Wednesday, March 19, 2008

JOHN OWEN ON COVENANT CHILDREN AND BAPTISM

I was reading one of my favorite theologians today on infant baptism: John Owen, the great congregationalist paedobaptist Puritan. I thought this part of his discourse would be good to publish on my blog because, as mentioned, there was a time for a while when, even as a Baptist, I believed my children were in the covenant, but I figured I should withhold the sign and seal of baptism from them until they professed faith. Owen takes this to task. He writes:

It may be it will be said, that although children have a right to the covenant, or do belong unto it, yet they have no right to the initial seal of it. This will not suffice; for, —
1. If they have any interest in it, it is either in its grace or in its administration. If they have the former, they have the latter also, as shall be proved at any time. If they have neither, they have no interest in it; — then the truth of the promises of God made unto the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.


2. That unto whom the covenant or promise doth belong, to them belongs the administration of the initial seal of it, is expressly declared by the apostle, Acts 2:38, 39, be they who they will.
3. The truth of God’s promises is not confirmed if the sign and seal of them be denied; for that whereon they believed that God was a God unto their seed as well as unto themselves was this, that he granted the token of the covenant unto their seed as well as unto themselves. If this be taken away by Christ, their faith is overthrown, and the promise itself is not confirmed but weakened, as to the virtue it hath to beget faith and obedience.


Furthermore, in this same discourse, Owen argues well the following:

God having appointed baptism as the sign and seal of regeneration, unto whom he denies it, he denies the grace signified by it. Why is it the will of God that unbelievers and impenitent sinners should not be baptized? It is because, not granting them the grace, he will not grant them the sign. If, therefore, God denies the sign unto the infant seed of believers, it must be because he denies them the grace of it; and then all the children of believing parents dying in their infancy must, without hope, be eternally damned. I do not say that all must be so who are not baptized, but all must be so whom God would not have baptized.

But this is contrary to the goodness and law [love?] of God, the nature and promises of the covenant, the testimony of Christ reckoning them to the kingdom of God , the faith of godly parents, and the belief of the church in all ages.


In other words, there is a reason why God does not have the church administer baptism to unbelievers: because baptism belongs to those who are the people of God. Why would we give baptism to an unbeliever? To whomever we deny it, we deny it because it does not belong to unbelievers. But, if we deny it to our infant children, we are also saying that they are unbelievers. We are treating them like any other child of pagan parents.

But the children of believing parents are not viewed that way by God. If our children are in the covenant, then they have a right to the sign of God's promise. They are holy; otherwise, they would be unclean.

Praise God for His kindness and mercy!

9 comments:

Gospel.or.Death said...

Josh,

The reason why Arminian Baptists don't baptize their children is because they don't even think in these terms. To them, baptism signifies MY commitment to Christ, my commitment to be obedient to him.

For Reformed Baptists, however, who think in terms of the covenant, this logic is tight, and I don't see how they can object to it. Good post!

Echo_ohcE

Josh Brisby said...

Gospel or Death,

Thanks! I teared up when I read that from Owen yesterday; we must realize that whoever GOD ordained the sign NOT to go to, it is because GOD would deny them the grace signified. When we don't baptize our covenant children, we are saying that God Himself would have them denied what baptism signifies.

But, of course, when we look at the way God views our children, even in the NT Scriptures, we find that God counts them as His people.

Praise God!

Tartanarmy said...

Great post Josh...

Mark

bj77 said...

Josh,
This is so surreal to read this post on "your" blog. What an adventure it has been. Great post! Did you know about this qoute by Owen before yesterday?

Josh Brisby said...

B.J.,

I knew Owen had written on infant baptism, but I had not read his article in its entirety. I thought it was neat that he addressed specifically what I had struggled with for a while, and he rocked it completely. Angela and I are praising God for the way He instituted baptism for our children.

Yes indeed, it has been quite an adventure. Praise the Lord for His patience with sinners like me.

Pastor Matt Singleton said...

Josh,
I hate to be the bad guy. But this is a delusion.
Your theology is in opposition to the scripture.

Ezekiel 18 cries out against everything John Owen is arguing. All souls belong to God!!!!! 18:6
To assume that God loves your children more than an unbelievers children is racist. Because your child is accepted based on their birthright or race. While the pagan is rejected based on their birthright or race.


Baptism is interlocked in repentance Matthew 3
Especially the promise John Owen references.acts2:38
Your chIld will not recieve the promise of the holy spirit with out repentance. Mark 16:16, John 3:18

While I believe in an age of accountability romans 7:9-11
When your child understands sin they enter into the covenant of works.

We are all headed to hell until we are saved. Otherwise we never be found in Christ.

If you let your children they can come to heaven due to their fleshly association to you. You are presenting a false gospel.

godlee4life said...

I love John Owens writings, especially "The Death of Death" but his theology on infant baptismal regeneration is totally unbiblical. Even Charles Spurgeon who admired Owen, refutted baptismal regeneration. Even John Gill (another puritan) called it the "modern popery" of antichrist.

Luke 13:2-3---we are all born into sin whether our parents were pagan or not. Look at Esau and Jacob---birthright has nothing to do with God's election of grace!Heb.13
I'm sorry but infant baptism is rank superstition and needs more biblical backing than what Owen offers.

Anonymous said...

I've copied this from another blogger named brandonadams because he makes an exellent point by saying this:

What do you think of Owen’s argument? I find a number of rather serious deficiencies with it.

I wish Owen had written more on the subject. This tract was written in response to John Tombes’ letter to the Westminster Assembly in 1643. After Owen wrote this response to Tombes, his view of covenant theology changed quite a bit, even later arguing against some of the assumptions he employs here. The references given at the end from his commentary on Hebrews (demonstrating his more mature thought on the covenants) provide very sparse argumentation for infant baptism and is very easily refuted.

Of particular concern in this tract is:
His use of Romans 5:14. Owen claims that the children of believers are not born under Adam’s federal head. Do you agree with this? Romans 5 compares two federal heads: Adam and Christ. If the children of believers are not under Adam, they are under Christ. Do you agree with this?

Also of concern is the argument that Owen says “alone will bear the weight of the whole cause.” Owen cites Malachi 3:1 and then makes two errors. First, he claims that the messenger of the covenant is Christ, but the New Testament is clear that the messenger of Malachi 3 is John the Baptist. Then, building upon this mistake, he says the covenant spoken of in Malachi 3 is the Abrahamic covenant. Yet it is quite obvious from the context of Malachi 3 that the covenant spoken of is the Mosaic covenant. Owen does not argue from Malachi 3 on this point, but instead argues from NT references that connect Christ to the Abrahamic promises. His argument thus fails. I’d be happy to talk about this connection, but the way Owen argues from it is faulty.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I copied this from a blog named "Pilgrim Theology" by Brenden if you want to check that out. It was very interesting.