Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Book Review:
The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers


The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers: Sovereign Grace in the Covenant
David J. Engelsma
Reformed Free Publishing Association, Michigan, USA, 2005
Hardback, x + 237pp.
ISBN 0-916206-91-2
£14.00 + £1.40 P&P = £15.40  (Click here to order from the CPRC Bookstore)

Hot off the press, The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers strikes a death blow to the heart of a heresy which is sweeping through Reformed churches. Many are now teaching that because salvation is based on the covenant (which they view as a conditional contract between God and sinners) that it is conditional on man keeping the terms of that covenant. This view of a conditional covenant has led Norman Shepherd, Anglican N. T. Wright and others to deny the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone and replace it with the Romish heresy of justification conditioned on faith and works. These men claim to be basing their doctrine on the covenant and so they call their theology the "Federal [or Covenant] Vision."

Engelsma argues that the only way for Reformed churches effectively to withstand this heresy is to insist upon the unconditional covenant which God makes with His elect and their elect seed. Election is, after all, unconditional. Is not "Unconditional Election" the "U" in "TULIP," the acronym for the five points of Calvinism? Moreover, all spiritual blessings, including the "everlasting covenant" of "the sure mercies of David" (Isa. 55:3), faith and the obedience of faith, are given according to election (Eph. 1:3-5; Rom. 8:29), for election is the "fountain of every saving good" (Canons of Dordt I:9).

Engelsma’s arguments are compelling and urgent. He piles up evidence from the Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions that the covenant of God is not a contract in which God does His part and man makes his contribution; rather the covenant is a bond of friendship and fellowship which the Triune God makes with elect, unworthy sinners in Christ, and no one else.

Engelsma is unashamedly paedobaptist—a rare thing nowadays—holding that God makes His covenant with believers and their children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39; I Cor. 7:14). An important aspect of his book is its thorough examination of the status of children in Reformed churches, including interaction the proponents of various views. How ought the children of believers be viewed by the church? Are they "little heathens," albeit with external privileges such as access to the means of grace and the influence of a religious upbringing? Are they the children of God or the children of the devil? Are they Christ's lambs or "little vipers"? And if God promises to save the children of believers, why do many fall away much to the grief of godly parents? Why are there Jacobs and Esaus amongst the physical children of believers (Rom. 9:6-13)? Should we rear our children, trusting in God's promise that He will be their God as He is ours, or is that presumption? What of our children who die in infancy? What hope do we have of their salvation?

Engelsma looks at these questions and more in this important, new book.

Martyn McGeown