Notes on the Belgic Confession of Faith (18)

A series of brief articles by Rev.M.McGeown (Limerick,Ireland Reformed Fellowship) on the Belgic (or Netherlands) Confession of Faith (1561), one of the "Three Forms of Unity" of Reformed churches throughout the world.

Belgic Confession, Article 25: Not Under the Law

Belgic Confession, Article 25: Not Under the Law

by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor laboring with the Limerick Reformed Fellowship (Republic of Ireland).


Romans 6:14…for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”

Invariably, when someone raises the question of the law as a rule of gratitude for the Christian life, the objection is heard, “But we are not under the law, but under grace.” Therefore, it is vital that we understand the role of the law in the New Testament.

First, the law reveals our sin. “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). It is true that we all have a conscience and we all have some idea of right and wrong because God has written the work of the law—not the law itself—in the hearts of even the heathen. Nevertheless, the law increases our knowledge of sin. Paul experienced this himself when the law began to work upon him. “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). Second, the law increases our sin. This does not mean that the law is sinful or that the law promotes sin. But the sinful flesh of man hates God’s law—and cannot be subject to it (Rom. 8:7). Therefore, when God reveals His law to us, we are incited to sin even more. “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence … when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died … sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (Rom. 7:8, 11). This is because the law is “weak through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Third, the law reveals to us our need for a Saviour, and in that way the law was “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). The law reveals to us what God’s requirements are, but the law does not give us any strength to obey the commandments of God. The only thing that the law can do is condemn and curse the transgressor of the law. Therefore, we need a Saviour who delivers us from the condemnation and curse of the law. That Saviour is Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:3). Fourth, the law is the guide of our thankfulness. We do not know—without the revelation of God’s law—how we ought to show our gratitude to God for the salvation He has given us. Sometimes we think that we know, but we discover that our “good work of thankfulness” has no warrant from the Word of God because God has not commanded it. Unbelievers might have a “zeal of God” but if it is “not according to knowledge,” what value is it (Rom. 10:2)? Indeed, some men have even committed great sins because they believed that in so doing they were serving God (John 16:2). Paul was an example of this when he was a persecutor of God’s people.

So, in what sense are we not under the law, but under grace? This phrase comes from Romans 6:14. Often it is quoted only in part without considering the context. Paul mentions our not being under the law as a reason for our not serving sin! We are not under the law, first, for condemnation. The law cannot curse or damn the Christian because Christ was cursed in our place. We are not under the law, second, in the sense that sin does not have dominion over us. We have been delivered from the power of sin, and therefore are free to serve God—by keeping His commandments with a new heart and a purified conscience.

The liberty of the Christian is not lawlessness, but freedom from condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Lawlessness is a spiritual bondage. “Ye were servants of sin” (Rom. 6:17); “Ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18).

What a privilege is ours—to serve the Lord Jesus Christ with the perfect law of liberty, the royal law of the King of kings (James 1:25, 2:8)!


The Poor Relieved and Comforted - Belgic Confession, Article 30

The Poor Relieved and Comforted - Belgic Confession, Article 30  

by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of Limerick Reformed Fellowship in the Republic of Ireland

Article 30: 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. 

Ephesians 4:28: “… Let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”

Poverty is a reality in this fallen world. The unbelieving world imagines that with enough social programs they will be able to eradicate poverty. Jesus Christ said that there would always be poverty (John 12:8). God has always commanded that His people show a concern for the poor. However, what many Christians have not noticed is that the primary concern for the poor must be for the poor among the people of God. In Israel, God commanded that the poor brethren (fellow Israelites within the covenant community) be cared for by the generosity of fellow Israelites. There were various provisions in the Law. For example, the poor could glean the fields of the rich; the poor could be “redeemed” and the sacrificial offerings were less demanding for the impoverished (Lev. 19:10-11, 25:25; Deut. 15:7-11; Lev. 5:7). When the prophets preached against the exploitation of the poor by the rich, they had primarily the poor within Israel in mind (Amos 5:11-12, 8:4-6). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul did not seek to help all the poor of the Roman Empire. He did help his neighbour when opportunity arose. Paul’s primary concern, however, (apart from the preaching of the Gospel, of course) was the poor in the church. To that end, Paul organized collections for the impoverished saints in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17; Rom. 15:26; II Cor. 8-9; Gal. 2:10). Both James and John make the same application to the poor in the congregations (James 1:27, 2:14-16; I John 3:17-18). This does not mean that the church refuses to help the poor who are not members of the congregation, but it does mean that the primary focus of the work of the deacons is the poor of Christ.

The poor in the church of Jesus Christ must not be despised or neglected. They must not be viewed as a burden or a nuisance. It must be seen as a great privilege for us to help the poor for in so doing we serve Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 25:34-40). But at the same time we must not be naïve. It is not the Christian’s calling to give money to everyone who claims to be poor. This is where the deacons need much wisdom. Paul gives some principles to Timothy in his first epistle. First, the primary responsibility for the poor within the congregation is with their own family. Paul has sharp words for Christians who neglect their impoverished relatives. The church should not be charged with their financial support (5:3-2, 8, 16). Second, Paul insists that people work, and those who refuse to work may not eat. Idleness and dependency by the poor are to be discouraged (Eph. 4:28; II Thess. 3:10-12). Indeed, it is good for the deacons to encourage budgeting, thrift and stewardship for often poverty is caused by mismanagement of funds. Third, those who are poor indeed must be helped, not only financially and generously, but with comfortable words of Scripture.

The deacons are not mere social workers. They are not like the clerks in the social welfare office of the secular state. They are the official representatives of the merciful Christ who comes to relieve the poor in the churches. Their work is as spiritual as that of the ministers and elders.

Let them be received as such.


Forsaken for the Remission of Our Sins - Belgic Confession, Article 21

Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 10: Forsaken for the Remission of Our Sins

Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of Limerick Reformed Fellowship


Matthew 27:46: “…My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Remember that God plunged the earth into darkness for three hours (Matt. 27:45). This was a miraculous darkness which lasted from high noon until three o’clock, when the sun was normally at its hottest. During those three hours of darkness God was judging sin and the Sinbearer, Jesus Christ. Judgment came to Calvary that day in the form of thick, impenetrable, oppressive darkness. That darkness was upon Jesus Christ because He was the object of the righteous and holy judgment of God against all the sins of God’s people. Only after Jesus had purged our sins and exhausted the wrath of God against our sins, did the light return.

It was as Jesus plumbed the depths of that darkness—the outer darkness of hell itself—and just before He emerged from it, that He cried with a loud voice the words of abandonment. At this point Christ was being crushed by the heavy hand of God; the billows of God’s wrath like a raging ocean of fire were flooding and overwhelming Him; Jesus was tasting, drinking and emptying the bitter cup which God had given Him. At that point, inexpressive horror gripped Christ’s soul. God had forsaken Him. In that horror Christ called out in agony, seeking for fellowship with His God: “My God, my God …” But there was no fellowship possible. God did not answer His Son with His favour. Our Mediator, who had always known and enjoyed communion with His Father, who was the object of the Father’s delight, who dwelled eternally in the Father’s bosom, was now without the presence of God’s love.

This does not mean that there was suddenly a schism in the being of the Trinity. This does not mean either that the Father now hated His Son. The Father loved the Son even when He did not spare Him. The Son loved the Father even as the Father inflicted suffering upon Him. It means that the Son of God experienced in His human nature of body and soul that God was not His benevolent Father but the avenging and righteous Judge. It means that in His capacity as Judge God showed no mercy to His Son but punished Him to the fullest extent, pouring out the full fury of His wrath.

That, the presence of God in wrath, but the absence of God’s favour, was intolerable for the holy Son of God. But that was necessary for our salvation. Christ experienced hell that day so that we would never experience hell, we who believe in Him.

Heidelberg Catechism, LD 16, Q&A 44: Why is there added, “He descended into hell”?  That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which He was plunged during all His sufferings, but especially on the cross, hath delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.


Christ’s One Future Visible Coming - Belgic Confession, Article 37

Belgic Confession, Article 37: Christ’s One Future Visible Coming

by Rev. Martyn McGeown, Covenant PRC missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland


I Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God …

According to Belgic Confession Article 37 “our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, corporally and visibly, as He ascended, with great glory and majesty.”  It is important to remember that the Reformed do not accept the teaching of Premillennial Dispensationalism that the Lord will come twice in the future, once secretly in a “rapture” and then later visibly in a “revelation.” These meditations are not the place to examine Premillennial Dispensationalism in any detail, but we should contrast briefly what our Belgic Confession teaches with this popular doctrine.

Those who believe in the doctrine of the rapture often appeal to I Thessalonians 4. They believe that at any moment the Lord will secretly snatch away all faithful Christians from the earth. This will cause great consternation because suddenly millions of people will disappear without trace! After the rapture, history will continue and God will pour out His wrath upon the world of those left behind—unbelievers and unfaithful Christians. After seven years of awful tribulation (mostly for the nation of Israel) Christ shall return visibly and destroy His enemies to set up an earthly kingdom for one thousand years in Jerusalem. After the period of one thousand years is complete, the Lord will crush one final rebellion of Satan. History will then end with Christ’s judgment of the wicked.

The Belgic Confession contradicts that scheme in several ways. First, when Christ returns the wicked will be oppressing the church—there is no indication that the church will have been removed from the earth.  Second, the Belgic Confession teaches that “all the dead” shall be resurrected and “all men will personally appear before this great Judge” on the same day—there is no indication that the resurrection of the wicked and the just (and their judgments) will be separated by a number of years.  Third, the Belgic Confession teaches that the one, future, visible coming will be “with great glory and majesty”—there is no indication that He will come secretly.

I Thessalonians teaches the very opposite of a secret, silent, invisible coming of Christ to take away His church. On the contrary, Christ shall ascend “with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God”—an event so loud that it shall summon the dead to judgment! Moreover, when Paul writes that “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” he does not mean they shall rise some 1,007 years before the wicked, but he means that the dead in Christ shall rise before those who are alive at Christ’s coming. Paul’s concern was to comfort the Thessalonians concerning their dead, believing relatives—will they miss out since they have died before the Second Coming? Absolutely not!

The hope of the saints is not that they be snatched away secretly, but that they—whether they are dead or alive at His Coming—partake in His glory which is publicly to be revealed.

Is that your hope?


Christ Coming with Great Glory and Majesty - Belgic Confession, Art.37

Belgic Confession, Article 37: Christ Coming With Great Glory and Majesty

by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of Limerick Reformed Fellowship, Limerick, Ireland

Belgic Confession, Article 37:

Finally 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.

"Even so, come, Lord Jesus." - Revelation. 22:20.

Matthew 24:30: “… and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

The most glorious and awe-inspiring day of history is future. It will be the last day, the culmination of all things, the bringing to an end of the purpose of God with this present creation. It will be the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Belgic Confession speaks of Christ coming “with great glory and majesty to declare Himself Judge.” Many passages of Scripture describe that Day, both as a warning for the wicked and as a comfort for the godly. Let us examine some of the aspects of that Day.

First, Christ Himself shall come personally. Christ comes in other senses in Scripture—He comes to the believer at death to take him to Himself; He came at Pentecost in the outpouring of the Spirit—but the Second Coming will be a personal coming. I Thessalonians 4:16 says “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven.” The Belgic Confession uses the word “corporally” which means bodily. Second, Christ’s coming will be visible—not an invisible “rapture,” not a mystical, spiritual coming, but a coming which all men shall see. “They [that is, all the tribes of the earth] shall see the Son of man coming” (Matt. 24:30). “Every eye shall see Him” (Rev. 1:7). This means that the Lord Jesus Christ—who presently is at God’s Right Hand in heaven and whom no mortal eye can see—will suddenly be revealed for who He is. Heaven will be opened and He shall come forth, and everything which veils Him from our view shall be removed. Christ describes His coming in terms of lightning flashing across the sky. None will be able to miss it or to ignore it. “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:27).  Third, Christ’s coming will be audible. He will not come sneaking on tiptoe into this world, but with “a shout” (I Thess. 4:16) and “with a great sound of a trumpet” (Matt. 24:31). The Belgic Confession speaks of all men, women and children “being summoned by the voice of the archangel and by the sound of the trumpet of God.” A trumpet makes a long, sharp, loud blast which no one can miss. The trumpet was God’s instrument for gathering His people to attention—Christ’s trumpet will arrest the attention of all mankind. This is the final call of God to all men: stand to attention, my Son is here. Look up, church, and see your salvation; look up, wicked, and behold your doom! Fourth, Christ will come with great glory and with the trappings of deity. “They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). Clouds are not fluffy, white clouds on a cool summer’s day. Clouds are thick, dark, awesome, billowing thunderclouds. In the Bible, Jehovah rides on the clouds (Ps. 104:3)—so does Christ!

That awesome day will be the end of the world. “The sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light …” (Matt. 24:29). “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall also melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (II Pet. 3:10).

But we who believe in Jesus Christ and who watch for His coming will rejoice in that day. For us it will be the beginning of something unutterably wonderful.


Faith: Not the Basis of Justification - Belgic Confession, Article 22

Belgic Confession, Article 22: Faith: Not the Basis of Justification

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

Art.22: We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, appropriates him, and seeks nothing more besides him. For it must needs follow, either that all things, which are requisite to our salvation, are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith, have complete salvation in him. Therefore, for any to assert, that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides him, would be too gross a blasphemy: for hence it would follow, that Christ was but half a Savior. Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith without works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean, that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all his merits and so many holy works which he has done for us, and in our stead, is our Righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits, which, when become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.

Romans 4:5: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness...”

Justification is the legal declaration of God that a person is in harmony with His Law. The basis for this legal declaration is the righteousness of another, namely Jesus Christ. We receive this righteousness by faith alone without works.

In every age there have been those who have twisted or perverted the doctrine of justification. The Arminians are guilty of this perversion when they teach that faith itself is our justification before God or faith itself is our righteousness. This error the Belgic Confession rejects: “However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness.” Notice the careful distinction: faith is not the basis or ground of justification, but the instrument or means of justification. This careful distinction comes from a careful study of God’s Word: the Bible teaches repeatedly that we are justified by faith (“through,” “by” or “out of” faith), but it never teaches that we are justified on account of, or on the basis of, faith.

This is true for a number of reasons. First, our faith cannot be the ground of our justification because our faith is imperfect. The faith of the strongest Christian is very weak. Mixed in with our faith are much unbelief and sin. Every Christian can identify with the man who cried out to Jesus with tears, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Our faith is, therefore, not a righteous basis for our justification. Second, our faith cannot be the ground of our justification because our faith does not fulfil the demands of God’s Law. Even if our faith were perfect—not weak, imperfect, unstable, changing and faltering—it would not answer the charges of God’s Law against us (we have sinned and deserve death) or the demands of God’s Law concerning us (we owe God lifelong, perfect obedience in love with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength). Only Christ has done that, and therefore only His obedience can be our righteousness or the basis of our justification.  The Arminians’ error is to deny God’s justice. They imagine that God will accept something less than perfect obedience—our faith. But then God would deny Himself and would not be just. Such is impossible.

To this the Arminian objects by quoting Romans 4:5, “his faith is counted for righteousness.” In v. 3, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” It would appear, then, that the basis for Abraham’s justification was Abraham’s faith, that faith itself was Abraham’s righteousness. But that is emphatically not what Paul is teaching here.  First, as with us, Abraham’s faith was weak and faltering. Just read Genesis to observe how God had to test and purify Abraham’s faith through trials. Second, faith in v. 5 refers to the object of Abraham’s faith, which is Christ. Abraham, even in the days of types and shadows, saw Christ, and believed in Him (John 8:56). God reckoned to Abraham not his faith—as if that were something meritorious—but that which Abraham embraced by faith, Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

The same is true for us. Our righteousness is Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone.


Justification: A Declaration of Righteousness - Belgic Confession, Article 23

Belgic Confession, Article 23: Justification: A Declaration of Righteousness 

by Rev. Martyn McGeown


Romans 3:22: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe ....”

Our short definition of justification is “God’s legal declaration of righteousness.” We need to define and explain righteousness because righteousness is absolutely vital in justification.

Righteousness is conformity to a standard or a norm. The word “righteous” in Scripture means straight, level or even. Something righteous conforms to and is in harmony with a given standard. The opposite of righteous is crooked, twisted, bent or perverse. Thus, the word “iniquity” (one of the words for sin in the Bible) means crookedness or perversity. Scripture says that God is righteous or just.  That raises a question: if God is righteous, and righteousness is harmony with a standard, with what standard is God in harmony? The answer is Himself: God is unswervingly committed to Himself as the highest and only standard. There is no higher standard outside of God to which He would have to conform. Therefore, whatever or whoever is in conformity to God’s standard of righteousness is righteous and is declared righteous; and whatever or whoever deviates from God’s standard is unrighteous and is declared unrighteous. It really does not matter if you conform to the standards of society, or even to your own standards. Do you conform to God’s standard?

Clearly we do not, for we are sinners. Therefore it would appear that our justification is impossible.

God is righteous. Therefore He must punish sin and sinners for their unrighteousness. That is one way in which the Bible speaks of righteousness.  Martin Luther knew that aspect of God’s righteousness, and it troubled him greatly. He understood that, since God is righteous, He will and must punish all those who do not conform to the standard which God has revealed in His perfect Law. Imagine Luther’s confusion, therefore, when he read in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ … for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith …”  Luther could not make sense of this. On the one hand, the Gospel is good news for poor sinners. On the other hand, the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God, which, as Luther understood it, is God’s perfect character according to which He punishes sinners. How could God’s righteousness possibly be good news for sinners?

Luther could have no peace until he understood that the righteousness of God means more than that; and that it is something which God gives to sinners so that they can stand before Him without fear of condemnation. The Belgic Confession has this in mind when it states that “Christ … is our righteousness” (Article 22).

Romans 3 gives the answers to Luther’s problem. There Paul speaks of the righteousness of God again. This righteousness is “manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (v. 21). And, crucially, this righteousness is “unto all and upon all them that believe” (v. 22). The righteousness of God, then, is not merely one of God’s perfect attributes, but something He bestows upon us. It is the righteousness from God, the only righteousness which satisfies the demands of God’s holy Law.

Do you have that righteousness? Believer in Christ, you do!


Nourishing Our Poor Comfortless Souls - Belgic Confession, Article 35

Belgic Confession, Article 35; Day 8: Nourishing Our Poor Comfortless Souls

by Rev. Martyn McGeown, Missionary-pastor of Limerick Reformed Fellowship, Republic of Ireland.


Matt 5:6: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

The Lord’s Supper is a feast. The table of the Lord is laden with good things. The call goes out to God’s believing, penitent people: “Come, hungry and thirsty souls, and be spiritually nourished! Come, empty souls, and be spiritually filled! Come, weary and burdened souls, and be spiritually refreshed! Come, dejected and afflicted souls, and be spiritually comforted!”

We do this, of course, when we come to Jesus Christ Himself by faith, as He is set forth in the preaching of the Gospel. The preaching, not the sacraments, remember, is the chief means of grace. But we also do this when we come believingly to partake of the Lord’s Supper—as the Belgic Confession puts it with “the hand and mouth of our soul” (faith) wide open.

Christ is pleased to give us His crucified body and shed blood in a spiritual manner in the Lord’s Supper. He is able to make us partake of Him, although His physical body and blood are in heaven. Some have objected to the Reformed view because they cannot conceive of how we can eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ if He remains in heaven and we on earth. But distance does not prevent Christ imparting His body and blood to His children. Why? Because the exalted Lord Jesus is vitally connected to His body (and to every member) by the bond of faith. Through the bond of faith—which the Holy Spirit creates at the point of regeneration—all of the benefits of Christ flow to us from Christ. Through faith we partake of His goodness, just as the branches partake of the sap of the vine, and all parts of the body are supplied by the head (John 15:5; Eph. 4:16; Col. 2:19, etc.).

In moving language, the Belgic Confession describes the spiritual blessings we receive when we partake believing of the Lord’s Supper. We do not leave the table empty!

We come with “our poor comfortless souls.” In this world of sin and death, we have no source of comfort or life. We are sinners who struggle with the flesh, the devil and the world, and that struggle makes us weary. We see ourselves in this description of “poor” and “comfortless.” But, in the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself comforts, strengthens, nourishes, quickens and refreshes us. He does that because the Lord’s Supper—like the preaching and like baptism—directs us to one place: the cross. If any doctrine of the Lord’s Supper points us anywhere else—to our works—it is of no benefit to us, and it is a dangerous and wicked deception, one of the manmade “mixtures and damnable inventions” against which our Confession warns us.

The Lord’s Supper reminds us, and assures us, that as surely as we receive with a believing heart the bread and wine, so surely did Christ give Himself on the cross for the salvation of our souls. As the "Form for the Administration of the Lord's Supper" puts it: “As often as ye eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you shall thereby, as by a sure remembrance and pledge, be admonished and assured of this My hearty love and faithfulness towards you.”

And by doing that, bringing us again to the cross, where we find all our salvation, in the Lord‘s Supper the Lord Jesus “nourishes, strengthens and comforts” and “quickens and refreshes” our poor comfortless souls, by making us feed on Him, the Living Bread.


Not Binding or Compelling the Conscience - Belgic Confession, Art. 32

Belgic Confession, Article 32: Not Binding or Compelling the Conscience

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.

by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant PRC, Ballymena, N.Ireland, laboring in Limerick, Ireland.

I Corinthians 8:12: “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.”

Belgic Confession Article 32 contains a warning for all who seek to make rules for the maintaining of the body of the church. Do not bind or compel the conscience! Take care studiously not to depart from those things that Christ has instituted! Do not introduce human inventions! This is the danger when men begin to make rules for the church. A manmade rule can become more important and more binding than the Word of God. The Reformation churches understood very well the necessity of the freedom of conscience.

The conscience is the testimony of God in the consciousness of every man, either accusing or excusing him in his actions. By the conscience even the heathen know that they have done something wrong. Because of conscience every culture has an established morality or moral code. Every culture of man knows that to murder is evil, to steal is wicked and to commit adultery is a sin against the Creator (Rom. 2:15). Therefore, every culture of man has laws to punish evildoers to one degree or another. A guilty conscience is very difficult to endure because it accuses the sinner before God. Men seek all kinds of relief—except repentance towards God and faith towards Jesus Christ—to escape the accusations of their guilty conscience. Some men have even so defiled their conscience that it has lost much of its sensitivity to evil. They are deeply hardened in sin and wickedness (I Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15). Other men—usually weak believers—have an uneducated, uniformed or overly sensitive conscience. They imagine that some activity, which God has not condemned, is sin. Therefore they cannot perform that activity with a good conscience. For example, some imagine that to drink wine or to eat meat is sin. Others, having a better grasp of Christian liberty, eat and drink (in moderation) without qualms (Rom. 14; I Cor. 8).

Throughout the Middle Ages the Romish church bound, compelled and tyrannized the consciences of men with rules. For example, the church mandated times for fasting—at Lent; and the church insisted that no meat could be eaten on Fridays. There were many more ways in which the church ruled over the people—often hanging the threat of damnation over them if they stepped out of line. In fact, the pope himself could place an interdict upon an entire people, if the king defied him! The Pharisees bound consciences in the day of Christ. They added to and expanded the laws of Moses to include ridiculously detailed prohibitions and obligations. This was particularly true concerning the Sabbath Day. For the Pharisees to heal or to do good on the Sabbath Day was evil (Matt. 12:1-14; John 5:1-17, 9:1-16). Christ excoriates the Pharisees for this: “Ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).

The church must take care, therefore, never to impose rules upon the members that might wound their consciences. “They ought studiously to take care that they do not depart from those things which Christ, our only Master, hath instituted.” These considerations must be paramount in the consistory when rules are contemplated. Is this rule necessary? Will this rule offend the conscience? How will this rule minister to the needs of the church?

Let all things be done for the edifying of the body. Then the church will have peace.


An End of All Other Sheddings of Blood - Belgic Confession, Art.34

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.

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