“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Law.”
Certain things can be learned about God from His creation—the world and the universe around us. “The invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they [those “who suppress the truth,” v. 18] are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20). Man’s conscience also testifies to the existence of God —that the divine Judge expects certain moral behavior of His creatures; that He knows what all humans do; and that He will surely punish those that anger Him. The various religious observances of the heathen invented to honor or placate their false gods bear out these points (Acts 17:22–23; I Corinthians 10:20; Galatians 4:8). But apart from the revealed knowledge of God found only in the Scriptures, man remains completely ignorant about who the true God is (namely, the Triune God), as well as the only way to salvation (namely, by faith in the vicarious atonement of Christ and the resulting justification of the world in and through Him).
Now those things that God has specifically chosen to reveal to us in the Bible, in His own verbally-inspired Word, are obviously important for us to know. “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). And yet the Bible does not answer every question about the Lord, His will, His works and ways, that might come into a person’s mind. A great many people have wasted a tremendous amount of time (often to the spiritual detriment of themselves and others) speculating about questions relating to God that are simply not answered in Scripture. Rather than doing that, the Lord bids us instead to focus upon what He has revealed to us. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Everything that God has determined to be important for us and for our children to know for our Christian faith and life has been clearly revealed to us. And those things that He has chosen to keep hidden from us belong to Him and must remain outside our grasp. Acknowledging this point, we hold firmly to the principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), as championed by Luther; and we denounce all religious teachings that go beyond what the Lord has revealed in the Bible (Deuteronomy 12:32).
For as obvious as that point may be to us who treasure what the Lord has revealed to us in the Bible (Psalm 119:103–104, 127–128), the largest denomination in outward Christendom (the Roman Catholic Church) does not hold to it, but openly derides the principle of Sola Scriptura. In defense of their many teachings that have no basis in the Scriptures (many of which blatantly contradict the written Word of God), the Romanists appeal to the authority of what they refer to as oral tradition—the teachings they ascribe to Christ and the Apostles that were not recorded in the Bible, but which they still claim to know. They insist that equal respect and obedience must be given both to the Scriptures and to their “unwritten traditions.” In the fourth session of the Council of Trent, from their “Decree Concerning The Canonical Scriptures,” the Romanists assert: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; [the Synod] following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament—seeing that one God is the author of both—as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. …But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts…and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema [cursed].” (Quoted from Philip Schaf, The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. II, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993 reprint, pp. 80 and 82)
It is, of course, true that Jesus and His Apostles did and said things that are not recorded in Scripture—in fact, “many” other things. “Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). While acknowledging that, it is also important that the following two points be clearly understood: 1) What Jesus did or said that is not recorded in the Bible cannot contradict anything that is recorded in the Bible (John 5:39; 17:17); 2) What Jesus did or said that is not recorded in Bible is not necessary for us to know either for our Christian faith or for our life of sanctification (Romans 15:4; II Timothy 3:16).
This, then, leads us back to what the Lord God tells us to focus upon and limit ourselves to in religious matters, namely, “those things which are revealed” (Deuteronomy 29:29). And what has been clearly revealed in the Scriptures about Jesus? Concerning His person, the Bible teaches that Jesus is both true God (the second person of the Holy Trinity) and also true man (born of the Virgin Mary). The Lord has revealed this to us in such passages as: “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6; see also Matthew 1:18–23; Luke 1:35; John 1:1, 14). The eternal Son of God became a true human being in order to redeem the sinful world and thereby to save the souls of men from everlasting condemnation in hell. The details of that important work have also been clearly revealed, for the Bible teaches that Christ Jesus, having been made under (that is, subject to) the Law for us (Galatians 4:4–5), kept all of God’s holy commandments perfectly, never sinning (Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 2:22), and thus, as the Substitute for sinners, earned righteousness for every soul of man (Romans 5:19). The Bible also clearly teaches that, as man’s Substitute, Christ died on the accursed tree of the cross after having endured the pains of hell (Matthew 27:46), the punishment for the sins of the world (Matthew 27:46, 50; Galatians 3:13; I Peter 2:24). He then triumphantly rose from the dead, showing that His work of redemption was successful (Romans 4:25), that it was accepted by His Father as payment in full for the reconciliation of the world. Thus, by His perfect life and by His innocent suffering and death as the Substitute for sinful mankind, Christ became “the Propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2); and “in Christ,” that is, because of His vicarious atonement, God “reconciled] the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19) since He had imputed them to Christ (II Corinthians 5:21), granting full and free forgiveness of sins to all (John 1:29) and declaring the ungodly to be righteous in His sight (Romans 4:5; 5:18–19).
That blessed truth, the glorious news of grace and salvation, has been revealed by God to men in the Gospel, “the Word of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:19b). These are the “good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). And, although “they have not all obeyed the Gospel” (Romans 10:16), “have they not heard?” Paul asks. “Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth and their words unto the ends of the world” (v. 18). Why? Because God “will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4), the saving knowledge and apprehension of the Gospel. Now during His earthly ministry, Jesus manifested Himself as the Son of God and Redeemer of the world by His preaching and miracles (John 5:36; 8:24–25). And still to this day, He continues to reveal Himself as the only Savior of sinners through the written and preached Gospel. Thankfully, the kind of language with which the Gospel reveals Christ is not dark and mysterious; it is not a complex riddle or cipher. On the contrary, it is a clear guiding light (Psalm 119:105) able to bring spiritual enlightenment even to the simple (Psalm 119:130) and to impart saving wisdom to children (II Timothy 3:15).
Without the record of Scripture, we would never know of the grace and mercy of God toward sinful men because of Christ Jesus’ work of redemption. As was mentioned earlier, though certain things about God and His moral Law are known to man by nature, yet the Gospel of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ is known only through the revelation that the Lord God has given through His chosen prophets, evangelists and apostles, those “holy men of God” whom He moved to write the Bible by His own inspiration (II Peter 1:21; II Timothy 3:16; I Corinthians 2:13) in order to make men “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15).
St. Paul declares: “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory, which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.’ …Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God, which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (I Corinthians 2:7–10, 12-13).
Although the Gospel of Christ, revealed in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth, is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), efficacious in and of itself as the means of grace to overcome spiritual blindness and to enlighten the benighted soul to the “knowledge of the truth,” the unregenerate person, according to his own natural powers, regards the Gospel as complete and utter foolishness. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). But God in His unfathomable wisdom chose as His means for conversion, regeneration and spiritual enlightenment “the foolish things of the world” —the means of Grace, the “foolishness of preaching” the Gospel— “to confound the wise,” and the “weak” and “base” and “despised” things, and “things which are not” —things which are worthless in the eyes of men— “to bring to naught things that are” —the things that man’s wisdom deems important— “that no flesh should glory in His presence,” so that no one can claim credit for his own conversion according to his natural powers of intellect and “free will,” on the basis of natural worldly wisdom (I Corinthians 1:27-29). Rather, it is the Holy Spirit, working through the “foolish,” “weak,” “base,” “despised” and “non-existent” Gospel, who dispels spiritual ignorance, overcomes man’s natural resistance, and converts the soul without any cooperation on the part of the sinner; for “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (I Corinthians 12:3). Conversion to saving faith in Christ Jesus is a miracle of God’s own creation whereby He enlightens the benighted heart with the beams of His grace, in and through the Gospel, and to no extent apart from the Gospel, not only offering the sinner the blessings of His grace but working in his heart the faith whereby he accepts Christ as his Savior and all the blessings of redemption, justification and salvation. Paul writes in II Corinthians 4 verse 6: “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness [at creation, Genesis 1:3], hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Consequently, when a sinner comes to saving faith in Jesus as his personal Savior and Redeemer, it is God who, by means of the Gospel, has revealed Christ as such in the heart and soul of that individual and has wrought in him justifying faith, confidence of the heart in the mercy of God to poor sinners for Christ’s sake. After Peter confessed his faith in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the Lord told him: “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16–17). Of his own natural powers, Peter would not have known Jesus as his Savior; but God had revealed that saving knowledge unto him by the Gospel — Christ revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and Christ revealed by His own testimony (Hebrews 1:1-2) — and had caused him to confess His Savior’s name.
“This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and [i.e. even, including] Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Yes, in order for us to have for ourselves the forgiveness of sins that Christ merited for all mankind and to be heirs of eternal life, God works a mighty miracle of His grace in our hearts by means of the Gospel. He reveals Christ Jesus to us as our only Savior by the Word of the Gospel, and causes that knowledge to be effective in us unto salvation, as we by faith trust and believe, rejoice and take personal comfort in Him. “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power [the Gospel, Romans 1:16]” (Ephesians 1:18–19). “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Ephesians 2:4–5). And this marvelous work of enlightenment and spiritual quickening (conversion, regeneration) is accomplished by means of the very Gospel that natural man despises as foolishness. “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, whereunto He called you by our Gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thessalonians 2:13–14). “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16). “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. …And this is the Word which by the Gospel [lit., as Gospel] is preached unto you” (I Peter 1:23, 25).
By the Gospel, the Holy Ghost graciously “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed). So then we who are Christians —acknowledging our unworthiness and inability to come to God by our own reason or strength or even to cooperate in our own conversion— should be so very thankful that in, by and through the Gospel God has revealed to us the way of salvation through Christ Jesus’ work of redemption as the all-sufficient ransom-price that satisfied God’s justice. He has revealed it to us in the clear words of the Gospel, enlightening us with His gifts, so that we trust, believe, rejoice, and take comfort in Him “that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5b-6). And may our gracious God and Lord continue to preserve in our hearts that saving faith through the revelation of His undeserved love and mercy in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!
— P. E. B.