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The Scriptures Are the Final Athority by Which Systems Are to Be Judged
In all matters of controversy between Christians the Scriptures are accepted as the highest court of appeal. Historically they have been the common authority of Christendom. We believe that they contain one harmonious and sufficiently complete system of doctrine; that all of their parts are consistent with each other; and that it is our duty to trace out this consistency by a careful investigation of the meaning of particular passages.2424 For the most exhaustive and scholarly treatment of the doctrines of Revelation and Inspiration, see Warfield, "Revelation and Inspiration."
"The Word of God," says Warburton, concerning these doctrines, "is the great and final tribunal before which they must be brought, and by which they must be tried. And the truth or falsity of our belief is measured by the corresponding agreement with, or diversity from, that form of doctrine which is set forth in the unerring revelation that God has given to us in His inspired Word. It is by this criterion that Calvinism must be tried. It is by this criterion that Arminianism or Pelagianism must be tried. It is by this criterion, and by this criterion alone, that every form of belief, be it religious, or be it scientific, must be tried; and if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them . . . We believe in the full, verbal inspiration of the Word of God. We hold it to be the only authority in all matters and assert that no doctrine can be true, or essential, if it does not find a place in this Word."2525 Calvinism, p. 21.
It is obvious that the truth or falsity of this profound doctrine of Predestination can be decided only by divine revelation. No person, acting merely on his own observations and judgments, can know what are the basic principles of the plan which God is following. Philosophical speculation and all abstract reasoning should be held in abeyance until we have first heard the testimony of Scripture,—and when we have heard that testimony, we should humbly submit. Would that we had more people with that noble character of the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see whether or not these things were so.
In connection with each of the doctrines discussed in this book we have presented a large mass of Scripture evidence—evidence both direct and inferential—evidence which cannot be answered or explained away—evidence greatly superior in strength, extent and explicitness, to any that can be adduced on the other side. The Bible unfolds a scheme of redemption which is Calvinistic from beginning to end. and these doctrines are taught with such inescapable clearness that the question is settled for all those who accept the Bible as the Word of God. These doctrines are set forth in the most impressive way; and the unstudied naturalness and simplicity with which they are given makes them all the more impressive. Should any one ask us the question, Are there any stars in the heavens? Our answer would be, The heavens are full of stars, Psalm 8:3, 4. Or again, Are there any fishes in the sea? Our answer would be, The sea is full of fishes, Psalm 104:25, 27. Or again, Are there any trees in the forest? We would again reply, The forest is full of trees. And in like manner should we be asked the question, Is the doctrine of Predestination in the Bible? Our answer should be, The Bible is full of it from Genesis to Revelation.
That such doctrines as the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, the sinfulness of man, and the reality of future punishments, are Scriptural is not denied even by those who refuse to accept them as true. It is a common thing for rationalists and so-called higher critics to admit that the apostles believed and taught the evangelical and Calvinistic doctrines, and that with a strict application of the rules of exegesis their statements cannot admit of any other interpretation; but of course they do not consider themselves bound to accept the authority of any apostle. They ascribe the apostles' belief in these doctrines, for instance, to "the erroneous notions of a crude and uncivilized age." This, however, does not detract from the value of their testimony that these passages, critically interpreted, can have no other meaning. Furthermore, we would prefer to say with the rationalists that the Scriptures teach these doctrines but that the Scriptures are no authority for us, rather than to profess acceptance of their teaching while ingeniously evading the force of their argument.
We shall show that there is no great difficulty—no undue violence or straining required—to interpret consistently with our doctrine the passages which are brought forth by Arminians, while it is impossible, without the most unwarrantable and unnatural forcing and straining, to reconcile their doctrine with our passages. Furthermore, our doctrine could not be overthrown merely by bringing forth other passages which would contradict it, for that at most would only give us a self-contradictory Bible.
In the light of modern scientific exegesis, it is quite evident that the objections which are raised against the Reformed Theology are emotional or philosophical rather than exegetical. And had men been content to interpret the language of Scripture according to the acknowledged principles of interpretation, the faith of Christians might have been far more harmonious. Our opponents, says Cunningham, are able to "argue with some plausibility only when they are dealing with single passages, or particular classes of passages, but keeping out of view, or throwing into the background, the general mass of Scripture evidence bearing upon the whole subject. When we take a conjunct view of the whole body of Scripture statements, manifestly intended to make known to us the nature, causes, and consequences of Christ's death, literal and figurative—view them in combination with each other—and fairly estimate what they are fitted to teach, there is no good ground for doubt as to the general conclusions which we should feel ourselves constrained to adopt."2626 Historical Theology, II, p. 298.
So long as we hold to the Reformed principle that the Scriptures are to be accepted as the sole authority in matters of doctrine the Calvinistic system will stand as the only one which adequately treats of God, man, and redemption.
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