Cessationism can refer to one of both of the following propositions: there is no postbiblical public or private revelation; there are no postbiblical miracles.
The Westminster Confession is often cited as a cessationist document due to a clause in chapter 1:
The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture (WCF 1.10).
However, the interpretation of this clause is controversial because some Westminster Divines, and other Reformed luminaries, reputedly believed in private revelation. Whether or not the position attributed to them is correct is a matter of ongoing scholarly dispute. For instance:
However, I’d like to approach the issue from a different angle. Indeed, I’ve discussed this before, but I’ll like to make an additional point. The Confessional also says:
There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God (WCF 25.6).
Although this article has been redacted out of some modern editions of the Confession, for now I’m simply interested in the viewpoint of the Westminster Divines.
The prooftexts given for this identification are Mt 23, 2 Thes 2, and Rev 13. In his exposition of Rev 13, John Gill furnishes a more detailed illustration of this exegetical tradition. For instance:
speaking great things, and blasphemies; great swelling words of vanity; calling himself by high and lofty titles, as Christ's vicar, Peter's successor, head of the church, universal bishop, &c. promising great things to his followers, riches, honours, pleasures, pardons, and heaven itself; and uttering things of a blasphemous kind, or great blasphemies, the particulars of which are mentioned in Revelation 13:6; so the little horn, who is the same with the Romish antichrist, is said to have a mouth speaking great things, very great things, and his look more stout than his fellows, Daniel 7:8.And I beheld another beast,.... The same with the first, only in another form; the same for being and person, but under a different consideration; the same antichrist, but appearing in another light and view: the first beast is the pope of Rome, at the head of the ten kingdoms, of which the Roman empire consisted; this other beast is the same pope of Rome, with his clergy, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, &c. before he is described as a temporal monarch, now as a spiritual lord; there he is represented in his secular character, as having the seat, power, and authority of the dragon, of Rome Pagan, engaging the attention and wonder of the whole world, and striking terror into them, and as making war with the saints, and ruling over all nations and tongues; here in his ecclesiastic character, pretending great humility and holiness, showing signs and lying wonders, obliging to idolatry, and exercising tyranny and cruelty on all that will not profess his religion: that this is the same beast with the first in substance, though not in show, appears from his exercising the same power, causing all to worship the first beast, or himself as a temporal lord, by which he is supported in his spiritual dignity; and by mention being made only of one beast, at the close of this account, and of his mark, name, and number being but one; nor is there any other but one hereafter spoken, of in this book, either as ruling, or as conquered, and as taken, and as going into perdition, and as cast into the lake…
My point is not to assess the merits of this interpretation. Rather, I’m discussing the issue from the standpoint of historical theology.
One implication of this interpretation is that it cuts against cessationism. If the pope is the Antichrist, and the papacy has the powers ascribed to the Beast in Rev 13, then ecclesiastical miracles are to be expected. Thus far, these would be confined to the Roman communion, and they would be occultic miracles.
But if we operate within this exegetical framework, then this seems to undercut cessationism on another front. If the Beast represents the papacy, what do the two witnesses (Rev 11) represent? Continuing with Gill:
And I will give power unto my two witnesses,.... By whom are meant, not Enoch and Elias, as some of the ancient fathers thought, who, they supposed, would come before the appearance of Christ, and oppose antichrist, and be slain by him, which sense the Papists greedily catch at; nor are the Scriptures, the two Testaments, Old and New, designed, though their name and number agree, and also their office, which is to testify of Christ; but then to be clothed in sackcloth, to be killed, and rise again, and ascend to heaven, are things that cannot so well be accommodated to them: but these witnesses intend the ministers of the Gospel and churches of Christ, who have bore testimony for Christ, and against antichrist, ever since he appeared in the world; and particularly the churches and ministers in Piedmont bid fair for this character; who were upon the spot when antichrist arose, always bore their protest against him, and were ever independent of the church of Rome, and subsisted in the midst of the darkness of the apostasy; and suffered much, and very great persecutions, from the Papists; and have stood their ground, and continue to this day; and have been like olive trees and candlesticks, imparting oil and light to others. Though they ought not to be considered exclusive of other ministers and churches, who also have bore, and still do bear a witness for Christ, and against the idolatries of the church of Rome: no two individual persons can be meant, since these witnesses were to prophesy 1260 days, that is, so many years, but a succession of ministers and churches…
So there’s a sense in which the two witnesses are the counterpart to the Beast. If the Beast represents the false church (i.e. Rome), then the two witnesses represent the true church. If the Antichrist of Rev 13 is the pope, then the two witnesses of Rev 11 are the godly remnant, who stand opposed to the apostate church of Rome.
(Incidentally, most modern scholars agree with Gill that the two witnesses represent the church.)
But this, in turn, requires another parallel. Both the Beast and the two witnesses perform miracles. If we literally ascribe lying wonders to the Antichrist, which we equate with the papacy, then, by parity of argument, we should literally ascribe counter-miracles to representatives of the Protestant church.
Once again, my immediate point is not to evaluate this exegetical tradition, but to analyse the text of the Confession on its own terms, including the exegetical traditional undergirding the Confession. Within that framework, the Confession seems to commit adherents to continuationism.