For the last several weeks, I have been exploring what “good and necessary consequence” means in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
As a result of some questions I’ve received about that series, I wanted to explain how infant baptism is established by good and necessary consequence of what is revealed about the covenant and the covenant sign in scripture. Let me start with a few disclaimers:
- I don’t expect this to be a slam dunk case for infant baptism. However, I do hope that it will help my Reformed Baptist brothers and sisters understand where we as paedobaptists (those who baptize infants of believers) are coming from.
- These arguments are by no means exhaustive. Full-length books have been written on this subject. I will not be able to address everything in one blog post. However, I hope sketch out an argument for infant baptism that will demonstrate why we conclude that children of believers must be baptized.
- This will not be a refutation of objections. I am laying out a positive case for infant baptism. For a refutation of objections, I would refer you to Calvin (his Institutes and Commentaries), Witsius, a Brakel, Turretin, and any of the other Reformed Scholastics who treat this subject with greater depth than I possibly can in one blog post.
Premise Set 1: The Covenant
1. God covenants with man throughout Scripture. The basic content of the covenant God makes after the fall is “I will be your God and you will be my people.” (Exod.6:7, Genesis 17:1-4; Lev. 26:12; Jeremiah 30:22; 2 Cor 6:16)
2. When God makes a covenant, he does not break it. (Deut 7:9; Psalm 89:34; Galatians 3:17)
3. When God acts, he does so according according to how He has acted and what He has promised before. (Psalm 25:7, Psalm 103:17; Genesis 26:3-5; Exodus 2:24-25; Luke 1:68-75; Galatians 3:17)
Conclusion: Given that God covenants with man throughout Scripture, that God does not break covenant, and that God acts according to how he has acted before and what he has promised, it follows that there is continuity in the history of redemption found in the covenant.
Sidenote: This is an area of significant disagreement between Reformed paedobaptists and credobaptists. It must be recognized that we all bring assumptions to the text. There’s no way to come to the text as a tabula rasa. Further, we all ask questions of the text to determine whether the data give us an answer. It seems to me that credobaptists must assume discontinuity between the covenants and makes that the basis for examining the evidence of Scripture. Similarly, the paedobaptist assumes a continuity between the covenants and makes that the basis for examining the evidence of Scripture. The question is: which assumption is more reasonable? Is it more reasonable to assume that God would act in substantially different ways throughout redemptive history? Or is it more reasonable to assume that he has acted in the same way throughout redemptive history? Moreover, would the apostles – for whom all previous covenants would have been between believers and their children – have assumed a continuity or a discontinuity? My assertion is that they would have assumed a continuity. I think this is borne out in the writings of the apostles. This brings us to our next set of premises.
Premise Set 2: The Substance of the Covenant
1. There has always been a substance of the covenant which is the basis for any promises given and that substance is really present in the covenant.
Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance [hypostasis] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”In this remarkable passage from Hebrews, I think we find some of the most convincing evidence for the paedobaptist covenantal view. Hypostasis, which is translated here as “substance”, denotes something that is substantially present for the one holding it. Here’s Herman Witsius on that point:
Ὑπόστασις, hypostasis, denotes the existence, or, as one of the ancients has said, the extantia, the standing up of a thing; in which sense philosophers say, that a thing that really is, has an ὑπόστασις, that is, a real existence, and is not the fiction of our own mind. And, indeed, faith makes the thing hoped for, though not actually existing, to have, notwithstanding, an existence in the believer’s mind, who so firmly assents to the promises of God, as if the thing promised was already present with him. (Economy, p. 255)
We can see, taking what has been stated about the covenant above, that Hebrews 11 is speaking of one substance of the covenant. Abel saw that a better sacrifice existed than Cain’s, this being a type showing the greater sacrifice of Christ than that of bulls and goats (v.4). Abraham looked to to the heavenly Zion secured for us in Christ when he was called out to the land of promise (v.10). He and Sara saw that by the death of one, many were given life (v.12). Abraham also received Christ’s resurrection in a figure (v. 19). Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater than the treasures of Egypt (v.26).
2. The substance of that covenant is Christ, revealed with greater evidences, better spiritual efficacy and better ministry given in the New Covenant (Hebrews 4:1-2; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6; Romans 4:16-17; Col 2:17; Hebrews 12:22-24; Romans 10:6-10: Isaiah 28:16). Calvin explains this succinctly:
The covenant made with our fathers is so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same; still the administration differs…the covenant by which [the Jews] were reconciled to the Lord was founded on no merits of their own, but solely on the mercy of God, who called them; and, thirdly, that they both had and knew Christ the Mediator, by whom they were united to God, and made capable of receiving his promises.
– Institutes, II.10.ii.
3. This covenant is both established as a covenant with the OT saints and contains testamentary elements (Hebrews 9:15-20). The faith of the OT saints in Christ establishes them in the covenant. Christ’s coming enacts the testament, promising a better atonement, a better priesthood, an eternal intercession which confirms the everlasting communion of the saints with God.
Conclusion: This one continuous covenant had Christ as its one substance.
Premise Set 3: The Covenant Sign
1. Every covenant between God and Man has had a sign given to it. I think this is an uncontroversial point but here’s some references for that: Genesis 17:10-13; Lev. 12:3; Romans 6:3-4; Gal 3:27; Col 2:10-12.
2. The sign of the first covenant (the covenant of works) was unto life (Genesis 2:9)
3. The sign of the second covenant (the covenant of grace) was of repentance unto life (Deut 10:16). Further proof for this can be found in Calvin’s Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545):
Q333 M. If these things are requisite to the legitimate use of Baptism, how comes it that we baptize Infants?
- It is not necessary that faith and repentance should always precede baptism. They are only required from those whose age makes them capable of both. It will be sufficient, then, if, after infants have grown up, they exhibit the power of their baptism.
Q334 M. Can you demonstrate by reason that there is nothing absurd in this?
- Yes; if it be conceded to me that our Lord instituted nothing at variance with reason. For while Moses and all the Prophets teach that circumcision was a sign of repentance, and was even as Paul declares the sacrament of faith, we see that infants were not excluded from it. (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 4:11.)
Q335 M. But are they now admitted to Baptism for the same reason that was valid in circumcision?
- The very same, seeing that the promises which God anciently gave to the people of Israel are now published through the whole world.
4. This sign of repentance was given to children, which is plain from all of the text from the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants already discussed.
5. When a covenant sign is given, this is the administration of the covenant. We call it such because the covenant can be referred to by its administration (Genesis 17:14).
6. The covenant, whose substance is Christ, is administered both to those who are elect and who are not elect (John 15;1-6; Romans 9:6-13; Romans 11:16-32).
7. To those who are not elect, the covenant is of no use to them, for though it is administered to them, it is of no benefit to them (Hebrews 10:29) because they do not have the substance of the covenant and have rejected the grace promised in that sacrament (Hebrews 4:1-2).
8. The covenant sign of circumcision is replaced by baptism (Col 2:11-15), the mode of the sign being different but the substance (repentance) and the recipient (children of believers – Acts 2: 39) being the same.
9. Children are federally holy (1 Cor 7:14). To explain this further, they are holy according to the promise that they are a part of in the covenant; however, they may by unbelief trample underfoot the Son of God and the blood of the covenant (Hebrews 10:29).
Conclusion: The covenant sign of the covenant of grace, whose substance is Christ, is administered differently but points to the promise of life in Christ, and is given to both children and believers because of their holy covenant status.
Therefore, to tie this all together, we baptize infants because:
There is one covenant of grace, differently administered throughout redemptive history, whose substance has always been Christ, who was known by faith by the OT saints and by us today, and the covenant sign pointing to repentance unto life in him, though being differently administered at different times in redemptive history, was once circumcision and is now baptism, and is given to believers as well to their children, without doing violence to the purity of the covenant, since baptism is administered efficaciously to the elect and to no avail to the non-elect. Yet, since we cannot know who God has predetermined to give everlasting life in his invisible church, we baptize all those who are part of the visible church, meaning believers and their children.
It is my hope that this article will help those who are exploring this issue better understand the position of the paedobaptist; that it is not built on tradition but rather sound exegesis of the text and by deduction from the principles given. The purpose of this article is to show how one arrives at a doctrine by consequence despite there being no express text that establishes the doctrine. The texts provided here as evidence yield a proximate meaning to the conclusions given and do not stretch them beyond their intended meaning.
I’ll end with a quote from Charles Hodge who spoke about another doctrine – the Trinity – and how it is established by deduction from the witness of Scripture. It is my hope that this article will further demonstrate why the use of consequence is not only useful but required when we are trying to understand the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:10):
“No such doctrine as that of the Trinity can be adequately proved by any citation of Scriptural passages….the unity of the Divine Being; the true and equal divinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit; their distinct personality; the relation in which they stand one to the other, and to the Church and the world, are not presented in a doctrinal formula in the Word of God, but the several constituent elements of the doctrine are asserted, or assumed, over and over, from beginning to the end of the Bible.” – C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, p.446