Scripture Sufficient for Salvation

Some musings on the first paragraph of the Westminster Confession of Faith which reads:

Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.

The Bible makes a fundamental assumption: God exists. Following its lead, so too does the Confession. Neither seek to give ‘proofs’ of the existence of God.

However, that is not to say that there is no evidence for his existence. That evidence can be found in two places: first, as the Confession puts it, the light of nature and, second, the works of creation and providence.

By “the light of nature” the Confession simply means that sense that everyone has of the existence of the divine. We may deny it and/or try to suppress it, but it is there tugging at our consciences.

By “creation” is meant the “heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) i.e. all things in creation that we can see and even those we can’t see, even anything beyond sophisticated instrumentation.

By “providence” is meant the way in which time and events in this universe unfold in a seemingly purposeful way.

So, the light of nature, creation, providence together provide evidence of the existence of God and of his qualities. They are the often unrecognised stimulus to the kinds of questions children ask but adults learn to suppress – where did I come from, what am I for, what’s my life all about? But no one can ever say, “I didn’t know!” The evidence is all around us.

However, even if someone did respond to that evidence and believed in God in his power, wisdom and goodness, there is still a problem: such knowledge of God and his qualities does not do anything about the person’s condition that makes necessary his salvation. The Confession will go on to speak about this salvation, why it is necessary, and how it can be had. Suffice it to say, that at this point the Confession is giving a basis for the further revelation of himself and his will. That basis is that man needs to be saved.

Right at the start of this part of the Confession, we see the wonderful grace of God as he reveals himself further to make salvation possible. In one sense he did not have to, but he did! How has that revelation come? In various ways and means. Yet all of them have resulted in the committing of that revelation to writing. Every book of the Bible has its own human author and historical setting but they all have their origin in God himself. Through the Bible God is reaching out to mankind. Though it he is building the church and defending her against evil. Scripture is the means of God’s grace and we must treat it with reverence and care.

One final point, and one which causes controversy in our day: all previous modes of revelation have ceased. That is, dreams, visions, new writings. They have all ceased. Now, there is nothing more necessary than that we focus on what God has had committed to writing. That is sufficient, and with that we should be content.

Scripture Sufficient for Salvation

Beyond Books and Starbucks

I challenge you to move beyond the resources of your seminary training, academic books, and cool software programs. I dare you to set them aside after your exegesis is complete and look for inspiration beyond your Starbucks coffee. Enter the solitude of your closet and meditate and pray over what God is saying. Beg the Holy Spirit to illuminate your heart and mind. Ask for the mind of Christ, that you might be filled with all spiritual wisdom. Ask that the Spirit would allow you to grasp the grandeur of God’s Word so powerfully and personally that when you preach, people would hear the words of God, see the face of God, feel the presence of God, and gladly surrender their wills to God. Ask Him to help you preach deep sermons.

From ‘Deep Preaching’ by J Kent Edwards (B&H Publishing, Nashville 2009), p. 160.

Beyond Books and Starbucks

Flourishing through Preaching and Praise

I am not sure what to call the Tron these days. When I say “the Tron” I mean the church formerly known as “St George’s-Tron Parish Church of Scotland”.  Given that the church as a body seceded from the Church of Scotland back in June, and the CoS maintains that it still has a ministry there, I am not sure how one should currently refer to the church. For me, it will always be known as “the Tron”.

Susan and I worshipped there back in the 1980s when we were undergraduates and then for a further six years before moving to England in 1989. Those were the days of Eric Alexander, Sinclair Ferguson and David Ellis, a powerful team of Bible expositors who fed a packed building on Sunday mornings and evenings in the centre of the city of Glasgow. That period of the ministry of the word has had a powerful influence on our lives.

So, it was a great pleasure to worship there last Sunday. It is at least a decade since we were last able to attend (when Sinclair Ferguson was the minister – preaching on James 4 if I remember correctly).  The occasion this time was that our daughter has been attending and decided to make the Tron her spiritual home. We had to be there, even though the service would be on Sunday evening and we would then have a five-and-a-half hour journey home afterwards.

The melee after the service as the new members are welcomed into fellowship by the other members.

Our daughter was one of 52 (yes, fifty-two!) who were either being baptised (four of them), professing faith for the first time (i.e. already baptised – is is a paedobaptist church!) or transferring from another church.

It was a powerful occasion for several reasons. Firstly, because the church was full. Latecomers found it hard to find a seat. Secondly, the singing was powerful, exuberant, yet controlled. Thirdly, the sermon was preached by Dr Richard Pratt of RTS (Orlando). It was a powerful sermon – “Whom do you trust?” – looking at Abraham. (Get it here – I recommend it.) Fourthly, there were four adult baptisms, which I always find moving. Fifthly, the new intake, like the church, is international. The gospel is for all nations! Sixthly, the group included converted muslims who have come to Christ. Seventhly, seeing our daughter profess faith was wonderful! Eighthly, Susan and I met so many friends we knew from the days when we were there over two decades ago. It was like we had never left. The bonds of unity and love were palpable. Strangely, those whom we considered then to be ‘old’, those faithful ‘parent’ figures who looked after us students, no longer seemed as old, though obviously 23 years had passed! How time, experience and maturity change our perceptions. Ninthly, the controversy surrounding the decision of the congregation to leave the CofS was clearly having no impact whatsoever on the ongoing ministry of the gospel in the city centre.

It is this final point that I wanted to linger on for a bit longer. The controversy over human sexuality, and the subsequent separation between the Tron and the CofS has its ins and outs, to which I am not party. However, I believe it to be true that none of the Glasgow Presbytery representatives who have been negotiating with the session of the Tron have actually been to a worship service there to see the ministry for themselves. If they had, then they would find a powerful Christ-centred ministry, filled with warmth and love. There is a buzz about the place as they seek to reach the homeless, asylum-seekers, students and people from all over the city. It has training programme for the preaching ministry that rivals in scale that of the whole of the rest of the CofS put together. The Tron is a model of city-centre ministry.

It is staggering, however, that the Glasgow Presbytery hopes to see a new evangelical ministry arise centred on the repossessed Buchanan Street building. But there is currently no congregation (they have all left the CofS) and there is only an interim moderator and a handful of assessor elders which constitutes “St George’s-Tron Parish Church”. As I understand it, the Glasgow Presbytery has to lose 30 paid staff this year in order to balance its books, and yet it intends to have a 3 to 5 year transitional period where somehow a congregation will arise from what is left. What evangelical minister will lead such a ministry? How can it replicate the ministry without significant injection of funds? How can it raise a congregation when the parish is largely commercial property and the residential population is transient? Who, who does not already attend the seceding congregation, will be willing to travel into the city centre from the outskirts to an essentially new work for a period of 3-5 years? It beggars belief. I expect this to become an unfolding tragedy for the CofS, a slow-motion train wreck that will eventually grind to a halt.

Meanwhile, the Tron will go on. Like all vibrant, gospel-centred ministries, it is looking ahead to how it can continue and expand its work for the city of Glasgow and its people.

Since the 1960s the motto of the city has been, “Let Glasgow Flourish.” Yet that is not the whole text inscribed on the bell in Tron Tower in Argyle Street from 1663. That reads, “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of Thy word and the praising of Thy name.” I saw this flourishing in microcosm during worship at the Tron last Sunday. May it continue: in the Tron and all churches that seek to be faithful to the word of God.

Flourishing through Preaching and Praise