Benedict Pictet (1696) on Scripture as the Only Rule of Faith and Practice, part 1

“Reason is as it were the eye of the mind,

but scripture is the standard,

by which it measures the objects proposed.”

[Please note that Pictet, writing in the 17th century addresses the same controversies the church deals with today only from the perspective of the superiority of Scripture over reason where the modern Evangel church has adopted the opposite.]

Thus far we have proved that that the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are divinely inspired, and that they fully and clearly contain all things needful to salvation. Hence we easily infer that they are the true and only rule of faith and practice. Now a rule must be perfect in all its parts; not admitting either of addition or diminution. Such we have already proved the scripture to be. A rule also must be certain and unchangeable: but such is the scripture being the truth of the unchangeable God, “that cannot lie.” Human opinions are of such a nature as to be continually subject to changes: but it is not so withy eh doctrine of salvation, which has always been the same. The scripture, as a rule, directs our faith and conduct in such a manner, that the very least deviation from it renders us guilty of error. We cannot doubt of the scripture being a rule, if we consider that the prophets, our Savior, and the apostles, always appeal to it. “to the law and t the testimony,” says Isaiah (viii. 20). “It is written,” said Christ, when contending with Satan, (Matt. xxii). The apostles did the same in their endeavors to convert the Jews: nay, so perfect a rule did they consider the scripture, that they sometimes draw an argument from silence. “To which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son?” (Heb. 1 5) and the Bereans are commended for examining the doctrine of the apostles by this rule (Acts xvii. 11). We may add that the scripture itself calls itself a rule, (Gal. vi. 16), “As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them,” etc.

Not only the scripture of the New, but also of the Old Testament, is the rule of faith and practice, although we are no longer under the old dispensation, which has been evidently abolished. “For whatever things,” says St. Paul, (Rom. xv. 4) “have been written afore, were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the scripture, might have hope.” Both testaments contain substantially the same doctrine; they propose the same objects of faith, and enjoin the same precepts; they are both the foundation of the church, which is to “built upon the apostles and prophets,” (Eph. xi [ii]. 20) and peter shows that they “do well” who “take heed to the word of prophecy.” (1 Peter i. 19) The scripture then is the only rule, not can there be any other. Reason is no such rule, for it is blind, and understandeth not the things of God; (1 Cor. ii 14, 15) it is liable to error, and is often deceived; the mysteries of faith are beyond its sphere; the natural man cannot comprehend them. Reason is as it were the eye of the mind, but scripture is the standard, by which it measures the objects proposed. Reason is the instrument which the believer uses in examining the objects of faith by the scripture, as by the infallible rule of truth, but it is not the rule itself of these objects of faith. Yet this does not prevent us from acknowledging that reason ahs many uses. It is of service in vindicating the truth, against those who would deny revelations altogether, or against those who, admitting revelation, endeavor to corrupt it with false interpretations; in illustrating the mysteries of religion by collecting together all that can be gleaned from the book of nature, from polite literature, from historical records, from philosophical and philological science; in drawing conclusions, and determining the truth of them; in comparing the text with the context, versions with the originals, the decisions of ecclesiastical teachers with the scripture, and in distinguishing falsehood from truth, and what is legitimate from what is spurious.

In fact, reason and faith, though of a different nature, are not opposed to each other. Hence we maintain that we must not admit anything, even in religious matters, which is contrary to right reason. For although there is much darkness in the human mind, yet no one can deny that there remain some sparks of natural light, and that the mind has in it these principles of undoubted truth, which faith often makes use of for the confirmation of its own doctrines; but what we maintain is, that reason cannot and ought not to bring forth any mysteries, as it were, out of its own storehouse; for this is the prerogative of scripture only. Also, that reason is not to be heard when complaining of its incapacity to comprehend many things that relate to what is infinite; and to reject a mystery [e.g., the means of Scripture’s providential preservation] because it is incomprehensible to reason, is to offend against reason itself. Neither is reason to be listened to whenever, under the cover of holding the mysteries of the faith, it aims at setting up its own errors (e.g., defenders of Evangelical MVOism]. On the very same grounds we cannot call philosophy any rule of faith, although we again concede that there is of no little use, provided it assume not itself the power of dictating in articles of faith. True philosophy indeed serves very much both to convince men and to prepare their minds; and there is a wonderful harmony between sound philosophy and divinity; for truth is not contrary to truth, not light to light; only we must not imagine that the former is the rule by which the sense of scripture must be tried and examined.

The same observations may be applied to the testimony of the church, to the fathers, and to the decrees of councils; these form no rule of faith – 1. Because these testimonies, being merely human, are liable to error. Augustine, writing to Jerome, makes these just remarks: The books of the scriptures, which are now called canonical, and the only books to which I have learned to pay such respect and reverence, as most firmly to believe that no one of their authors committed any error in writing; whereas other books I peruse in such a manner, that, however they may be distinguished for holy instructions, I do not think anything to be true, merely because they have so considered it, but only as far as they have been able to convince me of the truth, either by reasonable argument, or by appeal to the canonical writers. Nor do I think, my brother, that your opinion on this subject is different; indeed I am persuaded that you would not have your own books read in the same way as those of the prophets and apostles, whose writings, because they are free from all error, it were impious to call in question.—2. Because these testimonies are not only liable to error, but have erred in many things; nay, often contradict themselves and each other. –3. Because the writings of the fathers have been in many ways corrupted, and it is very difficult to know what were their opinions on various subjects. It is therefore indisputable, that the holy scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice.

Benedict Pictet, Christian Theology, translated from the Latin by Frederick Reyroux (London: R. B. Seely and Sons, 1696 [1834]), 52-55.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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