Because of the condition of our sinful world, words from God’s law are frequently “hard words.” But, for the same reason, but in a different sense, words of gospel and promise are even harder.
In my books on family, I have often emphasized that the rearing of godly children is not accomplished “by works,” but rather “by faith.” And this leads, naturally, to the standard questions about the relationship between faith and works.
This presents a problem of practical theology. How are we to understand our need to believe such promises, and how can we do it without veering into presumption? Here is an example of one such promise:
“But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them” (Ps. 103:17-18).
May Christian parents resolve, by the grace of God, to keep covenant in the sense described here, remmbering God’s commandments to do them? May they then rest in the promise that God’s mercy will extend to their children’s children, from everlasting to everlasting? I would say that this passage, and many others, are an invitation from a gracious God to believe Him for the salvation of our children.
The promises that God gives to all Christian parents (and which, in our paedobaptist tradition, they all acknowledge at the baptismal font) stand in an analogous position as do the promises of answered prayer that God gives to all Christians.
“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matt. 21:22).
This promise is to be received, and acted upon, by faith. Have there been Christians who believe this this verse is “not for them.” There have been many, and because they don’t believe the promise, they don’t receive the benefit of it. Have their been Christians who have believed this promise wrongly, hanging on to some foolish request in their presumption? Certainly — not as many as the first group, but it is not insignificant. Now, have there been Christians who received this promise faithfully, without presumption? Yes. And how can we tell the difference between the second group and the third group. Jesus said we were to measure such things by their fruit. We can tell the difference between the two groups by looking at which group sees actual answers to prayer. Given how God honored his requests, it would be difficult to accuse George Mueller of presumption. Here is something that Mueller said about faith, something we can learn from.
“If we desire our faith to be strengthened, we should not shrink from opportunities where our faith may be tried, and therefore, through trial, be strengthened.”
The same principle is at work when we undertake to believe God for the salvation of our children. I do believe that many covenant parents have entirely ignored God’s promises to them. I also believe that others have picked up those promises wrongly, and in a spirit of presumption. But when parents rejoice to see their children’s children all walking in the grace of God, it is not presumption to thank God for His kindness. At that point it would be presumption not to thank Him.