R.C Sproul on General Revelation and Romans 1

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.


I was reading R.C. Sproul’s book Defending Your Faith: An Introduction and thought this was worth sharing.

“General revelation can be distinguished into two different kinds: mediate and immediate. Mediate general revelation refers to God’s revelation of himself through some type of medium. The medium is nature itself. Consider the following excerpt from Psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge (vv.1-2). The psalmist sings the glories of God as revealed in the skies above. The heavens proclaim God’s handiwork; day after day, night after night, in the beautiful arrangement of time, the glory of the Creator God resounds in the heavens. The stars, the moon, indeed, all of the universe displays the glory. Immediate general revelation, on the other hand, refers to that revelation of God that comes to us directly, without any intermediary such as the external, created world. It is not immediate in the sense that it happens quickly or suddenly; rather it is immediate in that this general revelation is written on the minds and hearts of every human being. God’s law is written on our hearts (Rom.2:15), which is the true conscience embraced by the godly and suppressed by the wicked. Each person coming into this world carries an innate sense of God, put there by God himself. By virtue of being created in his image, we carry an intuitive sense that God exists, a deduction not drawn from nature but from our own souls. Calvin called this the divinitatis sensum, or the “awareness of divinity” residing in all people.

Paul’s letter to the Romans gives the church its clearest teaching on general revelation: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” (1:18a). This passage, as well as the passages that follow, are somewhat striking, not just because of their profundity but because of their placement in the letter. Paul has just written about how faith leads the believer into the righteous life, for the gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (vv.16-17). The reader might expect the apostle to continue this grand theme. After all, he is writing to Christians. But he jarringly begins writing about another revelation—not a revelation of the glorious good news of the Messiah for those who believe, but a revelation of God’s wrath. There is one obvious reason that Paul does this: to show his readers why the gospel is necessary in the first place. Therefore, every person to have ever lived needs the gospel—not because they have simply rejected Jesus, of whom many have never heard—but because of what all people have done with the knowledge of God they already possess. Continuing with our text, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom.1:18). We need a savior because we have suppressed the truth. This is the single sin in view here: the ungodly, unrighteous sin of suppression of truth. It is the definitive sin of all people in all ages: the suppression, not of “truth” in general but of the truth in particular, namely, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (v.19). The objective manifestation of the Creator’s hand never pierces the mind of the creature. God’s revelation cannot be seen by natural man because of sin. This, however, is not what Paul taught when he wrote the letter. It is not that people refuse to allow the clear revelation of God in nature into their heads; quite the contrary, the revelation does indeed get through. The basis of the indictment is that while the people know God, they still do “not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom.1:21a). The manifestation of the Creator’s existence in his creation is clearly perceived by the minds of all people. The problem is that this knowledge is continually distorted and suppressed, until finally the truth is exchanged for a lie (vv.21-32). Not only does God act objectively through his creation, which produces a general revelation of himself, this revelation goes on to produce a natural theology that serves as the basis for the universal guilt of all mankind.”- pgs 74-76.

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