Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Why We Baptize Our Children
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39NKJV
This morning we look at Question 166 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “Unto whom is baptism to be administered?” It gives the answer, “Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descended from parents, either both or but one of them professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and to be baptized.”
As we saw last time, baptism is the mark God gives to distinguish the members of the visible church from the world. First, it is a sign of what God has promised to do for everyone who believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ: to wash away our sins and renew us in the Holy Spirit. Moreover, baptism points us to the truth that if we do believe it is only because we have been born again from this same life-giving Spirit of God. Second, baptism seals to us God’s assurance that He will certainly save everyone who believes in Him. The promise is really given from God to me: “Believe and be saved!” So that if I believe, my baptism assures me that I am and will be saved. God has guaranteed it with the seal of baptism.
However, as the Scripture above explicitly states, God’s promise of salvation by faith is not just made to believers, it is also made to their children. Therefore, once an adult from outside the covenant community embraces God’s promise, he has the duty and the privilege to receive the sign and seal of the promise just as God has given it: to him and to his children. God is the one who makes the promise and He also is the one who gives the sign and the seal of it. The promise is explicitly said to be to believers and to their children. To those believers who were there present with Peter and to those whom God would in the future “call” to faith, who were as yet “afar off.” This is the “call” that Peter is talking about, for he mentions not the human call to believe the gospel, but the sovereign, effectual call of the Lord our God. God calls dead sinners to living faith and makes a promise not only to them but also to their children. He gives them a sign and seal of that promise. Logic demands that since the promise is given not only to adults but also to their children, the sign and seal of the promise – which by definition is less than the promise itself – should also include and therefore be given to the children.
However, it is not just logic that teaches believers should baptize their children, it is the Scriptures themselves. The message of salvation by faith in God’s promise to reconcile sinners to Himself did not originate with Jesus and His disciples. For 2,000 years faithful Jews, following in the footsteps of Abraham, looked for a saving righteousness that did not at all flow from their works of the law but came to them entirely by grace through faith. And all during that time period they had God’s sign of salvation given to them and to their children. So that whenever any man from outside the covenant community embraced the promise of salvation by grace through faith, he was instructed to likewise have the sign of that promise placed upon him and also upon all of his male children:
And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it, (Exod. 12:48).
In this text a foreign man, upon coming to faith in the God of Israel, could not be considered as having rightly embraced God’s covenant sign until he had placed it not only upon himself, but also upon all of his male children. The reason for this is that like in the New Testament, God’s promise – and therefore the sign of that promise – was in the Old Testament given to believers and to their children. If you have infant children, their minds are not able to understand and rationally believe in God’s promise the way we do as adults. Yet, praise God that He assures us that His promise is still made to them, and we can know this as we place the sign of that promise upon them! May God bless His covenant sign of baptism to you and to your children.