The important passage on the inspiration of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 is just one of the many biblical texts from which we formulate the doctrine of revelation. In order that we might have a better grasp on all that God’s Word says about itself, we will spend a few days studying the nature of revelation with the help of Holy Scripture, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
Many people consider the Westminster Confession of Faith to be the most comprehensive and precise summary of the biblical theology that was recovered during the Protestant Reformation. Chapter 1 of the confession is all about the doctrine of revelation, and we will look today at the distinction between natural revelation and special revelation found therein (1.1). Briefly stated, the confession defines natural revelation as “the light of nature and the works of creation and providence” that “manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God.” Drawing from Romans 1:18–32 and other passages, we know there is a knowledge about God in the created order that gives all of humanity some basic truths about the Creator. In considering the plants of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and so on, we see that there is a being who has made all things, whose power is revealed in the winds of the storm and whose goodness is seen in the food that the earth provides.
We can learn other truths about God from the natural order, but there is one important fact that natural revelation can never give us. That fact, the Westminster Confession tells us, is the “knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation” (1.1). No matter how hard we study them, the mountains and trees cannot tell us that the Father sent His Son to save a rebellious world (John 3:16). At best, natural revelation can only condemn us, for knowing that God exists we have not honored Him as God, nor have we given Him the thanks He is due, as Paul tells us in today’s passage.
Only the Almighty’s special revelation of Himself in sacred Scripture can tell us how we may be saved and how we may please Him. If God had not condescended to speak to us, none of us could ever be saved (Rom. 10:13–17).