Part of what we have lost is the potency of covenant success. And we do not have covenant success because we don’t have covenant succession. See that?
A significant way that we are told throughout Scripture that God intends for us to live by faith and receive the blessings of God in this world is through covenant succession, through multi-generational faithfulness. God has clearly communicated in His Word that when His people live by faith in Him, He intends to reward that faith through their children and grandchildren walking in that same faith and granting them greater and greater shares in the material and spiritual blessings of that faith.
The Generational Pattern
“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen. 18:19).
Notice the connections here: God chose Abraham so that he might command his children to keep the way of the Lord so that the Lord might bring to Abraham what He promised him. So first off, just notice the pattern: God loves to bless with fulfillment of His promises over the course of generations, through covenant succession.
This was reiterated to Israel on the verge of entering the promised land: “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise… that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth” (Dt. 11:19, 21).
Of course there are also severe warnings in Scripture regarding the curses of the covenant: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex. 34:6-7).
But even this warning (“visiting iniquity to the third and fourth generation”) is couched in the context of far more potent blessings (“keeping steadfast love for thousands”).
This basic pattern of covenant succession is repeated in the New Testament. It was the promise of the Prophet Malachi, that the hearts of the fathers would be turned to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, in order to avoid the curse of failing to pass the faith on to children and all the turmoil and disaster that entails — you know, things like drag queen story hours and the shrieking covidfits (Mal. 4:6). That promise is explicitly appealed to in the New Testament as being fulfilled in the days of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:17). And Paul refers to the same basic pattern in Ephesians when he repeats the fifth commandment to children and appeals to them to remember that this is the first commandment with a promise: “that it may go well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:3). And fathers are instructed to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord Jesus, so that their children may enjoy those blessings (Eph. 6:4).
So this is the point: God intends for His people to grow in spiritual and material might and authority over the course of generations. He intends for children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to be the recipients of great blessings, spiritual wisdom, and material means through the faith and obedience of their forefathers. In every generation, those blessings may only be received as true blessings through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and fearing the Lord.
God’s Way or Our Own Way?
This is one of the greatest holes in Western Christianity. We say that God must fight for us. We say that Christian worldview matters. But God says that He intends to grant that victory, that wisdom, that success in this world is through generational faithfulness, through covenant succession.
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so’” (Dt. 4:9-10).
Notice that: first of all the command is to you, the adults in the room: take care and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen. Keep them in your heart all the days of your life. And the second thing: make sure your children and your grandchildren know the things your eyes have seen. Make sure they know the glories you have learned and received. Make sure they know your testimony. Make sure they know the doctrines you struggled through to learn and embrace. Make sure they know the ecclesiastical and cultural and political battles you fought for the Kingdom. But notice the central goal: that they (your children and grandchildren) may learn to fear God all their days so that they may teach their children so.
The Fear of the Lord
It seems that the central thing we must pass on is the fear of the Lord. This is the beginning of all wisdom, including the foundational wisdom of the gospel, the wisdom that sees the heart of man for the prideful, selfish idol factory that it is and the cross of Jesus for the great Exodus and Redemption that it is. It is the fear of the Lord at the center of it all – that there is a God in Heaven who is holy and just and true, who will not overlook evil, who sees all things and knows all things, who is supremely good and glorious and beautiful, with whom every creature has to do.
Our great problem is that we have insisted for several generations on not teaching the fear of the Lord. We have insisted for several generations that God be nice, friendly, accessible, understandable, simplistic, and only and always love, as vaguely defined by our worldly and humanistic standards and demands. To the extent that we have rejected God’s Word as it pertains to the glorious differences between men and women, we have not feared the Lord. To the extent that we have rejected God’s clear Word regarding how this universe was created and came into being, we have not feared the Lord. To the extent that we have turned the worship of God into trite comedy hour, a rock concert, or a three ring circus, we have not feared the Lord. And because we have not feared the Lord, our children have not learned to fear the Lord, and so we are chased by our enemies, because we have rejected the blessing of God.
Isaiah describes our situation well: “Their fear toward me is taught by precepts of men” (Is. 29:13). We have substituted our own precepts, our own theology, our own styles of worship, our own history and archeology, our own definitions of love and justice. We have, in other words, treated God like a doddering old fool, a senile man in the clouds, instead of the King of Glory, the Almighty and Living God, the Judge of the Earth, the Maker of All.
The only alternative to the precepts of men is God Himself. Only God can give the fear of the Lord. And so He does, and He will. God works wonders in the earth so that His people will learn to fear Him (e.g. Isaiah 29:13-24). But don’t miss the punch line: God does wonders in the earth so that His people will learn to fear Him, so that they will teach their children to fear Him, so that He may bless them with particular glory and power and strength. This is spiritual blessing and spiritual power, that conquers kingdoms and endures tribulations, that slays giants and goes to the stake fearless.
There is something particularly powerful in the gift of covenant succession that proves that the fear of the Lord is genuine. And God loves to bless it. If we would see God’s blessing on our churches and cities and nations once more, we must embrace God’s method for doing that heavy lifting: children and grandchildren. This is God’s way of Reformation. This is God’s way of pulling down strongholds and restoring the good, the true, and the beautiful in the earth. He does it through teaching His people to fear Him so that they teach their children the same, so that with that momentum, that generational heft, God may bestow on them authority and power and covenant success.
And do not miss the fact that frequently the first thing God gives when He is giving this gift of covenant success is the gift of repentance to fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers.