The Promise of Infant Baptism

Introduction

The promise of the new covenant is that the new covenant will do what the old covenant could not really do. And what the old covenant could not really do is keep the kids.

So the new covenant is not the time when all the unfulfilled promises of the old covenant are abrogated. The new covenant is not the moment when God finally says, “Never mind.” The old covenant is not where God overpromised, and the new covenant is when He under-delivered. No, the new covenant is the time when the unfulfilled promises of the old covenant are finally brought to fruition and fulfilled.

The Old Pattern

We see this pattern in the Old Testament over and over and over again. The people get into sin. Then they consequently get into trouble. Then they cry out to the Lord. The Lord graciously delivers them. The people are grateful for ten minutes. Then you turn the page and the people are getting into sin . . .

But the fault of the covenant was not to be found in the covenant, but rather in the people.

“For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:7–8, ESV).

When God redresses this problem through the new covenant, He does not say something like “in the old covenant, your descendants were faithless, but in the new covenant I will sidestep that problem entirely by making your descendants irrelevant.”

An Organic Illustration

In the Old Testament, a standard figure for Israel was that of an olive tree. And if we remember this when we come to Romans 11, as we should, the weighty import of Paul’s illustration should hit us between the eyes.

This is just one tree, one with ancient roots, which spans the transition between the older and newer covenants. The olive tree of the covenant is a tree that straddles both old and new covenant. The Roman Christians had been grafted into the same tree that Caiphas had grown on, and had been pruned from. We are dealing with just one Abrahamic tree.

We are not considering two trees with a similar nature. We do not have an olive tree and a peach tree, for example. And neither do we have two trees with completely different natures—an olive tree and a stainless steel tree from which no branches can ever be removed, for they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest.

One tree. Remember that, and everything follows.

So what is the normal way to get onto an olive tree?

“Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: Thy children like olive plants round about thy table” (Ps. 128:3).

The answer is to grow there. What is another secondary way to get onto an olive tree? This way is artificial, but it is an artifice that results in organic growth. The answer is to have a master gardener graft you onto the tree.

“And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (Rom. 11:17–21).

It was a radical pruning job, on the one hand, and a drastic grafting job on the other.

“And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, Two parts therein shall be cut off and die; But the third shall be left therein” (Zech. 13:8).

There was plenty of room for Gentiles to be grafted in. But when they are put in the same place, they are then given the same warnings. And because people are being cut out and grafted in, it is not possible to speak of this tree as somehow being the tree of decretal election. It has to be the tree of the visible church—and this means that the visible church goes back millennia before Christ. It is the church of the covenant.

Parallels, Not Contrasts

The central mistake that our Reformed Baptist brothers make is this. It is the mistake of drawing contrasts between the new covenant people of God and the old covenant people of God at precisely the places where the New Testament draws parallels. This is an easy mistake to make because there ARE many places where the two covenants are contrasted. But they are not contrasted across the board. When it comes to the relationship of election, membership in the covenant, and apostasy, the parallels are exact.

“But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (1 Corinthians 10:5–6).

“Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:9–12).

“Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (Romans 11:19–21).

The Promised Tree

Given the promised outcome for the olive tree is eschatological glory, we are not going to see the olive tree at the last day as a forlorn stump, with a couple of suckers sticking up around the base. No.

“He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Is. 27:6).

So what this means is that the admonitions to the Christians in the New Testament parallel the admonitions given to the Jews. Because of our eschatological optimism, we do not believe the outcome for the tree will be the same as it was in 70 A.D. But structurally, the warnings to individual believers function in exactly the same way.

The ratios are different. The structure is the same. At the conclusion of the older covenant, a remnant was saved, and the majority was removed. At the conclusion of the times of the New Testament, the majority is saved, and a remnant is removed. The ratios are different—but in both testaments there are fruitful branches and fruitless branches.

What do I mean by the structure being the same? I mean that “some” remain faithful and some do not.

It is always the case that the regenerate church is a subset of the visible church. In the time of Elijah, it was a teeny subset. In the time of the penultimate president of the Western hemisphere, let us call him Gregorio the Magnificent—this being 100 years before the Second Coming—pretty much everybody is saved except for a few holdouts in the English departments of Indiana University in Bloomington and UCSC at Santa Cruz.

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Justin ParrisJohnMlndighostdemosthenes1dMy Portion Forever Recent comment authors

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My Portion Forever
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Ya lost me at Gregorio the Magnificent… where is he in Revelation? Aside from that, what do you make of language like: “they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest,” (Jer 31) and, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith…” (Col 2:11-12)? These seem to indicate that the new covenant is meant to be the fulfillment and reality to which the… Read more »

lndighost
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Hi MPF, You are right that there is an imperfect overlap between the visible and the invisible church. I agree also that the new covenant is the fulfillment and reality to which the old covenant pointed — but does it not strike you that the sign of the old covenant was applied only to Jewish males, and the sign of the new and more glorious covenant is applied to gentiles and to females too? The new covenant is more inclusive than the old, not less. How would it symbolise that the reality was here in a greater way if now… Read more »

Justin Parris
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” How would it symbolise that the reality was here in a greater way if now our infants were cut out of the covenant?” “Cut out” is, at the very least, misleading language to describe what is being suggested. It would suggest exclusion when, by the worldview of the one making the suggestion, no exclusion is taking place. I find comparing the issue to a physical achievement makes this perspective clearer. There is a certain point where a baby learns to walk across a room. There is no way for any of us to achieve this feat on the child’s… Read more »

JohnM
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JohnM

Not registered to up vote, but I do like the carrying/walking analogy.

demosthenes1d
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Justin, I think you are missing the direction of Indi’s example – probably because you have a very different idea about the meaning and import of baptism. I believe, and Indig appears to as well, that baptism is, in part, the adoption ceremony into covenant with God. This is something done to us, not by us. So in the OT male covenant members had their flesh cut as a sign of their membership in that covenant. This extended to all males greater than 8 days of age. In the new covenant we see the sign of the covenant extended to… Read more »

Justin Parris
Member

Demos, I didn’t miss anything in Indi’s example. In fact, that was the entirety of my point. Indi was trying to formulate an argument that was based on already agreeing on the premise of his concept of what baptism is. Since the person he was talking to clearly didn’t agree to that premise, it would be nearly impossible for that argument to be effective, regardless of the quality of its internal reasoning. It’s like arguing about the Biblical morality on homosexuality to an atheist on the premise that God commanded us not to engage in homosexuality. The atheist doesn’t believe… Read more »

JohnM
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JohnM

“Our children may not yet be sheep, but they are not goats. They are lambs.”

But really, that begs the question. Are they lambs? A lamb is a young sheep. If children are not sheep they are not lambs. If they grow up to be goats, which some will, they were never lambs, unless we hold that it is possible for a true lamb to to fall away and become a goat.

lndighost
Member

John, none of us can look into the book of life and see whether our children’s names (or anyone else’s) are written there. We can’t have mathematical certainty, but we have to choose which way to raise our children. Do we expect them to be saved, or not? Are they part of God’s covenant people, or not? Which should be our default? When I issue a command to my children I expect them to obey me. That doesn’t mean they always will, but that expectation informs my parenting. (Have you ever seen a parent say, ‘Oh, Junior, sit down,’ and… Read more »

JohnM
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JohnM

Do those whose names are written in the book of life constitute a subset of God’s covenant people, or are the two categories really one and the same? I think my objection the lamb-to-sheep analogy is valid regardless of how that question is answered. We cannot have certainty that our infants or toddlers are already or will become lambs/sheep. Some will hold that we *can* have complete certainty of someone else’s salvation (just as we can have our own assurance), but even if we cannot have mathematical certainty there are things that can provide us very good reasons for believing… Read more »