"Notes" to the Belgic
Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
The Roman Catholic Church of deBres' day taught that although Christ was man's Saviour, He was a fearsome person. Sinners dare not approach God in prayer through Him. Between themselves and Christ, sinners needed Mary. Mary was seen as the 'Mediatrix' (the word is the feminine form of the word Mediator) to whom one ought to pray, requesting her to intercede with her Son that He would go to the Father on the sinner's behalf. Mary could also be prayed to via the saints (see Figure 1). From this it becomes clear that the Roman Catholic Church perceived a great distance remaining between God and the justified, sanctified sinner.
MAN'S RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD BROKEN BY SIN BUT RESTORED BY CHRIST
When God created us, He established a close and warm relationship between mankind and Himself. We know from Scripture that in the Garden of Eden there existed a warm communion between God and man. In Genesis 3 : 8 we read, "And (Adam and Eve) heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day..." How was it possible for Adam and Eve to recognise this as the sound of their God walking in the garden? To be able to recognise a sound testifies of familiarity. We need to conclude that the Lord commonly came to Adam and Eve. Here is evidence that there was an open and warm relation between God and man. The Lord spoke with Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve for there part could speak with the Lord about the events of the day.
But this close relationship did not last. With the Fall into sin, man broke his communion with God. God, consequently, sent man out of His presence, out of the garden, sent man into a world of thorns and thistles, into a world of communion with Satan (see Figure 2, Article 14). Scripture describes fallen man as dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Yet it pleased the Lord to send Christ to earth in order to pay for sin. Christ bore for me the wrath of God which I deserved. In so doing all God's elect were taken from Satan's side and brought back to God's side: justification through the blood of Christ. God declared just, righteous, those whom He had chosen to eternal life, so that they could once again live in His presence (see Figure 1, Article 24). The justified sinner, once returned to God's side, was made alive, changed, renewed, recreated: sanctified through the Spirit of Christ (see Figure 2, Article 24). In a word: the relation with God, once broken in Paradise, is restored.
In article 26, deBres goes on now to confess what this restored relationship with God means for the justified, sanctified sinner. DeBres has learned from Scripture that this relationship with God is so fully restored by Christ that I can once again have communion with God. Christ's work on Calvary means that Paradise is essentially restored!
When we think of Christ we tend to associate Him with the cross of Calvary and no more. And indeed, Calvary is the climax of salvation history (justification, forgiveness of sins). However, we must beware of stopping at Calvary, for Christ, once He had finished His work on the cross, went on to do more. After He shed His blood on Good Friday (justification), Christ poured out His Spirit on Pentecost (sanctification). More, Christ is busy today too, and hence, when we think of Christ we do well to consider this work of His too. That is: Christ's work on the cross of Calvary had consequences, and these consequences extend to today, yes, today Christ applies to His people the work accomplished on the cross.
As a result of Christ's atoning work (and God's declaration of justification resulting from Christ's sacrifice), the communion of Paradise is restored. The apostle to the Hebrews draws out the consequence of forgiveness of sins. He says: "Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith..." (10:19ff). Here the 'Holiest' is a reference to the Holy of Holies of the Old Testament, ie, the place where God dwelt. To the Hebrews this symbolised the presence of God today. Here, then, is assurance that we may freely enter God's presence, yes, we are even encouraged to do so with boldness! This is the result of the work of Christ on the cross. Since Christ has been victorious long ago, it is for me today to "draw near" with boldness, to pray. The warm, open relationship of Paradise is restored between God and us! The Gospel I received from God says more than that my sins are forgiven; it says also that I can and may openly and boldly pray to God today. So I may tell Him all that is on my mind. Jesus restored me to the Father so that today already I can have a living relation with my Maker.
CHRIST IS MY ADVOCATE
That I can speak openly with my heavenly Father is because of Christ's work for me in heaven. After He completed His work on the cross, Christ left earth and ascended into Heaven. However, His departure from us did not mean an end to His interest in us. Rather, it meant the commencement of another task. To use the words of the Heidelberg Catechism: Christ's ascension into heaven benefits me in that "He is my Advocate in heaven before His Father" (Lord's Day 18, Q & A 49). That is: today my Saviour is active in heaven pleading my cause before the throne of the Father. Not only, then, am I justified by the blood of Christ and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ; today I may enjoy the communion of Paradise restored, may speak again to God because Christ my Saviour intercedes for me!
SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE OF CHRIST'S INTERCESSION
Hebrews 7:25 describes Christ as labouring in heaven today. Christ, "because He continues for ever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them."
We may come to God through Christ, for Christ is there to intercede on behalf of the saints. Note here that the present tense is used with reference to Christ's work: He ever lives to make intercession. Christ's resurrection, or the pouring out of His Spirit, did not mark an end to His work. Today the ascended Christ is busy in heaven, interceding before the Father on my behalf.
1 John 2:1: "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous."
'We have,' Scripture says here; it is a continuing reality. Today my Saviour is in Heaven acting as an advocate, a lawyer, presenting my case to the Father.
Romans 8:34: "It is Christ who died (ie, Good Friday), and furthermore is also risen (ie, Easter Sunday), who is even at the right hand of God (ie, Ascension), who also makes intercession for us."
After His death, resurrection and ascension, Christ continued His work in Heaven, pleading with God for us. Note again the use of the present tense: He "makes intercession for us." He works today still for our benefit.
SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE THAT CHRIST'S INTERCESSION HAS RESULTS
In John 17:11-12, Jesus prays to the Father, saying, "Holy Father, keep through your name those whom you have given me, that they may be one as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name. Those whom you gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled."
Jesus, about to go to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would be betrayed and arrested, intercedes to the Father for His disciples. He requests of the Father that the disciples (excluding Judas) might be kept together. What happened to the disciples after Jesus' prayer? The eleven disciples scattered. At Jesus' crucifixion, 'all hell broke loose' (as it were). Yet we are to note that despite Satan's attacks on the disciples and their subsequent scattering, Jesus' prayer met with results. On Easter Sunday, all the disciples (except for Thomas who would join them a week later) were together again and they were met by Jesus. Whatever Jesus asks, the Father gives: the disciples were kept in Jesus' name.
In the same prayer, John 17:20-21, Jesus prayed, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word; that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you..."
Here Jesus prays that all who come to faith through the preaching of the disciples may be one. The events of Pentecost have been recorded for us in Acts 2. We read: "Then those who gladly received (Peter's) word were baptised; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.... Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need." Similarly, in Acts 4:4 we read of a further five thousand who believed in the Word preached by the apostles, and in verse 32 we read, "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common." Here we see that Jesus' prayer of intercession on behalf of the saints was effective.
Even in the face of the attacks of Satan, Christ prays for those who belong to Him. In Luke 22:31-32 we read of Jesus predicting that Peter would deny Him three times. "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat." Satan surely did sift Peter. Peter denied his Saviour three times. "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail..." In the grip of Satan, Peter certainly went through a deep valley, but was he given up totally to Satan? Did Peter fall away? No, for Christ prayed for Peter, interceded for him that his faith would not fail. We read the result of Christ's prayer in Luke 22:62. After he denied Jesus three times, Peter, when he heard the cock crow and saw Jesus looking at him, recognised his sin, broke down, and wept. "Then Peter went out and wept bitterly." Here again is evidence that Jesus' intercession to the Father on Peter's behalf was heard.
CHRIST'S INTERCESSION OPENS THE WAY FOR ME TO PRAY TO MY FATHER
The Intercessor I have in Heaven is not deaf to my pleas or ineffective when He speaks to God. God does not ignore Him, but grants what He requests on my behalf. This was Jesus' promise: "Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you" (John 16:23). Therefore I have all the more reason to pray boldly. I have been reconciled to God; hence I am allowed to speak to God freely. More, because I'm allowed to speak freely to God, I also (in gratitude) must speak freely and boldly to God. Christ intercedes in heaven on my behalf, and so I'm permitted to tell the Lord what is on my mind.
Furthermore, the Intercessor I have in Heaven understands exactly what is going on in my life. He is not far removed, distant, or remote from this life. For He has been on earth Himself. "Seeing then that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16). Have I been tempted in any way? Then I may tell it to my Father, for Christ Himself was tempted in all things. Have I fallen? Then I may tell my Father that too, for Christ knows and understands my weaknesses in the face of the strengths of Satan's temptations. Present in Heaven, in the presence of my Father to whom my prayers ascend, Christ tells the Father of the weakness of the human flesh, reminds the Father of His saving work on the cross and His renewing work by the Spirit. Christ asks the Father to wash my sins away for His sake and to give me strength to go on in my fight against sin. Christ's work as intercessor is effective. Whatever Christ asks is granted (cf John 14:13f; 15:16; 16:23). This is so encouraging for me to know. My sins might make me reluctant to go to God, might make me doubt if God will hear me. But I am to remember that Scripture tells me to go boldly to God's throne of grace and to tell Him all that is in my heart. I may tell Him of the battles I have from day to day, and of my struggles in fighting against sin. The Lord does understand, He does hear, and He does give strength to go on. The psalms of David, prayers as they are, give us examples of how to pray openly and boldly.
Christ's work on the cross of Calvary certainly is central to my salvation, but Christ's work did not halt at Calvary. Christ is busy today. It is because Christ is busy today in an intercessory capacity that I may talk to God. When I talk to God, Christ is busy on my behalf, interceding for me. What a rich Gospel this is for me in the grind of my life today! "We believe that we have no access to God (whom we offended in Paradise) except through the only Mediator and Advocate Jesus Christ the righteous. For this purpose He became man ... that we men might not be barred from but have access to the divine majesty" (Article 26).
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: A CONSTANT WALKING AND TALKING WITH GOD
The life of the Christian is far more than the usual activities that fill one's day, more than what meets the eye. The life of the Christian is a life with God at all times, in all places. The life of the Christian is a walking and a talking with God, enjoying an active relationship with God. This is possible, for I am reconciled with my Creator. The distance between me and God, incurred by sin, is gone. I am God's child. Consequently, every moment of my life I live in the presence of my God. Moment by moment God is with me, close to me, whether I am engaged in work or relaxation. There is communication between God and me; as I walk or work, I may talk to my God through prayer, and God talks to me through His Word.
This means that each of
my days should be characterised by prayer. God does not place a limit on the
number of times I may pray to Him in one day. I may pray to God in addition
to my prayers at the start and close of a day and at the commencement and
conclusion of every meal. To restrict prayer to these times only is to restrict
my communication with God. This means too that I may pray even when I cannot
accompany prayer with folded hands, closed eyes, bent knees, or a bowed head
(though there is much to be said for each of these if the situation allows
it). In the ups and downs of every hour of the day I may ask the Lord for
strength to do a task, wisdom to meet a challenge I don't know how to face,
patience with the children, whether I'm at home, in the office, on the work
site, in the garden or in the car. I may also express my thankfulness to God
at any time of the day, be it for a beautiful rainbow, for sunshine, for a
good time with the children, for having received strength, wisdom, or endurance
as was required. I may tell God all I feel or experience at any time of the
day. There is nothing in the life of His children which does not interest
God. Nothing in my life is too great or too trivial for God to take an interest
in it. Such is His providence that all things are in His control, including
the red traffic light when I'm running late or the empty fuel tank when there's
no fuel station in sight. I may tell God all that is in my heart, and I may
tell Him my needs, plainly. My prayers don't need to be composed of fancy
words and phrases. I am allowed to be open to the Lord, for that is what it
means to truly walk and talk with God.
To be busy with God continuously
is a consequence of Christ's redeeming work for and in me. Constant communication
with the Lord affects my entire attitude in life, for such close communion
with the Lord makes me increasingly trusting, humble, thankful, and dependent
upon God. A close relationship with God is to know myself safe in Father's
hand every moment of the day. We live on this side of the Cross of Calvary,
and so may live the results of Calvary in our daily lives. Calvary, then,
means more to me than the forgiveness of my sins. Calvary means that I am
justified, that I am sanctified, yes, that today I live a life of communion
with my Father in heaven.
EXCURSUS ON THE LORD'S PRAYER
We read in Luke 11:1 that the twelve disciples stood around Jesus, listening in on His conversations with His Father in heaven. When He finished His prayer, one of the twelve asked of Jesus the question on the minds of them all: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples."
Jesus obliged their question, and taught them to pray. He told the disciples who God was; He was not a heavy-fisted tyrant, nor was a disinterested stranger; He was Father - as the term was defined in the OT (see, for example, Deuteronomy 32:4-14, especially verse 6).
As to what the disciples should pray, Jesus reminded them that all of life is to be God-centred, and so the disciples' prayers were to be God-centred too; they should pray first of all that God's name be hallowed.
The disciples, Jesus continued, should pray from their daily context, from the setting of war and the antithesis that characterises this life; they should pray that God's kingdom be made to come since in this fallen world there are many who live in rebellion against God's kingship and refuse to submit to His authority. It is by all acknowledging God's kingship, by God's kingdom being made to come, that God's Name receives the glory that is His due.
Further, Jesus continued, the disciples should ask that they receive the gift of obedience; they should ask that they be made to deny their own will in order to do God's will, God's commands. Those first three petition all hang together, for it is through man's obeying God's commands that His kingdom is made to come, and so God's name receives the glory.
Jesus taught His disciples to follow these first three petitions with three more petitions. The second cluster of three petitions was not to revolve around the self, though. Rather, a prayer for daily bread was to be prayed with God's glory in mind. That is: it is through our obeying God's commands that God's kingdom is made to come and His name hallowed. But to obey God's commands one needs strength, needs food, needs sleep, needs faithfulness, love, humility, clothes, work, contentment, etc. Jesus would have the disciples pray for "daily bread" in order that they might be able to obey God's commands, so that in turn God's kingdom come and He be glorified. God-centred.
The fifth petition about forgiveness of sins dovetails again with the fourth and the ones before. For the bodily needs God gives in answer to the fourth petition are daily misused through us. Though God gives us adequate in terms of food and money, clothes and work, freedom and time to study His Word (so that in turn we might be equipped to do His will, make His kingdom come, glorify His name), we for our part repeatedly misuse His many good gifts. Through that misuse we chalk up a debt with God, a debt that blocks us from receiving more of the gifts we need to do His will, make His kingdom come, glorify His name. So we need to pray that the Lord God please forgive the debt we daily accumulate through our sins. God in mercy for Jesus' sake does forgive our debt with Him, so that in turn the way is open again for Him to provide us with the needs required to do His will and make His kingdom come - to the greater glory of God's most wonderful Name.
The sixth petition, too, dovetails with the previous five. Where there is forgiveness, the Lord God again supplies daily bread - for the greater glory of God's most wonderful Name. That's a reality Satan loathes. So He sets before us temptations geared to make us misuse again God's gifts, so that in turn we accumulate a debt with God - and God does not receive the glory that is His due. So Jesus instructs His disciples to ask God please to prevent that they come into a situation of temptation, and to deliver them from the evil one.
Just how God-centred pray (and all of life) is to be is pointed up again in the doxology Jesus adds to the prayer He taught His disciples. "For Your's is the kingdom and the power and the glory."
After His instruction
concerning what to pray, Jesus added this promise: "Ask, and it will
be given to you" (Luke 11:9). Jesus' point was not that the disciples
should ask for anything they desired, and then expect to receive it; Jesus'
point was that the disciples should ask for anything in agreement with
the thrust of the Lord's Prayer and they will receive it.