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


God confronts man everywhere

The main point is that if man could look anywhere and not be confronted with the revelation of God then he could not sin in the biblical sense of the term. Sin is the breaking of the law of God. God confronts man everywhere. He cannot in the nature of the case confront man anywhere if he does not confront him everywhere. God is one; the law is one. If man could press one button on the radio of his experience and not hear the voice of God then he would always press that button and not the others. But man cannot even press the button of his own self-consciousness without hearing the requirement of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel p.203

We must take Christ at his word

According to Calvin, God’s revelation to man is always and everywhere clear. It is sin that makes men pervert the revelation of God. It is because men are sinners that their “theology” is evil. Sin makes man spurn the love of God and merit his wrath, thus every man, says Calvin, is walking in the way of death. His is a downward journey on the staircase that leads to eternal separation form God. But God in his grace has sent his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the redeemer of the world. He himself tells us about his work of redemption. He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. He gives us his Spirit so that, though of ourselves we would spurn this redemption, he enlightens our minds and quickens our hearts to receive it. Thus redemptive revelation, as well as foundational revelation, is self-authenticating. We must take Christ at his word. If we do so, then our reason will truly be set free. Then we can anew enter upon the task of glorifying God in science and in art, in philosophy and in worship. And then we are on the staircase that leads to his presence in glory forevermore.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Case for Calvinism p.23

Revelational epistemology

According to Scripture, God has created the “universe.” God has created time and space. God has created all the “facts” of science. God has created the human mind. In this human mind God has laid the laws of thought according to which it is to operate. In the facts of science God has laid the laws of being according to which they function. In other words, the impress of God’s plan is upon his whole creation.

We may characterize this whole situation by saying that the creation of God is a revelation of God. God revealed himself in nature and God also revealed himself in the mind of man. Thus it is impossible for the mind of man to function except in an atmosphere of revelation. And every thought of man when it functioned normally in this atmosphere of revelation would express the truth as laid in the creation by God. We may therefore call a Christian epistemology a revelational epistemology.

– Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology p.1

(HT: Nate Sonner, Christian Worldview Discipleship)

Face to face with their maker

To begin with then I take what the Bible says about God and his relation to the universe as unquestionably true on its own authority. The Bible requires men to believe that he exists apart from and above the world and that he by his plan controls whatever takes place in the world. Everything in the created universe displays the fact that it is controlled by God, that it is what it is by virtue of the place that it occupies in the plan of God. The objective evidence for the existence of God and of the comprehensive governance of the world by God is therefore so plain that he who runs may read. Men cannot get away from this evidence. They see it round about them. They see it within them. Their own constitution so clearly evinces the facts of God’s creation of them and control over them that there is no man who can possibly escape observing it. If he is self-conscious at all, he is also God-conscious. No matter how men may try they cannot hide from themselves the fact of their own createdness. Whether men engage in inductive study with respect to the facts of nature about them or engage in analysis of their own self-consciousness they are always face to face with God their maker.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.253
A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.289

Man’s mind is derivative

The one great defect of the Roman Catholic and the Arminian view is, as noted, that it ascribes ultimacy or self-sufficiency to the mind of man. Romanism and Arminianism do this in their views of man as stated in their works on systematic theology. It is consistent for them, therefore, not to challenge the assumption of ultimacy as this is made by the non-believer. But Reformed theology, as worked out by Calvin and his recent exponents such as Hodge, Warfield, Kuyper and Bavinck, holds that man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation. It is itself inherently revelational. It cannot naturally be conscious of itself without being conscious of its creatureliness. For man self-consciousness presupposes God-consciousness. Calvin speaks of this as man’s inescapable sense of deity.

For Adam in paradise God-consciousness could not come in at the end of a syllogistic process of reasoning. God-consciousness was for him the presupposition of the significance of his reasoning on anything.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.113

Creatures have no private chambers

We have seen that since the fall of man God’s curse rests upon nature. This has brought great complexity into the picture. All this, however, in no wise detracts from the historical and objective perspicuity of nature. Nature can and does reveal nothing but the one comprehensive plan of God. The psalmist does not say that the heavens possibly or probably declare the glory of God. Nor does the apostle assert that the wrath of God is probably revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Scripture takes the clarity of God’s revelation for granted at every stage of human history. Even when man, as it were, takes out his own eyes, this act itself turns revelational in his wicked hands, testifying to him that his sin is a sin against the light that lighteth every man coming into the world. Even to the very bottom of the most complex historical situations, involving sin and all its consequences, God’s revelation shines with unmistakable clarity. “If I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there” (Ps 139:8). Creatures have no private chambers.

– Cornelius Van Til, Nature and Scripture (Infallible Word p.278-279)

Nature through the lens of Scripture

Natural revelation is perfectly clear. Men ought from it to know God and ought through it to see all other things as dependent on God. But only he who looks at nature through the mirror of Scripture does understand natural revelation for what it is. Furthermore, no one can see Scripture for what it is unless he is given the ability to do so by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Only those who are taught of God see the Scriptures for what they are and therefore see the revelation of God in nature for what it is. To be taught of God is a “singular privilege” which God bestows only on his “elect whom he distinguishes from the human race as a whole.” As taught of God, the elect both understand the Bible as the Word of God, and interpret natural revelation through the Bible. The rest of mankind, not taking Scripture as the Word of God, in consequence also misinterpret the natural revelation of God.

– Cornelius Van Til, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought.