On the other hand, there are in the Reformed churches those that must have nothing of presumptive regeneration as a basis for the baptism of infants, but who rather find the ground for infant baptism in the promise of the covenant. For this promise is: I will be your God and the God of your seed.
The motive of those that adhere to this theory is that they seek a certain assurance for all the children that are born of believing parents. They seek certainty. On the basis of a presupposition, or presumptive regeneration, there is no assurance possible, say they. According to those that hold the theory of presumptive regeneration the covenant is after all established only with the elect. One must therefore first know that he is elect, before he can have the assurance that he belongs to God’s covenant. The best one can do on this basis with respect to the covenant children is to presume or suppose that they are really in the covenant. There is no assurance. Hence, they reject this entire conception. They want no distinction between an external and in internal covenant or between being really and not really in the covenant. They refuse to speak of suppositions and presumptions, and they seek objective certainty. And this certainty with respect to the covenant of God they find in the promise: I will be your God and the God of your seed. This promise all the covenant children may accept. It is sure. It can never fail. On it they may rely. It is a sure basis of certainty and personal assurance of faith; and, at the same time, it is the only ground of infant baptism.
It is evident that according to the view of the latter the promise is for all that are born under the covenant, for all the children of believing parents, for all that are baptized. In the promise God bequeaths all the blessings of the covenant upon all that are baptized. He gives all the right to those blessings. One may say, therefore, to all the baptized children: You are really in the covenant; you have the right to accept the promise.
It stands to reason, however, that seeing that Scripture and experience both plainly teach that all the baptized children are not saved, the promise must necessarily be presented as conditional. It is contingent for its fulfillment upon the faith of those that are baptized. They are obliged to believe the promise, to fulfill their covenant obligations, their part of the covenant of God. If they fail in this, the blessings of the covenant do not actually come in their possession. Instead they fall under the terrible covenant wrath and vengeance of God.
With this view we also cannot possibly agree.
In the first place, let it be noted that it certainly does not establish the assurance of which it boasts, that is, the objective certainty that according to the promise of God all that are baptized are really in the covenant and have a God-given right to its blessings.
They speak of “a conditional promise”. And the condition upon which the, promise is contingent is faith and obedience. It is true that many Reformed theologians have presented erroneously, in my conviction, faith as a condition unto salvation and unto entering into the covenant of God. But even so, they emphasize that all “conditions” unto salvation are fulfilled by God Himself. If, therefore, we say that our actually receiving the blessings of the covenant is conditioned by faith on our part, we must hasten to add that God Himself gives us the faith. He Himself fulfills the condition. The fulfillment of the condition, that is, faith, is included in the promise. If, therefore, those that teach that the promise of God is for all the baptized children would be consistent they must come to the conclusion that all the baptized children are actually saved. To all God promises the blessings of the covenant. To all He promises His grace and Spirit. To all, therefore, He promises the lively faith whereby they become partakers of the blessings of the covenant. Th promise of God is sure. Hence, all the baptized children are surely saved. The sign and seal of this they receive in baptism. Hence, the inevitable conclusion must be that all the children that are born under the covenant are surely saved.
However, those who maintain this theory that the promise of God is for all realize very well, of course, that this position is untenable. They understand very well that Scripture plainly teaches that many that are born under the covenant are irretrievably lost. And besides, also experience teaches that many of the baptized children are not saved. Hence, they must inevitably come to the conclusion that a so-called conditional promise to all is a promise the condition of which the baptized children themselves must and are able to fulfill. This is the view of the late Prof. W. Heyns. He maintains that to every baptized child is given sufficient subjective grace to bring forth good fruits, which means, of course, the fruit of faith and repentance. Or rather we may say that according to him all covenant children receive sufficient grace either to accept or to reject their covenant obligations. Writes he in his, p. 144, 145: “There is therefore a subjective grace which a) is sufficient in connection with the spiritual labor through the means of grace to bring forth the good fruits of faith and obedience, so that God has the fullest right to expect these; b) which, however, does not exclude the possibility that the covenant child even in spite of the most excellent influences of the means of grace ( ) remains unfruitful, produces rotten grapes, and which therefore does not consist in definitely saving grace; c) which is not in conflict with the confession that the deepest ground of our salvation lies in the election of God and that salvation is entirely the work of God.” The distinction, therefore, according to Heyns, between baptized children and others, is that the former receive sufficient grace to accept the covenant, to bring forth fruits of faith and repentance, although they can still refuse to do this. This, however, is pure Arminianism and Pelagianism applied to the covenant. And of course, even with this view the desired certainty for all the children of the covenant is not attained. For in that case the covenant is made contingent upon the will of the sinner. And that means that ultimately it has become impossible of realization.
Besides, this view is in plain conflict with the teaching of our Baptism Form.
The expository part of that form establishes the whole of God’s covenant and all its benefits as absolutely sure unto the “children of the promise”. It is not conditional whatsoever. God’s part of the covenant is that He realizes it completely, both objectively and subjectively, both as to its objective establishment and as to its subjective application. God assures the “children of the promise” that He establishes His covenant with them, adopts them for His children and heirs, that He forgives all their sins and justifies them, that He delivers them and sanctifies them, that He preserves and glorifies them until they shall appear with all the elect in life eternal. This is not presented as a conditional promise, but is absolutely unconditional. Fact is, that if there were a condition attached to this, the covenant could never be realized. But God’s work is never conditional, and it is in no wise contingent upon the will and the work of man. The language of the Baptism Form is as positive and unconditional as it possibly could be. It is true that Heyns emphasizes the fact that in that expository part of the Baptism Form the Holy Spirit is presented as being willing to dwell in us and to apply to the children of the promise all the benefits of salvation. But whether this willingness of the Holy Spirit shall be realized depends upon the attitude of the covenant children themselves, upon their faith and obedience. But this is surely not the meaning of the Baptism Form. The mere fact that the future tense is used in connection with the work of the Holy Ghost (He will dwell in us) does no more make this work of the Holy Spirit contingent than when the same tense is used with respect to the work of the Father (He will provide us with every good thing). On the contrary, it merely denotes that God the Holy Spirit will surely fulfill this promise in the future, that is, in all our life, as well as in the present.
And therefore, we cannot accept the theory of a conditional promise for all the children that are baptized and that are living under the dispensation of the covenant.
The truth therefore is not that the ground of infant baptism is a certain presumptive regeneration. Nor is the ground that the promise of the covenant is for all that live under the dispensation of the covenant, which is plainly not true. But rather that the Scriptural ground for the baptism of infants lies in the fact that God establishes His covenant in the line of continued generations, while in those generations there are children of the promise, while at the same time among them there are also the carnal children that never receive the blessing of the promise and that trample under foot the covenant of God.
Thus it was in the old dispensation. At that time the covenant of God was confined within the limits of the nation of Israel. They formed one nation. They all lived under God’s dealings with His own. They were all delivered with a mighty arm from the house of bondage. They were all witnesses of God’s terrible wonders. They all passed through the sea. And they were all baptized into Moses. They all ate of the spiritual bread and drank out of the spiritual rock that followed them in the desert. They were the nation that received the law, to whom the Word of God was entrusted, whose were the prophets, the priests, the kings, the service of the temple, the altar and sacrifices. Yet with the majority of them God was not well-pleased. There were in the generations of the people of God of the old dispensation two seeds: the true children of the promise and the carnal children that despised God’s covenant and trampled under foot the holy things of the covenant of Jehovah, His Word and His precepts. Yet it was the will of God that all should receive the sign of circumcision, the seal of the righteousness which is by faith.
Nor is it different in the new dispensation. The church in the world is the gathering of confessing believers and their children. And they form one people, even though the course of God’s covenant is no longer confined to one single nation. And to this people God reveals His covenant. They are called after His name. And outwardly all that belong to them are subject to the same dealings. All are according to the will of God baptized in the name of God triune. To all the Word is preached. And all, unless they violate the covenant of God before they ever come to the confession of faith in the church, celebrate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ at the communion table. Yet also to the church of the new dispensation apply the words of: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Always there are in the line of the generations of the people of God the true spiritual seed. But there also develops always again the carnal seed, that live in close proximity and outward fellowship with the spiritual seed, dwell in the same house with the latter, are subject to the same influences as these, but are not children of the promise, and receive not the grace of God in their hearts.
And the significance of the presence of this carnal seed within the generations of the people of God is very evident, both from Scripture and from actual experience. Because of the perpetual presence of that carnal element in the church of Christ in the world, the church must fight here hardest battle in her own house and not on the mission field. For it is by this carnal element that the measure of iniquity is filled. And from the carnal seed the antichristian power is constantly developing, until the Man of Sin be revealed, the Son of Perdition, the culmination of all the forces of iniquity. It is in the carnal seed that sin becomes manifest in all its horror. They kill the prophets and stone them that are sent unto them. They crucify the Christ and always crucify Him anew. They bring forlh the false church. With them the children of the promise are engaged in continual spiritual warfare, until the days come in which there shall be great tribulation,—days in which the very elect would be deceived, if they were not shortened for their sake.
And thus it is according to the will of God revealed in His Word that the sign of baptism is to be administered to all the children that are born in the line of the generations of God’s people.
But while the sign and seal of the covenant is a savour of life for the children of the promise, it is at the same time a savour of death unto death for the reprobate, that trample under foot the covenant of Jehovah.
We must watch, therefore.
We must not say: We have Abraham to our father. All are not Israel that are of Israel. Neither are they children of God because they are of Abraham’s natural seed. Nor ever say that the Word of God has fallen out. For God certainly realizes His promise to all His people. His Word never fails.
But it is our calling, our sacred obligation, our responsibility before God, to walk as spiritual children of the covenant and keep our part of that covenant, namely, that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, cleave unto Him and trust in Him as the God of our salvation, forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.