Thus far the Baptism Form spoke of “God’s part” in the covenant in distinction from “our part”. In the next paragraph it considers “our part”, stating, “Whereas in all covenants there are contained two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism admonished of and obliged to a new obedience. . . .”, etc.
Emphatically the Form brings home to us that God establishes His own covenant with us and realizes it in us. The establishment and the realization are both of God. If baptism means anything at all, it means exactly that to us. Particularly infant baptism, administered in our earliest infancy, when we do not realize what it is all about, much less have any choice in the matter, emphasizes that God takes us into His covenant life solely according to His eternal good pleasure and only by the work of His sovereign grace. It is not of him who willeth, nor of him who runneth, but of God who sheweth mercy.
The Form stresses this when it describes what God witnesses and seals to us in baptism. It states that God, the Father, witnesses and seals to us that He makes an eternal covenant with us, adopting us for His children and heirs. The Son seals that He washes us in His blood from all our sins, incorporating us into His fellowship and death. And the Holy Ghost assures us that He will dwell in us and sanctify us to be members of Christ, until we finally appear without spot or wrinkle in the assembly of the elect in life eternal.
We would make a very fundamental mistake if we would distinguish between the three persons of the Holy Trinity in such a way, that we ascribe separate works to each of the three persons. If we were to maintain that the peculiar work of the first person is to establish a covenant with us, that of the second person to atone and open the way for us to enter the covenant, and that of the Holy Ghost to realize that covenant by taking us into it, the result would be that we would deny the unity of the three persons and create three gods in the place of the One. We need but be reminded that God works all things as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. For all God’s works proceed from the Father, and are accomplished through the Son and in the (Holy Ghost. Even the creation of the world was by the Father, through the Word,, and in the Holy Ghost, Who moved upon the face of the waters. And of the creation of man we read that the triune God said, ”Let us make man in our image and after our likeness.”
Therefore when the Form distinguishes between Father, Son and Holy Ghost, this can only be understood correctly if “the Father” is taken to refer to the complete Godhead, “the Son” referring to the Christ, and “the Holy Ghost” referring to the Spirit of Christ as He dwells in the Church. After all, it is the triune God Who establishes His covenant with us; it is Christ Who suffers and dies for us, shedding His atoning blood that we may be freed from all guilt; and it is the Holy Spirit as Spirit of Christ Who is poured out and dwells in us to apply to our hearts all the blessings of salvation which God has prepared for us in Christ.
All three persons, the full Godhead, is always engaged in that one glorious work of salvation, revealing Himself to us as the ever blessed God of our salvation.
But what is even more significant is the fact that it is all of God. God both establishes and realizes His own covenant in the believers and their seed.
The Baptism Form first leads us back to God’s eternal election. Then it points us to Christ’s work of salvation accomplished for His own on the cross. And finally shows us that God finishes His own work by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and completely sanctifies us unto perfection in heaven. All this belongs to the establishment of God’s covenant. God, first of all, establishes His covenant with us from all eternity. Then He establishes it in time by the atonement of the cross. And finally He establishes it with us by His Spirit in our hearts. The realization of that established covenant is in heaven.
First of all, God the Father adopts us for His children and heirs. Sovereignly He determines to take a people into His covenant life to show forth His glory. In sovereign good pleasure He chooses His own, determining how many sons He shall take into His life, and who they shall be. According to His own purpose He adopts them to sons and makes them heirs of His own glorious life. It is the impenetrable and unfathomable wonder of grace that the Testator prepares His inheritance for the heirs of salvation, and that we and our seed are included in that divine Testament.
Secondly, “God the Son”, as the Christ, prepares our salvation for us by His death and atonement on the cross. For we were dead in trespasses and sins, by nature children of wrath, even as others. But God, Who is rich in mercy, has atoned for us and quickened us from the dead in Christ.. Christ suffered, died and is risen as our Head, so that when He died, we died with Him; died to sin. And when He arose, we arose in newness of life. When He went to glory, He went as our Forerunner, opening the new and living way into the heavenly sanctuary.
And finally, “God the Holy Ghost” dwells in us forever. Christ comes into our hearts in His Spirit to apply to us all the blessings of salvation which He has merited for us by His death and resurrection.
The former Prof. W. Heyns makes an exception exactly at this point. He states that all those covenant benefits of the Father and the Son, as mentioned above, are objectively realized, and are promised to all who are baptized. But the promise is conditional, contingent on our acceptance, which is “our part” in the covenant. We become conscious partakers of all those benefits only if we express a willingness to accept them and allow the Holy Ghost to dwell in us. When the Form declares that “the Holy Ghost assures us that He will dwell in us, Prof. Heyns interprets that to mean that He “is willing to dwell in us” (Gereformeerde Geloofsleer, page 133). This interpretation is so evidently imposed upon the Baptism Form that it needs no refutation for anyone who is basically Reformed. It deprives us of all the assurance that our baptism is intended to give us, assuring us of nothing more than the willingness of the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, if we care to have Him. This is the doctrine of the “free-will”, pure and simple, applied to our baptism.
The idea of our Baptism Form is rather, that baptism assures of something that extends into the future. Baptism assures us that the Holy Spirit will abide with us forever. He is not merely willing, but He will. He enters into our hearts to change them from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.. He implants the life of the risen Lord, which becomes the new life principle within us, ruling over us and blessing us. . And He dwells in us as in temples of God, , abiding with us forever. . In Him we are sealed unto the day of redemption. .
By the Holy Spirit we become conscious partakers of all the riches of Christ. He receives these blessings out of Christ and bestows them on us. Thus we receive the washing away of sins and the daily renewal of our lives. We are sanctified in Christ by the Spirit.
And He also prepares us for the salvation in glory, finishing the good work which God has begun for us from eternity, Phil. 1:6, until (He can present us “without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.”. In that day the whole household of God will be complete, and we shall enjoy the blessedness of God’s friendship in perfection as sons in His house.
All this baptism witnesses and seals to us. Therefore it is so entirely proper that we and our children receive this sign of God’s covenant already in our earliest infancy. It seals to the believer “God’s part” in the covenant, that is, His eternal love and sovereign power whereby He proves Himself to be our God and the God of our seed forever. And at the same time it seals to us “our part” in the covenant, with all boasting excluded.
The question naturally forces itself upon us, if it is all of God, what is “our part” in the covenant?
We can heartily appreciate the fact that our Form speaks of “parts”, and not of “parties”. Even, those who like to stress the fact that the covenant is unilateral in its establishment, will sometimes speak of parties, and thus make the covenant bi-lateral In its “realization”. If the covenant is an agreement, it necessarily consists of two parties. And if the promise of God is considered to be conditional, depending on our acceptance, we again become a party in the covenant, and the covenant is no longer strictly God’s.
But this is not according to Scripture, nor can It be inferred from the Form. We have had repeated occasion to note that it is God’s covenant. It has its deepest cause and origin in Him, He has willed it, establishes it with whom He will, and also realizes it. In that covenant God promises to bless the heirs of salvation with all the blessings He has prepared for them in Christ. And this promise is His divine Word, His oath, sworn by Himself, which He seals in the sacrament of baptism. Therefore He also fulfills His promise Himself by establishing and realizing His covenant with (His people.
“Our part” is certainly not this, that we add to the. work of God or in any way cooperate with Him toward the realization of His covenant. That is contrary to the whole idea of the covenant in Scripture. But that is also impossible, for compared with God we are less than nothing. Yes, we are even dead in trespasses and sins, so that we cannot and will not do anything but oppose our salvation. It is all of God.
But from the work of God’s grace in our hearts follows “our part”, which is the fruit and manifestation of God’s work of grace in us. God makes us conscious partaker’s of His covenant by the adoption to sons in our hearts. He gives us the adoption, and we are conscious of the fact that we are sons. He washes us, and we become sanctified, fit unto every good work. He takes us into His covenant life, and we enjoy the blessedness of His fellowship. Our part is always fruit of what God works in us. It is the deliverance from our present misery, revealing itself in gratitude. Lord’s Day 32, Heid. Cat.
This is in perfect harmony with the thought of the Form itself, which teaches us that “the principle parts of the doctrine of holy baptism are these three:
First, a knowledge of our misery, so that we loathe and humble ourselves before God; secondly, a knowledge of our deliverance, the washing away of our sins whereby we are taken into God’s covenant; and thirdly, a knowledge of our gratitude, as abiding within, the covenant of God. Thus Scripture can admonish us, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”. And Jesus instructs us, “Abide in Me, and (because) I (abide ) in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.” .
That part the Baptism Form calls a “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.”
Even so, that part is still accomplished hi the weakness of this body of sin. Against our will we still fall into sin, so that the complaint Is forced from us, “What I will I do not, and what I do not will I do. O, miserable man that I am”. If the realization of the covenant depended in any way on us, we would have just reason to despair daily for ourselves and our children. But God is merciful and ever faithful, and “baptism is a seal and undoubted testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God”. Therefore, let us not despair, but put away that sin that so lightly besets us and put on holiness in the fear of God, as it behooves saints.