Holding Down The Truth:
What Truth?

In a Brief  Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Base on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services by Ps JJ Lim, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 5a of 83

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  20 For the invisible things of him 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 are without excuse:  21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23).

We saw previously how “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [hold down] the truth in unrighteousness.”  In that study we concentrated upon the revelation of the wrath of God. We saw that although there will be a great outpouring of God’s wrath at the Last Day, the apostle is not primarily talking about that. He is talking about the trickles that are overflowing from God’s bowl of wrath. This wrath is manifested in actual punishment of sin, in the voice of conscience and in the inherent tendency of moral evil to produce misery. But this wrath as we saw was not directed against believers. It is directed against ungodly and unrighteous men who hold down the truth in unrighteousness. In fact, our text shows us that God’s wrath is revealed against them primarily because they hold down the truth in unrighteousness.

But what does it mean to hold down the truth? What truth? How is the truth held down? And what is the consequence of holding down the truth?

These are three questions we want to look at in this fifth tranche of articles.

The first question we must ask is…

1. What Truth is being Held Down?

a.   The apostle Paul does not leave us to guess. This truth that is being suppressed is what may be known of God; and what God has revealed concerning himself (v. 19). Now, what may be known of God, is revealed in a special way in the Bible. Theologians call this ‘special revelation.’ But the apostle Paul is not speaking about ‘special revelation’ here.

He is speaking about what may be known as ‘general’ or ‘natural revelation.’ “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world,” says Paul, “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (v. 20).

That is to say, although no one has seen God, nature, which is created by God, testifies eloquently of God since the beginning of the world. God is Spirit. Everything about God is invisible. You cannot see God. Yet you can see the invisible things of God. Why? Because nature is a book that testify about God.

What does nature testifies about God? It testifies about “His eternal power and Godhead” (v. 20). In other words, it testifies three things about God:

·    First, by implication, it testifies that God exists. Nature speaks about the existence of God. The unbelieving world knows God (v. 21). They know that God exists because nature testifies that God exists.

·    Secondly, nature testifies of God’s eternal power. God’s eternal power speaks of God’s ability to do everything He wills to do. It speaks of God as omnipotent, as having created all things and is in control of all things since the beginning of the world. Man by nature knows this, because God’s creation testifies of this truth.

·    Thirdly, nature testifies of God’s divinity. The word translated ‘Godhead’ simply means ‘divinity’ or ‘divine nature.’ God’s divinity is what distinguishes Him from all that we see in this world. As divine, He is wholly-other or separated from everything that is part of creation. The divinity of God is more or less synonymous to the glory or holiness of God, which the Scripture speaks about elsewhere. Man by nature knows that God is holy and glorious. This is why He should be glorified, worshipped, served, praised and thanked. All men in this world knows this because God has made it manifest to them though nature.

In summary, God’s creation testifies that God exists, and that He has everlasting power and infinite holiness. He is not just a god, but the alone, holy and omnipotent God. This truth, though insufficient to bring sinners unto salvation is of utmost importance, for it ought to be sufficient to cause us to seek after the living and true God, like Cornelius. And he who seeks after God will be found by God!

How does nature speak about God power and holiness? It speaks loudly everywhere and everyday. Look at Psalm 19. Here the psalmist proclaims:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. 2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. 3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.  4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, 5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. 6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof” (Ps 19:1-6).

That is to say: the stars; the clouds; the rising and setting of the sun testify of the glory of God everywhere in this world. The eternal power and holiness of God is being declared day by day everywhere in the world, regardless of the language and race of the people.

b.   But does everyone really understand the language of nature? Yes, and I would say again, Yes! This is what the apostle Paul writing under inspiration says:

19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  20 For the invisible things of him 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 are without excuse

What Paul is saying is that what ought to be known about God is plain to everyone in the world. God has not only designed the language of nature to speak clearly to us who are part of His creation, but He makes it plain to us. Or let me put it this way: God does not speak to us in nature, in a foreign language; He speaks to us in a language that we are designed to understand. It is part of our created nature to understand what God is saying in creation. Calvin puts it so beautifully, when he says:

“…man was created to be a spectator of this [created] world, and… eyes were given him, that he might, by looking on [this] so beautiful a picture, be led up to the Author himself.”

c.   But does not sin blind us? Yes it does it a degree. But as Calvin puts it, we are “We are not… so blind, that we can plead our ignorance as an excuse for our perverseness.”

Let me illustrate what I am saying because this is important. My family and I were in Australia for a short vacation. On the last Saturday of our stay there, we decided to do some shopping to bring back some gifts. So we went to the shopping centre. And everything we thought could be a gift, we pick up to read the label to see where it was made. It would be silly, you will realise to bring back a gift from Australia that is made in China or Indonesia or worst Singapore.  Not everything has a label that says where it is made, though most things has it.

Well, everything in nature has a label tagged to it. This label reads: “God made me; He exists, and He is eternally powerful and holy.” This label written in a language that everyone understands. And everyone has read it because its is posted everywhere. It is posted on your body, on your eyes, on your hands and feet. It is posted in the field, on the flowers, on the trees, on the rock and stones, in the river and stream, on the mountain, in the sky, on the sun, on the moon, on the cloud; on the cat sitting at the corner, on the insects that fly by, on the cockroach that you stomp, in the sea, on the fishes you eat, on the fishes in the fish tank… And if you pick up a microscope and look at it a virus or bacteria, the label is there too. It is ubiquitous. It is posted everywhere. No one can miss it; and no one can excuse himself for missing it.

Oh yes, there are people who say that they don’t belief that God exist. But these people really have no excuse. The message of nature is clear. God made it plain to us. God made sure we understand it. Do we have any valid excuse for ignoring what nature is saying? No, not at all!

Suppose you are driving on a road, you come to a junction; and the red light is on, and you choose to ignore it. And it happens that as you dash across, a truck crashes into you from the right.

A few days later, you are lying in the hospital all bandaged up when a policeman comes to you and tells you that you will be charged for dangerous driving. What do you say? It would be foolish, wouldn’t it, to say: “I didn’t know that I must stop at the red light.”

But can you exonerate yourself by saying “I didn’t see the red light”? No, It doesn’t matter does it, whether you saw or not. The fact that it is there, is all that matters. You have the responsibility of looking out for all traffic lights. And you are accountable for your behaviour. So if an accident occurred because you dashed a red light, you will be held accountable won’t you? You are mad to dash across the red light and to endanger your own life, but you are still accountable. You cannot blame the truck driver. You have no excuse!

This is what Paul is saying. The message: ‘God exists and He is omnipotent and holy’ is posted everywhere and very plainly. If we choose to ignore it, we ignore it to our own damnation and loss. We have no excuse whatsoever!

Let me put it this way: The message of nature is written in a way that everyone from a child can understand it, without having to search for it or to learn how to interpret it. You do not need to know biochemistry or astronomy before you know that God exists and He is omnipotent and holy. If you do not believe that God exist or that He is omnipotent and holy, it is not because God has not revealed sufficiently. It is because you are rebelliously holding down the truth. Indeed, you cannot pretend to be ignorant without your conscience pricking you for your ingratitude and foolishness—for God has made the truth manifest in you. All men knows this truth deep in their hearts.

The sad fact is that many in this world choose to hold down the truth. But.…

… to be continued next issue