Creation

“A Most Elegant Book” (The Belgic Confession on General Revelation)

The Belgic Confession (1561) is one of the confessional documents that comprise the “3 Forms of Unity” in the churches of the continental reformed tradition. This confession is the statement of faith, taking the reader through a brief but thorough (at least by today’s standards) treatment of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith.

Article 2 (of a total of 37 articles or heads of doctrine) deals with how God has made Himself known to us. It reads as follows:

“We know Him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says (Romans 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men and leave them without excuse. Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to His glory and our salvation.”

According to the Belgic Confession, there are two “books,” so to speak, by which we know God. The first is what is often referred to as “general revelation.” This consists of the universe itself, including (as the Confession puts it) its “creation, preservation, and government.” In a sense, then, the Confession holds that both Creation and Providence (which is often defined as God’s powerful preserving and governing of all things – see Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11). These things testify to God’s “everlasting power and divinity,” as both Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:20 attest.

In his book, With Heart and Mouth (which is an exposition of the Belgic Confession), Daniel Hyde notes the limits of general revelation:

“The Confession follows the apostle in saying that this knowledge of God in creation, providence, and governance is of God as our creator. The content, then, of general revelation is not of God as redeemer but simply as the wise, eternal, powerful, and creative God that he is.” (p.57)

So the knowledge of God that we have in that “most elegant book” of nature is sufficient to render all of mankind without excuse for our sin and rebellion against our Creator. But the gospel is not to be found there. That is where the second book comes in, which is an actual book – the Bible. This is often referred to as “special revelation” (as opposed to or distinct from general revelation).

God reveals Himself “more clearly and fully” in Scripture (“His holy and divine Word”), so the Scriptures are primary. Our reading or understanding of the “book” of nature must be informed or guided by the Scriptures. And, most importantly, it is only in the Scriptures that God makes Himself known to us, not just as Creator, but also as Redeemer in Jesus Christ.

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Spurgeon on Atheism

charles-spurgeon

“He who looks up to the firmament and then writes himself down an atheist, brands himself at the same moment as an idiot or a liar.”

These are the words of Charles Spurgeon in commenting on Psalm 19:1, which says,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (ESV)

Creation itself, especially the heavens and the firmament (the vastness of space with the sun, moon, and stars) – basically the things that are above and beyond us – says something. In the words of Psalm 19:1 it declares something – the glory of God!

The verses that follow (Psalm 19:2-6) make it clear to us the this declaration of the glory of God is abundant (“day unto day pours out speech” – v.3), universal in its reach (“Their voice goes out through all the earth – v.4), and it requires no translator, as it has no language barrier (“There is no speech, nor are their words, whose voice is not heard” – v.3). The declaration or testimony of creation is loud and clear to all who see it.  And that testimony is not to its own glory, but to that of its Creator, God.

So anyone who looks up at the firmament (or sky) and then still calls himself an atheist is (to use Spurgeon’s phrase) branding himself as an idiot or a liar. We all know better, regardless of what we profess to believe (or disbelieve). That is how abundant and clear the testimony of creation is to the glory of its Creator. To use Paul’s words in Romans 1:20, it renders atheists (of both the philosophical and practical variety) “without excuse.”

Putting Us In Our Place

Galaxy 2

There is a line from an old Eagles song that, sadly, is a good description of the majority of mankind:

You can see the stars and still not see the light.

A look up at the stars at night really should enlighten us.  It can serve as a cure for spiritual myopia.   How so?  By putting us in our place.

First & foremost, it puts us in our place by reminding us of the greatness & glory of God!  Psalm 19:1-4 says,

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

So the heavens declare the glory of God; they proclaim His greatness & majesty!  And that declaration is loud and clear in every place, in every tongue, at all times.  So the heavens above us should serve as a constant (and often needed!) reminder of the greatness & majesty of God.

Second, by reminding us of the greatness and majesty of God, the heavens also put us in our place by reminding us of our smallness and insignificance in comparison.   Psalm 8:3-4 says,

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

What is man indeed! The world doesn’t revolve around us; we are not the center of the universe – God is!  The heavens are the Lord’s heavens (“your heavens” – v.3) – they were created by Him and for Him alone!

Think about just how big the known universe is.  Some estimate that there are around 10 sextillion stars in the universe.  (If you are anything like me, you never even knew that such a number existed.)  A sextillion is 10 to the 21st power, or a million trillion.  It is difficult to even fathom such a number.  It might as well be infinity.

So there are around 10 million trillion stars in the universe, many of which are far larger than our own sun!  Our sun is approximately 333,000 times larger than  the mass of the earth.  Is your head spinning yet?

How much matter exists in the universe?  To us any number that we could hope to assign to such a question would stagger the mind – again, it might as well be infinite!  And yet God simply spoke it all into existence!  Psalm 8:3 calls all of that the work of his “fingers” (!).

To say that God is big and we are small is a good start, even if a massive understatement.  The universe dwarfs us, and God dwarfs the universe, so we are really just a speck on a speck in the grand scheme of things.

Third, by reminding us of the greatness and majesty of God, as well as our smallness and insignificance in comparison, they also remind us of the amazing goodness of God toward us.  Why should the God who spoke the entire universe into being take any notice of us?  But He does!

Psalm 8:5-8 tells us that God has bestowed great honor upon mankind:

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
        and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
        you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
        and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
        whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

God made mankind in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27).  That is a staggering honor that is ours despite our relative smallness and insignificance in relation to the rest of the universe, (much less in comparison to God)!

But wait, there’s more!  We are not just specks on a speck, but rebellious & sinful specks on a speck!  The Fall of mankind into sin (Genesis 3) has marred the image of God in mankind (even if it has not completely obliterated it).  And yet God still cares for us!

And last (but by no means least), it should serve to make us magnify the grace of God toward sinners that is found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ!  For Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 8.

The writer of the book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 8 and tells us that it was actually prophetic of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ!  In other words, it is about the gospel! (And it was written about 1,000 years before the time of Christ!)

Hebrews 2:5-9 says:

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

For us, being made a little lower than the heavenly beings is an honor, but for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, it was an act of infinite humility and grace!  He was made man that He might suffer death for our sakes, so that we might have life in Him.

He allowed Himself to be put in our place, so that He could die the death that we deserved for our sin & rebellion, and so that we could have His righteousness accounted to us by faith!  Because He was put in our place, we can, in Him, be adopted as the children of God!

So look up at the night sky tonight.  And when you do, don’t miss the light!  Be reminded of the greatness of God, as well as His amazing grace toward you in Jesus Christ!

Materialism = The Deification of Matter

Herman Bavinck on how the philosophy of materialism denies the existence of God, but ends up deifying matter:

Natural science, to which the materialist always makes his appeal, has to do as such with the finite, the relative, with nature and its phenomena; it always starts out from nature, assumes it as a given, and cannot penetrate to what lies behind it. The moment it does this it ceases to be physics and becomes metaphysics. But materialism is not true to itself when it immediately ascribes to atoms all sorts of properties that are not part of the concept itself and are not taught by experience. Materialism, accordingly, is not an exact science, nor the fruit of rigorous scientific research, but a philosophy that is built up on the denial of all philosophy; it is inherently self-contradictory; it rejects all absolutes and makes atoms absolute; it denies God’s existence and deifies matter. (In The Beginning, p.32, emphasis mine)

So when science attempts to speak to what lies behind what is (i.e. the theory of origins), it then ceases to be science (i.e. physics) at all, but instead becomes (or rather intrudes upon the arena of) metaphysics.

Not only that, but Bavinck points out that such a philosophy is “self-contradictory” because in denying the existence of God it actually ends up substituting matter in His place as god.

It calls to mind the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:25,

because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Bavinck on the Creator – Creature Distinction

Herman Bavinck on the significance of the Genesis account of Creation:

From the very first moment, true religion distinguishes itself from all other religions by the fact that it construes the relation between God and the world, including man, as that between the Creator and his creature. The idea of an existence apart and independently from God occurs nowhere in Scripture. God is the sole, unique, and absolute cause of all that exists. (In The Beginning, p.24)

There is a God and we are not him.  We are His creatures, created by Him and for Him.  We belong to Him and are answerable and accountable to Him.

Matter (the physical universe) is not eternal, but had a starting point (a “beginning” – Genesis 1:1).  Only God Himself is without a beginning.  Everything in the universe owes its existence to God.

We must not confuse the Creator with His creation.  We are not to worship or serve creation, but rather the Creator alone.

The Irrationality of the Secular Worldview

Mike Horton on the irrationality (and impracticality) of the secular worldview:

“No one can actually live in the world that is imagined by secularism. Not even the most hardened nihilist can live in the world of pure meaninglessness that his or her narrative presupposes. In their daily practice, the most ardent religious skeptics have to presuppose a basic order and intelligibility in reality that contradicts the creed of self-creation through random chance.” (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, p.15)

Well-said.  The daily lives of secularists themselves are, in fact,  a contradiction & refutation of their own beliefs.