Friday, January 16, 2009

The Vital Importance of the Westminster Standards

J.H. Thornwell spoke of his personal debt to the Westminster Standards (Confession and Catechisms): "I bless God, for that glorious summary of Christian doctrine contained in our noble Standards. It has cheered my soul in many a dark hour, and sustained me in many a desponding moment...[I know of] no uninspired production in any language, or of any denomination, that for richness of matter, soundness of doctrine, scriptural expression and edifying tendency can for a moment enter into competition with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms."

B.B Warfield stated that the Westminster Standards (Confession and Catechisms) 'embody the gospel of the grace of God with a carefulness, a purity, and an exactness never elsewhere achieved, and come to us as, historically, the final fixing in confessional language of the principles and teachings of evangelical religion'. He referred to 'how fully and genially they represent the consensus of Reformed doctrine in its most developed and most catholic form; how strictly they are held in every definition to the purity of the Biblical conceptions and enunciations of truth'.

'Open these standards where you will and you will not fail to feel the throb of an elevated and noble spiritual life pulsing through them. They are not merely a notably exact scientific statement of the elements of the gospel: they are, in the strictest sense of the words, the very embodiment of the gospel. They not only know what God is; they know God: and they make their readers know Him—know Him in His infinite majesty, in His exalted dominion, in His unlimited sovereignty, in the immutability of His purpose and His almighty power and universal providence, but know Him also in that strangest, most incomprehensible of all His perfections, the unfathomableness of His love. Their description of Him transcends the just limits of mere definition and swells into a paean of praise—praise to Him who is "most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." And how profound their knowledge is of the heart of man—its proneness to evil, its natural aversion to spiritual good, its slowness of response to spiritual influence, the deviousness of its path even under the leading of the Holy Ghost. But, above all, they know, with a fulness of apprehension which startles and instructs and blesses the reader, the ways of God with the errant souls of men—how He has condescended to open the way to them of having fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, how He has redeemed them unto Himself in the blood of His Son, and how He deals with them, as only a loving Father may, in disciplining and fitting them for the heavenly glory. Where elsewhere may we find more vitally set forth the whole circle of experience in the Christian life—what conversion is and how God operates in bringing the soul to knowledge of Him and faith in its Saviour, what are the joys of justifying grace and of adoption into the family of God, and what the horrors of those temporary lapses that lie in wait for unwary steps, and what the inconceivable tenderness of God’s gracious dealings with the stumbling and trembling spirit until He brings it safely home?'

They are 'historically speaking, the final crystallization of the very essence of evangelical religion—scientifically speaking, the richest and most precise and best guarded statement possessed by man, of all that enters into evangelical religion and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world—religiously speaking, the very expressed essence of vital religion. Surely blessed are the churches which feed upon this meat! Surely the very possession of Standards like these differentiates the fortunate churches which have inherited them as those best furnished for the word and work of the Christian proclamation and the Christian life. May God Almighty infuse their strength into our bones and their beauty into our flesh, and enable us to justify our inheritance by unfolding into life, in all its completeness and richness and divinity, the precious gospel which they have enfolded for us in their protecting envelope of sound words!'

The Westminster Standards are therefore well worth reading through in 2009 - the following is a calendar of readings in the Westminster Standards. There are various harmonies of the Westminster Standards - here is one of them. Listen to them here.