1-22 23-37

Belgic (or Netherlands) Confession of Faith, Articles 23-37

Of Justification.

We believe
that our salvation consists in the remission of our sins for Jesus Christ’s
sake, and that therein our righteousness before God is implied: as David
and Paul teach us, declaring this to be the happiness of man, that God
imputes righteousness to him without works. And the same apostle saith,
that we are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which
is in Jesus Christ. And therefore we always hold fast this foundation,
ascribing all the glory to God, humbling ourselves before him, and acknowledging
ourselves to be such as we really are, without presuming to trust in any
thing in ourselves, or in any merit of ours, relying and resting upon
the obedience of Christ crucified alone, which becomes ours, when we believe
in him. This is sufficient to cover our iniquities, and to give us confidence
in approaching to God; freeing the conscience of fear, terror and dread,
without following the example of our first father, Adam, who, trembling,
attempted to cover himself with fig-leaves. And verily if we should appear
before God, relying on ourselves, or on any other creature, though ever
so little, we should, alas! be consumed. And therefore every one must
pray with David: O Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant: for
in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

Of man’s Sanctification and Good Works.

We believe
that this true faith being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of
God, and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him
a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage
of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true, that this justifying faith
makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without
it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love
or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith
can be unfruitful in man: for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of
such a faith, which is called in Scripture, a faith that worketh by love,
which excites man to the practice of those works, which God has commanded
in his Word. Which works, as they proceed from the good root of faith,
are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all
sanctified by his grace: howbeit they are of no account towards our justification.
For it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do
good works; otherwise they could not be good works, any more than the
fruit of a tree can be good, before the tree itself is good. Therefore
we do good works, but not to merit by them, (for what can they merit?)
nay, we are beholden to God for the good works we do, and not he to us,
since it is he that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Let us therefore attend to what is written: when ye shall have done all
those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants;
we have done that which was our duty to do. In the meantime, we do not
deny that God rewards our good works, but it is through his grace that
he crowns his gifts. Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found
our salvation upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our
flesh, and also punishable; and although we could perform such works,
still the remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them.
Thus then we would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty,
and our poor consciences continually vexed, if they relied not on the
merits of the suffering and death of our Savior.

Of the abolishing of the Ceremonial Law.

We believe,
that the ceremonies and figures of the law ceased at the coming of Christ,
and that all the shadows are accomplished; so that the use of them must
be abolished amongst Christians; yet the truth and substance of them remain
with us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have their completion. In the meantime,
we still use the testimonies taken out of the law and the prophets, to
confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel, and to regulate our life in
all honesty, to the glory of God, according to his will.

Of Christ’s Intercession.

We believe
that we have no access unto God, but alone through the only Mediator and
Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, who therefore became man, having
united in one person the divine and human natures, that we men might have
access to the divine Majesty, which access would otherwise be barred against
us. But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between him and us,
ought in no wise to affright us by his majesty, or cause us to seek another
according to our fancy. For there is no creature either in heaven or on
earth who loveth us more than Jesus Christ; who, though he was in the
form of God, yet made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the
form of a man, and of a servant for us, and was made like unto his brethren
in all things. If then we should seek for another Mediator, who would
be well affected towards us, whom could we find, who loved us more than
he, who laid down his life for us, even when we were his enemies? And
if we seek for one who hath power and majesty, who is there that has so
much of both as he who sits at the right hand of his Father, and who hath
all power in heaven and on earth? And who will sooner be heard than the
own well beloved Son of God? Therefore it was only through distrust that
this practice of dishonoring, instead of honoring the saints, was introduced,
doing that, which they never have done, nor required, but have on the
contrary steadfastly rejected according to their bounden duty, as appears
by their writings. Neither must we plead here our unworthiness; for the
meaning is not that we should offer our prayers to God on the ground of
our own worthiness but only on the ground of the excellency and worthiness
of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is become ours by faith.
Therefore the apostle, to remove this foolish fear, or rather mistrust
from us, justly saith, that Jesus Christ was made like unto his brethren
in all things, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, to
make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself
hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted;
and further to encourage us, he adds, seeing then that we have a great
High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let
us hold fast the profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot
be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points
tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly
unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to
help in time of need. The same apostle saith, having boldness to enter
into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus; let us draw near with a true
heart in full assurance of faith, etc. Likewise, Christ hath an unchangeable
priesthood, wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost, that
come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
What more can be required? since Christ himself saith, I am the way and
the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me. To what
purpose would we then seek another advocate, since it has pleased God,
to give us his own Son as an advocate? Let us not forsake him to take
another, or rather to seek after another, without ever being able to find
him; for God well knew, when he gave him to us, that we were sinners.
Therefore according to the command of Christ, we call upon the heavenly
Father through Jesus Christ our own Mediator, as we are taught in the
Lord’s prayer; being assured that whatever we ask of the Father in his
name, will be granted us.

Of the Catholic Christian Church.

We believe
and profess, one catholic or universal Church, which is an holy congregation,
of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in Jesus Christ,
being washed by his blood, sanctified and sealed by the Holy Ghost. This
Church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end
thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal King, which,
without subjects, cannot be. And this holy Church is preserved or supported
by God, against the rage of the whole world; though she sometimes (for
a while) appears very small, and in the eyes of men, to be reduced to
nothing: as during the perilous reign of Ahab, the Lord reserved unto
him seven thousand men, who had not bowed their knees to Baal. Furthermore,
this holy Church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place
or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world;
and yet is joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith,
in one and the same spirit.

That every one is bound to join himself to the true Church.

We believe,
since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and
that out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state
or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate
state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves
with it; maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to
the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke
of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the
edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.
And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of
all believers, according to the word of God, to separate themselves from
all those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this
congregation, wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates
and edicts of princes were against it, yea, though they should suffer
death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those, who separate
themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary
to the ordinance of God.

Of the marks of the true Church, and wherein she differs from
the false Church.

We believe,
that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of
God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume
to themselves the name of the Church. But we speak not here of hypocrites,
who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church,
though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the
true Church must be distinguished from all sects, who call themselves
the Church. The marks, by which the true Church is known, are these: if
the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains
the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if
church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin: in short, if all things
are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto
rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church.
Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a
right to separate himself. With respect to those, who are members of the
Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians: namely, by faith;
and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin,
follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither
turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works
thereof. But this is not to be understood, as if there did not remain
in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit,
all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood,
death, passion and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, "in whom they
have remission of sins, through faith in him." As for the false Church,
she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than
to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ.
Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his
Word, but adds to and takes from them, as she thinks proper; she relieth
more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those, who live holily
according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness,
and idolatry. These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from
each other.

Concerning the Government of, and Offices in the Church.

We believe,
that this true Church must be governed by that spiritual policy which
our Lord hath taught us in his Word; namely, that there must be ministers
or pastors to preach the Word of God, and to administer the sacraments;
also elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council
of the Church: that by these means true religion may be preserved, and
the true doctrine everywhere propagated, likewise transgressors punished
and restrained by spiritual means: also that the poor and distressed may
be relieved and comforted, according to their necessities. By these means
everything will be carried on in the Church with good order and decency,
when faithful men are chosen, according to the rule prescribed by St.
Paul in his Epistle to Timothy.

Of the Ministers, Elders, and Deacons.

We believe,
that the ministers of God’s Word, and the elders and deacons, ought to
be chosen to their respective offices by a lawful election by the Church,
with calling upon the name of the Lord, and in that order which the Word
of God teacheth. Therefore every one must take heed, not to intrude himself
by indecent means, but is bound to wait till it shall please God to call
him; that he may have testimony of his calling, and be certain and assured
that it is of the Lord. As for the ministers of God’s Word, they have
equally the same power and authority wheresoever they are, as they are
all ministers of Christ, the only universal Bishop, and the only Head
of the Church. Moreover, that this holy ordinance of God may not be violated
or slighted, we say that every one ought to esteem the ministers of God’s
Word, and the elders of the Church, very highly for their work’s sake,
and be at peace with them without murmuring, strife or contention, as
much as possible.

Article 32: Of the Order and Discipline of the Church.

In the meantime
we believe, though it is useful and beneficial, that those, who are rulers
of the Church, institute and establish certain ordinances among themselves
for maintaining the body of the Church; yet they ought studiously to take
care, that they do not depart from those things which Christ, our only
Master, hath instituted. And therefore, we reject all human inventions,
and all laws, which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby
to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever. Therefore we
admit only of that which tends to nourish and preserve concord, and unity,
and to keep all men in obedience to God. For this purpose, ex-communication
or church discipline is requisite, with the several circumstances belonging
to it, according to the Word of God.

Of the Sacraments.

We believe,
that our gracious God, on account of our weakness and infirmities hath
ordained the sacraments for us, thereby to seal unto us his promises,
and to be pledges of the good will and grace of God toward us, and also
to nourish and strengthen our faith; which he hath joined to the Word
of the gospel, the better to present to our senses, both that which he
signifies to us by his Word, and that which he works inwardly in our hearts,
thereby assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to
us. For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing,
by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. Therefore
the signs are not in vain or insignificant, so as to deceive us. For Jesus
Christ is the true object presented by them, without whom they would be
of no moment. Moreover, we are satisfied with the number of sacraments
which Christ our Lord hath instituted, which are two only, namely, the
sacrament of baptism, and the holy supper of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Article 34:
Of Holy Baptism.

We believe
and confess that Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law, hath made an
end, by the shedding of his blood, of all other sheddings of blood which
men could or would make as a propitiation or satisfaction for sin: and
that he, having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, hath
instituted the sacrament of baptism, instead thereof; by which we are
received into the Church of God, and separated from all other people and
strange religions, that we may wholly belong to him, whose ensign and
banner we bear: and which serves as a testimony to us, that he will forever
be our gracious God and Father. Therefore he has commanded all those,
who are his, to be baptized with pure water, "in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost": thereby signifying
to us, that as water washeth away the filth of the body, when poured upon
it, and is seen on the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him;
so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally
sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children
of wrath, unto children of God. Not that this is effected by the external
water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God;
who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass, to escape the tyranny
of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and to enter into the spiritual land of
Canaan. Therefore the ministers, on their part, administer the sacrament,
and that which is visible, but our Lord giveth that which is signified
by the sacrament, namely, the gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing
and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts,
and filling them with all comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of
his fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the
old man with all his deeds. Therefore we believe, that every man, who
is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal, ought to be but once
baptized with this only baptism, without ever repeating the same: since
we cannot be born twice. Neither doth this baptism only avail us, at the
time when the water is poured upon us, and received by us, but also through
the whole course of our life; therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists,
who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received,
and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, whom we
believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant,
as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised, upon the same promises
which are made unto our children. And indeed Christ shed his blood no
less for the washing of the children of the faithful, than for adult persons;
and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that, which
Christ hath done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law, that they
should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ’s suffering and death,
shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a
sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what circumcision was to the Jews,
that baptism is for our children. And for this reason Paul calls baptism
the circumcision of Christ.

Of the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We believe
and confess, that our Savior Jesus Christ did ordain and institute the
sacrament of the holy supper, to nourish and support those whom he hath
already regenerated, and incorporated into his family, which is his Church.
Now those, who are regenerated, have in them a two-fold life, the one
corporal and temporal, which they have from the first birth, and is common
to all men: the other spiritual and heavenly, which is given them in their
second birth, which is effected by the word of the gospel, in the communion
of the body of Christ; and this life is not common, but is peculiar to
God’s elect. In like manner God hath given us, for the support of the
bodily and earthly life, earthly and common bread, which is subservient
thereto, and is common to all men, even as life itself. But for the support
of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers have, he hath sent
a living bread, which descended from heaven, namely, Jesus Christ, who
nourishes and strengthens the spiritual life of believers, when they eat
him, that is to say, when they apply and receive him by faith in the spirit.
Christ, that he might represent unto us this spiritual and heavenly bread,
hath instituted an earthly and visible bread, as a sacrament of his body,
and wine as a sacrament of his blood, to testify by them unto us, that,
as certainly as we receive and hold this sacrament in our hands, and eat
and drink the same with our mouths, by which our life is afterwards nourished,
we also do as certainly receive by faith (which is the hand and mouth
of our soul) the true body and blood of Christ our only Savior in our
souls, for the support of our spiritual life. Now, as it is certain and
beyond all doubt, that Jesus Christ hath not enjoined to us the use of
his sacraments in vain, so he works in us all that he represents to us
by these holy signs, though the manner surpasses our understanding, and
cannot be comprehended by us, as the operations of the Holy Ghost are
hidden and incomprehensible. In the meantime we err not, when we say,
that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body, and
the proper blood of Christ. But the manner of our partaking of the same,
is not by the mouth, but by the spirit through faith. Thus then, though
Christ always sits at the right hand of his Father in the heavens, yet
doth he not therefore cease to make us partakers of himself by faith.
This feast is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates himself
with all his benefits to us, and gives us there to enjoy both himself,
and the merits of his suffering and death, nourishing, strengthening and
comforting our poor comfortless souls by the eating of his flesh, quickening
and refreshing them by the drinking of his blood. Further, though the
sacraments are connected with the thing signified, nevertheless both are
not received by all men: the ungodly indeed receives the sacrament to
his condemnation, but he doth not receive the truth of the sacrament.
As Judas, and Simon the sorcerer, both indeed received the sacrament,
but not Christ, who was signified by it, of whom believers only are made
partakers. Lastly, we receive this holy sacrament in the assembly of the
people of God, with humility and reverence, keeping up amongst us a holy
remembrance of the death of Christ our Savior, with thanksgiving: making
there confession of our faith, and of the Christian religion. Therefore
no one ought to come to this table without having previously rightly examined
himself; lest by eating of this bread and drinking of this cup, he eat
and drink judgment to himself. In a word, we are excited by the use of
this holy sacrament, to a fervent love towards God and our neighbor. Therefore
we reject all mixtures and damnable inventions, which men have added unto,
and blended with the sacraments, as profanations of them: and affirm that
we ought to rest satisfied with the ordinance which Christ and his apostles
have taught us, and that we must speak of them in the same manner as they
have spoken.

Of Magistrates.

We believe
that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, hath appointed
kings, princes and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed
by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men
might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with good order
and decency. For this purpose he hath invested the magistracy with the
sword, for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the protection of them
that do well. And their office is, not only to have regard unto, and watch
for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred
ministry; and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship
(see note below); that the kingdom of anti-Christ
may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must therefore
countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God
may be honored and worshipped by every one, of what state, quality, or
condition so ever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to
pay tribute, to show due honor and respect to them, and to obey them in
all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for
them in their prayers, that God may rule and guide them in all their ways,
and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in
general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would
subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency
and good order, which God hath established among men.

This phrase, touching the office of the magistracy in its relation to
the Church, proceeds on the principle of the Established Church, which
was first applied by Constantine and afterwards also in many Protestant
countries. History, however, does not support the principle of State domination
over the Church, but rather the separation of Church and State. Moreover,
it is contrary to the New Dispensation that authority be vested in the
State to arbitrarily reform the Church, and to deny the Church the right
of independently conducting its own affairs as a distinct territory alongside
the State. The New Testament does not subject the Christian Church to
the authority of the State that it should be governed and extended by
political measures, but to our Lord and King only as an independent territory
alongside and altogether independent of the State, that it may be governed
and edified by its office-bearers and with spiritual weapons only. Practically
all Reformed churches have repudiated the idea of the Established Church,
and are advocating the autonomy of the churches and personal liberty of
conscience in matters pertaining to the service of God.

Christian Reformed Church in America
, being in full accord with this
view, feels constrained to declare that it does not conceive of the office
of the magistracy in this sense, that it be in duty bound to also exercise
political authority in the sphere of religion, by establishing and maintaining
a State Church, advancing and supporting the same as the only true Church,
and to oppose, to persecute and to destroy by means of the sword all the
other churches as being false religions; and to also declare that it does
positively hold that, within its own secular sphere, the magistracy has
a divine duty towards the first table of the Law as well as towards the
second; and furthermore that both State and Church as institutions of
God and Christ have mutual rights and duties appointed them from on high,
and therefore have a very sacred reciprocal obligation to meet through
the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and Son. They may not, however,
encroach upon each other’s territory. The Church has rights of sovereignty
in its own sphere as well as the State." Acta. Synod, 1910.

Of the Last Judgment.

we believe, according to the Word of God, when the time appointed by the
Lord (which is unknown to all creatures) is come, and the number of the
elect complete, that our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally
and visibly, as he ascended, with great glory and majesty to declare himself
judge of the quick and the dead; burning this old world with fire and
flame, to cleanse it. And then all men will personally appear before this
great judge, both men and women and children, that have been from the
beginning of the world to the end thereof, being summoned by the voice
of the archangel, and by the sound of the trumpet of God. For all the
dead shall be raised out of the earth, and their souls joined and united
with their proper bodies, in which they formerly lived. As for those who
shall then be living, they shall not die as the others, but be changed
in the twinkling of an eye, and from corruptible, become incorruptible.
Then the books (that is to say the consciences) shall be opened, and the
dead judged according to what they shall have done in this world, whether
it be good or evil. Nay, all men shall give an account of every idle word
they have spoken, which the world only counts amusement and jest: and
then the secrets and hypocrisy of men shall be disclosed and laid open
before all. And therefore the consideration of this judgment, is justly
terrible and dreadful to the wicked and ungodly, but most desirable and
comfortable to the righteous and elect: because then their full deliverance
shall be perfected, and there they shall receive the fruits of their labor
and trouble which they have borne. Their innocence shall be known to all,
and they shall see the terrible vengeance which God shall execute on the
wicked, who most cruelly persecuted, oppressed and tormented them in this
world; and who shall be convicted by the testimony of their own consciences,
and being immortal, shall be tormented in that everlasting fire, which
is prepared for the devil and his angels. But on the contrary, the faithful
and elect shall be crowned with glory and honor; and the Son of God will
confess their names before God his Father, and his elect angels; all tears
shall be wiped from their eyes; and their cause which is now condemned
by many judges and magistrates, as heretical and impious, will then be
known to be the cause of the Son of God. And for a gracious reward, the
Lord will cause them to possess such a glory, as never entered into the
heart of man to conceive. Therefore we expect that great day with a most
ardent desire to the end that we may fully enjoy the promises of God in
Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

so, come, Lord Jesus." – Revelation.

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