Belgic Confession, Article 34: An End of All Other Sheddings of Blood
by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant PRC, Ballymena, N.Ireland, laboring in Limerick, Ireland.
Hebrews 9:22 -“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood there is no remission…”
In Article 33, we looked at the idea of sacraments in general. Now we consider baptism. Remember two things as we study this important subject. First, we must make a distinction between the sign of baptism (water baptism) and the reality behind the sign (spiritual salvation). Second, sacraments are not only signs, but also seals, or pledges of the goodwill and grace of our God toward us, and therefore not empty symbols. If we bear these two things in mind, we will avoid many errors.
The Belgic Confession contrasts baptism with circumcision. This is fitting because they have essentially the same meaning. “Jesus Christ,” says the Confession, “having abolished circumcision … hath instituted the sacrament of baptism instead thereof.”
To understand baptism, therefore, we examine circumcision.
When an Israelite boy was but eight days old, the priest or his father would remove part of that child’s flesh in a rite called circumcision. This was done according to God’s express commandment. This taught the people that their corrupt flesh had to be cut off, that they had to be cleansed, in order to have fellowship with God. Colossians 2:11 calls circumcision “the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.” What man did with hands, God did spiritually without hands in the heart. Thus, God promised to circumcise the hearts of Israel and of their seed after them (Deut. 30:6).
Circumcision was, therefore, not a sign of Jewishness, of physical descent from Abraham or of citizenship in the nation of Israel. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant, in which Jehovah was Israel’s God and Israel was Jehovah’s people in their generations for an everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:7, 11). This must be the case because a sign is a visible thing pointing to an invisible, spiritual reality. Neither physical descent from Abraham nor citizenship in Israel are invisible, spiritual realities, but spiritual circumcision of the heart and covenant membership are.
God abolished circumcision in the New Testament and fulfilled it in the better sign of baptism. He did this for at least three reasons. First, only boys were circumcised. In the New Testament, there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). Second, circumcision divided Jews from Gentiles. Christ came to unite believing Jews and Gentles in one body by His sacrifice on the cross (Eph. 2:13-16). Third, and most importantly, circumcision involved the shedding of blood. In the New Testament, there is no more shedding of blood. By one sacrifice Jesus Christ has accomplished everything which all shedding of blood in the OT signified and promised. Thus the Belgic Confession says, “He, having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, hath instituted the sacrament of baptism instead thereof.”
Circumcision was a sacrament. It was a sign and a seal: “[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of righteousness of [the] faith” (Rom. 4:11). In the New Testament the signs and seals are baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both bloodless signs and seals of the finished work of our Saviour.
Rev. Martyn McGeown
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010.Website: www.limerickreformed.com/
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