Was Your “Covenant Baptism” Law or Gospel?

In the covenant of grace ( is this covenant law or gospel?) God takes at least one believer and their infant into His care, promising them His grace and favor. Abraham believed the gospel BUT Abraham circumcised his infant sons (was this law or gospel?) according to God’s command (again, law or gospel?).

Both of Abraham’s sons were heirs of the covenant of grace (which one? the mosaic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the new covenant?), but was this by law or gospel? Though God’s freedom in election (gospel then?) was maintained and Isaac received the (gospel?) promise while Ishmael did not. So was the promise to Ishmael gospel?

Romans 9:7 “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his children.”
Such an example is used by the writer to the Hebrews to warn against eternal security. Of course Reformed people sometimes disagree about if these warnings are law or gospel. Are they warnings to Ishmael that he many not have ever “really” been part of the covenant but only “externally” related to “the covenant”? Or are these law warnings that many who enter the covenant are not promised they will be kept in the covenant?

Although the signs have changed, we are still in the same “the covenant” and therefore the question about if this covenant is law or gospel has not changed.

Like circumcision, water baptism is done by human hands but is represented in the New Testament not as our decision but as God’s decision and claim on Ishmael and Esau. So the question continues if this divine claim is the claim of law or gospel. Although “the covenant” obligates us to respond in faith and obedience, water baptism is God’s seal of God’s oath. So we need to find out if this oath is about law or gospel. But as long as still live, we can’t ever find out if we are Isaac or Ishmael. Both were heirs of the covenant. Both received the promises of the covenant.

In God’s act of water baptism, as in the preaching of the universal “offer”, God pledges His commitment to us in “in the covenant”. But is that commitment law or gospel? And is that commitment the same for all “in the covenant”? Of course, there are some credobaptists out there who have trouble with the idea of an ineffectual “means of grace” for Ishmael and Esau, so much so that they would rather say that water baptism is something humans do than even imply that God fails to deliver on some supposed “the covenant promise”.

This has enormous practical effects on anyone who wants to be part of the Reformed tradition. Even if it turns out that little Esau is never justified, it certainly feels good to think that Esau has been promised the same grace as Abraham has. Of course, if that grace turns out to be ineffectual in the face of human failure to meet conditions, then even Abraham might begin to wonder about the grace which has been promised to him.

It comes back to the question of law and gospel. Do we regard our children as born under the law or do we assure them they are already not under the law? Do we cling to God’s promise to work by His Spirit to keep Esau in “the covenant” in which he began, or do we have to fall back on some notion of sovereign imputation (with resulting conversion) in which every person begins life under condemnation and outside the new covenant? Even though we want to maintain God’s freedom in election (perhaps God will maintain that freedom for Himself), that is not something we really want to know about and while we do not deny it. we see no need to mention that truth when we could be emphasizing “the covenant” instead and thus maintaining the tension between law and gospel. Because that dialectic will help us to teach that ordinarily there is no salvation outside the church and its means of grace.

Of course I would not want to leave out important nuances. In my own experience, I know some credobaptists who are really in “the true church” even though of course they are still too ignorant and stubborn (which is the reason for their ignorance) to know the true marks of a true church. When water baptism is rightly understood (chiefly) as a promise made to Esau by God, then it will always be relevant to ask in retrospect if this promise was law or gospel. So what if Esau does not believe the gospel right now, certainty is always impossible, and it’s God’s decision which is still decisive, and since God promised Esau grace and claimed Esau, who is to say if that divine promise was law or gospel?

It makes a lot of difference to Esau if he was born in the covenant and is invited to the covenant table because that sacrament will be a means of grace to Esau. Unless of course, like circumcision, water baptism also often brings with it a curse! Every time I witness a water baptism today, I cling to God’s public certification that God has claimed Esau. And so while I am happy to be in the covenant, I always need to ask myself if God will cut me off if I do not keep (enough of) the law.

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24 Comments on “Was Your “Covenant Baptism” Law or Gospel?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    The “federal vision” deconstructs any difference between water and union with Christ. They are also willing to reject any difference between a ritual Lord’s Supper and God’s “real or legal” means of union and communion. They will defend anything (slavery, the confederacy) “ancient” just so long as it is anti-liberal.

    Unwilling as individuals to return to the Roman Catholic Church, despite a common faith in a justification by works, those in the “federal vision” write essays against individualism and also against counter-cultures. The most consistent advocates (theonomic postmillenialists) plan an end of exile by means of ordained violence.

    The next time they are Constantine they promise to do it better. In the meanwhile they remind us that even what Constantine did in the past was a result of God’s sovereign providence, and hope for a liberal-free future in which cross-bearing will no longer be necessary.

    To get at the error of ritual Christendom, we need to do more than talk about Protestant associations with Romanism. That’s like criticizing Billy Graham for his associations instead of his false gospel. Graham works well with “others” because they all have the same false gospel.

    Those who tell us that the gospel is not true without their “church” are trying to sell us a narrative in which the reality and visibility of Jesus Christ has to do with traditional rituals inherited from Augustine and others who used violence in the name of God.

    With John Milbank, those in the “federal vision” tell us that the “pacifist” rejects power and effectiveness. They assume there can be no power without violence. Thus they tell us that the “pacifist” is a liberal who rejects even the power of the resurrection. They tell us there is no “church” without “kings” and no gospel without this “church” given by kings.

    But Christianity is not necessary for the survival of the American empire. And the American empire is not necessary for the gospel to be powerful and effect hearing.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.

    So Ishmael was never an outward Jew, or was cut off from being an outward Jew? When? Were Esau and Ishmael in the outward “new covenant”? Were Jacob and Isaac in the new covenant?

    Romans 9: 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

    Since Abraham is the father of those who believe the gospel, does that mean that Abraham is not the father in any sense of Esau and Ishmael? Since Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that His seed would bring salvation and the “new covenant”, does this prove that Esau and Ishmael were in the new covenant? I suppose the problem here is that Paul is not using the administration/substance distinction and therefore Paul’s “not all” makes it sound like some kind of antithesis.

    Romans 9:8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

    But it would be too simple to flat out say that Ishmael was “not a child of God” and not a “child of promise”. Better to ignore that there are various promises to Abraham, and assume that a promise to Abraham is also a promise to Ishmael, even if that promise turns out to be conditional.

    Romans 9: 30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it….

    But this is not normal or ordinary. Usually you have to be in the covenant, and then it’s conditional on if you pursue it the right way, like we do.

    Galatians 4: 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.

    But focus on verse 24, and see that the law is about Sinai and Moses, so this is not about Abraham, not about the two sons of Abraham, even though verse 22 talks about Ishmael also, and verse 23 sounds like there is no promise for Ishmael, but we know this is not true, because we know that the Abrahamic covenant has a promise for Ishmael also, even if it’s conditional. So the son of the slave born according to the flesh really has nothing to do with Abraham but only with Moses.

    So it comes down to what the “new” in new covenant means. Does it mean “utterly” new or a “gradually a little” new or “someday in the end” new or “different in kind” new or “conditioned only on Christ” new? Is the new covenant in ANY WAY different from the Abrahamic covenant? Not when you talking to baptists, because then you need to keep it simple so they can get it .

    Since Scott Clark has used the rhetoric of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend News already , let me do so as well. REALLY?

    We tend to come out with the same presuppositions with which we entered. This is a long debate. It will not be resolved here soon. And it’s not because one side is stupid or rebels against God’s Word. Even when we make a distinction between outer and inner, that does not mean that we need to say that the never-justified yet are in the new covenant. Waiting to see who God calls is not only about waiting for Gentiles to come in. Unless we have an over-realized eschatology, we know that some of our children have not yet been called. The promise of the gospel was never for those who never believe it.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    “watered infants, when they are older, make the promises their own”

    was the promise that they would make the promise their own?

    was it a self-fulfilling promise (like being the answer to your own prayer)?

    or was the promise not about if they would believe, but no different from the promise given to people not watered as infants?


    “Reformed covenant theology” is on the way to a general ineffective atonement

    Ineffective Unjust Indefinite atonement says that Christ is the priest for all the non-elect and that all the non-elect are in the new covenant

    new covenant theology say that as many as are elect (no more , no less) will be in the new covenant

    Reformed “covenant theology” says that all the covenants are really one “the covenant of grace” and thus they say that the new covenant includes some who are non-elect. While they don’t teach that all of the non-elect are in the new covenant, they do teach that some of the non-elect are in the new covenant.

    Of course, the continuity they so firmly affirm, they also later qualify and take back, when they make a distinction between those who are only externally in “the covenant of grace” and those who are internally in “the covenant of grace”. They also have a distinction between “in the covenant” and “of the covenant”.

    Lutherans have two kinds of “new covenant people”—
    1. Those who have their sins paid for, who eat the humanity of Christ in the sacrament, but who do not have the Holy Spirit and who do not believe the gospel.
    2. Those who have their sins paid for, who eat the humanity of Christ in the sacrament but who also have the Holy Spirit and believe the gospel.

    For Lutherans, both believer and unbeliever partake of the substance of Christ but with differing outcomes, one to life but the other to judgment. For Calvin, a person either receives both Christ and the Spirit, or neither Christ nor the Spirit. Unbelievers do not receive the Spirit, therefore they do not (in the “sacrament”) receive Christ.

    “The matter now disputed between us, is whether unbelievers receive the substance of Christ without his Spirit.” Lutherans say that, if Christ is truly present he is present independent of the communicant’s new birth or faith or unbelief.

    Calvin says that one cannot truly partake of Christ without partaking of His life-giving Spirit.
    Since Christ was baptized with the Holy Spirit, Christ is not where the Spirit is not.

    Garcia, “Christ and the Spirit”, in Resurrection and Eschatology, ed Tipton and Waddington, p430

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Vos: it comes down to finding the connection between this being-in-the-covenant and living in the fellowship of the covenant. There must be a close tie. By freely entering the covenant, these two must immediately coincide if no discrepancy is to arise.

    But what if one is born into the covenant? Is then the one possible without the other? We here face the difficulty that the covenant relationship appears powerless to bring covenant fellowship in its wake. We get a covenant that remains unfruitful. An “ought to be,” appears to take the place of the glorious realities that mention of the covenant brings to our minds.

    This is in fact the point where, by means of the covenant idea, the Pelagian error could gain access to Reformed doctrine. If the covenant idea is in fact the all-encompassing expression of life under and in grace, how then can it comes to us first of all as something that “ought to be,” a relationship that still lacks realization?

    Geerhardus Vos Reformed Dogmatics (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013) vol. 2, ch. 3 Q. 30


  6. markmcculley Says:

    Vos—The presumption is always that the children of the covenant, who are under the covenant bond, will also be led into covenant fellowship. Election is FREE, but it is not on that account ARBITRARY. Therefore, we say: of those born under the covenant, not only is it required with double force that they believe and repent, but it is likewise expected with a double confidence that they will be regenerated in order to be able to believe and repent.

    Of the children born under the covenant, as long as they are children and if they die as children, it is to be assumed that they also share, or will have a share, in the spiritual fellowship of the covenant and the salvation coupled with it. On this basis, the Reformed Church assumes the salvation of the children of the covenant who die in infancy. Here, too, there could be exceptions, but one may not for this reason allow himself to be robbed of comfort.

    If for a long time he remains unconverted and unbelieving, the covenant relationship does not immediately end, and the requirement also does not cease, and the comfort likewise is not removed. But for the person himself, by his unbelief and impenitence, that comfort DIMINISHES with every moment.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    vos—If one is under the covenant relationship and covenant fellowship, the essence of the covenant, is missing, one is nevertheless treated as a covenant member in the sense that non-observance of the covenant incurs guilt and causes covenant-breaking. This explains how there is covenant-breaking and yet no apostasy of the saints. Note carefully, not merely temporary covenant-breaking is in view—for in believers that is compatible with perseverance—but final covenant-breaking. Everyone who is under the covenant is treated as though he lived in the covenant. It is so with the covenant of works, and is so with the covenant of grace. And therefore, one does not have the right to say that the non-elect are in no way in the covenant. For them there is no true covenant fellowship, but their accountability is determined according to the covenant relationship. This accountability is greater than that which an ordinary person outside the covenant has in relation to the gospel. Being-in-the-covenant may never be diminished to a life under the offer of the gospel. It is more than that.

    Geerhardus Vos Reformed Dogmatics (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013) vol. 2, ch. 3 Q. 30

  8. markmcculley Says:

    not done, to be done

    Vos—Koelman reasons that the internal covenant is not properly a covenant because it involves no conditions or proposals for man, given that the exercise of the conditions of the covenant is itself his entry into the internal covenant. In other words, a covenant always has in view something still to be done.

    Here the idea of commitment is employed in order to deny fellowship the name of covenant. But Scripture does not speak in this way (Jer 31:31–32). This whole objection immediately collapses as soon as one makes a distinction between the initial assent of faith and the ongoing exercise of faith. Faith is the ongoing activity that unlocks continual access to the good things of the covenant.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Vos—The covenant of grace is not conditional concerning the covenant benefits. Let us say, for example, that justification is a covenant benefit….But now, what about faith itself? Is faith, in its turn, again tied to something else? Evidently not, for otherwise we would get an infinite series, and nowhere would there be an absolute beginning where the grace of God intervenes. Therefore, we say that the covenant of grace is conditional with respect to its completion and final benefits, not as concerns its actual beginning.





  10. markmcculley Says:

    Vos–Evidence that in this sense conditions are attached to the covenant of grace:

    1.The Scriptures speak in this way: John 3:16, 36; Rom 10:9; Acts 8:37; Mark 16:16; and in many other places.

    2.If there were no conditions, there would be no place for threats, for threatening only makes sense to those who reject the conditions; that is to say here, those who do not walk in the God-ordained way of the covenant.

    3.If there were no conditions, God alone would be bound by this covenant, and no bond would be placed on man. Thereby the character of the covenant would be lost. All covenants contain two parts.”

    . Geerhardus Vos Reformed Dogmatics (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013) vol. 2, ch. 3 Q. 30

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Scott Clark eats cake and still wants to have it—–The term covenant of grace can be used broadly and narrowly. When used broadly, it refers to everyone who is baptized into the Christ confessing covenant community. When used narrowly, it refers to those who have received the double benefit of Christ: justification and sanctification.
    Used in the broader sense, the covenant of grace is not synonymous with election so that all the elect are in the covenant of grace, but not all in the covenant of grace are elect.
    Used in the narrow sense, the covenant of grace refers only to the elect.
    There is a just and necessary distinction to be made between those who are in the covenant broadly (externally) and those who are in the covenant both broadly and narrowly (internally).
    The internal/external distinction is a corollary of the distinction between the church considered visibly and invisibly.


    But credos can and do make a distinction between a visible and an invisible church WITHOUT SAYING THAT SOME OF THE NON-ELECT ARE SOMEWAY IN THE NEW COVENANT

  12. markmcculley Says:

    Bavinck:“…When the covenant of grace is separated from election, it ceases to be a covenant of grace and becomes again a covenant of works. Election implies that God grants man freely and out of grace the salvation which man can never again achieve in his own strength. But if this salvation is not the sheer gift of grace but in some way depends upon the conduct of men, then the covenant of grace is converted into a covenant of works. Man must then satisfy some condition in order to inherit eternal life.

    “So far from election and the covenant of grace forming a contrast of opposites, the election is the basis and guarantee, the heart and core, of the covenant of grace. And it is so indispensably important to cling to this close relationship because the least weakening of it not merely robs one of the true insight into the achieving and application of salvation, but also robs the believers of their only and sure comfort in the practice of their spiritual life.”

    Notice how far reaching this is – reformulating the reformation truth of the covenants leads to a messed up view of election (saying there are different degrees of election), justification (injecting our works there where they do not belong), and sanctification (making justification dependent on sanctification). It also throws our salvation back into stormy waters, teaching that only those who make it to the life raft will get out of the seas of death. Who can be truly pious when their salvation depends on something they do?
    Our Reasonable Faith (260-269)

  13. markmcculley Says:

    dgh— “The more organic metaphors, the more Kuyperian since Abraham Kuyper himself everywhere employed images from the natural world — roots, branches, life-giving sources, the folk with ties to the fatherland. But Keller and Lovelace employ mechanical and even mathematical metaphors to try to explain the way that theology functions in Christian devotion.”

    mark—-I guess you are poxing both houses, because I can’t think you like the “organic” tendency to conflate church and territory (even if you do agree to some identity between covenant and family). But neither would you like the “non-local” detachment of Keller’s marketing “technique”.

    So what’s the alternative? Commercial metaphors? (Christ’s death was enough to save all for whom He died) Legal metaphors? (God imputed the sins of all the elect to Christ, and then later in time God imputed Christ’s death for the elect to the elect?)

    Or did you want to escape metaphor?

    What I really want to know is if Meredith Kline’s model too mechanical for you? Two layers, two levels—-some of the non- elect born in the new covenant, but the new covenant cannot curse them???

    Meredith Kline—The overarching Covenant of Grace … was to unfold in several pre messianic administrations and have its full, culminating expression in the New Covenant” (GHHM 75).

    Mk—“The Law covenant was a sub-administration of the Covenant of Grace, designed to further the purpose and program of the gospel” (GHHM 128).

    “the non-elect who are temporarily members of the New Covenant fail to believe in Christ and thus fail to receive the blessings purchased by Christ under the pactum salutis. But just because they fail to receive the blessings of the New Covenant, that does not mean they are cursed by the New Covenant. When they are finally removed from the New Covenant by excommunication, they are taken out to be judged by God. But then the curse comes from God himself according to the terms of the broken Adamic covenant of works, not from the New Covenant per se. So excommunication from the church of the New Covenant is not a covenant curse. It is merely an administrative act of being removed from the New Covenant by the officers of the visible church. Barring repentance and restoration, such apostates will indeed suffer an eschatological curse, but the curse comes from a separate covenant, the Adamic covenant of works.”


  14. markmcculley Says:

    Mike Horton: “Jewish branches that did not yield faith were broken off to make room for living Gentile branches that share the faith of Abraham in Christ. And yet he adds, “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” . The whole tree is holy, but dead branches will be pruned. The whole church of Corinth is addressed as “the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2)….To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. HOW CAN THEY FALL UNDER THE CURSES OF A COVENANT TO WHICH THEY DID NOT BELONG? God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. Yet they must embrace the promise in faith. Otherwise, they fall under the covenant curse without Christ as their mediator….”

  15. markmcculley Says:

    Charles Hodge—“parents sin grievously against the souls of their children who neglect to consecrate them to God in the ordinance of baptism. Do let the little ones have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life, even if they afterwards choose to erase them.” Systematic Theology, III:588)

  16. markmcculley Says:

    Many will point to Romans 9:6-8 to argue that there was only ever one Israel. They are not all Israel” = New Covenant; “who are of Israel” = Old Covenant. To so over stress the organic unity between the type and the anti-type actually obliterates the differences between them.

    Redemption from Israel signifies redemption from our slavery to sin, but they’re not the same thing.

    Israel’s redemption from Egypt was not redemption from sin. The sacrifice of the paschal lamb did not unite them to Christ. It was a typical offering that bought them a typical deliverance.


  17. markmcculley Says:

    The Abrahamic Covenant did not grant union with Christ. It promised that Christ would come and establish the New Covenant, through which we have union with him. The entire point of Romans 4:9-12 is emphasizing the uniqueness of Abraham in regards to circumcision (“The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised”). What does v11 mean then? Circumcision was the outward sign of confirmation of the covenant entered into with Abraham. What was the covenant? A physical seed inheriting the land of Canaan, and a particular seed who would bless all nations of the earth. Abraham’s circumcision was a confirmation of those two promises.

    A W Pink —Unto Abraham, circumcision was both a sign and a seal: a sign that he had previously been justified, and a seal (pledge) that God would make good the promises which He had addressed to his faith. The rite, instead of conferring anything, only confirmed what Abraham already had. Unto Abraham, circumcision was the guarantee that the righteousness of faith which he had (before he was circumcised) should come upon or be imputed unto believing Gentiles. Thus as the rainbow was the confirmatory sign and seal of the covenant promises God had made to Noah, as circumcision was the sign and seal of the covenant promises God had made to Abraham, so the tree of life was the sign and seal of the covenant promises He had made to Adam. It was appointed by God as the pledge of His faithfulness, and as an earnest of the blessings which continued fidelity would secure. Let it be expressly pointed out that, in keeping with the distinctive character of this present antitypical dispensation—when the substance has replaced the shadows—though baptism and the Lord’s Supper are divinely appointed ordinances, yet they are not seals unto the Christian. The seal of “the new covenant” is the Holy Spirit Himself (see 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30)! The gift of the blessed Spirit is the earnest or guaranty of our future inheritance…

    The next thing we would observe is that circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had.” Again we would say, Let us be on our guard against adding to God’s Word, for nowhere does Scripture say that circumcision was a seal to anyone but to Abraham himself; and even in his case, so far was it from communicating any spiritual blessing, it simply confirmed what was already promised to him. As a seal from God, circumcision was a divine pledge or guaranty that from him should issue that seed which would bring blessing to all nations, and that, on the same terms as justifying righteousness had become his—by faith alone. It was not a seal of his faith, but of that righteousness which, in due time, was to be wrought out by the Messiah and Mediator. Circumcision was not a memorial of anything which had already been actualised, but an earnest of that which was yet future—namely, of that justifying righteousness which was to be brought in by Christ.

    But did not God enjoin that all the males of Abraham’s household, and in those of his descendants, should also be circumcised? He did, and in that very fact we find definite confirmation of what has just been said above. What did circumcision seal to Abraham’s servants and slaves? Nothing. “Circumcision neither signed nor sealed the blessings of the covenant of Abraham to the individuals to whom it was by Divine appointment administered. It did not imply that they who were circumcised were accounted the heirs of the promises, either temporal or spiritual. It was not applied to mark them individually as heirs of the promises. It did not imply this even to Isaac and Jacob, who are by name designated heirs with Abraham. Their interest in the promises was secured to them by God’s expressly giving them the covenant, but was not represented in their circumcision. Circumcision marked no character, and had an individual application to no man but Abraham himself. It was the token of this covenant; and as a token or sign, no doubt applied to every promise in the covenant, but it did not designate the individual circumcised as having a personal interest in these promises. The covenant promised a numerous seed to Abraham; circumcision, as the token of that covenant, must have been a sign of this; but it did not sign this to any other. Any other circumcised individual, except Isaac and Jacob, to whom the covenant was given by name, might have been childless.

    “Circumcision did not import to any individual that any portion of the numerous seed of Abraham should descend through him. The covenant promised that all nations should be blessed in Abraham—that the Messiah should be his descendant. But circumcision was no sign to any other that the Messiah should descend from him,—even to Isaac and Jacob this promise was peculiarly given, and not implied in their circumcision. From some of Abraham’s race, the Messiah, according to the covenant, must descend, and circumcision was a sign of this: but this was not signed by circumcision to any one of all his race. Much less could circumcision ‘sign’ this to the strangers and slaves who were not of Abraham’s posterity. To such, even the temporal promises were not either ‘signed’ or sealed by circumcision. The covenant promised Canaan to Abraham’s descendants, but circumcision could be no sign of this to the strangers and slaves who enjoyed no inheritance in it” (Alexander Carson, 1860). That circumcision did not seal anything to anyone but to Abraham himself is established beyond shadow of doubt by the fact that circumcision was applied to those who had no personal interest in the covenant to which it was attached. Not only was circumcision administered by Abraham to the servants and slaves of his household, but in Genesis 17:23 we read that he circumcised Ishmael, who was expressly excluded from that covenant! There is no evading the force of that, and it is impossible to reconcile it with the views so widely pervading upon the Abrahamic covenant. Furthermore, circumcision was not submitted to voluntarily, nor given with reference to faith, it was compulsory, and that in every instance: “He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money must needs be circumcised” (Gen. 17:13)— those refusing, being “cut off from his people” (v. 14

  18. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones—, baptism is a sign that my child must look to, and embrace by faith until he/she dies.

    Circumcision was not a sign of faith, but a sign that faith embraced or looked to (cf. Rom. 4:11). Baptism represents Christ (Gal. 3:27), in whom our faith must rest. In baptism, God takes the initiative with our children. He speaks favour to them in baptism (“You are my child, whom I love”) and they are to respond in faith to his “wooing.”

    Crucially, as a parent, when the waters of baptism are poured upon the head of my child, I’m confronted with the sobering, yet glorious, reality that I am raising GOD’S CHILD for his glory.

    Because my covenant children belong to God and Christ, in terms of the nature of the visible church, the stakes are high. Very high.

    Yes, we have the promise (Acts 2:39), BUT baptism is also a solemn reminder to those who do not respond in faith, hope, and love to the God who set his seal upon them. The seal of baptism is more permanent than a tattoo, because the seal has eternal consequences, whether for good or bad.

    Baptism is a wARNING to parents that they cannot take it easy or presume upon the grace of God

    The covenantal dynamic that parents and children enter into is one whereby rejecting Christ, who is OFFERED IN BAPTISM, brings those who reject such grace under a divine curse.

    Thus, infant baptism is God taking the initiative to preach the gospel, and calling the child, FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE to repent, believe, and LIVE FOR the glory of the one into whose name he is incorporated or face the terrifying reality that covenant breakers will face a STRICTER JUDGMENT than those who never received such blessings.

    Parents mustn’t be ignorant of such things. For to whom much is given, much is expected.

    As Luther well said, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ,, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” Not bad for someone who believed in baptismal regeneration


    • markmcculley Says:

      David Engelsma—-Some may minimize the matter, but no Reformed parent, such as I am, can disparage the Baptist denial that the children of godly parents
      are included by God in His covenant, founded on the blood of the cross. Baptists exclude them from the covenant and church and really from salvation

      Engelsma—The creed confesses that Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for adult persons.
      Baptists are enemies of the cross of Christ–they exclude from the grace and work of the cross a goodly group of those whom Christ loved
      and for whom He gave His precious blood. They must answer to Christ Jesus, who died for my and others’ children on Calvary.


      Hoeksema (Protestant Reformed ) attempted to soften the blow by saying that covenant breaking is really the same as law breaking (since the opposite is covenant keeping – ie law keeping), and does not mean the covenant bond was severed. Only once is the expression “covenant breakers” found in the New Testament, in Romans 1:31. But there the expression has nothing to do with any covenant between God and His
      people, but rather with man-to-man relationships. But because of his commitment to the one covenant of grace under multiple administrations view, Hoeksema was unable to draw the obvious conclusion: the old covenant was breakable (and broken) while the new covenant is not

  19. markmcculley Says:


    “Pastor Mark Jones believes that all baptisms are paedobaptisms, for unless one becomes like a little child he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”


    “All baptisms are paedobaptisms”. But some say that ” presumption is rare to nil among paedobaptists (who also baptize adults, by the way, which means we baptize way more than you guys do, which means maybe we should be called “baptists”?).

    I guess this mean that paedobaptists agree on the practice for different reasons, just like those who water only professing believers agree on that practice for different reasons. I wonder if the “we do that also” position is merely the “reverse” of that taught by Mark Jones. Jones as a puritan thinks presumption is a problem, but “we do converts also” does not think presumption is a very big problem in a world where the problem is baptists.

    Mark Jones thinks antinomianism is what we need to worry about, but others think that the construct which say that “election is greater than the covenant” leads to “flattening” and a denial of the distinction between law and grace, which denial is what they think is the big problem in our situation.

    But some want to eat cake and still have it. First, it’s objective and not about us. But second, we do converts also. After we preclude the water baptism of as many as we can after they profess, by watering as many as we can before they profess, we also condescend to water those who slipped through the cracks of Christendom (like for example those who had Christian grandparents but not one professing parent)—-It’s not about us, it’s about the professing of that one parent, which is a little different than it used to be back in the Abrahamic covenant.

    Cake and have it. Paedobaptism demonstrates the sovereignty of God to seek out those who are utterly helpless–but then good news, we do convert water also, which maybe is not the best, maybe it’s second best, but we also do water after God gives faith, because we are not only Reformed but also as Arminian as those Southern Baptists who say that Jesus Christ died for “all of us” but that sovereign grace enables the elect to “accept this” and this faith then “enables God” to count the death for them and this enables us to then water them…

    How do you explain how there is not one baptism but two kinds, one of which is really better than the other, for those who missed the first boat by waiting for the effectual call, for those who had to live with the idea for a while that they were not born Christians? Do you say “one essence, merely different forms”? After you say “one covenant, many administrations”, do you explain how the antithesis disappears for people after they are baptized, so that from then on the covenant conditions are grace, and the basis for negative sanctions (curse) are also “covenant grace?

    When you ask if there is at least one parent professing an effectual call, are you asking if there is at least one parent “who had a hand in their own salvation”? When you “baptize converts as well”, are you at that point sending the message that these converts “had a hand in their own salvation”?

    “We do what you do, as well”. But when we do it, it’s not about us. When credos do it, then it’s about them? What would you think if I were to say that all who do paedo-water believe that it removes original sin and corruption? As you know, there are some paedos who argue for that. But you don’t know many Lutherans or federal visionists in your context, so not a problem?

    Yes, surely there are some credo-water folk who believe that water is instrumental in salvation as do some paedo-water folk. Also on both sides some have denied that this instrumentality of means contradicts sovereign grace. .

    Mark Jones–I have two three-year olds, one six-year old, and an eight-year old. And it occurred to me that I wouldn’t actually know how to raise them if I were not a Presbyterian. And let me just take this opportunity to inform sensitive (Baptist?) readers that I know many Baptist families that raise their children remarkably well, even many in my own church.

    1. When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, can I assure them that their sins are forgiven?

    2. When I ask my children to obey me in the Lord should I get rid of the indicative-imperative model for Christian ethics? On what grounds do I ask my three-year old son to forgive his twin brother? Because it is the nice thing to do? Or because we should forgive in the same way Christ has forgiven us?

    3. Can my children sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” and enjoy all of the benefits spoken of in that song? (“To him belong…He will wash away my sin”)

    4. When my children pray during family worship to their heavenly Father, what are the grounds for them praying such a prayer? Do they have any right to call God their “heavenly Father”? Do non-Christians cry “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15)?

    5. Should I desire that my children have a “boring” testimony? (Though a testimony to God’s covenant promises can never be boring, of course). Is it not enough for them to simply say each day that they trust in Christ alone for their salvation? If my children were not Baptized, and were not part of the church, and did not bear the name Christian, I’m not sure what grounds I would have for worshipping with them, praying with (not just for) them, and rejoicing with them when they ask for forgiveness for the sins they commit.

    Mark Jones—Far from leading to a lazy form of “presumptive regeneration” (where children are not daily exhorted to repent), I believe that we must in fact hold our covenant children to higher standards by urging them to live a life of faith and repentance in Jesus Christ, their Savior and Lord. Their baptism, whereby God speaks favor to his children (“You are my child. With you I am well pleased”), demands such a life.

    Do you agree? No grace, then no law? Not in the covenant, no imperative? http://rfpa.org/blogs/news/78108548-election-governs-sanctification-and-the-covenant

  20. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 3 So what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the spoken words of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, will their unbelief cancel God’s faithfulness?

    is there a “second”?

    Romans 9: 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory,the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises. 5 The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever.

    Romans 11:28Regarding the gospel, they are enemies for your advantage, but regarding election, they are loved because of the fathers

    Genesis 15: 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions

    Genesis 17: 9 God also said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations are to keep My covenant. 10 This is My covenant, which you are to keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every one of your males must be circumcised. 11 You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin to serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 Throughout your generations, every male among you at eight days old is to be circumcised. This includes a slave born in your house and one purchased with money from any foreigner. The one who is not your offspring, 13 a slave born in your house, as well as one purchased with money, must be circumcised. My covenant will be marked in your flesh as a lasting covenant. 14 If any male is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that man will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.

    Genesis 22: 15 Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn,” this is the Lord’s declaration: “Because you have done this thing and have not withheld your only son,17 I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gates of their enemies. 18 And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.”

  21. markmcculley Says:

    Meredith Kline on Acts 2:39 — “When we are establishing the ground for baptizing our children into the church our appeal should not be to the ‘promise,’ for the promised seed is the election and the covenant constituency is not delimited by election….It is not a matter of the promise, but of the parental authority principle.” Kingdom Prologue, 364. https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/a-presbyterian-finally-gets-acts-239-right/

  22. markmcculley Says:



    Matthew 3: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” … . 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees!


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