First Baptist Church, Wycombe, PA


God Governs All

03.17.20 | Daily Living | by Joshua Brownfield

    Good Morning FBCW Family,
    Because we're all at a distance from one another, I'd like to send you something every few days or so on which to meditate. This first installment comes from the history of the church right after the Protestant Reformation:
    God Governs All

    One of the assumptions that we make about creeds and confessions is that they are written in and for times of peace and stability. That is certainly true of some, but many throughout the church's history were composed in times of significant trial. Perhaps the most dramatic of these was the Belgic Confession, written by a pastor named Guido de Bres (1522-1567) who ministered in territory that is now part of Belgium. When de Bres was alive, this land was under the brutal control of Catholic Spain. The first martyrs of the Protestant Reformation came from this region. Because of intermittent waves of persecution by their Spanish overlords, Protestant worship was conducted underground. De Bres's preaching was usually done to small groups who gathered under the guise of holding "dinner parties."

    At some point when de Bres was ministering clandestinely in the town of Doornik he composed the Belgic Confession, which was a modified version of the confession of the French Protestants, who were also being persecuted. The Protestants in Doornik decided in 1561 to hold a demonstration to push for some kind of recognition. On September 29, one hundred gathered in the streets singing metrical Psalms, and the following day between three and four thousand joined them. Within two days the local authorities dispersed the crowds and sent commissioners to find the leadership of this now very visible movement. De Bres was discovered and fled after it became known that he had nailed a copy of his new confession to a church door (Luther-style) in Doornik.

    De Bres fled to France, where it was not much better for Protestants, but returned in 1566 when conditions seemed to be better. Protestants began meeting openly in fields under the protection of mid-level nobles. Unfortunately, some of the Protestants pushed a bit too far, and wound up taking over church buildings and smashing stained glass (an irony, since de Bres was a maker of stained glass by trade). Though de Bres did not endorse this vandalism, he was still associated with the movement, and so when the Spanish moved in to quell the uprising they captured him at an inn and executed him on May 31, 1567.

    Given the circumstances of the Christians in the Spanish Low Countries, what sort of things would they want to emphasize in confessing their faith? A lot of it is standard for the times: articles on God, man, Christ, sin, salvation, the church, and eschatology. One article, specifically XIII, stands out, as it is modified from the French confession:

    We believe that the same good 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 of 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 does 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 pupils 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. (Dennison,ed., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, 2:431-432)
    What I find intriguing about the Belgic Confession is its expression of wholehearted trust in the providence and sovereignty of God, with the knowledge that anyone who even had a copy of this in their possession was up for persecution. De Bres did not take suffering and pain to be a sign that God did not rule over all, but an opportunity to reaffirm his faith in the God who ordains all that comes to pass. If this is how de Bres and the other Christians in the Spanish Low Countries believed, how can we not do the same, when our circumstances (however uncertain) are so much better? We do what we need to provide for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, but we do so knowing that none of this is happening outside of our Lord's control. If you are tempted to doubt or despair, I encourage you to preach these truths to yourself instead of listening to yourself.
    If you're in physical or spiritual need, please contact me or one of the other elders.
    Yours in the strongest bonds of affection and affliction,
    Josh B.