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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, August 17, 2009

Part XVI: Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith: The Nature of Revelation, Part 2


"Denial of 'propositional revelation' makes Christian faith logically impossible in its fullest and deepest expression of trust, for it is impossible to trust absolutely unless we have a sure Word of God. Such denial restricts Christianity to a religion of works, that is, to following Jesus Christ as best we can."

"The Articles . . . accept the biblical interpretation of events recorded in Scripture as true revelation. If this is the correct view of revelation, it follows that the Articles should only be discarded or corrected if their compilers misunderstood (that is, wrongly exegeted) the biblical interpretation, and not on the ground that the biblical interpretation on which the Articles are based should itself be discarded or corrected in favour of a new interpretation of the events."

Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of the Anglican Faith

A book by David Broughton Knox (Sydney: Anglican Church League, 1967).

The author: Canon David Broughton Knox, B.A., A. L. C. D., B.D., M.Th., D. Phil. (Oxford), was Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia. Ordained in 1941 he served in an English parish and as a chaplain in the Royal Navy before becoming a tutor at Moore College 1947-53. On leave in England he was tutor and lecturer in New Testament at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford 1951-53 and Assistant Curate in the parish of St. Aldale's, Oxford. He became Vice Principal of Moore College in 1954 and Principal in 1959. He was elected Canon of St. Andrew's Cathedral in 1960. His other books include "The Doctrine of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII" (London: James Clarke, 1961).

David Broughton Knox also founded George Whitefield College in South Africa in 1989.




Chapter Eight

The Nature of Revelation

[Continued from part 1].

In the last resort, the concept that God's revelation is in deeds can only be maintained by a forgetfulness that God is all-sovereign over the world. The fact is that there is no event which God controls more than another and, therefore, every event is equally revelational of some aspect of his character. Yet to say this is to say that no event is revelational in itself. For example, God controlled the migrations of the Syrians from Kir and the Philistines from Caphtor as completely as He brought up the Israelites out of Egypt (Amos 9:7). What is it then that makes the tribal migrations of the Israelites pregnant with revelation throughout the Old and New Testaments, while those of their related tribe, the Syrians, reveal only the one fact of God's general providence to which Amos alludes? Similarly, why are the invasions of neighbouring countries by the Assyrians, and the fate that overtook the Assyrians, revelational of God's character (see Isaiah 10), while the inter-tribal warfare of, say, the Maoris is not? It is not as though God's sovereign control is exercised any the more over the one, or any the less over the other, of these different events, but simply that to the one have been added interpretative propositions and statements, but not to the other. It is the proposition which is the revelation, giving meaning to the event. Through the proposition we know of God. The event, by itself, reveals nothing.

Modern theology largely ignores the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and the important consequences of this are seen in modern theories of revelation which place revelation in events. But God guides and controls every event. The new element which brings about revelation is the infallible guidance of the prophet's mind so that he interprets the event aright. Thus it is the interpretation which is revelation to us, and this interpretation is in the form of inerrant propositions. The biblical doctrine is that propositions form in the mind of the inspired prophet through the work of the Holy Spirit who also secures their embodiment in the written Scripture. The activity of God in controlling events is continuous and unchanging (though the purposes of His control will vary); but the gift to man of interpreting the event aright and writing down that interpretation accurately is sporadic. In this gift of revelation the working of God is in accordance with and through the nature which He himself created. It will therefore be natural, not artificial or mechanical, as we observe and examine it.

For an event to be revelational it must be interpreted by God Himself. This, and not merely some human reflection on occurrence, is the real differentiating factor. God interprets through His Word, given in the form of propositions or statements about that event. Thus for the prophets the word of the Lord was not the event, but the interpretation of the event which had been given them by the Spirit. The same is true of that supreme event, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. View detachedly, Jesus had the stature, mien, voice and gait of a Galilean. However, the disciples came to hold a much more significant judgment about Him, expressed in the proposition 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God'. They formed this judgment by reflecting (that is, by forming mental propositions) about His acts, and character, and teaching. It is this formed judgment which Jesus said was God's revelation. And it did not come to the disciples of themselves, for it was revealed not by flesh and blood but by the heavenly Father (Matthew 16:17). It is the apprehended, interpretative proposition about Christ that is the revelation, and not the observed action or event by itself.

Temple states, on the contrary: 'the faith in which His early followers believed that they had found salvation did not consist in the acceptance of propositions concerning Him, nor even in the acceptance of what He taught in words concerning God and man, though this was certainly included: but in personal trust in His personal presence, love and power'.vii This statement contains an inner contradiction. Faith is based on concepts apprehended by the mind; concepts are propositional in character. Certainly Christian faith (and in particular the disciples' faith) was not exercised towards propositions about material things, but towards concepts of a person, His power, and His promises. Nevertheless the disciples' trust in Christ's 'presence, love and power' was ultimately based on the acceptance of propositions about these things, which had been formulated in their minds. The case is no different, though more obvious, with regard to those who 'not having seen, yet have believed', for their knowledge of Christ's presence, love and power (from which their personal trust in Him springs) is conveyed to their minds by propositions. Trust in Christ as a religious experience is a consequence of a revelation given and received ('He who comes to God must believe that he is'). This trust and religious experience is to be distinguished from revelation. Such experience of God is, of course, more than propositional; but the revelation on which it is based, and by which it must be judged, is essentially propositional. A confusion arises unless the meanings of the word 'knowledge' are clearly distinguished from revelation. Such experience of God is, of course, more than propositional; but the revelation on which it is based, and by which it must be judged, is essentially propositional. A confusion arises unless the meanings of the word 'knowledge' are clearly distinguished. Knowledge of God in the sense of revelation of Him is entirely intellectual; it is apprehended by the mind alone. It is therefore propostional. But knowledge of God in the sense of fellowship with Him goes beyond intellectual apprehension, and is experienced through all the avenues of our being. In this latter sense knowledge of God is not exclusively, or perhaps not even essentially, propositional; but this knowledge of God is not revelational, though it illuminates revelation and suffuses revelation. Yet such religious experience must be based on revelation, if it is to be regarded as true, and not spurious, knowledge of God. Revelation is the test and criterion of such religious experience, as to whether it it is knowledge of God and the revelation which forms this test is the words of the Scripture and the propositions which these words form.

Denial of 'propositional revelation' makes Christian faith logically impossible in its fullest and deepest expression of trust, for it is impossible to trust absolutely unless we have a sure Word of God. Such denial restricts Christianity to a religion of works, that is, to following Jesus Christ as best we can. Moreover, denial of propositional revelation makes the lordship of Christ impossible of actual realization, for it is only by the sceptre of His Word that he can exercise that absolute lordship over men's consciences and wills which is His by right. For it is wrong to give absolute obedience to an uncertain command or to place absolute trust on an uncertain promise. Indeed, obedience to God as an element in the Christian life implies a command from God to obey. If there is no such revealed command (which is apprehended as a proposition) obedience gives place to prudence, that is, to the doing of what seems right in one's own eyes.

Denial of propositional revelation goes hand in hand with a denial of inerrant revelation. It is commonplace nowadays to assume that the words of the Bible, being human words, must inevitably (either through natural human inadequacy or the presence of sin) distort God's revelation. But the assumption ignores the power of God expressed in the divine rebuke, 'Who hath made man's mouth?' (Exodus 4:11). To assert that its Creator (who saw all from the beginning) cannot fulfill His purposes which He determined on from eternity, namely, to reveal Himself infallibly through human speech, betrays the greatest impiety. [Charlie's note: See Isaiah 46:10].

It is sometimes further asserted that, from the nature of truth, it is impossible that there should be such a thing as an inerrant revelation. A simple illustration will show the falsity of this. If when the clock strikes four, I state 'The clock has struck four', I have made a propositional statement which is inerrant, if words mean anything; and this inerrancy remains characteristic of the proposition, even if (a) my hearer misheard me through deafness, (b) he failed to apprehend my meaning through faulty knowledge of English, or (c) there was no one present to hear me. If it is possible for an ordinary man to make an inerrant proposition which is a revelational fact for those who have ears to hear, it is again the height of impiety to say that God cannot do so if He will; and not make one such inerrant statement only, but to make a whole series of them within the pages of the Bible, and to exclude from among them any erroneous propositions, if He will. That God has in fact done so should be believed by all who give credence to the teaching and attitude of Christ and of His apostles (and, indeed, to the whole of Scripture itself) with reference to the character of Holy Scripture.

The very existence of the Christian religion depends on the infallibility of Scripture, for unless we have a sure word from God it is not logically possible to be Christians, for the Christian religion consists in giving God absolute faith, leading to absolute obedience. Now it would be wrong to ask for or to give this absolute faith and absolute obedience if we did not have an absolutely trustworthy Word from God, for it is wrong to put absolute trust in someone whom we are not quite sure about. Faith is not intended to fill up the gaps where something comes short of full reliability. Blind faith of this sort is not Christian faith, which is the quiet restful trust on God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

There is another reason why the infallibility of the Bible is required if we are to be Christians in the way that God's people in the past have been. For if the Bible were not absolutely reliable as God's Word we would be in a worse relation to God than those people of the Old Testament times who heard God speaking to them directly at Mount Sinai, or to whom God sent His prophets saying, 'Thus saith the Lord.' The people of God in the Old Testament had in this way a direct word of God which they could trust and obey, giving to this word absolute faith and absolute obedience. Similarly the apostles, when they realized that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, knew that what He had said to them was God's Word absolutely. So they too could put their absolute trust in Him and obey Him implicitly, with unwavering hope in the certainty of the fulfillment of His promises.

Now unless we in our time have an equally sure Word from God in Holy Scripture we would not be able to exercise a religion of absolute faith and absolute obedience, and thus we would not be in a position to be Christians in the way that the apostles were, or those of the Old Testament times.

For God to have given us in the Scriptures His infallible Word means that He has inspired the words themselves. If He had merely controlled the events or inspired the thoughts but left it at that, we would never be in a position to recover God's Word, because the events and thoughts would have passed into history, beyond the reach of our recovery. But the Scriptures testify that God has not left us in this position of uncertainty about His Word, but that His Spirit has directed the very words that were written so that they can be said to be His words, the oracles of God. Thus following the example of Christ and the apostles we may put our complete reliance in the truth of the Bible, accepting what it teaches us about God and how it directs us to live.

The Articles are based on this principle, for they accept the biblical interpretation of events recorded in Scripture as true revelation. If this is the correct view of revelation, it follows that the Articles should only be discarded or corrected if their compilers misunderstood (that is, wrongly exegeted) the biblical interpretation, and not on the ground that the biblical interpretation on which the Articles are based should itself be discarded or corrected in favour of a new interpretation of the events.
Next Chapter

viiNature, Man and God, (London, 1934), p. 311.

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity.
The Collect.
LET thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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