The Belgic Confession, Article III

We confess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith. And that afterwards God, from a special care, which he has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing; and he himself wrote with his own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.

Faith’s Critical Juncture

Beginning with this third article our creed now devotes several articles to the setting forth of the truth concerning Holy Scripture. The present article deals with the authorship and inspiration of Holy Scripture. The next article enumerates the canonical books of Holy Scripture. Article V sets forth the dignity and authority of the Scriptures. The sixth article distinguishes between the canonical and apocryphal books.’ And Article VII sets forth the church’s faith concerning the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures.

We may well ask why such a proportionately large place is given to this doctrine in our Confession. Five of the thirty-seven articles are devoted to it. Why is this? And, moreover, does and should this doctrine of Holy Scripture occupy such a large place in the faith of the church today?

In answer to this question, we may point to various factors.

From a historical point of view, in the first place, it is not difficult to understand that the church of Reformation times focused its attention upon this truth. It was of the very genius of the Reformation that it restored the Scriptures to their rightful place in the faith and life of the church, once again recognized the sole authority of Scripture, revived the truth of the sufficiency of the Word of God, and, in connection therewith taught anew the right of every believer to read and interpret those Scriptures for himself. And it was exactly on this fundamental doctrine that the Reformation came to the parting of the ways with the Roman Catholic Church. This is even evident from the language, for example, of Article VII. Hence, it is no reason for surprise that the Reformed Churches of the Reformation era incorporated a careful and detailed statement of their faith concerning Scripture in their creed. This teaches us also that if we would be true sons of the Reformation, we will be followers of the fathers in this respect, and recognize with them the crucial importance of this truth concerning Scripture.

For, in the second place, we may materially answer the question posed by pointing out that the truth that Scripture is the inspired record of the Word of God is the very foundation of the whole structure of the Christian truth. This is even evident from the connection in which these articles are found in our Confession. After that basic first article which confesses faith in the one and only God, the question was faced: can God be known, and, if so, how? It was in answer to this question that the second article introduced the truth of Holy Scripture. And now our faith must express itself as to the nature and the source, the canon, the authority, the sufficiency, the reliability of Holy Scripture. For along with this truth of Scripture as the very Word of God and as the means whereby God makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us stands or falls the whole structure of the Christian truth. Everything depends on those Scriptures, even as a whole building depends upon and is determined by its foundation. If the Scriptures are not true, the Christian doctrine and confession is not true: for it is based upon and derived from Holy Scripture. If those Scriptures are not authoritative and dependable, nothing based upon those Scriptures is dependable or of any authority. If those Scriptures are not simple and clear, that which is taught by them cannot be discerned and known. If those Scriptures do not constitute a sole and sufficient rule of faith and life, then we must look for other, additional sources of the knowledge of God and standards of truth and practice. If those Scriptures are the word of man, then our entire Christian confession loses the very essence of its distinctiveness and is no different than any other of the veritable multitude of human philosophies and God-denying religions which have made their appearance upon the stage of history. In a word, everything—even the very doctrine of Holy Scripture itself—depends upon the Scriptures. No truth could be more basic in the confession of the church’s faith; and ultimately every issue of the truth versus the lie comes down to the issue whether you accept the authority of Scripture’s “Thus saith the Lord,” or place the unbelief of your own mind and will over against that absolute authority of the Word of God.

And so, in the third place, answering the question from the viewpoint of the contemporary scene, we may say that it is quite understandable that the doctrine of Holy Scripture occupies, and should occupy, a large place in the faith of the church today. Open denials and overtly rationalistic attacks upon this truth, but also insidious and viciously deceitful attempts to emasculate this virile doctrine of the Reformation are numerous. On this side there is still Roman Catholicism with its denial of the sole authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures, and against which the faithful churches of the Reformation must still needs do battle without compromise, in spite of the efforts of some would-be Protestants. And on that side, there is modernism, haughty, ridiculing, rationalistic modernism, which itself was spawned within the ranks of Protestantism. Against the open attacks of both of these the faithful church must continue to defend the precious heritage of its faith concerning the Scriptures. These enemies, however, need not cause great concern. Rather simple it is to identify these enemies, and comparatively easy it is for the shield of faith to ward off their fiery darts.

Of more cause for concern it is, however, when this precious heritage of the truth is attacked from within the ranks of the church in one way or another. And such attacks: against the Scriptures have been and still are numerous. Always, it seems, the church must defend this very foundation stone of the truth, the Scriptures, lest the enemy succeed—not in destroying the Word of God, for this in fact can never be done—but in causing the church to depart from the truth concerning the Scriptures in one way or another.

The very fact that in our description of the truth concerning the inspired Scriptures we make use of so many qualifications, so many limiting terms, is evidence enough of the many attacks that have been made against this truth. We speak, for instance, ofinfallible inspiration. Why is this? Simply because there have been those who have put forth the theory of a fallible inspiration and of fallible Scriptures, and it became necessary for the church to define and to delineate, and to insist, “The Scriptures and their inspiration are infallible.” We speak of plenaryinspiration. Again, the necessity for the use of this term lies in the fact that enemies of the truth have propagated the lie that the Scriptures are not fully and completely inspired and the Word of God from beginning to end. Some parts are the Word of God, others are not. And over against those who maintain such views the church insists, “The Scriptures are from beginning to end the written Word of God, and the inspiration of Scripture is plenary.” We speak of verbalinspiration. Again, this is necessary because the opponents of this truth have devised the cunning theory that the thoughts of Scripture are of God, but the language in which these thoughts are conveyed is of man. And so it has been necessary to maintain that the infallible Scriptures are inspired as to their very words: inspiration is verbal.

Thus one could go on and write many a page concerning the history of this doctrine and dealing with the defense and development of this truth in the face of attacks from within and from without from ancient times down to the present day, which witnesses the new attack of so-called dialectic theology.

I said above that there is more cause for concern when these various attacks are made from within. And I have reference especially to our very Reformed community itself. Today we are confronted with the fact that the historical reality of Scripture-events and the accuracy of Scripture facts are challenged and denied from within the Reformed circle. And a tendency to compromise the truth of infallible inspiration is making itself felt from various quarters. Whether such tendencies reveal themselves under the influence of modernistic rationalism and science, or whether in certain circles the old errors of Dr. Jansen are making their reappearance, or whether in Reformed circles the denial of inspiration is under the influence of Earthian dialecticism—this is of no particular moment in our present discussion. Whatever the source and the genius of these attacks, let the church be warned to stand firmly in the faith. We must not be deceived into beginning anew with these first principles. We must not be misled into reassessing and re-evaluating the doctrine of Holy Scripture. But rather must we take our stand upon the basis of our confession, and resolutely reject all heresies repugnant thereto.

Especially would I emphasize this with respect to our youth. Our children must be taught early a simple faith in the word of God, so that our covenant youth may, at the time when their faith is especially vulnerable to attack in respect to the authority of the Word of God, be equipped with the spiritual courage to take their stand uncompromisingly upon the basis of the Scriptures.

But then let us understand that this is precisely a matter of faith. What is set forth in this third article of our creed is a confession. And confession is always a matter of faith. The Reformed believer says: “Weconfess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

And you understand, of course, that the object of faith and its confession is the wonder, the divine, transcendent, unfathomable, inscrutable wonder of grace. From this point of view, you either believe that the Bible is the Word of God, or you do not. And the issue, remember, is just exactly as simple as that. And it is as critical as that! It is exactly here that faith and unbelief come to the parting of the ways principally. Faith says—and it is so simple that a little child can possess such faith—”The Bible is the Word of God.” Unbelief may follow devious ways, and it may devise cunning methods, and it may rationalistically pose perplexing problems in order to show the folly of faith’s position; but unbelief attempts somehow and somewhere always to downgrade that absolutism of faith and to say in some degree, “The Bible is not wholly the Word of God, but is also the Word of man.” But remember this: the Bible is the Word of God, or it is the word of man. Both it cannot be. The issue is: either . . . or!

And, therefore, the method of faith is different too. You cannot and you may not take faith and its object, so to speak into the laboratory and put them in a test-tube. Faith does not say, “I have proved it, and I understand it: therefore I believe? No, this is not because faith is irrational or contrary to reason. But it far transcends reason. And the issue of faith or unbelief is a spiritual one. Though unbelief be confronted with direct proof from heaven itself, it will not believe. And though faith be confronted with a thousand perplexing problems which bear the appearance of proofs against the Scriptures, it will not disbelieve. And why? Because faith is a gift of sovereign grace, which enlightens the blind and ignorant sinner. By that faith, listening to the self-testimony of Scripture itself, we confess, “This Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man,” . . . , but by God Himself!

—H.C.H.