What’s an Exile to Do? Know that Your God Will Have the Last Word

Posted by R. Fowler White

Dear Exile, when it comes to your suffering for Christ, who will have the final say: your persecutors or your God? Notice that we’re not talking here about hurt from hard providence. We’re talking specifically about being marginalized or worse for Christ in a world that’s against Christ, suffering for what is right in a world that’s gone wrong. So again: when we Christians suffer for Christ, will our persecutors or our God have the last word? In 1 Pet 3:13–4:2, Peter provides an answer to that question, and it requires our close attention.

First, says Peter, know for sure that we who are devoted to what God calls good are blessed even if we suffer (3:13-14; cf. 4:1-2). While God’s grace prevails, we with a zeal for good and right in the sight of all have no extraordinary fear of hindrance or harm. Yet even when we do suffer unjustly, we who pursue a righteous life in Christ will enjoy God’s blessing. So, Peter says, recalling God’s words to Isaiah (Isa 8:12-13), be truly fearless despite unjust suffering (3:14). Defend your hope in Christ (3:15). Even when you’re defamed, respond confidently, respectfully, and conscientiously to your accusers and thus expose their shamelessness (3:15-16). Moreover, if suffering for Christ is in God’s providential will for you, rest in His providential control of that suffering. After all, it is He who has made suffering for good better than committing evil. So, continue to do what is right (3:17) because neither your persecutors nor the suffering they inflict will have the last word.

But what assurances do we have that our enemies won’t have the final say, or that suffering for good is, in fact, better than doing evil? In 3:18–4:2, Peter points us to Christ, the supreme example of how God has the last word over suffering by giving victory and glory to all who suffer for what is right. First, the Apostle reminds us of Christ’s victory over sins: God gave us victory by making even Christ’s death the way to bring us to Himself (3:18a). The words that follow (3:18b-22), however, are harder to understand, but in my view Peter most likely refers to Christ’s resurrection and ascension (as he refers to His suffering and death in 2:21-25). He tells us that Christ, made alive in the Spirit, proclaimed His resurrection-and-ascension victory to evil spirits from Noah’s day (3:18b-20; cf. Col 2:15; 1 Tim 3:16). But why bring up His victory over those enemies? Because that victory discloses Christ’s identity as the One who will have the final say not only against persecutors of God’s church in this world, but also against those in the world before the flood. In that old world, righteous Noah and his household suffered but overcame their enemies. Among those enemies were (evidently) disobedient angels (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; cf. 1 Pet 3:22) who breached the boundaries of their proper realm and seduced the ungodly in Noah’s generation to defy the patience God was showing them, all while Noah built the ark and proclaimed God’s promise of deliverance with His warning of judgment. Those evil angelic spirits, kept in prison since the judgment in Noah’s day, have now heard Christ’s victory proclamation. They have heard how, in this world, Christ the righteous suffered but overcame His enemies in His glorious exaltation. And His victory proclamation to those enemies from Noah’s day tells them and us just how comprehensive His victory is. It is Christ’s victory that makes suffering the way to glory. It is Christ’s victory that defeats both angelic and human foes. It is Christ’s victory that reaches from earth to heaven and even to hell. It is Christ’s victory that settles accounts both in this world and in the old world as it identifies Him as the Judge who will dispense final judgment and final salvation. It is Christ’s victory, then, that is so all-encompassing that it leaves all persecutors, even evil angels from the old world, with nothing more to say. His word is the last word.

Considering the ramifications of Christ’s victory, Peter reminds us that, like those passengers in Noah’s ark, we too will overcome our spiritual enemies (3:20b-21). As the visible church in the old world, Noah and his household endured opposition. Their baptism, however, made a visible distinction between them and the world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with them and their solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him. Likewise, Christ and the households of faith are the visible church in this world, and we too endure opposition. Our baptism, however, also makes a visible distinction between us and this world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with us and our solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him (4:1-2; 3:16). So, just as the baptism of Noah and his household signified their victory over the old world in the LORD of the flood (Ps 29:10), our baptism signifies our victory over this world in Christ.

Finally, the Apostle has us look again to Christ, this time as the One through whom our baptism becomes an effectual means of our salvation (3:21-22; WLC Q. 161). No, Peter does not teach here that baptism becomes effectual by any power in it or in whoever administers it. Rather, he teaches that baptism becomes effectual as it represents and confirms to believers all the benefits that God promises to them in Christ, and as the Holy Spirit, with Christ’s blessing, works through it to increase and strengthen the saving grace of faith in them. In this context, then, the Apostle would have us who believe to see our baptism as a sign and seal of the victories that are ours in Christ: in His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His session at the Father’s right hand. With those victories in view, how can we not share Peter’s confidence that, even while we suffer, we’ll keep dying to sin and living for God (4:1-2; 2:21)?! How can we not be fully assured that, because victory and glory are ours in Christ, the last word belongs to our God, not to our persecutors?!

A Response to Brandon Adams on 1 Corinthians 10

Brandon Adams has propounded a believer Baptist understanding of 1 Corinthians 10. His positive explanation of the passage is here, and his rejection of paedobaptist objections is here. It is worthwhile interacting with these ideas, since 1 Corinthians 10 is such an important passage in the debate, and any reasonable interpretations of the passage on a believer Baptist position are worthy of praise, since I have not met many believer Baptists who have formed many ideas concerning the passage. For my purposes, I will mainly interact with the rejection of paedobaptist false inferences post. I read the other post, and may refer to it occasionally, but the substance of what I wish to say concerns what he says about paedobaptist interpretations of the passage.

Almost immediately, we run into some problems, namely, with how Adams describes the paedo position. There does not seem to be a recognition that paedobaptists do, in fact, advocate some aspects of discontinuity and progression as history moves from Israel to the church. For example, paedos argue that the sign changes from bloody to bloodless (going from circumcision to baptism) because Christ’s blood has been shed, making further bloodshed unnecessary. Therefore, circumcision points forward, and baptism looks backwards. That they point to the same spiritual reality does not mean that they work in precisely the same way. Circumcision affected boys, and girls were understood to be included under their covenant head, whereas in the church, baptism is given to boys and girls alike. This kind of nuance with regard to the paedo position appears to be entirely lacking in Adams’s piece. For example, he says, “The basic thrust is that Israel and the Church are one and the same. Their situation was identical to ours.” In light of what I said above, this statement is a strawman, even with regard to Calvin’s understanding of the continuity. Calvin is talking about the spiritual situation, which is the same, undoubtedly the same. That does not mean that a carte blanche statement such as Adams’s is an accurate picture of Calvin’s views. Calvin argued that the different signs point to the same spiritual reality. That is different from saying simply that the signs are the same, and that there is absolutely no difference at all. Otherwise, why would Jesus Christ need to come at all?

Secondly, Adams goes to a great deal of trouble to try to prove that if the manna is not sacramental, then the entire paedo argument falls to the ground. It should have given him pause that when he quotes so many paedobaptists to negate Calvin’s point (which he does in the positive post and the rejection of the paedo position post), yet those paedos still argue the paedo position. Maybe the paedo position overall does not hinge on whether the manna is sacramental, and whether “the same” means “the same as what we partake of” or whether it means “they all had the same spiritual food among themselves.” To tell the truth, I have not really considered the matter of whether the manna was sacramental before reading Adams’s post, but if I had to take a position on it, I would probably say that the manna was not sacramental. It was their daily bread, and Christ does draw typological significance from the spiritual aspects of manna, but I would agree with Hodge that it falls short of sacramental significance. The typological antecedent for the Lord’s Supper is Passover, not manna, and even with Passover, there is both continuity and discontinuity. This brings us to the next point.

I am more than a bit surprised that Adams brought out the tired argument connecting baptism and the Lord’s Supper together, that if paedos treat baptism this way, then the Lord’s Supper must also be treated in this way, and we have to be paedocommunionist in order to be consistent. This argument has been so thoroughly answered by Cornel Venema’s book Children at the Lord’s Table? that it is irresponsible for a credo Baptist simply to throw this argument in paedos’ faces as if we have never considered the matter before. Almost every major paedo treatment of the subject answers this objection. Adams references precisely zero answers to this objection. The two important points that have to be said in response are these. 1. The paedo position recognizes that the two sacraments have important differences, differences strong enough to preclude treating them in the same way that credos say we must. These differences mostly involve the difference between passive reception in baptism, and both passive and active components in the Lord’s Supper. The reason for this difference is 1 Corinthians 11, which is not mentioned even once in Adams’s piece (also irresponsible, since it is directly relevant to his objection, and is part of the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 10). 1 Corinthians 11 describes how the Lord’s Supper is to be engaged. See Venema’s book for a thorough treatment of the passage. His conclusions are that 1 Corinthians 11 describes how all people are to partake, and that this requirement precludes infants from participating. So, if 1 Corinthians 10 comes in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, it wouldn’t matter whether the manna was sacramental or not, since chapter 11 would modify the participation aspect for today’s church.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The last section of Tom Hicks’s piece critiquing paedobaptism has to do with inconsistencies in the paedobaptist position. What I will show is that Mr. Hicks does not accurately describe the paedobaptism position, and thus the inconsistencies he sees do not exist.

The first two inconsistencies are very similar in form: the paedobaptist churches exclude people from baptism who shouldn’t be excluded, if the Old Testament circumcision inclusion is the pattern. This argument becomes clearer when he states, “Paedobaptists argue that infants should be incorporated into the covenant of grace on the basis of old covenant membership.” This is a bit unclear, since paedobaptists would not argue that we are members of the old covenant. Still, what Mr. Hicks is getting at, presumably, is this form of argument that paedos use: the position of children in the Old Testament covenants is analogous to their position in the New Testament covenant. But, by putting the argument this way, it appears that Hicks has not put the argument the way most paedos would put it. Children are not baptized on the basis of old covenant membership. We would instead say that infant inclusion in the Old Testament covenants is one argument among several arguments that children of believers ought to be baptized today.

Now for the two particular cases of exclusion he mentions, spouses and servants, I would respond by saying that there are aspects of discontinuity between Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant that explain the differences in how these two particular groups of people are seen. The basis of covenantal inclusion in the New Testament is faith (Galatians 3), or being the child of a professing believer (1 Cor. 7). In the Old Testament covenants, it was simply physical descent. So, for spouses, in the Old Testament covenants, they were included under the federal headship of the husband or father, but obviously could not receive the sign of circumcision, nor could any girl, for that matter. Mr. Hicks has to ignore this discontinuity in order to make the claim of inconsistency with regard to spousal treatment. If a spouse is an unbeliever today, she does not have the physical Israeli descent necessarily (presuming she was not baptized herself as an infant) to make the basis of baptism solid. But then paedos would never argue that Israeli descent would make baptism appropriate! The principle is that of households, yes, but adults who wish to be baptized should follow the pattern of Acts. Paedos merely deny that the general pattern of Acts is true for children, given what Peter says in Acts 2 about the promise being given for the children, and what Paul says in 1 Cor. 7 about the positional holiness of children of even one believing spouse.

With regard to servants, how many believing households today even have servants that can be reckoned as part of the household? Almost all servants today are day job employees who don’t live in the house they serve. If there was a situation, however, where a household had such a servant, I would be quite willing to baptize that person, though not against their will. There is no command in the New Testament to force baptism on people who reject the idea. And I would urge the servant to profess faith as well, by my sharing the gospel with him or her.

The third inconsistency Hicks sees is that paedobaptist churches will not baptize the children of non-professing baptized church members. There is direct biblical warrant for this practice in 1 Corinthians 7, contrary to Hicks’s position. Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the children of a believing parent are not unclean but holy. If that one parent is believing, then they should be professing their faith. When the church is assured that the parent is a believing parent (by profession of faith), then the children are regarded as positionally holy, and eligible for baptism. There may be a delay between the time when a believing parent says they believe and when they profess their faith in front of the church. However, I don’t know a single paedobaptist pastor who would allow a believing parent to continue indefinitely in a non-professing mode of church membership. That would be gross pastoral neglect.

The last inconsistency has really already been answered above with reference to the difference of the principle of covenant membership. Covenantal headship of the family remains similar between Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant. However, the basis for covenantal inclusion of households is different. In the Old Testament, it was descent from Abraham. In the New Testament, it is faith. These principles are biblically-theological related, in that faith is the new way of being Abraham’s children (Galatians 3). So, actually, I can turn the argument around and say that the profession of faith of a believer today is precisely the way we show continuity between the Abrahamic promises and the New Covenant!

I greatly appreciate the brotherly, kind way in which Mr. Hicks has engaged the paedobaptist position, and hope that, if he reads my response, he will take my critique as being given in the same way.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

In part 3 of his critique of paedobaptism, Mr. Hicks attempts to argue that a proper understanding of the regulative principle of worship is inconsistent with infant baptism. His argument runs like this: 1. The RPW forbids any element of worship not explicitly commanded in the New Testament Scriptures. 2. Infant baptism is not explicitly commanded in the New Testament Scriptures. 3. Therefore, infant baptism falls foul of the RPW. He goes further to try to answer some Reformed responses. Some Reformed folk might respond by saying that OT circumcision is the route to consistency with the RPW. He answers that circumcision is only commanded in the OT. A second possible response is that infant baptism is only a circumstance, not an element. His response is that infant baptism is an element.

There are many ways to pursue an answer to this part of the argument, which I consider to be the weakest in the piece. He betrays a misunderstanding both of the RPW and the doctrine of infant baptism as understood by the Reformed. Firstly, he misunderstands the RPW. The RPW is not limited only to what is explicitly commanded in the NT Scriptures. An element could be implied by apostolic example. Secondly, there is more biblical-theological continuity between OT and NT worship than he allows. OT worship most certainly had the call to worship (present in many of the Psalms), singing of Psalms, preaching of the Word, prayer, and benediction, all things that are commanded in the NT (though benedictions only by example!).

Secondly, he misunderstands the Reformed view of infant baptism. He treats it as though Reformed folk believe it is a completely separate thing from an adult baptism. It is not so. The Reformed believe there is only one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. There is not a separate adult baptism element of worship and an infant baptism element of worship. There is only baptism. And baptism is commanded. Since the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of its administration, it does not matter, in Reformed theology, whether the person comes to faith before, during, or after the sign is given. That is why infant baptism and adult baptism are the same thing.

His attempts to forestall objections fall short of the mark, since no Reformed theologian I know would claim that circumcision is what makes baptism allowable according to the NT RPW. It is rather in accordance with what is argued above: 1. Infant baptism is regular baptism; 2. Regular baptism is commanded by Jesus; therefore 3. Infant baptism is in accordance with the RPW. His other attempt to forestall is equally inaccurate, since there is no Reformed author of which I am aware who would even begin to claim that infant baptism is a circumstance. Baptism is an element, as all Reformed theologians agree.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 3

Part 1, Part 2.

In part 3, I will address the section of Tom Hick’s piece entitled “Hermeneutics.” In this section, Hick’s main point is that he believes paedobaptists are inconsistent in their application of hermeneutics. If the New Testament is the key to understanding the Old Testament, then Reformed Baptists apply the principle consistently, whereas paedobaptists do not. I am not sure he understands the Reformed paedo hermeneutic on this, however. It is not the case that we say “The NT is the key to understanding the OT” with that being understood as basically everything we would want to say about it. The entire biblical revelation is an organic, unfolding whole, which means that each part of the Bible mutually informs every other part, directly or indirectly. The key to understanding the symbolism of Revelation, for instance, consists in tracking down the given symbol in the Old Testament. While it is true that the New Testament gives us the ultimate key in Jesus Christ (via Luke 24 and John 5), there is a lot more to it than that.

Additionally, I am not sure that positing huge disagreement among paedos by citing the theonomy debate is a very fair charge. Theonomy was a thing in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but there are very few of them left. Generally speaking, the majority of the Reformed world has rejected theonomic views.

Hicks’s third point in this section is that he holds paedos to have rejected “NT priority” when it comes to Galatians 3. Hicks is misleading in describing the paedo position at this point. He says, “Paedobaptists, like Dispensationalists, believe that the promise of a physical seed in the OT ought to govern our exegesis of the NT, rather than the other way around.” This over-simplifies the paedo position. One does not have to be a child of Abraham to be in Christ. Nor do we believe in two peoples of God, contra dispensationalists. It is most unhelpful to lump paedos with dispies at this point, since this is precisely where the greatest area of disagreement between paedos and dispies lies. A dispy will say that God’s people is Israel, and the church is a parenthesis. The paedos believe there is only one family of God. The problem with Hicks’s statement is that it implies paedos believe that Abrahamic descent is the key to understanding the way that covenant applies to believers today. The principle is covenantal continuity, which works in families, not in Abrahamic descent. Now, Hicks did not say “Abrahamic descent” in painting the paedo position. However, by lumping paedos with dispies, he creates a highly misleading situation. He seemingly implies that the hermeneutic of paedos and dispies are similar on this point.

On the point of circumcision, Hicks again caricatures the paedo position. He says, “Paedobaptists, on the other hand, hold that the meaning of the sign of circumcision is determinative of the meaning of the sign of baptism, rather than allowing the NT to determine the meaning of baptism and the fulfillment of circumcision.” Not only is this not how paedos argue, he also creates a false dichotomy that assumes the discontinuity between OT and NT. Why is it “either” circumcision “or” the NT that determines the meaning of baptism? Does not Romans 4 join the two together? In addition, the actual paedo position is that circumcision points to salvation in Christ. Baptism points to salvation in Christ. They point to the same thing: Christ’s work on the cross. Paedos believe that the whole Bible, understood in an organic, unfolding way determines what both mean. Hicks is going to have a really hard time with 1 Corinthians 10, isn’t he, that posits baptism in the OT, a baptism that included infants, incidentally.

The governing basis for the Reformed hermeneutic is Christ in all of the Scriptures. Christ is portrayed from vague shadowy forms to a clearer and clearer light. But Hicks’s hermeneutic is that the OT has absolutely nothing to say about how we understand the NT. There is no reciprocity whatsoever between OT and NT hermeneutically. This is “hermeneutical dispensationalism.”

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 2

In part 1, I dealt with the first major section of Tom Hicks’s critique of paedobaptism. The second major portion of his post is entitled “Historic Reformed Baptists Had a Better Way”, which is really the second part of the first major part. So, it is connected to the first part by being the positive construction of covenant theology that is meant to replace the errant paedo theology of the covenant of grace.

They believed there is only one covenant of grace, the same in its saving substance, running through the whole Bible, but they believed that this saving covenant is distinct from the OT covenants.

Obviously, the “they” refers to historic Reformed Baptist theologians. As I have said before, paedos can affirm this on one level. The question is just exactly how the new covenant is distinct from the OT covenants. As it stands, however, and given what he said above, Mr. Hicks’s statement is self-contradictory. What he means really to say is that salvation was not really in the OT covenants, but was only backwardly enforced after the NT covenant came into play, and yet he says that the only one covenant of grace, “the same in its saving substance,” runs through the whole Bible. Which is it? Is Christ really present in the OT covenants or not? This reminds me vividly of the Christotelic debate that has continued for a while regarding the teaching of Pete Enns et al. Jesus says that Moses wrote about Him (John 5). The Christotelic guys say that this is not essentially true, but only in retrospect, after a second reading, and has nothing to do with the human author’s original intent. That 1 Peter 1:10-12 says otherwise doesn’t seem to bring any of them up short. Again, the ambiguous situation I noted at the end of the last post is here as well. My guess is that the reason Mr. Hicks doesn’t want to say Christ is actually in the OT covenants is this brings way too much continuity between OT and NT. The more continuity there is, the more likelihood there is of children being treated the same way in both portions of the Bible.

So what is the distinction between OT and NT covenant administrations? It is the difference between type and antitype, between looking forward and looking backward, and between bloody and bloodless. Some author or another, I forget who, said “same girl, different dress.” What is promised in both is salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Circumcision pointed to this, as does baptism. Passover pointed to this, as does the Lord’s Supper. Both OT and NT versions of the sacraments all point to Christ as Savior. Let me explain. Circumcision was never just about the promised land. It was also about the promised seed. In Genesis 17, God promises an everlasting covenant (7), to be their God forever (7). It was for the son on the eighth day. On the eighth day, his foreskin would be cut. Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4 prove that the physical cutting symbolized a spiritual cutting off of the old man. But more than that, the eighth day and the promise to the seed, point forward to Jesus being cut off on the eighth day. Circumcision points to Jesus. Passover is even easier to see, since Paul actually calls Jesus our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). The ultimate passing over of sinners happens when Christ interposes His precious blood on the wooden frame of the cross, so that the wrath of God against sin may pass over us. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper pointing to Christ are not really in dispute here.

First, Christ’s mediation of the new covenant is what redeemed sinners under the old covenant. Historic Baptists taught that the covenant of grace is identical to the new covenant. The covenant of grace, however, was “promised” under the old covenant, but it is now fulfilled in the death of Christ. It was progressively revealed under the old covenant, but it is now formally concluded and enacted through the death of Christ. The OT saints were saved by virtue of the new covenant promise “breaking in” to the old covenant (Rom 9:8; Gal 3:29; 4:23, 28). Old Testament saints were not saved by virtue of the old covenant, but by virtue of the promise of the new. Thus, there is only one covenant of grace, the same in substance from Genesis to Revelation.

Here there is certainly disagreement. The covenant of grace begins with the promise of God to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, and continues through all the OT covenants. It is not identical to the new covenant. It encompasses all the iterations of the covenant of grace. If it were identical to the new covenant, then the Abrahamic covenant could not be called everlasting, as God calls it in Genesis 17:7. Nor could the seed promised to Abraham be called Christ by Paul in Galatians 3. Nor could the promise of 2 Samuel 7 be applied to Christ. God promised Christ to David. That was the substance of the Davidic covenant, just like the Seed was the substance of the Abrahamic covenant. Maybe Mr. Hicks should read O. Palmer Robertson’s book The Christ of the Covenants, and revise his opinions somewhat.

Second, Christ’s mediation in the covenant of grace saves all its members. Hebrews 9:15 says, “a death has occurred that redeems them.” Just a few verses earlier in Hebrews 9:12, we’re told that Christ entered the holy places as the Mediator of the new covenant, “by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Earlier in Hebrews 7:22, it says, “This makes Jesus the guarantor [or surety] of a better covenant.” A surety is someone who fulfills the legal obligations of someone who cannot fulfill them. Christ’s death effectuates the salvation of all those in this covenant. Who is in the covenant? Verse 15 says “those who are called” are in the new covenant.

Third, unbelievers were never in the covenant of grace (because of numbers 1 and 2). The covenant of grace was only made with the elect in Christ. It effectually saves all its members because they are under Christ’s effectual mediation. Therefore, since unbelieving infants (and unbelievers of any kind) were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, then neither are they part of the covenant of grace under the new covenant.

I don’t think most paedos would disagree fundamentally with the paragraph marked “second.” Christ saves His elect, and only the elect. He is only a Mediator to the elect, and only the elect possess the substance of the covenant. Those belonging to the administration have none of those benefits, as I said in the previous post.

As for his third paragraph, we would agree that unbelievers are never in the covenant of grace as to substance. But to say that therefore there can be no attachment of any kind unless it be saving presents the same problem I brought up before: what do Baptists do about the unbelieving professors who are yet members of their churches? Are they really in the church? The judgment of charity would say that they are members of the church, but not members of Christ. They are part of the visible church, but not the invisible. We would add, they have the benefits of the administration of the covenant, but not the essence of the covenant.

As for his claim that unbelieving infants and unbelievers of any kind were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, this is patently false. Why would Ishmael receive circumcision, the sign of the covenant, even AFTER God told Abraham that the promised line would not go through Ishmael? See the sequence of Genesis 17:13, 18, 19, and 23. If Ishmael had no attachment whatsoever to the covenant (see especially verse 19!), then there is no way he should have been given the sign of the covenant, on Mr. Hicks’s argument. And yet, all who were in Abraham’s house were circumcised. It was a household circumcision. This is proof positive that Mr. Hicks’s claim is off here. Is Mr. Hicks really suggesting that circumcised Israelites who were unbelievers had no connection to the covenant of grace whatsoever? In my opinion, this is absurd.

In conclusion, the Reformed Baptist doctrine of the covenant of grace avoids the problems of the paedobaptist while preserving the unity of the gospel throughout the Scriptures.

Mr. Hicks has not preserved the unity of the gospel throughout the Scripture. He argues that it is not really present in the OT. Only retroactively does the gospel apply to OT believers.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 1

Mr. Tom Hicks, over at the Founders Ministries, has done a great service in the debate on the proper subjects of baptism by encapsulating the Reformed Baptist objections to the paedo position in a succinct, yet cogent way. In the spirit of his irenic comments, I wish to interact with him in this series of posts, showing how a paedobaptist would respond to his objections. I will take one major section of his post in each one of mine. So, on to section 1, on the covenant of grace.

The Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the “covenant of grace” is the theological basis of their doctrine of infant baptism. They correctly teach that after Adam’s fall, the whole Bible is unified by one covenant of grace. But they also teach that the covenant of grace has the same substance (essence) with different, but similar, administrations (forms) throughout the Scriptures. This is where Reformed Baptists disagree with them. The language of substance and administration is critical to understanding their view. They believe that the elect are redeemed by the saving “substance” of the covenant of grace, while the external and legal “administration” of the covenant of grace is mixed with the elect and non-elect by way of infant baptism.

Mr. Hicks has put his finger on the central issue right at the outset: the nature of the covenant of grace. He agrees with paedos that the Bible is unified by one covenant of grace. Or does he? Later on, he says the following:

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators.

If read too quickly, this may seem to contradict what he said in the earlier quoted section. However, what he means by this becomes clear later in the article: the only way OT saints could be saved was by believing in the promise, and that Jesus’ work in the new covenant is what saves the OT believers. The thing is, this is what paedos believe, too. We also (with the Baptists) believe that passage in Hebrews that says the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Abraham, as Paul would say in Romans 4, was indeed justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This becomes especially clear in Romans 4:23-25, where Paul ascribes the same faith to us as Abraham had. The only difference is that Abraham believed in the promised Jesus Christ and we believe in the given Jesus Christ. Mr. Hicks does put his finger on a key difference when he speaks about the substance versus the administration of the covenant of grace, but when it comes to how OT saints were saved, he does not accurately portray the paedo position, which is actually the same as the credo.

Where I would critique the second block-quote is in how he describes the paedo position with regard to his description of the older administrations of the covenant of grace. He says they “were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators.” I disagree. The OT administrations of the covenant of grace were founded on the promises of land and seed, ultimately promising The Seed (Jesus) and the “land” of the new heavens and the new earth. This, however, is a relatively minor point with regard to this particular debate.

The more important point has to do with the essence/administration distinction. So, going back to the first block-quote, and now adding his first objection to the essence/administration distinction:

First, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace undermines the efficacy of Christ’s mediation and cross-work. Paedobaptist theology teaches that Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace. The book of Hebrews declares that Christ’s mediation means that He reconciles His covenant people to the Father, that He is a testator who gives His blessings freely and unconditionally, and a surety who pays all their debts. Paedobaptists must either explain how Christ can be the mediator of the covenant of grace for non-elect and unregenerate people (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy), or they must explain how Christ can be the mediator of a covenant without being the mediator of everyone in that covenant (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy). If they say that Christ mediates for those in the outward administration of the covenant of grace, they must explain how Christ’s blood, signified by baptism, covers unregenerate people in the covenant of grace without effecting their salvation. Any explanation they give will approximate Arminian definitions of the atonement.

The force of this objection can be easily seen in the way the FV’ers have responded to objections like this: the FV’ers will go whole hog Arminian with regard to the non-decretally-elect and what they receive in the covenant. In my opinion, this first objection of Mr. Hicks is the most substantive of the three. Paedos would answer the objection along the following lines: 1. Only the essence of the covenant has salvation attached to it. The administration of the covenant, which does involve non-elect people, has never had any promise of salvation attached to it, any more than there is a guarantee of people coming to faith in a Baptist church simply by attending. Nevertheless, it is a great benefit to the non-elect to hear the words of salvation preached to them. It can have a restraining effect on their sin. It can make them less likely to oppose the gospel, and other good things could happen, things that have nothing to do with salvation. Just as God promised to Abraham that he and his offspring would be a blessing to the nations (without ever promising that the said blessing would always be salvation!), we can see that the blessings given to the elect overflow in non-salvific ways to the non-elect. Wasn’t Joseph a blessing to Egypt? Some of the Egyptians came up with Israel in the Exodus, but most stayed in Egypt as part of the non-elect. Maybe an illustration will help here: when we look at a light source, there is an aura around that light that covers a larger area than the light itself. This is, approximately, how paedos see the essence/administration distinction. Paedos who are not FV categorically deny that any saving benefits whatsoever accrue to the administration of the covenant.

2. The substance/administration distinction has great explanatory power when it comes to the apostasy passages in Hebrews 6 and elsewhere. What did those who fall away have? They didn’t have salvation. On this, paedos and credos would certainly agree. But what the paedos would say they had was access to the means of grace by being part of the administration of the covenant of grace. They had more than someone completely unrelated to God’s people would have.

3. The objection posits a dichotomy that is false. Mr. Hicks says that our position either entails the mediatorship of Christ for non-elect people, or that Christ must be mediator of only part of the people in the covenant. This all-or-nothing approach, however, assumes the credo position on the subjects related to the covenant of grace. Christ is not mediator for non-elect people. Period. The essence of the covenant is salvation. But being connected to the covenant could happen in more than one way: one saving, one non-saving. I have used this illustration before in FV debates, and it will help here, I think. There are two main kinds of branches on apple trees: fruit-bearing, and what are called “suckers.” The former are straightforward fruit-bearing branches of the tree, participating in the life of the tree, and bearing fruit. The suckers are basically parasites, taking sap from the tree but not bearing any fruit. John 15 and the parable of the vine and the branches is talking about this kind of distinction. The suckers are not-elect and never have any kind of saving benefits. But there is some kind of attachment to the vine described in that passage, one that is well illustrated by the difference between fruit-bearing vines versus suckers. The suckers, or non-fruit-bearing will be cut off, eventually, and burned. Whatever kind of relationship they had to Christ, it was 1. non-saving, but still it was something, and not nothing. John 15 is extraordinarily hard to explain on Mr. Hicks’s construction of covenant membership. There are members of the church who claim to be members but are not saved, even in (shockingly!) Baptist churches! Even Baptists call them members of their church, unless the particular church doesn’t even have church membership. The substance/administration distinction is roughly the same distinction as the visible/invisible church distinction. Unless the Baptists are willing to say that every member of their churches actually is saved, they will have to come up with some way of explaining the slippage between those claiming to be saved, versus those who actually are saved. If Baptists are willing to say that the unsaved were at one point actually members of the church, then I can raise a gigantic tu quoque at this point: you Baptists have the exact same problem as we paedos have, only you have to explain how it is that Christ died for the church, and all the church’s members, but didn’t die for the non-elect who yet claim to be saved, and are on your membership roll! You have the exact same problem with regard to Christ’s mediatorship in relation to the church. The difference is that we also use the Bible’s covenantal categories to explain the situation, whereas the Baptists have to leave the covenantal language out when talking about the church.

Mr. Hicks’s second point is actually the same point as the first, only in different terms (federal headship) and applied to infants:

Second, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace confuses (joins together) the headships of Adam and Christ. Because paedobaptists include unregenerate infants within the covenant of grace, they diminish the headship of Christ in one of two ways. One, they may say that baptized infants are no longer in Adam and under the curse of the covenant of works, but are under Christ’s headship in a way that might condemn them to hell. On this view, it is very hard to see how Christ’s covenant is a “covenant of grace.” It is, rather, a covenant of grace/justification and wrath/condemnation, which is hardly a comfort or blessing to all who are in it.

Federal headship is tied to the essence of the covenant, not the administration. This is an easier objection to answer. Only those who have faith have passed from Adamic headship to Christic headship. This is possible for infants (John the Baptist, King David are biblical examples), but not automatic. The administration points to the essence just as preaching points to Christ, and the sacraments point to Christ. As said above, these benefits preach salvation in Christ, and even have a non-saving benefit for the non-elect.

Two, paedobaptists may say that unregenerate baptized infants in the administration of the covenant of grace are “in Adam” (the covenant of works) and “in Christ” (the covenant of grace) simultaneously. These infants would be in the inward “substance” of the covenant of works, but the outward “administration” of the covenant of grace. Such a view would undermine the efficacy of Christ’s atonement because it places unregenerate children of believers under Christ’s mediation, and under His blood, while affirming the child’s condemnation in Adam.

I don’t know of any paedos who would say that any person can be represented by both heads simultaneously. As said above, the administration of the covenant of grace does not bestow union with Christ. So, paedos (who are non-FV) would not use the term “in Christ” to describe those who belong only to the administration of the covenant of grace. Even the “in me” of John 15:2 does not imply union with Christ.

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators. The OT covenants of promise commanded their members to trust the Lord, to love the Lord, and obey the Lord. But the OT covenants did not provide their members with the power to obey their commands. The shed blood of animals and human mediators never gave grace needed for regeneration, justification, sanctification, and perseverance. That only comes from the shed blood of Christ and His mediation. The paedobaptist notion of a “saving substance” in the OT covenants is foreign to the Bible.

I have answered this partially above, but a few more thoughts on the rest of the paragraph are in order. Does he really believe that the Holy Spirit was not given to OT saints? This is dispensational teaching, not Reformed teaching. He seems to be laboring under the lack of distinction between the Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost, which had to do with giving offices/gifts to people, versus the regenerative power of the salvific presence of the Holy Spirit, which was most certainly present in OT saints. Furthermore, his position opens itself up to a highly ambiguous situation. Is the substance of the OT covenants Christ or not? If it is, then the substance of the OT covenants is the same as that of the new, which he did seem to imply when he said, “They correctly teach that after Adam’s fall, the whole Bible is unified by one covenant of grace.” But now he wants to say that the substance of the OT is not the saving covenant of grace at all. Obviously I agree (and paedos, too) that it wasn’t the shed blood of animals and human mediators itself that gives grace for justification. But that is quite different from saying that OT saints didn’t have those things. They did. And it was the blood of animals and human mediators that pointed to the blood of the Lamb and the One Mediator to end all mediators. The substance of the OT covenants was in promise form, yes. But that promise form still presents Christ Himself, and it is by the promised Christ that OT believers were saved. Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day. He saw it and was glad, Jesus tells us. Mr. Hicks’s position on this is confusing.

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Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 5 (Section 2)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In this final installment of our review of Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, we take up the book’s second division, consisting of eight brief essays devoted to a systematic presentation of the relationships between the Abrahamic, old, Davidic, and new covenants. (For good measure, Johnson also offers an appendix on how the law of Moses relates to the law of Christ. “In short,” he concludes, “the Law of Christ is nothing less than the Law of Moses fulfilled in the life of Christ” [p. 253].) Overall, his stated goal in the second section is “to explain the continuity and discontinuity of the old and new covenants by revealing the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant” (p. 207, emphasis original). That dichotomy (i.e., “dual nature”) refers to the two distinct dimensions (i.e., “sides”) of God’s one covenant with Abraham: the natural-earthly-conditional side and the spiritual-heavenly-unconditional side. For Johnson, this dualism is the key to understanding the continuity and discontinuity of God’s covenants. Let’s summarize his main points.

As for Abraham, God pledged to give the patriarch seed and land (among other things), and He fulfills those promises in two forms. There was a provisional fulfillment in the form of a natural seed and an earthly land. These were shadows and types of the permanent fulfillment to come in the form of a spiritual seed and a heavenly land. Significantly, the fulfillments differed as to their basis. The provisional fulfillment for Abraham’s natural seed was conditioned on their faithfulness to God; the permanent fulfillment for Abraham and his spiritual seed was not conditioned on their faithfulness to God, but on God’s faithfulness to them. In light of these factors, says Johnson, God’s covenant with Abraham had a dual nature: it was both conditional and unconditional.

So, how does the Abrahamic covenant relate to the old and new covenants? The old and new covenants are the two sides of the Abrahamic covenant enacted consecutively in two separate covenants. Specifically, the old covenant was an extension of the conditional side of God’s covenant with Abraham, elaborating the works God required to fulfill His promises. The new covenant, on the other hand, is an extension of the unconditional side of God’s covenant with Abraham, elaborating the grace God provides to fulfill His promises. Going on to relate the old covenant to the new covenant, Johnson argues that the old covenant was the conditional covenant of works that had to be satisfied so that the new unconditional covenant of grace might be fulfilled. In light of all this, Johnson says, we understand better how the Abrahamic and old covenants relate to Christ. That is, the conditional side of the Abrahamic covenant, and its extension in the old covenant, were a covenant of works that Christ had to satisfy in order to become the mediator of the unconditional side of the Abrahamic covenant, namely, the new covenant of grace. Thus, the dichotomous Abrahamic covenant, the conditional old covenant, and the unconditional new covenant are all fulfilled because of Christ’s faithfulness.

For the sake of completeness, Johnson also has us ask how the Abrahamic covenant related to the Davidic covenant. Johnson’s answer: the Davidic covenant had the same dual nature as the Abrahamic. God promised David seed and throne, and He fulfills those promises in two forms. There was a provisional form of a natural seed and an earthly throne, the fulfillment of which was conditioned on the faithfulness of David’s natural seed to God. That form foreshadowed the future permanent form of a miraculous seed and a heavenly throne, the fulfillment of which was conditioned on God’s faithfulness to David and that miraculous seed. In this way, Johnson urges us to see that the conditional side of the Davidic covenant, elaborated in the old covenant, was a covenant of works that Christ had to satisfy in order to ascend the heavenly throne and fulfill the new covenant of grace, which is the unconditional side of the Davidic covenant.

In response to Section 2 of Johnson’s book, three (more or less) quick observations. First, it’s hard not to read these essays without wondering if they should have appeared much earlier in the book so that the reader could see better the whole picture into which Johnson fits the pieces of his argumentation. Second, Johnson needs to explain more thoroughly how the historical covenants are an outworking of the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son. For many, that exercise helps to clarify how individual election is a narrower circle within the broader circle of the covenant community polity that has been in effect from the beginning. Third and last, there is profit in Johnson’s comments on the dual nature of God’s covenant with Abraham when he says that to fulfill His promises, the old covenant elaborates the works God requires, while the new covenant elaborates the grace He provides. Johnson is mistaken, however, when he posits that the two sides of the Abrahamic covenant were enacted separately and consecutively in, respectively, the old covenant of works and the new covenant of grace. Rather, they are both administrations of the two sides of the one dichotomous covenant of grace. Yes, we can agree that the old covenant was continuous with the covenant of works (with Adam) in that it effectively (and no doubt more elaborately) republished the demands and sanctions of the first covenant of works. The old covenant, however, was not merely continuous with that covenant of works; it was not merely a reissuance or a republication of that covenant. It was also discontinuous with that covenant in a key way that points to a crucial flaw in Johnson’s thesis: it was discontinuous in that it also republished the promises of the Surety who would satisfy the covenant of works. Significantly, those promises, introduced only after the fall (Gen 3.15), were themselves formalized and elaborated in subsequent administrations of the one covenant of grace, not least in the various prophecies, shadows, and types of the old covenant. In the old covenant, then, along with the Abrahamic, the Davidic, and the new covenants, God has consistently discipled His people, teaching them both about the works He requires and about the grace He provides in the Surety. That being the case, old covenant discipleship was covenant-of-grace discipleship, instructing and building up the elect in their faith in Christ, so that the salvation received under the old covenant was the same in all respects as that received under the new covenant.

Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 4 (Chs. 12-16)

Posted by R. Fowler White

We turn now to part 4 of our review of Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw (2010), looking at chs. 12-16. Together these chapters conclude the first division of Johnson’s treatment of the covenantal framework in which paedobaptism is rooted. (He’ll devote the second division to what he calls “Covenantal Dichotomism.” In it he’ll discuss the relationships between the Abrahamic, old, Davidic, and new covenants.) The focus here is on a) four key differences between the old and new covenants, b) the nature of the new covenant, c) the meaning of circumcision, and d) the error of integrating the flesh and the spirit. From this brief summary, the reader will sense some intentional repetition in Johnson’s presentation, as he collates and, to a degree, sharpens his lines of argument.

In chs. 12-13 Johnson reminds us that the old and new covenants differ as to their participants, substance, duration, and efficacy. First, he insists once more that the new covenant guarantees the salvation of all its participants, whereas the old covenant did not (as OT history shows). In response, we emphasize once again that his claim is predicated on the false premise that, even before judgment day, the new covenant is meant to separate the elect from the reprobate and to define the community formed under it as coextensive with individual election. Historical covenant and individual election, however, are not coextensive. Second, Johnson moves on to represent paedobaptists as mixing old covenant shadows with new covenant realities by connecting infant circumcision with baptism. No, it isn’t old covenant shadows to which we cling; instead we cling to the creation ordinances of family and parental authority that have been constitutive of covenant polity from the beginning. Third, despite Johnson’s odd claim to the contrary (p. 158), paedobaptists don’t deny that the old covenant is obsolete (cf. Heb 8.13). What we deny is that the covenants’ difference in duration annuls their sameness in substance: both covenants set forth the gospel of the promised Surety, the old in types, the new in antitypes. Fourth, Johnson repeats his claim that, unlike the old covenant, the new covenant is effectual for justifying, regenerating, and sanctifying all who are brought into its membership. We can agree that the two covenants differ in power, but Johnson’s claim about all new covenant members does not follow unless he can show 1) that the new covenant is only an administration of salvation to the elect, and 2) that the people brought into its membership, before judgment day, are only the elect in Christ. This he has not done.

Moving on to ch. 14, Johnson again discusses the nature of the new covenant, restating his position that the old covenant principles of parental headship, theocracy, racial distinctiveness, and racial perpetuity don’t apply in the new covenant. Though we agree that certain old covenant principles that preserved Christ’s lineage have ended, we cannot agree with Johnson’s assertions, quoting Jer 31.29-30, that “under the Mosaic Covenant children were not viewed independently” of their parents’ headship and that parents’ headship over their children “would be completely eradicated” under the new covenant (pp. 175-76). Both assertions are demonstrably false. On the one hand, under the old covenant, children were in fact “viewed independently” of their parents’ headship (Jer 31.30 echoes Deut 24.16). On the other hand, under the new covenant, it’s not that parental headship ends; rather it’s that, as people confess that each person suffers for his own sins, they stop complaining that “innocent children” (present generations) suffer unjustly for the sins of their “fathers” (past generations). Far from being eradicated under Christ’s new covenant lordship, parental headship continues to be constitutive of covenant polity.

In ch. 15, Johnson revisits the topic of circumcision, this time to debunk the paedobaptist teaching that circumcision was a sign of the covenant of grace for all of Abraham’s biological seed just as it was for Abraham. Johnson contends that, according to Rom 4.11, circumcision was a sign of the covenant of grace only for Abraham and for those who shared his faith, but it was a sign of the (old) covenant of works for those who received circumcision without or before faith. Here again, Johnson begs the question of what counts as a covenant of grace, presuming that the covenant of grace is only an administration of guaranteed blessing and thus that circumcision is only an index of faith. This construct, however, misses the two sides of circumcision in the context of the two-sided covenant of grace. As we’ve been saying, the covenant of grace is not just a guarantee of blessing, but is an administration of both curse (Gen 12.3b; 17.14) and blessing (Gen 12.2-3; 17.4-8). Within that context, circumcision presented both sanctions to sinners. To be sure, circumcision signified the blessing of justification (Rom 4.11) to sinners who by faith (Gen 15.6) found righteousness in the covenant’s Surety, Abraham’s true Heir, who would obey God’s demands (Gen 17.1b). Yet circumcision also signified the curse of judgment to sinners who would (and could) not obey God’s demands (Gen 17.1b, 9-14), and to them circumcision became uncircumcision (Rom 2.25). Overall, it’s not, as Johnson claims, that circumcision was a sign of the covenant of grace to those who received it in faith but a sign of the covenant of works to those who received it without or before faith; rather it’s that circumcision was the two-sided sign of God’s two-sided covenant of grace, signifying to sinners—parents and their children alike—especially His promises of justification and life and also His threats of judgment and death.

In ch. 16, Johnson turns his attention to discrediting the paedobaptist teaching on the genealogical principle, of which Gen 17.10-13 is a key expression. To realize his aim, Johnson evaluates what he identifies as three paedobaptist beliefs: 1) what was true of Abraham’s seed must be equally true of every new covenant believer’s seed; 2) what was true of the covenants before the new covenant must be true of the new covenant; and 3) what was true of covenant households before the new covenant must be true of new covenant households. In these claims, Johnson says, paedobaptists persist in combining, as the covenants before the new covenant did, what the new covenant requires them to separate: flesh and spirit (the physical/natural and the spiritual/supernatural). Sounding like a broken record, we point out once more that Johnson again presumes that, before judgment day, the new covenant is intended to separate spirit from flesh and to identify all members gathered under it as siblings reborn of the Spirit. Though we join Johnson in his desire not to depreciate the progress of covenant history, we can’t join him as he falls for the opposite error of prematurely ushering in the world to come. That is, by arguing for baptism and the covenant of grace as he does, he would have the final separation of flesh and spirit already being realized, even while the member-branches of Abraham’s covenant family tree are still weighing the kindness and the severity of God (Rom 11.17-22).

Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 3 (Chs. 7-11)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Continuing with part 3 of our review of Jeffrey’s Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, we come to chs. 7-11 where Johnson carries on with what he calls his “direct and pointed attack on the covenantal framework in which paedobaptism is rooted” (p. 21). Our focus here is on his arguments devoted to the problems of conditions and covenant breakers (i.e., apostates) in paedobaptist covenant theology (chs. 7-9) and to the deficiencies and purpose of the old covenant (chs. 10-11).

As Johnson discusses in chs. 7-9 paedobaptist attempts to solve the problems posed by integrating conditions and apostates in the covenant of grace, his aim is to put a challenge to paedobaptists as follows: they should just admit that their every attempt to integrate conditions and apostasy into the covenant of grace (as they conceive it) destroys the grace of that covenant. Any covenant of grace worthy of the name must secure the grace needed to bring all its members in and keep them in, else membership in it is meaningless. With that challenge to paedobaptist covenant theology in mind, Johnson takes up the deficiencies and purpose of the old covenant. He tells us in ch. 10 that the deficiencies of the old covenant at fulfilling God’s promises were evident in that the bulk of its heirs were merely carnal, its blessings merely this-earthly, and its duration merely temporary. Having presented in ch. 10 what God’s purpose for the old covenant was not, Johnson explains in ch. 11 what His purpose was. That purpose was fourfold: 1) to expose the guilt and inability of sinners; 2) to point sinners to Christ; 3) to foster the nation’s political, moral, and genealogical security and purity; and 4) to reassert the standard to be satisfied for the ungodly to be justified (true heirs of Abraham).

In response to Johnson’s arguments in these chapters, let’s take the content of chs. 10-11 first. His treatment of God’s purpose in giving the old covenant is useful, especially in ch. 11. Even so, his primary interest is to show that, because God’s purpose in giving the old covenant was not to fulfill His eternal and spiritual promises, it cannot be a covenant of grace. This conclusion does not follow, however. We can agree that God’s purpose in giving the old covenant was not to fulfill His eternal and spiritual promises in their full and final form. We can agree that the old covenant was not intended to produce the true Heir of God’s promises: that Heir would not come through the old covenant tribe and order of Levi, but through Judah’s tribe and Melchizedek’s order. We can agree the old covenant was not intended to produce the true heirs of God’s promises: those heirs would look beyond Sinai and follow in the footsteps of father Abraham’s faith to find a righteousness better than their own and an inheritance better than Canaan. We cannot agree, however, that God’s purpose did not fulfill His promises in a temporary and physical form that instructed and built up the remnant in faith in the eternal and spiritual form available through the Surety to come. In other words, God’s purpose in giving the old covenant was to fulfill His promises in shadow and type, their deficiencies notwithstanding. For that reason, we can affirm that the justification of believers under the old and new covenants was one and the same, and that the old covenant was a covenant of grace sufficient and efficacious, through the Spirit’s work, to administer God’s eternal and spiritual promises to the remnant.

Turning back to chs. 7-9, is Johnson correct to say that paedobaptists should admit that their attempts to integrate conditions and apostates into the covenant of grace (as paedobaptists conceive it) destroy the grace of that covenant? As I see it, Johnson’s analysis is incorrect, and for reasons that he himself discusses. Focusing first on the issue of conditions, conditions are compatible with the grace of the covenant of grace because, but only because, both envision the true Heir of Abraham, the Surety of the covenant. Under both the old and the new covenants, it is the Surety’s obedience to the law’s conditions that guarantees justification for those of Abraham’s faith. Moreover, true believers in that Surety are not under the law as a covenant of works by which they are justified or condemned. In other words, the law is for believers a rule of life—the law (yoke) of liberty—training them in the holy character and conduct that are inseparable from justification as the fruits and evidences of justifying faith. In sum, then, because the Surety of the covenant of grace satisfies the law’s conditions and thus secures justification for believers in Him, conditions do not destroy the grace of the covenant.

Well, is Johnson correct to argue that any covenant of grace worthy of the name must secure the grace of justification and perseverance for all its participants, else participation in it is meaningless? Again, in my opinion, Johnson is incorrect. For him, what counts as a covenant of grace is only that which ensures the salvation of all its participants. We have to ask, however, from where does he get this definition? Not unexpectedly, time and again, Johnson appeals to Jer 31.31-34 (Heb 8.8-12). That text is certainly relevant to a discussion of the new covenant, but Jeremiah’s focus is on the promises of the new covenant. Elsewhere, the threats of the new covenant come into view. For example, in Rev 2-3, Christ addresses His church(es) with threats of judgment for apostasy as well as promises of salvation for perseverance. In Matt 7.21-23, He declares His intent on judgment day to disavow disciples of His who confessed His name as Lord but despised His law. In Rom 11.17-22 (cf. John 15.1-8), Christ’s apostle warns the church that all unnatural Gentile member-branches who fail to persevere will be broken off from Abraham’s covenant family tree, just as all natural Israelite member-branches who failed to persevere were broken off. In all this, the point is not, as Johnson alleges, that apostates, as portrayed by paedobaptists, cause Christ to suffer reproach as a poor federal head. Instead, the point is that, according to the new covenant, Christ is Judge of apostates as well as Head of the elect in His church. Yes, by their defection, apostates do bring reproach on Christ’s name. They will not, however, have the last word. Rather, in keeping with the retributive principle of the covenant, Christ will bring reproach, in final measure, on their names. Nor is the point, as Johnson claims, that the covenant itself, as conceived by paedobaptists, is faulty. Instead, the point is that the covenant of grace is not to be reduced to its proper purpose of grace, nor are the people gathered under Christ’s lordship to be reduced, before judgment day, to the elect given to Him by oath. Yes, salvation is the new covenant’s proper purpose. Before judgment day, however, the new covenant, like all other administrations of the covenant of grace, does not ensure the salvation of all in the covenant community. (That distinctive applies to the eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son.) The new covenant does, however, gather a community under Christ’s lordship for discipleship according to His promises of salvation and His warnings of judgment. In the experience of the historical, visible church, His promises are not always embraced; His warnings are not always heeded. Despite the faith some confess at the beginning, and despite the blessings they have in common with the remnant in the meantime, they prove in the end to have an evil, unbelieving heart and fail to persevere in faith (Luke 8.13; 1 Tim 1.19-20; 4.1; 1 John 2.19). So, even though the new covenant does not guarantee the salvation of all in the covenant community, it does afford them all the blessings of discipleship under Christ.

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