In order to arrive at a correct conception of believers and their seed it is highly necessary, first of all, that we give our attention to the meaning and significance of God’s covenant. It is exactly in regard to this doctrine of the covenant that we as Reformed people differ from Anabaptists and Baptists of every shade.
The basic difference must not be sought in the distinction between immersion and sprinkling: for on this point there is no essential difference. Without any hesitation we concede that the full sign of baptism is that of a bath into which we descend and are immersed and out of which we emerge, as a sign of our being buried with Christ and of our arising with Him unto a new life. Only we would also maintain that the essence of baptism may not be sought in the external washing with water, and that therefore he whose feet are washed or he whose forehead is sprinkled is wholly clean.
Neither is our difference with Baptists to be settled by citing a few isolated texts, as is so frequently and facilely done by defenders of the Baptist view. They imagine, then, that the whole argument is really settled when they have pointed to that which the Lord commanded His disciples shortly before His ascension, namely, that they must preach the gospel to all creatures, adding to this, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” They emphasize in this connection that the Lord here places faith before baptism, and not vice versa, and that therefore only those who first confess their faith may receive the sign of baptism. But this matter is not so superficial as that, and the question is not to be settled in such a simplistic manner. God’s Word is not like a dictionary, from which one can quote according to the mere sound of the words. After all, even apart from the fact that little children as well as adults can possess a true faith, and even apart from the opposite fact that adult confessors can very well be devoid of a true faith just as well as little children, it nevertheless remains true that the above-quoted words of the Lord Jesus, according to the context, can only refer to the bearing of the gospel into the world of heathendom. The Lord is sending His disciples into the world with the proclamation of the gospel, with the testimony of His death and resurrection, with the promise of forgiveness and life through His blood. And it lies in the very nature of the case that then the rule must always be: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. Also those of Reformed persuasion abide by this rule when they go to the heathen with the testimony of Jesus Christ.
But all this says nothing at all with regard to the propriety of infant baptism. No, the difference lies squarely in the area of the doctrine of the covenant. Baptists simply have no eye for this truth, especially not for the truth of the historico-organic development of God’s covenant on earth in the line of generations. And thus they close their eyes to one of main lines of Holy Writ. To this doctrine, therefore, we shall have to give our attention. We shall have to ask wherein the essence of God’s covenant is to be sought, how God realizes that covenant in history, and why and in what sense the seed of believers is comprehended in that covenant.
First of all, then, we would proceed from the idea that God is a Covenant God. He is that in Himself, even apart from any relation to His creature. From eternity to eternity the infinite God lives a divinely perfect covenant life in Himself. This follows from God’s triune subsistence. God is one in Being. He is one with regard to all that belongs to the divine nature and with regard to His essential attributes. There is one divine mind and one divine will. There is one divine life and one divine heart. And in all His attributes of omnipotence and wisdom, of eternity and omnipresence, of immutability and independence, of goodness and grace and love, God the Lord is perfectly one. Moreover, God is good, the Perfect One in Himself and the. Fountain of all good. For He is a light, and in Him is no darkness at all. He is the Holy One, Who dwells in an inapproachable light and before Whose face the seraphim must cover their faces. There is in God, therefore, one divinely perfect, eternal, and infinite light-life of love.
But God is also three in persons. For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit. There are in the one divine Essence three I’s, three subjects of that entire divine life. One divine Being, but three Who bear that Being. One divine life, but three Who live that life. One divine mind, but three Who think in that divine mind. One divine will, but three Who will in that divine will. One divine love, but three Who love with that divine love. Thus the Scriptures reveal God to us. To this must be added that these Three Persons, although essentially perfectly one and equal, are nevertheless distinct according to their personal attributes. They all bear the divine Being, but not all in the same manner. For the Father is Father, out of Whom are all things. Of Him are also all things within the divine Being eternally. From eternity to eternity He generates the Son and eternally gives Him to have life in Himself. And from eternity to eternity He breathes forth the Spirit Who eternally testifies of Him. Hence, the Father lives and thinks and wills and loves in that full, eternally perfect divine love-life as Father. The Son is Son in all of His divine living and loving. He is eternally generated of the Father and is therefore the express image of the Father’s being. In an infinitely perfect manner He reflects the image of the Father. He thinks and wills and loves and lives eternally as Son in the infinite Being of God. And He also breathes forth the Spirit, Who also eternally testifies of Him. The Holy Spirit is Spirit, that is, He is breathed forth of the Father and the Son. He proceeds from both, and then in such a manner that the Father and the Son meet one another in the Spirit. In the Holy Spirit the Father faces the Son, and the Son faces the Father. For the Word is with God, and the Son is in the bosom of the Father. The Spirit searches the deep things of God and lives and thinks and wills and loves as Spirit. He is the Spirit of truth; and He testifies, and He is the connecting-link in the divine love-life.
Thus, then, God is the eternally living One in Himself. There is the most perfect unity of Being in God, and nevertheless personal distinction: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, willing and thinking, living and loving in the one, eternally-good and perfect divine Being, thinking and willing and loving always the same, and knowing one another perfectly, and yet so, that each of the three Persons lives that divine life according to His personal attributes. It is herein that the essence of the covenant is to be found. That life of God is a covenant life, a life of the most intimate communion of love and friendship, resting in the unity of God’s Being and living through the personal distinction. The Lord God is a covenant God.
Now it has pleased God, according to His sovereign good pleasure, according to the counsel of His will, to reveal this covenant life outside of Himself and to make the creature a partaker of that divine covenant life, and that too, in the highest possible sense of the word. For He is pleased to dwell with His people and to spread His tabernacle over them. He wills to walk with them and to cause them to walk with Him. He desires to speak with them as a friend with his friends, and to cause them likewise to speak with Him. He is p1eased to make them partakers of His life and to make them walk in His light. He wills to be known by them, even as He knows them. He desires that they shall see Him face to face. He is pleased to have them dwell with Him under one roof, to eat and drink with them, to have most intimate fellowship with them, to reveal to them His secrets. Beautifully this is expressed in the versification of Psalm 25:14:
Yea, the secret of Jehovah
Is with those who fear His Name;
With His friends in tender mercy
He His covenant will maintain.
(Note. This version of our Psalter is not a completely accurate English equivalent of the Dutch versification which the author always loved to quote in this connection; for those who can appreciate it, we also cite that Holland rendering.)
Gods verborgen omgang vinden
Zielen, daar Zijn vrees in woont;
‘t Heilgeheim wordt aan Zijn vrinden,
Naar Zijn vreeverbond, getoond.
Those friends of God are, according to the counsel of His will, at the same time His servants in that friendship. For God is eternally God, and there is none beside Him. No one ever becomes equal to God, though His creature may bear His image and may be like Him, yea, may know Him even as he is known and may live with Him in covenant friendship. When God, therefore, establishes His covenant with creatures whom He in His sovereign grace has chosen and prepared thereunto, then in that covenant He is the Friend-Sovereign while the creature is His friend servant according to the ordinance of that covenant. The covenant is God’s, and God’s alone. He establishes it. He forms the creature who will share in that covenant. He imparts His life, and He writes His law in their hearts and sheds abroad His love in those hearts. He eternally blesses them in that covenant with the full, rich life of His fellowship. And the creature thus formed by Him is the work of His hands, the revelation of His grace. That creature serves Him in love and consecrates Himself as friend-servant of the Lord God with his whole existence and with all things. Thus that friend of God also becomes prophet, priest, and king under God. He is prophet in order to love God with all his mind, to know Him and to glorify His great name. He is priest in order to love the Lord with all His heart and from the sanctuary of His heart to offer up himself and all things in consecration to Him. He is king, in order that with all his strength he may cleave to the Lord his God, ask after His ordinances, and rule over all creatures in His name. To this must be added that according to that same counsel of His good pleasure, the Lord realizes this covenant along the antithetical line of election and reprobation, of grace and sin, of light and darkness, unto the higher revelation of His glory and the greater glory of His covenant friends. For God the Lord not only forms the light, but He also creates the darkness; He not only has mercy upon whom He will, but He also hardens whom He will. He has made all things for His own name’s sake. For this reason His covenant friends must for a time be in the midst of a world that knows them not, that hates them because it is of the darkness while they, through God’s grace, are of His party.
For this reason, too, there is in this world a struggle for the sake of God’s covenant: a struggle, however, which takes place according to the counsel of His will and in which everything, both in heaven and on earth, must serve to bring the people of His choice to everlasting victory. For this reason, moreover, God’s covenant is not a mere way unto salvation. It is eternal! And it shall then only be fully revealed when our Lord Jesus Christ shall come again and when God shall forever spread His tabernacle over all and when they shall dwell with Him in everlasting perfection, knowing Him and seeing Him face to face. For now are we the children of God; but it is not yet revealed what we shall be; but when it shall be revealed, then shall we be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is. And therefore God’s people in the midst of the world must never grow weary. For it is given them of grace in behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. And the victory is certain!