Some musings on the first paragraph of the Westminster Confession of Faith which reads:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
The Bible makes a fundamental assumption: God exists. Following its lead, so too does the Confession. Neither seek to give ‘proofs’ of the existence of God.
However, that is not to say that there is no evidence for his existence. That evidence can be found in two places: first, as the Confession puts it, the light of nature and, second, the works of creation and providence.
By “the light of nature” the Confession simply means that sense that everyone has of the existence of the divine. We may deny it and/or try to suppress it, but it is there tugging at our consciences.
By “creation” is meant the “heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) i.e. all things in creation that we can see and even those we can’t see, even anything beyond sophisticated instrumentation.
By “providence” is meant the way in which time and events in this universe unfold in a seemingly purposeful way.
So, the light of nature, creation, providence together provide evidence of the existence of God and of his qualities. They are the often unrecognised stimulus to the kinds of questions children ask but adults learn to suppress – where did I come from, what am I for, what’s my life all about? But no one can ever say, “I didn’t know!” The evidence is all around us.
However, even if someone did respond to that evidence and believed in God in his power, wisdom and goodness, there is still a problem: such knowledge of God and his qualities does not do anything about the person’s condition that makes necessary his salvation. The Confession will go on to speak about this salvation, why it is necessary, and how it can be had. Suffice it to say, that at this point the Confession is giving a basis for the further revelation of himself and his will. That basis is that man needs to be saved.
Right at the start of this part of the Confession, we see the wonderful grace of God as he reveals himself further to make salvation possible. In one sense he did not have to, but he did! How has that revelation come? In various ways and means. Yet all of them have resulted in the committing of that revelation to writing. Every book of the Bible has its own human author and historical setting but they all have their origin in God himself. Through the Bible God is reaching out to mankind. Though it he is building the church and defending her against evil. Scripture is the means of God’s grace and we must treat it with reverence and care.
One final point, and one which causes controversy in our day: all previous modes of revelation have ceased. That is, dreams, visions, new writings. They have all ceased. Now, there is nothing more necessary than that we focus on what God has had committed to writing. That is sufficient, and with that we should be content.