The Testimony of the Holy Spirit

calvinbavinck

It is by the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit that the Scripture can be seen to be the self-attesting Word of God. For sin is that by which men seek to interpret facts apart from the revelation of God. The sinner seeks a criterion of truth and knowledge independent of the revelation of God. The sinner wants to test that which presents itself as the revelation of God by a standard not itself taken from this revelation. He complains of the circular reasoning that would be involved in accepting the word of Scripture about the nature of Scripture. So then, to overcome this hostile attitude of the sinner it is necessary that the Holy Spirit convict him of his sin in not accepting the Bible as the Word of God. The miracles, the prophecies fulfilled, the symmetry of its parts, etc., will all be misinterpreted because interpreted by the wrong standard, unless the Spirit convicts and convinces the sinner that he is dealing with the Word of God.

“For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded.” (John Calvin, Institutes 1:7.4)

It should be noted that this view of Scripture thinks of God as here and now speaking to men through his Word. “Scripture is not a dry tale or an old chronicle, but it is the ever living, ever youthful Word which God at the present time and always sends out to his people. It is the ever continuing speech of God to us.” (Herman Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatick, vol. I)

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.33-34

(The Bavinck quote can be found in the John Vriend translation of Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena p. 384)

The Concrete Universal

It may be profitable at this juncture to introduce the notion of a concrete universal. In seeking for an answer to the one-and-many question, philosophers have admittedly experienced great difficulty. The many must be brought into contact with one another. But how do we know that they can be brought into contact with one another? How do we know that the many do not simply exist as unrelated particulars? The answer given is that in such a case we should know nothing of them; they would be abstracted from the body of knowledge that we have; they would be abstract particulars. On the other hand, how is it possible that we should obtain a unity that does not destroy the particulars? We seem to get our unity by generalizing, by abstracting from the particulars in order to include them into larger unities. If we keep up this process of generalization till we exclude all particulars, granted they can all be excluded, have we then not stripped these particulars of their particularity? Have we then obtained anything but an abstract universal?

As Christians we hold that there is no answer to these problems from a non-Christian point of view. We shall argue this point later; for the nonce we introduce this matter in order to set forth the meaning of the notion of the concrete universal. The notion of the concrete universal has been offered by idealist philosophy in order to escape the reductio ad absurdum of the abstract particular and the abstract universal. It is only in the Christian doctrine of the triune God, as we are bound to believe, that we really have a concrete universal. In God’s being there are no particulars not related to the universal and there is nothing universal that is not fully expressed in the particulars.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.48-49

The Final Reference Point

vtStress has been laid on the fact that the Bible speaks of the Word of God as self-contained. That is, the Bible is the Word of him who, as Creator-Redeemer alone can identify himself. God in Christ identifies himself in terms of himself because he exists exclusively in terms of himself. There is no non-being over against him that influences him. There are no laws of logic above him according to which he must measure his own internal consistency. This God of the Bible is, therefore, the final reference point for predication of his rational creatures. They, and with them all things in the universe, must be explained in terms of him, and he is never wholly comprehensible to them. Therefore no fact in the universe is ever wholly comprehensible to them.
They therefore need to live by authority. They have to be told who they are and what the things of the universe mean in relation to themselves and finally in relation to God. God’s supernatural revelation is presupposed in all successful rational inquiry on the part of man.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.41

Man as Reinterpreter

… The thought activity of man’s consciousness as it was originally in paradise was genuinely revelational in the sense that the whole of the created universe of God is revelational of God. We deal here with the subject of human knowledge, that is, with the mind that knows. As we have seen, the relation of the human mind to objects of its knowledge is founded on the Logos of creation. We ought to note in addition to this that man was created the only self-conscious reinterpreter in this universe. Man was to gather up in his consciousness all the meaning that God had deposited in the universe and be the reflector of it all. The revelation of God was deposited in the whole of creation, but it was in the mind of man alone that this revelation was to come to self-conscious reinterpretation. Man was to be God’s reinterpreter, that is, God’s prophet on earth.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.129

Escape Mechanisms

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9780875527895Moreover, all men everywhere, deep down in their hearts know that the world is created by God. At bottom they know that by all their attempts at explanation of nature they are suppressing within themselves the testimony of the real creator of the universe. The more self-conscious men become with respect to the real meaning of their own position the more clearly do they realize that their systems are escape-mechanisms by which sinners seek to hide the truth from themselves.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p. 182

Philosophers who Crucify Reason

Non-christian thinkers have for centuries usurped the term philosophy. They claimed to be the only ones that followed the facts and operated by principles of reason. They pretended and still pretend to do that which every honest man who opens his eyes and uses his intellect ought to do. As a matter of fact on any but the Christian, and more specifically the Calvinist view, facts are meaningless and reason operates in a vacuum. On any but the Christian basis man, using this reason, is a product of Chance and the facts which he supposedly orders by the “law of contradiction” are also products of Chance. Why should a “law of contradiction” resting on Chance be better than a revolving door moving nothing out of nowhere into no place? Only on the presupposition that the self-contained God of Scripture controls all things, can man know himself or anything else. But on this presupposition the whole of his experience makes good sense. Thus a truly Christian philosophy is the only possible philosophy. Other philosophies are or should be called such by courtesy. Those who crucify reason while worshipping it; those who kill the facts as they gather them, ought not really to be called philosophers.

Insisting upon “reason” as the test of truth they have completely divorced the operation of “reason” from the turmoil of fact. They cannot find coherence in anything on their principle. Fear, nothing but fear in the dark, remains.

– Cornelius Van Til, Christian Philosophy

A Complete Reversal

In the light of the narrative which Paul brought, the wisdom of the Greeks was not merely inadequate; it was sinful. Man had originally been made perfect. He had then in Adam broken the covenant that God had made with him. [Rom 5:12] He was now a covenant-breaker and, as such, subject to the wrath of God. Having such a view of the nature of man Paul did not merely plead for a ‘complete system,’ for the recognition of the ‘spiritual dimension’ as well as the material. He did not want merely to add the idea of the personal confrontation with Jesus Christ to that of the impersonal study of the laws of nature. In short, he did not ask for the privilege of erecting an altar to the living God, Creator of heaven and earth, next to the altars to gods that have been born of human minds. He pleaded for, and in the name of his Lord required of men, a complete reversal of their point of view in every dimension of life. The entire house of their interpretation of life had to be broken down. Many of the building blocks that they had gathered could no doubt be used, but only if the totally new architectural plan that Paul proposed were followed.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel p.3-4

The Christian System

0875524893The following is from Van Til’s response to Herman Dooyeweerd’s contribution to ‘Jerusalem and Athens’

I say, therefore, to those who ask about the Christian system somewhat as follows: “You, my friends, state and defend or reject what you call systems of reality and knowledge. Well, I too have a ‘system,’ but it is a different kind of system. It is neither a deductive nor an inductive system, in your sense of the term. Nor is it a combination of these two. My ‘system’ is not that of empiricism, of rationalism, of criticism, or of any of the other ‘systems’ you may read about in the ordinary texts on philosophy. Nor is my ‘system’ a synthesis between one of your systems with that of the Bible. My ‘system’ is attained by thinking upon all the aspects of reality in the light of the Christ of Scripture. I try to think God’s thoughts after him. That is to say, I try as a redeemed covenant-creature of the triune God to attain as much coherence as I, being finite and sinful, can between the facts of the universe. God’s revelation is clear, but it is clear just because it is God’s revelation and God is self-contained light. My ‘system’ is therefore an analogical reinterpretation of the truth that God has revealed about himself and his relation to man through Christ in Scripture. I construct my ‘system’ by means of a variety of gifts that God has created within me. Among these gifts is that of concept-formation.

– Cornelius Van Til, Jerusalem and Athens p.126

Van Til on Romans 1

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who [hold down] the truth in unrighteousness: because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. [Rom 1:18–21]

We shall not attempt to give an exegesis of this most difficult passage. It may suffice to call attention to the following matters. In the first place we observe that Paul says that men do actually in some sense see the truth. We do not do justice to this passage by merely saying that all men or most men believe in a god or believe that God probably exists. Paul says that the revelation of the only existing God is so clearly imprinted upon man himself and upon his environment that no matter how hard he tries he cannot suppress this fact. As psychologically active self-conscious creatures they must see something of the truth. They hold down the truth, to be sure, but it is the truth that they hold down. Nor is it that this truth is objectively placed before them only in nature and in the make-up of man. It is, to be sure, on this that Paul does lay the emphasis. But knowledge is also in man in the sense that his subjective reaction to that which he sees shows some acquaintance with the truth. The invisible things of God are perceived (kathoratai). Knowing God (gnontes ton theon), they have not glorified God. In the second place, it is primarily in this fact that men know and do not live up to what they know that Paul sees the greatest folly. Though they knew God, yet they glorified him not. They hold down the truth that is in them as well as round about them. It is in this immediate connection that Paul speaks of the revelation of God’s wrath. He says that God’s wrath is displayed on men just because they hold down the truth in unrighteousness. It is true that God’s wrath is displayed on whatever form unrighteousness may take, but it is specifically mentioned here that God displays his wrath because men hold down the truth.

– Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology p.165-166