On each Lord’s Day this year, we will reproduce devotional articles taken from The Belgic Confession. The Belgic Confession, written in 1561, owes its origin to the need for a clear and comprehensive statement of Reformed Theology during the time of the Spanish inquisition in the Lowlands. Guido de Brès, its primary author, was pleading for understanding and toleration from King Philip II of Spain who was determined to root out all Protestant factions in his jurisdiction. Hence, this confession takes pains to point out the continuity of Reformed Theology with that of the ancient Christian creeds.
The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America is the Confession of Faith, popularly known as the Belgic Confession, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation “Confessio Belgica.” “Belgica” referred to the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession’s chief author was Guido de Brès, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, who died a martyr to the faith in the year 1567.
During the sixteenth century the churches in this country were exposed to terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Brès prepared this confession in the year 1561. In the following year a copy was sent to King Philip II, together with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession.
Along with The Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort, The Belgic Confession comprise what is collectively referred to as the Thee Forms of Unity. Article #22-23 of the Belgic Confession is as follows.
Article #22: The Righteousness of Faith.
We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him.
For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then those who have Christ by faith have his salvation entirely.
Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well
is a most enormous blasphemy against God—for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior.
And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or “by faith apart from works.”54 However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us—for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place.
And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours, they are more than enough to absolve us
of our sins.
Article #23: The Justification of Sinners.
We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare those people blessed to whom God grants righteousness
apart from works.55
And the same apostle says that we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”56 And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him. That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God’s approach, without doing what our first parents, Adam and Eve, did, who trembled as they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. In fact,
if we had to appear before God relying—no matter how little—on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up. Therefore everyone must say with David: “[Lord,] do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.”57
Soli deo Gloria!