Westminster Confession, Assembly and Divines


Scripture Index to the Westminster Standards

Publisher's Introduction

The Westminster Assembly convened on 1 July 1643, and continued its regular meetings until February 1649. "Every member had to take the following vow (which was read every Monday morning): 'I do seriously promise and vow, in the presence of Almighty God, that in this Assembly, whereof I am a member, I will maintain nothing in point of doctrine but what I believe to be most agreeable to the Word of God; nor in point of discipline, but what may make most for God's glory and the peace and good of his Church.'"[1]

The Assembly was assigned the initial task of revising the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. By October 12, they had completed revision of the first fifteen articles. At the direction of the Parliament, the Assembly then discontinued work on the Thirty-Nine Articles, in order to settle matters of church government.

The Assembly first produced twelve principles "Concerning the Doctrinal Part of Ordination of Ministers,"[2] which were sent up to the Parliament on April 20, 1644. By year's end, The Directory for Public Worship was also completed and submitted to Parliament.

Meanwhile, preliminary work on the Confession of Faith had been progressing since August 1644. The Assembly as a whole took up work on the Confession from July 1645 to December 1646 ­ although the effort suffered from numerous interruptions from other duties. During this period, the Parliament sent repeated requests for the Assembly to proceed as expeditiously as possible. On December 4, 1646, the Assembly presented the text of the Confession to the House of Commons.

The scripture proofs for the Westminster Confession have a distinct history of their own. During its proceedings, the Assembly had settled upon the various articles of the Confession through the process of discussion and debate. "The rules provided that no question should be brought to a vote the day it was proposed, and that speakers should make their statements good from scripture. There was freedom of debate and the speakers spoke as long as seemed to them good."[3] Doubtless, myriads of citations were brought from the holy scriptures; in each case, the Assembly voted to adopt the precise wording of the Confession, without incorporating the numerous biblical references raised during the discussion of each particular article.

When the document was completed in December 1646, it was simply the text of the Confession alone which was presented to the Parliament. The House of Commons returned an order to the Assembly, requiring that scripture proofs be added. This action appears to have been a stall tactic, for, as Robert Baillie writes, "The most part of the House of Commons are downright Erastians,"[4] and these men opposed the confessional teaching on ecclesiastical discipline, the civil magistrate, and church government. Thus, in spite of the Parliament's request for expeditious work, the Assembly was now given the added task of annexing proof texts to the Confession. Says Baillie, "The House of Commons requires to put Scripture to it before they take it to consideration; and what time that will take up, who knows?"[5]

Therefore, while the motives of Parliament were suspect, their action enhanced the usefulness of the Confession. As Baillie notes, "It's cried up by all, even many of our greatest opposites, as the best Confession yet extant.... Howbeit the retarding party has put the Assembly to add Scriptures to it.... This innovation of our opposites may well cost the Assembly some time, who cannot do the most easy things with any expedition; but it will be for the advantage and strength of the work."[6]

The Assembly responded to the Parliament that "they are willing and ready to obey that Order." Yet, they added a brief explanation of why they had not already furnished proof texts: (1.) The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England lacked proofs (the revision of those articles had been the Assembly's initial assignment). (2.) "The Confession being large, and, as we conceive, requisite so to be.... if the Scriptures should have been alleged, it would have required a volume." (3.) "There was seldom any debate about the truth or falsehood of any article or clause, but rather the manner of expression or the fitness to have it put into the Confession. Whereupon, when there were any texts debated in the Assembly, they were never put to the vote. And therefore every text now to be annexed must be not only debated, but also voted in the Assembly ... which is likely to be a work of great length."[7]

On April 2347, the Assembly presented to both Houses of Parliament the Confession of Faith, with proofs given in the margins. The scripture proofs contributed "much to give the doctrinal standards of the Assembly such a firm hold on the minds of the lay members of the Church."[8]

The relationship between holy scripture and the Westminster Standards is underscored by the Standards themselves. The first chapter of the Confession treats the inspiration and authority of the Bible. The Shorter Catechism, after asserting "the chief end of man is to glorify God," immediately informs us, that the Word of God "is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him." The Larger Catechism (no. 2) makes it clear that the Word of God is essential and effectual in revealing the Lord "unto men for their salvation." Further, in treating "Liberty of Conscience," the Confession asserts that God has left our consciences "free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith or worship."[9]

Although the Westminster Assembly was called as an advisory body to Parliament, the Standards do not derive their ecclesiastical standing from that fact. Indeed, the Assembly's work was subverted in England by civil rulers; whereas the Westminster Standards were ratified in Scotland by acts of ecclesiastical authority. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland adjudged the Standards, and approved each portion separately, in the manner indicated at the head of each document. For this reason, the Westminster Standards remain as the enduring, authoritative testimony of the Church, and not merely as the "pious advice" of a bygone era. The determinations of the Scottish General Assembly, since they are "consonant with the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his word."[10]

During the past 350 years, many editions of the Westminster Confession have been published. Unfortunately, some of the most popular editions have contained typographical errors, especially regarding the proof texts. Readers should also take note that American Presbyterian denominations have frequently amended the text of the Confession, as well as the accompanying scripture proofs.

In an effort to address these problems, the present index follows the definitive text of the Confession, as edited by S.W. Carruthers (published in 1937). For the convenience of readers, a list of common printing errors is appended to the index. These features should make the index useful with almost any edition of the Westminster Standards.

Consulting the index in conjunction with Bible study or sermon preparation, it is possible to discover what doctrines the Westminster divines developed from particular passages of scripture. The index contains over 4900 entries, revealing the breadth of biblical knowledge possessed by members of the Assembly. References are made to every book in the scriptures, except the two short books of Obadiah and Philemon. The most frequently cited passage is Matthew 28:18-20; a fact which rebuts the accusation that Calvinists have little regard for evangelism.

It is hoped that this index will promote greater appreciation of the Westminster Standards. Indeed, as Baille surmised, the scripture proofs of the standards have confirmed "the advantage and strength" of the Assembly's work.

Notes for Publisher's Introduction

1. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (1931 edition; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), vol. 1, p. 748; emphasis added.

2. This document is now annexed to the Form of Presbyterial Government.

3. David S. Schaff, "Westminster Assembly," in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1912), vol. 12, p. 323.

4. Robert Baillie, Letters and Journals (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle, 1841), vol. 2, p. 265.

5. Baillie, vol. 2, p. 415.

6. Baillie, vol. 3, p. 2; emphasis added.

7. Alexander F. Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly: Its History and Standards (London: James Nisbet, 1883), pp. 367-68, footnote 1.

8. Mitchell, Westminster Assembly: Its History, p. 367, footnote 1.

9. This is the correct wording of Chapter 20, section 2. See S. W. Carruthers, The Westminster Confession of Faith (Manchester: R. Aikman and Son, 1937); cf. John Murray's review of Carruthers, published in the Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 3, pp. 291-95.

10. Westminster Confession, 31:3; cf. Acts 15:2,4,12; 16:4.

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