Why Baptize All the Infants of Believers?
Here is our question for this issue of the News: “Seeing that baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant and the covenant promise, if only the elect are in the covenant, if they only and only they are embraced in the promise of God, and the reprobate are not, why does God still will all the children of believers to be baptized?”
The reader of the News is correct that only the elect are in the covenant. Galatians 3:29 is clear: “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” The seed of Abraham is a spiritual seed, defined not by physical descent from Abraham but by faith in Abraham’s God. All who believe are the spiritual children of Abraham (7) and the children of God (26). Only these spiritual children of Abraham are the heirs according to the promise. The promise is the covenant promise, I will be your God and you shall be my people (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 30:22). That promise was made to Abraham in Genesis 17:1-7 and through him to all his spiritual descendants. They are those who belong to Christ by election and by the blood of atonement. They alone are in the covenant and they alone are heirs according to the promise.
The reader who submitted this question is also correct that the promise of God, the promise of the covenant, is also only for the elect. Like the covenant itself, the promise is not made to all baptized children conditionally but only to the elect. It is not, as some have said, a cheque presented by God to all baptized children, a cheque which they must endorse before it becomes valid and payable to the bearer. Acts 2:39 teaches that the promise is only for the elect and not for all baptized children conditionally: “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.” The promise is to those whom God calls, and they are always called irresistibly and effectually. They are the elect, therefore.
The heresy of the Federal Vision denies any connection between the covenant and election, and many Reformed theologians also hesitate to affirm such a connection. The Federal Vision teaches that baptized children may be elect but still go hell on account of their covenant unfaithfulness; they may be elect and end up out of the covenant. Others want a covenant that is in some sense with all baptized children, not just with those baptized children who are elect. Thus they teach a covenant that is conditional, that is, with all baptized children, but conditioned on their faith and obedience.
Romans 9:6 addresses this issue: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” The Word of God in the context includes the promises, and the Israel to whom the promises belong is defined not by physical descent from Abraham but by election. Only true Israel, elect Israel, has the promises. This is Paul’s conclusion: “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom. 11:7).
That raises the question: “Why does God still will all the children of believers to be baptized,” if “baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant and the covenant promise”?
The answer to this insightful question is that just as the gospel must be preached to the non-elect, so also must the sacraments, in the purpose and will of God, be administered to many non-elect. It is, of course, impossible to administer the sacraments only to the elect, just as it is impossible to preach the gospel and its call to the elect only. Only God perfectly knows those who are His own (II Tim. 2:19). Some try to limit the preaching of the gospel and/or the administration of baptism to the elect by requiring a profession of faith in Christ of all those who are baptized, but the latter does not guarantee that the sacrament is administered to the elect only.
It is the error of hyper-Calvinism to attempt to limit the preaching of the gospel and its call to the elect, and the error of credo-baptism to attempt to limit the sacrament of baptism to the elect only. Both are impossible. Not only that, but God has His sovereign purpose in willing children who are not elect to be baptized and it is the same purpose He has in sending the gospel call to many who are not elect.
The sacraments, we should remember, are a visible and tangible gospel which declare Christ crucified as the only way of salvation. When the gospel is preached, God wills that many hear who are not elect and who do not believe. He wants them to hear for their hardening and condemnation. Hardened in their unbelief and disobedience, they also serve God’s purpose, just as Pharaoh did (Rom. 9:17-18). By their disobedience, they bring Jehovah’s just wrath upon themselves and they are the means He sovereignly uses to chastise His people, to deliver them from the wicked world in which they live and to make them ready for eternal glory.
The same is true of baptism. Many who are baptized, instead of “improving their baptism” (Westminster Larger Catechism, A. 167), reject all that baptism signifies, are hardened in their faithlessness and unbelief, and bring the judgment of God upon themselves. This does not happen only for their destruction, however, since they are sovereignly used by God within the church for the final salvation of the elect. Their hatred of the gospel is often the beginning of persecution, an important, though distressing, part of God’s deliverance of His church. Introducing heresies and godless living into the church, they are used by God in the church to separate wheat from chaff, to waken His people out of spiritual indifference and sloth, and to occasion the development of the truth.
I Corinthians 11:19 says, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” So it is with the gospel and so it is with the sacraments. In God’s purpose to save His people and His church, He does all things in perfect wisdom to realize His purpose and to bring all things to their appointed end. Those who do not believe, even under the gospel and the sacraments, who fit the description of Jude 4, are part of that all-wise plan. They are the chaff without which the wheat cannot grow and ripen.
So let us not hesitate to apply the sacrament of baptism to all the children of believers, knowing that some who receive it are not among God’s elect people. Likewise, let us not baulk at preaching the gospel wherever and whenever God gives us opportunity, never hesitating because we preach to a “mixed” audience but trusting that it will be the power of God unto salvation to all whom He has chosen. Rev. Ron Hanko