Belgic Confession 24: On Sanctification

In this series we had previously looked at Articles 21,22 and 23 of the Belgic Confession. These 3 articles surveyed the Atonement, the Rigtheousness of Faith and the Justification of Sinners respectively. It may well be worth having another look at those articles to reaffirm in your head what they state. All 3 have come under attack by members of the emergent community such as Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke. The great thing about these articles is that the authors fully submitted themselves to the authority and teaching of the Bible. Cultural pressure and the desire to be accepted can lead us into many errors so it is extremely important that we continue to look to the Bible to see what it says about particular doctrines. Today we look at sanctification. Louis Berkhof states that,

“Throughout his life, from the moment of his regeneration and conversion to the moment of his final elevation to heavenly glory, the Christian, by virtue of his union with Christ’s death and resurrection and through the power of God’s word and Spirit dwelling within him, will necessarily experience progressive sanctification, this process to be understood negatively in terms of putting to death the deeds of the flesh which still remain in him and positively in terms of growth in all saving graces” (Berkhof, Sytematic Theology, 533)

 

So God’s sanctifying work is seen in the growing Christlike character, increasing love for God and people, and the fruit of the Spirit (John 14:2; 15:1-16:33; Gal 5:22-25; James 2:18). “The best evidence of true salvation is not having raised a hand or prayed a prayer, or having been baptised or christened. Instead, the true test of an authentic work of God in one’s life is sanctification as God continues the moral transformation he began in regeneration.” (Grudem et al, Bible Doctrine: An Overview, ESV, 2533) Sometimes this progress is slow….very slow. Other times it is fast…instant. God works differently in each person. His work is DEFINITIVE yet PROGRESSIVE. Where sanctification is entirely absent in a person’s life it must be asked whether that person has truly been born again. I’ll hand you over the Belgic Confession now to see what it says!

Belgic Confession: Article 24

We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,”^57 causing him to live the “new life”^58 and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned.

So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,”^59 which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word.

These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place.

So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” ^60– thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ “^61

Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts.

Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

^57 2 Cor. 5:17 ^58 Rom. 6:4 ^59 Gal. 5:6 ^60 Phil. 2:13 ^61 Luke 17:10

The Art of Divine Contentment

“Discontent is to the soul as a disease is to the body: it puts it out of temper and much hinders its regular and sublime motions heavenward”. So said the English Puritan author Thomas Watson.

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring the idea of Christian contentment. Just what exactly is it and what should it look like? How important is it in the Christian’s life and what effect does true contentment have upon the Christian? I have chosen “The Art of Divine Contentment” by Thomas Watson as the text for this series as it is one of the best available on the subject.  Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson share this view, stating in their mammoth ‘introductory’ book “Meet the Puritans” that, “Godly contentment is a theme missing from many pulpits today. A serious reading of this treatise…..would do much to fill this void”.

Before we begin to think about Christian contentment, let’s learn a little bit about Thomas Watson.

Watson was born in Yorkshire, England (c 1620), had a pretty normal upbringing typical of that era and eventually went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1642 from Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He was a dedicated scholar, who wrote many books. Some of his best works, alongside our chosen text, include,

–          All Things for Good– A work based on Romans 8:28 that God works all things for the good of the Christian. “If someone asks, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “How can I know if I am called by God?,” offer them this book. Its chapters on the love of God, effectual calling, and the purpose of God are especially helpful in understanding Romans 8:28.” (Beeke & Pederson, Meet the Puritans)

–          The Beatitudes–  An exposition of Matthew 5:1-12

–          A Body of Divinity– This is Watson’s magnum opus; his most famous work. In this book Watson follows the question and answer format of the Westminster Shorter Catechism and offers up 176 sermons on the essential teachings of Christianity. One reviewer on Amazon.com says “This book needs to be bought, understood and appreciated. My hope is that it will soon sell like wild-fire spreads.” I couldn’t agree more with that assertion! Buy this book and read it!!

–          The Godly Man’s Picture– In this book Watson describes 24 marks of a godly man including “moved by faith,” “fired with love,” “prizes Christ,” “loves the Word,” “is humble,” “is patient,” and “loves the saints”.

–          The Great Gain of Godliness– Despite having a catalogue of 12,000 books in His library, this is one that Spurgeon wished he had. “This volume would be a great find if we could come at it, for Watson is one of the clearest and liveliest of Puritan authors.” The book is Watson’s exposition of Malachi 3:16-18 and in it he aims “to encourage solid piety an confute the atheists of the world, who imagine there is no gain in godliness.” A  fantastic little volume which combines rich spirituality, nourishing doctrine, and sane practical wisdom coupled with fascinating illustrations and a very pleasant style.

–          The Lord’s Prayer– Initially this was a companion to ‘A Body of Divinity’ but can be read alone without it. Watson continues the question and format method of ‘A Body of Divinity’ in an attempt to explain the petitions of Jesus’ model prayer.

–          The Ten Commandments– Watson’s third volume on the Shorter Catechism which examines the 10 commandments and the moral law as a whole. An extremely valuable work.

Watson was a Presbyterian and expressed his strong Presbyterian views during the Civil War. He was imprisoned in 1651 for his part in a plot to restore the monarchy to the throne however was released and reinstated in 1652. In 1662, due to the Act of Uniformity (a parliamentary act which made all churches adhere to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and Church of England practices) he was ejected from his pastorate. However, Watson continued to preach in private- in barns, homes, and woods- whenever he had the opportunity.  He then ministered alongside a fellow Puritan giant, Stephen Charnock, at Bishopsgate, until Charnocks death in 1680. He continued to labour until his health failed. He died suddenly in 1686 while engaged in private prayer.

His depth of doctrine, clarity of expression, warmth of spirituality, love of application, and gift of illustration enhanced his reputation as a preacher and writer. This has made him one of the most popular and accessible Puritan writers for the modern reader. Do yourself a favour and get some of his books. You will be enriched and encouraged in your faith if you do so.

Next in the series: An Introduction to Christian Contentment

The Belgic Confession- Articles 21-23

Article 21: The Atonement

  • We believe that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek– made such by an oath– and that he presented himself in our name before his Father, to appease his wrath with full satisfaction by offering himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out his precious blood for the cleansing of our sins, as the prophets had predicted.For it is written that “the chastisement of our peace” was placed on the Son of God and that “we are healed by his wounds.” He was “led to death as a lamb”; he was “numbered among sinners”^45 and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, though Pilate had declared that he was innocent.

    So he paid back what he had not stolen,^46 and he suffered– the “just for the unjust,”^47 in both his body and his soul– in such a way that when he senses the horrible punishment required by our sins his sweat became like “big drops of blood falling on the ground.”^48 He cried, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”^49

    And he endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins.

    Therefore we rightly say with Paul that we “know nothing but Jesus and him crucified”;^50 we consider all things as “dung for the excellence of the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”^51 We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means to reconcile ourselves with God than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever.

    This is also why the angel of God called him Jesus– that is, “Savior”– because he would save his people from their sins.^52

    ^45 Isa. 53:4-12 ^46 Ps. 69:4 ^47 1 Pet. 3:18 ^48 Luke 22:44 ^49 Matt. 27:46 ^50 1 Cor. 2:2 ^51 Phil. 3:8 ^52 Matt. 1:21

Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith

  • We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him.For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.

    Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God– for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.”^53

    However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us– for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.

    But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits.

    When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

    ^53 Rom. 3:28

Article 23: The Justification of Sinners

  • We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works.^54And the same apostle says that we are justified “freely” or “by grace” through redemption in Jesus Christ.^55 And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.

    That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God’s approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves.

    In fact, if we had to appear before God relying– no matter how little– on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up.

    Therefore everyone must say with David: “Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified.”^56

    ^54 Ps. 32:1; Rom. 4:6 ^55 Rom. 3:24 ^56 Ps. 143:2

The Belgic Confession- Articles 16-20

Continuing to look at the articles contained within the Belgic Confession…..

Article 16: The Doctrine of Election

  • We believe that– all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man– God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just.He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works.

    He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves.

Article 17: The Recovery of Fallen Man

  • We believe that our good God, by his marvelous wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had plunged himself in this manner into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, set out to find him, though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from him.And he comforted him, promising to give him his Son, “born of a woman,”^31 to crush the head of the serpent,^32 and to make him blessed.

    ^31 Gal. 4:4 ^32 Gen. 3:15

Article 18: The Incarnation

  • So then we confess that God fulfilled the promise which he had made to the early fathers by the mouth of his holy prophets when he sent his only and eternal Son into the world at the time set by him.The Son took the “form of a servant” and was made in the “likeness of man,”^33 truly assuming a real human nature, with all its weaknesses, except for sin; being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, without male participation.

    And he not only assumed human nature as far as the body is concerned but also a real human soul, in order that he might be a real human being. For since the soul had been lost as well as the body he had to assume them both to save them both together.

    Therefore we confess, against the heresy of the Anabaptists who deny that Christ assumed human flesh from his mother, that he “shared the very flesh and blood of children”;^34 that he is “fruit of the loins of David” according to the flesh;^35 “born of the seed of David” according to the flesh;^36 “fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary”;^37 “born of a woman”;^38 “the seed of David”;^39 “a shoot from the root of Jesse”;^40 “the offspring of Judah,”^41 having descended from the Jews according to the flesh; “from the seed of Abraham”– for he “assumed Abraham’s seed” and was “made like his brothers except for sin.”^42

    In this way he is truly our Immanuel– that is: “God with us.”^43

    ^33 Phil. 2:7 ^34 Heb. 2:14 ^35 Acts 2:30 ^36 Rom. 1:3 ^37 Luke 1:42 ^38 Gal. 4:4 ^39 2 Tim. 2:8 ^40 Rom. 15:12 ^41 Heb. 7:14 ^42 Heb. 2:17; 4:15 ^43 Matt. 1:23

Article 19: The Two Natures of Christ

  • We believe that by being thus conceived the person of the Son has been inseparably united and joined together with human nature, in such a way that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in a single person, with each nature retaining its own distinct properties.Thus his divine nature has always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life,^44 filling heaven and earth.

    His human nature has not lost its properties but continues to have those of a creature– it has a beginning of days; it is of a finite nature and retains all that belongs to a real body. And even though he, by his resurrection, gave it immortality, that nonetheless did not change the reality of his human nature; for our salvation and resurrection depend also on the reality of his body.

    But these two natures are so united together in one person that they are not even separated by his death.

    So then, what he committed to his Father when he died was a real human spirit which left his body. But meanwhile his divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave; and his deity never ceased to be in him, just as it was in him when he was a little child, though for a while it did not show itself as such.

    These are the reasons why we confess him to be true God and true man– true God in order to conquer death by his power, and true man that he might die for us in the weakness of his flesh.

    ^44 Heb. 7:3

Article 20: The Justice and Mercy of God in Christ

  • We believe that God– who is perfectly merciful and also very just– sent his Son to assume the nature in which the disobedience had been committed, in order to bear in it the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death.So God made known his justice toward his Son, who was charged with our sin, and he poured out his goodness and mercy on us, who are guilty and worthy of damnation, giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life.

The Perils Facing the Evangelical Church

by R.C. Sproul

When we consider the predicament that the evangelical church of the twenty-first century faces in America, the first thing we need to understand is the very designation “evangelical church” is itself a redundancy. If a church is not evangelical, it is not an authentic church. The redundancy is similar to the language that we hear by which people are described as “born-again Christians.” If a person is born again of the Spirit of God, that person is, to be sure, a Christian. If a person is not regenerated by the Holy Spirit, he may profess to be a Christian, but he is not an authentic Christian. There are many groups that claim to be churches that long ago repudiated the evangel, that is, the gospel. Without the gospel, a gathering of people, though they claim otherwise, cannot be an authentic church.

In the sixteenth century, the term evangelical came into prominence as a description of the Protestant church. In many cases, the terms evangelical and Protestant were used interchangeably. Today, that synonymous use of the adjectives no longer functions with any accuracy. Historic Protestants have forgotten what they were protesting in the sixteenth century. The central protest of the Reformation church was the protest against the eclipse of the gospel that had taken place in the medieval church.

When we turn our attention to the first century, to the churches about which we learn from the biblical record, we know that all of the churches addressed in the New Testament, including the churches in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and the seven churches of Revelation, were evangelical churches. They all embraced the biblical gospel. Yet at the same time, these churches were different in their strengths, in their weaknesses, and in their compositions. An evangelical church is not necessarily a monolithic community. There may be unity among evangelical churches but not necessarily uniformity. The distinctions of the seven churches of Revelation are set forth clearly in that book. They manifest different greatnesses and frailties, but they all faced perils. Each confronted the dangers that assaulted the church in the first century. They faced hazards of varying proportions, but there was a common threat to the health of the New Testament church from many sides. Those dangers manifested in the first century are repeated in every age of the church. They certainly loom large at our time in the early years of the twenty-first century.

Among what I see as the three most critical perils the church faces today are, first of all, the loss of biblical truth. When the truth of the gospel is compromised or negotiated, the church ceases to be evangelical. We live in a time of crisis with respect to truth, where many churches see doctrine merely as something that divides. Therefore, they stress relationships over truth. That is a false distinction, as a commitment to truth is a commitment that should manifest itself in vital, living relationships. Relationships can never be a substitute for embracing the truth of God. So the either/or fallacy of doctrine or relationship cannot be maintained under careful biblical scrutiny.

A second widespread peril to the church today is the loss of any sense of discipline. When the church fails to discipline its members for gross and heinous sins, particularly sins of a public nature, that community becomes infected with the immorality of the secular culture. This occurs when the church so desperately wants to be accepted by the pagan culture that it adopts the very morality of the pagan community and imitates it, baptizing it with religious language.

The third crucial peril facing the church today is the loss of faithful worship. There are different styles of worship that can be pleasing to God. However, all worship that is pleasing to God is worship grounded in Spirit and in truth. We can have lively worship, manifesting great interest and excitement, with doctrine and truth eliminated. On the other hand, we can have what some call a dead orthodoxy, where the creedal truths of the historic Christian faith remain central to the worship of the church, but the worship itself does not flow from the heart and lacks spiritual vitality.

Another element that threatens the evangelical church is the ongoing erosion of evangelical faith by the impact of liberal theology. Liberal theology saw its heyday in the nineteenth century and raised its head again with the neo-liberalism that captured the mainline churches of the twentieth century. Yet it is by no means dead. Perhaps the place where liberalism is manifesting itself most dangerously is within the walls of churches that have historically been strongly evangelical. David F. Wells describes the crisis of the twenty-first century church as “vacuous worship.” A vacuous worship is one that is empty of content. It is satisfied with platitudes, pop psychology, and entertainment. Such worship is devoid of the Word of God and of the authentic sacrifice of praise.

Dr. James Montgomery Boice, before his death, lamented his concern that the church was being enticed “to do the Lord’s work in the world’s way.” We try to transfer principles of success drawn from Madison Avenue and from other secular institutions and imitate them in the life of the church. Such a process is deadly.

In every generation, including our own, the same perils to the spiritual strength that Jesus rebuked in the seven churches of Revelation threaten us anew. These include such things as a lack of love, a lack of truth, a compromising spirit with the world, a lukewarm devotion, and a double-minded conviction, to name but a few. There were rebukes and encouragements given to these churches by our Lord that every church in every age must take seriously, examining ourselves to make sure that we are not manifesting the same departures from biblical truths that these churches were. We must be vigilant and diligent if we are to maintain a godly witness in our day.

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The 10 Effects of Believing the Doctrines of Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“These ten points are my personal testimony to the effects of believing in the five points of Calvinism. I have just completed teaching a seminar on this topic and was asked by the class members to post these reflections so they could have access to them. I am happy to do so. They, of course, assume the content of the course, which is available online from Desiring God Ministries, but I will write them here in the hope that they might stir others to search, Berean-like, to see if the Bible teaches what I call “Calvinism.”

1. These truths make me stand in awe of God and lead me into the depth of true God-centered worship.

I recall the time I first saw, while teaching Ephesians at Bethel College in the late ’70′s, the threefold statement of the goal of all God’s work, namely, “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

It has led me to see that we cannot enrich God and that therefore his glory shines most brightly not when we try to meet his needs but when we are satisfied in him as the essence of our deeds. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him the glory forever” (Romans 11:36). Worship becomes an end in itself.

It has made me feel how low and inadequate are my affections, so that the Psalms of longing come alive and make worship intense.

2. These truths help protect me from trifling with divine things.

One of the curses of our culture is banality, cuteness, cleverness. Television is the main sustainer of our addiction to superficiality and triviality.

God is swept into this. Hence the trifling with divine things.

Earnestness is not excessive in our day. It might have been once. And, yes, there are imbalances in certain people today who don’t seem to be able to relax and talk about the weather.

Robertson Nicole said of Spurgeon, “Evangelism of the humorous type [we might say, church growth of the marketing type] may attract multitudes, but it lays the soul in ashes and destroys the very germs of religion. Mr. Spurgeon is often thought by those who do not know his sermons to have been a humorous preacher. As a matter of fact there was no preacher whose tone was more uniformly earnest, reverent and solemn” (Quoted in The Supremacy of God in Preaching, p. 57).

3. These truths make me marvel at my own salvation.

After laying out the great, God-wrought salvation in Ephesians 1, Paul prays, in the last part of that chapter, that the effect of that theology will be the enlightenment of our hearts so that we marvel at our hope, and at the riches of the glory of our inheritance, and at the power of God at work in us – that is, the power to raise the dead.

Every ground of boasting is removed. Brokenhearted joy and gratitude abound.

The piety of Jonathan Edwards begins to grow. When God has given us a taste of his own majesty and our own wickedness, then the Christian life becomes a thing very different than conventional piety. Edwards describes it beautifully when he says,

The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is a humble hope, and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior (Religious Affections, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959, pp. 339f).

4. These truths make me alert to man-centered substitutes that pose as good news.

In my book, The Pleasures of God (2000), pp. 144-145, I show that in the 18th century in New England the slide from the sovereignty of God led to Arminianism and thence to universalism and thence to Unitarianism. The same thing happened in England in the 19thcentury after Spurgeon.

Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), p. 454, documents the same thing: “Calvinistic convictions waned in North America. In the progress of the decline which Edwards had rightly anticipated, those Congregational churches of New England which had embraced Arminianism after the Great Awakening gradually moved into Unitarianism and universalism, led by Charles Chauncy.”

You can also read in J. I. Packer’s Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), p. 160, how Richard Baxter forsook these teachings and how the following generations reaped a grim harvest in the Baxter church in Kidderminster.

These doctrines are a bulwark against man-centered teachings in many forms that gradually corrupt the church and make her weak from the inside, all the while looking strong or popular.

1 Timothy 3:15, “The church of the living God [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

5. These truths make me groan over the indescribable disease of our secular, God-belittling culture.

I can hardly read the newspaper or look at a TV ad or a billboard without feeling the burden that God is missing.

When God is the main reality in the universe and is treated as a non-reality, I tremble at the wrath that is being stored up. I am able to be shocked. So many Christians are sedated with the same drug as the world. But these teachings are a great antidote.

And I pray for awakening and revival.

And I try to preach to create a people that are so God-saturated that they will show and tell God everywhere and all the time.

We exist to reassert the reality of God and the supremacy of God in all of life.

6. These truths make me confident that the work which God planned and began, he will finish – both globally and personally.

This is the point of Romans 8:28-39.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

7. These truths make me see everything in the light of God’s sovereign purposes – that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever and ever.

All of life relates to God. There’s no compartment where he is not all-important and the one who gives meaning to everything. 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Seeing God’s sovereign purpose worked out in Scripture, and hearing Paul say that “he accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) makes me see the world this way.

8. These truths make me hopeful that God has the will, the right, and the power to answer prayer that people be changed.

The warrant for prayer is that God may break in and change things – including the human heart. He can turn the will around. “Hallowed be thy name” means: cause people to hallow your name. “May your word run and be glorified” means: cause hearts to be opened to the gospel.

We should take the New Covenant promises and plead with God to bring them to pass in our children and in our neighbors and among all the mission fields of the world.

“God, take out of their flesh the heart of stone and give him a new heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).

“Lord, circumcise their hearts so that they love you” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

“Father, put your spirit within them and cause them to walk in Your statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27).

“Lord, grant them repentance and the knowledge of the truth that they may escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

“Father, open their hearts so that they believe the gospel” (Acts 16:14).

9. These truths reminds me that evangelism is absolutely essential for people to come to Christ and be saved, and that there is great hope for success in leading people to faith, but that conversion is not finally dependent on me or limited by the hardness of the unbeliever.

So it gives hope to evangelism, especially in the hard places and among the hard peoples.

John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also. They will heed my voice.”

It is God’s work. Throw yourself into it with abandon.

10. These truths make me sure that God will triumph in the end.

Isaiah 46:9-10, “I am God and there is no other. I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand that I will accomplish all my purpose’”

Putting them altogether: God gets the glory and we get the joy.



Belgic Confession- Articles 12-15

Article 12: The Creation of All Things

  • We believe that the Father created heaven and earth and all other creatures from nothing, when it seemed good to him, by his Word– that is to say, by his Son.He has given all creatures their being, form, and appearance, and their various functions for serving their Creator.Even now he also sustains and governs them all, according to his eternal providence, and by his infinite power, that they may serve man, in order that man may serve God.He has also created the angels good, that they might be his messengers and serve his elect.

    Some of them have fallen from the excellence in which God created them into eternal perdition; and the others have persisted and remained in their orginal state, by the grace of God.

    The devils and evil spirits are so corrupt that they are enemies of God and of everything good. They lie in wait for the church and every member of it like thieves, with all their power, to destroy and spoil everything by their deceptions.

    So then, by their own wickedness they are condemned to everlasting damnation, daily awaiting their torments.

    For that reason we detest the error of the Sadducees, who deny that there are spirits and angels, and also the error of the Manicheans, who say that the devils originated by themselves, being evil by nature, without having been corrupted.

Article 13: The Doctrine of God’s Providence

  • We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground^20 without the will of our Father.

    In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

    For that reason we reject the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance.

    ^20 Matt. 10:29-30

Article 14: The Creation and Fall of Man

  • We believe that God created man from the dust of the earth and made and formed him in his image and likeness– good, just, and holy; able by his own will to conform in all things to the will of God.But when he was in honor he did not understand it^21 and did not recognize his excellence. But he subjected himself willingly to sin and consequently to death and the curse, lending his ear to the word of the devil.For he transgressed the commandment of life, which he had received, and by his sin he separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his entire nature.So he made himself guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death, having become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways. He lost all his excellent gifts which he had received from God, and he retained none of them except for small traces which are enough to make him inexcusable.

    Moreover, all the light in us is turned to darkness, as the Scripture teaches us: “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not receive it.”^22 Here John calls men “darkness.”

    Therefore we reject everything taught to the contrary concerning man’s free will, since man is nothing but the slave of sin and cannot do a thing unless it is “given him from heaven.”^23

    For who can boast of being able to do anything good by himself, since Christ says, “No one can come to me unless my Father who sent me draws him”?^24

    Who can glory in his own will when he understands that “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God”?^25 Who can speak of his own knowledge in view of the fact that “the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God”?^26

    In short, who can produce a single thought, since he knows that we are “not able to think a thing” about ourselves, by ourselves, but that “our ability is from God”?^27

    And therefore, what the apostle says ought rightly to stand fixed and firm: “God works within us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.”^28

    For there is no understanding nor will conforming to God’s understanding and will apart from Christ’s involvement, as he teaches us when he says, “Without me you can do nothing.”^29

    ^21 Ps. 49:20 ^22 John 1:5 ^23 John 3:27 ^24 John 6:44 ^25 Rom. 8:7 ^26 1 Cor. 2:14 ^27 2 Cor. 3:5 ^28 Phil. 2:13 ^29 John 15:5

Article 15: The Doctrine of Original Sin

  • We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race.It is a corruption of all nature– an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother’s womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God’s sight that it is enough to condemn the human race, and it is not abolished or wholly uprooted even by baptism, seeing that sin constantly boils forth as though from a contaminated spring.Nevertheless, it is not imputed to God’s children for their condemnation but is forgiven by his grace and mercy– not to put them to sleep but so that the awareness of this corruption might often make believers groan as they long to be set free from the “body of this death.”^30Therefore we reject the error of the Pelagians who say that this sin is nothing else than a matter of imitation.

    ^30 Rom. 7:24

The Belgic Confession- Articles 3-7 (On the Bible as the word of God)

Article 3: The Written Word of God

  • We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of men, but that holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit, as Peter says.^1

    Afterwards our God– because of the special care he has for us and our salvation– commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit this revealed Word to writing. He himself wrote with his own finger the two tables of the law.

    Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures. ^1 2 Pet. 1:21

Article 4: The Canonical Books

  • We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes of the Old and New Testaments. They are canonical books with which there can be no quarrel at all.

    In the church of God the list is as follows: In the Old Testament, the five books of Moses– Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth; the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings; the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon; the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job; the Psalms of David; the three books of Solomon– Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song; the four major prophets– Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel; and then the other twelve minor prophets– Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

    In the New Testament, the four gospels– Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen letters of Paul– to the Romans; the two letters to the Corinthians; to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians; the two letters to the Thessalonians; the two letters to Timothy; to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews; the seven letters of the other apostles– one of James; two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.

Article 5: The Authority of Scripture

  • We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith.
  • And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them– not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God.

    For even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in them do happen.

Article 6: The Difference Between Canonical and Apocryphal Books

  • We distinguish between these holy books and the apocryphal ones, which are the third and fourth books of Esdras; the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch; what was added to the Story of Esther; the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace; the Story of Susannah; the Story of Bell and the Dragon; the Prayer of Manasseh; and the two books of Maccabees.

    The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.

Article 7: The Sufficiency of Scripture

  • We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one– even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says–^2 ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God,^3 this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects.

    Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.

    For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself.

    Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule, as we are taught to do by the apostles when they say, “Test the spirits to see if they are of God,”^4 and also, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house.”^5 ^2 Gal. 1:8 ^3 Deut. 12:32; Rev. 22:18-19 ^4 1 John 4:1 ^5 2 John 10

What is Reformed Theology?- A summary by R.C. Sproul

Belgic Confession- Articles 1 and 2

Continuing to look at the Belgic Confession.

Article 1: The Only God

We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God- eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good.

Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God

We know Him by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: His eternal power and His divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20

All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.

Second, He makes Himself known to us more openly by His Holy and Divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for His glory and for the salvation of His own.

Commentary

I was going to do a short commentary on each of the articles myself, however I discovered Kim Riddlebarger has already done a series on the Belgic Confession over on His blog. I came across it as I was doing some research and it’s a lot better than what I could ever provide, so click on the links below to read the Riddle meister’s commentary on the first two articles.

Article 1 Commentary

Article 2 Commentary