The next part of our Baptism Form deals with the subject of infant baptisin. It must be mentioned in this connection that the purpose of this rubric is not to develop the doctrines that are mentioned in our liturgical forms. For the reader who is interested in such a development we may refer to the Standard Bearer rubric, “Our Doctrine,” where in recent issues, beginning with the February 15th issue, our editor, Rev. H. Hoeksema, has been treating this very subject. Furthermore, a very lucid, concise, but thorough defense of this doctrine may be found in the pamphlet entitled, “The Biblical Ground For The Baptism Of Infants,” and which may be obtained free of charge from the Sunday School of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Let it suffice then that we simply mention a few things in connection with this subject in our Baptism Form.
In the post-reformation era our forefathers had not only to struggle with the Roman Catholic hierarchy and to militate against many heresies as they developed the truths of Holy Writ; but they had within their own ranks those who entertained unsound views with respect to the matter of the place of children in the church. This, naturally, is determinative and fundamental with respect to the question of infant baptism. And contrary to the prevalent spirit of our times, which regards the question of infant baptism as rather minor and non-essential, the Reformed leaders in those days considered the position of the Anabaptists on this score a serious departure from the Word. It involved so many related teachings concerning the nature and transmission of sin and the character of God’s sovereign grace, that our fathers took up the challenge of the Anabaptists and in our Baptism Form we find a brief but vigorous defense of this truth.
The main arguments of those that deny infant baptism may be briefly stated: (1) There is in Scripture no direct command enjoining us to do so. (2) Scripture speaks of “believing and being baptized,” which indicates that faith must precede baptism. (3) Infants do not have experiential faith; and, therefore, they cannot be the subjects of baptism.
The authors of the Baptism Form delve immediately into the crux of the matter by announcing the main argument of the opposition. This is, “Our children do not understand these things.” The Reformed Churches do not dispute this claim as such but rather readily admit it. It cannot be denied that infants are not conscious of and do not know the implications of the covenant of God, do not understand that God establishes His eternal covenant with us, that they are washed in the blood of Christ, that the Spirit dwells in them; neither do they understand anything of their part in the covenant.
But the conclusion which is drawn from this premise we heartily reject. Indeed, the argument at first glance seems to have some merit. Why should we baptize children who are entirely unaware of what is going on? Doesn’t this reduce incorporation into Christ and His church to a mere formality? Will not such a practice inevitably continue the superstitious notions and customs of the Romish Church from which the Reformers sought to deliver believers? The opponents apparently had strong logic on their side and they used it relentlessly but the trouble is that their logic is faulty. The argument that because children do not know anything about the sacrament of baptism, they are not to receive it might have some validity if it were also true that the reception of baptism and all that it implies were dependent upon the conscious reception of those that receive baptism. And this certainly is not the case.
Our Baptism Form argues that even though our infants lack understanding of these things, “we may not therefore exclude them from baptism.” These children are not to be baptized because they have understanding, and neither are they to be excluded because they lack understanding. The question ofknowledge has nothing to do with it. The matter is much deeper than this. The view of the opponents of infant baptism leads to an unbiblical individualism and denies the important Scriptural truth concerning the organic and corporate unity or oneness of the human race. On the basis of that truth the Baptism Form argues in defense of the practice of infant baptism. And that argument, as Rev. H. Hoeksema presents it in his “Liturgies” runs as follows:
“The reply is:
“a. That without their knowledge they are partakers of the condemnation in Adam. If it is true that the grace of God signified and sealed in the sacrament of baptism cannot be received by the smallest infant, it must follow, as the Baptism Form argues, that also the doctrine of original sin must be rejected, and. can never be maintained. Certainly, our children are conceived and born in sm. They are guilty and corrupt from their very birth on, according to Scripture. Sin and guilt, corruption and death, develop in the line of continued generations. If that is so (and it certainly is . . . see Romans 5:12-18), then certainly there can be no objection, from this point of view and on this ground, to the fact that infants receive the sacrament of baptism. Just as they do not know that they are conceived and born in sin, just as they are not conscious of the reality of original sin; so they are not conscious and heed not be conscious of the grace that is bestowed upon them in Christ Jesus. This is the first argument of the Baptism Form.
“b. Secondly the Baptism Form proves from Scripture that God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations. This is proven by a text fromGenesis 17:7 in the Old Testament, and a text from Acts 2:39in the New Testament.
“c. That Christ therefore blessed the little children.
“d. That baptism is come in the place of circumcision. This is not explained in the Form, but is taken as an established fact.”
Under three propositions the same author develops this ground of infant baptism in the pamphlet we mentioned before. With arguments based exclusively on the Scriptures he demonstrates the truth that:
“1. There is only one people of God, throughout the ages, both in the old and in the new dispensation: the true Israel, the seed of Abraham.
“2. Though differing in form, circumcision and baptism are essentially the same in meaning.
“3. It is the clearly revealed will of God that thegenerations of His people, whether they be among Jew or Gentile shall receive the sign of the covenant, circumcision as long as these generations of His people are among the Jews, baptism when these generations are among all nations, Jew and Gentile both.”
To deny these truths is very serious. The doctrine of infant baptism is not a minor vein in the body of truth but is a main artery. As one author put it, “To deny this doctrine is not a minor matter, an insignificant detail of the Christian faith. It lies at the very heart of the doctrine of God’s saving grace. It alone is the key which unlocks the mysteries of the awful plight of man and the redemptive power of God. As in Adam, . . . so in Christ!”
Furthermore the denial of the doctrine of covenantal representation, which lies at the very heart of the truth of infant baptism, leads to a tragic and hopeless position on another count. Those that uphold the individualist interpretation of Scripture must either deny the sinfulness or depravity of little children (clearly in opposition to the Bible), or they must deny the possibility of their salvation if they die in infancy. The Baptist position leads to a hopeless impasse.
In the light of the Word, however, we are not at an impasse. Our Baptism Form points first to the Scriptural truth that we and our children are in Adamand as such are partakers of the condemnation.” Dare this be denied? Let us then turn to the Word for instruction.
“For there is no man that sinneth not” (I Kings 8:46). “And enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight no living man is righteous” (Psalm 143:2). “There is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:10, 11). Plainly we are informed that all this must be traced back to Adam. “Therefore as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). And again that the guilt and pollution of this first transgression is transmitted to all is evident from I Cor. 15:22, “For as in Adam all die . . . . so are they again received unto grace in Christ.”
Here the Baptism Form points to the Scriptural fact that believers and their spiritual seed are by grace incorporated into Christ and made partakers of the benefit. This is not conditioned by their acceptance of the Christ or on their having knowledge of this incorporation. Not at all! “Without their knowledge . . . they are received unto grace in Christ.” It is the sovereign grace of God that has its motivation in His holy will and its basis in His irrevocable decree of election. Before the foundation of the world God has chosen them in Christ unto the adoption of children. It has been said that “Nowhere can we behold more clearly the sovereign character of God’s grace than in infant baptism.”
“To you,” says Peter, addressing believers on Pentecost, “and to your children and to all that are afar off even as many as the Lord our God shall call, is the promise.” Much has been written in late years about the promise and its significance and although the material is both relevant and valuable, we must for the, present pass it by. Suffice it to say that the promise of God is centrally Christ and in Him the whole of our salvation. All the benefits and riches of glory in Christ are efficaciously bestowed upon the heirs of the promise. And again, according to God’s, sovereign good pleasure, these heirs of the promise are found in the generations of His people, the believers. God establishes His covenant in the line of these generations; and although each one, head for head, is certainly not an heir because 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,” (Rom. 9:8), yet it is clearly the will of God that these generations be marked with the sign of His covenant, baptism!
Infant baptism is indeed a Scriptural practice. Its observance is mandatory and this must be done “not out of custom or superstition” but in the full consciousness of its importance, and then in sincerity and in truth.