Belgic Confession, Article 20: The Father Laying Our Iniquities Upon Him
by Rev. Martyn McGeown, Missionary-pastor in Limerick Reformed Fellowship, Ireland (This article first appeared in Limerick RF's August 10, 2014 bulletin.)
Isaiah 53:5: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities …”
Belgic Confession, Art.20 - That God hath manifested his justice and mercy in Christ Jesus:
We believe that God, who is perfectly merciful and just, sent his Son to assume that nature, in which the disobedience was committed, to make satisfaction in the same, and to bear the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death. God therefore manifested his justice against his Son, when he laid our iniquities upon him; and poured forth his mercy and goodness on us, who were guilty and worthy of damnation, out of mere and perfect love, giving his Son unto death for us, and raising him for our justification, that through him we might obtain immortality and life eternal.
There is one subject about which we must be clear before we proceed—the justice in God’s punishing of His Son for our sins. How could the sinless, innocent Son of God be made to suffer? How is it right that the Son of God experience pain and anguish in body and soul? How is it possible that the Son of God should know the wrath of the Father? Could it be true that the Father was angry with His own Son?
The answer is given in the Belgic Confession: “God therefore manifested His justice against His Son when He laid our iniquities upon Him.” It was because God laid our iniquities upon Christ that He could be just in punishing Christ. To lay our iniquities upon Christ means to impute the guilt of our iniquities to Christ. Legally, the guilt of all our sins became Christ’s. Imputation is an extremely important word in theology. We believe in a threefold imputation.
First, we believe—as we already saw in Article 15—that God imputed the guilt of Adam’s sin to the entire human race. Adam’s sin rendered us all guilty, because Adam represented us.
Second, we believe—as we learn in Articles 20-21—that God imputed the guilt of all our sins to Jesus Christ. Our sins rendered Christ guilty—not personally guilty, but legally guilty—before God, and God treated Christ accordingly as a guilty man, guilty of all the sins of all those whom He represents. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21).
Third, we believe—as we learn in Articles 22-23—that God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to us by faith. Christ righteousness renders us, whom He represents and who believe in Him, righteous before God. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
This explains how it was possible for Christ to suffer. He had the capacity to suffer because He has a human nature. He had the right to suffer—or God had the right to inflict suffering upon Him—because our sins were imputed to Him. Otherwise, to speak reverently, God had no legal right even to have Christ stub His toe; and it would be a moral outrage for Christ to experience the slightest pang of anguish. Anguish, pain and suffering are the experience only of sinners. Personally, Christ is the sinless Son of God, the righteous one. If He is not, He cannot be our Mediator and Saviour. But, legally—with respect to the Law, with respect to His position before God’s Law—Christ became guilty when the sins of all His people whom He represented were made His by imputation.
And since Christ was loaded down with the guilt of our sins, He became the object of God’s just wrath. He lived under the shadow of that wrath His whole life and that wrath came upon Him—justly—when He died on the cross.
But we must never forget that Christ willingly adopted that position of guilt before the Law for us. Christ made Himself of no reputation; Christ humbled Himself for our salvation.
Rev. Martyn McGeown (Larisa)
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010; Providence PRC (Hudsonville, MI), Sept. 2021Website: www.prca.org/current/news/churches/usa-canada/providence-prc-hudsonville-mi
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