A Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
Question 74. Are infants also to be baptized?
Answer. Yes, for since they as well as the adult are included in the covenant and church of God; and since 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; they must, therefore, by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian Church, and be distinguished from the children of infidels, as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant.
For a proper understanding of this question we shall consider, first, Who ought to receive, and Who ought to desire baptism? Those who are not yet disciples of Christ, not being of the number of those who are called, and not believing the doctrine of the gospel, nor obeying the ministry, are not to receive baptism. Nor ought those who feel that they are not the disciples of Christ to desire baptism. And the reason why they ought neither to receive, nor desire baptism, is, because Christ says, first, teach or make all nations my disciples, and then baptize them. Hence all, and only those are to be baptized according to the command of Christ, who are, and ought to be regarded as members of the visible church, whether they be adults professing repentance and faith, or infants born in the church; for all the children of those that believe are included in the covenant, and church of God, unless they exclude themselves. They are, therefore, also disciples of Christ, because they are born in the church, or school of Christ; and hence the Holy Spirit teaches them in a manner adapted to their capacity and age.
From what we have now said, we may easily determine whether infants are to be baptized. If they are disciples of Christ, and included in the church, (which we may fully establish by the covenant itself, and many other passages of Scripture) they are fit subjects for baptism.
The Catechism adduces four reasons why infants, as well as adults, are to be baptized. 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. The major proposition is proven from the command of Christ, which requires the whole church to be baptized. “Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them,” &c. And Paul says: “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor. 12:13.) The minor proposition is clear from the covenant itself in which God declares, “I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee:” and from what Christ says: “Suffer little children to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Gen. 17:7. Matt. 19:14.)
Secondly, those are not to be excluded from baptism, to whom the benefit of the 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 The major of this syllogism is proven by the words of Peter: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ; for the promise is unto you and your children.” “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we.” (Acts 2:38, 35; 10:47.)
The same thing is established by this argument: Those unto whom the things signified belong, unto them the sign also belongs, unless there be some condition in the way of using it which would forbid it, or unless there be some circumstance connected with the institution which would not admit of the observance of the rite, as females formerly were debarred from circumcision on account of their sex, and as infants at this day are excluded from the Lord’s Supper because of their incapacity of shewing the Lord’s death, and proving themselves. The minor is manifest from the language of the covenant: “I will be a God unto thee, and thy seed after thee:” and from the following passages of Scripture: “Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” “The promise is unto you, and your children.” “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant, which God made with our fathers.” “Your children are holy.” “For if the root be holy, so are the branches.” (Matt. 19:14. Acts 2:39; 3:25. 1 Cor. 7:14. Rom. 11:16.)
So John the Baptist was sanctified from his mother’s womb. He who will now diligently examine these testimonies from the word of God, will see that it is not only lawful, but that baptism ought to be administered to infants also; for they are holy; the promise is unto them; the kingdom of heaven is theirs; and God, who is certainly not the God of the wicked, declares that he will also be their God. Neither is there any condition in infants which would forbid the use of baptism. Who then can forbid water, or exclude them from baptism, seeing that they are partakers with the whole church of the same blessings?
Thirdly, a sacrament, which God has instituted to be a solemn rite of initiation into the church, and which is designed to distinguish the church from all the various sects, ought to be extended to all, of whatever age they may be, to whom the covenant and reception into the church rightfully belong. Baptism now is such a sacrament. Therefore it ought to be administered to all ages, and as a necessary consequence to infants also; for to whom the final cause belongs, to him the effect is properly and necessarily attributed.
Fourthly, under the Old Testament infants were circumcised as well as adults. Baptism occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament, and has the same use that circumcision had in the Old Testament. Therefore infants are to be baptized as well as adults. The first proposition needs no proof. The second is proven by what the apostle Paul says: “Ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein ye are also risen with him.” (Col. 2:11, 12.) Baptism, therefore, is our circumcision, or the sacrament by which the same things are confirmed unto us, and to as many under the New Testament as under the Old by circumcision.
The Anabaptists, therefore, in denying baptism to the children of the church, do not only deprive them of their rights, but they also prevent the grace of God from being seen in its richness, since God wills that the offspring of the faithful should be included amongst the members of the church, even from the womb: yea they manifestly detract from the grace of the New Covenant, and narrow down that of the old, inasmuch as they refuse to extend baptism to infants, to whom circumcision was formerly extended; they weaken the comfort of the church, and of faithful parents; they set aside the solemn obligation by which God will have the offspring of his people consecrated to him from their very infancy, distinguished, and separated from the world; they weaken in parents and children the sense of gratitude, and the desire which they should have to perform their obligations to God; they boldly contradict the apostles who declare that water should not be forbidden those to whom the Holy Ghost is given; they wickedly keep back from Christ infants whom he has commanded to be brought to him; and lastly, they narrow down the universal command of Christ which requires that all should be baptized.
From all these things it is clear that the denial of infant baptism is no trifling error, but a grievous heresy, in direct opposition to the word of God, and the comfort of the church. Wherefore this and similar follies of the sect of the Anabaptists should be carefully avoided, since they have, without doubt, been hatched by the devil, and are detestable heresies which they have fabricated from various errors and blasphemies.
Obj. 1. No doctrine is to be received which the Scriptures do not teach expressly, nor by example. But the Scriptures do not teach the doctrine of infant baptism by any command or example. Therefore, it is not to be received by the church.
Ans. We deny the minor proposition: for we have the express command, “Baptize all nations,” which includes the children of the church. There are, also, instances recorded in the Scriptures where whole families were baptized by the Apostles, without any intimation that the infant members of these families were excluded. “Lydia was baptized and her household.” The Philippian jailor “was baptized and all his.” “I baptized also the household of Stephanus.” (Acts 16:15, 33. 1 Cor. 1:16.) To this answer the following objections are brought forward:
Obj. 1a. But Christ does not expressly command that infants should be baptized.
Ans. Neither does he expressly say that adults, men, women, citizens, husbandmen, fullers, and other artizans, such as the Anabaptists for the most part are, should be baptized. He commands that all who are included in the covenant and church of God should be baptized, of whatever age, sex, or rank they may be. Nor is there any necessity that there should be an express reference to every age and rank in general laws and commands; because what is thus enjoined, is binding upon a whole class, and so includes all the separate parts which are comprehended in it. The Anabaptists themselves do not exclude women from the Lord’s Supper, and yet they have no express command, nor example for this practice in the Scriptures. We have a general command in relation to baptism: for it is said, “Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them,” &c. This command requires that all who are disciples should be baptized. But infants are disciples, because they are born in the church, and are taught after their manner. Peter, likewise, commands the same thing when he says, “The promise is unto you and your children; therefore be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” “Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we.” (Acts 2:39; 10:47.) Paul teaches the same thing when he says that we are circumcised in Christ, and buried with him by baptism. Therefore, our baptism has taken the place of circumcision, which substitution is equal to an express command.
Obj. 1b. Those who are to be baptized must be first taught, for it is said, “teach all nations, baptizing them,” &c. But infants cannot be taught. Therefore, they are not fit subjects for baptism.
Ans. The major proposition is true of adults, who are capable of being taught, from which class of persons the first members of the church were gathered. These Christ command first to be taught, and then to be baptized, so as to be distinguished from the world. But it is false if applied to infants who are born in the church, or who become connected with it when their parents believe and make a profession of their faith; because, Christ does not speak of infants, but of adults, who are capable of being taught, and who ought not to be received into the church unless they are first taught. Infants are included in the covenant, because God says, “I will be a God unto thee and thy seed,” even before they were capable of being instructed. Therefore, they are also to be baptized.
Obj. 1c. But, in the examples recorded in the Scriptures where it is said whole families were baptized, the whole, by a figure of speech, is taken for a part, so that these instances merely teach that those who believed and made a confession of their faith were baptized. Therefore, infant baptism cannot be proven from these examples.
Ans. We deny the antecedent; because the Apostles in recording these household baptisms intimate no such exclusion, and it is wrong to have recourse to a figure of speech, when there is no reason for rejecting the natural interpretation of any passage of Scripture.
Obj. 1d. There are two reasons in favor of this synecdoche: the one is, that the Apostles did nothing contrary to the command and institution of Christ; the other is, that the circumstances connected with these examples exclude infants; for it is said, “they preached the word to all that were in his house;” “that they rejoiced,” and “that they ministered to the saints;” which cannot be applied to infants. Therefore, they are excluded.
Ans. The first reason which intimates that infant baptism is opposed to the appointment of Christ, is false, for Christ wills that all who belong to him and his church should be separated from the world by baptism, as we have shown. It is not true, therefore, that the Apostles refused to administer baptism to infants, according to the institution of Christ. And as to the second reason, it is of no force; for the children could be baptized with their parents, although none but their parents and other to the second reason, it is of no force; for the children could be baptized with their parents, although none but their parents and other members of the family of adult age heard the words of the Apostles, and ministered unto their wants; because their age might exclude them from understanding the doctrine of the Apostles, or from ministering to them, but not from baptism, any more than from salvation. Hence, it was said to Cornelius, “Peter shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.” Rejecting, therefore, such vain cavils, we must firmly hold to the doctrine that infant baptism was commanded by Christ, and was always practiced by the Apostles and the whole church. Augustin says: “The whole church holds to the doctrine of infant baptism by tradition.” And he concludes: “What the whole church holds and has always retained, although it has not been decreed by any council, that it is just as proper for us to believe, as if it had been delivered and handed down by apostolic authority.”
Obj. 2. Those who do not believe, are not to be baptized; for it is said, “He that believeth and is baptized,” &c. But infants do not believe. Therefore, they are not to be baptized. Faith is necessarily required for the use of baptism, for he that believeth not shall be damned. But the sign of grace ought not to be given to such as are condemned.
Ans. 1. The first proposition is not true, if understood generally; for circumcision was applied to infants, although they were not capable of exercising faith. It must, therefore, be understood of adults only, who are not to be baptized except they believe. Neither can our opponents say of adults that they do certainly believe. If infants, therefore, are not to be baptized because they do not believe, then neither are those to be baptized who have arrived to years of understanding, because no one can certainly know whether they have faith or not. Simon Magus was baptized, and yet he was a hypocrite. But, say our opponents, the church ought to be satisfied with a profession of faith. This we admit, and would add, that to be born in the church, is, to infants, the same thing as a profession of faith.
Ans. 2. Faith is, indeed, necessary to the use of baptism with this distinction. Actual faith is required in adults, and an inclination to faith in infants. There are, therefore, four terms in this syllogism, or there is a fallacy in understanding that as spoken particularly, which must be understood generally. Those who do not believe, that is, who have no faith at all, neither by profession nor by inclination, are not to be baptized. But infants born of believing parents have faith as to inclination.
Ans. 3. We also deny the minor proposition; for infants do believe after their manner, or according to the condition of their age; they have an inclination to faith. Faith is in infants potentially and by inclination, although not actually as in adults. For, as infants born of ungodly parents who are without the church, have no actual wickedness, but only an inclination thereto, so those who are born of godly parents have no actual holiness, but only an inclination to it; not according to nature, but according to the grace of the covenant. And still further: infants have the Holy Ghost, and are regenerated by him, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb, and Jeremiah is said to have been sanctified before he came out of the womb. (Luke 1:15. Jer. 1:5.) If infants now have the Holy Ghost, he certainly works in them regeneration, good inclinations, new desires, and such other things as are necessary for their salvation, or he at least supplies them with every thing that is requisite for their baptism, according to the declaration of Peter, “Can any man forbid water to them who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we.” It is for this reason that Christ enumerates little children amongst those that believe, saying, “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me.” (Matt. 18:6.) In as much now as infants are fit subjects for baptism, they do not profane it as the Anabaptists wickedly affirm.
Obj. 3. But if the sign of the covenant belongs to all those to whom its promise belongs, then the Lord’s Supper ought also to be administered to infants, because it is also a sign of the covenant. But it is not administered to infants. Therefore, they ought not to be baptized.
Ans. we do not say that every sign ought to be applied to infants; but only that there must be some sign of initiation into the church, which, in the new covenant, is baptism. This does not exclude infants, for it merely requires the Holy Ghost, and faith, whether it be actual or potential, as appears from the words of Peter, “Can any man forbid water,” &c. Or, if the objection be thus framed: Infants ought to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper if they are to be baptized, in as much as the Lord’s Supper is designed for the whole church, as well as baptism. But they are not admitted to the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, they are not to be baptized: We reply, by denying the consequence, because there is a great difference between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the sacrament of initiation, and reception into the church, so that none are to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, unless they be first baptized. But the Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of our abiding in the church, or it is the confirmation of our reception: for God has instituted it that he might declare, and seal unto us, this truth, that having once received us into the church, he will for ever preserve us, so that we shall not fall away from it; and that he will also continue the benefits once bestowed upon us, and will feed and nourish us upon the body and blood of Christ unto eternal life. Adults, who are beset with various temptations and trials need this support. Again: regeneration by the Holy Ghost, and faith, or an inclination to faith and repentance are sufficient for baptism; but in the Lord’s Supper there are conditions added, and required which exclude infants from its use. It is required of those that observe it, that they shew the Lord’s death, and examine themselves whether they have repentance and faith. In as much now as infants are incapacitated to do this on account of their age, it is evident that they are justly excluded from the Lord’s Supper, but not from baptism. It does not follow, therefore, that infants are to be at once admitted to the Lord’s Supper, because they are to be baptized; for they are to be admitted only to those sacraments which are signs of reception into the covenant and church, and which have no conditions that exclude them on account of their age. Baptism now is such a sacrament in the New Testament; but it is different with the Lord’s Supper.
Obj. 4. But if baptism has come in the place of circumcision, then none but males ought now to be baptized, and they on the eighth day after their birth. But both males and females are now baptized. Therefore, baptism has not taken the place of circumcision.
Ans. Baptism has not succeeded circumcision in all the circumstances connected with it, but in the thing signified, and as to its end and use. The two sacraments agree in these things; whilst they differ as to the circumstance of age and sex. God restricted circumcision expressly to the males, and spared the females. Yet he included them among the males, in as much as being born of circumcised parents was to them in the place of circumcision. They were circumcised in the males, or what is the same thing, they were accounted as circumcised. It is for this reason that Christ calls a holy woman “a daughter of Abraham;” and the sons of Jacob said: “we cannot give our sister to one that is uncircumcised,” thus making a distinction between the expressions our sister and one that is uncircumcised. (Luke 13:16. Gen. 34:14.) God, therefore, formerly made an exception in the case of females, and ordained circumcision on the eighth day. But in baptism these things are not determined; but the command is general, requiring all the children of the faithful to be ingrafted into the church, whether it be on the eighth day, or immediately after their birth.