“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.

Palm Sunday in Heaven

palm-leaf-233282_1280It’s easy for us in the church today to look around us and be discouraged. At times it seems like nothing much good is happening. At times it can seem like Jesus is not at work. Sometimes it even seems as if our Lord Jesus Christ is not in control. As Hebrews 2:8 says,

“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.”

Everything really is now in subjection to King Jesus. Everything. But at present it doesn’t always look that way to us, does it? Sometimes it seems like evil is winning. Sometimes it seems as if the Lord is not blessing our witness to His gospel and working through it to save and transform sinners. But He is.

Even the original Palm Sunday seems like a failure in some ways, doesn’t it?. Upon closer inspection the triumphal entry doesn’t seem all that triumphant. After all, we know that the crowds didn’t actually understand who Jesus was and what He came to do; most of them didn’t actually believe, and many of those same people were probably among the crowds that within a week’s time would be shouting “crucify Him!” (John 19:15). Even His own disciples didn’t even understand until later (John 12:16)!

But in Revelation 7:9-12, John writes,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.””

That is a picture of heaven. In a sense that is the real Palm Sunday. The triumphal entry of Jesus Christ was a preview of heaven. As Palm Sunday reminds us of the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ, it reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ is even now at work in the world, gathering and defending His church. We may have trouble seeing it at times, but one day it will be clear as day that “the world has gone after him” (John 12:19) because the Lord Jesus was going after the world, seeking and saving a multitude of sinners so great in  number that no man will be able to begin to count them!