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LEAGUE of the CANADIAN REFORMED WOMEN'S SOCIETIES
14 NO. 3 FEBRUARY 1999
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To keep a promise is important, for it shows that you speak the truth. A promise before God, an oath, means that God is called upon to punish you if you break such a promise. Our vows in church could be compared to an oath. Did you ever promise, with the congregation as witness, that you would instruct your child in all that we believe in our churches? Did you then resolve to teach your child at every age-level to fear and love his God and Saviour? That was quite a daunting experience, I am sure, especially if you had to repeat them for the next baby, right? What gives us the courage to make our vows?
Courage is needed to do so, unless we make our promises out of custom or superstition. This counts for younger as well as older parents. Where do young couples get the strength to walk up to the front of the church with a tiny new-born in dad's unsure arms? He hardly knows how to hold the little squirming infant, while some awesome words are spoken over the head of his offspring: resounding promises of an eternal covenant of grace ... of adoption as heir of the greatest king in the universe, of a clean slate at the last judgement because of his Saviour's work, of a progression to holiness through the Holy Spirit, and to top it off, a wedding invitation in heaven to meet the saints. To some parents the Lord grants more children, and each time we hear the awesome words repeated. My own vows were made over many years; the eighth time was with even much more trepidation than the first time. Indeed, the passing years have taught us that it is not easy to live together as children of God in a growing household, where sin of parents and children is very much a reality.
Again, I asked myself the question, where do we find the strength to walk up to the baptismal font? I think it comes from an obedient heart - just that. God orders us to do so in His Word; therefore we ought to have our children baptized. Born of believing parents, they are God's children, they belong to His covenant of grace. Can we be sure of that? Yes, for our God is the same yesterday, today and always. He is the God of the generations (although He knows each one of us even by name as well!). Our children belong to Him from the womb. His care surrounds them from day one. Teach your children Psalm 139; let them memorize the verses 13-18 (a good starting point for sexual education!). That the covenant truly exists for believers and their seed is clearly explained in other articles in this issue of Horizon. I looked up John Calvin's commentary on Acts 2:37, and he also stresses that the great promise to Abraham went to the gentiles and their seed.
We cannot turn God's truth around and say: I'll wait and see if my child will love God, before I give him the sticker "child of God". But does that mean that our children automatically will go to heaven? Wait a minute. They have entered His covenant, be it without their knowledge, because God initiates it- into a relationship with a Holy God, who sets His terms for holy living. Let us be very careful never to create the impression that we are saved because we are a member of God's church by birth. There are, alas, disobedient children who spurn their riches in later life. Yet their sinful lifestyle and attitude should never take away the comfort from the others, that God is their God. Rev C. Stam wrote: "Under the terms of the covenant, the child is truly accountable and responsive and responsible. He is accountable for the fact of his depravity, and he is accountable to the appeal which comes to man in the Covenant-Word of God, to which he must respond, and does respond, negatively or positively" (Reformed Perspective; July 1984, page 9). As we ourselves were baptized., so we may plead for and with our children time and again for God's help and the Holy Spirit as we seek to nurture them in the fear of His name. That gives us the courage to go on.
In that struggle to keep our promise, we are not alone. The communion of saints is our next source of strength. Let us make time to encourage one another, at society and during visits. Our lifestyle is a testimony to the world, and we are not always in agreement. Even on important questions. Openness in love is part of our responsibility. Let us discuss how we can practice Deuteronomy 6:7: "Impress on your children when you sit at home (be home . . TV. off) and walk (or drive without car-radio) along the road, when you lie down (night-hours seem best for talks), and when you get up (breakfast devotions)." That God's command is: to love Him above all and the people in your life as much as yourself. This living humbly with our God is a full-time calling , 24-hours a day. But the kids, of course, cannot always stay at home, they must go to school.
For that very reason our (grand)parents put their heads and money together, in order to have our children instructed in our own day schools where all of life is looked at in a reformed way. Rev. C. Stam says therefore: "There is only one covenant. There may be different dispensations, but it is one covenant. In this covenant God gives His grace and gifts and also imparts a calling to His children to serve and glorify Him. When the gifts were lost and the calling was subverted, God set out to restore the covenant relationship in Jesus Christ, renewing His children by His Spirit and Word, Our children are sent to our schools TO FUNCTION IN THIS COVENANT AND FOR NO OTHER REASON" (my emphasis, AV).
Therefore, to have the youth of our church instructed at our schools, HAS to be a communal effort. Let us put our money where our vows are and share each other's financial burdens.
Does that mean that we now can hand over the moral and religious training to the teachers? By no means. Just as our minister's instruction on Sundays never means that we don't have to be diligent in home-worship, so our teachers only help us in our calling. They will show the students, in all subjects, that this awesome God is their God - serve Him! It is no wonder, then, that nine of our schools are called "John Calvin Schools", and four schools have the name "Covenant."
Are we still scared that things will go wrong? Then let us plead on Psalm 103:17 "But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him and His righteousness with their children's children, with those who keep His covenant" We will experience that peace, and realize that "the Lord confides in those who fear Him. He makes his covenant KNOWN to them ".(Psalm 25:14.). Truly one thing is sure :God's promises are never broken, for they are amen in Jesus Christ.
To God be all glory.
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OF THE COVENANT
In the history of the church of Christ many doctrinal battles have been waged over the sacrament of baptism: who may receive it? What does it mean? How is it to be administered, by whom and on what ground?
a. Already in the early church, ideas probably derived from the so-called "rnystery religions" influenced the thinking and practice of some Christians on baptism. These mystery religions had initiation rites that were placed on par with baptism - when in reality they were worlds apart. Initiation into the mysteries, usually involving some form of purification by water, was administered to those who had already earned the favour of the gods by their own deeds. By analogy, baptism came to be regarded by some as a sign and seal of the higher status that you yourself had obtained before God. b. One of the church fathers of the second century, Tertullian, wrote a treatise on baptism in which he argued that sins committed after baptism were particularly dangerous and cannot be forgiven. For that reason, as you can guess, he opposed infant baptism.
c. By the middle ages, the Roman Catholic church had turned the sacrament into a magical means whereby grace is automatically and mechanically infused into the recipient.
d. The sixteenth century witnessed the rise of the Anabaptist movement. Men like Conrad Grebel, Michael Sattler, and Balthasar Hubmaier vehemently disagreed with the Reformers, especially over the understanding of baptism. Convinced that Scripture only commanded believers' baptism, they established their own churches and penned their own confessions. The first article of The Schleitheim Confession (1527) for example, states: "Baptism ought to be given to those who have been instructed in repentance, who believe that their sins have been blotted out by Jesus Christ, and who want to walk in His resurrection. Consequently, it ought to be administered to those who request it for themselves, not for infants as is done in the pope's kingdom.
e. And as recently as the last century, within the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, there was a bitter struggle over infant baptism, as this came to the fore in the theory of presumptive regeneration and the doctrine of the covenant. The result: the Liberation of 1944.
Yes, as you look back over the history of the church, the sacrament of holy baptism (and Lord's Supper, for that matter) was continually a bone of contention.
If you really think about it, however, it seems odd that the sacraments of all things should generate so many theological controversies and church schisms. Why? Because the sacraments are so simple and straightforward. God ordained them precisely because He was "mindful of our insensitivity and infirmity" (Art. 33). As a compassionate Father, God saw how prone His children are to stumble and therefore He gave us a means of grace through which He makes His covenant promises tangible before our very eyes. That's what makes it so odd! Here we are given simple, added confirmations via water, bread and wine, and yet we turn them into sources of division. That shows you how persistent and how deep our depravity is. By the same token, it also reveals the deception and power of Satan. That makes it all the more urgent for us to diligently search the Scriptures so that we know and confess and are able to defend the Biblical truth concerning Holy Baptism.
In this article we want to defend that truth over against the teaching of the Baptist churches. This is a large denomination with great influence. Their influence has also been felt in the last few years within our federation. Here and there some Canadian Reformed members have left to join churches affiliated with the Baptist tradition. And occasionally you hear the remark from the mouth of a Reformed person: "Baptism is not really a salvation issue. Your eternal weal or woe does not hinge on whether you're re-baptized or whether you reject infant baptism. It is not that important. "
In noting the differences between Reformed and Baptist churches on this sacrament we make no judgement upon the people as such. Some of you probably know very sincere Christians who attend a Baptist church. We are concerned with their official teaching, their doctrine. And if that goes contrary to the Word of God we are obliged to point out the errors as clearly as we can and share with them the riches of our Reformed heritage.
We should be careful not to paint every Baptist church with the same brush. Among the English Baptists of the 17th century there were two strains: one group influenced by Arminianism (General Baptists), the other by Calvinism (Particular Baptists). One of the most wellknown preachers that belonged to the latter was C.H. Spurgeon, whose penetrating sermons are still read by many today. The Calvinistic group now refer to themselves as "Reformed Baptists." And yet it will become obvious from our examination of their teaching on baptism that the name "REFORMED Baptist" is a contradiction in terms. Though this group of Baptists, speaks out against the freedom of the will, because of its understanding of baptism it cannot rid itself of that Arminian stigma.
Concerning the MODE of baptism there are two opinions. The majority of Baptists maintain that the mode is not important. The "strict" Baptists insist that immersion is the only proper manner of administration. Sprinkling or pouring is wrong and whoever is baptized in that way has an invalid baptism. They go to great lengths explaining that the Greek word "baptizo" means "to immerse" and that this manner alone symbolizes the burial and resurrection that we have in Christ according to Romans 6.
We do not want to devote too much time to this segment within the Baptist tradition. Professor John Murray in his booklet 'Christian Baptism' has adequately refuted their arguments. Essentially he proves from Scripture that the word "baptizo" does not always or necessarily mean immersion. He points, among other places, to Hebrews 9: 10 ff., where you find the expression "divers baptisms" (RSV: "various ablutions"). The author is referring there to OT regulations for the body - one of which is the "SPRINKLING of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls..." (v. 13). Obviously, then, the word "baptism" refers to an action that can be performed by sprinkling as well as any other mode.
And with respect to Romans 6, Professor Murray shows that Paul is not at all referring to the mode of baptism. The emphasis is plainly upon the meaning of baptism into Christ, namely, union with Him.
Similarities between Reformed and Baptist
practice of Baptism
Our focus right now is with those Baptists who agree with us that the validity of the sacrament is not determined by the amount of water or the way in which it is applied. We are also in agreement with respect to the formula for baptism. They, too, use the words of Matthew 28: 19, baptizing "into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. " Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, these Baptists maintain with us that baptism can only be administered by a lawfully ordained minister and in the assembly of God's people.
One more similarity might be: they baptize adults who are won for Christ only upon prior confession of faith and so do we. Upon the surface this appears to be true. As we delve into the matter, however, it will become apparent that their understanding of adult baptism is fundamentally different from ours.
That brings us to the blatant difference between Reformed and Baptists, which is our acceptance of infant baptism and their rejection of it. They adamantly object to the baptism of the children of believing parents mainly for the following two reasons:
A. There is no express command in the Bible that infants must be baptized nor any example of such.
B. Jesus commanded that his disciples baptize those who believe (Matt. 28: 19 and Mark 16: 16).
True belief is a sure knowledge whereby we accept as true all that God has revealed in His Word. At the same time it is a firm confidence that God has granted to me the benefits of Christ out of mere grace. Since infants do not have this knowledge and confidence they may not be baptized.
The Reformed Response
Let us look closely at those two objections. The first is rooted in their unbalanced approach to Scripture. The Baptists certainly hold to the Bible as the infallible Word of God and they desire to base their rejection of infant baptism on that Word. No one will deny that. The problem arises in their treatment of the OT as opposed to the NT. You see that clearly in a pamphlet obtained from a Baptist Church. In the introductory paragraph it states the following: " ' ..Baptism is a positive institution PECULIAR TO THE NEW TESTAMENT (their emphasis), and therefore cannot be deduced by analogical reasoning from any Old Testament institution, either as to its form, subjects, signification or design. These things we must learn from the New Testament itself, to which alone this ordinance belongs and in which alone we have any revelation about it.
Do you see that? They put an emphasis on the NT at the expense of the OT. The underlying issue beneath their first objection then, is: "What is the value in appealing to the OT?" For Baptists the old covenant has been fulfilled in the coming of Christ, and therefore whatever ceremonies and symbols it contains have relatively little (or no) significance for life in the new covenant.
We can agree with the first part of that sentence. We too believe that "the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ceased with the coming of Christ, and that all shadows have been fulfilled, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians." Nevertheless, immediately after that we add (Art. 25, BC): "YET their truth and substance remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled. In the meantime we still use the testimonies taken from the law and the prophets, both to confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel and to order our life in all honour according to God's will and to His glory- "
The point is: if you are going to use Matt. 28: 19 and Mark 16: 16 to reject the baptism of the children of believers, then you may not wrench those verses out of their context. You must let them speak within the totality of God's revelation, and that means within the Old and New Testaments.
In the second place, their first objection betrays a Biblicistic approach to Scripture. Their reasoning is: there is no explicit command to baptize infants in Scripture; therefore we may not do that. This argument, however, rests upon the untenable assumption that only doctrines and practices explicitly stated in Scripture can be regarded as true or valid. John Calvin already pointed out the weakness of such argumentation by applying it to other areas, for example, the Lord's Supper. There is no explicit command in Scripture that women may partake of the Lord's Supper. Paul's letters make no mention of it. And the only example we have is the first supper at which our Lord was surrounded by His disciples, all of whom were men. And yet no Baptist would contend or even contemplate limiting this sacrament to men.
We must agree with the Baptists: there is no explicit command or example of infant baptism in the Bible. BUT IT MOST DEFINITELY IS IMPLIED! The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.6, rightly states that "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture... " We wholeheartedly concur. By good and necessary consequence infant baptism may be deduced from Scriptures.
The second Baptist objection springs from a wrong understanding of God's covenant of grace. With that we come to the heart of the matter surrounding the differences between Reformed and Baptist on this sacrament. The case for infant baptism rests upon the continuity of the covenant, and upon the divine command that the children of Israel had to receive the sign and seal of the covenant in the old dispensation.
Before explaining that from Scripture we should take note that what Baptists say about the covenant sounds very reformed. David Kingdom in his book The Children of Abraham (1973) professes that "there is one Covenant of Grace which has been operative in human history since the Fall..." He acknowledges one church of God purchased with the blood of Christ, and one way of salvation, namely repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the eternal covenant. All Scriptural truths. And yet what Kingdom gives with his right hand he takes back with his left hand, as it were. For he goes on to explain that the covenant in the OT had two aspects; an earthly, temporal one, and a heavenly, eternal one. To the earthly aspect of the covenant belonged circumcision. Since all shedding of blood (including that of circumcision) has been fulfilled by Christ, therefore we cannot derive from it that infants must be baptized in the new covenant which is now only a spiritual affair.
The same line of reasoning can be found in Paul K. Jewett's Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (1978). Following the ideas of Karl Barth he writes: all Israelites had a right to the sign of circumcision by virtue of their participation in the earthly blessings of the covenant community (emphasis mine): they were citizens of the nation of Israel by birth. However, since this outward form of the covenant was done away in Christ, to baptize indiscriminately in the New Testament age is either to abuse discipline in administering the rite or to be guilty of hypocrisy in receiving it. "
From. the writings of these two prominent Baptists it becomes obvious that although they talk about one promise for God's people it really amounts to two promises: a natural and a spiritual one. And in their estimation the primary one in the OT is the natural land and descendants. So, what they are positing is: in the OT one was received into the covenant by birth, in the NT by faith. With this contrived distinction between birth and faith, they are led to the conclusion: yes, circumcision of all male infants before the advent of Christ was mandatory, but now that Christ has come the baptism of only mature believers is mandatory. Well, let us test that against the written revelation of God - in particular Gen. 17, which contains the divine institution of circumcision as the sign and seal of God's covenant.
In Genesis God called Abram away from Ur of the Chaldees and gave him the precious promise of a new land, many descendants, a great name, and most importantly that "in him all the families of the earth would be blessed" (Gen. 12: 3). Abram and his descendants would be God's new beginning in the history of redemption. His plan of grace will not fail. From the loins of Abram would be born the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman, whose one sacrifice on the cross would make the covenant once again universal, opening it to all nations and peoples. So, the foundational promise to Abram was: salvation through Jesus Christ.
That much is clear from Galations 3 where Paul, quoting Gen. 12 and 17, says that God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, and that Abraham's offspring is Christ. God determined to bring that promise to fulfilment through the line of Abraham's descendants living within the boundaries of the land of Canaan. Thus, the promise of land and descendants, though necessary, was subservient to the promise of salvation through Christ. Abraham himself was fully aware of that. When God finally blessed his marriage with the birth of a son, that was a reason for great laughter. In fact, the name Isaac reflects their unparalleled joy, for that is what it means: "laughter." By choosing that name, Abraham and Sarah were confessing Isaac's birth as a mighty breakthrough in the history of redemption. "Everyone who hears will laugh with me" (Gen. 20: 6). That line brims with the perspective of true faith: now the way is open for THE SEED, not of Ishmael, but of Isaac. Through the son, according to the promise, the salvation of the world would come.
With respect to the promise about land we can quote the writer of Hebrews: "By faith (Abraham) sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations whose builder and maker was God. " (Hebr. 11 9, 10)
Contrary to the Baptist teaching, then, we may not drive a wedge in the one promise of God, splitting it so that the earthly aspect of land and descendants temporarily receives a higher status in the old dispensation.
What about their setting "birth in the OT" over against "faith in the NT" as the portal into God's covenant? That too is completely unfounded. Abraham received the sign and seal of the covenant after almost 25 years of living by faith in the Word of God. God called Abraham from Ur when he was 75 years old. The divine command to circumcise came in his 99th year. The apostle Paul notes that relationship between circumcision and Abraham's faith in Romans 4: 11, "He (Abraham) received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. "
Paul refers us here to Gen. 15: 6, "Abraham believed the LORD, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."
Bear in mind that Paul is writing against the haughty claims of Judaists who were glorying over the uncircumcised Gentile-Christians. They were boasting in their birth as Jews, their descent according to the flesh. What does Paul do? He uses the OT sign of the covenant to show the opposite: that they have absolutely no reason to boast in their origin. Circumcision is proof that God's people are justified by faith alone. Just look at Abraham, the father of all believers!
In effect Paul is showing that circumcision was not a national symbol of a dividing wall between Israel and the Gentiles, as the Baptists would have us believe. Instead, in its deepest meaning circumcision pointed to the communion of Israel with other nations. In Genesis 17 the many nations are in the foreground - not just Israel. At the institution of circumcision God changes the names of this covenant couple which highlight exactly that point. "Your name shall be Abraham, " He says, "for I have made you a father of a MULTITUDE OF NATIONS As as for Sarai, God says, "Sarah shall be her name.... she shall be a mother of nations ......
The Baptists tend to empty circumcision of its spiritual significance by emphasizing its national significance. But again that is not doing justice to this OT rite. This rite involved blood and in the context of the OT the shedding of blood was symbolic of sin being atoned for, just as baptism, which has replaced circumcision, signifies the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ. Through procreation the pollution of sin was transmitted. Every single child inherits that corrupt nature of his or her parents. The removal of the foreskn impressed upon the believers of old the impurity of their soul. It reminded them of God's demand that they separate themselves from sin and consecrate themselves to God. With this sign the Lord graphically represented to His people the crucification of the old man and the coming to life of the new. That the physical sign had this spiritual meaning is evident from what Moses writes in Deut. 10: 15, 16: "yet the Lord set His heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as at this day. Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart and be no longer stubborn" (cf Jer. 4: 4).
The Ground for Baptism
As we have already noted, Baptists object to the baptism of infants because faith is the ground for baptism in the new covenant. However, we may not baptize on the ground of one's faith but on the ground of God's covenant promise and demand. We begin with the Scriptural truth that there is one covenant of grace which, in both the old and new testaments, has the same promise (salvation), the same demand (faith), the same Mediator (Christ), and therefore the same parties, namely: the believers AND THEIR CHILDREN. Because all that is identical (except for the administration), we may rightly appeal to Genesis 17 in our Form for the Baptism of Infants. There we confess: "For the Lord spoke to Abraham, the father of all believers, and thus speaks to us and our children saying. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. "
In His marvellous wisdom, God decreed that he would establish, maintain and perfect His covenant with believers and their children. "And their children" - that phrase resounds throughout the Scriptures. To the serpent in the Garden He said, "I will set enmity (not just between you and the woman but) between your seed and HER SEED."
Many of the Psalms rejoice in that comforting and glorious reality. That's why David could pray in Psalm 22: "Yet Thou (0 Lord) art He who took me from the womb; Thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's breasts. Upon Thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me Thou hast been my God. "
Did you catch that? "Since my mother bore me Thou hast been my God." Think of Psalm 103: the Lord's righteousness is to "children's children." What a God we have - one whose glory above the heavens is chanted by the mouth of babes and infants (Psalm 8).
That same covenantal line (Abraham and his seed) continues in the new dispensation. Only now it is even more glorious. The Great Son of Abraham has come, and through the shedding of His blood has worked the fulfilment of the promise: "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Now it is not just the Israelites and their children who are the recipients of grace but all those who believe in Christ... AND THEIR DESCENDANTS. Peter also testifies to this when he says, "For to you is the promise and to your children and to all that are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Him" (Acts 2: 39).
When Baptists come with the rejoinder that infants do not even know about the covenant, we can reply, on the basis of the continuity of the covenant: "Of course, they don't know yet about the promises and demands. God doesn't demand that from them either. Isaac was only eight days old when he was circumcised, and yet God sovereignly and graciously extended to him His salvation.
Without his knowledge he was received into grace in Christ. Therefore, although our children do not understand all this we may not exclude them from baptism. "
In the gospels we read of Jewish mothers bringing their children to Jesus for His blessing. These were babes (Lk. 18: 16); they had to be "brought" (Matt. 19: 13), carried in their mothers' arms. The disciples attempted to shoo them away. Their Master was too busy with more important matters. But what was Christ's reaction? He became indignant. These babies had no understanding of what Christ's blessing entailed and yet Christ forcefully rebukes his disciples saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." It ignorant infants receive the blessing from the Mediator of the Covenant Himself, and if he declares that they belong to the kingdom of heaven, then who will refuse them the sign and seal of those blessings and the mark of the kingdom?
By saying that the ground for baptism is the believers' testimonial that he has accepted Christ, the Baptists are espousing Arminian subjectivism. Man has to do something. God, however, is the Alpha and the Omega. Our salvation from beginning to end is from Him and through Him and unto Him. That too is illustrated in the life of Abraham. In chapter 17 God does not sit down with Abraham to discuss promises and obligations. He literally says in verse 2, "I will GIVE my covenant .... .. There is no bargaining. Abram just has to take it all as God gives it. He can only do one thing (verse 3); "then Abram fell on His face." In the ancient near east this was the way of expressing your utter humility and submission to someone.
God speaks and Abram listens because the covenant is the means of God to convey HIS gifts. Therefore it is rightly called a covenant of grace. It is not that God gives something to Abram and Abram gives something back. The only giver at first is God. Because He is the only giver He can determine the way in which Abram will receive the gifts, namely along the way of the obedience of faith.
Besides that, look at the conditions surrounding the birth of Isaac. Abraham is 100 years old; his wife 90. Most often we focus on Sarah and the impossibility of a woman producing an egg at the age of 90. But Paul does not exclude Abram either (Rom. 4: 19). Abram did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was AS GOOD AS DEAD because he was about 100 years old. From both sides there is no longer any human possibility for the conception of life. And that's precisely when the Lord steps in - to show that the salvation of His people is from Him alone. Now you can see the significance of God's opening words to Abraham in chapter 17: "1 am God almighty." What is impossible with man is possible with God.
True, the covenant is bilateral in its existence. But that does not rest upon the response of man. It is a bilateralness determined and established by God. That means, also in the demand of faith and repentance, His grace is active in our life. Our response to the promises is really the response of the Holy Spirit within us. He is the One who works faith in our hearts. He imparts to us what we have in Christ. That is the same for children of believing parents and for an adult outside the covenant who is converted to the Christian faith.
That sovereignty of God is symbolized in Genesis 17 as well. Circumcision was a custom practised by Phoenicians and Egyptians in the days of Abraham. The Lord, however, gives this rite new content and meaning which becomes clear when we compare what it meant for the nations with what is revealed in Genesis 17. For these heathen nations, acquiring many children, especially sons, was a sign of great strength and fertility. To facilitate that, young men were circumcised in preparation for marriage. It was a type of initiation before marriage in which the young man's vigour and sexuality were extolled. Through circumcision they sought to remove any hindrances to their own procreative powers.
What does the Lord now require from His people? He makes one fundamental change, and that concerns the TIME of circumcision. Instead of having it done just before marriage, it is done just after birth... on a new-born child. At this age, not only the impossibility of marriage is emphasized, but also the helplessness and powerlessness of the child. In other words, God is saying- "The entrance to life in the covenant is with me ' and the continuation of life in fellowship with me is in my hand. Every day in my covenant from your birth to your death is a day of my grace and power."
It is by virtue of the covenant that we baptize our children. So truly and certainly are they members of that covenant that "God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy" (CoD, 1, 17).
Your children are God's children. He laid claim to them already in your womb. You may not speculate about a "seed of regeneration" in their hearts. You may not presume they are reborn until the opposite is proven. As mothers, you have one duty, and that is to teach them, by word and deed, this marvellous doctrine of salvation to the utmost of your power.
Rev. J. Ludwig
League Day 1995
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A SIGN OF FAITHFULNESS
'A Sign of Faithfulness', by H-Westerink, translated by J. Mark Beach (Available at your local Christian bookstore & through Inheritance Publications)
The word covenant should be well known among those born and raised in the Reformed faith. It has everything to do with God, and our relationship to Him and to others in the world around us.
Reformed believers have a long standing tradition of appealing to the following confession: Solascriptura. It is a confession that harks To the 16th century when our faithful God delivered us once again from the darkness we had brought on ourselves; a darkness that would have surely consumed us had not our faithful Yahweh pierced it in a marvellous way by bringing us To the Bible.
Today, if we find ourselves struggling with the concept of the covenant and it's signs (i.e. baptism), it is for one reason alone... the neglect of His Word wherein God reveals Himself abundantly and clearly (!). This is strong language, I know. The following theory on why we often neglect His Word is not easy to hear either. A diligent and habitual search of the scriptures requires discipline and our natural fallen nature is not prone to exercising discipline. We'd rather hunt and peck our way through the Bible in search of the quick-fix text. Add to that common experience the old, unshakeable problem of pride, where we are quick to call ourselves God's people, using the language of the covenant and presuming the promises attached to it without knowledge and we easily find ourselves in trouble!
What does this preamble have to do with the book review you ask? I answer that with a series of my own questions. Have you ever come across a friend or family member who questions the validity of infant baptism? Have you ever tried to defend your beliefs in this matter and found yourself with a mouth full of teeth instead? You may have made the mistake of rushing to the Bible to find proof-texts for your position, a common error that only leaves you frustrated and ineffective. Have you ever found yourself entertaining the New Testament believer syndrome, i.e. one who concentrates on the teachings of Christ at the exclusion of Old Testament history? Ever had to sheepishly admit to yourself that you don't quite grasp the term historical redemptive?
Do not despair! You may never find the time for an uninterrupted read through God's revelation from Genesis to Revelation, but you can find the time to read this small 125-page handbook on the covenant and baptism. In a couple of leisure hours you journey from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, power packed with supporting scripture and confessional references. The translator's preface concludes with the prayer that this book might serve as a great blessing to both pastor and pew-person alike; there is blessing here indeed! I may also add my own personal experience in its recommendation.
Two observations I would leave with you.
We are not as strong as we think we are. We are like the stiff-necked Israelites in more ways than we care to remember. We need the whole history of God's revelation as a constant reminder that His promises are the only sure thing in this world. We live in a world of individualism; this is not a new disease but one that constantly threatens to stain and impede our call to be a people set apart. We could avoid much of the spiritual anxiety that besets us if we would consistently set our minds on the big picture, walking the walk as a people with whom God established a covenant right from the beginning in the Garden of Eden!
The second observation is not new information, but an affirmation that slowly grew as I turned the pages of this book, warming the heart and comforting the soul. The covenant isn't about us. It's about the Great I Am who alone is faithful forever! We baptize our children to acknowledge the faithfulness of God and with the support of a people set apart, to honour and praise His unwavering faithfulness. It's about the unchanging character of God's gracious covenant.
The covenant is not about my faith or me; the signs He gives us simply and powerfully confirm His Word and in them we find rest. Every church library should have this book. Should you choose to augment your own personal library with a copy of "A Sign of Faithfulness", make it a well-worn copy. You, your family, and our people will be the richer for it. May the Holy Spirit stir our hearts and keep us in the Word.
Teach Us Thy Way Morning Bible Study of Burlington-West
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