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The Belgic Confession

The Belgic Confession

The Belgic Confession, written in 1561, owes its origin to the need for a clear and comprehensive statement of Reformed faith during the time of the Spanish inquisition in the Lowlands. Guido de Brès, its primary author, was pleading for understanding and toleration from King Philip II of Spain who was determined to root out all Protestant factions in his jurisdiction.

Hence, this confession takes pains to point out the continuity of Reformed belief with that of the ancient Christian creeds, as well as to differentiate it from Catholic belief (on the one hand), and from Anabaptist teachings (on the other).

Introduction

The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America is the Confession of Faith, popularly known as the Belgic Confession, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation “Confessio Belgica.”

“Belgica” referred to the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession’s chief author was Guido de Brès, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, who died a martyr to the faith in the year 1567.

During the sixteenth century the churches in this country were exposed to terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Brès prepared this confession in the year 1561.

In the following year a copy was sent to King Philip II, together with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession.

Although the immediate purpose of securing freedom from persecution was not attained, and de Brès himself fell as one of the many thousands who sealed their faith with their lives, his work has endured and will continue to endure.

In its composition the author availed himself to some extent of a confession of the Reformed churches in France, written chiefly by John Calvin, published two years earlier. The work of de Brès, however, is not a mere revision of Calvin’s work, but an independent composition. In 1566 the text of this confession was revised at a synod held at Antwerp.

In the Netherlands it was at once gladly received by the churches, and it was adopted by national synods held during the last three decades of the sixteenth century. The text, not the contents, was revised again at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19 and adopted as one of the doctrinal standards to which all officebearers in the Reformed churches were required to subscribe. The confession is recognized as one of the best official summaries of Reformed doctrine.

The text of Article 36 is presented in two forms in this edition because the Christian Reformed Church in 1938 and 1985 decided to revise it from the original text in order to set forth what it judged to be a more biblical statement on the relationship between church and state, and to eliminate language that denounced “Anabaptists, other anarchists . . .” and so on.

The Reformed Church in America has not made any amendments to the Belgic Confession. However, when the Reformed Church in America adopted the Belgic Confession in 1792 as one of the three confessional Standards of Unity, it also adopted the Explanatory Articles that reconciled the statements in the three standards and the Church Order of Dort with the situation in which it existed in the newly independent United States of America.

With regard to Article 36 dealing with the relation of church and state, it stated that “whatever relates to the immediate authority and interposition of the Magistrate in the government of the Church, and which is introduced more or less into all the national establishments in Europe, is entirely omitted in the constitution now published.”

With regard to the harsh words about Anabaptists and others in Article 36, the RCA stated that “in publishing the Articles of Faith, the Church determined to abide by the words adopted in the Synod of Dordrecht, as most expressive of what she believes to be truth; in consequence of which, the terms alluded to could not be avoided. But she openly and candidly declares that she by no means thereby intended to refer to any denomination of Christians at present known, and would be grieved at giving offence, or unnecessarily hurting the feelings of any person.”

Article 1: The Only God

We all believe in our hearts
and confess with our mouths
that there is a single
and simple
spiritual being,
whom we call God—

eternal,
incomprehensible,
invisible,
unchangeable,
infinite,
almighty;
completely wise,
just,
and good,
and the overflowing source

of all good.

Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God

We know God by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government
of the universe,
since that universe is before our eyes
like a beautiful book

in which all creatures,
great and small,
are as letters
to make us ponder
the invisible things of God:

God’s eternal power and divinity,
as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

All these things are enough to convict humans
and to leave them without excuse.

Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly
by his holy and divine Word,
as much as we need in this life,

for God’s glory
and for our salvation.

Article 3: The Written Word of God

We confess that this Word of God
was not sent nor delivered “by human will,”
but that “men and women moved by the Holy Spirit
spoke from God,”

as Peter says.1

Afterward our God—

with special care
for us and our salvation—

commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles,
to commit this revealed Word to writing.
God, with his own finger,
wrote the two tables of the law.

Therefore we call such writings
holy and divine Scriptures.

12 Pet. 1:21

Article 4: The Canonical Books

We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes
of the Old and New Testaments.
They are canonical books
with which there can be no quarrel at all.

In the church of God the list is as follows:
In the Old Testament,

the five books of Moses—

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy;

the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth;
the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings;
the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon;
the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job;
the Psalms of David;
the three books of Solomon—

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song;

the four major prophets—

Isaiah, Jeremiah*, Ezekiel, Daniel;

and then the other twelve minor prophets—

Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah,
Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,
Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

In the New Testament,

the four gospels—

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John;

the Acts of the Apostles;
the fourteen letters of Paul—

to the Romans;
the two letters to the Corinthians;
to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians;
the two letters to the Thessalonians;
the two letters to Timothy;
to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews;

the seven letters of the other apostles—

one of James;
two of Peter;
three of John;
one of Jude;

and the Revelation of the apostle John.

* “Jeremiah” here includes the Book of Lamentations as well as the Book of Jeremiah.

Article 5: The Authority of Scripture

We receive all these books
and these only
as holy and canonical,
for the regulating, founding, and establishing
of our faith.

And we believe
without a doubt
all things contained in them—

not so much because the church
receives and approves them as such
but above all because the Holy Spirit
testifies in our hearts
that they are from God,
and also because they
prove themselves
to be from God.

For even the blind themselves are able to see
that the things predicted in them
do happen.

Article 6: The Difference Between Canonical and Apocryphal Books

We distinguish between these holy books
and the apocryphal ones,

which are the third and fourth books of Esdras;
the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch;
what was added to the Story of Esther;
the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace;
the Story of Susannah;
the Story of Bel and the Dragon;
the Prayer of Manasseh;
and the two books of Maccabees.

The church may certainly read these books
and learn from them
as far as they agree with the canonical books.
But they do not have such power and virtue
that one could confirm
from their testimony
any point of faith or of the Christian religion.
Much less can they detract
from the authority
of the other holy books.

Article 7: The Sufficiency of Scripture

We believe
that this Holy Scripture contains
the will of God completely
and that everything one must believe
to be saved
is sufficiently taught in it.

For since the entire manner of service
which God requires of us
is described in it at great length,
no one—

even an apostle
or an angel from heaven,
as Paul says—2

ought to teach other than
what the Holy Scriptures have
already taught us.

For since it is forbidden
to add to the Word of God,
or take anything away from it,3
it is plainly demonstrated
that the teaching is perfect
and complete in all respects.

Therefore we must not consider human writings—

no matter how holy their authors may have been—

equal to the divine writings;
nor may we put custom,
nor the majority,
nor age,
nor the passage of times or persons,
nor councils, decrees, or official decisions
above the truth of God,

for truth is above everything else.

For all human beings are liars by nature
and more vain than vanity itself.

Therefore we reject with all our hearts
everything that does not agree
with this infallible rule,

as we are taught to do by the apostles
when they say,

“Test the spirits
to see if they are from God,”4

and also,
“Do not receive into the house
or welcome anyone
who comes to you
and does not bring this teaching.”5

2Gal. 1:8
3Deut. 12:32; Rev. 22:18-19
41 John 4:1
52 John 10

Article 8: The Trinity

In keeping with this truth and Word of God
we believe in one God,
who is one single essence,
in whom there are three persons,
really, truly, and eternally distinct
according to their incommunicable properties—

namely,

Father,
Son,
and Holy Spirit.

The Father

is the cause,
origin,
and source of all things,

visible as well as invisible.

The Son

is the Word,
the Wisdom,
and the image

of the Father.

The Holy Spirit

is the eternal power
and might,

proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Nevertheless,
this distinction does not divide God into three,

since Scripture teaches us
that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
each has a distinct subsistence
distinguished by characteristics—
yet in such a way
that these three persons are
only one God.

It is evident then
that the Father is not the Son
and that the Son is not the Father,
and that likewise the Holy Spirit is
neither the Father nor the Son.

Nevertheless,
these persons,
thus distinct,
are neither divided
nor fused or mixed together.

For the Father did not take on flesh,
nor did the Spirit,
but only the Son.

The Father was never
without the Son,
nor without the Holy Spirit,
since all these are equal from eternity,
in one and the same essence.

There is neither a first nor a last,
for all three are one
in truth and power,
in goodness and mercy.

Article 9: The Scriptural Witness on the Trinity

All these things we know
from the testimonies of Holy Scripture
as well as from the effects of the persons,
especially from those we feel within ourselves.

The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures,
which teach us to believe in this Holy Trinity,
are written in many places of the Old Testament,
which need not be enumerated
but only chosen with discretion.

In the book of Genesis God says,

“Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness.”

So “God created humankind in his image”—

indeed, “male and female he created them.”6
“See, the man has become like one of us.”7

It appears from this
that there is a plurality of persons
within the Deity,

when God says,
“Let us make humankind in our image”—

and afterward God indicates the unity

in saying,
“God created.”

It is true that God does not say here
how many persons there are—
but what is somewhat obscure to us
in the Old Testament
is very clear in the New.

For when our Lord was baptized in the Jordan,
the voice of the Father was heard saying,

“This is my Son, the Beloved;”8

the Son was seen in the water;
and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.

So, in the baptism of all believers
this form was prescribed by Christ:

Baptize all people “in the name
of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.”9

In the Gospel according to Luke
the angel Gabriel says to Mary,
the mother of our Lord:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be holy;
he will be called Son of God.”10

And in another place it says:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with all of you.”11

[“There are three that testify in heaven,
the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit,
and these three are one.”]12

In all these passages we are fully taught
that there are three persons
in the one and only divine essence.
And although this doctrine surpasses human understanding,
we nevertheless believe it now,

through the Word,

waiting to know and enjoy it fully

in heaven.

Furthermore,
we must note the particular works and activities
of these three persons in relation to us.

The Father is called our Creator,

by reason of his power.

The Son is our Savior and Redeemer,

by his blood.

The Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier,

by living in our hearts.

This doctrine of the holy Trinity
has always been maintained in the true church,

from the time of the apostles until the present,
against Jews, Muslims,
and certain false Christians and heretics,

such as Marcion, Mani,
Praxeas, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Arius,
and others like them,
who were rightly condemned by the holy fathers.

And so,
in this matter we willingly accept
the three ecumenical creeds—
the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian—
as well as what the ancient fathers decided
in agreement with them.

6Gen. 1:26-27
7Gen. 3:22
8Matt. 3:17
9Matt. 28:19
10Luke 1:35
112 Cor. 13:14
121 John 5:7—following the better Greek texts, the NRSV and other modern translations place this verse in a footnote.

Article 10: The Deity of Christ

We believe that Jesus Christ,
according to his divine nature,
is the only Son of God—

eternally begotten,
not made or created,

for then he would be a creature.

He is one in essence with the Father;
coeternal;
the exact image of the person of the Father
and the “reflection of God’s glory,”13

being like the Father in all things.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God
not only from the time he assumed our nature
but from all eternity,

as the following testimonies teach us
when they are taken together.

Moses says that God created the world;14
and John says that all things were created through the Word,15

which he calls God.

The apostle says that God created the world through the Son.16
He also says that God created all things through Jesus Christ.17

And so it must follow
that the one who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ
already existed before creating all things.
Therefore the prophet Micah says
that Christ’s origin is “from ancient days.”18
And the apostle says
that the Son has “neither beginning of days

nor end of life.”19

So then,
he is the true eternal God,
the Almighty,
whom we invoke,
worship,
and serve.

13Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3
14Gen. 1:1
15John 1:3
16Heb. 1:2
17Col. 1:16
18Mic. 5:2
19Heb. 7:3

Article 11: The Deity of the Holy Spirit

We believe and confess also
that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally
from the Father and the Son—

neither made,
nor created,
nor begotten,
but only proceeding
from the two of them.

In regard to order,
the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity—

of one and the same essence,
and majesty,
and glory,
with the Father and the Son,

being true and eternal God,

as the Holy Scriptures teach us.

Article 12: The Creation of All Things

We believe that the Father,
when it seemed good to him,
created heaven and earth and all other creatures
from nothing,
by the Word—

that is to say,
by the Son.

God has given all creatures
their being, form, and appearance
and their various functions

for serving their Creator.

Even now
God also sustains and governs them all,
according to his eternal providence
and by his infinite power,

that they may serve humanity,
in order that humanity may serve God.

God has also created the angels good,
that they might be messengers of God
and serve the elect.

Some of them have fallen

from the excellence in which God created them
into eternal perdition;

and the others have persisted and remained

in their original state,
by the grace of God.

The devils and evil spirits are so corrupt
that they are enemies of God
and of everything good.
They lie in wait for the church
and every member of it
like thieves,

with all their power,

to destroy and spoil everything

by their deceptions.

So then,
by their own wickedness
they are condemned to everlasting damnation,

daily awaiting their torments.

For that reason
we detest the error of the Sadducees,

who deny that there are spirits and angels,

and also the error of the Manicheans,

who say that the devils originated by themselves,
being evil by nature,

without having been corrupted.

Article 13: The Doctrine of God's Providence

We believe that this good God,

after creating all things,

did not abandon them to chance or fortune

but leads and governs them

according to his holy will,

in such a way that nothing happens in this world

without God’s orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of,

and cannot be charged with,

the sin that occurs.

For God’s power and goodness

are so great and incomprehensible

that God arranges and does his works very well and justly

even when the devils and the wicked act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire

with undue curiosity

into what God does that surpasses human understanding

and is beyond our ability to comprehend.

But in all humility and reverence

we adore the just judgments of God,

which are hidden from us,

being content to be Christ’s disciples,

so as to learn only what God shows us in the Word,

without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort

since it teaches us

that nothing can happen to us by chance

but only by the arrangement of our gracious

heavenly Father,

who watches over us with fatherly care,

sustaining all creatures under his lordship,

so that not one of the hairs on our heads

(for they are all numbered)

nor even a little bird

can fall to the ground

without the will of our Father.20

In this thought we rest,

knowing that God holds in check

the devils and all our enemies,

who cannot hurt us

without divine permission and will.

For that reason we reject

the damnable error of the Epicureans,

who say that God does not get involved in anything

and leaves everything to chance.

20Matt. 10:29-30

Article 14: The Creation and Fall of Humanity

We believe

that God created human beings from the dust of the earth

and made and formed them in his image and likeness—

good, just, and holy;

able by their will to conform

in all things

to the will of God.

But when they were in honor

they did not understand it21

and did not recognize their excellence.

But they subjected themselves willingly to sin

and consequently to death and the curse,

lending their ear to the word of the devil.

For they transgressed the commandment of life,

which they had received,

and by their sin they separated themselves from God,

who was their true life,

having corrupted their entire nature.

So they made themselves guilty

and subject to physical and spiritual death,

having become wicked,

perverse,

and corrupt in all their ways.

They lost all their excellent gifts

which they had received from God,

and retained none of them

except for small traces

which are enough to make them

inexcusable.

Moreover, all the light in us is turned to darkness,

as the Scripture teaches us:

“The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness did not overcome it.”22

Here John calls the human race “darkness.”

Therefore we reject everything taught to the contrary

concerning human free will,

since humans are nothing but the slaves of sin

and cannot do a thing

unless it is given them from heaven.23

For who can boast of being able

to do anything good by oneself,

since Christ says,

“No one can come to me

unless drawn by the Father who sent me”?24

Who can glory in their own will

when they understand that “the mind that is set on the flesh

is hostile to God”?25

Who can speak of their own knowledge

in view of the fact that “those who are unspiritual

do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit”?26

In short,

who can produce a single thought,

knowing that we are not able to think a thing

about ourselves,

by ourselves,

but that “our competence is from God”?27

And therefore,

what the apostle says

ought rightly to stand fixed and firm:

God works within us

both to will and to do

according to his good pleasure.28

For there is no understanding nor will

conforming to God’s understanding and will

apart from Christ’s involvement,

as he teaches us when he says,

“Apart from me you can do nothing.”29

21Ps. 49:20

22John 1:5

23John 3:27

24John 6:44

25Rom. 8:7

261 Cor. 2:14

272 Cor. 3:5

28Phil. 2:13

29John 15:5

Article 15: The Doctrine of Original Sin

We believe

that by the disobedience of Adam

original sin has been spread

through the whole human race.30

It is a corruption of the whole human nature—

an inherited depravity which even infects small infants

in their mother’s womb,

and the root which produces in humanity

every sort of sin.

It is therefore so vile and enormous in God’s sight

that it is enough to condemn the human race,

and it is not abolished

or wholly uprooted

even by baptism,

seeing that sin constantly boils forth

as though from a contaminated spring.

Nevertheless,

it is not imputed to God’s children

for their condemnation

but is forgiven

by his grace and mercy—

not to put them to sleep

but so that the awareness of this corruption

might often make believers groan

as they long to be set free

from the body of this death.31

Therefore we reject the error of the Pelagians

who say that this sin is nothing else than a matter of imitation.

30Rom. 5:12-13

31Rom. 7:24

Article 16: The Doctrine of Election

We believe that—

all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen

into perdition and ruin

by the sin of Adam—

God showed himself to be as he is:

merciful and just.

God is merciful

in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those who,

in the eternal and unchangeable divine counsel,

have been elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord

by his pure goodness,

without any consideration of their works.

God is just

in leaving the others in their ruin and fall

into which they plunged themselves.

Article 17: The Recovery of Fallen Humanity

We believe that our good God,
by marvelous divine wisdom and goodness,

seeing that Adam and Eve had plunged themselves in this manner
into both physical and spiritual death
and made themselves completely miserable,

set out to find them,
though they,

trembling all over,

were fleeing from God.

And God comforted them,
promising to give them his Son,

born of a woman,32

to crush the head of the serpent,33
and to make them blessed.

32Gal. 4:4
33Gen. 3:15

Article 18: The Incarnation

So then we confess

that God fulfilled the promise

made to the early fathers and mothers

by the mouth of the holy prophets

when he sent the only and eternal Son of God

into the world

at the time appointed.

The Son took the “form of a slave”

and was made in “human form,”34

truly assuming a real human nature,

with all its weaknesses,

except for sin;

being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary

by the power of the Holy Spirit,

without male participation.

And Christ not only assumed human nature

as far as the body is concerned

but also a real human soul,

in order to be a real human being.

For since the soul had been lost as well as the body

Christ had to assume them both

to save them both together.

Therefore we confess

(against the heresy of the Anabaptists

who deny that Christ assumed

human flesh from his mother)

that Christ shared the very flesh and blood of children;35

being the fruit of the loins of David according to the flesh,36

descended from David according to the flesh;37

the fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary;38

born of a woman;39

the seed of David;40

the root of Jesse;41

descended from Judah,42

having descended from the Jews according to the flesh;

descended from Abraham—

having assumed descent from Abraham and Sarah,

and was made like his brothers and sisters,

yet without sin.43

In this way Christ is truly our Immanuel—

that is: “God with us.”44

34Phil. 2:7

35Heb. 2:14

36Acts 2:30

37Rom. 1:3

38Luke 1:42

39Gal. 4:4

402 Tim. 2:8

41Rom. 15:12

42Heb. 7:14

43Heb. 2:17; 4:15

44Matt. 1:23

Article 19: The Two Natures of Christ

We believe that by being thus conceived

the person of the Son has been inseparably united

and joined together

with human nature,

in such a way that there are not two Sons of God,

nor two persons,

but two natures united in a single person,

with each nature retaining its own distinct properties.

Thus his divine nature has always remained uncreated,

without beginning of days or end of life,45

filling heaven and earth.

Christ’s human nature has not lost its properties

but continues to have those of a creature—

it has a beginning of days;

it is of a finite nature

and retains all that belongs to a real body.

And even though he,

by his resurrection,

gave it immortality,

that nonetheless did not change

the reality of his human nature;

for our salvation and resurrection

depend also on the reality of his body.

But these two natures

are so united together in one person

that they are not even separated by his death.

So then,

what he committed to his Father when he died

was a real human spirit which left his body.

But meanwhile his divine nature remained

united with his human nature

even when he was lying in the grave;

and his deity never ceased to be in him,

just as it was in him when he was a little child,

though for a while it did not so reveal itself.

These are the reasons why we confess him

to be true God and truly human—

true God in order to conquer death

by his power,

and truly human that he might die for us

in the weakness of his flesh.

45Heb. 7:3

Article 20: The Justice and Mercy of God in Christ

We believe that God—

who is perfectly merciful

and also very just—

sent the Son to assume the nature

in which the disobedience had been committed,

in order to bear in it the punishment of sin

by his most bitter passion and death.

So God made known his justice toward his Son,

who was charged with our sin,

and he poured out his goodness and mercy on us,

who are guilty and worthy of damnation,

giving to us his Son to die,

by a most perfect love,

and raising him to life

for our justification,

in order that by him

we might have immortality

and eternal life.

Article 21: The Atonement

We believe

that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever

according to the order of Melchizedek—

made such by an oath—

and that he presented himself

in our name

before his Father,

to appease his Father’s wrath

with full satisfaction

by offering himself

on the tree of the cross

and pouring out his precious blood

for the cleansing of our sins,

as the prophets had predicted.

For it is written

that “the punishment that made us whole”

was placed on the Son of God

and that “by his bruises we are healed.”

He was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter”;

he was “numbered with the transgressors”46

and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate,

though Pilate had declared

that he was innocent.

So he paid back

what he had not stolen,47

and he suffered—

“the righteous for the unrighteous,”48

in both his body and his soul—

in such a way that

when he sensed the horrible punishment

required by our sins

“his sweat became like great drops of blood

falling down on the ground.”49

He cried, “My God, my God,

why have you forsaken me?”50

And he endured all this

for the forgiveness of our sins.

Therefore we rightly say with Paul that

we know nothing “except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”;51

we “regard everything as loss

because of the surpassing value

of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord.”52

We find all comforts in his wounds

and have no need to seek or invent any other means

to reconcile ourselves with God

than this one and only sacrifice,

once made,

which renders believers perfect

forever.

This is also why

the angel of God called him Jesus—

that is, “Savior”—

because he would save his people

from their sins.53

46Isa. 53:4-12

47Ps. 69:4

481 Pet. 3:18

49Luke 22:44

50Matt. 27:46

511 Cor. 2:2

52Phil. 3:8

53Matt. 1:21

Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith