“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life. . .And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:47, 69). These texts are rendered quite differently in most modern New Testaments. (See the pamphlet, “Bible Archaisms and Modern Versions,” p. 20, 21). To make confession of faith is really to confess Christ. To be able to do that we must first know Him. We come to know Him only through the Bible. Therefore, we want the best Bible there is, the King James Bible. Modern Bibles as they are published leave us with a shorter and shorter Bible. So we want that version which provides us with the complete Bible, the Authorized Version. On verse 69 the modern reading is, “You are the holy One of God.” The familiar reading is, “Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” Since we connect this with verse 47 we should note that modern versions from this latter verse omit the words “on Me.” Lange’s Commentary maintains that the King James Version’s reading, on Me “refutes all forms of ecclesiasticism which throw any kind of obstruction between the soul and Christ as an essential condition of salvation, whether it be the authority of the pope, or council or creed or system of theology, or the intercession of saints, as good works of our own. . .Without faith in Christ there can be no salvation for any sinner!”
Taking these two verses together we have, “Amen, amen, I say unto you, the one believing on Me has everlasting life. . .and we believe and are sure that Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” From this we see that believing in Christ is necessary to confessing Christ. We cannot confess Christ if we do not believe in Him. Peter, in this context, speaking for the apostles, expresses their confession. According to this passage there is an antithesis between making this confession and not making it. Making it ours we own Jesus. If we do not make this confession, we disown Him. (Cp. v. 66-67). So we believe that we may confess. Confession is the fruit of faith. “With the heart man believeth; and with the mouth confession is made” (Rom. 10:9, 10). When the confession flows out of a full heart, it is made freely, spontaneously and gladly. Haven’t you been doing this and living in this spirit just about all your life? Isn’t that the way it is with covenant children and young people? Then there will be, all in due time, that step taken of making public confession of faith before the elders and before the congregation. Finally, this inseparable connection of believing and confessing the faith will continue so long as you live.
Also there is first of all believing in order to be sure. This divine order is the very opposite of the human (scientific) order, which is, I must be sure first, then I can believe. But we cannot be sure of God’s Truth until first we have believed it. “I had fainted unless I had believed” (Ps. 27:13). Nor is it that we must understand first, then we can believe; for it is “through faith we understand” (Heb. 11:3). There are those who “desire to understand the mystery of the Trinity before they will believe it.” But that will never work. For “a wise man will hear (believe and obey). . . to understand. . .” (Prov. 1:5, 6).
“The living God” stresses what the Father is in distinction from the idols of the heathen (I Thess. 1:9), rather than the Father in distinction from the Son. For the Son Himself is the living God, and is called that in Heb. 3:12 with 6, 7, 14. Our confession, then, an earnest expression of our faith, is lived in turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God!
In this Gospel According to John there are many other confessions. There is the confession of John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world . . .and I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God” (Jn. 1:29, 34). Then there is the confession of Nathanael: “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel” (1:49). The confession of the converted Samaritans was, “we. . .know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (4:42). Martha’s confession was, “Yea, Lord, I believe that Thou art the Christ the Son of God which should come into the world” (11:27). Thomas’ confession was, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).
Making confession of faith formally and publicly is something you do at a point between your baptism and your coming to the Lord’s Table. That does not mean that before doing so you never have made any sort of confession of faith. For when at home you take part in Family Worship by hearing and reading the Scriptures, and by prayer, sometimes you yourself leading the others in prayer, you confess the faith and faith in Christ. When you attend the house of God and listen to the preaching of the Word on the Sabbath days, by such a “life-style” you confess the faith. To attend a public school when there is a Christian school to attend is to deny the faith. Regular attendance at the Christian school is a way of confessing the faith. From birth, in the Christian home, in the Reformed church, in the Christian school, and in the Sunday school and catechism classes you have been taught (and rightly so) what to think, what to believe and what to confess. As you progress through your instruction in Bible History to Reformed Doctrine, you learn that as you grow older there is always more, in detail, to confess. But recall when you were in the Bible History for Beginners class: you believed what you were taught then, didn’t you? I did! You believed it because that was what your parents believed; and you have since learned that they were right. You believe what your minister preaches, because he backs up everything he says from the Bible. Isn’t that why you all along have believed what you were taught—because “that’s what the Bible says”? Even in your pre-school age you made a confession of faith every time you sang, “Jesus Loves Me,” or “Praise the Lord, for He is good” (Psalter No. 292), or when you learned to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd” and to recite the Twenty-third Psalm. So that the making of public confession of faith springs out of a life of confessing Christ and His truth from early childhood on. Abraham Kuyper said, “children should be constantly confessing their Savior.’’
Children in our Christian schools learn to confess their faith by writing poems and articles for the school paper. It could be that in connection with a “current events’’ class their teacher assigns pupils to write a one-page composition on, “Why I Do Not Fear World Destruction by Nuclear War.’’ That would provide an excellent opportunity to confess one’s faith. (For many children in and of the world have their hearts failing them for this fear.) Perhaps another Christian school project might be to have the pupils write to the (Dutch) Afrikaner children of South Africa to encourage them in their Christian schools, home and Reformed church life as nationally they face bitter opposition from almost all other nations. What a practical way to confess the Reformed Faith!
So our covenant children and young people grow up confessing and learning more intelligently to confess their faith. They ought then to have an increasing awareness of the fact that they are members of a confessing church. That awareness ought to fill them with a joyful anticipative desire to know more of the great Reformed confessions. Why should I/you feel that way? Because of what my church confesses, which is, the most glorious Gospel truth! That confession of my church cannot be expressed more beautifully than it is in the Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day, Ques. and Ans. 1): “My only comfort in life and in death is that I with body and soul, both in life and in death, belong unto my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil. . .’’ Can you quote the entire question and answer from memory? Some may criticize catechetical and Bible memorization, arguing, nothing like that can take the place of personal heartfelt experience. But memorize that entire introductory paragraph of the catechism anyway. Then ask yourself what sort of real spiritual experience may you expect in your life? You will experience all your life long, in ever increasing richness, exactly the covenant mercies there so perfectly described by the Reformed fathers.
You see, then, the way in which we must go in order to make public confession of faith. First, we must read and study the Bible; know that the Bible is the Word of God, and that it is because God speaks only in that Book. He is its Author. The Bible is the very foundation of our Reformed Faith, and is the fundamental basis of our confession. Second, the heart of the Bible is Christ. He is the One we confess. Third, the manner in which we confess Christ is in the way of repentance and faith. So we read in the Form For the Administration of Baptism, p. 57, that “the Apostles, as appeareth from Acts 2, 10 and 16, baptized none who were of years of discretion, but such as made confession of their faith and repentance.’’ Compare also Acts 20:21, where it is recorded that the Apostle Paul in his preaching went about “testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.’’ Fourth, there ought to be, and we believe there is, generally, evidence that covenant people have from earliest childhood been living a life of repentance and faith; and all this while they have been instructed in the Bible at home, in the catechism class, in the Christian school, and in the church through the preaching of the Word. Finally, they are instructed in “The Essentials of Reformed Doctrine.’’ By this time they have “come to years of discretion.’’ The next step is to make confession of faith before the church and before the whole world. But it is often right at this point that the young Reformed Christian hesitates, “shakes in his boots,’’ fearful that he will not be able to live his confession in a life of godliness and thankfulness. It is of little comfort to him to be reminded that for years now he has already been living what he has been confessing. For now, more than ever before, he is conscious of his sinful nature and of his “youthful lusts.’’ How shall he ever “hold out’’? He fears the shame of bringing dishonor upon Christ’s name. How then dare he take such a public stand for Christ, to publicly commit himself henceforth to live the life he professes and confesses? How can he live such a life “for the advantage and salvation of other members’’ of Christ’s church (Heidelberg Catechism, Ans. 55) and to the glory of God?
It is impossible to live such a life in our own strength. We would certainly fail if we thought we could do anything in our own strength. Jesus reminds us, “Without Me ye can do nothing’’ (Jn. 15:5). Paul, on the positive side, puts it this way, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’’ (Phil. 4:13). To keep us living, faithfully, a life of thankfulness, the Lord has provided means of grace in the worship of God’s house, prayer, the sacraments and the preaching of the Word. By these means we shall be spiritually nourished, grow in grace to become strong in the Lord.