In Part 2 we looked at the Westminster Standards' teaching on the natural revelation of God, which is primarily given in WCF 1.1a and LC 2a. God gives natural revelation in two distinct but unified ways: (1) within humanity and (2) without humanity. That which resides within humanity is called the "light of nature." That which resides without is called "the works of God," which are further defined as "the works of creation and providence." This natural revelation sufficiently and efficiently reveals the one true and living God, but it is "not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation." Instead, it is only sufficient "to leave men unexcusable." But natural revelation not only condemns humanity, it also temporarily preserves it through the restraint of civil evil (WCF 19.6).
The Westminster Standards also teach about another kind of revelation, supernatural (or special) revelation. We see this in WCF 1.1b-1.10, LC 2b-5, and SC 2-3. Let's begin with WCF 1.1b and LC 2b.
WCF 1.1b reads:
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 maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
LC 2b reads:
Q. 2b. How doth it appear that there is a God? A. ...but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.
Here we encounter the doctrine of supernatural revelation broadly considered and then more narrowly considered in the doctrine of Holy Scripture.
Supernatural Revelation Broadly Considered
First notice the "therefore." The divines predicate supernatural revelation (insofar as they address it here) on salvation. Natural revelation is insufficient to save, therefore it pleased the Lord to reveal himself supernaturally.
Unlike natural revelation, supernatural revelation is not a universal constant. Instead, it has been given at "sundry times and in divers manners." While the Confession doesn't specify, these divers manners include theophanies, audible voices, angels, visions, Holy Scripture, and the incarnation.
The Confession teaches the Lord was pleased "to reveal himself" (i.e. who he is) "and to declare his will" (i.e. what he purposes for us). As we saw last time, natural revelation includes these same two subjects. It reveals the one, true, and living God (who he is) and that he should be worshiped and obeyed (what he purposes for us). Supernatural revelation goes further than this, teaching us about the mercy of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (who he is) and the covenant of grace whereby we might be saved (what he purposes for us). So LC 2b says, "his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation."
This supernatural revelation is given by God "unto his church" as its special possession. This is why the Apostle calls the church, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15b). God gathers and perfects his chosen people through this supernatural revelation. It is given to, through, and for them.
Supernatural Revelation Narrowly Considered in the Doctrine of Holy Scripture
After thousands of years of giving supernatural revelation "at sundry times, and in divers manners," the Confession says it pleased the Lord "to commit the same wholly unto writing." Notice what has been committed wholly unto writing is "the same" as the other. In other words, Scripture is the same kind of revelation as the theophanies, the audible voices, the messages delivered by angels, the visions, and even the incarnation. There is no essential difference between those ways of revelation and Holy Scripture. When we read our Bibles we encounter essentially the same kind of revelation that Moses encountered in the burning bush. When we hear the Bible preached we encounter the same kind of revelation that the disciples encountered in beholding the person and work of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful truth!
That the Lord has committed supernatural revelation "wholly unto writing," implies two things. First, it implies that all other ways of supernatural revelation have ceased. Second, it implies that the Lord has now (since the cessation of the other ways) given all the supernatural revelation he is going to give until the Second Coming. With regard to the cessation of the earlier ways the framers teach explicitly, "those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased." And since the only supernatural revelation available today is Holy Scripture they say it is "most necessary."
The framers give four reasons for the Lord's committing supernatural revelation wholly unto writing. The first two have to do with the revelation itself. They write, "for the better preserving and propagating of the truth." The truth of supernatural revelation is less likely to be corrupted, and if it is corrupted, it is more likely to be discovered and corrected. Further, to be able to hand a person the completed canon of Holy Scripture all at once expedites its propagation. The other two have to do with the effect of the revelation. They write, "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." The Lord has committed supernatural revelation wholly unto writing for the good of his church. That it might be better established and comforted in the face of its threefold opposition: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. What a gift of grace the Holy Scripture is to us!
In Part 4 we will look at the doctrine of the canon in WCF 1.2-3, LC 3, and SC 2.