Witness to the Covenant in the Bible
God covenanting with Noah: Then God said to Noah and to his sons
with him: 'I now establish my covenant with you and with your
descendants after you'" (Gen. 9:8-9).
God covenanting with Abraham: "Then God said to
Abraham, 'As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your
descendants after you for the generations to come. This is
my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the
covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the
covenant between Me and you. For the generations to come
every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised,
including those born in your household or bought with money
from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born
in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised.
My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any
uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh,
will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant'" (Gen.
No Covenant Without Covenant Seed
The very purpose of covenanting is to fulfill in our children
the promises received by us.
God covenanting with Abraham, again: "Then the
LORD said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham
will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations
on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him,
so that he will direct his children and his household after
him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just,
so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised
him'" (Gen. 18:17-19).
Now quickly read the New Testament, addressed
to adherents of Universal Judaism. We are Abraham's heirs; unbelievers
are cut off. The promise belongs to us and to our children.
"For Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise
up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must
listen to everything He tells you. Anyone who does not listen
to Him will be completely cut off from among his people.' Indeed,
all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have
foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and
of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham,
'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed'"
"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's
seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29).
And again: "The Scripture foresaw that God would
justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance
to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So those
who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of
faith" (Gal. 3:8-9)
God's covenant with the fathers included the children:
"Because He loved your forefathers and chose their descendants
after them, He brought you out of Egypt by His Presence
and His great strength" (Dt. 4:37).
"But it was because the LORD loved you and
kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought
you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery,
from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (DT 7:8).
"Yet the LORD set His affection on your forefathers
and loved them, and He chose you, their descendants, above
all the nations, as it is today" (DT 10:15).
Being elected into covenant did not relieve covenant
members of the obligation to offer God a new heart, or, as some
since the Puritans have put it, improve their baptism: "Circumcise
your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer"
But look at the promise given to those who did
"improve their baptism": "The LORD your God will circumcise your
hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you
may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live"
God covenanting with Phinehas: "The LORD said
to Moses, 'Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest,
has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous
as I am for My honor among them, so that in My zeal I did not
put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making My covenant
of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant
of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor
of his God and made atonement for the Israelites'" (Num. 25:10-13).
Because Phinehas was zealous, his sons received a promise. The
true God works no other way.
God covenanting with David: "You said, 'I have
made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant,
"I will establish your line forever and make your throne
firm through all generations"'" (Ps. 89:3-4).
Though the covenant continues in the line of generations,
that does not mean it has no conditions: "When your days are over
and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring
to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish
his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for My Name,
and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will
be his father, and he will be My son. When he does wrong, I will
punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.
But My love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away
from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your
kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established
forever"(2 Sam. 7:12-16).
God covenants with his servants: "The children
of Your servants will live in Your presence; their descendants
will be established before You" (Ps. 102:28).
God covenants with those who fear him: "Who, then,
is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way
chosen for him. He will spend his days in prosperity, and his
descendants will inherit the land" (Ps. 25:12-13).
God covenants with the Recabites: "Then Jeremiah
said to the family of the Recabites, 'This is what the LORD Almighty,
the God of Israel, says: "You have obeyed the command of your
forefather Jonadab and have followed all his instructions and
have done everything he ordered." Therefore, this is what the
LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Jonadab son of Recab
will never fail to have a man to serve me"'" (Jer. 35:18-19).
The God of the Bible does not make covenants
which don't include children: "For I will pour water on the
thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my
Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants"
The thought is absolutely contrary to his revealed
character: "'As for Me, this is my covenant with them,' says the
LORD. 'My Spirit, who is on you, and My words that I have put
in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the
mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants
from this time on and forever,' says the LORD" (Is. 59:21).
And again: "As the new heavens and the new earth
that I make will endure before Me," declares the LORD, "so will
your name and descendants endure" (Is. 66:22).
We should go further still and say that God's
servants did not enter into covenants with others which did not
include the others' households. Two examples. One, the spies'
covenant with Rahab of Jericho: "Now then, please swear to me
by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because
I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will
spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters,
and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from
death." "Our lives for your lives!" the men assured her. "If you
don't tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully
when the LORD gives us the land."
To treat her kindly could not possibly exclude
treating her family kindly. But this example also illustrates
the obligation of the beneficiaries of the covenant to
remain where God has graciously caused them to be connected:
The men said to her, "This oath you made
us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land,
you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you
let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother,
your brothers and all your family into your house. If anyone goes
outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own
head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the
house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid
on him" (Jos. 2).
Two, David's covenant with Jonathan:
son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down
to pay him honor. David said, "Mephibosheth!" "Your servant,"
he replied. "Don't be afraid," David said to him, "for I will
surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.
I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather
Saul, and you will always eat at my table"(2 Sam. 9:6-7).
And later: "The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the
son of Saul, because of the oath before the LORD between
David and Jonathan son of Saul"(2 Sam. 21:7).
This is the
way covenants work. There is no other way. That view of the New
Testament church which sees it somehow suddenly shorn of children
is every bit as destructive of the true religion as the covenant
presumptuousness it was invented to combat. Berkhof properly cautions
us to remember that early in church history "increasing worldliness
and corruption of the Church gradually led to reaction and gave
rise to the tendency of various sects, such as Montanism in the
middle of the second, Novationism in the middle of the third,
and Donatism at the beginning of the fourth century, to make the
holiness of its members the mark of the true Church." Surely,
this is cause for pause.
This controversy over baptism among Christians is just as stubbornly
rooted in presuppositions as the issue of blood atonement is for
the Jews (see my December column). If you grant them their premise
upon which they insist—that Jesus is not the Messiah, period—then
their system will be seen to have some sort of cohesion. But is
that presupposition one which best accounts for all the data of
Scripture, not to mention history? It is not.
the Baptist filters every text through a grid which insists beforehand
upon profession, or born-again-ness, as a requirement for covenant
status. But is the Baptist presupposition the one that best accounts
for all the data of Scripture? It most certainly is not. Rather,
it begins with, and depends upon, a view of the Old and New Testaments
as essentially antithetical, a view we can never embrace.
can take the following passages in stride, with no discomfort
or lust for asterisks?
On the day
of Pentecost: "Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized,
every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness
of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The promise is for you and your children and for all who
are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call'" (Ac.
2:38-39). If children were, from Pentecost on, to be excluded,
someone forgot to tell Peter.
Of the household
of Cornelius: "He told us how he had seen an angel appear
in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.
He will bring you a message through which you and all your
household will be saved'" (Ac. 11:13-14).
Of the household
of Lydia: "On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the
river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down
and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of
those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth
from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord
opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and
the members of her household were baptized, she invited us
to her home. 'If you consider me a believer in the Lord,' she
said, 'come and stay at my house.' And she persuaded us" (Ac.
Of the household
of the jailer: "Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and
came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought
them out, and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they
said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,
and thy house.' And they spake unto him the word of the
Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the
same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized,
he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them
into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing
in God with all his house" (Ac. 16:29-33).
Of the household
of Stephanas: "Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas;
beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else"(1
As I said,
if we presuppose hostility between testaments, it becomes a matter
of mere hermeneutical gymnastics to justify the exclusion of children.
"You see, the jailer's whole house believed," etc. But
this misses the point. It is not a matter of hermeneutics. It
is a matter of which covenant presuppositions inform your hermeneutics.
There has always been, we maintain, one covenant, and that covenant
has always and only been efficacious through faith in Christ,
and that covenant has always included children (and does even
now). God's people were, together, an elect people, and spoken
to by God as such. But never are we required to believe that everyone
regarded as properly in covenant is therefore elect.
brothers functionally deny covenant at its administrative core
by withholding baptism from their offspring. This act of hostility
toward covenant babies (yes, hostility can be powerfully expressed
in passive ways; just ask your wife!),2 is the fruit
of a view of Scripture which imposes a fundamental hostility between
rejecting just unbelief in both testamental administrations,
Baptists equate unbelief with the Old and faith or belief with
the New. This is not only unbiblical; it is anti-historical. Does
anyone dare to suggest that the period from Christ to the present
has been characterized, not necessarily exhaustively but even
substantially, as an administration of faith without much
unbelief? I trust not!
No. The Baptistic
rejection of the Old Testament covenant motif is as destructive
to the proper view of Scripture's unity as is the Jews' rejection
of the New Testament.
approach to Scripture effectively redefines the "peoplehood" of
the people with whom God covenants, and therefore suggests, however
subtly, however gross, that the Old Testament administration was
carnal while the New Testament administration is spiritual.
We have already shown that Scripture itself will not countenance
any such dichotomy. Spiritual and carnal, if the words must be
used, describe the difference between belief and unbelief, not
between the Old and the New Testaments.
we find a single message organized around a single motif: covenant.
The Baptist denial of this is just as radical in its impact on
our view of the unity of the Bible, though not as deadly, as the
Jewish denial of the New Testament's authority.
This was evident
to our Fathers who taught us, in the Belgic Confession, Article
34, to confess: "Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists,3
who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received,
and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers,
who we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of
the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised
upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And indeed
Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children
of believers than for adult persons; and therefore they ought
to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ has done
for them; as the Lord commanded in the law that they should be
made partakers of the sacrament of Christ's suffering and death
shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which
was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what circumcision was
to the Jews, baptism is to our children. And for this reason St.
Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ."
of God's Plan
All I really need to know I learn in the Bible. There is but one
Bible. There is but one God. There is but one Christ. There is
but one covenant. At the heart of that covenant is the atonement
through the blood of Christ. From the moment of their conception,
my children were heirs of that covenant. They were born under
that blood, covered, and secure. God, my God, is more willing
to forgive my children than they are, by nature, to be forgiven.
This is the heritage of grace. This is the way of God. Now they
have an obligation: to keep covenant with God.
has told them: "Abide in Me, and I in you." They are in Christ.
"As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in
the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine,
you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears
much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does
not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and
they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what
you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is
glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as
I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love"
H. C. G. Moule
said it so well: The doctrine of election "is a lamp, not a sun.
It is presented to us everywhere as a truth not meant to explain
everything, but to enforce this thing: that the man who truly
loves God has to thank, not himself, but God. He must thank the
true God that his eyes, guiltily shut, were effectually opened."
in this light frees us to read the Scripture with humble hearts,
seeking to be edified in the ways of the Lord, not with proud
hearts seeking to build our lives upon that which God has not
seen fit to reveal. For the sum of the matter is this: "The secret
things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are
revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that
we may do all the words of this law" (DT 29:29). Amen,
1. In case
you are wondering, yes, I would affirm that if a man were to have
slaves in his household today as then, they ought to be baptized.
Yes, I believe in household baptism. Indeed, I believe in baptizing
nations, if we could get at their heads. Compare Matthew 28:18-20.
2. The hostility I speak of here is real but objective; it would
be obviously and utterly false to say that Baptist Christians
deny baptism to their children because they feel hostility
toward them. Nevertheless, withholding the sign and seal of God's
grace from proper candidates is, objectively considered,
no act of love.
3. Today's Baptists are not direct descendants of the Anabaptists
here mentioned, but they most certainly do embrace the error here