Thus far we have treated the expository part of our Baptism Form, discussing first the sacrament of baptism, and secondly the necessity of infant baptism. This brings us to the actual ritual, which deals with the administration of baptism to our covenant seed.
The Form reaches the conclusion: “Since then baptism is come in the place of circumcision, therefore infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant. And parents are in duty bound further to instruct their children herein, when they shall arrive to years of discretion.”
You will have noticed that it is said indiscriminately of all the children of believing parents that they must be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant. Later the Form speaks of “our children”, without any further distinction, as conceived and born in sin, “yet sanctified in Christ.” And in the prayer of thanksgiving we thank and praise God that He has forgiven us and our children all our sins and received us as members of Christ and adopted us to be His children; all of which is confirmed by baptism.
Here we again meet the ever-recurring problem, How is it possible for the church to speak so indiscriminately of all her children, knowing that not everyone is an heir of the kingdom of God and of His covenant, since all are not saved? Or the question could be put in this form, On what basis must all the children born in the scope of the covenant be baptized, even though all are not saved? And that raises the related question, What is the purpose and the effect of baptism on those who receive the sacrament?
There is by no means unanimity in the Reformed circles on the answer to these questions. Especially during the past fifty years this matter has aroused much discussion and disagreement, and today it has stirred up new interest by the recent split that took place in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands.
Especially two outstanding views should be mentioned in passing. There is the view of Dr. A. Kuyper, which bases the baptism of infants on a presupposed regeneration. According to this view, all the elect are regenerated at birth, and are baptized as already “sanctified in Christ”. Now in order to baptize all children born in the scope of the covenant, we must assume that this is true of each child that is baptized, even though we know that this is not always the case. Each child must be considered regenerated and sanctified in Christ, also as far as its covenant training is concerned, until, as it grows up, the opposite appears. Our main objection to this view is that we are baptizing on an assumption, and one that we know is not always true. We are shutting our eyes to the reality, and assuming ground for baptism. Nor does our Baptism Form speak as if it were merely assuming something, but is very positive throughout. It states that “holy baptism witnesseth and sealeth unto us the washing away of our sins.” And that this includes our children is plain, for it definitely adds that “infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant.” Again it says of those same children, that they are conceived and born in sin, yet that “they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore as members of His church ought to be baptized.” And in that same positive tone, denying every presumption, it gives thanks to God that “Thou hast forgiven us and our children all our sins through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism.”
Then there is the view of the late Prof. W. Heyns, which is plainly an attempt to apply the “free will” error to the sacrament of baptism. According to this view, God establishes His covenant with all who are baptized in the church. The covenant consists of a promise that God has established an eternal covenant of grace with them, has redeemed them and sanctified them in Christ, and is willing to dwell in them by His Spirit to bless them forever. This promise comes to all who are baptized. But it is conditional, contingent upon their acceptance. The promise comes to all, but only those who accept it in faith, and thereby fulfill their “part” or obligation in the covenant, are actually saved. Those who reject the promise are covenant breakers, and are therefore cast out.
This latter view is being defended in the Netherlands by the Schilder group, de Gereformeerde Kerken onderhoudende Art. 31 K.O. It is difficult to understand that these Liberated Churches do not see the implications of the free will error in this view, and that they should imagine that they can escape it. (For a more complete analysis of these different views be sure to read or reread the editorials appearing in the Standard Bearer during the past year, from October 15, 1945 to April 1, 1946.)
It must surely be maintained that God’s promises are never conditional, but are always yea and amen in Him. They can never be contingent upon God’s own fulfillment, for in that case the condition falls away, since all that God promises He will surely do. Nor can God’s promises be contingent upon the acceptance of man, for then they can never be realized. The latter is exactly the Pelagian error that has been introduced into the covenant doctrine by Prof. Hey ns. As we had occasion to notice in the past, this view is also in conflict with the Baptism Form itself. The Form very clearly states that “God’s part” in the covenant is that He accomplishes all from beginning to end, both in the establishment and realization of His covenant. It is all of God, that no flesh may glory. “God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that He doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us. . . . The Son sealeth unto us, that He doth wash us in His blood from all our sins. . . . The Holy Ghost assures us, that He will (not ‘is willing to’ if we will but allow Him; but positively will in the future) dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ.” Therefore the Form states definitely that our children are conceived and born in sin, yet are sanctified in Christ. This can only mean that by nature they are dead in trespasses and sin, but that God in His infinite mercy delivers them from the power and dominion of sin with an inner cleansing of the heart, even as it is signified by baptism. Therefore we can also thank God that He has forgiven us and our children all our sins, received us as members of His Son, adopted us to be His children, and sealed and confirmed the same to us and our children by holy baptism. Every condition simply disappears. The good work which God has begun He will also surely finish.
Over against both of these views our Protestant Reformed Churches hold what may be called the “organic view,” as developed in recent years by the Rev. H.
Hoeksema. To summarize this very briefly, I would present the following.
- It is an established fact, according to the Scripture, that God gathers His church in the line of continued generations throughout the history of this present world. This is evident, since God establishes His covenant in the line of generations. , “And 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 is also plain from the figure of the vine and the olive tree. ; .
- Therefore there is always a twofold seed within the scope of God’s covenant. There is a natural seed as well as a spiritual seed; chaff as well as wheat; carnal Israel as well as spiritual Israel. Though only the elect are included in the covenant, all for a time are under the covenant. This idea is on the foreground in the parable of the tares, where both the wheat and the tares grow up together in one field until the harvest, when the wheat is gathered into glory, but the tares are burned. . This same idea is found in the parable of the draw-net. The net sweeps through the sea of this world, wherever God sends it, gathering everything that comes before it, both good and bad, which remain together in the net until the final separation in the day of judgment. . Thus we also read in , “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them; and the rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” See also .
- According to the will and purpose of God, all must be baptized. This was true of circumcision in the old dispensation, for Esau was circumcised as well as Jacob. And this is likewise true of baptism in the new dispensation. All who are within the scope of the covenant must bear its mark, elect and reprobate alike. Which accounts for it that they receive the mark already in their infancy.
- This baptism, as also the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, has a twofold effect. It serves as a savor of life unto life for those who believe, but as a savor of death unto death for those who despise that which is holy. ; ; .
From this follows that baptism is of tremendous significance, not only for the child that is baptized, nor only for the parents who present their children for baptism, but also for the whole church which administers the sacrament to her covenant seed.
It has significance for the child, because God lays this mark of distinction upon his forehead already in his earliest infancy, which will always distinguish him from anyone born outside of the scope of the covenant. This mark takes on added significance as the child grows up. Either he will appropriate unto himself that sign of the covenant by a living faith, worked in his heart by the Holy Spirit, and will realize that it is God’s sovereign grace that has chosen him from eternity, saved him by the cross, and taken him into the family of the redeemed since his earliest infancy. Or, on the other hand, he will despise the holy things, as Esau did, and will bring greater condemnation upon himself, justifying God in His judgment.
It is also rich in significance for the parents, because it assures them that God gathers His church in the line of generations. Although we bring forth a natural seed, sold under sin, God takes out of our children the heirs of the world to come. God assures us that He will be our God and the God of our seed after us, so that His church will never perish from the earth until the end of time. And believing parents may rejoice that they in their small way are instrumental toward the ingathering of God’s church and the coming of His kingdom.
And it also has significance for the church. After all, it is the church who baptizes her covenant seed. Upon her rests the obligation and the privilege to lay the mark of the covenant upon the children God gives her. Each time baptism is administered the believers are reminded of the promises and blessings of God, unto the strengthening of their faith. Each time they are made conscious of their responsibility within the covenant, and spurred on to the new obedience. Each time the sacrament condemns all unfaithfulness and calls us to renew our vows before our God in the midst of His church.
Baptism, like the preaching of the Word, is a power of God unto salvation unto all who believe, for it is a means of grace.