The Sum of Saving Knowledge

I recently came upon this wonderful little work as it was contained in my recent purchased of the Westminster Confession of Faith (with accompanying materials). The Sum of Saving Knowledge was written around 1645 by David Dickson and James Durham, two Scottish Presbyterian Ministers and theologians. Thinking that the Westminster Catechisms were “too large and dark,” they drafted this summary and application of the standards for the edification of the church.

“The Sum” was so widely accepted and familiar among the churches, that within 20 years it was printed along with the Confessional Standards (the Confession of Faith and Catechisms), though never formally adopted as part of the standards.

One of my favorite authors, Robert Murray M’Cheyne noted in his journal in 1834 that it was through the reading the Sum of Saving Knowledge that “wrought a saving change in me.” I cannot recommend this work highly enough, it is simple and straightforward, and helps to articulate the faith and even evangelize the lost.

I have included a link here to download a .PDF or Ebook edition of the Sum of Saving Knowledge, as well as a link to a website where you can read it online. I’ve have also included the Brief Outline of the Sum below, and a quote from the Sum on the Covenant of Redemption.

Outline:

THE CONTENTS OF THE SUM OF SAVING KNOWLEDGE
Heads.

I. Our woeful condition by nature
II. The remedy provided in Christ Jesus
III. The means provided in the covenant of grace
IV. The blessings conveyed by these means

The Use of Saving Knowledge

1. For convincing of sin by the law
2. Of righteousness by the law
3. Of judgment by the law
4. For convincing of sin, righteousness, and judgment by the gospel

Warrants and Motives to Believe

1. God’s hearty invitation
2. His earnest request to be reconciled
3. His command, charging all to believe
4. Much assurance of life given to believers

Evidences of true Faith

1. Conviction of the believer’s obligation to keep the moral law
2. That the believer practise the rules of godliness and righteousness
3. That obedience to the law run in the right channel of faith in Christ
4. The keeping of strait communion with Christ, the fountain of all grace and good works

On the Covenant of Redemption:

The sum of the covenant of redemption is this: God having freely chosen unto life a certain number of lost mankind, for the glory of his rich grace, did give them, before the world began, unto God the Son, appointed Redeemer, that, upon condition he would humble himself so far as to assume the human nature, of a soul and a body, unto personal union with his divine nature, and submit himself to the law, as surety for them, and satisfy justice for them, by giving obedience in their name, even unto the suffering of the cursed death of the cross, he should ransom and redeem them all from sin and death, and purchase unto them righteousness and eternal life, with all saving graces leading thereunto, to be effectually, by means of his own appointment, applied in due time to every one of them. This condition the Son of God (who is Jesus Christ our Lord) did accept before the world began, and in the fulness of time came into the world, was born of the Virgin Mary, subjected himself to the law, and completely paid the ransom on the cross: But by virtue of the aforesaid bargain, made before the world began, he is in all ages, since the fall of Adam, still upon the work of applying actually the purchased benefits unto the elect; and that he doth by way of entertaining a covenant of free grace and reconciliation with them through faith in himself; by which covenant, he makes over to every believer a right and interest to himself, and to all his blessings.

III. For the accomplishment of this covenant of redemption, and making the elect partakers of the benefits thereof in the covenant of grace, Christ Jesus was clad with the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King; made a Prophet, to reveal all saving knowledge to his people, and to persuade them to believe and obey the same; made a Priest, to offer up himself a sacrifice once for them all, and to intercede continually with the Father, for making their persons and services acceptable to him; and made a King, to subdue them to himself, to feed and rule them by his own appointed ordinances, and to defend them from their enemies.

Westminster Assembly. The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition. Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851. Print.

Happy Reading!

SDG

A Personal Hermeneutic

How you read the Bible matters.

This is what the study of Hermeneutics is all about, the theories of interpretation and application of a text, usually referring to how we approach God’s Word. There’s an excellent article on Theopedia that explains what is meant by hermeneutics: but I’ll give a brief summary here:

A sound Biblical hermeneutic considers the the context of the passage, the genre and literary devices of the passage, and the situation of the author and the intended audience of the passage in order to understand the meaning and application of the text. In other words, a good hermeneutic seeks to draw out the meaning of the text and apply it to our lives today, rather than read our lives today into the text and see how it fits.

Still, having an “originalist hermeneutic,” or an exegetical approach to the Scriptures, does not keep one from also reading with a very personal view. Reading exegetically does not keep me from inserting myself into the story. 

For example, when Paul addresses saints or the Church, I can read that as being addressed to me as well. I may not share in their exact experience, but the word still applies to my life. When the Scriptures describe the struggle of the faithful in this life, I can see comparisons to the struggles that the faithful still face today, and draw from the same well of hope that has comforted God’s people through the generations.

Today, this Personal Hermeneutic hit a little close to home. M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan, which I’ve mentioned often in previous blogs, brought me back to Genesis with the start of the New Year, and this morning I came to the reading of Genesis 6. Here we read of the increasing corruption of the human condition, culminating in the damning passage of Genesis 6:5:

“The Lord say that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5 ESV).

Wow. Such a judgement on the wickedness of the heart of humanity, it was only evil, all the time.  Ever affection, every plan, every thought, every hope of every person was self-centered, self-indulgent, self-promoting, and self-seeking. Nothing was directed toward God. None (except for Noah) sought His ways or sought His face.

It’s easy to see the connection to Paul’s review of the state of humanity in Romans 1:29-32:

“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:29–32 ESV).

And it’s easy to see how this applies to our age today. We look around us and we see this in our culture, in the media and entertainment, and even preached within many churches that have abandoned the gospel in order to gain the praise of the world.

But the point of the personal hermeneutic is how I read myself into this story. Where do I fit? By nature, I’m not Noah, nor one of his children. I’d be one of those scoffers, mocking him for building a boat when there wasn’t any rain. I know my heart, and apart from the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, it’s intentions are always evil all the time. I know that I am, by nature, like those in Romans 1:29-32.

My personal hermeneutic does not allow me to be the hero, the one righteous out of all the others. Instead, it brings me back to the reality of my own heart. I stand, like all the rest of humanity, as a sinner before a righteous and holy God, in desperate need of salvation. This hermeneutic is humbling, crushing…

But this personal hermeneutic is also life-giving. This view allows me to see that when Jesus says He came to save sinners, I know he came for me. I can read myself as Gomer, the bride who has been redeemed, never to stray again; the church purified and adorned, waiting for the day of the Bridegroom’s arrival. I see how Jesus took the flood of God’s wrath reserved for me, so that, because I am in Him by faith, I am safe and secure from all harm.

Every day I read the Bible, I don’t just read of some old story from long ago. I read of the wondrous, ongoing  working of our eternal God in our gracious Savior Jesus Christ. I see how God has worked, and continues to work, to bring about His good will for His own glory and for our benefit. 

I pray you find yourself in God’s word today, too.