Gospel Promises and Perseverance (Owen)

The Works of John Owen, Vol. 11: Continuing in the Faith One of John Owen’s many volumes is called “The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance Explained and Confirmed.”  As you might guess, it’s a great exposition of the “P” In “TULIP.”  I haven’t read it all yet, but so far it’s been very helpful and edifying.  Below is one section I ran across this morning.  It’s about gospel promises which are one more assurance that God will preserve his people.  Note how Owen distinguishes between law (covenant of works) and gospel (covenant of grace):

Gospel promises, then, are: 1. The free and gracious dispensations, and, 2. discoveries of God’s good-will and love, to, 3. sinners, 4. through Christ, 5. in a covenant of grace; 6. wherein, upon his truth and faithfulness, he engageth himself to be their God, to give his Son unto them and for them, and his Holy Spirit to abide with them, with all things that are either required in them or are necessary for them to make them accepted before him, and to bring them to an enjoyment of him.

I call them gospel promises, not as though they were only contained in the books of the New Testament, or given only by Christ after his coming in the flesh, [for they were given from the beginning of the world, or first entrance of sin, and the Lord made plentiful provision of them and by them for his people under the old testament,] but only to distinguish them from the promises of the law, which hold out a word of truth and faithfulness, engaged for a reward of life to them that yield obedience thereunto (there being an indissolvable connection between entering into life and keeping the commandments), and so to manifest that they all belong to the gospel properly so-called, or the tidings of that peace for sinners which was wrought out and manifested by Jesus Christ (Gal 3:12, Luke 2:10, Eph. 2:15, Is. 52:7).

After these paragraphs Owen goes on to expound on his definition (the opening numbered sentence above) in some detail. If you have access to this, I’d recommend it.  It’ll give you confidence in the promises of God and joy in his preserving grace!

The above quote is found in: Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 11, p. 227). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Why Do Reformed Churches Baptize Infants? (Horton)

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by [Horton, Michael] There are several different biblical reasons why Reformed churches baptize both infants and adults.  Louis Berkhof, Francis Turretin, Charles Hodge, John Calvin, and others have pointed out the various biblical reasons why Reformed churches baptize infants as well as adults.  There’s obviously more to the discussion, but I appreciate how Michael Horton put it:

From a covenantal perspective, it is impossible to separate the claim that the children of believers are holy (1 Cor 7:14) from the sign and seal of the covenant.  According to the traditional Anabaptist/Baptist view, the children are not regarded as holy until they personally repent and believe.  However, the New Testament preserves the clean/unclean distinction, only now it pertains not to Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, but to believing and unbelieving families, with baptism as the covenant’s ratification.  In fact, Paul especially labors the point that all, Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised, are Abraham’s children and heirs of the Abrahamic covenant through faith alone, just like Abraham (Rom 4:3 with Gen. 15:6, Gal. 3-4).  The church, in its unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ, is understood as the fulfillment of Israel’s existence (Mt 21:43; Rom 9:25-26, 2 Cor 6:16, Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 2:9, Gal 6:16; Rev. 5:9).  Everything turns on whether we assume continuity or discontinuity as most fundamental to interpreting the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Given the way that the New Testament itself interprets the Old, we should privilege continuity.

If this is the case, then the burden of proof shifts from the paedobaptists (i.e., infant baptizers) to Baptists.  Given the Jewish background of the first Christians, it would not be the command to administer the sign and seal of the covenant to their children that would have been surprising, but the command to cease administering it to them.  However, we are not left to an argument from silence.  This promise for believers and their children is exhibited in the conversion and baptism of Lydia.  After she believed the gospel, ‘she was baptized, and her household as well’ (Acts 16:15).  Later in the same chapter, we read of the conversion of the Philippian jailer.  He too is told, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household…and he was baptized at once, he and all his family’ (vv 31, 33).  Paul recalls having baptized the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16).  If children are included in the covenant of grace under its Old Testament administration, surely they are not excluded in the new covenant administration, which the writer to the Hebrews calls ‘better’ than the old (Heb. 7:22).

Again, there’s more to the discussion, but I appreciate Horton’s words on the continuity between the Old and New Covenants.  It’s also helpful to realize that infants had been included in the covenant for around twenty centuries before the apostles’ lived.  If infants are no longer part of the covenant community in the New Testament era, one would expect a very clear command to now exclude children of believers.  Instead, in the New Testament we’re told that children of believers are “holy” (set apart) and that the promise belongs to them as well as their parents (1 Cor 7:14; Acts 2:39).  Paul tells children to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1).  Jesus himself welcomed little children, blessed them, prayed over them, and said, the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Lk. 18:16 NASB).  Therefore, “why should the church refuse to welcome into her arms those whom Christ received into his?” (Francis Turretin).

The above quotes are found in Michael Horton, Christian Theology, p. 795-6.  Emphasis his.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“Of Pure Grace and Most Unmerited Favor” (Witsius)

  The Apostle Paul is very clear that a sinner is justified by faith alone apart from works (Rom 3.28, Gal 2:16). He also says that we are justified by grace (Titus 3:7).  When it comes to being justified by God, being declared righteous by him, it is not at all based on anything we’ve ever done.  Instead, our justification is based on the works of Christ, which we receive by faith alone. His righteousness is imputed to us.  We’re justified by his works!  I like how Herman Witsius discussed this in light of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace:

The Scripture confirms this truth, when it sets the grace of Christ in diametrical opposition to our works, maintaining, that there can be no mixture of the one with the other. “If righteousness comes by the law,” saith the apostle, that is, if, by our works, we can acquire a right to life eternal, “then Christ is dead in vain,” Gal. 2:21. And more clearly, Rom. 11:6. “And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”

In order clearly to discern the force of the apostle’s inference, it is to be observed, that there are but two ways by which we can come to the possession of salvation, according to the two covenants entered into between God and man: 1) either one has a right to life because he has fully satisfied the demand of the law, according to the covenant of works, and to him that thus “worketh is the reward reckoned of debt,” Rom. 4:4; 2) or he hath a right to life, because the surety of a better testament has made satisfaction for him, which of pure grace and most unmerited favor is imputed to him, who worketh not, in order to acquire that right, ver. 5, according to the covenant of grace.

As these covenants do in the whole essence of them differ, and in this respect are contradistinguished from, and set in opposition to each other, it is evident they conjoin inconsistencies, who would join together our works with the grace of God, our righteousness with the righteousness of Christ, in the matter of justification.

Witsius, H. (1837). The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity. (W. Crookshank, Trans.) (Vol. 1, p. 369). London: T. Tegg & Son.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Hodge on the Mosaic Covenant

 When he brought them out of Egypt, Yahweh made a covenant with his people from Mt. Sinai.  It is often called the Mosaic or Sinaitic covenant.  The details and terms of this covenant are found in various parts of Exodus and Numbers and also in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (and other parts of Scripture).  I appreciate how Charles Hodge talks about the Mosaic covenant as it relates to the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.  He first mentions that the Mosaic covenant had much to do with the covenant of grace:

We have the direct authority of the New Testament for believing that the covenant of grace, or plan of salvation, thus underlay the whole of the institutions of the Mosaic period, and that their principal design was to teach through types and symbols what is now taught in explicit terms in the gospel. Moses, we are told (Heb. 3:5), was faithful as a servant to testify concerning the things which were to be spoken after.

That’s a very common view in Reformed theology, that the covenant of grace underlies the Mosaic covenant.  I certainly agree with Hodge.  But what about the covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant?  Here’s Hodge again:

Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect, it was a legal covenant. It said, “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favor; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. …If he [a man] will not be under grace, if he will not accede to the method of salvation by grace, he is of necessity under the law.

In a very helpful following section, Hodge goes on to mention several different ways the NT talks about the Mosaic economy. I’ll post that at some other point.  For now, I wanted to share Hodge’s balanced explanation of what the Mosaic economy had to do with the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

The entire section is found in Charles Hodge, (1997). Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, p. 375). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

 

Are Our Children Lost?

One recent and popular Christian book called Parenting spent a chapter talking about how our kids are “lost.”  It wasn’t a minor theme mentioned in three sentences; it was a major point of the entire chapter that Christian parents are raising “lost” children.  For example, Paul Tripp wrote, “Our children are not just disobedient; they are disobedient because they are lost. …Our children are not just lazy; they are lazy because they are lost” (p. 98).  He goes on to talk about the parables of the lost sheep, coin, and son and explains how they apply to parenting lost children.

I realize that Tripp may be writing from a Baptist perspective.  Of course Christians in Baptist circles will differ from Christians in Reformed circles when it comes to views on children in the home.  Thankfully whether Baptist or Reformed we can still call each other brother or sister in Christ.  But is it biblically accurate to call children in a Christian home “lost?”  A Reformed perspective says “no” based on Scripture’s teaching.

First, a more nuanced approach to the “lost” parables would deal with the kingdom of God, Israel, the first century background and other exegetical and interpretive matters (which would take too long to discuss here).  I’m a little hesitant to talk about these parables primarily in terms of parenting “lost” children.

Second, the Bible doesn’t specifically call the children of believing parents “lost” or little heathens (even if they act like it from time to time!!).  In both the Old and New Testaments Scripture talks more positively about the children of God’s people.  Abraham is a good example; God says he will be Abraham’s God and the God of his children (Gen 17:6).  Herman Bavinck explained this covenantal aspect further:

Children are a blessing and heritage from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). They are always counted along with their parents and included with them. Together they prosper (Exod. 20:6; Deut. 1:36, 39; 4:40; 5:29; 12:25, 28). Together they serve the Lord (Deut. 6:2; 30:2; 31:12–13; Josh. 24:15; Jer. 32:39; Ezek. 37:25; Zech. 10:9). The parents must pass on to the children the acts and ordinances of God (Exod. 10:2; 12:24, 26; Deut. 4:9–10, 40; 6:7; 11:19; 29:29; Josh. 4:6, 21; 22:24–27). The covenant of God with its benefits and blessings perpetuates itself from child to child and from generation to generation (Gen. 9:12; 17:7, 9; Exod. 3:15; 12:17; 16:32; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 105:8; and so forth). While grace is not automatically inherited, as a rule it is bestowed along the line of generations.
The Bible also says that Jesus blessed and welcomed little children.  Paul wrote that children in the home of even one believing parent are not unclean but “holy,” or set apart (1 Cor. 7:14).  Again, Bavinck:
The holiness Paul mentions here must not be taken as subjective and internal holiness but as an objective, theocratic kind of holiness, for otherwise the children and the husband would not be holy on account of the believing mother and wife but on their own account. Nor is Paul in any way thinking here of infant baptism, nor of anything that might serve as a basis for it. His sole interest is to show that the Christian faith does not cancel out the natural ordinances of life, but rather confirms and sanctifies them (cf. 1 Cor. 7:18–24).

This passage is of importance for infant baptism, however, because it teaches that the whole family is regarded in light of the confession of the believing spouse. The believer has the calling to serve the Lord not only for oneself but with all that belongs to oneself and with one’s entire family. For that reason the children of believers are admonished by the apostles as Christian children ‘in the Lord’ (Acts 26:22; Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20; 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 John 2:13). Also the little ones know the Lord (Heb. 8:11; Rev. 11:18; 19:5), and have been given a place before his throne (Rev. 20:12). Scripture knows nothing of a neutral upbringing that seeks to have the children make a completely free and independent choice at a more advanced age. The children of believers are not pagans or children of the devil who still—as Roman Catholics and Lutherans hold—have to be exorcized at their baptism, but children of the covenant, for whom the promise is meant as much as for adults. They are included in the covenant and are holy, not by nature (Job 14:4; Ps. 51:5; John 3:6; Eph. 2:3) but by virtue of the covenant.

While I applaud many of Tripp’s helpful tips on Christian parenting, I think it is unhelpful and unbiblical to view our children as “lost.”  Are they sinners who need Jesus like I do?  Yes, for sure!  But a healthy biblical and covenantal perspective won’t let us call our kids “lost;” we’re not missionaries to our kids.  Like the Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A 74) says, “Infants, as well as adults are in God’s covenant and are his people.  They, no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.”  Our job is to teach them what it means to be a child of God: to repent, believe, and follow the Lord!

The above quotes are from Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 529–530.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

It Does Not Depend Upon Any Uncertain Condition (Witsius)

Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (2-Volumes) In Reformed theology distinctions are quite important.  There’s a distinction between the law and the gospel, between justification and sanctification, and between the covenant of works and covenant of grace  (just to name a few).  Here is how Herman Witsius explained the difference between the latter:

Here we are to observe a remarkable difference between the promises of the covenant of works, and those of the covenant of grace. The same eternal life is promised in both, which can be but one, consisting in the communion and enjoyment of God; but it is promised in a manner quite different in the one from what it is in the other.

In the covenant of works God promised life to man, on condition of perfect obedience; but he did not promise to produce or effect this obedience in man.

In the covenant of grace, he not only promises life eternal, but also at the same time faith and repentance, and perseverance in holiness, without which life cannot be attained, and which being granted, life cannot but be obtained. And even in this sense it may be said – that the covenant of which Christ is the Mediator is “more excellent, and established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6), because it does not depend on any uncertain condition, but is founded on the suretyship and actual satisfaction of Christ – does infallibly secure salvation to the believer, and as certainly promise faith to the elect.

Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity, trans. William Crookshank, vol. 1 (London: T. Tegg & Son, 1837), 251–252.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Why Do We Call It The Covenant Of “Grace”?

In Reformed theology, we call God’s oath to be God to his people and their seed the “covenant of grace.”  Beginning with the promise of One who would crush the head of the serpent in Genesis 3, God has covenanted with his people to be their deliverer.  The exact term “covenant of grace” is not in Scripture, so why do we call it that in Reformed theology?  Francis Turretin answered this question well:

“Not without reason did the Holy Spirit wish to designate the covenant of grace under the name ‘promise,’ because it rests entirely upon the divine promise.  In this it wonderfully differs, not only from all human covenants (which consist of mutual obligation and stipulation of the parties), but from the covenant of works (which although it also had its own promise on the part of God to the doers and so was founded on the goodness of God, still it required obedience on the part of man that it might be put into execution).”

“But here God wished the whole of this covenant to depend upon his promise, not only with regard to the reward promised by him, but also with regard to the duty demanded from us.  Thus God performs here not only his own part, but also ours; and if the covenant is given for the happiness of only the one party, it is guarded and fulfilled by the fidelity of only one party.  Hence not only God’s blessings fall under the promise, but also man’s duty; not only the end, but also the means and conditions leading us to it (as will be shown in the proper place).”

I appreciate this summary of why we call this covenant the covenant of grace: because, ultimately, salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9), and it is all of grace (Eph. 2:4-5)!

The above quote was taken from volume 2, page 173 of Turretin’s Institutes.

shane lems