By Robert L. Reymond in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem for the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope [purpose] of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery [disclosure] it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts. (WCF, I/v, emphasis supplied)
This article asserts both the Bible’s self-authenticating, self-evidencing, self-attesting, self-validating character as the Word of God and yet also the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s saving work if one is to believe it savingly. It recognizes that the Word of God would, of necessity, have to be self-authenticating, self-attesting and self-validating, for if it needed anyone or anything else to authenticate and validate its divine character—based on the principle that the validating source is always the higher and final authority (see Heb. 6:13)—it would not be the Word of God.44 For while this article recognizes that the testimony of the church to the Bible’s divine character, as a motivating appeal for the Bible’s claims (a motivum credibilitatis), may move Christians (see the “we” and the “our” in the article) to a “high and reverent esteem for the Holy Scripture,” it also recognizes that the Bible’s ultimate attestation as God’s Word does not derive from human or church testimony. Rather, the Bible carries within its own bosom, so to speak, its own divine indicia.45 The article generalizes eight such self-evidencing features: (1) the heavenliness of its subject matter, (2) the efficacy of its doctrine, (3) the majesty of its style, (4) the consent of all its parts, (5) the purpose of the whole, namely, to give all glory to God, (6) the full disclosure it makes of the only way of salvation, (7) its many other incomparable excellencies, and (8) its entire perfection. These, the article states, “are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the word of God.”46
But if the Bible, as the Confession declares, is self-evidencingly the Word of God, why do not all acknowledge it to be such? The answer is, because something more is needed. What is this lack? The Confession would not for a moment place this inadequacy in the Bible. Rather, taking seriously what the Bible teaches about the darkness of the human heart (see VI/4; Larger Catechism, Question 25), it presupposes here the spiritual blindness of men and women. If we may employ the analogy of a radio station and the home radio, the Confession would say that there is nothing wrong with the radio station’s, that is, the Bible’s transmission. It is “transmitting” precisely as it should. If its transmission is not received, the problem lies at the reception end, with the “home radio,” the human heart. To cite Warfield, man needs “in ordinary language, a new heart, or in the Confession’s language, ‘the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness [to these things] by and with the word in our hearts.’ ”47
The reference here in the Confession to “the inward work of the Holy Spirit” is often called the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.”48 What precisely is this work? Louis Berkhof replies:
What is the ground on which our faith in the Word of God rests? Or, perhaps better still, By what means is the conviction respecting the truth of the special revelation of God wrought in our hearts? In answer to these questions Reformed theologians point to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.… The Reformers … derived their certainty respecting the truth of the divine revelation from the work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of believers.…
We should bear in mind that the particular work of the Holy Spirit described by [this] name does not stand by itself, but is connected with the whole work of the Holy Spirit in the application of the redemption wrought in Christ. The Spirit renews the spiritual darkness of the understanding and illumines the heart, so that the glory of God in Christ is clearly seen.…
The work of the Holy Spirit enables [men] to accept the revelation of God in Christ, to appropriate the blessings of salvation, and to attain to the assurance of faith. And the testimony of the Holy Spirit is merely a special aspect of His more general work in the sphere of redemption.
After underscoring the two facts that this special testimony of the Spirit neither brings a new revelation, for then this new revelation would call for further attestation ad infinitum, nor is it identical with the faith experience inasmuch as the Spirit’s testimony is the efficient cause of faith, Berkhof continues:
The testimony of the Holy Spirit is simply the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner by which he removes the blindness of sin, so that the erstwhile blind man, who had no eyes for the sublime character of the Word of God, now clearly sees and appreciates the marks of its divine nature, and receives immediate certainty respecting the divine origin of Scripture.…
The Christian believes the Bible to be the Word of God in the last analysis on the testimony which God Himself gives respecting this matter in His Word, and recognizes that Word as divine by means of the testimony of God in his heart. The testimony of the Holy Spirit is therefore, strictly speaking, not so much the final ground of faith, but rather the means of faith. The final ground of faith is Scripture only, or better still, the authority of God which is impressed upon the believer in the testimony of Scripture. The ground of faith is identical with its contents, and cannot be separated from it. But the testimony of the Holy Spirit is the moving cause of faith. We believe Scripture, not because of, but through the testimony of the Holy Spirit.49
Edward J. Young likewise responds:
Of one point we may be sure. [The testimony of the Holy Spirit] is not the communication to us of information beyond what is contained in the Bible. It is not the impartation of new knowledge. It is not a new revelation from God to man. It is rather that aspect of the supernatural work of the new birth in which the eyes of our understanding have been opened so that we, who once were in darkness and bondage of sin, now see that to which formerly we had been blind.… Now, at last, the sinner is convinced that this Book is different from all other books. He beholds that it is from God in a sense that is true of no other writing. The divinity of the Scriptures is for the first time clearly perceived, and the voice of the heavenly Father distinctly heard.
It is then from God Himself that we learn the true character of the Scriptures. In the very nature of the case, it must be so. Only God can identify what He Himself has spoken.… We Christians need not be ashamed to proclaim boldly that our final persuasion of the Divinity of the Bible is from God Himself. God, in His gentle grace, has identified His Word for us; He has told us that the Bible is from Himself. Those who know Him may not depreciate this doctrine of the internal testimony of the Spirit; those who are His know that God has truly brought them out of darkness into light.
44 When Christ as the incarnate Son of God authenticated the Scriptures, it must be recalled that he was authenticating his own Word, and he was doing it according to his own declared authority in keeping with the principle he enunciated in John 8:14: “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.” The point to note here is that Jesus validated his claims by appealing to his knowledge of himself, unintimidated by the possible charge of petitio principii (Jesus’ appeal to self-knowledge here accords with the divine procedure stipulated in Hebrews 6:13: “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there is no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself”). Since then the Scriptures are the Word of Christ, one must never separate the words of Scriptures from the words of the Christ of Scripture. It is the same self-attesting Christ speaking in and through both. To doubt the truthfulness of Scripture is to doubt the Christ of Scripture, and to doubt the Christ of Scripture is both immoral and to operate with a false ideal and test of truth.
45 John Calvin in the Latin version of his Institutes states (using Greek) that Scripture is αὐτόπιστον, autopiston, that is, “self-authenticating” (I.7.5). In the French version of the same work he affirms that the Scripture “carries with[in] itself its [own] credentials” (porte avec soi sa créance).
46 Larger Catechism, Question 4, says the same in somewhat different words: “The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by their majesty and purity, by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.”
47 Warfield, “The Westminster Doctrine of Holy Scripture,” Selected Shorter Writings, 2:567.
48 Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 2:14–15 that only those who receive the Spirit’s enlightenment can savingly accept and understand the truths that come from the Spirit of God. Such truths must be “spiritually discerned” (πνευματικῶς ἀνακρίνεται, pneumatikōs anakrinetai).
49 Louis Berkhof, Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1932), 182–85.