Westminster Confession

Brief History

The Westminster Confession of Faith is one document of several commissioned by the English parliament during the English Civil War (1642-1649), in which armies raised by the parliament, in league with Scotland, battled forces loyal to the tyrannical King Charles I and his bishops. The Confession was commissioned from an assembly of 121 Puritan clergymen meeting in Westminster Abbey, called the Westminster Assembly, which was convened in 1643 for the purpose of drafting official documents for the reformation of the Church of England. This was done in fulfillment of a Solemn League and Covenant made with the Scottish parliament and people in the same year, to the effect that the episcopal Anglican establishment, which for many years had harassed and persecuted the Presbyterian Scottish church, should be abolished even in England, and replaced with a Presbyterian establishment which would constantly adhere to Calvinistic standards of doctrine and worship. It was only under such terms that the Scots were willing to join the parliamentary forces in their war against the King.

In 1647 the completed Confession of Faith, which was entirely satisfactory to the Scottish commissioners present at the Assembly, was sent to the English parliament for ratification. It was returned to the Assembly by the House of Commons, which required the Assembly to present a copy of the Confession with proof texts from Scripture. After a period of debate the Confession was then partly adopted by the English parliament as Articles of Christian Religion in 1648, with the omission of some sections. The Westminster Confession was adopted entire by the General Assembly of the Scottish Church in 1647 and ratified by the Scottish parliament in 1649. These acts of the English and Scottish parliaments were then nullified at the restoration of the Anglican episcopacy together with the British monarchy in 1660. After the Revolution of 1688, in which the intolerable Roman Catholic King James II was replaced by William of Orange, the Scottish parliament again ratified the Confession without change in 1690, to which the royal sanction was promptly granted by the new King.

A complete version of the Westminster Confession of Faith is available here.

Outline of the Westminster Confession of Faith

Sola Scriptura

Ch 1 The Scriptures

Sovereignty of God

Ch 2 God and the Holy Trinity

Ch 3 God's Eternal Decrees

Ch 4 Creation

Ch 5 Providence

Human Nature

Ch 6 The Fall

Christ as Mediator

Ch 7 God's Covenant

Ch 8 Christ the Mediator


Ch 9 Free Will

Ch 10 Effectual Calling

Ch 11 Justification


Ch 12 Adoption


Ch 13 Sanctification

Faith and Works

Ch 14 Saving Faith

Ch 15 Repentance

Ch 16 Works

Perseverance of the Saints

Ch 17 Perseverance of the Saints

Ch 18 Assurance of Grace and Salvation

Law of God

Ch 19-24

Community of Faith

Ch 25 The Church

Ch 26 Communion of Saints


Ch 27-29

Church Organization

Ch 30 Church Censures

Ch 31 Synods and Councils

Final Judgment

Ch 32 State of Man After Death and the Resurrect

Ch 33 The Last Judgment

Special Topics

Sovereignty of God

2.1. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

3.1. God from all eternity by the most and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordained whatever comes to pass; yet because of that neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

3.3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.

3.6. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means to accomplish it. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam and redeemed by Christ, are effectually called to faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

5.1. God, the great Creator of all things, upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

5.2. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet, by the same providence, he orderes them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

5.3. God, in his ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.

But we also have free will, as we see in Chapter 9:

9.1. God has 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.

9.2. Man, in his state of innocence, had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well-pleasing to God; but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it.

9.3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself for it.

9.4. When God converts a sinner and translates him into the state of grace, he frees him from his natural bondage under sin, and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but also wills that which is evil.

9.5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutable free to good alone, in the state of glory only.

This view of divine sovereignty sees God as the controller of all things, which includes the free actions of creatures. Loraine Boettner explains how these two are reconcilable for the Calvinist:

While the act remains that of the individual, it is nevertheless due more or less to the predisposing agency and efficacy of divine power exerted in lawful ways. This may be illustrated to a certain extent in the case of a man who wishes to construct a building. He decides on his plan. Then he hires carpenters, masons, plumbers, etc., to do the work. These men are not forced to do the work. No compulsion of any kind is used. The owner simply offers the necessary inducements by way of wages, working conditions, and so on, so that the men work freely and gladly. They do in detail just what he plans for them to do. His is the primary and theirs is the secondary will or cause for the construction of the building. We often direct the actions of our fellow men without infringing on their freedom or responsibility. In a similar way and to an infinitely greater degree God can direct our actions. His will for the course of events is the primary cause and man's will is the secondary cause; and the two work together in perfect harmony.

If these two paradoxical truths can be harmonized on the human level, how much more should we expect them to be able to be reconciled in the infinite mind of God. Thus, Calvinism's notion that God's sovereignty and man's freedom can be reconciled because God has not only chosen the ends, He has also chosen the means to the ends. These means include the circumstances and factors which are necessary to convince an individual that the act which God has decreed is the act that the person wants to do. This is accomplished entirely without constraint.

Another example from Boettner:

We are often absolutely certain how we will act under given conditions so far as we are free to act at all. A parent may be certain that he will rescue a child in distress, and that in doing so he will act freely.


A father often knows how his son will act under given circumstances and by controlling these he determines beforehand the course of action which the son follows, yet the son acts freely. If he plans that the son shall be doctor, he gives him encouragement along that line, persuades him to read certain books, to attend certain schools, and so presents the outside inducements that his plan works out. In the same manner and to an infinitely greater extent God controls our actions so that they are certain although we act freely. His decree does not produce the event, but only renders its occurrence certain; and the same decree which determines the certainty of the action at the same time determines the freedom of the agent in the act.

From Charles Hedrick at http://geneva.rutgers.edu/src/christianity/predest.html

Of the things I've seen from the 16th Century, Calvin dealt with this the most clearly. He maintained that predestination does not remove human responsibility. In effect, he suggested that there are two different accounts for the same event, one in human terms and one in God's terms. God has a plan for our individual lives and history as a whole. Everything that happens fits into that plan. However he normally works through secondary causes. When someone does something, it is because they make a decision to do so. God knew what that decision would be. Indeed because the person's character, motivations, and situation is under God's control, there's a sense in which we can say that God determined the action. But his plan is carried out by the working out of human decisions and other historical causes.

Calvin looks at the example of the Sabeans' violence against Job's household near the beginning of Job. There are three levels of responsibility here. The Sabeans are responsible for the violence, motivated by whatever motivates vandals, presumably a desire for loot. But they are also acting as Satan's agents to test Job. Thus in another sense Satan is responsible. His goal is to show up Job. He somehow moved the Sabeans to attack Job's family. However even Satan is acting accordance with God's plan. God's intention is to vindicate Job's character and his own justice. The event is completely intelligible on any of these three levels: human, Satan's plan, and God's plan. In fact all three accounts are true.

Calvin also points out that God carries out his plan differently when dealing with people who have faith in him and those who do not. Everyone ends up acting in accordance with his plans. But with those who have faith, there is a conscious collaboration. God works with them through the Holy Spirit, and moves them directly in the way he intends. The ungodly do not intentionally cooperate with God. They still do his will, but they do it because he has set up the situation so that they end up doing what he wants.

In summary: Calvinism says that God is wholly responsible for salvation. God forgives us, engrafts us into Christ, regenerates us, and moves us through the power of the Holy Spirit. However this is looking at things from God's perspective. There is another account, that looks at things from a human perspective. God normally operates through historical causes. These various influences shape our character and our goals. However we still make decisions, for which we are properly held responsible.

Effectual Calling

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

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


11.1 Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing 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, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

11.2 Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.

11.3 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. Yet, in as much as He was given by the Father for them; and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for any thing in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice, and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

Perseverance of the Saints

17.1 They, whom God has 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.

17.2 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; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

Assurance of Grace and Salvation

18.1 ...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, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.

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