In our previous article we called attention to the fact that doctrines have a history because the Scripture is no book of formulated doctrines. We also asked and attempted to answer the question: What is Scripture? It is the historic-organic revelation of the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus. This revelation itself is progressive. And it is simply a fact that the Church of God does not see everything at once. The wonderful truths of God’s Word crystallize gradually in the believing consciousness of the Church. There is a great difference between the knowledge of the Church today and at the time immediately following upon the time of the apostles.
Because of the mind of the Church.
Another reason why doctrines have a history is the mind of the Church. It is a fast and definite rule that Scripture must be interpreted with Scripture and that the Word of God is never in conflict with itself. Scripture cannot be in conflict with itself. This is due to the fact that the author of the Scriptures is the living God. Although it is true that approximately thirty five secondary authors were used by the (Lord to write the Word of God, it is equally true that the Bible has but one primary author, the Holy Spirit of God. God is never in conflict with Himself, and His Word is characterized by the same oneness and unity. The Scriptures, therefore, may never be interpreted as in conflict with themselves.
To this we may add that the mind of the Church is so constituted that it is in need of a logical and systematic conception of the truth as it is revealed in the divine Scriptures. Sin, although it did corrupt the human mind spiritually, did not destroy it naturally and logically. Man became corrupt and spiritually perverted, but he did not become irrational and illogical. Two plus two is four after the entrance of sin into the world as well as before the occurrence of this event. Reading, therefore, the Scriptures, the mind of the Church is so constituted that, when the truths of holy writ are formulated in the believing consciousness of the Church, the mind seeks an understanding of the Scriptures in such a way that those Scriptures are in complete harmony with themselves. Without this we cannot possibly have any knowledge of God and of the truth, and this for the simple reason that we simply would not know what to believe. If it be true that things which appear contradictory are really not contradictory, then it follows inexorably that things which do not appear contradictory may really be contradictory to each other. If this be true, we understand, no knowledge of the truth is possible. This, of course, must not be confused with rationalism. Rationalism is the rule of the human mind over the Word of God. The Word of God, then, does not determine whether anything is the truth or not; the mind is the final authority. Man, then, will believe only what he understands, and he will reject whatever appears contrary to his understanding. We do well, of course, to bear in mind that a truth is not necessarily in conflict with the human understanding simply because the human mind is not able to comprehend it. The truth that the Lord is God alone is surely beyond all human understanding; this surely does not imply that it is also in conflict with it. We repeat: if it be true that the Scriptures may appear to be in conflict with our human understanding, no knowledge of the truth is possible. The Word of God, therefore, cannot teach that God loves and hates the same person at the same time, that Christ died only for the elect but also for all men, that God is the sole Cause of our salvation but that action must proceed from us first, that we are dead in sins and trespasses and nevertheless are able to please the Lord without regeneration of the heart. To this assertion that these discrepancies exist we immediately reply that they are impossible because they contradict themselves. And my mind, created by the living God, stipulates that the revelation of that living God of Himself must be devoid of conflict and contradiction.
This is another reason why doctrines have a history. It is simply an undeniable truth that the mind of the Church of God seeks a logical and systematic conception of the truth. Of course, we must take God at His Word and never impose our theological thinking upon any passage of the holy Scriptures. But, at the same time we seek to know the truths of the Scriptures and come to a systematic knowledge of the same. It is strikingly true that it is always he who refuses to take God at His Word who complains that others impose their theological thinking upon the Word of God. The history of the Church is replete with such historical examples. This is also true of our own history as Protestant Reformed Churches. Who complain that there are those who impose their theological thinking upon the Word of God? Is this not true of those who refuse to give wholehearted endorsement to such truths as sovereign election and reprobation, utter depravity, and irresistible grace? Does this not apply to those who insist that, although we must maintain on the one hand that God has elected and reprobated from before the foundation of the world, we must also proclaim a general offer of grace on the part of God and that the Lord is gracious to all men in the preaching of the gospel? The passages involved are always those passages which seemingly speak of a general love or mercy of the Lord, and the complaint is made that we do not take the Lord at His Word.
The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church.
This, we should understand, is extremely important. Indeed, we believe in the perspicuity of holy writ. The perspicuity of the Scriptures refers to the transparency, clearness of holy writ. This was one of the leading issues of the Reformation. The Word of God has been translated into almost all the languages of the world, and the Bible has been prepared for study and reading for peoples of all lands and nations, whether they be of high or low degree, clergy or laity. We all can read the Bible. This does not necessarily mean that we understand and comprehend the Scriptures. On the other hand, however, the Word of God is transparent, clear as crystal, points us to our sin and guilt, our Savior in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and our eternal and heavenly hope in a language which a child can understand. However, this does not mean that the Bible is simply easy to read and understand. Anyone acquainted with the Holy Scriptures knows differently. Any student of the Word of God knows that the Bible is profound, that, in its profundity, it is bottomless and fathomless, that it deals with the truths which defy all human understanding and comprehension. The Scriptures speak of truths which are higher than the heavens, wider than the oceans, deeper than the deepest sea, higher and wider and deeper than the universe, inasmuch as the Bible reveals the infinite God to us, in comparison with Whom the whole universe is less than a drop of water on the bucket and a particle of dust on the balances, yea, less than nothing and vanity (see Isaiah 40:15, 17). Nevertheless, the Reformation maintained the perspicuity of the Scriptures. It is simply a fact that Luther translated the Bible into the German language and this in spite of the fact that Rome attempted to discount this translation by decreeing that the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible) is the sole standard of belief. And ever since the Bible has been translated into almost all the languages of the world, so that it has been prepared for study and reading for the peoples of all lands and nations, whether they be of high or low degree. To be sure, we may not be able to understand and comprehend the Word of God. But, on the other hand, it is transparent, clear as crystal, and we can read it for our spiritual benefit and edification because the Lord can and does sanctify His truth unto our hearts and minds. This perspicuity of the Scriptures is part of the priceless heritage of the Reformation. Besides, it is simply a fact that it is exactly this principle of the perspicuity of holy writ which has safeguarded the truth throughout the ages. For, although men of brilliant minds have repeatedly attempted to undermine the Word of God and deprive the Church of its one and only foundation, it is always the Church which has risen to the defense of the truths of holy writ.
This the Church has been able to do because of the Spirit of Christ Jesus who dwells within her. The Church has the promise of the Holy Spirit, the promise that the Holy Spirit, will dwell in her and lead her into all truth. He enlightens the mind and causes the Church to reflect upon and appropriate the truth unto themselves. He causes the people of God to see the glorious truths of the Scriptures and give expression to them in a language which is both clear and beautiful. And it is indeed true that all the life of the Church is affected by that promise of the Holy Spirit. When societies within the Church of God come together to discuss the Word of God, they are indeed led by the formulation of the truth by the Church in the past, and this the Church owes to the Spirit Who dwells within it. We must, therefore, be very careful before we speak, in a derogatory manner, of the confessions and creeds as the products of men. One sometimes hears (can it be true that this language is also heard at times in our own churches?) that the confessions are the products of men and that we must, therefore, when evaluating anything to be true or false, turn our attention to the Word of God. Of course, the Word of God is the sole standard of the truth, and our confessions may never serve any other purpose than to enrich our knowledge of the Word of God. But, it is well to bear in mind that it is incorrect to say that our confessions are the products of mere men. They are the products of the Church of God as led by the Spirit of God and Jesus Christ, our Lord. They were indeed written by men, but by men as ecclesiastically assembled, representing the Church to whom the Lord Jesus had given the promise that He would lead her into all the truth, even unto the end of the world.