Special Revelation - Part One
We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter says; and that afterwards God, from a special care which He has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed word to writing; and He Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.
The Belgic Confession, Article 3
In the Seventeenth Century, a running dogfight ensued among Protestants over the place and authority of Scripture in the life and teaching of the church. A group called the Antinomians instigated the fight. The Antinomians, or Sectaries as they were called in England, were very much like our present-day Pentecostals. They held that Scripture was subordinate to the direct revelation of the Spirit, which each believer was supposed to receive. This supposed direct revelation was most important in preaching, as one Antinomian made clear: “I had rather hear such a one that speaks from the mere motion of the spirit, without any study at all, than any of your learned scholars, although he may be fuller of Scripture.”
The Puritans, of course, held a much different view. They championed the concept that Scripture was sufficient for doctrine and life.
There is not a condition into which a child of God can fall but there is a direction and rule in the Word, in some measure suitable thereunto.
Thomas Gouge (1605 - 1681)
The Puritan’s position was firmly rooted in the Reformation. Martin Luther said, “We have never yet desired anything else…than the liberty to have the Word of God, or the Holy Scriptures, to teach and to practice it.” The Reformation sought to return Holy Writ to God’s people by loosing it from the shackles placed on it by the Church of Rome.
This idea was highly esteemed among the Puritans. William Tyndale told a priest at Gloucestershire that “if God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” Indeed, God’s people are to be a people of the Book. John Ball’s Catechism answers the question, “Doth the knowledge of the Scriptures belong unto all men?” with, “Yes, all men are not only allowed, but exhorted and commanded, to read, hear, and understand the Scripture.” John Cotton exhorted his congregation to “FEED upon the WORD” and to “Let not a day ordinarily pass you wherein you will not read some portion of it, with a due meditation and supplication over it.” Richard Baxter implored his readers to “love, reverence, read, study, obey, and stick close to the Scripture.”
Scripture, in the Puritan view, was to be our sole authority. Cotton Mather referred to Scripture as “The rule according to which conscience is to proceed…” John Lightfoot echoed this sentiment: “This is the glory and sure friend of a church, to be built upon the Holy Scriptures…The foundation of the true church of God is Scripture.” Theological claims, therefore, are to be tried in but one court, “…by that which transcends all human antiquity, customs, counsels, and traditions (though all those may contribute some help), the Word of God.” Thus human opinions must bow to God’s Holy Word, as John Owen makes clear: “Pin not your faith upon men’s opinions…the Bible is the touchstone.”
To the Puritans it was clear: Scripture is to be our sole authority for doctrine and life, and as such, it is necessary and sufficient. It is upon this footing that we shall take our steps.
- The first step will be to understand why Scripture is necessary.
- Next we shall learn about the sufficiency of Scripture.
- And finally, we shall consider Scripture’s place as our sole authority for doctrine and life.