We were to prove that the general position of the Liberated Churches, viz., that all the children of believers are really in the covenant in virtue of the promise, i.e., that the promise is for them all, is contrary to the plain teaching of the Bible on this point.
It is exactly this teaching that is denied in Rom. 9:6-8.
The ninth chapter of the epistle to the Romans teaches plainly that God’s sovereign predestination cuts right through the historical line of the covenant, and, in the generations of believers, makes separation between children of the promise and children of the flesh.
That this is emphatically and exactly the point in Rom 9:6-8 is denied by the leaders of the Liberated Churches. Instead of the antithesis: election and reprobation, they insist that the antithesis: faith and unbelief determines, according to the teaching of Rom. 9, who are children of the promise and who are children of the flesh.
That this is their contention may be proved from an article by the Rev. R. H. Bremmer, in De Reformatie, Vol. 20, No. 48, from which I translate the following:
“This concerns the great problem raised in Rom. 9-12 (9-11? H.H.), and in connection with it Galatians 3. It is this great problem: is the Word of God become of none effect, now the blessing of Abraham is bestowed on the Gentiles, and Israel is rejected? Is this in conflict with the faithfulness to His Word’ once given?
“That is the problem raised here. The passage is not concerned with the relation of election to the covenant, or with the relation of the carnal to the spiritual seed, even’ though these questions are touched upon here, but the great question underlying these chapters is this: can it be harmonized with God’s promise, and with His faithfulness, that Israel is being rejected and the Gentiles are accepted?”
The italics in the above quotation are mine.
According to the Rev. Bremmer, it is this question which the apostle Paul in the passage from Romans and in Galatians 3, answers negatively. And attend to the following:
“He purposed, already when He gave His promise to Abraham, to bestow His salvation upon the Gentiles. He waited long, centuries, in fact, with the realization of this purpose. He waited until out of Abraham’s seed the Christ should have been born, in order then to realize fully that which He already intended to do at the time of Abraham. But already in the tents of Abraham and Isaac, He showed them something of that which He intended to do later.
“For even then the Lord showed clearly that His salvation was not bound to the carnal seed. For Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Both were circumcised. The covenant benefits were promised to both. But what saith the Scripture? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ (Gal. 4:30). The one is a son of the promise, born not out of the natural considerations of Abraham and Sarah, as Ishmael, but born from the supernatural power of the word of promise. This is Isaac. And the other is the son of Abraham’s ‘invention’, that he could perhaps be established through Hagar. And this son is now struck with the vengeance of the covenant. He is exiled from the camp of Abraham, excommunicated as a covenant breaker. Even then, therefore, God partly revealed that carnal descent from Abraham does not guarantee eternal salvation, but only faith in the promise of the Messiah who would come in the line of Isaac. Even then God cut a dead limb out of the tree of Abraham.”
Again the italics in the above quotation are mine. They are intended to bring out that the writer presents both Ishmael and Isaac as having the promise of the covenant, while the fact that the former does not receive the promise is ascribed to his unbelief only. Whether this is in harmony with the teaching of Rom. 9, we will investigate presently.
The writer continues:
“Even as the Scriptures says of Esau that he was a fornicator (Heb. 12:16), that is, a covenant breaker, who was struck by the curse of the covenant. Again God cut out a dead limb from the living tree of Abraham.
And then, in the camp of Abraham, the tremendous law was revealed that not all are Israel that are of Israel; that carnal descent does not guarantee a spiritual, believing, God-fearing disposition of the soul, cf. Matt. 3:9; John 8:36-44, nor reception or possession of, or participation in the promise of salvation. . . . There is a covenant vengeance and a covenant blessing, and the dreadful reality of this became already evident in Ishmael and Esau. Likewise the elective, sovereign good pleasure of the Lord became evident. Carnal descent surely does not guarantee participation in the blessings of the covenant. For this faith in the promise is necessity, compliance with the covenant demand that accompanies the covenant promise and is inseparably connected with it.”
Again I underscore, and for the same purpose that the writer makes faith and not predestination the deciding factor to determine whether one receives the blessings of the covenant.
Owe more quotation:
“Thus also must be understood vs. 8 of Romans 9: “That is, they which are of the flesh, these are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
“Carnal descent does not determine the reception of the blessings of salvation, only faith in the promise does this (I underscore, H.H.). But the reality of this law does indeed not exclude the fact that all the children of believing parents are really children? of the covenant; if only, in the covenant, we maintain the covenant curse and the covenant blessing next to each other, and we do not separate promise and demand, but view the position of the children in this light.”
I might quote more.
But the above is sufficient to show that the Rev. Bremmer so interprets Rom. 9:6-8 that not election and reprobation, but faith and unbelief are the deciding factors in determining who receives the blessings of the covenant that are promised to all.
However, it should not be difficult to see that the author badly distorts the plain meaning of the words in Romans 9.
Let us follow the reasoning of the apostle.
He is dealing with a tremendous fact. Not only was the nation of Israel as such rejected, but thousands upon thousands of individual Jews did not enter into the kingdom of God, had no part with Christ and the blessings of salvation, now the promise of God was realized through the death and resurrection of Christ, His exaltation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They did not receive the promise. Facing this fact, the apostle faces the question: how must this be explained in the light of the promise to Abraham and his seed? Were they not Israelites, children of Abraham? And if so, did not the covenant pertain to them? Did they not have the promise of God? And was not the promise of God: “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee”? Where, then, was the fulfillment of this promise? In the light of this promise to Abraham and to his seed, how must it be understood that so many of Abraham’s seed never received the blessings promised, were rejected?
This question the apostle puts in a very specific form, at least by implication: Is the Word of God fallen out, become of none effect? Did God fail to realize His promise to the seed of Abraham?
It is this question which he answers in the first part of Rom. 9.
And how does he answer it?
Does he say: No, the promise of God is faithful, and the Word of God has not fallen out, but the promise was conditional, contingent upon the faith of those to whom it was promised; and since many did not believe the promise they did not receive the blessings promised to them, bequeathed upon them, as the Rev. Bremmer would have it?
Not at all. There is not a word in this passage that suggests such an interpretation.
Moreover, in that case, the Word of God, the promise to Abraham, would indeed have become of none effect, and that, too, through the unbelief of Abraham’s seed. And it is exactly this that the apostle emphatically denies. The Word of God has not fallen out. Man’s unbelief cannot bring to naught the faithfulness of God.
But, thus he informs us, under the promise to Abraham and his seed not, all, the children according to the flesh are comprehended!
The Word of God has not become of none effect: it never had reference to all the descendants of Abraham!
That is the meaning of Rom. 9.
More about this next time, D. V.