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"
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 , Book. III. Ib. f.
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.
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,
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 ).
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 ).
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
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.
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 , 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