************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 11, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 2
"The Means by Which We Know God"
[My thanks to Carl A. Schouls for his Expository Sermons on the Belgic Confession]
One of the common beliefs today is that we all worship the same God. Whether we call Him God or Allah, whether we follow the teaching of Jesus or Buddha, it is all the same.
Such thinking is the product of Natural Theology. Natural Theology teaches that every person has a point of contact with God. Every person is born with something to which God can attach His grace. Even without the Bible, each person can reach a degree of knowledge of God. Those who hold to Natural Theology believe that by using the intellect, observing things in creation, taking note of events in history, and listening to their conscience, they can know God.
Do you know what it comes down to? Those who hold to Natural Theology believe man can know God without the Bible. They believe human intellect is above the Word. This idea has been around since the fall of Adam into sin, reached new heights during the Enlightenment (the period of history just prior to the French Revolution in the 1790's), and is the thrust of liberal theology today.
Taken to its conclusion, Natural Theology teaches that if something is not logical and based in science it cannot be true. So Natural Theology rejects such extraordinary events as Jonah and the whale, Balaam's talking donkey, the six-day creation, the falling walls of Jericho, and the crossing of the Red Sea even though Jesus and His disciples believed and taught them. From here it is but a short path to also reject the extraordinary claims of the Gospel that Jesus is God in the flesh, that He died on the cross for our sins, that He arose from the grave, that He ascended bodily into heaven, and that someday He will return in glory with His angels to judge the living and the dead.
Natural Theology has evolved since the Enlightenment. What is supreme today is not human reason but human feeling. Consider two examples. If an individual feels it is right for women to be in church office then it is wrong for anyone to say otherwise. I was beside myself with grief when I heard speaker after speaker speak about such feelings at a meeting of Synod in 1995. Or, if an individual feels his needs are best met in a same-sex relationship, we are wrong to say otherwise. Natural Theology would go so far as to say we need to be supportive of these feelings.
Today I want to ask if Article 2 of the Belgic Confession teaches Natural Theology when it states, "We know [God] by ... the creation, preservation, and government of the universe"?
I God Reveals Himself in Creation
A Now, our Bible reading informs us that creation does speak of its Creator. How else can we explain the mystery of the universe and of each new life? Or, look at the stars. Consider the intricacy and perfect balance between the orbiting planets, a balance so fine that we can make precise predictions -- down to the second -- about the movement of objects millions of miles away. Does not all this speak of the hand of God?
Moreover, God is still closely involved in the preservation of this universe and in its maintenance. At the same time as we walk through an autumn landscape with brown hillsides and yellow leaves people on the other side of the world marvel about spring flowers and the endless carpets of green. What do we see in the change of seasons? We see the work of God!
God also governs all things. The history of Israel makes this very clear. Through all the twists and turns of its existence, every event was arranged in order to bring about the coming of the Christ in the fullness of time. And, God continues to direct the paths of nations in such a way that all things, great and small, work together for the return of Christ in all His glory.
All these things work together, says the Confession based upon the Bible, like so many characters of letters in "a beautiful book." What does this book of nature tell us? As Paul tells us in Romans 1:20, all these things make us ponder God's invisible qualities: His eternal power and divine nature. This is how God reveals Himself and this is how man ought to know God. All men, wherever they are or whenever they may have lived, can know God by considering the revelation of Himself in creation.
B Having said that, we need to part ways with Natural Theology. Man should be able to know God from creation. God has made Himself plain to them (Rom 1:19). But man doesn't and he can't know God from creation. It is simply impossible.
Why? Why is it impossible to know God from creation? Because of sin. Sin has made man blind to the presence of God in creation. We live in the midst of the most convincing evidence that God creates, preserves, and governs all things, but we do not see it! If we as redeemed Christians often fail in learning of God from nature, how can we expect a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or atheist to be any better? Sin, says Paul in our Bible reading, has suppressed the knowledge of God.
Nevertheless, we cannot fully suppress this knowledge of God. You can't keep something or someone so great hidden. That's like trying to suppress knowledge of gravity -- it's not going to happen. So what does sinful man do? He distorts the knowledge of God by the worship of idols. Says Paul, he "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Rom 1:22). Today, mankind is more sophisticated and worships money, wealth, possessions, technology, leisure, pleasure, and self. New gods and new religions penetrate every level and aspect of our culture so even Christians use relaxation exercises and meditation techniques and exercise programs that have been borrowed from the false far-eastern religions -- hopefully without buying into the theology.
Paul's opening statement is that men "suppress the truth by their wickedness" (Rom 1:18). The Native American raises his totem pole, and the false church says "We must respect the cultural heritage of all people; if this is their god, so be it." Or someone engages in Transcendental Meditation and the false church says, "We should be careful not to impose our standards on them. We do not have a corner on the truth and this is how God has revealed Himself to them." As a result of such thinking, much of the modern church sells out to what is heathen. Oh, how necessary it is for us to pray," Preserve us, O Lord. And forgive us, O Lord."
What it comes down to is that by nature we love the lie. The absolute bottom line is that the living God reveals Himself to man and says, "I am your God." But sinful man replies, "No thanks. I will worship another." On the Day of Judgment no man will have an excuse for God has revealed Himself to all.
II God Reveals Himself in the Bible
A A careful reading of Article 2 of the Belgic Confession of Faith steers us in the direction of the wonder of God's grace. The Confession says,
We know him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe ... Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word.
Our Confession does NOT say, "Man knows God by two mean." Rather, it says, "We know him by two means." We. Who is meant by "we"? The true church. All those who fear the name of God. This is the "we" who know Him by two means. We know Him from creation -- also called general revelation. It is not called this because this revelation is generally understood -- we have just heard that it is not -- but because in this revelation God comes generally to all people. But there is also special revelation, which is God revealing Himself through His Word.
B So we have general revelation and we have special revelation. But neither does us any good apart from faith. Because both general and special revelation are understood only by faith.
It is only through faith that I meet God in creation, seeing Him everywhere and in all things, and this moves my heart to adoration. In addition, it is only through faith that I meet God in the Bible. What a miracle it is that by faith a blind sinner can see and recognize the wisdom, goodness, and justice of God. He sees these not only in creation, but also in God's work of renewal in the lives of sinners saved by grace.
C What riches come to us from knowing God through His Word. It is there, in the Word, that we come to know the depth of our sin and the riches of His grace. It is there, in the Word, that we come to know the Gospel message that starts with creation, moves to the Fall, goes on to the history of salvation, and ends with the return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead.
If we know God we will not study His Word out of curiosity. Rather, we will study God's Word because we want to know Him better and better. Because we want to rejoice in Him Who has saved us and sanctifies us and someday will glorify us.
D It is faith that is talking in the first three words of Article 2. Look at those words; hear those words: "We know him!" "We know him!" Through faith this is our confession, our song, our praise,
"We know him." Love and friendship enriches our lives. For instance, I met a girl at college. We were strangers to each other. Our lives did not touch at all. But then a friendship developed, and romantic love, and we became lifetime partners in marriage. We can say to each other now, "I know you. You are no longer a stranger." How amazing it is that two hearts can be joined together in this way.
Even more amazing is that we can say this to God: "I know You." "We know Him." This is the God of Whom such great things are spoken of in Article 1: eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, completely wise, just, good, and the overflowing source of all good. We know Him! To know such a God is a miracle. If it is not a miracle to you, you do not know the depth of your sin and the extent of His grace. If it is not a miracle to you, maybe you don't know Him. To know God is a miracle of His grace. Because if it were up to you or me it would never happen. Left on my own I would simply walk past Him, even while tripping over His self-revelation all around me.
I hope you realize how amazing this really is. That God reveals Himself to those who are sinners and enemies. That He wants to be known by those who are ashamed of Him and distort His image and blaspheme His name. Do you see this as a wonder of grace? Do you see this as undeserved favor? We do not deserve to have God reveal Himself to us. Confessing Him, adoring Him, worshiping Him, is an act made possible only by grace.
E Now let me ask: Do you know Him? Some of you are life-long members of this church. Others of you have been here for a shorter time. You have heard the Gospel. Has it entered your heart? Do you believe it? By faith has God opened your eyes so you see? Do you know Him?
If you were to know some government official or a famous sports figure or someone from Hollywood, you might say with some pride, "I know him or her." But that is only a human being. Can you say the same of God? Can you say the same of the single and simple spiritual being whom we call God?
We know God by two means: by creation and by His Word, by general revelation and by special revelation. And yet, we must be careful to affirm that this knowledge does not come to us in this order -- that we first know God through nature and then know Him through His Word. If we were to teach and believe this, we would be falling into the false thinking of Natural Theology and modern theology. We do not know most of what we need to know by our own light and the Bible simply fills in the rest. No! Sinful man cannot read the book of creation on his own; because of sin, creation is out of focus. Natural Theology, general revelation, is not enough for our salvation.
I said earlier that it is only through faith that I meet God. And faith, as you should know, is the work of the Holy Spirit, Who enlightens darkened minds and renews hearts dead in sin. Every true child of God experiences the work of Spirit in his or her life. But now let me add one more layer: the Spirit always works through the Word.
Do you know God? If you do, it is not because of Natural Theology. If you do, it is only because of the Spirit working through the Word.
Do you know God? Do you know Him from His Word? Do you know His Son, Jesus Christ? Have you met Him and by faith do you know Him as Savior and Lord?
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