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The Belgic Confession of Faith (16)
In the past articles we have dealt with the first part of our Confession: the doctrine about God and about Scripture. We have heard about the existence of God, the three Persons in the Godhead, and the divine providence of God.
In Articles 14-17 we hope to deal with the anthropology — the doctrine of man. Therein we see the origin of man, his creation and fall, original sin, and also the election and recovery of man.
Article 14 deals with the creation and fall of man and his incapability to perform that which is truly good. This article can be studied in conjunction with the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 3, and the Canons of Dordt, Heads 3-4, Articles 1-4, especially article 1.
Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with the true saving knowledge of his Creator. Man’s heart and will were upright, his affections pure, and the whole man was holy.
Article 14 states, “We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth.” There was no evolution or gradual development of man into a higher level of knowledge. God created man out of the dust of the earth. It is good to remember that. Man was made as the crown of creation. He indeed made us “son of God” — as Adam was called. We were created after His own image. We are God’s offspring. Paul said that we have the resembling image of God, which is of a high origin. Nevertheless, we were also of the earth. God created man out of the dust of the earth after His own image and likeness.
When we speak of the image of God, we must make a distinction between that image of God which we see in Christ — the express image. Christ is the expression of God’s glory and God’s majesty. In Him we can see who God is. Jesus said to His disciples, “Whosoever hath seen Me, hath seen the Father also.” It is not so with man. Man was also created after the image of God, but it is the resembling image of God. God was the potter of that clay. In man you could see something of the glory and majesty of his Creator. He was the crown upon God’s creation.
Man was created in the image of God, which existed in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. These three aspects have direct correlation with the three offices of Christ: Prophet, Priest and King.
The aspect of knowledge corresponds to the prophetical office. Man was created with knowledge of the majesty, holiness, wisdom, omniscience and omnipresence of God. We knew our Creator and our place in His creation. We were prophets and as such were a witness of that knowledge. We had a mouth to praise God because of what we knew. This was our duty, but also our delight.
Man also had righteousness. He was in a right relationship with God. There was no guilt nor sin. There was innocence. As a priest, man sacrificed himself completely unto God. Man did not live for himself. His only purpose for living was God — to live towards God, and for God and His creation.
Man also had holiness, and like the Holy One he was king — a king ruling and reigning over the creation. Man not only reigned over the animals, but over the whole creation, and as such he was a king who was holy; that is, man was set apart — devoted to the service of God. That is what our fathers say in this article: “He formed him after His own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God.”
Man was therefore qualified and equipped with all he needed in order to serve God. Nothing was lacking nor was there any difficulty in living up to that standard. He was fully qualified to serve his Maker. He had the image of God, and that in a narrower and a broader sense.
In a broader sense we can say that Adam was different from other creatures. He had an immortal soul. Man also had understanding: the ability to rationalize, think and reason. He had a conscience and that conscience was, as it were, the voice of God. It was representative of God in Adam. He had an innate knowledge of God.
The Roman Catholic Church says that the image of God was just like a bridle on a horse. Man had carnal desires and strong passions, as we still have. They believe that the image of God did not belong to the essence of man, but that the Lord took extra care for man by giving him that bridle — His image — so that he could walk in the right path. When man fell and lost that image, Rome says that he lost the bridle, but still remained as he was created. He is now inclined to go the wrong way, like a wild horse. We disagree with that doctrine. The image of God belonged to the human nature.
Some theologians, followers of Kohlbrugge, say that man stood in the full light of God’s presence and glory, but by his fall the lights went out and it became utterly dark, so that now he cannot even see his hand before his eyes. No, we are not just sitting in the darkness, but we have lost something which belongs to our creation. We lost the image of God. That image consists of knowledge, righteousness and holiness.
In the broader sense there is innate knowledge, the upright posture and a conscience, which we still have. Pelagius believed that the image of God was not lost. Man is born, he said, as a blank sheet of paper. Sin only comes from following the wrong example. Man was created mortal. Death is not a consequence of sin. What do our forefathers say of this? They say that God created man after the image of God. He was prophet, priest and king. He was capable of doing all things according to the will of God. He was in honor, our article says. What an honor it was to be “a son of God,” to live in His fellowship, to be the crown upon His creation! But he understood it not. He did not esteem it enough. He knew not his excellency, but he willfully subjected himself to sin.
Dear friends, the Lord also placed upon man a condition of obedience — that probationary command which said that man might eat of all the trees but not of that one tree. We know that the Lord did that by virtue of a covenant.
There was an agreement between God and man — Adam. God the Father represented the Trinity — all three Persons. Adam represented all mankind — all his posterity. God the Father and Adam agreed upon this covenant. It was not a one-sided covenant. The Lord placed the conditions of that covenant before Adam. He spoke of the promises of that covenant and He also spoke of the penalties if man would not obey. The conditions were obedience: not eating of the tree, keeping the laws. He spoke of the promises: do this and ye shall live. Eternal life was promised upon obedience. He spoke about the penalty. If you do not obey, thou shalt surely die. And Adam agreed with this covenant.
This covenant is spoken of in the Word of God. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Rom. 5:12). That is the sin in Paradise. It did not just come upon Adam, but by one man that sin came upon all his posterity. That speaks clearly of a covenant relationship. That was Adam representing mankind.
You may say, “Is it right that we have to suffer for the sin of Adam? We did not commit that first sin.” Friends, in our time we have presidents or kings. When they declare war on another country, the whole nation is at war, as we have been recently. By the word of that one representative or head of the country, the whole land is included. When David fought against Goliath, David stood for Israel and Goliath stood for the Philistines. The Lord made the covenant with Adam, who was the head of all mankind in that covenant. Adam did not object to it, but agreed voluntarily with the conditions, promises, and also the penalty. Yet he fell.
We read of that covenant of works in our doctrinal standards — not literally — but we read of it for instance in the Canons of Dordt, Heads 3-4, Article 2. “Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, (and that is referring to the covenant relation) Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature.” Our dogmatics speak of the original sin of Adam in pollution and in guilt coming upon all his posterity. This is what we read also in Article 14. Man fell. He was in honor but he understood it not. He did not know his excellency. He willfully subjected himself to sin.
In Bunyan’s book, The Holy War, we can read of Shaddai. He lived in his heavenly palace. In this palace there was a revolution. Angels under the leading of Diabolus tried to push the son of the father, Immanuel, from the throne. The angels were then banned in exile. They could no longer return to that heavenly place and therefore they desired revenge. They knew that they could not defeat Shaddai. They also knew that Shaddai had a beautiful city on earth and that city was called Mansoul. That city had five gates. They were the five senses of man. As long as these gates remained closed, there was no danger that any enemy would enter into that city. The walls were so high and the city was so strong and powerful. As long as the gates were closed, no enemy could ever enter into it. In the city there was also a tree and the inhabitants of that city might not eat of that tree. Diabolus came with his army to the gates of the city, but he could not enter in at the gate. Do you know what he did? He sent his messengers with a message. Some of the inhabitants of Mansoul were so curious that when they saw the army and heard the noise, they listened. Diabolus was trying to sow doubts. It is just like we read in the Bible. There we read how he placed God’s command in a negative light and said to the woman: you may not eat of all the trees, only of the one tree. The devil slanders; he questions God’s motive and nature. He says that God does not want you to be happy and strong like He is. Satan tried to entice man with the proud thought that he would be his own god, his own master. Wouldn’t that be nice?
He also placed that sin before him in a very attractive, pleasant way. That fruit was beautiful to look at. In Bunyan’s book, the people were deceived in the same way. They listened to Diabolus and ate of the fruit of that tree and they became very strong and courageous. They saw everything from the bright side. They soon began to open the gates of the city — the eye gate and the ear gate. The soldiers of Diabolus were able to get into the city. They overthrew the mayor and placed another one in his place, named Mr. Lust.
This is what Bunyan wrote, but it is also what God’s Word says. Man is a slave of his own lusts. It began by listening, questioning, doubting, reasoning, and opening the ear gate, the eye gate — unbelief — and then man took and fell.
That is also what we read in this article. When man fell, he came under the judgment of God. He came under the sentence of a threefold death.
Was that one sin so terrible? Yes, dear friends, it was. Adam sinned with full knowledge. He did not do it ignorantly. He also sinned the sin of rebellion. When he took of that fruit and ate, he rejected God’s authority. He himself wanted to be as God. He also proclaimed his belief that God was a liar. He separated himself and all his posterity from God. Adam fell and we fell too. One might say, “Is it right to punish all of us for Adam’s sin?”
A forefather in Holland, Arnoldus Rotterdam, wrote an explanation of the Belgic Confession of Faith. He said that if Adam had been obedient and remained standing and earned eternal life by obeying, the promise would have been applied to him and so to all his posterity. Then no one would have ever complained, but everyone would have admired God in making such a covenant. But now it turned out the other way, as we fell. We say, “Can I help it? Is this right?” Do you know what Job said? “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). The prophet says, “For Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly” (Neh. 9:33).
This article shows us clearly what we have lost. We have lost our glory and the image of God. The prophet says, “For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the LORD God” (Jer. 2:22). However, we still have retained some things. We have an innate knowledge of God and that makes us without excuse. We are responsible for our deeds; we are not just a piece of wood or stone, but we are a living creature. We have sunk lower than the beasts, but have not become like one of them. In the broader sense we are still image-bearers. If we shed the blood of another person, then we touch an image-bearer of the Lord. We still have a conscience, and a mind which can think.
Oh, wretched fall! That is the reason why at this moment so many people are suffering and dying. That is the reason that by nature we are all running to destruction. Man’s heart is now an open city where Diabolus reigns. We have broken this covenant of works. We have disobeyed God’s conditions. The penalty is upon us, for the wages of sin is death. Man made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. He has become wicked, perverse and corrupt in all his ways. Now he is a slave to sin and has nothing of himself unless it is given from heaven. That is what the Holy Spirit teaches the sinner. All which we have is enmity against God, blindness, and ignorance; in us dwelleth no good thing. But the exalted Christ still distributes His gracious gifts from heaven among men, even to the rebellious. Ask for them. There is all-sufficiency in Him for all our emptiness and all our needs. May He work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
We read in this article about our fall. It is necessary that this becomes our fall experientially and that we become Adam before God. Then and then only shall the second Adam become precious for us.
Rev. C. Vogelaar is pastor of the Ebenezer Netherlands Reformed Church of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.
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Bekijk de hele uitgave van donderdag 1 juli 1993
The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's
Bekijk de hele uitgave van donderdag 1 juli 1993
The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's