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Here, we continue our series on man's knowledge of God. We have already explored man's knowledge of God through natural revelation, that is, man's innate knowledge of God and man's knowledge of God through the creation. Here we look at man's knowledge of God through God's direct revelation, that is, by His Word and by His Son.
"All Scripture is God-breathed..." (II Tim. 3:16)
"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son... The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being..." (Heb. 1:1-3)
"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17)
"Philip said, `Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.' Jesus answered: `Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.'" (John 14:8-9).
"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form..." (Col. 2:9).
There is no greater possession that we have than God's direct revelation to us. God's direct revelation is far more precise and accurate than natural revelation. God's direct revelation is written (so to speak) in black and white; whereas, His natural revelation must be interpreted and filtered by our fuzzy and fallen reasonings. The wisest philosophers in history have been unable to discover through mere reasoning the true nature of God without relying on God's direct revelation of Himself. "How endless and unsatisfying have been the answers to the greatest of all questions, What is God? The whole Eastern world answers by saying, `That He is the unconscious ground of being.' The Greeks gave the same answer for philosophers, and made all nature God for the people. The moderns have reached no higher doctrine. Fichte says the subjective Ego is God. According to Schelling, God is the eternal movement of the universe, subject becoming object, object becoming subject, the infinite becoming finite, and the finite infinite. Hegel says, Thought is God...Carlyle makes force God. A Christian child says: `God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.' Men and angels veil their faces in the presence of that answer."[Footnote #11] Such an answer, so clear, crisp, forthright and true, comes through God's direct revelation.
For the most part, God's direct revelation to us consists of our knowledge of Him through His Word, the Holy Bible, and through His Son, Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews sums it up: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). In a sense, God's revelation through the Bible and through Christ are one and the same, for the subject of the entire Bible--Old Testament as well as New Testament--is Jesus Christ. The Old Testament describes how human history was prepared for His coming. It lays an important foundation for our understanding of man's need for salvation by showing us how we, in our sinful nature, have been incapable of obeying God's law. The Gospels then describe God's coming to earth as a man in the person of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts describes the spread of the Gospel of Christ into the world, and the role of the Spirit in this work. The Epistles systemize and explain the Gospel of Christ. The book of Revelation describes Christ's return to earth and the "history" of the future.
So, the Bible reveals the person and work of Jesus Christ; so also, Jesus Christ reveals the character and attributes of God. When Philip, one of Jesus' disciples, requested of Christ, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us," Jesus answered: "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:7-9). Through Jesus, our knowledge of God is sufficient, "for in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form..." (Col. 2:9). Christ is the fullest, most tangible picture of God that we have. "When [men] saw the Son of God remaining in His divine nature in heaven, and yet, by an admirable union to the human nature, manifested in the infirmities of our flesh; when they saw Him in the divine nature sitting upon a throne of justice, yet exposed to the sufferings of the cross, injured by men, invaded by devils, deserted by His Father, heaven and earth in confusion at the groans and death of the Son of God; when they saw Him justified in the Spirit, raised from death, ascending up to heaven with that body wherein He had suffered: they learned more of God and His nature, more of the depths of His wisdom, treasures of His grace, and power of His wrath, than they had done by all God's actions in the world, from the foundation of it, in all those four thousand years wherein they had remained in being."[Footnote #12]
Christ brings God near to us: near in space (by dwelling on the earth), near in nature (by becoming a man). There was no better way for God to reveal Himself than by coming to the earth personally, as a man. Through Christ, we see in human terms, terms that we can understand, all the attributes of God: His righteousness (in Christ's sinlessness), His forgiveness (as He prayed on the cross), His mercy (in freeing the adulteress), His grace (in eating with sinners), His compassion (in touching the leper), His truth (in fulfilling the promises of God), His love (in dying for us), His power (in raising from the dead), His glory (on the Mount of Transfiguration). "And indeed there is as great a difference between the knowledge of God by Christ, and the knowledge of God by the creatures and the law, as there is between the knowledge of a man by his footsteps, and the knowledge of him by his image."[Footnote #13]
Given this, it follows that no one can really know God except through Christ. As we have seen in previous articles in this series, we can know much about God through natural revelation: we can see His power through the creation; His wisdom in its design; His goodness in its beauty; His majesty from its glory; His omnipotence from its vastness; etc. However, natural revelation is subjective. To discern the character and attributes of God through natural revelation, we must use reason; yet, our reasoning abilities have been tainted since the fall of man. Therefore, what we determine about God and the things of God through reason is uncertain. "Never speak of right reason in the things of God without a supernatural illumination, and the guidance of revelation, till you can show a soul free from all manner of corruption, as white as snow, and as innocent as a standing angel."[Footnote #14] Without direct revelation, our knowledge of God is subject to error.
Even if our reasonings concerning God were error-free, the knowledge of God that we can glean from natural revelation is incomplete. Through nature, we have no idea how God will deal with sin. We have an unanswered dilemma. Through our conscience, we are convicted of sin, and can sense that one day we will be held accountable for it; but, we know not when or how. We can see no way that we, in our sin, can be reconciled to a holy God. The creation tells us nothing about God's forgiveness or the means to obtain it. We know nothing through natural revelation about God's plan of redemption. "Nature never preached the doctrine of a Saviour, and the necessity of faith; and therefore by all the endowments of nature the soul cannot be informed of the true nature of God."[Footnote #15] This knowledge only comes through God's direct revelation.
Moreover, there are specifics about God's nature that we would never know without God's direct revelation of Himself. For instance, we would never know that God consists of a Trinity of three persons: the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We would never know about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, or about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We would never know that we could know God personally through His Son Jesus Christ, or that, through faith in Christ, we become children of God. So, although there is much we can glean about God through natural revelation, there is much about God that it cannot tell us. God's direct revelation through His Word and His Son makes clear what the creation whispers, makes explicit what natural revelation hints at.
And where would we be without such revelation? What hope would we have in our sinful state? What meaning would our lives have without the knowledge that God is working through us? Given the inaccuracy and incompleteness of our knowledge of God through nature, it is understandable that God chose to reveal Himself to us also in a more direct manner. Many, even some who believe there is a God, deny that God has revealed Himself to man directly. Why? Certainly a God, who is capable of creating us, is also capable, and willing, to communicate directly with those who are made in His image. It is reasonable to assume that God, who took the trouble to create us, would reveal Himself to His prize creation in a direct way. Certainly, "if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men."[Footnote #16]
God has provided us such a depository of doctrine in His Word, the Holy Bible. God, by His grace, has given us knowledge of Himself in a clear and comprehensible way. Though written by man, the Bible is a product of God, for "all Scripture is God-breathed" (II Tim. 3:16). The Bible answers the great questions: Who is God? What is He like? What is man's purpose? How do we gain God's favor? What happens after we die? What is right and wrong? The Bible contains information that can be found nowhere else, explicit information about the Creator of the universe. The Bible contains all we need to know about God and the things of God. We need no further revelation from God than what's in the Bible. This being true, any other supposed direct revelation from God can and must be tested by what is in the Bible.
The Bible is a clear depiction of God and His plan for His creation. The Bible clears up the misconceptions concerning God and the things of God that we have developed as a result of our sin nature. For example, through natural revelation, we can infer certain attributes of God, but many of our inferences are filtered through our sin nature, giving us an inaccurate picture of God; in the Bible, we are shown explicitly God's nature and attributes through His dealings with man. Also, through the light of our conscience, we can infer some of the laws of God, but in our desire to sin, we ignore much of the law that our conscience teaches; in the Bible, God specifies explicitly His laws. If we would study the Bible with an open, unbiased mind, we could learn much truth about our Creator.
The Bible recounts God's dealing with man, beginning appropriately with the first man. It contains history, prophecy, poetry, doctrine, morality, songs of praise, and a great theme: Jesus Christ and His redemption of mankind. Through this theme and the prophecies and typology that support it, we see that God has had a plan from the beginning to redeem man and reconcile man to Himself. We see that the main goal of God's dealing with man is that we may have a meaningful relationship with Him.
The Bible is a complete history of God's dealing with man, from the beginning to the end. This history, as recounted in the Bible, sheds light upon current events, helping us to understand the world in which we live. We read in the newspaper of the evil that man perpetrates upon man, and we can understand that this is a result of man's fallen nature and his propensity to sin, as described in the Bible. The Bible helps us understand ourselves and our own feelings. We understand the tuggings of our conscience and our lack of satisfaction when we sin, because our sin displeases the Lord.
Despite the great wealth of information that the Bible contains, it is written in amazingly simple language, language that a child can understand. The Word of God is accessible to all. "When an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician's art?"[Footnote #17] Yet, in spite of its simplicity, it has provided food for thought for countless scholars through the ages; it has been the subject of thousands and thousands of books, and millions of Sunday sermons.
Now, the completeness and depth of God's direct revelation does not obviate the need for God's revelation through nature. His direct revelation is a completion of the knowledge gained through other means. To understand the direct revelation of God, one must first have listened to the light of conscience and creation. He must have first developed a belief in God through natural revelation. Belief in God is a necessary first step toward knowing God. Belief in God is the foundation of religion. One will not accept the Bible as fact, accept its teaching, or accept Christ without first a basic belief in God, as obtained through natural revelation.
Complete knowledge of God comes in stages. First, through our innate knowledge and through reasoning, we come to believe in His existence. Then, this realization is confirmed through evidence of Him in His creation. We also gain basic knowledge of some of His attributes through His creation. Finally, and most importantly, we gain knowledge of His redemptive plan through His direct revelation. All these things contribute to the culmination of our knowledge of God, which is to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, thus being reconciled to our Creator. This is the goal of God's revelation of Himself to us.
So, Father, we praise You for revealing Yourself to us. Oh, what a blessing that we can know the Creator of the universe and call Him Father! We praise You for that privilege. Work, by Your Spirit, in our lives. May we be used to further make clear Your attributes to those around us. May they see Your love in us, Your faithfulness, Your mercy, Your forgiveness. Be glorified in our lives. We pray these things in the name of Your Son, through whom You have been revealed to us, Amen.
11. Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology; Vol. I, pg. 171-172.
12. Stephen Charnock, "Knowledge of God in Christ", from The Works of Stephen Charnock; Vol. IV, pg. 135.
13. Ibid., pg. 126.
14. Ibid., pg. 154.
15. Ibid., pg. 154.
16. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. I, pg 66.
17. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. I, pg. 75.
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