Here is a question I have been asked several times–sometimes with real concern. In 2LCF 22:3, which describes acceptable prayer in a variety of ways, the doctrine concludes with the phrase ‘if vocal, in a known tongue.’ Several times, I have received communications asking if this statement somehow opened the door to a private prayer language, i.e. speaking in tongues! I have assured my correspondents that this was not the case, but they have wanted proof. When I read them the following words from David Dickson’s Truth’s Victory over Error (a contemporary exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith), they were convinced and relieved:
Quest. VI. If Prayer be Vocal, ought it to be in a known tongue?
Yes. 1 Cor. 14. 14.
Well then, do not the Papists err, who maintain, that it is not needful, that publick prayers be in a known tongue; but that it is often-times expedient, that prayers be performed, in a tongue unknown to the Common-people?
By what reasons are they confuted?
1st, Because, the Apostle teaches expressly the contrary; 1 Cor. 14. 9,12. 2nd, Because, prayers celebrated in an unknown tongue, are not for edification, 1 Cor. 14. 14. 3rd, Because, he that occupieth the room of the unlearned (that is, who understands not strange tongues) cannot say Amen; 1 Cor. 14. 16. 4th, Because, the Lords prayer which is the special Rule of all our prayers, was prescribed in a tongue at that time best known.
From this, it is evident that the object of the Confession’s statement is the Romanist Latin Mass, and in no way opens the door to the charismatic practice of tongues speaking. In my own study, I have found Dickson’s contemporary explanation of much of WCF to be extremely helpful. It gives me a clear entry into the theological world of the era, and helps me to grasp the sense of the doctrine without importing later, modern notions. I cannot recommend this tool highly enough.