Les & Tanner Talk Baptism
Les and Tanner, hosts of the Reformed Pubcast, recently discussed baptism at length after Les announced he had become a peadobaptist (he had been attending (member?) a PCA church for quite a while). Since most of the things they talked about have been addressed at one time or another on this blog, I thought I’d provide links to those posts with some comments.
First off, Les struggled for many years to understand the paedobaptist position but he has now grasped the substance/administration distinction, which was key for him. I will just note that fully understanding the paedobaptist position is required in order for one to fully appreciate 1689 Federalism. One can hold to 1689 Federalism without understanding Westminster Federalism, but one can’t fully appreciate it until they have a grasp on Westminster Fed. Les seems to have a clear grasp of the Westminster position, so now the conversation can really begin 🙂
Are our children heathens?
In his excellent essay “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Samuel Renihan notes:
Jones and van Raalte draw attention to Marshall’s (and others’) accusation that the doctrine that children do not belong to the covenant of grace by birth “puts all the Infants of all Believers into the self-same condition with the Infants of Turks, and Indians.” Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 728. Coxe, Kiffin, and Knollys responded by saying, “But some may think, that this will put the children of Believers into as bad a condition, as the children of Turkes, Heathens, and any other wicked men; and this they are perswaded is a horrible thing, and a dangerous opinion. We put not the children of Believers into as bad a condition as the children of Turkes, &c. It was Adams disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, that put all his posterity equally into a sinfull and miserable condition, Rom. 5. 12. 19. And the doctrine which Mr. CAL. and his brethren teach, doth the like. They say (and it is truth) that all the Infants of Believers…are born in sin, and are by nature children of wrath as well as others. And now let the Reader judge, Whether this their own doctrine, do not put the children of Believers into as bad a condition.” Coxe, Kiffin, and Knollys, A Declaration, 17.
Union with Christ
Tanner “So covenant is this agreement between two parties and there are responsibilities on both sides… My hangup in all this, as far as the New Covenant is concerned, you’re claiming that God has established this covenant with people and there are some who will be covenant keepers and there will be some who will be covenant breakers. So my issue with that claim is that is the beauty of the New Covenant is that it removes the work of the person to be a covenant keeper and Christ now becomes the covenant keeper. Christ fulfilled the responsibility that was meant for us…”
Les “Well, think about this. Think about Moses. Think about Israelites under Moses…”
Note: every time Tanner pressed Les on the implications of our union with Christ, Les’ response was “But Israel…” Baptism signifies union with Christ, so why baptize someone you don’t have reason to believe is united to Christ? Israel. Abraham. Circumcision. Of course the problem is that Scripture says the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant, specifically on the matter of Christ’s mediation, so appeal to the Old Covenant to answer questions about union with Christ is unbiblical and inappropriate.
Hebrews 8:6 But now he hath obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
…To proceed with the text; this covenant, whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator, is said to be a “better covenant.” Wherefore it is supposed that there was another covenant, whereof the Lord Christ was not the mediator. And in the following verses there are two covenants, a first and a latter, an old and a new, compared together. We must therefore consider what was that other covenant, than which this is said to be better; for upon the determination thereof depends the right understanding of the whole ensuing discourse of the apostle. And because this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties, it will be necessary that we use the best of our diligence, both in the investigation of the truth and in the declaration of it, so as that it may be distinctly apprehended…
They differ in their mediators. The mediator of the first covenant was Moses. “It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,” Galatians 3:19. And this was no other but Moses, who was a servant in the house of God, Hebrews 3:5. And he was a mediator, as designed of God, so chosen of the people, in that dread and consternation which befell them upon the terrible promulgation of the law For they saw that they could no way bear the immediate presence of God, nor treat with him in their own persons. Wherefore they desired that there might be an internuncius, a mediator between God and them, and that Moses might be the person, Deuteronomy 5:24-27. But the mediator of the new covenant is the Son of God himself. For “there is one God, and one mediator between God and and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,” 1 Timothy 2:5. He who is the Son, and the Lord over his own house, graciously undertook in his own person to be the mediator of this covenant; and herein it is unspeakably preferred before the old covenant.
Hebrews 8:9 Not according to that covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant…
This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness.
On this declaration, God promiseth to make another covenant with them, wherein all these evils should be prevented. This is the covenant which the apostle designs to prove better and more excellent than the former. And this he cloth principally from the mediator and surety of it, compared with the Aaronical priests, whose office and service belonged wholly unto the administration of that first covenant. And he confirms it also from the nature of this covenant itself, especially with respect unto its efficacy and duration. And hereunto this testimony is express, evidencing how this covenant is everlastingly, by the grace administered in it, preventive of that evil success which the former had by the sin of the people.
Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of.
-Owen (Commentary, Hebrews 8:9)
Owen is clear that 1) the New Covenant is not a continuation of the Old Covenant. It is an entirely separate covenant. And 2) What makes the New Covenant better is specifically union with Christ as surety of the covenant, which was precisely Tanner’s point.
How were they saved?
Les’ assumption is that saved members of the Old Covenant were saved by the Old Covenant. He says if they looked upon the typological sacrifices and thereby learned of Christ and had faith in Christ, they were therefore saved by the Old Covenant. He also says that Abraham believed God’s promise and was justified, so he was therefore justified by the Abrahamic Covenant. But this does not follow at all. Only Christ saves and Christ is only mediator and surety of the New Covenant. Again, Owen:
This covenant [Old Covenant] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Corinthians: 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works…
[N]o man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ therein.
-Commentary on Hebrews 8:6
According to Owen, the Old Covenant was only about temporal blessing and curse in the land of Canaan. Israelites became ceremonially unclean, which required ceremonial animal sacrifices to cleanse them (Hebrews 9:9-10). Those animal sacrifices, and thus the Old Covenant, did not forgive any man eternally. It only taught typologically of the work of Christ, which alone saves by virtue of the New Covenant. Furthermore, there were sins under the Old Covenant that had no sacrifices to cover and thus no way of forgiving them.
The Old Covenant does not grant anyone faith. It does not give anyone a new heart. Only the New Covenant does. Not even the Abrahamic Covenant does. The Abrahamic Covenant did not grant forgiveness of sins. It promised that Christ would come and grant forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant.
So yes, Abraham was justified by believing God’s promise that Christ would come and bless all nations. But Abraham’s regeneration, faith, justification, and sanctification were all blessings he received through union with Christ in the New Covenant. Just as Christ’s atonement reached back in time to save those who lived before his death, so too did the New Covenant.
I strongly encourage you to read Owen’s treatment of Hebrews 8. He spends about 150 pages explaining it because he believed reformed theologians misunderstood the Old Covenant. He wrote his exposition in 1680 after the best Puritan treatments of the subject had been written, and yet he still said “this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties.” He specifically explains that he rejects the “judgment of most reformed divines” on the nature of the Old and New Covenants. Read Owen. He anticipates and answers all of the objections that are in your head right now.
- Exposition of Hebrews 8 (free PDF, or Hardback w/ Coxe, or Kindle w/ Coxe)
- A collapsible/interactive outline of Owen’s argument
- New Covenant Union as Mystical Union in Owen
- Questions on the Abrahamic Covenant’s relation to the New Covenant
- Berkhof on Jer. 31:31-34
- Calvin on Abraham as a Member of the New Covenant
- Augustine’s agreement
- All my posts on the topic
- Videos, lectures, sermons, articles, and books explaining this in more depth
Les and Tanner continued talking about conditions of the Covenant of Grace. Tanner emphasized that Christ, as our surety, has met all the covenant conditions and we simply receive the benefits of the covenant. Les argued that Christians, and Christian children, are responsible to God in a way that pagans are not. When God “claims them” they come under all the stipulations of what it means to be in covenant with God. They’re responsible to have faith and obey God and love God (isn’t that true of everyone?). God enters covenant with Christians and their children, and it’s up to them to to fulfill their part of the covenant. God is “not obligated to fulfill my end of the bargain.”
Again, Owen disagrees with Les here. According to the Covenant of Redemption, once Christ fulfilled all the conditions, God was indeed covenantally obligated to fulfill “our end of the bargain” by granting us faith. Christ earned our faith, and therefore God is covenantally obligated to grant faith to all members of the New Covenant as a blessing of the covenant. Matthew Mason explains
According to Owen, although God’s will toward the elect was not changed upon the death of Christ, for he is immutable, Christ’s death nevertheless changed the status of the elect. On the basis of Christ’s merit, founded on God’s free engagement in the covenant of redemption with his Son, God is obliged to deliver them from the curse ipso facto. Therefore, because of Christ’s satisfaction, God is able to make out the benefits Christ purchased, without any other conditions needing to be fulfilled. In particular, Christ also purchased the condition of the covenant, faith; hence, from the time of the atonement, the elect have an absolute right to justification.
(See New Covenant Union as Mystical Union in Owen for an extended discussion of this)
the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken… But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises… It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant…
It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.
Ver. 11. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
The knowledge of the LORD may be here taken, not objectively and doctrinally, but subjectively, for the renovation of the mind in the saving knowledge of God… The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;” but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made…
Obs. XXIV. Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended…
Obs. XXVII. Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.
-Owen on Heb 8:11
(Of course, God does not believe for us. We must believe. But Owen carefully clarifies that our faith is not a condition of the covenant itself, which is the question at hand.)
Les objects that it is the “case historically” that God does not grant faith to all those he enters covenant with. “God said to Abraham, I will be a God to you and to your children. Was he lying?” Again, Les retreats back to Israel, Abraham, Circumcision. But as we’ve noted, that is unbiblical because that is not the same covenant. Whether or not God granted faith to every member of the Abrahamic Covenant is entirely irrelevant to whether or not God grants faith to every member of the New Covenant.
- New Covenant Union as Mystical Union in Owen
- Neonomian Presbyterians vs Antinomian Congregationalists?
I will be a God to you and your children
Was God lying? Well, Les is in a bit of a conundrum. If he believes “I will be your God” has any salvific meaning, then that raises the question of God’s covenant faithfulness when the children of believers are not saved. (See God’s Covenant Unfaithfulness?)
If the promise has no salvific meaning then why is it being appealed to? Jonathan Edwards rightly notes:
That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in. Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel…
That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant.
For an extended explanation of this quote and many similar quotes, see Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Earlier, Les said his children belong to God the same way Israel belonged to God. I guess that means Les’ children have been set apart as a nation in the land of Canaan, in which case they should be circumcised, not baptized. No Israelite was ever baptized apart from a profession of saving faith in Christ.
Which brings us to the question of circumcision.
We will now pass on to Genesis 17. What is more largely recorded there, is briefly pointed at by Stephen in his general view of the history of Israel (Acts 7:8), “and he gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac,” etc. By the covenant of circumcision we are to understand that covenant of which a restipulation was required by the observation of this rite or ordinance, as in Genesis 17:9-11.
It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command (and that of positive right) as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” First in these words, the all-sufficiency of God is revealed for the ensuring of the promises. Then a strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its condition or terms, “Do this and live.”
-Nehemiah Coxe, p. 91
Romans 11 and Hebrews 10
Les also mentioned the standard Romans 11 and Hebrews 10 objection. For detailed treatments of those passages, see
1 Cor 7:14
Finally, Les appealed to 1 Cor 7:14 to argue that “When God saves you he saves everything that belongs to you.” The basic problem is that Les is equivocating on the word “save.” When God saves you, he does not save your car. Only image bearers can be saved. What Les says he means is that when God saves him, he recognizes that everything he “owns” is actually God’s and he is just a steward of it. Thus his car belongs to God, and so do his children. He is to be a good steward of his children by raising them in the fear of the Lord.
That’s all well and good, but baptism is not a sign of your stewardship of a possession. Baptism is a sign of one’s “ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.” We don’t baptize our car even though our car belongs to God because our car is not ingrafted into Christ. Neither do we baptize our children when we are saved because our children are not ingrafted into Christ simply because we are. So “When God saves you” he does not, in fact, “save everything that belongs to you.” Otherwise all the children of believers would be believers. And they’re not. It’s simply confused equivocation.
So what does 1 Cor 7:14 mean? Certainly nothing about baptism, the covenant of grace, or church membership.
The sense I have given of this passage, is agreeable to the mind of several interpreters, ancient and modern, as Jerom, Ambrose, Erasmus, Camerarius, Musculus which last writer makes this ingenuous confession; formerly, says he, I have abused this place against the Anabaptists, thinking the meaning was, that the children were holy for the parents’ faith; which though true, the present place makes nothing for the purpose: and I hope, that, upon reading this, everyone that has abused it to such a purpose will make the like acknowledgment; I am sure they ought.
See also the Appendix to the 1689 London Baptist Confession dealing with this text.