Infant Baptism, part 3: The Commonwealth , The Church, and the Covenants

In the first two studies, we looked at how the apostles and disciples understood our Lord’s instruction in the Great Commission.  We looked at examples of who they baptized, even where there were “households” baptized.  In this latter case, the Biblical evidence is clear that those who were baptized heard the word and received it. In other words, they believed.  There is no evidence that the disciples ever baptized infants.

We examined the OT practices of circumcision and the Passover to see if they were replaced with the corresponding practices of infant baptism and Communion in the NT.  We learned that these OT symbols weren’t just replaced with other symbols, but were fulfilled in the realities they expressed.  Circumcision is fulfilled in regeneration, and the Passover was fulfilled in the death of Christ.  NT baptism is the profession of faith in that death, and communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is the memorial of that death.  Without faith, neither of those ordinances are of any benefit, and, in the case of the Lord’s Supper, may even bring judgment, 1 Corinthians 11:28-31.

In this final post, we want to look at any correlation there may be between Israel and the Church, as well as take a look at the three covenants which affect them directly:  the Abrahamic, the Mosaic and the New.

– The Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12) and the Church. 

We noted in our second post the view of R.B. Kuiper that “the church of the new dispensation is the continuation of the church of the old dispensation.”

However, there are enormous differences between the Israel of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament.

The nation of Israel was just that – a nation.  As such, it was composed of people of all ages, from newborn infants to the elderly on their death beds, and included all of them.  As  such, the relationship was corporate.  Circumcision of 8-day old males was the sign that such infants were indeed part of the nation by virtue of their birth in a Jewish family.  Thus, genealogy played a huge role in determining the certainty of a person’s right to belong to the nation.  Hence, the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles, as well as other lengthy listings of father to son.  This “family” orientation obscured the original meaning of the sign, namely that of the faith of Abraham, through which he was declared righteous.

Further, Israel was the only nation so blessed as to have a relationship with God.  Beginning his remarks to the people before the giving of the Law, Moses told them, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all peoples on the face of the earth,” Deuteronomy 7:6.  The Psalmist rejoiced in this truth centuries later, For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure, Psalm 135:4.

As a nation, children were necessarily part of it.  They were the means of its continuation.  Circumcision simply demonstrated that the males were truly part of it .

The relationship of the Israelite to God was national, based only on his physical relationship to Abraham.  Hence, again, the importance of genealogies.  This does not automatically mean that there was a spiritual relationship with God.  If anything, as time wore on, this became obscured and people assumed they were right with God simply because they were part of the nation.  Yet it was to one who was fully vested in all the privileges of being Jewish that the Lord Jesus said, “You must be born again.”  Physical relationship is not enough.

Our Lord intimated this at other times during His ministry.  Early on, His mother and brothers came to try to talk to Him, perhaps because they didn’t understand what He was doing and thought He was acting strangely.  When told of their desire to see Him, He responded, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother,” Matthew 12:48-50.  See also Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21.  In other words, He was implying that physical relationship to Him meant nothing when it came to spiritual relationship.  In all three of the Gospels, His reply was, in the words of Luke, “My mother and My brother are these who hear the word of God and do it.”   On one occasion, when some lady rejoiced in how blessed His mother had been, …He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 3:27, 28.  Once, He was asked, Then they said to Him, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent,” John 6:28, 29.

Mere physical relationship was no longer going to be enough.

In Matthew 16:18, our Lord said, “I will build My church (emphasis added) to distinguish His assembly (the meaning of the word, ekklesia) from any other assembly in the world, including Israel (see Acts 7:28).

The church, on the other hand, is not “national.”  Citizenship in a nation does not mean membership in the church.  Indeed, the Apostle Paul warned against giving heed…to endless genealogies, 1 Timothy 1:4.

In Acts 2:41, after Peter’s sermon, Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them, that is, to the young church.

People seldom, if ever, stop to think about the fact that, at Sinai and during most of the nation’s history, the majority of the people did not know the Lord and so were lost.  Even at Sinai, at the very founding of their nation, even then in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, “Make us calves to go before us”  …And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices, and rejoiced in the work of their own hands, Acts 7:39-40.  This is why it was so easy for the Israelites to fall into the ways of the Canaanites, why they were so obstinate and why they continually rebelled against the Lord, cf. Deuteronomy 31:24-29.

If we may use the term, the religion of the Old Testament is the religion of the natural man.  That is, all the ceremonies and rituals, the sacrifices and feasts, even the very giving of the Law itself with its attendant natural and supernatural  displays of thick clouds, thunder, lightning, fire, smoke, the blast of a trumpet growing louder and louder, etc., Exodus 19:16-24; 20:18, these were all designed to impress upon the people the reality and importance of what they were seeing and hearing,.Yet Moses wasn’t even down from the mountain where this tremendous display happened before the people were yearning to return to their old ways and persuaded Aaron into making them the calf of gold, which they then began to worship in a drunken orgy.

Israel was God’s people as a nation, but that didn’t guarantee any individual, to use the modern term, a “relationship” with God.  Indeed, they were shut out from God and had to go through a priest.  Further, in Deuteronomy 29:4, after he had spent a considerable time repeating all that God had done on their behalf, Moses said, “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart  to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.”  Circumcision might have shown that there was a national relationship with God which no other nation enjoyed, but it didn’t guarantee anything to the individual.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t a distinct advantage and blessing to be a Jew in the Old Testament, as Paul testifies in Romans 3:1, 2 and 9:4, 5.  Nevertheless, “the Old Testament church” doesn’t merge so seamlessly into the New Testament church as some would like, unless they are prepared to admit that their church, too, is made up for the most part of lost people.

For four hundred years after the close of the Old Testament, there was silence from God.  All of a sudden, like the crashing of thunder, came a voice of one crying in the wilderness…, Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23.  The news spread like wildfire through the quiet countryside:  “There is a prophet!”  But what a message!  He was requiring that they repent! …that they be baptized!  Why, that’s what Gentile dogs had to do if they were converted to the truth!  “We are the children of Abraham!  We’re already ‘members of the covenant community’!”  John had an answer for that, too:  “Do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones,” Matthew 3:9.  He wasn’t done.  So far from having nothing to worry about because they had “the seal of the covenant” in their flesh, John went on to tell the Pharisees and Sadducees, “And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cast down and thrown into the fire, v. 10.  Jesus tangled with  this same attitude and spirit Himself, John 8:30-39.  This section starts out, many believed in Him and ends then they took up stones to throw at Him.

While there might be be some similarities between Israel and the church, there are also critical differences.  As we’ve seen, “membership” in Israel had nothing to do with spiritual condition.  It was only and simply a matter of proper descent from Abraham.  An inescapable and entirely natural  consequence of that was that children were considered part of “the nation.”  They were its next generation and the means of its continuation. On the other hand, membership in the church has nothing to do with who your parents are.  Undoubtedly, it’s a great advantage and blessing to have Christian parents and a great disadvantage to have ungodly parents, but the one is not ultimately a requirement for nor the other a hindrance to becoming a Christian oneself.  Remember, it was to one fully vested in the nation of Israel that our Lord said, “You must be born again,” going on to explain that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,” John 3:3, 6.

Israel was favored above all the nations of the world, 2 Samuel 7:23, 24.  She had a national relationship with God, though it is also true that her prosperity or adversity depended on individual obedience or disobedience.  A “nation” can’t exist apart from individuals.  The church, considered as a whole, is “called out” of every nation, and most certainly is not to be considered as co-extensive with any nation or region and all the people in that area members, as in the Reformed view of a “state-church”.

Israel was highly organized, as befitting a nation.  The NT church is both an organization and an organism, something never said of Israel.  The “organism” is “the body of Christ,” to which every believer belongs, regardless of location.  It is expressed and functions through the “organization,” that is, the local church, separate and distinct from every other local church.  It is this local church, or assembly, which is in view in the great majority of NT appearances of the word.  These local assemblies may cooperate in various matters, but there is no NT authority for the huge denominations or monolithic religious structures that we see today.

Ideally, the local assembly is composed only of regenerate, that is, saved persons, but since we can’t see the heart of an individual, it’s true that there are lost church members.  This is certainly so in churches which baptize persons, e.g., infants, apart from a personal profession of faith, or which are careless in their adherence to the NT.  On the other hand, the church considered as an organism is composed only of regenerate persons.  Even the Reformed Study Bible agrees with this.  In a note on “The Local Church,” it says, “Each local church is the manifestation of the one universal church, and will embody the nature of that church as the Father’s regenerate family,” p. 1850.  Unless the Reformed consider their baptized infants to be regenerate, there seems to be a disconnect between this definition and the practice of infant baptism.  The church as an “organism,” i.e., “the body of Christ,” cannot have any “dead” members.

In the title to this section, we referenced Ephesians 2:12.  In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul reminds the Ephesian believers of their condition prior to being saved:  they were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world, v. 12, then goes on to show them what had happened to them when they came to Christ.  In v. 13, he says, But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.   He continues, For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…so as to create in Himself one new man from the two…that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the Cross, vs. 14-16.

Notice what Paul said.  Christ made “one new man” from them both, that is, Jew and Gentile.  He doesn’t say anything about Gentiles being some sort of spiritual “continuation” of the Jew, but that together they will form a new body “through the cross.”  That is, as redeemed individuals they will enter into a new relationship with God and with each other that has nothing to do with their ethnicity.  Cf. Galatians 3:28.

Regardless of how Israel and the church may be linked in the future, Hebrews 11:39, 40; Revelation 21:12, 14, they will still have their separate and distinct identities.  One is not and never will become the other.

– The Commonwealth, The Church and The Covenants.  

The Reformed view is that there is only one covenant and that it’s simply administered in different ways.  Because of this, the Reformers did their very best to pattern the New Testament church after the Old Testament.  As a result, we have state-churches with nation-wide membership, a priesthood separate from the people, elaborate ritual and liturgy, civil power exercised by the church.  This latter led to the terrible excesses under Romanism, which had the same view, e.g., the Inquisition, and with the Reformers and their persecution and slaughter of tens of thousands of Anabaptists and other “nonconformists” for wishing to follow the Scripture itself and not what the church said.

These excesses form the basis for the so-called “separation of church and state” found in the US Constitution.  Many of our Founders had experienced these excesses first-hand, even in this country under British rule.  They wanted nothing to do with the iron fist of the church in their new country.  It has nothing to do, as currently claimed, with the idea that Christian beliefs have no place in government.  In passing, it’s a shame that the phrases in the Constitution designed to prevent the iron fist of the state from crushing its citizens are progressively being ignored in this country.  But I digress….

There are three covenants in the Bible which directly affect Israel.  In passing, note in Ephesians 2:12 and Romans 9:3  that Paul refers to “covenants” – plural.  He thought there was more than one.  These covenants are the Abrahamic, the Mosaic and the New Covenants.

The Abrahamic Covenant. 

 The basic terms of the covenant God made with Abraham are found in Genesis 12:1-3.  Without going into great detail, they included a given land, a great nation, a good reputation and a gracious blessing “to all the families of the earth.”  This covenant is repeated and somewhat enlarged in the rest of Genesis.  The “land” is specifically identified as the land of Canaan, and its borders and inhabitants are listed more than once.  This is the only land so identified in Scripture.

David rejoiced in this covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance.” 1 Chronicles 16:16, 17. 

The provision for the blessing of “all the families of the earth” had to wait for the New Testament for the explanation as to how that would happen.  “The church” is part of it, but there is much more to it than that.  Paul wrote in Romans 4:13 that Abraham would be the heir of the world.  Space prevents us from entering into that thought.

This covenant is unconditional, that is, it isn’t dependent on Abraham for its fulfillment.  God said, “I will do this.”  The vision Abraham saw meant that God took it on Himself, under pain of dismemberment, to fulfill His promise to Abraham.

The Mosaic Covenant 

God is holy, righteous and just.  The expression of His character toward His creation is called the Moral Law.  The Mosaic Covenant is a specific embodiment of that Law to a specific people in a specific situation.  It was the constitution and by-laws, if you will, of the nation of Israel.

This covenant was conditional.  Obedience to it would result in Israel being greatly blessed and continuing to live in the land.  Disobedience would mean that Israel would be judged and ultimately would be kicked out of the land.

Furthermore, Israel was on its own with this law.  Moses told the people this in Deuteronomy 29:4 when he told them that they had experienced all the things God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt and sustaining them for forty years, yet He hadn’t given them eyes to see or hearts to understand what they experienced.  There were no provisions in it to enable the Israelite to keep it, no provisions in it to do anything about the innate sinfulness of the Israelite.

Jesus was born under that Law and fulfilled its righteous requirements.  The Book of Acts shows the transition period from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  The early church had a hard time accepting this and it took a special vision from God to convince Peter of it.  The writings of Paul after Acts are embodiments of the Moral Law, not mere repetitions of the Mosaic Covenant, even though perhaps expressed in similar words.  This is why the 4th Commandment is never repeated after the death and resurrection of our Lord.  It is no longer in force.

This Covenant was given only to the nation of Israel.  In Exodus 20:2, God started with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  This historical reminder is only applicable to Israel, in spite of the “spiritual” applications that might be made about being delivered from the bondage of sin.  Contrary to a popular viewpoint, there was no “dispensation of the Law” for mankind.  The Law at Sinai was given only to Israel, to make her a nation.

In Deuteronomy 4:6-8, Moses exhorts the nation because of this singular blessing, “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’  For what nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we call upon Him?  And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?”  See also Jeremiah 11:2-4; 34:13.

The New Covenant. 

We find this covenant given in Jeremiah 31:31-34, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judahnot according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (emphasis added).

It’s interesting that this tremendous prophecy came to Jeremiah when he was in prison for disagreeing with the leaders of his day about the danger of the Babylonian invasion, Jeremiah 33:1.  Further, in v. 8, God repeats the promise to pardon Israel He gave in 31:34:  “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me.”

This covenant is also unconditional.  God again says, “I will….”  When one reads Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi, it’s difficult to see how all this was fulfilled at the return from Babylon, as commonly taught about all the prophecies about “the return” by those who deny any further blessing of Israel is possible.

Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of her Messiah did not and will not nullify the provisions of this covenant.  In fact, it’s through that very rejection and the death of Christ that God will forgive Israel of her sin and believers in the New Testament of their sin.  Paul speaks of a time when all Israel will be saved, Romans 11:26, and goes on to verify that with a quote from Isaiah 59:20, 21:  The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” This doesn’t mean, as some have suggested who differ from us, that every Jew who ever lived will be saved, but only those who are alive at the time when these prophecies will be fulfilled.

There were never any promises given directly to Gentiles in the Old Testament.  The only reason we have any hope at all is because the Lord Jesus came and revealed how it is that Abraham was to be a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”   It is through Him, and Him alone, that we Gentiles enter into the covenant blessings of Israel.

– The downside of infant baptism. 

1.  It deviates from Scripture.  As we’ve seen, even the Reformed admit the absence of clear NT instruction for the baptism of infants
2.  It derives from a faulty view of Scripture.  This is seem in the Reformed identification of Israel and the church, and the supposition that what was symbolic in the one (i.e., circumcision and the Passover) must find corresponding symbols in the other (i.e., infant baptism and the Lord’s Supper).
3.  It demand another baptism beside the one clearly commanded by our Lord in Scripture.  He commanded the baptism of believers upon their profession of faith; nothing is said about the baptism of infants on the profession of faith of others.  The Reformed make much of the fact that infant baptism isn’t forbidden in Scripture.  Why this makes its practice okay remains unclear.  There is a very simple, very good, reason why infant baptism is neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture.  Because of the clear command of our Lord, infant baptism is excluded from consideration.  Nothing else need be said about it. There is no room in Scripture for the baptism of any but professing believers.
4.  It distorts the Gospel.  In spite of Reformed disclaimers to the contrary, there is a natural tendency to look to what we have done for assurance of salvation.  If a child is told that, because he or she was sprinkled as an infant, his or her name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and as long as he or she doesn’t “erase” it, presumably by rejecting the Catechism, they’re all right, then what is their assurance of salvation?  Will they be led to trusting in the finished work and atoning blood of the Lord Jesus or in the actions of a minister and a drop or two or water?  As a corollary,
5.  It deceives its participants.  A few drops of water on their unaware and unknowing foreheads as infants, as well as their Confirmation a few years later (for which there is also no Scripture), is all the “salvation” many people have, but they expect to go to heaven.  I fear there will be multitudes who discover to their eternal dismay and loss that the entrance to Hell has been through the front door of a church by way of the baptismal font.
6.  It dilutes the church.  Instead of the ideal of the Reformed of a regenerated church membership, unless they do really believe in baptismal regeneration, the baptism of infants who are neither believers nor unbelievers adds those to the church who are not regenerated, and, as such, have no interest in or understanding of, spiritual matters.  This doesn’t mean they can’t be “religious.”  Israel had all kinds of “religion.”

Conclusion 

We believe the Reformation was the work of God, and we have the greatest respect for what the Reformers went through.  Even though we don’t agree with everything Calvin, Luther and the others taught or did, we believe that they were used of God to recover much of Europe out of the darkness of Romanism.  We only wish they had returned all the way to the New Testament.  Still, considering their starting point and the times in which they lived, it’s amazing they accomplished as much as they did.  At the same time, the retention of infant baptism sowed the seeds for the undoing of all their efforts.

The purpose of these posts isn’t to attack people, but what we believe to be an erroneous and unScriptural practice, widespread though it may be.  In the NT, baptism is commanded by our Lord to be administered only to believers, who make an informed profession of faith in the Lord Jesus.  None of the things said about baptism in the NT include the idea that infants who are baptized are “members of the covenant community.”

Hundreds of books and thousands of words have been written defending infant baptism.  The few words of these posts (though over 9,000) will not answer everything written in that defense.  Still, we hope you’ve been given something to think about and that, like the Bereans, Acts 17:11, you will search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.

Finally, what is your hope of eternal life?  Are you trusting in the finished work of the Lord Jesus?  Is His righteousness imputed to you by faith and His payment for sins on your behalf the basis of your hope, or is it a few drops of water sprinkled on your forehead when you were an infant?  If you are truly a believer in the Lord and haven’t been baptized on your profession of faith in him, even if you have infant baptism, then you need to be obedient to Him and follow Him into the waters of baptism.

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Infant Baptism, Part 2: Circumcision, Passover, Baptism and Communion.

In our first post, we looked at how the apostles and disciples of our Lord understood His instructions in the Great Commission.  We looked at the several examples of baptism in the NT and saw in each case that faith preceded baptism and that there was no evidence that children or infants were baptized.  Then we looked at “household” baptism and concluded that there is no reason to believe that, even if there were infants or children in a particular household, the apostles would have baptized them.  We finished with Acts 2:39, For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar, as many as the Lord our God shall call (NKJV, and everywhere, unless otherwise noted).  Since Peter was addressing a Jewish audience at the time, this brings us to our next point.

– What was Circumcision?

One of the main arguments for infant baptism comes from the Reformed identification of the Old Testament nation of Israel with the New Testament church.  In his book, “The Glorious Body of Christ,” p. 23, R. B. Kuiper says, “…the church of the new dispensation is the continuation of the church of the old dispensation.”  On p. 201, he says, “In the old dispensation God instituted two sacraments, circumcision and the Passover.  In the new dispensation, the Lord Jesus Christ substituted baptism for circumcision and holy communion for the Passover.”

As a result of this view, we read the following:  “Children were admitted into the Old Testament church by a formal ordinance, from the time of Abraham downward.  That ordinance was circumcision,” J. C. Ryle, “Knots Untied,” p, 80 (emphasis his).  On the same page he says, “Now, if children were considered to be capable of admission into the church by an ordinance in the Old Testament, it is difficult to see why they cannot be admitted in the New.  The general tendency of the Gospel is to increase spiritual privileges and not to diminish them.”  However, as we shall see, inclusion in the nation of Israel (the “church” was unknown in the OT.  It simply introduces confusion into the issue to say that Israel was a “church.”), inclusion in the nation of Israel wasn’t necessarily “spiritual” at all.  It was genealogical and natural.  Many Jews were lost, circumcision notwithstanding.

What was circumcision to the OT Jew?

There are about 40 references to circumcision in the Bible.  In Genesis 17 it was given to Abraham as a physical sign of the covenant already given to him and to his descendants in Genesis 15.  However, even though all the males in his household were circumcised, Genesis 17:23-27, the covenant itself was established with Isaac, 17:21, “…in Isaac shall your seed be called,” Genesis 21:12.  This reminds us of Peter’s statement in Acts 2:39, “…even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  Beyond being part of a godly household, circumcision was of no benefit whatever to Ishmael, the sons of Keturah later on, or others who weren’t descendants of Isaac.  Of Isaac’s sons, Jacob was favored and Esau was rejected, Genesis 25:23.  In time, Jacob’s twelve sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve tribes were formed into a nation at Mt. Sinai, where circumcision was incorporated into the Mosaic Covenant, Exodus 12:44, 48; Leviticus 12:3.

Circumcision was solemnly enjoined and strictly enforced, Genesis 17:4.  Moses himself found this out the hard way, Exodus 4:24-26.

What, then, was circumcision?  Reformed folks like to call it “a sign and seal of the covenant.”  Referring both to the Lord’s Supper and baptism, Small says, “Primarily, then, the function of sacraments as expressed by the words ‘sign’ and ‘seal,’ is to signify and certify a relationship,” p. 71.  However, circumcision itself did not “signify and certify” that relationship.  We see this in Ezra 2:62, 63 and Nehemiah 7:64, 65, in the case of several men who were barred from the priesthood, not because they were not circumcised, but because they had no genealogical evidence of their descent from Aaron.  Though this was a case of inclusion or not in the priesthood, it’s the same for the nation.  In other words, “membership” in the “covenant community,” or nation, was obtained by being born into it, not by being circumcised. Circumcision simply testified to the fact of that birth.  We’ve already seen in the cases of Ishmael, Esau and the sons of Keturah, that they were circumcised, indeed, were the physical children of Abraham or Isaac, yet had no place in the covenant or “the covenant community.”

Paul tells us clearly what circumcision was a “sign” of in Romans 4:9-11.  After referring to the blessing of justification, that is, of one being declared righteous in God’s sight, Paul continued, [9]Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also?  For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.  [10]How then was it accounted?  While he was circumcised or uncircumcised?  Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised.  [11]And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised…. (emphasis added).

Circumcision wasn’t just a “seal, or sign, of the covenant,” Genesis 17, but of faith.  Without Abraham’s faith, there wouldn’t have been a covenant.  Likewise, baptism is to be a sign of faith, not of some relationship to the church.  Without faith in the individual, baptism has no meaning at all.

In the Old Testament, circumcision wasn’t just about something done to 8-day old male children.  It was never considered as an end in itself.  It was intended as the object lesson of a profound spiritual truth.  Moses declared this at the outset of his instructions to Israel.  In Deuteronomy 10:16, after declaring God’s specific love for “the fathers,” he said, “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiff-necked.”

In other words, they weren’t to be content with a mere physical ceremony or to presume on mere physical descent.  There had to be something on the inside as well.  David later recognized the truth of this when he wrote Psalm 51:6, his own great repentant confession of sin:  Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts.

For all that, Moses recognized that the people would never take his admonitions seriously. He never addressed them with any idea that they would actually obey what God said through him, but that they would continue to be rebellious.  In Deuteronomy 31:27, he said, “for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck.  If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD, then how much more after my death?”  God concurred with this assessment, “…for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them,”  Deuteronomy 31:21.

This melancholy refrain continues throughout the Old Testament.  Ezekiel admonished Israel, “…O house of Israel, let us have no more of all your abominations, when you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in My sanctuary, to defile it….  Also see Jeremiah 9:25, 26.  Both of these passages correlate the circumcision of the heart and of the flesh.  The outward “sign” was meant to be indicative of an inward work, not done by or to the Israelite, but in him.

Nothing changed in the New Testament.  Addressing the Sanhedrin, Stephen called them,“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,” Acts 7:51.  The Reformation Study Bible has this note:  “These metaphors are Old Testament figures meaning spiritually stubborn and unregenerate” (p. 1571).  Indeed, Israel’s unregenerate condition, as shown in their representatives, was the underlying reason they crucified their Messiah.

– Circumcision and Baptism: Are OT symbols replaced by NT symbols?

Is the Reformed view Scriptural?  We quote Kuiper again: “In the new dispensation the Lord Jesus Christ substituted baptism for circumcision and holy communion for Passover.”  Did He?  Did He just replace one symbol with another?

The New Testament teaches that OT symbols were not simply exchanged for new symbols, but were fulfilled by the realities they foreshadowed.  This is clearly seen in the Passover.  In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul wrote, …For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  The Passover wasn’t replaced by another symbol of the death of Christ, but by the death of Christ itself.  Our Lord has imbued the elements of the Lord’s Supper, the fruit of the vine and the bread, with sublime meaning far greater than mere symbolism.  They are memorials, reminding us that Christ has died, that His was a real body that hung on a Cross, and it was real human blood that He shed in payment for our sins.  You may argue that I’m quibbling about words, and perhaps I am, but we offer no “symbolic” death of Christ when we observe the Lord’s Supper.  There is no blasphemous “unbloody sacrifice,” as if something more than the actual sacrifice of Christ were necessary.  The Lord’s Supper portrays the glad reality that the Cross is empty, which seems to have escaped those who picture Him as still on it, and so is the tomb in which He was buried, for our Lord told us to observe His death until He comes back.  He can’t do this if He’s still dead.

In partaking of the Supper, we confess that it is only through His death and payment for sin that we have forgiveness.  Further, it is implicit that it’s only through Him that we have everything we need if we are to stand in God’s presence uncondemned.  One of the terms for this is “justification,” a theme along with some others that Paul develops fully in Romans 1:18-8:39.  We’ve just touched it lightly here.  Christ rose from the dead because death had no claim on Him.  Death had no claim on Him because sin has no place in Him.  It was “our” sins for which He died, not His own.  Sin no longer has any claim on us, either, if we are His.  The Resurrection was God’s testimony to the sinlessness of Christ.  The Resurrection was also the receipt, if you will, for the redemption that was purchased for the sons and daughters of men.  (I find it telling that the word processing program I use didn’t know either “uncondemned” or “sinlessness.”)  The Lord’s Supper tells us, “It has been finished!”   By faith, we rejoice in this as we observe communion.

As for circumcision, the Old Testament connects physical circumcision with the circumcision “of the heart,” that is, of regeneration.  Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Paul wrote to Titus, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5.  In Galatians 6:15, Paul dismissed circumcision as having no meaning at all for the Christian:  …in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.  He describes this “new creation” in these words:  In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh… Colossians 2:11.  “Made without hands,” either ours or the action of some official with a drop or two of water, or even of full immersion if we’re adult.  It’s a matter of obedience, not salvation.

If in the Lord’s Supper we testify that “it is finished,” then in believer’s baptism we testify, in effect, that “it has begun.” That is, the work of salvation, the work of the Holy Spirit, has begun in us, as evidenced by our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith which we already have, not “faith” which may be ours some day.

Here is the real difficulty we have with infant baptism.  Charles Hodge wrote the following in his Systematic Theology, III, p. 588:  “…those parents sin grievously against the souls of their little 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.  Being thus enrolled may be the means of their salvation” (emphasis added).  In “Baptism Not for Infants,” T. E. Watson responds to this assertion, “This is astounding.  Is Hodge serious?  Does he really believe that the Lamb’s book of life is, as it were, a heavenly baptismal role [sic]?” p. 77.  As a Baptist who mainly agrees with the Reformed view of salvation in the doctrines of grace, though not a Reformed Baptist, I find it incredible that Hodge could even think of such a thing.  The only verse in the Bible which refers to names being written in the Lamb’s book of life says that they were written there from the foundation of the world, Revelation 17:8.  I’m afraid Hodge’s statement is on a par with the radio preacher years ago who informed us (and it was “confirmed by a brother” – his words) that the last page of the Lamb’s book of life was beginning to be filled in.  * sigh *  However, according to the inspired apostle, the pages have already been filled in!

Finally, there is a statement by Dr. Norman Shepherd, Chairman of the Department of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, “Baptism rather than regeneration is the point of transition from lostness in death to salvation in life” (As quoted in “The Banner of Truth Magazine,” Issue 166-167, p. 60, italics added).  In addition, there is the note in the Reformation Study Bible on Colossians 2:11: “Baptism is ‘the circumcision of Christ,’ and it signifies the washing away of sin, personal renewal by the Spirit of God, and membership in the body of Christ” (p. 1730).  We cannot at all agree with Dr. Shepherd and even if the RSB statement is true for the believer, who, as we’ve seen, is the only suitable New Testament candidate for baptism, it certainly is not true for an unaware infant with a drop or two of water on its forehead.

Next:  Israel, the Church and the Covenants.

Infant Baptism: A Study in Three Parts. Part 1: The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice.

When I was a young student at a Baptist Bible college, I came across a book entitled, “The Biblical Basis FOR Infant Baptism,” by Dwight Hervey Small.  It shook me to my very core because I couldn’t answer his reasoning.  In further study on the subject, I came across a book entitled, “Baptism Not For Infants,” by T. E. Watson, in which he showed that Reformed scholars themselves answer, or rather, contradict, the teachings of other Reformed scholars.

In looking at Small’s book now, some 50 years later, I see that it’s all marked up.  His reasoning is no longer compelling, as it once was.

Why would I get into such a divisive topic?  Why would I go against the practice of almost the entire professing Christian world?  Who cares?  Sadly, few do.  I do, because, as you may have seen in other posts, my concern isn’t, “What does a church teach?” but “What does the Scripture say?” Romans 4:3.  It isn’t about what different scholars say on the subject.  I’ve read books from authors on both sides of the question who once held the other view.  Scripture stays the same.  What was true in the apostles’ day about baptism is true in our day.  “The church” has neither the right nor the authority to do anything else but what the Scripture teaches – in those cases where it teaches.  For example, the Bible says nothing about the use of computers.  We have perfect liberty, except in those areas where God has spoken through His Word.  The problem is that most Christians apparently don’t read it – all of it.  A few verses here and there don’t usually give us the whole Biblical teaching on any subject.

I’ve divided this study into three parts because of its length. I had intended to post all three at the same time, but decided it would be better to post them a day or so apart.   These studies are as follows:
I.   The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice.
II.  Circumcision, Passover, Baptism and Communion.
III. Israel, the Church, and the Covenants.

I. The Great Commission and Apostolic Practice. 

Matthew 28:19, Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (NKJV and everywhere, unless otherwise noted).

This familiar verse is part of the Lord’s final instructions to the disciples before He ascended into Heaven.  In the Book of Acts, we see how the disciples understood His instructions about baptism, which are the only such instructions anywhere in the Bible.  Please note in the context of this study that when we use the term “Reformed,” we are referring to Protestants, who practice infant baptism.  “Reformed Baptists” would agree with us on the topic of baptism, but differ on other areas.  Nor are we talking about the Roman Catholic practice which is unScriptural as well, but has a different emphasis.

– Examples in Acts

Acts 2:41, Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

This dramatic climax to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost shows that those baptized “gladly received his word.”

Acts 8:12, But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.

Here again we see “believing” preceding “baptizing.”  In the words of the first example, they “gladly received his word.”  The additional detail tells us that both men and women were baptized.

Acts 8:38, So he commanded the chariot to stand still.  And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

This is the familiar story of the Ethiopian eunuch, a high government official in his own country, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, v. 27.  On his way home, he was reading a copy of Isaiah, no small feat in a day when there were no printing presses or bookstores.  In the providence of God he was reading a portion we know as Isaiah 53 and so Philip had a ready made platform beginning at this Scripture to preach Jesus to him, v. 35.  This resulted in the eunuch wanting to know why he could not be baptized.  Some versions have Philip requiring a profession of faith; others leave that out.  Whichever is true, the eunuch’s faith in the Lord Jesus is implicit even if not specifically stated.  He, too, “gladly received” the word.

It’s interesting that these three instances cover the scope of instructions the Lord left with His disciples, and thus His church, in Acts 1:8 where He said, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 2:41 is Jerusalem (Judea).  Acts 8:12 was in Samaria.  In Acts 8:38, the eunuch represents the ends of the earth.

Acts 18:8, Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household.  And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized. 

Here again are the familiar elements of “hearing,” “believing,” and being baptized.

These verses give us examples of the understanding of the early New Testament church as to “baptism.”  It was given only to those who gladly received the word, that is, they “believed.”  Both men and women were baptized.  In one case, it was considered important enough for a question as to whether the person asking it could be baptized. Nowhere is it said that children, let alone infants, were baptized.

– Yes, but….

In the very first sentence of his book, Small says, “The majority of Christian churches in the world practice baptism by sprinkling, including the children of professing believers in what is commonly called ‘covenant baptism’.” (p. 5.).  Yet Louis Berkhof, a distinguished Reformed scholar, admits in his “Manual of Christian Doctrine,” p. 319, “There is no explicit command in Scripture to baptize children; nor is there a single instance in which we are plainly told that children were baptized.”  However, he continues, “But this does not necessarily make infant baptism un-Biblical.”  This brings us to

– Household baptisms.

On p. 321, Professor Berkhof says, “Whole households were repeatedly baptized [sic], and this is represented as something perfectly normal.  It is but natural to assume that there were children in some of these households.  We know that in the second century children were baptized.”

With regard to his last sentence, it doesn’t really matter what happened in the second century.  Reformed teachers commonly refer to “the early Church fathers.”  We only comment that in going to the New Testament for our beliefs, we are simply returning to “the ‘original’ Church fathers.”  Their writings alone are authoritative.  Later writings may be interesting and even informative, but they have no authority.

Even the New Testament tells us that error began to infiltrate the churches before it was completed.  Many of the NT books were written to combat these errors, e.g., Galatians. Even Small in his book (p. 184) laments “an incredible need for reformation began in the church in the generations immediately following the apostles….  The need for reformation was present at the beginning of the second century, and the subsequent history of the church only reveals a progressive departure.”  Perhaps a large contributing factor to this decline was the introduction of unregenerate persons into the church by means of infant baptism.

With regard to the assumption “that there were children in some of these households,” we quite agree.  However, it is just as easy to “assume” that the apostles and others would have been obedient to the plain command of their Lord and baptized only those who professed faith in Christ.  Let’s look at the instances of “household” baptism in the NT.

Acts 10:44, 46, 47, While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word….  Then Peter answered, “Can any forbid water that these should not be baptized…?”  

There are several interesting things in this account – a watershed event in the NT: the first record of the salvation of a Gentile after Pentecost (Acts 10:1-11:18).  Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, 10:2.  He was sent a vision from God in which he was told to send for Peter to hear words from him, v. 22.  When Peter and those who were with him got there, they discovered that Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends, v.24.  Peter began to tell them about the Lord Jesus, vs. 34-43, and while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word, v. 44.  Then Peter said, “Can any forbid water, that these should not be baptized…?” v. 47.

This whole thing created a furor in the church at Jerusalem and so a meeting took place to discuss it, Acts 15.  There are many things here, but we’ll look only at vs. 17, 18, where Peter concludes his account:  “If God therefore gave them [that is, those with Cornelius] the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”  When they [that is, the others at the meeting in Jerusalem] heard these things, they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” 

There is nothing here that is different from the first accounts we looked at; these, too, “gladly received” the word.

Acts 16:14, 15, Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us.  She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God.  The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.  And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying,”If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” 

Like Cornelius, Lydia was already “devout.”  Each Sabbath, likely, she would meet with other women who would gather to pray, not in a synagogue, but by a river.  And like Cornelius, God sent someone to her to tell her about the Lord Jesus.

There is so much here.

The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.  Here is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, doing His work so that people understand the Word of God is the Word of God, not just another set of religious instruction that is really no different than that of any other religion.

Here is the baptism of Lydia and her household.  We’re told nothing about this household, but there’s no reason to assume that there was something different here.  No doubt, Lydia would have explained what had happened to her and why Paul and his company were with her.  We’re not told if these were only adults, or if, indeed, there were infants and children present.  Some believe that these were the servants and retinue of a businesswoman in a city not her home.  Possibly.  We just don’t know.  In any event, even if there were infants and children there, as we said before, it’s just as easy to believe that Paul would have been obedient to his Lord and baptized only those who professed faith in Christ.

In no instance in the NT is baptism separated from the prior faith of the one being baptized.  There are no instances of “second-hand” baptism, no “proxies,” based on the faith of someone else, parents or otherwise.

Acts 16:31-34, So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  …And immediately he and all his family were baptized.  …and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

Here again are the common elements preceding the baptism of these folks.  “All who were in the house” heard the Word and the jailer rejoiced, “having believed in God with all his household.”  Like all the others before them, “they gladly received the word.”

Reformed scholars argue that the Greek indicates that only the jailer believed.  The verb is singular.  The ESV translates v. 34, And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.  The verb is also singular in v. 31: “believe”.  However, if all that’s indicated is that only the jailer believed and yet his whole household was baptized on that account, why are we told that Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house?

Since “household baptism” is one of the arguments for “infant” baptism, are we to believe that only infants were in this “household”?  Certainly not.  Why then, if the “household” were baptized on the faith of the jailer alone, and if the household consisted of more than infants, why then don’t the Reformed also baptize all members of a new believer’s household:  infant, child, teen or adult?  WHY ISN’T “HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM” HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM?  Why is it restricted to infants?

The truth is, we aren’t told everything that happened in this household prior to its baptism.  No doubt, the events that transpired with the jailer and his former prisoners at the house gave the opportunity we read of for Paul and Silas to witness about the saving grace of God.  Even though we’re not told directly about the household’s response to this witness, based on every other baptism in Acts, we may infer that the “household” believed along with the jailer.  As far as the mention of “his” faith, it is mainly “his” story.  As for his household rejoicing that he had believed [why would unbelievers rejoice at that?], couldn’t it simple be that they were happy he had indeed believed, and then brought the good news home to them with Paul and Silas so that they, too, “the household,” could hear and believe?

There is one more instance of “household baptism” in the NT.

1 Corinthians 1:16, Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas.  

Paul refers to these people later in the epistle:  you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of God, 16:15 (ESV).  Even in these brief verses, we can trace the NT pattern of faith before baptism.

On p. 42 of his book, Small claims that “baptism becomes a seal of the blessings which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by his act of personal faith.”  This is completely contrary to the NT, in which baptism is the confirmation of faith, not the other way around.

There is one more verse often used to support infant baptism.

– What about…? 

Acts 2:39, For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar, as many as the Lord our God will call.

In a note on this verse, the “Reformation Study Bible,” R. C. Sproul, editor, says, “Peter proclaims that salvation through God’s Messiah is promised to the Jews, their children, and to all those far off (i.e., the Gentiles, Eph. 2:11-13).”  Commenting on this verse, Small (p. 43) says, “One of the very first concerns [of new Jewish believers who were parents] would be whether or not the provisions of the covenant continued with respect to their children….  Peter first assures the Jewish believers that the promise is still in effect…the covenant promise continues to be in force for their children,” although he also says that an entirely new principle is added to the covenant in that it is extended to those who are afar off, Gentiles.

In common with his fellows, Small takes no notice of the qualifying phrase at the end of this verse: as many as the Lord our God will call.  In other words, the promise is only to those who are “called,” that is, “saved.”  Only those who are “called” are the subjects of this promise, and they alone are the only ones who should be baptized.

Next:  Circumcision, Passover, Baptism  and Communion.

Glimpses in Genesis: The Call of Abraham, Genesis 11:31-12:20.

It’s been a while since we visited Glimpses in Genesis.  Other subjects keep popping up, even in Genesis!  (Not a bad thing!  There’s always lots in the Bible treasury!)

Our study begins with Seth: one of the three sons of Noah.  From these three have come all the nations of the world.  These three, with Noah, had experienced the Flood and its aftermath.  They knew the God of heaven, at least in this way.  Scripture doesn’t give us any real indication of their spiritual condition.

As we’ve indicated elsewhere, we believe there was a general knowledge of God long before the giving of the Law at Sinai.  Even though man continually and repeatedly rebelled against his Creator, there are indications of this general knowledge and revelation throughout Genesis.  It is here we begin, with

The background of the call, Romans 1:18-32

We believe Paul starts with a description of early man and his rebellion against God.  Even though they knew Him, not just as some sort of “doctrine,” but in reality, they didn’t want to acknowledge Him, and they weren’t thankful for His continued patience with them.  But it isn’t just about them.  Note the change between vs. 28 and 29 (ESV):  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness….  They are full of envy, murder, strife…(emphasis added).  This isn’t just about “them” – early man; it’s about “us” – man today.

In the space of a few verses, Paul wrote three times that God gave them up or over, vs.24, 26, 28.  This doesn’t mean He gave up; He gave them up.  It means He gave them what they wanted:  He let them go.  He turned them over to the desires of their fallen natures.

From this polluted river of mankind, God drew a slender rivulet, through which He will eventually purify the whole.

Abraham.

The beginning of the call, Genesis 12:1; Acts 7:2, 3.

Stephen gives us the additional detail that the God of glory appeared to Abraham before he left his native land.

There’s an interesting Jewish tradition about Abraham.  According to this tradition, Abraham’s father Terah had a shop that sold idols.  One day, Terah came into the shop after leaving his son in charge and found all the idols except the largest lying shattered in pieces on the floor.  Terah immediately wanted to know what happened.  Abraham replied, “Well, a worshiper came in with an offering for the gods and they began to fight over it.  This one” – pointing to the survivor – “won.”  “That’s ridiculous,” scoffed Terah.  “These idols can’t do anything!”  Abraham’s quiet response:  “Why then do we worship them?”

It’s unlikely that is what happened when the true God introduced Himself to Abraham.

In Genesis 11:27-32 (NKJV), the conclusion of Shem’s genealogy beginning in v. 10, indicates that Terah took his family, including Abraham and Sarai, as far as Haran, which was more or less on the northern border of Canaan.  We have no idea why, though there is conjecture.  Regardless, it wasn’t what God told Abraham to do.

God told Abraham to leave his family, his father’s house and his native country.  Taking Terah and Lot along wasn’t supposed to be part of it.  Terah caused a delay, perhaps of several years, till he died, and Abraham finally entered the land.  The delay was long enough for them to acquire “possessions,” and “people,” v. 5.  And Abraham allowed his nephew Lot to go with him, 12:3.  Perhaps he felt he couldn’t “abandon” his younger relative; perhaps he saw no harm in Lot’s tagging along.  Whatever the reason, these acts of partial obedience caused him trouble later on, and the inclusion of Lot plagued Israel centuries later.

The provisions of the call, Genesis 12:1-3.

1.  God would show him a land, v.1.  Cf. Hebrews 11:8, he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Have you ever thought about that?  Abraham comes home one day and says to his wife, “Sarai, start packing.  We’re moving.”

“Oh?  Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”

He might not have known, but he knew that God knew, and that was enough.  Note also that there’s nothing said at this time about him ever owning the land.  God just said He would show it to him.

2.  God would make of him a great nation, v. 2.

By this time, Abraham and Sarah had been married long enough for it to become evident that Sarah was barren, Genesis 11:30.  This comes into play, both happily and unhappily, later on.

3.  God would make his name great, v. 2.

There was nothing special about Abraham to induce God to appear to him and give him all these promises.  As a Kentucky preacher friend used to say, “It’s all amazing grace.”  Abraham’s name is revered by three of the “world’s religions:” Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Only two of these have a legitimate claim.  The third rejects Abraham’s son Isaac in favor of Ishmael, whom God rejected.

4.  God would make him a blessing – to all the families of the earth, vs. 2, 3.

How God would do that isn’t fully revealed until the completion of the NT.  Abraham left his own family and his native country, but will gain an entirely new and much larger “family,” out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9.  Paul wrote that he would be heir of the world, Romans 4:13.  And Hebrews 11:10 says that he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  Ur of the Chaldees, though a great city in its time, was built on a marsh.  Abraham was looking for something sure and stable.  This doesn’t mean, as some make it, that he wasn’t also expecting God to do something in this life.

Our Lord put it like this:  “…there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or sisters or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life,” Luke 18:29, 30 (emphasis added).

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean “abandon.”  Though Peter’s remark about “leaving all” in v. 28 brought about our Lord’s response, his house and his wife’s mother are mentioned in Luke 4:38, where, presumably, his wife also lived.  If it is objected that this was before Luke 18, Paul specifically refers to Peter’s wife in 1 Corinthians 9:5:  Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas [Peter)?  This was certainly years after Luke 4 and 18.

These verses simply mean that nothing, not even the closest human relationships, should be allowed to get in the way of our serving the Lord.

In the case of Abraham, God had told him to leave his family behind.  He wouldn’t be the loser for doing that.

5.  God would deal with others as they dealt with Abraham (and his descendants, natural and spiritual).

It may not be apparent, at least with believers, but God will eventually see to it that His children are blessed.  This blessing may not be what the world considers “blessing,” but God’s children will know it as that.  The same may be said of the “curse.”  It may not be in this life, which really is just the preparation for the next, but it will happen sooner or later.  Cf. Matthew 25:31-46.  (This, BTW, has nothing to do with caring for the homeless or feeding the hungry, as the social reformers teach, though that may be a part of it in some cases.  And certainly, we are commanded to take care of the poor and needy throughout Scripture.  James 1:27, Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.  I found it telling that the word processing program I use to type these posts didn’t know “undefiled” or “unspotted.”  Such concepts are altogether foreign to this world’s thinking.)

The ones to whom our Lord refers in Matthew 25 are His brethren, vs. 40, 45.  Cf. Joel 3:2, where the LORD says, “I will …gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel….”  This valley is nowhere else named except in v. 12, where the LORD says, “There I will sit [cf. He will sit on the throne of His glory, Matthew 25:31] to judge all the surrounding nations,…”   This “judgment of the nations” will be part of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.

NOTE:  this judgment cannot be identified with the “White Throne Judgment” or “Final Judgment” though many do so.  This judgment occurs in a “valley;” that judgment occurs when heaven and the earth have disappeared, And there was found no place for them, Revelation 20:11b. 

Abraham’s imperfections and the call, 12:1-20.

The Bible never covers over the imperfections and sins of its “heroes.”  Never does it “glorify” them as better than they really are.  It just simply shows them, warts and all!

Regardless of what thoughts may have gone through Abraham’s mind as he approached Egypt, when he apparently was concerned that he might be killed by the Egyptians over his beautiful wife [who, by then, was in her late 60s], though he didn’t know it, he was endangering the very one through whom all the promised blessings would come.  When Abraham trusted God, he did well; when he looked at his “situation” or circumstances, he messed up, sometimes royally.  In this case, except for God’s intervention, Genesis 12:17, who knows what tragedy might have happened?

It’s not without reason that the Lord taught His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation [that is, circumstances which test us and make us fail, or even sin], Matthew 6:13.  This does not mean that God tempts us to sin, James 1:13.  It means that there is no situation in life which the devil or our own inherent sinfulness cannot turn into a temptation to sin.  I wonder if we will ever know how the Lord has intervened to keep us from making tragic mistakes.  We mess up enough as it is.  What are we kept from?

The Bible emphasizes the faith of Abraham.  This wasn’t just some academic thing.  It wasn’t just about “religion” or “church.”  [Yes, we know.  He didn’t have “church.”]  His whole life was centered on obedience to God, expecting Him to fulfill what He had promised.  While he saw the beginnings of that fulfillment and experienced several miraculous things, he never received a complete fulfillment of what God promised.  Writing of him and his descendants, the writer to the Hebrews put it like this:  And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us, Hebrews 11:39, 40.

Part of the Abrahamic Covenant was that through him all nations of the earth would be blessed.  Though the Old Testament never specifically spells out how this would be accomplished, the New Testament gives additional details.  Part of this is the fact, as we just read, that the Old Testament saints will not “be made perfect apart from us.”  The word translated “perfect” refers to a goal, an objective.  God’s objective in all this is to have a pure, righteous world, cf. 2 Peter 3:13.  We’re going to be part of that.  When God made His promises to Abraham, He had us in mind as well.

It doesn’t mean, as some teach, that the NT church somehow replaces the nation of Israel as God’s covenant people and takes over her blessings.  The curses, of course, remain hers.  It means that we are a complement to her, that from these two entities the Lord Jesus will make one new man, Ephesians 2:15, having reconciled them both to God in one body through the cross, v. 16.  We are fellow-citizens with them and members of the household of God, not they with us.  We Gentiles have no claim on God, having been given up in the judgment of God because of our depravity, Romans 1.  It’s only by the grace of God through the Lord Jesus that we have the blessings of salvation.  But it all goes back to God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham.

I think Hebrews 11:13-16 might also speak of these “faith-worthies:”  These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had been mindful of that country from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

This imperfect, fallen world is not the final chapter in human history.  Though there might be, and are, multiplied blessings along the way, as the song goes, “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.”

I’m homesick.  Are you?

A Plan for Getting Things Done

NOTE:  George Muller of Bristol [England] (1805-1898), was a Christian evangelist, writer and founder of a number of orphanages and schools.  He is said to have helped more than 10,000 orphans in these orphanages,and the 117 schools he founded taught 120,000 children from a Christian standpoint.

He was noted as a man of faith and believed God was more than able to meet any need that might rise in His service or in the life of a faithful Christian.  He would not and did not ever tell anyone if there were a need in any of the ministries.  He is sometime faulted by modern preachers who see nothing wrong with this practice, but he saw wonderful answers to prayer throughout his life – sharp trials as well, to be sure, but the answers were all the more wonderful.

The following is what he had to say about getting things done:

“The first three years after conversion I neglected the Word of God.  Since I began to search it diligently, the blessing has been wonderful.  I have read the Bible one hundred times and always with increasing delight.  I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the Word of God.  Friends often say, ‘I have so much to do, so many people to see, I cannot find time for Scripture study.’

“Perhaps there are not many who have more to do than I do.  For more than half a century I have never known one day when I had not more business than I could get through.  For 40 years I have had annually about 30,000 letters, and most of these have passed through my own hands.  I have nine assistants always at work corresponding in German, French, English, Danish, Italian, Russian and other languages.

“Then, as pastor of a church with 1,200 believers, great has been my care.  Besides, I have had charge of five immense orphanages; also, at my publishing depot, the printing and circulation of millions of tracts, books and Bibles.  But I have always made it a rule never to begin work till I have had a good season with God.  The vigor of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Word in our life and thoughts.” 

What Good is the Bible?

“Why would you ask such a question?” you, the reader, might ask of me.

And certainly I don’t mean it in any sense like an atheist or unbeliever might ask it.  It’s not asked in derision nor do I mean any disrespect by asking it.  It’s a question based on the observation that so few professing Christians seem to read the Bible or know very much about what it really says.  They have to look in the table of contents to find Exodus.  You think I’m kidding, but more than once when I was preaching, I’d announce some text off the beaten path and see people having difficulty finding it.  Or since then, heard a preacher say that his text was on page such-and-such of the pew Bible.

So, what good is it – if you never read it?

Why do you believe what you believe – if you never read it?

How do you know you’re on your way to heaven – if you never read it?

Are you willing to trust your eternal destiny to what someone else says the Bible says?

Pastor so-and-so says it.  The TV personality says it.  My church says it.

Really?

Does the Bible say it?

There are people who will knock on your door and say they are witnesses for Jehovah.  They can quote Scripture by the hour.  It’s said that they get a large percent of their converts from “Bible-believing Christians,” because they quote so much Scripture and make it sound so good.

My wife’s grandmother was a Oneness Pentecostal.  She once sent me a tract explaining why they believe that Jesus is the only God.  I counted about 90 Scripture references in the tract.  What I found so fascinating about this tract was that many of the Scriptures they use to “prove” their view of Jesus as all the God there is, these verses are the very same ones Jehovah’s Witnesses use to “prove” that Jesus is only a created being.  You really can’t have it both ways.  BTW, neither of those “ways” is Scriptural.

I wrote her a letter explaining why I didn’t agree with the tract, but some tragedy happened in her family and she never answered.

The devil can quote Scripture.

“I don’t have time to read the Bible.”

And, truly, we live in a very hectic society.  Lots of responsibilities, lots of things to do.  Lots of stuff to check out on YouTube.

Will you eat something today?  Even if it’s only some item containing “mono- and diglycerides, cellulose gum, salt, sodium citrate, tricalcium phosphate, sodium alginate, xanthan gum, malic acid, caramel color, color added, natural flavor, BHT for freshness” (partial list of actual ingredients in an item in our food pantry – but “only 100 calories”.)

Yum.

Probably you will eat today – more than once.

The apostle John, writing to a brother named Gaius, had this prayer for him, Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers,” 3 John 2.

What level of “health” would you and I have if it corresponded to our spiritual health?

Oh, please.  I urge you.  If you don’t have a habit of daily reading the Bible, start today.

Even just a chapter.

There might be something there you need to know.

Yes, I know.  There are a lot of unpronounceable names.  There’s a lot to read.

Kindergarten children don’t start out by reading “War and Peace.”  Actually, I’ve never read it.  They start out with simple stuff and work their way up.

Work your way up.

I can testify that after five decades of reading, I wish I had started earlier and read more.  Even after reading the Bible through a number of times – I quit counting after 50 – I still see new things.  It’s a joy to read through the Bible and meet old friends, so to speak, and to meet new ones as well.  Many of the posts in this blog have come from something I’ve seen reading the Bible.  And I’m conscious that, for all that, I still haven’t been as faithful in reading as I should have been.

Even just a chapter a day.  Half an hour or so.

Not really that much.

My own reading schedule is to read the Bible through once and then go back and read the New Testament again.  I can recommend it.

I’m not trying to boast about my accomplishments or put anyone down who might not “measure up.”

People have died – many people – so that we might have the Bible.  The Savior died, that we might have it to begin with.

Shouldn’t we know as much of it as we can?

Nicodemus: The Rest of the Story

Nicodemus is usually known only for his nighttime visit to our Lord in John 3.  This, however, is not the only time he appears in the NT, even though this visit is referenced each time he is mentioned.

The Intimidated Nicodemus, John 3.

We know this story, although perhaps not as well as we might think, as we noted in our last post on Nicodemus.  Some people fault him for coming at night.  At least he came.  We don’t know why he came.  The scribes and Pharisees were noted for their arguments back and forth.  There were two noted Rabbis at the time:  Hillel and Gamaliel.  Perhaps Nicodemus came to ask Jesus which one was right.  We don’t know.  Again, the thing is, he came.  And the Lord sidetracked him right away, taking him into an area about which he had neither knowledge nor understanding, as we saw in the last post.  It worked, as we see from following Nicodemus through the NT.

The Influential Nicodemus, John 7:50, 51.

This event happens during the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the three times in the year that all Jewish males were required to visit the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was crowded.  The teaching of Jesus created quite a furor, as if often did, with the common people asking a lot of questions about who He was, and the rulers of the people denying Him and doing all they could to downplay His importance.  One of the questions here seems to concern where Jesus came from, namely Galilee.  Somebody mentioned the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  The crowds and the rulers apparently overlooked or didn’t know that He had actually been born in Bethlehem.

The Pharisees and chief priests sent a deputation to arrest Jesus.  When the deputation came back empty-handed, the leaders were furious, accusing them of being followers of Him.  A remark reveals what they thought of ordinary people: “…this crowd that does not know the law is accursed,” John 7:49,  apparently because they were listening to Jesus.

At this point, Nicodemus steps in, he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them, and said to them, “Does our law condemn a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?”  

Even though the others responded with a remark about no prophet coming from Galilee, apparently Nicodemus’ question broke up the meeting, because we read in v. 53, And everyone went to his own house.

As for the remark about Galilee, a region “on the wrong side of the tracks” as far as these leaders were concerned, Jonah, Hosea, Nahum and perhaps Elijah, Elisha and Amos were from Galilee or very close to it.

The Irreversible Nicodemus, John 19:39-40.

In our fluid and tolerant society, we don’t really understand this act of Nicodemus.  Oh, sure, it was an act of love and loyalty to the Savior, but we don’t really think about it.

Nicodemus did.

You see, by doing what he did, touching a dead body, he became ceremonially unclean.  Deliberately doing this during Passover meant that he could not partake of the Passover sacrifice.

So?

Nicodemus risked ostracism by his society.  He risked losing his position as a leader and teacher in Israel, John 3, with its attendant wealth, power and prestige.  He risked whatever family he might have had, parents or wife and children.  He risked being able to enter the Temple.  He risked eternal damnation, cutting himself off from all OT observances

IF JESUS WASN’T WHO HE SAID HE WAS!

There was no going back.  It was all or nothing for this one “who came to Jesus by night”.

All

or nothing.