These are notes from our second week of study (June 30, 2021) through our church's confession- the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689- that takes place on Wednesday nights.
Last week, looking at chapter one, paragraph one, we took note of the Scripture’s sufficiency and infallibility and we also touched upon its necessity.
This week, we returned to the concept of the “necessity” of the Scriptures.
Once again, chapter one, paragraph one of our Confession reads:
1. The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.1 The light of nature and the works of creation and providence so clearly demonstrate the goodness, wisdom, and power of God that people are left without excuse; however, these demonstrations are not sufficient to give the knowledge of God and his will that is necessary for salvation.2 Therefore, the Lord was pleased at different times and in various ways to reveal himself and to declare his will to his church.3 To preserve and propagate the truth better and to establish and comfort the church with greater certainty against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan and the world, the Lord put this revelation completely in writing. Therefore, the Holy Scriptures are absolutely necessary, because God’s former ways of revealing his will to his people have now ceased.4
12 Timothy 3:15–17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20. 2Romans 1:19–21; Romans 2:14,15; Psalm 19:1–3. 3Hebrews 1:1. 4Proverbs 22:19–21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19, 20.
1) The insufficiency of natural revelation to give the knowledge of God and His will.
2) That God no longer reveals His will as He did in times past but, in order to better protect and propagate the truth, He chose to commit it to writing.
“Natural revelation” refers to the way in which God makes Himself known through His creation. Natural revelation is sometimes referred to as “general revelation” as it is information about God that has been made to all people “in general” and/or gives us “general” information about God. Scriptures appealed to in discussing natural revelation include:
Romans 2:12a, 14-15
Natural revelation stands in contrast to “special revelation” which refers to God’s speaking to us through the Scriptures.
We cannot say that general revelation is any less true than special revelation as it all comes to God. The difference is that general revelation is, well, general. As such it does not provide us enough information about God and His will to lead us to saving faith. That must come by a work of the Holy Spirit as He uses special revelation to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ.
Natural revelation does, however, leave people “inexcusable.” In other words, no one in the history of mankind will ever be able to stand before God and say "You did not provide me with enough proof of Your existence." Romans 1:19-21 makes that clear. Romans also makes it clear that no one will ever be able to stand before God and say "I didn't know that what I was guilty of doing wrong." Romans 2 tells us that included in the general revelation that He gives to all mankind is the placing of the moral law on the hearts of every person. This is sometimes referred to as the "natural law" because everyone has it "by nature." The moral law is what informs our conscience and lets us know what is right and what is wrong. Everyone worldwide knows that murder is wrong. They know that stealing is wrong. They know that lying is wrong. How do they know these things? How can it be that there is a global understanding of what constitutes right and what constitutes wrong? It is because God has placed the standard of right and wrong on our hearts and we will all be judged by that standard when we one day stand before Him.
For a discussion of how a contemplation of the fact that he knew right from wrong led him to contemplate the existence of God, see C.S. Lewis' book "Mere Christianity."
For a very helpful discussion of how all peoples share common understandings of what constitutes right and wrong even when they may not appear to at first glance see Francis Beckwith's book "Do the Right Thing: Readings in Applied Ethics and Social Philosophy 2nd Edition."
The problem is that, while natural revelation leaves us without excuse, it does not provide us with enough information to find mercy through faith in Christ Jesus. That must come through God's special revelation access to which we believe He will provide to all who sincerely call upon Him. Missionary stories commonly speak of occasions when missionaries have ventured into a tribe of those who had, not only never heard the gospel, but who had never met a Westerner. Despite this, the villagers inform them that their arrival had been expected. When asked how they knew that they were coming, a story such as this is typical: Villagers tell stories of their belief that the world is controlled by spirits whom they had long sought to appease through a variety of methods. Eventually, they either grew tired of feeling oppressed by the spirits or simply out of desperation when faced with dire circumstances, the villagers cried out to the Great Spirit whom they believed was responsible for creating the world. After crying out to this Spirit, a messenger (typically dressed in white) appears to them and tells them that someone was being sent to them to give them a message of hope and when they arrive, they need to listen to what they have to say. It is not much later that the missionary shows up with the message of Christ proclaimed to them via the "special revelation" of the Word.
The Confession points us to:
2 Peter 1:19, 20.
But we looked to Hebrews 1:1-2a and Ephesians 2:20 which both speak to the idea that there are no longer any prophets sent by God for Him. Rather, the Scriptures are God’s revelation to us. When the writer of Hebrews says that God speaks through Christ, we take it to mean that Christ is the final "prophet" (in His role of Prophet, Priest and King) who proclaimed the message of salvation through belief in Him and continues to proclaim that message through the Spirit of Christ as He illuminates our minds to understand the Word.
We did not that the word “prophecy” can mean either “to tell forth” or “to foretell.” Every faithful preacher is a “prophet” or has a "prophetic voice" in the sense that they are “telling forth” God's truth as it is revealed in the special revelation of the Scriptures. Typically, however, when someone talks of prophecy or of prophets they are thinking of the act of foretelling the future or of revealing the will of God and that their words come as a result of direct revelation from God. This practice and office, we believe, has ceased as Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the office of prophet was one of the foundational offices, along with that of apostle, whose role has been completed.
For further look at the idea that Ephesians 2:20 speaks to the cessation of the prophetic office, see https://www.the-highway.com/cessation_White.html
This may beg the question: "Does the Spirit 'lead; God’s people?" It seems Romans 8:14; Proverbs 3:5,6; James 1:5 can be understood to say so. But such a leading cannot be in contradiction to His Word and it will be a personal conviction of heart rather than a prophetic utterance for others in general.