The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Pastoral Document?

There are those who claim that the Westminster Confession of Faith is a scholastic document lacking in pastoral sensitivity but abounding in the dust of theological tomes.  But is it?  I don't think so.  In fact, I am convinced that the Westminster Confession is both heady and hearty!  That is to say, it is wonderfully pastoral.  Don't believe me?  Check out a few examples.

Think about the opening section of the opening chapter on Holy Scripture.  The work of special revelation, which pleased the Lord, is "for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church…"  The Word of God is for both truth and comfort.  And notice the way in which the Westminster Divines pick up on this idea in section 8.  Explaining why the Scriptures are to be translated from their original languages into the common language of the people they add, "[that] the Word of God dwell plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope."  These men had a care for God's people and so directed them to God's Word and source of comfort.  

 Even when the Divines dealt with the formidable doctrine of God's decree they were eminently pastoral.  Consider these words from chapter 3 section 8,

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election.

Clearly, the divines disagreed with Melanchthon's "no touchy" policy in the Augsburg Confession believing that any attempt to deal with this high mystery would lead only to confusion.  But not only did the Westminster Divines believe that this high mystery ought to be handled with prudence and care but that "this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel" (WCF 3.8). 

The Divines were obviously concerned with the teaching and reception of this doctrine - but they were also concerned that it be taught!  Nevertheless, there is something of a pastoral challenge in this last line.  How so?  As pastors and teachers we ought to ask ourselves if our teaching on this high mystery produce praise, reverence, and admiration for God.  We ought to ask if our preaching incites humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to believers.  Oh, what a challenge!

Out of the doctrine of the decree flows the chapter on providence.  Now, many will automatically go to section 5 of this document and point out the pastoral implications.  They should!  It is pastoral.  However, have you noticed how the Divines dealt with section 4, which covers "the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men"?  Notice how they begin the section, "The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God" manifest themselves in His providence.  God is all-powerful, wise, and good.  That is how a person handles the high mysteries with prudence and care.  My friends, reading the Westminster Confession of Faith is listening in on how biblically and theologically astute pastors - well, pastor.  

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.

Jeffrey Stivason