There's no place in this universe where the knowledge of God the Father has failed to penetrate, and everybody receives that knowledge, and everybody twists it and distorts it, and so everyone is guilty before God.
They can't claim ignorance as an excuse. How would you respond to such an objection? Hi, I'm Nathan W Bingham, and I'm glad you're joining us for Renewing Your Mind. This week, we're focusing on the creeds and confessions of the church in light of a new volume just released by Ligonier, We Believe is its name, and it can be yours for a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. Monday, we discuss this new resource and the role of creeds and confessions in the church, and I encourage you to find that interview, if you missed it, wherever you listen to podcasts.
We're also featuring messages from R.C. Sproul's study of the Westminster Confession of Faith, a confession that's included in the We Believe volume. Today, Dr. Sproul considers the difference between what is known about God by everyone and what is only known today through the Bible. He'll also tackle that question of God's justice and someone who has never heard the name of Jesus before.
Here's Dr. Sproul. Another distinction that I want to make between general and special revelation that we've been looking at here in the first section of chapter 1 is this, that when we use that language, general revelation and special revelation, the distinction is really twofold. The revelation that comes through nature is general in two senses.
In the one sense, it gives us information about God that is knowledge in general, that He is, that He is eternal power, that He is deity, that He has wisdom, et cetera. But we don't get the particulars, the details of the character of God revealed to us in nature the way we receive it in sacred Scripture. So the data or the information of general revelation is general. But also it's called general revelation because the audience is general. That is, the whole world of inhabited beings are the recipients of this self-disclosure of God. Everybody is open to and receives general revelation.
That's why Romans 1 is so important. You know, one of the questions I get more often than any other question, and you've heard it a thousand times, what happens to the poor innocent native in Africa who has never heard the gospel? And I always answer that question the same way I said, that person goes straight to heaven. He doesn't pass go.
He doesn't collect his $200. And people look at me aghast, and they say, well, I thought everybody needed Christ. And I say, well, I thought that too. But you asked me what happened to the poor innocent native in Africa who has never heard the gospel. I said, a poor innocent native in Africa doesn't need to hear the gospel. The gospel is not for innocent people. The gospel is for guilty people. Now the problem is you're going to need more than the lamp of Diogenes to find a single innocent native in Africa or in South America or North America or anywhere else, because there aren't any innocent people out there. And they say, well, you mean to tell me that God is going to condemn somebody for rejecting Jesus when they've never heard of Jesus?
I said, of course not. God judges everybody on the basis of the light that they have. But you have to understand that Christ comes into a world that is already under the universal indictment of God the Father, because there's no place in this universe where the knowledge of God the Father has failed to penetrate. And everybody receives that knowledge, and everybody twists it and distorts it, and so everyone is guilty before God. And they can't say, well, again, they can't claim ignorance as an excuse. And people seem to say, well, if we tell them the gospel, we sort of put them in double jeopardy, because if they reject Christ, then they're double guilty.
Well, they are double guilty, but they're guilty enough already. Their only hope for salvation is to hear the gospel, because general revelation, even though it goes to the whole world, is insufficient and inadequate for salvation. That's why we need special revelation, and that special revelation is called special, not only because the content of it is special, but because the audience is special. Not everybody in the world has heard of Jesus. Not everybody in the world knows of the Bible. There are thousands of tongues of nations of people who have never heard a word of the Bible.
They're ignorant of special revelation, and they desperately need to hear it. But that's what the Confession is saying here in section 1, that even though the light of nature does all of this to leave men inexcusable, yet the works of creation and so on are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Now in simple terms, that means what you need to know to be saved, you can't learn simply from studying nature. You can learn that there is a God, that He's eternal, He's all powerful, that He's holy, and that you owe Him worship, and that you are exposed to His wrath.
You can learn all of that, but you're not going to learn the gospel by studying the stars. Therefore, the Confession goes on to say, it pleased the Lord. It was pleasing to God because of this. At sundry times and in divers manners, to reveal Himself and to declare that His will unto His church, and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same holy unto writing. Now here we have a paraphrase of the opening words of the epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament that tells us that in sundry times in various ways, God in former days had spoken through this means and that means in diverse ways, but now speaks to us through His Son, who is the consummate expression of God's special revelation. And so that is acknowledged by the Confession that God was pleased throughout history in different ways to reveal Himself further through Scripture, through putting it in writing in order to give comfort and solace to the church, that is to His people, to strengthen His people in their struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Those are the threefold enemies of Christian growth and Christian maturity. And so it pleased God to commit His special revelation to writing, which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary, those former ways of God revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. Now the former ways that are in view here were former ways of special revelation, where God would reveal Himself through dreams, through audible oracles expressed by the prophets, and so on, through the Urim and the Thummim, through the pillar of cloud, through Theophanies, the burning bush and that sort of thing. But those have ceased because now God has been pleased to take the substance of His special revelation and have it committed into writing. And that's why the Scriptures are so important, because as the Confession says, they are most necessary.
That's funny. It would seem to me that the true necessity does not admit to degrees, but the scholars that made this point here were aware of the nuances of grammar, that they wanted to emphasize that necessity to have the Scriptures by stressing that it is not just necessary to have the Scripture. It's most necessary. It's necessary to the superlative degree for us if we're going to know who God is, how to please Him, how to grow in His grace. We have to have the Scriptures. It's not just that we need a doctrine of Scripture. What we need is the Scripture. We need the content of Scripture. We need the content of this revelation. This is the amazing thing to me, that even in those churches today that have a high view of the nature of Scripture, where people will fight to the death for the verbal inspiration of the Bible or the inerrancy of sacred Scripture and so on, still ignore its pages and are derelict in mastering it.
And to see where we are as a Christian community, I look in the Christian magazines, listen to Christian radio, television, and everybody's always coming, and we even do it at Ligonier, we're guilty of it. We're saying, here, here's a plan for you to read through the Bible in fifteen minutes a day. Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to master the things of God that He has been pleased to set in writing for your soul and for your eternal benefit and welfare, you have to forget this idea that you can do it in fifteen minutes a day. There is no mastery of Scripture in three easy lessons. This is a lifelong pursuit to master the pages of sacred Scripture.
And it starts the day of your conversion and doesn't quit until the day you die. I mean, I cannot pick up this book of the Bible, and I don't care where I turn it, where I open to it, that every time I open it I don't see something that I missed the last time I looked at it. And yet I feel like I've been a Christian for forty-five years or however long it's been, longer than that actually, and I still haven't begun to even penetrate the surface of what's here. I was just reading through the book of Isaiah the other day, which is one of the most popular and well-known of the major prophets, and I've studied it many times. But as I was reflecting again on the pages of Isaiah that I haven't looked at for a while, I mean, I was stricken in my soul by the message that was in there that I hadn't really caught before.
But there it was. And I said, this is the Word of God. And we have lost our capacity to tremble before the Word of God as if the Scriptures were no longer necessary for our health and for our salvation. Section 2 of the Confessions 1st chapter says, Under the name of Holy Scriptures, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these. And then it lists them, 66 in nature, the books of the Old Testament combined with the books of the New Testament. And then added at the end of this list are these words of affirmation, all of which, all of these books are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith in life. Now that's only one little sentence there, but again it's a loaded sentence that reflects Paul's instruction to Timothy when he said all of the graphite, all of the Scripture is given by inspiration. And let me talk about that just briefly for the moment.
We'll expand on it more later. We talk about the term inspiration as a theological word to talk about how Scripture came to be in the first place. The Bible calls this book, the Bible, the Word of God. It claims to be of divine origin, and yet at the same time it's very clear in the pages of sacred Scripture that there were human authors involved in the writing of the text. And this has puzzled many people when they say, wait a minute, if this was written by human beings, how can we call it the Word of God, when really it's the Word of Paul, or Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, or the Word of Jeremiah, or Moses. How can we elevate it to the next level, the highest level, and call it supremely the Word of God? Others have even said this, that one of the most basic axioms that we have is found in the Latin phrase, urare est humanum, to err is human.
And if this is human in its orientation, in its writing, in its transcription, it must contain errors because human beings are known for nothing more than making errors all the time. Well, when we talk about inspiration, we're talking about God's superintendence of human activity, God's provision, God's guidance, God's control over the human authors that trumps our natural disposition to error, that God preserves the truth of His Word while He inspires those human authors in such a way as to keep them from distorting His truth. Now that's how we use the term inspiration, but when Paul says all of Scripture is given by inspiration, the word theopneus that is used there in the text really should be translated expiration because what Paul is saying is that the Scriptures are God-breathed, and he's referring now not to the mode of transmission, how he so worked with the human vessels who wrote down the words of the pages of Scripture, but he's talking about the origin of Scripture, where the information comes from.
Again, he's making a statement about Revelation. He is saying that the Scripture, all of the Scripture is God-breathed. It comes out of God. Whenever I want to speak, and if I want to speak real fast and get a lot of words in in a short period of time because I see that clock going real fast and I go with run-on sentences and I can only talk so long until sooner or later, I have to breathe in and take a cast of prayer before I can talk because every time I'm talking, I'm breathing out. And I can only do that so long until I have to breathe in. And inspiration is breathing in. Expiration is breathing out. And what the Bible is saying about itself is that all of the Scripture is breathed out by God. Now when he breathes it out, he also breathes it in so that the human authors are then made able and capable of communicating His Word in writing. And all of these are given by the inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life. Quick comment on that. In recent debates about the nature of Scripture, there's been a very popular doctrine that's made its way through the church, which is the doctrine of partial inspiration or partial inerrancy.
And it goes like this. Whenever the Bible speaks about matters of faith or of holy living, then those portions of the Bible are inspired and without error. But the rest, the obiter dicta, the things that are not directly involved with our faith and our life, but questions of historical accuracy, questions of science and the like, those leave us opportunity and room for the Bible text to be corrected because the human authors erred whenever they talked about these subjects. Because after all, our confession says that the Bible is only our authority with respect to faith and life. It's the only rule of faith and life.
And you hear how you twist words to get a completely different meaning. What the framers of the Westminster Confession and the Catechism were saying is that the only written source that governs all of faith and life is the Bible. It's one thing to say there's only one rule that governs faith and life, and saying this is a rule only when it speaks to matters of faith and life.
Because in the first affirmation, faith and life are shorthand for everything, because what else is there to the Christian faith but the Christian faith and the Christian life? And that the Word of God rules over your faith and it rules over your life, in every part of your life, your historical part, your scientific part, your psychological part. Your whole life is under the rule of the Word of God. That's what is meant by the Confession when it talks about the rule of faith and life. And so run for your lives from those who want to twist that to mean, well, it's partially authoritative. It's a partial rule. It only rules those things that relate to your religion. No. God's Word is God's law over all of faith and all of life.
That's what they're saying. In section 3, I take up another subject quickly. The books, commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are no authority in the church of God, nor to be otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings. Now we remember that the Westminster Confession is a Protestant and so one of the debates in the sixteenth and seventeenth century between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics was a debate over what books belong in the canon of sacred Scripture. Remember the Bible, which word means book, is not just one book, it's a collection of books. It's a collection, we believe, of sixty-six books, which do not include those books written in the intertestamental period between the close of the Old Testament canon with Malachi and the opening of the New Testament canon with Matthew.
That 400-year period saw other books written that are called the Apocrypha that chronicled some of the heroic activities of the Maccabees and things of that sort. Now the Roman Catholic Church historically and definitively at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century include the Apocrypha in the Bible. So what the Protestants delete, the Catholics include, and so there's this ongoing dispute as to the scope and the extent of the canon of Scripture. And the word canon or canon means norm, or measuring rod, or stick, and it is that normative authority that governs over us, and Protestants differ from Rome as to what books make it to the level of canon. Now I've heard people say that Luther didn't believe in the inspiration of the Bible because at one point in his life he questioned the canonicity of the book of James. Well, be careful with your inferences from that. I've heard theologians make that statement.
I said, wait a minute. Luther believed that the Bible never errs, and he says that in his writings. But when he talked about James for a while, he said, but I don't believe that. It's part of the Bible. So his question with James was whether it was canonical. And later on in his life, he realized that it was, and that dispute was over.
But he never disputed the inspiration of any book that he recognized to be canonical. Now again, we'll take up the next time a little bit of how it was that the church in her history came to conclude what books actually belonged in the Bible. I talked to an attorney once, a very educated man, who said, I don't believe the Bible because it was translated by a group of homosexuals from the Sanskrit and from two thousand different manuscripts, and I have no reason to believe the right ones got in there. I said, two thousand manuscripts, you know, from the Sanskrit.
I said, the Bible wasn't written in the Sanskrit. But he had all this crazy nonsense, the kind of thing you read in the Da Vinci Code, which is fiction based upon fiction based upon fiction. But in any case, what you have here is a dispute as to what actually belongs in the canon of Scripture. And the next time, God willing, we'll try to spend some time on looking at what the criteria were by which the church determined their faith as to receive which books as being numbered among the sacred books of the canon. I'll just say briefly now that for the most part, the Protestant church agrees with the Palestinian canon of the Old Testament, which church history would indicate did not include the Apocrypha. The Roman Catholic Church points to the Alexandrian canon in the Greek-speaking world in Egypt, which seemingly did include the intertestamental Apocryphal books. And so, one of the questions is, which source do you go to, the Palestinian source or the Egyptian source?
And that's part of the dispute that goes on even to this day. It is a blessing and such a great privilege that you and I have access to the Word of God. May we not neglect our study of it. Today's message was from R.C. Sproul, as this week he teaches on select sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith. That confession is a helpful summary of Christianity. I spent almost a decade teaching middle schoolers through that confession, and those years helped me as much as it did them, because the confession walks us through the key areas of theology, making it very clear what the historic Christian faith teaches. And this confession, along with 19 other creeds, catechisms, and confessions of faith, is available in a new resource from Ligonier Ministries, simply titled We Believe. Request this hardcover volume with your donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org, or by calling us at 800 435 4343. Response to We Believe has been high, which is so encouraging, so please request your copy at renewingyourmind.org while there's still time and while supplies last. There are not many gods or many ways to God. As the Westminster Confession states, there is but one only, living and true God. And that's what R.C. Sproul will consider tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. .
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