Infant Baptism

” . . . Therefore we believe, that every man, who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal, ought to be but once baptized with this only baptism, without ever repeating the same: since we cannot be born twice. Neither doth this baptism only avail us; at the time when the water is poured upon us, and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life; therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers who we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And indeed Christ shed his blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful, than for adult persons; and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that, which Christ bath done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law, that they should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ’s suffering and death, shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a sacrament if Jesus Christ: Moreover, what circumcision was to the Jews, that baptism is to our children. And for this reason Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ. “ 

Article XXXIV, The Belgic Confession

The doctrine of infant baptism has always been maintained by the Reformed Churches especially over against Baptists of every stripe. Our Creed in the second part of this article presents, in the main, two grounds for infant baptism: 1) The promise in both the old and new Testaments is one and the same; and, 2) the sign of baptism is essentially the same as the Old Testament sign of circumcision. This the Confession maintains over against the error of the Anabaptists. The latter were a sect which was an offshoot of the Reformation. They denied the necessity of baptizing infants and insisted on re-baptizing those who were baptized as infants, hence their name, Ana (again) baptists. This error has persisted to the present day among all who deny the necessity of the baptism of infants. Usually this view is accompanied by denials of the sovereign character of grace, the truth of the covenant, and the error of premillennialism. 

There are others who, while they teach the baptism of infants, have erred in attempting to find a ground for infant baptism. Some have based infant baptism on the doctrine of “presupposed regeneration.” According to these we must presuppose that all children of the covenant are regenerated and, therefore, ought to be baptized. This view is wrong. We know from both Scripture and experience that all baptized children are not regenerated. There are Esaus born to believing parents as well as Jacobs. Others have found the basis for infant baptism in a general but objective and conditional promise of the covenant. These maintain that all infants must be baptized because God’s promise comes to all objectively. Only that promise comes in a conditional form so that its fulfillment and realization is dependent upon faith. The error of this view is very simply that it introduces the age-old heresy of Arminianism into the covenant. 

In the light of this it is extremely important that we have a proper understanding of the Biblical ground for infant baptism. This doctrine lies at the very heart of the truth of Scripture and affects practically every aspect of the truth: sovereign predestination, the promise and covenant, the church, the means of grace, and the calling (obligation) of believers and their children. (The reader who is interested in a more exhaustive study of this beautiful truth is advised to consult H. Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 680 ff.)

The basic ground for the baptism of infants lies in the fact that the Church of the Old and New Dispensations is one church. To that one church there is one promise; with that one church God establishes one covenant; for that one church there is one sign of the covenant and one way of salvation. The Bible knows only one people of God in both the old and new dispensations. These are the elect, the spiritual seed, the seed of Abraham, the children of the promise, the believers. Invariably the opponents of infant baptism argue that in the old dispensation the Jews were the seed of Abraham and the promise was to them. This is not true. The Bible never identifies the Jews (the natural descendents of Abraham) with the seed of Abraham. It is true that for a time the seed of Abraham was found exclusively among Abraham’s natural descendents: in the generations of Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Israel. In the new dispensation they are found among all nations, for there is no difference any more between Jew and Gentile. But in either case the seed of Abraham, the children of the promise, are the believers, the elect, the children of God. These are the true seed of Abraham, the father of the believers. 

This is plainly taught in many passages of Scripture. We read, for example, in Romans 9:6-8: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel. Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” This passage teaches that not all who are of Israel (the natural descendants) actually are Israel. Only the spiritual seed, believers, they that were born of the promise, as Isaac was, are counted for the seed. (Cf. also in this connection: Romans 4:11-16Romans 2:28, 29Hosea 1:10, 11in comparison with Romans 9:24-26.) 

And that the people of God of both the old and the new dispensations are one people is clearly taught in Galatians 3:7-9, 16-29; and Galatians 4:1-7. From these passages it is perfectly clear that only believers, “they which are of faith,” are the true seed of Abraham in both the old and the new dispensations. Centrally that seed of Abraham is Christ. If that be true it stands to reason that only those who are in Christ by faith can belong to the seed of Abraham. That is true whether they be of the old or the new dispensation. The passage also teaches that there is but one promise for the seed of Abraham and the heirs of that one promise are the believers. Hence it is the clear teaching of Scripture that there is but one people of God and that one people of God is called the seed of Abraham in Christ. This means that the seed of Abraham is not the Jews as such nor the Gentiles as such, but the believers with faithful Abraham, of both Jew and Gentile. 

But not only is it true that the people of God are in the old and new dispensations the same; also the sign of the covenant, though different in form, is the same in both dispensations. Also circumcision, the old testament sign of the covenant, was a sign of the righteousness which is by faith, of spiritual circumcision, of regeneration, of the circumcision of the heart, of sanctification, of the cutting away of the old man of sin, of the love of God in a new heart. Romans 4:11teaches this: “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being yet uncircumcised.” (Cf. also Leviticus 26:40, 41Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6Jeremiah 4:4.) This is essentially the meaning of the sign of holy baptism. In Acts 2:38 we read: “Then Peter said unto them, 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.” According to this text baptism signifies the remission of sins in Jesus Christ which is the same as the righteousness which is by faith. Similarly Acts 22:16 teaches that baptism signifies the washing away of our sins. (Cf. Romans 6:4Galatians 3:27) A very striking passage in this regard is Colossians 2:11, 12: “In whom ye also 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 circumcision and baptism are identified as far as their significance is concerned. Believers, according to the text, are circumcised in the spiritual sense of the word and spiritual circumcision took place when they were buried with Christ in baptism. This is direct proof that baptism and circumcision are essentially the same in meaning. The change in form from circumcision to baptism has taken place because of the change from the old dispensation (the age of the types and shadows) to the new dispensation (the age of fulfillment). Thus baptism has come in the place of circumcision in the sense that the latter old dispensational sign of the covenant finds its fulfillment in the sign of baptism.

Finally, belonging to the Biblical ground for the baptism of infants is the fact that God gathers His people in the line of continued generations. Always the covenant is established with: “thee and thy seed after thee in their generations.” (Genesis 3:15 ; Genesis 9:9Genesis 17:7; etc.) On Pentecost the Apostle Peter preaches: “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 2:39) This does not mean, certainly not, that all children of believers who are baptized are saved. There is always carnal seed who upon arriving at years of discretion manifest that wickedness. To these latter, just as is the case with the preaching of the Word, baptism is a savor of death unto death. 

On this ground the Reformed church baptizes infants of God’s Church and covenant. For this reason the Apostles always baptized entire houses. It makes no difference whether or not there were infants in those houses: the point is houses, families were baptized. 

This holy sacrament places believers and their seed under sacred obligation. The Form For The Administration of Baptism speaks of that eloquently: “Whereas in all covenants there are contained two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism, admonished of, and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life. And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin, we must not despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, since baptism is a seal and undoubted testimony, that we have an eternal covenant of grace with God.”