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 #37 of the Belgic Confession is as follows.
Article #37: The Last Judgment.
Finally we believe, according to God’s Word, that when the time appointed by the Lord is come (which is unknown to all creatures) and the number of the elect is complete, our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, bodily and visibly, as he ascended, with great glory and majesty, to declare himself the judge of the living and the dead.
He will burn this old world, in fire and flame, in order to cleanse it. Then all human creatures will appear in person before the great judge—men, women, and children, who have lived from the beginning until the end of the world.
They will be summoned there “with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet.”81 For all those who died before that time will be raised from the earth, their spirits being joined and united with their own bodies in which they lived.
And as for those who are still alive, they will not die like the others but will be changed “in the twinkling of an eye” from perishable to imperishable.82 Then the books (that is, the consciences) will be opened, and the dead will be judged according to the things they did in the world,83 whether good or evil.
Indeed, all people will give account of all the idle words they have spoken,84 which the world regards as only playing games. And then the secrets and hypocrisies of all people will be publicly uncovered in the sight of all.
Therefore, with good reason the thought of this judgment is horrible and dreadful
to wicked and evil people. But it is very pleasant and a great comfort to the righteous and elect, since their total redemption will then be accomplished.
They will then receive the fruits of their labor and of the trouble they have suffered; their innocence will be openly recognized by all; and they will see the terrible vengeance that God will bring on the evil ones who tyrannized, oppressed, and tormented them in this world.
The evil ones will be convicted by the witness of their own consciences, and shall be made immortal—but only to be tormented in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”85
In contrast, the faithful and elect will be crowned with glory and honor. The Son of God will profess their names86 before God his Father and the holy and elect angels; all tears will be wiped from their eyes;87 and their cause—at present condemned as heretical and evil by many judges and civil officers—will be acknowledged as the cause of the Son of God. And as a gracious reward the Lord will make them possess a glory such as the human heart could never imagine. So we look forward to that great day with longing in order to enjoy fully the promises of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!