Deus dixit! The words are Latin. For centuries, Latin was the language of theology. The English translation is: God has spoken! That God has spoken means that God has revealed Himself. By speaking, God has made Himself known. Words, whether spoken or written, reveal. Words are the means by which we communicate our thoughts, purposes, feelings, desires—our inner self. So it is with God.
God has revealed Himself! This is the possibility of the knowledge of God. That a man knows God and, knowing God, knows also himself and all other things is due to the fact that God has spoken. Apart from God’s revelation—if God does not speak—there is no knowledge of God. There cannot be any knowledge of God. Man is shut off from God in ignorance and spiritual blindness. It all depends on Deus dixit!
There are several erroneous positions regarding the possibility of the knowledge of God.
Agnosticism. Agnosticism is the belief that God cannot be known at all.
Skepticism. Skepticism is the belief that God cannot truly be known, that we cannot be sure that our knowledge of God is accurate.
Rationalism. Rationalism is the belief that God can be known by the mind of man, unaided human reason.
Mysticism. Mysticism is the belief that God can be known immediately and directly.
Over against all these erroneous views stands the teaching of Scripture: Deus dixit! God has spoken!
Because God has spoken, God can be known by every man. Because God has spoken, God must be known by every man. And because God has spoken, God is in fact known by every man. Man may stop his ears at the speech of God. He may turn away from God’s word. He may attempt to shout down the voice of God. No matter. God has spoken! And no man can alter that fact.
God has spoken loudly. God has spoken clearly. And God has spoken authoritatively.
The Necessity and Nature of Revelation
We know God only through His own revelation. Apart from revelation there is no possibility of the knowledge of God. Apart from revelation God remains essentially unknowable. This is the necessity, the absolute necessity, of revelation.
By his own efforts, man can never arrive at a knowledge of God. “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?” (). The questions are rhetorical questions. The answers are implied and obvious. “Canst thou by searching find out God?” Of course not! Impossible! Our own searching can never result in the true knowledge of God. “Canst thou find out the Almighty so as to know Him aright, know Him perfectly?” And, again, the answer is the same: Of course not! Impossible! God is God. He is high as the heavens, deeper than hell. No man can discover God or by his own efforts attain the knowledge of God.
In order for us, therefore, to know God, God must make Himself known to us. In revelation, God takes the initiative, as He does in all His works. God is first, always first. God reveals Himself, and in response to God’s revelation of Himself, we know God. All our knowledge of God, as well as our knowledge of the truth of all things in their relationship to God, depends on God’s revelation.
Revelation is simply God’s work of making Himself known to man, making Himself known to man in such a way that man is able to receive that revelation of God. Herman Hoeksema defines revelation in connection with his treatment of God’s incomprehensibility in the first locus of Theology. He says that ” . . . revelation consists in that God speaks concerning himself and imparts his knowledge in a form the creature can receive, in a creaturely measure.”¹ He goes on to describe revelation as a supreme act of divine condescension.
In revelation God comes down to us; he does not lift us up to his infinite majesty. He gives his word a finite form; he does not communicate to our hearing an infinite capacity. While on the plane of revelation, he reaches out for us and speaks to us in language adapted to our capacity; yet at the same time and through that same medium of revelation, he deeply impresses upon our minds and hearts that he is always greater than his revelation, that while he is revealed, he is still hid, and while he is known, he is still the incomprehensible.²
Through revelation we know God. In revelation, God stoops to make Himself known to His creature man. By means of revelation we know God truly and accurately, that is, we know God as He actually is, and not mistakenly. Through revelation we know God adequately, that is, sufficient both for our worship of God and for our own salvation.
Yet, through revelation we do not and we cannot know God exhaustively. He still remains God and we ever remain the creature. Even after He reveals Himself, an infinite chasm remains between us. An eternity spent in knowing God will never exhaust the knowledge of God. The apostle Paul exclaims in, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor?”
Revelation and the Covenant
That God reveals Himself rests on the truth that God is the covenant God. Everything depends on the truth of the covenant, including the truth of revelation. God reveals Himself, desires to reveal Himself, and delights in making Himself known because God is the covenant God. Not only is the truth of the covenant at the heart of God’s revelation, and not only does it form the glorious content of revelation, but the truth that God is the covenant God lies at the basis of revelation itself.
The question is: Why? Why has God spoken? Why has God chosen to reveal Himself, when He was under no compulsion to do so? He is the self-sufficient God, in need of no one and nothing, eternally self-satisfied. Why, then, does He deign to speak to man? Why even bother to make Himself known? It’s not as if He needed to speak to someone. He enjoys perfect communion within Himself, in the relationships within the blessed Trinity.
Why has God spoken? The altogether amazing answer is that God has spoken because it is His desire to make us His friends. Because God is the covenant God, and because it is His desire to take us up into His own covenant life, God has spoken. Deus dixit!
This is what friends do: they speak to each other. We even say that about friends who are angry with each other, whose friendship has been strained or even broken: “They’re not speaking to each other.” A terrible tragedy! The blessed reality of friendship is that friends speak to each other and delight in each other’s company so that they can speak to each other.
God made man capable of being His friend, capable of receiving His revelation. He made man different from all the other creatures. He made him different from the inanimate creatures, the rocks, and trees, and heavenly bodies. That is the reason on account of which it is so foolish for man to make of these inanimate creatures his gods. “They have mouths, but they speak not!” (; ; ; ). They cannot speak; they are dumb (non-speaking) images.
God made man different even from the animals—dogs, and cows, and monkeys. Even though, in a way, you can make an animal your friend, it cannot be the kind of friend that a person can be, a friend who talks with you, a friend who shares his thoughts and secrets with you, a friend with whom to commune. By contrast, God made man a rational, moral creature, a creature capable of standing in a conscious relationship to God. He made man capable of receiving and understanding His speech. And He made man capable of responding to His speech, capable of speaking to God and with God. Thus, He made man capable of standing in a relationship of friendship with Himself.
To a degree, man experiences this in his own covenant relationships. Parents and children, as covenant friends, speak to each other in the life of their family, revealing to each other their thoughts and desires. Husbands and wives, as covenant friends in their marriage, delight in each other’s company and in time spent talking with each other. And brothers and sisters in the church, as covenant friends in the body of Christ, enjoy one another’s company and conversation in the bond of the communion of the saints. This is the way it is with friends—they speak to each other. And so it is in our relationship with God.
God’s Revelation to His Friends
That God made man as His covenant friend in order to enjoy His fellowship is plain from what we read in the opening chapters of the Bible. Inwe are informed that God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the day. God came to His friends, walked with His friends, and spoke to His friends. We read the same thing about Abraham. More than once, God appeared to Abraham and spoke to him, confirming His covenant and revealing His secret will. For this reason, Abraham is called “the friend of God” in the Bible, as for example in : “Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend forever.” And again, in , we read: “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.” Alluding to these passages, James says, “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”
With a view to friendship, the friendship of His covenant, God has revealed Himself. Deus dixit! God has spoken! Friendship—this is God’s purpose in revelation, loving friendship. His purpose is to establish a bond of friendship with us to whom He reveals Himself, a bond in which He is friend to us and we are friends to Him. Loving friendship is not self-seeking or self-serving, but has as its aim simply being friend to the other to whom we show ourselves friendly. Friends find their highest joy in giving themselves to each other as friends. This is the great purpose of God in revealing Himself and speaking to us.
This is the way we make friends. The only way to make friends with someone is to speak to him. If you never speak to him, there is no possibility that you will ever become his friend. Friendship without conversation is impossible. You must speak to him, and hopefully he will respond by speaking to you. This is the meaning of the proverb that “a man that hath friends must shew himself friendly” (). In the way of speaking to each other, you become friends, stay friends, and deepen your friendship.
Friendship requires that friends speak to each other face to face. In the end, nothing less than this satisfies true friends. Friendship can never be fully enjoyed at a distance, as long as the friends are separated from each other. Seeing each other’s faces while speaking—this is the height of friendship. Reading a letter from one’s friend, let us say one’s fiancé who was across the ocean fighting on the battlefields of Europe during World War II, was gratifying. At least you heard from him and knew that he was alive. Still more gratifying it was to hear his voice over the telephone once he had returned state-side: “I’m coming home! I love you! I can’t wait to be with you!” But then finally to see him again face-to-face, to look into the face of one’s dearly beloved as he spoke—that was friendship fulfilled.
That is the way it will be one day for the people of God, according to the promise of God’s Word. That will be the day when we will not only hear our Lord’s voice, but will also stand in His presence and see His glorious face. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (). promises that we “shall see his face.” “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” ( ).
Revelation is, strictly speaking, then, a covenant concept. God reveals Himself. But God reveals Himself as the covenant God, and always with a view to His covenant. In the end, He reveals Himself only to His covenant people, in order to be known by them. Also the truth of revelation is controlled by the covenant of grace and by election. That is the teaching of the psalmist in: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them [lit., ‘will cause them to know’] his covenant.” That is revelation. God making His secrets known and causing men to know His covenant—to know Himself as the covenant God.
God reveals Himself to man in two ways, or better, God’s revelation is twofold: general revelation and special revelation. That is where we will begin next time, the Lord willing.
1 Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics(Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2004) second edition, 1:60.
2 Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:60.