(d) With respect to children no less than for adults, it is clear from the above that besides the two elements of the offer of the covenant and the obligation of the covenant, there is still a third element present. This consists of the expectation that covenant children will enter into the fellowship of the covenant. This expectation is based on the promise of God to believers that He desires to be their God and the God of their seed and that He also desires to continue His covenant in their seed and to make it a living reality. This does not merely hold true for some promises under certain restrictions, but also for the promises of the covenant, as they span all of life and include every gift of grace. It is, we think, striking how strongly just in this respect the comprehensive character of the covenant is applied by Reformed churches. All of them assume it to be a totality and do not hesitate to unfold it in all its fullness in their liturgical writings. As a promissory covenant its total content is brought into contact with the individual already as an infant. When that infant later enters into covenantal consciousness by active faith, this faith sums up al1 that is included in the covenant, so that the wide, rich world of God’s works of grace is opened up to his sight, a perspective looking backwards and forward. It is just this beautiful outlook which leads one to call the idea of the covenant of grace a "mother-idea." The covenant is a mother because it spiritually bears sons and daughters by the power of divine grace and the promises, a mother because its children have received everything from it, because it has given birth to them, sustains them, feeds, and blesses them. Reformed theology has certainly realized that the church has two sides, and that besides being the assembly of believers and the revelation of the body of Christ, she must also be the means by which new believers are added. But it has not separated these two sides; rather it has kept them in organic connection. Just because the promises of God have been given to the assembly of believers, in its entirety, including their seed, this assembly is also a mother who conceives sons and daughters and is made to rejoice in her children by the Lord. The name "mother" signifies this truly Reformed point of view in distinction from other terms such as "institution of salvation."

As far as we can discover, the leading spokesmen of Reformed theology are completely agreed on this. They all recognize that the church has received such promises for her offspring. They equally recognize that the consideration of these promises is the heart of the fruit of comfort which her view of the covenant offers. And they insist that remembrance of the promise must function as an urgent reason for rousing the seed of the church to embrace the covenant in faith. On both sides, parents and children, this conviction provides strength. Strength was provided in the days of old, in the golden age of the churches, a glorious comfort, finding its most beautiful fruition in the doctrine of the salvation of the children of covenant who die in infancy. Only in the working out of these principles did the theologians diverge to a greater or lesser degree. One could not but expect that a conscious appropriation, an entering into the relation of the covenant by faith and conversion, would be revealed in each member of the covenant who comes to the age of responsibility. The whole tendency of the doctrine of the covenant, as we have tried to present it, led to that demand. One could hardly be satisfied with the thought that a nonrejection of the covenant, where all expression of life was missing, would be sufficient. Here they collided with the discovery, as they also knew from the Scriptures, that not all belong to the seed of the promise. In comparing the statements of theologians at this point, it is clear that the older theologians generally proceeded more fearlessly than the later ones in the individualization and general application of the promises. Beza writes:

The situation of children who are born of believing parents is a special one. They do not have in themselves that quality of faith which is in the adult believer. Yet it cannot be the case that those who have been sanctified by birth and have been separated from the children of unbelievers, do not have the seed and germ of faith. The promise, accepted by the parents in faith, also includes their children to a thousand generations. . . . If it is objected that not all of them who are born of believing parents are elect, seeing that God did not choose all the children of Abraham and Isaac, we do not lack an answer. Though we do not deny that this is the case, still we say that this hidden judgment must be left to God and that normally, by virtue of the promise, all who have been born of believing parents, or if one of the parents believes, are sanctified (Confessio Christianae Fidei, IV, 48).

In general Martyr agrees with him:

We do not ascribe this (the enjoyment of the benefits of the covenant) to birth in the flesh as the principle and true cause, for our children’s salvation is only by the election and mercy of God, which often accompanies natural birth. . . . This is not out of necessity, for the promise is not generally applicable to the whole seed but only to that seed in which election converges. . . . But because we must not curiously investigate the hidden providence and election of God, we assume that the children of believers are holy, as long as in growing up they do not demonstrate themselves to be estranged from Christ. We do not exclude them from the church, but accept them as members, with the hope that they are partakers of the divine election and have the grace and Spirit of Christ, even as they are the seed of saints. On that basis we baptize them. We do not need to respond to those who object and ask whether the minister is deceived, whether perhaps the infant is in truth no child of the promise, of divine election and mercy. Similar diatribes could be adduced with regard to adults, for we do not know whether they come deceptively, whether they truly believe, whether they are children of election or perdition, etc." (Loci Communes, IV, 8, 7).

The children of believers must be baptized, according to Polanus,” because they have been purchased by the blood of Christ, have been washed from their sins, and possess therefore by the work of the Holy Spirit the thing signified. . . . Because the Holy Spirit is promised to them, they possess the Holy Spirit" (Syntagma , VI, 55).

Others, especially the later theologians as we have already noted, expressed themselves less fearlessly and preferred rather to be satisfied with the general judgment that there is a seed for the Lord among the seed of believers, for whom the covenantal promises hold without limitation. Heidegger serves as an example:

Not to all the children of believers particularly, but only to the elect baptism seals regeneration and the total contents of spiritual grace. Though it is good and proper to hope for the best for each one in particular according to the judgment of love, it is not permitted in regard to all collectively" (Heppe, Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformierten Kirche, p. 496).

Another point of difference concerns the time when the promises of the covenant are usually realized by regeneration in the children of the covenant. Three schools of thought can be identified: the first school (including Ursinus, Polanus, Junius, Walaeus, Cloppenburg, Voetius, and Witsius) not only assumes that the children of the covenant who die before they reach the age of discretion, possess the Holy Spirit from their earliest childhood and so are born again and united to Christ, but also maintains this thesis as generally valid for the seed of the promise without distinction. They use it as an argument in defence of infant baptism in their polemics with the Anabaptists. Ursinus says:

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 (I 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 is an open abuse and desecration of baptism. Our continual answer to the Anabaptists, when they appeal to the lack of faith in infants against infant baptism, is that the Holy Spirit works regeneration and the inclination to faith and obedience to God in them in a manner appropriate to their age, always with it understood that we leave the free mercy and heavenly election unbound and unpenetrated" (quoted in Sudhoff, Olevianus und Ursinus, pp. 633f.).

And in the Larger Catechism, the question "Are infants, since they have no faith, properly baptized?" is answered: "Yes, faith and the confession of faith are required of adults, since they can in no other way be included into the covenant. For infants it suffices that they are sanctified by the Spirit of Christ in a manner appropriate to their age" (Q. 291). Compare the above quotation of Polanus, which also relates to this issue. Junius argues against the Anabaptists:

We call it false to argue that infants are completely incapable of faith; if they have faith in the principle of the habitus, they have the Spirit of faith . . . . Regeneration is viewed from two aspects, as it is in its foundation, in Christ, in principle, and as it is active in us. The former (which can also be called transplanting from the first to the second Adam) is the root, from which the latter arises as its fruit. By the former elect infants are born again, when they are incorporated into Christ, and its sealing occurs in baptism" (Theses Theologicae, LI, 7).

Walaeus writes in his disputation on baptism:

We reject the opinion of the Lutherans who tie the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to the external water of baptism in such a way that, either it is present in the water itself or at least the principle of regeneration will only work in the administration of baptism. This, however, is opposed to all the places in Scripture, where faith and repentance and hence the beginning and seed of regeneration are antecedently required in the one who is baptized. . . . Therefore, we do not bind the efficacy of baptism to the moment in which the body is sprinkled with external water; but we require with the Scriptures antecedent faith and repentance in the one who is baptized, at least according to the judgment of love, both in the infant children of covenant members, and in adults. For we maintain that in infants too the presence of the seed and the Spirit of faith and conversion is to be ascertained on the basis of divine blessing and the evangelical covenant" (Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, XLIV, 27, 29).

Similarly Cloppenburg argues against the Anabaptists:

We posit that the children of believers are incorporated into Christ, by the immediate secret work of the Holy Spirit, until, whether in this life or at the moment of death, the period of infancy is completed, so that, whether in the flesh or not, they may confess by faith or sight what God has given them and us together by grace" (Exercitationes, I, 1097).

Voetius expresses his agreement with the distinction Burges made between regeneration in principle and active regeneration. He ascribes the former to the elect children of covenant parents, but rejects Burges’ position, in which this regeneration in principle follows from baptism as an outworking of the latter. This is not proven by the Reformed theologians cited by him:

It is known that in their opinion the effect of baptism does not lie in the causation of regeneration, but in the sealing of regeneration which has already been brought about." A little earlier he writes, "The seventh opinion is the general point of view of Reformed teachers, in which regeneration is acknowledged in each of the children of the covenant in particular, namely those who are elect, whether they die in infancy or are brought to faith when growing up, etc. (Selectarum Disputationum, II, 410-412).

Finally, Witsius writes: "I acknowledge that thus far I agree with this opinion," (Miscellaneorum Sacrorum, II, 634). He also thinks that this view has been accepted in the baptismal formula of the Dutch churches.

Besides this school there is still another. Those in this group hesitate to make any stipulation as to the time of regeneration in the children of the promise. Zanchius, Ames, and Fr. Spanheim the elder appear to take this approach. Zanchius, however, thinks of regeneration as given at the time of baptism, rather than occurring long after baptism. He says:

Some infants, as well as some adults, are given the Spirit of faith, by which they are united to Christ, receive the forgiveness of sins and are regenerated, before baptism; this is not the case with others, to whom these gifts are given in baptism" (De Baptismo, III, 31, in Commentarius ad Ephesios, Caput V).

Ames states: "We do not deny that God infuses the habitus or principle of grace in some at the time of their baptism; but God can communicate this same grace both before and after baptism" (Bellarminus Enervatus [ed. 1628], III, 68). Spanheim: "Baptism serves regeneration, which precedes in adults and which follows in infants. It takes effect, at times in the present and at other times in the future, according to God’s pleasure" (Dubia Evangelica, III, 27, 6).

Finally, there is a third school. It held that the preaching of the Word is the usual means by which regeneration takes place as an accompaniment. It held that God does not depart from this rule without necessity and that in those children who are destined to live to the age of discretion. regeneration bides its time until they can be brought to a conscious possession of the sealed blessings of the covenant. Beza, who was not always consistent on this point, says:

As for the children born in the church, elected by God … and who die before coming to the age of discretion, I can easily assume on the basis of the promise of God, that they are united to Christ at birth. However, apart from plain audacity, what can we ascertain concerning the rest other than that they are only regenerated when by hearing they receive the true faith?" (Ad Acta Colloquii Mompelgartensis, p. 106).

Another representative of this school was Ussher, who asks as follows:

What must we think of the effect of baptism in those elect infants whom God allows to mature to years of discretion?" He answers: "There is no reason ordinarily to promise them an extraordinary work of God, if God purposes to give them ordinary means. Though God can at times sanctify from the womb, as in the case of Jeremiah and John the Baptist, and at other times in baptism, it is difficult to determine, as some are accustomed to do, that each elect infant ordinarily before or in baptism receives the principle of regeneration and the seed of faith and grace. If, however, such a principle of grace is infused, it cannot be lost or hidden in such a way that it would not demonstrate itself (Body of Divinity, p. 417).

But apart from these two points just discussed, all these schools are agreed in relating infant baptism to the promise of God, given to the church, that from her seed He intends to raise up a seed for Himself.

Geerhardus Vos, “The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” in, The Short Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2001), 262-267. [Some reformatting with regard to the extended quotations; italics orginal; and underlining mine.]

[Note: With regard Vos’ use and interpretation of some of his sources. While what he says is essentially correct, much more can be said. For example, there is ample evidence that within the early Reformed tradition, even from some of the author’s cited above, that it was standard to consider that infants were regenerated in or at the time of their baptism, not by any work ex opere operato, but by a co-acting work of the Spirit who “washes” the soul as the minister washes the body. For more on this, go Top 5 best places to buy cialis in Memphis.]

[Credit to Michael Lynch for the find.]

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