Quill and writing

God’s Holy Covenant & Baptism

I subscribe to dozens of you-tube channels whose authors post clips intermittently that I appreciate.  I was most grateful to receive notification from Gary North just this last week encouraging me to consider how the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament furnishes Christians with a compelling account of God’s faithfulness THROUGH ADOPTION in the fulfilment of promises He made to ancient patriarchs generations before.  It can be found here.  Do listen to it – twice if you have time!

Contemporary ‘BAPTISTIC’ theology TENDS to overlook God’s temporal dealings with His covenant people focussing as it does on the INDIVIDUALISTIC ‘salvation’ experience of the believer.  It overlooks important TEMPORAL aspects of God’s dealings with us as individuals, churches, families & states.  The goal of Baptistic preachers & teacher’s TENDS to be the preparation for death & our readiness to be accepted into God’s ETERNAL heaven.

Much consequential harm and damage is done it seems to me.  In setting forth so helpfully and so clearly the important covenantal backdrop to the story of Ruth & Boaz, Gary North helps us to see how salvation encompasses far more than my own personal experience of forgiveness, etc.  Rather, God’s covenant with individual believers includes several key themes which dominate the entirety of redemption story as it is revealed to us in Scripture.  These KEY CHARACTERISTICS of God’s covenantal dealings with us include: 

  • Transcendence (sovereignty)
  • Hierarchy (authority)
  • Ethics (Laws)
  • Oath (Sanctions)
  • Succession (Inheritance)


Notice the helpful mnemonic: THEOS.

Marriage is an example ‘par excellence’ of a covenantal agreement.  Each element is present.  Children of the union represent the important element of succession.  They are blessed with the inheritance of their parents.

Baptistic theology TENDS to focus improperly on the regenerative & secret work of God in awakening true faith in the heart of the believer.  It makes baptism the sign & seal of God’s invisible, secret and sovereign work of making us born-again.  It isn’t.  Rather, baptism signifies our FORMAL acceptance into God’s covenant community.  By public baptism, we of course confess our sins and signal our new faith & trust in Christ but the actual scope & reality of our regeneration remains TRANSCENDENTALLY something known only to God.  He graciously condescends to give us a holy confidence of its reality by leaving us the deposit of His Holy Spirit in our hearts.  As we walk in true faith and obedience, we experience increased confidence of our good standing before God or else (through unbelief/disobedience) we experience doubts and/forebodings!  However, the bottom line is that God alone secretly and sovereignly imparts ‘the wonders of His heaven’ (Wesley).  The essential confession made on acceptance of God’s covenant is ‘Jesus is Lord’.  For Ruth, this was expressed beautifully in 1:16 > ‘Your God will be my God’.  Happily, as Scripture everywhere affirms, God’s promise of covenantal security & blessing extends downwards through generations ‘of those that love Him & keep His commandments’ (Ex 20:5,6).  [I confess I found it rather amusing (& very telling!) that a recent biographer of John Calvin was unable to discover, despite considerable scrutiny of the writings, notebooks & journals of the great reformer, just when He had been born again!!]

It is a mistake therefore of some considerable significance to make baptism the ‘public sign of God’s private & secret dealings with an individual’.   The most serious consequence of adopting this sort of notion is the tendency thereafter to suppose that OT religion was somehow inferior or more basic/unspiritual to its NT counterpart.  The equivalent OT rite to baptism (in the minds of NT authors) is clearly circumcision (see Col 2:11, Rom 4:11) – an ordinance administered significantly to the infant seed of all covenant members BY GOD’S COMMAND!

Are we to suppose that regeneration was somehow unimportant or overlooked by God in His OT dealings with Israel??  Not at all!  Regeneration is very much to the fore.  The true circumcision, as Paul explains in Rom 9:6 are (AND ALWAYS WERE) a secret remnant within the visible community of faith!  For this reason, the best theologians have distinguished between the VISIBLE & the INVISIBLE church.  The sad tendency of baptistic theology (thinking) is to convey the notion of eternal security to the recipient of the ordinance on account of their public profession of faith!  The Church, they are wont to tell us, is the community of those who have been born again.  But this is simplistic, misleading & unscriptural – as well as being most damaging to the faith of many true infant saints growing up within its orbit.  Someone recently expressed concern to me over Doug Wilson’s Church practice of administering communion to children (paedocommunion) – ‘the fringe of orthodoxy’ it was somewhat scornfully labelled.  As a convinced Westminster Confession man I may disagree with Doug Wilson, but I confess I find much consistency & a heart full of sympathy with his preferred understanding of God’s covenantal dealings with His people AND THEIR CHILDREN as token gifts from their heavenly Father!

May I warmly commend then the following helpful resources to anyone seeking to un-pick or un-pack the Bible’s teaching on Covenant – & in particular the Covenant of Grace as an overarching hermeneutical paradigm by which we properly comprehend the various parts of Scripture within the whole redemptive story.  These have been drawn to my attention lately & I warmly commend them for further close study!

Three excellent sermons by Joe Morecraft on the Covenant of Grace are here:

sermon #1 here.  sermon #2 here.  sermon #3 here.

Also, take an hour or so to purvey the Covenental Divide project of John Crawford of American Vision.  The web-site is here & (so far) three of six most helpful video cartoons are freely available here on youtube.  Here’s someone for whom the penny clearly dropped & for whom the whole of His Bible suddenly came alive & bristeled with new relevance, significance & application in every sphere of human endeavour. Thank YOU dear brother for seeking to share widely your important discovery.  To any hard-line baptist out there, PRAY that God might open your eyes to the fulness & the secret of His everlasting covenant (see Psalm 25:14).  Enjoy!