought especially to maintain piety, justice and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth.” If magistrates ought especially maintain the fear of God, it is inconceivable how using that same civil power against those who maintain notions contrary to the law of nature and the power of godliness can be an unacceptable doctrine. In fact, because this portion is unaltered, it has the meaning of the original WCF (even with the change noted below). In all of these ways, the incomplete alterations to the system of the Standards makes any such alterations perfectly irrational and inconsistent, and does not have the force or effect that the Enlightenment notions behind these amendments would have consistently had.
The second alteration to the WCF was to amend the proof texts for 23:2, which originally included Ps. 2:10-12, 1 Tim. 2:2, and Rev. 17:14 and 16. For the Enlightenment mind, the notion of religious toleration is required by the equality of all religions, or the inability to make secure judgments about religious matters. In other words, skepticism gives rise to religious toleration, since none can be so certain that his beliefs are not mistaken, after all. To ask a magistrate, then, to bring the sword of civil justice to maintain piety and “kiss the Son,” or even to make war on the whore of Babylon (as in Rev. 17:14 and 16) was thought to be totally un-Christian to the Enlightenment man. Thus, though these passages reflect the requirements of the First Table of the Law, and are therefore clearly moral, yet they must be set aside as savoring too much of the “persecuting spirit” that the Enlightenment hated so much.
The next alteration to the WCF changes the following portion of 23:3 to read as follows:
In the Standards:
yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses of worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.
As altered in 1788:
or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest in such a manner, that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging, every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth, should
interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretence of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.
Here, it is of note that the revision has forwarded Enlightenment concepts at the expense of First Table issues. Though the law of nature teaches even the heathen that “all blasphemies and heresies” are to be suppressed, yet the Enlightenment sought to create an emotional distance between believers and the faith that they embrace. At root, then, the Enlightenment has no room for blasphemy and heresy (in any biblical sense), unless it be the blasphemy of speaking against sincerely-held beliefs, or the heresy of opposing man’s absolute right to believe whatever he wants to believe.
Again, however, because the Standards are a coherent whole, and their teaching on the Moral Law remains unchanged, therefore all men, at all times, in all spiritual conditions, and in all aspects of their lives, are to obey the dictates of the Moral Law, even in civil matters. That is, unless we are prepared to say, with the Enlightenment, that we must become atheists in the civil realm to pacify him who believes less, or nothing. Likewise, how may Christians magistrates especially promote piety if blasphemy and heresy are not suppressed with the power of the civil magistrate?
Regarding denominational equality, this thought is so alien to the Scriptures that all the 1788 men could do was to leave in the proof text from Isa. 49:23 which refers to kings as nursing-fathers, and queens as nursing-mothers to the church of God. That supports merely their first statement, “as nursing fathers,” but makes nothing for the rest of the proposition. Moreover, it makes strongly against the rest of their proposition, since a nursing father is to provide food for his infant. If the church is to “suck the breast of kings” (Isa. 60:16), then kings must be very concerned about the quality of the food given to their infants, and look to the commodity and health of his children.
In fact, the proper understanding of a nursing father’s duty is highlighted in the original WCF where the magistrate is said to have a duty circa sacra, not in sacra, to see that poison is excluded from his children’s diet (“blasphemies and heresies”), but that wholesome food is included (“all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered and observed”). Who can argue against a father having a care for the diet his infant partakes of? Only the greatest of fools!
Again, if Christian civil magistrates “ought to especially maintain piety” (WCF 23:2), how can that even take place if they may not “in the least, interfere in matters of faith” (WCF 23:3)? How can piety and the content of what one believes be so easily separated, or callously handled? This is the evil fruit of the Enlightenment, which views piety as being nice, and treating everyone else the same way we would like to be treated. Piety, biblically speaking, refers to giving God His rights under the First Table of the Law. As I stated above, these amendments are irrational and impossible, and cannot abide even the remnants of the actual Standards. Moreover, the wreckage that has followed these amendments in American Presbyterianism is, in my opinion, largely related to the consistent application of these lawless Enlightenment notions. Namely, the notion of religious toleration within American Presbyterian circles, leading to blasphemies and heresies being accepted within the hearts and minds of Presbyterian professors, seminarians and Presbyters.
It should also be pointed up that “nursing fathers” are to countenance and maintain the church of Christ, which is not a mere otiose ensuring that all sects and heretics can have their meetings in peace. The modified WLC still says that when we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we pray that:
the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted, (WLC Q.191, emphasis added).
Noah Webster defines “countenance,” in this context, as “Support; aid; patronage; encouragement; favor in promoting and maintaining a person or cause. It is the province of the magistrate, to give countenance to piety and virtue. Let religion enjoy the countenance of the laws.”11 Again, how could a magistrate countenance this corruption-purged church without interfering in public assemblies that are corrupt in nature?
Concerning maintenance, Webster says “To hold, preserve or keep in any particular state or condition; to support; to sustain; not to suffer to fail or decline.”12 This entails keeping the purified church in a particular state, and supporting Christ’s church, not permitting her to fail through neglect or indifference. This cannot effectively be done without suppressing blasphemies and heresies, and the modified position of the WCF on this point is inconsistent with natural reason, and with the specific teaching of the WLC at this point. However, WLC Q.191 is perfectly in accord with the WCF’s teaching on the Moral Law (whether in the revised edition or in the original), and the original WCF’s teaching on magistracy in particular.
Again the 1788 revisions were a half-work. They are inconsistent with the remainder of the Standards’ teaching, and drop out of nowhere without any connection to the system of doctrine which so tightly cohered before their amendment. What is left is half-Reformed, half-Enlightenment thought. Though not precisely half, yet this tiny portion of Enlightenment thought cannot possibly co-exist with the sound doctrine in the Standards concerning the Moral Law, and its civil application. Rather, it can merely spread confusion where there was once clarity, and irrationality where there was once clear biblical teaching.
One other internal inconsistency in this revision of WCF 23:3 is the inconsistent and hypocritical use of the examples of the kings. In the actual WCF 23:3, the examples of the kings are consistently used. In the case of Uzziah, whom the Scripture censures for his usurpation of ecclesiastical authority, the divines recognize the prohibition of the magistrate to “assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” But, when the Scripture praises Hezekiah for doing “that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did,” the divines cite this God-approved example of magistracy (2 Kings 18:4, with 1 Chron. 13:1-9) to prove that magistrates have authority and a duty “to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed,” (WCF 23:3).
In addition to Hezekiah, Josiah is cited (2 Kings 23:1-26 and 2 Chron. 34:33), and Asa’s better days (2 Chron. 15:12-13). To prove that magistrates have power to call synods and to be present at them, pious king Jehoshaphat is cited from 2 Chron. 19:8-11, and Hezekiah’s “doing right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done” in 2 Chron. 29 and 30. Thus, the just accusation of cherry-picking quotations is deflected in the original WCF 23:3, but fully justified in the revision, which only selects historical examples from the books of Kings and Chronicles which suit its purposes. This, too, demonstrates the weakness of the Enlightenment notions of 1788.
Related to the change in WCF 23:3 is the next change made in 1788 to WCF 31:1-2. Paragraph one is merely extended to include more information about how only ministers are to call synods and councils, while paragraph two is entirely deleted, which discusses magistrates lawful power to call synods, while ministers may do so if magistrates are open enemies to the church of Christ. In support of the second paragraph, the original WCF 30:2 cites Isaiah 49:23 about kings and queens as “nursing-fathers” and “nursing-mothers,” so that none shall be ashamed who wait upon the LORD, 1 Tim. 2:1-2 where we pray for the conversion of our magistrates “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty,” and two passages that are cited for WCF 23:3 (2 Chron. 19:8-11 and 2 Chron. 29-30).
These latter two passages are consistently drawn from Chronicles, and reflect the appropriate understanding of the notion that magistrates are to be nursing fathers to Christ’s church. 1 Tim. 2:1-2 is also of note, in that we pray for the conversion of kings so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty. How can piety be secured by the conversion of kings unless civil power is to be used to countenance and maintain the purified church of Christ? How, unless magistrates have power to call synods, as the pious kings of Judah? This is merely a consistent application of the Standards’ teaching on the Moral Law of God applied to the political realm. In other words, the magistrate is duty bound to be keeper and avenger of both Tables of the Law, especially the First.
The final alteration to the Standards made in 1788 was to delete the phrase “tolerating a false religion,” under the sins forbidden by the Second Commandment in WLC Q.109, along with the following proof texts: Deut. 13:6-12, Zech. 13:2-3, Rev. 2:2, 14-15, 20, and Rev. 17:12, 16-17. Again, as stated earlier, the men of 1788 were operating with the then burgeoning American civil religion, rooted in Enlightenment skepticism, and its notions about religious toleration, and the attitude we ought to have toward our own religious beliefs. To the Enlightenment mind, though religious beliefs should have sentimental value, and perhaps some civil use, they should not rise to the level of a primary commitment. In other words, we should not actually believe that our faith is true, and all others are false. Rather, the spirit of the age taught men to be emotionally disconnected with their religious beliefs.
With the background of American civil religion being then codified in Philadelphia in the United States Constitution, the Presbyterian ministers in Philadelphia followed suit. The move toward atheization began in Congress and ended in Presbytery. Yet, when one examines the portions of the Standards that remained untouched by these heathen notions, one still finds enough ammunition to bury this amendment in an unmarked grave with other relics of the zeitgeist.
The Moral Law is binding on all men, in all ages, in every spiritual condition, and in every aspect of his life. The “first and great” portion of the Moral Law deals with the First Table of the Law, including the Second Commandment. The Second Commandment deals with the lawfully instituted worship of Almighty God, and requires that we adopt the regulative principle. Or, that God may only be properly worshipped as He Himself has required in Scripture, and not according to the imagination and devices of men. What God has not commanded, He has forbidden in His worship. False religion asks that men be permitted to worship God according to their conscience, whether or not their conscience is informed by Scripture and sound reason. False religion demands a “right to heresy,” and asks that blasphemy be tolerated and given place in polite society.
Yet, even in the portions of the Standards that survived the changes of 1788, the magistrate’s duty as keeper and avenger of Both Tables of the Law is yet easily demonstrable. This syllogism will suffice for any impartial mind:
God has ordained magistrates to be under Him, for His glory (WCF 23:1);
The Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God (WSC Q.2);
Ergo: God has ordained civil magistrates to be under Him, directed by the rule of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Thus, any portion of Scripture which touches on the magistrate’s duty in accordance with the unchanging Moral Law (WCF 19:5) is a perpetual rule for magistrates, unable to be abrogated, altered, or to expire. This stands in contrast with uniquely Jewish judicial laws, which were merely of peculiar right, expiring with its principal, the political body of the Jews.
That the judicial laws of Moses may be divided this way is obviously the case in the original and amended Standards. As demonstrated above, Gillespie, Rutherford, Cheynell and Burgess each recognized that certain judicial sanctions were unalterable due to the law of nature, or the Moral Law, perpetually binding magistrates from the light of nature or Scripture. Thus, to conclude this final amendment, the Second Commandment does, in fact, forbid us from “tolerating a false religion.” Moreover, the magistrate has a duty to care for piety especially, and therefore to suppress blasphemies and heresies. This is a duty imposed by the law of nature, and Christianity does not turn men into unnatural beasts, whereas the Enlightenment did its best to accomplish this goal.
In conclusion, I have demonstrated that the Standards are such a tightly woven system that to attack one point is to involve the entire system in the ruin of the part. I have sought to demonstrate the tightly bound consistency of the doctrines of Scripture, God, creation, redemption, and ethics. In particular, I have focused my attention on political applications of the Decalogue, and have shown how irrational and impossible the 1788 amendments to the Standards are, due to two facts: first, the inability to attack the civil applications of the Decalogue without at the same time involving the rest of the Standards in their ruin, and, second, the inconsistency of these amended parts with the parts of the Standards left unamended. What is left is an inconsistent hybrid of Reformed and Enlightenment thought, which has consistently led Presbyterian bodies who have adopted it toward toleration of heresies and blasphemies, and toward the dead and lifeless corpse of liberalism. May the Lord restore a generation of men who are committed to the consistent teaching of the Standards, and who use them as a tool to reach a lost world for Christ, rather than as a footstool for their private opinions.
1Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1958, 1990). The three together will be cited as the Standards (pp. 19-318), the Westminster Confession of Faith as the WCF (pp. 19-125), the Westminster Larger Catechism as the WLC (pp. 127-283), and the Westminster Shorter Catechism as the WSC (pp. 285-318).
2Samuel Rutherford, A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (London: Printed by R.I. for Andrew Crook, and are to be sold at his Shop, at the sign of the Green Dragon in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1649), p. 78.
3Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis: A Vindiciation of the Moral Law and the Covenants, Westminster Assembly Facsimile Series (London: Printed by James Young for Thomas Underhill, at the signe of the Bible in Wood-street, 1647), p. 193.
4For a discussion of certain crimes that are punishable by death under the Moral Law, or law of nature, see Samuel Rutherford’s A Free Disputation , p. 309: “That which is moral, and cannot be determined by the wisdom and will of man, must be determined by the revealed will of God in his word; but the punishment of a seducing Prophet, that ruins the soul of our brother, and makes him twofold more the child of Satan than before, is moral and cannot be determined by the wisdom and will of man: Ergo, such a punishing of a seducing Prophet, must be by the revealed will of God in his word. The proposition is proved 1. Because God only, not Moses, nor any other law-giver under him, taketh on him to determine death to be the adulterer’s punishment, Levit. 20. 10. And the same he determineth to be the punishment of willful murder, Exod 21. 12. of smiting of the Father or Mother, v. 15. of Man-stealing, vers. 16. of Sorcery, Exod 22. 18. of Bestiality. 19. Of sacrificing to a strange God, vers. 10. And upon the same reason, God only, not any mortal man, must determine the punishment due to such as seduce souls to eternal perdition.”
5In the WLC, Qs. 15-29, and in the WSC Qs. 9-19 deal with creation and fall. The catechisms take up Christ and the gospel directly after these last questions. Thus, both catechisms prepare the mind and heart for Christ by a recounting of the historic creation and fall of man.
6Burgess, Vindiciae Legis, p. 267.
7For a full statement of the differences between the original Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger Catechism and the revisions, I have used Lee Irons’ compilation, The 1788 American Revision of the Westminster Standards, found at: http://www.upper-register.com/papers/1788_revision.pdf.
8George Gillespie, The Anonymous Writings of George Gillespie, (Dallas, Texas: Naphtali Press, 2008), 56.
9The notion of religious toleration was one of the core values of Enlightenment Humanism, and is reflected in the alterations made to the Standards in 1788. See John Locke’s Letters Concerning Toleration (London: Printed for Awnsham Churchill, at the Black Swan at Amen-Corner, 1689 – 1692).
10Francis Cheynell, The Divine Trinunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, (London, T.R. And F.M. For Samuel Gellibrand at the Ball in Pauls Church yard, 1650), 473-4.
11Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, entry for COUNTENANCE, n. [L., to hold.].
12Ibid., entry for MAINTA’IN, v.t. [L. manus and teneo.].