October 2010 • Volume XIII,
(Our: Vol. 12, Number 12)
The starting point for David’s devotions in Psalm 8 is the sky, the sky at night (whereas Psalm 19:1-6 treats the sky by day), for it is only when the sun is down that we can see "the moon and the stars" (8:3). The almighty wisdom manifest in "the work of [God’s] fingers" in outer space (3) leads the psalmist to marvel at God’s careful attention to puny man (4) whom He crowns with glory (5), giving him dominion (6) over the living creatures of the land, air and sea (7-8). "O Lord our Lord," holy David exclaims, "how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (1, 9). Jehovah’s "glory [is] above the heavens" (1), far higher and greater than even the marvellous and enormous expanse of the second heaven, outer space.
But what has all this to do with the false theory of common grace? Not much; rather, not much directly. But in raising the issue of the right interpretation and understanding of the moon and the stars (3), the doctrine of man (4-5) and his lordship over the earth (6-8), and hence the glory of God’s great name (1, 9), as well as in characterizing those who grasp this truth (2), the issue of common grace comes up. For common grace is a prominent factor in the unbelieving reinterpretation of the creation.
Let me explain. Over the last two centuries, the Bible’s teaching of a young earth and the creation of man on the sixth day as head, under God, of the planet has been attacked and undermined through unbelieving science: uniformitarian geology, evolutionism and the big bang. As these views infiltrate seminaries, pulpits and pews in apostate and apostatising churches, the question inevitably arises, How can we reconcile our evolutionary beliefs with the Bible (especially Genesis 1-3)?
The false philosophy of common grace has boldly ridden to the rescue (cf., e.g., the report of the Committee on Creation and Science accepted at the Christian Reformed Church of N. America Synod of 1991)! The (flawed) reasoning is easy to grasp. Since God loves everybody and since this is God’s love and, therefore, powerful and transformative, God’s love must result in changing everyone somewhat for the better and so making them something less than—and maybe a lot less than!—totally depraved. All scientists are, therefore, (at least partially) good and so they are really seeking after the truth, the truth about origins too: the origins of man, life, the earth and the universe.
These scientists (at least, most of them) tell us that man evolved from the primeval slime pond and our planet, solar system and universe are the result of an explosion many billions of years ago. Common grace "baptizes" this folly into (various forms of) theistic evolutionism, the notion of a "god of the gaps" who used evolution to make man and the world. Genesis 1-3 and the succeeding chapters, as well as many other parts of the Bible, such as the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11), Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce (Matt. 19:4-6), the prohibition of women in church office (I Tim. 2:11-15), etc., must be "reinterpreted" as myths or mere morality stories. The biblical and Reformed doctrine of the inspiration, authority, inerrancy, perspicuity and sufficiency of Scripture is denied (II Tim. 3:16-17; Belgic Confession 2-7; Westminster Confession 1) and further departures are inevitable.
Ah, the marvel of common grace! It not only removes the offence of the gospel (the absolute sovereignty of God) and facilitates false ecumenism with Arminians (by teaching that God loves everybody and wants to save everybody); it also can be used to justify evolutionism!
Unlike liberal theologians with the glaucoma of common grace and the warped spectacles of evolutionism, David has 20/20 vision through spiritual, believing eyes and the glasses of Scripture. He knew that the holy God of justice does not love the ungodly reprobate: "thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Ps. 5:5); "the wicked ... his soul hateth" (11:5). The psalmist meditated upon and cleaved to Scripture and not the vain counsels of the ungodly (1:1-2; 2:1-3), for God’s "word is true from the beginning" (119:160).
In this light (including Genesis 1), David surveyed the glorious night sky with its heavenly bodies (Ps. 8:3). The immense expanse of God’s work on the fourth day (Gen. 1:14-19) dwarfed tiny man made on the sixth day (26-31), compelling David to exclaim, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (Ps. 8:4). Next he, believing the truth of the first chapter of the Bible (Gen. 1:26-31), recalled God’s good gift to man, his vicegerent, of dominion over the earth (Ps. 8:5-8). Thus we understand and appreciate David’s entirely appropriate response in the opening and concluding lines of Psalm 8: "O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (1, 9).
But who makes this glorious confession? Not many of the high and mighty of this world (I Cor. 1:26). Jehovah has "ordained strength" or "perfected praise" "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings" (Ps. 8:2; Matt. 21:16)! Covenant children—not unbelieving astronomers or theologians—and humble adults with a child-like faith understand the heavens in the light of the Word and worship their Creator by sovereign, uncommon grace alone! This is God’s means to "still [orsilence] the enemy and the avenger" (Ps. 8:2) who pervert and deny the truth of Jehovah’s creation, especially here of the fourth (3), fifth (8) and sixth (4-7) days (Gen. 1:14-31)!
This truth of creation is inseparably joined to the truth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, for He is the ideal man and the second Adam who is the head of the creation, as Hebrews 2:6-10, citing Psalm 8:4-6, teaches. And the "babes and sucklings" who glorify their Creator (2) also worship Christ in His temple (Matt. 21:15-16)! Rev. Stewart
After referring to four notoriously wicked kings in the line of David, a reader asks,
1) Assuming they were all regenerated, how can such a powerful seed (as that of regeneration) lie dormant and not bear fruit in a given generation?
2) By what curious and mysterious method does the covenant transmit from generation to generation? I’m sure it is not helpful to think horticulturally, biologically or by genetics. Is there some useful way of thinking or understanding this transmission?
3) Does the covenant transcend sinful procreation (Gen. 38; Matt. 1:3)?
4) Can the covenant promises run out a generation or more in NT families?
These are interesting and thoughtful questions of no little importance.
You will understand that the underlying assumption of all the questions is the truth that God establishes His covenant with His elect people in the line of generations (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39). This is true not only in the old dispensation, but also in the new. Baptists typically deny this truth. Baptists generally disagree that God establishes His covenant with His elect people in both old and new dispensations. In the old dispensation, God did not establish His covenant with His elect people but with the entire nation of Israel, that is, with every one that was a Jew, and the covenant was national and pertained to earthly promises; in the new dispensation, so Baptists continue, God makes His covenant only with believers. Hence, while in the old dispensation circumcision was a sign of the covenant and had to be performed upon every Jewish male, in the new dispensation baptism did not take the place of circumcision, but is a new sign for a new covenant established only with believers; hence Baptists hold to believers’ only baptism.
It is clear that this view is basically dispensationalism and an impossible division between the church of the old dispensation and the church of the new dispensation—whether Baptists agree or not. I have developed this argument more extensively in my book, We and Our Children: The Reformed Doctrine of Infant Baptism, available from the CPRC Bookstore for £9.90 (inc. P&P within the UK) and from the Reformed Free Publishing Association for those in N. America (www.rfpa.org).
First, the questioner is certainly correct that the seed of regeneration does not and cannot lie dormant in the hearts of those regenerated. The seed of regeneration is indeed too powerful to lie dormant. It is the implanting of the life of Christ. Hence, we must conclude that those wicked kings of Judah were not regenerated at all.
Dr. Abraham Kuyper taught the false view that baptism is to be administered on the grounds of presupposed regeneration, arguing that it was possible that the seed of regeneration lay dormant for a long time. He used the figure of very old grain seeds, found in the pyramids of Egypt, which sprouted when they were planted and watered.
Second, the questioner is also correct that God’s saving His people in the line of generations cannot be understood in terms of natural causes, whether horticultural, biological or genetic. The fulfilment of the covenant promise in the line of generations is a wonder performed by sovereign grace according to God’s unconditional election.
Third, it seems true indeed that generations were skipped in the OT, as is especially evident in the line of the kings who ruled in Judah. They were all of the seed of David; they all stood in the line of Christ; yet some were undoubtedly reprobate.
This brings us to the heart of the question. Were generations skipped in the fulfilment of the promises of God’s covenant established in the line of generations? And if so, as seems apparent, does this happen in the new dispensation as well?
A couple of things have to be remembered. For one thing, sometimes, though rarely, a brother of the old king (not his son) succeeded him on the throne. I do not know whether it ever took place that a regenerated brother took the place of an unregenerated brother. There does not seem to be any instance of this but it is a possibility
It is possible also that while a good king such as Hezekiah followed a monster of wickedness, Ahaz, God used the piety of a mother to preserve the line of the covenant. In other words, the covenant was continued from one generation to the next through a godly mother. (I Corinthians 7:14 proves that this happens in the new dispensation. History also tells us of instances of this, as in the case of Augustine, born of a wicked father and a godly mother.) In such instances, salvation did not skip a generation.
Nevertheless, there is something else about this question which must be said in this connection: the line of Judah’s kings was the line of Christ! That line had to be preserved, for through it God had promised to send the Messiah. It may very well be, therefore, that, in spite of wicked men in David’s line, God did skip generations to preserve the line of Christ. That does not seem to me to be impossible.
Also it seems to be true from the viewpoint that Israel as a whole was the people of God and the elect were always found in the nation. It may be that in the church of the old dispensation it was possible for generations to be skipped in the establishment of His covenant because the general principle was maintained that God saves in the line of generations, especially when salvation is limited to one nation.
The same may happen in the new dispensation as well. I have been surprised in my own work to see that God still brings out of the apostate and false Roman Catholic Church some elect people. To say that these elect people came from covenant lines, that is, from lines in which always one or the other parent was a genuine believer, is simply not true. These people, rescued from idolatrous Romanism, may be like brands plucked out of the burning but we all know it does happen.
If God is pleased in His infinite mercy to save a few here or there born in lines where the covenant has long disappeared, the general rule remains that, in the church of Christ and the historical line of the covenant, He saves believers and their seed. And, according to the purpose of God, lines that are cut off from the covenant because of unbelief are not restored again to that covenant. Not only is election in the line of generations but reprobation also is in the line of generations (Ex. 20:5). Branches cut off from the olive tree are not re-ingrafted, although here and there a twig might be saved from the pile that is to be burned.
When God works in these unusual ways, it is to show us that all who are saved, in the lines of generations or outside these lines, are saved by sovereign grace according to God’s eternal decision. He alone is sovereign and must be praised! Prof. Hanko