Fifth Day – The Promise of the Covenant

‘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.’ Gen. 17: 7. `The children of the flesh, they are not the children of God, but the children of the promise.’ Rom. 9: 8.

We have here the first full revelation of the terms of God’s covenant, of God’s dealing in grace, with Abraham, the father of all who believe; the great foundation promise of what God calls an ‘everlasting covenant.’ God had already revealed Himself to Abraham as his God, and the God who would give him a child. The thing that is new and remarkable here is the assurance that the covenant now to be established was to be with his seed as much as with himself: `a God unto thee, and thy seed after thee.’ It is this promise that has invested these words, through all the generations of God’s Church, with an imperishable interest. Let us see how entirely the same the promise is for the child as for the parent.

The matter of the promise is the same in each case: `I will establish My covenant;’ `I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.’ It is God’s purpose to stand in the same relation to the child as the father; the believing parent and the unconscious child are to have the same place before Him. God longs to take possession of the children ere sin gets its mastery; from the birth, yea, from before the birth, He would secure them as His own, and have the parent’s heart and the parent’s love sanctified and guided and strengthened by the thought that the child is His. `A God unto thee, and to thy seed.’

The certainty of the promise is the same. It rests on God’s free mercy, on His almighty power, His covenant faithfulness. The election of the seed is as free as of the parent himself, or rather, is even more manifestly of free grace alone, for here at all events there is no possibility of either merit or worthiness. God’s faithfulness to His purpose is in either case the ground on which the promise rests, and its fulfilment may be expected.

The condition of the promise is in each case the same. In its twofold blessing it is offered to the faith of the parent, and has to he accepted by faith alone. If the promise that comes to a sinner in the gospel, `I will be thy God,’ be not believed, that unbelief makes the promise of none effect. God is true, His promise faithful, His offer of mercy real, but it finds no entrance through unbelief, and the blessing is lost. Not otherwise with the other half, `a God to thy seed; if the parent’s faith accept this for his child, God will see to it that his faith is not disappointed.

The recipient of the promise is the same. It is not as if the first half of the promise is given to the father, the second half to the child. No, but it is the same person to whom the two parts of the promise come. In the one half the individual accepts it for himself, in the other half as a father for his child, but it is one act. The promise is not held in abeyance to wait for the child’s faith; but is given to the father’s faith in the assurance that the child’s faith will follow. With Abraham, as with each believing parent, the same faith accepts the personal and the parental blessing. The blessing is in either case equally sure, if faith equally holds it fast.

But here a difficulty arises with many persons. They see that God’s promises of mercy to sinners are free and sure, and have found, in believing them, that they have come true; they know that they have been accepted. But it is as if the promise with regard to the children is not equally simple and certain. They cannot well understand how one can so confidently believe for another. They know that the only sure ground for faith is God’s word; but they have not yet been able to realize that the word of God really means this, that they are definitely to believe that He is the God of their seed. Their impressions are in accordance with views that are ordinarily held, and that may be expressed thus: `God has established a general connection between seedtime and harvest, between faithful parental training and the salvation of the children. In neither case, the seedtime, nor the training, is absolute certainty of success secured, or God’s sovereignty excluded. It is enough that the promise expresses the tendency and ordinary result of proper training, though not what is to be the issue in every particular case.’ It is evident that such a general principle, with its possible exceptions, cannot give the rest of faith the parent longs for. Faith needs the assurance that God’s purpose and promise are clear and unmistakable; then alone can it venture all upon His faithfulness.

Such was the promise given to Abraham; such is the promise to every believing parent. It is not in the general law of seedtime and harvest that I am to find the parallel for my ground of hope on behalf of my child, but in that other very distinct and definite promise with which God himself has linked it. The first half, `I will be a God unto thee,’ is the Divine pattern and pledge of the second, `a God to thy seed.’ When as a struggling sinner I first sought for mercy, it was not to some general principle that seeking is generally followed by finding that I trusted, but to the very definite Divine assurance, `Everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth.’ I believed the promise; I came and was accepted; I found the promise true: `I will be thy God.’ So the promise is now brought that He is willing to be the God of my seed too. Wherever God comes with a promise, He expects faith to accept it at once. The promise was not conditional on Isaac’s believing, it was intended to be its source and security. And so, as I stand in covenant with God as my God, and see how He offers to be the God of His people’s seed, I have the right in faith to claim this promise, and to be assured of my child’s salvation as firmly as my own, through faith in the God of truth. The analogy between the two halves of the promise is complete. In the first it was the question, Could I trust the love and power and faithfulness of God to accept and renew and keep such a sinner as I am? Faith gave the answer, and secured the blessing. And now with the other question, Can I trust the love and the power and faithfulness of God to accept and renew and keep my child? Faith can again give the answer, and this blessing too is secured.

And if the thought still come up, as it has come and troubled many, How about election? how can I be sure that my child is one of the elect? the first half of the promise again gives the solution. When I believed to the saving of my own soul, it was not the secret things which belong to the Lord our God that I had to do with, but the things revealed in His Word, His invitation, and promise. I was sure the election and the promise of God never could be at variance with each other. Even so with my child. No believer in God’s promise ever had to complain that God’s sovereignty had hindered its fulfilment. `They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God, but the children of the promise.’ Not the fleshly descent from a believer can secure grace for the child, but only this, but this most certainly, that God’s free promise, given for the seed of His people, had been claimed and held in faith. The promise is definite, `a God unto thee and to thy seed.’ Oh, let us, like Abraham, not stagger at the promise through unbelief, but be strong in faith, giving glory to God, and be confident that what He has spoken He is able and faithful to perform. Let us look upon our children, let us love them and train them as children of the covenant and children of the promise — these are the children of God.

O my God! how shall I sufficiently adore You for the grace You have revealed in the promise of the covenant? As if it was not enough to take such unworthy sinners and make them Your children, You offer to provide for their children too, and make the house of Your servants the home of Your favor and blessing. You meet them with the sure promise once given to Your servant Abraham: `I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.’ Blessed be Your Holy Name!

And now, Lord! I beseech You, give me grace to take this promise and trust it with my whole heart. I desire to believe that as sure as is the confidence I have that You have accepted me and are my God, so confident may I be that You are the God of my seed. As I yielded myself all sinful to You, and You took me as Your own, I give them, all sinful too, to You, and believe You take them as Your own. As I accepted Your promise for myself, I accept it for them. Give me grace now to look upon them as You look; as children of the promise. May this be what gives me courage and hope for their training on earth and their portion in heaven. They are the children of the covenant, children of the promise. Faithful is He who has promised, who also will do it. Amen.