The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws,
changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
—Isa. 24.5

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The Supreme and Ultimate



In the Church.

Excerpted from

The Reformed Presbyterian Catechism

By William Roberts.


On the Supreme and Ultimate Authority of the WORD OF GOD in the Church.

Q. Are the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament the only rule of faith and manners?

A. Yes; Isa. 8.20, “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” {45}

Q. Are the Scriptures of the Old Testament equally with those of the New—a rule of faith and manners?

A. Yes.

Q. What is the first proof?

A. Christ exhorted the Jews to search the Old Testament Scriptures, declaring that they testified of him. John 5.39. “Search the Scriptures—they are they which testify of me.”

Q. What is the second?

A. Christ commends the Old Testament, and exhorts his disciples to attend reverently to Moses and the prophets. Luke 16.29. “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.”  Also, verse 31.

Q. What is the third proof?

A. The Apostle Peter directs the attention of Christians to them as a rule, to be observed attentively until the day star of glory shall arise.  2 Pet. 1.19, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto we do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts.”

Q. What is the fourth proof?

A. The New Testament Church is erected upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  The doctrines taught by the apostles and prophets.  Eph. 2.20.  “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”

Q. What is the fifth proof?

A. What was recorded in the Old Testament was so recorded for the edification and comfort of the church in all subsequent ages.  Rom. 15. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning (instruction,) that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.”

Q. What is the sixth proof?

A. The Old Testament writings were the means of enlightening Timothy in the way of salvation; and still contain the instructions requisite to furnish the man of God for “every good work.”  2 Tim. 3.15,16.  “From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All {46} Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness—that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Q. What is the seventh proof?

A. The doctrines of the Old are substantially the same with those of the New Testament.  Rom. 16.25, 26, “Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.”  See also Rom. 1.2,3. Acts 26.22, 23.  The law is the same.  Matt. 22.37-40.

Q. What is the eighth proof?

A. Without the Old Testament we could not fully understand the New: nor demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah.  Luke 24.27, 44, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.  And he said unto them, These are the words which I spoke unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning me.”  Also Acts 10.43; 17.11; 16.22.  Rom. 3.21.

Q. Are the Scriptures to such an extent the rule of faith, that there is nothing left to the wisdom and discretion of the rulers and teachers of the church?

A. In matters essential to salvation, and what relates to the institutes of worship, government, and order, the Scriptures are an absolute rule; but in carrying out the principles and putting into operation the ordinances of religion, there are some things left to the wisdom and prudence of the officers of the church—but here there is no latitude allowed beyond what is the evident meaning and design of the Scriptures themselves in these matters.  1 Cor. 14.40, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

Q. Is everything pertaining to faith and manners revealed {47} in the Scriptures directly and distinctly in so many words? or are many things to be learned from them inferentially or by legitimate consequence?

A. The Scriptures are a full and complete revelation, and great principles are directly and plainly taught; yet many things of importance both of faith and manners are learned by legitimate consequence, from other truths distinctly revealed, and from approved scriptural examples, and such truths are equally a part of the Word of God with those principles, which are taught by explicit revelation.

Q. Can you give an example of the inferential mode of reasoning, or by implication, from the Scripture?

A. Yes.  The highest example—that of Christ himself; who proved the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead by a legitimate consequence, from a fact revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures.  Matt. 22.31, 32, “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Q. Are not the Scriptures a complete and adequate rule of faith and manners? or is there a deficiency to be supplied from a treasury of unwritten traditions, intrusted to the alleged successors of the apostles?

A. The Scriptures are a complete and adequate rule of faith and manners, and the alleged deposit [or depositum] of traditions is an invention of “The Man of Sin,” in support of his “lying wonders,” and “doctrines of devils.”

Q. How is this manifest?

A. It is manifest,  1. In the fact that the Scriptures are profitable for all theoretic and practical purposes, both in teaching matters of faith and moulding the manners. 2 Tim. 3.16, 17.

Q. Where is found the second evidence?

A. In the fact that God has expressly forbidden any addition to, or diminution of his revealed will.  Deut. 4.2, “Ye shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it.”  Gal. 1.8. “But though we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other {48} gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”  Rev. 22.18, “I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.”

Q. What is the third proof?

A. In that the Word of God is perfect, containing all that is requisite for the conversion of the souls of men.  Psalm 19.7,8, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”

Q. What is the fourth evidence?

A. In that they were given that men by them might be put in possession of eternal life, hence they can be deficient in nothing essential to this end.  John 20.31, “But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”  Also, 1 John 5.13; Rom. 16.

Q. What is the fifth proof?

A. The Scriptures are given as a rule of faith, hence they must be complete and adequate; for a rule, to answer its end, will not admit of diminution or addition.  Rom. 16.24-26. The doctrines of the Scriptures are said to be “made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.”

Q. What is the sixth evidence?

A. Traditions are distinctly rejected.  Matt. 15.6, 9, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.”  Also, Isa. 29.13, 14; Isa. 8.20.

Q. What is the seventh argument?

A. No satisfactory reason can be given why God should commit one part of His word to writing, and the other part equally essential to the salvation of the church, to be transmitted vivâ voce—because the traditions of men are uncertain at best, and liable to be greatly corrupted in the lapse of time.

Q. What is the eighth argument?

A. There is no rule given by which can be determined {49} the genuineness of traditions, and all that can be pleaded is that such is the testimony and the authority of the church, which is itself a matter of controversy.

Q. What is the ninth argument against tradition?

A. The origin of traditions is dubious, and their authority uncertain, their meaning perplexed and ambiguous, and the impossibility of discovering a reason for them; the only safe course is, to adhere rigidly to the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and manners.

Q. Is it true that the Roman apostasy makes tradition a chief part of the rule of faith?

A. It is undoubtedly true.  1. Thus speak the writers of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. 17: “All the doctrines of Christianity are derived from the word of God, which includes scripture and tradition!”  2. Thus speaks the Roman Catholic authorised version: Note on 2 Tim. 3.16, “If we would have this whole rule of Christian faith and practice, we must not be content with those scriptures which Timothy knew from his infancy, that is with the Old Testament alone; nor yet with the New Testament, without taking along with it the traditions of the apostles, and the interpretation of the church, to which the apostles delivered both the book and the true meaning of it.”  3. And the creed of Pope Pius makes Holy Mother church the only judge of the true sense of the scripture. “I also admit the sacred scriptures, according to the sense which the holy mother church has held, and does hold, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy scriptures; nor will I ever take or interpret otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.”

Q. Does not the Roman church in this matter of traditions follow the example of the apostate Jews, (before and at the time of our Saviour,) who made void the law by their traditions?

A. Yes.  The Jews divided the law into two parts, written and oral.  The latter, they taught, was received by Moses on Mount Sinai, and delivered by him to the care of Joshua, who deposited it with the 70 elders, by whom it was communicated to the prophets, and these intrusted it to the {50} greater synagogue, and from them it was transmitted to future generations, until it was collected and treasured up in the Talmud.  In like manner the Roman Pontiffs have invented a twofold revelation, the one written and the other unwritten, the substance of the latter being, as they allege, those things which Christ and his apostles taught and transacted, but of which they have transmitted no written record, but which are now exhibited in a tangible form in the peculiar doctrines and ceremonies of the Roman church.

Q. Is not the rise of this system of tradition easily accounted for?

A. Yes.  Those who had seen and heard the apostles naturally treasured up in their memories many of their observations and opinions, and brought them forward in support of their sentiments.  Great attention would be paid to a man who could affirm, “I heard the apostle Paul, or Peter, say so and so.”  In process of time, the true words of the apostles, by passing through so many hands, would be corrupted and gradually lost; for it is utterly impossible to preserve to any lengthened period what is dependent upon oral tradition.  Nevertheless the plea was found too advantageous to be suffered to die away.  When new opinions were broached, and new rites invented, an alleged apostolical tradition supplied the place of scriptural authority; the decree of some council secured its reception, and all objection would soon be silenced by the dread of incurring the vengeance of “Holy Church.”  But there is one who has said, “Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” [Matt. 15.6.]

Q. Is not this whole matter of tradition among Jews and Papists an artifice of Satan to seduce men from the simplicity that is in Christ?

A. Yes: The “Traditions of the Elders” was an artifice of Satan to seduce the Jews from the practice of the written law, to extinguish this lamp given to Israel.  In like manner the tradition of the Romanists is an invention of the adversary to lead men astray from the truth as it is in Jesus, and to extinguish its light in the church; and when men “love darkness rather than light,” [John 3.19,] they are given up, judicially, to {51} follow in the devious path of their own “invention:” Rom. 1.28, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”  2 Thes. 2.10-12, “Because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved; for this cause God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Q. Is not Timothy exhorted, 1 Tim. 6.20, to keep with care certain principles and observances intrusted to him; and the Thessalonians—to hold fast the traditions which they had been taught? 2 Thes. 2.15.

A. Yes.  Yet in the case of the deposit made with Timothy, the form of sound words, or the gifts and graces specified in 2 Tim. 1.13, 14, and in the case of the Thessalonians, the traditions referred to designate simply a two-fold mode, then employed by the apostle, of delivering the will of God, viz: viva voce and by writing, both exhibiting the same “form of sound words.”

Q. Are not the Scriptures, (or God speaking in the scriptures,) the supreme judge in all matters of controversy, and in the interpretation of scripture? or is this the prerogative of the church or Roman Pontiff?

A. The former is the truth.  The holy scriptures, (or God speaking in them,) is the supreme and infallible judge in religious controversies.

Q. What is the first proof?

A. God directs us to this tribunal only.  Isa. 8.20, “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Also Luke 16.29.

Q. What is the second proof?

A. The example of Christ and the apostles, who in all their controversies respecting matters of faith, refer to the scriptures as supreme authority, from whose decision there is no appeal.  Matt. 4: Christ repelled the temptations of the devil by “It is written.”  Also [Matt.] 22.32, He proves the resurrection by an appeal to the scriptures.  Jno. 5.39, He directs to them as bearing testimony to his missionship.  {52} Also Luke 24.44.  And the apostle Paul. Acts 26.22, “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.”  Acts 17.11, The Bereans are commended for resorting to the scriptures as the supreme and infallible judge.  The Pharisees and Sadducees [are] condemned for their ignorance of them as the infallible judge: “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” [Matt. 15.3.]  Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures.” [Matt. 22.29.]

Q. What is the third proof?

A. All other judges (church and Pontiffs) are liable to err, but the scriptures are infallible.  1 Jno. 4.1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”  Isa. 8.20; Acts 17.11.

Q. What is the fourth proof?

A. As God is the author of the scriptures, he alone can be their infallible interpreter.  Men are prone to err.  James 4.12, “There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy; who art thou that judgest another?”  See Matt. 23.8-10.

Q. What is the fifth proof?

A. Neither the divine author of the Scriptures, nor any of the apostles, have anywhere designated this infallible judge; distinct from and independent of the Scriptures themselves.

Q. What is the sixth argument?

A. The Roman Pontiffs have not exercised their alleged infallibility in composing the controversies which rend the unity of the Papal Church—between the Thomists and Scotists—the Dominicans and Jesuits—and the Jesuits and Jansenists, &c., so to quell which would quickly redound to the honour of the Papal See.

Q. What is the seventh proof?

A. The church cannot be constituted the infallible judge; this would give her the power of deciding in her own favour, as the controversy respects her own power and infallibility.

Q. What is the eighth argument?

A. The same argument applies to the Pope, councils and {53} the fathers.  It would be to make them judges in their own case.  Besides, they are prone to err, and have erred, and flagrantly contradicted each other, council against council, Pope against Pope, father against father.  Besides, not a few of the Popes have been heretics and profane and abandoned men, the pontiffs themselves being witnesses.

Q. Does not Christ constitute the church the Supreme Judge in controversies?  Matt. 18.17.  “Tell it to the church.”

A. By no means: because the injunction does not relate to matters of faith but to private offences, matters of scandal according to the Jewish discipline, who were accustomed to excommunicate the contumacious.

Q. Do not all Protestants hold the doctrine of the supreme and ultimate supremacy of the Word of God in religious controversy?

A. It is a Protestant doctrine, and, whilst it is held in theory, it is often violated in practice by the adoption of many principles and practices, for which there cannot be given a—thus saith the Lord—and which are met by the challenge—who hath required this at thy hand?