John Piper on the Particular Benefits Extended to Children of Believers…My Thoughts on Baptist and Reformed Perspectives on Children and Relation to Covenant

Here is an extended quote from John Piper from the following article, “What Did Christ Purchase for Your Children with His Blood?”:

But did the blood of Christ purchase no privileges for the children of believers? Did the blood of Christ not unite families across generations? What about Acts 2:39? “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” What about Psalm 103:17-18? “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” OrExodus 20:5-6? “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Yes. Christ did purchase privileges for the children of believers. But he did not guarantee their salvation. Each of those three texts makes clear that the blessing which comes to the future generations of believers comes only to those who are “called by God” (Acts 2:39), “keep his covenant” (Psalm 103:18), and “love him” (Exodus 20:6). Do all the children of believers love God and keep covenant with him by faith in Christ? No. There are enough examples of believers in the Bible whose children did not believe to show us that a parent’s faith does not secure a child’s.

The point of Romans 9:7-13 is to show that Isaac not Ishmael, and Jacob not Esau, received the full blessing of being born to believing parents. The blood of Jesus divides not just when parents are unbelieving, but also when children are unbelieving. This is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household. . . . Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” A Christian parent may face this choice: allegiance to Christ or allegiance to child?

But I say again, yes, Christ did purchase privileges for the children of believers. It would seem to be pointless to say, “The promise is for you and for your children” (Acts 2:39), and to say, “His righteousness is to children’s children” (Psalm 103:18), if there was no more significance to a Christian ancestry than a pagan one. There is a good that comes to the children of believers.

God says in Jeremiah 32:39, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” This “good” is not the guarantee of faith, but the gift of God’s word (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), the restraint of God’s discipline (Ephesians 6:4), the demonstration of God’s love (Colossians 3:21), and the power of prayer (Job 1:5). God has ordained, regularly and normally, to work through these means for the salvation of the children of believers.

I commend Piper for dealing with the vast material of Scripture on children and acknowledging the benefits that particularly extend to children. Many Baptists merely generalize such promises as applying equally to all people with no distinction. Piper also deals with some Old Testament passages that prophecy the nature of the New Covenant as including God’s work on behalf of our children. This is also seen in Deut. 30:6:

Deuteronomy 30:6 (ESV) — 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

The benefits our children receive, according to Piper, are nurture in the truth, instruction and correction, imitation of God’s love, and prayer. He says, “God has ordained, regularly and normally, to work through these means for the salvation of the children of believers”. Piper makes clear, as do good Presbyterians, that none of these things guarantee the eternal salvation of our children from the womb. Doug Wilson, Robert Rayburn, and others who have a robust doctrine of covenant succession don’t believe that all children born to parents are already guaranteed eternal salvation apart from their response of faith.

I have told folks that I am theologically covenantal along the lines of standard Presbyterian and Reformed theology in regards to how I view the place of children in the covenant. The stipulations of the covenant and conditions for blessing come through faith alone. Faith lays hold of the promise. This condition is upheld by all in the debate. I would, however, confidently declare a child dying in infancy to belong to the Lord based on their objective status in the covenant, whereas Baptists have traditionally said that such children get into heaven merely because God could not judge them based on the standards of natural revelation. Such Baptists then read back into the child election  in the ordu salutis in order to get the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. I have always found it odd that such Baptists tease their Presbyterian friends for any claims that the children have objective covenant status and then turn around and bury children by citing with certainty that they are among the elect or by denying the likelihood of salvation to infants because they were never converted with outward demonstration of faith. “The children are reprobate and have no connection to the covenant at all and are in need of conversion” goes their argument, but then count them among the elect when they should die or are consistent and state such children as lost.

Piper, in my opinion, has a modified view of the child’s relation to the covenant while also remaining a credobaptist, like myself. He said something very telling in the above quote (emphasis mine):

Each of those three texts makes clear that the blessing which comes to the future generations of believers comes only to those who are “called by God” (Acts 2:39), “keep his covenant” (Psalm 103:18), and “love him” (Exodus 20:6). Do all the children of believers love God and keep covenant with him by faith in Christ? No. There are enough examples of believers in the Bible whose children did not believe to show us that a parent’s faith does not secure a child’s.

To “keep covenant” implies that you are somehow related to the covenant in a particular way. Piper seems to acknowledge this. He rightly answers the question in the negative on whether children of believers “keep covenant”. Again, everyone would agree with this. That Piper even applies Psalm 103:8 to children of believers in the New Covenant is an essential agreement with the arguments of Doug Wilson, Presbyterians, etc. That is my view as well. While a very strong argument can be made that this view of children necessitates infant baptism, I humbly disagree. John Murray called infant baptism a “good and necessary inference”. I would agree that it is a “good” inference, but not a “necessary” one. Most paedobaptists are won over by a covenantal view of children, not by a reexamination of the texts on Baptism.

Like Calvin, I view the children as already having this objective covenant status because they are born into a believing household. He was careful to state that baptism doesn’t confer this objective status but is the actual grounds for infant baptism. I prefer to baptize those who actively respond in faith to the blessings of the covenant. In other words, I believe that both sacraments are participatory by faith of the recipient. A strong argument can be made that a child is passively brought into objective status via baptism and then must respond in faith at the Table for the Supper. Some, like Wilson and other paedo-communists, would contend that the child’s objective status grants them access to both sacraments. They would also have a high view of paedofaith as the normative paradigm and contend that the children are actively responding in their baptism and in the Supper. I think that the teaching of Baptism and the Supper requires credible active faith. That is where I humbly stand, while at the same time wanting to affirm all that Scripture teaches about the particular blessings that are promised to the children of believers.

© 2011 – 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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One comment on “John Piper on the Particular Benefits Extended to Children of Believers…My Thoughts on Baptist and Reformed Perspectives on Children and Relation to Covenant
  1. I have difficultly with pedobaptism because it does create an objective covenant or auxiliary covenant which is granted the status of sacrament of Baptism but empty of eternal blessing.
    Deu. 30:6 is an example of the eternal emptiness of an objective covenant for the promise is only for circumcision of the heart.

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