IN ONE MONTH volume two of The Belgic Confession commentary will be printed, completing the two-volume set written by Professor David J. Engelsma.
We give to you the full Chapter 19 on Article 25: "The Abolishing of the Ceremonial Law."
We believe that the ceremonies and figures of the law ceased at the coming of Christ, and that all the shadows are accomplished; so that the use of them must be abolished amongst Christians: yet the truth and substance of them remain with us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have their completion. In the mean time, we still use the testimonies taken out of the law and the prophets, to confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel, and to regulate our life in all honesty to the glory of God, according to his will.
The brevity of article 25 does not signify the relative unimportance of its subject for Reformed, indeed Protestant, Christianity. Generally, this subject is the place of the law in the life of the Reformed believer. Specifically, the subject is the abolition of the ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament regarding the holy life of the New Testament child of God. Underlying these subjects, important as they are in themselves, is the fundamental truth of the relation of the Old and the New Testament scriptures.
The importance of the content of the article is evident from the serious controversies in which the article involves the Christian. The gospel itself is at stake in these controversies. The apostolic church fought over the issues raised in the article. These issues occasioned the first synod of the New Testament church. This is the synod of which the agenda and decisions are recorded in Acts 15. The question before the apostles and elders was whether the New Testament, largely Gentile, church is required to observe the ceremonial laws of Moses, specifically, circumcision. Invariably involved in the imposition upon the New Testament church of the ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament is the heresy of salvation—justification and sanctification—by works. Therefore, in combating the error of requiring New Testament Christians to be circumcised, Peter proclaimed salvation by grace: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:11).
The article’s doctrinal content was at the heart of the controversy of the early church addressed by the apostle in the book of Galatians and in Colossians 2. This was the controversy of the gospel of grace with the Judaizers, those Jewish members of the church who insisted that the Christian must observe the ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament. Those were the members of the church who “observe[d] days, and months, and times, and years” (Gal. 4:10). They judged other members of the church “in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” (Col. 2:16). They made themselves “subject to ordinances” (v. 20).
The seriousness of the error—the error exposed in article 25 of the Belgic Confession—the apostle indicated when he warned that “if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:2).
It would be naive to suppose that the matters of such important controversies in the early church are dead issues for the Reformed churches today.
Altogether apart from the controversies over the subject of the article, the truth that the article confesses is of positive importance for the Reformed Christian. The article is not only negative: the abolishing of the ceremonial law. It is also positive: “Yet the truth and substance of them [the ceremonies and figures of the law] remain with us in Jesus Christ.”
Old Testament law still has a place in the holy life of the New Testament believer. What this place is, the article teaches in the word “regulate”: “to regulate our life in all honesty to the glory of God, according to his will.”