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Covenant Children and Infant Baptism

 

I. Reformed Confessions, etc.

Genevan Book of Church Order (1556): "[Covenant children are] contained under the name of God's people ... Remission of sins in the blood of Christ Jesus doth appertain unto them by God's promise ... Paul ... pronounceth the children begotten and born (either of the parents being faithful) to be clean and holy [I Cor. 7:14] ... The Holy Ghost assures us that infants be of the number of God's people and that remission of sins doth also appertain to them in Christ ... Almighty God [is] their Father. [They are] His children bought with the blood of His dear Son."

French Confession (1559): "We confess only two sacraments common to the whole church, of which the first, baptism, is given as a pledge of our adoption; for by it we are grafted into the body of Christ, so as to be washed and cleansed by his blood, and then renewed in purity of life by his Holy Spirit. We hold, also, that although we are baptized only once, yet the gain that it symbolizes to us reaches over our whole lives and to our death, so that we have a lasting witness that Jesus Christ will always be our justification and sanctification. Nevertheless, although it is a sacrament of faith and penitence, yet as God receives little children into the Church with their fathers, we say, upon the authority of Jesus Christ, that the children of believing parents should be baptized" (article 35).

Belgic Confession (1561): "Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, who we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And indeed Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of believers than for adult persons; and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ has done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law that they should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ's suffering and death shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what circumcision was to the Jews, baptism is to our children. And for this reason St. Paul calls baptism the circumcision of Christ" (article 34).

Heidelberg Catechism (1563): "Are infants also to be baptized? Yes, for since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God, and through the blood of Christ both redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament baptism is appointed" (Q. & A. 74).

Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563, 1571): "Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ" (article 26).

Second Helvetic Confession (1566): "We condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that newborn infants of the faithful are to be baptized. For according to evangelical teaching, of such is the Kingdom of God (Luke 18:16), and they are in the covenant of God (Acts 3:25). Why, then, should the sign of God's covenant not be given to them? Why should those who belong to God and are in his Church not be initiated by holy baptism?" (chapter 20).

Canons of Dordt (1618-1619): "… the children of believers are holy not by nature but by virtue of the covenant of grace in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended. Godly parents have no reason to doubt the election and salvation of those their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy (I Cor. 7:14; Gen. 17:7; Isa. 59:21; Acts 2:39)" (I:17).

Form for the Administration of Baptism: "Holy baptism witnesseth and sealeth unto us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ. Therefore we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For when we are baptized in the name of the Father, God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that he doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit. And when we are baptized in the name of the Son, the Son sealeth unto 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 God. In like manner, when we are baptized in the name of the Holy Ghost, 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 ... 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 (Gen. 17:7), 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 (Acts 2:39), '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.' 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 (Mark 10). 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 ... 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 [Eze. 16:21; I Cor. 7:14] in Christ, and therefore, as members of his Church ought to be baptized ... Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise thee, that thou hast forgiven us, and our children, all our sins, through the blood of thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through thy Holy Spirit as members of thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism."

The Directory of Public Worship (approved by the Westminster Assembly): "That it [baptism] is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: That it is a seal of the covenant of grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, and of our union with him, of remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and life eternal: That the water, in baptism, representeth and signifieth both the blood of Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and actual; and the sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the dominion of sin, and the corruption of our sinful nature: That baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifieth the cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ, together with the mortification of sin, and rising from sin to newness of life, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ: That the promise is made to believers and their seed; and that the seed and posterity of the faithful, born within the church, have, by their birth, interest in the covenant, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the church, under the gospel, no less than the children of Abraham in the time of the Old Testament; the covenant of grace, for substance, being the same; and the grace of God, and the consolation of believers, more plentiful than before: That the Son of God admitted little children into his presence, embracing and blessing them, saying, For of such is the kingdom of God: That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized."

 

II. John Calvin (1509-1564)

"We ought, therefore, to consider, that just as in the case of Abraham, the father of the faithful, the righteousness of faith preceded circumcision, so today in the children of the faithful, the gift of adoption is prior to baptism" (Corpus Reformatorum, vol. 35, p. 8).

"It follows, that the children of believers are not baptized, that they may thereby then become the children of God, as if they had been before aliens to the church; but, on the contrary, they are received into the Church by this solemn sign, since they already belonged to the body of Christ by virtue of the promise" (Institutes of the Christian Religion 4:15:22; cf. 4:16:24).

"Are we not, independent of baptism, cleansed by the blood of Christ and regenerated by the Spirit? … Let him [Heshusius] then accuse Paul of blasphemy—for saying that Christ is formed in us like the foetus in the womb. His well-known words to the Galatians are: 'My little children, for whom I again travail, as in birth—until Christ Jesus be formed in you' (Gal. 4:9) … God therefore calls those who were thus slain—'His sons.' Just as if a husband should reproach his wife with depriving him of their common children ... Children are more precious than all goods ... A father is more grievously injured, if children are taken away … God here pronounces ... 'you have born them—unto Me' [Eze. 16:21] ... The Jews were naturally accursed, through being Adam's seed. But by supernatural and singular privilege, they were exempt and free from the curse—since circumcision was a testimony of the adoption by which God had consecrated them to Himself. Hence, they were holy ... As to their being impure, it could not ... abolish God's covenant ... And so Paul says that the children of the faithful are holy—since baptism does not lose its efficacy, and the adoption of God remains fixed (I Cor. 7:14)" (True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper, Tracts and Treatises, vol. 2, pp. 497f., 306, 534f.).

"[The heretic] Servetus cannot show that by divine appointment, several years must elapse before the new spiritual life begins. Paul's testimony is, that though lost by nature, the children of believers are holy by supernatural grace [I Cor. 7:14]" (Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.16.31).

 

III. Continental Theologians

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531): "The children of Christians are not less the children of God than their parents are, or than the children of Old Testament times were: but if they belong to God, who will refuse them baptism?" (Huldreich Zwingli’s Werke, Zweyten bandes erste Abtheilung [Zurich, 1830], p. 245).

Martin Bucer (1491-1551) and Wolfgang Capito (1478-1541): "… baptism signified regeneration; that the children of believers are baptized because it is wrong to keep them from the fellowship and company of God’s people those who should be truly considered His people" (quoted in Lewis Schenck, The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant [Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2003], p. 28).

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575): "Since the young babes and infants of the faithful are in the number of reckoning of God’s people, and partakers of the promise touching the purification through Christ; it followeth of necessity, that they are as well to be baptized, as they that be of perfect age which professes the Christian faith" (Fifty Godly and Learned Sermons [London, 1587], p. 382).

Theodore Beza (1519-1605): "It cannot be the case that those who have been sanctified by birth and have been separated from the children of unbelievers, do not have the seed or germ of faith" (Confessio Christanae Fidei, Book 4, p. 48).

Guido de Bres (c.1522-1567), the author of the Belgic Confession: "These two things we must observe in baptism. Namely, (1) the sign of water used as a seal, and (2) the body of those who have the truth of baptism ... The truth of baptism is also to be recognized in baptism ... That is the internal washing of souls in the blood of Christ ... through the fellowship which we have with Him ... One should note ... to whom the sign of baptism applies. Holy Scripture clearly teaches us that it applies to the entire household of God; to the whole body of His congregation; that is, to all of those who are His people, both small and large ... Little children ... have the sproutings of faith ... One cannot include them among the unbelievers, until they come to their years or understanding ... The little children are renewed by God's Spirit according to the measure and comprehension of their age. And this divine power, which is hidden within them, grows and gradually increases ... they are redeemed, sanctified and regenerated from perdition—even though natural corruption still remains in them. For they possess such regeneration not through their own goodness, but through the sole goodness and mercy of God in Jesus Christ" (The Radical Origin and Foundation of the Anabaptists [1608], Book. III. Ib. f. 290a).

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), author of the Heidelberg Catechism with Caspar Olevianus: "First, all that belong to the covenant and church of God are to be baptized. But the children of Christians, as well as adults, belong to the covenant and church of God. Therefore, they are to be bap­tized, as well as adults. Secondly, those are not to be excluded from baptism to whom the benefit of remission of sins, and of re­generation, belongs. But this benefit belongs to the infants of the church; for 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. Therefore, they ought to be baptized … We deny the proposition which denieth that infants do believe. For infants of believers regenerated by the Holy Spirit have an inclination to believe, or do believe by inclination. For faith is in infants—potentially, and by disposition ... Godly infants who are in the church, have ... an inclination ... to godliness—not by nature indeed, but by the grace of the covenant. "Infants have the Holy Ghost, and are regenerated by Him ... John was filled with the Holy Ghost, when as yet He was in the womb; and it was said to Jeremiah, 'Before thou camest out of the womb, I sanctified thee.' If infants have the Holy Ghost—then, doubtless, He worketh in them regeneration ... unto salvation. As Peter saith, 'Who can forbid water—for them who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?’" (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 366, 370).

Zacharias Ursinus: "[Elect covenant infants] are regenerated and belong to the people of God and to the body of Christ ... The gift of the Holy Spirit applies to the children of believers even before faith and conversion ... In general, it is from the covenant and the divine promise that one judges children to have been gifted with the Holy Spirit ... They are to be regarded as partakers of the Spirit of regeneration, by virtue of their birth in the Church and by power of the promises of God."

Caspar van der Heyden (1536-1580), Moderator of the great Dutch Reformed Synods of Emden in 1571 and Dordrecht in 1574: "Seed rests for a time in the earth, and takes root before one sees from its fruit that it has germinated ... The root of understanding and of reason has been poured into all children, as soon as they receive life ... God has planted a seed and a root of regeneration in the children of the covenant ... In time, the fruits of the Spirit germinate from it. For he who has been baptized with Christ in His death, also grows from Him, like a tender shoot on a vine ..." (Short and Clear Proofs of Holy Baptism).

Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587), author of the Heidelberg Catechism with Zacharias Ursinus: "Thus, our children are holy—by way of the covenant of grace ... (I Cor. 7:14; Ezra 9:2) ... The promise of the Gospel has been made expressly to our children (Deut. 30:6) ... God consummated internally that which He promises externally (Titus 3:3-8) … Everlasting life is sealed by the testimony of the Holy Spirit and imparted by the Holy Spirit" (The Essence of the Covenant of Grace, trans. Copinga [Groningen, 1739], pp. 497f.).

Franciscus Junius (1545-1602): "We call it false to argue that infants are completely incapable of faith; if they have faith in the principle of the habitus, they have the Spirit of faith … Regeneration is viewed from two aspects, as it is in its foundation, in Christ, in principle, and as it is active in us. The former (which can also be called transplanting from the first to the second Adam) is the root, from which the latter arises as its fruit. By the former elect infants are born again, when they are incorporated into Christ, and its sealing occurs in baptism" (Theses Theologicae, 51.7).

Jeremiah Bastingius (1551-1595), who was trained by Beza, Ursinus and Olevianus: "The sign and external ceremony can no way be denied those who are promised and given the things signified, such as forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit ... The immature little children [of believers] are promised and given the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. How then can the element of water fairly be withheld from the young children?" (Explanations of the [Heidelberg] Catechism of the Christian Religion [1594]).

William Bucanus (d. 1603): "It is not to be denied that the seed even of faith is poured into elect infants."

Andre Rivetus (1572-1651), French Reformed theologian and Professor at Leyden: "[Covenant children have] the beginnings of possessing ... the seed of faith ... For as the kingdom of heaven belongs to them, so too does the Spirit of faith (Matt. 19:14)."

Rivetus, Polyander (1568-1646), Walaeus (1573-1639) and Thysius (1603-1665): "… we require with Scripture faith and repentance [in all that are to be baptized], at least according to the judgment of charity ... And this as well in covenanted children, in whom, we maintain, must be placed, by the power of the divine blessing and the gospel covenant, the seed and spirit of faith and repentance …" (Synopsis Purioris Theologiae [Leiden, 1625], quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics [Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1950], pp. 618-619).

Festus Hommius (1576-1642), Stated Clerk of the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) and Regent of the Leyden State College: "[The children of believers] may not be reckoned among the positive unbelievers ... because they do possess faith in its first actions, at the root and in the seed, and indeed through the internal operations of the Holy Spirit" (Theological Disputations Against the Papists, disp. 44, thes. 3, p. 269).

Markus Friedrich Wendelin (1584-1652), German Reformed: "The 'possessed faith' which we attribute to infants, we truly call—either 'the root' or 'the seed' of faith" (Christian System of Theology [Cassel, 1656]).

Gisbert Voetius (1588-1676), Professor of Theology at Utrecht: "[Covenant infants] are entitled to baptism not because they are [merely] counted as members of the covenant, but because as a rule they actually already possess the first grace; and for this reason, and this reason alone, it [the "Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism"] reads: 'that our children ... have been sanctified in Christ, and therefore ought to be baptized.'"

Gisbert Voetius: "In elect children belonging to the covenant, there is a first implantation of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Thereby, the beginning and the seed of faith is implanted. From this, conversion and vital renewal must later take place at their own time … the opinion of our Reformed theologians is well-known. Baptism does not effect regeneration, but it is the sign of a regeneration which has already occurred (Efficacia baptismi non in producenda regeneratione, sed in iam producta obsignata)."

Gisbert Voetius: "From the seed (e semine) ... the actual dispositions and habits are sustained by the ingrafted operation of the Holy Spirit in His own time ... Just like a seed, the abilities and possession of faith make their appearances by fresh acts of the Holy Spirit in their own time."

Johannes Cloppenburg (1592-1652), Professor of Theology in Hardewyk, and Franeker: "[Covenant children] possess the seed of faith within them ... It not merely follows but also precedes baptism—and is accompanied by the fulfilments of the promises ..." (The Gangrene of Anabaptist Theology, II, ch. 20, p. 245, cf. III, ch. 28, pp. 584f.).

Johannes Cloppenburg: "We posit that the children of believers are incorporated into Christ by the immediate secret work of the Holy Spirit, until whether in this life or at the moment of death, the period of infancy is completed, so that, whether in the flesh or not, they may confess by faith or sight what God has given them and us together by grace" (Excirtationes, 1.1097).

Francis Turretin (1623-1687): "The orthodox occupy the middle ground between Anabaptism and the Lutherans. They deny actual faith to infants against the Lutherans and maintain a seminal or radical and habitual faith is to be ascribed to them against the Anabaptists. Here it is to be remarked before all things: that we do not speak of the infants of any parents whomsoever (even of infidels and heathen), but only of believers, or Christians and the covenanted" (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994], vol. 2, p. 583).

Peter Van Mastricht (1630-1706), Professor of Theology at Utrecht: "[Children of the covenant should be baptized] because they partake of the benefits of the covenant of grace, of regeneration, and of the forgiveness of sin ... We are ordered in Holy Scripture to baptize as many as have received the Holy Spirit ... According to that Holy Scripture (Luke 1:15; Jer. 1:5), tiny children receive the Holy Spirit" (Theoretical-Practical Theology [Amsterdam, 1725], vol. 3, p. 617).

John Henry Heidegger (1633-1698), Swiss Reformed: "Regenerated and sanctified even in their mother's womb ... baptism is presently the sign of a regeneration already made and persevering right up to death" (Body of Theology [Zurich, 1700]).

John Henry Heidegger: "However, that operation of the Holy Spirit is hidden ... For those who die in infancy, baptism is as surely the sign of regeneration and of ingrafting into Christ—as their body is surely sprinkled with water."

John Henry Heidegger: "As for the adults, outward baptism does not seal inward grace for all of them, but for those alone who bear in their hearts a faith the reverse of feigned and confess it in their words. Nor yet for the children of believing parents one and all, but only for the elect is baptism the sign of regeneration and universal spiritual grace. Although it is kindly and godly in the case of individual children of the kind to have good hopes of the judgment of love, in the case of them all it is not so" (Marrow of Christian Theology [Zurich, 1696], XXV:50, quoted in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 622-623).

Wilhelmus a’ Brakel (1635-1711): "Whether dying before or after receiving baptism, all children of covenanters are to be regarded as saved—by virtue of God's covenant in which they were born ... Even the children are acknowledged to have been sanctified in Christ ..." (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 31:14; 39:26).

Herman Witsius (1636-1708): "There can hardly be any doubt that the statement regarding the regeneration of the children before baptism, according to the judgment of love, is the accepted view of the Dutch Church. In [the Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism], this question is put to parents who offer their children in baptism: 'Do you acknowledge that they are sanctified in Christ, and should be baptized as members of His congregation?' Now this strengthens the views of those who place the initial regeneration of elect covenant children before baptism ... God is not only free to impart the grace of regeneration to the elect children before they receive baptism. It should be believed that He, as a rule, also does this" (The Efficacy of Baptism in Infants).

Herman Witsius: "Here certainly appears the extraordinary love of our God, in that as soon as we are born, and just as we come from our mother, he hath commanded us to be solemnly brought from her bosom, as it were, into his own arms, that he should bestow upon us, in the very cradle, the tokens of our dignity and future kingdom … that, in a word, he should join us to himself in the most solemn covenant from our most tender years: the remembrance of which, as it is glorious and full of consolation to us, so in like manner it tends to promote Christian virtues, and the strictest holiness, through the whole course of our lives" (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man [Escondido, CA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, repr. 1990], vol. 2, p. 442).

Cornelius Poudroyen, Dutch Calvinist: "[Believers' children] have the Holy Spirit and the redemption from sin—just as the adults do … I Corinthians 7:14—'Otherwise your children would be unclean; but now, they are holy’ … one cannot be holy, without the Holy Spirit ... The root and seed of faith, from which the Holy Spirit ignites and inflames their spiritual zeal when they increase in years ... They have the Spirit of Christ ... Wherever the Spirit of Christ is, there too is faith—whether an active faith, as in adults; or whether the root and origin of faith, as in small children" (Catechizing from the Heidelberg Catechism, 1653).

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921): "Men had this feeling that the regeneration of children took place before baptism … God was not bound to means … He operated thus with the children of believers who were removed by death before the years of discretion ... They are to be regarded as elect and regenerate, until the opposite is apparent from their profession and behaviour ... All children born of believing parents are, according to the judgment of charity, to be regarded as born again—until the opposite in life and doctrine are clearly manifested. Thus Peter Martyr Vermigli, Alasco, Ursinus, Datheen, Alting, Voetius, Witsius, Maastricht ... Calvin says ... that the children of believers are already holy even before baptism through a supernatural grace (Institutes IV:16:31); that the seed of faith and conversion hides within them through a secret operation of the Spirit (IV:16:20); that they partake of the grace of regeneration by virtue of the promise; and that baptism follows by way of sign ..." (Reformed Dogmatics).

 

IV. British Theologians

John Bradford (1510-1555): "In baptism is required God’s election, if the child be an infant, or faith, if he be of age" (The Writings of John Bradford [Banner, 1979], vol. 2, p. 290).

John Knox (c.1514-1572): "The conviction of the writers of that Book of Common Order was thus the biblical perception that the children of believers are Christians already, before being baptized in their infancy."

William Ames (1576-1633): "Regeneration is a part of the promises, and applies to the children of the believers in a special way ... People are baptized because they are regarded as children of God, and not so that they should begin to become sons. Otherwise, there would be no reason not to baptize the children of unbelievers as well as children of believers" (Bellarmine Unnerved, II:1, p. 337).

William Ames: "The infants of believers are not to be forbidden this sacrament. First, because, if they are partakers of any grace, it is by virtue of the covenant of grace and so both the covenant and the first seal of the covenant belong to them. Second, the covenant in which the faithful are now included is clearly the same as the covenant made with Abraham (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:7-9)—and this [is] expressly applied to infants. Third, the covenant as now administered to believers brings greater and fuller consolation than it once could, before the coming of Christ. But if it pertained only to them and not to their infants, the grace of God and their consolation would be narrower and more con­tracted after Christ's appearing than before. Fourth, baptism sup­plants circumcision (Col. 2:11-12); it belongs as much to the children of believers as circumcision once did. Fifth, in the very beginning of regeneration, whereof baptism is a seal, man is merely passive. There­fore, no outward action is required of a man when he is baptized or circumcised (unlike other sacraments); but only a passive receiving. Infants are, therefore, as capable of participation in this sacrament, so far as its chief benefit is concerned, as adults" (The Marrow of Theology, ed. John D. Eusden [Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1997], p. 211).

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635): "Therefore God, intending a comfortable enlargement of the covenant of grace to Abraham, extends it to his seed: ‘I will be the God of thy seed.’ It is a great blessing for God to be the God of our seed. It is alluded to by St Peter in the New Testament, ‘The promise is made to you and to your children’ (Acts 2:39). But what if they have not baptism, the seal of the covenant? That doth not prejudice their salvation. God hath appointed the sacraments to be seals for us, not for himself. He himself keepeth his covenant, whether we have the seal or no, so long as we neglect it not. Therefore we must not think if a child die before the sacrament of baptism, that God will not keep his covenant. They have the sanctity, the holiness of the covenant. You know what David said of his child, ‘I shall go to it, but it shall not return to me;’ and yet it died before it was circumcised. Yon know they were forty years in the wilderness, and were not circumcised. Therefore the sacrament is not of absolute necessity to salvation. So he is the God of our children from the conception and birth" (Works of Richard Sibbes, vol. 6, p. 22).

Richard Sibbes: "Infants that die in their infancy ... are within the covenant ... They have the seed of believing, the Spirit of God, in them ... If when they come to years, they answer not the covenant of grace and the answer of a good conscience ... all is frustrate ... we leave infants to the mercy of God" (Works [Edinburgh: Banner, 1983], vol. 6, pp. 22f., vol. 7, pp. 486f.)

David Dickson (1583-1663), Scottish Presbyterian and author of the first commentary on the Westminster Confession: "Are elect infants, dying in infancy, regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit who worketh when and where and how He pleaseth? Yes; Luke 18:15-16; Acts 2:38-39; John 3:3-5; I John 5:12" (Truth's Victory Over Error [Australia: Presbyterian Armoury Publications, repr. 2002], p. 51).

David Dickson: "The precise time of begun regeneration is not always observed nor known either by the regenerate man himself or by beholders of his way … [This] experience makes evident—in many who from their infancy are brought up in the exercises of true religion …" (Therapeutica Sacra ... Concerning Regeneration).

Cornelius Burgess (c.1589-1665), Westminster Divine: "The principal point … is ‘that all elect infants ... do ordinarily receive from Christ ... the Spirit of regeneration as the ... first principle of spiritual life.’" This they receive, "for their solemn initiation into Christ, and for their future actual renovation in God's good time—if they live to years of discretion" (The Regeneration of Elect Infants professed by the Church of England [Oxford, 1629]).

Stephen Marshall (c.1594-1650), Westminster Divine: "Ever since God gathered a ... select number out of the world to be His kingdom ... He would have the infants of all who are taken into covenant with Him to be accounted His—to belong to Him ... and not to the devils ... Being only passive in them all ... of this first grace is the sacrament of baptism properly a seal ... Whoever will deny that infants are capable of these things, as well as grown men—must deny that any infants dying in their infancy are saved by Christ" (A Sermon on the Baptizing of Infants [London, 1644], pp. 14, 25f., 32, 26f., 39, 41f., 45f., 51f.).

Edward Reynolds (1599-1676), Westminster Divine who probably drafted chapters 27 and 28 of the Westminster Confession: "The promises and Word of grace, with the sacraments, are all but as so many sealed deeds to make over into all successions of the church—so long as they contain legitimate children and observe the laws of their part required—an infallible claim and title ... The nature of a sacrament is to be representative of a substance; the sign of a covenant; the seal of a purchase; the figure of a body; the witness of our faith; the earnest of our hope; the presence of things distant; the sight of things absent; the taste of things inconceivable; and the knowledge of thing that are past knowledge" (Meditations on the Holy Sacrament).

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), Scottish Presbyterian Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly: "Who they are, who are to be baptized—it is presumed they give some professed consent to the call ... What ground is there to exclude sucking children [of believers]? For ... there is no name under heaven by which men may be saved, but by the name of Jesus ... Since Christ prayed for infants and blessed them—which is a praying for them—He must own them as 'blessed' in Christ in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed ... It is false that the promise is made only to the aged ... It is made to their children " (The Covenant of Life Opened [Edinburgh, 1655], book I, chs. 13-14, pp. 72-91).

Samuel Rutherford: "It is clear that infants have their share of salvation, and by covenant it must be ... And this promise made to Abraham belongs to them all ..." (The Covenant of Life Opened, pp. 83, 104-105).

Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680): "The children of godly parents are called the inheritance of the Lord, because he is the owner of them as his elect and chosen, among whom his possession and his peculiar people lie … The children of believing parents, at least their next and immediate seed, even of us Gentiles now under the gospel, are included by God within the covenant of grace, as well as Abraham’s or David’s seed within that covenant of theirs" (Works, vol. 9, pp. 426-427).

George Gillespie (1613-1649), Scottish Presbyterian Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly: "The sacrament [of baptism] is not a converting but a confirming and sealing ordinance ... to seal unto a man that interest in Christ and in the covenant of grace which he already hath. The sacraments do not give any grace, but do declare and show what God hath given ... Baptism is intended only for the redeemed of the Lord" (Aaron's Rod Blossoming, book III, ch. XII, p. 489).

John Owen (1616-1683): "Infants are made for and are capable of eternal glory or misery, and must fall, dying infants, into one of these estates for ever. All infants are born in a state of sin, wherein they are spiritually dead and under the curse. Unless they are regenerated or born again, they must all perish inevitably (John 3:3). Their regeneration is the grace whereof baptism is a sign or token. Wherever this is, there baptism ought to be administered … It follows hence unavoidably that infants who die in their infancy have the grace of regeneration, and consequently as good a right unto baptism as believers themselves … In brief, a participation of the seal of the covenant is a spiritual blessing. This the seed of believers was once solemnly invested in by God himself This privilege he hath nowhere revoked, though he hath changed the outward sign; nor hath he granted unto our children any privilege or mercy in lieu of it now under the gospel, when all grace and privileges are enlarged to the utmost. His covenant promises concerning them, which are multiplied, were confirmed by Christ as a true messenger and minister; he gives the grace of baptism unto many of them, especially those that die in their infancy, owns children to belong unto his kingdom, esteems them disciples, appoints households to be baptized without exception. And who shall now rise up, and withhold water from them? … The end of [Christ’s] message and of his coming was, that those to whom he was sent might be ‘blessed with faithful Abraham,’ or that ‘the blessing of Abraham,’ promised in the covenant, ‘might come upon them’ (Gal. 3:9, 14). To deny this, overthrows the whole relation between the old testament and the new, the veracity of God in his promises, and all the properties of the covenant of grace … (II Sam. 23:5)" (Works [Great Britain: Banner, 1968], vol. 16, pp. 260, 261-262).

John Wallis (1616-1703), Secretary of the Westminster Assembly: "… we have no reason to doubt but many children very early, and even before their birth, may have the habits of grace infused into them—by which they are saved ... For as the habits of corruption, which we call Original Sin, by propagation—so may the habits of grace, by infusion, be inherent in the soul long before (for want of the use of reason) we are in capacity to act" (A Defence of Infant Baptism [Oxford, 1657]).

Thomas Manton (1620-1677): "Of those children, dying in infancy, I assert that they have ... the seed of faith ... in the covenant ... It must be so ... Socinians ... count the faith of infants a thing so impossible, that they say it is a greater dotage than the dream of a man in a fever ... So those expressions of trusting God from the mother's womb. David speaks it of his own person, as a type of Christ. Psalm 22:9, 'Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts' ... Job saith, chapter 31:18, 'from my youth, he was brought up with me as with a father; and I have guided her, from my mother's womb'—meaning, he had a ... disposition of pity put into him at his nativity. So also—why may not a principle of faith be put into us in the womb, if God will work it? … What is the faith which children have? ... They have the seed of faith or some principle of grace conveyed into their souls by the hidden operation of the Spirit of God, which gives them an interest in Christ and so a right to His merit for their salvation ..." (Works, vol. 14, pp. 81-89, 205).

Thomas Manton: "If they die before they come to the use of reason, you have no cause to doubt of their salvation. God is their God. Gen. 17:7: ‘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;’ compared with Gal. 3:14: ‘That the blessing of Abraham might come on the gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’ And they never lived to disinherit themselves. As we judge of the slip according to the stock, till it live to bring forth fruit of its own, so here" (Works, vol. 18, p. 91).

Thomas Watson (c.1620-1686): "Baptism ... is a matriculation or visible admission of children into the congregation of Christ's flock. To such as belong to the election, baptism is a 'seal of the righteousness of faith' ... and a badge of adoption (Rom. 4:11) ... The infant seed of believers may as well lay a claim to the covenant of grace as their parents ... They cannot justly be denied baptism, which is its seal" (Body of Divinity [1670]).

Ezekiel Hopkins (1633-1690), Bishop in the Church of Ireland: "Certainly, since [the infants of believing parents] are in covenant with God; since they are the members of Christ, being members of His body, the Church; since they are sanctified and regenerated, so far forth as their natures are ordinarily capable of, without a miracle; we have all the reason in the world conformably to conclude, that all such die in the Lord, and are forever happy and blessed with Him" (Works, vol. 2, p. 326).

John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787): "None but regenerated persons have a right to baptism before God … None but such as appear truly regenerated have a right to baptism before men … The infants of parents, one or both visible saints, have a right to baptism before the church … The children of believers are in covenant with God … Infants, such as Christ could carry in his arms, are members of the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:13; Mark 10:14). And if members, why deny them the primary seal of membership?" (Systematic Theology [Scotland: Christian Focus, repr. 2002], pp. 537-538).

Robert Shaw (1795-1863): "… infants of believing parents are born within the covenant, and so are Christians and visible church members; and by baptism this right of theirs is acknowledged, and they are solemnly admitted to the privileges of church membership" (An Exposition of the Confession of Faith [Scotland: Christian Focus, repr. 1980], p. 285).

William Cunningham (1805-1861): "The Reformers and the great body of Protestant divines, in putting forth the definition of the sacraments ... intended to embody the substance of what they believe Scripture to teach ... They commonly assume that the persons partaking in them, are rightly qualified for receiving and improving them ... Justification and regeneration by faith are not conveyed through the instrumentality of the sacraments ... On the contrary, they must already exist—before even baptism can be received lawfully or safely" (Historical Theology, vol. 2, pp. 144, 149).

Douglas Bannerman (1841-1903), Scottish Presbyterian:  "It is objected. ‘Belief should always go before Baptism. Does not the Evangelist Mark say: ‘He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved’? (Mark 16:16). Infants cannot believe; therefore they ought not to be baptized. Well, that half text, so often quoted, really proves nothing whatever against Infant Baptism. Take the text as it stands, only take the whole of it, and take the context with it; and the meaning is perfectly plain. It refers to the Gospel being preached ‘in all the world,’ the great heathen world beyond the bounds of Israel. It is to be preached and heard under solemn sanctions. It carries with it ‘a savour of life and of death.’ Everywhere it calls for faith, and confession of faith before men. ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.' The promise and the warning apply only to the case under consideration. You can no more rightly infer from these words, it is purely a matter of inference at the most, that the infants of believers should not be baptized, than that they cannot be saved, because they cannot believe. Yet ‘He that believeth not shall be condemned.’ You might just as well argue from the Apostle’s rule: ‘He that will not work neither let him eat,’ that because infants do not work they should get nothing to eat. In both cases, the words apply to those only in reference to whom they are spoken. And the historical situation makes it perfectly clear how the first disciples would understand Christ’s command about ‘discipling the nations.' If we are asked: ‘Why baptize unconscious babes?’ our answer is: Because it is in accordance with Scripture principle, and Scripture precedent in the Church of God from the days of Abraham to the days of Christ. If unconscious babes were circumcised, as we know, according to the will of God, on the ground of their parents’ faith, why should they not be baptized on the ground of their parent’s faith? ‘If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ (Gal. 3:29). For to you is the promise,’ Peter said, speaking to devout Jews and Gentile proselytes, ‘and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call’ (Acts 2:39). The Saviour ‘called the babes unto Him, and took them up in His arms and blessed them,’ when brought to Him in the arms of believing mothers. ‘He was much displeased’ with the disciples, who, with the best intentions, would have forbidden them to be brought for the blessing, because they were but unconscious babes, who could neither understand nor believe. Is there no danger of a like mistake being made in our time by those who, with the best of motives, would act in a similar way?" (Difficulties About Baptism).

 

V. American Theologians

Charles Hodge (1797-1878): "The historic Reformed doctrine which may be identified with that of John Calvin was as follows: Membership in the invisible church meant vital union with Christ, or regeneration by the Holy Spirit … that an infant was a member of the invisible church meant that it was believed to be engrafted into Christ and regenerated before it gave any ordinary evidences of the fact" (The Church Membership of Infants, p. 375).

J. W. Alexander (1804-1859): "But O how we neglect that ordinance! Treating children in the church, just as if they were out of it. Ought we not daily to say (in its spirit) to our children, ‘You are Christian children, you are Christ’s, you ought to think and feel and act as such!’ And on this plan carried out, might we not expect more early fruit of the grace than by keeping them always looking forward to a point of time at which they shall have new hearts and join the church? I am distressed with long harbored misgivings on this point" (Forty Years’ Familiar Letters, vol. 2, p. 25).

Lyman Atwater (1813-1883): "If our children are in precisely the same position as others, why baptize them?" ("Children of the Covenant and their Part in the Lord," Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, vol. 35, no. 4 [October, 1863], p. 622).

B. B. Warfield (1851-1921): "Among the Reformed alone ... [regarding the invisible church of] the people of God, membership ... is mediated not by the external act of baptism but the internal regeneration of the Holy Spirit ... In the case of infants dying in infancy, birth within the bounds of the covenant is a sure sign, since the promise is 'unto us and our children’" (Studies in Theology, pp. 429f., 447).

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957): "It may be well to quote in this connection the first half of the fourth point of the Conclusions of Utrecht [1905], which were adopted by our Church in 1908. We translate this as follows: "… Synod declares that, according to the confession of our Churches, the seed of the covenant must, in virtue of the promise of God, be presumed to be regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until, as they grow up, the contrary appears from their life or doctrine; that it is, however, less correct to say that baptism is administered to the children of believers on the ground of their presumptive regeneration, since the ground of baptism is the command and the promise of God; and that further the judgment of charity, with which the Church presumes the seed of the covenant to be regenerated, by no means intends to say that therefore each child is really regenerated, since the Word of God teaches that they are not all Israel that are of Israel, and it is said of Isaac: in him shall thy seed be called (Rom. 9:6-7), so that in preaching it is always necessary to insist on serious self-examination, since only those who shall have believed and have been baptized will be saved" (Systematic Theology, p. 640).

Louis Berkhof: "There was general agreement [amongst the Reformed] in establishing the right of infant baptism by an appeal to Scripture and particularly to the scriptural doctrine of the covenant. Children of believers are covenant children, and are therefore entitled to the sacrament" (The History of Christian Doctrine [Great Britain: Banner, 1969], p. 251).

Lewis Schenck (1898-1985): "The Reformed Church has always believed, on the basis of God’s immutable promise, that all children of believers dying in infancy were saved ... in other words, all admission to the visible church was on the basis, not of an infallible evidence of regeneration, since no one could read the heart, but on the basis of presumption that those admitted were the true children of God" (The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant [Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2003], p. 118).

John Murray (1898-1975): "Baptized infants [of believers] are to be received as the children of God and treated accordingly" (Christian Baptism, p. 59). 

David Engelsma: "The basis of infant baptism is the covenant promise of God to be our God, not only personally but also in our generations [Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39]. We baptize our babies because God includes our children with us in the covenant of grace. The covenantal practice of infant baptism, essential to the Reformed faith, therefore, does not rest on a dubious, indeed false assumption, but upon the sure promise of God revealed in Holy Scripture. A Protestant Reformed church presumes nothing when she baptizes a child. Rather, she takes God at his word that he is the God of believers’ children. This is not presumption but faith … Not presupposed regeneration, but ‘the believed covenant promise’ describes the Protestant Reformed position. Since the covenant promise flows from and carries out the decree of election, according to the apostle in Romans 9:6-13, one might explain the Protestant Reformed baptism of infants as ‘trust in covenantal election.’ God has his eternal decree of election run in the line of the generations of believers … The Protestant Reformed Churches have their eyes wide open to the teaching of the apostle in Romans 9:6-13 that the covenant promise does not extend to all the natural children of believing parents, but to some only. These churches know very well that the sovereignty of God in salvation and damnation applies also to the physical children of believing parents. In an age when even Reformed and Presbyterian churches are offended at the apostle’s gospel that God hates certain children of believers and loves others before they are born [Rom. 9:13], and exclaim, ‘Such a God is unrighteous,’ the Protestant Reformed Churches honor this sovereign God, submitting to the apostle’s, ‘Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ (Rom. 9:20)" (The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers [USA: RFPA, 2005], pp. 84-85).

(Acknowledgement—many of the above quotations are taken from compilations made by Francis Nigel Lee and C. Matthew McMahon)