RPM, Volume 15, Number 22, May 26 to June 1, 2013

The Covenant Seed

By Thomas Goodwin

Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) was a much-loved Puritan pastor and a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines which produced the Confession and Catechisms. He was an Independent (Congregational) minister whose preaching was characterized by both zeal for Christ and a sound knowledge of the Book of God.

That my scope may by all be fully understood, I have shut up the full sum and argument of the whole into this one proposition, that "The children of believing parents, at least their next and immediate seed, even of us Gentiles now under the gospel, are included by God within the covenant of grace, as well as Abraham's or David's seed within that covenant of theirs." Both the proof and explication of which great point will run along together.

I will begin first to search out this right by that magna charta, that great and faithful charter which was made to Abraham, the father of the faithful, in the name of all his seed; for that is made the primary and fundamental ground of this great privilege by our divines, that we being ' Abraham's seed' (as Gal. iii. 29) as well as the Jews, and having the same covenant, are therefore ' heirs of the promise,' and so of that promise which was made to Abraham and the Jews: ' I will be the God of thee and of thy seed.' But against this ground, as thus barely alleged, this exception hath often come thwart my mind, that this was Abraham's peculiar privilege, and an honour to him vouchsafed; as likewise was that to be styled the ' father of all the faithful,' which, as we all know, is to us incommunicable; and that therefore, although we may for our own persons indeed come into his promise as his seed, and so into that part of the promise, ' I will be the God of thy seed,' and so have the promise of God's being our God, and of the blessing by Christ for ourselves, as we are Abraham's seed, yet take the whole promise collectively made to him and us, ' I will be the God of thee and of thy seed,' and it should seem to be peculiar to him alone, as to be the father of the faithful also is, by which title we are no way called, but only the sons of Abraham, and Abraham's seed. It might have well sufficed us for our own persons to have come into his promise singly, and to be 'heirs according to the promise, as the phrase is, Gal. iii. 26, although we were not fathers also to convey the promise, as Abraham was; nor although the promise, as collectively taken, had belonged to us, as to Abraham it did, nor that part of the promise, "I will be the God of thy seed," had been extended to us. And although the Jews, who were Abraham's seed after the flesh as well as after the Spirit, had that privilege also, that God in their generations promised to be the God of them and their seed; yet that also may seem to be a special privilege proper to them, which we Gentiles cannot plead; for as in Rom. iii. 1, 'What advantage or prerogative had the Jews' but this, Rom. ix. 4, that 'to them pertaineth the adoption, and the covenant, and the promises,' as being those ' whose are the fathers after the flesh,' verse 5, and so they had this privilege, that the covenant was propagated by the flesh.

Now, in satisfaction to these two exceptions, although there must necessarily be granted a transcendent special honour and privilege vouchsafed to Abraham, and to the Jewish nation his seed, which we have not; yet withal a farther inquiry would be made, whether notwithstanding we Gentiles have not some correspondent sprinkling of this privilege of his and theirs, though of a lesser extent, and how far ours extendeth, in difference to that of theirs, and what further warrants there are for any such privilege to us Gentiles, who must have a charter and grant to shew for it if we would prove our seeds to be born heirs within the covenant, even as nobles and gentlemen have in a civil way for theirs; otherwise it will be the highest presumption in us to claim it, or to expect it at the hands of God.

First, then, to Abraham we grant this transcendent privilege, that he had the peculiar honour to be the ' father of all the faithful,' as Eve had the honour to be ' the mother of all living,' Gen. iii. 20, which being spoken by Adam after the promise to her seed made, ver. 15, may be interpreted in the same sense that Abraham's was; she was the ' mother of all living,' that is, that live spiritually and by faith, as Abraham was ' father of all the faithful,' the covenant running in her name at the first, as in Abraham's afterward; and so Adam, in that his speech to Eve, uttered his faith in the promise made to her of her seed, and so in that respect Adam himself came in under her covenant.

Secondly, It was both Abraham's and the Jews' privilege also that they should have this promise to all generations, as Gen. xvii. For two thousand years the covenant to belong thus unto them, and to be entailed on them, and also that after the flesh Christ should come of them,' as Rom. ix. 5, and that they should be the root of our covenant, and we but engrafted on them as the ' natural branches,' Rom. xi.; and further, that after their eminent breaking off by unbelief, for well nigh two thousand years since, their covenant should be remembered, and for their fathers' sakes all Israel should yet be saved, as in the same chapter. And as the place which be there quotes out of Isaiah also promiseth that their seed's seed should be converted in a successive way from their second call to the world's end; and perhaps of every one, at least the most of that nation. And indeed it hath seemed to me to be one reason why all that nation were outwardly holy (which no nation ever was) before Christ's time, that this might be a prophetic type that all should one day be inwardly and really holy. How transcendent a privilege is this, then, that they should have something peculiarly promised to them, which is evident even by this also, that Abraham and his seed had the peculiar promise of Canaan, which we Gentiles have not.

But yet let us search into the records of Holy Writ, if out of this their great charter, there be not a seal grant of a lesser, though like privilege, and this by virtue of Christ, in that we have the honour to be accounted Abraham's seed as truly as they; and likewise in that, to have the covenant entailed unto children is so great and spiritual a privilege, as would tend infinitely to the comfort of godly parents now, as then it did to theirs, to have our seed within the covenant, as theirs were. Wherefore, though this was peculiar unto Abraham and them, to have an entail to them and to their seed for ever, yet that we should have our eyes and ears blessed with the hopes of our next seed (how far further I will not now dispute), as involved in this covenant, was a meet mercy for God's free grace to vouchsafe to us Gentiles also. And seeing Abraham and they did partake of so great a privilege otherwise, it may well be hoped and expected, that so small in one correspondent to theirs, God should vouchsafe to us Gentiles, upon whom the blessing of Abraham through Christ is come, in a conformity unto his blessing upon him and his.

And searching this, first, I find that this very privilege is given unto a Gentile convert by Christ himself, and founded upon this very ground, that he was a ' son of Abraham,' being become a believer. This we have, Luke xix., declared by Christ of Zaccheus when he was converted, who by all circumstances was a Gentile, and so the ancients carry it, for he was a publican; and though some, yet but few Jews were such, because of the hatred of their own nation; yet he being a chief publican, was surely therefore a Gentile. It being an office of trust to be chief custom-gatherer for the emperors, they would be sure to put none into that office but a Gentile; and so I find out of antiquity, Cyprian and others quoted for it, that in those chief places of custom, none but equites Romani, Roman knights, were placed.* And whereas some object, that if Zaccheus had been a Gentile, that then the Jews would have clamoured against Christ for going in unto a Gentile, and that so professedly as under that notion, because a Gentile. The answer is not far off, for, ver. 7, we read that they did quarrel him for it, ' they all murmured, saying, that he was gone to be a guest to a sinner,' that is, a Gentile; for the Jews usually called the Gentiles by the name of sinners, as Paul's phrase is, Gal. ii. 15, ' sinners of the Gentiles.' But then, further, that answer which Christ there gives unto their murmuring doth strengthen this, for he says of him, ' Inasmuch as he also is the son of Abraham,' ver. 9. The meaning of which words evidently is this, that he who is not by birth a son of Abraham, but a sinner, a Gentile, yet is made one now by grace; and when Zaccheus was thus converted, Christ enlargeth his covenant to Zaccheus his family also, ' This day is salvation come to this house, inasmuch as he is also the son of Abraham,' ver. 9. This was spoken of him as now believing in Christ. Now if Christ's intent had been in this his answer given, to shew that he was a Jew, and so though a great sinner, yet was converted as being a son of Abraham (as some expound it), he would have made it the reason but of this only, why Zaccheus was saved himself personally; but he makes it the reason why his house should be saved also, and so the covenant stuck with them of his family likewise, because he the father of the family was now a believer; whereas had his children and family, being Jews by birth, and himself likewise, then salvation had come unto him and them all, because they all were sons of Abraham by birth (if Jews) as well as he. So as it is evident, that as he was a Gentile by birth, so now being converted, is therefore called a ' son of Abraham ' and withal had this privilege of Abraham, as being his son (which is the point I allege this for), to have his house brought into the covenant, even of that of salvation, in conformity to his father Abraham, whose house at the first giving of that covenant, even children and all, were circumcised and saved upon that ground, Christ intending now he should go in to eat with him, to convert his household also. And let me add this, that as Christ once before, in the conversion of the centurion, the first fruits of the Gentiles, Mat. viii., did first break open the treasury of the Gentile's conversion, so upon occasion of this man's conversion afterwards, he shews the privilege of the Gentiles, when converted, and their covenant to be the same with Abraham's in a conformity therewith; and so here first broacheth the doctrine of it, this man being the next first-fruits of the Gentiles, shewing how their covenant was to run by households, in a conformity to Abraham's family at first.

And, 2, Thus in like manner, when the apostles came to preach the gospel to a Gentile householder, master or father of a family, they carried the offer of it in this tenor, and in the way of this privilege, as a motive to conversion. So when Paul preached to the jailor, Acts xvi., he asking, ' What shall I do to be saved?' ver. 80, Paul answers, ' Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved;' and then addeth, ' thou and thine house.' As Christ published the covenant with these promises annexed to a Gentile converted already, to comfort him, so the apostles promulgate the offer of it to one to be converted, and being a master of a family, do declare his privilege by this, that he should be a means to convey it to his house; and accordingly it fell out there, ver. 84, that ' he believed in God with all his house,' as Zaccheus and his household did here.

And, 3, in the New Testament we find in the event (which still answers to promises) that the gospel spread itself through whole households, this being the tenure of our covenant. So it is said of the centurion, a Gentile, Acts x. 2, that he was ' a devout man, fearing God, he and all his house;' so Lydia was converted, 'and all her house,' Acts xvi. IS, 16; so 1 Cor. i. 16, 'The household of Stephanas,' and perhaps intimated, at least sometimes, in that usual phrase, ' the church in thy house.'

Now, then, when the covenant thus runs with the heads of houses for the families themselves, I argue thus from thence for their children, that they must needs be included and intended in a more special manner; for they are the natural branches, and servants but engrafted, as was said of the Jews and Gentiles in the like case. And ' the servant abides not always in the house, but the son ever abides in it,' John viii. 35. The house of Aaron and his children are put for one and the same, Ps. cxv. 12, 15. In like phrase of speech, Leah and Rachel, in bringing forth children, are said to ' build up the house of Israel,' Ruth iv. 11; and so the word house is used for posterity in all languages.

And for the further confirmation of this, namely, that this tenure of the Gentiles' covenant in a conformity to Abraham's, should run thus by families from the heads thereof, this doth fully suit with the original promise made to Abraham himself, when the Scripture foresaw, as Paul's phrase is, that the Gentiles should be justified, and so conveyed a blessing through Abraham unto them, as his seed. The promise (Gen. xii. 8) runs in these terms, ' In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed;' as elsewhere, Gen. xviii. 18, and xxii. 18, it runs in these terms, 'All the nations of the earth shall be blessed.' These expressions are both used; the one to shew, the seed should be of all nations and people, yet so as withal the covenant was to run by families in those nations. Therefore the New Testament quotes it in both senses: Gal. iii. 8 says, all nations, or heathens, because some of all nations shall be converted; but Peter, when he makes mention of the covenant, Acts iii. 25, though chiefly for the end to shew the Jews were the first children of the covenant, yet he expounds these words spoken to Abraham, ' In thy seed shall the families of the earth be blessed,' thus: 'In thy seed,' namely Christ (as ver. 20 he interprets it), ' all the fatherhoods or kindreds of the earth shall be blessed.' The word in the original is, 'fatherhoods of the earth; so he styleth families because of the father's covenant, through which Christ, the seed of Abraham, conveys his blessing. And the psalmist, Ps. xxii. 27, speaking of the calling of the Gentiles by Christ, as the fruit of his death, when he says, ' All the ends of the earth shall turn unto him; and all the kindreds,' &c. The Septuagint also renders it, as Peter here, fatherhoods, and because it shall be derived sometimes by succession of birth, as a means of conveying the blessing, therefore, in the following 80th verse, he saith, 'a seed shall serve him' that is, the posterity of those godly, who (as ver. 31) ' shall be born of them.'

Further, we see that in the calling of the Jews to come, God respects their fathers and their covenant though it be under the gospel; so Rom. xi. Yea, and the apostle quoteth for it that place of the prophet, Isa. lix. 20, ' The Redeemer shall come to Zion.' Now if we look into the words of the prophet prophesying of their call, how doth the promise of the new covenant made to them in that their call to come run ? More infallibly upon their seed than that former to Abraham's did. ' This is my covenant, my Spirit shall not depart out of the mouth of thy seed, and out of thy seed's seed, from henceforth and for ever.' There will be in the new Jerusalem a continued succession of sanctified ones, a seed's seed for ever; and not only of men converted when of ripe years, but when infants. Therefore in Deut. xxx. (where God gives the covenant of the gospel, as appears by Rom. x., and that in opposition to the law given before, and expresseth it by way of prophesying what should fall out after their dispersion, as ver. 1), he says, ' I will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed,' ver. 6. You know whither the phrase circumcise leads, namely, to the sign and seal of it, which under the New Testament is baptism answering unto it. Their children's hearts he will circumcise, which is the fruit of baptism, as Col. ii. 12.

And further, that our covenant, as Abraham's seed, should run thus with us and our families, was most correspondent to that first example of the covenant then given to Abraham; for then the church was only in a family, and so the first giving of this covenant and the seal to confirm it, was established with a family through Abraham the father of it. And this was (as all knew) the primitive and natural church way, under the law of nature afore Moses, unto which therefore for ever God hath suited this family covenant, and in Abraham ratified and sanctified it to the end of world, he being constituted the father of all the faithful, both Jews and Gentiles; and accordingly he and his family were made the prototype of this covenant, God then blessing all families of believers, and the fathers thereof, in blessing that of his through him the father of it, even as God blessed all mankind in Adam and Eve, Gen. i., for increase and multiplying, as being the root and first sampler.

And the reason why God chose this of a family to convey the covenant by was, that this society was the only natural society of all others, and therefore God did always choose it throughout all states of the church. Thus when the church was national among the Jews, then was this way in force: 'I and my house will serve the Lord,' said Joshua; so David, Ps. ci. And when, under the New, the institution was to consist of many believers meeting in one place for public worship, yet this still remains, a church in the house also. God herein engrafting (as he uses to do grace on nature, in our spirits, when he converts us), so his covenant of grace upon this covenant of nature to run in the channel of it.

And let me add this further observation, that in Abraham's family his servants that were Gentiles, if they had children, those children were circumcised, as forerunning pledges and types that both we and our children, who are Gentiles and strangers, were engrafted into this covenant, it held forth this our privilege to come, that in Abraham the Gentiles' seed (as well as Abraham's own) should be blessed in him.

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