Redemption from sin by the blood of Christand the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to infants no less than to the adults.
Thus the Declaration of Principles quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 74.
Attend, please, closely to the meaning of these words, and you will surely acknowledge that the promise is not conditional and cannot possibly be.
What is meant, in these words by the promise?
Is it a prediction of what God will do in the future?
The answer is, and must be, negative.
For, first of all, it is a distortion of the term to say: a promise is a prediction. The promise, of course, include a prediction and often does. Thus it is with respect to the promise of the first coming of Christ as well as with “the promise of His coming” the second time. But even then, the main idea is not a prediction, but a promise, a pledge, an oath of God that He will surely save His people, and, therefore, is vowed only to the elect. The destruction of Jerusalem is also a prediction, so is the destruction of Babylon, but this surely cannot be called a promise to those cities. A promise, therefore, though it may be predicted as to its certain fulfillment, can never be called a prediction.
And that the promise is, indeed, an oath of God to lead the elect infallibly unto salvation is taught us in so many words in Heb. 6:16-18: “For men verily swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”
Secondly, that the promise meant in question and answer 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism cannot refer to a prediction of what God will do in the future, but is a pledge of God that He surely will fulfill His promise and that, too, unconditionally, is evident from the fact that, in this answer, the promise is said to be for infants no less than for the adults.
Now, in the first place, many of those little children die in infancy, and if the promise is a prediction, the fulfillment of which must wait until those that are comprehended in the covenant of God come to years of discretion and are in a position to fulfill the conditions, it certainly has no meaning for them.
But, secondly, it lies in the very nature of the covenant dispensation that God fulfills His promise of salvation in the majority, yea, in by far the majority of them, in infancy, before there can be any question of conditions. I say that this lies in the very nature of the Covenant dispensation. Why should God place His covenant children in the sphere of His Covenant, where the Word of God has its influence, where the child is brought into contact with the promise of the gospel, where the operations of the Holy Spirit, are dominant, I say, why should God place His children in that sphere for the first few years of their life, in fact, until they can fulfill conditions, as dead children? I say, therefore, that it lies in the nature of the covenant dispensation, that God fulfills His promise, in by far the majority of cases, in infancy. In infancy He gives them His Holy Spirit, in infancy He regenerates them and implants into their heart the power, the faculty of faith, in order that from infancy they may be under the saving influence of the Holy Spirit and the gospel, in the sphere of the covenant. The promise is, therefore, not a prediction of what God will do in some future time, but an oath of God, an immutable pledge that He will lead the elect infallibly to salvation.
Besides, this is also a matter of general experience in the covenant of God. You ask any normal covenant child that belongs to the children of the promise, when he comes to years of discretion, whether he is conscious of any particular moment or time in his life when he was converted, or when he began to believe in the God of his salvation, and he will reply in the negative. But you ask him whether he believes that he is converted, and whether he has a sincere desire to walk in the way of God’s covenant, he will just as surely answer positively. In other words, his experience is that God fulfilled His promise unto him all his life long, even before he was conscious of it, and surely before he could fulfill any conditions. It is, therefore, quite contrary to the general experience of normal covenant children to say that the promise of God is a prediction which God will fulfill in some future time, when the covenant child comes to years of discretion, and when he is capable of fulfilling conditions.
And what is the contents of the promise according to’ the 74th answer of the Heidelberg Catechism? It is “redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith.” Also this shows very clearly that the promise is unconditional, and that faith is not a condition in order to obtain the promise. It might conceivably be said that the promise is conditioned by faith, if it included only the redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, although even this is not true. But now the promise is said to include also the Holy Ghost as the author of faith, the very possibility of presenting faith as a condition to receive the realization of the promise is ruled out. For what is first: the effect or the cause? You answer: the cause. What is first: the author or that which he works? You say: the author. Very well. It follows: 1. that the promise includes the gift of the Holy Ghost; 2. that the promise includes the gift of faith; 3. that faith is the fruit of the realization of the promise, and cannot be a condition for receiving the promise. It is a means, a God-given means, whereby we may and do lay hold on all the blessings of salvation included in the promise of God. Faith cannot be a condition to receive faith.
That faith is nothing but an instrument or means whereby God brings us into saving contact with all the benefits of Christ, is the language of our Confessions throughout.
It is safe to adhere to the plain language of our confessions rather than to introduce all kinds of questionable innovations.
That God actually fulfills His promise of the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, to children as well as to adults, and that, therefore, little children have the faith before they can hear the preaching of the gospel, and before they can fulfill any conditions, is also the conviction of Ursinus, one of the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, who, in his exposition of question and answer 74, writes as follows:
“But, say our opponents, the church ought to be satisfied with the profession of faith. This we admit, and we would add, that to be born in the church, is, to infants, the same thing as a profession of faith. Faith is, indeed, necessary to the use of baptism with this distinction. Actual faith is required in adults, and an inclination to faith in infants. There are, therefore, four terms in this syllogism, or there is a fallacy in understanding that as spoken particularly, which must be understood generally. Those who do not believe, that is, who have no faith at all, neither by profession nor by inclination, are not to be baptized. But those who are born of believing parents have faith as to inclination. We also deny the minor proposition; for infants do believe after their manner, or according to the condition of their age; they have an inclination to faith. Faith is in infants potentially and by inclination, although not actually as in adults. For, as infants born of ungodly parents who are without the church, have no actual wickedness, but only an inclination thereto, so those who are born of godly parents have no actual holiness, but only an inclination to it; not according to nature, but according to the grace of the covenant. And still further: infants have the Holy Ghost, and are regenerated by him. John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb, and Jeremiah is said to have been sanctified before he came out of the womb. (them with everything that is requisite for their baptism, according to the declaration of Peter. ‘Can any man forbid water to them who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?’ It is for this reason that Christ enumerates little children among those that believe, saying, ‘Who shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me.’ ( ) In as much now as infants are fit subjects for baptism, they do not profane it as the Anabaptists wickedly affirm.”, ) If infants now have the Holy Ghost, he certainly works in them regeneration, good inclinations, new desires, and such other things as are necessary for their salvation, or he at least supplies
The Declaration, therefore, is perfectly correct, and stands entirely on the basis of the confession, when it states that “the promise is infallible and unconditional, and therefore only for the elect.”
The Declaration continues:
“The same is taught in the Netherland Confession, Articles 38-35. In Article 33 we read:
“We believe that our gracious God, on account of our weakness and infirmities hath ordained the sacraments for us, thereby to seal unto us his promises, and also to be pledges of the good will and grace of God toward us, and also to nourish and strengthen our faith; which he hath joined to the Word of the gospel, the better to present to our senses, both that which he signifies to us by his Word, and that which he inwardly works in our hearts, thereby assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us. For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us the power of the Holy Ghost. Therefore the signs are not vain or insignificant, so as to deceive us. For Jesus Christ is the true object presented by them, without whom they would be of no moment.”
Now, notice in the first place, that this article of our Confession speaks of the sacraments in general, and, therefore, of baptism as well as of the Lord’s Supper.
Notice, in the second place, that both the sacraments, baptism as well as the Lord’s Supper, are said to nourish and strengthen our faith. They, therefore, are certainly for believers. Without faith, the sacraments, to be sure, are not vain, no more than the preaching of the Word is ever vain, but they have no saving efficacy. They are a savor of death unto death.
Notice, thirdly, that the sacraments are said to seal the promises of God. The question now is: what is implied in these promises of God. Do these promises, that are signified and sealed by the sacraments, only imply the objective salvation, redemption through the blood of Christ, or do they include the actual impartation of that salvation, regeneration, calling, faith, etc.? The latter, for the article plainly states that the sacraments also present to our senses “that which he inwardly works in our hearts, thereby assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us.”
In other words, the promise of God includes the gift of faith, and since faith is included in the promise, it cannot be a condition unto the promise. Moreover, since faith is wrought only in the elect, it is evident that the promise is not for all, nor for all the children that are born under the historical dispensation of the covenant, but for the elect alone.
God, therefore, fulfills His promise infallibly and unconditionally and in the elect only.
In article 34 of the same confession we read:
“We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law, hath made an end, by the shedding of his blood, of all other shedding of blood which men could or would make as a propitiation or satisfaction for sin: and that he, having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, hath instituted the sacrament of baptism instead thereof; by which we are received into the church of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions, that we may wholly belong to him, whose ensign and banner we bear; and which serves as a testimony to us that he will forever be our gracious God and Father. Therefore he has commanded all those, who are his, to be baptized with pure water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; thereby signifying to us, that as water washeth away the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is seen on the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him; so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerates us from children of wrath. Not that this is effected by the external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God; who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass, to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, that is the devil, and to enter into the spiritual land of Canaan. Therefore the ministers, on their part, administer the sacrament, and that which is visible, but our Lord giveth that which is signified by the sacrament, namely, the gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing, and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts, and filling them with all comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of his fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with his deeds.”
Now let us read this, first of all, in connection with what was said of the sacraments in general.
In the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 66 we read that the sacraments are visible signs and seals of the promise of the gospel. In the Netherland Confession we read that the sacraments seal unto us the promises of God.
Again the question is: what is the promise? What is included in the promise? Does it imply only the objective bequest of salvation, or does it include also the application of that salvation, including, therefore, the gift of faith, by the Holy Spirit?
Evidently, according to the above quoted article of the Confession, it includes everything, the whole of salvation. For the promise that is signified and sealed in the sacrament of baptism means that “the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, doth internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerates us from children of wrath, unto children of God.” It signifies, moreover, the promise of “the gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing, purging our souls from all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts, and filling them with all comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of his fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with all his deeds.”
All this is included in the promise of God.
The promise, therefore, includes faith.
And again I ask: How, then, can faith be a condition unto the promise? Is faith a condition for the gift of faith? Or is the act of believing a condition for regeneration? Is the act of faith a condition for God’s putting on us the new man and putting off the old man? All this is simply absurd. Hence, the promise of God is absolutely unconditional.
And by the same token, the promise of God is not for all, nor even for all that are born in the historical line of the covenant, but only for the spiritual seed, that is, for the elect.
That this is true is, besides, evident from the very wording of the above quoted articles.
Do not overlook the fact these articles are part of a confession of faith. And confessions are not made by unbelievers, or by the reprobate, but by believers, or by the elect. Now, that the believing Church speaks in these articles, that it speaks about the promises of God, and about these promises being sealed to them alone is very plain from the very wording of these articles. Throughout they use personal pronouns we, us, and our. God is our gracious God, He has ordained the sacraments on account of our weakness and infirmities, to seal unto us his promises, and to be pledges of His good will toward us, as well as to strengthen our faith. By the sacraments He presents to our senses that which He inwardly works in our hearts, and confirms in us the salvation which He imparts to us. By means of them He works in us the power of the Holy Ghost. By means of the sacrament of baptism we are received into the church of God, that we may wholly belong to Him. Baptism serves as a testimony to us that He will forever be our gracious God and Father, and it signifies that He regenerates us. In baptism our Lord giveth that which is signified by the sacrament, purging our souls from filth and unrighteousness, renewing our hearts, giving unto us a true assurance of his fatherly goodness, and putting on us the new man and putting off the old man with all his deeds.
Substitute for all these personal pronouns of the first person that of the third, or again, substitute for them the term “all, head for head”, or “all that are born in the historical line of the covenant”, and you will find that you corrupt the confessions. But substitute for them terms like “the believers,” or “the spiritual seed,” and, therefore, the elect, and you will preserve the truth of the confession, though, by doing so, you mar its personal note.
Hence, also from these parts of the Confession, it is evident that the promise of God is unconditional and only for the elect.
And, therefore, the Declaration continues:
“That all this, washing and cleansing and purging of our souls of all filth and unrighteousness, the renewal of our hearts, is only the fruit of the saving efficacy of the death of. Christ and therefore is only for the elect is very evident. The same is true of what we read in the same article of the baptism of infants: ‘And indeed Christ shed his blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful, than for the adult persons; and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that, which Christ hath done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law, that they should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ’s suffering and death, shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what circumcision was to the Jews, that baptism is to our children. And for this reason Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ.’ If, according to art. 8 of the Second Head of Doctrine, A, in the Canons, the saving efficacy of the death of Christ extends only to the elect, it follows that when in this article of the Netherland Confession it is stated that ‘Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for the adult person’, also here the reference is to the elect children.
“Moreover, that the promise of the gospel which God signifies and seals in the sacraments is not for all is also abundantly evident from Art. 35 of the same Netherland Confession, which speaks of the Holy supper, of our Lord Jesus Christ. For there we read: ‘we believe and confess, that our Savior Jesus Christ did ordain and institute the sacrament of the holy supper, to nourish and support those whom he hath already regenerated and incorporated into his family, which is his Church.’
“In the same article we read: ‘Further, though the sacraments are connected with the thing signified, nevertheless both are not received by all men: the ungodly receives the sacrament to his condemnation, but he doth not receive the truth of this sacrament. As Judas and Simon the sorcerer, both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it, of whom believers only are made partakers.’
“It follows from that that both the sacraments, as well as the preaching of the gospel, are a savor of death unto death for the reprobate, as well as a savor of life unto life for the elect. Hence, the promise of God, preached by the gospel, signified and sealed in both the sacraments, is not for all, but for the elect only.”
Thus teaches the Declaration.
There is more of this, but about this next time, D.V.