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When I read Prof. Engelsma’s article [“Conditionality, Not Responsibility” in the September 15, 2016 Standard Bearer, p. 487], it reminds me of his book Covenant and Election in the Reformed Tradition [RFPA, 2011]. If I understand correctly, the Reformed Baptism Form is set up with only elect children in mind. Your book deals with the question what it means to be “sanctified in Christ.” According to a footnote on page 121, VanVelzen was amazed, indignant, and horrified with a weak interpretation of being sanctified in Christ, and insisted that, as certainly as our children have been washed with water, they have the forgiveness of sins, for to them is promised redemption from sins by the blood of Christ, not less than to the adults. Thus being sanctified in Christ means having been saved by Jesus Christ, which is certainly true for elect children.

My question is now, how should I interpret Hebrews 10:29? For this verse speaks of someone who was sanctified by the blood of the covenant, which would indicate that he is elect, and yet treads underfoot the Son of God and counts Jesus’ blood as an unholy thing, which would indicate that he is reprobate.

I understand that, within the sphere of the covenant, there are elect children and reprobate children. But, as far as I can see, this remark does not satisfactorily resolve the dilemma of this Scripture verse, for, if someone is reprobate, then it should not have been said of him that he was sanctified by the blood of the covenant.

I would be delighted to see your comments on this.

With hearty greetings in Christ,

Jan Reckman

Aylmer, Ontario

Response

Hebrews 10:29 reads as follows: “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

One explanation of the text utterly and obviously fails to do justice to the inspired language. This is the explanation that would have the text teaching an “external” work of God upon all baptized children of believers, which “external” work some children despise and reject when they come to years, whereas others yield to the “external” work and are saved. The doctrinal heresies of this teaching are gross. First, it denies the efficacy of the grace of God and of the blood of Christ. The text speaks of the application to the children of the “blood of the covenant” and of the “Spirit of grace.” Second, this explanation makes the salvation of the children of believers depend upon their response to the grace of God, which supposedly all alike receive from God. All alike are sprinkled with the blood of Christ and receive the Spirit of grace, indeed the Son of God Himself, but only some are saved. The explanation must then be the will of the children. This is the denial of the biblical truth that salvation is by grace alone.

Further, the text does not refer to some “external” work of salvation, whatever this may be. (VanVelzen was right to be “amazed, indignant, and horrified with a weak interpretation of being sanctified in Christ” regarding the salvation of the infant children of believers, as signified by their baptism. So are we amazed, indignant, and horrified with such an interpretation of being sanctified in Christ on the part of Reformed churches and theologians today.) That being sanctified with the blood of the covenant in the text is genuine, saving, “inner” cleansing from sin and renewal with the life of the Son of God is proved by the added, and explanatory, phrase, “and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace.” The work of sanctification that the apostates count an unholy thing is accomplished by the Spirit of grace. The Spirit of grace is no “external” person. Nor is His work of grace a merely “external” operation. The Spirit of grace regenerates the heart of the elect sinner and sanctifies him or her in the deepest recesses of his or her being. One sanctified by the Spirit of grace is not merely set apart from other children outwardly, in the pathetic hope (wish, really) that he may be savingly sanctified later in life, usually as a very old man, but is made holy inwardly.

How then can the text teach that such a person treads the Son of God under foot, counts the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and does despite to the Spirit of grace? Does the text perhaps teach the falling away of saints?

Not at all.

The text teaches what is true of some members of the church institute, according to their own confession. They professed to believe in the Son of God. They confessed themselves to be washed in the blood of the covenant. They claimed to have been sanctified by the Spirit of grace. Indeed, for a time they showed themselves to be covenant friends of God. Then they fell away—fell away decisively and finally, for “it is impossible…to renew them again unto repentance” (Heb. 6:4-6). The passage in Hebrews 10 in which the text in question occurs concerns apostasy, or, as verse 26 describes apostasy, “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” The sin of the apostate is described in terms of his own profession. As he professed to be sanctified by the blood of Christ, his sin is treading the blood of Christ under foot. As he confessed himself to have been born again by the Spirit of grace, his uniquely great wickedness is despising the Spirit of grace.

Sticking more closely to the language of the text, the apostate “hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified [according to his profession], an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace [with whom and His work the apostate was thoroughly familiar as a member of the church and by whom he professed to have been regenerated and sanctified].” This profession makes the apostate worthy of a “much sorer punishment.”

The Bible describes the sin of the apostate similarly elsewhere. II Peter 2:1 charges the false prophets—heretical preachers who were originally esteemed teachers in the church—with “denying the Lord that bought them.” The meaning is not that Jesus redeemed these apostates, but that this had been their profession and claim.

Regarding the appeal to the text by Reformed theologians in support of their erroneous doctrine of infant baptism and the inclusion of the children of believers in the covenant of grace, as though all the children alike are “externally” sanctified by the blood of the Son of God, but some may yet perish, the text teaches no such thing. It teaches a genuine, saving, inner work of sanctification by the grace of the Spirit of Christ, applying the cleansing blood of Christ to the heart of the totally depraved child. If the text teaches what is, in fact, true of all the infants of believing parents, the text teaches the impotence of the Son of God, the failure in many cases of the blood of the covenant, the dependence of the Spirit of grace upon the will of the children of believers, and the falling away of saints.

All of this underscores the importance of a right doctrine of the covenant with the children of believers, and infant baptism. And this right doctrine has the covenant with the children of believers, and the covenant salvation of the children, governed by God’s election.

—David J. Engelsma