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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.