The Belgic Confession, Article II (continued)

Secondly . . . By His Holy And Divine Word

We are busy, let us remember, with a discussion of the means whereby we know God. And in our discussion of the first means we considered especially the following questions. First of all, what is that means? Secondly, why does it serve as a means whereby we know God? Thirdly, what does that means make known concerning God? And, finally, we also considered the limitation of that means, etnphasizing that because of the fall, as it affected not only that means of revelation itself but also the man who must read that book of creation, that first means is altogether inadequate to bring man to the true and full knowledge of God. The things which he knows from that “most elegant book” are sufficient to convince him that God is, and that He is to be thanked and glorified, and thus to leave him without excuse in the just judgment of God. But that is the limitation of that first means.

As we discuss the second means, we must try, in general, to answer the same series of questions. And after we have answered these, we must add one more, namely: what is the relation, if any, between these two means?

And although this statement of Article II concerning the second means is very brief, there are nevertheless several important elements here which demand our attention before we proceed to the subsequent articles concerning Holy Scripture. Notice, in the first place, that in answer to the question, what is this second means, the Confession answers: “his holy and divine Word,” that is, of course, the Scriptures. The following articles will have more to say on this subject. But even now we may note that this second means is also a book, a “Word,” and that it is God’s Word, that is, the Word which He speaks and of which He is the author, and which therefore is holy. In the second, place, we may notice that our Confession here is speaking not of a book in the figurative sense of the word, as it did in connection with the first means, but of an actual, literal Word or book, a book in which God makes Himself known to us, speaks and writes concerning Himself. This, therefore, answers the question as to why this second means is a means whereby we know God. In the third place, in answer to the question as to the content of this book, this brief statement tells us: 1) That God makes Himself “more clearly and fully known” by this book. 2) That God makes Himself known as the God of our salvation, that is, therefore, reveals Himself in Jesus Christ our Lord. And, 3) that God makes Himself known to us “to His glory.” In the fourth place, our Confession also deals with the scope or limitation, or sufficiency, of this second means when it teaches that God makes Himself known to us to His glory and to our salvation “as far as is necessary for us to know in this life.”

Now what is the meaning of all this?

In answer to this question, we must see that even as a tremendous change was wrought in the knowledge of God and in the first means mentioned by our Confession through sin and the fall and the curse, so an even greater change was introduced through the revelation of God through His Son in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ. And even as through the fall and the curse the true knowledge of God through the first means became in the deepest sense of the word impossible, so that through that first means fallen man can know only enough that he may be damned, thus through the revelation of God in Christ Jesus the true knowledge of God becomes in the highest sense of the word not only possible, but a reality. This is the meaning of that clearer and fuller knowledge of God to which this article refers, first of all. In Christ Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, Who is the very revelation of the Father, in the whole Christ,—in His Person, in which is the union of His divine and human natures, and in His work, that is, in His suffering and death on the cross, in His resurrection on the third day, in His exaltation at the right hand of God, in His reception of all power in heaven and on earth, in His reception of the Spirit and His return in the Spirit to dwell with His church, and in His coming again to finish all things, to judge the quick and the dead, and to usher in the new and perfect and everlasting order of things,—in that Christ God makes Himself known in the midst of the darkness of sin and death as the God of our salvation. In that first book God makes Himself known as the Creator, Who calls the things that are not as if they were; in His holy and divine Word the Almighty makes Himself known as the Reconciler, as the God Who calls life out of death, light out of darkness, righteousness and holiness out of guilt and corruption, glory out of shame. While in that first book there is no revelation of grace and mercy, in this second book God reveals Himself as the God of all grace. This Word of God, the good tidings of salvation, was proclaimed in paradise, afterwards published by patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and ceremonies and all the types and shadows of the law. But it is centrally realized and spoken by God to men directly in the fullness of time in the cross and resurrection and exaltation of the Word made flesh.

In this sense, therefore, first of all, we must understand the statement of our Confession that by His holy and divine Word God makes Himself “more clearly and fully known to us.” To be sure, it is the one and only God of our salvation who makes Himself known to us through both the means here mentioned. And His revelation is one, even as He is one. Always He purposed to reveal Himself through His Son in the flesh, and that, too, as the Firstborn of every creature and the first-begotten from the dead, as the God of our salvation. But when you compare these two means as such, you must remember that the first is by itself altogether inadequate, and that the difference between these means is not merely one of quantity and degree, but of quality. By that second means God makes Himself so much more clearly and fully known that it must be said that He makes Himself known in a way in which He could not possibly be known by the first means.

In the second place, however, we must not overlook the element that by this second means God makes Himself known in the form of human speech. The contents of the speech of God in Christ we possess in the inspired record of Scripture. This is very important. And this also belongs to the “more clearly and fully” of this article. Adam in the state of rectitude was able perfectly and intuitively to read that most elegant book of creation. He could detect the Word of God in each of the creatures of God’s hand. He was able to identify, as it were, all the characters, or letters, in that book by which God spelled His name. But we cannot even read that book properly. At best we can read it but very poorly and partially, and we can learn from it only a little of the knowledge of God, sufficient to leave us (as we are by nature) without excuse. In fact, we cannot properly read that first book at all without the light and the assistance of the second book. But in the Holy Scriptures God makes Himself known directly in human speech. We need not first read and interpret that book and then laboriously attempt to translate it into human speech. But very clearly and precisely and accurately God spells His name as the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus in that book. And He does so “as far as is necessary for us to know in this life.” To be sure, in comparison with the measure of the knowledge of God which we shall enjoy hereafter, we now see “in a glass darkly.” Then we shall see face to face, and know even as we are known, But in comparison with that first book, His holy and divine Word is for the present quite sufficient for us to know Him “to His glory and our salvation.” In it is made known not merely a little “thumb-nail” gospel of salvation. Not only Christ and salvation in the strictly limited, soteriological sense of the word is made known there. But the whole counsel of God concerning our salvation and the whole revelation of God’s glory as the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus is made known in that second book. Christ in all His fullness, Christ in His relation to His people. Christ in His position as the Firstborn of every creature, Christ in His relation to all of life and all of history, the entire Christ is revealed; and all the contents of that book, from Genesis to Revelation, concern Him and the God of our salvation in Him. An infinitely rich gold-mine of the knowledge of Himself God has given us in His holy and divine Word, the Bible.

Still more must be said, however.

For we must bear in mind that our Confession insists that “we” know God by these means, and that He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to “us” by His holy and divine Word. Not all men, not the mere, natural man, are able to know God even by this second means. For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. Hence, even as there is an altogether new speech of God heard by His holy and divine Word, so it requires an altogether “new” man, the new man in Christ Jesus, regenerated and enlightened by the Spirit of God, to receive that speech and thus to attain to the knowledge of God which is life eternal, To be sure, the natural man comes into contact with that Word. He reads and understands it from a natural and intellectual point of view. But the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to him. And therefore, if in addition to that first book, by which he is left without excuse, the natural man also possesses that second book, it can only tend to his greater condemnation. But he who has received the Spirit of Christ and all His benefits of light and wisdom and knowledge and spiritual discernment,—he, and he alone, learns to know God, the overflowing fountain of all good by His holy and divine Word.

The Relation of These Two Means

Just a few thoughts we may give, in conclusion, as to the relation of these two means of knowledge, even though our Confession does not express itself directly on this subject.

In the first place, in the light of our Confession and in the light of what we have stated previously, it must be plain that while we may distinguish two means, there is in the deepest sense of the word but one knowledge of God and one revelation of God by these two means. And the unity of these two means is “in Christ Jesus, the Word Incarnate.

In the second place, the believer in Christ Jesus must not abandon that book of the creation, preservation, and government of the universe altogether. On the contrary, it is his calling to read it, but always to read it in its strictly subordinate position, and always to read it in the light of God’s revelation in Scripture. In the third place, the true meaning of that first book is not to be discovered by an empirical study of that book in divorcement from God’s holy and divine Word, as if the effects of the fall both upon us and upon that book have been completely removed already in Christ. For the fact of the matter is that neither the real meaning of that first book tier its significance can be discerned without the Scriptures. To use a concrete example, it is impossible to say, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” except in Christ Jesus and by His Word. But by faith in Christ Jesus and having our basis in the Holy Scriptures, we can hear not merely the Word of God’s power and divinity, but the Word of the God of our salvation through the book of the creation and preservation and government of the universe. We can discern in the symbolism of creation the promise of redemption. We can discern in the government of the universe the fulfillment of the good pleasure of the God of our salvation we can discern in the whole creation as it groans ‘neath the Word of God’s wrath the expectation of the creature of its participation in the liberty of the children of God.

And finally, in view of the above, we must always adhere strictly to the principle that all our would-be conclusions from the reading of that first book must be put to the test of the Word of God in Christ Jesus, that is, the Scriptures. If they meet that test, they may be adopted; if they fail to meet the test, the Word of God must stand, and our own conclusions must be resolutely rejected. For Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one cometh to the Father, but by Him.

—H.C.H.