Was Circumcision God’s Ineffectual Grace to Ishmael?
Circumcision was not a sign of Ishmael’s faith. For Ishmael, circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant righteousness. Circumcision was a sign that Ishmael was commanded to believe the gospel. if Ishmael had not been circumcised, Ishmael would not have had any obligation to obey the law by faith. or to have believe in the gospel with works commanded by the law..
In circumcision, God takes the initiative with Ishmael. God speaks favor to Ishmael in circumcision and Ishmael “could and should have” responded in faith to God’s wooing. If Ishmael had not been a covenant child , if Ishmael had not been circumcised, then Ishmael would have had to be banished from the household as one cut off from the covenant. But because Ishmael was circumcised, Abraham was able to be a faithful parent to Ishmael.
Did Ishmael, possess any advantages by receiving the sign of circumcision? Was God’s goodness to Abraham heightened because of God’s grace also to Abraham’s son Ishmael? Does our “so great a salvation” terminate only upon isolated individuals, or does our salvation include a promise of eternal life (or alternatively greater covenant curse than common condemnation) to our infants? .
Is God less good to our children in this new administration than God was to Ishmael? If Ishmael was better off for receiving circumcision even if Ishmael ultimately perished, are our children (even if non-elect in the decree) better off for being watered? Was the sign given to help covenant children or hinder them? Denying our children water denies them a blessing from God.
If you disagree that water is a blessing, then your problem is with God commanding infants and Ishmael to be circumcised because you must agree that this circumcision was grace to Ishmael, even if circumcision did not result in Ishmael’s justification before God. That was not God’s fault but Ishmael’s fault, because circumcision was God’s grace and we know that.
Because really the distinction between law and grace is not very useful, except when it comes to saying that circumcision was grace and not law. At that point the distinction is useful. And also when it comes to saying that Ishmael sinned against grace and not only against law. Ishmael was blessed with circumcision even if that did not work out for Ishmael having lasting life in the age to come.
So the distinction between law and grace is not that useful, except maybe for talking about those born outside the covenant. As Mark Jones has explained, those not in the covenant cannot be commanded to believe the gospel. And those not in the covenant cannot be commanded to obey the law. Because obeying the law is finally not so very different from believing the gospel. And that’s why we must raised our infants under the gospel and not under the law.
Because if we tell our infants that they are forgiven, then they are forgiven. And if we tell our infants that their works are good and acceptable to God, then indeed their works are good and acceptable to God. And if we don’t tell our children that they were born under grace then we would have to tell them they were born under the law, and in practical real life the distinction between under law and under grace is not that useful in parenting.
So we tell our infants that they are born under grace and loved by God. and at least that way they are sinning against grace, and if they are not under grace there is nothing to tell them, because there can be no law if there is no grace. and when you think about it, law is grace and grace is law, at least for those in the covenant. Abraham was able to raise Ishmael in the covenant, and that is good because outside the covenant there is no such thing as law or sin.
Galatians 4: 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son.