For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.
A marvelous wonder of God’s grace it is, that the Lord our God continues His covenant in the line of generations. Never forget it!
You can go to the foreign mission field—and I speak from experience—and there come into contact with first-generation children of God. Without question, that is a wonder. A spectacular wonder of God’s grace! The Almighty, Who calls the things which be not as though they were, and Who quickens the dead, calls His children effectually out of the darkness of heathendom into His marvelous light. In the most direct and literal sense, He translates them out of the power of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. Amazing grace! One can only marvel at the sudden, radical change that such grace works.
But do not forget that it is no less a wonder—and in some respects an even greater wonder, if indeed comparisons are in order—that the Lord our Godcontinues His covenant in the line of generations. No, this does not mean that all the children born of believing parents are regenerated children of God. Nor does it mean that we may and must presuppose this: for this would be presupposing what both Scripture and experience teach us is not true. But in the line of generations God calls His own, and that, too, from infancy on, out of the power of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. He calls the seed, the seed of the promise, the true and spiritual seed, out of our seed! He brings a clean thing out of an unclean! Generation after generation He does this, so that our generation of His church brings forth the next generation. Once His church is established among a people, that church continues to be built up out of the church. And this shall continue until Jesus comes. Amazing grace! Covenant faithfulness!
It is about these generations, the generations of the people of God, and it is about this seed, the seed of His covenant, that the Word of God here is concerned. You cannot fail to note this in the text and context. It is on the foreground, this concern with covenant generations. “. . .our fathers have told us.” “We will not hide them from their children, shewing to thegeneration to come. . . .” Such expressions you find in the preceding context. And in the text you find the same emphasis. “. . .that they should make them known to their children.” “That the generation to comemight know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children.” Fathers. . .children. . .children’s children. . .generations to come. . .children as yet unborn! This idea is on the foreground here. To a thousand generations. . .until Jesus comes! No wonder we sing often from Psalm 78 at occasions connected with Christian education; it is totally appropriate.
Moreover, it is not about generations in general that the Psalm speaks, even as it is not about the transmission of knowledge in general that the inspired poet is concerned here. After all, it is true also in the world that the transmission of knowledge with which education is concerned takes” place from, generation to generation. That is axiomatic; it is simply a fact of life.
No, but He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel. Don’t you see? The Word of God here has to do with His church, His covenant people, the one body of our Lord Jesus Christ, His beloved elect, who are gathered by His Spirit and Word from the beginning to the end of the world, whom He began to gather already in the old dispensation and whom He continues to gather throughout the centuries of the new.
And now note carefully: the concern here is not that by our instruction we must make our children and children’s children into children of God. Our homes and our covenant schools are not little mission stations to make true Israelites out of circumcised Philistines, so to speak. The purpose of Christian education is not to lead our children to Christ and make them into children of God. That would be a task far beyond our capability, and it would be hopeless folly to attempt it. Basically, and from the point of view of the positive seed that is always organically present in all the generations of the church, the order is just the other way around. Because the Lord our God draws His seed out of our seed, it is both possible and necessary to instruct our children in His wonderful works and to teach them to keep His commandments.
A testimony established, and a law commanded. . . .
Covenant education is not an option, but a mandate.
A divine mandate! He, Jehovah, our covenant God, has established a testimony and a law. It is a testimony, that is, a witness concerning the will of God with respect to the instruction of our children and grandchildren. And that testimony is at the same time a law. The testimony is not merely good advice, which you follow or do not follow as you see fit or as your money allows or depending on your priorities in life. It is a rule. It is a divine principle of right. It is a mandate from on high!
Need I remind you how often that testimony and law occurs in the annals of Israel’s history? Here in Psalm 78it is simply stated that this testimony consisted in this, that God “commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children.” But this testimony, as the psalm suggests, is a matter of history; it is something which the Lord commanded of old already. You read of it, for example, in connection with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and God’s purpose to show His signs before Pharaoh: “And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:2) Of this same testimony you read in connection with the Passover, Exodus 12:26, 27: “And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?” That ye shall say, “It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptian’s, and delivered our houses.” You find the same law in Exodus 13:8, 9: “And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the Lord’s law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt.” (cf. also vss. 14-16) And who has not heard this emphasized in a Christian instruction sermon or speech in connection with the familiar words ofDeuteronomy 6:6-9: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house (How detrimental is TV to this! HCH), and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
What must be told to unborn generations, to children and grandchildren and great grandchildren in the line of the covenant?
In a word: God! His praiseworthy deeds, His strength, His wonderful works that He hath done!
That must be the center of it all. In the deepest sense of the word, all education must be God-centered. It must all be centered about the God of the wonder, the God Who quickens the dead, the God Who saves His people, the God Who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ our Lord, the God Who is the Covenant Jehovah, the God of all the wonders of grace, the God Who saves His people for His own name’s sake, that they should in all their walk and conversation in the midst of the world walk as pilgrims and strangers, journeying toward the city that hath foundations, and thus should be to the praise of His glory.
Closely connected is the purpose of such education; a threefold purpose. Our children must know Jehovah and all His wonderful works, first of all, in order that they may fix their hope in God. All their expectation must be of Him. All the certainty of their hope and confidence must be founded on Him. All their longing must be toward Him. Not of this world but of the next, not toward the things of this earth and this world but toward heavenly things, not of the flesh and of the men of this world but of the wonder-working God of our salvation in Christ must be all their hope and expectation and longing. And the more they know of His wonderful works, the stronger that hope and confidence will be. Secondly, therefore, they must not forget, but be mindful of the works of God; and to this end they must be instructed in them. Failure to instruct the generation to come can only result in ignorance! And, thirdly, the purpose is that they shall keep and learn to keep His commandments. For hope and sanctification belong together: he that hath this hope in him purifieth himself. And remembrance, thankful remembrance, of God’s wonderful works and the keeping of His commandments are inseparable.
And so, in some of our school constitutions we have stated these things rather prosaically: “The Bible is the infallibly inspired, written Word of God, the doctrine of which is contained in the Three Forms of Unity, and as such forms the basis for administration, instruction, and discipline in the school. Our Sovereign, Triune, Covenant God has from eternity chosen and in time forms a people unto Himself, that they may stand in covenant relationship to Him, and live to His praise in friendship and loving service in all spheres of life, in the midst of a sinful world. The training of the covenant child in the school as well as in the home and in the church must serve to prepare him to follow his lifelong calling to reveal the glory of their God in a life lived from the principle of regeneration by grace.”
More poetically, in the spirit of this psalm we sing:
Instructing our sons we gladly record
The praises, the works, the might of the Lord;
For He hath commanded that what He hath done
Be passed in tradition from father to son.
Let children thus learn from history’s light
To hope in our God and walk in His sight,
The God of their fathers to fear and obey,
And ne’er like their fathers to turn from His way.