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Sermons & Study Guides

Confessionalism and the Need for Creeds Pt. 3 - (Creeds and the Right of Private Judgment)

James Dodson

Confessionalism and the Need for Creeds

(Creeds and the Right of Private Judgment)

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Question.—What is the right of private judgment? Answer.—The assertion, by the Reformers, of the right of private judgment is an assertion of the faith priority of the inward teaching of the Spirit of God bearing testimony  to  the  truth  of  the  Word,  1  John  2:20,  27;  over  the  external  teaching ministry of any man or body of men, Gal. 1:8, 9.  Which implies two things, the right of private judgment with regard to the teaching of apostle or angel, 2 Cor. 11:6-8; and, a previously authenticated infallible rule of faith and practice, John 5:46, 47.  This right, or power, is given by Moses, Deut. 13:1-5. Furthermore, this right, or power, of private judgment is wholly dependent upon that internal impulse which is necessary to the holding of the truth in good conscience,  1  Tim.  1:19.    This  is  because  the  natural  man is  spiritually  blind,  1 Cor. 2:14.  All of which is presupposed in the command to search the Scriptures, John 5:39. Again, the assertion of the right of private judgment, like that of perspicuity, has reference primarily to those matters necessary to salvation, 2 Tim. 3:15.  This is  because  when  it  comes  to  those  matters  crucial  to  salvation,  ultimately  each man stands or falls before the Lord by himself, Rom. 14:4.  Thus, it is in this sense that  we  must  understand  the  right  of  private  judgment intersects  with  the doctrine of perspicuity in order to give witness to Christ, Acts 10:43. Finally, Wycliffe, and other early Protestant Reformers, were not asserting a liberty to reject established opinion without due examination, 1 Thess. 5:21. This  right  of  private  judgment  is  a  recognition  that genuine  faith,  or  belief, must precede all sincere confession, 2 Cor. 4:13. Question.—What abuses have arisen from a wrong understanding of this right?  Answer.—The right of private judgment was never asserted as the right to exalt individual reason over Scripture though fanatics have made it such, 1 Tim. 4:1, 2.  Subjective convictions regarding the truth of the Word have been attributed to: 1.)  Private  revelations,  or  confessions,  wherein  men  come  to  form  another opinion over the judgment of the Spirit of God speaking in the Scriptures, 2 Cor. 11:4.  2.) An inward light, or principle of interpretation, which speaks apart from the  Word  of  God,  2  Pet.  1:19-21.    3.)  The  testimony  of  the  Spirit,  which  is conceited to override the explicit testimony of the Word, 1 Cor. 2:10; 1 John 4:1. Jerome  rightly  accounts  that  man  a  heretic  who  attempts  to  impose  upon Scripture   a   meaning   which   the   Spirit   does   not   demand, 2   Tim.   2:15.  
Furthermore,  any  man  that  would  impose  a  meaning  contrary  declared impossible by the Spirit is guilty of blasphemy, John 14:17.  Question.—How does this right comport with confessionalism? Answer.—The  true  testimony  is  that  which  is  the  Holy  Spirit speaking  in Scripture and giving witness to that truth in the heart of each individual believer, Rom. 8:16.  It is from this inward principle, even the material principle of faith, that  men  are  brought  to  confess  the  true  religion,  Rom.  10:8-11.    Which  means several things: First, there can be no right of private judgment outside of Christ, for no man possesses a liberty that can lead him into antagonism with Christ, John 16:14.  In other  words,  there  is  no  right  of  private  judgment  that  can  justify  confessing another gospel, Gal. 1:6; nor is there a right of private judgment that can justify false  interpretation,  which  implies  a  false spirit  of  interpretation,  or  belief  in  a false Jesus, 2 Cor. 11:3, 4. Second, since this private judgment has particular relation to the perspicuity of  Scripture  and  to  those  things  which  are  necessary  to  be  believed  for  the salvation  of  the  soul,  it  cannot  admit  of  private  interpretation,  1  Pet.  1:9-13.  There is only one true way of salvation, John 14:6; Acts 4:12. Third, the right of private judgment exists in order that men might  make a conscientious  reckoning,  not  of  the  truth  of  Scripture,  but  of  the  truth  of  men purporting to give its true interpretation, Acts 17:11.  It is a subjective witnessing of  the  Spirit  to  the  believer  of  all  truth,  John  14:26; which  makes  clear  that  the ministering of the Word is true, John 4:39-42. Fourth,  it  is  the  way  of  private  judgment  to  lead  men  to  hear  the  public apostolic  teaching  of  the  true  church  and  join  with  those  things  necessary  to salvation  other  things  necessary  to  be  believed,  Acts 2:37-41.    No  private judgment can dismiss articles of faith which, though not necessary to salvation, are necessary to holding those things in right relation, 1 Cor. 15:1-11. Fifth, it is the assent of private judgment to the public declaration of the truth (i.e.,  the  right  interpretation  of  the  Word),  even  in  things  not  necessary  to salvation per se, that brings pleasure to believers, Mark 12:35-37.  Thus, the right of private judgment should make belief and confession of those things both light and easy to be borne, Matt. 11:30. Sixth,  since  a  Christian  does  not  live  unto  himself,  but  unto  Christ,  2  Cor. 5:15; so that in matters of faith he is in Christ, Col. 3:2, 3; and in matters of order, which  is  love  working  in  communion,  he  is  in  his  neighbor,  Col.  3:14,  15; therefore, he must first give himself to God in Christ and then to one another in love by covenant, 2 Cor. 8:5.  There are not to be many heads and many minds but one, Phil. 2:2, 5; which is the ground for expecting that there is to be unity in all matters of faith and uniformity in judgment in matters of order, 1 Cor. 1:10.