DG Hart on General Revelation
One of the things that got me going a little bit was the idea that we need to interpret natural law or general revelation through the lends of Scripture, the spectacles of Scripture. That would also seem to fit with the idea of the importance of regeneration because not everyone would interpret Scripture well apart from regeneration. So its the regenerate that need to interpret or understand general revelation or natural law.
And in my mind, I am just struck by how much, I think I said this in the first round, there are authors who are remarkably gifted at interpreting natural law or general revelation. And so much wiser than most Christians whom I read. And part of that has to do with how much time they spend thinking about general revelation and its structures, its categories, its givenness, in a way that oftentimes Christians don’t. And I think Christians don’t for good reasons because oftentimes they’re more inclined to read the Scripture than nature.
Now, there would be Christian scientists who would read nature more than the average Christian, or artists who might read parts of nature more than the average Christian. But still, when it comes down to on average, it seems more Christians are inclined to interpret Scripture or go to Scripture as their norm for their lives, and not look at general revelation. But that means that the people that don’t go to Scripture and are looking at general revelation all the time kinda have a leg up on Christians in their capacity to understand, at least how general revelation works, and if they’re theists, how that, in some ways, reflects God, or the creator.
If your doctrine of general revelation leads you to say what Hart just said, you need to go back to square one and re-assess what general revelation is. No unregenerate pagan has a “leg up” on the Christian reading Scripture, in terms of understanding God’s revelation.
First, general revelation does not contain anything that is not more clearly revealed in Scripture. That’s why Calvin said:
For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any books however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly…
Let the reader then remember, that I am not now treating of the covenant by which God adopted the children of Abraham, or of that branch of doctrine by which, as founded in Christ, believers have, properly speaking, been in all ages separated from the profane heathen. I am only showing that it is necessary to apply to Scripture, in order to learn the sure marks which distinguish God, as the Creator of the world, from the whole herd of fictitious gods. We shall afterward, in due course, consider the work of Redemption. In the meantime, though we shall adduce many passages from the New Testament, and some also from the Law and the Prophets, in which express mention is made of Christ, the only object will be to show that God, the Maker of the world, is manifested to us in Scripture, and his true character expounded, so as to save us from wandering up and down, as in a labyrinth, in search of some doubtful deity…
Therefore, while it becomes man seriously to employ his eyes in considering the works of God, since a place has been assigned him in this most glorious theatre that he may be a spectator of them, his special duty is to give ear to the Word, that he may the better profit.69 Hence it is not strange that those who are born in darkness become more and more hardened in their stupidity; because the vast majority instead of confining themselves within due bounds by listening with docility to the Word, exult in their own vanity. If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct knowledge of God, originate in obedience…
For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men. It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God;—we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved Judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth. If, as I lately said, we turn aside from it, how great soever the speed with which we move, we shall never reach the goal, because we are off the course.
Second, the scientific process is not, in any way, general revelation. John Byl explains:
In the traditional evangelical view general revelation consists of God’s self-revelation: the invisible character of God is made known through His works of creation and providence (e.g., Rom. 1:20). Thus general revelation is considered to be quite distinct from nature, which is merely one of the means by which general revelation is mediated…
The term “revelation” carries the connotation that the knowledge which is revealed goes beyond our mere observations of nature. It implies that through the visible workings of nature certain invisible characteristics of nature are made manifest. We must then ask precisely what the contents of such revealed knowledge are and how it may be acquired.
In the case of God’s self-revelation, the step from the visible creation to the invisible God is made largely via the rudimentary knowledge of God that has been naturally implanted in the human mind…
The notion that God has revealed truth in two books, Scripture and nature, has been advocated as a means of reconciling science and Scripture from the beginning of the scientific revolution. And from the beginning it has been abused… Historically, the doctrine of the two books has frequently led to a demise in biblical authority.
Finally, general revelation does not consist of trees and ants and stars. General revelation is propositional revelation of God and what He requires of man revealed innately within man. Prior to the fall, it was as readily present in man’s mind as the words you are reading now are in your mind. Starting with this innate knowledge of God, man could look out upon creation and see His creator reflected in it. But he does not start with creation. He starts with God already revealed within his mind.
Natural or general revelation is self-authenticating because it is the revelation of the Creator to the creature made in his image… Romans 1:18-32… asserts that such revelation leaves men without excuse because it actually imparts to them a certain knowledge of God. By it that which is known about God is made evident in them and to them. His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen and understood by men… Let it be clear what the force of the testimony of Scripture is. It is not that men may know God; nor that they potentially know God and will come to know him if they will use their reason aright. It is not that men by natural revelation have a certain vague notion of some undefined deity. It is rather that men are immediately confronted with a clear and unavoidable revelation of the true and living God.
Samuel Waldron, Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith, p. 38-42
That this opposition is wicked because inexcusable on the plea of ignorance, is proved in this and the following verses. They wickedly oppose the truth, because the knowledge of God is manifest among them. Agreeably to this explanation, this verse is connected with the immediately preceding clause. It may however refer to the general sentiment of Romans 1:18. God will punish the impiety and unrighteousness of men, because he has made himself known to them. The former method is to be preferred as more in accordance with the apostle’s manner and more consistent with the context, inasmuch as he goes on to prove that the impiety of the heathen is inexcusable.
Since that which may be known of God, is manifest in them.
This version is not in accordance with the meaning of γνωστόν which always in the Bible means, what is known, not what may be known. Besides, the English version seems to imply too much; for the apostle does not mean to say that everything that may be known concerning God was revealed to the heathen, but simply that they had such a knowledge of him as rendered their impiety inexcusable. We findγνωστός used the sense of γνωτός, known, Acts 1:19; Acts 2:14; Acts 15:18; γνωστὰ ἀπ ̓ αἰῶνός ἐστι τῷ θεῷ πάντα τὰ ἔργα αὺτοῦ; and often elsewhere. Hence τὸ γνωστόν is = γνῶσις, as in Genesis 2:9, γνωστὸν τοῦ καλοῦ καὶ τοῦ πονηροῦ.
The knowledge of God does not mean simply a knowledge that there is a God, but, as appears from what follows, a knowledge of his nature and attributes, his eternal power and Godhead, Romans 1:20, and his justice, Romans 1:32.
φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς, may be rendered, either is manifest among them, or in them. If the former translation be adopted, it is not to be understood as declaring that certain men, the Pythagoreans, Platonists, and Stoics, as Grotius says, had this knowledge; but that it was a common revelation, accessible, manifest to all. In them, however, here more properly means, in their minds. “In ipsorum animis,” says Beza, “quia haec Dei notitia recondita est in intimis mentis penetralibus, ut, velint nolint idololatriae, quoties sese adhibent in consilium, toties a seipsis redarguantur.” It is not of a mere external revelation of which the apostle is speaking, but of that evidence of the being and perfections of God which every man has in the constitution of his own nature, and in virtue of which he is competent to apprehend the manifestations of God in his works. For God hath revealed to them, viz., the knowledge of himself. This knowledge is a revelation; it is the manifestation of God in his works, and in the constitution of our nature. “Quod dicit,” says Calvin, “Deum manifestasse, sensus est, ideo conditum esse hominem, ut spectator sit fabriae mundi; ideo datos ei oculos, ut intuitu tam pulchrae imaginis, ad auctorem ipsum feratur.” God therefore has never left himself without a witness. His existence and perfections have ever been so manifested that his rational creatures are bound to acknowledge and worship him as the true and only God.
This correct understanding of general revelation explains how all men, even if they are not scientists or philosophers engaging in complicated supposed theistic proofs, are inexcusable before God. Infants, those who are blind, and those who are mentally impaired – that is, those whose interaction with nature is hindered – are just as equally inexcusable because their knowledge of God is implanted in their heart at conception. It is not derived from nature.
Gordon Clark sums it up “[O]ne may note that nobody can recognize a flower as God’s handiwork, unless he has a prior knowledge of God. As Calvin said, the knowledge of God is the first knowledge a person has. It is innate; not derived from experience.”
And therefore, no, the unregenerate pagan does not have a “leg up” on the Christian in understanding God’s revelation because that revelation starts in his heart, and because of the fall “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” So we need the spectacles of Scripture, and regeneration to properly use the spectacles, if we are to know anything of God’s revelation.