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Scripture Teaches All That Is Necessary for Salvation: The Patristic Roots of the Reformation (8)

I’d like to return to a point that I made in the previous post to emphasize it again, because, at the end of the day, it is extremely important. So, once more: the Westminster Divines say this:

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

In other words, they teach that everything–and that means everything–man must know, believe, and observe to be saved is found in Scripture. Period. Last time we contrasted this with some other views of what must be known and believed in order to be saved. What I’d like to note here is that this precise point is simply a repetition of Augustine. We saw this a few days ago in On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants 2.59. But Augustine is perhaps even clearer in On Christian Teaching 2.9.14. There he writes:

In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more diligently; and the more of these a man discovers, the more capacious does his understanding become. For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life—to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure, and use the evidence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages. And in this matter memory counts for a great deal; but if the memory be defective, no rules can supply the want.

“[A]ll matters.” “[P]lainly laid down.” Etc. What you need to know about faith and “manner of life” is found–and not just found, but clearly found–in Scripture. Conversely, if something isn’t found there–and not just not found, but not clearly found–no one can tell you you need to believe it in order to be saved. Let us call this the “Augustinian canon.” It is a much surer guide than the Vincentian one, and is one that ensures that in matters of faith your conscience will be bound only where it should be–which is to say, it will not be bound by theologoumena as if they were articles of faith.

So the next time you say this and someone says you need to get “deep in history,” you just be all:

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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