On 2 May 1689, Nehemiah Coxe wrote his will and set his final affairs in order. Three days later, he died of an unknown illness. He was buried in Bunhill fields (quite close to John Owen’s gr…
Source: Nehemiah Coxe (d. 5 May 1689)
On 2 May 1689, Nehemiah Coxe wrote his will and set his final affairs in order. Three days later, he died of an unknown illness. He was buried in Bunhill fields (quite close to John Owen’s gr…
Source: Nehemiah Coxe (d. 5 May 1689)
In the prior 2 posts, I discussed how God can be known: personally and through special revelation. In this post, I will briefly discuss how much (in what manner) we can actually know about God. In other words, can the finite mind comprehend infinite wisdom?
This is really a question that answers itself. Obviously, if God is eternal, all knowing, and all powerful; his infinite qualities cannot be “fully” understood by mere creatures who are made subject to space and time, have significant limitations, and are damaged by sin. Sooner could an ant fully comprehend and understand all the thoughts and actions of a human being than a man could understand the ways of the Almighty God.
According to King David, a man who knew God as well as any sinful man could:
According to David, God has, in His essential nature, a greatness, power, understanding, and knowledge that is unsearchable and un-understandable. In is in this sense that God is said to be incomprehensible. This does not mean that man can know nothing of God, but rather it means that He cannot be fully understood by us. It is always important to keep this essential truth in mind when we consider the ways, workings, and character of our Creator. This knowledge should humble us and meditating on it should cause us to be overcome with a sense of awe and worship!
In meditating on the infinite wisdom of God, the Apostle Paul exclaims, “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? … For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Rom 11:33-36).
As we learned in the first two posts in this series, this does not mean that we can know nothing of God at all. Indeed, we can know things about Him by observing his work in nature, and more importantly, we can know Him through His Word by the working of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:10). The nature of this type of knowledge is apprehensive in nature, rather than comprehensive. According to the 1828 Webster dictionary, the definitions of these important terms are:
Comprehension – Capacity of the mind to understand; power of the understanding to receive and contain ideas; capacity of knowing. The nature of spirit is not within our comprehension.
Apprehension – An inadequate or imperfect idea, as when the word is applied to our knowledge of God.
As Paul says, “who hath known the mind of the Lord?” Indeed, we haven’t. In fact, we never shall. On the basis of 1 Cor 13:12, some Christians are under the impression that we shall know God perfectly in eternity. This is simply untrue. If human beings were given the knowledge and power in the eternal state, to know everything of God perfectly, we would be equal to Him in some measure. This is not what the Apostle is teaching. Paul is teaching us, in 1 Cor 13, that our personal knowledge of God today is hazy and imperfect, but in that day, we will behold him in a face-to-face fashion. It is one thing to say you have seen a picture of someone. It is quite another to have actually met that person face-to-face. Someone who has only seen a picture of the President has a far less complete understanding of what the president is like than one who has met him face-to-face. In the eternal state, we are promised something far greater – not just to meet our Creator face-to-face, but to know him!
According to Dr. Wayne Grudem, this doctrine has great application to the Christian life. If we can never fully comprehend God, we can never stop learning about Him and His greatness – “for we will never run out of things to learn about him, and we will thus never tire in delighting in the discovery of more and more of his excellence and of the greatness of his works.” He goes on to say, “For all eternity we will be able to go on increasing in our knowledge of God and delighting ourselves more and more in him…”
As says the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q: What is the chief end (i.e. purpose) of man?
A: To Know God and enjoy Him forever.
Thomas Vincent writes in his commentary on the catechism:
Q. How will God be enjoyed by his people hereafter?
A. God will be enjoyed hereafter by his people, when they shall be admitted into his glorious presence, have an immediate sight of his face, and full sense of his love in heaven, and there fully and eternally acquiesce and rest in him with perfect and inconceivable delight and joy. “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.”— 1 Cor. 23:12. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”— Heb. 4:9. “In thy presence there is fulness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.”— Ps. 16:11
In the last post, I discussed the ways that man can know God – through general and special revelation. In this I discuss the nature of our knowledge of God.
Not only can God be known about, but he can be known on a personal basis. We distinguish between knowing about someone and actually knowing that person. For example, I know many facts about the President of the United States, but I do not know him. According to the Scriptures, we can go beyond a mere ascent to facts and enter into a personal knowledge of our Creator.
Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
God Himself tells us through the prophet that our glory in this life is the great privilege that we have of knowing God (if indeed we do know him). Here are other scriptures that confirm this truth:
These passages teach us that we can have a far greater knowledge of God than a simple acknowledgement of facts. We have the great privilege of really and truly knowing our Creator!
“Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” (Job 11:7)
Theologians have always distinguished between two different sources of knowledge about God – general revelation and special revelation. Those things that have been revealed to man through nature and by virtue of being made in His image are called general revelation. Those things that must be specially revealed to man (such as God’s plan of Redemption) in order to be understood are called special revelation.
Can God be known by general revelation? The Apostle Paul answers in the affirmative:
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 (Rom 1:19-20)
Here, Paul teaches us that unbelievers have no excuse for not believing in God because he has manifested that knowledge “in them” and the creation of the world testifies to that truth. See also Psalm 19 on the same point.
In light of this, why is it that not all men have faith? Paul goes on to state:
…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. …Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, …God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (Rom 1:22-28)
According to Paul, then, men would rather serve sin and idols than God. Because of this, God has given mankind over to do as their reprobate minds please.
So, in spite of what has been revealed to every man, man continues blindly suppressing this knowledge because of his slavery to sin. Therefore, there is a special, personal work of God that is necessary to overcome this blindness and reveal man’s condition to him. This revelation includes everything that cannot be known through nature – man’s sinfulness and God’s grace and way of salvation. “neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt 11:27). This special knowledge must come to man by the working of the Holy Spirit:
…the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:11-14)
“neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt 11:27).
The Scriptures themselves never set about to prove the existence of God. The Scriputres assume the existence of God. The Bible tells us that this knowledge is planted in the soul of every man, but that men repress it because of their sin. Not only do they repress this inner sense of God, but they shut their eyes to the abundance of proof found in God’s creation and in His revelation of Himself in His Holy Word. Although philosophers have attempted to use the windom of man to prove God’s existence, sinful man will, untilately, only be convinced by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.
The key passage that bears on man’s innate knowledge of God is found in Romans 1:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 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: 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, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
According to Paul:
If a sinner cannot be convinced by the light of nature and by the words of Scripture, he WILL NOT be convinced by the wisdom of man – no matter how wise that wisom might be. However, there is some use in the traditional proofs for the existence of God. They provide comfort to the believer who struggles with his lack of faith. They also give ammunition to the Christian believer who is ridiculed as being ‘small-minded’ because of his faith.
Although every man has in innate sense of the existence of God, he will persist in blindness and hardness of heart until the Holy Spirit gives him ears to hear and eyes to see.
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
It is better to be seen as fools to the world and to have eyes to see and believe the gospel, than to be esteemed highly by dying men who are soon to be cast into hell.
…the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence…
…the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
(1 Cor 1:25-29, 2:11-14)
Even though the created being bears the stamp of the Creator, and the world declares his majesty and power, and very justice, goodness, and mercy demand that there be a God, yet ignorant sinful man rebels against this knowledge. Indeed, the proofs given above should be enough to convince any rational being, but the moritfying power of sin kills the rational part of man’s soul and leaves him a souless being, feeling around in the dark for means to gratify his basest desires and to suppress his own guilt and despair – “if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor 4:3-4).
Let us thank God for the glorious grace of regeneration – “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matt 13:16).
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.
The question regarding the sufficiency of Scripture is this:
Is Scripture enough, of itself, to reveal everything man needs to know about God, the nature of man, sin, and salvation; and to be the final authority in all matters of faith and practice?
Scripture includes all of the revelation that God intends for man today. It is enough for us and we should be content with it. This view of Scripture is in direct contract to:
The primary Scripture that bears upon the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture is that given by Paul in a letter to Timothy:
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
(2 Tim 3:14-17)
According to the Apostle, Scripture is sufficient to thoroughly equip men for doctrine, correction, instruction, salvation, sanctification, and good works. Note especially that Paul states that the man of God who understands “the holy Scriptures” is “thoroughly” furnished for all good works.
This passage, additionally, strikes down the clever innovations of liberal theologians who deny the inspiration of the Scriptures and lead men astray with their silly speculations and theories!
Moses testified to the sufficiency of the Scriptures that were available to his generation near the end of the Pentateuch:
The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Dt 29:29)
Some might argue that Moses was referring to the personal revelations of God to Moses that were passed to the people orally, but note that Moses refers to “all the words of this law.” Clearly, this is a reference to the law recorded in Moses’ writings as Moses referred in the prior chapter – “If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, The Lord Thy God” (Dt 28:58) – and in many other places.
If the Bible is indeed the Word of God, inspired and fully sufficient, then to add to it (or take from it) is a grave sin.
The Baptist confession, a summary of Bible doctrine (but not a final authority on par with Scripture) says the following about sufficiency:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (1689 LBC, 1.6)
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Is 8:20)
The word ‘Perspicuity’ is derived from an old Latin term that means “to see through” (i.e. transparency”). It refers to the ability to see something with clarity and sound understanding and judgement. According to dictionary.com, it means “clarity, plainness, intelligibility”. As applied to the Holy Scriptures, it means the ability of the reader to understand and apply the plain meaning of the Scriptures without specialized scholarship or mystical gifts.
In this article, I hope to show what the Scriptures say of themselves – that is, they are meant to be read, heard, and understood by ordinary believers.
The argument for the perspicuity of the Scriptures is NOT to say:
The argument is simply that the Bible was written in such a way that the common reader and hearer can understand it and apply it to his life without being an academic or cleric. Education and ministerial training are great aids to understanding, but they have also been abused to the point that men have been enslaved and greatly deceived by both. In fact, the pulpit and seminary are most often the source of heresy – not the pew.
If the Scriptures were inspired by God, and if they were intended to be understood, and we cannot understand them, then the fault must necessarily lie in us and not in the writings themselves. In fact, Jesus criticizes those who should have known the Scriptures the best (scribes, Pharisees) for not knowing them. Many times Jesus upbraids them with “have ye not read?”. Aside from this, Paul teaches us that the Bible is a Spiritual book, that it is foolishness to the unbeliever, and that it must be spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2). In fact, Jesus teaches that the eyes and ears of the unbelievers are hardened so that they cannot see and they cannot hear (Jn 12:20). So, we must conclude that, though the Scriptures were written to ordinary people with the intention of being read and understood, people who are unbelievers cannot understand because of their lack of faith. Those that do believe still have difficulty understanding because of remaining in-dwelling sin. The day is coming when believers will know perfectly (1 Cor 13:12). For now, it is left to us to study, pray for guidance and wisdom, be humble and charitable with our brothers, and to continue in patience with the understanding that God’s Word was given to us to be understood and so that we might be nourished by it.
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Rom 15:4).
For more, see The Clarity of Scripture.
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.
( 2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)
After reading Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology text on the Word of God, I’ve come up with the folloiwng definition:
The Word of God is God’s directive will revealed to human beings
The Bible represents God’s Word to us in several forms.
First and foremost, Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of the God’s character, nature, will, and purposes.
There are several times in Scripture when God speaks his word directly to human hearers.
God’s most usual form of address before the coming of Christ was through prophets. In these instances God communicated his message through a mediator who spoke that message to the people. Though the number of those occassions are too numerous to list, a few examples are given.
There is a particular instance where God’s creative power, in speaking the universe into existance, is a demonstration of God’s Word: “ Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Heb 11:3).
The preached word, especially gospel preaching, is mentioned MANY times in the New Testament as the Word of God, e.g. “Now the parable is this: The seed [i.e. gospel preaching] is the word of God“.
The last words Jesus left his followers before his assention to Heaven was for them to preach the gospel in all the world – “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The books of Acts is the record of God’s Word going to all these groups of people.
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom 10:17)
Of course, the only enduring, trustworthy, and sure Word of God that we have available for us today are those words of God which have been recorded in the Scriptures. God himself wrote the Ten Commandments, all the rest of Scripture has been written by human hands through the superintending work of the Holy Spirit. These things were written for a permanent record:
The Scriptures were written by those inspired by the Holy Spirit, and have been recorded for our study and edification. They are the only form of God’s Word that we can have before us to study, analyze, compare, meditate on, and be changed by.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
God has revealed His power and his Will to mankind in many ways throughout history. Today, God’s normal way of revealing Himself to mankind is through the Scriptures. Our consciences must be bound to the Word of God. To do anything other is neither right nor safe.
I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.
– Martin Luther
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”. (Mt 4:4)
“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him”. (Pr 30:5)
According to Dr. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology “involves collecting and understanding all the relative passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic” (Systematic Theology, page 21). Systematic Theology then, is a “whole of the Bible” summary of what the Scriptures teach regarding the major doctrines of Scripture, including:
There is often-times a rivaly between Systemic and Biblical theologians. But, of course, all Christian theology is ‘biblical’ in that it is derived from the Bible. Biblical theologians study the scriptures in terms of how particular Biblical doctrines are developed over time or during particular epochs of revelation. A Systematic theologian, on the other hand, studies doctrines based on an all-of-the-Bible summarizing approach. In fact, the two methods are not opposed to each other, but rather go hand in hand. The task of Biblical Exegesis cannot proceed without some systematic understanding of the nature of God and man. Conversely, the systematic theologian cannot begin his summarizing work without first analyzing each of his texts within their historical context.
There is no real distinction between Systematic Theology and Bible Doctrine. According to Webster, doctrines are principles that are taught. Bible Doctrines, then, are the various topics that the Bible teaches on. In fact, Dr. Grudem says that a Bible doctrine is “simply the result of the process of doing systematic theology with regard to one particular topic” (Systematic Theology, page 23).
Every Christian has a ‘system’ of theology in that every believer believes ‘something’ about the major topics of Bible Doctrine: God, Man, Sin, and Salvation. Whether this collection of beliefs is well-researched, carefully organized, and set down; or whether they are comprised of a disorganized, inconsistent, and private collection of shallow proof-texting and tradition – each Bible student must has some ‘system’ of beliefs (whether he is willing to admit to it or not).
The Bible doctrine of the nature of God, for example, must make use of a “whole of Bible” approach in order to come to a complete understanding. The Bible teaches that God is love, but it also teaches that he has righteous indignation against sin. The Bible teaches that God is merciful and gracious, but it also teaches that He is perfectly Holy and Seperate from sinners. The Scripture, on one hand, teach that prayer changes man’s circumstances, but it also teaches that God’s plans are not subject to change and emotion. Simple proof-texting, or mere Evangelical sentimentalism is not sufficient to summarize everything the Scripture teaches on this and all other doctrines and without detailed study, leaves the Bible student unbalanced and shallow.
According to James P. Boyce, Bible students should study the Bible’s doctrines:
Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart. (Ps 119:111)