Ques. 74. Are infants also to be baptized?
Ans. Yes; for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God: and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 27.
Reading this question and answer, we are immediately impressed by the similarity between this and our beautifully concise Baptism Form, which I consider to be the most beautiful of all our cherished Confessions. Both refer to God’s covenant at the basis for baptizing our children, pointing out that children as well as adults are included in God’s Covenant (Gen. 17:7,Acts 3:39), because they also are promised redemption from sin through the blood of Christ. Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of God’s covenant and was replaced by baptism in the New. Therefore children as well as adults must be baptized.
Both our Catechism and our Baptism Form stress thenecessity of baptizing our children. This is not left up to the whim or desire of the parents. Nor may this ever be done purely out of custom or superstition. But, as our Catechism expresses it, “Infants are to be baptized.” And our Baptism Form makes it even stronger. Parents “may not exclude them from baptism.” God also lays this necessity upon us in such a way that we count it a great privilege that we may baptize the children God entrusts to us.
In baptism, “God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that He doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us.” * This “us” includes both believers and their spiritual seed, according to the promise to Abraham, the father of believers in Genesis 17:7: “I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations.” That seed is the spiritual seed, that is, all those who belong to Christ as members of His body (Gal. 3:16, 29). God establishes His covenant with them in the line of generations. He assures them in His Word and by His Spirit in their hearts, as by an infallible oath, which can never fail, of that ever blessed, glorious promise: I will be a GOD unto you and to your seed after you. This promise is so rich that we shall never fully understand it until our perfection in the new creation.
But what right do I or any of my children have to be included in God’s covenant? The answer is that redemption from sin by the blood of Jesus Christ is promised to children as well as adults. As we stand at the baptismal font, or as we celebrate the sacrament of baptism in the congregation, we confess that “we and our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are children of wrath, in so much that we cannot enter into the kingdom of God except we are born again.” Every baptism service is a confession of our depravity, our sin, and our guilt, causing us “to loathe and humble ourselves before God, and to seek for our purification and salvation without ourselves.” Also our children “are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself.” Ephesians 2 comes to mind, testifying that we were dead in trespasses and sins, children of wrath, even as the rest of mankind. But GOD! God, who is rich in mercy, and for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ. Powerful word—quickened us, made us alive as new creatures in Christ! God separates us who are born children of Adam in a world of sin, from this present evil world by plunging us, as it were, into the death of Christ, only to raise us again with Him in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). By a living faith we are united with Christ and assured that we are partakers of Him and all His benefits, not the least of which are the forgiveness of sins, the adoption of sons, and the right to eternal life. God in Christ assures us “that He doth wash us in His blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of His death and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins and accounted righteous before Him.”
How can I be sure that these blessings are bestowed upon me and my spiritual seed? The Catechism states that the Holy Ghost is promised to the infant as well as to the adult. That is, “The Holy Ghost assures us by this holy sacrament, that He will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying unto us that which we have in Christ, namely, the washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.” How can we ever express more clearly and concisely the rich benefits of our salvation than is expressed in that statement? It is true that there are those who receive the outward sign of baptism, but do not have this testimony of the Spirit in their hearts. Yet those who do have this assurance experience the wonders of God’s grace already in early infancy, as well as throughout their lives. The Holy Spirit knows how to apply the blessings of salvation also to mere infants, who know more than we often realize. Also in children the Spirit works a daily renewing of their lives and bestows on them the washing away of their sins as heirs of salvation.
By this sacrament we are admitted into the institute of the Christian church as members of the body of Christ. This is not a conditional membership, as if our “full” membership must wait until the time that we personally accept and appropriate to ourselves God’s promises by a public confession of faith. As children we are members of the church institute and are treated accordingly, being prepared for the time when we can consciously participate by a living faith in the communal life of the church, particularly in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Our Baptism Form states that in all covenants there are contained two parts, including our part in God’s covenant, not as a second party or a co-worker in the covenant, but as recipients of Gods grace. “Therefore are we through baptism, admonished of and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; that we trust in Him, and love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.” God equips us, as it were, with the uniform of Jesus Christ, which distinguishes us from the ranks of Satan’s forces. He places us in Christ’s army to fight the battle of faith throughout our lives, without which we cannot obtain the victor’s crown. True, there are those who wear the uniform, but are still in their sins. They are the fifth columnists, the renegades, the quislings who traitorously resort to the camp of the enemy to oppose the cause of the living God. By their historical presence in the sphere of the covenant they tread under foot all that is holy and transgress God’s covenant. They reveal themselves as one with Esau and Judas, so that they also receive a just punishment. Paul speaks of them through his tears in Philippians 3:18, 19. The true soldier of the cross is renewed by God’s Spirit, so that he is deeply aware of his own inability to oppose the forces of darkness. He deeply humbles himself before God and seeks his strength and guidance outside of himself. He embraces God’s promises and clings to the cross as his only deliverance from sin and death and his sure claim to eternal life. He rejoices in the fact that, before he could discern right from wrong, God in sovereign mercy placed the sign and seal of His covenant upon his forehead. All boasting is excluded! For even in his sorest temptation he rests assured that his heavenly Father will avert all evil or turn it to his profit. He hears God’s assuring word: “But now, thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). For him faith is the victory that overcomes the world. In that confidence he looks forward to the day when he can say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me at that day” (II Tim. 4:7, 8).
Also as parents we find great comfort in presenting our children for baptism. We do this because we cling to God’s promise: I will be thy God and the God of thy seed after thee. What a privilege is ours that God entrusts His own children unto us for a time. We marvel at the fact that God loved us even before we were born, but we marvel far more when we see His love manifested in His precious jewels. How we treasure the evidences of grace in them, the assurance that God’s promises are realized in us who are most unworthy. It is in that confidence that we make our baptismal vows before God and His church, and strive to carry out those vows to the utmost of our power. In fact, all those children that are baptized are OUY children, for they belong to the Body of Christ, of which we also are a part. The responsibility to provide for their instruction in the home, in the school, and in the church is our mutual responsibility. Neither the parents nor we dare to feed the child small drops of poisonous doctrine, no more than we would contaminate his food with wee bits of poison.
Through faith in God’s covenant faithfulness we build church edifaces and proper school buildings, call ministers to bring us and our children the sound preaching of the Word, and hire school teachers to instruct our children in the doctrine taught in our church. No expense is too great for us in training those children that God entrusts to us in His church and covenant. Ours is the solemn obligation to maintain, in all that we say and do, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:25). For no greater privilege could ever be granted us than the privilege of having God’s dear children entrusted to our care, that God may use us as instruments for gathering His saints, building His church, and preparing His chosen for heavenly perfection. We look forward to the day when God’s saints will all be gathered and ready to be taken to glory, when we shall stand before the throne with our spiritual seed to declare in humble adoration: See us, Lord, and the children which Thou hast given us, for we are Thine! We have Jehovah’s sure promise: (Psalter no. 243:9.)
My oath is steadfast, ever sure,
My Servant’s race shall still endure;
His throne forever firm shall stay
When sun and moon have passed away.