This statement, as you will all realize, is taken from the first of the three questions to which the parents must answer affirmatively, when they seek to have their child baptized. The parents are asked whether they acknowledge that, although their children are born in sin, are nevertheless, sanctified in Christ. This statement of question and its corresponding answer is based chiefly upon a passage from God’s Word, found in I Cor. 7:14, Let me quote that text in this connection: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband (brother, perhaps) else were your children unclean but now ARE THEY HOLY.”
The matter of our children being sanctified in Christ is one which has evoked much difference of opinion the more in connection in which it is used in our Baptism Form. I am aware of the fact that I Cor. 14 is not used as a ground for infant baptism until one comes to the days of John Calvin (H. Browne, 39 Arts. Art 27 and Dr. Bavinck (IV, p. 506) states, “In I Cor. 7:14 Paul is not thinking about infant baptism nor on anything which must serve as a basis therefore,” but nevertheless it is evident from the long list of divines who wrote about this, as well as from our own Baptism Form that 1 Cor. 7:14 involves us in the very things which lie at the root of our baptism and our covenant conception. It might be said to be the very heart of it.
We would not want to, of course, but even then, it is too late to inquire whether the seed of believing parents is holy, the parents have answered yes to that for countless years already, and we will by the grace of God continue to answer yes thereto.
But we involve ourselves in an ocean of contradicting expositions if we proceed now to ask: what did we mean when we, with infant in arms pledged faith that our seed was sanctified in Christ? What did we mean? What does it mean that our children are holy? If we ask this and turn to those gone before for solution we find that we run into a veritable storm of dissenting opinions. In the main lines we find some agreement between the expositors, but in details I doubt whether there are even two who could be said to agree. No matter therefore which view we champion, we must not become smugly complacent, we shall have to be able to answer questions and give good account of ourselves.
I shall not trouble you with the out and out Arminian and Baptist views about this matter.
Maybe, briefly, we could classify the leading views of reformed interpreters and thus come to some understanding of what others have said about this particular matter.
There is first the view that we must “consider,” “count,” or “hold them to be” holy. Whether they really ARE holy is something we cannot and dare not say, but we may HOLD THEM to be holy. We do not say of all our children that they ARE holy we only confess that we conceive of them as holy, and on the basis of that we baptize them and later we educate them. Calvin, although not distinct on these things, frequently speaks of “De kinderen, ddwelke met recht voor leden van de kerk gehouden worden” (Inst. IV, 16, 22) and again he says: “Zoo in het Nieuwe Testament worden de kinderen der christenen heilig geacht” (Inst. IV. 16, 6). Dr. Vander Groe (Heraut, No. 3006) emphasizes that it refers to all children of believers and then states “dat ze voor bondelingen gehouden worden” (I underscore). The Utrechtsche Conelusies combined the various views and said, “Naar het oordeel der liefde hebben wij onze kinderen to houden in Christus geheiligd, totdat het tegenovergesteld blijkt” (Heraut, No. 3039). Along this same line T. Bos in his book: Bondzegelen (p. 171) as well as Dr. Bavinck (Dog. IV, p. 507) explain the issue. From all these we notice that the view is, not that the children ARE holy (we cannot be sure of this until later in life), but that we are to account them holy and wait until later in life to see who really were and who were not.
We can easily see how men come to this view. It is an attempted escape from a great difficulty. But, with all respect for their serious attempts to escape one difficulty I feel that they have brought us into a difficulty which is equally as great. If all we have is that we “hold them to be holy”, we have little ground for rejoicing in the sure promises anent baptism. Besides, I Cor. 7:14 does not allow us to “hold them to be holy” since Paul tells us very definitely that they are holy. Finally, on the basis of the two seeds (Rom. 9) one cannot well count ALL seed of believers holy without making reservations of silent denial.
The second category of expositions attaches itself to the question “What kind of holiness is this”? Calvin also had something to say about this, the holiness consisting chiefly in this that henceforth they are distinct from the heathen (Heid. Cat, Qu. 74) see (Inst. IV, 16, 22). If one held that every child born of believing parents were really sanctified, how then explain apostasy in later life? The late Prof. W. Heyns resolved this into a promise to all that the Holy Spirit WOULD (I capitalize) sanctify them; if they did not accept and believe, this holiness was not realized in them. Dr. Aalders in the Netherlands (remember de leergeschillen just previous to this war) held that this holiness pertained only to the elect and that the covenant really is only with the elect (Reformatie 39, 45, 355) and then he goes on to distinguish between “wezen” en “verschijning.” Dr. K. Schilder emphatically denied that and maintained that the covenant reaches further than the elect, that 1 Cor. 7:14 speaks of “Verbonsheilighed” that is covenant holiness, holiness by virtue of the covenant and not of personal salvation (Ref. 39, 46, 362-364). With an appeal to Dr. Bouwman and Rom. 11:16 he maintains that if the root is holy so are the branches. But holiness then in a federal not in a personal sense (Ref. 39, 46, 364). Along this same line Vander Vegt holds, “De gedoopte blijft kind Gods tot in de hel” (Ref. 39, 47, 371). Every baptized one is a child of God, in the federal sense no doubt. These then would interpret the term “sanctified in Christ” to refer to all the seed of believing parents but only in the federal sense. Thus K. Schilder comes to what he calls the “sancties” (sanctions) as well as the antithesis of covenant blessing and covenant-vengeance. Against this view also there is the fact, it seems to me, that one does not do justice to the term holiness as used in I Cor. 7:14 and the Form. With the same firm confession that our children are sanctified the parents also thank God that He has forgiven us and our children all our sins, and it would hardly do to apply the federal view to the one and the personal-salvatory to the other. Our Form puts the sanctified in Christ over against the lying under condemnation, thus, it is evident it seems to me that the confession implies something more than the federal, it wants to imply that our children are holy, escaped from curse and damnation.
The third view is the Organical interpretation, This view shares no categorical associates, sad to say. This is the view occurring in the book “De Geloovigen en hun Zaad” by the Rev. H. Hoeksema. He interprets it as being an organical holiness i.e., the whole bears the name of the elect nucleus (Page 67). Each baptized individual is not per se genuinely holy or sanctified or child of God but they are holy, all of them, because there is a nucleus of the elect there which IS holy through Christ. And now the honor of God’s Cause warrants not only but demands that the whole must be called by the name of its central part. This view is related (in certain specific aspects then) to those of Drs. Schilder, Bouwman and Vander Vegt, but it goes beyond them all in consistently maintaining that grace is particular, always particular, and that the holiness spoken of applies centrally and essentially to the elect seed and to none other. Others are called holy because of the organical relation they bear to the elect seed. This view has in its favor that it offers a consistent interpretation, removes even the semblance of a falling from grace and does full honor to the word “sanctified.” ‘It has in its favor also that it places us directly before the obligation of reckoning with or shunning the doctrine of election and reprobation.
What is this holiness then?
From I Cor. 7:14 various things are plain. (1) That this holiness stands opposed to uncleanness. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians all that which held contact with idolatry and the idolatrous world was unclean, but the children are holy, separate therefore from the unclean. And this must refer to the Levitical blood cleansing, realized in Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:22 etc.). (2) Paul argues that if only one of the parents be believers, it is enough, the children are holy. The faith-holiness bond is so strong that even if (as in Corinth) the partner in marriage be unbelieving, the children are holy. Paul found persons there who were married, of course, upon preaching there some were converted and others not. Shall they get a divorce? How about their children? lit is then Paul tells them that the bond of faith-holiness has been laid by Goa and guarantees holy seed. Again that this holiness means more than mere external separation. (3) The Baptism Form has seen correctly when it takes this holiness to be a holiness “IN Christ,” Not merely a federal, outward (Church versus world) holiness, but an inward holiness. The sanctified in Christ of I Cor. 1:2 I think includes the children which are holy in I Cor. 7:14. It is therefore essential and inward holiness as effected by the grace of God in Christ Jesus and His shed blood.
Then it evidently cannot refer to every child individually. For there are two seeds in our generation, The wicked coming up out of our generations also are holy but only in the sense that they are branches on an holy tree and one shall have to name the branches according to what the tree really is, not vice versa. Israel was an holy people but many thousands of them were unclean and unholy blasphemers. It is not all Israel that is called Israel, thus also it is not all holy which is called holy.
Hence then we may conclude that the elect seed, and it only, is holy indeed, and all our seed is named holy because of the presence of that holy seed in our generation. Rom. 9, the two seeds; Rom. 11, John 15 etc. bear out this thought, and experience bears it out no less. When the Great Judge makes His separation He says: “And YE are clean, but not all. . . .for He knew who should betray Him.” (John 13:10-11). So we say, with I Cor. 7:14 “ye are clean” that God has commanded us to do, and in His own time God will say “But not all.”
It remains yet to state that it is our duty as parents, not to curiously inquire into who might and who might not be holy, but it is our calling to treat our children as an holy heritage of God, And believing parents shall experience that proportionately as they treat their children as Holy seed, they shall see holy seed in their generation. . . .