The Belgic Confession, Article 1

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.


“We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth . . . .”

It is of the utmost importance that we understand the meaning and implications of the above expression from the outset. Especially is this necessary because you will find that the various articles of this creed are introduced by this same expression in one form or another: “We believe,” or, “We believe and confess,” or “We confess,” or, “We believe and profess.” You will readily recognize that this is an expression borrowed from Holy Scripture. In the form in which it occurs in this first article it is borrowed undoubtedly from Romans 10:9, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heartthat God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” 

In these significant words several elements are expressed. In the first place, we learn that here is a confession. In the second place, we learn that this confession is not a mere ecclesiastical “statement of position,” nor a coldly objective dogmatic declaration, but emphatically a confession of faith. In the third place, we learn too that this faith is personal: “Webelieve . . . and confess.” Moreover, this faith, personal in character, is held in a community of believers: not merely “I” believe and confess, but I believe and confess together with others who unitedly have the same faith and make the same confession, “We all . . .” In the fourth place, there is the element that this faith is saving faith, belief with the heart—strictly speaking, the only true faith there is. All these elements are important and hold in them several important implications. For, first of all, we have here what may be called both the inclusive and the exclusive principle of the entire creed, and, therefore, of the church which holds this creed. Inclusive these words are: for they receive into the community of the church all who have a like faith and confession. Exclusive they are: for they exactly bar every unbeliever, all who do not believe with the heart. Exclusive too they are in that they bar all those who pretend to believe with the heart but do not confess with the mouth. If you personally cannot join in the expressions of these articles of faith, you have absolutely no business in the church that holds them; you belong to a different community. And, secondly, in close connection with the preceding, these introductory words, which recur so frequently throughout the thirty-seven articles, serve to emphasize something that is easily forgotten, especially when we busy ourselves with an objective explanation of the contents of the confession, namely, that in these articles we have the objective contents of a subjective, personal faith. This is a rather practical implication, which, I fear, we are often inclined to overlook, especially in the consideration of a symbol such as our Belgic Confession. As we have observed, this creed follows the so-called dogmatic order in its treatment of the truth of the Word of God; it is objective. For this reason we are all the more inclined to look upon this confession as a mere document, a piece of religious literature, setting forth the official doctrinal position of a certain church or group of churches. That document may have a certain authority, and we may appeal to it as an authoritative statement, much as we might cite this or that authority in a certain field in our rather academic arguments. Thus, if we want to back up our position in the field of history, we seek out some prominent historian to quote in support of our statements. If we want to find support for a political theory, we turn to recognized political theorists. If we want backing for some economic view, we ask what authoritative economists think. In much the same way, if we want to show that our doctrinal views are correct, we appeal to theologians or to the church, to the creeds, And while this method may have much merit as far as an objective study and exercise in the science of dogmatics, is concerned, it overlooks the important fact that the confession is and is intended to be much more than a document, an archive. In fact, we may say that such an outlook is a sure path to dead orthodoxy—an orthodoxy that is dead, devoid of life and of faith. No, the creeds are confessions; and they are confessions of faith. And the question therefore is not what someone else believes or believed in the past. It is not the coldly impersonal question of what “the church” or “my church” believes, as though that church were someone or something in distinction from its members. That may be a convenient device to attempt to avoid the crucial and after all unavoidable question, “What think ye of the God and the Christ of the Scriptures?” Or perhaps at times it may serve as an apron of fig leaves to cover our shame when men require of us an answer concerning the hope that is supposed to be in us and we are ashamed of our “unscientific”‘ view or the “narrow-mindedness” of our doctrine or the “other-worldliness” of our calling and our walk. “Well,” we may say, “my church believes this or that,” or, “This is the stand of my church.” And the implication really is: “I can’t help it. I wish it were otherwise. I’m really a bit ashamed of it, and consider it rather narrow and unreasonable and unnecessarily strict. But that’s the way it is; and if I go contrary, I might be disciplined.” Thus, for example, some “pass the buck” when they are confronted with the question of membership in an illicit union: “My church doesn’t believe in it,” is the excuse. But the language of our confession is the language of a personal conviction of the heart: We all believe with the heart!” The question there-fore is a strictly personal one: “What do you and I, as members of this Christian church individually, and as a community of such members collectively and institutionally—what do we believe and confess?” 

What then is this believing with the heart? 

The most fundamental answer to this question is that faith is preeminently faith in God, and that too, as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. The initial article of our confession brings this out very clearly, as we shall see when we consider the contents of this first article proper. Paradoxically, while the wonder is “faith’s dearest child,” faith is itself in every sense of the word a wonder. It is divine. It is faith in God, and for that very reason faith is from beginning to end of God

This is true, in the first place, as to the objective principle of faith, namely, revelation. This must be emphasized now at the risk of entering somewhat into the material of Article 2 and succeeding articles that deal with this subject. Faith is not unreasonable; but it is not founded on human reason, nor reached in the way of a process of reasoning. Faith is not illogical; but it is not the product of a logical process of thought. The only and solid basis of faith is God’s own revelation in Jesus Christ. And this is at the same time the rock on which all unbelief suffers shipwreck and is dashed to pieces. Without now entering into detail, we may say that revelation means that the incomprehensible God, Who alone knows Himself with an infinitely perfect and eternal Self-knowledge, imparts the knowledge of Himself to the creature in such a form that the creature can receive it, on a creaturely level and in a creaturely measure, through His Son Jesus Christ. Even as water cannot climb any higher than its own level, so the creature cannot climb any higher than the level of the creature. Man of himself cannot know God; God must make Himself known. Man cannot reach out and climb up to God; God must condescend to him. And so in revelation God in His infinite majesty comes down to us. He gives His Word finite form in and through His Son in the flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

But, in the second place, there is a subjective principle in faith. And also this is of God. For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. The mere fact that God objectively reveals Himself does not and cannot produce faith. And this is true whether you refer now to God’s revelation in the things that are made and in history, or whether you refer to His revelation in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord. For the natural man stands in enmity over against God and over against the speech of God. He does not want God. He hates God. He always contradicts God. And the difficulty is not at all an intellectual and rational one. The trouble is not that faith in God is so irrational. The problem is not that the living God is essentially unknowable. No, in this sense of the word God’s revelation is quite adequate; and He has never left Himself without witness. Moreover, He has also taken care that intellectually man has quite enough light to receive that witness and to know that God is and that He is God indeed. But the question is one of the heart! “The fool hath said sin his heart, There is no God.” Psalm 14:1. And natural men “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,” so that they “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” Romans 1:21-23. And make no mistake. What is true with respect to God’s revelation in nature is still more emphatically true with respect to His revelation in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unbelief is not due to the inadequacy of that revelation. Nor is it due to the fact that the gospel is contrary to reason. Did not Christ show himself alive after His passion “by many infallible proofs”? Acts 1 13. And does not Paul say to Agrippa, Acts 26:8: “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” And if it were a matter of reason and of mere, natural, human intellect, how is it to be explained that Christ crucified is to the Jews, who seek after a sign, a stumbling block, and to the Greeks, who desire wisdom, foolishness, with the singular exception of those who are called, to whom He is Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God? I Corinthians 1:18-24. No, faith is a heart-question. The world by wisdom knows not God because its wisdom is from below, earthly, carnal, devilish. The faith of the church, that which it believes with the heart, opposes the philosophy of man, and the latter opposes faith,spiritually. The antithesis is not that of Faith and Reason, but that of Faith and Unbelief. And Unbelief is sin! It is a matter of the heart. The antithesis is not one of Grace and Nature, but of Grace and Sin. And for that reason not faith is unreasonable, but unbelief is guilty of an irrationality of the profoundest and most hopeless kind. 

—H.C.H.