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An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith

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An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith

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This book, written by Robert Shaw, is published by Christian Focus Publications, and is available from Bible Truth Books, P. O. Box 2373, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49003. The price is $19.50; 398 pages, hardcover. You will note that this year it was 350 years ago that the Westminster Assembly of Divines held its last meeting.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is a summary of the principal doctrines of the Holy Scriptures presented by means of questions and answers. This Confession of Faith was composed by the Westminster Assembly, of whom the greater part were Puritans, including Goodwin, Nye, Burroughs, Bridge, Rutherford, and Gillespie. “The whole number of the Assembly amounted to one hundred and forty-two divines, and thirty-two lay assessors; but of this number seldom more than from sixty to eighty gave regular attendance. The Assembly was convened for the first time on Saturday, July 1, 1643, and it continued to hold regular meetings till February 22, 1649; when, instead of being formally dissolved, it was formed into a committee for the trial of ministers. The number of sessions held by the Westminster Assembly was one thousand one hundred and sixtythree, and the period of its duration five years, six months, and twentyone days. The general result of the Westminster Assembly's deliberations was the framing of the Confession of Faith, the Directory for Public Worship, a Form of Church Government and Discipline, and the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter.”

In his introductory essay, Robert Shaw defines the purpose of a Confession of Faith thus: “The Christian Church, as a divine institution, takes the Word of God alone, and the whole Word of God, as her only rule of faith; but she must also frame and promulgate a statement of what she understands the Word of God to teach. This she does, not as arrogating [assuming] any authority to suppress, change, or amend anything that God's Word teaches, but in discharge of the various duties which she owes to God, to the world, and to those of her own communion. Since she has been constituted the depositary of God's truth, it is her duty to Him to state, in the most distinct and explicit terms, what she understands that truth to mean. In this manner she not only proclaims what God has said, but also appends her seal that God is true. Thus a Confession of Faith is not the very voice of divine truth, but the echo of that voice from souls that have heard its utterance, felt its power, and are answering to its call.”

Regarding the Westminster Confession of Faith, Shaw states, “The first thing which must strike any thoughtful reader, after having carefully and studiously perused the Westminster Assembly's Confession of Faith, is the remarkable comprehensiveness and accuracy of its character, viewed as a systematic exhibition of divine truth, or what is termed a system of theology.” There is another characteristic of this Confession which is also remarkable: “ It contains the calm and settled judgment of these profound divines on all previous heresies and subjects of controversy which had in any age or country agitated the Church. This it does without expressly naming even one of these heresies, or entering into mere controversy. Each error is condemned, not by a direct statement and refutation of it, but by a clear, definite, and strong statement of the converse truth.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith is divided into thirty-two chapters, and each chapter is subdivided into sections in which all the major doctrines of the Word of God are identified. Robert Shaw gives a very detailed explanation of each of these sections, explaining in all simplicity the meaning of the Confession by supporting Scriptures and also gleaning explanations from other divines.

It would be impracticable to attempt to summarize this work, as it is so extensive, but we have included a few selections from this book which may serve as a specimen of its contents.

Concerning the Being whom we call God, he states, “The amazing works of providence, the regular and unerring motions of the heavenly luminaries for so many thousand years, the never-failing return of summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, day and night, and innumerable other wonders, clearly manifest the existence of the Supreme Being, who upholds and governs all things. In the works of creation and providence, too, we see the clearest characters of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. The persuasion of a God is universal, and the most ancient records do not conduct us to a period in the history of any people when it did not exist. That truth must certainly be a dictate of nature, to which all nations have consented. There is much practical atheism in the world, but it may be questioned whether any have been able entirely to erase from their mind the impression of a Supreme Being. It is, indeed, affirmed: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God’ (Psalm 14:1); but it is rather the wish of the unsanctified affections, than the proper determination of the deliberate judgment, which these words express. Though some may in words disavow the being of God, yet the terrors which they feel in their own breasts, especially upon the commission of some daring wickedness, force upon them the conviction that there is a Supreme Being, who will judge and punish the transgressors of His law. Conscience, indeed, is in the place of a thousand witnesses to this truth. Conscience reproves, condemns, and scourges a man for his wicked deeds, and anticipates the account which he must give of all his actions, and thus demonstrates that there is a God. The Scriptures, accordingly, take the being of God for granted, and instead of first proving that there is a God, begin with telling us what God did: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1).”

In the chapter entitled “The Fall of Man,” Shaw relates, “This section points out the consequences of the sin of our first parents in regard to themselves. They ‘fell from their original righteousness,’ and became wholly corrupted in all the faculties of their souls and members of their bodies. The understanding, once a lamp of light, was now overwhelmed in darkness. The will, once faithful for God, and regulated by His will, now became perverse and rebellious. The affections, once pure and regular, now became vitiated [corrupt or debased] and disordered. The body, too, was corrupted, and its members became instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. Our first parents likewise lost the happiness which they had formerly possessed. They were expelled from the pleasant and delightful abode in which God had placed them, the ground was cursed with barrenness for their sake, they were doomed to lead a life of toil and sorrow, and at last return to the earth from which they were taken. But this was the least part of the misery into which they fell. They lost communion with God, the chief good; they forfeited His favor, and incurred His righteous displeasure. They became dead in sin — obnoxious to that death which is the wages of sin, and which had been threatened as the penalty of their disobedience. This threatening included temporal death, consisting in the dissolution of the union between the soul and the body; spiritual death, consisting in the loss of the favor and the image of God; and eternal death, consisting in the everlasting separation of both soul and body from God. The very day in which our first parents sinned, the sentence of death, though not immediately executed in its fullest extent, began to lay hold upon them. They became mortal, and were exposed to the disorders of a vitiated constitution; the principle of spiritual life was extinguished in their souls, and they were bound over to eternal wrath; and, had not a Mediator been provided, not only would they have returned to the dust, but they would have been punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power."

In chapter fifteen, section one, of the Westminster Confession of Faith we read, “Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace (Zechariah 12:10; Acts 11:18), the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ (Luke 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21).” Robert Shaw's exposition of this section includes the following: “The repentance described in this chapter is called repentance unto life, because it is inseparably connected with the enjoyment of eternal life, and to distinguish it from the sorrow of the world, which worketh death. It is styled a grace, because it is the free gift of God, and is wrought in the heart by the operation of His Spirit. ‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles gran ted repentance unto life’ (Acts 11:18). This repentance is also denominated an evangelical grace, to distinguish it from legal repentance. The latter flows from a dread of God's wrath; the former, from faith in God's mercy. In the latter, the sinner is chiefly affected with the punishment to which his sin exposes him; in the former, he mourns for his sin as offensive and dishonoring to God. Cain and Judas repented, but it was on account of the consequences of sin to themselves; whereas the true penitent mourns after a godly sort, with a godly sorrow, or a sorrow which directly regards God (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

“True repentance springs from a sight and sense of sin. All men will readily acknowledge, in general terms, that they are sinners; but no man can have a clear sight and a feeling sense of his sins, until the Holy Spirit becomes his teacher. It is His work to convince of sin (John 16:8). This He does by means of the law; for ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin’ (Romans 3:20). When the Spirit enlightens the mind of the sinner to discern the purity, spirituality, and vast extent of the divine law, he sees sin to be ‘exceeding sinful.’ He views it as not only dangerous, but as odious in itself, on account of its contrariety to the holy nature and righteous law of God.

“True repentance flows from an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ to such as are penitent. Had we reason to regard God as an inexorable [not moved by prayers] judge, we might, like Adam, attempt to flee from His presence, and escape the sword of His avenging justice; but never would we return to Him as sincere penitents. Of so generous a nature is evangelical repentance, that the penitent soul is never so deeply humbled and grieved for sin, as when it has reason to hope that a gracious God has freely forgiven it. This generous temper is assigned to the true penitent in the sacred Scripture: ‘Thou shalt remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee, for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God’ (Ezekiel 16:63).

“True repentance includes grief, or deep contrition and godly sorrow for sin. There is a false sorrow, which many mistake for the genuine. Many are grieved for their sin, merely on account of the punishment it is like to bring upon themselves; and those who are most deeply affected with this kind of sorrow, if they succeed in allaying their fears, often return to a course of sinning with greater freedom and impetuosity [acting without thought] than before. But the sorrow of a true penitent is for sin as committed against God — as rebellion against His rightful authority — as a violation of His holy law, and as a most base, ungrateful return for all His goodness (Psalm 51:4).

“True repentance includes hatred of sin, not only as that which exposes us to death, but as hateful in itself, as the abominable thing which God hates, and as that which renders us vile and loathsome in His sight. If this hatred of sin is genuine, it will lead us to loath and abhor ourselves, and it will extend to all sin in ourselves and others.

“True repentance includes a turning from sin unto God, with a sincere purpose and endeavor to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments. This is the crowning act and the grand test of genuine repentance. Paul preached both to Jews and Gentiles ‘that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance’ (Acts 26:20). True penitents forsake sin, with a firm resolution to have no more to do with idols. They are converted from the love as well as from the practice of sin. They particularly guard against those sins to which they were formerly most addicted, and before whose influence they are most ready to fall (Psalm 18:23). They assiduously watch against all occasions of sin, and earnestly long for complete deliverance from it. They return to God as their rightful Lord and Master, resolving, in dependence upon His grace, to ‘serve Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of their lives.’ They form a steady and unshaken purpose in their hearts, and sedulously endeavor, by watchfulness and diligence, in the constant use of all means, to avoid all sin, and to practice universal holiness. It is not meant that true penitents have attained to sinless perfection; for ‘there is no man that liveth and sinneth not.’ They will, therefore, find occasion every day for the renewed exercise of repentance. All tears will not be wiped from their eyes until all sin is perfectly removed from their souls.”

This book is highly recommended as a teaching resource for officebearers in the congregations, teachers in the schools, and parents in the families. It will also serve as an excellent companion for those desiring to follow a method of instruction on a personal basis or in conjunction with the explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism in the churches.

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Bekijk de hele uitgave van vrijdag 1 oktober 1999

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith

Bekijk de hele uitgave van vrijdag 1 oktober 1999

The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's

PDF Bekijken