The Belgic Confession, Article I (continued)

8. God is Perfectly Just.

In connection with this divine virtue, we may notice again that our creed makes but a partial mention of God’s attributes. In reciting the so-called ethical attributes of God it passes by what might well be called God’s ethical attribute par excellence, namely, the divine holiness, and it makes specific mention of God’s righteousness, or justice. Though we probably cannot say anything with certainty as to the reason for the selection made in this article, we may surmise that there may have been a historical reason why the perfect justice of God stood on the foreground in the faith of our fathers at the time when the Confession was written. Besides, as far as salvation is concerned, the righteousness of God, and, therefore, righteousness before and in relation to the perfectly righteous God, is, according to all Scripture, a fundamental concept. Hence, it is understandable, in the light of the fact that “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness,” that saving faith will in its expression focus upon this virtue of God’s perfect righteousness.

If we turn to Scripture, we find that God’s righteousness is frequently mentioned, both in the Old and in the New Testament. In Deuteronomy 32:4 are the significant words: “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” Abraham, at the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, appeals to the righteousness of God as follows: “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”Gen. 18:25. Jeremiah also proceeds from the same presupposition of God’s perfect righteousness in his pleadings concerning the prosperity of the wicked,Jeremiah 12:1: “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” More than once in Scripture God’s righteousness and His faithfulness, His being true to His Word, are closely connected. This is evidently implied in the words of the Levites in Nehemiah 9:8concerning God’s covenant with Abraham to give to his seed the land of Canaan : “. . . and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous.” The two, divine faithfulness and righteousness, are mentioned together in I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In Psalm 145:17, in the same context in which mention is made of the fact that “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (vs. 9) and in which the Synod of Kalamazoo of 1924, contrary to all sound exegesis, sought proof for the error of common grace, we read: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” This righteousness of Jehovah is revealed in that He is “nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth,” in that “He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him, . . . will hear their cry, . . . will save them, . . . preserveth all them that love him,” but also in that “all the wicked will he destroy.” Common grace, therefore, is contrary to the righteousness of God and constitutes an assault upon the divine simplicity. In a context which also speaks clearly of God’s attitude toward the righteous and toward the wicked, Psalm 11:7adduces the reason: “For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.” The New Testament speaks of the righteousness of God in the same spirit. In Romans 3:25, 26righteousness as an attribute of God is mentioned as follows: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, “I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” In connection with God’s sovereign election and reprobation, the apostle intercepts a charge of divine injustice as follows: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” Rom. 9:14. Frequently the Scriptures set forth the righteousness of God in connection with His judgment of the righteous and of the wicked, sometimes explicitly mentioning God’s righteousness or justice, and sometimes not. Thus, for example, the apostle testifies in II Timothy 4:8: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” After the outpouring of the third vial, the Seer of Patmos hears the angel of the waters say, “Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.” Rev. 16:7. And according to Rev. 19:1, 2, John hears a great voice of much people in heaven saying, “Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God: For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.” And the song of Moses and of the Lamb celebrates the fact that the ways of the “King of saints” are “just and true.” Rev. 15:3.

In the light of the above, we may say that God’s righteousness is that divine virtue according to which all God’s willing is in perfect harmony with His own infinitely perfect Being, and according to which, therefore, He rewards the good with good and the evil with evil in perfect equity. In this light we may also understand the significance of the truth that Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness. And then we may remember that the Scriptures speak not only of righteousness in the absolute sense as an attribute of God, but of a righteousness that is imputed to and bestowed upon His people in Christ Jesus—such a perfect righteousness that is valid before God the righteous Judge—and of which God Himself is the Author and the Giver. And then we may also see the practical significance of our confession that God is perfectly just. It implies that we shall earnestly seek forgiveness and redemption in the blood of Jesus, strive to obtain the reward of faithful servants, and in all tribulation with uplifted heads expect our Savior from heaven, who shall judge the quick and the dead and publicly vindicate the righteousness of our God.

9. God is Perfectly Good, the Overflowing Fountain Of All Good.

Of God’s goodness we may say both that it means that God is absolute goodness in Himself, the God, of all infinite perfections, and that He is the only good for all His creatures.

Scripture speaks of God’s goodness in both senses. In the former sense it is a very inclusive term in Scripture, denoting all God’s ethical perfections. God is the ethically perfect One. He is the absolute good. He is the light, in whom is no darkness at all. His very nature is perfection. He is righteousness and holiness and truth; He is truth and wisdom, mercy and grace and love, faithfulness and loving-kindness. This is implied, especially when viewed in the light of the context, in the statement of Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.” Psalm 25:8 speaks of this goodness of the Lord also: “Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.” And in Luke 15:19, in reply to the ruler who addressed Him as “Good Master,” Jesus says: “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is God.” Plainly the Lord uses the term here as applicable to no one else than God. In this absolute sense, therefore, God is good, good in a way that no one else—not even the “good master” as this ruler conceived of him—is good.

However, our Confession not only takes the termgoodness in this comprehensive sense, as the climax of this series of God’s attributes and as the summary of all His ethical perfections; but also and especially, as is evident from the addition, “the overflowing Fountain of all good,” does the article emphasize the aspect of God’s goodness to His creatures, His benevolence. And Scripture very often calls our attention to God’s goodness in this sense. “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” Ps. 100:5. “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.” Ps. 106:1, 107:1. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” Ps. 73:1. “The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.” Ps. 145:9. “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” Luke 6:35. “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Rom. 2:4. God is indeed the overflowing Fountain of all good. He is filled with loving-kindness and tender mercies toward His people in Christ Jesus, toward those that fear Him. With Him is fullness of joy. At His right hand there are pleasures forevermore. To know God, the only good, is life eternal. To live apart from Him is death. For the loving-kindness and benevolence of God is never to be separated from His absolute perfection. That same goodness that reveals itself as love and grace and mercy, as loving-kindness and longsuffering toward His people in Christ Jesus is revealed as wrath and fierce anger against all the workers of iniquity.

In connection with this benevolent goodness of God we may briefly mention the following divine virtues:

1) The love of God, that bond of perfectness according to which the Triune God delights in and seeks Himself as the ethically perfect One, and delights in and seeks His creature for His own name’s sake.

2) The grace of God, that goodness of God according to which He is the perfection of all beauty and loveliness in Himself and for His people, and according to which He draws His people to Himself in favor, blesses them and beautifies and glorifies them with Himself, and that too, though they are guilty and corrupt in themselves.

3) God’s mercy, that attribute of God according to which He is tenderly affected toward Himself as the only good, wills Himself as the Most Blessed eternally, and according to which He wills that His people shall be perfectly blessed in Him, and leads them through misery and death to the blessedness of His covenant. God’s mercy, thus it is often put briefly, is His goodness revealed toward the object of His love in misery.

4) God’s longsuffering (an aspect of His mercy), that attribute of God’s goodness according to which He unchangeably wills the final salvation and perfection of His people in Christ, and wills their suffering as a necessary means unto that final perfection.

All these, in fact, all the perfections of God mentioned in this article, can be truly known only in Christ Jesus our Lord, and, therefore, only by saving faith. And it isthe characteristic of saving faith that it has learned to know and acknowledge and confide in God through our Lord Jesus Christ as the overflowing Fountain of all good, and to sing (Psalm 36):

With the abundance of Thy house

We shall be satisfied;

From rivers of unfailing joy

Our thirst shall be supplied.

The fountain of eternal life

Is found alone with Thee,

And in the brightness of Thy light

We clearly light shall see.

—H.C.H.