Basics of Systematic Theology

Scripture, God, Trinity, Creation & Providence, Christ, Salvation, and the Church from the Historic Reformed Perspective

Curated from a lecture series by Scott Swain

Course Introduction

About the Course

This course is based on a series of lectures by Dr. Scott Swain which were presented at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando in the Spring of 2017. Each lecture includes a video and lecture notes. The course will cover the doctrines of Scripture, God, Christ, salvation, and the Church. Each lecture will be paired with a reading assignment from the course textbook (below) as well as other articles, videos, books, and courses for further study of each of these core doctrines of the Christian faith.

About Dr. Scott Swain

Dr. Scott R. Swain is President and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Dr. Swain has served on the RTS faculty since 2006, having previously taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

His main research interests include the doctrine of God, theological interpretation of Scripture, and modern Protestant theology, and he has published a number of books and essays on these topics. With Dr. Michael Allen, he serves as general editor of two series: Zondervan Academic’s New Studies in Dogmatics and T & T Clark’s International Theological Commentary.

Dr. Swain is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He and his wife, Leigh, have four children.


This section introduces the idea of “systematic theology”, it’s unity, scope, proportions, and relationships before explaining three big ideas about the doctrine of Scripture:

  1. God is pleased to reveal himself to us in order that we might find rest in him (Matt. 11:25–30).
  2. God is pleased to reveal himself through the “two books” of general (Ps. 19:1–6) and special (Ps. 19:7–14) revelation.
  3. Until Jesus returns, the Bible is our supreme source of special revelation (2 Pet. 1:16–21).

Reading Assignment

Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pages 13–72

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1

Chapter I.
Of the Holy Scripture.

I. Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable;(a) yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.(b) Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church;(c) and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing:(d) which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;(e) those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.(f)

(a) Rom. 2:14, 15; Rom. 1:19, 20; Ps. 19:1, 2, 3; Rom. 1:32, with chap. 2:1.
(b) I Cor. 1:21; I Cor. 2:13, 14.
(c) Heb. 1:1.
(d) Prov. 22:19, 20, 21; Luke 1:3, 4; Rom. 15:4; Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; Isa. 8:19, 20.
(e) II Tim. 3:15; II Pet. 1:19.
(f) Heb. 1:1, 2.

II. Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testament, which are these:

Of the Old Testament:

I. Samuel
II. Samuel
I. Kings
II. Kings
I. Chronicles
II. Chronicles
The Song of Songs

Of the New Testament:

The Gospels according to
The Acts of the Apostles
Paul’s Epistles
To the Romans
Corinthians I.
Corinthians II.
Thessalonians I.
Thessalonians II.
To Timothy I.
To Timothy II.
To Titus
To Philemon
The Epistle to the Hebrews
The Epistle of James
The first and second Epistles of Peter
The first, second, and third Epistles of John
The Epistle of Jude
The Revelation of John

All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.(g)

(g) Luke 16:29, 31; Eph. 2:20; Rev. 22:18, 19; II Tim. 3:16.

III. The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.(h)

(h) Luke 24:27, 44; Rom. 3:2; II Pet. 1:21.

IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.(i)

(i) II Pet. 1:19, 21; II Tim. 3:16; I John 5:9; I Thess. 2:13.

V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture.(k) And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.(l)

(k) I Tim. 3:15.
(l) I John 2:20, 27; John 16:13, 14; I Cor. 2:10, 11, 12; Isa. 59:21.

VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.(m) Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word:(n) and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.(o)

(m) II Tim. 3:15, 16, 17; Gal. 1:8, 9; II Thess. 2:2.
(n) John 6:45, I Cor. 2:9 to 12.
(o) I Cor. 11:13, 14; I Cor. 14:26, 40.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all:(p) yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.(q)

(p) II Pet. 3:16.
(q) Psalm 119:105, 130.

VIII. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical;(r) so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them.(s) But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them,(t) therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come,(u) that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner;(w) and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.(x)

(r) Matt. 5:18.
(s) Isa. 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39, 46.
(t) John 5:39.
(u) I Cor. 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 27, 28.
(w) Col. 3:16.
(x) Rom. 15:4.

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.(y)

(y) II Pet. 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16.

X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined; and in whose sentence we are to rest; can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.(z)

(z) Matt. 22:29, 31; Eph. 2:20 with Acts 28:25.


Source: The original text of 1646, from the manuscript of Cornelius Burges, Assessor to the Westminster Assembly, with the Assembly’s proof texts, as published in the modern critical edition of 1937 by S. W. Carruthers.

God: His Being and Attributes

In this section, the lecture examines the nature of idolatry in contrast to the God of the Bible. Two key aspects of a “divine” method of thinking about God are put forward:

  1. God is infinite in his being, attributes, and actions.
  2. God is independent in his being, attributes, and actions.

Reading Assignment

Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pages 73–88

God: Trinity

Examining the significance of Jesus’ baptism, Dr. Swain argues that the Bible:

  1. Identifies the Father, the Son, and the Spirit with one God.
  2. Distinguishes the Father, the Son, and the Spirit by means of their “personal properties.”

Reading Assignment

Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pages 89–106

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 2

Chapter II.
Of God, and of the Holy Trinity.

I. There is but one only,(a) living, and true God:(b) who is infinite in being and perfection,(c) a most pure spirit,(d) invisible,(e) without body, parts,(f) or passions,(g) immutable,(h) immense,(i) eternal,(k) incomprehensible,(l) almighty,(m) most wise,(n) most holy,(o) most free,(p) most absolute,(q) working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,(r) for His own glory;(s) most loving,(t) gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;(u) the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him;(w) and withal, most just and terrible in His judgments,(x) hating all sin,(y) and who will by no means clear the guilty.(z)

(a) Deut. 6:4; I Cor. 8:4, 6.
(b) I Thess. 1:9; Jer. 10:10.
(c) Job 11:7, 8, 9; Job 26:14.
(d) John 4:24.
(e) I Tim. 1:17.
(f) Deut. 4:15, 16; John 4:24, with Luke 24:39.
(g) Acts 14:11, 15.
(h) James 1:17; Mal. 3:6.
(i) I Kings 8:27; Jer. 23:23, 24.
(k) Ps. 90:2; I Tim. 1:17.
(l) Ps. 145:3.
(m) Gen. 17:1; Rev. 4:8.
(n) Rom. 16:27.
(o) Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8.
(p) Ps. 115:3.
(q) Exod. 3:14.
(r) Eph. 1:11.
(s) Prov. 16:4; Rom. 11:36.
(t) I John 4:8, 16.
(u) Exod. 34:6, 7.
(w) Heb. 11:6.
(x) Neh. 9:32, 33.
(y) Ps. 5:5, 6.
(z) Nah. 1:2, 3; Exod. 34:7.

II. God hath all life,(a) glory,(b) goodness,(c) blessedness,(d) in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made,(e) nor deriving any glory from them,(f) but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things;(g) and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth.(h) In His sight all things are open and manifest;(i) His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature,(k) so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain.(l) He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands.(m) To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.(n)

(a) John 5:26.
(b) Acts 7:2.
(c) Ps. 119:68.
(d) I Tim. 6:15; Rom. 9:5.
(e) Acts 17:24, 25.
(f) Job 22:2, 3.
(g) Rom 11:36.
(h) Rev. 4:11; I Tim. 6:15; Dan. 4:25, 35.
(i) Heb. 4:13.
(k) Rom. 11:33, 34; Ps. 147:5.
(l) Acts 15:18; Ezek. 11:5.
(m) Ps. 145:17; Rom. 7:12.
(n) Rev. 5:12, 13, 14.

III. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.(o) The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding: the Son is eternally begotten of the Father:(p) the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.(q)

(o) I John 5:7; Matt. 3:16, 17; Matt. 28:19; II Cor. 13:14.
(p) John 1:14, 18.
(q) John 15:26; Gal. 4:6.


Source: The original text of 1646, from the manuscript of Cornelius Burges, Assessor to the Westminster Assembly, with the Assembly’s proof texts, as published in the modern critical edition of 1937 by S. W. Carruthers.

God: Creation and Providence

The lecture in this section covers first God’s work of creation, highlighting:

  1. God’s agency in creation (as trinitarian, good, wise, powerful, self-glorifying, and blessing to mankind).
  2. The act of creation (out of nothing and giving being, order, and fullness).
  3. The character of creation (diverse and finite).
  4. The pinnacle of creation (the creation of human beings, originating from two human parents, made in God’s image, and called to a royal priesthood).

Similarly, the doctrine of providence is discussed, showing:

  1. God’s agency.
  2. The act of providence (trinitarian, joy-producing, and enabling of creaturely action).
  3. The connection between providence and human beings (in accordance with their natures and by means of God’s Word).

Reading Assignment

Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pages 107–130

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapters 4–5

Chapter IV.
Of Creation.

I. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,(a) for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness,(b) in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.(c)

(a) Heb. 1:2; John 1:2, 3; Gen. 1:2; Job. 26:13; Job. 33:4.
(b) Rom. 1:20; Jer. 10:12; Ps. 104:24; Ps. 33:5, 6.
(c) Gen. 1 chap.; Heb. 11:3; Col. 1:16; Acts 17:24.

II. After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female,(d) with reasonable and immortal souls,(e) endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image;(f) having the law of God written in their hearts,(g) and power to fulfil it:(h) and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change.(i) Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God,(k) and had dominion over the creatures.(l)

(d) Gen. 1:27.
(e) Gen. 2:7 with Eccles. 12:7 & Luke 23:43 and Matt. 10:28.
(f) Gen. 1:26; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24.
(g) Rom. 2:14, 15.
(h) Eccles. 7:29.
(i) Gen. 3:6; Eccles. 7:29.
(k) Gen. 2:17; Gen. 3:8, 9, 10, 11, 23.
(l) Gen. 1:26, 28.

Chapter V.
Of Providence.

I. God the great Creator of all things doth uphold,(a) direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things,(b) from the greatest even to the least,(c) by His most wise and holy providence,(d) according to His infallible fore-knowledge,(e) and the free and immutable counsel of His own will,(f) to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.(g)

(a) Heb. 1:3.
(b) Dan. 4:34, 35; Ps. 135:6; Acts 17:25, 26, 28; Job 38 to 41 chapters.
(c) Matt. 10:29, 30, 31.
(d) Prov. 15:3; Ps. 104:24; Ps. 145:17.
(e) Acts 15:18; Ps. 94:8, 9, 10, 11.
(f) Eph. 1:11; Ps. 33:10, 11.
(g) Isa. 63:14; Eph. 3:10; Rom. 9:17; Gen. 45:7; Ps. 145:7.

II. Although, in relation to the fore-knowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly:(h) yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.(i)

(h) Acts 2:23.
(i) Gen. 8:22; Jer. 31:35; Exod. 21:13 with Deut. 19:5; I Kings 22:28, 34; Isa. 10:6, 7.

III. God in His ordinary providence maketh use of means,(k) yet is free to work without,(l) above,(m) and against them at His pleasure.(n)

(k) Acts 27:31, 44; Isa. 55:10, 11; Hos. 2:21, 22.
(l) Hos. 1:7; Matt. 4:4; Job 34:20.
(m) Rom. 4:19, 20, 21.
(n) II Kings 6:6; Dan. 3:27.

IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men;(o) and that not by a bare permission,(p) but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding,(q) and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends;(r) yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is, nor can be, the author or approver of sin.(s)

(o) Rom. 11:32, 33, 34; II Sam. 24:1 with I Chron. 21:1; I Kings 22:22, 23; I Chron. 10:4, 13, 14; IISam. 16:10; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27, 28.
(p) Acts 14:16.
(q) Ps. 76:10; II Kings 19:28.
(r) Gen. 50:20; Isa. 10:6, 7, 12.
(s) James 1:13, 14, 17; I John 2:16; Ps. 50:21.

V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave for a season His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption, and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled;(t) and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.(u)

(t) II Chron. 32:25, 26, 31; II Sam. 24:1.
(u) II Cor. 12:7, 8, 9; Ps. 73 throughout; Ps. 77:1 to 12; Mark 14:66 to the end, with John 21:15, 16, 17.

VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden,(w) from them He not only withholdeth His grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts;(x) but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had,(y) and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasions of sin;(z) and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan:(a) whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.(b)

(w) Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; Rom. 11:7, 8.
(x) Deut. 29:4.
(y) Matt. 13:12; Matt. 25:29.
(z) Deut. 2:30; II Kings 8:12, 13.
(a) Ps. 81:11, 12; II Thess. 2:10, 11, 12.
(b) Exod. 7:3 with Exod. 8:15, 32; II Cor. 2:15, 16; Isa. 8:14; I Pet. 2:7, 8; Isa. 6:9, 10 with Acts 28:26, 27.

VII. As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a most special manner, it taketh care of His Church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.(c)

(c) I Tim. 4:10; Amos 9:8, 9; Rom. 8:28; Isa. 43:3, 4, 5, 14.


Source: The original text of 1646, from the manuscript of Cornelius Burges, Assessor to the Westminster Assembly, with the Assembly’s proof texts, as published in the modern critical edition of 1937 by S. W. Carruthers.

Christology: The Person of Christ

This fifth lecture argues that Jesus is one divine person with two natures, who fulfills a threefold office in four moments of his saving mission from Hebrews 2:10–18. Dr. Swain also surveys Christological heresies that the Church has combatted through the centuries.

Reading Assignment

Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pages 159–190

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 8

Chapter VIII.
Of Christ the Mediator.

I. It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man;(a) the Prophet,(b) Priest,(c) and King,(d) the Head and Saviour of His Church,(e) the Heir of all things,(f) and Judge of the world:(g) unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed,(h) and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.(i)

(a) Isa. 42:1; I Pet. 19, 20; John 3:16; I Tim. 2:5.
(b) Acts 3:22.
(c) Heb. 5:5, 6.
(d) Ps. 2:6; Luke 1:33.
(e) Eph. 5:23.
(f) Heb. 1:2.
(g) Acts 17:31.
(h) John 17:6; Ps. 22:30, Isa. 53:10.
(i) I Tim. 2:6; Isa. 55:4, 5; I Cor. 1:30.

II. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature,(k) with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin:(l) being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance.(m) So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.(n) Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.(o)

(k) John 1:1, 14; I John 5:20; Phil. 2:6; Gal. 4:4.
(l) Heb. 2:14, 16, 17; Heb. 4:15.
(m) Luke 1:27, 31, 35; Gal. 4:4.
(n) Luke 1:35; Col. 2:9; Rom. 9:5; I Pet. 3:18; I Tim. 3:16.
(o) Rom. 1:3, 4; I Tim. 2:5.

III. The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure,(p) having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;(q) in whom it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell;(r) to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth,(s) He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator and surety.(t) Which office He took not unto Himself, but was thereunto called by His Father,(u) who put all power and judgment into His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same.(w)

(p) Ps. 45:7; John 3:34.
(q) Col. 2:3.
(r) Col. 1:19.
(s) Heb. 7:26; John 1:14.
(t) Acts 10:38; Heb. 12:24; Heb. 7:22.
(u) Heb. 5:4, 5.
(w) John 5:22, 27; Matt. 28:18; Acts 2:36.

IV. This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake;(x) which that He might discharge, He was made under the law,(y) and did perfectly fulfil it,(z) endured most grievous torments immediately in His soul,(a) and most painful sufferings in His body;(b) was crucified, and died;(c) was buried, and remained under the power of death; yet saw no corruption.(d) On the third day He arose from the dead,(e) with the same body in which He suffered,(f) with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of His Father,(g) making intercession,(h) and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.(i)

(x) Ps. 40:7, 8 with Heb. 10:5 to 10; John 10:18; Phil. 2:8.
(y) Gal. 4:4.
(z) Matt. 3:15; Matt. 5:17.
(a) Matt. 26:37, 38; Luke 22:44; Matt. 27:46.
(b) Matt. 26, 27 chapters.
(c) Phil. 2:8.
(d) Acts. 2:23, 24, 27; Acts 13:37; Rom. 6:9.
(e) I Cor. 15:3, 4.
(f) John 20:25, 27.
(g) Mark 16:19.
(h) Rom. 8:34; Heb. 9:24; Heb. 7:25.
(i) Rom. 14:9, 10; Acts 1:11; Acts 10:42; Matt. 13:40, 41, 42; Jude ver. 6; II Pet. 2:4.

V. The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father;(k) and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.(l)

(k) Rom. 5:19; Heb. 9:14, 16; Heb. 10:14; Eph. 5:2; Rom. 3:25, 26.
(l) Dan. 9:24, 26; Col. 1:19, 20; Eph. 1:11, 14; John 17:2; Heb. 9:12, 15.

VI. Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world: being yesterday and to-day the same, and forever.(m)

(m) Gal. 4:4, 5; Gen. 3:15; Rev. 13:8; Heb. 13:8.

VII. Christ, in the work of mediation, acteth according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself:(n) yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature, is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.(o)

(n) Heb. 9:14; I Pet. 3:18.
(o) Acts 20:28; John 3:13; I John 3:16.

VIII. To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same,(p) making intercession for them,(q) and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation,(r) effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by His Word and Spirit;(s) overcoming all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.(t)

(p) John 6:37, 39; John 10:15, 16.
(q) I John 2:1, 2; Rom. 8:34.
(r) John 15:13, 15; Eph. 1:7, 8, 9; John 17:6.
(s) John 14:26; Heb. 12:2; II Cor. 4:13; Rom. 8:9, 14; Rom. 15:18, 19; John 17:17.
(t) Ps. 110:1; I Cor. 15:25, 26; Mal. 4:2, 3; Col. 2:15.


Source: The original text of 1646, from the manuscript of Cornelius Burges, Assessor to the Westminster Assembly, with the Assembly’s proof texts, as published in the modern critical edition of 1937 by S. W. Carruthers.

Christology: The Work of Christ

In this section, the work of Christ will be interpreted through the lens of three major images:

  1. The Exodus. Here Christ redeemed his people from slavery, adopted them as sons, gave them an inheritance, and dwelt among them (Gal. 3:10–14; 4:4–7).
  2. Covenant. Here Christ forms a relationship with his people with precepts, penalties, and blessing (Rom. 5:12–21).
  3. Cultic/Sacrifice. Here Christ is seen as bearing the burden of sin, receiving the blessing of the Father, and cleansing the stain of his people (John 1:29, 36).

Reading Assignment

Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pages 191–228


This lecture surveys the three doctrines that form the biblical doctrine of salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification. In summary, Romans 5:1–10 is used to examine the relationships between these doctrines, leading to the following conclusion:

“Justification is the grace in which we stand. Sanctification is the grace by which we walk. Glorification is the grace for which we long.”

Reading Assignment

Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pages 245–342

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapters 9–18

Chapter IX.
Of Free Will.

I. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.(a)

(a) Matt. 17:12; James 1:14; Deut. 30:19.

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good, and well pleasing to God;(b) but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.(c)

(b) Eccles. 7:29; Gen. 1:26.
(c) Gen. 2:16, 17; Gen. 3:6.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation:(d) so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,(e) and dead in sin,(f) is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.(g)

(d) Rom. 5:6; Rom 8:7; John 15:5.
(e) Rom. 3:10, 12.
(f) Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13.
(g) John 6:44, 65; Eph. 2:2, 3, 4, 5; I Cor. 2:14; Titus 3:3, 4, 5.

IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin;(h) and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good;(i) yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.(k)

(h) Col. 1:13; John 8:34, 36.
(i) Phil. 2:13; Rom. 6:18, 22.
(k) Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:15, 18, 19, 21, 23.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone, in the state of glory only.(l)

(l) Eph. 4:13; Heb. 12:23; I John 3:2; Jude ver. 24.

Chapter X.
Of Effectual Calling.

I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time effectually to call,(a) by His Word and Spirit,(b) out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ;(c) enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God,(d) taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh;(e) renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power determining them to that which is good,(f) and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ:(g) yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.(h)

(a) Rom. 8:30; Rom. 11:7; Eph. 1:10, 11.
(b) II Thess. 2:13, 14; II Cor. 3:3, 6.
(c) Rom. 8:2; Eph. 2:1, 2, 3, 4, 5; II Tim. 1:9, 10.
(d) Acts 26:18; I Cor. 2:10, 12; Eph. 1:17, 18.
(e) Ezek. 36:26.
(f) Ezek. 11:19; Phil. 2:13; Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:27.
(g) Eph. 1:19; John 6:44, 45.
(h) Cant. 1:4; Ps. 110:3; John 6:37; Rom. 6:16, 17, 18.

II. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man,(i) who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit,(k) he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.(l)

(i) II Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:4, 5; Eph. 2:4, 5, 8, 9; Rom. 9:11.
(k) I Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:7; Eph. 2:5.
(l) John 6:37; Ezek. 36:27; John 5:25.

III. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ through the Spirit,(m) who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth:(n) so also, are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.(o)

(m) Luke 18:15, 16, and Acts 2:38, 39 and John 3:3, 5 and I John 5:12 & Rom. 8:9 compared.
(n) John 3:8.
(o) I John 5:12; Acts 4:12.

IV. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word,(p) and may have some common operations of the Spirit,(q) yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved:(r) much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess.(s) And to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.(t)

(p) Matt. 22:14.
(q) Matt. 7:22; Matt. 13:20, 21; Heb. 6:4, 5.
(r) John 6:64, 65, 66; John 8:24.
(s) Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Eph. 2:12; John 4:22; John 17:3.
(t) II John ver. 9, 10, 11; I Cor. 16:22; Gal. 1:6, 7, 8.

Chapter XI.
Of Justification.

I. Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth;(a) not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,(b) they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.(c)

(a) Rom. 8:30; Rom. 3:24.
(b) Rom. 4:5, 6, 7, 8; II Cor. 5:19, 21; Rom. 3:22, 24, 25, 27, 28; Tit. 3:5, 7; Eph. 1:7; Jer. 23:6; I Cor. 1:30, 31; Rom. 5:17, 18, 19.
(c) Acts 10:43; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:19; Acts 13:38, 39; Eph. 2:7, 8.

II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification;(d) yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.(e)

(d) John 1:12; Rom. 3:28; Rom. 5:1.
(e) Jam. 2:17, 22, 26; Gal. 5:6.

III. Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Father’s justice in their behalf.(f) Yet, inasmuch as He was given by the Father for them;(g) and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead;(h) and both freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace;(i) that both the exact justice, and rich grace of God, might be glorified in the justification of sinners.(k)

(f) Rom. 5:8, 9, 10, 19; I Tim. 2:5, 6; Heb. 10:10, 14; Dan. 9:24, 26; Isa. 53:4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12.
(g) Rom. 8:32.
(h) II Cor. 5:21; Matt. 3:17; Eph. 5:2.
(i) Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7.
(k) Rom. 3:26; Eph. 2:7.

IV. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect,(l) and Christ did, in the fulness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification:(m) nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.(n)

(l) Gal. 3:8; I Pet. 1:2, 19, 20; Rom. 8:30.
(m) Gal. 4:4; I Tim. 2:6; Rom. 4:25.
(n) Col. 1:21, 22; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

V. God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified:(o) and although they can never fall from the state of justification;(p) yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.(q)

(o) Matt. 6:12; I John 1:7, 9; I John 2:1, 2.
(p) Luke 22:32; John 10:28; Heb. 10:14.
(q) Ps. 89:31, 32, 33; Ps. 51:7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12; Ps. 32:5; Matt. 26:75; I Cor. 11:30, 32; Luke 1:20.

VI. The justification of believers under the old testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the new testament.(r)

(r) Gal. 3:9, 13, 14; Rom. 4:22, 23, 24; Heb. 13:8.

Chapter XII.
Of Adoption.

All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption:(a) by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God,(b) have His name put upon them,(c) receive the spirit of adoption,(d) have access to the throne of grace with boldness,(e) are enabled to cry, Abba, Father,(f) are pitied,(g) protected,(h) provided for,(i) and chastened by Him as by a Father;(k) yet never cast off,(l) but sealed to the day of redemption,(m) and inherit the promises,(n) as heirs of everlasting salvation.(o)

(a) Eph. 1:5.
(b) Gal. 4:4, 5; Rom. 8:17; John 1:12.
(c) Jer. 14:9; II Cor. 6:18; Rev. 3:12.
(d) Rom. 8:15.
(e) Eph. 3:12; Rom. 5:2.
(f) Gal. 4:6.
(g) Ps. 103:13.
(h) Prov. 14:26.
(i) Matt. 6:30, 32; I Pet. 5:7.
(k) Heb. 12:6.
(l) Lam. 3:31.
(m) Eph. 4:30.
(n) Heb. 6:12.
(o) I Pet. 1:3, 4; Heb. 1:14.

Chapter XIII.
Of Sanctification.

I. They who are once effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection,(a) by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them:(b) the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed,(c) and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified;(d) and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces,(e) to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.(f)

(a) I Cor. 6:11; Acts 20:32; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5, 6.
(b) John 17:17; Eph. 5:26; II Thess. 2:13.
(c) Rom. 6:6, 14.
(d) Gal. 5:24; Rom. 8:13.
(e) Col. 1:11; Eph. 3:16, 17, 18, 19.
(f) II Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:14.

II. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man;(g) yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part:(h) whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.(i)

(g) I Thess. 5:23.
(h) I John 1:10; Rom. 7:18, 23; Phil. 3:12.
(i) Gal. 5:17; I Pet. 2:11.

III. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail;(k) yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome;(l) and so, the saints grow in grace,(m) perfecting holiness in the fear of God.(n)

(k) Rom. 7:23.
(l) Rom. 6:14; I John 5:4; Eph. 4:15, 16.
(m) II Pet. 3:18; II Cor. 3:18.
(n) II Cor. 7:1.

Chapter XIV.
Of Saving Faith.

I. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls,(a) is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts;(b) and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word:(c) by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.(d)

(a) Heb. 10:39.
(b) II Cor. 4:13; Eph. 1:17, 18, 19; Eph. 2:8.
(c) Rom. 10:14, 17.
(d) I Pet. 2:2; Acts 20:32; Rom. 4:11; Luke 17:5; Rom. 1:16, 17.

II. By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein;(e) and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands,(f) trembling at the threatenings,(g) and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come.(h) But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.(i)

(e) John 4:42; I Thess. 2:13; I John 5:10; Acts 24:14.
(f) Rom. 16:26.
(g) Isa. 66:2.
(h) Heb. 11:13; I Tim. 4:8.
(i) John 1:12; Acts 16:31; Gal. 2:20; Acts 15:11.

III. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong;(k) may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory;(l) growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ,(m) who is both the author and finisher of our faith.(n)

(k) Heb. 5:13, 14; Rom. 4:19, 20; Matt. 6:30; Matt. 8:10.
(l) Luke 22:31, 32; Eph. 6:16; I John 5:4, 5.
(m) Heb. 6:11, 12; Heb. 10:22; Col. 2:2.
(n) Heb. 12:2.

Chapter XV.
Of Repentance unto Life.

I. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace,(a) the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.(b)

(a) Zech. 12:10; Acts 11:18.
(b) Luke 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21.

II. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God,(c) purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.(d)

(c) Ezek. 18:30, 31; Ezek. 36:31; Isa. 30:22; Ps. 51:4; Jer. 31:18, 19; Joel 2:12, 13; Amos 5:15; Ps. 119:128; II Cor. 7:11.
(d) Ps. 119:6, 59, 106; Luke 1:6; II Kings 23:25.

III. Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof,(e) which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ;(f) yet is it of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.(g)

(e) Ezek. 36:31, 32; Ezek. 16:61, 62, 63.
(f) Hosea 14:2, 4; Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7.
(g) Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30, 31.

IV. As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation,(h) so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.(i)

(h) Rom. 6:23; Rom. 5:12; Matt. 12:36.
(i) Isa. 55:7; Rom. 8:1; Isa. 1:16, 18.

V. Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins, particularly.(k)

(k) Ps. 19:13; Luke 19:8; I Tim. 1:13, 15.

VI. As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof;(l) upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy:(m) so, he that scandalizeth his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession, and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended,(n) who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.(o)

(l) Ps. 51:4, 5, 7, 9, 14; Ps. 32:5, 6.
(m) Prov. 28:13; I John 1:9.
(n) James 5:16; Luke 17:3, 4; Joshua 7:19; Ps. 51 throughout.
(o) II Cor. 2:8.

Chapter XVI.
Of Good Works.

I. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His holy Word,(a) and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intention.(b)

(a) Micah 6:8; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 13:21.
(b) Matt. 15:9; Isa. 29:13; I Pet. 1:18; Rom. 10:2; John 16:2; I Sam. 15:21, 22, 23.

II. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith:(c) and by them believers manifest their thankfulness,(d) strengthen their assurance,(e) edify their brethren,(f) adorn the profession of the Gospel,(g) stop the mouths of the adversaries,(h) and glorify God,(i) whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto;(k) that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.(l)

(c) James 2:18, 22.
(d) Ps. 116:12, 13; I Pet. 2:9.
(e) I John 2:3, 5; II Pet. 1:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
(f) II Cor. 9:2; Matt. 5:16.
(g) Tit. 2:5, 9, 10, 11, 12; I Tim. 6:1.
(h) I Pet. 2:15.
(i) I Pet. 2:12; Phil. 1:11; John 15:8.
(k) Eph. 2:10.
(l) Rom. 6:22.

III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.(m) And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure:(n) yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty, unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.(o)

(m) John 15:4, 5; Ezek. 36:26, 27.
(n) Phil. 2:13; Phil. 4:13; II Cor. 3:5.
(o) Phil. 2:12; Heb. 6:11, 12; II Pet. 1:3, 5, 10, 11; Isa. 64:7; II Tim. 1:6; Acts 26:6, 7; Jude ver. 20, 21.

IV. They, who in their obedience attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.(p)

(p) Luke 17:10; Neh. 13:22; Job 9:2, 3; Gal. 5:17.

V. We cannot, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins,(q) but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants;(r) and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit;(s) and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.(t)

(q) Rom. 3:20; Rom. 4:2, 4, 6; Eph. 2:8, 9; Tit. 3:5, 6, 7; Rom. 8:18; Ps. 16:2; Job 22:2, 3; Job 35:7, 8.
(r) Luke 17:10.
(s) Gal. 5:22, 23.
(t) Isa. 64:6; Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:15, 18; Ps. 143:2; Ps. 130:3.

VI. Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him,(u) not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreproveable in God’s sight;(w) but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.(x)

(u) Eph. 1:6; I Pet. 2:5; Exod. 28:38; Gen. 4:4 with Heb. 11:4.
(w) Job. 9:20; Ps. 143:2.
(x) Heb. 13:20, 21; II Cor. 8:12; Heb. 6:10; Matt. 25:21, 23.

VII. Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter of them, they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others:(y) yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith;(z) nor are done in a right manner according to the Word;(a) nor to a right end, the glory of God;(b) they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God.(c) And yet, their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.(d)

(y) II Kings 10:30, 31; I Kings 21:27, 29; Phil. 1:15, 16, 18.
(z) Gen. 4:5 with Heb. 11:4; Heb. 11:6.
(a) I Cor. 13:3; Isa. 1:12.
(b) Matt. 6:2, 5, 16.
(c) Hag. 2:14; Tit. 1:15; Amos 5:22, 23; Hosea 1:4; Rom. 9:16; Titus 3:5.
(d) Ps. 14:4; Ps. 36:3; Job 21:14, 15; Matt. 25:41, 42, 43, 45; Matt. 23:23.

Chapter XVII.
Of the Perseverance of the Saints.

I. They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally, nor finally, fall away from the state of grace: but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.(a)

(a) Phil. 1:6; II Pet. 1:10; John 10:28, 29; I John 3:9; I Pet. 1:5, 9.

II. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father;(b) upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ;(c) the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them;(d) and the nature of the covenant of grace:(e) from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.(f)

(b) II Tim. 2:18, 19; Jer. 31:3.
(c) Heb. 10:10, 14; Heb. 13:20, 21; Heb. 9:12, 13, 14, 15; Rom. 8:33 to the end; John 17:11, 24; Luke 22:32; Heb. 7:25.
(d) John 14:16, 17; I John 2:27; I John 3:9.
(e) Jer. 32:40.
(f) John 10:28; II Thess. 3:3; I John 2:19.

III. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins;(g) and, for a time, continue therein:(h) whereby they incur God’s displeasure,(i) and grieve His Holy Spirit,(k) come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts,(l) have their hearts hardened,(m) and their consciences wounded,(n) hurt and scandalize others,(o) and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.(p)

(g) Matt. 26:70, 72, 74.
(h) Ps. 51 title and ver. 14.
(i) Isa. 64:5, 7, 9; II Sam. 11:27.
(k) Eph. 4:30.
(l) Ps. 51:8, 10, 12; Rev. 2:4; Cant. 5:2, 3, 4, 6.
(m) Isa. 63:17; Mark 6:52; Mark 16:14.
(n) Ps. 32:3, 4; Ps. 51:8.
(o) II Sam. 12:14.
(p) Ps. 89:31, 32; I Cor. 11:32.

Chapter XVIII.
Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.

I. Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes, and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God, and estate of salvation;(a) which hope of theirs shall perish:(b) yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace,(c) and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.(d)

(a) Job 8:13, 14; Mic. 3:11; Deut. 29:19; John 8:41.
(b) Matt. 7:22, 23.
(c) I John 2:3; I John 3:14, 18, 19, 21, 24; I John 5:13.
(d) Rom. 5:2, 5.

II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope;(e) but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation,(f) the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made,(g) the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God:(h) which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.(i)

(e) Heb. 6:11, 19.
(f) Heb. 6:17, 18.
(g) II Pet. 1:4, 5, 10, 11; I John 2:3; I John 3:14; II Cor. 1:12.
(h) Rom. 8:15, 16.
(i) Eph. 1:13, 14; Eph. 4:30; II Cor. 1:21, 22.

III. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it:(k) yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto.(l) And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure;(m) that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance:(n) so far is it from inclining men to looseness.(o)

(k) I John 5:13; Isa. 50:10; Mark 9:24; Ps. 88 throughout; Ps. 77 to ver. 12.
(l) I Cor. 2:12; I John 4:13; Heb. 6:11, 12; Eph. 3:17, 18, 19.
(m) II Pet. 1:10.
(n) Rom. 5:1, 2, 5; Rom. 14:17; Rom. 15:13; Eph. 1:3, 4; Ps. 4:6, 7; Ps. 119:32.
(o) I John 2:1, 2; Rom. 6:1, 2; Tit. 2:11, 12, 14; II Cor. 7:1; Rom. 8:1, 12; I John 3:2, 3; Ps. 130:4; I John 1:6, 7.

IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light:(p) yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived;(q) and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.(r)

(p) Cant. 5:2, 3, 6; Ps. 51:8, 12, 14; Eph. 4:30, 31; Ps. 77:1 to 10; Matt. 26:69, 70, 71, 72; Ps. 31:22; Ps. 88 throughout; Isa. 50:10.
(q) I John 3:9; Luke 22:32; Job 13:15; Ps. 73:15; Ps. 51:8, 12; Isa. 50:10.
(r) Mic. 7:7, 8, 9; Jer. 32:40; Isa. 54:7, 8, 9, 10; Ps. 22:1; Ps. 88 throughout.


Source: The original text of 1646, from the manuscript of Cornelius Burges, Assessor to the Westminster Assembly, with the Assembly’s proof texts, as published in the modern critical edition of 1937 by S. W. Carruthers.

The Church

This final section begins by reviewing the concepts behind “systematic theology” and why it matters to believers before considering the doctrine of the Church. The lecture makes four key observations about the church:

  1. We cannot properly understand the nature of the church unless we properly understand the relationship between Christ and the church.
  2. The story of the Church is that of an ongoing, divine building project (Matt. 16:18).
  3. The description of the church (1 Pet. 2:4–10; Ex. 19:4–6; 19–24; 25–40) includes:
    1. A Purpose: kingdom of priests
    2. A People: covenant assembly
    3. A Place: tabernacle or temple
  4. The Church allows for ultimate happiness in God with other believers.

Reading Assignment

Horton, Pilgrim Theology, pages 343–420

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapters 25–31

Chapter XXV.
Of the Church.

I. The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.(a)

(a) Eph. 1:10, 22, 23; Eph. 5:23, 27, 32; Col. 1:18.

II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion;(b) and of their children:(c) and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ,(d) the house and family of God,(e) out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.(f)

(b) I Cor. 1:2; I Cor. 12:12, 13; Ps. 2:8; Rev. 7:9; Rom. 15:9, 10, 11, 12.
(c) I Cor. 7:14; Acts 2:39; Ezek. 16:20, 21; Rom. 11:16; Gen. 3:15; Gen. 17:7.
(d) Matt. 13:47; Isa. 9:7.
(e) Eph. 2:19; Eph. 3:15.
(f) Acts 2:47.

III. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.(g)

(g) I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11, 12, 13; Matt. 28:19, 20; Isa. 59:21.

IV. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible.(h) And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.(i)

(h) Rom. 11:3, 4; Rev. 12:6, 14.
(i) Rev. 2 and 3; I Cor. 5:6, 7.

V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error:(k) and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.(l) Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will.(m)

(k) I Cor. 13:12; Rev. 2 and 3; Matt. 13:24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 47.
(l) Rev. 18:2; Rom. 11:18, 19, 20, 21, 22.
(m) Matt. 16:18; Ps. 72:17; Ps. 102:28; Matt. 28:19, 20.

VI. There is no other head of the Church, but the Lord Jesus Christ;(n) nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.(o)

(n) Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22.
(o) Matt. 23:8, 9, 10; II Thess. 2:3, 4, 8, 9; Rev. 13:6.

Chapter XXVI.
Of the Communion of the Saints.

I. All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head by His Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory:(a) and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces,(b) and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.(c)

(a) John 1:3; Eph. 3:16, 17, 18, 19; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5, 6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5, 6; II Tim. 2:12.
(b) Eph. 4:15, 16; I Cor. 12:7; I Cor. 3:21, 22, 23; Col. 2:19.
(c) I Thess. 5:11, 14; Rom. 1:11, 12, 14; I John 3:16, 17, 18; Gal. 6:10.

II. Saints by profession are bound to maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God; and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification;(d) as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities, and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.(e)

(d) Heb. 10:24, 25; Acts 2:42, 46; Isa. 2:3; I Cor. 11:20.
(e) Acts 2:44, 45; I John 3:17; II Cor. 8 and 9 chapters; Acts 11:29, 30.

III. This communion which the saints have with Christ, doth not make them, in any wise, partakers of the substance of His Godhead; or to be equal with Christ, in any respect: either of which to affirm is impious and blasphemous.(f) Nor doth their communion one with another, as saints, take away, or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions.(g)

(f) Col. 1:18, 19; I Cor. 8:6; Isa. 42:8; I Tim. 6:15, 16; Ps. 45:7, with Heb. 1:8, 9.
(g) Exod. 20:15; Eph. 4:28; Acts 5:4.

Chapter XXVII.
Of the Sacraments.

I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace,(a) immediately instituted by God,(b) to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him;(c) as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world;(d) and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.(e)

(a) Rom. 4:11; Gen. 17:7, 10.
(b) Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 11:23.
(c) I Cor. 10:16; I Cor. 11:25, 26; Gal. 3:17.
(d) Rom. 15:8; Exod. 12:48; Gen. 34:14.
(e) Rom. 6:3, 4; I Cor. 10:16, 21.

II. There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.(f)

(f) Gen. 17:10; Matt. 26:27, 28; Tit. 3:5.

III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it:(g) but upon the work of the Spirit,(h) and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.(i)

(g) Rom. 2:28, 29; I Pet. 3:21.
(h) Matt. 3:11; I Cor. 12:13.
(i) Matt. 26:27, 28; Matt. 28:19, 20.

IV. There are only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.(k)

(k) Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 11:20, 23, I Cor. 4:1; Heb. 5:4.

V. The sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard to the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New.(l)

(l) I Cor. 10:1, 2, 3, 4.

Chapter XXVIII.
Of Baptism.

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ,(a) not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church;(b) but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace,(c) of his ingrafting into Christ,(d) of regeneration,(e) of remission of sins,(f) and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.(g) Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.(h)

(a) Matt. 28:19.
(b) I Cor. 12:13.
(c) Rom. 4:11 with Col. 2:11, 12.
(d) Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:5.
(e) Tit. 3:5.
(f) Mark 1:4.
(g) Rom. 6:3, 4.
(h) Matt. 28:19, 20.

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.(i)

(i) Matt. 3:11; John 1:33; Matt. 28:19, 20.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.(k)

(k) Heb. 9:10, 19, 20, 21, 22; Acts 2:41; Acts 16:33; Mark 7:4.

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ,(l) but also the infants of one or both believing parents, are to be baptized.(m)

(l) Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 8:37, 38.
(m) Gen. 17:7, 9, 10 with Gal. 3:9, 14 and Col. 2:11, 12 & Acts 2:38, 39 & Rom. 4:11, 12; I Cor. 7:14; Matt. 28:19; Mark 10:13, 14, 15, 16; Luke 18:15.

V. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance,(n) yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it;(o) or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.(p)

(n) Luke 7:30 with Exod. 4:24, 25, 26.
(o) Rom. 4:11; Acts 10:2, 4, 22, 31, 45, 47.
(p) Acts 8:13, 23.

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered;(q) yet notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.(r)

(q) John 3:5, 8.
(r) Gal. 3:27; Titus 3:5; Eph. 5:25, 26; Acts 2:38, 41.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.(s)

(s) Titus 3:5.

Chapter XXIX.
Of the Lord’s Supper.

I. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.(a)

(a) I Cor. 11:23, 24, 25, 26; I Cor. 10:16, 17, 21; I Cor. 12:13.

II. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sins of the quick or dead;(b) but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same:(c) so that the Popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.(d)

(b) Heb. 9:22, 25, 26, 28.
(c) I Cor. 11:24, 25, 26; Matt. 26:26, 27.
(d) Heb. 7:23, 24, 27; Heb. 10:11, 12, 14, 18.

III. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants;(e) but to none who are not then present in the congregation.(f)

(e) Matt. 26:26, 27, 28 & Mark 14:22, 23, 24 and Luke 22:19, 20 with I Cor. 11:23, 24, 25, 26.
(f) Acts. 20:7; I Cor. 11:20.

IV. Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest or any other alone;(g) as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people,(h) worshipping the elements, the lifting them up or carrying them about for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.(i)

(g) I Cor. 10:16.
(h) Mark 14:23; I Cor. 11:25, 26, 27, 28, 29.
(i) Matt. 15:9.

V. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ;(k) albeit in substance and nature they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.(l)

(k) Matt. 26:26, 27, 28.
(l) I Cor. 11:26, 27, 28; Matt. 26:29.

VI. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries.(m)

(m) Acts 3:21 with I Cor. 11:24, 25, 26; Luke 24:6, 39.

VII. Worthy receivers outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament,(n) do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.(o)

(n) I Cor. 11:28.
(o) I Cor. 10:16.

VIII. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament: yet they receive not the thing signified thereby, but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries,(p) or be admitted thereunto.(q)

(p) I Cor. 11:27, 28, 29; II Cor. 6:14, 15, 16.
(q) I Cor. 5:6, 7, 13; II Thess. 3:6, 14, 15; Matt. 7:6.

Chapter XXX.
Of Church Censures.

I. The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His Church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.(a)

(a) Isa. 9:6, 7; I Tim. 5:17; I Thess. 5:12; Acts 20:17, 28; Heb. 13:7, 17, 24; I Cor. 12:28; Matt. 28:18, 19, 20.

II. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed: by virtue whereof, they have power respectively to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.(b)

(b) Matt. 16:19; Matt. 18:17, 18; John 20:21, 22, 23; II Cor. 2:6, 7, 8.

III. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offences, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the Gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the Church, if they should suffer His covenant and the seals thereof to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.(c)

(c) I Cor. 5 chap.; I Tim. 5:20; Matt. 7:6; I Tim. 1:20; I Cor. 11:27 to the end, with Jude ver. 23.

IV. For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the Church; according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.(d)

(d) I Thess. 5:12; II Thess. 3:6, 14, 15; I Cor. 5:4, 5, 13; Matt. 18:17; Tit. 3:10.

Chapter XXXI.
Of Synods and Councils.

I. For the better government, and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils.(a)

(a) Acts 15:2, 4, 6.

II. As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers, and other fit persons, to consult and advise with, about matters of religion;(b) so, if magistrates be open enemies to the Church, the ministers of Christ of themselves, by virtue of their office, or they, with other fit persons upon delegation from their Churches, may meet together in such assemblies.(c)

(b) Isa. 49:23; I Tim. 2:1, 2; II Chron. 19:8, 9, 10, 11; II Chron. 29, 30 chaps.; Matt. 2:4, 5; Prov. 11:14.
(c) Acts 15:2, 4, 22, 23, 25.

III. It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.(d)

(d) Acts 15:15, 19, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31; Acts 16:4; Matt. 18:17, 18, 19, 20.

III. All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.(e)

(e) Eph. 2:20; Acts 17:11; I Cor. 2:5; II Cor. 1:24.

IV. Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude, nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth; unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.(f)

(f) Luke 12:13, 14; John 18:36.


Source: The original text of 1646, from the manuscript of Cornelius Burges, Assessor to the Westminster Assembly, with the Assembly’s proof texts, as published in the modern critical edition of 1937 by S. W. Carruthers.