Saturday, October 08, 2022

James White Debates Calvin, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Owen


Here’s a follow up to WM 254 covering the JW vs. PVK debate in which James White mocked prayer and the inward work of the Holy Spirit in recognizing and obeying the authentic text of Scripture. In so doing, he was actually debating classic Protestant Bibliology.

James White said the following (listen here):

You say that this [the Textus Receptus] is what we must follow, and we are asking where does this come from?

And your answer is, We pray about it. Is that how you [answer]? Have you prayed about every variant in the NT?...

So when a Mormon missionary says, I prayed about the Book of Mormon, and the Holy Spirit testified to me that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God, how would you respond, because you just told us that the way we know the Bible is the Word of God is by praying about it….

Are you seriously suggesting that John Calvin taught us to pray over differences in manuscripts? Can you give me a single place in the voluminous writings of the Reformer of Geneva where he taught us to pray to determine when the Greek manuscripts differed from the Latin Vulgate….

In answer to his challenge, see the following:

John Calvin, Institutes (1.7.5) (emphasis added):

Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture is indeed self-authenticated [autopiston]; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgement that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no mark of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as a thing far beyond any guesswork! This we do, not as persons accustomed to seize upon some unknown thing, which, under closer scrutiny displeases them, but fully conscious that we hold the infallible truth! Nor do we do this as those miserable men who habitually bind over their minds to the thralldom of superstition: but we feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there. By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and wittingly, to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than mere human knowing!

See also Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:5 (emphasis added):

5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture;a and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.b


a.     1 Tim 3:15. • b. Isa 59:21John 16:13-141 Cor 2:10-121 John 2:2027.


See also John Owen, The Reason of Faith (Works, Vol. 4:57) (emphasis added):


The work of the Holy Ghost unto this purpose consists in the saving illumination of the mind; and the effect of it is a supernatural light, whereby the mind is renewed; see Rom. xii.2; Eph. i.18, 19, iii.16-19. It is called a “heart to understand, eyes to see, ears to hear,” Deut. xxix.4; the “opening of the eyes of our understanding,” Eph. 1.18; the “giving of an understanding,” 1 John v.20. Hereby we are enabled to discern the evidences of the divine original and authority of the Scripture that are in itself, as well as assent unto the truth contained in it; and without it we cannot do so, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” 1 Cor. ii.14….. That there is a divine and heavenly excellency in the Scripture cannot be denied by any who, on any grounds or motive whatever, do own its divine original…. But these we cannot discern, be they in themselves never so illustrious, without the effectual communication of the light mentioned unto our minds,—that is, without divine, supernatural illumination.


And John Owen, The Reason of Faith (Works, Vol. 4:59) (emphasis added):


But as a pretense herof hath been abused, as we shall see afterward, so the pleading of it is liable to be mistaken; for some are ready to apprehend that this is a retreat unto a Spirit of revelation is but a pretense to discard all rational arguments, and to introduce enthusiasm into their room. Now, although the charge be grievous, yet, because it is groundless, we must not forego what the Scripture plainly affirms and instructs us in, thereby to avoid it. Scripture testimonies may be expounded according to the analogy of faith; but denied or despised, see they never so contrary unto our apprehension of things, they must not be. Some, I confess, seem to disregard both the objective work of the Holy Spirit in this matter (whereof we shall treat afterward) and his subjective work also in our minds, that all things may be reduced unto sense and reason. But we must grant that a “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” to open the eyes of our understanding is needful to enable us to believe the Scripture to be the Word of God in due manner, or forego the gospel; and our duty it is to pray continually for that Spirit, if we intend to be established in the faith thereof.




James White’s naturalistic approach to Scripture is contrary to the classic Protestant emphasis upon the necessity of the inward work of the Holy Spirit, as emphasized in Calvin, the WCF, and Owen.


No comments: