The Light of God's Word: Westminster Larger Catechism Question 2.
By Richard Bacon.
Copyright 1997 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

Westminster Larger Catechism question two asks, "How doth it appear that there is a God?" The answer is, "The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his Word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation." We previously examined the first part of this question and answer under the topic of natural, or general, revelation. In the second part of the answer, we will examine the fact that while general revelation is sufficient to leave men without excuse; nevertheless; it is not all that is needed for salvation.

We will consider Scripture under four heads. Regardless of how much we may seem to understand Scripture, unless the Spirit makes that understanding effectual to us, there is no salvation. Scripture alone, without the Spirit applying the Scriptures to our hearts, is as ineffectual as if it were only general revelation. The fifth head, then, will be that the Spirit must make the Word of God effectual.

The four heads will be: The necessity of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, the authority of Scripture and the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture.

The Necessity of the Scriptures

When we reason from effects back to causes, general revelation tells us somewhat about God. It tells us, of course, that there is a God; but it also tells us something of his power. Anything or anyone powerful enough to create the universe must be more powerful than the universe itself is. We also understand that anyone so great is worthy of our worship. But general revelation gives us a very incomplete understanding of who God is. While nature shows us that there is a God, there is not the display of his attributes in nature that there is in Scripture.

Scripture tells us of God's perfections. The Bible speaks of his holiness; of his righteousness; of his majesty; of his worthiness to be worshipped. In Psalm 92:5-6, we read, "O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep. A brutish man knoweth not: neither doth a fool understand this." God's works are very great. His thoughts are very deep. The problem is not in nature. The problem is not in the works of God. The problem is us: we are brutish; we are foolish. "O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep," And yet, "A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this."

In I Corinthians 2:9-10, one of the passages cited by the Larger Catechism for this answer, we read, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." We know virtually nothing from nature of future rewards and judgments. There is a common sense we call morality or civility that we have toward one another. Yet as we move from one culture to the next, that morality can change. In some cultures it is even permissible to eat one another. There are wicked cultures but how do we know that they are wicked? We only know from Scripture! While man has a moral sense, the only way he knows what is right and wrong objectively; the only way he knows that there will be a judgment to which he will be held accountable; the only way that he knows that there will be rewards for those who walk in God's steps and punishments for those who refuse; is from Scripture. I Corinthians 2:9 and Psalm 92:5-6 indicate a necessity for us to know something about God's dealing with us; something about his attributes. But we can know those things only from Scripture.

The second consideration under "necessity" is there is neither explicit nor implicit information in nature regarding the doctrine of the Trinity or the person of Christ. We would be able to discern nothing about the Trinity if all we had was nature. People often try to use examples from nature as analogies for the Trinity. "The Trinity is like an egg." No, it is not! "The Trinity is like a three leaf clover." No, it is not! There is nothing in nature that is analogous to the Trinity. There is no way we can argue back from nature to who God is in his Trinity. We can know there is a God; we can know that God should be worshipped, but we cannot know God with respect to either his Trinity of persons or, specifically, the person of Christ.

We would know nothing about the person of Christ apart from Scripture. There are references to him in Josephus and some of the Rabbis, but the only reason those references are there is that they are trying to explain the existence of Christianity. If it were not for the fact that Christ is revealed to us in Scripture, there would be no desire on the part of Josephus and the Rabbis to explain who they thought Jesus was. We would have no knowledge of Christ or his offices of prophet, priest and king that are revealed in Scripture.

Neither is there an indication in nature of a plan of salvation. Although we may know that we are sinners, nature tells us nothing about a plan of salvation. If the only information we had was from nature, we would probably think of salvation as works oriented. Everything we observe is based on reward for work done. Wages — for work done! Causes — and effects! If it were not for Scripture, we would have no knowledge of a plan of salvation, particularly one that comes from God. Romans 15:4-5 states, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus." By "these things" Paul referred to the Old Testament. By analogy we can say that the same principle applies to the New Testament. The Scriptures were written so that we could have hope; so that we could learn them and have hope. Scripture is necessary because apart from Scripture we would have no knowledge of our hope.

The third consideration is that nature suggests that God is to be worshipped; but nature tells us nothing of how or when to worship him. Nature is not sufficient in this respect. Though nature teaches us by implication that God should be worshipped because of his greatness and majesty, it gives us no information as to how or when to worship him. We understand that there is a way of worshipping God that depends entirely on the revelation of Scripture. Since it is necessary to worship God correctly, and since the only way that we learn to worship God correctly is in Scripture, the necessity of Scripture is proven.

Note some Scriptures. The first is Deuteronomy 4:9-40, especially verses 36 and 37, "Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire. And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt." God instructed the Israelites of that generation by a voice from heaven!

The second passage is Deuteronomy 12:31 and 32. In this passage, after explaining to Israel that they should not worship God in the same manner that they observed the heathen worshipping their deities, Moses goes on to say, "Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods." There was no question about their devotion! There was no question about their sincerity! But, first, they were not worshipping the right God and second, they were not worshipping him correctly.

Moses goes on to say in verse 32, "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." This is what we call the scriptural law of worship, or the regulative principle of worship. We understand this verse to say that we need Scripture in order to know how to worship God aright. There were only two generations, the generation of Moses and the generation of Christ, to whom God spoke by a voice from heaven. Yet, Peter claimed that we have a more sure word than if we had a voice from heaven directing us how we should worship him.

Fourth and finally, Scripture is necessary for a proper communion with God. We have already shown that man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. The communion we have with God is based on who he is. How do we enjoy God now? If he is so different that we cannot know him fully, if we cannot know the plan of salvation, if we cannot know how to worship him, then we cannot enjoy him. Communion with God depends upon knowing him from Scripture. If we know who he is; if we know the person of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation; if we know how he should be worshipped, then we can have communion with him and enjoy him. Our faith in him is founded on Scripture. Some may say, "No creed but Christ!" but we know nothing of Christ apart from Scriptures. Some might say that we are putting our faith in Scripture instead of Christ, but we know nothing of Christ apart from Scripture. If we are to put our faith in Christ, then it must be the Christ of Scripture. Paul acknowledged when he wrote to the Galatians that it was possible that even angels would come after him and preach a false gospel. We cannot depend upon men. We cannot even depend upon the word of angels. The church is built upon the prophets and the apostles! Yet there are no apostles to speak directly to us today. We must find the words of the prophets and the apostles in the Scripture alone. In I John 1:3, John said that the reason he wrote his epistle was so that his readers could have fellowship with the Son and with the Father. That is saying quite a lot. We have fellowship with the Son and the Father by knowing the contents of John's letter. Think about what he is saying. Scripture is not just words on a piece of paper. It is a means of fellowship with God! It is important for us to understand this concept. As we study Scripture; as we read Scripture; as we hear Scripture both read and preached, we need to understand that the Scriptures are not just words. They are words, yes, but they are more than that! They are the means that God has appointed for fellowship with him. It is impossible to have fellowship with God apart from Scripture. One cannot go to the golf course on Sunday morning and commune with God. That is not where you commune with him. One does not go to nature; one does not go to the fishing hole; one does not go to the golf course to commune with God. One communes with God in his Word.

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

By the term "sufficiency" we mean that Scripture is enough. In fact, when we say that Scripture is sufficient, we rule out everything else. We say Sola Scriptura or "Scripture alone." The significance of sufficiency is that all we need is Scripture. It does not mean, of course, that we do not need the Spirit. It means that we do not need anything that men can bring to the equation. We do not need the authority of tradition; we do not need the authority of the church, apart from Scripture; all we need is Scripture. Sola Scriptura! If there was one thing that characterized every branch of the Reformation, it was the principal of Sola Scriptura. The Zwinglians, and the Lutherans, and the Calvinists, and the Anglicans may have disagreed about different aspects of theology, but the one central thing they all agreed upon was Sola Scriptura. That is what characterized the Reformation. The Reformation was about the sufficiency of Scripture.

That leads to another question: sufficient for what? For all of life and godliness! We do not mean that the Bible is sufficient to teach you how to be a good mechanic. If you are a mechanic, the Scripture will teach you how to be a good man while you are being a mechanic. It will teach you how to glorify God as a mechanic. It will not teach you how to be a mechanic. You cannot go to the Scriptures instead of a technical school. However, the Scriptures are sufficient for all of life and godliness. They are sufficient to make a godly mechanic out of a mechanic. They are sufficient to make a godly computer programmer out of a computer programmer, etc.

First, Scriptures are sufficient in convicting sinners of their sin. They point out our sin. Apart from God's law, how could we know that covetousness is sinful? What principle in nature teaches us that it is wrong to covet? We need God's law! It is only as we examine our lives in terms of Scripture that we know the sinfulness of sin. It is only from Scripture then that we know God's attitude toward sin. He hates sin.

In Hebrews 4:12 we read, "For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." I do not know the thoughts and intents of your heart. Your elders do not know the thoughts and intents of your heart. But the Word of God does! The Word of God is alive! It is powerful and explains what is going on in your heart. It never ceases to amaze me at how much better the Bible "knows" me than I "know" myself. I come to Scripture and find that the things I am doing are the very things that Scripture says I do. Scripture is, in fact, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of my heart. The heart is deceitful above all things. Jeremiah 17:9 teaches, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Our hearts wear masks saying, "I am a righteous fellow," but Scripture teaches that our hearts are wicked.

Only Scripture is sufficient to convict sinners. No one can look upon your heart and say with certainty, "You are guilty of this." But Scripture can! Scripture can go to straight to "the heart of the matter."

Second: Scripture is sufficient because it informs us of everything we need to know of God's will for our holiness. In II Timothy 3:15-17, Paul wrote to Timothy, "From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." No works are needful that we are not furnished for by Scripture. Therefore, Scripture is sufficient to all good works. Suppose someone were to say, "You are forgetting to pray for the dead." There are those who have such a tradition. Are we required to do pray for the dead? Only if Scripture says so. But Scripture does not say to pray for the dead. So we do not do that because we maintain that Scripture is sufficient to tell us all the good works we should do. Because Scripture does not tell us to pray for the dead, then we know that praying for the dead is not a good work.

Consider Psalm 19. The first half, verses 1-6, is an eloquent statement of how general revelation comes to us; how the sun, as he makes his circuit around the earth, speaks to every language, to every people, that there is a God. Yet the psalmist also recognizes in verses 7-11 the fact that general revelation is not sufficient to convert the soul. Only God's Word can do that. Notice Psalm 19:6. The psalmist, talking about the sun says, "His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." Every people, every language, every tongue sees nature and realizes it is God's handiwork. God is majestic; God is greater than that which he created; yet, such knowledge is not sufficient to the converting of the soul.

Continuing on in verse 7, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." If one will be converted, it will take God's Word to do it. If one will be wise, it will take God's Word! While nature can tell us some things about God, God's Word is required to convert us, to make us wise and to make us clean. Therefore, they are more desirable than the most desirable things in nature. So in verse 10, gold is desirable; but God's Word is more desirable. The psalmist is not comparing God's Word to something that is undesirable; he is comparing it to the most desirable thing that men use as a commodity of exchange. God's Word is more valuable than that. Honey is sweet to your mouth. Honey has natural sweetness that is unrivaled in nature. God's Word is sweeter in your mouth than the sweetest thing. God's will for our holiness is contained in Scripture. It is sufficient. All we need to know of Christ and salvation, is contained in Scripture.

The Authority of the Scriptures

Scripture carries on the face of it the authority of God himself. As the prophets preached to Israel, they used one refrain again and again. "Thus saith the Lord!" Scripture speaks to us as though God were speaking. The prophets were quite conscious of the fact that they were speaking authoritatively for God. They spoke authoritatively as to what God is like, and thus, their statements of what God is like and what God requires of us are trustworthy. Because the prophets claimed to be speaking for God, their trustworthiness and their authority go together. If the prophets were correct that it was God speaking, then their sayings are authoritative. But if they are not authoritative, neither are they trustworthy. If they could mistake what God wants, then they could also mistake whether God was speaking.

Consider couple of passages. First, Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." God promised to reveal his secrets through his servants, the prophets. If we would understand what God is doing in redemptive history, we must go to the prophets. Do we interpret Scripture in light of current events or do we interpret current events in light of Scripture? Obviously the latter. Read also Romans 16:26, "But now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandments of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." Paul did not contrast obedience and faith and say that as long as you believe, you do not have to obey. In fact, he claims that a believing person will have the obedience of faith. We must obey the commandment of the everlasting God! We discern the commandment of the everlasting God in Scripture. As Paul wrote, "It is made the Scriptures of the prophets."

Both the Roman church and Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity say that their tradition is authoritative. But Scripture states that the will of God is manifest to us in the Scriptures of the prophets: in the writings of the prophets. It is now made manifest by the writings of prophets, "...according to the commandments of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." We must obey his revealed will in Scripture: not his will revealed in tradition; not his will revealed in antiquity, but to his will revealed in Scripture.

As we insist upon the Word of God being our only rule; as we insist that we will not accept traditions and authorities as being binding except as they agree with Scripture, we are saying that this is a law of liberty. There are some who maintain that this principle makes us legalists. It truly does not! We maintain that this is a law of liberty! We are liberating men from the doctrines and commandments of men and saying that our consciences are bound only to the will of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures of the prophets. That is the only rule to which we are bound to; but we are bound to it. God alone is the Lord of the conscience, but he is the Lord of the conscience.

Perspicuity (Clarity) of the Scriptures

The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture does not mean that all Scripture is equally clear. It does mean that there is sufficient clarity for us to understand all that is necessary for our salvation. This is an important doctrine. We need not to go to a preacher to get his understanding or his interpretation. We need not go to a theologian to get his interpretation. We need not go to an expert in the original languages to get his interpretation before we can understand all that we need to understand salvation. This doctrine does not mean that commentaries do not give us insight; nor that preachers do not give us insight and apply the Scriptures to our lives in a way that we could not or would not do ourselves. It does mean, however, that the Scriptures are sufficiently clear for us to draw from them all we need to know for our salvation.

Nor does this doctrine mean that all Scriptures are equally clear. We do have to understand how to interpret Scripture by Scripture. And some Scriptures are clearer than others. The clearer Scripture sheds light on the less clear. The less clear passage should always be interpreted in terms of the more clear passage. As we develop doctrine from Scripture, we must understand that the Bible is not a theology textbook. Scriptures are redemptively, historically written. They were written in an historical context. It is not just a list of rules or a systematic textbook. However, we do derive those things from Scripture: we do derive rules from Scripture, and we do derive a systematic theology from Scripture. As we do, we need to make sure that we understand that the more clear passages interpret the less clear passages. The clearer passages are not more authoritative, but are the ones in which the less clear passages should be interpreted.

The Efficacy of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit

If we understand Scripture correctly, it is because God has opened our eyes. Scripture is made effectual to us not because we are brighter than the next person, or because we have studied harder than the next person. It is because the Spirit applies it to us in a way he does not apply it to others. Notice Luke 10:21, "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight." On the surface Scriptures are clear enough for youngsters to understand it, yet God by his power, can hide the significance from even the wise and prudent.

In John 14:26 and in John 16:13, the church has promises that when the Holy Spirit is come, he will lead her into all truth. He will teach us all things necessary for our salvation. Since the close of the canon, this promise means the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to Scripture. I John 2:27 and Luke 24:45 contain similar promises. We may depend upon the Holy Spirit to teach us through Scripture.

Though all the other points are true of Scripture — Scripture is necessary: it is sufficient; it is authoritative; it is perspicuous — yet all of those things are nothing compared to the fact that the Scriptures are made effectual by God's Spirit. Two men can both read the Scriptures, and one walk away an atheist and the other walk away believing in the Lord. In the case of the one, the Holy Spirit made the Scriptures effectual, and in the other, the Holy Spirit did not make the Scriptures effectual. This is brought together nowhere else as clearly as in Isaiah 59:21, "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever." We see two things brought together in this passage: the Word and the Spirit. We need the Spirit in order for the Word to become effectual; in order for God's covenant to be effectual for us. There are at least three things involved.

1. The internal of our minds. I do not suggest to you that the Holy Spirit makes us smarter, but that there is an illumination. The "light dawning" if you will. There is an internal illumination. Though we may have read a Scripture many times in our lives — or perhaps never at all — nevertheless, there comes a time God's choosing or when he illuminates our minds so we understand the passage. Some passages that confirm that to be the case are I Corinthians 2:9-10 and 14, II Corinthians 4:6, and Hebrews 10:16.

2. The second thing the Holy Spirit does in making the Scriptures effectual to us is to subdue our wills. In Psalm 110:3 we read, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." He makes us willing. Before, our wills had been to turn away from God; we were rebels. We call such a change conversion. The things we formerly hated, we find ourselves loving. The things we formerly loved, we cannot stand. What caused that change? The Holy Spirit! Apart from the Holy Spirit such a change could never take place. We cannot simply study the Scripture more diligently and be converted. It does not happen that way! We would have to change our own nature first. The Scripture says such is as likely as the leopard changing his own spots, or the Ethiopian changing the color of his skin. You cannot do it, but God can! The Holy Spirit can change our nature. That change of nature is called "regeneration," being "born again," being "raised from the dead," being "quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." There is a subduing of our will to his will. When that takes place, it is not as though we are dragged, kicking and screaming by the scruff of the neck, into the kingdom of God. At the same time our wills are changed, we are made cheerfully obedient. It is not that we hate God's law. We love it! We used to hate it, because it condemned us. But now we love it, because it tells us how to live for him!

One cannot explain the fact that we have been converted. We used to be different people! We used to hate the things we now love. How does one explain that? Apart from the supernatural work of the Spirit of God, conversion is inexplicable. People do not change unless God changes them.

3. Finally, whether we use the old Puritan word "affections", or the more modern term "emotions", the fact of it is, the things that we value, the things that we enjoy, the desires that we have, the things that we esteem, all change. It is not simply that we make ourselves like different things because it is good for us, like when our mother made us "like" liver. It is not that we just decide, "I'm going to love Jesus." We really do love Jesus! We really do have a change in our desires; in our affections; in the things that we esteem; in the things that we love and hate; in our values; in the desire we have for divine truth.

God's Spirit effectually enlarges our hearts to receive more of his Word. What is it that we should esteem higher than God's Word? If we esteem anything on this earth more than God's Word, then we do not yet have our hearts right. In Acts 16:14, God opened Lydia's heart. Paul and Silas came to her and opened the Word, but the Word was not effectual until God opened her heart. That is why we must have the Word and the Spirit. As we saw in Isaiah 59, the two are brought together in a way we need to understand. As important as the Word is, the Word must be mixed with the effectual working of the Spirit.

In Psalm 119:18, the psalmist prayed, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." It was necessary not just for the law to be before him, but for his eyes to be opened as well.


At this point it should not be necessary to give a long list of applications. Let us examine what we have said and lay our lives down next to Scripture. What kind of esteem do you have for Scripture and how are you demonstrating that esteem? How much time do you spend in God's Word? When you pray to God, do you ask God to open your eyes so that you can behold wondrous things? To what extent do you submit your will to God's will found in the Scriptures? Has your walk changed? Is there a continual conversion going on in your life? Can you perceive that God is changing your desires? Is God continuing to change the things that you esteem, the things that you do not like, as you learn more and more from his Word?

If that is not happening to you, then one of two things is the case. Either you are not getting enough of an intake of God's Word or you are not asking the Spirit to make it effectual to you. Why do I say we are not asking the Spirit? God said he would give the Spirit to whoever asks for it. Do you remember when Jesus said, "Which of you, if your son or daughter asks for a loaf of bread, would you give them a rock? If you know how to give good gifts, how much more will your father who is in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" Are you getting enough of God's Word? Are you getting enough change in your lives? Do you esteem godly things?

Do you remember a time when you used to love the things of God that maybe you have grown a little cold toward lately? That happens to all of us sometimes. That is a call to renewed repentance. That is a call to ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes so that you can behold wondrous things. It is not that the things in God's law are any less wondrous than they were twenty years ago, or thirty years ago, or last week. There are still wondrous things in God's law; it is just that sometimes our eyes become scaled over. We must ask God to remove the scales. We must ask God to open our eyes so that we can behold wondrous things in his law. We need to ask God to do for us what he did for Lydia. Just as he opened her heart, we should ask him to open our hearts, so that we can better receive his Word.