We believe that the Father, by the Word, that is, by his Son, hath created of nothing, the heaven, the earth, and all creatures, as it seemed good unto him, giving unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator. That he doth also still. uphold and govern them by his eternal providence, and infinite power, for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God. He also created the angels good, to be his messengers and to serve his elect; some of whom are fallen from that excellency, in which God created them, into everlasting perdition; and the others have, by the grace of God, remained steadfast and continued in their primitive state. The devils and evil spirits are so depraved, that they are enemies of God and every good thing, to the utmost of their power; as murderers, watching to rum the Church and every member thereof, and by their wicked stratagems to destroy all; and are, therefore, by their own wickedness, adjudged to eternal damnation, daily expecting their horrible torments. Therefore we reject and abhor the error of the Sadducees, who deny the existence of spirits and angels: and also that of the Manichees, who assert that the devils have their origin of themselves, and that they are wicked of their own nature, without having been corrupted.
With this twelfth article a new section of our Confession begins. This section extends from Article XII to Article XV, and deals with those subjects which are usually treated in Christian doctrine under the general heading of “Anthropology,” or the doctrine concerning man. This is, of course, only a general classification. For not only is the doctrine concerning man as such treated, but also several doctrines which stand intimately related are discussed. Thus, in our Confession the entire subject of the creation of all things (with special attention to the creation of the angels, and the fall of some of them) is treated in the present article. In Article XIII the truth of divine providence is confessed. In Article XIV the doctrine concerning the creation, fall, and depravity of man is treated. And finally, in Article XV our Confession treats the subject of original sin.
We may also view this change of subject from a different aspect.
Our Confession, beginning with Article XII; speaks of the works of God. From this point of view, all the rest of our Belgic Confession is devoted to this subject, although we may again distinguish these works of God into various sub-divisions.
Reformed doctrine has frequently distinguished the works of God as indwelling works of God andoutgoing works of God. The indwelling works, then, are those that are eternally done within the divine Being. God is an eternally active God. All His activity is from eternity. He did not begin to work, for example, when He created the world: for this would imply change in God. Hence, we may speak; first of all, of God’s indwelling works, that is, those works of God that He eternally accomplishes within Himself. These indwelling works of God may, in turn, be distinguished as His personal works, that is, the divine activity whereby the Father generates the Son, the Son is generated by the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; and His essential works, that is, those divine activities according to which God eternally knows and loves Himself, etc.
In the second place, there are the works of God designated as outgoing. These are either the works of God that have respect to existence outside of God’s own Being, .or those works whereby beings outside of God’s Being, or in distinction from. His Being, are actually called into existence. Under this classification another two-fold distinction is often made, namely, that of God’s works in eternity and His works in time. God’s works in eternity are then His counsel, or decrees, concerning all things, including the decree of providence, which is mentioned in Article XII as “his eternal providence,” and the decree of predestination, or His counsel with respect to the eternal destiny of His moral creatures, men and angels, which is, in turn, distinguished as election and reprobation. And God’s works in time include His works in “nature,” namely, creation and providence, and His works in grace, namely, all the work of salvation in Christ. Sometimes mention is made not only of God’s works in eternity, which really would include all the indwelling works of God, but of indwelling works of God as such (works that remain indwelling) and indwelling works of God destined to become outgoing. God’s counsel as such is a work of God in Himself, or an indwelling, immanent work. But this counsel is revealed in all the outgoing works of God, the works in time. Hence, it is spoken of as an indwelling work of God destined to become outgoing.
It will be evident that it is very difficult to maintain these various classifications consistently. While it is probably necessary and convenient to make some kind of classification in the works of (God, the various classifications that are made all have their limitations—limitations which must be recognized and reckoned with when we speak of God’s works. God is infinitely greater than all our classifications of Him. And the same is true of His works. Besides, God is One, and His works are one. And for this reason, there is always the danger when we make such classifications as these that we drive a separation into the works of God. And this, of course, would be a mistake. Thus, while we may to an extent distinguish God’s works in eternity and. His works in time, we may never separate the two, but must always strive to see the close harmony between them. Thus also, while we may indeed speak of the indwelling, personal works of God, it at the same time cannot be denied that these too are in a sense outgoing: they are revealed to the creature outside of God. Not only so, but in the realization of His everlasting covenant with His people in Christ we have the revelation of God’s own eternal covenant life as the Triune God. Furthermore, even the classification of the so-called works of God in time into works in nature (creation and providence) and works in grace must not be driven to the point that there are two kinds of works of God in time, separate from one another. And the same is true of God’s counsel when it is distinguished as the counsel of His providence and the counsel of predestination. There are no two counsels of God, but only one; and all the work of God’s counsel that is classified as the decree of His providence stands intimately related to what is called the decree of predestination.
Bearing in mind, therefore, these limitations, we may make use of the various classifications mentioned.
Above all, however, we must maintain the unity of the works of God, and therefore remember that from now on in our Confession we are still discussing all the time the works of God, whether we speak of man, of the fall, of, Christ, of salvation, of the church, or of the last things.
We may note from the outset, too, that our Confession in this article on creation proceeds from the idea of God’s counsel. This is plain from its use of the expression, “as it seemed good unto him,” which emphasizes the idea of God’s counsel as His good pleasure.
But this brings us already into a discussion of the work of creation, to which wee now address ourselves.
Creation and Faith
We must notice and emphasize at once that our Confession places the work of creation squarely in the sphere of faith: “We believe that the Father by the Word, that is, by his Son, hath created of nothing . . .”
Creation, therefore, according to our Confession, is a matter of faith. It is an article of faith, and always has been in the church: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” Moreover, the method of our Confession is literally the method of Scripture. For the Word of God says: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Hebrews 11:3. By faith only, therefore, do we understand that the world is not eternal, but that it had a beginning; and by faith only do we understand that the beginning of the world can be “explained” only from the omnipotent will of God, Who calls the things that are not as if they were. Romans 4:17.
It is important that we understand this as Christians, especially in our day, when there is a good deal. of discussion about various questions concerning creation, the day of creation, the age of the world, natural science and creation, “general revelation,” or God’s book of nature, and the revelation of Scripture inGenesis 1 and Genesis 2.
True, our Confession does not go into these matters. In fact, it is very brief on the whole subject of creation, devoting much more attention in this article to the creation and fall of the angels than to the subject of creation in general. This is due, historically, to the fact that when our Confession was composed the doctrine of creation was not being called in question in the church, while there was a good deal of discussion concerning the subject of the angel-world. Nevertheless, our Confession, without going into detail, sets forth the essentials concerning the divine work of creation; and these; in the light of Scripture, must constitute the norm when judging the orthodoxy of various views concerning creation that are taught in the present day. Moreover, we must take care that we do more than lip-service to this doctrine of creation. There are those educated men of science today who profess to believe in creation, but who because of their enslavement to science so compromise and camouflage the truth of creation that you can hardly recognize in their views the confession, “We I believe that the Father . . . hath created of nothing . . . all creatures.” Faith is, to say the least, covered up, as though they were ashamed of it. Or, what is worse and more deceiving; there are those who boldly profess to believe in creation, and who attempt to convince others that they believe in creation, but who make so many accommodations to the so-called “findings” of natural science, and who place so many strictures upon the idea of creation, that the Scriptural presentation of creation is scarcely recognizable in their teachings. And meanwhile they inculcate in Christian students the idea that they too can believe in creation in the same way.
Hence, it is our purpose to call attention to some of these matters in connection with Article XII, and, to emphasize that one cannot be Reformed unless he wholeheartedly and without compromise or reservation subscribes to what is here confessed.
In this connection, it is necessary, first of all, to discuss the subject of our method and fundamental approach.
That method and approach is that of faith, and that too, as the evidence of things unseen.
The antithesis of faith is not reason, but unbelief. It is not thus, that the believer is a kind of fool or ignoramus, who clings to his views in spite of facts, who is irrational, while all the findings of natural science are a matter of reason, whether inductive or deductive. No, the conflict is between faith and unbelief: And true reason, genuine science, always stands in subjection to faith, while the wisdom of the world, even with all its reasonings, proceeding from the ethical principle of unbelief, is for that very reason the greatest folly.
(to be continued)