To see ourselves as others see us

I have just received this birthday card from one of my younger sisters:

Gaelic proverb: A friend’s eye is a good mirror

Or to use the language of our Scottish bard, Robert ‘Rabbi’ Burns, in his poem To A Louse:
On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church, 1786

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.”

Degrees of freedom

In statistics, they speak of degrees of freedom.

Our body illustrates degrees of freedom.  Our feet need to be stable for our foundation and so the joints of our feet are stable and fixed with little movement.   The ankle has a little more movement.  Our knees have more movement in one plane, and less movement than the ankle in other planes.

Our hips have a greater degree of freedom than our knees, and our shoulders have even more than our hips.  The higher we go, the more freedom.  Our head moves on our spine with a remarkable degree of freedom being able to move in all planes.

Our brain, housed in our head, has even more freedom of action.  Our soul united to our bodies, presumably through our brain, has even more freedom.

“God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil”

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IX, Of Free Will, Section 1.

Section 2 is about the freedom of man’s will in innocency.

Section 3 is about the bondage of man’s will by the Fall of Adam, celebrated in Martin Luther’s book on the Bondage of the Will.

Section 4 is about the change when a sinner is converted by God’s grace.

Section 5 is about the Will of man in the state of glory.

Jonathan Edwards wrote a significant work on the Freedom of the Will.

Contained in the Scriptures

Following the 18th century sceptical attacks on the Bible by Scottish Enlightenment figures claiming that it was not the Word of God, and the 19th century higher critical attacks upon Biblical inspiration by unbelieving scholars, during the past one hundred years the opinion has grown up that the Word of God is found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments but it is not identical with it. This opinion was popularised by Karl Barth.

This idea has been promoted in Reformed circles by reinterpreting a well-known phrase in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It occurs in the answer to Question 2, known by millions.

“Q. 2. What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.”

The argument goes: this does not say that the Scriptures are the Word of God but that they contain the Word of God. From this, the argument asserts that the orthodox position of Westminster Calvinism is that the Word of God is inside Scripture, and thus some parts of it may not be the Word of God, particularly those parts which these expositors think are mistakes or wrong.

This is typical of the revisionist school of exegesis. Not only does this school revise the meaning of Scripture itself, but they revise the meaning of historical texts to suit current tastes.

This reinterpretation is not the meaning of the Shorter Catechism and this can be demonstrated by looking at the whole teaching of the Westminster Assembly documents. However, the question still arises – why did the Westminister divines use the word ‘contained’? Why not simply say that the Word of God is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments?

Why use “contained”?

The answer is plain when explained. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, section II begins: “Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the Books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: …” and it goes on to name the Books of the Bible.

The point is that the Westminster divines were drawing a distinction between the Books of the Old and New Testaments on the one hand and the Apocryphal writings on the other hand.

They meant that the Word of God is contained in these writings and not in those writings. They are identifying the container as well as the contents. The Word of God is found in the container called “Holy Scripture” or “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” which they explain are “all the Books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: …” It is not found in the Apocrypha.


This debate highlights the poor state of modern exegesis. If such exegetes cannot get the Westminster documents right, why should we trust their exegesis of Scripture itself?

The same poor standard of exegesis also applies to the interpretation of the current law of the land. Having abandoned God’s law, the UK now has different administrations of law competing with each other. Britain is learning the folly of different loci of legislation – Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels. One tangible example is Britain’s unequal ‘Equalities legislation’ where Christianity has been put at the bottom of the pecking order. “Some animals are more equal than others”, and current judicial opinion has ruled that Christian conscientious objection is lower down the pecking order than homosexual rights. However a judge in another administration has ruled that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects expressive rights which offend, shock or disturb. The battle continues. Eventually they will discover that equality can only be between equals – it cannot be simply decreed. What takes an intelligent person five or ten minutes to work out usually takes a generation to implement in public life. Better drafting of legislation would speed up the process, instead of waiting for case law to sort things out at great expense, waste of time, and sometimes ruining people’s lives.

Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on him shall not be confounded. 1Peter 2:6