The second book of revelation is a literal book, namely, the written word of God. We call it “special revelation” because it makes known to God’s special people, His elect, that He is their Redeemer.
The knowledge of God in creation is superb, as Scripture shows, but it is not a knowledge sufficient to lead one to salvation in Christ. We need the Word to find the clear and sufficient revelation of God as Redeemer in Christ.
The Perspicuity of the Word
“He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word.”
Psalm 19:7–11 teaches us that the Word is “perfect,” or complete, and contains a knowledge to be greatly desired. And that knowledge, according to Jesus, is a knowledge of Him (John 5:39).
So we need the Word because without it all we do is blur and mess up everything that God has given us. Therefore the Word of God is like a pair of glasses.1
Have you ever seen a 3-D movie? At Sea World in San Diego there is a 3-D movie about pirates. If you do not wear 3-D glasses, all you see is three of everything, with plenty of blurriness. But once you put the 3-D glasses on, you can see the screen properly. So it is with the Word of God and the knowledge of God. Our eyes have become blurred by sin. We cannot clearly see God in general revelation; therefore God “makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word.”
Psalm 19 also teaches us our response to God’s revelation. God is to be addressed by His covenant name, “LORD,” Jehovah, Yahweh in verse 7, “the law of the LORD.” And then in verse 14, He is called our “Rock” and “Redeemer”. The Word tells us He is our Savior, our Redeemer, our covenant Lord, our refuge and strength.
And God, the LORD, is “more clearly and fully known” to us in the Person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the eternal Word (John 1:1), whose name is “The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13). Remember John 1:14, “and the Word became flesh, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Remember John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; but these are they which testify of Me.” Remember I Peter 1:10-12 says that the Old Testament prophets ministered not to themselves, but to us, in speaking of the coming sufferings and glory of Christ. So what is the knowledge given to us by the Word? Christ, Christ, Christ!
For in Him all the promises of the Old Testament are “yes” and “Amen” (II Corinthians 1:20).
The necessity of this revelation in the word is taught to us in the Psalm, which says that the word “converts,” make us “wise,” and “enlightens” us. Why? Because we have blurred and suppressed the knowledge of God in our minds (cf. Romans 1:18ff). Another Psalm says this in these words: “My soul clings to the dust, revive me according to Your word” (119:25), and, “open my eyes, that I may see wonderful things from Your law” (119:18).
The Sufficiency of the Word
“…that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to His glory and our salvation.”
In II Timothy 3:14–17 Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation. This means that it is sufficient, that it is enough to accomplish this task. So why do we confess this? It is important to realize that the Reformers emphasized the sufficiency of Scripture not just against the Romanist doctrine of Scriptureplus-tradition, but also against the Anabaptist doctrine of Scriptureplus-new-revelations-of-the-Spirit.
The Confession is very practical for us in the day we live. Most evangelical Christians, and I was one of them, are fascinated with “the gifts of the Spirit,” especially tongues and prophecy. The issue is whether God speaks uninspired words or only inspired and trustworthy words. If His words through modern prophets are mixed with human sin and error, then who cares if someone claims to speak from God because their words are not totally inspired. But if they are, then they must be canonical Scripture – meaning that we should start adding pages in the back of our Bibles!
“to His glory and our salvation.”
–redemption is theme of Scripture.
So what’s the point of God revealing knowledge of Himself in creation if we are just going to mess it all up? As Paul says in Romans 1:20, the reason is “so that they are without excuse.” The knowledge of God as Creator is Law, not Gospel, it condemns, but does not justify, it damns, and does not save!
But there are limits to the knowledge which Scripture gives us of God. Notice how our Confession explains it, “as far as is necessary for us in this life to His glory and our salvation.” One example is the Trinity. Can you understand the doctrine of the Trinity? No, you cannot understand it. Can you comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity? No, you cannot comprehend the Trinity. You can only apprehend it by faith. Sure, it is a faith built upon Scriptures’ revelation, but even what it reveals is only enough. It is like peering through your blinds early in the morning and having the sunlight strike your eye so that you close it and cover the window. You know the sun is there, but you cannot gaze upon it for more than a brief second.
The Word reveals all you need to know “to His glory,” the law, and what we need for “our salvation,” the gospel. And how can we glorify God? God gives us a roadmap on how to live in the Ten Commandments, and a blueprint for prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. It gives us “the form of sound words” to believe and study and meditate upon for all eternity.
1 Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. John Owen (Calvin’s Commentaries: Volume XIX; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprinted 1996) 71.
Questions for Further Study/Discussion
- What does Scripture “clearly” reveal about God?
- If Scripture is sufficient to reveal God’s will to us, how should we evaluate modern tongues and “prophecy”?
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde is the Pastor of the Oceanside United Reformed Church in Oceanside, California.