Articles

Revelation, Inspiration, and Infallibility (2): Revelation: General and Special

This article was first published in the Standard Bearer. For the original source link click here.

Deus dixit! God has spoken! This is the pos­sibility of the knowledge of God. We know Godonly through His revelation to us. Apart from revelation there is no possibility of the knowledge of God. Apart from revelation God remains essentially unknowable. This is the necessity, the absolute necessity, of revelation. This we saw last time.

We also saw that God reveals Himself, desires to reveal Himself, and delights in making Himself known because He is the covenant God. Why has God spoken? Why has God chosen to reveal Himself, when He was under no compulsion to do so? Why has He spoken to man? The utterly amazing answer is that God has spoken because it is His desire to make us His friends. Because God is the covenant God, and because it is His desire to take us up into His own covenant life, God has spoken. Deus dixit!

God’s Twofold Revelation

God reveals Himself to man in two ways, or, better, God’s revelation is twofold. Reformed theology has al­ways distinguished a twofold revelation of God. There is, on the one hand, God’s revelation of Himself to men in the creation and by means of all things that He has cre­ated. This aspect of God’s revelation has been tradition­ally referred to as “general revelation.” Some have objected to the use of this term, and for good reason. But the term has become entrenched in the Reformed tradition, and for that reason we will make use of it. This aspect of God’s revelation is also sometimes referred to as revelatio in res—more Latin. The expression means, “revelation in things.”

On the other hand, God also reveals Himself in His Word, Holy Scripture, or the Bible. This aspect of God’s revelation is referred to as “special revelation.” It is also sometimes referred to as revelatio in verba, that is, “rev­elation in words.”

This twofold distinction is both biblical and confes­sional. The Belgic Confession, Article 2, is entitled, “By what means God is made known unto us.” The article teaches that there are two means by which God is made known unto us.

We know [God] 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 contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, His power and divinity, as the apostle Paul saith, Romans 1:20. All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse. Secondly, 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.

Similarly, the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.1 states:

Although the light 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: therefore it pleased the Lord, 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, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.

Scripture teaches God’s revelation of Himself in the creation that He has made. Job says, “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?” (Job 12:7-9). The psalmist exclaims in Psalm 19:1-3, “The heavens de­clare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge [that is, the knowledge of God]. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” To the citizens of Lystra who had attempted to worship Paul and Silas as gods, Paul proclaimed the one, true God who “. . . left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

The classic passage on general revelation is Romans 1:19, 20: “Because that which may be known of God is manifested in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him [that is, God] from [note: not ‘since,’ but ‘from’] the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” According to the apostle, the creation bears testimony to its Creator. It bears testimony to the truth that He is God: His “Godhead” and His “eternal power.” And it bears testimony to the truth that He and He alone ought to be worshiped. For if He is God, truly God, the creature owes to his Creator God his worship.

God’s general revelation is not only an objective testimony outside of man, something that he beholds in the creation about him. But included in general rev­elation is also God’s work of making Himself known within a man. This, too, is the teaching of the apostle in Romans 1. He writes in Romans 1:19: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.” Coupled with God’s testimony concerning Himself in the creation, God makes Himself known within every man, in every man’s conscience. By this means, God confirms His objective testimony in the creation. Herman Hoeksema reflects on the apostle’s teaching in this passage:

Creation is not a dead book. It is a living testimony. Through it God brings the invisible things of God into man’s heart. Just as He brings the living testimony of the gospel into the hearts of His people, so He brings the living testimony of creation into the heart of [natu­ral] man.¹

He goes on:

For this reason the invisible things of God are clearly seen. That is why it is a good remedy, even for the Christian, to escape from this sophisticated world for a time (for we live in a very sophisticated world) and go to the woods, lie on one’s back, and say nothing. Don’t say anything; don’t spoil it by talking. Just look up at the sky, listen to the birds, and look at the trees, the flowers, and the grass. This will be the testimony: “God is! God is eternal in power and eternal in Godhead! God must be praised!”²

All Men Know God—No Atheists

From this revelation of God in the creation, con­firmed by that which God manifests in them, all men know God. They do not simply know that there is a god, a higher power, some supreme being. But they know God, the true God, the Creator God, the God of revelation. From God’s revelation in the creation, coupled with His testimony within man, every man knows God.

No man or woman escapes this knowledge of God. For this reason, there are no atheists in the world. There are no atheists in foxholes, because there are no atheists at all. Not only are there no atheists in foxholes; there are no atheists in factories or offices, on construction sites or farms, in laundry rooms or kitch­ens, in classrooms or laboratories, in the White House or Buckingham Palace or Noordeinde Palace. There are no atheists in all the world.

To be sure, there are people who say that they are athe­ists. Ludwig Andreas von Feuerback (1804-1872) was an influential nineteenth century German atheist. He was a harsh and outspoken critic of Christianity. He taught that God did not make us, but rather that we make God as a figment of our own imagination. Students of his phi­losophy, who made explicit appeal to his teachings, were: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who applied his teaching to psychology; Karl Marx (1818-1883), who applied his teaching to politics, economics, and society; and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who applied his teaching to phi­losophy, religion, and ethics. Nietzsche is the originator of the death of God movement.

But there are no atheists. God will not let there be any atheists. That is the teaching of Scripture. In both Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1, the man who says that there is no God is called a fool. He is a fool because he denies what he knows to be the truth. He is not ignorant or stupid. He is a fool, a fool who knows bet­ter. He may say that there is no God, but in his heart of hearts he knows that God is. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”

God’s Purpose with General Revelation

But what is God’s purpose with His revelation in creation? Is God’s purpose a saving purpose? Is it ever a saving purpose?

God’s purpose with general revelation is not to save. The revelation in creation cannot save anyone. It cannot save anyone because it is only the revelation of God’s wrath, as the apostle says in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven . . . .” It cannot save anyone because it is not the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the only way of salvation. It cannot save anyone because it is not a revelation by means of which the Holy Spirit works savingly. It is not a saving rev­elation because of those to whom it comes: fallen and depraved sinners, sinners whose minds are darkened and whose hearts are hard.

Invariably the revelation of God in creation is rejected by the natural man. Paul teaches this as well in Romans 1. He teaches that the natural man always rejects and suppresses the knowledge of God, contradicting Karl Marx, who taught that religion is “the opium of the masses” and that people create religion in order to sedate their suffering. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [literally, ‘hold under’] the truth in unrighteousness.” Not only do men reject and sup­press the knowledge of God, but, as the apostle goes on to teach, they distort that knowledge in the service of idolatry. “Because that, when they knew God [they did know God], they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed [deliberately changed] the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23). And the apostle adds in verse 25: “Who changed [delib­erately and willfully changed] the truth of God [which they knew from the creation] into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than [that is, rather than] the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

This is always the natural man’s response to the revelation of God in the creation. He always distorts and perverts the knowledge of God by making an idol, which he proclaims to be God and before which he bows as God. That is always his response to the rev­elation of God in the creation—because he is a totally depraved, fallen sinner. By nature, he hates God and the truth of God. When confronted by the truth of God, he rejects it in unbelief.

Idolatry, therefore, is not to be explained as the natural man, apart from the gospel, doing the best that he can, with the knowledge that he has, to serve God. Neither is it the case, as is often taught, that general revelation can serve as the basis for a natural theology and natural religion, a natural theology and natural religion coupled with common grace that are prepara­tory to revealed theology and revealed religion. This is emphatically not Scripture’s judgment of idolatry, either by Paul in Romans 1, or by the prophets in the Old Testament (Is. 44 and Jer. 10). Idolatry is the wicked and willful rejection of the truth that God is God—the first commandment.

What, then, is God’s purpose with His revelation in creation? The apostle expresses that purpose in Romans 1:20c: “. . . so that they may be without excuse.” God’s revelation in creation is not sufficient to save; but it is sufficient to leave men without excuse. From God’s revelation in creation, all men know that God is and that He ought to be served. That leaves all men, the natural man apart from the gospel, without excuse before God. John Calvin writes:

There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has im­planted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty. Ever renewing its memory, he repeatedly sheds fresh drops. Since therefore, men one and all perceive that there is a God and that he is their Maker, they are condemned by their own testimony because they have failed to honor him and to consecrate their lives to his will. If ignorance of God is to be looked for anywhere, surely one is most likely to find an example of it among the more backward folk, and those more remote from civilization. Yet there is, as the eminent pagan says, no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God. And they who in other aspects of life seem least to differ from brutes still continue to retain some seed of reli­gion [semen religionis]. So deeply does the common conception occupy the minds of all, so tenaciously does it inhere in the hearts of all! Therefore, since from the beginning of the world there has been no region, no city, in short, no household, that could do without religion, there lies in this a tacit confession of a sense of deity inscribed in the hearts of all.³

Not the natural man, but only the child of God receives the revelation of God in the creation. As reborn by the Spirit of Christ and peering at the creation through the spectacles of the Scriptures, the child of God sees God in the splendor of His revelation in the things that are made. And seeing the splendor of God, the child of God confesses and worships the God of revelation.

Next time, I want to begin consideration of God’s special revelation in Holy Scripture. It is my purpose in a series of articles to set forth and defend the Reformed doctrine of Scripture. First, I intend to do that positively, setting forth the truth of the Bible’s divine inspiration and infallibility. And then I hope to examine three current at­tacks on the historic (confessional) Reformed doctrine of Scripture. These three departures include, first, Jack Rog­ers’ and Donald McKim’s teaching of limited inerrancy, particularly by way of their distinction between inerrancy and infallibility. The second departure is that of Peter Enns, who denies the truth of Scripture by way of what he proposes as the incarnational model of inspiration. And the third departure is that of Andrew McGowan, who denies the doctrine of Scripture by way of his rejec­tion of the traditional argument of correlation, that is, since God is perfect, the Scriptures of which He is the author must also be perfect. That argument, McGowan rejects. These men are influential, and their teachings are having an impact in Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Their errors must be exposed, and God’s people must be confirmed in the age-old truth of Scripture’s divine inspi­ration and infallibility.


1 Herman Hoeksema, Righteous by Faith Alone: A De­votional Commentary on Romans(Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2002), 28.

2 Hoeksema, Righteous by Faith Alone, 29.

3 John T. McNeill, ed., Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols., Library of Christian Classics, 20, 21 (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.3.1, 1:43.

Cammenga, Ronald L.

Rev. Ronald Cammenga (Wife; Rhonda)

Ordained: September 1979

Pastorates: Hull, IA - 1979; Loveland, CO - 1984; Southwest, Grandville, MI - 1993; Faith, Jenison, MI - 2004; PR Seminary - 2005

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Ronald_Cammenga

Contact Details

  • Address
    202 Suncrest Ct.
  • City
    Grandville
  • State or Province
    MI
  • Zip Code
    49418
  • Country
    United States
  • Telephone
    616-531-1490 (office)
back to top

Contact Details

Denomination

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Reading Sermon Library
  • Taped Sermon Library

Synodical Officers

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Synodical Committees

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Emeritus Committee
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Contact/Missions

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Classical Officers

Classis East
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Classis West
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.