The Author of the Belgic Confession of Faith!

Just as the Belgic Confession itself tends to be slighted, in comparison with the Heidelberg Catechism, which is preached regularly in Reformed Churches, and with the Canons of Dordt, which is always the object of intense study on account of its controversial content, including double predestination, so also the author of the Confession seldom receives his due, even from Reformed believers.
Guido de Bres was a genuine, outstanding hero of the Reformation on behalf of the Reformed, Christian faith. His authorship itself of the Belgic Confession raises him to the highest pinnacle of honour. By his Confession and his diligent preaching, he was responsible for the gathering and establishment of Reformed churches throughout the Lowlands and in the western part of France. Then his courageous martyr’s death, with its attendant moving circumstances, puts him in the ranks of the greatest heroes of Reformed faith in all of history, indeed of the Christian religion. De Bres deserves to be mentioned and honoured with Luther, Calvin, Beza, and the other worthies of Protestantism. He was a Netherlander highly honoured by God.
De Bres was born into the Roman Catholic Church and raised in the Roman religion. Sometime before he was twenty-five years old, De Bres was converted to the Reformed faith, mainly by his reading of the Bible and of Reformed materials that were flooding the Lowlands. Almost as soon as he was converted, he taught others, as he had opportunity. This public teaching of the Reformed faith brought down upon him the rage of the Roman Catholic authorities in the southern Lowlands. Several times he had to flee the country. He spent years of his brief life in exile On one occasion, although he escaped his foes, the high price he paid for his confession of the gospel was the burning of his house, of his library, and of himself in effigy.
In the providence of God, his flights from persecution, especially to Great Britain and Switzerland, brought him into contact with leading reformers, including John a Lasco, Martin Bucer, Petrus Dathenus, Martinus Micronius, and John Calvin. In fact, one of De Bres’ periods of exile was spent largely in Switzerland, where he studied for some three years under Calvin. Undoubtedly, these contacts deepened his grasp of the Reformed faith and thus enabled him to write the Confession. These contacts with prominent, learned reformers served also as a kind of seminary training for D Bres, making him a more capable preacher.
De Bres met with William of Orange, the political hope of the Netherlands in its bondage. The meeting was useful to William as he planned his deliverance of the Lowlands from Spanish and Roman oppression.
In 1559 De Bres married Catherine Ramon. This godly young woman agreed to marry De Bres despite his warning that she was marrying a man with a price on his head so that she could expect bereavement and widowhood at any time. Catherine was one of the unsung heroines of the Reformation. With Catherine, De Bres had five children, all of whom were left fatherless at a young age when Rome murdered De Bres.
Even though he was often forced to flee on account of persecution, De Bres would again and again bravely return to what is now Belgium in order to preach and teach. He pastored large congregations, if only for a short time. He engaged also in field preaching, preaching to thousands in the open fields, because of the threats of the civil authorities. Armed men protected the gatherings. Thus De Bres was used by God for the salvation of many. Thus also, in spite of the eventual crushing of the Reformed churches in the southern Lowlands, his ministry bore lasting and abundant fruit in the spread of the Reformed faith and in the establishment of Reformed churches in the northern Lowlands, present-day Holland.
De Bres was a dedicated, indefatigable worker on behalf of the Reformed faith, Reformed churches, and his Lord, Jesus Christ. “Tirelessly working, shrinking back from no danger, he has made himself extraordinarily serviceable for the extension of the Reformation in the southern Netherlands and in the present-day north of France.”
A physical description of De Bres has come down to us. He was tall. He had a pale, thin, long face. His shoulders were high. He was bearded.
The end, the earthly end, of this man of God was as heroic and grand as his life. Christ privileged De Bres to die a martyr, an especially godly and courageous martyr. In July 1566, De Bres returned from exile in France, where he had been preaching, to the Lowlands. This extremely dangerous move was at the urging of the Reformed believers, who desired De Bres’ preaching. De Bres became pastor of a large congregation in Valenciennes. In the short time in 1566 between his return from exile and his capture, De Bres attended the first synod of the Reformed churches in the Lowlands, the Synod of Antwerp. So dangerous were the circumstances of the meeting of this synod that attendance required the use of a password. The password was “the Vineyard.” This synod adopted the Belgic Confession as the creed of the Reformed churches.
The next year, De Bres was finally captured by his Roman Catholic adversaries. They treated the reformer cruelly and abominably. For two weeks he was imprisoned in heavy chains in a dungeon cell in the castle over the walls of which he had earlier thrown a copy of his Confession. De Bres remained undaunted. To a visitor who remarked the heavy chains, De Bres responded, “It is guilt that makes a chain heavy. Innocence makes my chains light. I glory in them as my badges of honour.”
De Bres was then transferred for seven weeks to a prison in Valenciennes. Here he was tortured in a small, foul dungeon known as the Black Hole. For the most part, he was kept in chains that bruised and cut his flesh and bones. Somehow, in these miserable, painful circumstances, De Bres managed to write a large treatise on the Lord’s supper and moving letters to his wife and to his mother. These letters, written as it were with the last drops of his life’s blood, are a moving testimony, not only to the spiritual heroism of their author but also to the spiritual experience that characterises the Reformed faith.
To his beloved wife of merely seven years, the mother of his five children, De Bres said his farewell in the following words:
“I call on you with all urgency that you not grieve beyond measure, so as to offend God. You have always known well, that when you married me, you have taken a mortal mate, who was uncertain of his life from moment to moment. Nevertheless, it pleased the good God to allow us to live together about seven years and to give us five children. If the Lord had willed to let us live together longer, he certainly had the means for this. But it did not please him. Wherefore let his good pleasure be realised, and may this be to you as a conclusive reason for my imprisonment and death, and your widowhood.”
As part of his letter to his wife, De Bres also wrote the following:
“O God, thou hast caused me to be born at the time and at the hour that thou hast ordained. During my entire life, thou has preserved and protected me in threatening dangers and completely delivered me from them. Thus today my hour has come, in which I must leave this life in order to go to thee. Thy good will be done. I cannot escape thy hand, and even if I could, I would not will to do so, for my highest salvation consists in this, that conduct myself according to thy will. All these considerations have made my heart very joyful and cheerful, and they do this still. And I call on you, beloved, faithful companion, that you rejoice with me and thank the good God for what he has done…Here is not the place of our dwelling, but in heaven. Here is our pilgrim-journey. Therefore, we must long for the real land, that is, for heaven, in order to be received there in the house of my heavenly Father so that we may see our brother, head and saviour, Jesus Christ, and so that we see the very noble fellowship of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and so many thousand martyrs, into whose fellowship I hope to be received, when I shall have completed the course of my service. I beseech you then, my dearly beloved, that you comfort yourself in the consideration of these things. Consider with full consciousness the honour God grants you by having given you a husband who is not only a minister of the Son of God, but also so esteemed by God, and valued, that he deems him worthy to have a share in the crown of the martyrs. Such an honour God does not give even to his angels. I am overjoyed. My heart is aroused. In my trials, nothing is lacking to me. I am filled to overflowing with the abundance of the riches of my God…I experience today the faithfulness of my Lord Jesus Christ. I bring now into practice what I have preached to others. Certainly, I must confess this, namely, that I, when I preached, spoke as a blind man about colours, if I compare it with what I now feel by experience. I have made progress and learned more in my imprisonment than in all my life. I find myself at a very good school. I have the Holy Ghost, who continually inspires me and who instructs me to handle the weapons in the conflict. On the other hand, Satan encircles me, the opponent of all children of God, who is as a roaring lion in order to devour me. But the one who has said to me, “Fear not, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), causes me to conquer…He comforts and strengthens me in an unbelievable manner. I am more comfortable than the enemies of the gospel. I eat, drink, and sleep better than they do. I have been put in the strongest and gloomiest prison, which itself allows one to think. I receive no air or light than through a small opening, through which one throws the filth. I have rough and heavy chains on my hands and feet, which are a continual torment to me. But despite all this, my God does not forsake his promise and comforts my heart and gives me a great contentment.”
From his harsh and gloomy prison, with death looming, the soon-to-be martyr wrote to his mother (still a Roman Catholic?).
“I have now served Christ already for more than twenty years, and never has he caused me to lack anything. Always he has shown me a love far above human understanding…What now? Shall I forsake the Living One in order to hide with the dead? Shall I forsake heaven in order to obtain the earth? Shall I give up the eternal things for the temporal things? Shall I say farewell to the eternal life for the sake of bodily death?… I have more than enough reason greatly to rejoice when I see that my Lord Jesus Christ does me the honour of causing me to sit at his table and to drink from his cup. Is it such a little thing to follow such a Lord? He has made the heaven and the earth simply by his mighty word. Before his face angels and archangels cover their faces with their wings and bow before him. Behold, me an earthen vessel, full of weakness, me, he calls his friend and not merely his servant. O, what an honour! Even the angels he does not grant the honour of suffering for his name. And who am I, that to me this honour is bestowed? Indeed, I am enraptured above heaven when I consider these things. And if this were still not enough, he comforts me without ceasing in my struggle. He is here imprisoned with me. I hear Jesus, my Lord. I see him, so to speak, locked up in my fetters and bonds. I see him with the eyes of my spirit locked up in my obscure and dark prison, as he has promised me in his absolutely true word to be with me always to the very end…He is here with me with an innumerable host of angels, comforting and strengthening me, and this very sweet melody of words from his mouth he causes to resound in my ears: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of my God” (Revelation 2:7. “I know thy trouble and poverty, but thou art rich” (v9). O, what a comfort! My heart leaps within me, when these words sound in my ears. It is no liar, no deceiver, who speaks thus, but it is the Son of God, the mouth without deceit, the infallible truth.”
At his sentencing to death, this invincible, glorious man of God and hero of the faith exclaimed for all to hear:
I am exceedingly gladdened and had never supposed that God would give me such an honour. I feel that my countenance changes and am joyful on account of the grace that increases in me more and more. I am strengthened from moment to moment…The time of my departure is at hand…It seems to me that my spirit has wings to fly to heaven. There, today, I have been invited to the wedding feast of my Lord, the Son of God.”
Philip Schaff remarked that De Bres “met his death as if it were a marriage feast.” It was.
On May 30th, 1567, his Roman Catholic persecutors hanged De Bres for his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, very much including the witness of the Belgic Confession. He was only forty-five years old. A reliable report has it that, not content with killing De Bres, his haters then burned his body and scattered his ashes in the great river that flows through the southern Lowlands into the sea. No matter! With his dying breath, De Bres was brought in honour in the soul into heaven to be seated on a throne with the other martyrs, to reign with the exalted Christ (see Revelation 20). As for his ashes, God has his eye on them and preserves them with a view to De Bres’ resurrection in the body at the coming of Jesus Christ. In the words of article 37 of his own Confession,
“the faithful and elect shall be crowned with glory and honour; and the Son of God will confess their names before God his Father, and his elect angels; All tears shall be wiped from their eyes; and their cause, which is now condemned by many judges and magistrates as heretical and impious, will then be known to be the cause of the Son of God. And, for a gracious reward, the Lord will cause them to possess such a glory as never entered into the heart of man to conceive.”
The same article of the same confession warns the wicked persecutors of De Bres and his fellow martyrs that those whom they persecuted:
“shall see the terrible vengeance which God shall execute on the wicked, who most cruelly persecuted, oppressed, and tormented…in this world; and who shall be convicted by the testimony of their own consciences, and, being immortal, shall be tormented in that everlasting fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Transcribed by permission from the publication, “The Belgic Confession of Faith” by Professor David Engelsma, and published by Reformed Free Publishing. This excerpt is taken from the introduction to that book. The book is highly recommended and may be purchased from:

https://rfpa.org/products/belgic-confession-the-volume-1

(James R Hamilton, February 2019)
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