"Notes" to the Belgic
Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
THE AUTHORITY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
We receive1 all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.2 We believe without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives and approves them as such, but especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God,3 and also because they contain the evidence thereof in themselves; for, even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.4
1 1 Thess 2:13. 2 2 Tim 3:16, 17. 3 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Jn 4:6, 1 Jn 5:7. 4 Deut 18:21, 22; 1 Kings 22:28; Jer 28:9; Ezek 33:33
THE BIBLE IS RECEIVED
Whereas Article 1 commenced
with the words "we all believe with the heart and confess with the
mouth" (summarised in other articles by the words "we believe"),
Article 5 commences with the words "we receive." Article
3 had confessed that God "in His special care for us and our salvation"
caused "His revealed Word" to be put into writing. Article 4 confessed
which 66 books form the Holy Scriptures, which 66 books are "canonical".
Now, in Article 5, deBres goes on to say that these books are received by the believer.
The word "receive" implies that the believer does not examine these 66 books to determine whether they are canonical, nor does he utter a declaration to give them the status of being canonical. Rather, receiving these 66 Bible books is an act of faith. Implied in the act of receiving is the act of giving. In order for one to receive, another must give. In Article 3 deBres confessed that the Bible was God's gift. In Article 5 deBres confesses that the only fitting and correct response to such a gift from God is to receive. Exactly because God is God and I am only human, it is not for me to respond to God's gift with responses such as "I don't want it because I don't understand it," or "I can manage without it." By the words "we receive all these books," deBres is expressing an act of faith. He is responding to what God has done: he humbly receives what the Lord in mercy has placed in his hands: the 66 books that together form the one Word of God.
WHY WE RECEIVE THE BIBLE
For what purpose has God given these 66 Bible books? "We receive all these books ... for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith."
1. The regulation of our faith
What I believe is determined, regulated, by the Bible. I do not choose what I shall believe, nor does any person tell me what I must believe. Rather, what I believe is determined by the Bible. I may not believe more than is revealed in the Bible, and I may not believe less either. If it is true that the Bible is God's gift to me, I must accept it in its entirety. "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of this prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18,19; see also Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32).
2. The foundation of our faith
Why do I believe what I believe? Because scientists have proven it to me, because it makes sense to my mind, or because my grandparents told me it is true? No! I believe what I do because it is what God has said. God gave me His Word, and so I receive it, believe it. I believe what I believe because it is contained in the Bible God gave to me. I don't need scientific evidence that Christ rose from the dead. I don't need proof that God fed the Israelites with manna while they walked through the desert. I accept as true all the Bible says because God's Word comes from God, and He cannot lie. Behind my acceptance of Scripture is ultimately my understanding of Who God is.
3. The confirmation of our faith
Life confronts me with many doubts, making me question whether what I believe is really true. .How do I in the battles of faith double check, confirm, what is true? No university study or encyclopaedia is going to answer this for me. I believe what I believe because I find that faith confirmed in the Bible God gave me.
DeBres states that the
Bible was received for the regulation, foundation and confirmation of our faith. Whose faith is meant here? In the first instance, it refers to deBres
himself, and the other believers in deBres' congregation. Their circumstances
at the time deBres made this confession were such that they were being persecuted
simply because they believed what the Bible says. It was life threatening
for deBres and his congregation members to adhere to the Word of God. Given
the risk of death, was it really worthwhile to believe the Bible? If deBres
wanted to continue his work of ministry, he had to be willing to give up everything.
Yet deBres continued to believe what he confessed about the Bible in Article
5 because he knew that God had given him the Bible, and it was not for deBres
to decline this gift, even if it meant that others were ready to burn him
at the stake because of it. It was just impossible to respond to God's gift
with "no thanks God, I don't want it," or to simply leave God's
gift on the shelf and not work with it. That is why deBres could confess what
he did in Article 5 despite his persecution. For deBres it was a case of "My
God says this is what you should believe and therefore I believe it."
Although our freedom from persecution makes it much easier for us to confess Article 5 in the last decade of the twentieth century, the fact yet remains that our faith is learned from the Bible. Simply because God told us what we are to believe, do we accept what He says, never mind what difficulties might result from receiving what God in mercy has given.
HOW DO WE KNOW THAT THE BIBLE IS TRUE?
I accept the Bible because God gave it to me. But how come I know that the Bible is true? How come I know the Bible determines what I believe? Says deBres, "We believe without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they contain the evidence thereof in themselves;for, even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled." Here we arguments deBres uses to maintain his belief that the Bible is true:
1. By the Church
Over the years, we have been instructed by our parents and the Church. Such instruction has made an impact on us, and we follow the paths in which we were raised. This argument, though, is of relatively little weight, witness the words "not so much , but especially and also."
2. By the Holy Spirit
Note the wording in Article 5. "We believe (all these books) ... not so much because the Church receives them and approves them ... but especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts ...and also because they contain the evidence in themselves ..." The work of the Holy Spirit receives the emphasis here. It is the Holy Spirit who makes clear to our hearts that the Bible is from God. We read in Acts 16:14 that "a certain woman named Lydia heard us.... The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul." The Holy Spirit witnessed in Lydia's heart so that she heeded Paul's preaching.
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 2:14,15 we read why the work of the Spirit is necessary. "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things...." The term 'natural man' refers to a person dead in sin, one who is incapable of receiving things of the Spirit. The heart of the natural man is closed. Only by the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart is it opened, so that it is able to recognise the Bible as being God's Word. Natural man cannot detect the difference between the Bible and any other book. To be able to do so is possible only through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Again, in 1 John 5:6 we read "This is He who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth." The Spirit bears witness to what Scripture teaches, namely, that Jesus came by water and blood. The Spirit testifies that this is the truth.
3. By internal evidence
The Bible contains evidence of the fulfilment of prophecies recorded in it. For example, in Genesis 15:13-16 we read of God telling Abraham, before he had any children, that he was going to have many children who would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, that God would deliver them from Egypt and that they would depart from Egypt with many possessions. This was a prophecy that was fulfilled many years later. Another example is Isaiah 45:1. Here we read of God moving Isaiah to speak concerning Cyrus the king as early as 200 years before Cyrus was born. How did Isaiah know there would be a king by this name who would let Israel return from exile? This is evidence that the Lord God has told Isaiah what was going to happen, and see, in due time it did happen. "The things foretold in them are being fulfilled." In the course of the NT dispensation, one can see the prophecies of the book of Revelation coming to pass.
How come, then, that deBres could understand that the Bible was God's Word given to him for his benefit? Though the influence of the Church and the Bible's internal evidence were contributing factors, it was specifically the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart which ultimately caused him to receive the Scripture as God's Word. To avoid misunderstanding, it's to be insisted that the Holy Spirit does not work this conviction by means of a dream or an experience, but rather through our being busy with the Word itself. That we for our part too accept the Bible as the Word of God is due to the Spirit's work in our hearts. This evidence of His work in us is in turn encouraging for us in the struggles of our lives.