The Belgic Confession, Article VII (continued)

Perfect And Complete In All Respects (continued)

In the second place, this entire notion is based on some kind of false antithesis between religion and life, between grace and nature, and it attempts to confine our religion and morals to a very narrow and isolated portion of the whole of our life. This is an altogether unrealistic and untenable view. For, first of all, the categories faith-and-life, doctrine-and-practice, or, religion-and-morals, apply to the whole of our life and to every sphere of our life. And it is a very unscriptural and un-Reformed view that would make a separation, and would exclude some part, some sphere, of life from faith-and-morals. Untenable this view is because you cannot begin to determine where the lines must be drawn. What this really means is that from part of your life you would exclude God and the work of God and your faith in God and your calling to walk in the light of God’s revelation. And I ask: what part of your life and what part of your beliefs can you exclude? Where will you draw the line? What part., what aspect, what sphere of your life does not come under the all-comprehensive and absolutely authoritative claim of the Word of God Himself? And, thirdly, the Scriptures themselves do not draw any such line. Nowhere does Scripture approach you with the limited claim: this is stated in the Word of God, but you do not have to believe it. Nowhere, for example, does Scripture allow you to exclude the wonder of the standing still of the sun from the category of faith-and-morals. The only way in which you can possibly make a distinction in Scripture in this regard is to approach it with your own preconceived notions as to what is credible and what is not.

In the third place, we must remember that to deny the historical accuracy of Scripture’s account of events and of persons, to deny the historical factuality of what Scripture recounts concerning various events and persons these are tantamount to denying their reality. And if you deny the reality of these events and persons, you simply deny the truth. What, for example, does the truth of the resurrection or ascension of Christ mean without their historical factuality and reality? What does the truth of creation mean without its historical factuality? What do any of the wonders of Scripture mean without their having actually taken place exactly as they are recorded in Holy Writ? You cannot separate the truth from the historical events and the account of those events.

And so we shall have to maintain in its all-comprehensive character the perfection and completeness of Scripture.

With respect to the contents of the Scriptures as such, the article makes the statement, first of all, that the Scriptures “fully contain the will of God.” This expression, again, must be taken in its broadest sense. The will of God is not only what is often referred to as His ethical will, that is, the will of God concerning the faith and walk of the believers. This, to be sure, is included in the expression. But by “the will of God” the article also refers to what is called the will of God’s decree, that is, the counsel of God. And that counsel of God is all-comprehensive. It is His eternal plan and purpose with respect to all things. It spans the whole of history, the history of all things created, from the alpha of creation to the omega of the second coming of Christ. That whole counsel of God, as it has its purpose and its central significance in the revelation of the glory of God through the realization of His everlasting covenant and kingdom in Christ Jesus, is fully contained in the Scriptures. In the second place, the article states that “whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein.” The Scriptures set forth the full revelation of the gospel, therefore—the counsel of God concerning salvation in Christ—and that too, both in its objective and its subjective aspects. That is, all of the work of the God of our salvation in Christ for us, but also all of the work of the God of our salvation in Christ in the subjective application of salvation through faith, the work of salvation inus, is sufficiently taught. What must be believed unto salvation is fully contained in the Scriptures. Nothing more is required. Nothing can be, and nothing need be added thereto. The complete and perfect revelation of the object of saving faith is set forth by Holy Scripture. If you would know the gospel, the good tidings, if the church is to set forth the gospel in its confessions, and proclaim the gospel from the pulpit, the Scriptures, and the Scriptures alone, must be consulted. And no man has either the need or the right to add to or take away anything from the Scriptures. In the third place, the article states that “the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written in them at large.” Without a doubt there is reference here again to the errors of Rome. Rome departed from the Scriptures in its manner of worship in many respects. Concretely speaking, this expression of our Confession has in view, for example, the fact that Rome introduced the worship of saints and images, that it multiplied the sacraments and became guilty of sacramentalism, that it developed an elaborate and miscriptural liturgy, and that it set up an hierarchical form of church government, altogether foreign to the Scriptures. And the position of our Reformed faith on these, matters is not that the whole manner of worship must be literally and directly prescribed in Scripture, but that this whole manner of worship must be consistent with the truths and principles set forth in Scripture at large, and that Rome was guilty of introducing all kinds of elements in the worship of the church that were foreign to the Scriptures. But this expression, “the whole manner of worship which God requires of us,” has a broader sweep. It does not only refer to our liturgy, to our public worship of God in the midst of the congregation, but to our entire service of God in all our life. If we would know how God wills to be served in all our life and in every sphere of our life, then this is made known to us in the Scriptures. Finally, we may notice that our Confession makes reference to two Scriptural passages which serve as proof for this truth of the sufficiency of Holy Writ. The first reference is to Galatians 1:6-9, where we read as follows: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” The apostle is combating the false teachers in this epistle who came with the “gospel” of circumcision and of the law. That “gospel” is not a gospel at all, but a perversion of the gospel of Christ. For there is but one gospel, the gospel which the apostle preached. And the apostle is so certain of and so insistent upon the fact that the gospel proclaimed by the apostolic word is the only authoritative and sufficient gospel, than which there can be no other, that he maintains that even an angel from heaven could not bring another gospel, that is, another genuine gospel. And if an angel from heaven should bring any other gospel than that which the apostle proclaimed, then that would not be the genuine gospel, and the angel would have to be accursed. The whole implication therefore is that the gospel preached by the apostle is such that “whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein.” The same is true of the second passage referred to in this seventh article, Revelation 22:18, 19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Here we find a dreadfully solemn warning against the perversion of the Word of God by either adding to or taking away there from. Again this whole matter is presented as being one of life and death. One who adds to the Word of God shall have added to him the plagues written in the book of Revelation; and one who takes away there from shall have taken away from him any part in the book of life and the holy city. In a word, therefore, such an one shall have his part with the damned! So serious this matter is. And while it is, indeed true that this solemn warning is attached in the first instance to the book of Revelation in particular, it is nevertheless correctly applied to the whole of Scripture by our Confession. This is possible, of course, in view of the organic unity of Holy Scripture. Principally it is impossible to add unto or take away from the things written in the book of Revelation without adding unto or taking away from the whole of Scripture. It is therefore very proper too that the Bible should close with the solemn warning of this last part of the book of Revelation. But let us notice that again the implication of this solemn warning is that “it doth thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.”

The Perspicuity Of Scripture

The truth of the perspicuity of Scripture is not directly taught in this article, nor anywhere in our Confession. But it is certainly implied in the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. And it is presupposed and implied in this entire article of our creed. This term, perspicuity, is derived from a Latin word which means “to see through” something; and it denotes the idea that, the Bible is clear, lucid, intelligible, able to be understood, and that too, by any believing child of God.

That this truth belongs to that of the sufficiency of Scripture is not difficult to see. The simple fact is that if the Word of God were not perspicuous, that is, perfectly’ clear in its teachings, it could not properly be said that “whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein.” In that case it would have to be admitted that it is only insufficiently taught, and that to the Scriptures must be added an interpreting and elucidating word of man, of a man or a group of men that has more light, that stands on a higher level, and that is able to shed the necessary light on the meaning of Scripture. Hence, to the perfection and completeness of Scripture belongs the fact that the Word of God is so clear and so simple that any child of God can read and understand and learn from the Scriptures the will of God, what must be believed unto salvation, and the manner in which God ought to be worshipped.

This does not mean that there are no difficult passages in Holy Writ, and that any child of God can immediately explain all that is written in Scripture. It does not mean that every child of God sees at once all the riches that are implied in a given passage. But it does indeed mean that the central message and import of the Word of God is plain, so clear and simple that from the Bible any child of God, simple and unlearned though he may be, can grasp it, discern it, believe it, and even judge whether or not a given doctrine is in harmony with the Word of God. It does mean that all the people of God may use the Scriptures, read them, study them, learn from them and enjoy them. And this truth implies, subjectively, that the gift of the Holy Spirit and of the anointing of Christ is not limited to a certain class of men in distinction from “laymen,” but that all the children of God have “an unction from the Holy One, and know all things.” I John 2:20, 21. No officer or class of officers, no priest or bishop, no institute, no classis, no synod, has been appointed by Christ to make a binding interpretation of the Scriptures which the people of God must blindly follow and to whose final authority they must submit. No man and no ecclesiastical body with any fancied authority may interpose themselves and their interpretations between my Christian conscience and the Word of God. As a child of God I am free to read and to understand and to interpret the Scriptures for myself. This is not anarchy and individualism. It does not mean that the child of God flouts the church and pays no heed to the faith of the church and to the preaching of Christ-appointed pastors and teachers. But it simply means that the sole authority in the church that has power to bind the conscience is the Word of God. It means that those who are appointed of Christ to teach and to rule in His church are themselves bound by the word of the Scriptures, so that their word must stand and can stand in the service of the living and powerful Word of Christ only as it is according to the Scriptures, and so that only in so far is it authoritative. And this very precious truth of the perspicuity of the Scriptures, along with the twin truth of individual Christian judgment, guarantees to the believer the calling and the right of reformation in the church.

—H.C.H.