Now it is our conviction that we cannot arrive at a correct view of the seed of the covenant as long as we hesitate to accept the clear teaching of the Word of God that it is not all Israel that is called Israel, that not all the children born in the historical manifestation of God’s covenant on earth are also actually children of the promise, but that the line of election and reprobation also cuts right through the visible manifestation of the covenant and makes separation, always and again separating between Israel according to the flesh and Israel according to the promise. Or, to put it negatively, we shall never be able to hit upon a pure, Scriptural conception of this truth as long as we try to hold fast to the view which wants to presuppose that all children born in the covenant in its external form are regenerated.
In the first place, we may certainly point out that infant baptism and the propriety of infant baptism cannot rest upon a presupposition. It is true, as Kuyper remarks and as others also have often remarked, that also the Anabaptists and Baptists cannot attain to any certainty with respect to the spiritual condition of the members of the church who are to be baptized, for the simple reason that no one can look into the heart, that it can never be determined with absolute certainty with respect to someone else whether he is regenerated, much less elect, or not; and that, as a consequence, also for the Baptists this must remain a presupposition. They want to baptize only believers. But whether someone is to be considered a believer or not must certainly depend upon his confession. That confession, however, might not be genuine. In fact, there is every ground in Scripture to believe that there are confessors who are not believers. And thus one nevertheless arrives ultimately at a presupposition. True as this may be, however, this does not yet give us the right to base our baptism of little children upon a presupposition.
Much rather does all this lead to the conclusion that if it be true that the visible church may only administer baptism to those who are regenerated or to believers, and to no one else, then, strictly speaking, the church should cease baptizing altogether. The baptism of infants must rest upon much firmer ground than that of a mere presupposition. But even apart from all this, it remains true that the presupposition of which we are here speaking is a spiritual and psychological impossibility, for the very simple reason that we know beforehand that what we wish to presuppose is not true. It is altogether impossible to presuppose something of which we are certain that it is not in harmony with reality as revealed in God’s Word and as we learn to know it from history and from our daily experience. Now we know that not all the children of the covenant in the external sense of the word are regenerated. We know that not everyone who is born in the church is also elect. That knowledge leaves this presupposition without any basis, therefore; and indeed, it makes this presupposition impossible.
That the intended presupposition is not in harmony with reality will be clear to anyone who is willing to learn from and to live by God’s Word. Historically the line of God’s covenant runs from Adam through Seth to Noah; from Noah through Shem to Abraham; from Abraham through Israel and Judah and David to Christ, in order from Christ to affect children of Abraham among all nations of men. But wherever one may view that historical line of God’s covenant as it runs in generations, never is all that is called God’s people truly the people of God. The children of Seth intermingled with the children of Cain, something which presupposes, of course, that not all the Sethites were also real, spiritual children of the covenant. In the tenth generation the children of Shem, out of whose midst Abraham was called, are idol-worshippers: a proof that also at that time the carnal seed was mixed with the spiritual seed. And how is it later with the children of Abraham and the generations of Israel? Sometimes the Lord addresses that people and causes His prophets to complain about that people as though there were no spiritual element among them whatsoever and as though they were all reprobate before His face. Indeed, they are called God’s people; indeed, they are the people who have the covenants and the promises; but they are nevertheless not children of the promise. Concerning that people the Lord complains that all day long He has stretched forth His hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people, (Isaiah 65:2; Romans 10:21). It is a people that do err in their hearts, and that have not known God’s ways. They are worse than the heathen: for the latter are uncircumcised in their flesh, but Israel is uncircumcised of heart, (Psalm 95:10; Jeremiah 9:26; Hebrews 3:10). They were stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart and ears, who always resisted the Holy Ghost, (Acts 7:51). The prophet Isaiah is sent to this people to proclaim the Word of the Lord to them with the express purpose that hearing they shall hear and not understand, and seeing they shall see and not perceive. He must make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, in order that they may not hear and may not see and may not understand and be converted and God should heal them. And all this must continue until the land is left without inhabitant and until the cities are laid waste and until the Lord shall have removed them far away, (Isaiah 6:9-12). It is a people that kills and stones the prophets, that always and again despises their word, that follows after strange gods, that imitates all the abominations of the heathen, so that they become like Sodom and Gomorrah, crucify the Lord of glory, and thus are themselves rejected, their house being left unto them desolate. Who, with an eye for the history which God’s Word has revealed to us, would have the courage to say that we must presuppose of all the children who are born in the covenant that they are regenerated? In the old dispensation they all drank of the same spiritual rock, which was Christ, after they had all been baptized into Moses; and they all ate the same spiritual food. But in the majority of them God was not well-pleased; and He struck them down in the dreadful wilderness, having taken offense at them.
The question is: How do you explain all this? How is it to be understood that those who were born in the line of the generations of God’s covenant, to whom pertained the adoption, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises, nevertheless finally did not obtain the promise? Is it perhaps thus, that God’s covenant is conditional and the realization of it depends upon the free will of, man? Is there after all, in. the historical sphere of the covenant on earth, a certain general covenant grace which can be either accepted or rejected? Must we after all speak of a well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part to a people who were in such a dreadful manner rejected by their God? The apostle is also occupied with this question inRomans 9. But there God’s Word offers us an altogether different conception. And the conception which Scripture there offers comes down to this, in brief: God’s people, according to God’s covenant here on earth, come to manifestation in the line of successive generations; those generations, according to God’s own appointment, bear the sign of the covenant and are called by the name of God’s people, with whom in a natural-organic manner they are intertwined; but this does just exactly not mean that everyone in those generations, head for head and soul for soul, is also a true child of God. All who are of Israel are not Israel. And not the children of the flesh, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For the line of election and reprobation cuts directly through the generations of the covenant.
Along this line only can we arrive at a Scriptural conception of believers and their seed.