The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience,1 although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will which is necessary unto salvation.2 Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in diversified manners to reveal Himself, and to declare (that) His will unto His church;3 and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now completed.4
The very first section in the 1689 confession is all about the scriptures. This should reinforce the fact that the purpose of the confession is to lay out the doctrines of the Bible in a clear way, and not at all replace them. The 1689 starts with the doctrine of scripture because there would be no 1689 confession without the scriptures. They are the lifeblood of the confession. So why does the confession seek to actively define a doctrine of scripture? For the sake of unity in the church. When we have a unified understanding of what the scriptures are and how we are to use them, there will be less strife within the church. We need a clear understanding of what the doctrine of scripture is in order to further understand the other doctrines that are within it. So the question is, what does the Bible say about itself?
THE SCRIPTURES ARE NECESSARY
The scriptures tell us that we need them. In the same way that we need oxygen to live, we need the scriptures for salvation. Nature itself testifies to the glory of God. There is no doubt about this. But nature is not enough to clearly articulate the gospel of God. Romans 1:19-21 and Romans 10:14-17 make this very clear. Nature leaves us without excuse, but it does not give us enough to fully know God. He has chosen to reveal himself in a salvific way through his word.
The word is also necessary because it brings us more clarity. What can be learned from nature is what we call “general revelation”. But the Bible is what we call “special revelation”. The Holy Spirit actually spoke to people, and those people recorded the revelation from God onto parchment. This truly is a miracle, not only because of the way it happened, but also because it has been preserved all these years. This special revelation gives the church all the instruction we need to properly govern ourselves. This protects the church from abuse of leadership and ignorance of sin because we all have the word available to us.
THE SCRIPTURES ARE SUFFICIENT
God has given us clear and sufficient words. What he has revealed is more than enough for us. We will spend our lives reading the word and depending on the truth within it. It will never fail us, or lack anything that would drive us to find ultimate truth somewhere else. That is not to say that the Bible answers every single question or has instruction for every single situation. It doesn’t. But it does have a sufficiency in it for all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). All that God has revealed is enough for us to live a life that is pleasing to him. When we wrestle with things in this life, we lean on the scriptures. Of course there is nothing wrong with seeking knowledge and wisdom from other books or from professionals (such as councilors, doctors, etc). But the scriptures are sufficient for us.
The Bible sitting on your shelf is the most precious physical object that you own. It contains the law of God and the gospel of God. It reveals to you the righteous standard of YAHWEH. You see clearly from the scriptures that he is holy and that you are unable to follow his commands without failure. You see that if it depends on you, and your own ability to meet God’s standard, then you are damned. But in those same scriptures you see the gospel of grace! You see that God has sent his own Son to live in the place of sinners (meeting God’s standard for us) and to die in the place of sinners (satisfying God’s wrath toward us). You see the law and the gospel, and how God has given us everything because he has given us himself. You see this in his word, and this is what the confession affirms. God’s word is enough.
THE SCRIPTURES ARE COMPLETE
There is no more scripture left to be written. This is not a limitation on us, but a huge blessing! We have it all! All of God’s special revelation is ours to take up and read! Yes I just used three exclamation points in a row. Can you tell that I am excited about this? So many Christians live this life in search of something “more” from God. They want to know his plan for their lives. They want things from him that they feel would make them feel complete. But the truth is that God has given us more than we will ever need. He has given us himself! The glorious God of all creation has given us the gift of relationship with him, and we know him by his word. Of course one day our faith will be sight, and we will see Jesus face to face. That will be the best thing ever. But how do we know this will happen? Through God’s word that reveals this truth to us (1 Corinthians 13:12). The fact that the Bible is a closed book (no more to be added to it) is not something that restricts us, but rather it empowers us! We can trust the Bible because it is complete.