A Question About Prayer and Covenant Seed

In connection with my recent articles about the covenant and baptism, a reader sent me a question which was really intended for me rather than our Question Box Editor. The question is as follows: “Is it right for believers to pray and plead to God that all their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will be His elect and will follow His teachings in their lives?” 

Even as the question concerning children of believers who die infancy, so also this question is emotionally poignant. In fact, the question is very similar, and in a certain sense may even be said to be more emotionally “loaded,” than that concerning children who die in infancy. For some reason or other, questions concerning the place of our children in relation to the covenant of grace have frequently been reduced to the very narrow scope of the instance of children of believers who die in infancy. But from every point of view, the question concerning those who do not die in infancy is a, more basic question. At the same time, it is surely not less emotional. For who does not desire that his own flesh and blood will walk in the way of God’s covenant, manifest themselves as children of God, and partake of the blessings of God’s covenant both in the present and in the everlasting future of the perfection of that covenant? 

This makes it all the more imperative that we try to reach an answer to this question without being influenced by our own emotions, but on the basis of the objective truth of God’s Word. Our prayers must be in harmony with the principles of true prayer. I have in mind such principles as are mentioned in our Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 117: “What are the requisites of that prayer, which is acceptable to God, and which he will hear? First, that we from the heart pray to the one true God only, who hath manifested himself in his word, for all things, he hath commanded us to ask of him; secondly, that we rightly and thoroughly know our need and misery, that so we may deeply humble ourselves in the presence of his divine majesty; thirdly, that we be fully persuaded that he, notwithstanding that we are unworthy of it, will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer, as he has promised us in his word.” 

It seems evident to me that if my questioner means to ask whether we may flatly, unconditionally, without any limitation pray that our children and grandchildren will be God’s children, the answer surely must be negative. The reasons are: 1) God has nowhere commanded us in His Word to ask this of Him. 2) God has nowhere revealed in His Word that all our children will be children of God; on the contrary, He has plainly revealed that the lines of election and reprobation cut right across the generations of the covenant. 3) Such a prayer cannot be prayed in the full persuasion that God “will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear” it. 

Or again, apply the test of Question and Answer 129 to such a prayer. Can it be concluded with “Amen”? The Catechism instructs us: “‘Amen’ signifies, it shall truly and certainly be: for my prayer is more assuredly heard of God, than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of him.” 

Much more could be said about this question. For example, is the prayer motivated merely by flesh-and-blood ties? Does the person who prays this prayer desire the same for his fellow believers and all their children and grandchildren? Is the person who prays this prayer ready in a very real sense (not merely as mechanical after-thought) to say, “Thy will be done”? 

All this does not mean, of course, that we may not make known our heart’s desire with regard to our children to our Father in heaven. .Nor does it mean that that heart’s desire may not be spiritually motivated and need not necessarily be carnal. But when it comes to ourselves and our dear children, we must be on guard lest we be carnal and lest we storm the throne of grace merely with our own carnal desires and wishes. 

Let me conclude with a pertinent quotation from Herman Hoeksema’s Believers And Their Seed, pp. 157, 158: 

“As far as the objective confession of the church of Christ is concerned, as that confession is founded on the Word of God, the matter must certainly be presented differently. By reason of the fact that the Lord establishes His covenant in the line of successive generations, believers will confess in gratitude before the Lord that He counts them worthy to bring forth the true seed of the covenant. This true seed of the covenant, however, does not consist of all children who are born of them, but only of the children of the promise. Certain it is that believers also bring forth another seed. Now, on this side of death and the grave fleshly ties may draw us, so that we say that we wish to see all our children saved, and do not wish that our own flesh and blood goes lost. But in the final analysis also in this respect the righteous must live out of, their faith, not from their flesh. If one lives out of faith, then he will say: ‘Lord, I thank Thee that Thou hast counted me worthy to bring forth children for Thy eternal covenant. From Thy grace I desire to receive my children. According to Thy covenant I want to bring them up in the fear of Thy name. For the sake of Thy name and Thy covenant, it is also the desire of my heart that all my children walk in the ways of Thy covenant. But ultimately I desire to serve nothing else than Thy good pleasure. And bowing before Thy divine majesty, I thank Thee when Thou dost save Thy children, out of my children and dost receive them in glory.'”