And what is now the peculiarity of that history, also before the period of Abraham and Israel? It is this, that the Lord God always and again establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations, or, if you will, with believers and their seed.
This is an undeniable fact. It is simply history. Already before the Deluge there is always a twofold seed in the spiritual sense: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. And this twofold people is also found in the line of two distinct generations, that of Seth and that of Cain. It is not thus, that now for a time the Lord establishes His covenant with Seth’s generations, in order then to return again to Cain. Nor is it thus, that God always has His children in both generations, and calls them out of both lines. No, the generations of Seth are the generations of God’s people; while the generations of Cain are not included in God’s covenant. This is so strong that there can be no reasonable doubt but that by the expression “sons of God” the Sethites are meant, while “the daughters of men” refers to children from the generation of Cain.
Before the flood, therefore, the line of God’s covenant runs in the continued generations from Seth to Noah. Indeed, even then not all who are out of Seth according to the flesh are God’s people. There are indeed many who fall away, and the line is repeatedly pruned and narrowed down until only eight souls can enter into the ark of salvation. But that does not change the fact that the line runs through in the generations of Seth even unto the flood.
After the flood it is no different. The line of Shem is chosen by the Lord. In that line God establishes His covenant. Of course, this may never be understood as if after the flood there was never any child of God except in the line of the generations of Shem. This is no more true than that all the fleshly children of Shem were spiritual children of God. Things always develop organically. Also Japheth is out of Noah. And undoubtedly for a time, next to the covenant generations of Shem there were also other lines of children of God, especially from Japheth. But only in Shem’s generations does the line run through. In those generations is the main line. With them God establishes His covenant. Presently, out of Shem comes Abraham; and out of Abraham is Israel as the nation to whom pertaineth the covenants and the giving of the law. Out of Israel is Judah; and out of Judah is David; and out of David’s house is the Christ of God, the head of God’s covenant. Throughout the Old Testament, therefore, the line of God’s covenant runs in generations, the continued generations of believers. From Adam to Christ is one unbroken line. Indeed, that line sometimes almost disappears from view; but it is never broken.
Neither is it true that this historical line is broken at the dawn of the new dispensation, as Baptists of every description like to present it. Indeed, the exalted Savior breaks the bonds of Israel’s national existence and gathers His church in the new dispensation out of all tribes and nations and tongues. Nevertheless, it is simply history that also in the days of the New Testament the line of continued generations is drawn through also among the nations. This accounts for it that also the preaching of the gospel follows such a definite line, a line which may be readily traced on a world map. The course of the gospel is from Jerusalem through Samaria to Antioch, presently through Asia Minor to Greece and Rome, from whence it spreads throughout Europe, and in due course crosses the ocean with the generations of God’s people to the Western Hemisphere. History is never thus, that here and there a few believers are called, that a few individuals enter into the church of Christ, called out of the darkness of heathendom, in order then to disappear again from those regions. But history is thus, that the church of Christ in the world is established and in various definite places continues to exist in generations. Fact is that even now every particular church in the world establishes itself in the conviction that God will maintain His covenant even to a thousand generations. In that faith believers come together. In that faith they join with one another. In that faith the church is visibly instituted by them, and churches and schools are built by them. After all, they do all these things with an eye to the future. If they were actually of the conviction that the Lord did not establish His covenant with believers and their seed, and that therefore a certain church could simply end with the existing generation, they would not act thus. But now it is different. The Lord establishes His covenant and will perform the work of His grace in the line of the continued generations of believers. Also in the new dispensation the line of the history of God’s covenant runs through, even to a thousand generations.
But this is not all.
It is not only thus, that this historical line can be pointed out as continuing in the line of the generations of God’s people, both in the old and in the new dispensation; but Scripture itself explains the continuation of that line for us from the fact that God establishes His covenant with believers and their seed. Therein, according to Holy Scripture itself, lies the deep cause of this historical fact. Fact is that this explanation is contained already in the first word of promise: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel,” Gen. 3:15. It is true that by “seed” here spiritual seed is meant, and that definite generations are not yet indicated here. This could not be, because the generations of Adam and Eve were not yet born. Yet even here already Scripture speaks of the seed of the woman which in generations shall continue even to Him Who shall finally bruise the head of the serpent; and it may readily be surmised that the generations of Seth, in contrast with those of Cain, lived from this word with application to their line.
However, this truth, that God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations, is more clearly expressed after the Deluge. We have already made it plain that in the covenant with Noah we confront essentially no other covenant than the one covenant of grace which was already announced in general terms in Paradise, which is presently established with Abraham and his seed, and which is maintained in Christ. Noah does not enter into the ark as the representative of the whole world as it is outside of Christ, but as head of the visible church. The church is saved in the ark; the world perishes in the flood. Presently that church comes forth again from the ark; and with that church the Lord God establishes His covenant. The fact that in this connection the covenant of God is revealed as embracing the whole creation does not change matters and is easily understandable in the light of the history of the flood. A covenant of friendship with the wicked world outside of Christ God, the Holy and Righteous One, certainly could not establish. The covenant is essentially always the same. For this reason, also here, therefore, Scripture does not speak of “a covenant,” but of “my covenant.” That is: My one covenant, which is always the same, and which I establish with My people in Christ Jesus. And when, therefore, the Lord establishes that covenant with Noah, He says: “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you,” Gen. 9:9. Also here, therefore, you have the same idea. When God establishes His covenant in the world, then He does that with believers and their seed.
Still more emphatically is this rule revealed to Abraham. Then it is put in the well-known words: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee,” Gen. 17:7. Here it is stated, in the first place, that the Lord God will establish His covenant with Abraham and his seed, and that too, in the line of continued generations: “between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations.” In the second place, to this is added that this shall be for an everlasting covenant. And he who would nevertheless maintain that this line ceased with the coming of Christ, and that these words therefore have no meaning for the church of the new dispensation, or he who would hold that the Lord will indeed cause this everlasting covenant to stand when in the future He shall deal again with Israel as a nation, such an one certainly does not understand his Bible. The Scripture teaches that this word which was spoken to Abraham finds its richest fulfillment in the New Testament church, that therefore this line of the covenant continues in that church, and that the believers are the seed of Abraham referred to in that word of Genesis 17:7. Thus it is also that Peter cries already on the day of Pentecost to the. multitude of Jews and devout men: “To you is the promise and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call,” Acts 2:39. Were it not that for the new dispensation also it is true that God establishes His covenant with believers and their seed, this word of the apostle would have no sense.
But of much greater significance is what Holy Scripture teaches us through the apostle Paul with respect to Abraham’s seed. Especially the Epistle to the Galatians is of great importance here. For there Scripture literally applies what was spoken to Abraham and his seed to the believers of the new dispensation. In Galatians 3:7-9 the apostle writes: “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” So strongly is the unity of the old and new dispensations maintained by the apostle that he presents both under the image of one person, formerly a child and now an adult: “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father,” Gal. 4:1, 2. The meaning is plain. Israel is the church as the child who is under tutors and governors until the fulness of time. The church of the new dispensation is essentially that same child, but now grown up and freed from his tutors. More strongly it could certainly not be stated. Those who would make separation between the church of the new dispensation and Israel of the old dispensation surely do not know how to do justice to this word of Scripture. If the matter stands thus, therefore, that the believers of the new dispensation are Abraham’s seed, through Christ, the great son of Abraham, then it is certainly true that what the Lord spake concerning His everlasting covenant to Abraham is also applicable to the church of the new dispensation: “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” According to the plain teaching of Scripture, therefore, there can be no doubt but that God also in the new dispensation establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations. With thee and with thy seed after thee! That is and remains the rule also for us.
Now here is also the Scriptural basis for the baptism of infants. The ground for infant baptism cannot and may not be sought in the presupposition that those infants are regenerated. For, in the first place, nothing more than a presupposition can rest upon a presupposition. And for infant baptism we must certainly have a firmer basis than a mere presupposition. Besides, we know for a certainty that not all the fleshly children are, or become, regenerated, while nevertheless all the children of believers must be baptized. Neither can the ground for infant baptism be found in a promise as the essence of the covenant. Then the certainty of the covenant is removed from God, Who establishes His covenant, to man, who presently consents to the covenant, and to man’s free will. Neither does the right and the obligation of infant baptism rest in the faith of the parents, although they must certainly confess their faith if they are to be able to present their children for baptism. But the firm ground for the baptism of the little children of the church lies only herein, that God causes His covenant to run in the line of continued generations. Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant, the ensign and banner of those who are in Christ Jesus, who are of God’s party in the midst of this world. And since God establishes His covenant with believers and, their seed in their generations, therefore it, follows that also those generations of believers must receive the sign of God’s covenant.
Thus it was in the old dispensation with circumcision. God’s people as they existed outwardly in the world, the generations of Abraham, had to receive the sign of circumcision. He who refused to bear that sign violated and desecrated God’s covenant. In the new dispensation that sign is replaced by holy baptism, in harmony with the peculiar character of this dispensation. There can therefore be no question about it in the light of Scripture, that baptism is indeed come in the place of circumcision. In the first place, this, too, is simply an historical fact. In the old dispensation circumcision is the sign which God’s people bear. When Christ comes, Who is the head of His one people, both of the old and the new dispensation, then He bears both the sign of circumcision and the sign of baptism. In Him the old and the new dispensations are one; and through Him the old passes over into the new, circumcision into baptism. When the Savior presently ascends into heaven and His Spirit is poured out upon all flesh, then in those circles where circumcision had always been the sign of the covenant, circumcision and baptism wrestled with one another for a time. Circumcision cannot immediately understand that it has served its time and that now it will be forced aside by baptism. But in that struggle baptism has a victory, and circumcision disappears. It is an historic fact that circumcision is replaced by baptism. Thus it is also literally stated in Holy Scripture. Not only does the apostle always warn that now that baptism has come circumcision has no more value; but he also writes literally to the church at Colosse: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead,” Col. 2:11, 12. It is plain that the apostle here teaches that baptism in the new dispensation is the very same thing of which circumcision was the sign in the old dispensation, so that he can write to the congregation, “Ye are circumcised. . . being buried with Christ in baptism.”
Hence, we come to this conclusion, in harmony with the clear revelation of God’s Word:
1) Throughout history, both in the old and in the new dispensation, God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations. Believers with their seed enter into God’s covenant.
2) It is God’s will that the generations of the covenant receive the sign of that covenant.
3) The sign of baptism has come in the place of the sign of circumcision in the new dispensation.
4) The generations of believers, and therefore also the little children, ought to receive the sign of baptism and bear it in the midst of the world.
Only when we have seen all this does what we read in Scripture concerning the baptism of entire households also receive meaning. Taken by themselves, apart from the great current thought of Holy Scripture, such proofs for infant baptism have little weight. For the opponent of infant baptism can very easily counter with the assertion that you must still prove that there were also little children in such households. But it becomes altogether different with regard to such passages of Scripture when you first understand that the Lord God always establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations. For then you find in the latter fact the basis of and the explanation for the fact that already in the time of the apostles entire households were taken up into the line of God’s covenant on earth. Then also what you read in Scripture concerning the children of the church also becomes meaningful: how the Lord blesses them, and how the apostles declare them to be holy and also write to the congregation in a manner which shows that they consider the children of believers as belonging to and included in the congregation. And then you will no longer say merely that the children of believers may be baptized, but you will view infant baptism as a holy obligation of the people of God’s covenant.
Naturally, this is not our last word. It follows from this view of infant baptism that also the children of the flesh, who do not belong to those given to Christ by the Father, receive the sign of baptism in this world according to the will of God. Concerning the difference between the outward, historical covenant and its spiritual nucleus, and concerning the question of the salvation of covenant children who die in infancy,—concerning these questions we must still speak