About Infant Baptism

From a Grand Rapids reader I received the following interesting questions about infant baptism. I will at least begin to answer them in this issue; but perhaps this answer will have to be in two installments. Here are the questions: 

“Some time ago my wife and I had the opportunity to visit with a Baptist Minister who prided himself in the fact that he was truly Calvinistic, that he believed in the sovereignty of God and all it implies, that he believed in the Covenant, and yet he insisted on the baptism of believers only and not the baptism of infants. 

“His point of argument was as follows: during the Old Testament institution of the Passover, the young children were instructed to partake of the institution, and when they asked their fathers ‘Why do we observe this ceremony?’ the fathers were to teach them about their deliverance out of the land of Egypt,Exodus 12:24-27. We believe that in the new dispensation the institution of the Lord’s Supper has taken the place of the Passover, and yet only believers are allowed to partake of the Sacrament and not their children (as in the Passover). Because ONLY believers are to partake of the elements of the Lord’s Supper, so also ONLY believers are to receive the sign of the covenant. In other words, although ‘. . . God formerly commanded them to be circumcised, which was a seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness of faith . . .’ now, because the infants are excluded from the Lord’s table, so are they to be excluded from this ‘seal of the covenant.’ 

“This minister also stated that nowhere in Scripture are we told that Baptism has taken the place of Circumcision, and therefore we may not draw this conclusion nor may we do anything that is not specifically taught us in Scripture. 

“I would like to have you answer these arguments in the Standard Bearer.” 


Permit me to answer the second argument first: it is the more important of the two, even though the first argument raises some interesting questions. I will by-pass the question as to just how Calvinistic this Baptist minister is. I only want to make two remarks about that. In the first place, if this minister truly holds to the truth of God’s covenant as well as to the truth of God’s sovereignty, and if he understands that truth of God’s covenant thoroughly, then I would say that before long he will have to forsake his Baptist position and hold to infant baptism. He is not far from the kingdom in that respect. In the second place, Calvin himself insisted very strongly on infant baptism—over against the Anabaptists of his day. He devotes an entire chapter of his Institutes (Book IV, Chapter XVI) to an exposition and defense of infant baptism; and in the introduction to this chapter he makes it plain that he considers infant baptism a matter of “purity of doctrine in a capital point.” Now while I am personally not fond of the term Calvinistic, it will be plain that one who disagrees with Calvin on what that man of God called a matter of “purity of doctrine in a capital point” can hardly be 100% entitled to the name of Calvinist. This chapter of Calvin’s Institutes, by the way, contains much worthwhile and Scripturally founded instruction. 

Before I deal directly with the matter of baptism taking the place of circumcision, I must make this remark. The argument that baptism has come in the place of circumcision is only one link in the chain of Scriptural argumentation in favor of infant baptism. That argumentation is: 1) That there is but one covenant of God both in the old and the new dispensation. 2) That there is essentially but one sign of that covenant both in the old and new dispensations, though that sign takes different forms. 3) That God continues His covenant, both in the old and in the new dispensation, in the line of continued generations. 

And also this remark I must make. The argument which the Baptist makes that he holds to the baptism of believers, thereby implying that those who hold to infant baptism do not hold to baptism of believers but of non-believers, is a specious argument. This will be dealt with in the quotation I am about to make. But I want to emphasize this. I also hold to the baptism ofbelievers! And I do so, too, when I hold to and engage in baptism of infants! 

As far as Scriptural evidence is concerned, this is not difficult to produce. Of course, if you are looking for aliteral statement that baptism has come in the place of circumcision, you look in vain—even as you look in vain for a literal statement that the Lord’s Supper has taken the place of the Passover. But that it is the clear teaching of Scripture cannot be doubted. And I find the Scriptural evidence marshalled on pp. 691-694 of H. Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics, a section which I here quote in full:

But there is more. Not only are the people of God in the old and new dispensation the same, but also the sign of the covenant, though different in form, is the same in both dispensations. Those that maintain the baptism of infants have always called attention to this truth, and correctly so, for it is an important and necessary link in the chain of the Scriptural argument for infant baptism. The objections which Baptists love to make against the baptism of infants is not a Scriptural one, but rather one which they draw from their own mind. It is that baptism is a sign and seal of the righteousness of faith, of the forgiveness of sin, of regeneration, and that therefore it may be administered only to those whom we know to be believers, that is, to those that confess their faith; that it is an established fact that many of the infants that are baptized in later life prove to be no children of God at all, and are lost; and that for this reason it is certainly wrong to administer the sign of baptism to children of believers before they have come to years of discretion. Against this argument many counterarguments may be adduced, such as, the fact that faith can be, and is, in fact, in the hearts of infants, implanted immediately by the Holy Spirit. Although they do not yet actually believe, yet they have the faculty or power of faith. Moreover, if Baptists argue that one must be sure that faith is present in the heart of anyone before he can be baptized, the Baptist himself cannot baptize on that ground either, for the simple reason that there may be, and are in fact, hypocrites among them that are baptized. But the chief argument which the Baptists here produce turns against themselves. For what they here argue against baptism holds in its full force against infant circumcision. Yet circumcision is directly enjoined by the Lord upon the seed of Abraham in their generations. 

Also circumcision was a sign of the righteousness which is by faith, of spiritual circumcision, of the circumcision of the heart, of regeneration and sanctification, of the cutting away of the old man of sin, of the love of God in a new heart. In all these respects the significance of the old covenant sign is the same as of the sign of baptism. The identity of the two signs, though they differ in form, can be very clearly proved from the Word of God. 

This is proved from those passages of Holy Writ that refer to the sign of circumcision only: Thus, for instance, in

Leviticus 26:40, 41

we read: “If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they have trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity.” It is evident here that an uncircumcised heart is the same as a heart that will not confess sin and iniquity. To be uncircumcised in heart is to be unconverted. By implication this means that a circumcised heart is a regenerated and converted heart, from which there arises sorrow over sin and confession of iniquity. Of such a heart, therefore, circumcision was a sign. In this respect circumcision has the same significance as holy baptism. In

Deuteronomy 10:16

we read: “Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiff-necked.” Here too it is evident that circumcision was a sign of a circumcised, that is, of a sanctified heart. Circumcision and baptist, therefore, have the same significance. Confer also

Deuteronomy 30:6:

“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of the seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all they soul, that thou mayest live.” Circumcision, therefore, was a sign of the work fo God’s grace in the heart, whereby the heart is filled with the love of God, and therefore it was a sign of the same grace that is signified in baptist. Again, confer

Jeremiah 4:4:

“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.” It is evident that in the language of the New Testament this is the same as saying: “Put off the old man of sin, and put on the new man, which is renewed after the image of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Circumcision and baptism, therefore, are essentially the same in meaning. And finally, confer

Romans 4:11:

“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.” In this passage circumcision is presented as a sealing of the righteousness which is by faith. God seals in the sign of circumcision that He justifies the believers by faith and counts their faith for righteousness. Again, the same is true of baptism. 

That this last is true will be evident if we compare with the above passages those that speak of the significance of holy baptism.

Acts 2:38:

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Baptism, therefore, is a sign of the remission of sins, or, if you please, of the righteousness which is by faith. The same is taught in

Acts 22:16:

“And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Again, in

Romans 6:4

we read: Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Baptism, like circumcision, is a sign of renewal, that is, of the renewal in Christ. In baptism we die with Christ, and we arise with Him in newness of life and walk. The same is expressed in

Galatians 3:27:

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Baptism, theref

ore, is a sign of putting on Christ, that is, of being renewed in Him. These passages may easily by multiplied, but the above texts may suffice. 

Finally, I want to call your attention to the passages in Scripture that simply identify the two, circumcision and baptism. Thus we read in

Colossians 2:11, 12:

“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Here the apostle plainly identifies the sign of baptism and circumcision with respect to their significance. He writes to the church of the new dispensation that believers are circumcised in the spiritual sense of the word, and that this spiritual circumcision took place when they were buried with Christ in baptism A more direct proof that circumcision and baptism are essentially the same in meaning, the change of form being due to the transition from the old into the new dispensation, that is, from the dispensation of the shadows to that of the fulfillment, could not be given. At the same time this passage also implies that baptism is come in the place of circumcision, as all our Reformed fathers always taught. The same is true of

Philippians 3:3:

“For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Here the apostle does not mention baptism neither does he refer to it. But nevertheless he maintains that not the Jews, but the church of the new dispensation in Christ are the circumcision. Essentially, therefore, circumcision has not be discarded, but is continued in the church of the new dispensation in the sacrament of baptism. 

The Baptists, of course, deny that baptism has come in the place of circumcision, as is plainly expressed in our Baptism Form. Yet, nothing could be more evident from the Scriptures. It is simply an historic fact that baptism forced circumcision must be discarded. For a time they existed side by side, especially in Jewish Christian communities, and circumcision tried to maintain itself alongside of baptism. But this proved to be impossible, and circumcision was forced to surrender its place in the church. And what is the reason? The reason is that the Word of God plainly teaches, as we have shown, that essentially baptism has the same significance as circumcision, that the two signs with the same meaning could not exist side by side, that circumcision belongs to the time of the shadows and therefore must make room for baptism as being the sign of fulfillment. Hence, if one would still insist that circumcision were necessary for the Christian church, he could only do so because he attached significance to it as an element of the law, sought the righteousness which is of the law, so that Christ had become of none effect to him. And surely, baptism as being the same sign essentially, and having the form proper to the dispensation, has come in the place of circumcision. So true this is, that the apostle can write that we are the circumcision, which are baptized.

Thus far the quotation from Reformed Dogmatics

To the other argument raised by this Baptist minister to my questioner I will try to answer next time, the Lord willing.