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|“The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep SILENCE before him.”|
William Whitaker was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge from 1579 to 1595. His exposition of the doctrine of Scripture greatly influenced the Reformed theologians who penned Chapter One of the Westminster Confession of Faith. His excellent tome A Disputation on Holy Scripture published in 1588 in London has been reprinted by Soli Deo Publications in 2005. Whitaker’s excellent defence of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures God had miraculously inspired and preserved is most relevant and necessary today as Biblical Christianity is once more assaulted and more forcefully not only by Modernists and Romanists but also by Neo-Evangelicals and Neo-Fundamentalists.
Although many today say they come in the name of Christ, we often see them attacking Christ and His Word through speech and pen. With extreme malice, these attackers falsely accuse believers who uphold the Scripture’s total infallibility and thus absolute authority by virtue of the twin doctrines of Verbal Plenary Inspiration (VPI) and Verbal Plenary Preservation (VPP) of “heresy”, and by calumny and cunning seek to destroy them.
Against such evil and wickedness, Whitaker wrote, “Mark well, I beseech you, with what solicitude, vigilance, and cunning, these men maintain their own kingdom! They prevent their people from reading our books, and forbid them to have any intercourse with us, that so they may provide against the influence of that contagion which they fear. Surely this is wisely done. Who can deny it? For if we be heretics, as they, though falsely exclaim, it is but a just consequence of that opinion of us to denounce us as persons to be carefully avoided by all who are under their control.… Hence unskilful persons are easily deceived;…
“We avoid the acquaintance of no one;… This is all well, if your aim and desire be to reclaim them from their errors, and if you are able to do this, and see that there is any hope of them remaining. Those who are perverse and desperate should be left to themselves; you can do them no service, and they may do you much damage.” (pp16–17).
Whitaker encouraged all believers to be faithful and courageous in Christ and His Word, which be their only shield and defence against the false teachings and accusations of their persecutors. “Such are the reasonings of the [false pastors and teachers] themselves; who, although they seem to spin their threads with greater skill and artfulness, yet fabricate nothing but such cobwebs as may easily be broken by any vigorous effort. Be ye, therefore, of good cheer. We have a cause, believe me, good, firm, invincible. We fight against men, and we have Christ on our side; nor can we possibly be vanquished, unless we are the most slothful and dastardly of all cowards…. Yet I do not ascribe to myself all those gifts of genius, judgment, memory and knowledge, which are demanded by such a laborious and busy undertaking. I know well and acknowledge how slightly I am furnished with such endowments; nor can any think so meanly of me as myself. But ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me;’ relying upon whose assistance I enter upon the combat.”(p20).
Here are Whitaker’s courageous and encouraging affirmations of the perfection of the Canon and the Text of Scripture, and it would be wise for all born-again and Bible-believing Christians to take heed to his teachings and warnings, “For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” (2 Cor 13:8).
On the Canon of Scripture
“To have a certain canon of scripture is most necessary to faith and religion. …books properly canonical, which have been always received by the church;…” (p285).
“The books of scripture are called canonical, because they contain the standard and rule of our faith and morals. For the scripture is in the church what the law is in a state, which Aristotle in his Politics calls a canon or rule. As all citizens are bound to live and behave agreeably to the public laws, so Christians should square their faith and conduct by the rule and law of scripture. Hence it plainly appears why the scriptures are called canonical;—because they prescribe to us what we must believe, and how we ought to live: so that we should refer to this test our whole faith and life, as the mason or architect squares his work by the line and plummet. Hence, too, we may perceive that the scripture is perfect, since otherwise the title of canon or rule could hardly be applied to it.” (pp27–28).
On the Translation of Scripture
“Now in this sense no translation ever was, or could be, authentic. For translations of scripture are always to be brought back to the originals of scripture, received if they agree with those originals, and corrected if they do not. That scripture only, which the prophets, apostles, and evangelists wrote by inspiration of God, is in every way credible on its own account and authentic. …The authentic originals of the scripture of the old Testament are extant in Hebrew, of the new in Greek…. [T]he Church would act wisely in not permitting every one to publish a new version at his own caprice, and taking care that all versions should be as pure and faithful as possible.” (p138–40).
“The editions of the heretics are various and discordant; therefore the old Latin edition is authentic. Secondly, we do not approve discordant editions and versions. Thirdly, we make no edition authentic, save the Hebrew in the old, and the Greek in the new, Testament. We approve translations, if they agree with these standards: we reject them if they do not.” (p140).
On the Preservation of Scripture
“If God had permitted the scripture to perish in the Hebrew and Greek originals, in which it was first published by men divinely inspired, he would not have provided sufficiently for his church and for our faith. From the prophetic and apostolic scripture the church takes its origin, and the faith derives its source.” (p148).
“That scripture which was authentic for the old Testament before Christ, and for both old and new six hundred years after Christ, should now also be deemed authentic by us. Now the Hebrew edition of the old, and the Greek of the new Testament, was always held the authentic scripture of God in the Christian churches for six hundred years after Christ. This, therefore, ought to be received by us also as authentic scripture. If they doubt the major, we must ask them, Whether the church hath changed its authentic scripture, or hath not rather preserved, and commended to all succeeding generations, that which was in truth authentic from the very first? If it lost that which was published by the prophets and apostles, who can defend that negligence, who excuse so enormous a sacrilege? If it lost it not, then let it deliver to us the writings of the prophets and apostles, and approve them by its testimony as the authentic word of God.” (p155).
“I suppose that no one doubts the authenticity of the Hebrew edition of the old Testament in Christ’s time. But now it may be demonstrated by many testimonies of the fathers, that the Hebrew edition of the old, and the Greek of the new Testament, was held authentic in the church for many ages after Christ.” (p156).
On the Authority of Scripture
“But, that they [Romanists] make the authority of scripture depend upon the church, and so do in fact make the scripture inferior to the church,…” (pp275).
“But we deny that we believe the scriptures solely on account of this commendation of them by the church. For we say that there is a more certain and illustrious testimony, whereby we are persuaded of the sacred character of these books, that is to say, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, without which the commendation of the church would have with us no weight or moment. The papists, therefore, are unjust to us, when they affirm that we reject and make no account of the authority of the church. For we gladly receive the testimony of the church, and admit its authority; but we affirm that there is a far different, more certain, true, and august testimony than that of the church. The sum of our opinion is, that the scripture… hath all its authority and credit from itself; is to be acknowIedged, is to be received, not only because the church hath so determined and commanded, but because it comes from God; and that we certainly know that it comes from God, not by the church, but by the Holy Ghost. Now by the church we understand not, as they do the pastors, bishops, councils, pope; but the whole multitude of the faithful. For this whole multitude hath learned from the Holy Spirit that this scripture is sacred, that these books are divine. This persuasion the Holy Spirit hath sealed in the minds of all the faithful.” (pp279–280).
“[W]e recognise distinguished offices which the church hath to perform in respect of scripture, and which may be reduced to four heads. First, the church is the witness and guardian of the sacred writings, and discharges, in this respect, as it were the function of a notary. In guardians the greatest fidelity is required; but no one would say that records were believed merely on the notary's authority, but on account of their own trustworthiness.… The second office of the church is, to distinguish and discern the true, sincere, and genuine scriptures from the spurious, false, and supposititious. Wherein it discharges the office of a champion; and for the performance of this function it hath the Spirit of Christ to enable it to distinguish the true from the false…The third office of the church is to publish, set forth, preach, and promulgate the scriptures; wherein it discharges the function of a herald, who ought to pronounce with a loud voice the decrees and edicts of the king, to omit nothing, to add nothing of his own.… The fourth office of the church is to expound and interpret the scriptures; wherein its function is that of an interpreter. Here it should introduce no fictions of its own, but explain the scriptures by the scriptures.” (pp283–284).
On the Spirit’s Testimony to Scripture
“For greater and more certain is the authority of God, of the scriptures themselves, and of the Holy Spirit, by whose testimony the truth of scripture is sealed in our minds, and without which all other testimonies are utterly devoid of strength.” (p286).
“[W]hen we have ourselves read the scriptures, and understand them, then we conceive a true faith, and believe, not because the church judges that we should believe, but, as for many other more certain arguments, so for this specially, because the Holy Spirit persuades us internally that these are the words of God.” (p322).
“The testimony of the Holy Spirit is more excellent than all authority: therefore the same Spirit can best persuade us that it is God who spoke in the scriptures. We say that the scriptures are proved to us by the witness of the Holy Spirit: therefore, we apply the most certain testimony, even in the judgment of our adversaries themselves, who dare not deny this. For God is alone a fit witness of himself.” (p345). JK
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