From the 17th Article of the Canons:
The Salvation of the Infants of Believers
Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.
If children who die in infancy are holy is it true that they are always elect and assured of salvation?
If the answer to that is yes, is it possible that children who grow up can reject the covenant? That is, if they are holy by the covenantal relationship of the parents, of which they were not parties to its creation or consummation in Christ, but only are made its beneficiaries by virtue of relationship with the parent, can they by their actions void that which God promises cannot be voided?
John 1: 12-13 tells us:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
The first thing we notice from this is that it is those who receive who are those who believe and are given the right to become children of God. Second, it is they who are not born of anything inherent in man, but exclusively are born of God.
The word blood in this passage is in the plural indicating lineage; bloods are those who are in relationship to the progenitor as offspring. The right given to become children of God is in contradiction to this means. That is, the right to become the child of God does not inhere in the relationship of natural offspring to their natural parent. It goes along with another famous passage:
“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
This means that it is not the children of the flesh, of natural procreational descent who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. The children of Abraham who are of the faith came through Isaac. There is a natural disconnect and a necessary spiritual connection made with the promise of God. For this is what the promise said:
“About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Notice, it is clear that the relationship to the believing parent does not gaurantee, place into covenant by natural descent, Esau. And that before they were born. The conclusion is that the children are not affirmed as in covenant by natural generation, but election. The promise of Isaac likewise, was not of natural descent, but the passages are clear that his was a miraculous conception beyond the means of natural man.
We remember also that it was not Ishmael who was sanctified by his relationship to Abraham eventhough Abraham pleaded with God that it might be so. In fact all three negative cases out of John come into play in the relationship to the covenant made with Abraham. What makes the covenantal relationship is God’s declaration and the children are so called children of promise… not procreation.
Here is the analysis. Even though Dort has in mind what has been the traditional view, it holds little value except for comfort. In another portion the Canons we read that this mystery is not to be pried open by vain inquiry. There is mystery in election. Infant covenantalism would eliminate such. So it is held that it was the elect infants who are regenerated and made holy ones who are those who are the ones in covenant relationship. It cannot be said that all infants are elect. It is not simply a blanket covering because there is blood lineage. Despite the beauty of this Canon and of the WCF, of Calvin’s erudition and many others also, it is error to say that bloods make for one’s election.
not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included.
The bible passage being addressed is:
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
The problem of course is the meaning of holy. If it is true that the children are considered to be elect, then why not the unbelieving spouse? The passage is addressing the legitimacy and sanction of mixed marriage -believer to unbeliever- and whether or not it is acceptable to remain so when one has been converted in marriage and the other not, 1 Cor 7:10, cf. vs 17. Curious is verse 16. There is no reason to accept that a believing spouse sanctifies the husband to election, and likewise no reason to extend election to the children by the same logic. Paul is making appeal to the marriage covenant which is not annullable. If divorce ensues, that would make illegitimate children out of legitimate. Or in other words, it would make unholy what God considers holy and so the issue of that unholy relationship. The context, regardless of Calvin’s take on it or any others, is marriage, not election.
John 1 says that the right to become children is not contingent upon the relationship with the covenanted parent, but it is a covenanted right given to those who receive and believe who are those who are born of God and not of natural descent. Point being, they believe. Short of the confession of faith, we have no knowledge as to the status of a person’s election. To make 1 Cor 7 say what it does not is to contradict John. That cannot be allowed no matter how appealing it might be to think that all children of believing parents are elect.
In the case of this clause of the Canons of Dort, infant baptism is not necessarily indicated, eventhough one may make historical appeal to it. The holiness indicated is that of informal relationship with the fellowship of believers derived from the formal relationship. They can be afforded only the common blessing of the covenantal parent, and cannot be afforded anything more because, as the clause stipulates, they are not regenerate according to nature, and therefore cannot be said to be in the body of Christ. Being unregenerate, having no part in the body of Christ then, they would not be eligible for all benefits pertaining to the believing parent such as baptism and the table.
The mystery of election is great, and one that is not to be taken for granted. We all too often find that holy little children grow to be whores to the faith and horrors of history. To say that those who once were considered elect can grow to dishonor Christ, rejecting him wholly, blasphemously and heretically, and die so, were once holy ones who lost their faith, is to deny the very thing that makes the promised covenant His perfection and not ours.
In a discussion of paedo versus credo baptism, often the arguement resolves to confessions and church history so I approached it through this discursis on a portion of the Canons of Dort. Some appeal to it, and others to the WCF, or the church fathers, as their authority for infant baptism. Our authority should not rest there, but instead in Scripture and what can be reasoned about the subject from it. Making baptism requisite to inclusion in the covenant would reverse much of the rest of what the Canons teach. The Canons reject the works that forms so much of Arminian schemes- much of the reason for the Reformation and the rejection of Roman teaching. Our faith is not one of instrumentalism, nor of implicit mental assent, nor one in which the sacraments become the ticket to heaven because dad happened to believe and it was credited to his children as righteousness. We find that it is for this very reason baptism of infants is not commanded or even indicated in Scripture. Though one might think baptism of infants might find its way into the Canon, it did not. It isn’t because it would have lent credence to the heresies being denied by the Canons which had attempted to make man’s affiliations, efforts and will, the determiners of the convenantal relationship and not that of the grace of God:
This same election took place, not on the basis of foreseen faith, of the obedience of faith, of holiness, or of any other good quality and disposition, as though it were based on a prerequisite cause or condition in the person to be chosen, but rather for the purpose of faith, of the obedience of faith, of holiness, and so on. Accordingly, election is the source of each of the benefits of salvation. Faith, holiness, and the other saving gifts, and at last eternal life itself, flow forth from election as its fruits and effects. As the apostle says, “He chose us” (not because we were, but) “so that we should be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
If obedience of faith does not make even a believer to be in covenant according to election, but rather faith itself is a benfit, a “fruit” flowing out of election, if children of believers can reject the faith and be condemned, how much less so infant baptism where it is, without doubt, the act of another’s faith?
The WCF holds:
IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.
V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.
But we must ask why. If it is true that the efficacy is not attached to time, then why not comform to Scripture which places the right to become children of God as being a receiving and believing post new birth? Why even consider presuming upon the grace of God in this way? As with the Supper, where the body and blood of Christ are offered to be consumed, hiding as it were, Christ within the believer, baptism performs the complimentary symbol of being hidden in Christ. This symbol of vital union, though, is accepted as reality only upon confession of faith. Then we must finally ask, why would anyone diminish its meaning by presumptive baptism of infants as though it were based on a prerequisite cause or condition in the person?