Now it is at this juncture that Kuyper discovers his baptismal grace. That grace does not indeed consist in this, that by it one is initially ingrafted into the body of Christ. Even Kuyper realizes that all this is bestowed in regeneration. No, but now our personal faith must also function thus that presently it can with full consciousness live in the fellowship of that body of Christ and can seek and desire that fellowship. And that grace by which there is bestowed upon our personal faith that habitus, inclination, to desire and seek that fellowship with Christ’s body and to enjoy it,—that is the grace which Dr. Kuyper associates with the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Thus he writes (idem, p. 543): “If this now is to be realized in you, then it is not sufficient that through grace you personally believe; but then it is equally necessary that there be implanted in this your faith the habitus, the inclination, by means of which you enter into the joint faith, the faith as it is the possession of the communion of saints. And this grace whereby your faith, which at first is exclusively personal, receives the potential, thehabitus, the inclination, and the urge, not merely to stand before God in a strictly individual sense, but not to rest until you draw near before the Holy One as a member of the body of Christ,—that is the peculiar sacramental grace which Holy Baptism carries with it.”
Now it is not our intention to criticize this view in detail and at length. It was only our purpose to demonstrate how the doctrine of a presupposed regeneration was introduced in connection with baptism. Nevertheless, this matter is certainly too serious to pass it by without a brief word of criticism. We too believe that our Reformed people must again understand their baptism and must live out of God’s covenant. But we are nevertheless of the opinion that this view of a certain baptismal grace, a grace which is definitely tied to the sacrament of Baptism and which is not bestowed in any other way, should be eliminated root and branch. In the first place, we may point to the fact that there are only a very few among God’s people who would be able to follow and to understand this philosophy. In order to arrive at his conception of a baptismal grace Kuyper must distinguish, and then distinguish once again, and must split hairs. He must distinguish between a root grace and a grace in the branches and a grace in the fruit. He must distinguish between a personal faith and the fellowship of faith, or a communal faith. In this faith he must again distinguish between the habitus, or inclination, and the activity of it, in order at long last to discover in the bestowal of that habitus to live in the fellowship of the body of Christ the grace which belongs definitely and peculiarly with the sacrament of baptism. If it is along such a path of philosophical reasoning that God’s people are again to understand their baptism, then the people of God in general will surely never learn to grasp its significance.
In the second place, we may note that in this manner the meaning of baptism is alarmingly impoverished and becomes devoid of content. Notice that this significance then consists of this, that baptism bestows a certain inclination, urge, habitus, upon faith, enabling it to live also in the fellowship of the body of Christ. Nothing more! That impoverishes baptism. In the third place, we point out that Dr. Kuyper’s entire reasoning with regard to a distinction between a personal faith and a faith in fellowship with the body of Christ is purely philosophical. It is simply not true that in regeneration, in which we already becomes partakers of the power of faith, a faith is bestowed upon us that would not have the habitus to live in fellowship with the body of those who are perfectly righteous, and that therefore a second, altogether separate act of grace is necessary in order to bestow this habitus, or inclination, or urge, upon that faith. He who is regenerated is born again out of. the risen Lord. He who through regeneration receives the power of faith is through that faith implanted into Christ, at that very moment lives no more unto himself or of himself, but out of Christ. And he who lives out of Christ, by virtue of the very nature of that life of regeneration, also lives out of the body of Christ. In other words, there is no personal faith, and it is impossible to conceive of a personal faith, which does not at the same time have in it the urge to live in fellowship with the body of Christ.
In the fourth place, we point out that thus the entire relation between the sign and the thing signified disappears, and the sacrament is relegated entirely to the sphere of the mystical. Who, when he observes the water in baptism, when he observes the entrance into that water and the emerging from that water, would ever see in it a figure of that so-called baptismal grace of which Kuyper speaks, a figure of that habitus or urge to live in the fellowship of the body of Christ? The symbolism of baptism is very rich. First of all, it certainly symbolizes the fact that through the blood of Christ our sins are forgiven and that we are washed in that blood. According to Scripture, it symbolizes that we are dead and buried with Christ and are raised again unto a new life. According to Scripture, it also symbolizes that we are separated from the present evil world, and that now as God’s covenant people we walk in a new and holy life. But all this is simply lost if we must seek the real significance of baptism in that altogether special and separate grace of which Kuyper speaks.
And, finally, we would point out that along this path Kuyper brings us again on the road of Roman Catholicism, and he shuts up the grace of God within the institute of a certain church. Of course, we do not deny that the sacrament in the full sense of the word includes a certain operation of the grace of Christ from heaven. But we do indeed deny that that operation of grace is an altogether special one, which would not be bestowed without the ministration of the sacramental form by the church on earth. Along that path we run the risk of exalting the institute of the church on earth again in Romish fashion, even as many do in our day, and of making that institute the dispenser of the grace of Christ, thus shoving that institute between Christ and His church. Hence we also earnestly warn against this conception of Holy Baptism as being not in harmony with Scripture, as a view which impoverishes baptism, and as a view which leads us in the path of Romish sacerdotalism. This view offers us philosophy instead of the Word of God, stones in place of bread.
However, it was not to this view of Baptism that we wished to call attention at the moment. We only wanted to point out that it is this erroneous conception which necessarily led to that other conception, of presupposed regeneration, in connection with the baptism of infants. For it is clear that (according to Kuyper’s view) if the baptism of infants is really to be a sacrament, then also in their case at that very moment when the minister of the Word and sacraments sprinkles the water on the forehead of the babe who is baptized that special baptismal grace must be bestowed upon that infant by Christ from heaven. Otherwise, according to Kuyper’s view, also infant baptism is empty, a lamp without light; But if that special baptismal grace is to be bestowed on little children, then the life of regeneration must first be present in their hearts, and with that life of regeneration the power of faith. Now Kuyper reasons further (E Voto, III) that God is able to work this power of faith as well in the hearts of infants as in the hearts of adults. Moreover, he makes it clear that God also does this, by virtue of the fact that He establishes His covenant in the line of generations. And whereas it is established, according to Kuyper, that the sacrament of baptism may be administered only there, where this faith is present, be it then only as a power; and whereas it is also a fact that we nevertheless cannot say with certainty whether or not a certain child possesses the life of regeneration (for after all, Esau also was a covenant child), therefore we must proceed from the supposition that the children of believers are regenerated; and only on the ground of this supposition can the propriety of infant baptism be maintained. Let us allow Kuyper to speak for himself once again:
“We maintain, therefore, without the least bit of hesitation, the old, genuinely Reformed position, which, according to our inmost conviction is completely true, God-glorifying, and Scriptural, namely, that the matter of our salvation and the salvation of our children is not dependent upon our expression of faith but upon God’s hidden work in our soul, and that as far as we are concerned there can be no possibility, now or ever, of a manifestation of faith unless the hidden and mysterious work of God in our soul has preceded it. In the second place, that it is unbecoming for us to make any determination or limitation as to how soon or how long before our conversion this work of God in our soul must have taken place, and that consequently we ought to acknowledge and confess the sovereign freedom and power of God to accomplish this hidden work of His grace in our soul already in our mother’s womb. In the third place, that only this prevenient grace of God, wrought in us already before or at the time of our birth, affords us a basis for our hope that our children who die in infancy will not be lost. And, in the fourth place, that in view of the uncertainty whether the children born to us will die in infancy or in later life, thepossibility of such a work of grace in the soul of our child must be accepted with respect to all of our children. And, in the fifth place, that therefore all children of believers are to be considered as being comprehended in the covenant of grace, not only in appearance but in reality.” (E Voto, III, 11, 12)
Kuyper writes further:
“The sacrament of Holy Baptism, therefore, belongs to every one of the elect who has received the beginning of the new life in his heart through the hidden operation of the Holy Spirit. This is our first proposition. And the second follows upon it, namely that God the Lord is able, by His sovereign power, to work this beginning of the new life, or regeneration, by His Holy Spirit as well in the non-adult as in the adult, and even in the very smallest infant; and, considering that half of mankind dies in infancy or early childhood, that God very really has worked and still works thus. Baptism, therefore, where regeneration is present; and regeneration is conceivable as well in the newborn infant as in the old man of eighty years. And to these two, now, we add a third proposition, namely: Neither in the case of the adult nor in the case of the infant does the church, which must administer Holy Baptism, ever possess the absolute certainty that the person who presents himself or who is presented for baptism is indeed regenerated. Farther than to a surmise, a guess, a presupposition the church never attains.”
Such is the doctrine of so-called presupposed regeneration. It wants to consider all the children of believers as regenerated on the basis of a presupposition. And precisely on the ground of such a presupposition it wants to administer Holy Baptism to the little children of believers. Where this cannot be presupposed, there, according to this view, baptism also may not be administered.