Today, with much conversation revolving around whether or not theology is even an appropriate endeavor at all, this idea of “good and necessary consequences” takes on renewed import. For Christians of all stripes, a reading of the Bible which fails to derive good theological deductions which pertain to godliness and right living can be detrimental in a world where many of our everyday activities are not explicitly spoken of in Scripture. And yet, we can be sure that all of God’s word is sufficient for “all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, and is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence can 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.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith begins with one of the most well articulated statements concerning the doctrine of Scripture. And incorporated right into the Confession is an ever so brief clause on how one might dotheology. The clause was placed there to be an expression defending the sufficiency of Scripture in all of life. In chapter 1, paragraph six, the Westminster divines stated that “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 consequences may be deduced from Scripture…”
As Robert Letham has put it, the phrase “by good and necessary consequences…is a profoundly important statement. It points to the need for careful thought in reading, preaching, and thinking about the Bible. It mandates theology.” And Letham is right. No preaching or theological work can be done rightly unless the church is willing to deduce from scripture good and necessary consequences in order to bring about doctrinal clarity and practical application.
Louis Berkhof underscores this very mandate to do theology when he writes that “the word dogma is derived from the Greek verb dokein… [expressing the idea] not only, ‘it seems to me’, or, ‘I am of the opinion’, but also, ‘I have come to the conclusion’, ‘I am certain’, ‘it is my conviction’. And it is especially this idea of certainty that finds expression in the word ‘dogma’… [Thus] religious dogmas are based on divine revelation (either real or supposed), and are therefore authoritative.” It is here where we see the good and necessary function of theology finding it’s authoritative grounding in God’s authoritative word.
William Cunningham (1805-1861), reflecting back upon the Westminster Confession, noted that many people express an extreme “dislike to precise and definite [theological] statements upon the great subjects brought before us in the sacred Scriptures. This dislike to precision in doctrinal statements, sometimes assumes the form of reverence for the Bible… [with] an unwillingness to mix up the reasonings and deductions of men with the direct declarations of God.” He continues though that “we believe it arises… from a dislike to the controlling influence of Scripture [and] from a desire to escape…the authority… of its regulating power as an infallible rule of faith and duty.” He concludes that “that we are bound to receive as true, on God’s authority, not only what is ‘expressly set down in Scripture,’ but also what, ‘by good and necessary consequences, may be deduced from Scripture.”