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
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  unto
mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and  to an innumerable company of angels,  to the general assembly
and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and  to God
the Judge of all, and  to the spirits of just men made perfect, and
 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,
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
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
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
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
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
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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