Affirmation 1b – General and Special Revelation

1st page of Supernatural Appearance in CH Spurgeon: The Early Years p501Having sung 613 and Nearer Still Nearer, Alex read from Hebrews 1. The topic is still the first Affirmation statement.

We refreshed our memories about General Revlation, which is general because it can be observed by everyone. In a sense, these are objective facts about humanity – there is ‘no speech nor language where their voice is not heard’ (Psalm 19:3)

We defined Special Revelation as being the Bible, essentially, although we also asked in what ways does God reveal himself to us. The Lord Jesus Christ was the supreme example, from Hebrews 1. There were various kinds of revelation mentioned: dreams, visions, voices, etc. 2nd Page of Supernatural Appearance in CH Spurgeon: The Early Years p502Many Biblical characters experienced these.

We discussed the matter of ‘impressions’, when a good thing is forcefully brought to bear upon our hearts. Alex gave the example of when he was convinced he had to witness to a group of young people. Clearly there are dangers here where we should not give any credence to claims of ‘new truth’, especially concerning things which plainly contradict plain scripture. For example, Harold Camping gave a date and time for the 2nd coming of Christ, in spite of clear testimony of scripture that no man knows the date.

There was a balance to be struck between coldly dismissing the Lord speaking directly to us today and going over the top claiming that every passing thought was the Lord literally telling them to do this or that. Yet, many will testify to the way that the Word of God comes alive to them and every missionary could be asked for the verse that the Lord had given them in confirmation of their call. It all needs to be considered in the light of the scriptural touchstone. Even then, we are liable to go wrong – even the best of men have done: think of Wesley and his opening the bible at a random place for guidance; Howell Harris becoming besotted with Madam Bevan; the poor lad who, having heard the sermon on the fall of Jerico, walked around a young lady seven times (unbeknown to her) and then announced to her that the Lord had given her to him (or something like that…)! Spurgeon also relates the story of a man who said God wanted him to preach in the Tabernacle the following Lord’s Day. Spurgeon’s retort was to marvel that the Lord had not revealed the same thing to him. Another Spurgeon anecdote of relevance was mentioned where  a vision of a departed mother prevented some children from falling to their deaths (CH Spurgeon Autobiography Volume 1: page 501-2, Banner of Truth – click to zoom on images of the pages if you need to see the text).

We concluded that a lot of these things come under the heading of guidance not really revelation.

We got onto the subject of revival and the intense sense of God’s presence felt at such times. Someone asked whether revival phenomena like that witnessed by Helen Rosevere in the Congo were cultural, but similar things are recorded the world over.

After two of our number prayed, we closed by singing ‘Mighty Christ’.

Afterwards I got thinking about the ‘cultural’ differences thing, particularly in worship. No-one argues that a smile, laughter, or weeping with sorrow is ‘cultural’. I fail to see how reverence in worship can be maintained while it is accompanied by worldly music. When God came down they were humbled and sobered, not swinging in the aisles.  Yet there is a delighting in God of which we know too little. As the pastor has reminded us, we’ve lost our ‘Halelujah!’ I love the account in Echos from the Welsh Hills (Tentmaker, with John Vaughan and his various stages of the ‘hwyl’ – being taken up with the glories of Christ and his gospel to the forgetting of time, place and surroundings…

The first was when he ‘got up from his favourite corner in the “large pew”, stood erect, and, with a countenance beaming with joy, looked intently upon the preacher.

The second was when he became almost motionless. He seemed to be transfixed. This was the second stage of John’s hwyl – that of wonder. He only occasionally reached the third – the rapturous. Unlike his cousin Shadrach, he did not respond much until he had fairly lost himself. Meanwhile he would only look at the preacher, but what a look! The glance of his full and luminous eyes on this and similar occasions was piercing. His whole soul looked through in intense wonder and adoration… (on to page 41) and we find Shadrach ‘all aglow’. for some time he nodded his head, and jerked out an occasional “Ie!” “Ie!”, (yes! yes!) by way of hearty assent; but during the last two or three minutes, Shadrach had been rapidly running up the scale of emotion, and now had reached quite an octave higher, when he shouted out “Bendigedig” (blessed). Another brother joined in with his peculiar ejaculation, for which he was known throughout the whole neighbourhood, “Oh – oh!” “Oh-oh” while John Vaughan still looked, lost in wonder, and might at any moment break forth into the rapturous. There was a general movement too, through the whole congregation, which cannot be defined, but which could be felt by all present…

Afterwards I was reading 2 Peter 1, where Peter is remembering the transfiguration. It occurred to me that many would like to have shared his experience. How could you better hearing the very voice of God?! Well, these experiences are temporary, but the recording of them in scripture is permanent and fixed: ‘a more sure word of testimony’ Peter calls God’s word in the books of the prophets. These words carry the truth of God in a way that can be fixed for all time, so that we can, in a sense, share in the transfiguration, and the myriads of other wonders that are in God’s Word. Which would you choose? A Bible in your hand for life, or a single instance of hearing God’s voice in the air?

With apologies for releasing the note form of this summary before it was ready.


Question 1b – What is it to glorify God?

I’m a bit late conveying this but we had a good meeting last Lord’s Day again, 19th June 2011.

After singing ‘Immortal honours rest on Jesu’s head’, we studied the four words that Thomas Watson uses to describe what it is to glorify God. These are:

  1. Appreciation
  2. Adoration
  3. Affection
  4. Subjection

We considered what might be the difference between the first two words. It was suggested that appreciation was about ‘valuing highly’. It is to do with esteeming something, usually with our minds. In order to do this, we have to have a right conception of God, as revealed through his Word. This point ties in well with last week’s study from Affirmation on the necessity of the Word of God over creation and conscience to illuminate us with a clearer view of God’s attributes and works.

When considering adoration, Thomas Watson makes the point that worship should be in conformity to God’s Word. This is why we reject superficial songs, sung to worldly music. At the same time, our danger lies in quickly becoming proud of ourselves and our great hymns. The simplicity of heart worship by those who sing to music that plays upon carnal emotions may well be more acceptable to God than a praises too full of pride for God to inhabit. For those who like to call themselves reformed, there is a related emotion which kicks in when we feel gratified at understanding some new idea of God which rivals the most frivolous ever felt by those known as charismatics. In either case, the mistake is to believe that these are the heights of true worship…. we have merely consumed worship upon our lusts.

Thomas Watson uses very extravagant language to enlarge on the third word, affection. Recalling verses from the Song of Songs, ‘love is exuberant, not a few drops, but a stream… It is intense and ardent. True saints are seraphims, burning in holy love to God.

Finally, subjection. How wonderful the sight of a Christian at full tilt for God. Nothing will get in the way of his obedience. He is like a planet revolving the sun: moving ‘vigorously in the sphere of obedience’.

When we considered these words, it became clear that we do indeed fall far short of the glory of God. If, after the morning service, we were still scratching our heads as to what depths of repentance we had still to plumb, these words helped to point the way towards genuine New Testament Christianity.

Affirmation 1

In our second week, it was Alex Hutter’s turn to take the doctrine class.
After the opening prayer, we sang:

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord…

Alex introduced Affirmation 2010, which he will be taking as a series whenever he leads.

Affirmation is a ‘strong theological document’. Yet it is different in intent and form to our classic, historic creeds or confessions of faith. Affirmation is not a systematic or exhaustive treatise on the Christian Faith that a church would adopt as its foundational statement of belief. It is intended as a timely defence against the current erosion of doctrinal, practical and experimental aspects of evangelicalism. Affirmation 2010 is also unusual in that it does not just state what we believe, it also states catagorically what we do not believe, what we reject. It leaves those who would look for it no ‘wriggleroom’, no space to play with words or somehow vow alliegience to a creed without really subscribing to it (reference was made to liberal Church of England ministers who perform some sophistry to be able to avow the 39 Articles at induction, these Articles which clearly state the historic Christian faith).

The first sentence proper of Affirmation is this:

We affirm that God has supernaturally revealed to man objective truth. General revelation comes through the universe God has made

We looked at what it meant to ‘reveal’: that it is more than mere deduction, a working things out from evidence. Revelation is something that comes from outside a person. It also is something that is, in general, understood in the mind. God has revealed himself in an intelligable way. There is no mixed message here. Creation, conscience and scripture stand in line to express one united view of God. We spoke for a while about ‘objective truth’, that God has revealed to man ‘objective truth’. In general, people are opposed to the idea that there is such a thing. In religious education, children are taught that there are various ‘truth claims’. Modern man is happy for you to find meaning and comfort in ‘your truth’, but do not try and suggest that this truth is or should be anyone elses, especially theirs! Dogma is out, uncertainty is the only dogma. On this account, there are 7 billion versions of truth! What a strange distortion of language. Yet someone spoke of how, before they were a Christian, they questioned the historicity of Christ, although they had no good reason or evidence to do so. The world tells us we can be confident of scientists accounts of events billions of years ago, but no-one can seriously trust the historically accurate and verifiable objective truth dating back just a few thousand years!

So we affirm that God reveals truth through general and special revelation. Generally God reveals himself through the fact of the conscience in humans. There is universal agreement that to murder someone innocent is ‘bad’. This conscience tells us something about justice and judgement, while creation around us tells us about God’s ‘eternal power and Godhead’ (Rom 1&2). Psalm 8 was also quoted – ‘When I consider the heavens…’
We began to appreciate afresh that, although the non-Christian is ‘without excuse’, they really do need the gospel, God’s word, in order to learn more precisely about the His law and how to be saved, and the Holy Spirit to empower that gospel. Without the law, God’s objective standard, we rely on our corrupt and variable consciences to work out what is right and wrong. In a society where this is the norm, it leaves those in greater power to declare what is allowable, often in their own favour. I think it struck all of us who were there, just how vital is the gospel, and the great commission to sound it forth (chiming with a recent sermon).

Two of our number prayed movingly, and then we finished the meeting singing,

Lord I was blind, I could not see…

Question 1a What are humans for?

We re-arranged the chairs from the one in the picture into a semi-circle to enable people to see each other when they spoke. We sung ‘Glory, Glory, Everlasting, be to God and to the Lamb’.
We spent a while thinking about what other answers people give for ‘What is the purpose of humans’ (What is the chief end of man) – a fundamental question that nags at everyone. We considered what it is to glorify anything. I referred to the book Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies – the root of the word is ‘weight’ or ascribing greatness to something. We considered for a while how God could be glorified seeing he is infinite in glory. That is true but we merely give what we owe when we glorify One so great. It emphasised how God’s glory is not diminished by the sinful actions of men: God is glorified by his patience and common grace towards the sinner who refuses to acknowledge him and God is glorified, though we tremble to say it, in the justice of turning such rebels into hell.Sadly, the thought of ‘glorifying and enjoying God’ is far from the answer most would give these days. In fact, people often react against that answer, asking why does God need people to glorify him, as if his ego needed to be stroked. But, Christians believe that man is the ‘fly in the ointment’ – the whole of creation around us glorifies God, and will man go ‘rent free’? What do people live for, ‘the day’, ‘my family’, ‘my material advancement’, or something more noble, but always bound to this world, if not God. We pondered how far in excellence God is compared to that. He alone is worthy – in his very essence alone, before we begin to explore his works, and even more so his grace.

‘Great God of Wonders, All Thy ways are matchless, god-like and divine,
But the fair glories of thy grace more godlike and unrivaled shine.’
Samuel Davies

I made some references to how the morning sermon tied in with our theme – how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego glorified God before they were turned into the fiery furnace and old Eli, who magnified God in spite of the terrible news that had just rung in his ears.

After singing, ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’, two people were invited to pray and I closed with the doxology in Hebrews 13. The meeting went well, I believe the Lord was with us. Needless to say we’ll have to come back to this question and answer again.

Layout of the hall

We’re using a corner of the upper hall for the doctrine class, with the Welsh service taking the sanctuary.
A few of us met yesterday to agree the layout and to pray for the work(s). We’ve got some comfortable chairs from Bromsgrove and some runner rugs to stop the chairs making a noise for the Sunday School that’s happening downstairs.

To glorify God

Here is a snippit from Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies. Most occurrences of the word ‘glorify’ are of the kind 10 and 11.