A clearer passage we have in Rom. 1:19-20 teaching that which is knowable of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them: His invisible things. . . .are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, namely his eternal power and divinity. Now it is strange that Dr. Schilder would deny even this passage its probative force on the ground that Prof. Greijdanus would interpret conditionally “if the unseen things are grasped with the spirit, the mind, they are seen! The spiritual activity must continue, otherwise the seeing stops.” I cannot see anything that supports this conditional interpretation unless it be the somewhat spiritual implication of the word “understood” (nooumena), and it were strange to use a per se grammatically colorless participle to express such a condition which suddenly breaks in on the thought, whereas means can very well be expressed thus as lying directly on the line of the thought. Therefore we have here a definite content given to the natural knowledge of God, and a very great content especially in His divinity which certainly implies a group of several virtues that distinguish Him wholly from the creature.
Therefore I cannot see how Van Til can say (Proceedings Calv. Phil. Club, 1941 p. 85) that the neutral Theistic proofs cry day and night that God does not exist, because, as he says, they prove that a finite God exists. It would seem that Rom. 1 would directly deny such a position. And we must undoubtedly bear in mind that also the Kantian criticisms of the Proofs involves a false use of the word Absolute and of Ultimate Cause. For although it is perhaps true, as Van Til maintains, that the inseparable gap between finite and infinite, relative and Absolute, particular and Universal is closed in the Tri-unity of God, which can only be known from the Scriptures, nevertheless the solution obtains whether we have learned it and are aware of it or not. And so God is not separated from His creatures, but is so related to it that the heavens declare His glory, and the Gentiles know His eternal power by its causative relation to the created things, and thence also know His Divinity. And even if the most we dared to maintain on the basis of Rom. 1 were that providing the spiritual activity continues properly, man can know God from creation (Greijdanus), even this would refute the Kantian criticism for its power lies not in an appeal to man’s sinful darkness but to his finite ness.
Van Til’s method, I mean in this connection only, reminds one somewhat of the method of those philosophers whose systems have already fallen by their own weight, while the Scriptures continue to teach that God maintains the proof of Himself in the minds of men and the classic “proofs” continue to make their appeal to the intellect of man and to the heart of the Christian.
Thus far we have seen that we must be on our guard against denying or impoverishing the natural knowledge of God, either by, 1. conceding that logic could ever lead to the conclusion that God is unknowable, or, 2, by teaching that the finite cannot know the Infinite.
We shall have to cling very closely to Scripture here and with it maintain:
In the light of this we shall have to conclude that even the so called proofs are only the crude expressions of a few phases out of an almost unlimited contact which God has established with man through all the creation and his own deep inner self.
Also in the light of this we must maintain that the rationalistic criticisms of these proofs are of course very crude fumbling’s with spiritual things.
Theologians (Chas. Hodge, Orr, Kuyper, Bavinck) have shown that the ingenious attack in the line of Kant, Hamilton and Spencer have not at all convinced them and Kant himself concedes by his doctrine of Practical Reason and his unqualified “Thou shalt” which speaks in the conscience of every man, that all the facts have not at all been taken account of in his criticism of the proofs.
And it is quite evident in the light of Rom. 1:19-21, that the words cause, final cause, infinite, absolute, are very arbitrarily used by the critics. And we may undoubtedly note with profit the words of Dr. Chas. Hodge who states that “‘the word infinity comes very near the word incomprehensibility”. For, indeed, the strict meaning of the word “infinity” may never be known by us. But this does not at all imply that also the meaning of such words as “cause” and “being” and “purpose” cannot be known from the created things. Why should they not be given in and with the created things themselves which have been created to reveal the Creator? And again? I may repeat, I believe that Rom. 1:19-21 teaches this very thing.
Now, undoubtedly many good men have turned away from the logical method of proof for the existence of God, because of a certain cold detached mechanical appearance in this method which suggests irreverence. However this need not at all follow from the logical method, which though it is more deliberate than the intuitive approach, is often also quite unconsciously performed.
For in the first place, the proofs do not at all attempt to bring God under a higher class of being, by fitting Him into a certain frame of logic, but they conclude from the things that are made to a divine person of eternal power and wisdom.
But in the second place, if it must indeed be taken as obvious that the finite logic cannot prove the Infinite, then how dare we assert, as a matter of very obvious fact, that the finite can experience the infinite and does have a sense of divinity?
However the more general answer given to all of this, usually in a sense of finality, is that man cannot really know God without His special revelation, meaning that he cannot know God as Triune and as a God of grace without this.
But also here we must again speak with certain limitations. For is it indeed true that creation reveals nothing of the trinity of God? For if the work of creating was performed by the three persons it must necessarily follow that this Tri-unity be also reflected in the product. Dr. Bavinck points out that even the Greek philosophy shows a feeling for the fact that the things that are made were formed by the Word. We can understand how this groping where there is no special revelation would become very intense when we consider how a person deprived of his eyesight develops his remaining senses. How much more then could not man in the state of rectitude with the desire to love know his God from the things that are made, as this is indeed suggested by the fact that Adam immediately knew the animals that were submitted to him to name.
In like manner we may also believe that since this world was made to become the stage and the object of redemptive grace, it also reflected that purpose, for Adam himself is called the image of Him that was to come.
But now on the other hand if we say that this knowledge of God only comes by special revelation, the question immediately arises, when exactly does this knowledge of the Triune Redeemer break through? It would indeed be difficult to say from Scripture exactly who was under then special revelation the first man to conclude that God is Triune and Redeemer. And then without seeking to indicate any point we may immediately observe that the revelation of God is progressive. The infinitely glorious one is indeed more and more revealed to man. The Incarnation may be considered the greatest step, but also standing on what was revealed in Christ the Word Incarnate we still continue to appropriate that knowledge through the New Dispensation. And in that sense we may undoubtedly speak of approximations. Not in the sense that the knowledge of the church is still possibly erroneous, either to the right or to the left, but surely in the sense that the church is still reaching up along the line that leads to ever fuller knowledge, and the incomplete knowledge will continue until we see face to face and will continue even then with perfect method and progress. And this by all the sanctified powers whereby the word-revelation and the experience of love in its redemptive operation, brings man ever nearer to God. Read that marvelous testimony of the Apostle Paul in Phil. 3 concerning his striving to experience even now the knowledge of God through Christ in all his living way.
At this point we may now introduce the great turning point or hinge upon which the true knowledge of God depends.
That hinge is sin or righteousness.
And now we must emphasize with equal insistence that, sinful man does not know God. And that means no matter how much revelation he has. John 8:55; 16:3; 17:25; I John 3:6. The question is not at all one of the creaturliness or finiteness of man, nor of the nature of his faculties, whether logical or intuitional, but it is a question of the holiness of God and the ethical corruption of man. That ethical corruption begins with the day of Adam’s perversion and explains the corruption of the “natural” knowledge in heathendom, it continues under the fullest light of special revelation, reveals itself in the modern exact sciences, in the ethical sciences, and in “religion”. Blind, ignorant, deceived, dead—such are the characterizations used by Scripture and they must be left unchanged. And with our minds illumined by the Spirit and Special revelation we must strive to understand this evaluation which the Scriptures make. And. it is the failure to understand this that makes room for the theory of common grace with its effacing of lines in doctrine and life.
Therefore we must not introduce a dualism between the natural and the spiritual, the general and the special as does the Anabaptist, the Lutheran and the Roman Catholic.
Nor must we as Bath does in his earlier teachings make man’s creaturliness such an undesirable limitation that he can only feel God’s greatness as distance and darkness and crushing wrath, until he is lifted from time into eternity through the resurrection of Christ.
And above all we must not resort to the synthesis of Common Grace where gifts are considered grace intellectual powers as spiritual virtues and action as life, and thus lose the deep antithesis between sin and righteousness.
But we must maintain the unity of the revelation, seeking more and more to integrate the general and the special, as one testimony of the eternal and Infinite God in all His glorious virtues so that all men are without excuse and the righteous can know Him now and unto all eternity in the superabundance of revelation. And with this the antithesis of the sanctified mind and the perverted mind must be fully maintained.
By this spiritual restoration we can also understand the speech that comes to us from creation.