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September 2007 • Volume XI, Issue 17


Virgins and Widows (2)

I Corinthians 7:36-38 and thus these articles proceed on the understanding that the Christian father is a godly and wise man who loves his daughter and seeks her good in all things, including courtship and marriage. He must not be a tyrant, forcing her to date someone unsuitable, nor must he be selfish, as one thinking merely of himself and his own welfare. Nor may he make unreasonable demands of his daughter: "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged" (Col. 3:21). Thus there may well be problems in parental oversight of a daughter’s courtship, if the father is living a sinful life and is a foolish or rash man. If he has not demonstrated his love for her or won her respect as she has been growing up, he will probably find that his headstrong daughter will now sinfully disregard good supervision over her courtship and marriage. Thus he is reaping what he sowed in his disordered home and she will (ordinarily) reap what she has sown in a troubled courtship and a bad marriage.

Though we have been considering the role of the father (as does I Corinthians 7:36-38), the mother has a role here too. He is the head (Eph. 5:23), but she is a helper fit or meet for him (Gen. 2:18). Thus the husband should discuss these matters with his wife (as part of sharing their lives and leading their home). He should listen to good advice from her, for he does not know everything, else God would never have given him a helper. Moreover, his wife, as a woman, will in many ways understand their daughter better than he does.

I Corinthians 7:36-38 also proceeds on the understanding that the daughter is godly and submissive to her father. She obeys the fifth commandment: "Honour thy father and thy mother …" (Ex. 20:12). She understands her need for help in the area of courtship. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child" (Prov. 22:15) and some of it is still left, especially in daughters who think that they are fully "grown up" and have no need of parental advice. Psalm 25:7 refers to the "sins of ... youth," and many have had a long time to rue the sin of courting and marrying foolishly when they were younger.

When things are right in a Christian home, the daughter trusts her father, recognising him as a righteous and faithful man who cares for her and wants what is best for her. As one who has lived with him for a couple of decades or so, the daughter knows that her father is not perfect but she understands that he is not supervising her romantic life to ruin her fun or to cross her, but for her welfare. Thus she welcomes and appreciates his advice and guidance and does not feel it as an unwarranted or unwanted intrusion. Such a daughter knows that if father were to let her do everything she wants, it would show that he does not love her. In fact, father’s thoughtful supervision ought to be seen as security and a relief: "I don’t have to make such big decisions on my own!" What a way of sorting out unwanted or inappropriate suitors! Simply tell them, "Ask my father!"

Verse 36 speaks of a father who comes to see that he has been unnecessarily restraining his mature daughter from marriage. His behaviour has been "uncomely" or improper. His daughter does not have the gift of sexual continence (9) and therefore ought to marry (cf. "need so require;" 36). She wants to marry and there is someone suitable, so the father should "let them marry" (36).

Verse 37 refers to a case where the daughter has the gift of sexual continence (9), and so there is "no necessity" that she marry (37). Thus here the father exercises his authority by steadfastly decreeing in his "heart" and "will" that she remain single (37).

In both scenarios the father does "well" (38), centrally because he acts properly regarding the fundamental principle: whether or not his daughter has the gift of sexual continence (9). But in the second case, the father does "better" (38), because a godly, single woman with the gift of sexual continence avoids the distress and troubles of marriage (26-28) and has more freedom to serve the Lord (32-35). Besides, marriage—great picture of Christ and the church that it is!—is only for this world and passes away (29-31).

But what about widows? The father has authority over his virgin daughter’s romantic life, but it is not so with a widow: "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she [i.e., the widow] is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (39).

Note that I Corinthians 7 tells us who has authority over courtship and marriage for a virgin (36-38) and a widow (39-40); it says nothing in this connection regarding a divorcee. Why? Because the Lord Jesus commands, "Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her [1] remain unmarried, or [2] be reconciled to her husband" (10-11). Only two options are given and a divorcee’s remarriage while her spouse is living is not one of them (cf. 39). Rev. Stewart

The Salvation of Baptized Infants (1)

I received a letter that asks two questions about infant baptism—important questions that bring one to the heart of the biblical teaching concerning baptism and salvation. The first question is whether the baptism of infants implies (1) that infants are believers or (2) that they will, in the future, become believers.

The answer to this question is that the Scriptures and our Reformed confessions teach (1), that infants of believers are baptized because "they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore" be baptized (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 74).

The form used for the baptism of infants in the Protestant Reformed Churches teaches the same. Parents are asked whether they "acknowledge that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea to condemnation itself, yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His church, ought to be baptized." In the prayer the church makes after baptism, the saints thank God "that Thou hast forgiven us and our children all our sins through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through Thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism ..." These confessional statements are solidly based on the Scriptures. I can give only a small part of the biblical proof in this short article, but you can find the rest in my book, We and Our Children (available from the CPRC Bookstore for £9.90 [inc. P & P]).

That God establishes His covenant with us and our children is clear from Genesis 17:7: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." Because baptism has taken the place of circumcision (Col. 2:11-12), the truth of Genesis 17:7 applies to the new dispensation as well as the old.

Jeremiah 1:5 indicates that elect infants of believers are usually regenerated prior to or at birth: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, after she learned she was to be the Messiah’s mother, John the Baptist, still unborn, leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth interpreted this, by the Spirit in her, as meaning that Mary was pregnant with Christ, and that she stood in the presence of Christ. John, though unborn, also knew Christ’s presence and began his ministry of announcing Christ’s coming by leaping in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth’s words were: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb ... For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord" (Luke 1:42, 44-45).

When Jesus told the disciples not to prevent the mothers with little children and babies in their arms to come to Him that He might bless these babes and children, the Lord gives as His reason: "for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14). Opponents of infant baptism dismiss the passage with the remark that Jesus only means that anyone who wishes to enter the kingdom must become humble like a little child. But this is impossible, for Jesus explains in the very next verse that little children "receive" the kingdom of God (15), something possible only by the work of regeneration (John 3:3, 5).

This is the general rule in God’s kingdom. We must understand, of course, that this rule of God is applicable only with respect to the children of believers. God saves also on the mission field. And when God saves on the mission field, He does not save those ordained to eternal life when they are infants, but saves them when the gospel works the power of salvation in the hearts of His elect.

Nevertheless, even on the mission field, God does not merely save individuals; He saves households, that is, He saves believers and their seed. Paul declares to the Philippian jailer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (Acts 16:31; cf. Acts 16:15; I Cor. 1:16).

Why is it so difficult for one who professes to be a Calvinist and insists on the absolute sovereignty of God in the work of salvation to believe that God saves infants? If the work of salvation is solely God’s work, why cannot He save infants as well as adults? The difficulty is, I suspect, that those who deny that children are saved as children want to be Arminian after all; they wish to teach that salvation lies, in the final analysis, at least in part, with man’s work. Such Arminian reasoning seems to be implied in an objection to the view outlined above, when opponents of this view claim that infants cannot have faith.

There are two remarks which have to be made in this connection. One is that a regenerated infant can have faith and does have faith as an infant. He has faith as the bond that unites him to Christ, although he may not have conscious faith as yet. But it is not even impossible that the faith of a little child can begin, though in a childlike way, to manifest itself when that child, even before birth, comes under the influence of the songs and speech of a godly home and the worship of the church in which it is baptized. Even unbelieving psychologists marvel at the fact that a newborn child recognizes the voice of its mother when only a few hours old. Cannot a newborn child of the covenant recognize the voice of its heavenly Father, a voice far more powerful than an earthly voice can ever be? We know little about the mind of a child.

We must still say a bit more about this and we must answer a second question. But that will come, God willing, next time. Prof. Hanko

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