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The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers: Sovereign Grace in the Covenant Hardcover – January 1, 2006
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"The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers strikes a death blow to the heart of a heresy which is sweeping through Reformed churches." --English Churchman
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He wrote in the Preface to this 1990 pamphlet, “The particular reason for this pamphlet is… a short, clear, but comprehensive explanation of a basic doctrine or practice or the Reformed faith. The booklet intends both to instruct and to defend the truth against popular errors. The pamphlet pleads the practical implications of a sound, Reformed covenant-view for the life of the church, the life of believing parents, and the life of the covenant child. In keeping with its special interest in the place of children in the covenant, this little work concerns itself with an aspect of this truth that is sometimes overlooked: the conversion of the covenant child.”
He explains, “my emphasis falls on the place of children in the covenant and on the conversion of the covenant children. This is the area in which some of the sharpest disagreement surfaces. Not only is this the area in which the Reformed part company with all Baptists, but it is also the arena of division within the Reformed community.” (Pg. 2) He adds, “Two vital truths must be noted before we go on to the matter of the place of children in the covenant. First, the covenant is God’s… The covenant is God’s because He conceives it, He promises it, He establishes it, He maintains it, and He perfects it. He alone does all this. He does this without the help of Abraham, of Israel, or of the church.” (Pg. 6) He continues, “the second truth… is… The covenant of God with us is all-embracing and all-dominating: The entire life of the believer… is taken up into this covenant and is controlled, arranged, and structured by the covenant. As a believer, my whole life is covenant life.” (Pg. 8)
He states, “The children of believers are included in the covenant as CHILDREN, that is, already at conception and birth. They receive forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus, the Holy Spirit of sanctification, and church membership---as children. They are called to love, fear, and obey God---as children. For they have God as their God, and are His people---as children. Therefore, they have full right to baptism. Parents must present them for baptism. And the church that would maintain the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ must see to it.” (Pg. 9)
He admits, however, that “not all of the children of believers are saved. Both parents and church experience the hard, painful fact that some of our children grow up ungodly, unbelieving, and disobedient, and perish… Scripture prepares us for this bitterest of all parental and ecclesiastical sorrows. Abraham had a grandson, Esau, who was a profane reprobate… We cannot presume that all our children are regenerate and elect. To presume this is contrary to Scripture and experience. Nor may we parents be bitter about this. For it is pure mercy that any of our children is saved.” (Pg. 12) He adds, “it is not true that our children, considered now strictly from the point of view of their natural condition, are in any better position than the heathens of the world. Our children are by nature dead in sin. A dead person in a Christian home and in the sphere of the church has no advantage over a dead person outside a Christian home and the church.” (Pg. 13)
He suggests, “Although all our children are in the sphere of the covenant and therefore receive the sign of the covenant and are reared as covenant members, the covenant of God, the relationship of friendship in Jesus Christ, is established with the elect children only. The promise of the covenant is for the elect children only. The promise does not depend on the faith of the child, but the promise itself works the faith by which the child receives the grace of the covenant in every child to whom God makes the promise. It is the elect children among our physical offspring who constitute our true children…” (Pg. 15-16) He adds, “viewing their children as God’s covenant children, believers must approach them as elect children in their teaching and discipline, even though there may indeed be reprobate and unregenerated children among them. Election determines the approach. All the children must receive the instruction that the regenerated must have and will profit from. By means of this rearing … the covenant and promise will work the fruit of conversion in the elect children.” (Pg. 20)
He also acknowledges the argument against infant baptism, “that it fills the church with young people, and finally with adults, who are manifestly unspiritual, worldly, and immoral… some Reformed churches expose the truth of this covenant to this charge by their tolerance of the ungodliness of the young people and by their refusal to discipline even the most blatant transgressors among them. All are presumed to be regenerate and saved. The result of the presumption is the death of the church as the carnal, profane seed come to dominate the church, finally driving the spiritual children out… Not all the children are included in the covenant and church of God, but the elect only. Those who are unholy must be disciplined both by sharp preaching and by church censure.” (Pg. 24-25)
Although brief, the pamphlet compresses a great deal of doctrine into its pages; it will be of great interest to Reformed Christians considering this issue.
This book is hard-core Covenant Theology, so it is of limited interest to anyone not of that persuasion. But if you are, and are interested in the "federal vision" debate, then this book is worth reading.
There is one thing I liked. Engelsma objects to some 5-Point Calvinist Baptists calling themselves "Reformed" Baptists, saying that infant baptism is an essential part of being Reformed, and that such Baptists are wrongly applying the term to themselves. I see his point. So I as one of those Baptists will start calling myself by the term used more often, and with greater accuracy, in past years--Particular Baptist.
1. How ought believers to view their children?
2. Is God\'s covenant conditional and established with all the physical children of believers, or unconditional and established only with the elect?
All this comes to a head in the debate over the exact meaning of the biblical and Reformed practice of infant baptism. The author shows that the Federal Vision heresy plaguing conservative Reformed churches has its origins and cause in a false view of baptism and wrong answers to the above 2 questions, which false views & answers are sadly common to most conservative Reformed churches.
With simple biblical arguments, the author refutes all the various "Reformed" views of infant baptism after quoting their proponents at length.
Reading the book at a time when I was not yet sure of all these matters, I would read the lengthy quotations by the various false positions and would be almost convinced by them, only to have my eyes opened immediately afterwards by reading the author\'s response to each.
In nearly all cases, the answer is most clearly shown in Scripture in Romans 9--which, contrary to common Reformed opinion, is not a chapter simply on predestination, but on predestination WITHIN THE SPHERE OF THE COVENANT (i.e. the visible church)--that God has mercy and hardens whom He wills, even from among the physical children of believers. For they are not all Israel which are OF Israel.