The sixth paragraph of the London Baptist Confession on Scripture introduces a new aspect of interpreting Scripture: it is sufficient for all it claims to do and teach.
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
The Christian faith is different from other religions in many ways, but the greatest distinction is that the one true God has revealed himself in order to save us while the false gods wait for men to find them.
Most clearly, God has revealed himself in Christ. He says that if you have seen him, then you have seen the Father (John 14:9). The author of Hebrews tells us that God has spoken finally through his Son (Hebrews 1:2). Peter teaches that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). To know God, we must know Christ.
So how do we know Christ? We must know the word he has given to his apostles. When Paul is writing to Timothy, he makes sure Timothy understands the connection between Christ and Scripture. Paul commends Timothy for his understanding of Scripture, which he’s been taught since his childhood. Scripture makes us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Paul tells the church in Galatia that there is one gospel, and any other gospel is no gospel at all. He warns them, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). Paul isn’t fooling about the singular, unchangeable message of Christ. And where did Galatia receive this gospel? From Paul, an apostle.
What the apostles have written down, under the inspiration of the Spirit, who relays to them the truth, is to be received as if it is from Christ himself. To know the way of salvation, how to worship God, and how to rightly order our lives, we turn to Scripture.
The Confession reminds us of the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible already contains all that we need for God’s glory, our salvation, and living. It may not say all we wish it did, but what it does say is enough to be faithful to God’s will. Nothing quiets our spiritual anxiety quite like knowing that.
The other side of the sufficiency of Scripture is that we must not add anything to it. The only authors of Scripture were prophets (primarily of the Old Testament) and apostles (in the New Testament, as well as their associates), and those biblical roles have not replicated themselves to the present day. Any claim to truth must have a corresponding body of biblical evidence.
It’s all too easy to become Pharisaical in our traditions. We may have all the right intentions in setting up guardrails to protect ourselves and others, but a careful Christian recognizes that he is not the one imbued with the authority to do so. Set all the guardrails to protect yourself that you can; but traditions of men are not binding on the consciences of others.
Paul warns us in Colossians 2:21-23, "'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
It’s possible that people reject traditions out of a contrarian mindset. But it’s also possible to accept the traditions of others as if they were gospel. Both extremes are mistakes.
When the Confession speaks of “the light of nature and Christian prudence”, that is referring to how to live, worship, and behave when Scripture may give a general principle but no direct command. We’re told to receive communion but not how often, only “as often as you do this…” (1 Corinthians 11:25). So how often do we receive it? Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? “Often” would seem to imply more regularity than not, but what is the intent of the command? Paul is writing about receiving the ordinance rightly, not how often. What does Christian prudence require of us?
What if we have a person or people in the congregation who are not believers but attend worship often? Does Scripture not tell us to behave in such a way precisely because there will be unbelievers in the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:23)? So, we generally welcome unbelieving people into the worship services in hopes that the Spirit convicts them of their sin and applies the blood of Christ to them. But what do we do when they start to be disruptive? What constitutes disruption? When do we ask an unbeliever to leave? What does Christian prudence require of us?
We must always observe “the general rules of the Word” and use Christian prudence to faithfully determine the best practice or way forward.
It’s at this point we can rightly define and apply sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. When pulled from its historical/Reformation context, sola Scriptura is how the church defines where saving knowledge comes from and the limits of its scope.
We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.
Nature shows us that God exists and leave us without excuse. But to truly know God as Redeemer, we must turn to Scripture alone.