Promises, Promises

The Significance of Covenant Baptism

Randy Booth - 5/17/98

    1. The Beauty of Redemption.
      1. When we consider the ugliness of sin, and all the misery that flows from that sin, this fallen world can be a terrible place to be born into.
        1. This is especially true when a child is born into a household where sin and misery abound.
          1. Where husbands and wives are irresponsible toward God, and often abuse one another.
          2. Where parents are irresponsible and children are neglected and/or abused.
        2. It is sad, but often true, that one's own household can become an unhappy and destructive place to be.
      2. What do you think of when you think of beauty?
        1. A symphony, a painting, a landscape, a poem?
        2. Whatever it is that you find beautiful, it cannot come close to beauty of the godly covenant household.
        3. When husband and wife, father and mother, and the children all live in harmony according to God's word, there is no more beautiful place on earth.
    2. God's Covenant Plan.
      1. God relates to His people by establishing a covenants between Himself and them.
        1. A covenant is simply a government.
          1. God establishes the rules (i.e., laws) that govern all the relationships in that covenant.
          2. This is what he has done for the household.
        2. He defines the roles of the husband, the father, the wife, the mother and the children.
          1. When they faithfully obey God's rules for their respective relationships, then blessings come to the household.
          2. When they are unfaithful to God's covenant, then misery follows.
      2. Central to God's beautiful covenant for the household, is His promise that He will be our God and we will be His people.
        1. God not only loves His people individually (i.e., those who are believers), giving them His grace and word to live by,
          1. He also loves the families of believers and makes covenant promises to them as well.
          2. For example, we read in Psalm 103 that "the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children's children; to such as keep His covenant, and to those that remember His commandments to do them" (Ps. 103:17-18).
          3. "Let us accept as incontrovertible that God is so good and generous to His own as to be pleased, for their sake, also to count among His people the children whom they have begotten." (Calvin).
        2. Besides giving children to parents, God gave parents to children in order to represent their interests while they are minors.
          1. The beauty of this is seen as we consider the history of redemption.
          2. God not only loves His people, He love His people's children.
    1. God's Covenant Plan f Redemption (connecting the dots).
      1. Adam and Eve had sinned - i.e., they had broken the terms of the covenant God had established with them.
        1. God had promised life if they remained faithful to His word and death if they disregarded His word. [God's word is law]
        2. In unbelief, they acted unfaithfully with regard to God's word and ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
        3. God then pronounced the promised covenant curses upon Adam, Eve, and all their descendants "In Adam's fall, we sinned all."
      2. In the midst of pronouncing the curse, God's grace was revealed.
        1. The promise of a Redeemer - a spark of hope!
          1. As He cursed the serpent, God said: "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Gen. 3:15).
          2. This was the first promise of the good news - the Gospel of salvation.
        2. The rest of the Bible is the record of the history of this promised redemption through Christ.
    2. Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8).
      1. God demonstrated His redemptive purpose by directing His electing love toward one man and his family.
        1. Righteous Noah was preserved from God's judgment, along with his entire household.
        2. "But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark - you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you"(Gen. 6:18)
      2. God saved them from His judgment and, according to 1 Peter 3:20-21, He baptized them in the ark.
        1. What basis does the Scripture give for preserving Noah and his family?
        2. "Then the LORD said to Noah, "Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you [singular] are righteous before Me in this generation"" (Gen. 7:1).
    3. Abraham: Justification by Faith.
      1. God continued to unfold His gracious plan of redemption when he called Abram (soon hanged to "Abraham")out from Ur of the Chaldees.
        1. "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you"

          (Gen. 17:7).

        2. God's redemptive plan - His Covenant of Grace - embraces not only the believer, but also the believer's children and his children's children.
      2. While Adam had acted without faith toward the word of God (i.e., unfaithfully), Abraham responded to God's word with faith.
        1. "For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:3).
        2. Faithful Abraham had every reason to expect God's covenant blessings to come to him and his household.
    4. What Was the Sign and Seal of Justification?
      1. "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:11).
      2. In the Old Testament, circumcision was the outward sign of what should be true of a person on the inside.
        1. A clean heart: "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (Deut. 30:6).
        2. Repentance: "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings" (Jer. 4:4).
        3. Justification: "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:11).
        4. Regeneration: "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God"
      (Rom. 2:28-29).
    5. The Covenant Household.
      1. Abraham now belonged to God.
        1. All that belonged to Abraham also now belonged to God.
        2. This included Abraham's household.
      2. Abraham was to apply the covenant sign and seal - the sign and seal of justification by faith to his sons and servants.
        1. "He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant" (Gen. 17:13-14).
        2. This sign and seal marked them out as having been set a part (i.e., made them holy), from the rest of the world.
        3. They too were now considered part of the covenant people of God.
    6. Promises, Blessings and Curses.
      1. God's promises are conditional.
        1. Abraham's obligations to his household went far beyond the mere physical and ceremonial act of circumcision.
        2. Form can never replace substance.
      2. So, what were the conditions which Abraham must meet in order to receive the covenant blessings of God?
        1. "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him" (Gen. 18:19).
        2. Should Abraham fail to train his household to keep the way of the Lord, then circumcision would stand a judgment against him and his household rather than being a sign of blessing.
    1. Moses.
      1. It was God's remembering His covenant with Abraham that caused Him to redeem His people from bondage in Egypt.
        1. Many generations after making His covenant promise to Abraham to be a God to his children and his children's children we read:
        2. "So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them" (Ex. 2:24-25).
      2. The entire Mosaic covenant was built upon the previously sworn promises of God:
        1. "Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do. All of you stand today before the LORD your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives - also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water that you may enter into covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath, which the LORD your God makes with you today, that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the LORD our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today" (Deut. 29:9-15).
        2. God's covenant promises are for individual men, their households, their "little ones," and even with those not yet born.
    2. Me and My House.
      1. We see this principle of covenant households manifest in many places in Scripture.
      2. One familiar text is where Joshua declares: "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Josh. 24:15).
    3. David.
      1. God continues to unfold His beautiful plan of redemption.
        1. Established after the fall, and revealed more and more through Noah, Abraham and Moses,
        2. It now finds further development in King David.
      2. David clearly identified his covenant relationship to God with those of Abraham and Moses.
        1. "Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant" (1 Chron. 16:15-17).
        2. As David was dying, he charged Solomon: "And keep the charge of the LORD your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; that the LORD may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul," He said, "you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel"

          (1 Kings 2:3-4).

        3. Notice again that God's beautiful covenant embraced all His previous promises, and applied them to the individuals (David and Solomon), along with their children and their children's children.
      3. The Psalms of David:
        1. "My mercy I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall stand firm with him. His seed also I will make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, if they break My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, nor allow My faithfulness to fail. My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips" (Ps. 89:28-34).
        2. "But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them" (Ps. 103:17-18).
    4. Transition From the Old to the New.
      1. The older manifestations of God's beautiful plan of redemption - His covenant of Grace - laid the foundation for the final unfolding of His plan in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
      2. Ezekiel connected the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants with the New Covenant when he said:
        1. "David My servant shall be king over them [Davidic], and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them [Mosaic]. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt [Abrahamic]; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever [Davidic]. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them [New]; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore" (Ezek. 37:24-26).
        2. As God revealed, through the prophet, the coming New Covenant would, as His covenants always had, include not only His people, but also "their children and their children's children forever."
      3. God's makes two promises at the close of the Old Testament.
        1. God brings charges against His people (a covenant lawsuit), for being unfaithful to His word.
          1. Among other things, God addresses covenant unfaithfulness in families.
          2. "And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth"
          (Mal. 2:13-15).
        2. The Last words of the Old Testament: "Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse" (Mal. 4:4-6).
    1. John the Baptist.
      1. John the Baptist was the "Elijah" promised in the book of Malachi.
        1. "He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).
        2. Central to the success of the New Covenant is the covenant faithfulness of fathers toward their children:
          1. With their hearts turned toward their children,
          2. They, like faithful Abraham, will ". . . .command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice. . . ." (Ge. 18:19).
          3. As a result, their children's hearts will be turned toward them.
      2. Many Jews had come to trust in their physical decent from Abraham and their physical circumcision to make them right with God.
        1. Since this was never the intent of God's covenant, John called them to repent of such false confidence in the flesh and to return to the original intent of God's covenant-faithfulness to the word of God-like Abraham.
        2. John warned those who had such false hope: "and do not think to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father." For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the tees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matt. 3:9-10).
    2. Jesus the Christ.
      1. The coming of Jesus, the promised Redeemer, was what the Old Testament had been all about, "Emmanuel, God is with us."
      2. Jesus confirmed God's previous historic covenants: "Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers" (Rom. 15:8).
      3. The Old Testament was not passing away, it was expanding.
        1. The everlasting covenants of the fathers, made to children and children's children, were indeed everlasting.
        2. The birth of the Redeemer proved that God never turns from His promises.
    3. The Apostles.
      1. The Apostles recognized that the relationship: "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29).
      2. On the day the New Covenant was inaugurated, the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter addressed the Jews who were assembled in Jerusalem and assured them that "the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:39).
      3. This was the familiar formula of the Abrahamic covenant, in which the promise was made to the believer Abraham, to his children, and to the nations (Gen. 17:1-8).
      4. The Apostle Paul reminds the Gentiles of their relationship to God's past and present covenants: "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:11-13).
    4. Circumcision and Baptism.
      1. God always included believers and their children in His beautiful Covenant of Grace.
        1. The New Covenant is a more glorious expansion of that same covenant.
        2. The New Covenant is more expansive, not less it exceeds he older covenants in its power, extent and finality.
        3. God never takes away blessings, He only expands them.
      2. Out proper presumption, then, is that since God had always included the children of believers in the older covenant, apart from an explicit declaration that they are to no longer be included, we should presume that the covenant sign of inclusion in the covenant should be applied to them as it always had been.
        1. The initiatory covenant sign and seal of the Old Testament was circumcision.
        2. The initiatory covenant sign and seal of the New Testament is baptism.
        3. They both carry essentially the same significance: i.e., a clean heart, repentance, regeneration and justification.
      3. Baptism, like circumcision, is essentially a spiritual sign and seal that sets us apart as God's people.
        1. It too signifies the need for, and God's gracious provision of, a renewed and cleansed heart.
        2. It points to the necessity of spiritual regeneration.
        3. Baptism unites believers and their children with God's promised Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and places them in the visible community of God's people a place of privilege.
        4. Baptism must also be responded to by faith before covenant blessings may be fully appropriated.
        5. Failure to faithfully respond to one's baptism brings covenant curses rather than covenant blessings.
      4. "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."
        1. In this passage, Paul clearly identifies the signs of circumcision and baptism with each other.
        2. As he writes to the church of the new covenant, he explains that believers are circumcised in the spiritual sense of that word, and that this spiritual circumcision takes place as they are buried with Christ in baptism.
        3. This equating of the essential meaning of circumcision and baptism could not be clearer Just as physical circumcision indicated circumcision of the heart, so now physical baptism indicates a circumcision of the heart.
    5. Confirmation - Household Baptisms.
      1. The beauty of God's redemption of His people and their households is confirmed in the pages of the New Testament.
        1. Of the nine persons mentioned in the New Testament as having been baptized, two probably did not have immediate families (Saul and the Ethiopian eunuch),
        2. We are not informed about any family of two others, (Simon Magus and Gaius).
        3. In the remaining five cases, (The Philippian Jailer, Cornelius, Lydia, Crispus, and Stephanus), the entire household was baptized.
        4. We may conclude then, that in every case where the apostles administered baptism to the known head of a household, they also administered it to his entire household.
      2. The children of believers are consecrated, set apart, made holy: "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy" (1 Cor. 7:14).
      3. What is the advantage of baptizing a child?
        1. "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:1-2).
        2. Any argument against the application of the covenant sign and seal of baptism to a child is equally an argument against the application of the covenant sign and seal of circumcision.
    6. Promises, Blessings and Curses.
      1. "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:1-6).
      2. "And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again" (Romans 11:17-23).
    7. CONCLUSION: Robert L. Dabney:

We observe some sincere Christians, whose minds are so swayed by the assertion that personal faith must be the invariable pre-requisite to baptism and admission to the church, that they seem incapable of ever entertaining the thought that the church membership of the children of believers may be reasonable and scriptural. The doctrine seems to them so great an anomaly that they cannot look dispassionately at the evidence for it. But to one who has weighed the truths set forth above, the absence of that doctrine from God's dispensations would seem the strange anomaly. To him who has appreciated the parental relation as God represents it, the failure to include it within the circuit of the visible church, to sanctify its obligations and to seal its hopes with the sacramental badge, would appear the unaccountable thing. . . .

The instrumentalities of the family are chosen and ordained of God as the most efficient of all means of grace more truly and efficaciously means of saving grace than all the other ordinances of the church. To family piety are given the best promises of the gospel, under the new, as well as under the old dispensation. How, then, should a wise God do otherwise than consecrate the Christian family, and ordain that the believing parents shall sanctify the children? Hence, the very foundation of all parental fidelity to children's souls is to be laid in the conscientious, solemn, and hearty adoption of the very duties and promises which God seals in the covenant of infant baptism. It is pleasing to think that many Christians who refuse the sacrament do, with a happy inconsistency, embrace the duties and seek the blessing. But God gives all his people the truths and promises, along with the edifying seal. Let us hold fast to both.

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