Theme: The Two Parts of God’s Revelation
In this week’s lessons we see what the doctrine of general revelation teaches us about the one true God.
Scripture: Psalm 19:1-6
When I first began to preach through the psalms as part of the Sunday evening services of Tenth Presbyterian Church, which I have served as pastor since 1968, I decided whenever possible to end the services with a hymn based on the psalm being studied. At first I did not know whether the hymnal would have many hymns based on the psalms, but I was surprised to find that it did.
Our church hymnal, Trinity Hymnal, contains 730 hymns in all. But I discovered that in one way or another several hundred of these hymns either paraphrase or are developed from 117 of the 150 psalms. Most psalms had only one hymn or at best two hymns based on them, of course. But here is the interesting thing: When I came to Psalm 19 I discovered no less than seven hymns developed from this one passage: “The Spacious Firmament on High” (Joseph Addison); “The Heavens Declare Thy Glory” (Thomas Birks); “The Heavens Declare Thy Glory, Lord” (Isaac Watts); “Lord Thy Word Abideth” (Henry Baker); “Jehovah’s Perfect Law Restores the Soul Again” (Psalter, 1912); “The Law of God Is Good and Wise” (Matthias Loy); and “Most Perfect Is the Law of God” (Psalter, 1912).
This tells us a number of things about Psalm 19. For one thing, it is clearly great poetry, a judgment confirmed more recently by no less a master of literature than C. S. Lewis, who called it, “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”1
But just because a verse is great poetry does not necessarily mean that we adapt it to make hymns. It must also contain important theological and spiritual truths, which Psalm 19 does, of course, which is why it has been formed into the many hymns I mentioned. What it contains is a profound and moving statement of the doctrine of divine revelation. And like the Bible’s teaching elsewhere on this subject, it divides this revelation into two main categories: general revelation, which refers to the revelation of God in nature; and special revelation, in this case the revelation of God in Scripture. The first of these is discussed in verses 1-6, the second in verses 7-11. Then there is a concluding section or coda in which the psalmist applies this revelation to himself (vv. 12-14).
I have called these two parts of God’s revelation “the big book and the little book,” the big book being the universe and the little book the Bible. I propose considering the first of these in this study and the second in the study following.
Since a number of hymns have been written on Psalm 19, what does that teach us about this psalm?
What do the terms “general revelation” and “special revelation” mean?
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1C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), p. 63.