Our Covenant God
An Exposition of the Doctrine
Of The Covenant From Scripture
By Rev. Herman Veldman
with an appendix:
The Expression "Sanctified in Christ"
In Our Baptism Form
The Expression "Sanctifed In Christ"
In Our Baptism Form
The Expression “Sanctified In Christ” In Our Baptism Form *
By Rev. Herman Veldman
A Paper delivered at the Ministers’ Conference
held April 9, 1948 at the First Church.
The Liturgy of our Reformed churches, to which also our Baptism Form belongs, is historically not as rich as our highly treasured Confessions. With respect to our Confessions, our Belgic Confession, also called The Thirty Seven Articles and our Confession of Faith, reminds us of Guido de Bres and of the fact that he preferred martyrdom to a renouncing of his faith and principles. These articles, originally composed by, the above named French Reformer, were born of the blood and suffering of the saints of God for the cause of Christ, and we treasure them, also for this reason, even before we have begun to read them. Our Heidelberg Catechism, drawn up by Ursinus and Olevianus upon the request of Elector Frederick III, also called “The Pious,” can also trace its origin to the fact that Germany, then composed of hundreds of greater or lesser states, had become a battleground of the various conflicting views, such as Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc. And our Canons of Dordrecht, too, are the fruit of an uncompromising opposition to Arminianism and all which: that ungodly theory implies.
It is somewhat different with our Liturgy, although it, too, was composed in trying times of hardship and peril, as in the days of bloody Mary, Queen of England, wife of Philip II of Spain, who ruled England in the years 1553-1558, during whose reign many Protestant leaders were compelled to suffer martyrdom, among whom we may name Cramer, Latimer, and Ridley. This persecution, we understand, was not merely confined to the English isles.
Our Liturgy and our maintaining of it are significant. They, too, serve as a bond to preserve the unity of the church of God in the midst of the world. It is not difficult to foresee what the result would be, if these ecclesiastical bands were relinquished, abandoned, if each minister were left to himself to determine the policy and course of action which he would choose to adopt.
This is applicable particularly to our Baptism Form. In the history of the church of God in the Netherlands, following upon the year, 1834, a person’s ecclesiastical identity was determined by his conception of Infant Baptism, To maintain “presumptive regeneration” as the ground of infant baptism stigmatized one as a follower of Kuyper; to oppose this conception placed one in the camp of the “A” group. To emphasize the first view exposed a person to the charge of Catholicism; to champion the “A” conception exposed him to the accusation of despising the sacrament and of Methodism.
The minister who spoke a few edifying words at the administration of Baptism was regarded as a pure “A” man; whoever omitted such words was truly “B.” And, indeed, no other question reveals our truly and distinctively Reformed identity more clearly than the question which pertains to the ground of and reason for the baptism of all our children. And of all the difficult questions connected with our Baptism Form, so it is claimed, none is acknowledged to be more difficult than that which concerns the expression, “Sanctified in Christ.”
A Historical Review of Our Baptism Form.
Our Form of Baptism we owe largely, together with our other Forms of worship and our psalms, to one man, Petrus Dathenus, or Datheen as he is also called, had fled from the Netherlands to a small village in Germany, Frankenthal. There a place of refuge had been, accorded him by the great Elector, Frederick III. Because many of Reformed persuasion had fled with him to Frankenthal, gradually a strong city developed there and with that growth a powerful and active congregation sprang into being. In the midst of this congregation a liturgical book was composed and used, which served, almost without change, until 1737; this book, at least for the greatest part of it, still remains our heritage. Peter Dathenus although performing the lion share, did not work alone. Others helped him and he drew from various sources, as for example, A Lasco, the great London Reformer. Another source which aided Dathenus was a liturgy drawn up by Olevianus, who corresponded with Calvin and was greatly influenced by that great French Reformer. Calvin, therefore, be it indirectly, has set the stamp of his spirit upon our Baptism Form.
As far as the subsequent history of our Baptism Form is concerned, in 1574 the provincial Synod of Dordt shortened it considerably. However, because the national Synod of Dordt neglected to bestow upon the churches a carefully prepared and established version, the Baptism Form was corrupted in various ways and arbitrarily explained. In 1897 Professor Rutgers presented a new edition of the Baptism Form, and this product of Prof. Rutgers was adopted, preliminarily, by the Synod ‘of Arnhem in 1902.
A Highly Significant Question
The phrase, “Sanctified in Christ” occurs, in our Baptism Form, in the first question which is asked of the parents. This question reads: “Whether you acknowledge, that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His Church ought to be baptized?” The true interpretation of the phrase, “Sanctified in Christ” is a highly significant question, because it is obviously the heart and core of our entire Baptism Form. We have here the all-important question directed to the parents whether they acknowledge that their children ought to be baptized. It is true that the parents are asked whether they confess the truth as contained in the Old and New Testaments and as taught in their Christian Church to be the truth and also whether they will instruct or help instruct their child or children in that Christian doctrine. But in this first question the fathers touch upon the very ground and basis of infant baptism. This is a self-evident fact.
And, it is also self-evident that this first question, as far as its essential significance is concerned, can be summarized as follows: “Whether you. acknowledge that our children, because they are sanctified in Christ and therefore are members of His Church, ought to be baptized?! We may safely conclude, therefore, that the phrase, “sanctified in Christ,” is the very heart, the nerve-center, of our Baptism Form.
Besides, in our appraisal of this expression, we must be strictly honest. The important question is not, “How can we explain it?” Because of the failure of the National Synod of Dordt to produce a carefully prepared and established version of our Baptism Form, it was often arbitrarily explained and interpreted. Recognizing the dilemma which confronted them in this first question directed to the parents, several preachers very arbitrarily asked this question of the parents in the form of their own choosing. According to the book, “Ons Doopsformulier” by Ds. B. Wielenga, page 275, the following change would be made in this first question of our Baptism Form: Do you acknowledge that some children are sanctified in Christ?; or: Do you acknowledge that they can be sanctified in Christ?; or: Do you acknowledge that they are probably sanctified in Christ?; or: Do you acknowledge that they ought to be sanctified in Christ?; or: Do you acknowledge that they, sanctified in Christ, that is, when they are sanctified in Christ? However, it is not the important question whether we can interpret or how we can interpret our Baptism Form and particularly this first question directed to the parents.
We must ask ourselves this question: How must this phrase be explained? How did our fathers interpret the expression? What does it mean as it constitutes a part of our officially adopted confession? In regard to this point the undersigned is convinced that no doubt need exists in our minds relative the interpretation by our fathers of the much disputed phrase, “sanctified in Christ.”
Finally, we will attempt in this paper to limit ourselves to these words, and refer to the rest of our Baptism Form only insofar as it throws light upon this expression. We need not, therefore, enter upon a detailed discussion of our Baptism Form in general. Neither will it be necessary to discuss the sacramental operation in the sacrament of Infant Baptism, whether we must conceive of such an operation of the Spirit upon the elect recipient of the sacrament. The question which confronts us in this paper is: What is the interpretation of the phrase, “sanctified in Christ,”?
Various Interpretations of the Expression.
Some would interpret this phrase in a subjective-spiritual sense. The expression, then, refers to spiritual, actual, subjective holiness. To be “sanctified in Christ” would signify that we are spiritually in Christ and consequently partakers of His holiness in that spiritual, subjective sense of the word.
Others regard this sanctification or holiness in the objective sense. Such, e.g., was the presentation of the late Prof. W. Heyns. Baptism, as such, is an objective sign of’ God’s covenant, of our entrance into God’s fellowship through the blood of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit; that is, the sacrament itself is an earthly picture and therefore a sign of this fact as such. This sacrament, however, is also an objective seal, whereby the Lord declares, in this sacrament of baptism, that the child has the right to all the covenant blessings of God in Christ Jesus our receiving of these blessings, we understand, is contingent upon our acceptance of the proffered salvation. Hence, all our children are “sanctified in Christ,” set apart in that objective sense of the word.
A third presentation of this phrase is called a sort of covenant holiness. This conception was entertained exclusively by the “A” brethren during the famous controversy in the Netherlands prior to and including the Synod of Utrecht, 1905. The undersigned candidly admits that it is difficult for him to distinguish sharply between this view and that of the late Prof. W. Heyns. The following explanation of the phrase, “sanctified in Christ,” by J. Van Andel, which appeared, in his ‘Pastoral Epistles’ in the year 1907, was quoted in the pamphlet “Rondom 1905” page 115, and we translate:
“Exactly because they are so seldom, the apostolic references concerning our children are of such great value. We know the much-discussed passage: ‘your children are holy’, I Cor. 7:14. Would. Paul here define the children of believers as regenerated? Not at all; this idea lies completely beyond his vision. But wherein does the holiness of the child consist? We must seek the answer in the Old Covenant. While God gave the peoples of the world over unto sin, in the same measure that they held under the light of His general Revelation, His dealings with Abraham’s seed were exactly the opposite. He separated it from the peoples of this world, covered its impurity with the blood of sin-offerings, placed upon it the imprint of His peculiar possessions, and redelivered (hergaf) it unto men’s original destiny, by calling it unto His service. Israel became thereby an holy, priestly people. Now, our children occupy the same position. This holiness can undoubtedly be lost. This does not take away the fact, however, that it is of great value. The sanctified child partakes of privileges which have been denied entire peoples. It is not estranged from the blood of Christ, Heb. 10:29; fact is, none is sanctified except by blood. Christ bought with His own also their seed, and merited for them the right to serve God instead of being given over unto sin and being subject to its condemnation. If this were not true, God could exercise no fellowship with the seed of His own whatsoever, yea, He would not will to have fellowship with them. Neither does the sanctified child stand outside of all communion with the Spirit of God Who lives in the church. He resides underneath His holy influence (heiligen adem), is led by Him unto the knowledge of salvation, and also considered worthy to taste the good work of God, Heb. 6:5. . . . But the most important gift to them remains, that they have been laid, at the open gate of heaven, and may request, in all confidence, all grace of the Lord which they need to enter.”
And on page 37 of the same booklet we quote the following as an expression of the beliefs of Ds. T. Bos, a prominent “A,” man:
“Because of the words ‘in Christ” the word “sanctified” (in this phrase of our Baptism Form-H.V.) means more than a separation to reside underneath the means of grace; it is a privilege which the children have in common with the believers, and which distinguishes them from unbaptized, who reside underneath the Gospel. On the other hand, it is less than being regenerated. To him ‘sanctified in Christ’ is the same as being member of the church, as we know her; to express it with his own distinction: sanctified refers to membership of the church, ‘not according to the line of election, but according to that of the covenant.’ We do not err, therefore, when we conceive of Bos as understanding covenant-holiness as being partaker of the promise. The possession of the promise is, on the one hand, more than a residing underneath the gospel, and, on the other hand, less than a being regenerated” thus far this quotation concerning the beliefs of Ds. T. Bos.
In this same vein, spake all the “A,” men of that day who so furiously opposed the conception of the late Dr. A. Kuyper. It is clear that they did not interpret “sanctified in Christ” in a subjective, real, spiritual sense, but objectively, as a sort of covenant holiness. All the children of believers were regarded as in the covenant, as possessing a special privilege, as receiving a certain right to the service and blessings of God. That also Prof. Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology, conceives also of the unregenerate as being in the covenant in the sense that they have special privileges, such as the right to lay claim to the promises of God and as sharing the so-called common covenant blessings, appears from his writings on page 289, and we quote:
“They are in the covenant in the sense that they may lay claim to the promises which God gave when He established His covenant with believers and their seed. Paul even says of his wicked kinsmen, whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises,Rom. 9:4. . . . They are in the covenant also as far as the covenant blessings are concerned. Though they do not experience the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, yet they are subject to certain special operations and influences of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit strives with them in a special manner, convicts them of sin, enlightens them in a measure, and enriches them with the blessings of common grace, Gen. 6:3; Matt. 13:18-22; Heb. 6:4-6.”
The Spiritual-Subjective Interpretation
the Only Possible Interpretation of the
Expression, “Sanctified in Christ.”
First, the expression, “sanctified in Christ,” appears throughout the New Testament in this ethical, spiritual sense. On the one hand, this phrase as it appears in our Baptism Form is surely not a quotation of I Cor. 7:14. There we read: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” The meaning of this passage is surely not that the believing wife renders the unbelieving husband spiritually, ethically holy, or that the believing husband renders the unbelieving wife holy in that sense of the word. This, we know, is impossible. But the apostle would teach us that the marriage relationship between such parents is sanctified by God to the extent that He will establish His covenant with their seed. There is, however, and this is self-evident, a striking, difference between I Cor. 7:14 and the expression as it appears in our Baptism Form: the words, “in Christ,” which do appear in the first question directed to the parents do not appear in the text in I Corinthians. Also the late Prof. Bavinck declared that it cannot be established that the expression in the first question directed to the parents is a quotation of or an appeal to I Cor: 7:14; yea, he adds that if the author of our Baptism Form inserted the phrase, “sanctified in Christ,” because of I Cor. 7:14, he would have misinterpreted the text. On the other hand, the phrase is a quotation of several other passages in the Word of God. Permit us to quote the following:
- “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”
- Cor. 1:2; “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”
- Phil 1:l; “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.”
- John 17:17; “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God,"
- I Cor. 6:11; “That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” Ephesians 5:26.
In all these texts the expression must be understood spiritually-subjectively. In fact, no text can be quoted from the Scriptures in which this expression ever has another connotation.
Secondly, the context of this phrase, “sanctified in Christ,” demands that it be spiritually-subjectively interpreted. Notice with me, first of all, the immediate context. To the parents the following question is directed:
“Whether you acknowledge, that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His Church ought to be baptized?”
The words; “conceived and born in sin,” speak for themselves. They can be understood only in a spiritual-subjective sense of the word. Hence, if then the phrase, “sanctified in Christ” merely refers to covenant holiness and does not necessarily imply ethical holiness, we would be able to ascribe this quaint interpretation to this first question: “Whether you acknowledge, that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet, that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore still in their sin, as members of His Church ought to be baptized?” To explain the phrase objectively surely leaves room for the possibility that they are yet in their sin.
Notice with me in the second place, however, the general tenor of the Baptism Form. In the didactic part of the Form (the first part) we are told, firstly, what the Father has done. We are told that “God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that He doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for His children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit.” Thereupon we are told what the Son has done. We read that “the Son sealeth unto us, that He doth wash us in His blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of His death and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins, and accounted righteous before God.” Finally, in this first part of the Form, we are told, not what the Spirit has done but what he will do not because this work of the Spirit is dependent upon us, but because this work applies to our entire future. And we are told that “the Holy ‘Ghost assures us, by this holy sacrament, that He will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying unto us, that which we have in Christ, namely, the washing. away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.”
And that this truth as expressed in this didactic part of our Baptism Form also applies to the children is evident from the Thanksgiving Prayer. We read: “Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise Thee, that Thou hast forgiven us, and our children, all our sins, through the blood of Thy beloved Son, and adopted us to be Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by Holy Baptism. . .” Notice, please, that we read here: And received us (also our children therefore) through Thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by Holy Baptism.” All that we read, therefore, in the didactic part of our Form is applied to our children. And all this is further emphasized by the words which appear shortly before the prayer: “Since then baptism is come in the place of circumcision, therefore infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God, and of His covenant.”
Thirdly, another reason why the phrase, “sanctified in Christ,” must be interpreted in a spiritual-subjective sense of the word will become apparent when we refer to related baptism forms of the days of the Reformation. Remember, our own Baptism Form was composed by Petrus Dathenus during the days of the Reformation. In the Baptism Form of A Lasco (1499-1560-born in Poland a prominent reformer who came to England in 1550 where he labored for the cause of Protestantism), in the second question the confession is required of the parents that these children must be baptized upon the command of Christ with the seal of the adoption of His righteousness. Of ‘greater significance’ is what Micron declares in his Catechism which appeared in London in the year, 1561, with a preface by A Lasco, Micron or Micronius was a Dutch Protestant who was born in the year, 1522(3) and died in the year, 1559. His ninetieth question reads:
Why are not faith and confession by the mouth not demanded in the same manner of the children of the Congregation before they are baptized? And the answer reads: “Because the Congregation has a much surer testimony of their salvation out of the Word of God; than one could have from the confession of adults, and their innate sickness (because of which they can neither believe nor Confess) is not imputed unto them for Christ’s sake, in Whom they are considered blessed, that is, holy, justified, pure, and believing, not less than the adult believers.”
Fourthly, in support of the assertion that the phrase, “sanctified in Christ,” must be spiritually-subjectively understood, I would offer you several quotations from the fathers of the time of the composition of our Baptism Form. Bullinger, a contemporary and friend of Calvin, writes in his “Huisboek,” 5th decade, eighth sermon or lecture: “I pray you, why do we baptize our minor children? Because they confess with the mouth? I think not. Do we not baptize them because God has commanded to bring them unto Him? And because we believe, that God out of pure grace and mercy through the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed them, has adopted and made them heirs of His eternal kingdom? Whereas we baptize the children for this reason, we thereby sufficiently declare that grace is not bestowed upon them through baptism, but that that is sealed unto them which they already possess.” In his “small Catechism” Ursinus declares: “The first reason why the children must be baptized, is that the Holy Spirit operates also in them, and inclines them to believe and obey God, although they can believe as the adult believers can.” Caspar van der Heyden writes in his “Short and clear proof of the Holy Baptism,”: “Even as in Adam our children are not merely reckoned as dead, but really are dead, so also in Christ they are not only reckoned to be alive, but they are ingrafted into Christ, even as they can be partakers of His life.” And to the Baptists he directs the question: “If now the children are pure and holy . . . . and such does not occur through the Holy Spirit of regeneration, the ingrafting of Christ, will you tell us whereby it does occur.?” Batingius writes in his “Explanation of the Catechism of the Christian Religion”: “The second proof for infant baptism is founded upon this, that the children, as well as the adults, are promised the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. From this we conclude thus. Whereas it is revealed, that the sign and the outward ceremony cannot in any way be denied them to whom the things signified, as the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit, are promised and given. And whereas it appears that the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit are promised and given the small, minor children, how then could the element of water be justly deprived the young children?” Having said this he proves this statement with Matt. 19:14, in connection with John 3:5, and then concludes: “So there can be no doubt of their (i.e.,the children) regeneration, which is further strengthened by the fact, that regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit.” Festus Hommius, clerk of the Synod of Dordt, declares in his: “Disputationes Theologicas adversus Pontificios: “Although the children lack the aptness or adaptation (hebbelijkheid) of operating faith and do not possess active faith, nevertheless they may not therefore be reckoned among the positive unbelievers; not because they receive active faith in baptism, or that of them it can be said that they believe through the faith of another, namely, of the church or those who present them for baptism; but because they have faith in the first activity, in the root and in the seed and that through the inner operation of the Holy Spirit.” In his Loci Communes Antonius Walasus appeals to Calvin in his opposition to Beza and expresses himself thus: We say that the children (ye take them indeterminately, leaving unto God His judgment) must be reckoned among the believers, because the seed of the Spirit of faith is in them, which some call the aptness and others the inclination of faith; out of which subsequently, through the hearing of the Word active faith is gradually formed, sometimes earlier, sometimes later.” Jacobus Trigland, one of the most vehement opponents of the, Arminians, directs in one of his writings the following question at the Arminians: “Whether the young child of believers are truly regenerated and sanctified by the Holy Spirit? If not, how then can they be saved. . . . and upon what ground are they then baptized, inasmuch as baptism is the washing (bad) of regeneration?” Voetius declares: “In no other way is baptism administered to children and the word of the promise applied to them, than the Supper of the Lord or baptism is applied to adults. For inner faith and inner conversion is supposed out of the outward confession. If these be present then they are sealed by baptism, which is actually and formally the seal; if not, then baptism seals nothing.” And of the same writer we would also quote the following: “It is the consensus of opinion of Reformed theologians, that the power of baptism does not consist in the producing of regeneration, but in the confirmation of regeneration, which is already present.”
From these quotations we may draw some definite conclusions. On the one hand we may say that the fathers here are surely speaking of the children of believers according to election. At first glance we might say that they do not distinguish here. They do not mention election or reprobation in these quotations. At first glance, therefore, we might draw the conclusion that the fathers here are speaking of all the children of the believers without discrimination. Against this view, however, we may object that the language of the fathers in these statements is altogether too positive. We read, for example, “that God out of pure grace and mercy, through the blood of Jesus Christ, has cleansed them, has adopted and made them heirs of His eternal kingdom.” Ursinus declares that “the Holy Spirit operates also in the children and inclines them to believe and obey God, although they cannot believe as the adult believers can...” And thus we could continue. The language of the fathers in these quotations is positive. They do not presuppose or assume something to be true. What they say concerning the children they declare to be facts. They are speaking of the children according to election. And on the other hand, it is apparent that many of the fathers understood regeneration to precede baptism.
To quote Voetius again: “It is the consensus of opinion of Reformed theologians that the power of baptism does not consist in the producing of regeneration (Roman Catholicism H.V.), but in the confirmation of regeneration, which is already present.” And although Calvin also has been quoted in support of the contention that regeneration precedes baptism, yet the great Reformer remarks in his Institutes that the Baptists are guilty of the error that the thing signified always must precede the sign. He writes in his Institutes, IV, chapter 16, page 152 (Calvin is opposing the Anabaptists who, in their denial of infant baptism, contend that, inasmuch as baptism is a sign of regeneration and we know not of the infants that they are regenerated, baptism should therefore not be administered to them): “And though in adults a knowledge of the mystery ought to precede the reception of the sign, yet a different rule is to be applied to infants, as we shall presently show. . . . They contend that this passage (1 Peter 3:21, H.V.) leaves not the least room for the baptism of infants, who are not capable of that in which the truth of baptism is here stated to consist. But they frequently fall into this error, maintaining that the thing signified should always precede the sign.” Calvin; therefore, in this statement evidently rejects the idea that regeneration always precedes baptism which is the washing of regeneration. A third conclusion which we may draw from the quotations of the fathers is that they all agree that the work of God’s grace usually occurs in the hearts of His people during their infancy. Nothing more need be said on this point. The quotations speak for themselves.
Its Proper Significance in our Baptism Form
Let us understand the question clearly. That the phrase, “sanctified in Christ” has a subjective, spiritual connotation is plain. The question, however, is: “Understood in that spiritual, subjective sense of the word, what is its significance in our Baptism Form?” Does the expression refer to all the children of believers? Must we then adopt Dr. Kuyper’s view of presumptive or presupposed regeneration? Must we assume that all our children are actually sanctified in Christ, a view which Kuyper advocated because of his unique conception of the sacrament? Dr. Kuyper distinguished between form and essence. The administration of baptism to a certain child was only then a sacrament if it be accompanied by the operation of the Holy Spirit. If this operation of the Holy Spirit were lacking, then that which was administered was not really a sacrament but merely a form. Hence, the sacrament of baptism could only be administered and was only administered to regenerated people or children of God. But, inasmuch as not all the children of believers are elect children, how can the church administer the sacrament of baptism? How can we administer a sacrament instead of a mere form? And Kuyper’s answer to this question was that the church must presuppose regeneration whenever the sacrament of baptism is administered.
But, please observe with me the following. In the first place, nowhere in, our Baptism Form do the fathers presuppose anything. Kuyper’s “presupposed regeneration” and the various quotations of the fathers which we quoted are surely not identical. Kuyper presupposes things; the fathers speak facts. Also, Kuyper presupposes regeneration of all the infants of believers; the fathers express, themselves thus only with respect to the elect children. Nevertheless, although Dr. Kuyper expressed himself in favour of the of doctrine of “presupposed regeneration” and the fathers regarded the sacrament of baptism as a seal of the regeneration already present in the child, nowhere in the Baptism Form or in our Confessions do these ideas occur. Nowhere is the idea of a presupposed regeneration expressed. And in the Utrecht Conclusions we read, and I quote: “Meanwhile Synod is of the opinion, that the proposition, that each elect child is therefore regenerated already before baptism, cannot be proven either upon the basis of Scripture or the Confession, inasmuch as God, fulfills His promises according to His sovereignty, in His time, whether it be before or during or after baptism, so that one is required to express himself in this matter very carefully and not be wise above that which God has revealed unto us.” thus far the quotation from the Utrechtsehe Conclusions. And this certainly applies to our Baptism Form. Where do we read of a presupposition in this first part:
“Holy baptism witnesseth and. sealeth unto us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ. Therefore we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For when we are baptized in the name of the Father, God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us that. He doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for His children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit. And when we are baptized in the name of the Son, the Son sealeth unto us, that He doth wash us in His blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of His death and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins, and accounted righteous before God. In like manned, when we are baptized in the name of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost assures us, by this holy sacrament, that He will dwell in us and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying unto us, that which we have in Christ, namely, the washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.”
Neither is the idea of a presupposition present in the words: “Since then baptism is come in the place of circumcision, therefore infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God, and of His covenant” The first question addressed to the parents is also devoid of all presupposition: “Whether you acknowledge, that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject ito all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are, sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His Church ought to be baptized?” And, finally, the language of the Thanksgiving Prayer is equally positive:
“Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise Thee, that Thou hast forgiven us, and our children, all our sins, through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through Thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism.”
Secondly, in connection with the language of our Baptism Form, please note with me the language of the first question. That first question does not read, “Whether you acknowledge, that although this child or these children is or are conceived and born in sin. . . . ?” But we read here of “our children.” This is significant. In the light of the first prayer, it is evidence that the fathers purposely spoke of “our children” in this first question instead of “this child” or “these children.” In that prayer the fathers do speak of these children.” Is it not therefore significant that, in this first question, when the fathers speak of a fact, they do not speak of “these children” but of “‘our children”?
We conclude, therefore, that the fathers speak here, in this first question as well as throughout the Baptism Form; of the church organically and her seed. And they speak of the church according to election. This does not necessarily mean, therefore, that these children are “sanctified in Christ” before the administration of the sacrament of baptism, and that, in this Baptism Form they either presuppose regeneration in our children or believe it to be a fact. But it does mean that, as a rule, our elect children are regenerated during infancy, and of this fact also the administration of baptism is then a sign and seal. And to this fact the parents testify, when they answer the first question propounded unto them.
The Thanksgiving Prayer.
Permit us, in conclusion, to say a few words about the Thanksgiving prayer. We quote it in full:
“Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise Thee, that Thou hast forgiven us, and our children, all our sins, through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through Thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be Thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism: we beseech Thee, through the same Son of thy love, that Thou wilt be pleased always to govern these baptized children by Thy Holy Spirit, that they may be piously and religiously educated, increase and grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they then may acknowledge Thy Fatherly goodness and mercy, which,Thou hast shown to them and us, and live in all righteousness, under our only Teacher, King, and High Priest, Jesus Christ; and manfully fight, against, and overcome sin, the devil and his whole dominion, to the end that they may eternally praise and magnify Thee, and Thy Son Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Ghost, the only true God. Amen.”
The explanation of this prayer which satisfies me completely is that which was given by the Rev. Hoeksema in Volume IX of our Standard Bearer . First, we would remark that the first part of this prayer cannot be applied to all the children. The fathers surely knew that Christ did not die for all men. All their writings, and our Confessions emphasize this truth. They could not believe that all the children had been received by the Holy Spirit as members of God’s only-begotten Son and adopted to be His children. This appears from the language of the entire Baptism Form whose language is positive throughout.
Secondly, in the second part of this prayer, when the church prays that “Thou wilt be pleased always to govern these baptized children by Thy Holy Spirit, that they may be piously and religiously educated, increase and grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ: . . . the fathers place these children, in their address and prayer to God, among the elect seed. This not only explains why they pray that it may please the Lord always to govern them by the Holy Spirit, etc., but also why they are able to say that God has shown His Fatherly goodness and mercy, not only to us, but also to them. And consequently, this prayer must be prayed and only then can be understood if we insert the thought of Scripture: According to Thy will.
Thirdly, and finally, should or could not the fathers have expressed themselves more clearly in this final prayer or thanksgiving? To this we answer, in the first place, that the language of the fathers here is surely the language of the Scriptures. According to Gen. 17:7, God will establish His covenant with Abraham and his seed, and notice that the word “seed” appears there without any limitation. If then, according to Romans 9, we are taught that this promise does not apply to all the natural seed of Abraham, this does not alter the fact, that, although all is not Israel that is called Israel, yet they are all called Israel. In the various epistles of the New Testament the entire church, whether located at Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, etc., is addressed as saints in Christ Jesus, beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, elect strangers, holy and beloved of God, etc. And please understand that these words are addressed to the entire church. These names indeed apply to all. This must be understood and can only be understood on the basis of the principle that the whole body is addressed by the name which it has received according to its elect kernel. The reprobate, although not saints in Christ Jesus, beloved of God, etc., bear the name of the elect because, organically, they constitute one body with the people of God in the midst of the world.
In this light I wish to pray this thanksgiving prayer. All are spoken of according to election. Also the children are addressed according to God’s decree of election. Whether this particular child or these particular children will actually grow up as members of Christ’s body we may safely leave in the hands of God. And, therefore, we pray with the reservation of course, that all this may occur according to the will of our God. Then our prayer will surely be heard.
1. “Rev. Hoeksema in Volume IX of our Standard Bearer,” the reference is to a series of articles in the Dutch language written by Rev. H. Hoeksema in 1933. In 1933 Prof. W. Heyns of the C.R.C. was writing on the covenant in De Wachter, C.R.C. Dutch language paper. Hoeksema had refuted the views of Heyns in Hoeksema’s book Believers and Their Seed.
In response to these new articles by Heyns, Hoeksema wrote an additional series of articles which were published in the Standard Bearer in volume 9 and later in book form as Het Evangelie: De Jongste Aanval Op De Waarheid Der Sovereine Genade, ( The Gospel: The Recent Attack upon the Truth of Sovereign Grace).
Rev. H. Veldman is referring to Chapter 9 of Het Evangelie by Hoeksema. In Chapter 9 Hoeksema treats Heyns’ explanation of the “Prayer of Thanksgiving” in the Baptism Form. Heyns regarded the prayer as proof for the idea of a universal objective behest or promise to all the children, head for head, who are baptized with grace to fulfill the conditions of faith. Heyns’ view of grace is blatantly Arminian.
Hoeksema sets forth in that context the fact that the prayer must be understood as referring to the children of believers organically, as a body, from the view point of the elect seed of the covenant which God gathers by sovereign grace in the generations of believers. It is this approach to the prayer which Rev. Veldman is commending and it is the PRCA view of the prayer to this day. [Return]
Our Covenant God
An Exposition of the Doctrine
of the Covenant from Scripture