Apart from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is nothing which so wonderfully displays the richness of His grace as the promise of the covenant, that He will not only be the God of His people but of their children after them. It is according to this promise that God establishes His covenant of grace in the line of continuing generations.
The richness of this promise is beautifully illustrated in the story of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-34). This man, who was instrumental in opposing the Gospel in the city of Philippi, was brought to his knees by the mighty works of God and by the witness of Paul and Silas. And when, by God’s great grace, he asked concerning his salvation, the promise was given to him that not only he but also his house would be saved. And that promise was richly and abundantly fulfilled, for it was the promise of the Almighty, confirmed by an oath and revealing the immutability of His counsel. Not one word failed of that promise, but the gifts of faith and repentance were given also to those of his household, and he and his were baptized that same night into the fellowship of Jesus Christ and into the hope of glory. No wonder, then, that he rejoiced, for God had done for him exceeding abundantly beyond what he had asked or thought.
Psalm 128 also declares this blessedness, that the man who fears Jehovah and walks in His ways shall enjoy Jehovah’s goodness with his family, for his wife shall be a fruitful vine and his children like olive plants round his table. Nor do these things refer only to the enjoyment of earthly benefits, for there is neither blessedness, nor peace except in the way of salvation, and of these things also the Psalmist speaks.
And in the same measure as this truth shows forth the riches of God’s grace to His people, in such measure it is precious to them. What possible point, for example, would there be, or what incentive to labor in the establishment and maintenance of Christian schools and homes, were it not for the promise, “I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). Who would even dare to bring children into the world in these last days before the end, except that the promise, as declared to Abraham, is also given to the New Testament Church; “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Nor would the church as Institute have any hope for the future, were it not for these richest blessings of God’s grace. Apart from this promise and its gracious, faithful fulfillment, the church would have to be re-constituted and re-established with every passing generation. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Psalmist in Psalm 128not only speaks of seeing children’s children, but also of seeing the good of Jerusalem (vs. 5).
The fact that God’s covenant is a family covenant is revealed in many different ways in Scripture. It is specifically stated in the promises of the covenant as given to God’s people in the Old Testament, to Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Abraham and the Patriarchs, to David, and to Israel (Gen. 3:15, 9:9, 17:7, 26:3-4, 28:13-14, Ex. 2:23-25, Ps. 89:29-37, 103:17, Is. 44:3-4). It is implied in all the admonitions to instruct the children of the covenant and the warning against those who do not (Gen. 18:17-19, Ps. 78:1-8, Judges 2:10). It is implied in the Fifth Commandment which is very much a family commandment in that it is addressed to children as those to whom Jehovah says, “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” So too, in Israel’s history, children with their parents, as families were baptized in the cloud and in the sea, ate of the bread from heaven, drank of the spiritual rock, and entered into the promised land. Even the Old Testament sign of the covenant revealed the family character of the covenant, not only in the fact that children received the sign, but also in that the sign itself was performed upon the male generative organ. It is for this reason that Psalm 127:3 tells us that children are an heritage or inheritance from Jehovah, a part of the reward of grace that He gives to us. This is true only if we understand that those children are included in His covenant, for children who are not included are neither a reward nor a blessing, but a “grief of mind” to their parents (Gen. 26:34-35).
That all this was true in the Old Testament is not usually denied by anyone. Nevertheless, there are many of a Baptist persuasion who do deny that the covenant of God in the New Testament is still a family covenant, for certainly a family covenant in the New Testament does not harmonize with their denial of infant baptism. By this denial, however, they make void for the New Testament Church all of the Psalms and prophecies to which we have referred, and even the Ten Commandments and much of the rest of the Old Testament, so much of which is deliberately addressed to families and not just to individuals.
But, more importantly, the New Testament itself teaches us that God’s covenant is a family covenant. It is exactly that promise of the covenant that God will be the God of His people and of their children after them that Peter proclaimed on the great day of Pentecost when the New Testament Church received from Christ in heaven all the blessings of His death and resurrection. That promise and its fulfillment in the New Testament is also the explanation of all those passages in the New Testament which speak of the salvation of households (Luke 19:9, John 4:53, Acts 10:2, 16:14-15, 16:30-33, 18:8, I Cor. 1:13, II Tim. 1:16). Those who argue for adult baptism completely miss the point when they argue that none of these passages speak of children, for the point is not so much that God’s covenant is also established with children as that God’s covenant is always a family covenant both in the Old and New Testaments.
It is for this reason that the Church itself is called a family or household in the New Testament (Gal. 6:10, Eph. 2:19, 3:16). It is built up of families and households (Acts 5:42, 20:20, Col. 1:18-22, etc.), takes the form of a family with its elders and other office-bearers (I Cor. 4:15, Gal. 4:19, I Tim. 5:1, 2), and is altogether the family of God, acknowledging God as Father and submitting to the rule of Christ, the elder brother in the house of God (II Cor. 6:18, Heb. 2:13, etc.).
This truth that God’s covenant with His saints is a family covenant has its foundation in the truth that God Himself is a family God. God’s revelation of Himself in creation and in salvation is always consistent with His own nature and Being and reflects to us what He is in Himself. Therefore, because He is unchangeable, and because He is Himself a family God, His covenant with His people must be and always is a family covenant.
It is in the doctrine of the Trinity that God makes Himself known as a covenant God. In the Trinity He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, living one life of perfect fellowship, in perfect harmony and love—a Family God (Prov. 8:30, 31, John 17:21-23). It is for that reason first of all that He is called a Covenant God in Scripture. When He reveals that covenant to us, then He does not change it, but takes us into that family life and deals with us as families, so that there may be unity and harmony between Himself and His works.
Thus it is that the truth of the Trinity and the whole idea of fellowship and love are woven together in the First Epistle of John. It is also for this reason that John deliberately addresses himself to families in I John 1:13, 14 and to the church as a family, using such words as children, brethren, Father, Son, sons again and again in the Epistle.
All this does not mean, of course, that anyone receives salvation because of his natural birth, or that the promise of the covenant means that every member of a covenant family shall be saved. To receive salvation in the line of generations is not to receive it from those generations. Nor does the promise to save families and generations mean that every individual shall receive that salvation, no more than God’s promise to save the world means that every individual shall be saved. This is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the husbandman in John 15. The husbandman’s purpose to save His vine is not a purpose to save every branch. Many branches are taken away, gathered, and burned, and even the branches that remain in the vine are pruned and purged. There are fruit-bearing branches, as well as suckers that grow and, for the very life of the fruit-bearing branches, must be taken away. Not all are Israel that are of Israel, even in the New Testament.
From the beginning there has also been a seed of the Serpent born in the line of God’s covenant, and the presence of that seed is a continual reminder that salvation is from God alone and not because of earthly generations. In fact, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that even the presence of this seed of the serpent does not mean that God’s promise to be the God of His people and of their children after them ever fails. When Elijah thought the promise had failed in Israel and begged for death, God told Him that there were still 7,000 who had not bowed to Baa1 and that in that elect remnant His promise was completely fulfilled (cf.Rom. 11:1-5). They alone were true Israel and they alone obtained that which was promised.
God also reminds us that salvation is of grace alone when He brings new families into the covenant, when He raises up children of Abraham, as it were, from the stones. In all His work among the Gentiles God has been reminding Israel and us that we must not trust in anything but God alone. Nevertheless, He never fails to reveal His goodness to His saints in fulfilling the family promise of His covenant to them.
Nor may we forget that He fulfills that promise in the way of faithful covenant instruction. That the promise is of God and the fulfillment by grace alone does not take away our responsibility to be teachers both by word and example in our homes and in the church. The blessedness of which Psalm 128 speaks belongs to those who fear Jehovah and who keep His commandments. Just as the generations of Israel were cut out of God’s covenant for their unfaithfulness, so too we can be cut off in our generations. We must trust only in His faithfulness, and in faith obey God’s command to make known to our children the praises of the Lord, and his strength and the wonderful works which He has done. Then God, working by His grace through that instruction, will use His own covenant promise to save children’s children and to reveal the riches of His grace.
Understanding these things, knowing and experiencing the riches of God’s covenant grace, our prayer must be the prayer of David when God’s family covenant was revealed to him:
Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that Thou hast brought me hitherto? And this was yet a small thing in Thy sight, O Lord God; but Thou hast spoken also of Thy servant’s house for a great while to come. And is this the manner of men, O Lord God? And what can (we) say more unto Thee? for Thou Lord knowest Thy servant. For Thy word’s sake, and according to Thine own heart, hast Thou done all these great things, to make Thy servant know them. Wherefore Thou art great, O Lord God: for there is none like Thee, neither is there any God beside Thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.