The Necessity of Natural Revelation

“Speaking first of the necessity of natural revelation we must recall that man was made a covenant personality. Scripture became necessary because of the covenant disobedience of Adam in paradise. This covenant disobedience took place in relation to the supernatural positive revelation that God had given with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God chose one tree from among many and “arbitrarily” told man not to eat of it. It is in this connection that we must speak of the necessity of natural revelation. If the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had been naturally different from other trees it could not have served its unique purpose. That the commandment might appear as purely “arbitrary” the specially chosen tree had to be naturally like other trees. For the supernatural to appear as supernatural the natural had to appear as really natural. The supernatural could not be recognized for what it was unless the natural were also recognized for what it was. There had to be regularity if there was to be a genuine exception. A further point needs to be noted. God did not give His prohibition so that man might be obedient merely with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that merely at one particular moment of time. He gave the prohibition so that man might learn to be self-consciously obedient in all that he did with respect to all things and throughout all time. Man was meant to glorify God in the “lower” as much as in the “higher” dimensions of life. Man’s act with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to be but an example to himself of what he should or should not do with respect to all other trees. But for an example to be really an example it must be exceptional. And for the exceptional to be the exceptional there is required that which is regular. Thus we come again to the notion of the necessity of natural revelation as the presupposition of the process of differentiation that history was meant to be. So far we have spoken of the necessity of natural revelation as it existed before the fall. Carrying on this idea, it follows that we may also speak of the necessity of natural revelation after the fall. Here too the natural or regular has to appear as the presupposition of the exceptional. But the exceptional has now become redemptive. The natural must therefore appear as in need of redemption. After the fall it is not sufficient that the natural should appear as merely regular. The natural must now appear as under the curse of God. God’s covenant wrath rests securely and comprehensively upon man and upon all that man has mismanaged. Before the fall the natural as being the merely regular was the presupposition of the supernatural as being pre-redemptively covenantal; after the fall the natural as under the covenant wrath of God is the presupposition of the supernatural as redemptive covenantal. Grace can be recognized as grace only in contrast with God’s curse on nature. Then too the idea of the supernatural as “example” is again in order here. Grace speaks to man of victory over sin. But the victory this time is to come though the obedience of the second Adam. The regeneration of all things must now be a gift before it can become a task. The natural must therefore by contrast reveal an unalleviated picture of folly and ruin. Nor would the Confession permit us to tone down the rigid character of the absolute contrast between the grace and the curse of God through the idea of “common grace.” Common grace is subservient to special or saving grace. As such it helps to bring out the very contrast between this saving grace and the curse of God. When men dream dreams of a paradise regained by means of common grace, they only manifest the “strong delusion” that falls as punishment of God upon those that abuse his natural revelation. Thus the natural as the regular appears as all the more in need of the gift of the grace of God. Yet the gift is in order to the task. The example is also meant to be a sample. Christ walks indeed upon a cosmic road. Far as the curse is found, so far his grace is given. The Biblical miracles of healing point to the regeneration of all things. The healed souls of men require and will eventually receive healed bodies and a healed environment. Thus there is unity of concept for those who live by the Scriptural promise of comprehensive, though not universal, redemption. While they actually expect Christ to return visibly on the clouds of heaven, they thank God for every sunny day. They even thank God for his restraining and supporting general grace by means of which the unbeliever helps to display the majesty and power of God. To the believer the natural or regular with all its complexity always appears as the playground for the process of differentiation which leads ever onward to the fullness of the glory of God.”

(Van Til, Nature and Scripture)

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2 thoughts on “The Necessity of Natural Revelation

  1. Eric Stampher

    “Scripture became necessary because of the covenant disobedience of Adam in paradise”

    Does Van Til not allow here that Scripture — God speaking verbally in addition to what He spoke & speaks into the “natural” world revelation — was already necessary?
    Did God not already find it and make it necessary to speak to Adam?
    Was not God’s verbal rules regarding the trees necessary for setting intelligible bounds regarding moral behavior & covenant obedience?

    Therefore didn’t Scripture “become necessary” not later, but earlier — when He decided to introduce it way before the fall?

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  2. Eric Stampher

    To say that nature is & was necessary as the backdrop for the exceptional might be true, all right. But doesn’t that incorrectly infer that nature can’t be necessary without the exceptional?

    Van Til does not make an adequate case that “Exceptionability” (the setting up of otherwise arbitrary rules unrecognizable by even the purest of minds who are looking just at nature) is a necessity for the capability of sin or obedience, does he? Paul said somewhere that nature itself teaches that men should sport manish, not womanish, hair styles. And one could violate this natural revelation, and therefore sin, without employing the exceptional, yes?

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