All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness

(2 Timothy 3:16).

I acknowledge that the apostle must be understood to speak only of the Jewish Scriptures, which Timothy had known from his childhood, for when he was a child no part of the Christian Scriptures had been published; but if the inspiration of the former is established, that of the latter will be readily conceded.… It was their inspiration which made them profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.


In order to uphold the authority of the Scripture, he declares that it is divinely inspired; for if it be so, it is beyond all controversy that men ought to receive it with reverence. This is a principle which distinguishes our religion from all others, that we know that God hath spoken to us, and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestion, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare. Whoever then wishes to profit in the Scriptures, let him, first of all, lay down this as a settled point, that the Law and the Prophets are not a doctrine delivered according to the will and pleasure of men, but dictated by the Holy Spirit.


What it says of Scripture is, not that it is “breathed into by God” or is the product of the Divine “inbreathing” into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, “God-breathed,” the product of the creative breath of God. In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scriptures are a Divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them. No term could have been chosen, however, which would have more emphatically asserted the Divine production of Scripture than that which is here employed. The “breath of God” is in Scripture just the symbol of his almighty power, the bearer of his creative word. “By the word of Jehovah,” we read in the significant parallel of Psalm 33:6, “were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.”


As to the meaning of “inspiration,” it is often said that the quality expressed in the word “is primarily and strictly applicable only to men” and only in a secondary sense to the writings themselves. Such an explanation is far from being warranted. Writing with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, Paul applies the term directly to the Scriptures themselves, and it must be interpreted in a way that admits of this reference. Literally “inspired of God” is “God-breathed”; and since the breath of God is everywhere identified with His presence, the epithet as applied to the Scriptures can only mean that, written by holy men of old borne on by the Holy Spirit, every Scripture has the presence and operation of God indissolubly associated with it.

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This enthronement of the Holy Scriptures (primarily, but not exclusively, the Old Testament) in the seat of authority is so insistent and prolific of consequences that we cannot wonder that the modern spirit of license rises in revolt against it or labors to dilute its significance. First of all we have the declaration that the sacred graphe, the invariable meaning of the word, whether singular or plural, in the New Testament, re-echoing the hiera grammata of the preceding verse, God-breathed in quality, has the seal of divine truth stamped upon it throughout. The imprimatur of Deity countersigns these scripts, instrumentally the work of human minds, working in keeping with their native faculties, yet prompted by an unseen power. That fact sets them apart from other writings. In that capacity they should be received as replete with instruction.



The quadruplex usus of the Sacred Scripture of the Old Covenant, is confirmed by the Apostle’s own example, who, in his writings, often employs the Old Testament for all these different ends. For doctrine, he makes use, e.g., of the history of Abraham (Gen. 15:6), in the discussion of the doctrine of justification, Romans 4. For reproof, as often as he puts to shame his opponents by citations from the Old Testament, e.g., Romans 9–11. For correction, e.g., 1 Corinthians 10:1–10. For instruction (Comp. Heb. 12:7), Romans 15:4.


Let us not be stupefied by hearing Scriptures which we do not understand; but let it be to us according to our faith, by which also we believe that every Scripture because it is theopneustic is profitable. For you must needs admit one of two things regarding these Scriptures: either that they are not theopneustic since they are not profitable, as the unbeliever takes it; or, as a believer, you must admit that since they are theopneustic, they are profitable.


And, first of all, he mentions doctrine, which ranks above all the rest; for it will be to no purpose that you exhort or reprove, if you have not previously instructed. But because “instruction,” taken by itself, is often of little avail, he adds reproof and correction.… Instruction in righteousness means the rule of a good and holy life.

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This is a classical place to prove the perfection of the Scriptures against Papists, and whatsoever adversaries, who argue it of insufficiency, accounting traditions or revelations to be the touchstone of doctrine and foundation of faith. If the Scriptures be profitable for all these purposes, and able to make a minister perfect, who can say less of it than that it is the soul’s food, as Athanasius calleth it; the invariable rule of truth, as Irenaeus: the touchstone of errors, the aphorisms of Christ, the library of the Holy Ghost, the circle of all divine arts, the wisdom of the cross, the cubit of the sanctuary.


For correction. The word here used occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means properly, a setting to rights, reparation, restoration, and here means, the leading to a correction or amendment of life—a reformation. The meaning is, that the Scriptures are a powerful means of reformation, or of putting men into the proper condition in regard to morals. After all the means which have been employed to reform mankind; all the appeals which are made to them on the score of health, happiness, respectability, property, and long life, the word of God is still the most powerful and the most effectual means of recovering those who have fallen into vice. No reformation can be permanent which is not based on the principles of the word of God.


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