James D. Slopsema is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
After setting forth the three principal parts of the doctrine of holy baptism, the Baptism form proceeds to establish the basis for infant baptism. It does so in the following paragraphs.
And although our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, for as they are without their knowledge, partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ; as God speaketh unto Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and therefore unto us and our children
saying, “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.” This also the Apostle Peter testifieth, with these words
“For the promise is unto you and your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Therefore God formerly commanded them to be circumcised, which was a seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness of faith; and therefore Christ also embraced them, laid his hands upon them and blessed them.
Since then baptism is come in the place of circumcision, therefore infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God, and of his covenant. And parents are in duty bound, further to instruct their children herein, when they shall arrive to years of discretion.
This section of the baptism form is obviously an answer to those who oppose the baptism of infants.
Infant baptism is opposed in our day by the Baptists. It is the position of the Baptist that only those who have come to a conscious, active faith in Jesus Christ may receive the sacrament of baptism. First one must come to the enjoyment of the washing away of his sins in Christ by faith; then, and only then, may he receive the sign and seal of that reality through baptism. This, of course, leaves no room for the baptism of infants.
This same position was held, even at the time of the Reformation, by the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists denied the validity of their baptism as infants and thus were baptized again as adults. For that reason they were called Anabaptists (“ana” meaning “again”). It was in response to these Anabaptists that the Baptism form at this point not only defends the practice of baptizing infants of believers, but also insists upon it.
To demonstrate the validity of infant baptism the baptism form first of all shows that even as our children are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again without their knowledge received unto grace in Christ.
According to this part of the form, our children are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam. And this is certainly the case. Adam stood in the garden of Eden as the representative head of the whole human race. When therefore Adam sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit, all mankind sinned. The whole human race that would eventually develop from the loins of Adam sinned in and through Adam and became guilty before God in Adam. Consequently, they all share in the condemnation of that original sin. This certainly is the teaching of the Word of God in Romans 5:12: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” All this also includes our children. They are all partakers of the condemnation in Adam long before they were ever born, and therefore long before they can ever come to know these things.
But now the baptism form goes on to say that in like manner our children are also without their knowledge received unto grace in Christ.
We ought to notice that there is a twofold assertion made here. First, the form is saying that children can be received unto grace in Jesus Christ without their knowledge. In other words, children can be the objects and recipients of God’s saving grace in Christ without their even knowing it. Secondly, however, the form is also saying here that this is the case with children of believing parents.
In Genesis 17:7 God says to Abraham, “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.”
As we discuss this particular passage we must bear in mind that the covenant God promises to establish with Abraham and his seed embraces all peoples. It is not true, as the Baptist of our day claims, that this covenant with Abraham is limited to the natural descendants of Abraham, the Jews. It is certainly true that this was by and large the case in the old dispensation, God’s covenant was limited to the nation of Israel. However, in the new dispensation this covenant has been broadened to embrace all nations. Belonging to this covenant are all those who believe in Jesus Christ, whether they be Jew or Gentile.
The baptism form suggests this when it calls Abraham “the father of all the faithful.” This expression is no doubt based on Romans 4:11 where we read that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised.” In verse 16 of this same chapter we read that Abraham is the “father of us all.” This certainly indicates, does it not, that all those who believe, whether Jew or Gentile, have Abraham as their father. And if Abraham is their father, then they in turn are the seed of Abraham, with whom God has established His eternal covenant of grace. This same truth is beautifully set forth in Galatians 3:7-9: “‘Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” In addition to this we read in verse 29 of this same chapter, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” Certainly, therefore, the baptism form properly identifies Abraham as the father of all the faithful. And by that expression it expresses the truth that all those who believe in Jesus Christ are the true seed of Abraham with whom God has established His eternal covenant of grace.
Secondly, we learn from the promise of God to Abraham in Genesis 17:7 that also the children of believers are included in God’s covenant. For God promises to establish His covenant with Abraham and his seed in their generations. This means that not only was Abraham included in this covenant but also his seed, his children. And, according to the promise of God, this would continue from generation to generation. God’s covenant of grace would continue throughout the generations of Abraham. From this we certainly may conclude that God’s covenant is with believers and their seed. For when one comes to faith in Jesus Christ he manifests himself to be a true seed of Abraham. And as a true seed of Abraham he has this promise of God, that God will continue His covenant in his generations. The covenant of grace is not only with him as a believer but also with his children.
Now this does not mean that all children of believers are true members of the covenant and therefore recipients of Gods grace in Jesus Christ. The Word of God makes this very clear in Romans 9:6-8, “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.” On the basis of this and other like passages we are able to distinguish a twofold seed born into the sphere of the covenant. Born to believing parents is first an elect, spiritual seed. These are truly members of the covenant of grace, and even as children are the objects and recipients of God’s saving grace. However, also born to believing parents is a carnal, reprobate seed. These are members of the covenant only in an outward and formal sense. They are not as children, nor will they ever be, recipients of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Truly, they are not all Israel that are of Israel.
It’s in this sense that we understand the baptism form when it says that our children even without their knowledge are received unto grace in Christ. This is not true of all our children. It certainly is not true of the carnal seed which we as believing parents bring forth. However, God does give to us a spiritual seed with whom He also establishes His eternal covenant of grace. Even as children they are recipients of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ, long before they have any knowledge of these things.
In harmony with all this is the second passage cited by the baptism form: Acts 2:39, This passage places us in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church. This becomes the occasion for Peter to preach a most wonderful sermon. He informs the crowds that have gathered in amazement that what they have seen and heard is all the work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth Whom they had just crucified but Whom God had raised from the dead and exalted into glory. And when those who are pricked in their hearts ask what they must do, Peter responds that they must repent and believe, “for 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.”
Notice that Peter speaks here of the promise. This is the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ, the promise given by God in His covenant, the promise sealed in baptism. This promise is first to those who responded positively to the gospel and thereby showed the beginning of God’s work of grace in their hearts. But that promise is also to their children. Here again we have the principle that God’s grace and salvation is for believers and their seed.
Certainly, therefore, we as believing parents may say without any hesitation that whereas our children are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again without their knowledge received unto grace in Christ.
In our next article we will see from the baptism form how this requires the baptism of our children.