“We all believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth, that there is one only simple and spiritual Being, which we call God; and that he is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good. ”
Article I, Belgic Confession
That the Belgic Confession is true to the Scriptures is obvious from its opening words, “We all believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth. . .” These words are taken almost literally from Romans 10:9, which reads: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Thus the inspired Apostle states the content of the “. . . word of faith, which we preach,” (verse 8). The significance of this opening statement is rich: for it emphasizes that what is contained in the entire Confession of Faith is the object of the living faith of the children of God. This means, in the first place, that natural understanding and a corrupt heart can never believe what is contained in this creed. This fact is not because there is something defective about the revelation of God, but rather because the ungodly and unrighteous always “. . . hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18-32) The fool always says in heart that there is no God, and this is precisely why he is a fool! (cf. Psalm 53) Only he who has been conquered by the almighty grace of God in Jesus Christ can receive by faith what is contained in the Confession of Faith. Apart from faith, the gift of God’s grace, man rejects the plain truth of the Word of God set forth in this creed. In the second place, the significance of these opening words lies in this: they emphasize that what the child of God believes in his heart he also confesses with his mouth. Those two can never be separated. There can be no believing in the heart without confessing with the mouth, and there can no confessing with the mouth apart from believing in the heart. In other words, a true faith always or inevitably results in an oral confession. The fruit of a true faith in the hearts of God’s people is that together with God and with one another they confess the Lordship of Jesus in the darkness of the world of sin. Finally, this statement makes clear that what is contained in the creed is not a set of dogmas arranged in strict, cold, logical order. Rather the contents of the creed is the object of the vibrant faith of the Church. The child of God knows these truths and, knowing them, is assured in his heart that the God of Whom they speak is the God of his salvation through Jesus Christ.
Notice, too, that the confession proceeds theocentrically. It begins with God, continues and ends with God. This is characteristic of the Reformed faith. Lutheranism, by contrast, was always rather soteriological (doctrine of salvation) and anthropological (doctrine of man). The Calvinistic branch of the Reformation always emphasized God. This is characteristic of our Belgic Confession. Before anything else is confessed, our creed expresses faith in God, the overflowing fountain of all good. This is more than an interesting observation of which we may take leave having once made it. That the Confession begins with faith in God is of principal importance. To begin with God means: 1) To find in God that beginning of all truth; 2) To speak essentially of nothing else than God in the entire confession; and, 3) To end with the glory of God which is the goal of all things. In God is the principle of all the riches of the truth revealed in the Scriptures and set forth in the creed. God is the God of truth, and the whole truth of the Word is the revelation of God. That is very obvious from the first words of the Bible; “In the beginning God. . .” (Gen. 1:1) The Word of God is not merely a collection of narratives, prophecies, letters, etc. The whole Scripture in its constituent parts is the revelation of God. So it is with the Belgic Confession. The creed begins with God. In this light it is of crucial importance that we understand the truth concerning God: for how we say “God” will profoundly influence how we say “Man,” “Salvation,” “Christ,” “Church,” and “Last Things.” And contrary to those who are saying that we cannot say anything about Who and What God is, the Belgic Confession begins with the truth concerning God.
The Being of God is the subject of Article I. Concerning the Being of God the Reformed believer confesses that God is one, simple, and spiritual. That God is one means that He is the only God. God is not the greatest of many gods. There is no god beside or under God in heaven or on the earth. God says this of Himself in that beautiful passage, Isaiah 45:5-7: “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” That God is one also means, however, that He is the absolutely Self-sufficient One. God is wholly complete and perfect in Himself, and He has no need of anyone or anything outside of Himself to make Him perfect or to enhance His glory. Hence the confession of the Church is always: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen,” (I Timothy 1:17). With this confession of the oneness of God the Church has maintained from her earliest history the truth concerning God over against the two errors; Deism and Pantheism. The former heresy denies the immanence of God while Pantheism denies the transcendence of God. While God’s whole Being fills the entire creation, He always remains above all that is called creature.
God is a simple Being, i.e., God is not divisible, but remains One in all His attributes and works. There is never any division in God nor any essential difference between any of God’s attributes. God’s attributes are not only one in Him but these are His Being. Think of how plainly this is emphasized throughout the Word of God! God is: “love” (I John 4:8), “light” (I John 1:5), “the God of all grace” (I Peter 5:10), “the true God, and the living God” (Jeremiah 10:10) etc.
God’s Being is also a spiritual Being. This means that God’s Being or Essence is essentially different from man’s or any other creature’s. There is no similarity between the being of the creation and the Being of God. This is true of the world of spirits, too. God is not like the angels in that they are spiritual beings; He is also infinitely different from those ministering spirits. This is true simply because God is always the Creator and every being outside of Him must be created. Jesus made this truth plain to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well when in answer to her question concerning the proper place of worship He said: “God is Spirit: (note, not “a” Spirit as the K.J.V. has it—R.D.D.) and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:24). It is this truth which precludes man’s ever knowing God by himself. By the powers of his intellect and the reasonableness of his logic man will never attain to a knowledge of God. No mystical experience and no emotional “inner light” will ever, cause him to know God. If man is to know God, God must come to man in His love and grace and reveal Himself.
Some of the attributes of God are also mentioned in this article. Five of the incommunicable attributes (those which belong to God alone) are listed. The article speaks of God’s eternity. Eternity is not time infinitely extended as the common misconception has it. The eternity of God is His transcendence above time. The idea is that God is not bound or limited by time. In all His Being and in all His counsel God is above time. This is why “. . . one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” (II Peter 3:8). Thus the Church confesses: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2) This is what God revealed of Himself to Moses in the flame of fire out of the midst of the bush: “I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you,” (Exodus 3:14).
Although God can certainly be known, the Church confesses He can never be comprehended. If the creature could comprehend Him, God would not be God any more. Comprehension implies setting the limits of something or someone. God cannot be limited or defined by man. He is infinitely above and beyond man’s knowledge of Him. Even behind that which He reveals of Himself there remains a depth of glory of God which no man will ever plumb. The real reason for this incomprehensibility of God is His invisibility. This does not merely mean that God cannot be seen, but that He cannot be known apart from His own revelation. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,” (John 1:18). The inspired Apostle teaches the same in that profound verse, the 16th, of his first Letter of Timothy: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in a light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” Note well that this passage teaches emphatically that no man is able to approach the light in which God dwells, and no man is able to see Him. God can only be seen by grace in the face of Jesus Christ. (cf. also; I Tim. 1:17, Romans 1:20, Col. 1:15)
The Church believes and confesses the Immutability of God. This quite naturally follows from God’s eternity. Time necessarily means change, but God is above all time. God, therefore, is also unchangeable. This is a most comforting truth, for God declares through His prophet: “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” (Malachi 3:6). Not only is this true but God’s immutability is also the reason why He is the giver of every good and perfect gift according to James 1:17.
Finally, in this connection the Reformed Churches confess the infinity of God. This is certainly implied in those attributes the article has already mentioned. Let it be understood that God cannot be limited in any sense. He is absolutely without boundary. Notice, too, that when we speak thus on the basis of the Word of God about our Sovereign and Maker, we must needs speak in negative terms; God is not visible, He is not comprehensible, etc.
The article also mentions some of the communicable attributes of God (those which are reflected by grace in the elect in Christ). Among these are God’s Omnipotence (His absolute power), Wisdom, Righteousness, and Goodness. All these are clearly taught in the Scriptures. We call your attention to I Timothy 6:15, Romans 1:19, 20, Eph. 1:17-21, Romans 16:27, I Cor. 1:18 ff., Deut. 32:4, Psalm 145:17, and I John 2:29.
Indeed, God is the overflowing fountain of all good. He is worthy of praise. One must be convinced, too, that in this brief but profound statement concerning what we all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths concerning the ever blessed God of our salvation the Belgic Confession breathes the Holy Scriptures.