The Promise to Us and Our Children
by Rev. Daniel Kleyn
Text: Acts 2:23
Preached: Edgerton, Minnesota, Septemper 1999
Psalter Numbers: 393, 65, 359, 425
The word with which this text begins, beloved, the word "For," indicates to us that our text is the reason for something that the Apostle Peter has already said. It is the reason for the admonition that the Apostle Peter gave in the verses just prior to our text. You recall, from our reading of this chapter, what had taken place there. These Jews had been told by Peter, in no uncertain terms, that they had been guilty of crucifying the Son of God. He pointed that out to them in verse 23: "Ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain Christ who was the Son of God." And on account of that, and on account of everything else that the Apostle Peter said to them, these men were pricked in their hearts. That is, they knew they were guilty. They had a guilty conscience concerning what they had done. And as they experienced that guilt they cried out to Peter and said to him and to the other apostles, "What shall we do? We're guilty sinners. We've done a terrible thing. Is there any hope for us, Peter?" And Peter's response to them in verse 38 was this, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." That was their hope, to repent of their sins and to be baptized. In that way they would be assured that their guilt was removed.
Then the Apostle Peter gives the reason for that admonition to repent and be baptized. "For," he says - "For the promise is unto you and to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." That verse, our text, gives the reason for the admonition of Peter that they be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. There is a reason, the Apostle Peter says, for them to receive baptism. The reason is that God's promise is unto them and unto their children. That's why they may, and why they must, receive the sign of God's promise to them - baptism. They must receive the sign of the washing away of sins, and the sign of their inclusion in and their partaking of the covenant of God.
This is a verse, therefore, that forms for us the basis for baptism - and specifically for the baptism of children, of infants. The text makes it very clear to us that children are included in God's covenant. Not all children. But nevertheless God does include children in His covenant of grace. Children are included in the work of God's salvation. They are included in that work of God as children. God doesn't wait for them to become adults before He saves them. God's promise is to adults, but not only to adults - His promise is to believers and their children.
So let's consider this text under the theme:
THE PROMISE TO US AND OUR CHILDREN
I. THE COVENANT PROMISE
II. THE COVENANT RECIPIENTS
III. THE COVENANT IMPLICATIONS
I. THE COVENANT PROMISE
You notice, beloved, that the text mentions the promise of God. But interestingly enough the Apostle Peter doesn't tell the people what that promise is. He simply states the fact, "The promise is unto you." Perhaps it is clear to you why Peter does that. He does that because those to whom he was speaking knew what that promise was. He didn't have to spell it out for them. They knew what the Old Testament promise of God was. They were very well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures. They knew exactly of what promise Peter was speaking. We, however, perhaps don't know. So the question for us is, "What was that promise? To what promise does our text refer?"
Before we consider that, let's understand clearly the nature of the promises of God. God gives many promises to His people. But God's promises to us are very different to our promises. We make promises. We promise things to each other. We promise, for example, to be friends to each other. We promise to help each other, to do things for each other, and to be there when others need us. We make promises to God. We make promises to each other in marriage. But our promises are often conditional promises. We say to someone, "I'll help you, if you help me." Or, "I'll be faithful to you, as long as you are faithful to me." Or, "I'll do this for you, but only after you've done something for me."
But God doesn't speak that way when He makes promises to us. He doesn't demand something of us first. He doesn't say, "Only if you do something will I give you what I promise. Only when you do something first will I fulfill this promise to you." He doesn't say that. That's true of all God's promises. They are, every one of them, unconditional promises. And that means that what God promises to give or do, He freely and graciously gives and does.
But there is something else that we must note about our promises, and that is that they are very often unsure. We make all kinds of promises. We make them to each other as husbands and wives. We make them to our children. We make them in the communion of saints. But do we always fulfill those promises? Are we always faithful to them? Isn't it often the case that we make a promise and then we realize, "I can't keep that promise? I can't fulfill what I promised to do"?
God's promises, however, are not like that. His promises are sure. When God promises something He doesn't change His mind. When God promises something He doesn't suddenly realize, "Well, now I can't do what I promised to do for you." He never says that. He fulfills His promises. He is always faithful to every one of His promises. And therefore His promises never fail.
And that's true of the promise mentioned in our text. Remember that. When God makes this promise to us, it's a sure and unconditional promise that God makes. When God makes this promise to us, it's a promise that is certain. He will fulfill it. He won't fail. He won't say all of a sudden, "Now I can't keep this promise." He won't say, as we do, "I promised it, but first you must do something before I fulfill it." God's promise is sure. God's promise is unconditional. He will fulfill His word.
So what is that promise of God? Well, as you know, there are many promises of God mentioned in the Old Testament Scriptures. The very first promise that God made, of course, was the promise that He gave to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15. We know there that God was speaking to the serpent after the fall into sin. And God says to the serpent, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel." We call that the mother promise, the very first promise of God, the promise of God which becomes the source of every other promise of God. That's that promise. God speaks in that promise of the Seed of the woman, which is Christ. And He says that that Seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. That Seed of the woman will bring a victory to God and His people. That is the first promise that God gave in the Scriptures.
But then God gave promises again and again throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. He gave promises to Abraham. He promised Abraham that Abraham would inherit the land of Canaan. He promised Abraham, in Genesis 17:7, that He, God, would establish His covenant with Abraham and with his seed after him. God also gave promises to the nation of Israel. He would deliver them from Egypt. He would bring them into the land of Canaan, the land of promise. They would possess that land. God would be faithful to them. God also gave promises to David. He told David that David's son would sit forever on his throne in His kingdom. He gave promises to the children of Israel when they were taken into captivity. Through the prophets God said to them, "I will bring you back again. I will save you from your captivity. You will return again to your land, the promised land of Canaan. I will deliver you from your enemies." Then there is also that promise that Peter mentions from the prophecy of Joel. That's the promise that God would pour out His Spirit and the sons and daughters of God would prophecy in His name.
But essentially, beloved, all these promise are the same. The Apostle Peter in our text doesn't say, "The promises are unto you," but he says, the "promise." The word is singular. He has in mind one promise. That one promise is the same throughout the whole of the Scriptures. That promise, of course, is the promise of Christ. That's the promise God speaks of. That was the promise God spoke of in Genesis 3:15 when He said, "There will be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the Seed of the woman, and there will be a victory for the seed of the woman." God's promise of Christ was there already in Genesis.
That was the promise to Abraham, the same promise. The covenant that God would establish with Abraham and with his seed was a covenant that God would establish with Christ first of all. Only through Christ would that covenant be established with the elect, for they were chosen in Christ and belonged to Christ. Likewise, the promise to David concerning his son sitting on his throne forever. It wasn't that David's son, Solomon, would sit forever on that throne. But Christ would. Christ was the son of David that would come. So that too is the same promise, the promise of Jesus Christ.
And therefore God's promise, God's one promise, is a Savior from sin. That was the promise He gave to His people in the spoken Word to them. That was the promise that God pictured to His people throughout the whole Old Testament times through the sacrifices that they performed. That was the promise, the same promise, that God spoke of in all the prophets.
If then you ask, "What is the content of this promise of God?" the answer is that the content is salvation in Jesus Christ. That's what God is promising us. God promises to rescue us and our children from sin. And He will rescue us from the punishment that is due to us because of sin. We're all sinners. We're all conceived and born in sin. Little children are sinners. Little children are conceived and born in sin. God says to us and to our children, "I will save you from sin. I will deliver you from the punishment you deserve because of sin. That's My promise. I will provide for you a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him you will have all that you ever need. You will be delivered from all your sins. You will have eternal life."
And when God gives us that promise, it's a sure promise. He will do it. It isn't that God simply begins a work of salvation. He also completes that work of salvation. He saves His people to the very end. He gives them all the blessings of the cross of Jesus Christ. He gives them faith. He regenerates them. He justifies them. He does that to us and our children. He glorifies us. He sanctifies us. These are the rich blessings of God in this promise that He gives. And He makes us heirs of eternal life.
That certainly implies a few things concerning those to whom the promise is given. Those who receive this promise are elect. They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who receive this promise belong to Christ in life and in death. Those who receive this promise are those for whom Christ died - to deliver them from their sin, to satisfy God's wrath for them, to fully atone for all their sin. Those who receive this promise are those whom God will save. He will. He will bless them eternally with all the benefits of Christ. He will give them the Holy Spirit so that they are conscious of the gift of salvation. The Spirit will make them aware of what God has done for them - aware of the work He does within their hearts and souls and lives. And therefore their salvation is sure. God preserves them to the end. The child of God who receives this promise can say, "When I die I will go to heaven."
So it's a precious promise. It is gracious. It is unconditional. There are no strings attached to the promise of God. The promise is simply this - the word of God's sovereign love and grace for His people, according to which He sovereignly and powerfully saves them. It isn't dependent on man. It's a sure promise. God will certainly fulfill it, for God Himself will save them. God will save all those to whom He gives this promise.
And it's a covenant promise. God saves us so that we can be His covenant people. That's God's work of salvation. We are saved in order to be God's friends - in order to enter into friendship with Him. That's what God says to us and to our children. He says, "This is My promise to you. You will be My covenant people. You will be My friends." And so He brings us into His covenant life. We belong to His family. We have friendship with God in Christ.
II. THE COVENANT RECIPIENTS
The text tells us too, beloved, to whom this covenant promise of God is given. Two groups of people are mentioned here. First of all the Jews. They are the ones to whom Peter is speaking. And he says, "The promise is unto you - you Jews." And then he adds this, "And to all those that are afar off." That means that also the Gentiles would receive this covenant promise of God. God's people from every nation under heaven.
What is significant in this text is the fact that God includes children as the recipients of the covenant promise. He says that to the Jews. "The promise is to you and to your children." The children too receive this covenant promise. And implied also are the children of the Gentiles. They too receive the covenant promise of God. It's a promise to believers and their seed.
And that's exactly the nature of the covenant promises of God. The Scriptures teach us that God saves in the lines of continued generations. That means that God gathers His church from the children of believers. The children of believers are those whom God saves as His children. We see that, don't we, that God saves families? Don't we experience that today, in that we can be here in church with our families, with our children, and see in the lives of our children the evidences of God's grace to them, the evidences of the gift of faith that God has given to them, even though they are just children? That's the way God saves.
It doesn't mean that every one of our children is saved. Not every Jew was saved. Not every child of Abraham was saved. Not the physical seed of Abraham was saved, but the spiritual seed, the elect seed of Abraham. That's the same in the church today. God does not save every child of believing parents. And often that brings much heartache to parents, to see their children going astray, departing from the ways of God. But remember Romans 9:15-21. What does God tell us there? He says, "I am the Sovereign Potter. And I make one vessel to honor and another unto dishonor. And who are you to say anything against that?" God chooses His elect. And God saves His elect.
The covenant promise of God is this, that He saves His children in the line of continued generations. That means He has His elect in the lines of the generations of believers. That means this, beloved - that God is pleased, in order to fulfill this promise to save our children, to give to believing parents elect children of God.
It is important for us to know who exactly receives this promise. It may seem from what the apostle Peter says that everyone receives this promise. Peter, after all, is speaking to a whole multitude of people. And doesn't it seem as if Peter says to every one of them, "The promise is to you, to everyone of you, to all of you and to all your children?" Peter doesn't say, "The promise is just to some of you," or "to some of your children." Is this then a general promise of God?
There are some that want to explain the text that way. According to them the promise is general. The promise, they say, is for every child of believing parents. But just think of what that would mean. If God's promise was to every single child of believing parents, wouldn't we have a powerless god? Wouldn't we then have a god who promises to save every single child but cannot (because, after all, some go astray, don't they)? Wouldn't we have a powerless god who cannot save all of them, and therefore really cannot save any of them?
That's not what the text teaches. It says, "The promise is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off" - and then this - "even as many as the Lord our God shall call."
That last clause is an important limiting clause. It governs the whole verse. When the Apostle Peter says, "even as many as the Lord our God shall call" he says, "God's promise is to those whom God calls of our children." The call of God determines who receives the promise. The call of God determines who receives the promise among the Jews. The call of God determines who receives the promise among the Gentiles. And the call of God determines who receives the promise among our children.
So God's promise is particular. It isn't for all. It is only for those whom God sovereignly calls to Himself.
And what is meant by that call of God? Well, it isn't the external call of the gospel, because everyone hears that, and not everyone who hears that is saved. But the Apostle and the Word of God here are speaking of the internal call of God, the internal call of the gospel, the saving call. And that's a sovereign work of God within His people. That's a sovereign work of God whereby He calls them out of darkness into His light and life. That's the work of God by which the Holy Spirit takes the external call of the gospel (the preaching of the Word of God), as well as the instruction (the godly instruction that we give to our children), and applies that to their hearts. The Spirit does that. And then God powerfully calls them out of darkness into light. He changes them. And He works in the hearts of His elect to bring them to conscious faith in Jesus Christ.
And so that call to which the Apostle refers is the call according to which God makes His people aware of their salvation. God calling them to come to Himself. Our covenant God does that. This is His covenant promise. And He calls them to come into His blessed friendship and fellowship. He calls them in order to make them sure of their salvation. He calls them in order that they may have the only comfort in life and in death - to know that they belong to Jesus Christ.
The wonder of God's grace is this - that God includes children as recipients of that call. He includes our children, depraved, unworthy sinners. Is there anything they can do as children, to make themselves worthy of salvation? There is not. And yet God says, "I call children as well. I savingly call children. They are included in the covenant. The promise is also for them, for covenant children. They too are My friends. They too have the only comfort there is in life and in death. They have a Savior from sin, the Lord Jesus Christ. They belong to Him in life and in death. They are eternally safe and secure in Him. They too are the recipients of My promise." Is there anything more that we could want and desire for our covenant children?
What a blessing it is for us to know that the covenant promise of God is also for our children. Children don't have to be adults in order to be saved. God saves them as children. And very often God does that before they reach the age of discretion, before they even have conscious faith. They don't have to become adults in order to be saved. They don't need to have conscious faith in order to be saved. For faith isn't a condition. I don't need faith in order to be saved. Nor do you. Nor do our children. God sovereignly saves. And to His elect children among our seed He says, "The promise is also for you children. The promise of eternal life, the promise of deliverance from sin, the promise of being My friends, My covenant friends. That means you can call Me your Father, your Father in heaven. I promise you all that you need for life and for eternity."
III. THE COVENANT IMPLICATIONS
This all implies, first of all, that we can view our children as God's children. You know, if we couldn't do that, that would be awful, wouldn't it? If we could not view our children as God's children, there would be only one other way to view them - as children of the devil. They are the only two possibilities. And there are some who do that - who speak of their children that way, and view their children that way. They view their children as children of Satan. They believe it is wrong to view them as God's children until they grow up and show as adults that they indeed are children of God. And only then do they speak to them and instruct them as God's children. Wouldn't that be an awful way to view our children? As unbelievers? As children of the devil?
But we can view our children, and we may view our children, and we must view our children, as God's children. Not because we say every one of them is a child of God. There are Jacobs, and there are also Esaus. But we view them as God's children because God saves in the line of the continued generations of believers. That's His promise. And God says to us, "Because that's My promise, I give elect children to believers. I will save My church from your seed. And therefore your children are My children - My children." Believing parents therefore view all their children and treat all their children as God's children. They do so for the sake of the elect children that God gives among their seed.
That's an important incentive to parents. An incentive, first of all, to be faithful in the instruction of their children. Since God says to you parents, "I give you elect children," then that means that your training isn't going to be in vain. God is pleased to save our children in the way of our faithful instruction of them. And therefore as we train our children, we can expect to see the evidences of their faith. We can expect to see the fruit of the godly instruction that we give them.
What a difference it makes when we are able to view our children as children of God. Then we instruct them, discipline them, and teach them as such. We do this because we know they will understand what we teach them. They will understand because they are God's children. And the Spirit of God will apply it to their hearts and to their lives. The instruction will profit them. And on account of God's work of grace in them, we will see the fruit of that instruction in their lives - that is, in the lives of the elect among them. And God promises to give to us His elect children so that through our instruction they are brought to salvation in and through Christ.
So, parents, this Word of God sets an important obligation before you. A calling, first of all, to bring your children to hear the call of the gospel. That means you have to bring your children to church. That means you have to send your children to catechism. That means you have to provide for your children a good Christian education. You do this because you realize that the Word of God they hear in those places is the Word that God, through His Spirit, uses to bring them to conscious faith so that they know they are children of God, and know, as children of God, how they ought to live in this world.
But especially it is your calling to instruct your children in the home. You mothers are to do that. And you fathers must do that. And why? Not so that they can become someone in this world and in this life. Because, after all, that's not that important. It doesn't matter if they become doctors or surgeons or farmers or lawyers or businessmen. It doesn't matter what they become from that point of view. What matters is their spiritual training. That's the instruction you must give. That's the instruction the children need - spiritual instruction so that they can take up their place in the church and kingdom and covenant of God.
Start while they are young. And persevere in it. It's hard work, parents, hard work. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. It brings with it many, many disappointments in life. But it is the most important instruction that your children will ever receive - spiritual instruction that teaches them the ways of God.
It needs to be emphasized, too, that you parents must do this. Don't have others do it. Don't give your responsibilities to someone else. Don't make someone else train your children. There's so much of that today - giving our children over to others. Putting them in daycare centers. Shipping them out to others to take care of them. And then the question is, "Where are the parents? Where are those who made the vows at the baptism of their children to train their children, and to do it themselves?" Parents, you must do it yourselves.
And you do this, and will do this, with many weaknesses and sins. Our efforts are always weak. Looking at ourselves we can only say, "It's a wonder that even one of our children is saved?" We realize that it is certainly not because of us. It is not because of our efforts. It's because of God alone. That's the wonder of God's grace. God, in spite of our weak efforts, will save His church. He will save His children. He will gather His church from our seed.
That's our assurance. That's our comfort. For God is sovereign in salvation. He doesn't need us. He doesn't. But He is pleased to use us as godly, believing parents to train up our children in His ways. He is pleased to use our weak and sinful means - pleased to use that to save His elect seed.
So let's be faithful to our responsibilities - serious responsibilities and difficult responsibilities. And notice the assurance God gives parents in Proverbs 22:6 - a verse for all parents to remember. "Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." May God give us the grace to do that. And may that be true of our children.