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General Revelation

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 26, 2023 12:01 am

General Revelation

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 26, 2023 12:01 am

Even people who have never opened a Bible know that God exists, for He has plainly revealed Himself in creation and providence. Today, R.C. Sproul teaches the doctrine of general revelation using the Westminster Confession of Faith.

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The most basic primordial sin of fallen humanity that's common to every one of us is the refusal to honor God as God. The refusal to honor Him with the worship His very being and nature deserves and requires. And that magnificent truth of His beauty, of His holiness, of His transcendent majesty, we swap, we trade for a lie, and we worship false gods. I can remember growing up as an unbeliever and thinking that if I was wrong about God not existing, I'd simply explain to Him that if He had revealed Himself to me, I'd have been happy to follow Him. Well, I know now that He has revealed Himself in creation to everyone, and I was suppressing that truth.

This is the Tuesday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. Does anyone have an excuse for not believing in God? Paul explains in Romans 1 that they are without excuse, and today R.C. Sproul explains why. And for the rest of this week, Dr. Sproul will be teaching through sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith. He called this one of the most important confessions of faith ever penned. And today he begins at the beginning, a section in the Confession on Scripture and what all people can learn from what the Confession calls the light of nature.

Here's Dr. Sproul. The Westminster Confession of Faith begins with the first chapter with the title, quote, Of the Holy Scripture. Now before we look at what is said here in this first chapter, I want to address the question, why the authors and framers of the Westminster Confession begin their credal statement with the doctrine of Scripture. Characteristically, theology initiates its study with the nature and character of God and then move from God to the Bible. But in the case of the Westminster Divines, they start with the Scripture rather than with God. And there is obviously a reason for that, and it is this, that Christianity from beginning to end is a revealed religion.

It's not a philosophy based upon human speculation or insight, but it purports to be a faith that is rooted and grounded in those things that God Himself has revealed to us, principally through sacred Scripture. And so that's the starting point for our Confession, and let's look then at the opening statements of it. Chapter 1, section 1 reads, Although the light of nature of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God as to leave men inexcusable, yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will which is necessary unto salvation. Now I'm serious when I say that the very first sentence of the Confession of Faith is worthy of an entire book of several hundred pages to give its fullest explication, because what is introduced at the start of the Confession is an acknowledgment that the revelation that we have of God in the pages of sacred Scripture is not the only revelation that God gives to the world of Himself, because the Bible itself points beyond the Bible to nature as a source of divine revelation. The psalmist tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth His handiwork. We are told that this whole world in which we live is as it were a theater of divine revelation, where God is manifesting His glory moment to moment in and through the things that He has made. The most important biblical text that teaches us about this extra revelation outside of the Bible is the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans.

So let's review a portion of that before we proceed with chapter one of the Confession. In the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, beginning at verse 18, Paul gives this statement, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. And then he goes on to say, Because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts.

Now let me just spend a moment or two to expound upon this. Paul, before he sets forth the gospel of our salvation in his magnum opus, the book of Romans, introduces first of all the fact that every human being is exposed to the wrath of God by nature, by nature, that God's wrath is being made manifest or revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and all unrighteousness. Notice those two terms, ungodliness and unrighteousness. In this case, Paul is not saying that God's anger is directed upon one set of sins that could be defined as theological or religious or ungodliness and another set of sins that are simple violations or transgressions of the law of God or immorality that we would call unrighteousness. But rather, Paul is combining his terms here and saying that what it is that exposes the entire human race to the wrath of God by nature is a single sin, which sin is so severe and so serious that it can be described by either the term ungodly or unrighteous because this sin is both ungodly and unrighteous.

Now but again, as I've lectured on this many times, the term ungodliness or the term unrighteousness are general terms that contain within them a host a host of particulars. And so we might ask, well what sin in general has God so provoked? Well, it's not sin in general, it's sin in particular. There's a particular sin that the Apostle has in view here, and he explains what it is, and that is the suppression of the truth that God has revealed to the whole world, that God, Paul goes on to say, from creation onward has revealed Himself so clearly.

The Greek here is a form of the verb phonēros, which means phenomenologically the Latin equivalent is the word manifestum, or that which comes across not dimly, not obliquely, but what Paul is saying is that God's revelation of Himself in nature is so clear, so manifest that it leaves every human being without an excuse. Nobody on the last day can say to God, well I'm sorry I didn't worship you. I'm sorry I didn't follow after you. I'm sorry I didn't devote my life in obedience toward you. Had I only known that you were out there, and that I only known that you were real, I would have been your most zealous disciple.

That excuse will not work. The excuse of ignorance or agnosko, being agnostic, will only add to God's wrath because prior to any claim of ignorance is God's announcement that He has since the first moment of creation clearly revealed Himself to the whole human race. Now let me just stop here for a second on this portion of Romans 1 as it relates to the first section of the Confession and come back to another preliminary question. When we go to the first page of the Bible in the Old Testament, how does it begin? It begins with the statement, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now there's an affirmation about the work of God in terms of this majestic work of creating the universe, all things. But have you ever wondered why it is that Genesis chapter 1 doesn't begin with an argument for the existence of God? Why doesn't it start with the case for God, and then once we establish that there is a transcendent self-existent eternal being that we call God, then we move from that idea of the existence of God to His activity as Creator of the universe. But all that preliminary defense of the existence of God is skipped over by the author of Genesis.

Have you ever wondered about that? Many people have come to the conclusion that the reason why Moses, when he's writing Genesis, doesn't take the time to argue for the existence of God is because we don't believe in the existence of God based upon arguments, based upon evidence, based upon reason, but we believe on the existence of God on the basis of faith. And so the Bible is asking us to take the existence of God by faith in the very first affirmation. I don't think that's the reason why Genesis begins that way.

I think the reason why Moses, as it were, presupposes that the first recipients of the book of Genesis already knew the existence of God is because before a single word of God's Scripture was ever written, before that special revelation that we call the Scripture was ever set down by anyone, God had already been at work from day one at creation, filling the universe with a manifest demonstration of His own existence, as Paul says again back here in Romans 1. Since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made. We've been told that the great watershed movement to advance the enlightenment and skepticism against Christianity came from the pen of the philosopher of Prussia, Immanuel Kant, from the University of Konigsberg, when he wrote his great monumental work on the critique of pure reason in which he criticized all the traditional arguments for the existence of God. And basically in simple terms, what Kant argued was that you cannot argue from the seen world that we observe around us and get behind the observable natural universe that we study to a transcendent spiritual being who is its creator.

Kant was saying simply, you can't you can't get there from here. You can't learn about the invisible by studying the visible. That's the bottom line assertion of his theological skepticism. And notice that you see here the absolute antithesis being set forth by the Apostle Paul, who says that not only is it possible to perceive the invisible reality of God through the visible realm that we encounter every day, not only can we do it, but we do in fact do it, that every person who has his eyes open or his ears open or his hands available in this world is encountering divine revelation at every second. And the point is that that revelation is so clear and unobscure that it gets through to the audience, which is us. Since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes are clearly seen. Now obviously they're not clearly seen directly and immediately. They have to be seen through some means that can be seen as we say through the medium of nature, that when we talk about the revelation that God gives in nature, we sometimes call it natural revelation because it comes in and through nature. We sometimes call it general revelation.

But when we speak theologically about this general revelation, revelation God gives Himself outside in the Bible, we further distinguish theologically between what we call mediate general revelation and immediate general revelation. When we talk in those terms of mediate and immediate, we're not talking in terms of time. I remember my mama used to get mad at me when it was time to come into dinner, and she would ring the bell, and if I was busily engaged in playing in the backyard, I wasn't swift to respond to the call to the dining room table. And that would annoy my mother, and if I were too tardy, I would look up from the sandbox or wherever I was, and I would see her standing there with her hands on her hips, and she would say to me, young man, you come into this house immediately.

No person could stress that word immediately like my mother could when she wanted to get my attention. And what she meant by the term immediately was right now, without delay. But that's not what we're talking about when we're talking about immediate general revelation. Immediate general revelation would be that revelation that God gives of Himself without a medium, without the glory of the heavens or the majesty of the stars or of a sunset or anything in nature at all. It would be an innate, inherent a priori sense with which you are born, a knowledge of God that is implanted in the soul, what Calvin called the sensus divinitatis, that inhabits the soul of every human being and that every human being in this world, even if they keep their eyes shut and never look at nature external to themselves, can't silence the internal testimony that God gives to the human conscience.

So that God reveals Himself at the same time immediately, directly to your mind and to your conscience, but in addition He also reveals Himself through the things that are made, that is through that medium. We talk about the media, newspaper, television, radio, and so on. And back at Ligonier when we were studying these questions in the class once, I asked people if they had watched the Super Bowl. And just about almost everybody in the class indicated that they had watched the Super Bowl. And I said, do you mean you were there for the game?

Oh no, I wasn't live. I didn't really see the Super Bowl. I watched it on television. I said, ha, you saw these pixels, these representations of light and all of that that were transmitting images of something that was taking place hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles away from you. You didn't have an immediate view of the Super Bowl. You had a mediated view of the Super Bowl. But nevertheless, what was going on in the Super Bowl was made known to you through this medium.

It was kind of a way of disclosing, unveiling, or revealing to you what was taking place hundreds and hundreds of miles away. So when we talk about mediate general revelation, we talk about that revelation that God gives of Himself through the medium of nature, through the heavens that declare His glory and so on. Now it says here that although the light of nature, that's of which we're speaking, and the works of creation, the works of His hands, and the providence of God, His hand in history, do so far manifest, that is make clear, the goodness, wisdom, and power of God as to leave men inexcusable. That's the starting point for the confession, the acknowledgment of Romans 1, that we are born and live in an arena of guilt. Because every last one of us has taken this revelation that God has made clear of Himself and repressed it, held it down, buried it, put it in prison, tried to flee from it, tried to deny it. And the way in which that's manifest is this, because Paul says, although they knew God, it wasn't that the people failed to receive this revelation, but even the whole human race, the whole human race as we knew the existence of God, what did we do?

We did not glorify Him as God, neither were we grateful. But he goes on to see what the human dilemma is based on the human propensity, because we in this natural, corrupt, fallen state in which we received the original revelation of God through nature have all done the same thing. We exchanged the truth of God for a lie and served and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever. You see, the most basic primordial sin of fallen humanity that's common to every one of us is the refusal to honor God as God, the refusal to honor Him with the worship His very being and nature deserves and requires. And that magnificent truth of His beauty, of His holiness, of His transcendent majesty, we swap, we trade for a lie, and we worship totem poles, idols made with men's hands. We worship false gods. And even in the church, we can take the truth of God as it's made even more clear in sacred Scripture and twist it, distort it, shape it to our own liking and come up with a concept of God that is not the God of the Bible. And this propensity is so deeply rooted in the human heart that conversion does not expunge it altogether instantly. It's something we have to struggle with as long as we live because our very nature does not want to worship God as He is, but rather we want to worship a God who is the creation of our own hands. Just in the last two days, I've had two people come to me and tell me that they grew up in a certain branch of the Christian church and they embraced a certain theology all their life, and then suddenly the truth of the character of God with respect to His sovereignty was made clear to them, and it turned their Christian lives upside down.

And both of them used the same image. The scales fell away from my eyes. And I said, yeah, let me tell you what else happened. As soon as you saw it, you began to see it on every page of Scripture, and you began to see the sweetness of it, didn't you? And they say, yes.

And they said, yes. But how could you be a Christian so long and fight against the doctrines of grace? How can you be a Christian so long and fight against the sovereignty of God?

I'll tell you why. Because in your basic human constituent nature, you don't want God to be sovereign. You don't want God to be angry or just or holy because it's our nature to reshape God the way we want to have it. And so that nature that is revealed to us so clearly through the medium of creation is inadequate to save us. It's just adequate to condemn us. The revelation God gives of Himself to us in nature is enough to send us to hell forever, but not enough to bring us to the cross. That's why more is needed, the Confession says, than the revelation we get through nature. The Apostle Paul in Romans 1 and the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith reveal that we are all without excuse. As Christians, today's message should fan the flames of our gratitude for God and His removing of the scales from our eyes and increase our willingness to share the good news with those around us.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and we just heard R.C. Sproul teach from a portion of the Westminster Confession of Faith. That Confession is one of the most precise and comprehensive summaries of Biblical Christianity, and it is included, along with 19 other creeds, catechisms, and confessions of faith in a brand new volume from Ligonier Ministries. It's simply titled, We Believe, and it even includes an introduction to each document to help you in your reading and study. Request your copy of this new hardcover resource with your donation of any amount at or by calling us at 800-435-4343. This is a new resource that we hope will serve you and the church for years to come. So give your gift and request your copy today at We heard today that no one has an excuse. We all know from nature that God exists. Well, a question that is often asked of us is what happens to an innocent person living in a faraway land who has never heard the Gospel before? Tomorrow, R.C. Sproul will answer that question here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-30 02:43:42 / 2023-10-30 02:51:55 / 8

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