Reformed Consensus On Infant Baptism (Part 2 of 3) – Reformed Dogmatics

Can you provide some citations that show that this conception of matters is what is generally found in Reformed theologians? 

Yes. First of all Calvin, Institutes, 4.16.17-18, where he argues extensively that the children of believers can receive regeneration and the Holy Spirit. One should pay attention to the fact that he bases baptism on this can in connection with the promise of God: “to you and to your seed.” He points to the example of John the Baptist and how he was sanctified from his mother’s womb. Then he takes note of the objection of opponents to infant baptism that this only happened once. “But we are not arguing in this way either (that is, as if the Lord is generally accustomed to deal with infants in this fashion). Our purpose is solely to show that they unjustly and wickedly shut God’s power within these narrow limits to which it does not permit itself to be confined.” And in section 20: “This objection can be refuted briefly, namely, that infants are baptized unto the repentance and faith that they will have hereafter, the seed of which two gifts are already in them by the secret working of the Spirit, even though those gifts themselves have not yet taken shape and been formed in them.” 

     Further, Ursinus (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, question 74). He answers the objection of the Anabaptist (those who do not believe ought not to be baptized) as follows: “This is only true of adults…, for in them faith is demanded before baptism…, but for young children, for baptism it is enough that they are sanctified and regenerate, and their faith and profession is that they are born to believing parents….Further, it is so that a right decision cannot be made from this that such ought not to be baptized, for here only those are spoken of who do not believe at all, neither in fact nor by profession nor by disposition. But of young children, although they in fact do not believe, one can nevertheless not say that the children are entirely unbelieving. And they have this disposition not from the flesh or from nature, but from the Holy Spirit and from the grace that is promised to them.” 

     Beza: “There is a special situation with children that are born to believing parents. For although they do not have in themselves that quality of faith that is in adult believers, nevertheless it cannot be otherwise than that those whom God has sanctified from their mother’s body and marked off from the children of unbelievers have the seed and the bud of faith….With what right, then, would someone deny them the sealing of the thing that the Lord has already imparted to them? If someone objects that those who are born of believing parents are not all elect and consequently not all are sanctified, … we do not lack an answer: for although we do not deny that it is so, nevertheless we say that one must let this hidden judgement remain with God, and, in general, by virtue of the formula of the promise, we hold them all to be sanctified who have been born of believing parents, or of which one of the two is a believer, unless there is something in the way from which one could decide to the contrary.” 

     Peter Martyr Vermigli: “Because we may not out of curiosity investigate God;s hidden providence and election, we hold the children of the saints to be holy as long as, in growing up, they do not show that they are alienated from Christ. We do not exclude them form the congregation but accept them as parts of the same, hoping that, as they are the seed of the saints, they also share in divine election and have the grace and the Spirit of Christ. And we baptize them on that basis. one should not listen to those who make difficulties of this and say: ‘Is the minister deceived?’ or, ‘Could it be that in truth the child is not a child of the promise of divine election and mercy?’ For one can also bring up such derision about adults. Of them, too, we do not know whether or not they come deceptively, whether they truly believe, whether they are children of election or destruction…. Why do you baptize them? You will say: ‘I do it because I follow their outward profession’; so we also say that the church therefore receives and baptizes our children because they belong to us. And so that is for them a sign of God’s will, as the outward profession is for adults.” 

     Franciscus Junius answers the objection of the Anabaptists that children are not capable of regeneration: “Regeneration is viewed in two senses-namely, as according to its foundation, it exists as a disposition in Christ, and as it is in fact present in us the former regeneration, which can be called the transplanting of the old Adam into the new, is the cause of the latter, which follows as the fruit. Elect children are regenerated in the first-mentioned sense when they are implanted into Christ and the sealing of this becomes theirs in baptism.” 

     The Leiden Synopsis: “We do not tie the efficacy of baptism to the moment in which the body is sprinkled with external water, but, with Scripture, require faith and conversion beforehand of all those baptized, at least according to the judgment of charity, and that both in the children of the covenant, regarding whom we maintain that in them the seed and the Spirit of faith and conversion must be assumed, by virtue of the divine blessing and the evangelical covenant, as well as for adults in whom an active profession of faith and conversion is necessary.” 

     Witsius: “Further, we also say that the young children of believers have received the Spirit. Otherwise they could not also be holy, which Paul nevertheless attests to (1 Cor 7:14); nor could they be Christ’s, to whom no one belongs who does not have His Spirit (Rom 8:9)…. From this it follows that the water cannot be refused them by injecting that young children should not be baptized…. I go further. God is not only free to impart the grace of regeneration to elect children before baptism, but it also likely that He generally does so.” 

     Burman: “Regarding the faith of children, investigation is very obscure, since there is memory of that age, and the working of the Spirit takes place in secret so that we cannot determine its mode. The elements of regeneration and the seeds of new life we do not occur in children any less than the pollution and the evil of the corrupt nature that they have received from the forefather of the human race. It is sufficient that the thing signified in baptism is due them, which can be sealed to them so that no one may think that a blank piece of paper, on which nothing is written, is sealed in that baptism.” 

     Braun: “To the one who shares in the thing signified, the sign is also due; but children partake of the thing signified-namely, the forgiveness of sins, regeneration, and eternal life-since they belong to the covenant and have the promises, and the kingdom of heaven is given to them.” 

     Heidegger: “As far as adults are concerned, outward baptism does not seal inward grace to all, but only to those who have in their heart and profess with their words a sincere faith. Also, baptism does not seal regeneration and spiritual grace in its all-inclusive scope to all children and to every child of believing parents, but only to the elect. Although it is right and good concerning each one of these children in particular to hope for the good according to the judgement of charity, still we are not free to do this with an eye to all children taken together.” 

     A distinction is then made between those children who die before the age of discernment and the rest. Regarding the former, Heidegger maintains that they are already sanctified in the womb and that baptism seals to them this grace already present. Those who grow up are generally endowed with faith in the usual way, that is, by hearing the Word, and so for them baptism was not a seal of present grace. 

     Marckius: “From the absence of faith (the opponents of infant baptism reason), as well as from the absence of a confession of faith and sins. We require both of these prior to the baptism of adults, but judged that it is sufficient if, with the judgement of charity, they are expected to follow in children. They also reason from the absence of sealed benefits, such as sanctification. These, however, are in fact present according to their measure, such as sanctification, which can just as little be denied as the corruption of nature antecedent to it.” 

     Turretin: “The same judgement must be made about the faith of the children of the covenant as their reason. they possess both in the first act, not in the second … in the root, not in the fruit.” 

  • Geerhardus, Vos. (2014) Reformed Dogmatics. Bellingham, WA 98225: Lexham Press.




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