“The whole counsel of God,” says the Confession of Faith, “concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or, by good and necessary consequence, may be deduced from Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added,—whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
A right understanding of the truths contained in this weighty sentence may be said to form the basis of all sound and Scriptural Theology, and of all lawful and orthodox Confessions of Faith. The challenge has been thrown down again and again by heretics in all ages: “Give us an express text of Scripture contradicting our views, and asserting yours. We refuse to submit to mere human inferences in place of Scripture statement.”
It was on this ground that the Arians of the fourth century built their favourite and most plausible arguments against the Nicene definition of the ὁμοούσιον. It was on this ground that the Macedonians denied the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, and the Apollinarians and Monophysites the true and distinct humanity of Christ. In like manner, after the Reformation, the Socinian party opposed all the leading doctrines held by the Protestant Churches, on the score of their being based on Scripture consequences, and not on Scripture texts. In fact, in almost every case in which any show of reverence for the Word of God has been preserved at all, the errors of false teachers—from Unitarianism to transubstantiation—have been covered by an appeal to the letter of Scripture, while the real sense and meaning of it have been evaded or denied.
The importance of the question may be illustrated by an example. Take the first verse of the first chapter of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” What conclusions may be drawn “by good and necessary consequence” from these words? In the first place, this, that God and nature are essentially distinct and different, as against the various forms of Pantheism. In the second place,—although the passage does not fix the antiquity of the present order of things upon the earth, and does not hinder us from believing, if the fact should be established by other evidence, that an indefinite series of ages may have elapsed between the events recorded in the first verse of this chapter and those recorded in the second,—yet these words prove that, at some far-off date in the past eternity, matter had its beginning, that God only is from everlasting to everlasting, and that the eternity of matter is a fiction of the Materialists. In the third place, these words teach us that matter was at the first created out of nothing by God, as against the various theories of Emanation. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”
Again, take such verses as, “The Word was made flesh,” “The man Christ Jesus.” From these words of Scripture we learn, “by good and necessary consequence,” first, that our Lord Jesus Christ had a true body, as against the speculations of the early Gnostics; second, that He had a reasonable soul and a human will, as against the Monothelites; and third, that He united in His person a Divine and a human nature, as against the Socinians.
The chief grounds on which the authority of Scripture consequences depend are the following:—
I. These consequences are really contained in Scripture, and therefore they are “good.” They are contained, not in the words of the inspired writers, but in the relations of these words to each other, and in the meaning conveyed by the statement as a whole; and therefore they are equally of Divine origin with the letter of Scripture, and equally binding upon us as an expression of the mind of God. He is not bound to one way only of conveying His will to us. Many important purposes may be served in the case of His moral and intelligent creatures by the discipline involved in an indirect as well as a direct communication of His messages to them. And we are equally bound to give heed to and obey the will and the truth of God, in whatever shape and way they reach us in His Word.
It is no valid objection to this, that an act or process of fallible human reason is employed in drawing consequences from the Scripture words, and that therefore the conclusion arrived at must be a merely human and fallible one. For, 1st, The consequences referred to are not only “good,” but “necessary consequences.” They might be the former without being the latter. But in order that a Scripture consequence shall come up to the definition of our Confession, it must not only be “good,”—that is to say, really contained in Scripture, really a part of Divine truth revealed there,—but “necessary” as well; that is to say, one which forces itself upon any reasonable and unprejudiced mind as inevitable, plainly contained in the statements of the Word of God, not needing to be established by any remote process of refined argument [This distinction between good and necessary is dubious and liable to misuse/misunderstanding. Better is the 2LBCF revision “either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture.”]. 2d, The very same act or process of the fallible human understanding is involved in any interpretation or intelligent reading of Scripture whatsoever. The objection, therefore, if admitted, would equally avail to disprove the Divine authority and obligation of every recorded communication of truth from the mind of God to the mind of man. 3d, Scripture and merely human writings differ in this very essential respect, that the consequences to be lawfully drawn from God’s words were all foreseen and intended by Him; the consequences which might be fairly enough drawn from the words of men are very often not foreseen and not intended by them. In the former case, therefore, “good and necessary consequences” are as fully expressive of the mind of the Author of Scripture, and as binding upon us, as any direct statements of His could be. In the latter case, it may neither be safe nor warrantable to argue as to the personal intention of the writer from inferences really contained in his words, and fairly deduced from them.
II. Scripture evidence respecting the procedure of our Lord and His inspired followers very distinctly warrants the principle and practice of drawing consequences from the Word of God, as of equal authority with express Scripture statements. “Do ye not err,” said our Lord to the Sadducees, “not knowing the Scriptures, neither the power of God?… As touching the dead, that they rise, have ye not read in the book of Moses, in the chapter on the bush, how God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.” In this passage, our Saviour’s argument for the doctrine of the resurrection consists of an indirect inference from the words of God to Moses,—an inference the force of which it may be fairly said to require a certain amount of thought and spiritual insight fully to perceive. Yet the Sadducees are charged by Christ with sin, with a culpable ignorance of the Scriptures (μὴ εἰδότες τὰς γραφάς), because they had failed to draw that consequence from the words addressed to Moses, and, on the ground of it, to accept the doctrine of the resurrection as one just as really and authoritatively taught in the Old Testament, as if it had been propounded there in express terms.
Again, when our Lord was reasoning with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who were dismayed at the crucifixion of the Messiah, and uncertain of the fact of His resurrection, He said to them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not (οὐχὶ ἔδει) Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Here, again, we find Christ blaming men for not having drawn certain consequences from Scripture statements, and accepted the conclusions thus arrived at as equally binding on their faith and conscience with direct and explicit Divine announcements.
So also, to refer to one other illustration of this truth, all through the Epistle to the Hebrews we see with what freedom and effect the apostle uses the privilege of drawing inferences from the inspired language of the Old Testament, and founding upon these as equally decisive in his argument, and equally of Divine authority with express Scripture statements. “From this we may learn,” says Dr. Owen, referring to an instance of this sort in Heb. 1:5, “that it is lawful to draw consequences from Scripture assertions; and such consequences, rightly deduced, are infallibly true, and de fide. Thus, from the name given unto Christ, the apostle deduceth by just consequence His exaltation and pre-eminence above angels. Nothing will rightly follow from truth but what is so also, and that of the same nature with the truth from whence it is derived. So that whatever by just consequence is drawn from the Word of God, is itself also the Word of God, and truth infallible. And to deprive the Church of this liberty in the interpretation of the Word, is to deprive it of the chiefest benefit intended by it. This is that on which the whole ordinance of preaching is founded; which makes that which is derived out of the Word to have the power, authority, and efficacy of the Word accompanying it. Thus, though it be the proper work and effect of the Word of God to quicken, regenerate, sanctify, and purify the elect—and the Word primarily and directly is only that which is written in the Scriptures—yet we find all these effects produced in and by the preaching of the Word, when perhaps not one sentence of the Scripture is verbatim repeated. And the reason hereof is, because whatsoever is directly deduced and delivered according to the mind and appointment of God from the Word, is the Word of God, and hath the power, authority, and efficacy of the Word accompanying it.”