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     The Doctrine of Revelation of God

 

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “God the Father, God the Son.” The series of sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1955 and was first published in 1996.

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It would be well for us, perhaps, to bear in mind the words which are to be found in Acts 14:15-17:

Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he 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.

 

Now, any consideration of the biblical doctrines, and of Christian doctrine in general, is obviously concerned ultimately with this great question: How is God to be known? The cry is there in the human heart, as expressed so perfectly by Job: 'Oh that I knew where I might find him!' (Job 23:3). We take for granted what has often been pointed out---that there is in the entire human race what you may describe as `a sense of God'. Many say that they do not believe in God, but, in saying that, they have to fight against something fundamental and innate within themselves which tells them that God is, that they have dealings with Him and that somehow or another they have to come to terms with Him, even though those terms may for them be a complete denial of Him. Here, then, I say, is something that is basic to human nature, and fundamental in the whole of humankind. And this sense of God, this feeling of God, is something that either blesses men and women or else torments them. And everybody has to face it.

Those who are concerned about this, and who are anxious to find God and to know Him, are confronted by two possible ways of doing so. The first way, and the one that comes instinctively to us because of our fallen condition, is to believe that we, by our own efforts and seeking, can find God; and from the very beginning of history men and women have been engaged in this quest. They have done so by two main methods. One is to follow this kind of instinctive, intuitive feeling that we have and that is put in various forms. People sometimes talk about an `inner light', and say that all you have to do is to follow that light and its leading.

This is the way of the mystics and others. They say, `If you want to know God, then the best thing to do is to sink into yourself; within everyone there is an inner light which will ultimately lead to God. You do not need knowledge,' they say. `You do not need anything but a resignation of yourself and your powers to this light and its leading.' Now that intuitive method is something with which we are all familiar. It takes numerous forms, and is present in many of the cults in the modern world.

The other method that has been adopted has been the one that is based upon reason and wisdom and understanding. People may start, perhaps, with nature and creation, and they reason on from that. They maintain that as a result of that process they can arrive at a knowledge of God. Others say that by looking at history, and by reasoning on the course of history, they can arrive at a belief in God. Yet others say that the way to arrive at God is to indulge in a process of pure reasoning. They say that if you sit down and reason truly and properly you must arrive at a belief in God. It is illustrated, you remember, by the moral argument: that because I am aware in this world of moral good and better, then that implies that there must be a best somewhere. But where is it? I do not find it in this world, it must therefore be outside the world, and the belief is that that is God.

Now again, I do not want to go into these things. I am simply reminding you that those are the ways in which many people think that they can find God, and arrive at a knowledge of Him. But the Christian answer is that that method is inevitably doomed to failure. The apostle Paul puts it in those memorable words: `The world by wisdom knew not God' (1 Corinthians 1:21); and it is significant that he said that to the Corinthians, who were Greeks, and who were therefore familiar with philosophical teaching. But in spite of Paul having said that, people still rely on human ideas and reasoning to find God.

It seems to me that this is not a matter to argue about, because it is just a question of fact; and the fact is, that one cannot arrive at a knowledge of God along those lines, for two very obvious reasons. The first is (as we hope to see later as we consider these particular doctrines) the nature of God Himself: His infinity, His absolute character and qualities, and His utter holiness. All that in and of itself makes it impossible to have any knowledge of God by means of reason or intuition.

But when you add to that the second reason, which is the character and the nature of men and women as they are in a state of sin, the thing becomes doubly impossible. The human mind is too small to span or grasp God and to realise Him. And when you understand that because of the fall all human faculties and powers are affected by sin and by natural enmity, then, again, a knowledge of God by human endeavour becomes a complete impossibility.

Now the Bible has always started by saying that, and yet people in their foolishness still try these outworn methods which have already proved to be failures. So we must start by laying down this postulate: our only hope of knowing God truly is that He should be graciously pleased to reveal Himself to us, and the Christian teaching is that God has done that. So clearly the first doctrine which we have to consider together is the biblical doctrine of revelation. I cannot arrive at God by my own unaided efforts. I am dependent upon God revealing Himself. The question is: `Has He done so?' The answer is: `Yes, He has,' and the Bible tells us about this.

So, before we come to consider these various doctrines and truths concerning God and our relationship to Him---which is the ultimate quest upon which we are all engaged---we must be perfectly clear about the question of revelation. What is revelation? Well, I think that this is as good a definition as you can get: Revelation is the act by which God communicates to human beings the truth concerning Himself, His nature, works, will or purposes, and it also includes the unveiling of all this--- the drawing back of the veil that conceals this, in order that we may see it.

Now, according to the Bible, God has revealed Himself in two main ways. The first is what we call general revelation; the other, obviously, is special revelation. So, first, let us look at general revelation. What is this? Now I have already referred to the fact that certain people by observing nature think that they can arrive at God by a process of reasoning and the Bible agrees to this extent: it tells us that God has revealed Himself, in general, and first, through creation and nature. Paul made a most important declaration on this subject to the people of Lystra. He said, ‘[God] 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.' Immediately before that, Paul had said, `He made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein' (Acts 14:17, 15).

The other classic statement on that same point is to be found in Acts 17:24; again, you find the same thing stated in Romans 1:19-20: `Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him 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'---another momentous passage. All those statements remind us that God, after all, has left His marks, His imprints, in nature and creation; they are `the works of His hands'. And, of course, running as a theme through the Bible is the message: `The heavens declare the glory of God' (Psalm 19:1) and so on. Everything that has been made is in itself a revelation of God. That is the first definition of general revelation.

But, of course, you get the same type of revelation in what is commonly called providence: the ordering of things in this world, their maintenance, their sustenance, and the fact that everything keeps on going and continues in life. How is it all to be explained? Well, ultimately it is a question of providence. I do not want to go into this now, because when we deal with the doctrine of the providence of God we shall look at the whole question in greater detail. But let us just remember in passing that, through the ordering of providence, the seasons, the rain and the snow and the fructification of crops are all manifestations of God.

The third aspect of general revelation is history. The whole history of the world, if we could but see it, is a revelation of God.

But now we have to say that in and of itself general revelation is not sufficient. It ought to be sufficient, but it is not. And that, it seems to me, is Paul's argument in that first chapter of Romans, where he says, ‘They are without excuse’ (v. 20). The evidence is there, but that has not been enough. Why? Because of sin. If men and women had not been sinners, by looking at the miracles and the works of God in creation, in providence and in history, they would have been able to arrive, by a process of reasoning, at God. But because of their sin, they do not; they deliberately turn their backs upon doing so. That is the great argument in the remainder of Romans 1, which I trust you will read carefully for yourselves. Paul says, `Because that, when they knew 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' (vv. 21-2). And he goes on to say that they began to worship the creature rather than the creator.

So we can sum that up like this: the evidence that is provided in creation and so on is enough to render men and women inexcusable when they stand before God and do wrong. But it is not enough to bring them, as they are in sin, to a knowledge of God. So the question is: Is there any hope? This rational way of looking for God, even at its best and highest, would only, as Paul argues, bring us to a knowledge of God as creator. His power, says Paul, is manifest in this way, but that is not the knowledge of God for which we long and which we covet. Men and women cry out for a more intimate knowledge. We want to know God in a more personal sense. We want to be related to Him. When we are awakened, that is the knowledge that we want, and such knowledge, creation and providence and history at their best cannot provide: they can simply teach us that God is all-powerful and that He is the creator.

Well, then, we ask again: Is there any hope for us? And the answer is to be found in the second type of revelation of which the Bible speaks, and that is what we call special revelation. And the special revelation which we find in the Bible has a very distinct and definite object, which is to reveal to us the character of God, the nature of God, and especially the character and nature of God as they are revealed in His saving grace. That is the thing about which we are concerned: how to know God and to be loved by Him and to be blessed by Him.

Now the Bible makes a unique claim at this point; it claims that it and it alone gives us this special knowledge of God. The Bible claims for itself that it is the record of God's special revelation of Himself and of all His gracious and saving purposes with respect to men and women. The Bible claims more than that for itself, but we shall only deal with this first claim now. And, of course, it has a great deal to say about this subject. In a sense, that is the great message of this book from beginning to end: it is God revealing Himself. It is not the great religious quest of mankind. No; it is the great eternal God drawing back the veil and giving an insight into and a knowledge of Himself and of His great and gracious purposes. That is the subject matter of the Bible.

Let me interject a remark at this point. When we study the Bible it is of vital importance that we should always keep this idea, this concept of revelation, clearly before our minds. It is the only way to understand the message of the Bible; we become lost in it if we do not do that. We must realise that the one great object and intention throughout is God revealing Himself; and you and I must discover the ways in which He has been pleased to do this.

Let me summarise them. Many classifications are possible, but it seems to me that this is the one that follows most closely the Bible's own order. First and foremost, the Bible tells us that God has been pleased to reveal Himself to men and women through what are called theophanies---manifestations of God, the various appearances of God.

Take, for instance, Exodus 33, which is a most important passage when considering this doctrine of revelation. God told Moses that He was going to accede to Moses' request, and that He would manifest His glory to him. Moses had uttered that great desire: `Show me thy glory.' `You are giving me,' he said in effect, `this great task of leading these people. Who am I, and who are the people who are going to do it with me? Before I can do this great work,' said Moses, `I want to know that your presence will accompany us.' Then God said, `My presence shall go with thee,' but Moses became bold, and said: May I go further---`Show me thy glory.' Let me see it.

And then God told Moses: You cannot see Me face to face, for no man can see Me in that sense and live. Nevertheless, I will reveal My glory to you.

So God took Moses and placed him in the cleft of a rock, and then He covered him with His hand. I am bound to introduce the term, am I not? That was a marvellous piece of anthropomorphism: that God, the eternal Spirit, should condescend to speak of Himself in human terms, and to act in a human manner. He covered Moses with His hand, and then He passed by, and Moses, we are told, was only allowed to see the back parts of God. He was not allowed to see His face. He saw God, in a sense; he saw the glory of God; he saw the back parts of God passing by. This is a staggering statement. You see how vital it is to this whole question of revelation---that the great, eternal God thus granted this glimpse of Himself to a human being so that men and women might know something about Him.

Then you also have very frequent references to the Angel of the Covenant. I have no doubt but that they are right who say that every reference to the Angel of the Covenant is a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. He appeared in this world before the incarnation. He was not incarnate, but He appeared. He took on Himself certain forms, in order to give a revelation. Gideon was granted such a revelation---study it for yourself in Judges 6. And then the father and mother of Samson were also privileged to see one of these theophanies, in order to strengthen their faith. God has been pleased to give many of these appearances of Himself.

Then the next manner in which God has been graciously pleased to reveal Himself has been by means of direct speech. We are handling immensities and profundities here. But the Bible tells us that the voice of God has been heard in this world. Adam and Eve heard it in the Garden of Eden. God uttered words. And you get the same thing, of course, in connection with the giving of the law to Moses. The voice of God was again heard, and this is something with which we have to deal, and upon which we must meditate and ponder deeply and seriously as we are thinking of this whole question of revelation. Think and find out for yourself other examples of this direct speech and voice of God.

My next heading is that God has been pleased to reveal Himself by means of miracles and signs and wonders. Now you get this in the Old Testament and New Testament alike. There are miracles recorded in the Old Testament: think of the miracles worked through Moses in the presence of Pharaoh, for instance, think of the dividing of the Red Sea, and the miracles that certain of God's servants, such as Elijah and Elisha, were able to perform, and so on. These were miracles, and miracles are always manifestations of God's power, and therefore of God Himself. God caused thunder and lightning to appear at very special times, such as the phenomena in connection with the giving of the law, and the mount that was on fire; all these were revelations and manifestations of God. He has done certain extraordinary things in nature and creation.

Then when you come to the New Testament, you find the miracles of our Lord, and their main function was revelation. You find, too, the miracles which were worked by the first apostles and by the first preachers; and we have the authority of Hebrews 2:4 for saying that these were done by the apostles because God was thus attesting their gospel. The writer says that they preached the gospel, `God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.' In that way God affirmed that they were His servants, and that the gospel was true. And, of course, towering above every other miracle was the great and grand miracle of the resurrection.

We shall have occasion, later, to look at some of these things in detail, but here I am concerned to emphasise that these `signs and wonders and divers miracles' show the obvious intention of God to tell men and women that He was revealing Himself---and they looked at these things. How often are we told in connection with these miracles that the people `glorified God'. They feared; they were filled with a sense of awe; and they glorified Him. Why? Because they knew that the miracle was a manifestation of the power of God, and therefore they had had a glimpse into the character and the being of God Himself.

But let us go on to some further ways in which this special revelation has come to men and women. The next is that God has been pleased to reveal Himself at times by means of visions and dreams. The classic passage about this is Job 33:15-16, where we read this: `In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instructions.' And how often God spoke through dreams and visions! You remember the dreams that were given to Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of our Lord. And as you go back through the Old Testament you find that God constantly spoke like this. Through these visions and dreams God told people to do certain things, or warned them of things which He was going to do, and the result was that they realised that God is. It was God who gave them the vision or the dream or the warning or the prophecy, or whatever it was, and therefore they were revelations, they were proofs of the being of God.

Then I must put in a category on its own---inspiration. This is a most important question. We will have to touch on it again, later, but we must put it in at this point. We are told in the Bible that God can inspire people: inspire them to write His word; inspire them to understand; give them a message in that particular way. That is the whole basis, ultimately, of prophecy. So in doing that God was again revealing Himself, revealing the truth concerning Himself, the fact that He is, and what He is going to do.

But, after all, when we are dealing with this question of special revelation, the great and mighty thing is what we may describe as the biblical account of God's redemptive acts. Nothing is so momentous a revelation of God as this. What am I speaking about? Well, I am thinking of Noah and the flood. God manifested Himself to Noah; gave him a revelation; gave him to understand what He was going to do; and then proceeded to do it in the waters of the flood and the judgment upon the earth and the marvellous saving of Noah and his family, the eight people in the ark. This was a tremendous act, not only of revelation, but of redemption. All the ancient world was condemned and destroyed but this family. So it was a part of salvation and redemption. The separation of these people was essentially a part of the act that culminated in the coming of the Son of God into this world.

And you have the same revelation, of course, in an almost equally striking manner, in the call of Abraham and the events of his life. God took that man, when he dwelt among the pagans; He singled him out and drew him out. Abraham did not know where he was going, but God led him. God was again bringing to pass this great plan and purpose of redemption. It had started away back with Noah, now it was becoming still more special in Abraham. And everything that God said and did to Abraham was a marvellous piece of revelation.

Then there was another manifestation of this in the call of Moses. We have already referred to one appearance of God to Moses. But what about the burning bush (Exodus 3)? What about that bush, all aflame and afire and yet not consumed? What was it? It was God, God revealing Himself. Not only God revealing Himself, and the fact that He is, to Moses, but God taking another momentous step in this great question of redemption. It is part of the great redemptive plan---a great redemptive act.

And it leads on to the Red Sea (Exodus 14), to that event which is so frequently referred to in the Scriptures. You find that the psalmists every time they give a list of what God has done for Israel, always emphasise what God has done at the crossing of the Red Sea. You will find it occurring as a kind of theme in many of the psalms (e.g. Psalm 106). Why? Well, because it is momentous. It is central. God was saying to the people that He had separated them unto Himself from the captivity of Egypt, and led them out. It is all a part of the process of redemption, and you get it again in the captivity of Babylon, and the return of the remnant to the land.

Of course, all this is vital and important, though it seems to pale into insignificance when we come to the fact of facts, the focal point of all history, the central point of the whole course of humanity: `When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son ... To redeem them that were under the law' (Galatians 4:4-5)---the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This, of course, is going to occupy us at great length, but it is essential that I should, at this preliminary stage even, mention the name that is above every other name. For in times past, says the writer of Hebrews, God spoke in thoughts or visions, here a little and there a little, but now He has spoken in His Son, the effulgence and the holiness, the ultimate revelation, the essence of the great act of redemption; and, in particular, in connection with our Lord, we must emphasise the resurrection as another great redemptive act, which proclaims the sufficiency of His work and announces and reveals that God is satisfied and that mankind can be saved.

Likewise, we must include the day of Pentecost, and we must never stop short of that, for what happened, when the tongues as of fire descended upon those people, was all a part of the great redemptive action of God. It was a vital act, in which the Holy Spirit came upon the Church to do His great and glorious work; to apply the redemption that had already been worked out.

But, in addition to all that I have mentioned, God has spoken to men and women and has instructed them concerning Himself and His purposes. He did not only reveal Himself through His actions and the appearances and the dreams and the visions---God taught about Himself directly, literally. He spoke to Adam. He spoke to Cain and to Noah. He spoke in a special way to Abraham, the friend of God, as he is called. God told Abraham His secrets because he was His friend. He gave the great promise to him, the promise in that sense starts with Abraham, and that is why you find so many references to it throughout the Scriptures. God told him the secret and what He was going to do. `Abraham,' says our Lord, `rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad' (John 8:56). God taught him about it.

Now I want to emphasise this for those of you who are interested in modern theology and in the difference between the so-called Barthian and evangelical theology. So I am underlining the difference at this point. The Barthian theologians deny the fact that God has revealed what they call 'propositional truth'. Propositional truth means that there are statements of truth, of doctrine, in the Bible which I can accept and believe. We contend that God has done that, that here there are propositions of truth revealed by God.

He did so, of course, in a very striking way in the giving of the law to Moses; the purpose of that was that the children of Israel should live in a given way. The primary function of the law was to give expression to the holiness and the character of God, and the people were to live in that way because God is God, because He is like that. So God was teaching about Himself in giving the law. Furthermore, 2 Samuel 7, in which His promise is given specifically to David, is one of the most important chapters of the Old Testament. Then the prophets---the foretelling, the teaching given to them about God and His holiness and His law---all that was part of the revelation of future events: truth communicated.

But, of course, in the New Testament we find the basis of our belief in the authority of the New Testament Scriptures. The truth was given by God through the Holy Spirit to the apostles, even as the Lord Himself in John 16 had promised it would be.

Thus in the Bible we have the record of God's greatest redemptive acts. But we have also God's comment upon those acts; God's exposition of them; God's explanation of the way of salvation as well as the unfolding of the way itself. And the Bible claims that it and it alone has this revelation---there is no other. If God does not reveal Himself, I cannot know Him; but He has revealed Himself, and that revelation is to be found in this book. Whether I see it or not, it is here. It has been given, and the question that arises is: Can I trust this book? Is it reliable in what it says and what it claims? Am I entitled to believe its claims and to submit myself to its authority? We must, therefore, continue by discussing the authority and the reliability of the Scriptures.(11-21)

 

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