Louis Berkhof (1873–1957) on the purpose of special revelation


“In speaking of the purpose of revelation we may distinguish between its final end and its proximate aim. The final end can only be found in God. God reveals Himself, in order to rejoice in the manifestation of His virtues, especially as these shine forth in the work of redemption and in redeemed humanity. The proximate aim of revelation, however, is found in the complete renewal of sinners, in order that they may mirror the virtues and perfections of God. If we bear in mind that revelation aims at the renewal of the entire man, we shall realize that it cannot seek the realization of its aim merely by teaching man and enlightening the understanding (Rationalism), or by prompting man to lead a virtuous life (Moralism), or by awakening the religious emotions of man (Mysticism). The purpose of revelation is far more comprehensive than any one of these, and even more inclusive than all of them taken together. It seeks to deliver from the power of sin, of the devil, and of death, the entire man, body and soul, with all his talents and powers, and to renew him spiritually, morally, and ultimately also physically, to the glory of God; and not only the individual man, but mankind as an organic whole; and mankind not apart from the rest of creation, but in connection with the whole creation, of which it forms an organic part. This purpose also determines the limits of special revelation. The historical process of revelation may be said to reach its end in a measure in Christ. Yet it does not end with the ascension of Christ. This is followed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the special operation of gifts and powers under the guidance of the apostolate. Such a continued revelation was necessary, in order to ensure special revelation a permanent place in the midst of the world, and that not only in Scripture, but also in the life of the Church. But after the revelation in Christ, appropriated and made effective in the Church, has thus been introduced into the world, a new dispensation begins. Then special revelation ceases and no new constitutive elements are added. The work of Christ in furnishing the world with an objective revelation of God is finished. But the redemption wrought by Christ must still be applied, and this requires a constant operation of the Holy Spirit, always in connection with the objective revelation, for the renewal of man in his being and consciousness. By the Spirit of Christ man is led to accept the truth revealed in Scripture, and becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus, making God’s revelation the rule of his life, and thus aiming at the glorification of God.”

– Louis Berkhof (1873–1957), Systematic Theology, p. 137-138

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