Reading the Westminster Standards in a Month

I have created a monthly plan to read through the Westminster Standards in a month. This is a very modest attempt at helping Christians to become more familiar with the Reformed confessions. Since this was a first draft, I am quite certain that there are typos and ‘errors in judgment’ scattered throughout the document. Nevertheless, it is my hope that this will be useful in some way to bring Reformed Christians back in touch with these confessional documents.


Please do make me aware of any typos, errors, or suggestions that you have as you make use of this.


Is There Such a Thing as Dead Orthodoxy?

Not according to Edward Leigh (1602-1677).

Divinity (or theology) is “such an art as teacheth a man by knowledge of God’s will and assistance of his power to live to his glory. The best rules that the Ethicks, Politicks, Oeconomicks have, are fetched out of Divinity. There is no true knowledge of Christ, but that which is practical, since everything is then truly known, when it is known in the manner that it is propounded to be known. But Christ is not propounded to us to be known theoretically but practically” (Edward Leigh, Body of Divinity cited in Muller, PRRD, 1:156-157).

Leigh is discussing the notion of the “scope” or purpose of theology in this passage. He can be numbered among those who see theology as an inherently practical endeavor. Found in this trajectory are William Perkins, William Ames, Peter Ramus and others who argue that the purpose of theology is to enable one “to live skillfully” or “blessedly.”

Michael Horton: “Reformed Theology is Synonymous with Covenant Theology”

“‘Reformed theology is simply covenant theology,’ according to I. John Hesselink. In other words, Reformed theology is guided by a concern to relate various biblical teachings to the concrete covenants in Scripture as their proper context. But is that the usual perception today? People readily associate ‘Reformed’ (i.e., Calvinistic) theology with the so-called Five Points of Calvinism, with its famous TULIP acronym… Encountering the God of sovereign grace is one of the most life-changing experiences in the Christian life, but it is only the beginning of what Reformed theology is all about. While some friends and critics of Reformed theology have reduced Calvinism to ‘five points,’ or further still, to predestination, the actual confessions, catechisms, and standard doctrinal works of the Reformed tradition all testify to a far richer, deeper, and all-embracing faith in the God of the covenant. Reformed theology is synonymous with covenant theology” (Michael Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, 11).

Calvin’s Institutes, Book I (Part 1)

1.1.1. Knowledge of God – its existence. Reasoning from self to God (lesser to the greater)

1.1.2 Knowledge of God – its existence. Reasoning from God to self (greater to lesser)

1.1.3. Knowledge of God – its existence.  Its effect on man.

1.2.1. The nature of this knowledge of God. It is two-fold and religious.

1.2.2. The nature of this knowledge of God. It guides and instructs piety.

1.3.1. The implanted knowledge of God. Its definition and existence.

1.3.2. The implanted knowledge of God. Fraudulent religion is built on the reality of implanted knowledge.

1.3.3. The implanted knowledge of God. It cannot be destroyed no matter how hard some try.

1.4.1. The corruption of implanted knowledge of God. Superstition.

1.4.2. The corruption of implanted knowledge of God. Turning away.

1.4.3. The corruption of implanted knowledge of God. ‘Will worship’ and doctrine-less religion

1.4.4. The corruption of implanted knowledge of God. Hypocrisy

1.5.1. The knowledge of God in creation. Mode. God uses all of creation to give knowledge.

1.5.2. The knowledge of God in creation. Extent. God gives it throughout all of creation.

1.5.3. The knowledge of God in creation. Man especially displays God’s power and truth.

1.5.4. The knowledge of God in creation. Reception. Man rejects this display of God’s power that is within himself.

1.5.5. The knowledge of God in creation. Various confusions of this ‘internal’ revelation in man from God.

1.5.6. The knowledge of God in creation. Purpose. So that we would direct our faith to God.

1.5.7. The knowledge of God in creation. Providence.

1.5.8. The knowledge of God in creation. Purpose of providence (expounded from Psalm 107) 

1.5.9. The knowledge of God in creation. Piety. Not speculation, but contemplation.

1.5.10. The knowledge of God in creation. (another) Purpose of Providence. To lead us to hope in God.

1.5.11. The knowledge of God in creation. Its rejection by man.

1.5.12. The knowledge of God in creation. This rejection produces superstition and error.

1.5.13. The knowledge of God in creation. Pagan religion is condemned by God.

1.5.14. The knowledge of God in creation. This revelation is not sufficient to restore fallen man.

1.5.15. The knowledge of God in creation. Nevertheless, man is without excuse before God because of this revelation.

(Can be purchased here)

Muller: “Atonement” v. “Satisfaction”

“There has been some scholarly disagreement on this issue–and sometimes a doctrinal wedge is driven between ‘Calvin’ and the ‘Calvinists,’ as if Calvin taught a ‘universal atonement’ and later Reformed writers taught a ‘limited atonement.’ Yet, when the terms and definitions are rightly sorted out, there is significant continuity in the Reformed tradition on this point.

The terms ‘universal’ and ‘limited atonement’ do not represent the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed view–or, for that matter, the view of its opponents. The issue was not over ‘atonement,’ broadly understood, but over ‘satisfaction’ made by Christ for sin- and the debate was never over whether or not Christ’s satisfaction was limited: all held it to be utterly sufficient to pay the price for all sin and all held it to be effective or efficient only for those who were saved. The question concerned the identity of those who were saved and, therefore, the ground of the limitation–God’s will or human choice. Thus, both Calvin and Bullinger taught that Christ’s work made full and perfect satisfaction for all, both commended the universal preaching of the Gospel, both taught the efficacy of Christ’s work for the faithful alone–and both taught that faith is the gift of God, made available to the elect only. In other words, the inference of a limitation of the efficacy of Christ’s satisfaction to the elect alone is found both in Bullinger and in Calvin, despite differences between their formulations of the doctrine of predestination. The Reformed orthodox did teach the doctrine more precisely. In response to Arminius, they brought the traditional formula of sufficiency for all sin and efficiency for the elect alone to the forefront of their definition, where Calvin and Bullinger hardly mention it at all. The orthodox also more clearly connected the doctrine of election to the language of the limitation of the efficacy of Christ’s death, arguing that the divine intention in decreeing the death of Christ was to save only the elect. This solution is presented in the Canons of Dort in concise formula” (Richard Muller, After Calvin, 14).

Francis Turretin on the Divisions of Theology

Having recently read Bavinck’s RD on the principles of theology (principia theologiae) wherein he touched on the “divisions of theology,” I wanted to take the opportunity to survey Francis Turretin’s discussion of the divisions of theology as found in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology (which can be purchased at the WSC bookstore here).

The discussion is found in Topic 1, Second Question. The Second Question concerns “whether there is a theology and its divisions.” 

 It is in Second Question, V. that Turretin begins his discussion of the various divisions of theology.

Most basically, theology can be distinguished into true theology (theologia vera) and false theology (theologia falsa). False theology is “equivocally” called theology. This is to say that the material content of false theology is utterly different than what true theology teaches.

False theology can be broken down broadly into two categories: “that of the Gentiles” and “that of infidels and heretics.”

The false theology of the [ancient] Gentiles manifests itself in various ways. Plato spoke of a twofold manifestation of it: symbolical/mythical theology (signs which pointed to esoteric mysteries) and philosophical/demonstrative theology (the contemplative pursuit of philosophers). Marcus Varro saw a threefold distinction in Gentile theology: mythical/fabulous theology (created by the poets, promulgated for the stage and theater), political/civil theology (ministered by the priests, taught in temples), and physical/natural theology (created by the philosophers, taught in the schools).

The false theology of infidels and heretics can be broken down into two categories: those who “openly reject Christ (as the Jews, Mohammedans, etc.)” and those “who, while they retain the name of Christ, are in fundamentals at variance with the word of God (as the theology of the papists, Socinians and other like heretics.”

Question 2, VI. Meanwhile, true theology, which teaches “a system or body of doctrine concerning God and divine things revealed by him for his own glory and the salvation of men” (1. First Question. VIII.), can be distinguished into archetypal and ectypal theology.

Archetypal theology is “infinite,” “uncreated” and is God’s “essential” knowledge of himself (as knower, knowledge, and object known) and “that which he decreed to reveal to us concerning himself.”

Ectypal theology is “finite”, “created” and is the “image” of God’s essential knowledge of himself (that is, ectypal theology is the creaturely, finite copy of archetypal theology). This ectypal knowledge is communicated to intelligent creatures (i.e., human beings and angels) in three different ways: by hypostatic union (Christ in the incarnation), by beatific vision (angels, and also those saints who from their labors rest), or by revelation, “which is made to travelers” (those pilgrim-believers still on the way to Glory).

Question 2, VII. The theology of revelation can further be distinguished into two categories: “natural” and “supernatural.” Natural theology can be distinguished into: “innate” knowledge of God and “acquired” knowledge of God. “This [knowledge] was exquisite in Adam before his fall, but is highly disordered in corrupted man.” Supernatural theology “transcends our reason and is communicated to us by God by the new light of grace.” It “is from Christ (Jn. 1:18) and speaks of him (Acts 1:1; 1 Cor. 2:2).”

Question 2, VIII. Supernatural theology can be divided into: systematic theology “denoting the system of saving doctrine concerning God and divine things drawn from the Scriptures,” and habitual theology describing “a habit residing in the intellect.” Habitual theology can be broken down into: the “habit of principles (by which each believer perceives things foreign to and remote from reason)” and “the habit of conclusions (by which from principles known by the light of faith we unfold and confirm the saving doctrine).”

Question 2, IX. briefly distinguishes the three ‘schools’ of God (nature, grace, and Glory), books (of the creature, of Holy Scripture, and of life),  and parts of theology (natural, supernatural, and beatific).