How are our children holy if they are yet still estranged from Christ?
1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
“The proof that such marriages may properly be continued, is, that the unbelieving party is sanctified by the believing; and the proof that such is the fact, is, that by common consent their children are holy; which could not be, unless the marriages whence they sprang were holy; or unless the principle that intimate communion with the holy renders holy, were a correct principle. The assertion of the apostle is, that the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified in virtue of the marriage relation with a believer. We have already seen that the word (agiazein), to sanctify, means, 1. To cleanse. 2. To render morally pure. 3. To consecrate, to regard as sacred, and hence, to reverence or to hallow. Examples of the use of the word in the third general sense just mention, are to be found in all parts of Scripture. Any person or thing consecrated to God, or employed in his service, is said to be sanctified. Thus, particular days appropriated to his service, the temple, its utensils, the sacrifices, the priest, the whole theocratical people, are called holy. Persons or things not thus consecrated are called profane, common, or unclean. To transfer any person or thing from this latter class to the former, is to sanctify him or it. What God hath cleansed (or sanctified), that call not thou common,” Acts 10:15. Every creature of God is good, and is to be received with thanksgiving, “For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer,” 1 Tim. 4:5. This use of the word is specifically frequent in application to persons and communities. The Hebrew people were sanctified (i.e. consecrated), by being selected from other nations and devoted to the service of the true God. They were, therefore constantly called holy. All who joined them, or who were intimately connected with them, became in the same sense, holy. Their children were holy; so were their wives. “If the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are also the branches,” Rom. 11:26. That is, if the parents be holy, so are also the children. Any child, the circumstances of whose birth secured it a place within the pale of the theocracy, or commonwealth of Israel, was according to the constant usage of Scripture, said to be holy. In none of these cases does the word express any subjective or inward change. A lamb consecrated as a sacrifice, and therefore holy, did not differ in its nature from any other lamb. The priests or people, holy in the sense of set apart to the service of god, were in their inward state the same as other men. Children born within the theocracy, and therefore holy, were nonetheless conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity. They were by nature the children of wrath, even as others, Eph. 2:3. When therefore, it is said that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife by the believing husband, the meaning is not that they are rendered inwardly holy, nor that they are brought under a sanctifying influence, but that they were sanctified by their intimate union with a believer, just as the temple sanctified the gold connect with it; or the altar the gift laid upon it, Matt. 23:17, 19. The sacrifice in itself was merely a part of the body of a lamb, laid upon the altar, though it’s internal nature remained the same, it became something sacred. Thus the pagan husband in virtue of his union with a Christian wife, although he remained a pagan, was sanctified; he assumed a new relation; he was set apart to the service of God, as the guardian of one of his chosen ones, and as the parent of children who, in virtue of their believing mother were children of the covenant.
That this is so, the apostle proves from the fact, that if the parents are holy, the children are holy; if the parents are unclean, the children are unclean. This is saying literally what is expressed figuratively in Rom. 11:16. “If the root be holy, so are the branches.” It will be remembered that the words holy and unclean, do not in this connection express moral character, but are equivalent to sacred and profane. Those within the covenant are sacred, those without are profane, i.e. not consecrated to God. There are two views which may be taken of the apostle’s argument in this verse. The most natural, and hence the most generally adopted view is this: ‘The children of these mixed marriages are universally recognized as holy, that is, as belong to the church. If this be correct, which no one disputes, the marriages themselves must be consistent with the laws of God. The unbelieving must be sanctified by the believing partner. Other wise, you children would be unclean, i.e. born out of the pale of the church. To this it is indeed object by several modern commentators, that it takes for granted that the Corinthians had no scruples about the church-standing of the children of these mixed marriages. But this it is said, is very improbable so soon after the establishment of the church, when cases of the kind must have been comparatively few. The principle in question, however, was not a new one, to be then first determined by Christian usage. It was, at least, as old as the Jewish economy; and familiar wherever Jewish laws and the facts of the Jewish history, were known. Paul circumcised Timothy, whose father was a Greek while his mother was a Jewess, because he knew that his countrymen regarded circumcision in such cases as obligatory, Acts 16:1-3. The apostle constantly assumes that his readers were familiar with the principles and facts of the Old Testament economy. Comp. 10:1-13.
The other view of the argument is this: ‘If, as you admit, the children of believers be holy, why should not the husband or the wife of a believer be holy. The conjugal relation is as intimate as the parental. If the one relation secures this sacredness, so must the other. If the husband be not sanctified by his believing wife, children are not sanctified by believing parents.’ This, however, supposes a change in the persons addressed. Paul is speaking to persons involved in these mixed marriages. Your children naturally mean the children of you who have unbelieving husbands or wives. Whereas this explanation supposed your to refer to Christians generally. In either way, however, this passage recognizes as universally conceded the great scriptural principle, that the children of believers are holy. They are holy in the same sense in which the Jews were holy. They are included in the church, and have a right to be so regarded. The child of a Jewish parent had a right to circumcision, and to all the privileges of the theocracy. So the child of a Christian parent has a right to baptism and to all the privileges of the church, so long as he is represented by his parent; that is, until he arrives at the period of life when he is entitled and bound to act for himself. Then his relation to the church depends upon his own act. The church is the same in all ages. And it is most instructive to observe how the writers of the New Testament quietly take for granted that the great principles which underlie the old dispensation, are still in force, under the new. The children of Jews were treated as Jews; and the children of Christians, Paul assumes as a thing no one would dispute, are to be treated as Christians. Some modern German writers find in this passage a proof that infant baptism was unknown in the apostolic church. They say that Paul could not attribute the holiness of children to their parentage, if they were baptized – because their consecration would then be due to that rite, and not to their descent. This is strange reasoning. The truth is, that they were baptized not to make them holy, but because they were holy. The Jewish child was circumcised because he was a Jew, and not to make him one. The Rabbins say: Peregrina si proselyte fuerit et cum ea ejus – si concepta fuerit et nata in sanctitate, est ut filia Israelite per omnia. See WETSTEIN in loc. To be born in holiness (i.e. within the church) was necessary in order to the child being regarded as an Israelite. So Christian children are not made holy by baptism, but they are baptized because they are holy.”
“Else were your children. It is an argument taken from the effect — “If your marriage were impure, then the children that are the fruit of it would be impure; but they are holy; hence the marriage also is holy. As, then, the ungodliness of one of the parents does not hinder the children that are born from being holy, so neither does it hinder the marriage from being pure.” Some grammarians explain this passage as referring to a civil sanctity, in respect of the children being reckoned legitimate, but in this respect the condition of unbelievers is in no degree worse. That exposition, therefore, cannot stand. Besides, it is certain that Paul designed here to remove scruples of conscience, lest any one should think (as I have said) that he had contracted defilement. The passage, then, is a remarkable one, and drawn from the depths of theology; for it teaches, that the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church. But how will this statement correspond with what he teaches elsewhere — that we are all by nature children of wrath; (Ephesians 2:3;) or with the statement of David — Behold I was conceived in sin, etc. (Psalms 51:7.) I answer, that there is a universal propagation of sin and damnation throughout the seed of Adam, and all, therefore, to a man, are included in this curse, whether they are the offspring of believers or of the ungodly; for it is not as regenerated by the Spirit, that believers beget children after the flesh. The natural condition, therefore, of all is alike, so that they are liable equally to sin and to eternal death. As to the Apostle’s assigning here a peculiar privilege to the children of believers, this flows from the blessing of the covenant, by the intervention of which the curse of nature is removed; and those who were by nature unholy are consecrated to God by grace. Hence Paul argues, in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 11:16,) that the whole of Abraham’s posterity are holy, because God had made a covenant. of life with him — If the root be holy, says he, then the branches are holy also. And God calls all that were descended from Israel his sons’ now that the partition is broken down, the same covenant of salvation that was entered into with the seed of Abraham 402 is communicated to us. But if the children of believers are exempted from the common lot of mankind, so as to be set apart to the Lord, why should we keep them back from the sign? If the Lord admits them into the Church by his word, why should we refuse them the sign? In what respects the offspring of the pious are holy, while many of them become degenerate, you will find explained in the tenth and eleventh chapters of the Epistle to the Romans; and I have handled this point there.”
Calvin cont’s in Romans 11:
“16. For if the first-fruits, etc. By comparing the worthiness of the Jews and of the Gentiles, he now takes away pride from the one and pacifies the other, as far as he could; for he shows that the Gentiles, if they pretended any prerogative of honor of their own, did in no respect excel the Jews, nay, that if they came to a contest, they should be left far behind. Let us remember that in this comparison man is not compared with man, but nation with nation. If then a comparison be made between them, they shall be found equal in this respect, that they are both equally the children of Adam; the only difference is that the Jews had been separated from the Gentiles, that they might be a peculiar people to the Lord.351
They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honor, with which God had not at that time favored the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an heredity holiness had passed to all their posterity. But this conclusion would not have been right had he spoken of persons, or rather had he not regarded the promise; for when the father is just, he cannot yet transmit his own uprightness to his son: but as the Lord had sanctified Abraham for himself for this end, that his seed might also be holy, and as he thus conferred holiness not only on his person but also on his whole race, the Apostle does not unsuitably draw this conclusion, that all the Jews were sanctified in their father Abraham.352
Then to confirm this view, he adduces two similitudes: the one taken from the ceremonies of the law, and the other borrowed from nature. The first-fruits which were offered sanctified the whole lump, in like manner the goodness of the juice diffuses itself from the root to the branches; and posterity hold the same connection with their parents from whom they proceed as the lump has with the first-fruits, and the branches with the tree. It is not then a strange thing that the Jews were sanctified in their father. There is here no difficulty if you understand by holiness the spiritual nobility of the nation, and that indeed not belonging to nature, but what proceeded from the covenant. It may be truly said, I allow, that the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary; but I now speak of our first nature, according to which we are all, as we know, accursed in Adam. Therefore the dignity of an elect people, to speak correctly, is a supernatural privilege.”
“He is sanctified for the wife’s sake. She is sanctified for the husband’s sake. Both are one flesh. He is to be reputed clean who is one flesh with her that is holy, and vice versâ: Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy (v. 14), that is, they would be heathen, out of the pale of the church and covenant of God. They would not be of the holy seed (as the Jews are called, Isa. vi. 13), but common and unclean, in the same sense as heathens in general were styled in the apostle’s vision, Acts x. 28. This way of speaking is according to the dialect of the Jews, among whom a child begotten by parents yet heathens, was said to be begotten out of holiness; and a child begotten by parents made proselytes was said to be begotten intra sanctitatem—within the holy enclosure. Thus Christians are called commonly saints; such they are by profession, separated to be a peculiar people of God, and as such distinguished from the world; and therefore the children born to Christians, though married to unbelievers, are not to be reckoned as part of the world, but of the church, a holy, not a common and unclean seed. “Continue therefore to live even with unbelieving relatives; for, if you are holy, the relation is so, the state is so, you may make a holy use even of an unbelieving relative, in conjugal duties, and your seed will be holy too.” What a comfort is this, where both relatives are believers! (2.) Another reason is that God hath called Christians to peace, v. 15. The Christian religion obliges us to act peaceably in all relations, natural and civil. We are bound, as much as in us lies, to live peaceably with all men (Rom. xii. 18), and therefore surely to promote the peace and comfort of our nearest relatives, those with whom we are one flesh, nay, though they should be infidels. Note, It should be the labour and study of those who are married to make each other as easy and happy as possible. (3.) A third reason is that it is possible for the believing relative to be an instrument of the other’s salvation (v. 16): What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Note, It is the plain duty of those in so near a relation to seek the salvation of those to whom they are related. “Do not separate. There is other duty now called for. The conjugal relation calls for the most close and endeared affection; it is a contract for life. And should a Christian desert a mate, when an opportunity offers to give the most glorious proof of love? Stay, and labour heartily for the conversion of thy relative. Endeavour to save a soul. Who knows but this may be the event? It is not impossible. And, though there be no great probability, saving a soul is so good and glorious a service that the bare possibility should put one on exerting one’s self.” Note, Mere possibility of success should be a sufficient motive with us to use our diligent endeavours for saving the souls of our relations. “What know I but I may save his soul? should move me to attempt it.”
“Else were your children unclean. If this kind of relative sanctification were not allowed, the children of these persons could not be received into the Christian Church, nor enjoy any rights, or privileges as Christians; but the Church of God never scrupled to admit such children as members, just as well as she did those who had sprung from parents both of whom were Christians. The Jews considered a child as born out of holiness whose parents were not proselytes at the time of the birth, though afterwards they became proselytes. On the other hand, they considered the children of heathens born in holiness, provided the parents became proselytes before the birth.”
All the children of the heathens were reputed unclean by the Jews; and all their own children holy. — See Dr. Lightfoot. This shows clearly what the apostle’s meaning is.
“If we consider the apostle as speaking of the children of heathens, we shall get a remarkable comment on this passage from Tertullian, who, in his treatise Deuteronomy Carne Christi, chaps. 37, 39, gives us a melancholy account of the height to which superstition and idolatry had arrived in his time among the Romans. “A child,” says he, “from its very conception, was dedicated to the idols and demons they worshipped. While pregnant, the mother had her body swathed round with bandages, prepared with idolatrous rites. The embryo they conceived to be under the inspection of the goddess Alemona, who nourished it in the womb. Nona and Decima took care that it should be born in the ninth or tenth month. Partula adjusted every thing relative to the labour; and Lucina ushered it into the light. During the week preceding the birth a table was spread for Juno; and on the last day certain persons were called together to mark the moment on which the Parcae, or Fates, had fixed its destiny. The first step the child set on the earth was consecrated to the goddess Statina; and, finally, some of the hair was cut off, or the whole head shaven, and the hair offered to some god or goddess through some public or private motive of devotion.” He adds that “no child among the heathens was born in a state of purity; and it is not to be wondered at,” says he, “that demons possess them from their youth, seeing they were thus early dedicated to their service.” In reference to this, he thinks, St. Paul speaks in the verse before us: The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife-else were your children unclean; but now are they holy; i. e. “As the parents were converted to the Christian faith, the child comes into the world without these impure and unhallowed rites; and is from its infancy consecrated to the true God.”
“14. sanctified — Those inseparably connected with the people of God are hallowed thereby, so that the latter may retain the connection without impairing their own sanctity (compare 1 Timothy 4:5); nay, rather imparting to the former externally some degree of their own hallowed character, and so preparing the way for the unbeliever becoming at last sanctified inwardly by faith. by . . . by — rather, “in . . . in”; that is, in virtue of the marriage tie between them. by the husband — The oldest manuscripts read, “by the brother.” It is the fact of the husband being a “brother,” that is, a Christian, though the wife is not so, that sanctifies or hallows the union. else . . . children unclean — that is, beyond the hallowed pale of God’s people: in contrast to “holy,” that is, all that is within the consecrated limits [CONYBEARE and HOWSON]. The phraseology accords with that of the Jews, who regarded the heathen as “unclean,” and all of the elect nation as “holy,” that is, partakers of the holy covenant. Children were included in the covenant, as God made it not only with Abraham, but with his “seed after” him (Genesis 17:7). So the faith of one Christian parent gives to the children a near relationship to the Church, just as if both parents were Christians (compare Romans 11:16). Timothy, the bearer of this Epistle, is an instance in point (Acts 16:1). Paul appeals to the Corinthians as recognizing the principle, that the infants of heathen parents would not be admissible to Christian baptism, because there is no faith on the part of the parents; but where one parent is a believer, the children are regarded as not aliens from, but admissible even in infancy as sharers in, the Christian covenant: for the Church presumes that the believing parent will rear the child in the Christian faith. Infant baptism tacitly superseded infant circumcision, just as the Christian Lord’s day gradually superseded the Jewish sabbath, without our having any express command for, or record of, transference. The setting aside of circumcision and of sabbaths in the case of the Gentiles was indeed expressly commanded by the apostles and Paul, but the substitution of infant baptism and of the Lord’s day were tacitly adopted, not expressly enacted. No explicit mention of it occurs till IRENAEUS in the third century; but no society of Christians that we read of disputed its propriety till fifteen hundred years after Christ. Anabaptists would have us defer baptism till maturity as the child cannot understand the nature of it. But a child may be made heir of an estate: it is his, though incapable at the time of using or comprehending its advantage; he is not hereafter to acquire the title and claim to it, he will hereafter understand his claim, and be capable of employing his wealth: he will then, moreover, become responsible for the use he makes of it”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown
“Thus the sanctification of the believing partner reaches out to the unbeliever. Paul sees this in what was clearly accepted with regard to the children of such a marriage. If the believer’s sanctification stopped with himself, his children would be unclean. The word is used of ceremonial uncleanness, ‘that which may not be brought into contact w. the divinity’ (BAGD). This is an unthinkable position. Until he is old enough to take the responsibility upon himself, the child of a believing parent is to be regarded as Christian. The parent’s ‘holiness’ extends to the child. The child is ‘part of a family unit upon which God has his claim’ (Mare).”
“The lexical argument is ill-grounded that “sanctified” and “holy” mean the same in both cases. The apostle teaches that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified for the very purpose that the children of the believer might be holy. In other words, apart from the consideration of the children, the unbelieving spouse is not to be regarded as sanctified. The verse itself can only be explained on the supposition that in an ordinary situation, where both parents were believers, the children were considered holy as a matter of course. Were it the ordinary practice in Corinth to consider the children of believers as unholy, no difficulty would have arisen with regard to the children of a marriage in which only one person was a believer.”
“I do not use 1 Cor. 7:14 as a prooftext for infant baptism. By itself it rather demands contextual and theological interpretation, from whatever part of the baptismal spectrum you hail. That being said, it serves the paedobaptist with a singularly powerful confirmation of his position, previously established on surer ground. Naturally, the credo-baptist usually feels none of its force, for he has come to his position also on other grounds and other texts. So, we find Gill (for example) offering the interpretation that “holy” in this passage means “legal” or “legitimate.” I find this interpretation entirely beside Paul’s point, but if I know where the interpreter is coming from, as I do in this case, then I can follow his reasoning though not in agreement with it. As to the suppostion: that if the paedo-baptist finds infant baptism here, he must likewise approve of adult baptism without a verbal, willing submission–I must demure. Two separate relations are spoken of here, marital and parental. The husband (or wife) is said to be “sanctified” by the other, believing, spouse. Now, whatever that means, it does not have the same force as the different language used with respect to the children.
1) A conclusion is drawn from the basic fact asserted in the former half of the verse. The fundamental truth (more basic than the influence of the one person on the other) is that the believer possesses such an influential power. To claim that the same influence must have the same effect on two different persons bearing totally different relations to the influencer, is the same argument that one chemical must have the same effect on every substance to which it contacts. That, of course, is absurd. The specific influence is equally a product of the influencer and the composition or relation of the thing (or in this case, the person) influenced.
2) The language used of the adults is that of action, verb-perfect-passive-indicative, “he has been hallowed”. The relationship (oath-bound, whether implicit or explicit) itself is responsible for bringing into existence this “set-apart-condition”, whatever its nature.
Whereas with the children, first “your” sets up the relation. Biology establishes this relation, not oaths. Second, there is the contrast set up: unclean (akatharta) vs. holy (hagia). This biblical contrast must be explored (see the OT, see in particular the ceremonial law). Third, Paul is emphatic in multiple ways–the use of the explicit copula (be verb) twice, and the subject position of the predicate. Such use is emphatic and identifies the predicate with the subject. The fact that the predicates are nominative case would be sufficient. Thus, the faith of the parent defines the parent’s children. They are holy, and what constitutes them holy (as opposed to unclean) is that they are children of a believer.
From the standpoint of one who already holds to the principle of covenant inclusion, this verse hammers an exclamation point at the end of our postion. But like most punctuation, it doesn’t really do anything to the sentence that the construction doesn’t do much more. We think the New Covenant (just like the Old) is spiritual in essence, but is adminstered visibly in the world by the church. We baptize our children because we believe that’s what God tells us to do. We don’t baptize them because they are holy. But they are holy, not unclean, and so baptising them isn’t repugnant to their identity.”
“Understanding how God regards the children of believers can help us determine whether or not they should receive the covenant sign of baptism. Throughout the history of redemption, the Lord has always called His people to mark those whom He has set apart for Himself. Old covenant Israelite males were circumcised to indicate the separation of the nation of Israel from the world (Gen. 17). Aaron and the priests were anointed with oil to ordain them for their special service (Lev. 8). David was anointed with oil to set him apart as Israel’s king (1 Sam. 16:13).
It follows, then, that the children of believers should also be marked by the covenant community if God views them as separated unto Himself. Today’s passage tells us that, in fact, our Creator does view the children of believers as holy—set apart from this world (1 Cor. 7:14). Note that this does not automatically mean that covenant children are rescued from God’s wrath. In the same verse, Paul says unbelieving spouses are “made holy” by their believing spouses, but he is certainly not claiming that unbelieving spouses thereby get a free ticket into heaven by marrying Christians. This is the great Apostle of justification by faith alone, who is clear that salvation requires personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:15–16).
The essential meaning of the term holy is “set apart,” and God can set apart anything for a specific use, even those things that are incapable of trusting in Him (Ex. 28:2; 29:34; Lev. 6:27; 19:24). So, when Paul speaks of covenant children as holy, he is simply telling us that they are separate from the world and not regarded in the same way as non-covenant children. John Calvin comments on today’s passage that “the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church.” Being set apart, covenant children have privileges such as Christian fellowship and hearing the Word of God. But they also have greater responsibilities than those who do not belong to the covenant community. If they never come to faith and repentance, they will suffer a greater punishment than those who were not born to Christian parents and were never part of the church (Luke 12:35–48). The privilege of heaven belongs only to covenant children who live up to their responsibilities of faith and repentance.”
“Ver. 13,14. Sanctifying, in holy writ, generally signifieth the separation or setting apart of a person or thing from a common, to and for a holy use, whether it be by some external rites and ceremonies, or by the infusing of some inward spiritual habits. In this place it seemeth to have a different sense from what it usually hath in holy writ; for it can neither signify the sanctification of the person by infused habits of grace; for neither is the unbelieving husband thus sanctified by the believing wife, neither is the unbelieving wife thus sanctified by the believing husband; nor are either of them thus set apart for the service of God by any legal rites: which hath made a great difference in the notions of interpreters, how the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, or the unbelieving wife, by the believing husband. Some think it signifies no more than prepared for God, as sanctified signifies, Isa 13:3. Others think they are sanctified by a moral denomination. I rather think it signifies, brought into such a state, that the believer, without offence to the law of God, may continue in a married estate with such a yoke-fellow; and the state of marriage is a holy state, notwithstanding the disparity with reference to religion. Else were your children unclean; otherwise, he saith, the children begotten and born of such parents would be unclean, in the same state that the children of pagan parents are without the church, not within the covenant, not under the promise. In one sense all children are unclean, i.e. children of wrath, born in sin, and brought forth in iniquity; but all are not in this sense unclean, some are within the covenant of grace, within the church, capable of baptism. But now are they holy; these are those that are called holy; not as inwardly renewed and sanctified, but relatively, in the same sense that all the Jewish nation are called a holy people: and possibly this may give us a further light to understand the term sanctified, in the former part of the verse. The unbelieving husband is so far sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife so far sanctified by the believing husband, that as they may lawfully continue in their married relation, and live together as man and wife, so the issue coming from them both shall be by God counted in covenant with him, and have a right to baptism, which is one of the seals of that covenant, as well as those children both whose parents are believers. “
“else were your children unclean, but now are they holy;
that is, if the marriage contracted between them in their state of infidelity was not valid, and, since the conversion of one of them, can never be thought to be good; then the children begotten and born, either when both were infidels, or since one of them was converted, must be unlawfully begotten, be base born, and not a genuine legitimate offspring; and departure upon such a foot would be declaring to all the world that their children were illegitimate; which would have been a sad case indeed, and contains in it another reason why they ought to keep together; whereas, as the apostle has put it, the children are holy in the same sense as their parents are; that as they are sanctified, or lawfully espoused together, so the children born of them were in a civil and legal sense holy, that is, legitimate; wherefore to support the validity of their marriage, and for the credit of their children, it was absolutely necessary they should abide with one another. The learned Dr. Lightfoot says, that the words “unclean” and “holy” denote not children unlawfully begotten, and lawfully begotten; but Heathenism and Christianism; and thinks the apostle alludes to the distinction often made by the Jews, of the children of proselytes being born in “holiness”, or out of it, that is, either before they became proselytes or after; but it should be observed, that though the word “holiness” is used for Judaism, yet not for Christianity; and besides, the marriages of Heathens were not looked upon as marriages by the Jews, and particularly such mixed ones as of a Jew and Gentile, they were not to be reckoned marriages;”
346. – Then when he says, otherwise your children, this is read in two ways: first, of children to be born; secondly, of children already born. In the first way it is read thus: otherwise, if you depart and you both have relations with others, your children, who would be born of this union, would be unclean, i.e., spurious, because not born of a lawful union. In the second way it is read thus: otherwise, namely, if you separate, your children already born would be unclean, i.e., would remain in unbelief, following the majority, which would be unbelievers; but now, if you remain together, they are holy, i.e., become Christians.”
“9. Although the New Testament does not contain any specific texts, which, in so many words, declare that the infant seed of believers are members of the church in virtue of their birth; yet it abounds in passages which cannot reasonably be explained but in harmony with this doctrine. The following are a specimen of the passages to which I refer.
The prophet Isaiah, though not a New Testament writer, speaks much, and in the most interesting manner, of the New Testament times. Speaking of the “latter day glory,” of that day when “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock,” and when there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain; speaking of that day, the inspired prophet declares, “Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind…. For as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them” (Isa. 65:25; 11:9; 65:17, 22-23).
The language of our Lord concerning little children can be reconciled with no other doctrine than that which I am now endeavouring to establish, “Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands upon them, and departed thence” (Matt. 19:13-15). On examining the language used by the several evangelists in regard to this occurrence, it is evident that the children here spoken of were young children, infants, such as the Saviour could “take in his arms.” The language which our Lord himself employs concerning them is remarkable. “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” That is, theirs is the kingdom of heaven, or, to them belongs the kingdom of heaven. It is precisely the same form of expression, in the original, which our Lord uses in the commencement of his sermon on the mount, when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3, 10).
This form of expression, of course, precludes the construction which some have been disposed to put on the passage, in order to evade its force: namely, that it implies, that the kingdom of heaven is made up of such as resemble little children in spirit. We might just as well say, that the kingdom of heaven does not belong to those who are “poor in spirit,” but only to those who resemble them; or, that it does not belong to those who are “persecuted for righteousness sake,” but only to those who manifest a similar temper. Our Lord’s language undoubtedly meant that the kingdom of heaven was really theirs of whom he spake; that it belonged to them; that they are the heirs of it, just as the “poor in spirit,” and the “persecuted for righteousness sake,” are themselves connected in spirit and in promise with that kingdom.
But what are we to understand by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven,” as employed in this place? Most manifestly, we are to understand by it, the visible church, or the visible kingdom of Christ, as distinguished both from the world, and the old economy. Let any one impartially examine the evangelists throughout, and he will find this to be the general import of the phrase in question. If this be the meaning, then our Saviour asserts, in the most direct and pointed terms, the reality and the divine warrant of infant church membership. But even if the kingdom of glory be intended, still our argument is not weakened, but rather fortified. For if the kingdom of glory belongs to the infant seed of believers, much more have they a title to the privileges of the church on earth.
Another passage of scripture strongly speaks the same language. I refer to the declaration which we find in the sermon of the apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost. When a large number of the hearers, on that solemn day, were “pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” The reply of the inspired minister of Christ was, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 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” (Acts 2:37-38). The apostle is here evidently speaking of the promise of God to his covenant people; that promise in which he engages to be their God, and to constitute them his covenanted family. Now this promise, he declared to those whom he addressed, extended to their children as well as to themselves, and, of course, gave those children a covenant right to the privileges of the family. But if they have a covenant title to a place in this family, we need no formal argument to show that they are entitled to the outward token and seal of that family.
I shall adduce only one more passage of scripture, at present, in support of the doctrine for which I contend. I refer to that remarkable, and, as it appears to me, conclusive declaration of the apostle Paul, concerning children, which is found in the seventh chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, in reply to a query addressed to him by the members of that church respecting the Christian law of marriage: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (1 Cor. 7:14).
The great question in relation to this passage is, in what sense does a believing parent “sanctify” an unbelieving one, so that their children are “holy?” It certainly cannot mean, that every pious husband or wife that is allied to an unbelieving partner, is always instrumental in conferring on that partner true spiritual purity, or, in other words, regeneration and sanctification of heart; nor that every child born of parents of whom one is a believer, is, of course the subject of gospel holiness, or of internal sanctification. No one who intelligently reads the Bible, or who has eyes to see what daily passes around him, can possibly put such a construction on the passage. Neither can it be understood to mean, as some have strangely imagined, that where one of the parents is a believer, the children are legitimate: that is, the offspring of parents, one of whom is pious, are no longer bastards, but are to be considered as begotten in lawful wedlock! The word “holy” is no where applied in scripture to legitimacy of birth. The advocates of this construction may be challenged to produce a single example of such an application of the term. And as to the suggestion of piety in one party being necessary to render a marriage covenant valid, nothing can be more absurd. Were the marriages of the heathen in the days of Paul all illicit connections? Are the matrimonial contracts which take place every day, among us, where neither of the parties are pious, all illegitimate and invalid? Surely it is not easy to conceive of a subterfuge more completely preposterous, or more adapted to discredit a cause which finds it necessary to resort to such aid.
The terms “holy” and unclean,” as is well known to all attentive readers of scripture, have not only a spiritual, but also an ecclesiastical sense in the word of God. While in some cases they express that which is internally and spiritually conformed to the divine image; in others, they quite as plainly designate something set apart to a holy or sacred use; that is, separated from a common or profane, to a holy purpose. Thus, under the Old Testament economy, the peculiar people of God, are said to be a “holy people,” and to be “severed from all other people, that they might be the Lord’s” (Lev. 20:26); not because they were all, or even a majority of them, really consecrated in heart to God; but because they were all his professing people Â his covenanted people; they all belonged to that external body which he had called out of the world, and established as the depository of his truth, and the conservator of his glory. In these two senses, the terms ” holy” and “unclean” are used in both Testaments, times almost innumerable. And what their meaning is, in any particular case, must be gathered from the scope of the passage. In the case before us, the latter of these two senses is evidently required by the whole spirit of the apostle’s reasoning.
It appears that among the Corinthians, to whom the apostle wrote, there were many cases of professing Christians being united by the marriage tie with pagans; the former, perhaps, being converted after marriage; or being so unwise, as, after conversion, deliberately to form this unequal and unhappy connection. What was to be deemed of such marriages, seems to have been the grave question submitted to this inspired teacher. He pronounces, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, that, in all such cases, when the unbeliever is willing to live with the believer, they ought to continue to live together, that their connection is so sanctified by the character of the believing companion, that their children are “holy,” that is, in covenant with God; members of that church with which the believing parent is, in virtue of his profession, united: in one word, that the infidel party is so far, and in such a sense, consecrated by the believing party, that their children shall be reckoned to belong to the sacred family with which the latter is connected, and shall be regarded and treated as members of the church of God.
“The passage thus explained,” says an able writer, “establishes the church membership of infants in another form. For it assumes the principle, that when both parents are reputed believers, their children belong to the church of God as a matter of course. The whole difficulty proposed by the Corinthians to Paul, grows out of this principle. Had he taught, or they understood, that no children, be their parents believers or unbelievers, are to be accounted members of the church, the difficulty could not have existed. For if the faith of both parents could not confer upon the child the privilege of membership, the faith of only one of them certainly could not. The point was decided. It would have been mere impertinence to tease the apostle with queries which carried their own answers along with them. But on the supposition that when both parents were members, their children were also members; the difficulty is very natural and serious. ‘I see,’ would a Corinthian convert exclaim, ‘I see the children of my Christian neighbours, owned as members of the church of God; and I see the children of others, who are unbelievers rejected with themselves. I believe in Christ myself; but my husband, my wife, believes not. What is to become of my children? Are they to be admitted with myself? Or are they to be cast off with my partner?’
“‘Let not your heart be troubled,’ replies the apostle, ‘God reckons them to the believing, not to the unbelieving parent. It is enough that they are yours. The infidelity of your partner shall never frustrate their interest in the covenant of your God. They are holy because you are so.’
“This decision put the subject at rest. And it lets us know that one of the reasons, if not the chief reason of the doubt, whether a married person should continue, after conversion, in the conjugal society of an infidel partner, arose from a fear lest such continuance should exclude the children from the church of God. Otherwise, it is hard to comprehend why the apostle should dissuade them from separating by such an argument as he has employed in the text. And it is utterly inconceivable how such a doubt could have entered their minds, had not the membership of infants, born of believing parents, been undisputed, and esteemed a high privilege, so high a privilege, that the apprehension of losing it, made conscientious parents at a stand whether they ought not rather to break the ties of wedlock, by withdrawing from an unbelieving husband or wife. Thus the origin of this difficulty, on the one hand, and the solution of it, on the other, concur in establishing our doctrine, that by the appointment of God himself, the infants of believing parents are born members of his church.”