Revelation 15:5-16:11, “I Will Repay,” Says The Lord.

5] After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.  6] And out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands.  7] Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.  8] The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angles were completed.

16:1] Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.”

2] So the first went and poured his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.

3] Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.

4] Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.  5] And I heard the angel of the waters saying:

“You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,
For You have judged these things.
6] For they shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And you have given them blood to drink.
For it is their just due.”

7] And I heard another from the altar saying, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

8] Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire.  9] And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.

10] Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.  11] They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.  (NKJV)

For nearly three-and-a-half years, a great world leader (great as the world understands it) has led mankind in an overt rebellion against the God of heaven.  He’s been able to perform astounding miracles, even himself cheating and defeating, or so it seemed, defeating death itself.  He’s murdered countless numbers of those who refuse to bow before him.  Apparently he has free reign.  Nothing can stop him.

But now there is a drastic change.  Those heavens which had been so silent now respond.  First of all, John shows us the scene in heaven, that heaven which up til now has been silent – but no longer….

There is activity.  Seven angels come out of the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven, v. 6.  Why such a long description?  Perhaps it has something to do with the innermost workings of the Divine mind and purpose.    I don’t really know.  The focus isn’t so much on where these angels came from as it is on what they’re going to do.  No one will be able to enter the temple until they are done, v. 8.

We’re only looking at the first five of these seven bowls of judgment, because the sixth judgment introduces a new element.  Some of these judgments mirror things we’ve seen before – in earlier judgments and much earlier in Egypt.

1. The First Bowl, 16:2:  Terrible sores.

A foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.

This mirrors the sixth plague in Egypt: boils which afflicted man and animal, Exodus 8:8-12.  The sores in this judgment afflict only those who follow the beast.  These are the kind of sores that afflicted the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:21, a “festering, inflamed, running sore that refuses to be healed.”

The insolent challenge had risen to the heavens:  “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him?” Revelation 13:4.  In these judgments, he and his followers will find out.

2. The Second Bowl, 16:3:  The sea turned to blood.

Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.

This bowl and the next one mirror the first plague in Egypt, where the water was turned to blood, also what happened during the second trumpet.  In the trumpet judgment, however, only a third of the sea was affected, with the water turning to blood and a third of ships being destroyed.

Something is said of this “blood” that shows the severity of this plague.  Running through our veins, blood brings oxygen to every cell and carries away waste products.  The life of the flesh is in the blood, Leviticus 17:11.  For all our science and technology, I’m not sure we understand the wonder and complexity of our blood.  Carefully preserved and protected, blood can be useful and life-saving, as in blood transfusions.  It can even be a preventative, as in forming scabs to cover wounds.  The blood of the second bowl isn’t like that.  It is blood as of a dead man, foul and corrupt.  Instead of preserving and protecting life, it will kill every creature in the sea.

Why are the ships affected?  Well, imagine what will happen when that great mountain – perhaps a giant meteorite – hits the ocean – and the tidal wave that will follow.  It will dwarf the wave that hit the Indian Ocean in 2004.  Our son was in Sri Lanka a few years afterward and said you could still see where the water came up to on the palm trees.  That was nothing compared to what will happen in the future.

3. The Third Bowl, 16:4-7:  Fresh water turned to blood.

Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.

The judgment of the third trumpet affected only a third of fresh water and only made these waters bitter.  This judgment affects all fresh water and makes it not bitter, but blood.

We can’t even begin to know what this will be like.  Imagine.  The Great Lakes in the US, Tanganyika in Africa, Titicaca in South America, the Mississippi River, the Amazon, the Volga, Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park, to name only a few sources, running in blood, not water.

A lady once told me she was bothered by all the blood mentioned in the Old Testament, and indeed, many are offended and call ours “a bloody religion.”  Some people faint at the sight of blood.  What will this judgment be like?

Regardless of how men will react, the heavenly world will acknowledge God’s absolute righteousness and justice, vs. 5-7.

“You are righteous, O Lord,
The One who is and who was and who is to be,

Because You have judged these things.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
And You have given them blood to drink.
For it is their just due.”
“…Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”

4. The fourth bowl, 16:8, 9:  Scorching heat.

Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire.  And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.

Because of the darkness which follows in the next judgment, some have said that the Sun suffers a type of nova, that is, it greatly expands and then collapses, going out.  Perhaps.  I don’t really know.  Whatever happens, it will be something terrible, and will cause heat never before experienced on this world.  What is believed to be the highest ground temperature ever recorded is 201 degrees in Death Valley, at Furnace Creek, California, in July, 1972.  This was a local phenomenon.  What Revelation describes will be world-wide, and worse.

Instead of repenting, men will curse the God of heaven.  Perhaps this is an answer to those who imagine that the pains of hell will finally cause men to repent, and everyone will eventually be saved and brought to heaven.  This tells us something far different.  In probably what will be the closest approximation to hell this world will ever see, it won’t bring men to repentance.  It will simply confirm them in and increase their rebellion and hatred of God.

5. The fifth bowl, 16:10, 11:  Darkness and pain.

Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.  They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.

Though this seems to be an entirely separate thing, as another angel pours out his bowl, some of the effects of previous bowls still linger. Pain of the sores from the first bowl coupled with the intense heat of the fourth bowl make men gnaw their tongues.  Then they are plunged into complete darkness.

This is similar to something that happened in Egypt as Moses and Aaron were dealing with Pharaoh’s stubbornness in allowing Israel to leave.  In Exodus 10:21, we read,  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” 

“Darkness which may even be felt….”

Have you ever experienced that kind of darkness?  I don’t mean emotional pain or distress that seems to block out everything else.  That is certainly “felt,” but I don’t think that’s what the Lord had in mind in Egypt, and it’s not the kind of darkness the folks in Revelation will experience.

I was in a cave once, it might have been Carlsbad Caverns, I don’t really remember.  What I do remember is that while we were down there, far from the surface, the guide turned off the lights.  There was no light whatever; it was absolutely dark.  I could feel my eyes straining to see something – anything.

Anything at all.

It was quite a relief to the group when the guide turned the lights back on.

It’s said that unrelieved absolute darkness will result in blindness.  I don’t really know, but the fifth bowl will bring that kind of darkness.

Yet those who suffer it will simply bow their necks and continue in their rebellion against God.

We mentioned earlier those who believe there will be a “second chance” for salvation after death.  This is a false and fatal hope.  There’s also some discussion about whether or not Christians will go through the Tribulation period.  It’s not really my purpose to get into all that, but simply to say that while I believe that true believers will not go through that time of trial on this earth, there will be a lot of church-members who will.

Perhaps that sounds harsh and judgmental.  I make no judgment about any particular person, but the Lord Jesus said that there is only one way of salvation, not many, one road to heaven, not many.  In John 14:6, He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”   In our culture of “diversity” and “inclusiveness,” this is considered bigoted and narrow.  Nevertheless, it stands true.

Peter echoed our Lord to the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Israel:  “nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.

To the Philippian jailer, Paul and Silas said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

There’s no name of a church or denomination, no routine or ritual, no ceremony that will bring folks to heaven. There’s no baptism, whether of adult or infant, immersion or sprinkling, that will do it.  No other “religion” is able to get you to heaven.  Only those who by faith have received the Lord Jesus Christ, who He was and what He did for sinners, will escape the judgment to come.  Oh, that you might be one of them.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

Hebrews 8:1-13, A Tale of Two Covenants

[1]Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: we have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, [2]a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.
[3]For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. [4]For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law, [5]who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.  For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  [6]But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
[7]For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.  [8]Because finding fault with them, He says, “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 Judah – [9]not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.  [10]For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  [11]None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  [12]For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.
[13]In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.  Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

In our last post, we talked about the two priests in Hebrews 7.  Briefly mentioned were the covenants which underlay their ministries.  Chapter 8 continues the writer’s thought that the Levitical priesthood was temporary because it was unable to complete redemption.  As the writer develops later on, animal sacrifices could not take away sin.  The Levitical priesthood was “introductory” in that it was a primer, a basic revelation of the holiness, righteousness and justice of God, and the exacting and inflexible nature of what is required to stand in His presence uncondemned, cf. 2:2.

Chapter 8 deals with the fundamental difference between the Levitical priesthood and the priesthood of Christ.  This difference is not simply found in the fact that the Lord Jesus is God.  If, as some claim, Jesus was only a creature, exalted though He may have been, He would have been able only to bring Himself to heaven.  If only a creature, Jesus would have been under the same obligation as all other creatures to serve and obey God and His life would have had merit only for Himself.  But since He is God, His life and death have infinite merit and value – enough to have saved multiple worlds had God so chosen.

The fundamental difference between the priesthoods of Aaron and Christ lies in the covenants underlying their respective ministries, cf. 8:6.  The First, or Mosaic Covenant, could not take away sin or do anything about the condition of the sinner.  The New Covenant, underlying Christ’s priesthood, can and does both.

It’s essential to understand that there are two covenants involved in this matter.  And, though we won’t go further into the subject, Scripture lists several other covenants.

A large percentage of professing Christendom, in what is called “Covenant Theology,” disagrees with this idea of “several other” covenants.  This may not seem to be important, but it is.  This system of thought, that there is only one covenant, not several, has several distinct features:

1.  In the words of Dwight Hervey Small, a well-known Reformed writer:  “There is one basic, underlying covenant of grace; this is the covenant relationship between a gracious God and a sinful race.  This gives continuity to all God’s redemptive dealings with man.  But the form of the covenant relation undergoes sufficient change in administration as to warrant distinction in Scripture.  We can speak of the Edenic form of the covenant, or of the Abrahamic form, or of the Mosaic form, or of the New Testament form.”

“The covenant established with Moses was essentially the same as the covenant that was established with Abraham.”  (Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, pp. 37, 33.)

2.  There is no distinction between the nation of Israel and the church.  The church began with Abraham (Small, ibid., p. 161), or with Adam (Kuiper, R.B., The Glorious Body of Christ, p. 22), and is not specifically of the New Testament.  Israel and the church are merely different forms of the same thing.

3.  There is no future fulfillment of Old Testament verses with reference to the nation of Israel, which has been supplanted by the church (cf. note on bottom of p. 7, Weston, Charles Gilbert, The Weston Study Bible).  Nor is there to be a “grossly carnal” future Millennium, in which the Lord Jesus sits on an actual throne in Jerusalem (Clement, George H., The ABC’s of the Prophetical Scriptures, p. 40).  Covenant theologians are, therefore, amillennial, although not all who are amillennial hold to covenant theology.

Several teachings depend entirely or in part for their existence on Reformed covenant theology.  Among them are:

1.  Infant baptism.  According to this view, infant baptism replaces circumcision as the “sign” of the covenant.  Elaborate arguments are brought forth to justify this view.  I found it interesting that Dabney, a noted Reformed scholar, in discussing believers’ and infant baptism, refers to eight verses teaching believer’s baptism.  In the next paragraph, when he turns to infant baptism, he says this, “We add that baptism is also to be administered to ‘the infants of one or both believing parents’.” (Conf. 28, par. 4).  (Sorry, I have no further reference for this quote.)  Why doesn’t he simply mention those Scriptures which teach infant baptism, or clearly show that the apostles baptized infants?  He can’t.  There aren’t any.  That’s why there’s a need for “elaborate arguments.”  The whole doctrine of infant baptism rests on the effort to equate Israel with the church.  Indeed, covenant theology was introduced during the early years of the Reformation to defend the practice in argument against the Anabaptists, who rightly rejected it – and paid for it with their lives.

Just let me say that even if baptism does replace circumcision, even in the OT infants weren’t circumcised either to be born or to become members of the nation of Israel.  They were circumcised because they already had been born and were members of that nation.  So, baptism is for those who have already been born-again and, by virtue of that second birth, are members of the body of Christ.  Besides, circumcision wasn’t replaced by another symbol, but by the reality it symbolized – namely, regeneration (the new birth, salvation).  Believer’s baptism looks back to that, not to an Old Testament ritual.

2.  An established state-religion, based on the OT theocracy, in which every member of a nation is a member of “the church” by virtue of their baptism as infants.  In such a system, there is no liberty of conscience, no liberty of dissent.  In fact, the original Westminster Confession had a very strong section on the duty of the church to suppress all “blasphemies and heresies,” with the church defining what those were.  It was only after the War for American Independence that the Reformers, dealing with reality, substituted that section with one allowing religious liberty.

As we turn to our text, we see two things in the chapter:

1.  The “shadow” of the “first” covenant, 8:1-5, cf. 10:1.
2.  The “substance” of the “final” covenant, 8:6-13.

In the midst of all this talk about “covenants,” the writer is still setting forth the superiority of Christ:
1.  He is “seated,” v. 1.  The OT priests never sat while on duty because their work was never done.
2.  He is in heaven, v. 1.  Aaronic priests functioned on the earth.
3.  He is a “minister…of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man.”  There may or may not be an actual “building” in heaven, I don’t know for sure, but what Moses and the others built, while certainly “real,” nevertheless it only foreshadowed the redemption that was coming.  They could not provide “the real thing.”

2. The Substance of the “Final” Covenant, 8:6-13.

The First Covenant was not able to accomplish redemption because that system was designed only to show the need for redemption, the penalty for a broken law and the nature of the payment for that broken law.  It couldn’t actually provide the pardon necessary to escape sin – the breaking of the Law.  It’s in this very thing that the priesthood of Christ is “better”.  And the reason it’s “better” is found in the covenant underlying it, which the writer explains in vs. 8-13.  Notice the various aspects of this “new covenant.”

1.  The time of the New Covenant, v. 8, “the days come;” v. 10, “after those days.”  This is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34, but note the rest of that chapter! (to v. 40), also Jeremiah 32:36-44.  Both of these references show that something more than the Law is required if even Israel is to come to God.

2.  The beneficiaries of the New Covenant, vs. 8, 10:  “house of Israel,” “house of Judah.”  While I have no desire to get into the interpretive jungles which entwine themselves around these verses, it seems obvious to me to whom and of whom these verses speak.  And if they don’t refer to the actual nation of Israel, or Judah, and God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He meant?
The point is that Israel will never be reconciled to God through their adherence to the Mosaic Law.  Neither will anyone else.

3.  The substitution of the New Covenant, v. 9, also v. 11.  “Teaching” was an essential part of the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 6:7.  The historical reference of v. 9 establishes that “Israel” cannot be “the church,” as many teach.  It is a gravely dangerous thing to play semantic games with the word of God, to teach that we have to “look below the surface” to find out what it’s really saying.  While I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of its teaching in this life, and maybe not in the next one, either, what it teaches about God and sin and salvation is plain enough that there is no excuse for mistaking its meaning.

4.  The substance of the New Covenant, vs. 10-12.  These verses may be summarized in one word:  redemption.  The restoration of Israel does not come apart from redemption.  The crucifixion of Christ did not invalidate the promises of God, like this one, to Israel, so that her place in God’s redemptive purpose has been taken over by someone else and she is shut out.  Nay, it is through that very rejection and crucifixion that Israel will one day be redeemed as a nation.
Four things form the substance of the New Covenant:
a.  internal righteousness, v. 10a.  Contrast Deuteronomy 29:1-4.  What God did not do at Sinai, He will do because of Calvary.  The Mosaic Law is an external code, powerless to do anything to change the internal character of a person.  The New Covenant deals with that very thing, Jeremiah 31:33.
b.  immediate relationship, vs 10b-11a.  This is as opposed to “mediate.”  The OT Jew could never go into the Holy of Holies.  He could only do this through the annual observance of the Day of Atonement, in which the High Priest, and he alone and only on that day, could enter that place, where God dwelt.  But now, through Christ, the saved Jew, or Gentile, can come directly into the presence of God.  He or she needs no other priest; they don’t need Mary or “the saints,” don’t need “the church” or some religious organization.  Indeed, to say that one does need any of them is terrible blasphemy.
c.  individual reassurance, v. 11b, “they all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest (emphasis added).  Never in the history of Israel can this be said to have happened.  Even in days of the greatest spiritual revival, and though the nation itself had a “relationship” with God, there were only some who knew the Lord individually.  But there is coming a time, in the words of Romans 11:26, when “all Israel shall be saved.”
Since the whole section of Romans 9-11 deals with “Israel after the flesh” (Romans 9:3), Romans 11:26 can’t be said to refer to some sort of “spiritual Israel” which really has nothing to do with Israel.  Rather it refers to a time when Israel herself will be made “spiritual,” that is, she will be redeemed.  This doesn’t mean that every Jew who ever lived will be saved, but rather that every Jew alive at that time will be saved.
Even though the church enjoys the blessings of the new covenant by the grace of God, we can’t say that it’s really been fulfilled.  After all, “teaching” is a major part of the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, 20, and of the “gifts” to the church in Ephesians 4:11-16.  The time is coming when it and they will no longer be necessary.
d.  incomprehensible redemption, v. 12.
Sin will be forgiven, but more than that, it will be banished.  God’s people will have nothing to repent of, to be sorrowful over, to wish had never happened.  We have such superficial views of sin and salvation that I don’t think we really have any idea what that will be like.

5.  The succession of the New Covenant, v. 13.  By this, we mean that the New Covenant will supercede and take the place of the Old, Mosaic, Covenant.  It is, after all, a “new” covenant.

A better one.

March Memories: The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

Note:  In my previous post in this series, I reprinted “The Thief on the Cross” and commented at the end that I had received a lengthy response to what I said.  I mentioned that I had answered that response with another post.  This is that post.  The reason I did this, and reprint the two posts together, is because the view expressed on the other side strikes directly at how people are saved.  It diverts them from faith in the Lord Jesus and what He did on the Cross to faith in a ceremony, a ritual, namely immersion in water for salvation.  Not faith in Christ for salvation, but baptism for salvation.

Several years ago, I attended a few Bible studies led by an elder of the Boston Church of Christ.  During one of these studies, at a home, this elder baptized a young lady in the swimming pool out in the back yard.  I have no difficulty with that, but after he brought her up from the water, he commented that “her sins were now at the bottom of the pool.”  I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate the  situation.  My first reaction was, “Boy, I sure don’t want to go into that water.”

Anyway, here is the post.

On November 23 [2013], I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  WordPress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve.”  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they can show their viewpoint from Scripture.  The trouble is that there are many, many conflicting views, most of which appeal to Scripture.

This was the case with this gentleman’s response.  He clearly believes that there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled, “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”

He starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the term “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved, or not?

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he also says, “Their proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Just because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him to see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.  However, the OT is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

Having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer then asks a series of questions about things which Enoch did not “believe.”  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus died on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He wasn’t born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch, By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else who has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God.  We might add to that, the Word of God as it has been given, as it had been given to Enoch, not as it will be given, as it has been to us with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then the writer turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about the man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ.  This is true.  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This last is irrelevant.  Jesus hadn’t yet been raised from the dead, so the resurrection wasn’t yet an object of faith.  And, finally, he wasn’t born of the Spirit.  We believe this is inaccurate, as we mentioned above.

Then he asks, “Can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross.  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis.)  So, he believes that there have been at least two different ways to be saved.

He says, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, which was written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says,

“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 JUDAH (my emphasis)  – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was an husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant which I will make with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL (my emphasis) 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 shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

The whole section of Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the above portion should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?  To the nation?  To individuals, yes, but to the nation?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the OT about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of its “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and of the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water,” which we’ll look at in a moment, all the other things he lists are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and Resurrection, which are now the objects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water”?

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  There are a variety of viewpoints about what the Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others says it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply referring to physical birth seems unlikely.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

In his listing of salvation experiences on Acts, there’s one incident to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his family and several close friends.  We’ll start reading from v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:

“to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT AS WE HAVE?” (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized in order to be saved will receive remission of sin”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were all saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking in tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism; perhaps none of them more-so than Peter.  That’s why he received the vision in the early verses of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In vs. 15-17, he said,

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice in both these instances that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told people to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus, and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and in spite of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation use, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.
__________

(originally published December 26, 2013.) edited.

 

Cornelius

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is one of the most important people in the New Testament.  His conversion, along with that of his family and friends, recorded in Acts 10 and 11, was a watershed event in church history.

How so?

The early church had a really hard time accepting that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews, and Peter perhaps more than most.  That’s why Peter received a special vision in Acts 10:9-16.  Three times he saw a sheet lowered from heaven, filled with all kinds of animals:  clean and unclean.  Three times he was told to rise and eat.  After all, he was “very hungry,” v. 9.  Three times, he said, “no,” that he’d never eaten an unclean animal:  no bacon, no rattlesnake, no kalimari.  Three times, he was told that what God had cleansed, he must not call unclean or common.

“What in the world?” thought Peter.

Just then, in God’s perfect timing, there was a knock at the front door, so to speak v. 17.  Three men – Gentiles – wanted to talk to Peter.  Now he understood.

Though a Roman centurion, Cornelius was what was known as a “God-fearer.”  Cf. Acts 13:16, you who fear God. These were Gentiles, like Cornelius, who had come to see the God of Israel as the true God.  They had not become “Jews” by being circumcised, but they still recognized and followed the God of Israel.

Cornelius was called a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms to the people, and prayed to God always, Acts 10:1.  For all that, he and his household still needed something.

God sent Peter to tell him of that something.

Several somethings.

1.  God acknowledged what Cornelius was doing, but it was not enough.  Lest some use these verses to say that we can be saved by our own works and doings, Peter said that there was someone else involved, vs. 34, 35.

2.  This someone else was the Lord Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He then went about doing good and healing, vs. 36-39a.

3.  In spite of all the good the Lord did, they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, v. 39b.

4.  God raised Him from the dead, vs. 40, 41.  Jesus showed Himself to selected witnesses, among them Peter, who confirmed that He did indeed rise from the dead.  There are those who teach that He only rose “spiritually,” that His body remained dead, and is preserved somewhere, but He Himself proved His bodily resurrection by appearing to His disciples, telling them to touch Him and saying, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” Luke 24:39.

5.  Jesus commanded His disciples to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.  To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins, vs. 42, 43.

Peter never got to finish his sermon.

In thinking about current practices and teaching, it strikes me that Peter never did several things we do today.

1.  He never told Cornelius to “make his decision for Christ.”
2.  He never told Cornelius to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”
3.  He never told Cornelius to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins,” (even though he had indeed said that to an earlier audience, Acts 2:38).

With regard to that last “omission,” when I was just a new believer, I worked with a lady who belonged to a group who insisted that baptism was essential to salvation.  They’re still around today – I see them on facebook quite often.  Even though I had pleased the little old ladies in my grandmother’s Sunday School class because I knew that “sanctification” means “to set apart” (though it means more than that), I really didn’t know much about the Bible.  I did know the story in Acts 10; I just didn’t know where it was.  I looked and looked and finally found it.  (Didn’t have my trusty Strong’s Concordance, then. 🙂 )  When I showed Acts 10 to this lady, she had no answer, though she wouldn’t receive what it said.

Play close attention to what the Holy Spirit wanted us to know about what He sent Peter to do:

While Peter was STILL SPEAKING these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were ASTONISHED, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out ON THE GENTILES ALSO.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?” Acts 10:44-47, emphasis added

It seems to me that, unless one is willingly to believe that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Cornelius and his family and friends puts to rest forever the false teaching that baptism is essential to becoming saved.

Having said that, it is essential for those who ARE saved – it’s their “profession of faith,” not walking an aisle or raising a hand.  It’s just never how you “get saved.”

The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

On November 23, I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  Wordpress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve”.  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they show that the Scripture says I’m wrong. I just want what the Scripture itself says, not what folks say it says.  Such was the case for this response.  The gentleman who wrote it clearly believes there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled:  “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”  His comments are largely a non-sequitur, because they fail to follow what the Bible actually says about the subject.

His comment starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the word “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved or not?  He doesn’t say.

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he says, “Thief proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.   However, the Old Testament is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Then having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer asks a series of questions about things that Enoch did not “believe”.  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He was not born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch:  By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God, the Word, we might mention, which has been given, as in the case of Enoch, not which will be given, as in the case of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then this gentleman turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about this man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ [true].  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead [irrelevant.  Christ hadn’t risen from the dead yet, so the resurrection wasn’t a subject for faith], he wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins [also irrelevant], and he wasn’t born of the Spirit [inaccurate].

Then he asks, “can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross?  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis).  So, according to this writer, there have been least two different ways of salvation.

According to this writer, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of pardon under the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says, “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 JUDAH [my emphasis] – not 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 [my emphasis] 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 shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” 

The whole section from Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the portion above should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the other OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written about, during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the Old Testament about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of it’s “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water”, which we’ll look at in a moment, all the others are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and His resurrection, which now are the subjects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water?”

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”   There are a variety of viewpoints about what our Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend, of course, says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others say that it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.”  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply being physical birth seems seems somewhat strange.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

Though listing salvation experiences in the Book of Acts, there is one instance to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his household and close friends, v. 24.  We’ll start reading in v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:  “to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?”  (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized will receive remission of sins”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking with tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism and perhaps none of them more than Peter. This is why he received the special vision recorded in the first part of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In v. 15-17, he said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice in both these accounts that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told his audience to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus Christ and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and regardless of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation bring forth, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation. 

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.

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.