Finally, we must note the fact that God continues His covenant, both in the old and in the new dispensation, in the line of continued generations. The Reformed symbols emphasize the fact that infants as well as adults are included in the covenant and church of God. But the question arises nevertheless: how are infants included from their very birth in the covenant of God? And the answer is that God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations. This is the ultimate ground for the baptism of infants. It is the will of God, plainly revealed in Holy Scripture, that the seed of Abraham, which is the same throughout the ages, shall receive the sign of the righteousness which is by faith, and that too, in their generations.
That indeed God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations is the plain truth revealed in all of Scripture, and is verified in all the history of the church of God in the world from the very beginning. Always God establishes His covenant organically, in the line of continued generations. This is already evident from the protevangel in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This is clear from the establishment of the covenant with Noah: “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.” Genesis 9:9. The same truth is expressed in Genesis 17:7: “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.” Besides, this is evident from the entire historical line of the development of the covenant. For the line of God’s covenant runs in the line of successive generations from Seth to Noah, from Shem to Abraham, from Abraham to Israel, from Israel to Christ. And even in the new dispensation it is very plain that God has His people in the line of continued generations. Hence, the apostle Peter can preach on the day of Pentecost: “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.” Acts 2:39. Only in this light can it be understood that we read repeatedly in the Scriptures that houses were baptized. Thus we read in Acts 16:33: “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.” Thus Paul writes to the church in Corinth, I Corinthians 1:13-16: “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?. I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other,” It does not make any difference, as far as I am concerned, whether or not you maintain that there were little children in those houses: the fact remains, nevertheless, that houses, families, were baptized. It is the organic idea of the covenant, running in the line of continued generations, that is taught here. This, therefore, is true in the old dispensation, but also in the new.
This does not mean, of course, that all the children that are born under the dispensation of the covenant are real spiritual children of God. No one in the Reformed churches teaches this. Nevertheless, there is and has always been difference of opinion in regard to the question who are really in the covenant, and how we must view the children that are baptized.
Some teach that the baptism of infants is based upon their presupposed, or presumptive, regeneration. We must suppose that infants are regenerated: and therefore they ought to be baptized. Even Ursinus, in his “Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism,” seems to suggest this doctrine. Writes he: “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 regenerate 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. (Luke 1:15; Jeremiah 1:5). 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 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, ‘Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me.’ Matthew 18:6. Inasmuch now as infants are fit subjects for baptism, they I do not profane it as the Anabaptists wickedly affirm.” Evidently Ursinus here bases infant baptism on the presumption of regeneration in the children of the covenant. With this idea of presumptive regeneration as a basis for infant baptism we do not and cannot agree. We do not deny that infants can be regenerated, or that it is possible for them to have the faculty, or power, of faith.