(*Stay tuned for part 2 as Vos cites noteworthy Reformed theologians to support the claims he makes here)
What, in general, is the view of the Reformed concerning the meaning of infant baptism?
On this there are two views that have both had defenders, though not both equally. We first give, in some propositions, the most common view that on good grounds can be called the historic-Calvinistic view.
a) By the fall of our first parents the entire human race has fallen into sin and damnation. Consequently, all men are conceived and born into sin and are by nature children of wrath.
b) Out of this corrupt human race, God wills to redeem certain persons known to Him, accept them in grace, justify them through Christ, sanctify them by His Spirit, and bring them to salvation.
c) In the dispensing or withholding of this grace God is not obligated to a person, but, since grace is free grace, demonstrated this grace to whom He chooses.
d) God therefore would do no one, old or young, an injustice if He would cause them all together, without distinction, to be lost.
e) Communion in this grace can only be made known to us from certain fruits and marks.
f) No one, and so also the church, can judge with certainty who those are who share in this grace and the essence of the covenant of grace. Only believers themselves by the witness of the Holy Spirit have a direct assurance of that.
g) The church, as ministers of God’s covenant, has to observe certain external marks of the grace of God and to act thereon according to the judgement of charity, without concerning itself further with the question, never to be settled, whether the inward state corresponds to that grace.
h) This judgement of charity concerns all the members of the visible church, and only them. To these members belong not only the adults who profess Christ, and do not contradict this profession by their conduct, but also young children born of believing parents belong by virtue of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants and by which they, like their parents, are included in the covenant of God.
i) Consequently, with regard to the judgement of the church, birth from believing parents (at least one) is the equivalent of what for the parents their profession of faith is.
j) Therefore, according to the judgement of charity, salvation is ascribed to these children and they are regarded as elect, as their parents are regarded when they make profession of faith, and continue to be as long as they in fact do not give evidence to the contrary.
k) Believing parents must raise their children as members of God’s covenant in the fear and knowledge of the Lord, just as adult believers are admonished to increase in faith and to advance in godliness.
l) On this basis the children, as members of God’s covenant, are entitled to the sign and seal of the covenant and ought to be baptized, as born into the covenant and, by virtue of the promise of the covenant, members of the congregation.
m) As adult believers who die professing faith and calling on the name of God are held to be saved, so too the same should be judged of the children of believers who die in their infancy.
n) This judgement of charity could nevertheless be mistaken according to the Word. They are not all Abraham’s children because they Abraham’s seed, nor are they all Israel who are of the father of Israel [cf. Rom 9:6-7], just as in growing up, it is often apparent that the most reprobate children are born from the most pious parents, and the most pious children from the most ungodly parents. But with that we do not concern ourselves further. That is God’s concern, who has commanded us to administer His sacrament in this way, and according to whose command exclusively we are to conform. With adults, too, the same thing appears repeatedly. There are those who upon profession of faith are received into the congregation, whom one thus has to regard as fellow citizens of the saints and of the household of God, who upon the profession of their faith are admitted to the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and who nevertheless later fall away, so that we can no longer, even according to the judgement of charity, regard them as brothers. But the Word of God has not failed because of that. It has only become evident that, in the faithful administration of the ordinance of God, the church can make a judgment that does not always correspond with someone’s inward state. The church never has certainty, no more for adults than for young children. The difficulty here is thus the same in both cases; and if we can accept it in the one case, we can also do so in the other.
- Geerhardus, Vos. (2014) Reformed Dogmatics. Bellingham, WA 98225: Lexham Press.