Scripture

“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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THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF THE BIBLE (PART 6 – UNITY)

bible-808633_1280This is the sixth post in our series on the biblical view of the Bible. This time we want to turn our attention to the unity of Scripture. To speak of the unity of Scripture is to say that the Bible speaks with a one voice. In the Bible we do not have two separate books with two different messages, but one book (even if given in two Testaments) with a unified & consistent message. Not only does the Bible not contradict itself, but its message from start to finish (from Genesis to the book of Revelation) is indeed a consistent, unified one.

Look at how often the writers of the New Testament quote from, refer to, or in some way allude to the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, read through the book of Matthew (the very first book of the New Testament), and notice how often Matthew states that something about the person, work, or words of Jesus Christ are actually the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It is practically the theme of the entire book! Or read through the book of Romans. In Paul’s extensive explanation of the gospel throughout that book, he quotes from or refers to the Old Testament over and over again (including such books as Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms, Isaiah, etc.) in order to make his case.

The Old and New Testaments together comprise God’s revelation of Himself to a sinful humanity. The exact same God reveals Himself in both the Old & New Testaments. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament God is referred to as “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3 & Revelation 4:8). In both the Old and New Testament God is described as a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24 & Hebrews 12:29). In both the Old Testament and the New Testament God judges sinners for their wickedness and unbelief. The same God who struck down Pharaoh and his armies (Exodus 14:26-31) also struck down King Herod for his attacks on His people and for not giving glory to God (Acts 12:20-24). God does not change.

Not only that, but the way of salvation does not change. The Old Testament (and not just the New Testament) is about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Him. Jesus Himself said that Moses (the human author of the first five books of the Old Testament – Genesis through Deuteronomy) wrote about Him (John 5:46). The Apostle Paul twice reminds us that Abraham (the father of the Jews) was saved by faith (Romans 4:3 & Galatians 3:6). And where did Paul get that notion? From Genesis 15:6, which says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

I hope that you have found this to be helpful and illuminating. But most of all I hope that you come to see Christ in all of the Scriptures and come to Him by faith for eternal life.

THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF THE BIBLE (PART 5 – SUFFICIENCY)

bible-808633_1280This is now the fifth post in a brief series on the biblical view of the Bible. In this post I would like to briefly examine what may be the most neglected attribute of Scripture in the life of evangelical Christians and churches today – the sufficiency of Scripture.

To say that the Bible is sufficient is simply to say that it is adequate or enough for what we need. We do not need something else, or something extra. When it comes to life and godliness, we need no substitute or supplement to the Word of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the Apostle Paul writes,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)

Paul there tells us that all Scripture is “profitable” (or useful) for such things as teaching, reproof, correction, and training.  (Have you ever found yourself being reproved or corrected by Scripture? If so, that’s a good thing – it means that God’s Word is doing it’s job in your life!) But notice that Paul also tells us the purpose of Scripture in all of that teaching, reproving, correcting, and training – it is that the man of God may be “complete” and that he may be “equipped for every good work.” So God’s Word is enough; it is sufficient to build up believers and mold us to be the people God wants us to be, and to be able to do His will.

Individual believers and churches in general are constantly being tempted to rely on something other than Scripture or at least something in addition to Scripture, to do the work that God has called us to do. We are tempted to put our confidence in all kinds of other things that we are told “work.” (We are constantly being tempted by pragmatism.) But it is really the Bible alone that is sufficient for faith and life. It is in the Bible alone that we learn the gospel of salvation in Christ. It is in the Bible alone that we learn what God would have us to believe about Him. It is in the Bible alone that we find the will of God for our lives when it comes to ethics and morality, marriage, family, church, society, and even government. It is in the Bible alone that we are sufficiently instructed how to properly pray, worship, and make disciples of all nations.

So if we say that we believe the Bible, let’s act like it. Let us seek to apply it to our lives, our families, our churches, and our community. And let us rely upon it alone to know and do the will and work of God. Nothing else is sufficient; nothing else even comes close.

The Biblical View of the Bible (Part 4 – Clarity)

bible-808633_1280This is the fourth post in a series on the biblical view of the Bible. In previous installments we have briefly touched upon things such as the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible. And that brings us to another very important attribute of Scripture – its clarity. (Theologians commonly refer to this as the “perspicuity” of Scripture – somewhat ironically, not exactly the easiest term to understand!) In other words, the Bible is clear.

So the Bible can be understood without a secret decoder ring. And it can be understood by people other than religious professionals with advanced degrees and lots of letters behind their names. (There is nothing wrong with advanced degrees, of course, but they are not prerequisites for reading and comprehending the truths of Scripture.) The Bible is meant to be read and understood by both the simplest child and the most learned scholar alike. It is an open book.

Now to say that the Bible is clear does not mean that everything in the Bible is equally clear or easy to understand. The Bible itself even tells us so. No less than the Apostle Peter attested to this fact in one of his epistles. In 2 Peter 3:15-16 he writes,

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (ESV)

Even Peter himself said that some things in the letters of Paul “are hard to understand” (v.16)! Ever have difficulty understanding something in one of the epistles of Paul? Welcome to the club! Nevertheless, the essential message of Scripture (especially the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ) is abundantly clear.

We may not always know what to make of all of the different visions in the Old Testament prophetic books or in the book of Revelation, but it doesn’t take a Ph.D to read and understand the basics: that there is one true and living God who created the universe and everything in it; that we have all sinned against Him and are in need of a Savior; that God has sent His only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be the one and only Savior of sinners; and that whoever trusts in Christ will be saved! You can read and understand the Bible, and I sincerely hope this helps you to do just that.

The Biblical View of the Bible (Part 3 – Inerrancy)

bible-808633_1280This is the third post in our series on the biblical view of the Bible. We have briefly looked at both the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and now we want to touch upon another very important corollary of the inspiration of Scripture, that is its inerrancy.

Inerrancy, simply defined, means that there are no errors or mistakes in the Bible. None. Now that may sound like a preposterous claim to some, but I make no apologies for stating it. The inspiration of Scripture (i.e. that it is “breathed out” by God – 2 Timothy 3:16) implies and even demands that the Scriptures be without error. The Word of God, because it is the Word of God, is true, sure, and trustworthy in all that it says. It can be believed, trusted, and relied upon.

Some prefer the term infallibility, which is merely the idea that the Bible will not steer you wrong. That sounds all well and good, but it is sometimes used as a pretext for denying the full inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. And if there are errors in the Bible, by what standard are we to determine what those errors are? And how are we to discern what parts of the Bible are to be believed and followed? Church tradition? Our own reason? Sadly, human reason, as fallible as it is, often ends up becoming the substitute standard. One then reads the Bible and simply rejects or reinterprets what it says based upon his or her own prior convictions and thoughts. Another way of saying that is to say that we are then placing ourselves above Scripture – we essentially become our own standard, the measure of truth and understanding. But are we wiser than God? I think not.

What was Jesus’s own view of the Bible? In the “sermon on the mount” (Matthew chapters 5-7) He told the crowds, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18, ESV). Think about that. An “iota” is a reference to the smallest letter in the Hebrew Alphabet (which looks much like a comma); and a “dot” is a reference to the smallest marking in Hebrew writing (which looks like just what it sounds like – a dot). So the Lord Jesus Christ did not just claim that the Scriptures were true in some general, vague sense, but rather boldly stated that everything in it will be fulfilled, right down to the smallest letter or mark! The Word of God is trustworthy and true – all of it!

The Biblical View of the Bible (Part 2 – Authority)

bible-808633_1280In our previous post we briefly looked at what the Bible says about its inspiration – that it has been “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV). In other words, the Bible is the very Word of God Himself. Now that fact has some rather important and far-reaching implications, doesn’t it? And one of the first of those implications is that Scripture, as the Word of God, is authoritative.

To say that the Bible is authoritative is to say that it is our “only rule of faith and obedience” (The Westminster Larger Catechism Q.4). In other words, if there is any debate or question about what we are to believe (i.e. faith), the Bible has the first and final say on the subject. Likewise, if there is any debate or question about how God would have us to live (i.e. obedience), the Bible has the first and final say on that subject as well. Do you approach the Bible that way? Or, better yet, do you test or examine what you believe and how you live by what the Bible says? Needless to say, if you are a believer in Christ, you should do just that.

For example, do you attend worship at a local church? Do you listen attentively to the preaching? (I certainly hope that you do.) But if so, do you bring your Bible? Is your Bible open during the sermon? In Acts chapter 17 the Apostle Paul was in a place called Berea (v.10). When he and his companion, Silas, went into the local synagogue to preach the gospel of Christ, what did the Jews in Berea do? The Bible says that they were “noble” because “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (v.11, ESV). Think about that. They had the Apostle Paul himself preaching to them (!), and yet they tested whatever he said to them by what the Old Testament Scriptures said! (And you can be sure that Paul did not mind that one bit.)

I hope that you will be that noble-minded as well. Bring your Bible to church; keep it open and test everything by the Scriptures. Please don’t take our word for whatever we pastors say in our preaching! Receive it with all eagerness, to be sure, but also examine whatever we say by what the Bible says. Make sure that you are believing us pastors and teachers only so far as we are actually teaching you what the Bible says – nothing more, and nothing less. We have no authority in and of ourselves. None. Our only authority is found in what the Word of God says. His Word is truth (John 17:17).

The Biblical View of the Bible (Part 1 – Inspiration)

bible-808633_1280What do you think of the Bible? For that matter, what does the Bible say about itself? (Does it tell us how we are to think of it?) Another way of putting this question is to ask, “What is the biblical view of the Bible?” Have you ever given that much thought? It is a vitally important question to have settled, because in many ways it is foundational to everything else in the Christian faith and life.

Your view of Scripture determines how you will approach the Bible, and how you approach the Bible has far-reaching implications for practically every aspect of your faith & life.

When it comes to the biblical view of the Bible, the place to start is the inspiration of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” (NKJV). Now, we often use the word “inspiration” to speak of a motivating force or emotion. We sometimes speak of being inspired to do something, or feeling inspired by a work of art or a beautiful sunrise. But that is not the idea that the Apostle Paul is conveying in the above verse. For all of Scripture to be “given by inspiration of God” is for it to be (as the ESV translation puts it) breathed out by God.” What do you normally do when you speak? You (among other things) breathe out or exhale, don’t you? What Paul is essentially saying there is that the Scripture (all of it!) is nothing less than the very Word of God Himself! What the Bible says, then, God says. And that changes everything, doesn’t it?

That the Bible is the very Word of God Himself means that we need to take heed to everything it says (and about whatever it speaks of). That should certainly supply us with ample enough reason and motivation to read it, study it, believe it, and obey it.

The fact that God has communicated to fallen humanity at all should astonish and amaze us. That He has not left us in the dark about Himself or about the way to be made right with Him through faith in Jesus Christ should fill us with gratitude and praise.