The prayer that concludes the administration of the sacrament of Holy Baptism is a beautiful expression of thanksgiving that, with the exception of a single word, has been preserved for us in its original form. In about the middle of the prayer we find the phrase, “that Thou wilt be pleased always to govern these baptized children by Thy Holy Spirit.” The word “baptized” in this connection did not appear in the original prayer but was added later. Its omission or inclusion in the prayer does not in any way alter the prayer and therefore the matter is of minor significance. The prayer in its entirety is a beautiful and most appropriate thanksgiving.
Before we proceed to discuss the content of this prayer it must be observed that it is the church, organically considered, that is here giving thanks. To this church belong all believers and their spiritual seed. The church is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ, chosen in Him from before the foundation of the world, and therefore, according to God’s sovereign, elective and irrevocable purpose, is made the recipient of all the blessings of grace and salvation which are signified in baptism. For these blessings the church now gives thanks. She does not pray now that these blessings may become her possession, but rather she prays in this thanksgiving in the consciousness that all these things are already hers in Christ. This greatly enhances the beauty of the prayer.
Emphasis may be placed momentarily upon the fact that it is the whole church that is praying this prayer. This is not the prayer of the minister or of the parents who had their child baptized. Not at all. It is the prayer of the congregation. And this follows because it is the whole church that administers the sacrament, that is witness to all the bountiful blessings of God’s mercies set forth in the baptism, and that now breaks forth in thanks to God for these benefits which she, the congregation, has received. We do well to remember this. When the sacrament of baptism is administered, the members of the church are not to be passive onlookers, but they are rather actively to participate in the sacrament itself. The sacrament, our Belgic Confession teaches us, God has ordained for us, “thereby to seal unto us His promises, and to be pledges of the good will and grace of God toward us, and also to nourish and strengthen our faith. . . .”¹ This faith of the church is incited to activity through the celebration of baptism as well as in the Lord’s Supper; and this activity of faith is climaxed in the prayer of thanksgiving; for in this prayer the consciousness of her blessedness is expressed.
The prayer itself may be divided into two parts. The first part contains an enumeration of the blessings for which the church gives her thanks to God. In the second part the church addresses itself to a prayer in behalf of the children that have received baptism; and the substance of this prayer is that the Almighty God and Merciful Father is besought to apply through Christ and by the Holy Spirit all these blessings of the church unto these baptized children throughout the days of their life in the midst of the world. It is to be noticed that this second part of the prayer is not to be construed as though the church is now dealing with doubts and uncertainties; but rather these various petitions are based upon the same confidence that is expressed in the first part of the prayer. In this light the entire prayer is essentially the giving of thanks: for, based on the assurance of God’s merciful faithfulness, we direct our requests to Him, while already we are confident that with us and our children He will and does maintain His covenant. And, therefore, even as we ask Him “to govern these children. . . .etc.” we already give thanks that He does so, unto the end that His glorious Name may be magnified I and praised. Understanding the prayer of thanksgiving in this way, we wish to make a few comments yet on the two parts of this beautiful prayer.
In the following quotation from the Baptism Form we have the enumeration of those merciful bounties of God for which the church expresses thanks. “. . . .we thank and praise Thee, 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.” Concerning this we quote the following.
First, that only four specific blessings are mentioned here does not mean that the list could not be made much larger. On the contrary, it would not at all be difficult to add to this endlessly, for the merciful bounties of God are past counting. But the point is that we do not here attempt to “count our blessings, naming them one by one,” but in this prayer the basic blessings of salvation are mentioned in the awareness that all of our redemption and glorification is implied in these. Having these we are full.
Secondly, it is to be noted that all these blessings arespiritual and therefore intangible. We are oft times more than inclined to judge the love and favor of God toward us by earthly and visible standards. We count our blessings in terms of the abundance or lack of material things we possess. We judge that God’s blessing is upon the church when she grows numerically, enjoys peace and prosperity in the world, and makes herself outwardly an attractive organization. We forget that the trials and tribulations, struggles and battles, opposition, scorn and persecution, which the church toward which God is longsuffering is called to endure, are in reality the tokens of His bountiful loving kindness. For “it is given to you to suffer for Christ’s sake” and that is a blessing of grace.² Grace is not in things, but it is the favorable disposition of God toward His people in Christ and through which He endows them with the intangible riches of His Kingdom and sustains them through all their sufferings unto the glory which He has prepared for them and given unto them by promise.
In the third place, we observe that of the four blessings enumerated in the Baptism Form, the first is fundamental and basic to all the rest. The forgiveness of sins is implicit of our eternal justification. God has forgiven us and our children all our sins. Those of the past, present, and future are already blotted out through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. This is a wonderful assurance and certainly does not give those who possess it the license to walk in more sin, so that this forgiveness may be the more bountiful; but reality is that those who have the forgiveness of sin are also delivered from the power and dominion of sin and so do not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit. They are in Christ Jesus, and only by virtue of that union, are they the recipients of this grace from both its negative and positive viewpoints. Forgiveness does not simply mean that God does not charge us with sin; but it positively involves the sentence of acquittal, of justification. God declares that those whom He forgives are righteous, and on the basis of that righteousness alone they enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Fourthly, then, what follows in the prayer is the enumeration of this same blessing from the viewpoint of its application to the hearts of the saints and their subjective experience of it. They are received through the Holy Spirit as members of Christ. They are adopted into the family of God, and in the communion of that family they receive the confirmation of all the blessings of salvation through the sign and seal of baptism. By faith, the gift of God, we receive eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to understand and appropriate the blessings of God’s mercy. This is the joy and salvation of believers.
Finally, we may point out here yet that baptism is called a seal. A seal is a guarantee, an irrevocable pledge; and that which is sealed in holy baptism is not an arbitrary or conditional promise, which would be quite meaningless, but baptism seals unto us all the blessings of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. How appropriate, then, that having celebrated this sacrament the church renders praise and thanksgiving to her merciful Father for this manifestation of His goodness.
Concerning the last part of the baptismal prayer, which consists of a prayer for the baptized child or children, we read:
“We beseech Thee, through the same Son of Thy love, that Thou wilt be pleased always to govern these baptized children by Thy Holy Spirit, that they may be piously and religiously educated, increase and grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they then may acknowledge Thy Fatherly goodness and mercy, which Thou hast shown to them and us, and live in all righteousness, under our only Teacher, King and High Priest, Jesus Christ; and manfully fight against, and overcome sin, the devil and his whole dominion, to the end that they may eternally praise and magnify Thee, and Thy Son Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Ghost, the one only true God. Amen.”
One cannot fail to be impressed by the profound spiritual character of this prayer. It petitions the Triune God for that which is basically and fundamentally important for our children. It seeks that only which they and we really need. How different this often is with us. Even if we do not express it audibly in our prayers, we often do express our concern for the material comforts and temporal advancement of our children, while we providence small concern for their spiritual and eternal well-being. We are even ready to let the latter be sacrificed upon the altar of the former. Oh that we may be given to understand that the one thing. Our children need in this life is that pious and religious education, applied by the grace of God, so that they may know their calling to fight the powers of darkness and to live from the principle of the new obedience, as children of light in the midst of the darkness that is ever becoming increasingly dark. The prayer of baptism does not concern itself with the natural things but with the spiritual things. It asks God so to equip our children that they, with us, may “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness;” and for the rest, it leaves those things to God, knowing that they shall be added unto us according as we have need.³ No, God does not promise us houses, lands, money, position, and honor in the world; but He does assure His people that He will give them all they need to “praise and magnify Him eternally;” and with this we must learn to be satisfied.
The prayer indicates clearly that the believing fathers understood that life then will be a struggle. It will be a constant battle. Always and again, to the very end, we will have to fight, and we will have to teach our children to be fighters not with weapons of the flesh but with spiritual weapons. Let us never grow weary in this but remain vigilant and faithful even unto death.
The prayer of the church, then, proceeds from the faith that these children are regenerated and, therefore, have the principle of that new life in their hearts. Hence, the church does not pray “that they may receive forgiveness. . . . etc” or even that they may “be converted” but simply that the principle of this new life in them may be developed and brought to maturity. It is a God-centered prayer, for it means that the church expresses the sincere desire that God will continue and perpetuate His covenant with us and our children in the midst of a hostile world unto the end kid when all is done, the victory achieved, and the glory of that holy and righteous cause made manifest, the praise and honor will ascend eternally unto Him that sits upon the throne. For “of him and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever.”4
¹ Belgic Confession, Art. 33