"Notes" to the Belgic Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
THE FULFILMENT OF THE LAW
Articles 22 and 23 confessed Christ's work of justification and article 24 Christ's work of sanctification. DeBres continues his confession concerning Christ in Article 26 by mentioning His intercessory work. Yet deBres saw a need to insert within this sequence of articles dealing with the work of Christ an article concerning the Old Testament laws and ceremonies. One wonders why. Why would deBres wish to interrupt his confession concerning Christ's work with an article devoted to the law of the Old Testament? By means of what is confessed in article 25, deBres is interacting with the circumstances of his day. DeBres saw a need to state clearly that the work of Christ on the cross was so complete that the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament law had been fulfilled. By means of this article deBres wished to underline how complete Christ's work really was.
ROMAN CATHOLICS: CONTINUE TO SACRIFICE CHRIST DAILY
The Belgic confession was
completed in 1561, just after the Great Reformation had passed through Europe.
In deBres' day the Roman Catholic Church, the focus of this reformation, said
that though the ritual cleansings as prescribed in the Old Testament were no
longer required, we still need to keep the Old Testament laws. The daily forgiveness
of sins can only be obtained through the daily sacrificing of Christ. Hence
the Roman Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist, in which Christ is offered daily
by the priest to God (cf Lord's Day 30.80). Yet what was it that deBres confessed
in articles 22 and 23? There he had insisted that Christ had already fully paid
for sin. But if Christ has indeed fully paid for sin and reconciled the sinner
to God, the sinner need no longer keep the ceremonial law of the OT.
CHRIST: THE FULFILMENT OF THE LAW
DeBres mentions in article 25 that the Old Testament laws have been "fulfilled". DeBres learned this from Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17). In Article 5 we saw how the Old and New Testaments complemented each other. The Old Testament looked forward to the Cross of Calvary and the New Testament reflects back on that cross. Jesus said that He did not destroy the Law and the Prophets which foreshadowed His coming, but rather He fulfilled them. He accomplished perfectly what the Law foreshadowed.
Should we keep the Old Testament ceremonies? No, says deBres, "We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ceased with the coming of Christ, and that all shadows have been fulfilled, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians." This means that if we should become aware of any sin against the law on our part, we no longer have to take an animal to the priest and make a sacrifice to atone for that sin (see Leviticus 4). Christ has fulfilled that requirement of the law. The Old Testament laws, ceremonies, and feasts were "a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Colossians 2:17). Christ was the content of the laws and ceremonies; Christ was foreshadowed by these. However, in His coming to earth and performing what these ceremonies foreshadowed, Christ fulfilled them. "Yet their truth and substance remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled" (Article 25).
ANABAPTISTS: A FULFILLED LAW IS AN OBSOLETE LAW
Whilst the Roman Catholics
in deBres' day maintained that the ceremonies of the law should still be performed
in worship today, the Anabaptists on the other hand (ie, the radical element
of the Reformation) claimed that in having fulfilled the ceremonies of the law,
Christ made them obsolete and hence they have no role at all any more in the
New Testament dispensation. According to the Anabaptists they were of no value
any longer and could therefore be ignored. This thought is still alive today,
as is evidenced by the fact that preaching in Australia's churches is very predominantly
based on New Testament texts.
THE ROLE OF THE LAW TODAY
If Christ's one sacrifice for sin was sufficient, if I do not have to sacrifice Christ today for the forgiveness of sins, then what role do the Old Testament laws play today? Were the Anabaptists correct in concluding that a fulfilled law became an obsolete law? If Christ has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, do they have any role at all today?
What was it that we confessed in Article 5 concerning the authority of Holy Scripture? It was this: "we receive all these book, (including what is written concerning the ceremonies and symbols of the law), ... as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith." We find these words echoed in article 25, "In the meantime we still use the testimonies taken from the law and the prophets, both to confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel and to order our life in all honour, according to God's will and to His glory."
We can use the Old Testament as evidence of what the Lord teaches us in the New Testament. It is not only the New Testament which reveals the doctrine of the gospel, but the law and the prophets do this too. Says deBres concerning the ceremonies and symbols of the law: they 'confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel.' All the ceremonies of the Old Testament law are vivid pictures of how it is that the Lord has obtained salvation for us in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, it is the Ten Commandments which teach us to 'order our life in all honour according to God's will and to His glory.' The New Testament certainly promotes and reinforces a lifestyle in obedience to God's ten commandments as recorded for us in the Old Testament. But it is to the Old Testament that we ought to turn to learn how the saints of old lived a life of trust in God and obedience to His commands. It is not for us to cast aside as obsolete the Old Testament revelation God preserved for us; it is for us instead to read these Scriptures, to familiarise ourselves with them and to treasure them.
Christ has finished the
work He was given to do by the Father. This work, as foreshadowed by the Old
Testament ceremonies and symbols of the law was fulfilled perfectly
by Christ. Hence there is no need for sacrifices for sin today. Yet the Lord
has preserved for us in His Word what He required in these ceremonies so that
we might the more understand and appreciate our righteousness attained by
Christ and thereby be confirmed in our faith. Fulfilled by Christ, the use
of the ceremonies and symbols of the law have been abolished; yet their testimonies
serve to confirm our faith and regulate our life of service to God.