Our baptism always has a special significance for us because of the fact that we and our children receive the sacrament in our infancy. Turning from a discussion of the significance of the sacrament to a discussion of the baptism of infants, the Form states: “and although our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism. . . ”
It is worthy of note, that the fathers did not say that children of believing parents may receive the sacrament of baptism, but that they must. They were, no doubt, well aware of the fact that believing parents count it a privilege to present their children for baptism. Yet this is hardly the viewpoint here. They also realized that infant baptism has met with opposition within the church since the early days after the apostles, and it is from this aspect that they assert that we may not exclude our children from baptism. To express it positively, the church must baptize her children.
In our day the doctrine of infant baptism is denied especially by the Baptists of various sorts. Their arguments are chiefly threefold.
First of all, they maintain that Scripture nowhere demands that infants be baptized. To them it is a conclusive argument that not a single text can be found in Scripture demanding the baptism of infants. In fact, they maintain that no single instance can be found where infants were baptized. They will grant that infants of eight days received the sign of circumcision in the old dispensation, but they hasten to add that this was no baptism. Circumcision, according to them, was a special sign given to the Jews as a mark of distinction, distinguishing them from the other nations of the world. It was a sign that God had established His covenant with Israel. The church of the new dispensation does not in any way share this distinction. Israel is and always will remain a separate people with a separate covenant, promises and blessings. The Baptist is always necessarily a Millenialist.
The second argument offered is, that Jesus demanded faith before baptism in the “great commission.” Mark 16:15, 16. “And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” The argument is simple enough. Jesus demands a profession of faith before baptism. Children cannot profess a conscious faith. Therefore children cannot be baptized.
And the third argument is, that all infants who are baptized are not saved, even as experience teaches that some children baptized in infancy proved to be unbelievers later in life. If baptism is a seal of the washing away of sins, and it is that to everyone that is baptized, the result must be that baptism does not always speak the truth. So to avoid the contingency that the sacrament might lie, no one can be baptized except those who first profess their faith. Infants must not be baptized.
In answer to these arguments the following objections must be raised. 1. First, that there is no need for a special command to baptize infants. God gave the sign of His covenant to Abraham as the father of believers, with the command that he should pass this sign on to his seed. The covenant passed over from the old to the new dispensation, continuing in the line of generations, in the believers and their seed. At the transition from the old to the new dispensation the outward sign was changed, so that water baptism took the place of the bloody sign of circumcision (Col. 2:11, 12). But God never withdrew His command to place that sign upon the seed of the covenant. As long as the command is not withdrawn we cannot slight it with impunity. Let the Baptist prove the contrary.
This is in substance the main argument of our Baptism Form, saying, “God speaketh unto Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and therefore unto us and our children (Gen. 17:7), saying, “I will establish My covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” This also the apostle Peter testifieth, with these words (Acts 2:39), “Tor 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.” Therefore God formerly commanded them to be circumcised, which was a seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness of faith; and therefore Christ also embraced them, laid His hands upon them and blessed them” (Mark 10). See also such passages of Scripture as Rom. 4:11; Rom. 9:6, 7; and Gal. 3:8. In this connection everyone should read the pamphlet written by the Rev. H. Hoeksema entitled, “The Biblical Ground for the Baptism of Infants.” This has lately been reprinted and is obtainable from the Sunday School Mission Publishing Society, 755 Fuller Ave., S. E., Grand Rapids, Michigan.
2. Secondly, that Jesus demands faith before baptism in the “great commission” does not exclude the baptism of infants. It is true, that Jesus instructed His disciples to preach the Gospel and to baptize those who professed their faith as a result of this preaching. We can also rest assured that the apostles and their helpers faithfully carried out this mandate to the letter. We need but refer to the example of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch said, “See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?” And Philip answered, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” Yet the apostles interpreted these instructions to mean, that when the adults professed their faith, not only the professing believers, but their whole households were baptized. We need but refer to Acts 16:15, the example of Lydia, and Acts 16:33, the example of the jailor at Philippi.
Moreover, this second argument of the Baptists can only lead to the conclusion that all children dying in infancy are lost. The text adds, “but he that believeth not shall be damned.” If this must be made to apply to children who are not able to profess a conscious faith, instead of to those who harden themselves against the Word in unbelief, there can be but one conclusion, and that is, that all children of believing parents dying in infancy are damned. The Baptists may try to escape this dilemma by saying that “by the judgment of love” he regards all children dying in infancy as saved. But the text is against him, for the text states, “but he that believeth not shall be damned,” and this he wants to apply to infants. Baptists may have their consecration services for their infants, assuming the responsibility of showing them the way of salvation, and thus trying to save them, but they cast away the promise of God, “I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee.”
Here it is interesting to note, that in the degree that the church departs from the truth to drift away into the streams of Arminianism, in that degree infant baptism loses its significance for her. No one can help but detect the strain of the free-will error always running through the arguments of the Baptists. After all is said and done, the two streams of error flow freely into one rushing torrent of heresy, depriving the church of her means of grace, and sweeping her with it into destruction.
3. The final argument of the Baptists, that baptism of infants makes the sacrament often untrue, can be charged against infant baptism no more than against the baptism of adults. The Baptist should see that this would also have been the case with circumcision in the old dispensation, because many more were circumcised who had no place in the covenant, even as Esau, with whom the Lord was “not well pleased.” 1 Cor. 10. Secondly, adult baptism does not insure that each baptized person is saved, no more than does infant baptism. There are and always will remain hypocrites in the church, who profess their faith and carry the sign of baptism through life, yet make themselves guilty of apostasy. And finally, baptism never was intended to guarantee the salvation of each individual, no more than circumcision in the old dispensation. It is a seal of the justification which is by faith, which God promises in His Word and seals in baptism. Rom. 4:11.
As basis for the baptism of infants, the Form states: “We may not exclude them from baptism, for as they are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ!”
This is most significant. It may be paraphrased as follows: Our children are partakers of the condemnation in Adam. They are also received unto grace in Christ. And both without their knowledge. Purely according to sovereign good pleasure. Therefore God has willed that they should receive the sacrament of baptism in their earliest infancy, for infant baptism expresses exactly that amazing truth, that it is not of him who willeth, nor of him who runneth, but of God Who showeth mercy.
Our children are partakers of the condemnation in Adam. God created the whole human race as an organism, a legal corporation, with Adam as its representative head. When Adam sinned by eating of the forbidden tree, the whole human race sinned and fell. This is the plain teaching of Scripture, as for example in Rom. 5:12, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” From this follows that we and our children stand guilty in the original guilt of Adam. Even as Adam’s sin is our sin, so his guilt is our guilt, which we increase daily. And from this also follows that we and our children are conceived and born in sin. Through the disobedience and fall of our first parents our whole nature became corrupt. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” Job 14:4. And Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Our children come into this world with our guilt and our pollution. And that according to sovereign good pleasure.
Again, according to that same sovereign good pleasure they are received unto grace in Christ. Even as sin and guilt are passed along in the line of generations, so God manifests His mercy in the line of generations. Immediately after the fall in paradise God spoke of the promised Seed. The church could be saved only by faith in the promise of that seed, for they were saved in hope. But the church herself was also instrumental in bringing forth that Seed. Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Adam and Eve had committed themselves to the now so common practice of birth-control, stubbornly refusing to bring forth children in sorrow. The church could never have come into existence, and even the Christ could never have been born. But God gathers His church in the line of generations from paradise to the end of time, fulfilling His promise of salvation and realizing His Word unto her, “I will be thy God and the God of thy seed after thee.” Thus it is not a matter of choice for us whether we be born a Hottentot or in the sphere of God’s covenant, whether we have unbelieving parents or parents upon whom God has bestowed His grace. We have no more to say about that than the time and place of our birth, or whether we should be born male or female, rich or poor. It is all sovereign good pleasure, for it is not of him who willeth, nor of him who runneth, but of God Who shew- eth mercy. Infant baptism speaks to us of the sovereign grace whereby God loves His own for His name’s sake. No wonder that the truth of God’s covenant and infant baptism are the peculiar heritage of those who love and cherish the Scriptural and Reformed truth of God’s sovereign grace. Let us hold that which we have, that no man take our crown.