The Holy Spirit Speaking in Scripture (Shaw)

The Reformed Faith: Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith

One of the principle aspects of the 16th century Protestant Reformation was the repeated emphasis on the sufficiency and authority of Holy Scripture. The Reformers, using Scripture, constantly referred to God’s Word as the highest authority in the Christian life and in the Christian church. The Belgic Confession notes this very clearly in Article VII. The Westminster Confession later also noted the same things in its opening chapter, “The Holy Scripture.”

Speaking of the Westminster Confession and Scripture’s authority, Scottish Presbyterian Robert Shaw (d. 1863) explained this quite well in his explanation of the Confession. Here’s the last part of his discussion:

That the Supreme Judge, by which all controversies in religion are to be determined, is no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture, is asserted in opposition to the Papists, who maintain that the Church is an infallible judge in religious controversies; though they do not agree among themselves whether this infallible authority resides in the Pope, or in a council, or in both together. Now, the Scripture never mentions such an infallible judge on earth. Neither Pope nor councils, possess the properties requisite to constitute a supreme judge in controversies of religion; for they are fallible, and have often erred, and contradicted one another.

Although the Church or her ministers are the official guardians of the Scriptures, and although it belongs to them to explain and enforce the doctrines and laws contained in the Word of God, yet their authority is only ministerial, and their interpretations and decisions are binding on the conscience only in so far as they accord with the mind of the Spirit in the Scriptures. By this test, the decisions of councils, the opinions of ancient writers, and the doctrines of men at the present time, are to be tried, and by this rule all controversies in religion must be determined (Is. 8:20; Mt. 22:29).

Robert Shaw, An Exposition of The Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 58.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015