Rev. Donald Beaton*
This article (now slightly edited) was originally written for the Sovereign Grace Union in 1943, on the tricentenary of the Westminster Assembly, and was published in tract form.
THREE hundred years ago the famous Westminster Assembly of Divines made solemn and public protest against the errors of Rome. With uplifted hands, on 25 September, 1643, the members pledged themselves to stand by the Solemn League and Covenant, and unanimously vowed “the extirpation of Popery.” One has only to read their deliverance on the Apocrypha and “the authority of the Holy Scripture” to realise their attitude towards the Romish view of the Bible. In The Confession of Faith, (WCF), chapter 1, section 3, we read, “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” This teaching strikes a hammer blow at Romish teaching on the subject. When the Church of Rome speaks of Holy Scripture it means something very different from the term as used by Protestants. Romanists include the Apocrypha when they refer to the Bible.
In this connection a word of explanation may be offered of a phrase in the Shorter Catechism. Question No. 2 asks, “What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?” It is answered thus: “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.” The italicised phrase has quite a higher critical and modernistic appearance. The simple explanation, however, is that at the time of the Westminster Assembly the Apocrypha was printed with the Old and New Testaments; hence, to guard against its acceptance as part of the Word of God the Divines declared that the Word of God “is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments”.
The Confession further strikes at Rome’s teaching when it asserts that “the authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, depended, not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the authority thereof; and, therefore, it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (WCF 1:4).
In the important chapter, “Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience”, the Divines declared that “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to His Word, or beside it, if matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also” (WCF 20:2). Thus at one stroke the Confession sweeps aside the mass of accumulated commandments of men which Rome has been assiduously gathering during the centuries.
Chapter 25, “Of the Church,” having asserted the headship of Jesus Christ, continues: “. . . nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God” (section 6). Some have called in question the correctness of applying this unenviable title to one who is so frequently designated “His Holiness”. We agree with Richard Baxter, however, when he says: “If the Pope be not antichrist, he is most unfortunate in being so like him.” The late Principal David Brown, Aberdeen, an exegete of no ordinary ability, does not go beyond the mark when he says, “If this [concerning the papacy] does not come up to all that is here predicted [in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12] of the man of sin, we may safely say that the prediction will never be realised” (Structure of the Apocalypse, p. 153).
The Second Scottish Confession, commonly called The National Covenant of 1580, is no less definite in its characterisation of the man of sin when it declares: “In special, we detest and refuse the usurped authority of that Roman antichrist upon the Scriptures of God, upon the kirk, the civil magistrate and consciences of men; all his tyrannous laws made upon indifferent things against our Christian liberty, . . . his worldly monarchy and wicked hierarchy.” The arraignment of Rome in this Confession is one of the most sweeping that exists in any ecclesiastical document of the Reformation period. The Westminster doctrine of Christ’s headship rules out of court any papal authority in civil and ecclesiastical affairs.
The infallibility of General Councils, at one time a prominent plank in the Roman position, is rejected by the Westminster Confession in the following terms: “All synods or councils since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore, they are not to be made the rule of faith and practice, but to be used as a help in both” (WCF 31:4). In 1870, it is true, the Vatican Council declared that infallibility resides in the Pope, but prior to that date thousands of Roman Catholics believed that it resided in Ecumenical Councils. What kind of ground have Romanists to rest on in this matter, if infallibility no longer resides in General Councils but in the Pope? Can Newman’s theory of development help them out of the difficulty? In fine, no office-bearer who has sincerely accepted the Westminster Confession of Faith can concur with the prevailing attitude of approval which so many Protestants have towards popery and its incarnation, the Pope.
The Rev. Donald Beaton (1872-1953), was born in Stirlingshire, and studied at Glasgow University, and the Assembly’s College, Belfast, where he was the Getty Prizeman in Systematic Theology, Sacred Rhetoric and Catechetics. He was licensed to preach the gospel in 1896, ordained and inducted to the pastorate of the Wick Free Presbyterian congregation in 1901, and was the minister of the Oban congregation from 1930 to 1949. He was Theological Tutor from 1898 until 1952, and Clerk of Synod for 14 years. A scholar of repute, he authored several books and numerous articles. He was the Editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine from 1921, and The Young People’s Magazine from its inception in 1936, and resigned both editorships in 1949.