The Word and the World
Larry Ray Hafley
(Author's Note: The material below was initially written in a casual, almost haphazard fashion in response to a request from a brother in Christ. I have "doctored" it up a little, but it retains the flow of a "typing out loud" article. Now, I have been asked to submit it as part of a special study in this issue of Watchman. Fearing that it will lack the polish of other articles in this issue, I make this little apology with a not so subtle appeal for sympathy for its shortcomings.)
I am afraid I am not much help here, but let me venture a few remarks for your study and reflection. The assigned title (purposely so submitted, I imagine), needs work. Someone must convince me that natural revelation is a revelation of God's "will." That it manifests his glory, greatness, grandeur, and Godhood, I doubt not, but does it make known his will? "I trow not."
One must "search the Scriptures daily," "proving and explaining" from the text in order to learn the "will of God" (Acts 17:2, 3; 11, 12; 28:23,24; Eph. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:15; Titus 1:9--"as he hath been taught;" Cf. Jn. 6:44, 45; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:14). However, the heavens themselves, by their very existence, declare the glory and handiwork of God, his eternal power and Godhead. As Whiteside observed, one may learn from nature that there is a sublime, supreme being of eternal power and Deity, but one cannot tell if he exists in a million persons or if he hates or loves or even cares about man. Such knowledge can only come from what is termed, "special revelation." I call it, "the Bible."
One may study the intricacies and complexities of a blade of grass or life in a drop of water. From them, "natural revelation," he may "clearly" see and "understand" that a divine being created them. However, apart from special revelation, he can never know what is the mind or will of God with respect to him (1 Cor. 2:1-13). He cannot know either sin or salvation by dissecting a frog or entering into the "treasures of the snow."
One may appeal, as the Psalmist and Paul did, to natural revelation, but let us examine Psalm 19 and Romans 1 a little more. Certainly, as noted, we may rightly make the appeal of Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:18f. But that is not all:
First, note Psalm 19:1-4, then proceed with 19:7-10--"the law...the testimony of the Lord....The statutes...the commandment of the Lord...the judgments of the Lord." Sounds to me like the Psalmist did not rely solely on nature to make his case. If one takes verses 1-4 for support of his actions, must he not also apply verses 7-10? The conclusion, the benefits and blessings of the word of the Lord are summed up in verses 11, 12. Verses 13, 14 are a prayer that by knowing God through his creation and his word (19:1-10), that he might then be free of iniquity in word and deed and that his every word and thought would be approved of God (Cf. 2 Tim. 2:15 with Psalm 19:13, 14). Perhaps that is the supreme, sublime "model" of all faithful preaching--the God who is shown; the God who is known; the God who is obeyed (Jn. 8:31, 32; 1 Jn. 2:3-5).
Hence, I would be slow to separate Psalm 19:1-4 from Psalm 19:7-10 ("All Scripture..." 2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
Second, Romans 1:18f. The conclusion of Paul's model is not that one has a choice to make as to which model he shall select for his philosophy of religion, but that the case is so self evident that "they are without excuse." He does not say, "I offer you two models, and I think mine makes more sense." Rather, he says rejecting what is obvious leaves you facing the righteous wrath and judgment of God because you have no excuse for your rejection of the truth on this matter ("model")!
(Was Jefferson using, in principle, Paul's line of thought when, in the Declaration Of Independence, he said, "We hold these truths to be self evident"? That is, they need no argument to sustain them. They need no text book to teach them. They are "self evident," hence, obvious, apparent. So argues Paul and Jefferson. In other words, they require no study to learn and "to come to the knowledge of (their) truth," for they are "self evident.")
Observe that Paul does not begin with a clinical, hands off, "I'm not here to attack your philosophy" approach. No, he initiates the proceedings with a statement that sounds like it might destroy someone's mood while denigrating and desecrating their model--"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold (suppress--NASB) the truth in unrighteousness." How's that for being open minded about whose "model" is the truth?! Should we be less militant and direct than was Paul (2 Cor. 10:3-5)? Do we have better methods, models, and manners than the apostles?
We see various forms of behavior condemned in this same context and connection in Romans 1:21-32. Upon whose model, or whose standard, was such conduct declared vile and unseemly? Too, I wonder what is alluded to in the reference to "the ordinance of God." These infidels are charged with knowing it (v. 32). Perhaps someone could enlighten us along that line. Remember, this is part of Paul's "model," or his "modus operandi," if you will. It does not sound like it is a very "balanced" presentation of models, if you ask me! He tells them they are ignorant, but they know it, having willfully rejected the truth in order to justify themselves and to allow themselves the right to live unrighteous lives; and that, therefore, a just wrath awaits them (Cf. Rom. 2:5).
In the same context, it is not possible to separate Romans 1:14-17 from verses 18-32. To whom did Paul declare himself to be a "debtor"? To both Jew and Gentile alike, to the wise and the unwise, Paul said he was ready to do what? To preach the gospel. Now, Paul, why are you ready to preach the gospel to both the Jews and the unbelieving Gentiles? Well, first of all, I am not ashamed of it because it is the power of God unto salvation; and, second, it is in the gospel that God's plan to make men righteous is revealed (Rom. 1:17; 10:3, 16). "For..." and then he goes into verses 18-32.
Since God's wrath is to be revealed from heaven, Paul is ready to preach the gospel to Jew and Gentile. He is debtor to both classes to do that, since it is God's power to save and to make righteous. He also wants to preach the gospel to them because God's wrath is coming upon them and they are absolutely and positively "without excuse." But, again, why are they "without excuse"? They are devoid of excuse because certain things are "clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made."
If Romans 1:18f. is devoid of the appeal of the gospel, I am terribly confused. I do not deny that reference is made to the "instruction," if you will, of natural revelation, but it cannot be divorced from the gospel, particularly because of verses 14-17. Since I must accept verses 20 and 21, must I not also accept verses 14 and 15 as part of the divine model and method of approach and appeal?
Third, if one is met with Acts 14:15-17, Romans 1:14-32 shows us what such people are to be taught; namely, the gospel. In fact, when he referred back to such preaching tours as that in Lystra recorded in Acts 14, he said, "I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Rom. 15:19; Cf. Acts 15:36). Though he appealed to it, his emphasis was not upon natural revelation but upon the gospel. God did not leave himself "without witness." His goodness, as seen in his giving of "rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons," shows that your idol gods are lying "vanities" and that he is the only true and living God. This is "clearly seen" and easily "understood by the things that are made;" therefore, you must hear and heed the gospel!
Fourth, the "model" of Acts 17 is rooted in the Old Testament from lift off to touch down. See 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; Psalm 50:9-14 with Acts 17:24, 25. Compare Jeremiah 10:1-16 on the nature of the true God in contrast with (Athenian styled) idols and relate that text to Acts 17:29. Acts 17:29 is a summary of Jeremiah 10. Since I accept Acts 17 as a "model" for approach and appeal, must I not employ Scripture as the glue for my model? I haven't the time today to run all the O.T. connections to Acts 17:22f., but wherever God spoke about men falsely thinking he was altogether like they are in his essential nature, you have another Scripture woven into the fiber and fabric of Acts 17.
These thoughts, if they are not relevant to your discussion, at least have the benefit of being an appeal to the text. You know me and my computer ineptitude, but if possible, I will try to send a copy of this to others. If I don't get it done, perhaps you can do it for me, if you think what has been said will be of any use. Maintain your poise; be calm in your soul; keep bringing any discussion back to the Bible. Larry
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