Children of Professing Believers are Baptized Because They are Outwardly in the Covenant

“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee…  And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be for a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”

Gen. 17:7,11 

“For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

Acts 2:39

“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.”

1 Cor. 7:14



Order of Contents

Articles  4

Westminster Standards
Zurich Consensus
2nd Helvetic Confession
Liturgy of the Church of Holland
Pareus, Melancthon, Keckerman
Du Moulin
Witsius & Boyd
Vos, G.

That Children of Professing Believers are in Covenant from Conception, not simply from Birth
How Baptism is for one’s Solemn Admission into the Visible Church





Gillespie, George – Book 3, ch. 12, ‘Whether the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper be a Converting or a Regenerating Ordinance’  in Aaron’s Rod Blossoming  1646

Gillespie treats of both sacraments and answers the question: ‘No’.  Rather, as he shows, the Reformed held that the sacraments are confirmatory in their nature, as sealing something already possessed, rather than converting.

Hopkins, Ezekiel – ‘Infants are members of the Church of Christ; and, therefore, to be baptized.’, pp. 303-304  in The Doctrine of the Two Sacraments  in Works, vol. 2  ed. Quick  (Philadelphia, 1874)

“From all this it follows clearly, that the children of Christian parents are Church-members; and, being Church-members, they have a right to Baptism, which is appointed by Christ to be the standing ordinance for solemn admission into the visible Church.

So that, when they are in our Catechism said to be made members of Christ in their Baptism, the meaning only is, that now they are owned and publicly acknowledged to be such, by their solemn admission into the society of Christians. They are Christians nati; born Christians, by the covenant; Christianity is their birthright, and their native privilege.”

Harrison, Michael – Infant Baptism God’s ordinance, or, Clear Proof that all the Children of Believing Parents are in the Covenant of Grace and have as much a right to baptism the now seal of the covenant, as the infant seed of the Jews had to circumcision, the then seal of the covenant  1694  58 pp.

Harrison was reformed.



Witsius, Herman – ‘Fifthly, they who belong to the Church of God, have a right to baptism.’  being  Economy of the Covenants, Book 4, ch. 16, ‘Of Baptism’, section 45, p. 413



The Wesminster Larger Catechism

#162.  What is a sacrament?

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.

#166.  Unto whom is baptism to be administered?

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 descending 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.

[The phrase ‘the covenant of promise’ was often used synonymously with the Covenant of Grace in the 1600’s as is documented in the tables of contents of these three puritan works:

John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 1645, this work was very influential upon the Assembly.

Isaac Ambrose, Looking Unto Jesus, 1658

Francis Roberts, The Mysteries and Marrow of the Bible: viz. God’s Covenants with Man, 1657.  A summary of this work is given by Wom Lim in his dissertation, The Covenant Theology of Francis Roberts]



The Westminster Directory of Public Worship

Of the Administration of the Sacraments

Of Baptism

Before baptism, the minister is to use some words of instruction, touching the institution, nature, use, and ends of this sacrament, shewing,

“That it is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: That it is a seal of the covenant of grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, and of our union with him, of remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and life eternal: That the water, in baptism, representeth and signifieth both the blood of Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and actual; and the sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the dominion of sin, and the corruption of our sinful nature: That baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifieth the cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ, together with the mortification of sin, and rising from sin to newness of life, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ: That the promise is made to believers and their seed; and that the seed and posterity of the faithful, born within the church, have, by their birth, interest [a legal right] in the covenant, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the church, under the gospel, no less than the children of Abraham in the time of the Old Testament; the covenant of grace, for substance, being the same; and the grace of God, and the consolation of believers, more plentiful than before: That the Son of God admitted little children into his presence, embracing and blessing them, saying, For of such is the kingdom of God: That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized: That the inward grace and virtue of baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and power thereof reacheth to the whole course of our life; and that outward baptism is not so necessary, that, through the want thereof, the infant is in danger of damnation, or the parents guilty, if they do not contemn or neglect the ordinance of Christ, when and where it may be had.”

In these or the like instructions, the minister is to use his own liberty and godly wisdom, as the ignorance or errors in the doctrine of baptism, and the edification of the people, shall require.

He is also to admonish all that are present,

To look back to their baptism; to repent of their sins against their covenant with God; to stir up their faith; to improve and make right use of their baptism, and of the covenant sealed thereby betwixt God and their souls.”





The Zurich Consensus  1548-51

Calvin wrote the first draft of this document, which Henry Bullinger wrote notes on.  William Farel and Bullinger had a hand in revising it into its final form in 1551.  The document was intended to bring unity to Calvinist and Zwinglian churches churches on the sacraments contra the positions of Romanism and Lutheranism, and did so to a significant extent.  See Wikipedia for background.  The commentary on the linked webpage of the Consensus is by Lutherans.

Article 7, The Ends of the Sacraments

“The ends of the sacraments are to be marks and badges of Christian profession and fellowship or fraternity, to be incitements to gratitude and exercises of faith and a godly life; in short, to be contracts binding us to this.

But among other ends the principal one is, that God may, by means of them, testify, represent, and seal his grace to us.  For although they signify nothing else than is announced to us by the Word itself, yet it is a great matter, first, that there is submitted to our eye a kind of living images which make a deeper impression on the senses, by bringing the object in a manner directly before them, while they bring the death of Christ and all his benefits to our remembrance, that faith may be the better exercised; and, secondly, that what the mouth of God had announced is, as it were, confirmed and ratified by seals.”

Article 15. How the Sacraments Confirm.

“Thus the sacraments are sometimes called seals, and are said to nourish, confirm, and advance faith, and yet the Spirit alone is properly the seal, and also the beginner and finisher of faith.”


John Calvin

Institutes, Book 4

ch. 13, section 22, trans. Battles, see also Beveridge.

“From this it follows that the children of believers are baptized not in order that they who were previously strangers to the church may then for the first time become children of God, but rather that, because by the blessing of the promise they already belonged to the body of Christ, they are received into the church with this solemn sign.”

ch. 16, section 24, trans. Beveridge

“24. Thus the Lord, when he chose Abraham for himself,
did not commence with circumcision, in the meanwhile concealing what He meant by that sign, but first announced that He intended to make a covenant with him, and, after his
faith in the promise [Gen. 15], made him partaker of the sacrament [Gen. 17].

Why does the sacrament come after faith in Abraham,
and precede all intelligence in his son Isaac?  It is right
that he who, in adult age, is admitted to the fellowship of
a covenant by one from whom he had hitherto been alienated, should previously learn its conditions; but it is not so with the infant born to him.  He, according to the terms of the promise, is included in the promise by hereditary right from his mother’s womb.

Or, to state the matter more briefly and more clearly:  If the children of believers, without the help of understanding, are partakers of the covenant, there is no reason why they should be denied the sign, because they are unable to swear to its stipulations.  This undoubtedly is the reason why the Lord sometimes declares that the children born to the Israelites are begotten and born to him, (Eze. 16:20; 23:37).  For He undoubtedly gives the place of sons to the children of those to
whose seed He has promised that He will be a Father.

But the child descended from unbelieving parents is deemed an alien to the covenant until he is united to God by faith.
Hence, it is not strange that the sign is withheld when the
thing signified would be vain and flillacious.  In that view,
Paul says that the Gentiles, so long as they were plunged in
idolatry, were strangers to the covenant, (Eph. 2:11).

The whole matter may, if I mistake not, be thus briefly and clearly expounded: Those who, in adult age, embrace the faith of Christ, having hitherto been aliens from the covenant, are not to receive the sign of baptism without previous faith and repentance.  These alone can give them access to the fellow-
ship of the covenant, whereas children, deriving their origin
from Christians, as they are immediately on their birth received by God as heirs of the covenant, are also to be admitted to baptism.”


Letter 438–To John Clauburger  in Letters of John Calvin, ed. Bonnet (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858), vol. 3, pp. 282-283

“But that all doubt may be better cleared away, this principle should ever be kept in mind, that baptism is not conferred on children in order that they may become sons and heirs of God, but, because they are already considered by God as occupying that place and rank, the grace of adoption is sealed in their flesh by the rite of baptism. Otherwise the Anabaptists are in the right in excluding them from baptism.

For unless the thing signified by the external sign can be predicated of them, it will be a mere profanation to call them to a participation of the sign itself. But if any one were inclined to refuse them baptism, we have a ready answer; they are already of the flock of Christ, of the family of God, since the covenant of salvation which God enters into with believers is common also to their children.

As the words import ‘I will be thy God and the God of thy seed after thee.’  Unless this promise had preceded, certainly it would have been wrong to confer on them baptism.  Now I ask whether the Word of God is sufficient by its intrinsic value for our salvation, or whether some aid must be borrowed elsewhere to supply its defect, or help its infirmity?  If this promise is not believed to be efficacious in itself, not only the virtue of God, but also his grace and truth will be attached to the external sign.  Thus those men, while they strive to honor baptism, cast serious ignominy on God.”


Theodore Beza

The New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ, translated out of Greek by Theodore Beza…  (London, 1599)

On 1 Cor. 14

“This place destroyeth the opinion of them that would not have children to be baptized, and their opinion also, that make baptism the very cause of salvation.  For the children of the faithful are holy, by virtue of the Covenant, even before Baptism, and Baptism is added [sic] at the seal of that holiness.”


A Plain and Simple Treatise on the Lord’s Supper (1559, RHB, 2016), p. 146-7

“…we do not suppose that our salvation depends upon the sacrament of baptism, but upon our adoption according to the formula: “I will be your God and that of your seed.” [Gen. 17:7]  We diligently attend to this adoption in the children of the saints according to the Word of the Lord since it has been sealed upon them through the sacrament of baptism…

…little corruptions have arisen from no other source than from the understanding that baptism is necessary for salvation, which we consider entirely false.  We hold this view to be false because adoption by God must take place before anyone can be baptized rightly.  Otherwise, why is a confession of faith required of adults before thy are baptized?  We believe, however, that the children of the saints have already been adopted right in the womb according to the covenantal formula.  And so we baptize them.

…We count as nonsense his assertion that children are holy–that is, in the outward company of the church–before their baptism.  For the opposite is true: those children whom (we claim) the Lord has already truly adopted before, according to the covenantal formula, are introduced into the outward company of the church through baptism.”


2nd Helvetic Confession  1566

As given in Krauth, p. 33

Ch. 20

We condemn the Anabaptists who deny that the new-born children of the faithful are to be baptized.  For of these…  is the kingdom of God, and they are in the covenant of God.  Why, therefore, should not the sign of God’s covenant be given them?  Why shall not they be initiated by holy Baptism, who are God’s own, and in the Church of God?”


Liturgy of the Church of Holland

As given in Krauth, p. 29

Required parents that they:

“acknowledged them as sanctified in Christ, and, on that account, as members of his Church, to be Baptized,”


Peter Martyr Vermigli

Common Places, Book 4, ch. 8, ‘Of baptism, baptizing of infants and the holiness of them’, p. 120

“But the cause why our adversaries are so loathe to allow of this opinion is for that they attribute unto the Sacraments more than they ought to do.  For they think that by the power and efficacy of the work of baptism, sin is forgiven.  Neither do they acknowledge [that] by the Sacraments, forgiveness is rather sealed, which they of perfect age obtain by believing, and the young children of the faithful, which belong unto election, have it already by the Holy Ghost and by grace.

And that it may the better appear that young children which are baptized (and not only they which have been baptized) do pertain unto the Church, we will declare it evidently enough by the epistle to the Ephesians where it is said (5:25), ‘Ye men love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it, being cleansed by the washing of water through the Word, etc.’  By this place thou seest, that it is the Church which is washed and baptized.  So then, so long as young children be baptized, it is manifest that they belong unto the Church, and they cannot truly be parts of the Church unless they be adorned with the Spirit of Christ.  Wherefore young children which verily belong unto the election of God, before they can be baptized are instructed by the Spirit of the Lord…”



Sudhoff, Olevianus und Ursinus, pp. 633 ff.  as quoted in Geerhardus Vos, ‘The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology’, p. 264-5  in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos  ed. Gaffin  (P&R, 1980)

“This is sure and certain, that God instituted his sacraments and covenant seals only for those who recognize and maintain the church as already made up of parties of the covenant, and that it is not His intention to make them Christians by the sacraments first, but rather to make those who are already Christians to be Christians more and more and to confirm the work begun in them…

Hence, if anyone considers the children of Christians to be pagans and non-Christians, and damns all those infants who cannot come to be baptized, let him take care on what ground he does so, because Paul calls them holy (1 Cor. 7), and God says to all believers in the person of Abraham that He will be their God and the God of their seed…  Next let him consider how he will permit them to be baptized with a good conscience, for knowingly to baptize a pagan and unbeliever [which is entailed if the children are not already in the Covenant] is an open abuse and desecration of baptism.”



David Pareus (1548-1622), Philip Melancthon (1497-1560) and Bartholomew Keckerman (1571-1608)

As quoted by Samuel Rutherford, A Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland, Ch. 12, Argument 9

And [David] Pareus says,¹ the children of Christian parents are holy before baptism by a covenant and external holiness, jure (by God’s right), being born of Christian parents; and after baptism they are holy, de facto, formally and actually.  So say [PhilipMelancthon² and [BartholomewKeckerman

¹ Commentary on 1 Cor. 7
² Commentary in location, p. 383
³ Systema Theologiae, 3., p. 453


David Pareus

Irenicon, p. 262 & Commentary on Rom. 11, p. 1143  as quoted in Krauth, Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic System…  (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874), p. 24

“The children of Christians are born Christians, as the children of Jews were born Jews.”

“They are born in the Covenant and are citizens of the Church.”

“The infants of Christians are citizens of the Church, are born in the Covenant, with federal grace, and saints of saints: as citizens are born of citizens, the free are born of the free, slaves are born of slaves.”


Rivet, Andrew

Article 21, ed. Augusti, p. 99 & ed. Niemeyer, pp. 112, 120, as quoted in Krauth, p. 29

“True baptism requires that they shall be in the Covenant, to whom it is administered.”


William Bucan

Institutions of the Christian Religion  trans. Robert Hill  (London, 1606), Locus 47, ‘Who are to be Baptized?’

p. 711

“Or else the infants of the faithful, and those which are begotten of baptized parents (but not of infidels, which are not in the Church, and not the children of the baptized) because their seed is contained in the covenant, but not these other.  Acts 2:39, “To you is the promise made, and to your children.”

p. 737

“What fruit or profit cometh of the baptizing of infants?

It serveth for the parents’ comfort, for the sign being committed to the child (as by a printed seal) doth confirm the promise made to the godly parent: that the Lord, will be a God, not to him only, but to his seed also.”

p. 738

“What is contrary to this Doctrine?

3.  The error of the common people, which in the behalf of the newborn infant say to the pastor of the Church, ‘God hath given me an ethnic, I desire that you would make him a Christian;’ whereas baptism doth not make a Chri∣stian, but signifieth a Christian.”


Amandus Polanus

Syntagma, Book 6, ch. 55  as translated in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics ed. Bizer, trans. Thompson (1950; rep. Wipf & Stock, 2007), pp. 623-4

“(1) All covenanted with God are to be baptized.  But the children too are included in the covenant of grace, 1 Cor. 7:14 (the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy).  The universal command to baptize all those covenanted with God includes the particular command regarding the baptism of children who are within the covenant.  What belongs equally to all is not to be restricted to the adult pert of the seed;–and (2) even under the old covenant children were circumcised.”


William Ames

Ad Genes. Exercitationes, section 88, p. 429  as quoted in Krauth, p. 29

“Unless they are to be esteemed as members of the Church, they ought not to be baptized.  For Baptism is, in its own nature, the seal of an ingrafting already made into Christ, and, consequently, into His Church.”


The Substance of Christian Religion, or, A Plain and Easy Draught of the Christian Catechism in 52 Lectures…  (London, 1659), The 26-27th Lord’s Days, p. 180

A question here ariseth about infants; Whether they are to be baptized, or not, seeing they cannot be taught or instructed about faith?

I answer that the children, or infants of be­lievers ought to be baptized, because while they are yet infants, as to the external privileges of the Co­venant with God, they are accounted both persons and parties of, or belonging to their parents; and therefore they are of the family of Christ, or of the number of his disciples.

For if the Covenant made with Abraham be the same for substance, by which we are saved, and belongeth as much to us and to our children as it did to Abraham and his posterity, then not only we, but our children also ought to be partakers of the seal of this Covenant.  But the first is true, as appeareth by Rom. 4 and other places; and therefore the latter also is true.”


Antonius Walaeus

Synopsis of Pure Theology…  (Leiden, 1625), 44.27

“We reject the opinion of certain Ubiquitarians [Lutherans], who connect the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit in such a way with the external water in baptism that either it must exist in the water itself or at least can inchoate [begin] regeneration only in the very act of baptism, for this opinion is at variance with all those passages of Scripture in which faith and repentance, and therefore both the root and seed of regeneration, are demanded as a prerequisite in those who are to be baptized.”


Pierre du Moulin

‘On the Necessity of Baptism’, Conclusion  as translated by Witsius, ‘On the Efficacy and Utility of Baptism in the case of Elect Infants whose Parents are under the Covenant’, p. 164  in MJT 17 (2006) 121-190, originally an appendix in William Marshall, Popery in the Full Corn, the Ear, and the Blade…  (Edinburgh: Paton and Ritchie, 1852)

“The infants, therefore, had been received into the covenant and favor of God before they were ever visibly initiated into any sacrament, or sealed with the seal of the covenant.”


John Henry Alsted  (1588-1638)

Theologia, Scholastica Didactica  (Hanoviae, 1618), pp. 815-6  as quoted in Charles P. Krauth, Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic system. A Review of Dr. Hodge’s Theology  (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874), p. 15

“The children of unbelievers are not to be baptized–the children, both of whose parents are believers or one of whom is a believer, are to be baptized–for the infants of believers are in the covenant.  If the covenant, which is the greater thing, belongs to them, much more does the seal, which is the less.”


Samuel Rutherford  1642  **

A Defense of the Government of the Church of Scotland, Article 5, Rutherford is defending the accepted practice and views of the Church of Scotland during his day.

The presenter of the child [for baptism] is the father, or some friend if he be dead or absent, because the child is received in the covenant because the fathers are within the covenant, and so sealed with the same seal of the covenant (Acts 2:37,38; Rom. 11:14; Gen. 17:7-10)…


Anthony Burgess  1652  **

Spiritual Refining, Sermon 64, p. 394-6

Under the New Testament, that such an external, visible enjoying of the ordinances does also bring a kind of external holiness (which heathens and pagans have not) is apparent first by that place, 1 Cor. 7:14, ‘Else were your children unclean, but now they are holy’.  What holiness can this be?

Therefore thirdly, it must be meant of an external Covenant-holiness, whereby believers were in outward manner owned by God and by that their children also had a right to baptism and so are not born as children of heathens in the outward power of Satan and wrath.  For although by nature they are children of wrath, yet being born within the Covenant, they have an holiness; that is, a right to such ordinances they are capable of, which the children of pagans have not.


Marc Frederic Wendelin

Theological Exercitations, 37.1  as translated in Charles P. Krauth, Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic system. A Review of Dr. Hodge’s Theology  (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874), p. 16

“All infants of Christians, even before baptism are holy, with a federal and external holiness, on account of which they ought to be reputed a part of the visible Church and people of God, and as federates be admitted to the seal of the Covenant.”


David Dickson

Truth’s Victory Over Error (Edinburgh, 1684), ch. 28, ‘Of Baptism’, Question 3, pp. 179-180

“By what reasons are they [Anabaptists] confuted?

(1) Because, to covenanted ones (of which number the infants of believers are no less than their parents; Acts 2:38-39; Acts 3:25; Rom. 11:16; Gen. 17:7,22) that seal of the covenant, of which they are capable, is not to be denied; Gen. 17:7,10-11.

(8) Because, the Apostle says that the infants but of one believing parent are holy, 1 Cor. 7:14, that is, are comprehended in the outward Covenant of God, and have access to the signs, and seals of God’s grace as well as they are that are born of both believing parents.”



Peter van Hoeke

Lord’s Day 27, Inquiry 74, ‘Whether Infants are to be Baptized Also?’, p. 310  in Studies in the Palatinate Catechism  (Leiden, 1711)  See also the first of the three arguments on the same page that he gives to prove the reformed position.  As translated in Krauth, p. 33.

“There is no question between us and the Mennonites as to whether the infants of unbelievers, or of those who are outside of the covenant of God, are to be baptized?  For to these, both we and they deny baptism.  But the question is, whether the infants of those who are in the covenant, or one of whose parents is in the covenant, are to be baptized?”


Herman Witsius & Robert Boyd (d. 1627)

‘On the Efficacy and Utility of Baptism in the case of Elect Infants whose Parents are under the Covenant’, p. 130 & 140  in MJT 17 (2006) 121-190, originally an appendix in William Marshall, Popery in The Full Corn, the Ear, and the Blade; or, The Doctrine of Baptism in the Popish, Episcopalian, and Congregational Churches; with a Defence of the Calvinistic or Presbyterian View (Edinburgh: Paton and Ritchie, 1852)

“V.  Moreover, this federal sanctity suffices as a warrant for parents to bring their infants to the sacred bath of baptism.  It is also a sufficient warrant for the office-bearers of the church to wash the children so brought in the waters of the mystical font.

In fact, the argument on which the orthodox continually insist is that those must be baptized to whom belong the covenant of grace and the fellowship of Christ and the church, and of whom is the kingdom of heaven.  But all these privileges belong to elect infants, born under the covenant.

It may be of advantage once more to listen to [Robert] Boyd discussing this subject in his own weighty style, in his Commentary on Ephesians. His opinion is that the doctors of the Romish church are chargeable with most grievous error in maintaining, as they do, that persons to be baptized are not members of Christ nor belong to his body and fellowship prior to their being marked with this seal, but at that time only are set free from the power of Satan and pass into the family of Christ.

That these doctors hold such an opinion is demonstrated by their exorcism, for at baptism they exorcise the infants of believers as if they had been seized, entered, and possessed by the wicked one. ‘That opinion,’ says he,

‘if it were true, would prove that the children of Christians must no less than those of Turks, Jews, and heathens be debarred from baptism until they are of years to profess their own faith, for there is no reason why the seal of the covenant should be put upon those who have no interest in the covenant itself; and then the language of the covenant itself, in which God promises to be not only our God but the God of our seed, would be vain and meaningless. These persons therefore actually exclude the seed of believers from the covenant of God while at the very instant they admit them to the seal of the covenant. And thus they most perversely contradict themselves.’†

† Boyd, Ad Ephes., pp. 756, 757.”



Vos, Geerhardus

‘The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology’, pp. 261-2  in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos  ed. Gaffin  (P&R, 1980)

“The Reformation was united in seeking the essence of the church in the invisible, in union with Christ, and not in an external, visible bond, as Rome does…  In order to check this danger [of losing the historical progress of the Church through individualism] Luther moved a long way back to Rome.  In a certain sense he again imprisoned the supernatural, invisible grace which maintained the church within something external…  Where the church is found with the ministry of the Word and sacraments, it is self-sustaining.  God, as it were, has let go of the grace which sustains the church and placed it in the means of grace.

The Reformed believer cannot be satisfied with this presentation.  Certainly he believes in the continuity of the church, but he believes  in it and therefore does not need to support it by instruments of salvation, into which grace is poured.  For him that continuity is assured by the faithful promise of God.  Hence, in back of Word and sacrament he places the covenant as the strongest expression of how the unbroken work of grace from generation to generation rests, as all grace, on the sovereign pleasure of God.

The church does not abide because we baptize or work regeneration by baptism; rather because God establishes his covenant from generation to generation, therefore the church remains and we baptize.  Since it is God’s covenant an not man’s, it is appropriate for the Christian to recognize this goodness of God in quiet gratitude and in faith and to be strengthened by its sealing.  Here again the concept of the covenant requires that faith will react freely and actively to this pronouncement of God…

It is evident how strongly the idea of the covenant makes itself felt here, and how it elevates itself above all idolatrous worship of the sacraments.”



Orthodox Presbyterian Church

The O.P.C.’s
Directory for the Public Worship of God

4. The Sacraments

a. The sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as visible signs and seals of the Word of the covenant, are important elements of public worship. They represent Christ and his benefits, confirm his people’s participation in him, visibly mark off from the world those who belong to his church, and solemnly bind them to covenant faith and loyalty.

(4) The Ground of Baptizing Infants

The minister shall then give instruction as to the ground of the baptism of infants.  He may use these or like words:


Although our young children do not yet understand these things, they are nevertheless to be baptized.  For God commands that all who are under his covenant of grace be given the sign of the covenant.”



That Children of Christians are in Covenant from Conception, not simply from Birth or Baptism


Note that Gen. 17:7,11; Acts 2:39 & 1 Cor. 7:14 all speak of the ‘seed’ and ‘children’ of professing believers being the heirs of the promise and covenant, and are sanctified, simply.  If babies in the womb are the ‘seed’ and ‘children’ of professing believers, then they are heirs of the promise and covenant, and are sanctified.

Note also that the context and language of Ps. 139:13-16 is distinctly of the substance of the Covenant:

“For Thou hast possessed my reins: Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.  I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…  My substance was not hid from Thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect…”

If God’s Covenantal graces may be with children in the womb, then such children are in the Covenant.  Yet, God’s Covenantal graces were with David (Ps. 22:9-10), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), John the Baptist (Lk. 1:15,41,44) and the Messiah (Ps. 22:9-10; Lk. 1:35,41-42; 11:27) in the womb.  Therefore they were in Covenant with God.

(God’s Covenantal love was also likely with Jacob in the womb, Rom. 9:7-13, though it is possible that his case was like Paul’s, that he was providentially ‘separated’ from the womb as elect, though he did not become regenerate and converted till later, Gal. 1:15.)



John Calvin

Institutes, Book 4, ch. 16, section 24, trans. Beveridge

“…but it is not so [as with adults coming to profess faith as] with the infant born to him.  He, according to the terms of the promise, is included in the promise by hereditary right from his mother’s womb.”

Contra Westphal, p. 792, col. 2  as given and translated in Krauth, p. 37

“If an Anabaptist were disputing with you, I think no other defence would avail you, than this, that they, with justice are received to Baptism whom God has adopted before they were born, and to whom He has promised to be a Father. For unless God transmit His grace from fathers to sons, to receive new-born infants into the Church [it] would be a mere profanation of Baptism.”


Theodore Beza

A Plain and Simple Treatise on the Lord’s Supper (1559, RHB, 2016), p. 146-7

“We believe, however, that the children of the saints have already been adopted right in the womb according to the covenantal formula.  And so we baptize them.”



How Baptism is for One’s Solemn Admission into the Visible Church

Westminster Confession of Faith


[Note that the following definition of the essence of the visible Church does not mention baptism:]

“The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel…  consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion,[b] together with their children;[c]…

[b] 1 Cor. 1:21 Cor. 12:12,13Ps. 2:8Rev. 7:9Rom. 15:9-12.
[c] 1 Cor. 7:14Acts 2:39Ezek. 16:20,21Rom. 11:16Gen. 3:15Gen. 17:7.”


“Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ,[a] not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church,[b]…

[a] Matt. 28:19.
[b] 1 Cor. 12:13.”



Rutherford, Samuel – Book 1, ch. 21, ‘Whether Baptism gives formality, or makes a Member of a visible Church?’  in A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker  (1658), pp. 115-122

Hooker, a congregationalist, had misunderstood Rutherford, thinking that Rutherford had said that baptism was the formal principle that made someone a member of the visible Church.  However, what Rutherford actually said, and what he defends here, distinguishing, is only that:

By Baptism… we are received solemnly into the visible Church; and Baptism is a seal of our entry into Christ’s visible Body, as swearing to the colors enters a soldier a member to the army; and, we teach not that Baptism constitutes the Church-visible simply, as the Church: its a seal of a visible profession.”

Henry, Matthew – ch. 1, pp. 1150 rt col. to 1153 rt. col.  of ‘A Treatise on Baptism’  in The Miscellaneous Works, vol. 2



Thomas Boston & Robert Shaw

Boston, Works, vol. 2, p. 476;  this is quoted approvingly by Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith  4th ed. (Edin. & London: Johnstone & Hunter, 1850), ch. 28, section 1, pp. 284-5

“III.  I proceed to show what are the peculiar uses and ends of
baptism.  Besides the general uses and ends of the sacraments,
which are common to baptism and the Lord’s supper, the particular
uses and ends of baptism are these:

1.  To be a rite of solemn admission into the visible church, Mt.
28:19; 1 Cor. 12:13; and so to the visible church privileges, Rom. 11:17.  It supposes the party to have a right to these privileges before, and does not make them members of the visible church, but admits them solemnly thereto.  And therefore it is neither to be called nor accounted christening, i. e. making them Christians: for the infants of believing parents are born within the covenant, and so are Christians and visible church members; and by baptism this right of theirs is acknowledged, and they are solemnly admitted to the privileges of church-membership.”




“For Thou hast possessed my reins: Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.  I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…  My substance was not hid from Thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect…”

Ps. 139:13-16




Related Pages


Infant Baptism

The Covenant of Grace

Historic Reformed Quotes on the Visible Church being Outwardly in the Covenant of Grace