This video contains the audio of the debate between Jeff Johnson (author of The Fatal Flaw and a valued contributor to this blog) and Michael Horton concerning the Credobaptist versus the Paedobaptist view of Covenant Theology. The debate took place at the 2012 Semper Reformanda Conference at Grace Family Baptist Church.
It is a very interesting and helpful discussion between two men who hold to the idea that the Mosaic Covenant is a republication of the Covenant of Works. And I would just add here my special appreciation for Jeff, who has been more to helpful to me in properly understanding Covenant Theology than perhaps any other single person.
Does anyone know anything about this book?
Patrick McWilliams sent me a link to a recent presentation given by Sam & Micah Renihan at WSC on the subject of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology & Biblical Theology. It looks to be hot off the press (Oct 18, 2011). You can view the paper here.
I must say, it’s encouraging to read because the Renihan’s have reached many of the same conclusions that I have over the last few years. Of course, their view is much better researched, thought-out, and articulated, but I guess it means I’m not too crazy.
A few highlights:
There is one uniting and driving force in redemptive history, and that is the Covenant of Redemption. Although it is not accomplished in history until Christ comes, we see the gathering in of the elect who believe in Christ from the fall onward. Where we see that in-gathering of the elect who believe in the gospel as it is revealed progressively in types and shadows, there we see the retro-active New Covenant, and that is the Covenant of Grace… The Covenant of Grace is the retro-active New Covenant…
Retro-active is exactly the right phrase I have been looking for.
As Vos goes on to say, the New Covenant is necessarily connected to the new age, the consummation. With the inauguration of the New Covenant, the New Age breaks forth into this current age. Vos says, “The New Covenant, then, coincides with the age to come; it brings the good things to come; it is incorporated into the eschatological theme of thought.” If the New Covenant truly coincides with the New Age, we should not look back at the Old Covenant to understand this New Covenant. Instead we should look forward to the consummation. True, we live in the “not yet.” But it is just as true that we live in the “already”. For this reason we must conclude that theologies that rely too heavily on the Old Covenants for their description and articulation of the New Covenant demonstrate an under-realized eschatology. They do not give enough weight to the “already”.
So give it a read and let me know what you think.
On my post about Riddlebarger’s double-edged sword, I mentioned in passing that Israel was a type of the church. Someone named Joshua took objection to that, arguing that I had taken typology “too far.”
Now, I greatly appreciate that Joshua took the time to read my post and took the time to comment. That is the reason that I post my thoughts on a public blog. I’m not writing on here because I have everything figured out. I’m writing on here because a) it helps me organize my thoughts, and b) it allows for me to be sharpened by iron. So I appreciate Joshua’s comments, and I hope more people continue to comment on things they object to (or maybe even agree with!).
Joshua then made a post over at his own blog:
I’ve been commenting on a blog post as to whether or not the church is the antitype to Israel. I think one runs into an issue when looking at Israel as the type and the church as the antitype because it distracts people from the fact that Jesus is the true Israel. One of my favorite authors is Dr. Kim Riddlebarger who wrote the book A Case for Amillennialism. He also wrote an excellent blog post entitled, “Amillennialism 101 — Jesus Christ: The True Israel“, which explains the position so well.
This is a very interesting comment, because it undermines his earlier objections in my comment thread. Let me explain: My comment was in opposition to classic paedobaptist covenant theology which argues that the nation of Israel is the church of the OT. It is the same body as the church in the NT. This is Joshua’s position (correct me if I’m wrong Joshua).
P1. The nation of Israel was the church in the OT
P2. The NT church is the church in the NT
C: The nation of Israel and the NT church are essentially the same thing
Now, Joshua objects to my statement that the nation of Israel was a type of the church by arguing that the nation of Israel was a type of Christ. But, let’s see where we end up if we combine these two views:
P1. The nation of Israel was a type of Christ
P2. The nation of Israel is essentially the NT church
C: The NT church is a type of Christ
Hmmm. Looks like we goofed somewhere along the line. I think the first syllogism/view is the goof. I agree with what Riddlebarger says in the post Joshua linked to. But the thing is, Riddlebarger’s argument proves my case, not Joshua’s
P1: The nation of Israel was a type of Christ, the true Israel of God
P2: The believing church, through union with Christ, is the true Israel of God (see Riddlebarger’s quote of Strimple in his post)
C: The nation of Israel was a type of the believing church
And so, by implication, Riddlebarger agrees with Jonathan Edwards (and myself) that the nation of Israel was a type of the church. But it is not only by implication. Note what Riddlebarger’s teacher Meredith Kline says:
the socio-geo-political sector of the Israelite kingdom of God was a part of the total system of kingdom typology established through the covenantal constitution given to Israel in the law of Moses… Israel as a geo-political kingdom is…expressive of the restorative-redemptive principle, it is…a type of the antitypical kingdom of Christ, the Redeemer-King… This kingdom of Israel – not just the temple in its midst, but the kingdom of Israel as such, the kingdom as a national geo-political entity – was a redemptive product of God, a work of divine restoration, given as a prototype version of the kingdom of God in the perfect form it was to attain under the new covenant in the messianic antitype of that Israelite kingdom.
Riddlebarger was recently interviewed on Christ the Center. Talking about dispensationalism, he made the following statement that stood out to me:
…the problem with that is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 12 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the land promise in Genesis 12 – and it’s repeated throughout 15, 18, 22, on and on and on – when that land promise is repeated, dispenationalists say “See, that must mean Israel means Israel and that God is going to save Israel again to fulfill the land promise at the end of the age.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the land promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.
In reading reformed amillenial critiques of dispensationalism, I can’t help but notice that their best arguments against dispensationalism are two-edged swords that cut equally against their own paedobaptist hermeneutic. For example, in a recent post I quoted Poythress at length in his discussion of the typology of Israel:
Since the existence of Israel itself has symbolic and heavenly overtones from the beginning, the fulfillment of prophecy encompasses these same overtones. The eschatological time is the time when the symbolic overtones in the very nature of Israel itself are transformed into reality… Eschatological prophecy may indeed have the same two dimensions: the dimension of the symbol in itself, and the dimension of what the symbol symbolizes. But the time of fulfillment of the eschatological prophecy is the time of climactic revelation. Hence, it may well be that, at that future time, the symbol is superseded by the reality, and no longer needs a separate historical realization along side the reality.
In my opinion, that is an excellent way of explaining how the nation of Israel was a shadow of the kingdom of God, a nation that is not of this world – as well as how Abraham’s physical offspring, in the way they benefited from God’s promise to Abraham (Ex 6:5; 32:13, etc), were a shadow of Abraham’s spiritual offspring – a distinction that was not clearly made until the New Covenant age of fulfillment. And so Poythress’ extended argument that the symbolic overtones in the very nature of Israel itself are transformed at the coming of Christ cuts against dispensationalism, but also against his paedobaptism – leaving him without a defense against the baptist argument that the nation of Israel was only a shadow of the church, not the church itself.
The same is true of Riddlebarger’s statement. It too is a double-edged sword. Allow me to simply re-state his argument:
…the problem with paedobaptism is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 17 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the offspring promise in Genesis 17 – and it’s repeated throughout 12, 15, 22, on and on and on – when that offspring promise is repeated, paedobaptists say “See, that must mean offspring means offspring and that God included physical offspring in the church and never took them out.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the offspring promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.
Gordon Clark on the baptism of great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great–great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren
In his book Santification, Gordon H Clark takes time to discuss the issue of infant baptism:
“The other subdivision of the question is a more difficult one: Whose children should be baptized? It is not at all difficult to show that a child of two believing parents should be baptized, nor even that a child of only one believing parent should be. 1 Corinthians 7:14 is sufficient. The difficulty arises when one considers the case of a child whose parents were perhaps baptized in infancy, who attend church services with some regularity, and who want their child baptized, even though they themselves have never become communicant members. Today in the United States the very large majority who are in regular attendance are communicant members. But it so happens that regular attendants who are not communicant members want their children baptized. Should the church acquiesce?
In Europe and in early America the children of baptized but non-communicant members were regularly baptized. Robert Ellis Thompson, in ‘A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States’ (1895, p. 14) reports: “The absence of regularly constituted sessions for the administration of church discipline, and the refusal of baptism to the children of baptized person who were not communicants, marked the local congregation as un-Presbyterian.” That is, communicant membership was not essential for the parents of infants to be baptized; and the author notes this was the rule in all the Reformed churches.
The argument was that there is a visible and an invisible Church. The members of the latter are precisely God’s elect; but many members of the former are not. Ishmael and Esau were both circumcised. Furthermore, since the promise of covenant extend to a thousand generations, the visible church today may and ought to baptize infants of unbelieving parents who want them baptized, on the basis of their ancestors’ faith. Surely not every Israelite, at any period of its disappointing history, was regenerate; yet no priest would have hesitated to circumcise the children of such parents…
[At this point, Clark briefly pauses to consider the inference that the Lord's Supper may be admitted to unregenerates, concludes Presbyterians generally follow the opinion of Edwards and Mather that it should not be so admitted, and then returns to the subject.]
Now, even if it be granted that baptism may properly be administered to children of non-professing parents, the inference to a similar stance on the Lord’s Supper is fallacious…
[Here he distinguishes baptism from the Lord's Supper, offering some reasons as to why the Lord's Supper ought not be administered to open unbelievers.]
But now, beyond admission for the sake of argument, what must be said on the substantial question? Does the Bible require or prohibit baptisms to the thousandth generation? If it does, and if a generation is roughly thirty years, a thousand generation from the time of Christ would include just about everybody in the western world. Then the church should have baptized the child of an intensely Talmudic Jew whose ancestor in 50 B.C. was piously looking for the Messiah. Or, George Whitefield should have baptized Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Tom Paine, as children, because one of their ancestors played a small role in the Reformation. Strange as this may seem to many, it ought to have been done if the Bible so teaches.
[He now notes that "some very eminent theologians have so held," and devotes a page to historical theology before continuing. One important statement he makes: "The view that only the children of professing parents should be baptized seems to have been the result of colonel revivalism," and Clark is clearly sympathetic towards those ministers who had to put up with the strictness of these revivalists with respect to the recipients of baptism. He says that these standards were understandable, given that "Their pietism and evangelistic zeal led them to place great emphasis on conversion as a traumatic experience." After a bit more historical theology, he continues:]
This emotional pietism, as it demanded a particular type of experience for regeneration, tended to view the ideal church as consisting entirely of regenerate persons sharing such an experience. The logical result is the Baptist position; but in Presbyterianism it stopped short at requiring the faith of the parents who wanted their children baptized. But if it did not result in Baptists practices, it involved a change in the theology of baptism.
[And thus he concludes his answer to the question posited at the beginning, proceeding to ask the meaning and accomplishments of baptism.]“
- Sanctification, pgs. 62-65
A similar view can be found in a letter Calvin wrote to Knox about baptizing grandchildren: http://www.baylyblog.com/2006/09/godfathers_calv.html
For background, see my post Contradiction in the Westminster Confession
I stumbled upon some very succinct notes from Kline articulating the view Karlberg ascribes to Kline in that post. Comments on the A. A. Hodge One-Covenant Construction of the Redemptive Order consists of brief comments from Kline arguing against the view of the Covenant of Grace articulated in the WCF/WLC. In summary, he notes:
Through its failure to distinguish satisfactorily the two very different arrangements in the redemptive order [CoG and CoR] and the resultant blurring together of contradictory elements, the one-covenant construction of A. A. Hodge (and WCF/WLC) has at least these liabilities:
1. It leads to a definition of the covenant community (church) in Baptistic terms as consisting of believers or the elect, contrary to the Presbyterian doctrine that the church consists of those who profess Christian faith and their children.
2. Arguably (as I suggested at the faculty forum), it has contributed by its formal fusing of the works and grace principles to the confusion of the two and even the repudiation of the works principle in the teachings of Fuller, Shepherd, et. al.
These are precisely the two points of contention with WCF I have striven to work out and articulate on this blog. I do not think Kline’s “solution” of making the Covenant of Redemption a covenant made with the elect to be a viable option, but I will have to save that for another post.
The Covenantal Baptist made a great post with excerpts from an old essay by John Norcott against paedobaptism. It has some great points. Ponder carefully his reference to Romans 11.
Thou art in a Maze which hath no Clue.
I’ve come across several people referencing John Owen’s tract “Of Infant Baptism.” The most recent was Brenden Link’s post. I have particular interest in Owen’s tract because of my deep appreciation for his view of the Mosaic covenant and how it relates to Baptist covenant theology.
Firstly, the format of the tract found online is terrible. It lacks paragraph and division breaks where Owen obviously had them originally. So for the sake of clarity (and for discussion) I re-formatted it and posted it here.
Secondly, it is important to understand when this tract was written. Though the only date I can find is the posthumous 1721 publishing of his tracts and sermons, the tract was written in response to John Tombes. Tombes wrote a plea to the Westminster Assembly in 1643 arguing against infant baptism. Thus this tract is probably from the same year. This is important to note because Owen makes several assumptions and arguments through the course of this tract that he later rejects. The biggest difference is that here Owen sees the Mosaic covenant as the legal administration of the covenant of grace and throughout the tract refers to “the covenant” singular. When Owen wrote his commentary on Hebrews 8 in 1680 he rejected this view, saying “Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended.”
Now on to the analysis.
4.1 As an observation, I get Owen’s point. But as an argument, it is fallacious. Crampton notes “Ultimately, the argument for infant baptism is an argument from silence, and an argument from silence is a logical fallacy, and a violation of the regulative principle of worship.” I could use Owen’s same method to argue for watching the Superbowl as a worship service because: Owen can produce no testimony of Scripture where watching the Superbowl during service is forbidden; and it is weak beneath consideration to suppose that the requiring of the worship of God is inconsistent with watching the glory of His creation in the form of the Superbowl.
4.2 Notice Owen says “from the days of Abraham.” Does he mean to suggest the church started with Abraham? Certainly not. And yet, we find no example of children being made partakers of the same sign of the covenant prior to Abraham – so Owen qualifies his statement to avoid this. We also begin to see where Owen’s mature covenant theology creates tension or conflict with his arguments here (referring to a singular covenant throughout history). I will also add that Owen is simply begging the question here. The argument for credobaptism is that the New Covenant is New, so pointing to what was always the case in the Old Testament contributes nothing to the discussion.
4.3.2 Exactly what privilege does an infant of believing parents gain by being in the New Covenant? If he only means that they are raised in a Christian home and taught the Word of God, then he is saying nothing that credobaptists disagree with. If he is saying something more, then what exactly is that something more? Is Christ united to the infants in some way? Is some spiritual benefit bestowed upon them because they are in the New Covenant? Owen’s words are mere pious talk if he cannot list exactly what this privilege entails and how it differs from what a credobaptist affirms.
Furthermore, Owen’s assumption is wrong. Romans 11 tells us that unbelieving Jews were broken off from the olive tree. These unbelieving Jews had the privilege of being de jure members of the Old Covenant, but here that privilege is revoked. This creates problems for Owen, especially because he cites Gen 17:10, 12. Owen infers this passage only brought infants into the Abrahamic covenant, but it did not. It specifically says “every male” – which includes the males who were cut off in Romans 11.
22.214.171.124 Provided. See above.
4.4 Owen’s argument reduces to: Some infants of believers are regenerate, therefore all infants of believers should be baptized. I can likewise argue that some adults are regenerate, therefore all adults should be baptized. But that would be contrary to Scripture’s clear teaching regarding baptism. Therefore it is an unbiblical argument.
4.5 Conversely, God having appointed baptism as the sign and seal of regeneration, unto whom he applies it, he presumes the grace signified by it. Therefore infant baptism entails presumptive regeneration, which is unbiblical. Crampton notes: “The Bible openly denies the doctrines of presumptive regeneration and presumptive election. David wrote, “Behold, I was brought fourth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). According to Paul, prior to their conversions, Christians “were dead in trespasses and sins… [and] by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:1,3). And the Larger Catechism (Q. 25, 27) teaches that, due to the Fall, all mankind is born into this world “utterly disposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually.” All persons are born “by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.”
Note also Owen’s uneven comparison. He compares infants of believers not with adults, but with adult unbelievers. God does not deny the grace of regeneration to an infant, just as he does not deny the grace of regeneration to an adult. The question is: how do we distinguish those (adult or infant) who have received the grace of regeneration? Profession of faith. Owen’s rhetoric gets in the way of his logic here.
4.6 This is an extremely erroneous and dangerous argument put forward by Owen. His thought is muddied here. Death is not the reason for federalism; federalism is the reason for death. The fact that any infant dies “before they can discern between their right hand and their left” is a result of their being under Adam’s federal headship, which is what Romans 5:14 is referring to. God does not place them under federal headship because they might die, they die because they have been placed under federal headship. Furthermore, Romans 5 teaches that every man is either under Adam or under Christ. They are either under the covenant of creation or the covenant of grace. Owen here argues that the physical offspring of believers are not under Adam, but are under Christ. If an infant is under the federal headship of Christ, how can any ever be damned?
4.7 Here we see the difference between Owen’s more mature understanding of covenant theology and his younger understanding put forward in this tract. For example, “Occasional additions of temporal promises do not in the least alter the nature of the covenant.” And yet Owen later argues that the nature of the Mosaic covenant is in fact quite different from that of the New. Owen continues “Herein he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Romans 15:8; that is, undeniably, the covenant made with Abraham, enlarged and explained by following promises.” Here I have to note that Owen did not follow through in his mature years with his developed understanding of the Mosaic Covenant. In this quote Owen says that the Mosaic Covenant is simply an enlargement and explanation of the promises made to Abraham. But when Owen later removed the Mosaic Covenant from the Covenant of Grace, he did not alter his understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant, which is clearly connected to it. But these are just interesting observations (more below). On to the actual objections:
Owen chooses to rest his entire argument on the fact that Jesus is the “messenger of the covenant” mentioned in Malachi 3. The problem is that the New Testament is quite clear that John the Baptist is the messenger of Malachi 3, not Jesus (Matt 11:10; Mk 1:2; Lk 7:27; Mal 4:5; Mk 9:11; Lk 1:17). Owen also errs in claiming the covenant in view in Malachi 3 is the Abrahamic. It is quite clearly the Mosaic (although there is a vital connection between the two). (I’m open to being convinced that the messenger of the covenant is Jesus, but either way, Malachi 3 does not mean what Owen tries to make it mean. The passage is speaking of someone who is coming to bring judgment upon the nation of Israel, not someone who is coming to fulfill Abrahamic promises).
He likewise mis-uses Romans 15:8. Romans 15:8 is primarily speaking of the promise that the Messiah would be from Abraham’s seed and that in him all nations of the earth would be blessed, yet Owen implies the primary promise in view is to be a “God unto Abraham and to his seed.” There were many promises in the Abrahamic covenant, including the promise of a physical nation and a physical land. Owen may not simply pick one of the promises that best suites his rhetoric. When Christ came, He did not restore the physical offspring of Abraham, the nation of Israel, to the physical land that was promised in the Abrahamic Covenant. Does that mean Christ was not a faithful messenger? According to Owen’s logic, yes.
4.7.1 I fail to see how this follows from anything.
4.7.2 Again, building entirely upon his faulty interpretation of Malachi 3, Owen simply re-iterates what he has already argued. See 4.3.2
126.96.36.199 Two faulty deductions from Malachi 3, see 4.7
188.8.131.52.1 Here Owen, unwittingly, faces a contradiction in his argument: Does offspring in the Abrahamic covenant refer to the physical infants of Abraham, or to Christ? Here he argues Christ, elsewhere physical infants.
184.108.40.206.2 Amen. But see A. W. Pink’s comments on Hebrews 6:
Abraham was the head of a natural family, that is, all who have descended from him; and they share in the temporal blessings which God promised their father. But in a narrower sense Abraham (type of Christ as the “everlasting Father” Isaiah 9:6 and cf. Isaiah 53:10, “His seed”, and His “children” in Hebrews 2:13) was the head of God’s elect, who are made partakers of his faith, performers of his works, and participants of his spiritual and eternal blessings. It was through their failing to look upon Abraham as the type of Christ as the Head and Father of God’s elect, which caused the commentators to miss the deeper and spiritual significance of God’s promise and oath to him in Genesis 22. In the closing verses of Hebrews 6 the Holy Spirit has Himself expounded the type for us, and in our next article (D.V.) we shall seek to set before the reader some of the supporting proofs of what we have here little more than barely asserted. The temporal blessings wherewith God blessed Abraham—”God hath blessed Abraham in all things” (Gen. 24:1 and cf. Hebrews 5:35)—were typical of the spiritual blessings wherewith God has blessed Christ. So too the earthly inheritance guaranteed unto Abraham’s seed, was a figure and pledge of the Heavenly inheritance which pertains to Christ’s seed. Let the reader ponder carefully Luke 1:70-75 where we find the type merging into the antitype.
220.127.116.11.3 “This covenant was, that God would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed;” which God himself explains to be his infant seed, Genesis 17:12″ Owen again attempts to reduce the Abrahamic Covenant promises down to one, and he again doesn’t see the contradiction between arguing that Abraham’s physical offspring were in view and that Christ only was in view. He appears to be making the same error that Paul was correcting in Gal 3:16, which Owen previously cited.
“that is, the infant seed of every one of his posterity who should lay hold on and avouch that covenant as Abraham did, and not else.” First of all, Genesis 17 does not limit the Abrahamic Covenant, or the sign of the covenant, circumcision, to infants. Secondly, Genesis 17:12 doesn’t say anything about requiring an infant’s parents to “avouch that covenant as Abraham did.” A Jew was entitled to circumcision because he was a physical offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not because of his parent’s avouching the covenant.
“This the whole church did solemnly for themselves and their posterity; whereon the covenant was confirmed and sealed to them all, Exodus 24:7, 8.” Note here that when speaking of the Abrahamic Covenant, Owen points us to Exodus 24. In his mind, at this time, the two were one covenant. Yet later, he rejects and argues at length against the idea that the Mosaic Covenant is an administration of the Covenant of Grace. In doing so, Owen needed to revise his understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant as well, seeing that they are so intimately related, but this he did not do.
Also notice what Owen is attempting to do. He is attempting to link an infant’s circumcision to his parent’s faith. But the faith of an infant’s parent was never the condition of their circumcision or of their inclusion in the Mosaic and Abrahamic Covenant. Consider Numbers 26:64 and Deut 1:35 and Joshua 5:2-7. The second generation was circumcised after their parents had been judged by God. They were not circumcised because of their parents’ faith, but because they were offspring of Abraham. If baptism is simply the equivalent of circumcision, then the faith of an infant’s parents should not determine if they are baptized or not. If anyone in the infant’s ancestry was a Christian, then they should have a right to baptism. My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren 400 years from now should be baptized on account of my faith. And yet even this is not a direct parallel because you would still be looking to me, and not to Abraham, who is root of the right to circumcision. The parallel, once examined, shatters. How many of you would baptize the infants of an apostate after he has been cut off from the church? Even more, because the circumcision in Joshua 5:2-7 was not limited to infants but applied to adult men as well, how many of you would baptize a 20 year old on account of his parents’ faith, after his parents apostatized?
“To deny, therefore, that the children of believing, professing parents, who have avouched God’s covenant, as the church of Israel did, Exodus 24:7,.339 8, have the same right and interest With their parents in the covenant, is plainly to deny the fidelity of Christ in the discharge of his office.” Quite on the contrary, to claim that infants are united to Christ, the mediator and great high priest of the New Covenant, and yet fall away and are damned is to plainly deny the fidelity of Christ in the discharge of his office.
Exposition of Hebrews 4:9
A footnote from the editor at the end of Owen’s tract tells us to read Owen’s comments on Hebrews 4:9 and an exercitation from the introduction to his commentary on Hebrews for more arguments from Owen on infant baptism. It must be noted that these arguments were made 40 years after Owen wrote this tract, after Owen’s view of the covenants changed considerably. His arguments are very sparse, and are much weaker.
His comments on 4:9 that are relevant to infant baptism have to do with what he thinks the phrase “people of God” means. He states:
Because their being of “the people of God,” that is, in covenant (for where a people is God’s people, he is their God, Hosea 2:23), was the greatest and most comprehensive privilege that the Hebrews had to boast of or to trust in. This was their glory, and that which exalted them above all nations in the world. So their church pleads with respect unto all others, Isaiah 63:19, “We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; thy name was not called on them;” — that is, they were never called the people of Jehovah, because never taken into covenant with him. This privilege whereunto they trusted, the apostle lets them know belongs as well to them that believe under the new testament as it did to them under the old.
Abram was now become Abraham, “a father of many nations.” And as those who were his carnal seed of old were the people of God, so God had now a people in and of all those who were his children according to the faith. They may see, therefore, that they shall lose nothing, no privilege, by coming over to the gospel state by faith in Christ Jesus. Upon a new account they become “the people of God;” which interests them and their children in the covenant, with the seals and all the ordinances of it, even as formerly. For this name, “people,” doth not firstly respect individuals, but a collective body of men, with and in all their relations. Believers, not singly considered, but they and their seed, or their children, are this people; and where they are excluded from the initial ordinance of the covenant, I know not how believers can be called “the people of God.”…
…Let it now be inquired whether it were not a great privilege of the people of God of old, that their infant seed were taken into covenant with them, and were made partakers of the initial seal thereof? Doubtless it was the greatest they enjoyed, next to the grace they received for the saving of their own souls. That it was so granted them, so esteemed by them, may be easily proved. And without this, whatever they were, they were not a people.
I’m honestly quite shocked by Owen’s argument here. It’s rather silly. People of God means more than one person, therefore it must mean a believer and their infant seed. Really? I have a hard time believing Owen wrote that with a straight face.
What is interesting to note here is that Owen says that people who are in covenant with God are rightly called “the people of God.” He says this was the glory of the nation of Israel over and above the other nations. He also notes that “those who were his carnal seed of old were the people of God.” He says now, in the NT, people are called “the people of God” “upon a new account” namely, faith. This will come up later in our discussion.
Hebrews, vol. i. Exercitation the sixth
It is an interesting reference because Owen doesn’t say anything about infant baptism until the very last four words of the whole exercitation. We read: “…and among those promises this is one, that God will be a God unto them and their seed forever.” And rather than being an extensive argument that leads up to this inclusion of infants, the whole exercitation militates against such a conclusion. The title is “The Oneness of the Church” and Owen’s point is to argue that the nation of Israel was not the church, but rather that the church was the elect remnant within the nation.
Owen first argues that the Jews the author of Hebrews was responding to misunderstood the promises of Abraham. He explains that there were two types of promises made to Abraham:
First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant, the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it. That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition in the flesh, it was to cease. In pursuit hereof were his posterity separated from the rest of the world, and preserved a peculiar people [through circumcision -BA], that through them the promised Seed might be brought forth in the fullness of time, and be of them according unto the flesh, Romans 9:5.
Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith that he had fixed on the Seed that was in the promise, to be brought forth from him into the world. On the account of this privilege, he became the father of all them that do believe: for “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham,” Galatians 3:7, Romans 4:11: as also “heir of the world,” Romans 4:13, in that all that should believe throughout the world, being thereby implanted into the covenant made with him, should become his “spiritual children.” [Note his interesting interpretation of Romans 4:13]
This distinction is very important, and is an improvement upon his earlier view. He continues:
Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God. (emphasis original)… Now, it is evident that it is the second privilege, or spiritual seed, wherein the church, to whom the promises are made, is founded, and whereof it doth consist, — namely, in them who by faith are interested in the covenant of Abraham, whether they be of the carnal seed or no.
So Owen is quite clear. There are two types of promises and two types of seed. The church is not the carnal seed and never was. The church was not the nation of Israel. The church is and has always been made of only those who have faith.
He also makes it clear that someone could be of both seeds:
Thus Isaac and Jacob were the seed of Abraham according unto the flesh, separated unto the bringing forth of the Messiah after the flesh, because they were his carnal posterity; and they were also of the seed of the promise, because, by their own personal faith, they were interested in the covenant of Abraham their father.
So physical descent made one an heir of the physical, temporal promises (that Owen says ended with the birth of Christ) – but only faith could make one a seed of promise, and nothing else.
Again, Owen’s point is to clearly explain that the church is and has always been those who have faith. It was never the nation of Israel. The church was never Abraham’s physical offspring.
the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also, — that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.
7. It remains, then, that the church founded in the covenant, and unto which all the promises did and do belong, abode at the coming of Christ, and doth abide ever since, in and among those who are the children of Abraham by faith. The old church was not taken away, and a new one set up, but the same church was continued, only in those who by faith inherited the promises… Hence it was, that at the coming of the Messiah there was not one church taken away, and another set up in the room thereof; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith [the spiritual seed]. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant.
The question is, With whom is this church, founded on the promised Seed in the covenant? This is Zion, Jerusalem, Israel, Jacob, the temple of God. The Jews plead that it is with them, because they are the children of Abraham according to the flesh. Christians tell them that their privilege on this account was of another nature, and ended with the coming of the Messiah; that the church unto whom all the promises belong are only those who are heirs of Abraham’s faith, believing as he did, and thereby interested in his covenant. Not as though the promise made to Abraham were of none effect; for as it was made good unto his carnal seed in the exhibition of the Messiah, so the spiritual privileges of it belonged only unto those of the Jews and Gentiles in whom God had graciously purposed to effect the faith of Abraham. Thus was and is the church, whereunto all the promises belong, still one and the same, namely, Abraham’s children according to the faith: and among those promises this is one, that God will be a God unto them and their seed forever.
This is a great conclusion and everything in it follows from what Owen has argued, except for the last four words. He has spent this whole time arguing that there are dual blessings in the Abrahamic Covenant, and also dual seed: physical and spiritual. These must be kept distinct at all times, he says. And yet here, he conflates the one with the other. He takes the physical seed and spiritualizes the promise made to them. This goes against everything Owen has said thus far. Just like the other promises, the promise that “God will be a God unto them” takes on dual meaning for the dual seeds. See the section above on Owen’s comments on Heb 4:9. God was a God to the nation of Israel in a way that he was not to the surrounding nations. He gave them a land and led them in war. He blessed them with many temporal blessings. He was a God to them. But of course the true meaning is to Abraham’s spiritual seed: To be a God unto Abraham’s spiritual seed, all those who have faith.
I will simply close by using Owen’s own remarks to refute his conclusion:
And herein lay the great mistake of the Jews of old [and the paedobaptists of today], wherein they are followed by their posterity unto this day. They thought no more was needful to interest them in the covenant of Abraham but that they were his seed according to the flesh [or that they are the seed of believers according to the flesh]; and they constantly pleaded the latter privilege as the ground and reason of the former. It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should be set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.
That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed? But they would extend this privilege, and mix it with the other, contending that, because they were the children of Abraham [or a believer] according to the flesh, the whole blessing and covenant of Abraham belonged unto them. But as our Savior proved that in the latter sense they were the children of Abraham, because they did not the works of Abraham; so our apostle plainly demonstrates, Romans 4:9. 10. 11. Galatians 3:4., that those of them who had not the faith of Abraham had no interest in his blessing and covenant. Seeing, therefore, that their other privilege was come to an end, with all the carnal ordinances that attended it, by the actual coming of the Messiah, whereunto they were subservient, if they did not, by faith in the promised seed, attain an interest in this of the spiritual blessing, it is evident that they could on no account be considered as actual sharers in the covenant of God.
This is just a properly formatted version of John Owen’s tract. See my next post for comments.
OF INFANT BAPTISM. (a response to John Tombes’ 1643 plea to Westminster Assembly)
By Dr. John Owen
- THE question is not whether professing believers, Jews or Gentiles, not baptized in their infancy, ought to be baptized; for this is by all confessed.
- Neither is it whether, in such persons, the profession of saving faith and repentance ought not to go before baptism. This we plead for beyond what is the common practice of those who oppose us. Wherefore, testimonies produced out of authors, ancient or modern, to confirm these things, which consist with the doctrine of infant baptism, are mere tergiversations, that belong not to this cause at all; and so are all arguments produced unto that end out of the Scriptures.
- The question is not whether all infants are to be baptized or not; for, according to the will of God, some are not to be baptized, even such whose parents are strangers from the covenant, But hence it will follow that some are to be baptized, seeing an exception confirms both rule and right.
- The question is only concerning the children or infant seed of professing believers who are themselves baptized. And, —
- First, They by whom this is denied can produce no testimony of Scripture wherein their negation is formally or in terms included, nor any one asserting what is inconsistent with the affirmative; for it is weak beneath consideration to suppose that the requiring of the baptism of believers is inconsistent with that of their seed. But this is to be required of them who oppose infant baptism, that they produce such a testimony.
- Secondly, No instance can be given from the Old or New Testament since the days of Abraham, none from the approved practice of the primitive church, of any person or persons born of professing, believing parents, who were themselves made partakers of the initial seal of the covenant, being then in infancy and designed to be brought up in the knowledge of God, who were not made partakers with them of the same sign and seal of the covenant
- Thirdly, A spiritual privilege once granted by God unto any cannot be changed, disannulled, or abrogated, without an especial divine revocation of it, or the substitution of a greater privilege and mercy in the room of it; for, —
- Who shall disannul what God hath granted? What he hath put together who shall put asunder? To abolish or take away any grant of privilege made by him to the church, without his own express revocation of it, is to deny his sovereign authority.
- To say a privilege so granted may be revoked, even by God himself, without the substitution of a greater privilege and mercy in the room of it, is contrary to the goodness of God, his love and care unto his church, [and] contrary to his constant course of proceeding with it from the foundation of the world, wherein he went on in the enlargement and increase of its privileges until the coming of Christ. And to suppose it under the gospel is contrary to all his promises, the honor of Christ, and a multitude of express testimonies of Scripture. Thus was it with the privileges of the temple and the worship of it granted to the Jews; they were not, they could not be, taken away without an express revocation, and the substitution of a more glorious spiritual temple and worship in their room. But now the spiritual privilege of a right unto and a participation of the initial seal of the covenant was granted by God unto the infant seed of Abraham, Genesis 17:10, 12. This grant, therefore, must stand firm for ever, unless men can prove or produce, —
- An express revocation of it by God himself; which none can do either directly or indirectly, in terms or any pretense of consequence.
- An instance of a greater privilege or mercy granted unto them in the room of it; which they do not once pretend unto, but leave the seed of believers, whilst in their infant state, in the same condition with those of pagans and infidels; expressly contrary to God’s covenant..335 All this contest, therefore, is to deprive the children of believers of a privilege once granted to them by God, never revoked, as to the substance of it, assigning nothing in its room; which is contrary to the goodness, love, and covenant of God, especially derogatory to the honor of Jesus Christ and the gospel.
- Fourthly, They that have the thing signified have right unto the sign of it, or those who are partakers of the grace of baptism have a right to the administration of it: so Acts 10:47. But the children of believers are all of them capable of the grace signified in baptism, and some of them are certainly partakers of it, namely, such as die in their infancy (which is all that can be said of professors): therefore they may and ought to be baptized. For, —
- Infants are made for and are capable of eternal glory or misery, and must fall, dying infants, into one of these estates for ever.
- All infants are born in a state of sin, wherein they are spiritually dead and under the curse.
- Unless they are regenerated or born again, they must all perish inevitably, John 3:3. Their regeneration is the grace whereof baptism is a sign or token. Wherever this is, there baptism ought to be administered.
- Fifthly, God having appointed baptism as the sign and seal of regeneration, unto whom he denies it, he denies the grace signified by it. Why is it the will of God that unbelievers and impenitent sinners should not be baptized? It is because, not granting them the grace, he will not grant them the sign. If, therefore, God denies the sign unto the infant seed of believers, it must be because he denies them the grace of it; and then all the children of believing parents dying in their infancy must, without hope, be eternally damned. I do not say that all must be so who are not baptized, but all must be so whom God would have not baptized. But this is contrary to the goodness and law [love?] of God, the nature and promises of the covenant, the testimony of Christ reckoning them to the kingdom of God, the faith of godly parents, and the belief of the church in all ages. It follows hence unavoidably that infants who die in their infancy have the grace of regeneration, and consequently as good a right unto baptism as believers themselves.
- Sixthly, All children in their infancy are reckoned unto the covenant of their parents, by virtue of the law of their creation. For they are all made capable of eternal rewards and punishments, as hath been declared. But in their own persons they are not capable of doing good or evil. It is therefore contrary to the justice of God, and the law of the creation of human kind, wherein many die before they can discern between their right hand and their left, to deal with infants any otherwise but in and according to the covenant of their parents; and that he doth so, see Romans 5:14. Hence I argue, — Those who, by God’s appointment, and by virtue of the law of their creation, are, and must of necessity be, included in the covenant of their parents, have the same right with them unto the privileges of that covenant, no express exception being put in against them. This right it is in the power of none to deprive them of, unless they can change the law of their creation. Thus it is with the children of believers with respect unto the covenant of their parents, whence alone they are said to be holy, 1 Corinthians 7:14.
- Seventhly, Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Malachi 3:1, — that is, of the covenant of God made with Abraham; and he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Romans 15:8. This covenant was, that he would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed.” Now if this be not so under the new testament, then was not Christ a faithful messenger, nor did confirm the truth of God in his promises. This argument alone will bear the weight of the whole cause. against all objections; for, —
- Children are still in the same covenant with their parents, or the truth of the promises of God to the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.
- The right unto the covenant, and interest in its promises, wherever it be, gives right unto the administration of its initial seal, that is, to baptism, as Peter expressly declares, Acts 2:38, 39. Wherefore, — The right of the infant seed of believers unto baptism, as the initial seal of the covenant, stands on the foundation of the faithfulness of Christ as the messenger of the covenant, and minister of God for the confirmation of the truth of his promises. In brief, a participation of the seal of the covenant is a spiritual blessing. This the seed of believers was once solemnly invested in by God himself This privilege he hath nowhere revoked, though he hath changed the outward sign; nor hath he granted unto our children any privilege or mercy in lieu of it now under the gospel, when all grace and privileges are enlarged to the utmost. His covenant promises concerning them, which are multiplied, were confirmed by Christ as a true messenger and minister; he gives the grace of baptism unto many of them, especially those that die in their infancy, owns children to belong unto his kingdom, esteems them disciples, appoints households to be baptized without exception. And who shall now rise up, and withhold water from them? This argument may be thus further cleared and improved: —
- Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Malachi 3:1, — that is, the covenant of God with Abraham, Genesis 17:7; for, —
- That covenant was with and unto Christ mystical, Galatians 3:16; and he was the messenger of no covenant but that which was made with himself and his members.
- He was sent, or was God’s messenger, to perform and accomplish the covenant and oath made with Abraham, Luke 1:72, 73.
- The end of his message and of his coming was, that those to whom he was sent might be “blessed with faithful Abraham,” or that “the blessing of Abraham,” promised in the covenant, “might come upon them,” Galatians 3:9, 14..338 To deny this, overthrows the whole relation between the old testament and the new, the veracity of God in his promises, and all the properties of the covenant of grace, mentioned, 2 Samuel 23:5. It was not the covenant of works, neither originally nor essentially, nor the covenant in its legal administration; for he confirmed and sealed that covenant whereof he was the messenger, but these he abolished. Let it be named what covenant he was the messenger of, if not of this. Occasional additions of temporal promises do not in the least alter the nature of the covenant. Herein he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Romans 15:8; that is, undeniably, the covenant made with Abraham, enlarged and explained by following promises. This covenant was, that God would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed;” which God himself explains to be his infant seed, Genesis 17:12, — that is, the infant seed of every one of his posterity who should lay hold on and avouch that covenant as Abraham did, and not else. This the whole church did solemnly for themselves and their posterity; whereon the covenant was confirmed and sealed to them all, Exodus 24:7, 8. And every one was bound to do the same in his own person; which if he did not, he was to be cut off from the congregation, whereby he forfeited all privileges unto himself and his seed. The covenant, therefore, was not granted in its administrations unto the carnal seed of Abraham as such, but unto his covenanted seed, those who entered into it and professedly stood to its terms. And the promises made unto the fathers were, that their infant seed, their buds and offspring, should have an equal share in the covenant with them, Isaiah 22:24, 44:3, 61:9. “They are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them,” chap. 65:23. Not only themselves, who are the believing, professing seed of those who were blessed of the Lord, by a participation of the covenant, Galatians 3:9, but their offspring also, their brads, their tender little ones, are in the same covenant with them. To deny, therefore, that the children of believing, professing parents, who have avouched God’s covenant, as the church of Israel did, Exodus 24:7,.339 8, have the same right and interest With their parents in the covenant, is plainly to deny the fidelity of Christ in the discharge of his office. It may be it will be said, that although children have a right to the covenant, or do belong unto it, yet they have no right to the initial seal of it. This will not suffice; for, —
- If they have any interest in it, it is either in its grace or in its administration. If they have the former, they have the latter also, as shall be proved at any time. If they have neither, they have no interest in it; — then the truth of the promises of God made unto the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.
- That unto whom the covenant or promise doth belong, to them belongs the administration of the initial seal of it, is expressly declared by the apostle, Acts 2:38, 39, be they who they will.
- The truth of God’s promises is not confirmed if the sign and seal of them be denied; for that whereon they believed that God was a God unto their seed as well as unto themselves was this, that he granted the token of the covenant unto their seed as well as unto themselves. If this be taken away by Christ, their faith is overthrown, and the promise itself is not confirmed but weakened, as to the virtue it hath to beget faith and obedience.
- Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Malachi 3:1, — that is, the covenant of God with Abraham, Genesis 17:7; for, —
- Eighthly, Particular testimonies may be pleaded and vindicated, if need be, and the practice of the primitive church.
(1) See also Dr Owen on the Hebrews, vol. i. Exercitation the sixth, and vol. ii. p. 256; in which place he gives further light into this truth of infant baptism.
[This note is appended by the editors of the folio edition of Owen’s Sermons and Tracts, published in 1721. The second passage referred to occurs in the exposition of chap. iv. ver. 9. – Ed.]