For better or worse, fatherhood bears fruit. The first fruit of fatherhood is the Imago Dei, which we reflected on in my last article. The second and third fruits of fatherhood are curses and blessings, respectively. The curses come from Adam’s failure in the covenant of life. The blessings come from Christ’s success in the covenant of grace. Subsequent articles will elaborate on the second and third fruits. For now, I simply want to reflect on the fruitfulness.
These three fruits follow a logical and historical order. Logically, there is no covenant of grace (third) if there is no failure in the covenant of life (second). There is no failure in the covenant of life (second) if there is no covenant made in the first place (first). Historically, the covenant of life came first, prepared and promised in the Imago Dei (Genesis 1-2). Adam then broke this covenant (3:1-13) and God promised grace (v.15).
Only the first and second fruits are universal. They have passed to every person in every generation, because we are all sons and daughters of Adam. The third fruit is peculiar to God’s church, because only God’s people are reunited with God in the Second Adam. It is in the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, where all heavenly blessings are bestowed (Ephesians 1:3-14).
All three of these fruits are, as this article proposes, fruits. They pass from one generation to the next by seminal means. This involves procreation and biology, to be sure, but principally it involves covenant. The first and second fruits concern the covenant of life. The third fruit concerns the covenant of grace. Fatherhood bears generational fruit.
Because the fruitfulness of fatherhood is not limited to procreation, we should not be surprised to know that a man’s exercise of fatherhood has some impact on the type of fruit his fatherhood grows. For example, the fathers of Israel followed God themselves, yet failed to raise their children in like manner (Joshua 24:14-33; Judges 2:6-15). It is not only possible, but frequent, for righteous men to fail the fatherhood exam. Sunday morning conversations can’t tell you if someone is a good father. Exchanges in the seminary classroom reveal nothing about whether this man can raise up faithful generations.
The curses and blessings of fatherhood which hang in the balance of a father’s obedience are numerous in number and scope. Numerically, I doubt anyone can provide an exhaustive list. Only the mind of God understands the full ramifications of faithful and unfaithful fatherhood. The scope of these curses and blessings is a bit more manageable. Faithful fatherhood acts as a means of grace through which God sees fit to bestow bountiful mercies, to the thousandth generation. Unfaithful fatherhood acts as a means of wrath through which God sees fit to bestow harsh judgments, to the third and fourth generation.
The curses and blessings should also be distinguished between common and redemptive. Common graces and redemptive graces alike may be given through faithful fatherhood. Discipline not to gamble is a common fruit. Strength to choose Christ over alcohol is a redemptive fruit. Faithful fatherhood does not secure any of these things – that’s why they are called “graces.” Further, faith is not one of these redemptive graces. Fatherhood may function in a similar way that church ordinances do. The Lord’s Supper does not bestow faith, but God may strengthen faith by means of it.
Faithful fatherhood does not bestow faith in Christ, but it may serve as a means to faith in Christ by the grace of God. We see this in the New Testament where entire households come to faith in Christ immediately after the father does (e.g. Acts 16:33-34). The father’s faith does not bring about the faith of his household. Rather, God normatively chooses to bless the faith of a father with household salvation. This is a statement concerning the will of God, not the power of fatherhood. Fatherhood has no power. It is only a vessel for whatever ends God chooses.