Robert posted his opening statement here. He took the time to carefully lay a solid foundation of covenant theology, which I greatly appreciate. If you haven’t read his article yet, please take some time to do so. It will give a context to our discussion.
I found myself agreeing with most of what Robert wrote. We have far more in common than not: we both believe that God works with His people in covenant. There have been differences in administration, but all the covenants God has made with his people shared a common essence. The moral law has always been binding. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Paul were all saved the same way: through faith in Christ.
Here, I’ll build on the foundation of covenant theology we share and delve into the differences between the covenants. What, specifically, makes the New Covenant unique?
The New and Better Covenant
The book of Hebrews addresses this in chapters 8 through 10. If you have time, I encourage you to read the entire section. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on how the author of Hebrews understands one part of this prophecy in particular.
In Hebrews 8:8-12 the author quotes a prophecy of Jeremiah that promises the New Covenant will be unlike the Old in a very important respect: We shall not break God’s New Covenant. He will write His law on our hearts, so that we shall all know Him and obey Him. He will remember our sins no more.
This is expressed even more clearly in chapter 10:
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
We see then that the New Covenant described here is clearly and inextricably linked to the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Christ.
Infant Baptism and the New Covenant
As a reminder, the argument for infant baptism hinges on the membership of the New Covenant being implicitly the same as the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was for believers and their children; therefore, unless the New Testament explicitly says otherwise, the New Covenant is for believers and their children.
If the membership of the covenant has explicitly changed, then infant baptism has no Scriptural support.
The Baptist argument, then, is as follows:
- God promises his people in the New Covenant that He will put His law in their hearts and forgive their sins.
- Only believers receive these promises.
- Therefore, only believers are members of the New Covenant.
The author of Hebrews, quoting Jeremiah, only makes this more clear:
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
This can only be true if the covenant community is composed of believers. Teaching our children to “know the Lord” is part and parcel of the church’s duty!
There are other passages which make this case as well. Paul says in Romans 9:
This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
Here we see that God’s command to Abraham to circumcise his physical children was one of the types and shadows of the Old Covenant. The New Testament reveals the heavenly reality: God’s covenant with “the children of the promise,” those who believe.
We see then that the New Covenant does make an explicit change in the membership of the New Covenant. Unlike the Old Covenant, which included unbelievers and was broken regularly by apostates, the New Covenant will be kept in us by the sacrifice of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.
We also see what the “shadow” of the hereditary covenant represented. Just as Abraham passed the covenant on to his physical children, so the New Covenant is made with those who believe – the “children of the promise”.
I agree, then, with the words of the London Baptist Confession of Faith:
Those who do actually professe repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience, to our Lord Jesus, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.
There is much more that could be said on this subject, but I’ll let Robert respond before we continue.