In the Reformed and Covenant Theology community we rely heavily upon the various confessions, compiled by counsels of Churchmen centuries before our time, to provide guidance into what are the truths that scripture teaches. Edward Lawrence preached during the time of the publication of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). His subsequent run in with the Church of England was an outworking of his strong belief in what was taught by these doctrinal positions. His hope for the eventual conversion of his children was bolstered by what the confession taught concerning baptism. His strong desire for his children to claim their inheritance in Christ was dependant on baptism, infant baptism. Chapter 25 Section 2 tells us that according to scripture the visible church, those who profess true religion, includes our children. From the days of the Apostolic Church until the middle of the 16th century, the mass majority of the Christian Church baptized their infant children as an expression of their promised inclusion in the Body of Christ. It was not until the late 1500’s that the Anabaptist doctrines of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands began spread and the idea of not baptizing infants was popularized.
Without going into the details of the confessional position on baptism, for the purposes of encouragement to parents, one point is clear. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment it is administered (WCF 28.6). Rather it is the promise signified by baptism that God’s Grace will be conferred in His appointed time according to the counsel of His will.
If you don’t come from a confessional background you may tend not to place much importance in these old reformed confessions. What did they know back then anyway, right? They did not have Wikipedia or all of the bible commentaries we have today. Well, how about Peter? Speaking under the inspiration of God, Peter told the early church, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off; for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38,39) He told the Jewish believers to turn from your belief in your Jewish traditions, be baptized, and like you would circumcise your 8 day old baby boy, baptize all you children as a sign and seal of God’s covenant with Abraham and all his generations. On top of that we are going to tell the whole world that this same promise that was given to you in the old covenant, will be given to those of the gentile world whom God will call to repentance and faith. We are going to baptize them and their children too as a sign and seal of God’s Covenant faithfulness to them.
This was some radical stuff for these early Jewish believers to grasp. Radical in the sense that Peter was introducing the concept of a new sign and seal. Not radical in the sense of their inclusion in the covenant of grace. They were very familiar with God’s covenants to the patriarchs in their ancestral tree. They were also very aware that God used these recipients of his Covenant of Grace as examples of exceptions to his covenants. You might say, God used the children of these renown covenant characters as examples of what being outside of his covenant looked like.
The first members of “Grace Church” were Adam and Eve. Their children would have been the first covenant children. However, in God’s providence, in order to accomplish his sovereign will, he chose only to include one of the boys in the covenant. Not because of anything Abel had done nor would do, but rather for His own Glory, Abel would inherit the promise given to his parents. Cain did not just go bad, or fall away, or fail to keep the law. He was never of the family of God. In 1 John 3:12 the warning to the visible Church is “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one.”
There were none as faithful as Noah among the prediluvian world. Genesis 6:8-9 made this plain saying, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time and he walked with God.” This was said of him before he took the abuse of a scornful public for building an ark, and before he floated around for weeks without complaining about the cruise amenities. He was later the recipient of another of God’s Covenant promises. But you know the story. God made an example of Ham as the one son who was cursed of God. You might think that Ham’s indiscretion was not worthy of cursing him and his posterity forever. That wasn’t the point. Ham was never in the Covenant.
Isaac greatly loved Esau. He was his prized son and the heir to his family heritage. However, God hated Esau. God hated Esau and loved Jacob and made that decision based not upon their deeds but upon his right to choose to whom he will show mercy. Romans 9 is the go to scripture in matters of the sovereignty of God in the election of his followers. Esau is used as the example of God’s right to choose not depending upon anything man can do.
David, the man after God’s own heart, was the father of Absalom, another fraternal murderer. Absalom, like the others, was not included in the covenant family of God. All their exclusion being left to the hidden wisdom of God, and not because he foreknew their actions or inactions.
All of the parents of these children who were outside of the redeeming grace of God must have been full of grief and bitterness. We must all consider the possibility that our children may be in this category. Though, looking at the larger issue, here we have more cause to believe that God will bring them to himself. God does nothing arbitrarily. He did not make a promise to grow his kingdom through the Church so that he may then cause you to doubt him by placing more weight on the examples of those he has shown us. In fact, if you want to offend the righteousness of God in the most vile way, then doubt the righteousness in his promise keeping ability. You are screaming mutiny.
We may be bitter, we may be grieved, but we may not doubt. We will go through a myriad of emotions over the course of our lives as parents. We may even see signs of the working of the Spirit in our children and then have some great disappointment when those signs fade. Once again, we must not doubt God’s promise to work, relying on our lack of decerning vision. If you are truthful with yourself in looking back on your own journey, you cannot declare the point of your rebirth. If you can you are rare. You may recount a time in which you discovered marks of your faith, but that may have been some time after God breathed life into your dead heart. The mystery of God’s work of regeneration is outside of our realm of comprehension. Likewise trying to weigh the behavior of our children to determine their conversion can be a roller coaster endeavor. To engage in the work of identifying the presence of regenerative work by the Holy Spirit in the heart of your children, young or old, is folly. Rather, focus your energy in identifying the truths of scripture that tell of God’s faithfulness to his promises. I am not saying, “let go and let God.” On the contrary, take hold of God’s word, wrestle with these concepts, and extract from these the power of His righteousness in His covenant keeping. Simultaneously, never stop evangelizing your children, for they are the heirs of your inheritance, and co-heirs with Christ. Treat them as such.