Synopsis: Clark does not consider that Abraham’s children refers to the nation of Israel, rather than to the children of believers. This leads him into a mess of contradictions in his covenant theology. Genesis 17:7-8 refers to a typological promise fulfilled in the Old Covenant.
Recently, R. Scott Clark has released a series of podcasts in defense of paedobaptism. The majority of the material in the podcasts comes from a series of blog posts he wrote previously (he is often just reading them). Those posts, as well as other essays that Clark has written, have already been addressed in depth in A Critique of R. Scott Clark’s Covenant Theology. Since Clark did not address any of the criticism I presented in that post, it is still relevant and I refer you there for a thorough treatment.
That said, Clark makes a few comments in the podcasts that are worth commenting on. (It’s worth noting that Clark speaks of “baptists” very broadly, often referring to Arminian Dispensationalists. Only very occasionally does he have confessional baptists specifically in mind.)
Abraham and Moses
Clark’s main argument is simultaneously his main weakness. In response to baptists, Clark emphasizes that Abraham is not Moses. That is, the Abrahamic Covenant is not the Mosaic Covenant. I did not count, but I would not be surprised if he repeated that point at least 60 times over the series of podcasts. Clark is departing from Westminster on this point, resulting in an inconsistent covenant theology. This leads him to deny (in this series) any kind of dichotomy in Abraham, resulting in some strange inconsistencies.
Even though there were typological, for example, land promises and national elements in the promises given to Abraham, those were only temporary expressions of the more fundamental promise to send a Savior. So, in other words, it’s not fair, I don’t think, and the reformed have said, to use Genesis 12 and 15 in order to try and turn Abraham into Moses.
Heidelcast 107, @24:30
Actually, it is the reformed who insist that Abraham and Moses are one. Ligon Duncan explains:
So as far as Moses is concerned, there is no radical dichotomy between what God is doing with His people in the time of the Exodus and what God promised to Abraham. In fact, he says that the reason God came to His people’s rescue was because He remembered the promise He had made with Abraham. And if you will remember back to our study of Genesis chapter 15, God went out of His way to tell Abraham about the oppression of Israel in Egypt and about the fact that He was going to bring them out of Egypt as a mighty nation, and that He was going to give them the land of Canaan. And so, Moses goes out of his way in both Genesis 15 and in Exodus 2 to link the Mosaic Economy with the Abrahamic Covenant, so that the Mosaic Economy isn’t something that is replacing the way that God deals with His people, under Abraham; it is expanding what God was doing with His people through Abraham.
Clark notes “There’s a strong temptation among some to treat the Mosaic covenant… as if it were only an administration of the covenant of grace. [That is] a mistake.” (Heidelcast 112, @6:00) Clark is here rejecting the Westminster Confession and referring to those who affirm it. If you’re a paedobaptist and you’ve only learned covenant theology from R. Scott Clark, Michael Horton, and the like then you don’t understand Westminster covenant theology.
Paul’s point here is clear. In the terms in which he is speaking about Moses, and Abraham, they operate on different principles inasmuch as Moses is an administration of the law, the 613 commandments, the Mosaic Covenant says “Do this and live.” The Abrahamic Covenant says “receive freely through faith alone benefits that you did not earn but that were earned for you by another.”
The Old Covenant… was a covenant that was broken. The Covenant of Grace can’t be broken. (113, @13:30)
Thus the Old Covenant was not the Covenant of Grace. The recent OPC Report on Republication states very clearly that this view is contrary to the Westminster Standards, which teaches that the Mosaic Covenant is one with the Abrahamic and New Covenants, which are all equally the Covenant of Grace, and thus operate on the same principle.
Abraham was clothed in types and shadows
Were the typological land promises and national elements Abrahamic? Clark says yes and no. Yes, they were, but they were temporary, so no, they weren’t. Only the promise of Christ was truly, ultimately Abrahamic, he claims. But just because they were temporary does not mean they were not Abrahamic.
What does Hebrews tell us about the land promise? Was Abraham ultimately looking for the land, the physical land of Canaan? Hebrews 11 says no. The promise really was not of physical land, ultimately, but of heaven… ‘And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land of your sojournings.’ And so we know what to do with that. All the land of Canaan. So the land itself, the literal land, was temporary…
The Abrahamic Covenant was also clothed in types and shadows.
Heidelcast 110, @17:00 & 113, @2:00
Ok, so there were promises made to Abraham that were temporary. Certainly they typified a greater promise, but they were nonetheless promises that were temporary. “And so we know what to do with that” – we set it aside as typological and fulfilled.
The Mosaic Covenant… added the national covenant, the national people. There’s no more national people, no more national covenant.
Wait, I thought he already said the national element was an Abrahamic promise. “[T]here were typological, for example, land promises and national elements in the promises given to Abraham.” Ok, so the Mosaic Covenant did not, in fact, add a national element to Abraham. The national element is Abrahamic and it is fulfilled in the Mosaic. And it is no more. It was temporary and typological. And it was Abrahamic. “We recognize that there were typological elements under the Abrahamic administration and those types and shadows have been fulfilled.” (115, @28:00) This is seen very clearly in Deuteronomy 7, which Clark quotes:
Deuteronomy 7:6 ‘For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples out of the face of the earth.’ So there you see two things. One, this national election, if you will, that is unique to Israel. At the same time you see, and it will become clearer in the succeeding verses, that Yahweh did not choose Israel because of anything in Israel but out of grace… v8 ‘But it is because Yahweh loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers that Yahweh has brought you out with a mighty hand from the house of slavery from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.’ There you see the continuity with Abraham. The promise that was made was the promise that was made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ‘Know therefore,’ he says in v9 ‘that Yahweh, your God, is God.’…
So, God saving a nation from physical slavery and bringing them into the literal land of Canaan is the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham (re-read the Duncan quote above). Seems straightforward enough, but that would undermine Clark’s thesis that Abraham is not Moses, so he waffles and offers a rather strange attempt to bifurcate the two.
[T]he second part is a reference to Israel’s national status. Certainly not to their salvation. The whole point of the first half of the passage, Deut 7:6-11, is to say that God elected them and made them his people and brought them out of Egypt by grace alone, which is a clear indicator of the continuity between the Mosaic covenant and the Abrahamic with respect to salvation because their deliverance from Egypt is the great symbol, representation, of God’s gracious salvation of his people.
He says Israel’s “national election… is unique to Israel.” Then he goes on to say “The Covenant of Grace with Abraham was not national, it was not temporary, and it did not have a legal character.” So now we’re back to square one. Did God promise Abraham a nation and the land of Canaan or not? Clark cannot and does not give a consistent answer. He says “yes” and “no” throughout the whole series. In his mind, the Mosaic Covenant has a “dual administration” by which he means an underlying layer regarding eschatological salvation and a temporary overlay regarding the national, typical elements related to the land of Canaan. He claims that only this underlying layer regarding salvation is Abrahamic. The top, national, Canaanite layer was only added by Moses. But there is simply no way to maintain that idea, which is why he doesn’t. “We recognize that there were typological elements under the Abrahamic administration and those types and shadows have been fulfilled.” In other words, the top layer is just as Abrahamic as it is Mosaic.
(Btw, there is a reason why the Westminster Divines were “covenanters” who held to a national covenant and established church. The reason was their covenant theology, which saw Abraham as one with Moses and both as one with the New. See this discussion from Thomas Blake as one of many, many examples)
Yahweh was a God to Abraham and to his children for most of 500 years before Moses. The promises of the Abrahamic Covenant which had already been expressed relative to the land and a national people (see Genesis 12, 15, and 17) came to expression in a temporary, national covenant inaugurated at Sinai. That national covenant, however, does not exhaust the covenant promises of God. (113, @17:25)
We don’t claim that it does. We agree with Augustine that
two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.”
In other words, there is a dichotomous nature to the Abrahamic Covenant: a two-fold promise concerning a two-fold seed. (For more, see Owen).
What Parts of Abraham Are Typological?
Clark attempts to completely bifurcate Moses from Abraham and insist that the New Covenant is only ever contrasted with Moses and never with Abraham. He says “The substance of the New Covenant is the Abrahamic Covenant.” Which, again, departs from Westminster in an attempt to identify Abraham with the New in contrast to the Old. “Hebrews distinguishes the New Covenant from Moses. Not from Abraham, not from Noah, but from Moses.” (Calvin & Westminster’s explanation is that the only thing being distinguished are the ceremonies – the external administration – not the covenant itself).
By the end of [Heb 11] 24, his attention has arguably moved beyond the contrast between Moses and Sinai to a broader contrast between all the typological elements and their reality in Christ. The indication of Abel here doesn’t change the essential identification of the Old Covenant with Moses and with Sinai. So, whatever potential difficulties might be created for my general thesis of this series by the inclusion of Abel… (114, 13:45)
Yes, this does present a problem for Clark’s thesis. Yes, Scripture does identify the Old Covenant with Moses and Sinai, but it does not do so in exclusion from Abraham and everything else. Rather, Scripture identifies Moses and Sinai as the Old Covenant as the epitome of all Old Testament typology (note the traditional division of Old Testament and New Testament). It is representative of all the types and shadows that have been done away with since the inauguration of the New Covenant. That includes types and shadows, like circumcision and the land and the nation, that are not part of the New Covenant and have passed away. Note Coxe
Thus if we follow the clue of Scripture in our inquiries after the origin of the covenant of peculiarity made with Israel after the flesh, it will certainly guide us to that covenant which God made with Abraham for his natural offspring and sealed by circumcision. Yet that covenant of peculiarity is in the New Testament always styled old and carnal. It is a covenant from which the gospel covenant is distinguished and to which it is in many respects opposed (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-13). (101)
So which parts of the Abrahamic Covenant fall into that category?
Clark has already identified the nation and the land of Canaan as a part of the Abrahamic Covenant that was typological. Clark said that Genesis 12, 15, and 17 made national promises concerning the land.
Genesis 12:2 “I will make of you a great nation”
Genesis 15:5, 13, 18 “And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’… Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years… On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying ‘To your offspring I give this land…’”
Genesis 17:2, 7, 8 “‘that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly’… I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.’”
Those are the promises that God made to Abraham about his carnal, biological seed, the nation of Israel. Those promises were fulfilled, and because they were temporary and typological, they have passed away and are no more. Now, what sticks out as incredibly obvious when you read the above? The offspring in 17:8 is the offspring in 17:7. And the offspring in 17:8 is Abraham’s carnal, biological seed, the nation of Israel. And God says he will be their God. This undermines Clark’s thesis that 17:7 refers to eschatological salvation and to the seed of all believers. It does not. Samuel Rutherford notes
God commands not Abraham only to circumcise his sons, but all parents descended of Abraham to circumcise their seed: the seed of Abraham carnally descended to all generations…
[In] Gen 17… God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:
Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised. For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith…
The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham? Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.
What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews.
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… To that nation he fixed his blessing by his covenant with the patriarchs… And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion. 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… So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny.
For more, see Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Clark tries to evade this.
National Israel is not the seed. We’re still having that discussion. I just had that discussion with someone online the other day over the question, the premise, that one is the seed by virtue of biology or ethnicity. That’s not Paul’s argument at all. That’s the Judaizer’s argument. Jesus is the seed and we are seeds in him by grace alone through faith alone by virtue of our union with him. He is the fulfillment of the promise, however. And so, being ethnically Jewish doesn’t make one seed. What makes one seed is being united to Christ, who is the seed. (114, 21:15)
The problem here is that Clark is skipping over the type and going straight to the anti-type and then denying there was ever a type. Yes, national Israel was absolutely the seed promised to Abraham (Ex. 32:13; Deut 1:10; 10:22; 1 Chron 27:23; Heb 11:12). But Abraham had two seeds and one was a type of the other.
Note also the implication of Clark’s attempt to identify the seed only with Christ. If Christ alone is the seed, then the seed in Genesis 17:7-8 did not refer to Abraham’s physical offspring, and thus it does not refer to the physical offspring of believers. If Genesis 17:7-8 does refer to Abraham’s physical offspring, then they are Abraham’s seed. Clark can’t have his cake and eat it too.
The seed promise is permanent, but it wasn’t about biological offspring, ultimately, even though the promise is administered to believers and their biological offspring. (110, 16:10)
Yes, it was not about the biological offspring ultimately, but it was about the biological offspring initially or penultimately. And the typological biological seed passed away at the coming of Christ. Again, Clark is stuck. If Genesis 17:7-8 refers to Abraham’s physical, biological offspring, then it refers to the nation of Israel. If it does not refer to Abraham’s physical, biological offspring, then it certainly says nothing at all about the physical, biological offspring of believers.
You can’t have Abraham as the father of all believers without the Abrahamic formula, the Abrahamic pattern. So this covenant, this pattern, this formula, is permanent. It’s not temporary. It’s part of the substance of the covenant of grace. (110, 25:00)
Clark has just thrown the type and the anti-type in a blender. Abraham can’t be the father of all believers without Abraham being the father of his biological seed (the nation of Israel). Hmmmm. Furthermore, the “Abrahamic formula” is not simply “I will be the God of you and your offspring after you.” It is also “I will multiply you greatly and will give your offspring the land of Canaan” and “in you all nations of the earth shall be blessed.” So if Clark wants to claim “the Abrahamic formula” for himself, he has to claim all of it. He has to claim that he will be the father of the Messiah and that his numerous offspring will dwell in the land of Canaan.
Children Part of the Substance
Now notice the absurdity that Clark falls into. He just said that the inclusion of Abraham’s physical offspring, and the physical offspring of all believers, is not temporary or typological because it is “part of the substance of the covenant of grace.” Whoops! The entire paedobaptist system is that the children of believers are not part of the substance of the covenant of grace, but are only part of its administration (the part that changes) – as Clark explains elsewhere:
initiating believers and their children into the external administration of the covenant of grace. This is where my baptist friends really need to struggle to see the differences between our different ways of going at things. What we’re talking about here in the reformed church, reformed theology, piety, and practice, is the external administration of the covenant of grace. (115, 34:20)
Which is it? Are the children of believers only in the external administration, or is the inclusion of children part of the substance of the covenant of grace?
The essence [substance] of the covenant of grace remains unchanged. ‘I will be a God to you and to your children.’ (115, 27:00)
If they are only part of the administration, then their inclusion is not permanent and not part of the essence of the covenant. Once again, Clark can’t have his cake and eat it too.
The problem with the baptist objection is that it doesn’t account for two things. First, the formula, to you and your children is not obviously typological. That is, it does not obviously illustrate a future reality fulfilled in Christ or in heaven. (110, 26:00)
First, whether or not it is obvious to Dr. Clark is irrelevant. Second, the reason it’s not obvious to Dr. Clark is because his paedobaptist glasses are obscuring his vision. All he can see is a promise to believers and their seed. But that’s not actually what Genesis 17 says. Genesis 17 is a promise to Abraham and Abraham’s physical offspring, the nation of Israel. And the nation of Israel does, in fact, illustrate a future reality fulfilled in Christ. Note Dr. Clark elsewhere:
God disinherited his adopted, temporary, national “son” Israel as a national people precisely because God never intended to have a permanent earthly, national people… their chief function was to serve as a type and shadow of God’s natural Son, Jesus the Messiah (Heb 10.1-4). It is the argument of this essay that Jesus Christ is the true Israel of God and that everyone who is united to him by grace alone, through faith alone becomes, by virtue of that union, the true Israel of God. (Israel of God)
Were initiation of infants into the visible covenant community merely typological, were it temporary like circumcision, like animal sacrifice, then we should expect to see the Old Covenant prophets essentially telling us that same thing, that it’s temporary in the way that they tell us that animal sacrifices are temporary, in the way that they tell us that circumcision, physical, medical circumcision, is temporary, but they don’t do that because it’s not temporary. It’s not typological. It’s part of the Abrahamic pattern. (112, 3:45)
1. Being part of the “Abrahamic pattern” does not mean it is not typological. 2. Where do the Old Covenant prophets tell us the national element is temporary? Well Clark himself said “God never intended to have a permanent earthly, national people.” So where do the Old Covenant prophets tell us that?
My baptist friends are convinced that the inclusion of children into the visible covenant community by a sacrament was typological and therefore not part of the New Covenant. We can test that theory, however, in Scripture. Ask yourself this question: The prophets told us that the sacrifices and circumcision were typological and temporary, but where do they tell us that the inclusion of children into the visible covenant community is also temporary and typological like circumcision, like the sacrifices. We can’t just assume that is the case. We have to actually show that is the case. What does Scripture actually say about children, particularly from the point of view of typologies looking forward?… Isaiah ‘I will bring your seed from the east and from the west. I will gather you.’… Is. 44:3 he restates the promise. ‘For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground.’ What does he mean? Well, he explains in the next clause. ‘I will pour my Spirit upon’ whom? ‘your children. And my blessing upon your descendants.’ This is the same sort of imagery that you see in the prophet Joel’s restatement. But you have to see how fundamentally Abrahamic that language is. (113, 3:55)
Again, take off the paedobaptist glasses and ask the question correctly. “Where do the prophets tell us the physical offspring of Abraham – the nation of Israel – was temporary and typological?” This exact same passage, Isaiah 43-44, is written to and about Israel – the very nation Clark says is temporary. When Isaiah says “I will gather you” the “you” is “Israel” “Jacob.” Yes, this language is “fundamentally” Abrahamic. But Abraham was “fundamentally” typological. The “descendants” and “children” refer to the nation of Israel and promise to multiply the seed of Abraham. The fact is, much of the typology of Israel is not unpacked until the New Testament (which is where Clark spends all his time in this essay).
The other thing to be noted here is that the promises of Jeremiah 31 are cast in Mosaic, typological, and prophetic categories or language. And so we need to read it in that same way, read it the same way we read prophetic literature generally. (113, 18:00)
Yup. Absolutely. And Jeremiah says that the New Covenant is made with whom? Believers and their children? Nope. The house of Israel and the house of Jacob – Abraham’s physical descendants. Owen notes:
The persons with whom this covenant is made are also expressed: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah.”… Wherefore this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered two ways:
[1.] As that people were the whole entire posterity of Abraham.
[2.] As they were typical, and mystically significant of the whole church of God.
Hence alone it is that the promises of grace under the old testament are given unto the church under these names, because they were types of them who should really and effectually be made partakers of them…
In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of twain, namely, Jews and Gentiles, with whom the covenant is really made and established, and unto whom the grace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto his name.
Obs. X. The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect. —For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it unto them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue thereof, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it.
Contrary to Clark’s insistence, recognizing Jeremiah 31 as prophesying a covenant made with the elect alone is not contrary to a reformed hermeneutic. It is not a literalizing of prophetic hyperbole and it is not over-realized eschatology. It’s just the plain meaning of the text, as Owen explained. Berkhof said “The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12.”
Genesis 15 Oath Ceremony
Yahweh, mysteriously, in a type and a shadow, passed between the pieces himself to signify that, should the covenant be broken, he himself would pay the penalty with his own life. And of course we see that promise fulfilled on the cross when God the Son, true God, true man, bore our sins and our covenant breaking in our place. (109, 16:45)
This is very confused. Did Christ die on the cross because of a broken Covenant of Grace or a broken Covenant of Works? The Genesis 15 ceremony does not promise that if Abraham breaks the Abrahamic Covenant, God will bear his curse. Rather, it is a confirmatory oath by God that God will fulfill his promise to Abraham and, if he does not, he will suffer death for breaking his oath.
A Bridegroom of Blood
[Quotes Ex 4:24-26]. Now, this is a cryptic passage and we don’t want to spend a lot of time there, but surely we know there, we see, that the Lord takes very seriously a refusal to administer the sign of the covenant to covenant children. So seriously that Scripture says, in a cryptic way, that Yahweh sought to kill Moses, who is the Old Testament mediator, representative of the people to the Lord and of the Lord to the people. It’s a remarkable passage. We can take away, whatever else we may infer, that the Lord takes very seriously and is most displeased when we refuse to administer the sign of the covenant to believers and to their children. That’s why it’s described in Gen 17 as covenant breaking and that’s why the Lord sought, as it were, kill Moses. (111, 9:00)
It is completely absurd to see in this passage any application to baptism. God does not threaten to kill anyone for not being baptized or for not baptizing their children. Furthermore, is Clark going FV on us? Not being baptized is covenant breaking? What the passage teaches us is that God was serious when he said in Genesis 17 that if someone failed to be circumcised, they would be cut off (which in the Old Covenant refers to death). Coxe said
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.” p. 91
Read more here.
God made an immutable covenant with Abraham, that’s [Gal] 3:16. For Paul, the Abrahamic Covenant is, if you will, the baseline account of the covenant of grace. (114, 20:40)
- Galatians 3:16
- Some Disagreement with Coxe on Galatians 3:17
- Gal. 3:18 – Generic Law and Promise, or Sinai and Messiah?
Romans 9 & 2:28
1 Corinthians 7:14
See 1 Cor. 7:14 – The “Legitimacy” Interpretation and 1 Cor. 7:14 – No Proof of Infant Baptism where Dr. Glen Clary (OPC) admits “I don’t think their inclusion in the covenant of grace can be derived from this single text as a necessary consequence. I stated that at the very beginning of my sermon on the text. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace is stated explicitly elsewhere such as in Gen. 17.”
Look at Acts 2:39… ‘For the promise’ remember to whom he’s speaking – he’s speaking to Jewish men at the feast of Pentecost, and when he says ‘the promise’ what promise has been repeated again and again by God to Jews for the last 2,000 years? I will be a God to you and to your children… Peter has summarized Genesis 12, 15, and 17 in one verse. (110, 31:35)
The structure of the promise ‘I’ll be a God to you and to your children’ well, that’s not temporary, that’s not typological. This pattern, as I say, of applying the sign to believers and to their children is permanent, and we know that from Acts 2:38-39 (111, 15:35)
The analogy with Abraham is only strengthened with the invocation of the Abrahamic Covenantal formula. ‘For the promise is to you and to your children.’ The essence of the covenant of grace remains unchanged. ‘I will be a God to you and to your children.’ My baptist friends object by pointing out the Gentiles and I reply by saying ‘So what?’ Our argument was not that Abraham was typological. Of course Gentiles are being included. That is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that God would make him the father of many nations. (115, 27:00)
No, baptists don’t object by simply pointing out the Gentiles. Baptists object by pointing out that the promise is not to believers and their seed. It is to “everyone to whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Kline said that Clark is mistaken in his interpretation of these verses, and in his whole defense of infant baptism. “When we are establishing the ground for baptizing our children into the church our appeal should not be to the ‘promise,’ for the promised seed is the election and the covenant constituency is not delimited by election.” (KP 364)
Similarly, Dr. E. Calvin Beisner (OPC) says
What of Peter’s statement, “The promise is for you and your children”?… Perhaps we need to look at them a little more carefully… Consider first Peter’s comment in Acts 2:39. Thus far we have quoted only part of it. The whole of it is, “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Are those who insist that here is a promise of the salvation of the children of believers as quick to say that here is a promise of salvation “for all who are far off”? Those are not simply the children of believers; those include all men everywhere in the world. But does God promise salvation to all men everywhere in the world? Certainly not. Neither, then, does He promise salvation to all the children of believers. What does He promise, then, to all the children of believers and to all people everywhere? Look at verse 38–and I’m going to use my own very literal translation here to make clear the grammatical cause-and-effect relationship that is clear in the Greek but ordinarily gets obscured in English translations: “Y’all repent for the remission of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and y’all will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”… The promise is conditional: If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll be forgiven. That promise does indeed apply to each and every child of each and every believer; and it also applies to each and every other person who ever lived or ever will live.
The Kingdom of God
Christ did not bring the consummation when he came in his first advent. Instead, he said that he was inaugurating the kingdom of God, not consummating the kingdom of God. (115, 31:00)
Right, but note that Christ was indeed inaugurating the kingdom of God. That means it wasn’t already inaugurated. See When Did the Church Begin?
Regenerate Church Membership
[Baptists] know that their congregations, just like reformed congregations, have unregenerate members. But, by administering baptism only to those who can make a profession of faith, they are doing what they can to ensure a completely regenerate membership. From a reformed point of view, from a reformed covenant theology, it’s quite difficult to see how this is, at bottom, not a form of rationalism. (115, 32:40)
This is just nonsense. Does the fact that Presbyterians limit the baptism of adults to those who profess faith and deny it to those who do not mean that they are, at bottom, rationalists? We’re not trying to discern election. We affirm the “judgment of charity” should be extended to all who profess faith. We deny it should be extended to those who do not profess faith. That doesn’t make us rationalists (a favorite slur of Clark’s). See Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?
Signs and Seals
Heidelberg Catechism 66… Notice the nouns the reformed churches use to describe the sacraments. We call them holy signs and seals. A sign is something that points to something else. By definition, a sign isn’t the thing itself. Now, we call them holy signs and seals but they’re like secular signs and seals too. When I go to the grocery store and see a sign for milk, that’s a pointer for where the milk is. It isn’t the milk itself. When one graduates from school, one gets a diploma. Somewhere on that diploma is a seal and that seal is a mark that testifies to the authenticity of the diploma. It’s the school’s way of guaranteeing that, yes, you were there, yes, you did the work, and yes, you really did graduate. That’s what the reformed churches mean by sign and seal when we talk about sacraments. (116, 2:30)
We agree that sacraments are signs. We do not agree that they are, necessarily, seals. A seal is, by definition, objective. As Clark notes, a seal is a guarantee. Now, would a seal on a diploma guarantee anything if the seal was not objective but was instead contingent upon the individual actually graduating? Would it be a seal if they gave it to every student the first day of their freshman year and said “This seal authenticates and guarantees your graduation… assuming you do in fact graduate”? Of course not. That’s absurd. So is Clark’s view of baptism. Neither would the absurdity be resolved if it were limited to older 4th year students who made a verbal claim to have graduated. The seal would still be meaningless if it was given to all of these students and then said it only applies to those who actually did in fact graduate. That is why baptism is not a seal of the Covenant of Grace and union with Christ. The Appendix to the 2nd London Baptist Confession says
If our brethren do suppose baptism to be the seal of the Covenant which God makes with every beleiver (of which the Scriptures are altogether silent) it is not our concern to contend with them herein; yet we conceive the seal of that Covenant is the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in the particular and individual persons in whom he resides, and nothing else…
This promise is first made unto him, Thou shalt be the Father of many Nations (in what sense the Apostle explaineth in that chapter) and then there is subjoined a double seal for the confirmation of the thing, to wit, the change of the name Abram into Abraham, and the institution of circumcision. v4. Behold as for me, my Covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. Wherefore was his name called Abraham? for the sealing of this promise. Thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. And wherefore was circumcision instituted to him? For the sealing of the same promise.
As an objective confirmation and guarantee (a seal), circumcision was unique to Abraham (which is part of Paul’s point). Scripture never says that circumcision was a seal/guarantee to anyone else. And it never says baptism is a seal.
Neither does a sacrament, by definition, “seal the promise of the gospel.” As Clark correctly notes regarding the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “These two trees are sacraments. They were signs and seals of the covenant that God made with Adam in the garden.” But they were not signs or seals of the gospel. The function and meaning of any covenant sign is determined individually by the covenant it is a part of and by the meaning it is given at its institution.
Paul equates the Red Sea with Christian baptism and he equates the manna and the water in the desert with the Lord’s Supper. Those were sacraments… (116, 15:40)
All passed through the sea and were baptized into Moses… We know from Scripture that there were infants among the company. Paul says that they were all baptized into Moses. There were infants in Israel in the Exodus. All Israel was baptized in the Red Sea. Therefore, infants were baptized. Now, you might object: This is a kind of a figurative baptism, not a real baptism. Well, that’s not what Paul says. (118, 26:50)
The best Clark can do with regards to the early church is argue “by inference” that infant baptism was received from the Apostles because there was never a massive controversy over it (118, 6:45). He cannot point to anything else to say that it was the practice of the early church received from the Apostles.
I would encourage readers to study the work of David F. Wright, a Presbyterian in the Church of Scotland, and a professor of church history specializing in the patristics (Ligon Duncan received his PhD in early church history under Wright’s supervision). He wrote extensively on the subject of baptism in the early church, including What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism?: An Enquiry at the End of Christendom in which he states
One legacy of the baptismal breech of the sixteenth century which has militated against a comprehensive history of baptism has been the stubborn hauteur displayed towards Baptists and believers’ baptism by paedobaptist churches and theologians… It is indeed seriously misleading to view the age of the Fathers simply as an era of infant baptism. In fact, of known named individuals in those centuries who were both of Christian parentage and baptized at known dates, the great majority were baptized on profession of faith. The obscuring of a truer picture derives ultimately from sixteenth-century apologetic, both Catholic and Protestant, against the Anabaptists… The timescale of infant baptism’s long reign extends from the early medieval period, from about the sixth century, that is to say, after Augustine of Hippo, who died in 430. It was he who provided the theology that led to infant baptism becoming general practice for the first time in the history of the church, perhaps in the later fifth century, more likely in the 500s or even later.
Again, these words are from a Presbyterian historian, not a baptist with an axe to grind.
Invention of Paedobaptist Covenant Theology
Much of what we know today as covenant theology emerged in [Zwingli’s] defense of the unity of the covenant of grace against his Anabaptist critics.
Correct. Paedobaptist covenant theology was invented in response to Anabaptist critics. (See Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New).
Now, it’s tempting, and it’s an easy answer to think the reason confessional, reformed protestant churches all disagreed with the anabaptists, and ultimately with modern baptist evangelicals about baptism is that they’re still unduly influenced by Romanism. But, as I keep saying, that answer simply does not account for the actual history of the reformation. It doesn’t account for their own lives, their writing, and their ministry. So, perhaps Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Melanchthon, and the reformed churches and the Lutheran churches and the Anglican churches are all wrong about infant baptism. That is a logical possibility But maybe they are not. If they are wrong, however, it is not because they have not sought to follow the teaching of Scripture. (118, 25:00)
Clark thinks that as long as someone formally holds to sola scriptura, they cannot be unduly influenced by unbiblical tradition. As long as they seek to follow the teaching of Scripture, they cannot possibly be influenced by any incorrect thoughts. Obviously that is not the case, as church history and our own personal experience demonstrates. It is entirely possible that the reformers sought to conform all of their thoughts to Scripture, but were led to misinterpret Scripture because of various influences. Isn’t that how Clark would explain the fact that these guys were all Constantinian magisterial reformers defending the established church and the practice of non-toleration as vital to the reformation? The truth is, their belief in infant baptism was very intimately connected to their defense of Constantinianism. (See Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New).
And all one has to do is look at Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Melanchthon and Luther to see that, though they share a common practice, they have drastically different reasons and meanings for the practice. And the same is true within Presbyterianism. They share a common practice but have several different, contradictory understandings of the meaning (see this recent thread as just one example, and add Kline’s “new and improved” argument for infant baptism to the mix).
Infant baptism remains a practice in search of a theology.