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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Which is authoritative and infallible


On

the other hand, there is a vital religious interest in the distinction. In the first place it indicates what is meant by the infallibility of Scripture, and in the second it enables us to distinguish between the divine and the human elements in the Bible.

The authoritative character and infallibility belong really and primarily to the word of God, and only secondarily to the Scriptures,--to Scripture only because it is the record which contains, presents, or conveys the word of God. It is this word of God, this personal manifestation to us for our salvation of God in His promises, which is authoritative and infallible; and Scripture shares these attributes only in so far as it is a vehicle of spiritual truth. It is the unanimous declaration of the Reformers that Scripture is Scripture because it gives us that knowledge of God and of His will which is necessary for salvation; because it presents to the eye of faith God Himself personally manifesting Himself in Christ. It is this presentation of God Himself and of His will for our salvation which is infallible and authoritative. But this manifestation of God Himself is something spiritual, and is to be apprehended by a spiritual faculty which is faith, and the Reformers and the Confessions of the Reformation do not recognise any infallibility or divine authority which is otherwise apprehended than by faith. If this be so, the infallibility is of quite another kind from that described by mediaeval

theologians or modern Roman Catholics, and it is also very different from what many modern Protestants attribute to the Scriptures when they do not distinguish them from the word of God. With the mediaeval theologian infallibility was something which guaranteed the perfect correctness of abstract propositions; with some modern Protestants it consists in the conception that the record contains not even the smallest error in word or description of fact--in its inerrancy. But neither inerrancy nor the correctness of abstract propositions is apprehended by faith in the Reformers' sense of that word; they are matters of fact, to be accepted or rejected by the ordinary faculties of man. The infallibility and authority which need faith to perceive them are, and must be, something very different; they produce the conviction that in the manifestation of God in His word there lies infallible power to save. This is given, all the Reformers say, by the Witness of the Spirit; "the true kirk alwaies heares and obeyis the voice of her awin spouse and pastor."(416) Calvin discusses the authority and credibility of Scripture in his _Institutio_, and says: "Let it be considered, then, as an undeniable truth that they who have been inwardly taught of the Spirit feel an entire acquiescence in the Scripture, and that it is self-authenticated, carrying with it its own evidence, and ought not to be made the subject of demonstration and arguments from reason; but that it obtains the credit which it deserves with us by the testimony of the Spirit."(417) This is a religious conception of infallibility very different from the mediaeval or the modern Romanist.


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