Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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March 2011 • Volume XIII, Issue 11


Mount Sion (1)

Those first-century Jews, to whom the inspired NT letter to the Hebrews was written in the first instance, had two choices. They could hold fast to Jesus Christ, suffer for His sake and be crowned with glory; or they could rejoin most of their fellow countrymen by returning to OT law and worship and perishing everlastingly!

Hebrews 12, by the use of two mountains, Mount Sinai (18-21) and Mount Sion or Zion (22-24), vividly presents the two options. On the one hand, as we saw in the last two issues of the News, there is Mount Sinai with all its terrifying phenomena. Do you see it burn with fire? There it is, enveloped with blackness and darkness, and illumined by streaking lightning! Do you hear the deafening sounds? Thunder, trumpet and the voice of God! The poor people asked never to hear that voice again; the poor beasts would be killed if they so much as touched the mountain; poor Moses exceedingly feared and quaked (19-21). On the other hand, there is Mount Sion. It is a place of peace and security and blessing (22-24).

You don’t want to go back from the Word and gospel of Jesus Christ, do you? Whether to Jewish legalism (the temptation for those first-century Jewish converts) or a false church or any pagan religion or the world? For once you leave the Lord Jesus, all you have is the thunder and lightning, the darkness and fire, of Mount Sinai! The curses and judgments of the law! The soul that sins shall die (Eze. 18:4)! Cursed is everyone who continues not to do everything that is written in the law (Gal. 3:10)!

So hold fast to Mount Sion, the true church and kingdom of Christ! For you and your children, and for all your days! You are a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem; you have communion with an innumerable company of angels and fellowship with Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 12:22-24). What more could you want?

First, we must consider the time of our coming to Sion. Hebrews 12:22-24 is not referring to the future. The text does not speak of coming to Sion when we die, in our souls. It does not refer to coming to Sion in the eternal state of bliss, in our resurrected bodies. Though these things will happen, they are not the idea here, for the text does not say, "But you will come unto Mount Sion."

Rather, we come to Sion in the present. "But ye are come unto mount Sion" (22). The perfect tense is used here. You came to Sion in the past, when you were regenerated and so believed in Jesus Christ, and you are still there, at Mount Sion, by faith. This is true for every NT believer, including you, child of God. When, by God’s grace, you came to Christ, you also came to Mount Sion (Christ’s church and kingdom). You came in the past and you are still there—with Christ and His church.

This includes Jewish NT believers. "But ye [first-century Jewish converts to Christ] are come unto mount Sion" (22). Jewish converts come to Mount Sion not by migrating to Palestine in the Middle East, nor by heading to Jerusalem as religious tourists, nor in some Jewish millennium in the future. Jewish believers come to Mount Sion the same way as do all the saints: by faith alone in the Lord Jesus, the only Saviour. "But ye [believing Jews and Gentiles] are come [in the past and now in the present] unto mount Sion" (22).

This is not the only blessed reality to which we are now come. The gospel privileges in Hebrews 12:22-24 can be classified under six heads: Sion and Jerusalem, angels, the church, God, the saints in heaven, and, the climax, Jesus Himself. "But ye are come [1] unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and [2] to an innumerable company of angels, [3] to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and [4] to God the Judge of all, and [5] to the spirits of just men made perfect, and [6] to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel" (22-24).

Second, moving from the time of our coming to Sion, we need to consider its nature. What is it to come to Sion? As we have seen, it is not a physical coming. It is not immigrating to the land of Canaan as a number of Jews have done, especially in the last century. It is not flying to Tel Aviv and driving to the earthly city of Jerusalem.

It is a coming by faith. Remember the definition of faith in the previous chapter: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (11:1). By faith, biblical truths are grasped and held fast, so that we have the substance or realization of them and the evidence or conviction of them in our hearts. Gospel realities are brought near and tasted by faith. Cling to the truth as it is in Jesus; don’t turn back!

Especially in the letter to Hebrews, coming to God is approaching Him as a worshipper in prayer and praise. The believer draws near to God in faith and hope and love. He comes into His court and approaches His throne bringing adoration and thanksgiving. Coming to the Triune God as a worshipper by faith is coming through Jesus Christ, the only mediator, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Since God is enthroned in the heavenly Jerusalem and since Christ is inseparably joined to His church, coming to God in Christ as a worshipper necessarily also means coming to Sion, the city and kingdom of the Triune God. Since Mount Sion is a heavenly gospel reality, coming to it is a spiritual activity for all believers who are members of the church militant on earth. Don’t give up! Persevere, beloved!

In the next issue of the News, we shall consider, in turn, the six gospel privileges in Hebrews 12:22-24 to which we come through saving faith in Jesus Christ. Rev. Stewart

Children, the Covenant of Grace and Baptism

A readers asks, "Are children in the covenant of grace upon baptism or are only the elect members of this grace after conversion? With whom was the covenant of works made? The visible or the invisible church? How does all that work?"

The questions asked by one of the readers of the News are interesting, important and come to the heart of the truth concerning the covenant of grace. I will not be able to answer all these questions in one article, but the subject can be pursued in later issues.

Let me talk about the first question at the beginning of our discussion: What is the relationship between membership in the covenant and the sacrament of baptism? The question seems to presuppose that one becomes a member of the covenant of grace at the time of baptism. This is not correct. It even suggests the idea that an infant becomes a member of the covenant of grace by means of baptism. And that idea, in turn, suggests the possibility of what is called "baptismal grace" or "baptismal regeneration." This is taught in some churches.

But this is a serious mistake. If baptism contains the power of regeneration, then there is power in the water itself to regenerate. Then one is back into Roman Catholicism and its doctrine of ex opere operato, that is, that the sacraments operate by a power inherent in the elements of the sacraments, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper and the water of baptism.

If, on the other hand, a baby becomes a member in the covenant of grace at the time of baptism, then it would seem to follow (although not with complete necessity) that all babies baptized are made members of the covenant of grace. However, to connect membership in the covenant with the administration of the sacrament of baptism in this way strongly suggests that membership begins with baptism.

But the Scriptures (and the Reformed confessions) teach that baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant. God establishes His covenant with His people, and baptism is a sign and seal of that truth.

Further Scripture teaches that the elect children of believing parents ordinarily are regenerated and saved, and thus become members of the covenant, in infancy or even at conception. They have been saved by the time they are baptized. That God saves children of believers is proved by such passages as Genesis 17:7, Acts 2:39 and Mark 10:13-16. That elect children of believing parents are usually regenerated early in infancy is proved by Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:39-45 and Matthew 18:1-7. Please look up all these verses and read them carefully.

When baptism is administered, it is administered as a sign and seal of God’s covenant. It is added to the preaching as an outward and visible sign of the truth Scripture teaches. More specifically, baptism is a sign and seal of two truths. First, as water washes away the filth of the body, so the blood of Christ washes away sin. Second, the baptism of infants is a sign and seal of the fact that the sins of both parents and children are washed away. That is, baptism is a sign and seal that the covenant of grace is established with elect parents and their spiritual seed in the line of generations. However, there are also always reprobate children born to believers (Rom. 9:6-13).

There are many churches that teach that the covenant of grace is established with the children of believers only after conscious conversion.

There was a reason why this wrong view was adopted. It was adopted because the covenant of grace was said to be a pact or agreement between God and man dependent on various conditions. The covenant is, therefore, a conditional covenant, and the covenant is not established with anyone but him who fulfils conditions.

It is obvious that children cannot perform or fulfil conditions. And so, the result was that the teaching became current that only after conversion could the covenant be established. But such a view, though taught by many, is not biblical. It was taught by some in Scotland, especially the so-called Marrow Men. It was taught in New England by the Separatist Puritans who settled there in the seventeenth century. Jonathan Edwards, for example, though he was a great Calvinistic preacher, nevertheless called the children of believers "little vipers." It was taught by some in the Netherlands throughout much of its history subsequent to the beginning of the eighteenth century. It is still taught today by churches who hold to a conditional covenant.

But many, from the time of the Reformation, in both Presbyterian and Reformed circles, denied that a conditional covenant was biblical and taught instead an unconditional covenant. This is also the doctrine taught in Scripture and the Reformed confessions.

It is crucially important, if I may add this as a warning, to hold to an unconditional covenant, because the idea of a conditional covenant has led directly to the idea of a conditional justification. A conditional justification is not a justification imputed solely by grace through faith alone to the elect, but is a justification that is conditioned by faith and works. This is the teaching of those promoting the so-called Federal Vision.

If the covenant is unconditional—as it is—God alone establishes His covenant with His elect people without any conditions, but as a blessing freely given. God graciously becomes the God of His people and makes them His own covenant friends through Jesus Christ and not on the basis of man’s works.

Baptism is a sign and seal of what God does. It is not a sign and seal of what God and man do together; or of what God does with the aid of man; or of what God does to those who perform their part of a bargain.

Then, since the covenant of grace is God’s work alone, it is also possible for God to take little (unborn) children of believers into His covenant. A newly conceived baby does not know its parents; a newly regenerated infant child of God does not yet know its heavenly Father. Doctors tell us, however, that a newly born baby can recognize its mother’s voice (in distinction from the voices of nurses) after only a few hours. Cannot a newly born baby recognize the much more powerful voice of his or her Father in heaven when that voice comes through Psalms, baptism and preaching?

We will reserve the rest of the questions for a subsequent News. Prof. Hanko

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