The Belgic Confession, Article II (continued)

In our previous comments we have already pointed out that this article does not furnish us with an official dogma of revelation as such. We also pointed out that this does not mean that what the article states has nothing to do with revelation. We may now try to see more exactly what is the relation between the contents of this article and revelation.

And then we may notice, in the first place, that the viewpoint of the article is not that of revelation, but that of the knowledge of God. These two are closely related, but they are not the same. The latter, the knowledge of God, is the result, the fruit, of the former, God’s revelation. Without that revelation, as we pointed out already in connection with Article I, it is impossible to believe and confess because it is impossible to know God. Hence, we may say that the “We know him . . .” of Article II is the response to and the product of the wonder of divine revelation. In the second place, we must notice that this article speaks of the means whereby we know God, and in so far it touches upon revelation. Just as it speaks of the means whereby we know God, so it speaks, viewing the matter now from the viewpoint of revelation, of the means whereby God makes Himself known. In fact, in mentioning the second means the article uses this very expression: “he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us . . .” But we must also notice that this idea of “means” is the limitation of the article at the same time. It is exactly not the purpose of this article to set forth a complete doctrine of revelation. It does not describe the whole act of revelation. It does not even set forth the whole act of revelation or all the elements of revelation. It merely speaks of the means whereby we know God and whereby God makes Himself known. In this connection we may notice, for example, that the article does not mention the operation of the Holy Spirit at all-certainly, a very important element in the doctrine of revelation. In the third place, we may notice that, in speaking of the means whereby we know God and whereby God makes Himself known, the article speaks of something objective, and thus of the objective element of revelation. This is evident not only from this term “means,” but also from the fact that these “means” are described as <>i>two books, the book of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, and the book of “his holy and divine Word.”

It is at this point, of course, that we come face to face with the question of so-called “general” revelation. Is there a general revelation of God in the sense that God generally, promiscuously, without distinction, reveals Himself to all men? If not, can it be said that there is anything at all general about God’s work of revelation?

To this we may answer that the means of which Article II speaks are general. This is inherent in their objective character. Thus, in the first place, all men possess that “most elegant book” of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe. They come into contact with it daily ; in fact, they cannot avoid coming into contact with that book. It surrounds them. It is pressed upon them. It is placed before them, as it were, wide open. This is not to say that all men know God in the true sense of the word. It is not to say either that all men are able to read and to interpret that book in the true, spiritual sense of the word. But they all nevertheless possess that one element of revelation, the objective means of the book of creation and providence. In the second place, we must also notice that this is true to a large extent of that other means, God’s holy and divine Word. Also this means is not limited to the believers, that is, to the elect. But just as it may be said of the first means that all men, believers and unbelievers, elect and reprobate, without distinction, possess it and come into daily contact with it, so it may also be said of the second means to a large extent that men without distinction, believers and unbelievers, godly and ungodly, elect and reprobate, possess it: come into contact with it, have it opened to them, read it. True, the general distribution of this second book is not as large as that of the first. It is limited to the sphere of the existence and activity of the church. There have been millions upon millions that have never come into contact with this second means and have not even heard of it. But the fact remains that there is something general about it. And there is something general about this second means in the same essential sense that there is about the first means, namely: both believer and unbeliever, elect and reprobate, come into contact with these means, possess them, read and to an extent understand and comprehend these books. Here, therefore, we have touched upon the singular general element in revelation: it is the general character of the means.

There is nothing so strange or unusual about this. There is something analogous here to the general character of the means of grace. And perhaps the mention of this will assist us in pin-pointing the matter. These means of grace, the preaching of the Word and the sacraments, are also general. The preaching of the Word is promiscuous. It comes to all, reprobate and elect, unbeliever and believer, that live in the historical sphere of the church and its preaching. Moreover, this takes place according to the will and good pleasure of God, according to the Canons, who sends it. The same is true of the sacraments, holy baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Not all who receive these sacraments are elect; also the reprobate, that is, the reprobate in the sphere of the covenant, receive them. And this too is according to the will of God. Esau as well as Jacob must be circumcised. And all infants of believers must be baptized.

However, we must also bear in mind that this general character extends only to the means of grace. To conclude from the general scope of the means of grace to the general character of God’s grace is the fatal error of all Arminianistic conceptions. The means are general in scope; God’s grace is never general, but always particular. The means of grace come to elect and reprobate alike; God’s grace is for the elect alone, and that too, sovereignly.

In much the same fashion, when we speak of the concept of revelation as a whole, we must make distinction. The means are general. And if by “general revelation” only this is meant, then it holds true not only of God’s book of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, but also of His book of the Scriptures. But then, by the same token, the distinction “general-and-special” falls away. But revelation, taken in the full sense of the term, that is, revelation as it causes us to say, “We know God, the overflowing fountain of all good,” is never general, but strictly particular. In this full sense of the word, God does not reveal Himself to all men, but to His people in Christ Jesus alone. Revelation is to and for the elect alone. And this fundamental proposition must be applied to both the means mentioned in this article. From the point of view of the saving or damning intent and effect of the speech of God, the only message that the reprobate ever receive is the Word of God’s hatred and consuming wrath; and the only message that the elect receive is the Word of His love in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the elect, therefore, the wonder of God’s revelatory work always produces the effect that they confess, “We know Him.” And this is life eternal, that we might know Him the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He hath sent. John 17:3.

We are now ready, keeping the above in mind, to treat the two means mentioned in this article, as well as to touch on their significance for men in general and for God’s people, and to deal with the relation between these means.

First, By The Creation, Preservation, And Government Of The Universe

There are several significant facts about this statement of our Belgic Confession that are of special value for the believer in this so-called age of science, even apart from the relationship of this first means to the second one mentioned in this article.

In the first place, notice that our confession speaks specifically of the “creation, preservation, and government of the universe.” This is very important. We are sometimes inclined to change this expression and to speak of God’s revelation “in nature and in history,” and to think that this is the same as what the creed says. But this is a mistake, and a rather serious one too. The latter expression is much less specific and much less meaningful than that of this article. To say “nature” is not the same as saying “creation.” And to say “history” is not the same as saying “preservation and government.” The term “nature” does not in itself denote a creative act; nor does the term “history” in itself denote divine preservation and government. The term “nature” does not in itself denote that there is a Creator-God; and the term “history” does not in itself denote that there is a Sustainer-Ruler-God. That is why you can find these two terms in the mouth of believer and unbeliever alike. They are quite colorless in themselves. It is much more expressive, and much more Scriptural too, to speak, as does our Confession, of the “creation, preservation, and government of the universe.”

In the second place, we may observe that this article stresses very strongly the objectivity of this first means. For it mentions that this creation, preservation, and government of the universe is as a “most elegant book.” And it tells us that in this book all creatures, great and small, are “as so many characters,” that is, letters, spelling, as it were, the name of God, and leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God. This too is significant. In other words, the creation, preservation, and government of the universe are not merely “the Christian interpretation” of nature and of history; but they are objective facts. They are a book, as it were. This is a very expressive figure of speech. You see, a book is not dependent for its objective reality upon its readers or lack of readers. Whether that book is read or not read, it is there nevertheless. Whether that book is correctly read or not does not affect its objective reality. Whether the message of that book is believed or not does not change that book as such one iota: that book is still there. Now our creed states that God has, as it were, written and published a book. The contents of that book is the creation, preservation, and government of the universe. And the message of that book is, briefly, the invisible things of God. The things of God are invisible; but that book is plainly visible. It stands before all men in all its elegance. It declares God, the Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the Universe. It sets forth His eternal power and divinity, Rom. 1:20. As the psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-3. Whether men will say with the psalmist, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” or not, those heavens still declare that glory. Whether men will acknowledge that “the firmament sheweth his handywork,” or not, that firmament objectively shows forth God’s handywork. Whether men, reading that book of creation, humbly confess, “I believe in God the Father . . . . Creator of heaven and earth,” or whether they blasphemously change the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things (Rom. 1:23), and elevate Evolution to the throne of the Almighty, that book of creation remains there in all its elegance and its clear and undeniable objectivity. And the same is true of God’s upholding and governing of the universe.

—H.C.H.