"Notes" to the Belgic
Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
THE SUFFICIENCY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
We believe that this Holy Scripture fully contains the will of God and that all that man must believe in order to be saved is sufficiently taught therein.1 The whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in it at length. It is therefore unlawful for any one, even for an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in Holy Scripture:2 yes, even if it be an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul says (Gal 1:8). Since it is forbidden to add to or take away anything from the Word of God (Deut 12:32),3 it is evident that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.4
We may not consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with the divine Scriptures; nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all;5 for all men are of themselves liars, and lighter than a breath (Ps 62:9). We therefore reject with all our heart whatever does not agree with this infallible rule,6 as the apostles have taught us: Test the spirits to see whether they are of God (1 Jn 4:1). Likewise: If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting (2 Jn 1:10).
1 2 Tim 3:16, 17; 1 Pet 1:10-12. 2 1 Cor 15:2; 1 Tim 1:3. 3 Deut 4:2; Prov 30:6; Acts 26:22; 1 Cor 4:6; Rev 22:18, 19. 4 Ps 19:7; Jn 15:15; Acts 18:28; Acts 20:27; Rom 15:4. 5 Mk 7:7-9; Acts 4:19; Col 2:8; 1 Jn 2:19. 6 Deut 4:5, 6; Is 8:20; 1 Cor 3:11; Eph 4:4-6; 2 Thess 2:2; 2 Tim 3:14, 15.
THE SUFFICIENCY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
This article concerns itself with the fact that the Word which God gave us is all we need. This Bible is enough. I don't need any more or any less. It is perfectly complete, containing all that I need to know in order to be able to live for my God in this life. It contains all I need to know for my salvation. This canonical Bible provides the complete standard for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of my faith.
"We believe that this Holy Scripture fully contains the will of God and that all that man must believe in order to be saved is sufficiently taught therein. The whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in it at length." Having confessed this I need never worry that in the course of life I will face times when I will be at a loss as to what I must do on the ground that God hasn't told me. This gives immense comfort. God doesn't just teach me a fraction of what I need to know. No, He loves me so much that He has seen to it that He has told me everything He considers necessary for me to know. What care and what mercy my God shows me in revealing to me all I need to know to live for Him!
This is not to say that I necessarily understand all of God's Word. Some parts are indeed hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15,16). More to the point, though, is the fact that I am but a finite person, and sinful too. So I cannot understand all the deep things of God. However, this does not negate the fact that the Bible is complete. The failure of my understanding does not lie with God. It is my failure if I cannot understand or remember God's Word.
Where does one turn to for help in the struggles of this life? One turns to the Bible. Read Paul's advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3. What should Timothy do in the difficult circumstances described by Paul in the verses 1-9? Says Paul in verse 14, "you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them." From whom did Timothy learn them? From Paul, the man chosen by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and so ultimately Timothy learned these things from God Himself. In the midst of the hatred of this world Timothy is to hold on to the things he has learned from God, for herein is the direction and guidance Timothy needs in all the difficulties of life. So it is for Timothy (and us too) to read God's Word regularly, in the midst of the struggles we encounter day by day.
What is the purpose of Scripture? "... Holy Scriptures…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:15-17). By Scripture the man of God may be complete. The Word of God was able to equip Timothy fully in the face of the hatred and persecution of his day. This was true for Timothy, it was true for deBres and his congregation, and it is true for me too - irregardless of what my circumstances are. I don't need anything in addition to God's Word, for God's Word "is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Ps 119:105).
Admittedly, our hearts readily tempt us to say that the Bible is not enough. We are easily tempted to say that what God says in His Word doesn't make any sense in our circumstances. We even tell ourselves that God understands that we find the Bible's directives to be too difficult for us. Yes, the temptation is there to deny that the Bible is sufficient. DeBres too had to battle against people who said that the Bible is not sufficient. These people were the Roman Catholics and the Anabaptists of his day. Since there is nothing new under the sun, we can learn from the errors of deBres' day so that in turn we can be armed against acting or thinking as if God's Word is not sufficient for us.
THE AUTHORITY, CLARITY, SUFFICIENCY, AND NECESSITY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
1. The Authority of Scripture
1.1. The Roman Catholic Church denies that the Bible has the final authority, and ascribes this authority to the Church. For example, since the Pope says that Mary was without sin, one is to believe Mary's perfection on the ground that the Pope (and in him the church) has spoken. The Pope becomes the final authority.
1.2 The Anabaptists ascribe the final authority to the Holy Spirit. It is thought that the Holy Spirit tells people in His own sovereign way what course of action must be taken, for example when it comes to choosing a vocation or assuming an office in Church. What I think the Holy Spirit tells me is what I do. In theory, then, the Holy Spirit is raised above the Word of God. But in practice (since anyone can claim to receive a message from the Holy Spirit and nobody can verify it), man is made the final authority.
REFUTATION: The Bible is canonical. If it is written in the Bible, then only is it true.
We do well here to take note of Article 7: "We may not consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with the divine Scriptures; nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and lighter than a breath." We too can easily fall for the Roman Catholic error of ascribing the final authority to 'holy' men. Augustine, Calvin, Schilder, etc. do not have the final say regarding what is truth. Remember that all men of themselves are liars. Even large bodies of men (synods) do not have the final say regarding any point of doctrine, since even a large body of persons remains a body of sinful persons. All authority lies with the Bible and with the Bible alone. It is for that reason that all communicant members are given a copy of the Acts of Synod. All communicant members are responsible (according to gifts) to stay abreast of developments in the churches, and to ensure, as best as possible, that the churches together remain faithful to the revelation God has given in holy Scripture. This will require prayerful reading and study by all of us. Authority lies not with people or with Synods, but with the Bible. All are subject to it.
Nor must we fall for Anabaptist tendencies and base our decisions and actions on what "I think." When it comes to the truth, there is no room for personal opinions or feelings. We must base all our decisions and actions on what the Bible says.
2. The Clarity of Scripture
2.1 The Roman Catholic Church says that the Bible is unclear at face value. In order to understand it one requires the interpretation of the Church. So, in deBres' time, the Roman Catholic church forbade the membership to have a copy of the Bible, and instructed the membership instead to listen to the priests, since the priests were equipped to interpret this dark book
2.2 The Anabaptists also deny that the Bible is clear. They claim that the Holy Spirit will reveal to each of us what it means. Instead of reading and listening to the Bible, then, one needs to remain open to what the Spirit might be saying to you.
REFUTATION: Is God's love and care for me such that He has given me a Word which is too difficult for me to understand? No, for that would not correspond with the kind of God He is. He has given me His Word which is clear. Yes, admittedly, I struggle to understand certain passages. The Bible itself acknowledges that some things are difficult to understand:"Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15b, 16). However, the point is that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of all God's own so that all may understand the drift of the Scripture. Yes, some passages, or some issues may be difficult to understand, but the Bible as a whole is clear.
This means for us that we are not to shy away from the Bible, on the assumption that we can't understand it. It is for us instead to be prayerfully busy with the Scripture God in His care for us has given.
3. The Sufficiency of Scripture
3.1 The Roman Catholic Church maintains that the Bible is not enough. One needs the interpretation of the Church in addition to it. For many years it disallowed its members to have their own Bible. Only since approximately the last 30 years are members permitted to have a Bible of their own, but the official interpretation of the Roman Catholic Church is required alongside it.
3.2 The Anabaptists maintain that the Bible is not sufficient. One needs the Holy Spirit to give additional revelation.
REFUTATION: "We believe that this Holy Scripture fully contains the will of God and that all that man must believe in order to be saved is sufficiently taught therein."
So: in the midst of life's struggles, turn always and again to the Scripture. Certainly, one may (and should) consult commentaries and Bible handbooks, but the Bible first of all is important.
4. The Necessity of Scripture
4.1 As far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, one at bottom doesn't need Scripture, as long as one listens to what it is the Church teaches.
4.2 As far as the Anabaptists are concerned, one again ultimately doesn't need Scripture as long as one listens to the Holy Spirit.
REFUTATION: In contrast to the Roman Catholics and Anabaptists of their day, who were quite content to leave their Bibles closed, deBres and his fellow believers treasured the Bible. They reasoned that if God gives His Word to us, then it must be necessary. Since the Holy Spirit works faith by the means of studying God's Word, then each person must utilise that means. DeBres and his congregation were busy with the Bible, they studied it.
It is by His Word that God leads me and gives me direction for the questions and challenges facing me, no matter what my situation is. To find my answers to these questions and challenges I read the Bible first and foremost. To leave the Bible closed, to consider that the Bible is not really necessary for me in order to get through my day, is typically Anabaptist. I have confessed that the Bible is sufficient for the DAILY regulation, foundation, and confirmation of my faith. I must live this confession. I must be busy with the Bible, make it my business to study it with a concerted effort. Being busy with the Scripture is simply a matter of living consistently with the faith we are allowed to confess. To leave the Bible closed, or to study it intermittently, is to deny the matter learned from Scripture and confessed in Art 7.