************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 25, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 4
"The Canonical Books"
I said this morning that Satan is our adversary, our accuser. He hates the triune Godhead. He hates the church. He hates the Gospel. So he attacks. He attacks the truth. This started already in the Garden of Eden when Satan came to Eve and asked, "Did God really say ...?" This questioning and twisting of God's words continues until today.
In the previous sermons on the Confession of Faith we were told that God has revealed Himself. He has revealed Himself in General or Creation Revelation. He has revealed Himself in Special Revelation. And, we were told that because of the special care He has for us and our salvation He commanded His servants to commit His revealed Word to writing in the books of Scripture. The Confession of Faith tells us these books are canonical books. That is, they measure up, they are the standard of faith, they have divine authority. Therefore, they are beyond criticism and no one may say anything against them.
Yet, numerous attacks against the Bible have taken place over the years. In fact, the Bible will be under attack until the end of the world. Nevertheless, we note with holy joy that not one single attack will succeed. The world is too ignorant and blinded by darkness to realize that its fight is doomed.
Let me give you an example. Voltaire, the French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher hated the church, the Bible, and organized religion. At one point he wrote, "Fifty years from now the world will hear no more of the Bible." Voltaire died in 1778. That same year the British Museum paid the remarkable sum of $500,000 for an old copy of the Bible. Ironically, at the same time first edition copies of Voltaire's books were selling for eight cents. The story ends with the Geneva Bible Society buying Voltaire's house in Switzerland. Truly, as Psalm 2 puts it, "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them" (Ps 2:4).
This assurance of victory, however, does not mean the church can fall asleep and fail to be vigilant. Especially, the church has to watch out for attacks from within her walls. Isn't that sad? Isn't it sad there are those within the church who -- like Satan -- ask, "Did God really say ...?" Isn't it sad there are those within the church who question and twist and distort God's words? Isn't it sad there are those who put God's Word under a microscope to decide what is God's Word as opposed to what is man's word? In contrast, the Belgic Confession says we believe the entire Bible is the Word of God. We believe it is the many words of the Spirit, the one word of the Son, and the last word of the Father.
I The Many Words of the Spirit
A In Article 3 the Belgic Confession of Faith reminded us of the doctrine of inspiration -- that holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit used different men, at different times, and under different circumstances, to write His Word. Thus, we can say there are many words of the Holy Spirit, but altogether they form the one Word of God.
The Belgic Confession mostly lists the books of the Bible in the order in which they appear in our Bible today. The two exceptions are that Lamentations is not mentioned (it was seen as part of Jeremiah) and in its original edition the Belgic reverses the order of Judges and Ruth. I'm sure you realize the arrangement of the books of the Bible is not the order in which the books were written, nor is it the order in the Jewish Scriptures.
People have challenged some of the details in Article 4. We know, for example, that Moses could not have written the last chapter of Deuteronomy as it describes his death; yet, the Belgic includes Deuteronomy in "the five books of Moses." We also know that David did not write every psalm; yet, the Belgic calls them the Psalm of David. Furthermore, it is generally recognized that Paul did not write the book of Hebrews; yet, the Belgic does list it as one of the letters of Paul. The point of Article 4 does not lie in these details; rather, it lies in the list of books that make up God's holy and inspired Word.
B How did this list come to be? Who decided which books would and would not be part of the Word of God? How did the various writings come to be accepted as the many words of the Holy Spirit?
The gathering of the Old Testament books goes back to the days of Ezra, approximately 450 years before Christ. Only Malachi wrote after Ezra, and his book was also soon included. The Old Testament church recognized this collection as the Word of God. Jesus and the New Testament church accepted this canon. Both Jews and Christians have accepted these writings as holy and canonical, as the inspired Word of God.
C The ancient Church Father who lived within one or two generations of the apostles, quoted from the New Testament, recognizing it as part of sacred Scripture. Even prior to their testimony, Peter referred to Paul's writings as the "Scriptures" (2 Pet 3:15-16). Around AD 200, the New Testament as we know it was received as canonical.
But why did the church select these books? Under the guidance of the Spirit, five rules were followed by the early church. First, they had to be written by an apostle or a close associate of one of the apostles. Second, they had to be confirmed by acts of God. Third, its message has to tell the truth about God. Fourth, it comes with the power of God and changes lives. Fifth, it had to be widely used by the churches.
Why were other books not included -- books like the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, the Apocryphal Books mentioned in Article 6? Here, too, is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. He ensured that these other books -- which contain much truth, but are at the same time fallible and thus unreliable -- would be exposed and recognized by the church for what they are.
In John 16 the Lord Jesus promises to lead His church into the truth by the Holy Spirit. The acceptance of the books of the Bible is a wonderful fulfilment of that promise. It was accomplished under much stress. Many heresies arose in the church's early years. But all attempts to twist and destroy the Scriptures have failed because God Himself stood guard over His Word. Throughout the centuries the many words of the Holy Spirit have survived. The Lord Himself has guaranteed that they will be our guide until we no longer need faith. The result is that the many words of the Spirit gives guidelines and directions in all the circumstances of life.
II The One Word of the Son
A Our second point is the one word of the Son.
The miracle of Scripture is that the many writers, the many books, and the many words of the Holy Spirit are all in full agreement. They do not all say exactly the same thing, but they all write about the coming of the Messiah and His Kingdom.
And yet -- I heard it again this past week -- the Bible is used to speak different things to different people according to what they would like to hear. Some want it to be a manual for dummies: ten tips to a better marriage, seven rules for raising kids, nine ways to live holy lives, three ways to be filled with the Spirit, and so on. Some use it to support liberation theology. Some turn it into a manifesto for radical feminism and women in church office. Others see it as supporting a program of social justice. Everyone thinks they are listening to the Word of God. But the only thing that is happening is that they are only hearing what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3). They claim to hear Scripture but they are turning their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:4).
When we use Scripture this way, the sword of the Spirit, which should equip us for service, lies useless in our hand, having been made pointless by our foolish sin.
In the Reformed tradition we have Creeds and Confessions that help us to understand and read Scripture in a certain way. Did you know there are many churches and Christians who leave the interpretation of Scripture to each individual. The result is that everyone believes in his or her own way. The result is no uniformity in belief.
B The many words of the Holy Spirit are the one Word of the Son. The followers of Jesus Christ hear only one voice, for there is only one Lord and only one revelation from Him.
Peter puts it this way in his sermon before the Sanhedrin:
(Acts 4:12) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.John, towards the ends of his gospel, has this to say:
(Jn 20:31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.This is the heart, the sum, of the entire Bible.
C We do realize that the setting and writers of the Old Testament are completely different than that of the New Testament. Abraham, for instance, did not see Christ up close but only from a distance. The Old Testament was the time of shadows. The believing Jew knew that the lamb sacrificed in the Temple was a sign of grace, but he did not know Jesus would come as the Lamb of God to be sacrificed. Isaiah saw something of that, but Abraham did not have this knowledge to the same extent.
In the Old Testament Jesus is the promise and in the New Testament He is the fulfilment. An old rhyme by Augustine says, "The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed." The entire Bible is the one Word of the Son. It is this Word that unites us to Abraham and David and Isaiah and Paul so that we all sing the song of Moses and the Lamb.
III The Last Word of the Father
A This brings us to our third point: the Bible is the last Word of the Father.
At one time Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). At the time of the transfiguration God confirmed this when He said, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (Mk 9:7). Whoever hears Jesus, then, hears the Father.
Now, with this in mind, listen to the opening words of the letter to the Hebrews:
(Heb 1:1-2) In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, (2) but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son ...Jesus is God's last Word. Meaning that what is in the Bible is God's last Word.
From here we need to take to heart the warning that I read from our Scripture reading this evening:
(Rev 22:18-19) I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. (19) And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.What a statement! This applies first to John's Revelation. But the church has been correct in broadening these words to include the entire Bible.
B It is a dangerous thing to play with the Bible. Because in the Bible, Christ Jesus speaks the Word of God. Woe to him who adds to or subtracts from this Word! Whether we deny the six days of Creation or turn the Red Sea into the Sea of Reeds or remove Jonah from the belly of the whale or deny the virgin birth or Easter's resurrection -- we tread on fearful ground. Be careful if you add to John 3:16 the little word "elect" -- "For God so loved the elect world that He gave His one and only Son." Be careful. God does not need that kind of help.
Be careful because you are playing with your eternal well-being if you add to or subtract from the Word of God. Be careful because it is the last Word of the Father. Do not twist it. That was the first sin we see in Paradise: "Did God really say ...?"
Be careful if you twist what God says about His Son and His Kingdom. It is the last Word of the Father, and if we twist that Word, there is no more. There is no other Son; there is no other Word of salvation.
Those who do not believe God's last Word deny that God is light. If we say this Word is not true, if we do not believe it for our salvation, if we do not live our lives according to it, we are attacking God Himself. We are saying God is not true.
God worked a miracle by carefully forming and preserving the Bible for us. The triune Godhead speaks through this Word. The Holy Spirit carried along men for 1600 years and caused these many voices to speak one message. The Son and His law-keeping work and His law-keeping punishment is the heart and center of this Word. The Father has nothing more to say than what He has expressed in His Son.
We have this Book -- the many words of the Holy Spirit, the one Word of the Son, and the last Word of the Father. Do we know it, believe it, love it? Or does it sit unused on our night stand or as decoration on a coffee table or unopened in a cupboard?
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