A Great Gulf Cleft

Of historical interest:

“The significance of the Westminster Standards as a creed is to be found in the three facts that, historically speaking, they are the final crystallization of the elements of evangelical religion, after the conflicts of sixteen hundred years; scientifically speaking, they are the richest and most precise and best guarded statement ever penned of all that enters into evangelical religion and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world; and, religiously speaking, they are a notable monument of spiritual religion.

I. The gospel of the grace of God, or evangelical religion as we call it today, is, of course, the whole burden of the Scriptural revelation. But the Scriptural revelation does not supply the starting point, but the goal of the development of doctrine in the Church. There is a great gulf cleft between the writings of the apostles and their immediate successors, which is in nothing more marked than just in the slight grasp which the latter have on the principles of evangelical religion. It was not until Augustine, in opposition to the audacious assaults of Pelagianism, recovered for it the treasures of the gospel of grace, that the Church grasped them with any fulness or firmness. Nor even then was it able to retain them in their purity. The light which Augustine kindled faded again steadily until it was rekindled by the Reformation. It was once more obscured for the Lutheran churches by Melanchthonian synergism and the subsequent developments. Only among the Reformed was it retained in all its brightness, and that not without a struggle against not merely external foes but internal treason. In these struggles, however, the gem of the gospel was cut and polished, and it is on this account that the enunciation of the gospel in the Reformed Confessions attains its highest purity, and that among other Reformed Confessions the Westminster Confession, the product of the Puritan conflict, reaches a perfection of statement never elsewhere achieved.” (B.B. Warfield, The Significance of the Westminster Standards as a Creed,* in the Appendix of W.G.T. Shedd’s Calvinism Pure & Mixed, pp. 159-160; emphasis mine)

* This is a summary of an address ‘delivered, on its appointment, before the Presbytery of New York, Nov. 8, 1897’ and reprinted in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, ed. J.E. Meeter, vol. 2.