The Belgic Confession, Article II (continued)

Already at this juncture we may point out partially the practical significance of this confession. In the first place, what we have observed in our previous installment should caution us against simply identifying the claimed discoveries and proofs and conclusions of natural science with God’s revelation of Himself in the book of the creation and preservation and government of the universe. This is often done, or at least suggested. In the controversy concerning the harmony of science and Scripture, it is sometimes claimed or implied that the findings of the scientist constitute the testimony of so-called “general revelation.” In other words, the “discoveries” of science are equated with revelation. And the next step is, of course, that since there can of necessity be no conflict between God’s revelation in the things that are made and His revelation in Scripture, therefore one’s interpretation of Scripture must be adapted to the discoveries of science. But this reasoning is altogether specious. For, apart now from the fact that it is based on a faulty conception of the relation between God’s revelation in creation and His revelation in Scripture—a subject which we shall discuss later—it is simply not true that scientific findings and conclusions are the same as that book of the creation, preservation and government of the universe. The latter sets forth objective facts and realities; the former consist of what someone claims to have read in God’s book. Suppose that science claims that the earth is millions of years old, and that there is scientific evidence of this. Does this mean that we can simply claim that “general” revelation teaches this? Or must we still carefully distinguish between God’s revelation and man’s scientific “findings?” And must we not above all remember that the book of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe must be read and can be properly read only in the light of God’s holy and divine Word, the Scriptures?

Secondly, we are clearly taught here that even as far as the things that are made are concerned, there is no true science, knowledge, apart from the knowledge of God. That elegant book of the creation and preservation and government of the universe sets forth the knowledge of God, the Creator, Sustainer, and Preserver of the universe. That book betrays the Author whose handiwork the book is. It speaks always and only of Him. And the would-be scientist who busies himself with God’s book, delves into the contents of that book, studies its letters, and then wisely announces that the universe was not created, but evolved over a period of billions of years, is no scientist at all. He is a Tool and an ignoramus, who says in his heart, “There is no God.” That book sets forth objectively the eternal power and divinity of God; and he who works with that book and comes to opposite conclusions has not produced science, knowledge, but its very antithesis. To be sure, the above is based upon the premise that the controlling spiritual, ethical disposition of a man’s heart comes into play when he reads God’s book of creation. But such is indeed the position of our Confession too. And that is Scripture, as we shall see in the sequence.

But now let us return to teachings of Article II concerning this first means.

We may ask the question in this connection: why does the universe testify of God?

And then we must remember that while the figure of speech of our Confession is in a way very apt, nevertheless that book is not like a dead handwriting. God speaks in and through that book. This is true, in the first place, of creation. That creation testifies of God because He created it through His Word and by His Spirit. The result is that every creature is a word of God, and the universe is the Word of God created. In the second place, not only did the universe receive its original existence through God’s speech; but it is because God continues to speak that the world continues to exist. He is the Sustainer of the universe. He upholds all things by the Word of His power. Hebrews 1:3. And the same is true concerning God’s government. Not only does He uphold all things and preserve them, even as He is immanent in them by His Word and Spirit; but God governs all things by that same Word and Spirit in such a way that all history is an unfolding and manifestation of His divine thoughts and counsel. Nothing takes place, no sparrow falls to the ground, no hair falls from your head, but by His will and government. Hence, the entire universe, created and upheld and governed by God is a speech of God. You can distinguish and differentiate many words in that speech, yet all those words form one speech. They bespeak the living God Himself.

Moreover, our Confession mentions the contents of that speech in brief: “. . . . wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his power and divinity.” This is a reference, of course, toRomans 1:20: “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.” In this connection, we may point out that from this book of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe Scripture teaches us that God’s wrath may be known. This is evident in general in the curse that rests upon creation and from the vanity of the creature. But especially in Romans 1 we learn that the wrath of God is revealed in God’s dealings with men, according to which He gives them over from sin unto sin and from corruption to corruption. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Rom. 1:18. We also may know of God’s wisdom, and. to an extent, of His goodness from this first book.

However, even as revelation implies that God speaks not only to Himself, but of Himself to another being outside of Himself, so the knowledge of God implies a knowing creature, a being who can receive and understand God’s speech concerning Himself. This too is implied in this article. We know Him by two means. And in some sense it is also true of those who are left “without excuse.” And this being is man, man as he was originally created, first of all. God created man a living soul, endowed with His own image. And in that first man the light of the Word shone clearly and brightly. First of all, God endowed man with so-called natural light, the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. Coming into contact through his senses with the speech of God in the things that are made, man became the recipient of that speech. By his power of perception man was able to interpret the things which he apprehended through his senses. And by the power of intellect he was able to understand the work of God and to come to the knowledge of God. Thus man was created. But man was endowed as well with true, spiritual light. He not merely knew of God; he knew God. His knowledge was not merely that of the head, but of the heart, a knowledge of love, so that from his heart man responded in love to the speech of God concerning Himself. To know God was his life. Moreover, gifted as he was with the power of speech, man was also able to give expression to what he apprehended of the speech of God in the things that are made, and so to declare the glory of God.

Such was the original state of things, therefore.

But sin and the fall occasioned an important change in that original state of things. In the first place, as it were a new chapter was written in that book of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe. A new speech of God is heard. To be sure, the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, namely, His eternal power and divinity—seen clearly enough indeed that men may be left without excuse. Indeed, God still projects His Word into the universe in such a way that He can be known as the God that must be feared and thanked and glorified. But since the fall and entrance of sin into the universe, there is heard the speech of God’s holy wrath: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven . . . .” The creature is made to bear the curse of God and is subjected to vanity. And man himself pines and dies through the fierce wrath of God upon him. This cannot be otherwise, for the simple reason that even after the fall God continues to speak concerning Himself. And when the living God speaks concerning Himself through a fallen universe, that speech can only be the speech of His holy wrath. Indeed, therefore, the eternal power and divinity of God are set forth through the things that are made, but they are the eternal power and divinity of a God who—apart now from His revelation in Christ Jesus and in the Scriptures—is the terror of man. No where in all the testimony of that book of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe can you detect one note of mercy, of love, of grace. The only God whom fallen man can apprehend ix the things that are made is the God who curses him, who pursues him unto death, who in His holy wrath slays him and from whom he desires to flee away.

However, still another change was wrought through the fall, a change affecting man himself, as the subject of the knowledge of God. Through sin man lost all his spiritual light. In fact, all the light that was in man became, from a spiritual point of view, darkness. The image of God in him was perverted into its very opposite. The result is that fallen, natural man can no longer truly hear the Word of God, not even in the things that are made. What he reads in that book of creation he no longer truly understands. To be sure, he is still able to an extent to read that book. For through the fall he did not lose his mind and become an irrational beast. He retained some remnants of his natural light. And by those small remains of natural light he is still able in a way to read that book. He still sees and perceives and from an intellectual point of view understands the things that are made. And in this sense he still knows; he can receive God’s speech through those things that are made. God Himself takes care of this: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God bath 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.” Rom. 1:19, 20. But two facts must be remembered concerning this “natural light.” In the first place, by comparison with Adam’s original light, man’s light in his fallen estate is but very dim. He has only remnants. He can by no means read that book of creation any more, for example, as Adam did when he named the animals. He has enough light so that he may be convinced that God is, and that He is to be feared and glorified, and so that, perceiving that God is the One to be thanked and glorified, he stands without excuse in the just judgment of God. And it is in this sense only that the natural man can be said at all to know God. And, in the second place, even that small remnant of natural light is from a spiritual point of view darkness. There is no grace revealed whatsoever in that natural light and that natural knowledge of God. The natural man can never attain to the knowledge of God which is life. He is darkened in his understanding and is become a liar, Knowing God, he refuses to glorify Him as God, neither is thankful. He always changes the truth of God into a lie, and worships the creature rather than the Creator. He can only lie about the living God. This is the fundamental reason why, reaching that book of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, the natural man always perverts its testimony and contradicts it and proposes in the place of that testimony of the living God the very opposite.

But we, that is, the believers, renewed in Christ Jesus and possessing the light of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus—we know God, know Him also by means of that first book, and are able to read that first book in the light of the Holy Scriptures.

—H.C.H.