A common argument used against infant baptism by my Reformed Baptist brothers is that what makes the New Covenant better is that Christ is now the mediator or minister of this covenant. It consists of the elect only whom He perfectly intercedes for being that they are the true spiritual seed of Abraham who the promise is given to, therefore the sign of the Covenant should only be given to those who profess faith in Christ and it should not be administered to our infants or children until they profess faith for themselves since they are not part of the fulfilled Covenant of Grace. Therefore giving the sign to infants and including them in the New Covenant is a vital error since many baptized infants finally apostatize which would then indicate that Christ fails as a mediator. There are other Reformed Baptist who would concede to the fact that our children are in the covenant but then they claim that the sign should not be given but that issue can be for another time. Of course there is more to their arguments but I want to focus on this specific point for this article.
Westminster’s view agrees that Christ is the mediator or minister of the covenant and that the Covenant of Grace is fulfilled in Christ and the types and shadows have vanished in Him and also that the Covenant of Grace is made specifically with the elect alone. What Baptists reject is the vital distinction between the visible and invisible administrations of the covenant. This distinction has always existed but they claim that the new covenant is only invisible and spiritual with the elect alone. Although reformed baptists do affirm a distinction between the visible and invisible Church, they divorce the concept of covenant from church. That is another vital error. Let us leave that also for another time.
It is also quite common these days for our Baptist brothers to use John Owen who is considered one of the most gifted and respected English reformed theologians of our history. They use Owens view of covenant theology specifically from his commentaries on the book of Hebrews chapter 8 and make the claim that Owen is more inline with 1689 Federalism than with Westminster covenant theology and that the implications of Owens understanding of the Covenant of Grace logically leads to a credobaptist view rather than a paedobaptist view. Despite Owen being a paedobaptist he, they claim, was actually inconsistent and contradictory.
It is no surprise that Reformed Presbyterians would absolutely and respectfully disagree with that notion. We believe that assertion has been already proven false by reading the same Hebrews commentary they use by Dr. Owen and also in his polemical work on infant baptism. Nevertheless my intent here is not to go into detail as to why these claims are false nor is it my intent to show where my Baptist brothers misread and misinterpret Owen in regards to the distinction between the Abrahamic and Mosiac covenants in relation to the New Covenant.
What I want to do here is attempt to prove using one of Dr. Owen’s points in his defense on infant baptism that contrary to the reformed baptist assertion that to include infants in the New Covenant who would eventually apostatize would mean that Christ is a failing mediator is false. Furthermore for Owen it is for the very reason that Christ is the mediator and minister of the New Covenant of promise that children of believers should indeed be given the sign of this promise of grace. I found this point most intriguing.
“Seventhly, Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1, – that is, of the covenant of God made with Abraham; and he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Rom. xv. 8. This covenant was, that he would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed.”
Now if this be not so under the new testament, then was not Christ a faithful messenger, nor did confirm the truth of God in his promises.
This argument alone will bear the weight of the whole cause against all objections; for, –
- Children are still in the same covenant with their parents, or the truth of the promises of God to the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.
- The right unto the covenant, and interest in its promises, wherever it be, gives right unto the administration of its initial seal, that is, to baptism, as Peter expressly declares, Acts ii. 38, 39. Wherefore, –
The right of the infant seed of believers unto baptism, as the initial seal of the covenant, stands on the foundation of the faithfulness of Christ as the messenger of the covenant, and minister of God for the confirmation of the truth of his promises.”
Owen here is clearly saying that the sign and seal of the promise of grace in Christ in the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision and that this sign of promise was also given to the children of the believing parents. He goes on to say that the promise in the New Covenant continues to be with believing parents and their children via the sign and seal of baptism. Of course this is also due to the fact that Owen properly understood the nature of sign and seals of covenant promises in that they are signs and seals of the promises of God. Therefore for Owen the covenantal nature of the sign and seal of Gods promise to save continues into the New Covenant and that nowhere is it said to have changed nor has the administration of participants changed. Baptists erroneously define baptism as a present reality in the one believing as the fulfilled promise and then discontinues the aspect of promise for the believers children and deny that they are still included in the “same covenant as their parents”, to quote Owen. For Owen this promise continues into the New Covenant for the children of believers and to reject the sign of grace to children is to also deny that Christ is the minister and mediator of the Covenant of Grace where the promises of God in Christ via grace is magnified to a greater degree.
“In brief, a participation of the seal of the covenant is a spiritual blessing. This the seed of believers was once solemnly invested in by God himself. This privilege he hath nowhere revoked, though he hath changed the outward sign; nor hath he granted unto our children any privilege or mercy in lieu of it now under the gospel, when all grace and privilege are enlarged to the utmost. His covenant promises concerning them, which are multiplied, were confirmed by Christ as a true messenger and minister; he gives the grace of baptism unto many of them, especially those that die in their infancy, owns children to belong unto his kingdom, esteems them disciples, appoints households to be baptized without exception. And who shall now rise up, and withhold water from them?
This argument may be thus further cleared and improved: –
Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1, – that is, the covenant of God with Abraham, Gen. xvii. 7; for, –
- That covenant was with and unto Christ mystical, Gal. iii. 16; and he was the messenger of no covenant but that which was made with himself and his members.
- He was sent, or was God’s messenger, to perform and accomplish the covenant and oath made with Abraham, Luke i. 72, 73.
- The end of his message and of his coming was, that those to whom he was sent might be “blessed with faithful Abraham,” or that “the blessing of Abraham,” promised in the covenant, “might come upon them,” Gal. iii. 9, 14.
To deny this, overthrows the whole relation between the old testament and the new, the veracity of God in his promises, and all the properties of the covenant of grace, mentioned 2 Sam. xxiii. 5.
It was not the covenant of works, neither originally nor essentially, nor the covenant in its legal administration; for he confirmed and sealed that covenant whereof he was the messenger, but these he abolished.
Let it be named what covenant he was the messenger of, if not of this. Occasional additions of temporal promises do not in the least alter the nature of the covenant.
Herein he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Rom. xv. 8; that is, undeniably, the covenant made with Abraham, enlarged and explained by following promises. This covenant was, that God would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed;” which God himself explains to be his infant seed, Gen. xvii. 12, – that is, the infant seed of every one of his posterity who should lay hold on and avouch that covenant as Abraham did, and not else. This the whole church did solemnly for themselves and their posterity; whereon the covenant was confirmed and sealed to them all, Exod. xxiv. 7, 8. And every one was bound to do the same in his own person; which if he did not, he was to be cut off from the congregation, whereby he forfeited all privileges unto himself and his seed.
The covenant, therefore, was not granted in its administrations unto the carnal seed of Abraham as such, but unto his covenanted seed, those who entered into it and professedly stood to its terms.
And the promises made unto the fathers were, that their infant seed, their buds and offspring, should have an equal share in the covenant with them, Isa. xxii. 24, xliv. 3, lxi. 9. “They are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them,” chap. lxv, 23. Not only themselves, who are the believing, professing seed of those who were blessed of the Lord, by a participation of the covenant, Gal. iii. 9, but their offspring also, their buds, their tender little ones, are in the same covenant with them.
To deny, therefore, that the children of believing, professing parents, who have avouched God’s covenant, as the church of Israel did, Exod. xxiv. 7, 8, have the same right and interest with their parents in the covenant, is plainly to deny the fidelity of Christ in the discharge of his office.
It may be it will be said, that although children have a right to the covenant, or do belong unto it, yet they have no right to the initial seal of it. This will not suffice; for, –
- If they have any interest in it, it is either in its grace or in its administration. If they have the former, they have the latter also, as shall be proved at any time. If they have neither, they have no interest in it; – then the truth of the promises of God made unto the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.
- That unto whom the covenant or promise doth belong, to them belongs the administration of the initial seal of it, is expressly declared by the apostle, Acts ii. 38, 39, be they who they will.
The truth of God’s promises is not confirmed if the sign and seal of them be denied; for that whereon they believed that God was a God unto their seed as well as unto themselves was this, that he granted the token of the covenant unto their seed as well as unto themselves. If this be taken away by Christ, their faith is overthrown, and the promise itself is not confirmed but weakened, as to the virtue it hath to beget faith and obedience”
As we can clearly see Dr. Owen equates the Abrahamic covenant with the Covenant of Grace and that Jesus Christ has always been the mediator and minister of both administrations. We also see that for Owen it has ALWAYS been about the spiritual seed of Abraham even though there are outward administrations of the promise. This is also nothing new.
Therefore in conclusion in Owens view, and in this writers view, to reject the sign and seal of Gods promise of grace to the children of believers is to deny and minimize the fact that Jesus Christ is a faithful and perfect mediator and minister of His own fulfilled covenant of grace.