Tuesday, December 23, 2014

God’s Love For His Church: Our Eternal Home (Part 3)

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

My foregoing remarks may have seemed a bit theologically technical, but it has not been without reason. Any practical benefit which may be derived from the rest of this Psalm can be meaningful only if it is grounded upon the theological framework we have labored to present. The structure of this Psalm tells us this. Verse 1 is a statement of a great privilege of the Church. Verse 2 gives the theological reason for this. Then verses 3-17 lay out all of the inferences and ramifications of this objective doctrinal statement. Scripture never gives pastoral theology in the absence of doctrinal theology.

You will recall that earlier I suggested that this Psalm was written when the people of God murmured in unbelief at the report of 10 of the 12 spies. You will also recall that earlier I spoke of Israel standing on the very brink of receiving the first in a series of promises - or rather fulfillments of promises - that would ultimately culminate in the Seed of Abraham in which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And at the very moment when they could almost taste it, their faith faltered and in their unbelief they behaved as if God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and indeed, to themselves, was nonexistent and irrelevant. That, it seems to me, is the reason that this Psalm begins by looking back on God’s eternal decree of sovereign electing love for His people. That is why I endeavored to lay the theological framework.

If God’s people have been guilty of anything throughout the ages, it is the ingratitude of forgetfulness. This is the result of forgetting how great our sins and miseries are and how great God’s deliverance of us from our sins and miseries is! Israel failed to trust God’s faithfulness to them when it came time to cross into Canaan because they had forgotten how great their bondage in Egypt was and how great their deliverance was.

I know that we’re Westminster Standards people here, but I can’t resist pointing to the “Guilt, Grace, Gratitude” paradigm of Heidelberg Catechism Question 2, which, in reference to the comfort derived from knowing that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, asks, “How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort mayest live and die happily.” The answer is: “Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.” Whenever we lose sight of the magnitude of our guilt, we necessarily lose sight of the magnitude of God’s grace. If we lose sight of these two things, we will become ungrateful. This ingratitude expresses itself in either moral laxity or self-righteousness. But a constant view of our guilt and God’s grace breeds a constant gratitude. If God is eternal, and if His decreed love for us is eternal, then He loved us in full cognizance of our guilt. This does not lead to presumption, but to humility and grateful obedience.

But, as I said, we are forgetful. God in His goodness has always tried to alert us to this danger. Throughout the entire Old Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace every single sacrifice, every single feast, every single religious rite or ceremony was aimed at reminding God’s people of the unmerited favor they had received and the unmerited favor they were yet to receive via the promises that were to be fulfilled by the coming of the Christ. Every time that we partake of the sacraments, God is signifying and sealing to us His covenant promises. He reminds us that we have done nothing to deserve having our sins washed away by the precious blood of Christ. He reminds us that we have done nothing to deserve being engrafted into Christ. He reminds us that He has been our dwelling place throughout all generations and that before He created the world, He was from everlasting to everlasting the one and only true God.

From everything which we have said we can draw the following inferences:

1.      Remember earlier that I pointed out the fact that this Psalm is a prayer? Here is what we learn from that fact: There is no approaching God in prayer, unless we lay hold on the offer of God’s kindness –unless we look upon God as gracious to us in Christ. That is why here, as elsewhere in Scripture, this prayer begins with a renewed expression of saving faith.
2.      God’s people in every place and age, are one with God’s people in all ages preceding and following, and may lay claim to all the privileges of God’s people before them. In our Psalm we see the Church in Moses’ time joining itself with all God’s people in former times, for the benefit of the God’s people in future times.
3.      God’s love towards us is eternal. As Romans 8:39 says, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.” I wonder if you realize just how wonderful that truth really is. Because Paul says this immediately after he has assembled a list which he labels “everything in creation.” God is the only Being outside of Creation, and we know that He has loved in Christ from eternity past, and so we do not doubt His intentions towards us. Since God’s love for us is eternal, it was there before the world was there. It predates everything and anything in creation. Therefore, no created being, not even Satan himself, can get beyond or between God’s love and us. John Knox wrote, “When we understand that presently we believe in Christ Jesus, because we were ordained before the beginning of all times to believe in him; as in him we were elected to the society of eternal life; then is our faith assuredly grounded, and that because the gifts and vocation of God are without repentance, and he is faithful that hath called us. His infinite goodness, which moved him to love us in another then in ourselves, that is in Christ Jesus, according to his free benevolence, which he had purposed in him, is to us a tower of refuge, which Satan is never able to overthrow, nor the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.”
4.      Someone once asked Augustine what God was doing before He created the world, to which Augustine is said to have replied that God was making hell for smart-alecks who asked such impudent questions. But here we see that before God created the world He had already willed to be the dwelling place of His people throughout all time and beyond.
5.      Based upon these truths we see that our trials and sufferings, the painful process of sanctification, and the countless unanswered questions which arise in our minds as we observe the mysterious work of Providence, – all these things have eternal glory as their ultimate outcome. That is why this Psalm can start where it does – with a view of God’s eternal love for His people, and after bewailing the frailty of human life, which is merely the result of our iniquities and secret sins which are always in the light of God’s presence, the Psalm can end in a song of joy and eternal gladness satisfied with God’s unfailing love.

John Knox in his work on Predestination writes, “Except our comfort be grounded upon that foundation which never can be moved, it is not perfect.” In the verses we have looked at we have seen the greatest comfort a sin-weary soul can find:  the love of God for His people, our dwelling place.

Friday, December 19, 2014

God’s Love For His Church: Our Eternal Home (Part 2)

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

This idea (God dwelling with His people and, conversely, His people dwelling with Him), is found throughout the Scriptures. Moses writes in Leviticus 26:11-12 that God, in keeping His covenant with His people, will dwell among them and be their God and they will be His people. This promise has been rightly called the “Emmanuel Promise,” for in it God promises to be “God with us.” This promise is repeated numerous times in Scripture in many forms, and finds fulfillment in the Incarnation of Christ, the God-Man, and comes to ultimate fruition in the consummation of all things as recorded for us in Revelation 21:3, which cites the Leviticus 26:11-12 promise.

The Old Testament authors repeatedly call God their hiding place, refuge, or strong tower. Psalm 91:1 speaks of the “secret place of the Most High,” and the “shadow of the Almighty.” In language reminiscent of our passage, Ezekiel 11:16 has God promising, during the Exile, to be a sanctuary for His people. The true fulfillment of this promise appears in the true Israel of God, (the Church, as per Galatians 6:16), and in John’s vision of the heavenly city where there is no temple because the presence of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb is the Temple. And did you know that the Hebrew word used of God as the dwelling place of His people in Psalm 90:1 is used in elsewhere Scripture (2Chr 36:15 & Ps 26:8) in reference to the Temple itself? How’s that for continuity?

Verse 2 serves as the link which connects the rest of the chapter to verse 1. It is because of God’s eternal love for His people that He provides them the protective shelter of His presence. It is because of His eternal love that He has provided a solution for the sinfulness of His people, sinfulness of which we read in verse 8. This explains why the candid and undisguised confession of sinfulness in verse 8 does not lead to hopeless despair, but rather to a confident reliance on God’s unfailing love in Verse 14.

In New Testament terms, Verse 1 speaks of the Mystical Union that obtains between Christ and His church. Verses 3-11 speak of God’s providential dealings with His people. Verses12-17 pray for the wisdom to live in the light of this knowledge. But Verse 2 hinges everything upon God’s eternity. Again we see the truth of Ephesians 1:3-6. All of God’s good will, grace, mercy, favor, and electing love towards His people have been His purpose from eternity.

Christopher Ness speaks of the Eternity of God’s purposes in these words, “As God's essence is eternal, so His decree must be eternal also. Now the decree is God's decreeing, because whatever is in God is God; it is God Himself by one eternal act, decreeing and determining whatsoever should come to pass unto the praise of His own glory.”

There can no more be a new thought, a new intent, or a new purpose in God, than there can be a new God. Whatever God thinks, He has always thought and will always think. Whatever God purposes he has always purposed and always will purpose. He says, “I know (present tense) the thoughts I think (present tense) toward you” (Jeremiah 29:11). Just as he can never learn anything new or know anything new, neither can he intend anything new. His name is, after all, I AM.

Furthermore, if Christ be the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, as He is called in Revelation 13:8, then God’s gracious purposes for His people must be before time since our predestination unto adoption as children is expressed in Scripture by these words, “as he has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Christ is the means. Means are related to ends in such a way that the means cannot be conceived of before the ends they serve. No one conceives of an elaborate plan and then tries to find a goal to use it on! If Christ is the eternal purpose of the Father, then choosing us in Christ must be His eternal purpose also. Commenting on Psalm 90:2, David Dickson wrote, “From God’s good will to us in time, we may arise to God’s good will to us before time; and from grace showed to us in time, we may conclude grace and good will purposed toward us, and ordained for us before time.”

And of course, Scripture is replete with declarations of the eternity of God’s decree. Scripture uses expressions such as, “before the world began;” and “before the foundation of the world;” and "the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Our Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 7 was written in the light of passages such as Ephesians 1. The Catechism asks: “What are the decrees of God?” The answer given is: “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.” God’s decrees are eternal precisely because God’s essence is eternal. God dwells in what might be called an ‘infinite present.’ All things and all events in time are eternally present before Him. The fact that God is eternal, as Psalm 90:2 emphasizes, gives us the comfort of knowing God will faithfully be our dwelling place for all generations.

The great Reformer, Wolfgang Musculus, notes that God has not seen fit to tell us that He has chosen us and to leave us without the knowledge of when He did so. Commenting on Paul’s statement that God chose us before the foundation of the world, Musculus writes, “And yet there was no man before that the world was made. He chose us therefore before we were: so that there can be no occasion for the elect to boast thereof…This consideration commends unto us the wonderful purpose of God, wherein He determined with Himself upon our salvation before He made the world…It is an incredible matter how great an assurance of salvation there rests in the hearts of the faithful…that God had a care of them before the world was made, and that they were chosen by Him unto salvation, before that they were.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

God’s Love For His Church: Our Eternal Home (Part 1)

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

While we are only looking at the first 2 verses, it will be helpful to know something about the structure of this Psalm in its entirety. This Psalm divides into three parts. The first part contains the Church’s comfort amid the distresses and sorrows of this world. The second part (3-11) contains an acknowledgement of the shortness and miseries of life – the results of sin – sin which is set plainly before the Lord who is full of mercy. The last part (12-17) contains a series of petitions, some of which are for wisdom to rightly use the shortness and sorrows of life, the rest are for deliverance from them.

This Psalm, which is a prayer, (Remember that. We’ll come back to this point later.), was written by Moses. Scholars have generally deduced that this was written at the time when the 12 spies returned from their mission and the people murmured against God. The overall flow of the Psalm seems to verify this view. Until this point in Israel’s history the people of God had no place of their own. This is not to say that it was insufficient that God should be their dwelling place, but He had promised to Abraham the land of Canaan as part of His covenant, which would eventually, through the many twists and turns of history, come to fruition in the birth of Christ, the Seed in which all nations of the earth would be blessed. 

Israel stands on the very brink of receiving this covenant promise, which was the first step in establishing the nation which would be ruled by the tribe of Judah, through the family of Jesse, through the dynasty of David, which would give birth to the Christ. And on the very brink of receiving this long-awaited promise, the Church’s faith falters, they murmur against God, and incur the justifiable anger of God expressed in the 2nd portion of the Psalm, seen notably in verses 7 through 11.

In a fashion typical of all the Bible’s exhortations to trust in God, Moses sets before us in this verse God’s faithful dealing in the past, and in this particular case, with the Patriarchs. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” Scripture frequently encourages us to trust God by setting before us His ‘track-record,’ as it were, of faithfulness in the past. 

Immediately in this passage, we see a presupposition of the Doctrine of Election, or more properly, the grace of adoption, by which God had embraced the offspring of Abraham as His children. How do we make this assessment? Note that little pronoun, “our.” This speaks of God’s particular, electing love for His people. Moses did not say, “Lord, you have been the dwelling place of the Canaanites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians,” or “of all mankind,” for that matter, but “You have been our dwelling place.” By speaking of ‘generations,’ Moses is looking back to their forefathers in the faith. The Old Testament is saturated with this idea: that of God’s covenant faithfulness across generations – and the relevance of that historical fact to whatever the present situation happened to be. For instance, in the wake (pun intended) of escaping the Egyptian army at the Red Sea, Moses sings in Exodus 15:2, “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”

Samuel Horsley comments on our passage by expressing the experience of God’s people in these words, “Strangers and pilgrims as we have hitherto been, in every succeeding generation, from the days of Abraham; first sojourners in Canaan; then bondsman Egypt; now wanderers in this dreary waste; we nevertheless find the comforts of a home and settlement in thy miraculous protection.”

The point being driven at here is that the same grace of God experienced by the Patriarchs could be counted on by their offspring. Moses is looking back to God’s covenant promise to be a God to His people and their children, and to dwell with them, in a way which far surpassed whatever glory they had seen in the tabernacle over the previous 40 years. Moses’ statement is intended to recount, not how God had been faithful toward the Israelites since the Exodus, but what their fathers had experienced Him to be since the beginning of time. 

The concept presented to us in verses 1 and 2, goes back even farther than Abraham. It goes back to before Creation. This is accomplished by setting forth God’s grace towards His people, namely, in being their dwelling, not merely from the date of the Exodus, or from the birth of Abraham, but from all generations. The Hebrew literally says, “to generations and generations.” You may well be aware that repetition is a Hebrew method of emphasis. And the relationship between God’s favor towards His people and God’s eternity is emphasized in these verses by a parallel repetition. God is said to be our dwelling place for “generations and generations,” because He is God from “everlasting and everlasting.” Men live for generations; God’s favor, because He is eternal, is from everlasting to everlasting. 

So as I say, we are being taken back before creation itself. Ephesians 1:3-6 expresses this exact same idea in much more explicit language. It reads, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” The “One” He loves is, of course, referring to Christ. 

Here we are told that the sovereign, electing grace of God whereby He gathers His people unto Himself and adopts them as His own dear children, is something God did in Christ before the foundation of the world. 

Before there was a world in which God’s plan would unfold, before there was a garden in which our first parents were placed, before Abraham was called to sojourn in Canaan, and before his Seed would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, in the decree and purpose of God, He was already the dwelling place of His people. Augustine put it eloquently when he said, “Behold then the eternity that is our refuge that we may fly thither from the mutability of time, there to remain evermore.” 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Election Makes Us Humble - John Calvin

Hence, therefore, arises the impregnable and insubvertible security of the saints. The Father, who gave us to the Son as His peculiar treasure, is stronger than all who oppose us; and He will not suffer us to be plucked out of His hand. What a cause for humility then in the saints of God when they see such a difference of condition made in those who are, by nature, all alike! Wherever the sons of God turn their eyes, they behold such wonderful instances of blindness, ignorance and insensibility, as fill them with horror; while they, in the midst of such darkness, have received Divine illumination, and know it, and feel it, to be so. How (say they) is it that some, under the clear light, continue in darkness and blindness? Who makes this difference? One thing they know by their own experience, that whereas their eyes were also once closed, they are now opened. Another thing is also certain, that those who willingly remain ignorant of any difference between them and others, have never yet learned to render unto God the glory due to Him for making that difference.

Now no one doubts that humility lies at the bottom of all true religion, and is the mother of all virtues. But how shall he be humble who will not hear of the original sin and misery from which he has been delivered? And who, by extending the saving mercy of God to all, without difference, lessens, as much as in him lies, the glory of that mercy? Those most certainly are the farthest from glorifying the grace of God, according to its greatness, who declare that it is indeed common to all men; but that it rests effectually in him, because they have embraced it by faith. The cause of faith itself, however, they would keep buried all the time out of sight, which is this: that the children of God who are chosen to be sons are afterwards blessed with the spirit of adoption. Now, what kind of gratitude is that in me if, being endowed with so preeminent a benefit, I consider myself no greater a debtor than he who hath not received one hundredth part of it? Wherefore, if, to praise the goodness of God worthily, it is necessary to bear in mind how much we are indebted to Him, those are malignant towards Him and rob Him of His glory who reject and will not endure the doctrine of eternal election, which being buried out of sight, one half of the grace of God must of necessity vanish with it.

Let those roar at us who will. We will ever brighten forth, with all our power of language, the doctrine which we hold concerning the free election of God, seeing that it is only by it that the faithful can understand how great that goodness of God is which effectually called them to salvation. I merely give the great doctrine of election a slight touch here, lest anyone, by avoiding a subject so necessary for him to know, should afterwards feel what loss his neglect has caused him. I will, by and by, in its proper place, enter into the Divine matter with appropriate fullness. Now, if we are not really ashamed of the Gospel, we must of necessity acknowledge what is therein openly declared: that God by His eternal goodwill (for which there was no other cause than His own purpose), appointed those whom He pleased unto salvation, rejecting all the rest; and that those whom He blessed with this free adoption to be His sons He illumines by His Holy Spirit, that they may receive the life which is offered to them in Christ; while others, continuing of their own will in unbelief, are left destitute of the light of faith, in total darkness.

Against this unsearchable judgment of God many insolent dogs rise up and bark. Some of them, indeed, hesitate not to attack God openly, asking why, foreseeing the Fall of Adam, He did not better order the affairs of men? To curb such spirits as these, no better means need be sought than those which Paul sets before us. He supposes this question to be put by an ungodly person: How can God be just in showing mercy to whom He will and hardening whom He will? Such audacity in men the apostle considers unworthy a reply. He does nothing but remind them of their order and position in God’s creation: “Who art thou, O man, that replies against God?” (Rom. ix. 20.) Profane men, indeed, vainly babble that the apostle covered the absurdity of the matter with silence for want of an answer. But the case is far otherwise.

The apostle in this appeal adopts an axiom, or universal acknowledgment, which not only ought to be held fast by all godly minds, but deeply engraved in the breast of common sense; that the inscrutable judgment of God is deeper than can be penetrated by man. And what man, I pray you, would not be ashamed to compress all the causes of the works of God within the confined measure of his individual intellect? Yet, on this hinge turns the whole question: Is there no justice of God, but that which is conceived of by us? Now if we should throw this into the form of one question– whether it be lawful to measure the power of God by our natural sense–there is not a man who would not immediately reply that all the senses of all men combined in one individual must faint under an attempt to comprehend the immeasurable power of God; and yet, as soon as a reason cannot immediately be seen for certain works of God, men somehow or other are immediately prepared to appoint a day for entering into judgment with Him. What therefore can be more opportune or appropriate than the apostle’s appeal: that those who would thus raise themselves above the heavens in their reasonings utterly forget who and what they are?

And suppose God, ceding His own right, should offer Himself as ready to render a reason for His works? When the matter came to those secret counsels of His, which angels adore with trembling, who would not be utterly bereft of his senses before such glorious splendor? Marvelous, indeed, is the madness of man! Who would more audaciously set himself above God than stand on equal ground with any Pagan judge! It is intolerable to you, and hateful, that the power and works of God should exceed the capacity of your own mind; and yet you will grant to an equal the enjoyment of his own mind and judgment. Now, will you, with such madness as this, dare to make mention of the adorable God? What do you really think of God’s glorious Name? And will you vaunt that the apostle is devoid of all reason, because he does not drag God from His throne and set Him before you, to be questioned and examined?

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Subjects of Baptism

The Subjects of Baptism
By Dr. Wilhelmus à Brakel
We have thus held before you baptism and its essential nature. It is evident that baptism is the first New Testament sacrament, a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, instituted by God, and its admini­stration commanded by the Lord Jesus to His apostles—and in them to all ministers. This administration consists in the act of immersion or sprinkling with clean water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, thereby signifying and sealing to believers the cleansing of the soul from the guilt and pollution of sin by the blood and the Spirit of Christ, as well as the incorporation into the congregation of Christ so that through faith, love, and holiness, they may glorify God, be an ornament to the church, convict the unconverted, and stir up believers.
The Subjects of Baptism
In addition to that which has been said, it is necessary that we also consider the subjects of baptism; that is, those to whom bap­tism must be administered. These are not clocks or similar objects which the Papists baptize, thereby dreadfully desecrating baptism. Rather, the objects must be men, and then the true believers among men. Only true believers are entitled to the use of the sacraments. However, since the church is not authorized to require assurance of the probability of regeneration as the foundation upon which the minister may administer the sacraments to someone, all who have made confession of their sins, of their faith in Christ, and of their determination to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to lead a life which is in harmony with their confession, may rightfully and in good conscience be baptized. If the persons who are baptized are either unconverted or hypocrites, they are responsible and bap­tism is not a seal to them. They are neither partakers of the covenant nor are they entitled to its benefits. This is confirmed in the following passages: "And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. I indeed baptize you with water unto repen­tance:... Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Mat. 3:6-11, 8); "Repent, and be baptized every one of you" (Acts 2:38);
"...if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest" (Acts 8:37).
If someone has therefore entered into the covenant— whether it be in truth or in an external sense— and has been baptized, they are also obligated to surrender their children to Christ by way of the covenant and thus permit them to be baptized, as the covenant has also been made with their children. Before we prove this, we must, for a further exposition of infant baptism, make a few prefatory remarks.
The Baptism of Children
First, children to be baptized must 1) not be children of Jews, Muslims, heathens, or heretics, even if a member of the covenant has adopted them as children, for such adoption does not change the fact that they were not born within the covenant; 2) not be abandoned children in a country where the true church is not found, or if the true church is present, is filled with Jews, Muslims, heathens, Socinians, and other heretics, for such children can belong to the latter as well as to members of the covenant; 3) not be children of parents who have both been excommunicated— having been born subsequent to this excommunication— since such parents must be considered as heathens (Mat. 18:17); and 4) not be children who as yet are unborn, or who are miscarried— as the Papists do.
Instead, they must be
1) children of members of the covenant; that is, one or both must be members of the covenant (1 Cor. 7:14);
2) they may also be children of members of the covenant who are born as a result of adultery; or 3) children of those who are under censure, for the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.
Secondly, the place where children ought to be baptized has not been determined by Scripture and does not belong to the essence of baptism. However, where the church conducts public worship services, it is edifying that it take place during a worship service.
Thirdly, subsequent to the breaking of the covenant of works, God established a covenant of grace with man. Never, that is, neither in the Old nor in the New Testament has He established an external covenant wherein both converted and unconverted alike would be members on equal footing, such that God, upon external obedience, would have promised some external benefits, regardless of what name may be given to this covenant, such as a national, typical, worldly, or external covenant. One may therefore not baptize children in reference to an external covenant, but only in reference to the covenant of grace.
Fourthly, one can view elect children either as they are from God's perspective, or as they are in themselves. God knows them as being elect, as heirs of eternal life, and as being redeemed through the death of their Surety, Jesus Christ. As they are in themselves, they are identical to all other children, missing the image of God, having the image of the devil, without the seed of faith, without regeneration and the least gracious inclination, with­out the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and thus, hateful and worthy of condemnation. Therefore, the basis for their baptism is neither^ a measure of grace which they have within themselves, nor eternal I election, which is hidden for us.
Fifthly, God could either partially or fully sanctify children from infancy on. All children would have entered the world as being perfectly holy if Adam had not sinned. This was the condition in which Christ was born (being perfectly holy), and in which elect infants are, who at their death are sanctified as perfectly as an adult believer is sanctified. God generally does not do this, however. Even if He does so with certain persons by way of exception, it is neither a precedent nor clear proof of this. Therefore, we state again that the basis for the baptism of children is not some inherent quality.
Sixthly, baptism is a sign and a seal, and thus has no other function but a signifying and sealing function. It neither works grace by way of inherent efficacy, nor is it an external sign whereby, whereupon, or wherewith God works regeneration. It is not comparable to what Christ did to make the miracle very obvious, availing Himself of something tangible in the performance of His miracles; nor is it comparable to the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit being communi­cated by the laying on of hands. Thus, the gracious operations of the Spirit are not bound to the time or the administration of baptism. Baptism also does not bring the child into an internal state other than was previously the case, and God does not love the child with the love of His delight any more than before. Rather, the entire efficacy of baptism consists in this— that it seals the covenant of grace and all its promises to the child. This is not to suggest that the child has / them already, but rather that the child is entitled to them and that God will accomplish this in this child. It is thus similar to the manner in which future benefits are sealed to adult believers.
Seventhly, all children of members of the covenant (irrespective of whether these members are converted or unconverted) who die in infancy—be it prior to or after the administration of baptism — must be considered as saved by virtue of God's covenant in which they were born and in consequence of which they are children of the covenant. If the parents are unconverted and unfaithful to the covenant, this will be imputed to their account, for the son will not bear the iniquity of the father. One must also consider them to be true partakers and children of the covenant as they grow older, until they show by their deeds that they are unfaithful to the covenant and thus are no partakers of its prom­ises. They then do not fall out of grace, nor is the seal nullified; rather, it is a proof that baptism was not a seal for them and that they have never truly been in the covenant. When, however, some are converted after leading a sinful life, baptism was a seal unto them, and they were thus truly included in the covenant and in very deed are partakers of its benefits, being entitled to them already since their childhood. This is true, even though between their baptism and conversion there was but an external resemblance to members of the covenant— in reference to both their personal spiritual state and sound judgment of others. Baptism only seals the elect.
Eighthly, the form for baptism asks of parents and witnesses, "Whether you acknowledge... that they (their children) are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His church ought to be baptized?" In order to understand this question correctly, it must be noted:
(1) This form addresses members of the covenant and speaks of their children.
(2) To be sanctified does not imply that the children at that moment are in truth possessors of the principle of faith, regeneration, and sanctification. It also does not imply that all baptized children are, and particularly, that my child is elect, will be converted, and be a partaker of salvation. Rather, it means in a general sense that chil­dren of members of the covenant, by virtue of the covenant made with them and their children, are entitled to its benefits and will become partakers of them. This is in distinction to the children of those who are not members of the covenant and for whom there are no promises in the Word. The salvation of the latter, if they die in infancy, is a matter which pertains to the sovereign and secret dealings of God, there being no foundation in regard to which something can be stated about them. And as long as children of members of the covenant manifest nothing which is either in their favor or disfavor, we may not discriminate among them, but by reason of the promise must deem them to be children of God until the contrary manifests itself. Therefore, to be sanctified in Christ means to be a partaker of Christ.
(3) To be sanctified does not mean to be included in an external covenant, for there is no external covenant. The parents have the \ salvation of their child in view, and not something of an external) nature. The sacraments are not seals of an external covenant, but only of the covenant of grace, and signs and seals of the righteous- J ness of faith. Also the child is acknowledged as being sanctified in Christ, which cannot be said in reference to an external covenant.
It is furthermore acknowledged that the child is sanctified prior to baptism, and therefore ought to be baptized. The child therefore does not become a member of the covenant by virtue of baptism; he was already a member prior to baptism, and prior to the child's baptism there was also no other covenant but the covenant of grace.
(4) Some wish to change the form and say, "to be sanctified in Christ, or those who are sanctified, must be sanctified in Christ." This is the result of ignorance and misunderstanding concerning this matter. If they wish these words to mean something different than to be in the covenant of grace (which appears to be the intent), I cannot understand on what basis they let their children or other children be baptized, since there is no other foundation for bap­tism but the covenant of grace, of which baptism is a seal.
The Scriptural Defense for the Baptism of Children
Having said this by way of introduction, we must now consider the following question:
Question: May and must children of members of the covenant be baptized?
Answer: Anabaptists, Socinians, and Brownists answer nega­tively, but we answer in the affirmative for the following reasons:
First, in the Old Testament children of members of the cove­nant had to be circumcised; therefore they must also be baptized in the New Testament. The first part of the statement is above controversy. The argument for the conclusion is as follows:
(1) Since there is one and the same covenant in both testaments, and this identical covenant also pertains to the children of the Old Testament who were obligated to receive the seal of circumcision, this is also true in the New Testament and they must therefore be baptized.
(2) Baptism has come in the place of circumcision; the external sign has changed, but the seal is the same. "In whom also ye are circumcised... buried with Him in baptism" (Col. 2:11-13). He who is baptized is said to be circumcised, since they are in essence one and the same sacrament.
(3) In both sacraments the same matter is signified and the purpose is identical: cleansing by the blood and the Spirit of Christ. If children had to be circumcised then, they must also be baptized today.
Secondly, children were baptized in the Old Testament. "…that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:1-2). It is irrefutable that all their children were included here (Exo. 10:24). In a manner comparable to being baptized by immersion in water, they were all in the sea, and the water in the cloud which was always above them, covered them. This baptism was a seal of their spiritual deliverance, having escaped from the hands of Pharaoh by the water of the sea. They were overshadowed by the cloud— and thus protected against the heat of the sun and the Lord Jesus was present in this cloud (Exo. 14:24). If children were then baptized as members of the covenant, they must also presently be baptized, for they are as much members of the covenant now as they were then.
Thirdly, the children of members of the covenant are in the covenant, and they therefore are also entitled to the seals of the covenant. Their inclusion in the covenant is evident in Genesis 17:7, "And I shall establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations." This was not only true in the Old but also in the New Testament, for believers from among the Gentiles also are Abraham's seed and are thus included in that covenant. "…that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised" (Rom. 4:11). Peter also confirms this: "Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (Acts 3:25). Add to this 1 Corinthians 7:14, where we read, "...else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." They do not have internal holiness, as has been proven in the above; rather, they are called holy because one of the parents is a believer, thereby being in the covenant. The holiness of such children is therefore a covenantal holiness.4 An external covenant does not exist, for there is but one covenant between God and believers: the covenant of grace. The children of members of the covenant are therefore in the covenant. In this respect the Lord calls them His children. "Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou \ hast borne unto Me... that thou hast slain My children" (Ezek. 1 16:20-21). If they are in the covenant, they must also indeed receive \ the seal of the covenant. This is evident in Acts 2:38-39, where we read, "…be baptized every one of you…for the promise is unto you, and to your children."
Fourthly, children are partakers of the benefits of the covenant, the merits of Christ, the promises, and salvation itself. "But Jesus said. Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mat. 19:14). These were not children in the spiritual sense of the word, characterized by humil­ity, but rather natural children who were brought to Jesus, and who were kept away from Him by others, since they were deemed to be too unimportant. The Lord Jesus declares them to be partak­ers of the kingdom of heaven, of which one cannot be a partaker except through Christ. Who then would dare to exclude those children from heaven who die in infancy? Consider also Acts 2:39, where we read that the promise is to your children. Those who are partakers of the promises of the covenant are also entitled to the seal of the covenant and its promises.
Objection #1: Nowhere is a command found to baptize children.
(1) Scripture has been given to rational people who know that all must be understood to be members of the covenant who are in the covenant— whether this is the husband, the wife, or the children.
(2) It also is not written: Baptize a man, or baptize a woman, nor are they mentioned by first and last name.
(3) We read in Genesis 17:12, "And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations." In Acts 2:38-39 we read, ". ..be baptized every one of you... for the promise is unto you, and to your children."
Objection #2: Children cannot benefit from this; they do not understand it, and they frequently cry when they are baptized.
(1) One must not be wiser than God who has thus commanded it.
(2) Any additional objections would also be applicable to the circumcision of children.
(3) The parents are comforted by baptism. It obligates and stimulates them to view their children as members of the covenant and to raise them as such. And when children come to the years of discretion, they may derive as much benefit from it as persons who are baptized as adults.
Objection #3: Christ was not baptized until he was thirty years old; we must therefore also wait with baptism until children come to the years of discretion.
(1) We would have to conclude from this that one cannot be baptized before thirty years of age. This is refuted by their own practice.
(2) The institution of baptism was not until that time.
(3) Christ had been circumcised in His youth.
Objection #4: One ought first to be instructed, repent, and believe before being permitted to be baptized (cf. Mat. 28:19; Acts 2:38; 8:37-38; Mark 16:16).
(1) It is also written, "...if any would not work, neither^ should he eat" (2 Th. 3:10). Should we then deprive children of food? ) Who does not see that in both cases the reference is to adults?
(2) We may not baptize any children except those of members of the covenant. Therefore, parents must first become members of the covenant, and as far as they are concerned, instruction, repen­tance, and faith must precede. These texts therefore do not run counter to the baptism of children of members of the covenant.

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