Theological Q & A: General and Special Revelation

Thoughts on Westminster Confession of Faith, article I.1, which you can find here.

If you’re going to start talking about God, where do you start?  These days most people seem to start with their feelings or their faith experience.  “To me, God is…”  is common.  For the men who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith, you have to start with the Bible.  Before you can assert anything about God, you have to have a reliable source.  Each person deceived in his sin and error believes he is a reliable source, but no human being is.  We had better find truth outside of ourselves, for the “divine spark” within each person isn’t cutting it.

Before we delve into the Bible, you have to back up one more step and ask, “Is there anywhere else God has revealed Himself?”  And there is.  Everything we see in the world is a revealing of God in some way.  People are made in His image (Genesis 1:27).  “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).  The mountains, clouds and galaxies show His power and majesty.  The beehives and bacteria show His complex and intricate designs.  Without any Bible at all, we have no excuse for rejecting God as our Creator on the basis of this information.  And we do reject Him.  We stand condemned before the Bible even comes into the picture.

But God wanted to redeem and save us, so He spoke again.

He spoke in various ways in the past (Hebrews 1:1-3) – through prophets, dreams, visions and writers like Moses, Samuel and the Chronicler.

He wanted to reveal Himself.  Knowledge of God was obscured and even lost from Adam’s generation on.  Men called on God by His name Yahweh in the third generation (Genesis 4:26), but when Israel was in Egypt it seems they did not know God by this name (Exodus 6:3).  God wanted to make Himself known, and what He did for the people He was saving (Exodus 3:13-14).  Especially what He has done in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the complete and final revealing of God.  Words and dreams that came before don’t hold a candle to seeing God in the face of Jesus.

God wanted to declare His will to His people.  As the Creator, He wanted to tell His creation how things were supposed to go in the world.  We lost this when we sinned, and got crazy ideas in our heads about how we could live, instead.  We need to be told how to live, or we go off the rails.  The Bible gives us clear instructions.  This preserves the truth when we would forget and neglect it.  It is a pillar against our corruption, and a comfort when we are unsure or lost.

So after Jesus came, God committed His revelation to writing, and stopped using other means.  This emphasized the importance of Jesus, and of the apostles who recorded His life and work.  Scripture is necessary for salvation, for it reveals who and what we are to believe.  It is a light shining in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19).

So creation and nature reveals God on one level.  It is enough to condemn us, so that there is no innocent native anywhere who has never heard the Gospel or seen a Bible.  Creation doesn’t give us enough to go on to believe in.  So we need the Bible.

A.A. Hodge points to three errors refuted by this.
1.  Rationalism – the assertion that there is no revelation of God we have to go on.  It’s up to us to assemble truth ourselves from our own resources.
2.  Deism – God may be there, and set up the world, but we figure out the rest on our own.  This is almost the same problem as the first one.
3.  Biblicism – the assertion that only the Bible gives us knowledge of God.  What we see in nature is too obscure to be of any use.

If we don’t start with the Bible, our whole study of God is on the wrong track from the start.

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