Antinomianism Series: The Scots Confession – Article 14

This marks the continuation of my brief look at the Scots Confession. As I said previously, the Scots Confession is significant as it represents an earlier state of Presbyterian Theology than the Westminster Standards, as well as representing largely the thoughts of a man who studied directly under John Calvin. We saw in Article 13 that because the origins (or cause) of good works in the life of a Christian is the Holy Spirit, that good works are a necessary outcome of Christian life after justification. To put it in more biblical terms… He who started a good work in us (in justification) is faithful to finish a good work in us (in sanctification and glorification).[1] Today we’re going to take a look at Article 14.

We confess and acknowledge that God has given to man his holy law, in which not only all such works as displease and offend his godly majesty are forbidden, but also those which please him and which he has promised to reward are commanded. These works are of two kinds. The one is done to the honor of God, the other to the profit of our neighbor, and both have the revealed word of God as their assurance. To have one God, to worship and honor him, to call upon him in all our troubles, to reverence his holy Name, to hear his Word and to believe it, and to share in his holy sacraments, belong to the first kind. To honor father, mother, princes, rulers, and superior powers; to love them, to support them, to obey their orders if they are not contrary to the commands of God, to save the lives of the innocent, to repress tyranny, to defend the oppressed, to keep our bodies clean and holy, to live in soberness and temperance, to deal justly with all men in word and deed, and, finally, to repress any desire to harm our neighbor, are the good works of the second kind, and these are most pleasing and acceptable to God as he has commanded them himself. Acts to the contrary are sins, which always displease him and provoke him to anger, such as, not to call upon him alone when we have need, not to hear his Word with reverence, but to condemn and despise it, to have or worship idols, to maintain and defend idolatry, lightly to esteem the reverend name of God, to profane, abuse, or condemn the sacraments of Christ Jesus, to disobey or resist any whom God has placed in authority, so long as they do not exceed the bounds of their office, to murder, or to consent thereto, to bear hatred, or to let innocent blood be shed if we can prevent it. In conclusion, we confess and affirm that the breach of any other commandment of the first or second kind is sin, by which God’s anger and displeasure are kindled against the proud, unthankful world. So that we affirm good works to be those alone which are done in faith and at the command of God who, in his law, has set forth the things that please him. We affirm that evil works are not only those expressly done against God’s command, but also, in religious matters and the worship of God, those things which have no other warrant than the invention and opinion of man. From the beginning God has rejected such, as we learn from the words of the prophet Isaiah and of our master, Christ Jesus, “In vain do they worship Me, teaching the doctrines and commandments of men.”

This article is relatively straight forward, but bears significance in our exploration of Antinomianism.

In this article, the framers of this confession begin to explore what God’s law is, what its content is, and what its purpose is. It notes that God’s law is not purely negative, but also includes positive commands. That is it commands against that which “displease and offend His godly majesty” and also that which “please Him and which He has promised to reward.” So what we see is that the law commands us both in the “Do not do this or you shall die” sense, as well as in the “Do this and you shall live” sense.

Next the framers separate these commands into two types. There are those laws which honor and please God directly (worshiping him, partaking of the sacraments, reading and reflecting upon his word in Scripture), and those which are pleasing to God by means of secondary obedience. These secondary causes are things like honoring those in authority over you, not stealing, not lying, not murdering, defending the innocent and oppressed and general chastity and temperance. That is, God is pleased with these, but he is pleased because you have obeyed his commands, not because of any intrinsic worth of the action or abstaining from action.

Finally, and this is vital for our discussion, the confession notes that any kind of sin displeases God. It does not in any way remove Christians from this reality. In the eyes of the Scots Confession, when a Christian sins God is displeased. If I refuse to obey an authority (unless they are commanding me to sin) I am displeasing God. There is no indication in this confession that God overlooks our sin or ignores it because of our justification, nor is there any indication that our justification somehow makes our sins non-sinful.

As a side note, the text also implies a form of the regulative principle of worship that was a direct polemic against Roman Catholic practices, and cites Isaiah’s oracle which says “In vain do they worship Me, teaching the doctrines and commandments of men.”[2] Although not directly pertinent to our discussion, it is important to recognize that in the eyes of the confession, good intentions is not enough. Good intentions are good, but they cannot please God unless those good intentions properly express themselves as good works.

[1] Philippians 1:6
[2] Isaiah 29:13, quoted by Christ in Matthew 15:9