Retracting Credobaptism - by Dr. Fowler WhiteCovenant Theology - God's Master Plan to Give His Son Jesus Christ a Bride
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Check out these books on Covenant Theology.
When dealing with Covenant Theology “simple” is a good thing. After the Bible, this work is the FIRST that you should read, or one that you should introduce to a friend if they are struggling with covenant concepts.
There is no better succinct, concise, precise and exegetically irrefutable work on infant baptism than Harrison’s work. It is not just about baptism – it’s about infant inclusion in the covenant of grace. It’s about church membership.
Date: April-May, 1991
To: My friends and other known readers of the article mentioned below
From: Fowler White
Re: My article, “The Last Adam and His Seed: An Exercise in Theological Preemption,” Trinity Journal 6 NS (1985) 60-73
Greetings to my friends and others who I know have read my article mentioned above. With this note I wish to update you on my thinking regarding the thesis and argumentation of that article, not the least because several of you have expressed your appreciation for its contribution to your understanding and/or maintenance of a believer baptist conception of covenant theology. I would definitely welcome interaction with the comments I make here. To facilitate that interaction I have numbered each pertinent paragraph for easy reference.
0.1 Fundamentally, my aim here is to indicate the various ways in which the thesis and argumentation of my article fail to measure up biblically. At the very least, those failures mean that any who have found this article helpful in defending a baptistic covenant theology should rethink their opinion of it. To those who have been instrumental in helping me rethink the issues covered in the article, you have my sincerest gratitude.
0.2 Let me make a couple of observations before turning directly to the article’s thesis and argumentation. First, let me define the term grantee since some may not be familiar with it. As I use the term here, grantee designates a faithful servant of God whose obedience is rewarded with a grant of kingdom blessings and constituted as the ground of his seed’s inheritance of kingdom blessings. Presupposed in this definition is a second observation, viz., the proposition that in creation and redemption, God’s covenant is an administration of blessing and curse to a people consecrated to his lordship under his law. (Incidentally, in my view, the failure to see God’s covenant, particularly in its new covenant expression, as an administration of curse as well as blessing, is central to the believer baptist rejection of the infant baptist doctrine of the covenant.)
0.3 The thesis of my study was that membership in God’s covenant people has always been determined by the genealogical principle of “grantee and his descendants” (not “believers and their children”), such that the membership of the covenant people consisted of the grantee and his descendants, not believers and their children. I traced the application of this principle throughout redemptive history in the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and new covenants, each of which, I argued, was made with a grantee who typified or in fact was the one perfectly righteous servant, the last Adam, Christ. In the course of the article, I sought to show that before the granteeship of Christ and the new covenant (i.e., under the pre-Christ granteeships), covenant members included the physical seed of the pre-Christ grantee, but under the granteeship of Christ and the new covenant, covenant members included the spiritual seed of Christ (Isa 53:10-11). Hence, with the ratification of the new covenant in Christ, the covenant community became identified with Christ the grantee and his spiritual descendants vis-à-vis believers and their children. I concluded the study by urging that the preceding argumentation provided believer baptists with a theology of the covenant which, instead of revoking the genealogical principle, reinterpreted it in a way that could preempt the strength of the infant baptists’ reliance on it.
Before discussing the really Large Holes discovered in my argument, let me note some others.
Hole 1. In my exposition of the material on Noah, I failed to distinguish between the redemptive covenant of Gen 6:18 and the common grace covenant of Gen 9:1-17. Theoretically, my confusion of the two could lead to universalism, which I of course wish to repudiate. The fulfillment of the Gen 6 covenant of grant to righteous Noah (Gen 6:8-9; 7:1) took place in the symbolic-typological deliverance of the grantee and his household from the flood and in their subsequent inheritance of the present world-kingdom; the fulfillment of the Gen 9 covenant of common grace is taking place in the preservation of the present world-kingdom.
Hole 2. I failed to do justice to the Mosaic covenant as a symbolic-typological fulfillment of the kingdom blessings covered by Abraham’s covenant of grant. Because the patriarch obeyed God, he was rewarded with a grant of symbolic-typological kingdom blessings and his obedience was constituted as the ground of his descendants—Israel’s—reception of those kingdom blessings (e.g., Gen 22:16-18; 26:5, 24). According to the Mosaic covenant, however, Israel’s retention of her inheritance was based on her own obedience to God.
Hole 3. I failed to make as clear as possible that not all grantee/descendant relationships are like those involving the first and last Adams. Only in Adam and Christ is righteousness or sin actually imputed. In Noah, Abraham, and David blessing or curse is conferred in typological symbol; in Adam and Christ blessing or curse is actually conferred. Alongside their roles as grantees, Noah, Abraham, and David are heirs of Christ, whose obedience the Father constituted as the ground of their inheritance of everlasting kingdom blessings.
Hole 4. I failed to make as clear as possible that the benefits of Christ’s work extend to the generations that precede as well as follow the ratification of the new covenant.
Now to the really Large Holes.
Large Hole 1. Contrary to my thesis, the principle of “grantee and his descendants” does not account for covenant membership in all periods of redemptive history before Christ. The specifics follow.
1.1 Clearly, during the periods between the fall and Noah’s grant and between the end of the flood and Abraham, there was no grantee and hence no granteeship in effect (other than Christ’s) to account for covenant membership. The genealogies of Gen 5:1-32 and 11:10-26, whose purpose includes witnessing to the continuance of the covenant community between the fall and Noah and between the flood and Abraham, indicate that the community was composed of those who confessed the name of the Lord together with their families (cf. Gen 4:26 [Seth and his family]; 9:26-27 with 11:10-12:8 [Shem and his family, Abram and his family]).
1.2 As for the period of Abraham’s life, he appears in the text of Genesis as both a believer and a grantee. In other words, Abraham appears both as an example of justification by faith (Gen 15:6) and as one whose exemplary acts of obedience in faith were the meritorious ground of his physical seed’s (Israel’s) inheritance of the symbolic-typological kingdom blessings. Though there may be some room for discussion as to when the Lord first constituted Abraham’s obedience as the ground of Israel’s inheritance, it is indisputable that when the covenant call came to Abram in Gen 12:1-3, he was not yet a grantee and hence his household, which was in fact embraced in that call, was embraced on a principle other than that of “grantee and his descendants.” The alternative principle at hand is, of course, “confessor (believer) and his household” (cf. Gen 12:8).
1.3 Further in connection with Abraham, contrary to the idea I expressed in n. 13 of the article, we must explain the genealogical principle of the circumcision covenant (Gen 17:9-14; Acts 7:8) in terms of believers and their seed. Explained in these terms, the circumcision covenant embraced Abraham the believer and all the seed of his household, and set them apart to God’s covenant lordship as a servant people under the blessing and curse of his law (Gen 17:1, 14). Significantly, all Abraham’s seed were to be initiated into the membership of the covenant community, whether their ultimate destiny under the covenant was one of blessing or curse. That is to say, all Abraham’s seed were initiated into the community without reference to the individual election that relates to Christ’s granteeship (note, e.g., Isaac and Ishmael). To be sure, the proper purpose of the circumcision covenant was that Abraham should become the father of all who believe, most notably here the circumcised who not only were circumcised but who also followed the example of his faith (Rom 4:12). In this respect, circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of faith (cf. Rom 4:11) and thus related to the antitypical level of kingdom fulfillment where Christ is the grantee whose obedience is the ground of his seed’s inheritance, and where Abraham is one of Christ’s seed, an example of the many whom Christ will justify by faith (Isa 53:10-11). Nevertheless, the circumcision covenant cannot be reduced to its proper purpose: as in all preconsummate administrations of God’s redemptive covenant, the circumcision covenant was broader than the election that relates to Christ’s granteeship, in that it embraced Abraham the believer and his seed.
1.4 While it is true that the genealogical principle of the circumcision covenant must be explained in terms of believers and their seed, it is also true that the community formed under the circumcision covenant—”the circumcision”—inevitably came under Abraham’s granteeship once his obedience was made the ground for their reception of the typological inheritance. Thereafter until the new covenant, “the circumcision” and the seed of Abraham the grantee coincided in the administration of the circumcision covenant. That is, once Abraham’s granteeship took effect, “the circumcision,” whose membership was determined by the “confessor/seed” principle, became identified with (coextensive with) the national election that related to the patriarch’s granteeship. To be sure, with respect to individual election and the proper purpose of the circumcision covenant, they were “not all the circumcision who were of the circumcision”; the circumcision covenant, as all other preconsummate administrations of redemptive covenant, was broader than the individual election that relates to Christ’s granteeship.
1.5 As for the period of the Mosaic covenant, to repeat, Israel’s status as covenant people was determined by Abraham’s granteeship, such that she received (though she would not retain) the symbolic-typological kingdom blessings because of Abraham’s exemplary obedience. Under Abraham’s covenant of grant, his descendants were identified specifically and exclusively as the covenant community. That is, the covenant community, whose membership was already set by the “confessor/seed” principle, became identified with (coextensive with) the national election that related to Abraham’s granteeship. With respect to individual election, they were not all Israel who were of Israel; under the Mosaic covenant, as under every preconsummate administration of God’s redemptive covenant, covenant was broader than the individual election that relates to Christ’s granteeship.
1.6 The point not to be missed in all this is that, contrary to my thesis, the principle governing membership in the covenant community before Christ was not that of “grantee and his descendants.” Instead, the principle was that of “confessors (believers) and their seed.” Now this is not to say that the principle of “grantee and his descendants” never applied, but rather that it applied only when God established a covenant of grant with an exemplary patriarch and identified his family specifically and exclusively as the covenant family. In those extraordinary circumstances, the believer’s seed coincided with the grantee’s seed and became the elect related to the granteeship that was a symbol and type of Christ’s. Ordinarily, however, the operative principle of covenant membership before Christ was “believers and their seed.”
Large Hole 2. Contrary to my thesis, the new covenant should not be called “the new covenant with Jesus Christ” (p. 62). To speak this way is to confuse the new covenant, of which Christ is the mediator between God and his people, with the intertrinitarian covenant, of which Christ is the grantee representing the elect given to him by the Father. The new covenant certainly fully reveals the oath-grant of the Father to the Son (see, e.g., Ps 110:4), but the new covenant is founded on, and therefore must be distinguished from, this oath (Heb 7:20-22, 28; 8:6).
Large Hole 3. Related to Large Hole 2, my exposition of the new covenant reduces the covenant concept under the new covenant to an administration of blessing (salvation) to the elect, the blessing being obtained for them by Christ the Lord who, as Servant of the Lord and representative of the elect, obeyed God’s law and bore its curse. Given the place that Jer 31 has occupied in my thinking, this formulation is understandable, but it ignores the distinction between the new covenant and the Father’s covenant with Christ. According to the broader context of biblical revelation, the new covenant is as much an administration of curse to the reprobate as it is an administration of blessing to the elect. For example, in Rev 2-3, Christ addresses threats of curse as well as promises of blessing to the seven churches; in Rom 11, Paul warns the Gentiles among the new covenant people that they, like the Israelite branches broken off for unbelief, will be broken off if they fail to stand fast through faith; and in Matt 7, Christ prophesies of the curse that will fall on the many who in the last day will confess his lordship but will not have done his Father’s will. John 15:1-8 and the warning passages in the epistle to the Hebrews also come to mind in this connection.
3.1 From these and other passages, it becomes clear that in the administration of the new covenant, there is a two-sided fulfillment of Christ’s lordship over the community formed under it, the one side resulting in blessing and life (salvation), the other resulting in curse and death (judgment). In this light, I now view the new covenant as an administration of Christ’s lordship over a disciple people consecrated to him under the blessing and curse of God’s law (e.g., Matt 28:18-20; Matt 5-7, esp. 5:1-12 and 7:21-27). Within this framework, Christ’s activity as Servant and Lord of the covenant, as last Adam and Judge, can be fully integrated, and the conceptual fragmentation of the theology of the covenant found in my article can be avoided.
3.2 This conclusion brings us back to the distinction between the new covenant and the Father’s covenant with Christ, or, more particularly, to the distinction between the people of God in the new covenant and the seed of Christ in the intertrinitarian covenant, between those consecrated to Christ’s lordship under the blessing and curse of his law and the elect given to Christ by the Father. The new covenant people of God, in this present, preconsummate stage of new covenant administration, is unquestionably—and contrary to my thesis—broader than the seed of Christ, the last Adam. To be sure, the proper purpose of the new covenant, like the proper purpose of every administration of redemptive covenant, is the salvation of the elect. To this purpose Jer 31, Isa 53, and indeed much of Scripture—including the NT passages cited in the article (pp. 71-72)—bear witness. Nevertheless, the new covenant cannot be reduced to this purpose: it is an administration of judgment to the reprobate as well as salvation to the elect.
3.3 If the new covenant is not to be confused with the covenant of grant to Christ, and if the new covenant cannot be reduced to an administration of blessing to the seed of Christ, then the thesis of my article is false: the principle that governs membership in the new covenant community cannot be that of “grantee and his descendants.” Moreover, my charge that the infant baptist doctrine of the covenant suffers from paradigmatic equivocation is false. This charge resulted from my confusion of the new covenant with the covenant of grant to Christ. Furthermore, my claim that Christ’s death and resurrection requires a reinterpretation of the genealogical principle’s operation under the new covenant is false: the reinterpretation relates to Christ’s covenant of grant, but not to the new covenant as an administration of both blessing and curse.
3.4 All this brings us back to Professor Murray’s question quoted in the article’s introduction: where is the evidence that the principle governing membership in the covenant community before Christ—”confessors (believers) and their seed”—has been revoked since Christ arrived? Despite my best efforts in my article, I now believe that I for one have failed to produce the evidence that Murray called for. I would therefore make the following appeals to my friends and others who have read my article. I would urge any who have found my argument useful in answering Murray’s question to do as I now do: disavow it as invalid. I would also urge all to accept the proposition that the burden of proof continues to rest with those who would argue for the revocation of the “believers and their seed” principle under the new covenant. In the absence of such proof, I believe we must assume that that principle continues to be in effect, and affirm that both believers and their children should be included in the membership of the new covenant community as disciples of Christ, the Lord of the covenant.
 The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflected the views of either the administration or the rest of the faculty of Knox Theological Seminary. The right to distribute this paper belongs solely to the author.
The Puritans made many posters, even in their day, to aid church members in understanding Scriptural truth. I created this new poster to cover the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace.
Check Out these Books on Covenant Theology
Presumptive Regeneration, or, the Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants by Cornelius Burges (1589-1665)
A Discourse on Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism by Cuthbert Sydenham (1622-1654)
Infant Baptism of Christ’s Appointment by Samuel Petto (1624-1711)
Covenant Holiness and Infant Baptism by Thomas Blake (1597-1657)
The Manifold Wisdom of God Seen in Covenant Theology by George Walker (1581-1651)
The Covenant of God by Thomas Blake (1597-1657)
A Chain of Theological Principles by John Arrowsmith (1602-1659)
The Covenant of Life Opened by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
The Covenant of Grace Opened by Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)
The Covenant of Redemption by Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
The Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace by Edmund Calamy (1600-1666)
The Doctrine and Practice of Infant Baptism by John Brinsley (1600-1665)
God’s Covenant and Our Duty By Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
God’s Glory in Man’s Happiness by Francis Taylor (1589-1656)
Infant Baptism God’s Ordinance by Michael Harrison (1640-1729)
Jesus Christ God’s Shepherd by William Strong (d. 1654)