Theme: The Continuous Nature of General 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
General revelation is the term theologians use to refer to the revelation of God in nature, which is where Psalm 19 begins: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (v. 1).
The psalmist is thinking of the stars, which are visible by night, and the sun, which he will introduce specifically in verses 4b-6. His teaching is that the heavens, which contain these created objects, witness to their Creator. They witness to his existence, of course. God made them. But more than that, they also witness to his glory. The stars and the sun are so glorious that the one who made them must clearly be more glorious still.
This is a limited revelation, of course. Alexander Maclaren notes this in his commentary, arguing that in this psalm glory has no “moral element.”2 That is, it does not testify to God’s moral qualities, such as his justice, mercy, love, wrath, goodness, grace or compassion. But the creation certainly testifies to God’s existence and power. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1, in a passage that probably has the nineteenth psalm in mind, though it is not directly quoted. In Romans Paul says, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (v. 20). This is the meaning of glory in Romans l, a revelation of God’s existence and power so great that it should lead every human being on the face of the earth to seek God out, to thank him for bringing the person into existence, and to worship him.
But that is what we do not do. What Paul says in Romans is that, apart from God’s special intervention in our lives to save us, all human beings actually suppress the truth of God’s general revelation, either denying his existence altogether or else erecting a lesser god, an idol, in the true God’s place. As a result of this the wrath of God has been released upon us and our truth-suppressing cultures.
It is not only the fact of general revelation that we find in Psalm 19. That would be significant enough, coming as it does in this relatively early stage of the biblical revelation. However, in addition to the fact of general revelation, we also have some profound statements about its nature and extent. Verses 2 and 3 say three things about it.
1. It is continuous. The psalmist says of the heavens that “day after day they pour forth speech” and of the skies that “night after night they display knowledge” (v. 2). In other words, they are not an intermittent revelation, as if God were to send a prophet one year and then let many silent years go by before sending another. The skies reveal the glory of God every single night of the week, every week of the year, year after year, and they have done this since their creation. There has never been a moment when the heavens were not testifying to us about God. This is what Joseph Addison captured so brilliantly in the third verse of his hymn on Psalm 19:
What though in solemn silence allMove round this dark terrestrial ball?What though no real voice nor soundAmidst their radiant orbs be found?In reason’s ear they all rejoice,And utter forth a glorious voice;Forever singing, as they shine,”The hand that made us is divine.”
Why is nature called a “limited revelation”? Which characteristics of God are revealed through nature?
According to Paul in Romans, without a knowledge of God’s special revelation, what do people do with his general revelation?
What is the first thing we learn about general revelation in vv. 2-3? Why is that significant?
Application: Throughout this week, make it a point to observe God’s handiwork in creation, and offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise.
2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 1, Psalms l-38 (New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1893), p 188.