The Perspicuity of Scripture
by Burk Parsons
One of the most important but often most overlooked parts of our order of service at Saint Andrew’s Chapel is the prayer of illumination. In our liturgy, the prayer of illumination is situated between the reading of Scripture and the sermon. In our prayer, we humbly ask God to illumine His Word to us by the Holy Spirit so that we would rightly hear, understand, and apply what the Lord is saying to us in His Word. The reason it is one of the most important elements of our service is because we desperately need the Holy Spirit to help us understand His Word. The reason it is perhaps the most overlooked part of our service is because we too easily forget how dependent we are on the Holy Spirit to help us grasp the glorious truths of God’s sacred Word.
The Holy Spirit indwells us and enables us to interpret and apply His Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. We are utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Without Him, we cannot rightly understand anything in His Word. We don’t need to be great scholars to understand God’s Word, we simply need to be born-again, humble children indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Yet, even as believers, we know that not everything in Scripture is easy to understand.
In theology, we speak of the perspicuity of Scripture. The word perspicuity, simply put, means “clarity.” Oddly enough, the word perspicuity is one of the more unclear words we could use to speak of clarity. What’s more, when we say we believe in the perspicuity of Scripture, people sometimes get the wrong impression that we are implying that everything in Scripture is entirely clear and easy to understand. But that’s not the case. We know this both from experience and because the Word of God itself tells us that not everything in it is easy to understand. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7) explains what we believe when we speak of the perspicuity of Scripture: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all. Yet, those things that are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or another, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” In other words, not everything in Scripture is easy to understand, but what we must understand in order to be saved is clear. The hard sayings of Jesus aren’t found only in the Gospels, but throughout Scripture, since Jesus is the ultimate author of Scripture as the eternal Word of God.
Fundamentally, what is so hard about the hard sayings of Jesus is not our inability to understand them fully but to believe them fully and obey them fully. That is why we need the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to help us not only understand God’s Word but to obey it, love it, apply it, and proclaim it as we live coram Deo, before the face of God for His glory.