The Belgic Confession, Article I (continued)

What then is this subjective principle of faith? 

It is the principle of regeneration implanted in the heart by the indwelling and quickening Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. The natural man is a fool, and as such he says in his heart, “There is no God.” The divine wisdom, spoken in a mystery by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consisting of things which “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man,” which “God bath prepared for them that love him,” and which “God hath revealed” unto them “by his Spirit”—that wisdom the natural man receiveth not, Those things of the Spirit of God are foolishness unto him. He cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But Christ Jesus our Lord has received the Spirit. And He is Himself become the quickening Spirit. Through that Spirit He takes up His abode in the church, in the hearts of His own. And dwelling in His church, He imparts Himself and all His benefits of light and life, of wisdom and knowledge, to all His people. Thus He produces “spiritual men,” who are able to distinguish and discern and judge of spiritual things, the things of the Spirit of God, the things of the hidden mystery of God, of His revelation. This, therefore, is a spiritual, ethical change. As such, it is a change of the heart, the spiritual center of a man’s being, from which are all the issues of his life from a moral, spiritual point of view. When that heart is thus changed, the issues of a man’s life are changed: As long as that heart is under the power and dominion of sin, man is a fool. From that corrupt heart the issues of his mind and will, his speech and his actions proceed; and with all his being the fool says, “There is no God.” But the heart of the spiritual man principally affects all the issues of his mind and will, his speech and actions; and, coming into contact with things which God hath revealed by His Spirit, namely, His revelation, that spiritual man understands and discerns and evaluates those things in a radically different manner, and says, “I believe in God!” 

In the light of the above, it is also evident why believing with the heart is necessarily accompanied by confession with the mouth. To confess means “to say the same thing with someone else.” In this case it is evident that confession means saying the same thing with God, or with the Spirit of Christ. That is, the objective testimony of the Spirit of Christ through the Word finds reception in the believing heart; and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. It can be no different: for from the heart are the issues of life. If, therefore, there is faith in the heart, there must needs be confession with the mouth. Faith in the heart without this confession with the mouth is dead faith. And confession with the mouth without faith in the heart is hypocrisy. Whoever believes with the heart will surely confess with the mouth. 

Nor must we overlook the fact that while faith and confession are personal, they are not individualistic. The believer does not believe all by himself; nor does he make confession all alone. “We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth . . . .” As we have already indicated, this means that the act of believing and confessing takes place in the community of believers, the church. This united believing and confessing must not be understood, however, as the product of human association and mutual agreement. But we must remember that the Spirit of Christ always operates in the church, never in separation from it. In and through the church that Spirit makes known the wisdom of God in a mystery. And in that same body of Christ the Spirit dwells, operating in all the members of that body, performing His degenerating and faith-kindling work in their hearts, filling them with the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, causing the faith of their hearts to find expression in the confession of their mouths. The result of this operation of the Spirit of Christ as the Spirit of the church is this “We all believe . . . and confess . . .” And even when the believer confesses his faith personally, he can and does do so only by virtue of his position as a member of the body of Christ in which the Spirit of Christ dwells. And when this faith and confession of the congregation of Jesus Christ is set forth by the church officially, as it is gathered, organized, and instituted in the midst of the world, and that too, both in common with all those of like faith and in contradistinction from those who do not believe or who depart from the faith, the result is a creed or symbol or confession such as we are now considering. 

But someone will take exception to that “all,” objecting that it simply is not true that all the members of a certain church which adheres to this confession believe with the heart and confess with the mouth, and that therefore this business of a church making confessions is dangerous and productive of hypocrites and show-Christians. And apparently this objection is a weighty one, but only apparently. For, in the first place, we must understand that in its confessions the church speaks organically, as the gathering of believers and their seed. Surely, to that gathering as it is manifest in the midst of the world there adhere unbelievers and reprobate, both among adults and among the children of believers. But the gathering is not known by its carnal and reprobate element; on the contrary, it is the gathering of the elect, of the believers and the confessors and their spiritual seed. It is by the name of the latter that the church is designated: the congregation of Jesus Christ. It is they who belong to the church; the rest outwardly adhere. It is they who speak throughout in the confession of the church: “We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth . . .” Hence, in the second place, that “all,” taken, as itmust be, with the terms “believe with the heart” and “confess with the mouth,” is both inclusive and exclusive. It is inclusive of all who believe and confess, and it is exclusive of all who disbelieve and deny. And the more vigorously and zealously the church in actual practice maintains its confession, the more sharply this inclusive and exclusive character of the confession will come to manifestation. The more the church insists, “Here, in this communion, we all believe and confess,” the more those who do not believe and confess will find themselves in conflict with the confession of the church. The effect, therefore, can only be two-fold. On the one hand, the elect are gathered, brought to a conscious faith, and confess the faith of their heart with the mouth. On the other hand, the reprobate are hardened and, as they come to manifestation in their denial of the faith of the church, they either leave or are excluded. 

The practical significance of all the foregoing is obvious. 

In the first place, it is incumbent upon the church to take care that its confession is true. That confession must be a confession of faith, and that too, without any admixture of the products of unbelief. This means, of course, that a confession must be according to the truth of God’s own revelation in Christ Jesus our Lord, that is, according to the Scriptures. No other confession is worthy of the name. And to no other authority may a confession ever appeal than that of the Scriptures. A confession has no authority of its own; its authority rests only upon Holy Writ. Always, therefore, it is the duty of the church to compare its confessions with the Scriptures, and in its witness in the midst of the world clearly to establish and point out the connection between its creeds and the Word of God. 

In the second place, it is the God-given calling of the church to be true to its confession. This is in the very nature of confession: to confess is to speak, to give testimony, of the faith of the heart. Surely, that confession must be officially adopted by the church, and have its place in the official literature of the church. But strictly must the church adhere to it in actual ecclesiastical life. Preaching and catechetical instruction must be in full accord therewith. Discipline must maintain the confession. And never in the slightest degree may the confessions of the church be allowed to become mere dead letters. 

In the third place, it follows that it is incumbent upon the members of the church to know the confession of their church. If there is any one thing in the life of believers upon which our confessions and our Reformed churches have always placed a premium, it isknowledge. All our confessions are premised upon this. No, mere intellectual knowledge is of no value as such. You may have all the head knowledge possible; but if you have no faith, you are dead. But believersmust have knowledge, and must grow in knowledge and understanding of the truth. This stands to reason: you cannot very well confess what you do not know. And mark you well, our confessions—and especially now our Belgic Confession—do not proceed from the idea that a sketchy, thumbnail confession is quite sufficient for any ordinary believer. In our day it more and more seems to be the idea that a thorough knowledge of the confessions might be all right for theologians and for officebearers perhaps; but an ordinary layman who knows his confessions is regarded as somewhat of an oddity, who might better leave those deeper things to his superiors. No, we all must know our creeds. We all must avail ourselves of every opportunity to become better acquainted with and thoroughly versed in our Reformed beliefs. And let me add: it is especially the calling of covenant youth to do this. How sad it is when young men and young women of the church are ready to “profess their faith” and are not really ready to give account sometimes of the meagerest fundamentals of that faith. Pray tell, how, if we do not know our confessions, can we acknowledge that we agree with the doctrine that is taught in this Christian church? And how then can we, without lying before the face of God, say in fellowship with the church: “We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth . . . .” 

In the fourth place, let me hasten to add that also the individual believer must be true to his confession. And he will be if his confession is the expression of the faith of his heart. True to his confession he must be in the church itself, first of all. Never may he depart from that confession for any reason whatsoever. This also bears emphasis in our day. It must be a superficial, if not dishonest, soul that can make a confession before God and the church of the faith that lives in his heart, and then, for any personal and carnal reason whatsoever, can renege on his own confession, follow after heresy, sacrifice the truth on the altar of his personal interests and “happiness,” and find himself a church home where that same confession is either flatly contradicted or is a matter of indifference. But true to his confession the believer must be in all his life. This is true of his speech and of his personal testimony among others. If that faith is the faith of his heart, why should he be ashamed of it and keep silence concerning it before men? it is his most precious possession is it not? But not only does this include “confession with the mouth” in the literal sense of the word. After all, the mouth, the speech, is but the highest of the gifts with which God has endowed the rational, moral creature. And if one’s faith makes its demands upon the highest of our powers, are not all our other powers included? Hence, confession with the mouth implies that in all our walk and conversation, in every relationship and sphere of life we give expression in word and in very deed to what we believe in our hearts. 

Thus, even as that faith is a wonder of sovereign grace alone, it shall, through our confession, redound unto the glory of our God, who saved us and called us with an holy calling! 

—H.C.H.