03 September, 2016

Belgic Confession, 13—“… he so restrains the devil and all our enemies …”

We believe that the same God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them according to his holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment; nevertheless, God neither is the author, nor can be charged with the sins which are committed. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner, even then, when devils and wicked men act unjustly. And as to what he doth surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire into, farther than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God, which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which he has revealed to us in His Word, without transgressing these limits. This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father, who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power, that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered) nor a sparrow can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust, being persuaded that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies, that without his will and permission they cannot hurt us. And, therefore, we reject that damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance (Belg. Conf., 13).

Exponents of the theory of common grace have appealed to this article as proof of an inner, spiritual operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every man whereby he is not regenerated, yet he is kept from total corruption of his nature; and, by this same inward operation of grace, there is a certain reforming influence outside of the work of regeneration upon the heart of every man.


Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America [1947], 366-367]

4.   Is there any point of doctrine expressed in this article to which the Protestant Reformed Churches cannot subscribe?
Not at all. On the contrary, while these do and always did emphasize the truth as it is expressed in Article 13, the Christian Reformed Churches are very weak on this point and always accuse those that do maintain it, that they make God the author of sin.

5.   How, then, is it possible that they refer to this article as proof of the second point and, with an appeal to it, cast out their Protestant Reformed brethren?
This is possible only because in the “second point” they so “interpreted” this article that the interpretation declares something radically different from the article that was supposed to be interpreted.

6.   How can you prove that the alleged interpretation entirely distorts the meaning of the article?
First of all by pointing out that the second point of 1924 and Article 13 of the Belgic Confession deal with two different subjects. The former treats of general grace, the latter of divine providence. As is usually done by the exponents of the theory of common grace, synod confused grace and providence. What is merely God’s omnipresent power it presents as God’s omnipresent grace.

7.   Have you more evidence that the meaning of Article 13 was wholly distorted in the Second Point of 1924?
Yes; synod speaks of a restraint of sin through an influence of the Holy Spirit, whereby some good is preserved in the natural man, so that he can live a naturally good life in this world; but the article speaks of a restraint of the wicked (the devil and all our enemies) by keeping them under his power. The difference is glaringly evident, so glaringly that it is difficult to suppose that the committee that composed the second point, and the synod that adopted it, were blinded by so great a stupidity that they could not detect it. The restraint of which the second point speaks is a spiritual, internal operation of God in the heart of the wicked, by virtue of which they somewhat improve their lives; but the article of the Belgic Confession speaks of an external compulsion, leaving the wicked morally unchanged, but bridling their wicked designs and leading them in those channels which may serve the purpose of the Almighty.

8.   What especially should have prevented synod from quoting this article in proof of the statement that there is an operation of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of the wicked checking the process of sin within him?

The fact that Article 13 includes the devil. God restrains the devil and all our enemies. By quoting the article in proof of the second point, synod actually adopted the doctrine that there is an operation of common grace through the Holy Spirit upon the devil, whereby he is not as wicked as he might be!


[Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015), pp. 369, 404]

Very clearly article 13 does not speak of an operation of common grace by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the ungodly whereby they are somewhat reformed and improved. It speaks of God’s providence in connection with the blessed truth of God’s power and dominion, even over the instruments and agents of darkness. That this part of the confession speaks of the devils and ungodly ought to have been sufficient to keep synod from the error of thinking that the article referred to an internal and gracious operation of the Holy Spirit. If synod’s interpretation were correct, this article would also teach that there is a reforming influence of the Holy Spirit on the devils, which is absurd. But if synod will not accept such an operation of grace on devils, it will have to admit that article 13 does not refer to such a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit at all, but simply to God’s almighty domination, whereby he rules over and governs all things according to his eternal counsel … This government of the Most High over all things, according to Article 13, is divinely motivated not by a certain grace, or favor, over the ungodly, but by his grace and love over his people. Article 13 refers to a very particular grace …

… Article 13 speaks of God’s absolute sovereignty and control over devils and ungodly men. God always holds the reins. He directs, controls, and dominates the sinner so that even in his sinful deeds he can only fulfil God’s sovereign counsel. He cannot do as he pleases. He is not independent. The Most High holds him in his power.


[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 15, no. 14 (April 13, 1939), p. 337]

We do understand, as Article 13 of our Confession of Faith teaches us, that God restrains all evil men, yea even the devil. But of a general operation of the Spirit, whereby God would improve the mind and will and inclinations of the natural man, the confession surely does not speak. The English translation might possibly allow the presentation of synod, inasmuch as it reads: “that He so restrains the devil and all our enemies.” But the Holland translation, “hij de duivelen en al onze vijanden in den toom houdt” [“he keeps the devils and all our enemies in check”], is undoubtedly the more correct.



Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), pp. 218-219]

No Reformed man who believes in the sovereignty of God has ever denied that God restrains sin. No Reformed man has ever denied, that, included in God’s sovereign control, are Satan and his black hosts from hell. Even while our Lord was on earth, the devils who were cast out of devil-possessed people, were subject to the Lord’s will. They could not even enter the pigs without the Lord’s permission (Mark 5:1-17). This profound truth of God’s sovereignty is taught in Article 13 of the Belgic Confession. But there is absolutely no mention made of an “inner work of the Holy Spirit who restrains sin from within a man by changing man’s nature so that he can do good.” Appeal to this article is an unwarranted twisting of the article on God’s providence.



More to come! (DV)

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