The Blessing of Covenant Theology1
This morning we buried the mortal remains of infant Olivia Grace Brown, daughter of Cameron and Rebecca. It struck me, as we stood by that little casket, and said our last ‘good-bye’ that this is where theology meets life (and death) in a particular and powerful way. What do we know of little Olivia’s current state? What can we be sure of as we walk away? Every grieving parent wishes to believe their child is with the Lord. But do we have Biblical warrant for confidence in this? And, what difference would such a confidence make? Isn’t the loss just as real?
Nancy Guthrie, author of several books on grief, wrote an article entitled “Lessons from the Puritans on Grieving the Loss of a Child.” She recounts that it was common, in 16-17th England, for one quarter to a third of children to die before adulthood. In such a context, biblical theology needed to be applied for the sake of sanity as much as sanctity. Where did the Puritans turn for comfort in their loss?
Well, for one, they held to the conviction that their children, in life and death, belong to God. That conviction is rooted in the biblical conviction that God deals with mankind in terms of covenants – in which God makes promises He will not break, with adults and their children.
Covenant theology is just the conviction, born out of the Scripture, that God always deals with mankind according to covenants – and those covenants are made with individuals AND their descendants.
- The Adamic covenant, in which God promised Adam life through obedience and death for disobedience, was made with Adam and his descendants. (1 Cor 15:22).
- The Noahic Covenant, in which God rescues Noah from the flood and “re-creates” the world, is made with Noah “and his sons”. (Gen 9:1ff)
- In the Abrahamic Covenant, also known as the Covenant of Grace, God accounts righteousness to Abraham by faith and promises to be a God to Abraham and his descendants after him. (Gen 17:7)
- The Mosaic Covenant (Ex 19-24), in which God calls Israel to be His holy people, is for every Israelite, including the children.
- The Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7), in which God promises to build a house and a lineage for David, is for David and his sons – particularly THE Son of David, Jesus Christ.
- The New Covenant, which is the gathering and fulfilling of all the covenants of the Old Testament, is made with believers and their children (Acts 2:39).
This means that children conceived by believing parents are covenant children! Olivia Grace, in her very short life, lived every moment as a known and precious child of God. And in her death, she went to the eternal house of her heavenly Father. They are not “lost”, they are home.
“Samuel Rutherford asked a grieving mother, ‘Do you think her lost when she is but sleeping in the bosom of the Almighty? Think her not absent who is in such a friend’s house. Is she lost to you who is found to Christ? . . . [And] ye shall, in the Resurrection, see her again.’”This is not just a fond wish. This must be true by virtue of God’s own promise.
That means that Olivia, and all deceased covenant children, are safe in the arms of Jesus. I love the story of Jesus receiving the little children. It is told in each gospel (except John), but Mark’s version contains a wonderful picture not found in Matthew or Luke. Each tells the story of the parents desire to have Jesus bless their children, and the disciples refusal, and Jesus rebuke “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them!” But only Mark adds this wonderful conclusion,
“And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.”
What a tender scene. And what a picture to hold in our mind when we must part with our little ones. When we lay the little body of a covenant child in the grave, Jesus holds them, in truth, in their conscious being, in His loving arms. In the face of all that we lose when we lose a child to death – we can have the comfort and the confidence that they are at rest and at home with the Lord.
- What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts): about what really helps (and what really hurts) by Nancy Guthrie
- Children of the Promise by Robert Booth (an excellent summary of covenant theology as it pertains to our children).
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