“I am a stranger here, dependent on Thy grace, A pilgrim as my fathers were, with no abiding p1ace.”
With this confession the Christian pilgrim sojourns through the present wilderness of sin in quest of the heavenly Canaan. In his journey he pauses on three significant occasions to make a vow unto Jehovah. Oh, to be sure, the child of God in the course of his earthly life makes more vows than three. His life is a continuous pledge of obedience and love to God; and even as the mercies of God are renewed upon him each morning, so with the beginning of every day does God’s child promise anew to walk in His ways and to seek Him with all his heart. But we spoke last time of three specific vows which are normally taken and which must be singled out and given special attention and emphasis.
When the child of God reaches the years of discretion he arrives at the consciousness of his faith in God. Realizing that he is not his own, but belongs with body and soul to his faithful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who has purchased him with His own blood, he cannot refrain from confessing this. In making this good confession he vows unto Jehovah, among other things, that he will “reject all heresies repugnant to the true and complete doctrine of salvation and will lead a new, godly life.” This is a step of serious consequence, for its effect is unavoidably felt every step of his way.
The next milestone is that of marriage. Marrying in the Lord the believing young man and woman vow to Jehovah “to live holily . . . keeping faith and truth in all things according to the holy gospel.” Once more we have to do with a vow of most profound significance because only through its performance can the marriage relation reflect the beauty of the union of Christ and His church and be a means through which God Himself furthers His cause by the propagation of the seed of His covenant.
When then that seed is brought forth, believing parents present their children in baptism. They speak the vow of baptism not as a custom or superstition but in the acute awareness that baptism is God’s ordinance. Sincerely they promise “to instruct and bring up their children in the true and perfect doctrine of salvation, or help or cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of their power.”
This last mentioned vow is our primary concern at present since we are discussing the Baptism Form. However, before discussing its content we must underscore the seriousness of all three of these vows. In a sense they stand on a par. It is the conviction of this writer that willful violation of any one of them is a serious sin that is punishable by the discipline and ultimate excommunication of the church of Christ. It is impossible to violate our vows with impunity. And it seems to me that one cannot make a distinction between the three aforementioned vows as though it is not quite as necessary to keep the one as it is to keep the other. When one then violates his confessional vow and instead of leading a godly life, walks in sin and pursues the vanities and corruptions of the world, he is necessarily made the object of special consistorial labor. He is admonished, and, if there is no amendment of life, disciplined and excommunicated. Likewise when one violates the holy relation of marriage and practices infidelity or follows the course of the world and obtains a divorce, the church does not hesitate to excommunicate such an impenitent covenant breaker from her fellowship. The violation of these sacred vows is indeed a very serious offence. So also it is with the vow of baptism. Willful neglect or obstinate refusal to walk in the way of that vow is sin and must be so regarded by the church. One cannot participate with a blessing in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper while walking in willful neglect or violation of the sacrament of Baptism. By such practices “the covenant of God would be profaned, and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation; therefore it is the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and His apostles, to exclude such persons, by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, till they show amendment of life.”(Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 82)
The church must be careful that she does not measure with a double measure. She cannot discipline the man who divorces his wife while she leaves the man undisciplined who neglects the instruction of his children or gives them to be instructed contrary to his vow when it is within his power to do otherwise. Neither may the man who is a drunkard and thief be disciplined while he who divorces his wife is given an honorary place in the church. Such inconsistent practices negate the spiritual power of discipline, and the church that looses this has lost one of her distinguishing marks. She is on the way of decline; and unless a remedy is instituted, this degeneration will ultimately bring her to ruin. The Lord cannot be mocked, and the passages of His Word we cited last time show clearly His unchanging attitude toward the broken vow. The true and faithful church, therefore, will without compromise or hesitancy enforce the Word and will of Christ, her head, expressed in the text: “Pay unto the Lord thy vows.”
Parents must realize the serious implications of their baptismal vows when they are asked before the church to answer sincerely to three questions. Those questions are:
“First: Whether you acknowledge, that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His Church ought to be baptized?
“Secondly: Whether you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian Church, to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation?
“Thirdly: Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to years of discretion, instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?” The first two questions here are in effect confessions.
The first of these pertains to the right of the children to receive baptism. Parents confess that these children in themselves do not have this right, for they are conceived and born in sin. They acknowledge that their children are by nature totally depraved from the moment of their birth and, therefore, are subject to all miseries, even to final condemnation. In ourselves both we and our children have only one right, the right to perish if it may be so-called. This we deserve and can lay claim on nothing more.
However, in this first question the confession is also made that our children “are sanctified in Christ, and therefore as members of His Church, ought to be baptized.” The phrase “sanctified in Christ” has given rise to much criticism and controversy in the Reformed Churches in the past. Especially was this so when the church became lax in discipline and everybody could have their children baptized. It stands to reason that under such conditions the more serious could no longer take these words on their lips with respect to the children that were received by baptism into the church. Consequently attempts were made to change this expression. Some read instead of “are sanctified,” “ought to be sanctified.” Others changed it into something that is very similar: “must be sanctified yet,” or simply into “as being sanctified.” Still others inserted “can be” for “are,” or even “probably are.” All these attempts show plainly that in the Reformed Churches they certainly did not believe that the infants that are baptized are in fact already sanctified in Christ.
Although these words have never been eliminated or changed in the form, there are those even today who give to them different interpretations. There is the interpretation that these words refer to a certain covenant, or external holiness, whatever this may be. This interpretation seems quite impossible however in view of the fact that the term “in Christ” is very definite. The children, according to this first question, are said to be sanctified in Christ. That cannot be an external sanctification, even though it may be that those who prefer this interpretation can quote texts like Hebrews 6 or 10 in support of their view. However, if such were the intended meaning, it seems to me that the words “in Christ” would have been omitted here. It would have been sufficient then simply to acknowledge that our children have been sanctified, that is, set apart, separated.
Others claim that the words in question refer to a presupposed regeneration or sanctification. In this case the term “sanctified in Christ” refers to real holiness or real sanctification. Those that prefer this view also apply it to every individual child that is baptized. Nevertheless, admittedly this is based on a supposition that the child belongs to the elect; and this; they say we can never know or be sure of until the child grows up and comes to years of discretion and reveals that Christ is in him. The big fallacy of this view lies in the fact that the presupposition cannot be supported from the Word of. God. In fact, the Word of God teaches the very opposite when in Romans 9 it instructs us in the truth that “not all is Israel which are of Israel” and “they which are children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Hence, we may not presuppose to be true what the Word of God plainly tells us is not true; and we know that the line of sovereign election and reprobation cuts right through the generations of God’s people in this world.
Properly, therefore, we must apply the organic conception to the words of this question as we must also do with the entire Baptism Form. The doctrinal part, the prayers, the thanksgiving, the questions can never be understood unless we apply to them the organic idea. The church organically and in its entirety is designated as being “sanctified in Christ.” But just as in John 15 the Lord pictures that church as the vine from which many branches are cut off and burned, yet the vine itself remains a living vine, so: the church in Christ remains as a sanctified organism even though many members fall away and reveal themselves as ungodly and reprobate. The church, together with the parents, does not then make any confession or statement in this first question respecting each individual child that is baptized. This she cannot do. Neither is she called upon to do so. She is called upon to confess her faith, and that faith has its basis in and derives its content from the Word of God. The church can say no more than the Word of God, and she dare not say anything contrary to that Word. In this question, then, the church confesses that God gathers His children out of the generations of His people and that this seed of His people, though conceived and born in sin and worthy only of condemnation, He “sanctified in Christ.” And whereas we cannot distinguish among these children which are and which are not of that spiritual seed, all of them as members of His church in the midst of this world ought to receive the sign of baptism. This is in accord too with the command of God in the old dispensation that all the natural seed of Abraham, including even his servants, were to receive the sign of circumcision. Merely receiving the sign did not mean they were all in the covenant, and neither did the fact that some were not abrogate the faith of the church that God maintains His covenant in the line of these generations.
The next two questions we will, D.V., continue to discuss in following articles.