The Road Not Taken or Why I’m Not a Paedobaptist – Part 1

This post will be a little longer than usual as we begin to dive in more deeply into our study of covenants. In our first post on this subject we introduced the dilemma facing many of those coming to an understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation before the “foundation of the world” as it concerns the decision to embrace paedobaptism, i.e. infant baptism, or credobaptism, i.e. believer’s baptism. There we included several paedobaptist non-negotiables that help briefly explain the justification for their beliefs. We also pointed out that typical discussions on the differences between paedo and credo baptism begin with a study of Abraham. However, as mentioned, the better starting point is with Christ. In this post, we want to begin “pre-time” or eternity past with a pretemporal look at God’s covenantal plan of salvation. It is at these headwaters that both reformed theology and covenant theology find their source. It is also here where the views begin to slightly diverge.

The pretemporal arrangement of God’s salvation of the elect is sometimes called the Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis). This refers to the intra-Trinitarian agreement between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In general terms, the Father plans, the Son accomplishes, and the Spirit applies salvation to those whom the Father has elected. We might see this explained clearly in a passage from Ephesians 1
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6
In this passage we really see two parts of this pretemporal plan. The first concerns the intra-Trinitarian relationship – here the plan of the Father accomplished in the Son, as well as how God’s plan of salvation relates to mankind, namely the elect. We can see clearly that God the Father has blessed us in Christ…and chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world. This pre-foundational period is where we find ourselves in this discussion.

While it’s true this intra-Trinitarian arrangement has been often called the Covenant of Redemption, it also has been called the Covenant of Grace (or even the Everlasting Covenant). However, the Covenant of Grace usually refers to the covenant through which God deals and relates to man, i.e. that which is promised in Genesis and fulfilled in Christ. Because of this, a distinction seems necessary. The likely reason for this distinction is to separate the pretemporal work of God, i.e. COR, from that which breaks into time and space, i.e. the COG. We might refer to the former as the formulation of the plan and the latter the execution or implementation of the plan. Mid-twentieth century theologian Louis Berkhof offers the following comments on why the two are sometimes combined
The counsel of redemption is the eternal prototype of the historical covenant of grace. This accounts for the fact that many combine the two into a single covenant. The former is eternal, that is, from eternity, and the latter, temporal in the sense that it is realized in time. The former is a compact between the Father and the Son as the Surety and Head of the elect, while the latter is a compact between the triune God and the elect sinner in the Surety.
Berkhof is helpful here. However, while some view the Covenant of Redemption as an agreement between the Father and Son with Jesus representing the elect, others have seen it as an intra-Trinitarian agreement or plan and still others see two distinct covenantal arrangements. Regardless of the term one chooses to call this arrangement, the meaning and purpose is clearly to highlight and define the covenantal pretemporal agreement within the Trinity wherein the Father has elected persons unto salvation – not leaving it up to whim or will, has given them to the Son – who would purchase them at the cross, and to whom the Spirit applies salvation through regeneration and the gift of faith.

Cited by Berkhof, Charles Hodge adds some much needed clarification
There is no doctrinal difference between those who prefer the one statement and those who prefer the other; between those who comprise all the facts of Scripture relating to the subject under one covenant between God and Christ as the representative of His people, and those who distribute them under two. Berkhof pg 265
In my study the covenants, this initial covenant under consideration led to much confusion because depending on who you read, it was referred to as different names. On the one hand you would read of the Covenant of Redemption and understand this had more to do with the Trinity and then on the other hand you would read it called the Covenant of Grace, which is more broadly considered to be the covenant through which God intrudes into history for the purpose of saving His elect. I’m adding this extended discussion to help clear up muddy waters, should you (and you should) take up the study of covenant theology on your own. As you study, just be mindful of the terms that are used and how they are used, but ultimately the concept as derived from Scripture is the plan of God for salvation of sinners, in Christ, before the foundation of the world and it is neither explicitly called the covenant of redemption or grace. However, for the sake of clarity, we will refer to this pretemporal covenant as the Covenant of Redemption.

Because the Scriptures begin with the creation account, as we will see, the information we are given on the Covenant of Redemption is given to us retrospectively. In addition to the passage we have already seen from Ephesians where the Father’s plan of election was designed in eternity with the Son, there are other helpful Scriptural passages that speak just as clearly to this pretemporal arrangement, counsel (as Berkhof states), or covenant.

Staying briefly in Ephesians, we find two references to the eternal purposes of God in Christ, specifically as it relates to the mystery of the gospel. Ephesians 3:9,11 are cited below, with some additional surrounding context
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Ephesians 3:7-13
The are numerous allusions and references to this pretemporal, intra-Trinitarian arrangement, but there are also direct statements affirming the covenantal nature of the agreement.
You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
    I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’” Psalm 89:3-4
This passage from Psalms highlights the Davidic Covenant, as outlined in 2 Samuel 7:12-14. However, when that covenant is seen as applied to Christ, the Greater David, as in Hebrews 1:5, it is a clear reference to the covenant of redemption or the intra-Trinitarian agreement.

In another Old Testament passage, this time from Isaiah, we find the Lord speaking specifically of His Servant. I’ve highlighted the reference to the covenantal arrangement and kept some of the context as seen in the passage below
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged[a]
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.
Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,

    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.” Isaiah 42:1-9
And again from Isaiah with reference to God’s chosen Servant, again with the highlight and additional context
Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
    and my recompense with my God.”
And now the Lord says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
    in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
    as a covenant to the people,

to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
    to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
    on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will make all my mountains a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Behold, these shall come from afar,
    and behold, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.” Isaiah 49:1-12
Both of these passages from Isaiah not only make mention of the covenant with God and His Servant, but they specifically establish the Servant as Christ, the True Israel. Not only that, but they highlight for us one of the significant descriptions of Christ as the Light, the True Light.

Returning to the New Testament, we find fuller revelation concerning the nature of this pretemporal agreement, specifically during the earthly ministry of Jesus and His frequent descriptions of His purpose. Luke 2:49 introduces this early in the life of our Lord, however it is in John’s gospel account that we find repeated and perhaps progressive statements on this issue.
And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. John 5:36-37a
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:37-40
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

John 10:17-18
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

John 17:4
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 

John 17:9
Having surveyed briefly several of the passages that speak or allude to the pre-temporal plan of God, we turn now to briefly mention a few of the passages that discuss how this plan in eternity intersects with man. Noting the passage from earlier in Ephesians 1, there is an equally significant passage in Romans 8
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30
Sometimes referred to as the “golden chain of redemption,” in this passage we find several elements that inform us of the relationship of God’s pretemporal plan made within the Trinity and mankind. First we see that there are those who are called according to His purpose. This is an effectual calling, not a general call (see also Matt. 13:47-50; 22:14). Second, we see there is a foreknowledge of God concerning the called and from this foreknowledge there is a predestination, specifically a predestination to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. There are multiple implications here, not the least of which is a renewal of man to the image of God (the Son), implied sonship or adoption, and holiness. In verse 30, our golden chain, we find the relationship of predestination to called, to justification, and to glorification, having already noted the process of holiness or sanctification.

Other passages speaking to this predestination of the elect through the foreknowledge of God in the execution of His plan of salvation in Christ include those cited below:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will Ephesians 1:11
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9
and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

Revelation 13:8
With this brief survey of God’s plan of redemption before the foundation of the world, including the intra-Trinitarian plan or covenant, and then a sampling of passages on how this pretemporal plan is applied to man, we may ask a summary question:

How then does all of this relate to the issue of paedobaptism vs. credobaptism?

God’s eternal plan of salvation involved a people, the elect. These people – whose identities are only infallibly known by God Himself, were given to the Son before the foundation of the world, they were chosen in Him. It is these people, eternally united to Christ, whom He purchased by His substitutionary atonement and propitiated the wrath of God through His shed blood. It is to these same people, chosen in Christ in eternity past, upon whom the Spirit confers the blessings of salvation beginning with regeneration, faith, and repentance thereby applying what the Father planned and what the Son purchased uniting them to Himself in real time and space by grace through faith. One God, One Covenant, One Sacrifice, One People. This is why all discussions on the covenants must begin with Christ. On the assertion of these points, there is likely very little disagreement between the various baptism parties. However, significant for us is to bear these things in mind holding firmly to them as we eventually approach Abraham and the divergence of views that occur with him.

In our next post, we will look at how the plan of redemption intrudes into time and space, perhaps surprisingly so.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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