"Notes" to the Belgic
Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
HOW GOD MAKES HIMSELF KNOWN TO US
We know Him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most beautiful book,1 wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly the invisible things of God, namely, His eternal power and deity, as the apostle Paul says (Rom 1:20). All these things are sufficient to convict men and leave them without excuse. Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word2 as far as is necessary for us in this life, to His glory and our salvation.
1 Ps 19:1-4. 2 Ps 19:7, 8; 1 Cor 1:18-21.
In Article 1, deBres confessed that there is only one God who is eternal, almighty, etc. How did deBres know this? He could not have arrived at this conviction by means of philosophising about it, or through examining his emotions, or life experiences. Thought, emotions, experience, etc, could equally well have led him to the conclusion that there is no God at all. How then did deBres come to confess that there is a God? Because God, by His sovereign decision, by His good pleasure, was pleased that people, sinners at that, can know something of God. God was sovereignly please to reveal Himself to people, so that people could know God. Knowledge of God begins with God; God reveals Himself.
But is anyone able to understand what God has to say? Can persons dead in sin understand holy God? No, that is impossible, for what is dead does not, and cannot, tune in to God. The only way for man, dead in sin, to be able to understand God is if God first regenerates him.
Concerning the means by which man knows God, Article 2 confesses the following: in order for man to know of God, God must take the initiative and reveal Himself to man, and man must be regenerated. God reveals Himself by two means: 1) by nature, which includes its creation, preservation, and government, and 2) by His Word.
GOD MAKES HIMSELF KNOWN BY NATURE
"We know Him ... first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe."
In Genesis 1 we read that God created: He made out of nothing. God spoke and it was there. All that God created is something we so easily take for granted. However, David was once overcome with awe by it all, and this moved him to say "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). By creating, by what He did and by the way He did it, God revealed something of Who He is.
Read what God tells us of Himself by means of His work of creation in Isaiah 40:12. The waters of the earth He measured in the hollow of His hand, He measured infinite distance, He calculated the dust of the earth, and He weighed the mountains and the hills in scales. By the creation of the world God tells us something of Himself, and we can see it even today. It all speaks, and continues to speak, of His glory. He only had to speak and it was all there. What a God!
Not only did God create; He also preserves His creation. God lets all that He created continue to exist. God allows reproduction among living organisms. God is not remote from anything that occurs. He is actively in control of all that happens in His creation. It was God who let the plates below the earth shake in the earthquake that devastated Kobe in Japan last year. It is God who makes the easterlies blow night after night. Man cannot stir up the wind, nor can man stop it. But God preserves His world, and therein demonstrates something of Who He is.
God governs the world He once made too so that nothing happens apart from Him. All circumstances of life, including crime, homelessness, poverty, famine, come with the involvement of God's power, and demonstrates something of His mercy, power and justice. See Romans 1:18-32. This is dealt with more extensively in Article 13.
God reveals Himself in nature, but who is able to read this book of nature? Romans 1: 20 speaks of creation displaying God's eternal power and Godhead, so that any ignorance concerning God's existence is inexcusable. Every single person in the world is able to sense something of the created world and its preservation and government. Everyone can know about God because all live in this creation which speaks of His deity. But is everyone capable of concluding from it that there is a God? No, not everyone can, because although nature speaks so clearly of God, mankind is blinded to it by sin, and therefore cannot conclude from it that there is a God. To be able to understand what nature is really about, man needs to be regenerated, man needs faith. Calvin aptly stated, "man must put on the glasses of Scripture" to be able to read the book of nature.
Article 2 speaks of we: "We know Him by two means". By using the word 'we', deBres did not mean to say that all people can know God by the two means mentioned in Art 2. Rather, deBres refers specifically to believers. I am privileged to be able to benefit from the book of nature, for God has opened my eyes and so enabled me to read it. Because of His regenerating work, I can read something of what God has written in creation. That is to say, I am made able to appreciate the things He created, including the smells and textures of the flowers, the speed and agility of the mouse, the mosquito with wings that carry it though they're so very thin, the way the birds find their food. By God's grace I am made able to see something of my Father's greatness and glory.
Since my God reveals Himself to me "first" in creation, we do well, in the midst of the concerns of daily life, to pause and look at nature's display of God's glory. In Matthew 6:26 we read of God feeding the birds: "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" God shows us what He is doing in the world around us so each of us might personally be convinced of how much He cares for ME, His child in Jesus Christ.
GOD MAKES HIMSELF KNOWN BY HIS WORD
In nature God reveals much concerning Himself. Yet, God wants us to know Him even better. His Word speaks of His mercy, His love, His grace. Central to His Word is SALVATION. Nature does not speak of this. Nature does not teach us about Christ. "He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word as far as is necessary for us in this life, to His glory and our salvation." In His Word God wishes to display His greater care.