Chapter 20: Of the Gospel, and of the Extent of the Grace Thereof
This chapter concerns itself with the emphasis and necessity of special revelation for salvation. This chapter is absent in the Westminster Confession, but it was taken from the Savoy Declaration of the Puritan Congregationalists. Concerning the historical background, Dr. Sam Waldron writes:
The contents of the chapter indicate that the error in view depreciated the necessity of the special revelation contained in the Scriptures for salvation. A general knowledge of the period permits the educated guess that the Puritan authors had already sensed the intellectual tendency which would later produce Deism, with its emphasis on the sufficiency of human reason and natural revelation and its opposition to supernatural revelation and the distinctive tenets of Christianity. Such men wanted to establish a completely rational basis for the existence of God and morality. They disliked the idea that a special revelation given only to some men was necessary to worship and serve God acceptably.
Against such men, the Confession asserts the necessity of special revelation about God through the gospel and Scripture for salvation. The Confession acknowledges the strength of natural/general revelation, but general revelation is not enough for salvation. General revelation is enough for condemnation. The gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit are necessary for salvation. This chapter concerns itself less with “what” the gospel is than to confess the necessity of special revelation over against those who would reject special revelation and claim that they can come to salvation merely through general revelation.
§1 God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ
- The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. 1
- Gen. 3:15 with Eph. 2:12; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 11:13; Luke 2:25, 38; 23:51; Rom. 4:13-16; Gal. 3:15-22; Rev. 13:8
The covenant of works that was given to Adam was broken by sin and thereby made unprofitable unto life (see also chapter 6:1). Now, it only administers its curse—death. Therefore, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ (Gen. 3:15; Eph. 2:12) as He had purposed to save the elect by Christ from all eternity. In this promise of Christ, the gospel was revealed as the means of calling the elect (Gal. 3:8; Luke 2:25, 38). As the gospel was revealed in this promise, God worked to beget in the elect faith and repentance so that they would embrace this promise, which was effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners (Gal. 3:15-22). This promise of Christ was, essentially or in substance, the promise of the gospel and salvation, which is what Christ accomplished on behalf of the elect.
Salvation was always through Christ, whether people were consciously aware of that or not. They were saved by faith alone and by not works. By loosely reading the Old Testament and seeing the absence of the cross, we may think that salvation was by works under the Old Testament, but now, in the New Testament era, it is by grace. This is completely false and a grave mistake. Salvation has always been by grac...