Book Review: With Heart and Mouth

13 May 2011 by Wes Bredenhof

Still on the theme of celebrating the 450th birthday of the Belgic Confession, here’s my review of Daniel Hyde’s commentary from a couple of years back:

With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession, Daniel R. Hyde, Grandville: Reformed Fellowship Inc., 2008.  Hardcover, 547 pages.  $30.00

This has been a banner year for books on the Belgic Confession.  First we were blessed with the publication of N. H. Gootjes’ excellent study, The Belgic Confession: Its History and Sources.  Now we have also been blessed with this excellent commentary by Daniel Hyde, pastor of the Oceanside URC in California.

I am not sure if this was deliberate, but there is a lot of similarity between this commentary and the first major book of Guido de Bres.  Le baston de la foy chrestienne (“The Staff of the Christian Faith”) was written in 1555 as a response to an earlier Roman Catholic work.  In his book, de Bres argues that the Reformed faith is the truly Catholic faith.  Most of the book is taken up with quotations from the early church fathers and from Scripture itself.  With Heart and Mouth is in the same mould, showing that the faith expressed in the Belgic Confession is not innovative or revolutionary, but simply the true Christian faith handed down by Christ and his apostles.

The emphasis on setting the Confession in its biblical and historical context is one of the strengths of this book.  Connected with that is Hyde’s thorough commitment to the Confession.  There have been other commentaries where the authors take what has been called a “sympathetic-critical approach” to the Confession.  Hyde is sympathetic, but not critical and that can surely be regarded as a strength.  Furthermore, he covers all the important issues raised in the Confession – this is a large and comprehensive commentary.  Finally, With Heart and Mouth provides additional resources to advance the study of the Confession on our continent.  For instance, he provides the first complete published English translation of the Dedicatory Epistle to Philip II.  Hyde also has extensive and helpful endnotes and a detailed bibliography.

Unfortunately, there are a few weaknesses as well.  Because of his admitted inabilities in French and Dutch, Hyde decided to use the Latin text prepared by Festus Hommius around the time of the Synod of Dort.  Hyde insists that this text was adopted by the Synod (giving it ecclesiastical sanction), however Gootjes has conclusively shown otherwise in his recent book.  That being what it may, Hyde says that he has followed the Latin text of Hommius as given in J.N. Bakhuizen van den Brink’s De Nederlandse Belijdenisgeschriften.  However, in many places (especially in the first half of the commentary) Hyde was actually following an earlier Latin text given by H.A. Niemeyer in his Collectio Confessionum.  At a number of points, Hyde wants to establish a stronger reading based on the Latin, but this inconsistency often weakens or nullifies his case.  All of this is related to another weakness, namely that this tends to be an academic exposition of the Confession.  While regular church members will still benefit from it, it does give the impression that it is mostly written for pastors/scholars.

It has been a long time since a Belgic Confession commentary of this caliber was last published in English.  P.Y. DeJong’s The Church’s Witness to the World is comparable and it was first published in 1960 – over 45 years ago!  Biblical, historical, and erudite, Hyde helps the Confession speak freshly to our day.  While it will benefit a wider audience (and features study questions to that end), With Heart and Mouth will especially be welcomed by pastors and other church leaders called to teach and preach the Belgic Confession.