Founders Journal · Spring 2003 · pp. 1-10,21
A Look at Our Doctrine
The Abstract of Principles: Article 1
The Abstract of Principles is the oldest official confession of faith produced by Southern Baptists. Written in 1858, they became part of the charter of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. To this day professors at that institution as well as those who teach at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary sign a pledge that they will teach in accordance with and not contrary to this Abstract of Principles. This is the first in a series of articles on this document.
Article 1. The Scriptures
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
The first article of faith in the Abstract of Principles has to do with the Scriptures. It is very appropriate for it to be first because all that we are meant to believe about God and how we are meant to act toward God and each other is either expressly set down in Scripture or, by good and necessary consequence, may be deduced from Scripture.
Why is our belief in the Scripture placed first in the Articles of Faith? Because what we believe about the Scripture determines what we believe about other matters in religion.
The light of nature, creation and the works of providence declare the goodness, wisdom and power of God, and, this revelation of God will leave man without excuse. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them (Romans 2:14-15).
Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:19-20).
However, creation and the works of providence are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary for salvation. It pleased the Lord in times past and in different ways to reveal Himself and to declare His will unto His people. He revealed His will unto His people by dreams, visions, prophets, etc. But later, for better preserving and propagating His truth, He spoke by the Holy Spirit and moved Holy men of old to commit His will to writing.
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21).
Since we now have a full and final revelation of His will in the Bible, the former ways of God revealing Himself are now ceased. There are no more prophets or apostles, and we are not to add to or subtract anything from the Bible.
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Rev. 22:18-19).
Therefore, beware of those who get special messages and additional revelation apart from what God has revealed in His Holy Word.
Not All Scripture Is Clear
We must be swift to agree that not all Scripture is equally clear and plain to all; yet those things necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are very clearly set forth that not only the learned but the unlearned, by proper use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
How Do We Know the Scriptures Are The Word of God?
This is a very vital question and therefore the answer if very important. There are many things that tell us the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, such as, their origination. Some forty authors, over a period of 1500 years (many of whom never saw each other) are telling one story. There is also the remarkable circulation and preservation (in spite of men trying to destroy the Scriptures), their majesty, their purity, their light and power to convince and convict sinners, and the way they comfort and build up believers. All these are good evidences that the Scriptures are the Word of God.
But, in spite of this evidence and all these good reasons that teach us the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, we must always remember that it is the Spirit of God only, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in our hearts, that is able fully to persuade us the that Bible is the Word of God.
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-14).
However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him”(1 Corinthians 2:6-9).
What Two Things Do The Scriptures Principally Teach?
The Scriptures principally teach (1) What we are to believe concerning God; (2) What duty God requires of man.
The Important Things In This Study Are:
- What we believe about the Scriptures will determine what we believe about other matters in religion.
- The Holy Spirit is the Author of the Scriptures and the holy men who wrote were moved by Him to write.
- We are not to add to or subtract from God’s final revelation as we have it in the Scriptures.
- Though some things may not be clear and plain to all, the way of salvation is clearly set forth in the Scriptures.
- There are many ways and evidences that the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, but only by the Holy Spirit, convincing our hearts, will anyone be fully persuaded that the Scriptures are the infallible Word of God.
Consider how James Boyce addressed this subject in his catechism:
Q.7 Does the Scripture teach everything about God?
It does not. No language could teach us the full glory of God, nor could we ever comprehend it.
Q.8 How much does the Scripture teach us?
It teaches us all that is necessary to know about God, our duty to Him, our condition as sinners, and the way of salvation.
1 Benjamin Keach’s Catechism. This catechism was originally published to clarify the theology of the Second London Baptist Confessions that was written in 1677 and published in 1689.
2 James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Hanford, CA: den Dulk Foundation, reprint edition) i.
3 ibid., ii