************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 12, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 2
"The Two Books"
How do you come to know God? In answering this, there are two extremes we need to avoid.
First, we need to avoid the answer of deism. Deism says God is so transcendent, so wholly other, so removed from us, that we cannot intimately know Him.
Second, we need to avoid the answer of pantheism. Pantheism says God is everything. So, it is a case of too much information, of knowing too much about God.
How do you come to know God? The Belgic Confession answers this question for us in Article 2. It tells us God makes Himself known to us in two different books. One of the books, of course, is the Bible. What is the other book? It is not the Book of Mormon. It is not one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is not the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas or other such writings that have been popularized by recent movies like "The Da Vinci Code." The other book of God whereby we come to know Him is the "book" of creation. Notice how the Belgic Confession puts this? It says the "universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God."
I General Revelation
A We speak of the book of creation as God's general revelation. Meaning what? First, it means that the knowledge of God is generally revealed to all men. Second, it means that this book reveals only a general knowledge of God; it reveals Him as Creator but not as Redeemer.
The book of general revelation has many different chapters. The first chapter is the universe itself. Our Bible reading from Psalm 19 declares the wonderful knowledge of God made known by the heavens and the earth. The psalmist compares the heavens to an eloquent preacher, whose voice is so loud and clear that all men, everywhere, and at all times, can hear and understand what is being said. No one can open their eyes without seeing God. Listen to what the psalmist says:
(Ps 19:1-4) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (2) Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (3) There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (4) Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.Don't you just love this psalm?
As we meditate upon Psalm 19 and the knowledge of God the Creator that is being shouted out by the "book" of creation, we are reminded of our opening hymn for this evening:
This is my Father's world, What a testimony this song is to creation revelation!
And to my list'ning ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world,
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–
His hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father's world,
The birds their carols raise;
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their Maker's praise.
This is my Father's world,
He shines in all that's fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.
The Belgic Confession identifies God's preservation of the universe as another chapter in the book of general revelation. Why is it that our planet rotates on its axis and around the sun so that we have day and night, Summer and Winter, seedtime and harvest, sunshine and rain? Why is it that gravity is constant and doesn't fluctuate up and down? Why is it that ice floats instead of sinks? Why is it that the speed of light is a constant? What keeps this universe going? We need to speak here of the preservation of God. Hebrews tells us that God "upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Heb 1:3). And, we are told that in Christ "all things hold together" (Col 1:17). I just love how the Heidelberg Catechism puts this: "God ... upholds, as with His hand, heaven and earth and all creatures ... that without His will they can neither move nor be moved" (A 27-28).
A final chapter in the book of general revelation is God's government of the universe. We are talking here about God's almighty and ever present power in relation to history. The rise and fall of nations, the succession of times, the outcome of world events are completely in His hand. Remember how the Apostle Paul put this to the pagan philosophers on Mars Hill?
(Acts 17:26) From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
B How do you come to know God? I know Him by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe. I know Him by general revelation.
What does this book tell us? What is the content of this revelation? Paul speaks here of God's invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature (Rom 1:20). The creation, preservation, and government of the universe tells us there is a God, that He is powerful, divine, wise, and creative.
Don't ever forget that this general revelation is an eloquent preacher. Its voice is so loud and clear that all men, everywhere, and at all times, can hear and understand what is being said. No one can open their eyes without seeing God. Which leads to the question of how come some people won't and don't believe in God?
Here is the answer: many people are deaf to what is being said and blind to what is being shown by the creation. According to the Apostle Paul, they suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom 1:18). They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). They claim to be wise, but in actual fact they are fools (Rom 1:23). Why are they fools? Because general revelation is enough to convince men that there is a God and leave them without excuse (Rom 1:20).
No one has an excuse on the last and final day, on the Day of Judgment. No one can say, "I didn't know about you, God." No one can say, "No one told me about you, God." For God has revealed Himself to everyone by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe.
(Ps 19:1-4) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (2) Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (3) There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (4) Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
C Do you notice the limits of this revelation? It does not tell us that God is Redeemer. It does not tell us the Gospel. There is no revelation of grace and mercy in general revelation.
I like how John Calvin states this. The knowledge of God in general revelation is law, not gospel. It leaves no excuse, but it does not save; it convicts, but does not convert. For this, we need book two – God's special revelation, the Gospel.
But what about those who don't ever hear about Jesus? What about those who are not confronted with the Gospel? Surely they aren't lost, are they? Surely they have an excuse, don't they? Someone asked me this on a bike ride a couple of weeks ago. The cyclist who asked me has a daughter who knows a young man. The young man is a Muslim. He is the nicest guy you can possibly meet. Surely a nice guy like him is not going to hell, is he?
What does the Bible say about nice guys, and everyone else for that matter? The Bible says "no one seeks for God" (Rom 3:11). Everyone knows there is a God but they don't seek and worship the one only true God Who has revealed Himself by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe. Instead, they suppress the truth and exchange it for lie (Rom 1:18,25). General revelation is enough to leave them "without excuse" (Rom 1:20).
II Special Revelation
A We speak of the Bible as God's special revelation. Meaning what? Meaning it shows the special care God has for us and our salvation. Meaning it reveals God to us as the Redeemer of His people.
The knowledge of God in general revelation is superb, as Scripture says, but it is not sufficient to lead one to salvation in Christ. For that we need God's second book, the Bible.
Have you ever watched a 3-D movie? If you do not wear the 3-D glasses, you will see two of everything, and what you do see is blurred. However, if you do wear the glasses, everything becomes crystal clear. This is how it is with general revelation and special revelation. Because of sin and the effects of sin, we cannot clearly see God in general revelation. What we need is glasses, the glasses of Scripture. Or, as the Belgic Confession puts it, God "makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word."
B So far, in this message, I have been looking at the first four verses of Psalm 19. In verses 7-11 we are told about the "law of the LORD." The Hebrew word that is used is "torah," which means "the teaching of the LORD" – which we know includes the whole Bible. Psalm 19 tells us this teaching is "perfect," "trustworthy," "right," "sure," and "more precious than gold" (Ps 19:7-10). Listen to what the psalmist says:
(Ps 19:7-11) The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. (8) The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (9) The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. (10) They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. (11) By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
So, what do we learn from this second book of God that we don't learn from God's first book? In what way does God make Himself known to us more openly by His holy and divine Word?
Let's look at the names of God. From general revelation we learn there is a God. That is what the psalmist says: "The heavens declare the glory of God." Notice His name or title: He is God. But notice the names for God revealed in verses 7-14. He is the LORD; in the Hebrew, the name is Yahweh; this is God's covenant name. Then, verse 14 calls Him "my Rock" and "my Redeemer." What does the Word tell about God that creation does not? The Word tells us that God is our Savior, our Redeemer, our refuge and strength, our covenant God.
Now, consider what we are told in the New Testament. Jesus says that the torah, the teaching of the LORD, is about Him, it testifies to Him, it points to Him (Jn 5:39). We are also told that "the Word became flesh" (Jn 1:1). We are told that the Old Testament prophets were speaking of the sufferings and glory of Christ (1 Pet 1:10-12). What, then, is the knowledge of God given by the Word? The knowledge of Christ.
How we need the Word. Don't forget what Psalm 19 says. The psalmist tells us that the Word revives, makes wise, gives joy, gives light to the eyes, and warns. We need the Word because we have blurred and suppressed the knowledge of God. We need the Word because sin has blinded us. The Word opens our eyes that we may see. The Word opens our ears that we may hear. The Word opens our mouth that we may gladly share the warm truth of the Gospel everywhere.
C What God reveals in the Bible is sufficient. According to the Belgic Confession, it is "as much as we need in this life." The Word doesn't tell us everything. But it does tell us everything we need to know for our salvation. Nothing has been left out. Which tells us two very important things: nothing can be added to Scripture and nothing can be taken away from Scripture. What we have in Scripture is sufficient.
Scripture also tells us everything we need to know for God's glory. We know that God saves us. We know that God took the first step. We know that God has an eternal plan for our salvation. We know that God's Son took on our flesh. Which tells us what? That the honor and glory goes to God and not to us.
How do you come to know God? Through two books. The first book is general revelation. The second book is special revelation.
I like to end with us reading Psalm 19 responsively. I will read verses 1-4a; I want you to respond together with verses 7-11 ...
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