Danny Hyde, was recently interviewed on "Common Places: A Podcast of Protestant Resourcement" about John Owen, his views of the Holy Spirit and prayer, and his lasting impact on Christian theology. Have a listen here.

Stephen Marshall (1594-1655) argued that infants of believers should be baptized because 1) they are within the covenant of grace and belong to the kingdom of Christ, 2) they are made partakers of the inward grace of baptism. In a previous article, I attempted to explain his second argument but did not provide or discuss any textual warrant for his premise that the infants of believers are made partakers of the inward grace of baptism. I want to now address this by looking at one text that Marshall appealed to in defense of his statement, namely, Mark 10:14: "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (see also Matt. 19:13-14; Luke 18:15-17).
If you are like me, you might have thought that he would have used this verse to support his first argument, as many have done so and still do today. But he didn’t. The reason that he appeals to this verse seems to be because the two arguments are interconnected. To belong to the kingdom of Christ is to partake of the blessings of the kingdom of Christ. This is not to say, as we noted in the previous article, that every infant or adult belonging to the kingdom are saved. The point is that church membership is not in vain and its members—infant and adult alike—do partake of its saving blessings. In other words, if infants, like adults, belong to the kingdom then they too, at least some of them, partake of its saving benefits. Therefore, if Mark 10:14 proves that infants belong to the kingdom, as Marshall argues, then it follows that they (some of them) are made partakers of the inward grace of baptism, especially in light of the fact that there is nothing about the grace of baptism that is unsuitable for infants. Besides, if the Baptist position is correct that membership in the kingdom is co-extensive with election and salvation, and if Mark 10:14 teaches at the very least that the particular children presented to Christ are in the kingdom, then Marshall’s point is proven: infants are partakers of saving grace.
The assertion that Mark 10:14 teaches that infants (see Luke 18:15) and little children belong to the kingdom is, of course, not always conceded. Marshall noted that some evade this interpretation by pointing out that this verse does not say “to them belongs the kingdom of God” but “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” The significance of this observation is that the verse should be taken figuratively or illustratively. Jesus is saying that you need to have child-like qualities (humble and meek) in order to belong to the kingdom.
Marshall admitted that Jesus does make this point elsewhere. Indeed, Jesus makes it in verse 15 as he turns this episode into a teaching moment: "Truly, I say to you [disciples], whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Nonetheless, Marshall argued that this can’t be the meaning of verse 14 because of the context. Jesus rebukes his disciples and tells them to let the little children come to him "for to such belongs the kingdom of God." The Lord is concerned about these little children and gives a reason they should be brought to him. That reason can’t be that people need to have child-like qualities in order to enter the kingdom of God because then it could be used to justify bringing anything to Jesus that resembled child-like qualities such as a puppy or dove or sheep.  Marshall writes:
…and what kind of argument had this been, if the Text should be interpreted as these men would have it, Suffer little children to come unto me, that I may touch them, take them up in mine armes, put my hands upon them, and blesse them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to them, who have such like qualities, who resemble children in some select properties? By the very same ground, if any had brought doves, and Sheep to Christ, to put his hands upon them, and blesse them, the Disciples had been liable to the same reproofe, because of such is the Kingdome of God, such as are partakers of the Kingdom of God, must be indued with such like properties.
Jesus, therefore, does not rebuke his disciples because they are keeping away children who illustrate an important truth about the kingdom. That would be silly. He rebukes them because they were wrong in keeping away the little children because they too belong to him and his kingdom. Incidentally, the parallel account in Matthew 19:13-14 does not mention the child-like requirement for entering the kingdom of God, which suggests that the phrase “to such belongs the kingdom of God” may and should be understood apart from that meaning.
Marshall’s second argument for infant baptism is not without Scriptural warrant. Mark 10:14 is one verse that he used to undergird his teaching that infants of believers ought to be baptized.

Danny Hyde recently wrote an article on the relationship between John Owen's view of prayer and politics entitled, John Owen: Prayer as Politics By Other Means. It is now online by signing up for a free subscription to the Ad Fontes journal.

"Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent." (Revelation 3:3; KJV)
Local Anglican pastor John Whitlock (1625-1708) is the last minister in our reading of the Puritan Paperback, Sermons of the Great Ejection. “The Great Ejection” was the expulsion of 20% Anglican ministers from their cures in the 1662 Act of Uniformity. A graduate of Cambridge, Whitlock was given the cure of St. Mary’s, Nottingham (pictured left) in 1651 where his life-long friend William Reynolds became the lecturer. After 11 years of outstanding ministry, he was indicted in June 1662 for failure to keep the Book of Common Prayer in regular use and was quickly suspended. St. Mary’s being the oldest and at the time the largest parish in the City of Nottingham, the church had a majority of high profile members among the upper classes, the Lord Mayor, the Sheriff (yes the Sheriff of Nottingham), and wealthy lace merchants who objected to his ministry explains the speediness of his ejection. His farewell sermon we have here is the second part of two delivered on Friday, 6 July 1662 rather than one of the Sundays of August. Whitlock continued his ministry as a “non-conforming” Anglican about 14 miles north in Mansfield. After a later period of imprisonment from 1685-1687, he returned to Nottingham in 1687-88 to soldier on for Christ for another twenty years until his death in 1708. His son succeeded him in Nottingham.
There is a sense of urgency in Whitlock’s introduction to his sermon text of Revelation 3:3 as the speed of his ejection took him unawares. He had planned to spend several sermons here but, he says, he must try to do it all in one!
Whitlock explains the reason for this text is in the value of its imperatives for the believer. The words are Christ’s own counsel to a languishing church and weakened Christians for their restoration and strengthening. What better resource could there be for a people embarking on an uncertain future in troubling times? His sermon is an exposition of the sufficiency of the Christ in the Scriptures. He therefore implores his hearers to remember the soul-saving doctrines of the Scriptures that they have heard, received and enjoyed from the pulpit and confirmed in the regular reception of the sacraments. In the first of the seven benefits Whitlock explains how remembering scriptural principles that extol and present Christ clearly protects the Christian from errors in doctrine that will corrupt their right worship of God. The warning signs he gives are as relevant today as when he preached them in 1662.
If doctrines come to be preached that tend to the bearing down of the power of godliness and the practice of holiness, or that are opposed to the free grace of God in election or justification (crying up conditional decrees upon a foresight of faith, or works, or perseverance, or introducing man’s work’s in the business of justification); or if men preach such doctrines as advance the power of nature, the freedom of man’s will, or if they teach that true believers may finally and totally fall from grace–the remembrance of what you have received and heard, with the experiences of the work of God in your own hearts (you who are saints), will preserve you from such errors, and help you to confute these and such like false doctrines and teach you to say, “We have not so learned Christ.”
“We have not so learned Christ” reminds us that the reason why saints fall into new errors or old ones with new clothes is because they have let slip their Savior from their memory. We have a great love of Christ when we understand our great need of Christ.
Having briefly surveyed the debates over the Lord’s Supper at the Reformation (part 1), before proceeding to John Knox (1513-1572), it is important to consider the broader place the reform of worship had at the Reformation. The sacraments, of course, are an important part of worship and so, as well as setting Knox’s views in the general context of Reformation debates over the Lord’s Supper, it is worthwhile setting them in the context of his wider views on worship. 
The Reformation is often thought of as a reform of doctrine and the Reformation was nothing less than this. But it was also fundamentally about the reform of worship. To give one well known example, here is a statement from John Calvin (1509-1564):
If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain. (“The Necessity of Reforming the Church” in John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, 126)
Calvin here outlines two key points in which “the whole substance of Christianity” is comprehended: first, “the mode in which God is duly worshipped” and, second, “the source from which salvation is to be obtained.” This importance accorded to “worship” and particularly the “mode” of worship is unfamiliar to many of the successors of the Reformation today. And yet, for Calvin, alongside correct doctrine, worship constituted “the whole substance of Christianity.”
John Knox, as is well known, embodied this zeal for the reformation of worship perhaps more than any other of the magisterial reformers. His continual refrain was that “All worshipping, honouring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without his own express commandment, is idolatry.” (“A Vindication of the Doctrine that the Mass is Idolatry” in The Works of John Knox, 4:34, 47) He articulated in essence what has become known as the “regulative principle” of worship, noting that “Disobedience to God’s voice is not only when man doth wickedly contrary to the precepts of God, but also when of good zeal, or good intent, as we commonly speak, man doeth anything to the honour or service of God not commanded by the express Word of God.” (Works, 4:37) In summary for Knox, “Man may neither make nor devise a religion [worship] that is acceptable to God, but he is bound to observe and keep the religion [worship] that he has received from God, without any change.” (Works, 1:194)
And this understanding of the strict limits that Scripture placed on the worship of God had profound implications for Knox’s views on the Lord’s Supper. Consistent with his general position on worship he held that “The Sacraments of the New Testament ought to be administered just as they were instituted by Christ and practised by the Apostles. Nothing ought to be added to them or diminished from them.” (Works, 1:194) This leads naturally to consider the question we will begin to consider next time: what did Knox consider to be the apostolic teaching on the Lord’s Supper to which nothing could be added or subtracted?
Walking you through everything that John Owen (1616-1683) wrote would take considerable space. Instead, as I continue my series on helping you read his writings (see part 1), I will recommend a few of my favorite books by him, explaining why they are my favorites. This list is somewhat subjective, and my primary recommendations might be unexpected. Which books minister to us depends as much on our current place in life as on what the Lord is doing in our hearts at the time. Some books, however, deserve to be read by all because of their intrinsic excellence. My recommendations reflect both of these perspectives.
First, everything Owen wrote stands head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries. You will not find here the illustrative powers of Thomas Watson or the personal anecdotes of Richard Baxter. You will find a man who drank deeply from the wells of the best theology available at the time, who filtered this material through a brilliant intellect, and who set it on fire with the warmth of pastoral devotion. The two words that come to mind in describing Owen are precision and piety.
Recommendations of Where to Start
I recommend starting with Owen’s sermons in volume 9 of the Banner of Truth edition. Many of these sermons condense and popularize much of what he wrote elsewhere. For example, the sermons on “The Nature and Beauty of Gospel Worship” are practically a miniature version of Communion with God. Each sermon is roughly ten pages and are filled with useful illustrations and examples. Owen was a powerful preacher and popular in his day. These sermons are a faint record of what his preaching was like.
In my opinion, the first four volumes of Owen’s Works, coupled with his Hebrews commentary, represent his best material.
Volume 1 of his Works includes two major books on Christ. Christologia is outstanding and profound, but I recommend getting a feel for Owen’s style before reading it. Though it is one of the best books on the person of Christ that I have ever read, it is not the best place to start. In the same volume, Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ is pure gold. This is Owen’s seasoned attempt to teach his congregation how to grow in their affection for Jesus Christ and to long for heaven more.
Volume 2 includes Communion with God. This is the most important book that I have read apart from the Bible, and it has transformed my personal piety and ministry. There is nothing else quite like it in English Reformed theology. Owen makes the doctrine of the Trinity profoundly devotional by teaching us how to hold communion with all three divine persons. This book is comforting and it will likely transform how many readers read the New Testament.
Volume 3 and Volume 4 include several books on the Holy Spirit. Owen designed them collectively to be the first attempt in Christian history to produce a full systematic treatment of the Spirit’s person and work. To this author’s knowledge, no author has matched his attempt either before or since he wrote it. The first half of volume 3 expounds his devotional Trinitarianism, in many respects, more fully than Communion with God. The latter half of the volume treats the Spirit’s work in personal holiness and the difference between biblical godliness and moral virtue. His treatment of the Spirit’s work in Christ as the ground and pattern of hi work in believers is the most profound aspect of his teaching on the Spirit.
Volume 4 examines the grounds of our faith in the authority of Scripture, how we interpret Scripture in dependence on the Spirit, how the Spirit helps us in prayer, the work of the Spirit as a comforter, and a profound treatise on spiritual gifts. Every one of these books will exceed your expectations and treat their topics better than any other author that I have read from any century.
Do not bypass typical recommendations, such as The Mortification of Sin. However, I am increasingly convinced that people misread this book because they are interested in finding a “how to” manual on sanctification instead of a book on the practical outworking of union with Christ in the Christian life. Other excellent books are The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded and Apostasy from the Gospel. The latter displays astonishing insight into the nature of the human heart and highlights dangers that most contemporary Christians do not even know that they face.
The general recommendations aside, all of Owen’s books are worth reading and I have never regretted any time that I have spent with him. Wherever you choose to begin, the following advice may help you.
How to Read Owen
  • Do not get bogged down with Owen’s outlines. Keep reading and try to follow the big picture of where his argument. He did not write random collections of devotional thoughts, but books with definite aims. Keep his goals in mind as you read.
  • Read the table of contents of a book in order to preview its contents at a glance. Puritan authors’ tables of contents were more detailed than we are used to today. They can help you digest the material better.
  • Persevere and keep reading. Reading seventeenth-century theology is like learning another language. While Owen wrote in English, it is not the English that you know and use. This is an obstacle for modern readers whether we are reading Owen or anyone else from his time. Reading Owen is like making a new friend. The more time you spend with him, the more you will know and like him. Patterns of thought will become familiar and easy, though never predictable or mundane.
  • Develop your reading skills generally. In his classic work How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler notes that modern education does not carry us beyond a grammar-school reading level. Few people today learn how to read theology or philosophy. Reading Owen provides a good opportunity to become a better reader. Read Adler’s book to help you as well. It is a classic for good reasons.
Concluding Thoughts
This advice on reading Owen may not entirely solve your problems. Even if you follow my counsel, you will still need to dig deeply to extract gold. My most important advice for success in reading Owen is to pray. Without prayer, the best of our labors and studies will be in vain. With prayer, the Lord often brings unexpected blessings through hard work. Owen’s writings are a rich store of treasures. It is important to stretch our spiritual sinews in the Christian life. Sometimes when we feel like we are trying to understand content that goes “over our heads” we should stand on a stool.  Reading Owen is worth the effort. You will stand taller and stronger spiritually for doing so.
[This post is edited and adapted from the Appendix to my The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen. Used with permission.]

We have two (2) copies of John Bunyan and the Grace of Fearing God by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley. Thanks to our friends at Reformation Heritage Books!

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Continuing with our series on the Puritans' views of marital love (see introduction) we come to the theme of the spirituality of marital love, that is, that is must be in Christ and in accord with God’s commandments. Love must be rooted in the experience of being equally yoked together spiritually as believers. Richard Baxter (1615–1691) said that husbands and wives have the responsibility “especially to be helpers of each other’s salvation: to stir up each other to faith, love, and obedience, and good works: to warn and help each other against sin, and all temptations: to join in God’s worship in the family, and in private: to prepare each other for the approach of death, and comfort each other in the hopes of life eternal” (Practical Works, 4:234).
Although marriage is a universal institution ordained by God for the whole human race regardless of whether they are saved or not, marriage fulfils its deepest purpose and achieves its greatest stability only when grounded in Christian faith and the fear of God. If built on the sandy foundation of physical beauty or exceptional gifts and talents, it can easily be blown away by some storm.
The Spiritual Duties of the Husband
Marital love should be profoundly spiritual because, as William Gouge (1575-1653) observed, Christian marriage should conform to the pattern of Christ and His church. As Christ loves His church, so the husband must love his wife. He is to love her absolutely (v. 25), purposefully (v. 26), realistically (v. 27), and sacrificially (vv. 28–29). He must exercise a “true, free, pure, exceeding, constant love” to his wife, nourishing and cherishing her as Christ does His gathered people (v. 29) (Of Domestical Duties, 31).
In his wedding sermon, Richard Greenham (c. 1542–1594) charged the groom:
You, brother, must learn hereby so to love your wife, as Christ Jesus loved His spouse His church. That is to say, even as our Savior Christ is very patient towards it, and by little and little purges, washes, and cleanses away the corruption of it, so must you in like manner in all wisdom use the means (and with a patient mind wait for the amendment of any thing that you shall find to be amiss in your wife) that the graces of God’s spirit may daily increase in her. Therefore, I charge you in the sight of God and his angels, and as you will answer unto me and the parents of this my sister, before the judgment seat of Christ, that as you receive her a virgin from her parents, so you neglect no duty whereby her salvation may be furthered, that you may present her pure and blameless, as much as in you lies, unto Jesus Christ when He shall call you to account (Works, 291–92).
Such Christlike love, said Gouge, will serve “as sugar to sweeten the duties of authority which appertain to a husband,” and thereby enable his loving wife to submit more easily to him (Of Domestical Duties, 94).
The Spiritual Duties of the Wife
Likewise, the wife’s loving submission to her husband is a limited expression of her absolute submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. Robert Bolton (1572–1631) wrote that a wife “ought, like a true [mirror], faithfully to represent and return to her husband’s heart, with a sweet and pleasing pliableness, the exact lineaments and proportions of all his honest desires and demands, and that without discontent, thwarting, or sourness. For her subjection in this kind should be as to Christ, sincere, hearty, and free” (General Directions, 279). But conscientious wives must also remember, wrote Isaac Ambrose (1604-1664), “that they have a husband in heaven, as well as on earth, betwixt whom there is a greater difference than between heaven and earth; and therefore in case they bid contrary things, they must prefer God before men, Christ before all men” (Works, 133).
Mutual Love
The love of both husband and wife must be ruled and energized by the fear of the Lord. William Whately (1583-1639) observed,
This is the fountain of most disorders in most families: where God is not feared, what can abound but profaneness and impiety in… the whole household; where people are not taught the knowledge and fear of God, how should they know or fear Him? Where these graces are absent, how should anything be found but rudeness, stubbornness, and undutifulness? Now therefore… let all husbands and wives that fear God be of one mind in the Lord, and let them not fail… [to establish] the exercises of religion in their houses (A Bride Bush, 93. Cf. Jer. 10:25).
Mutual love is preserved and increased by religious exercises. Time spent together with God and in the worship of God will help preserve marital love. Let husband and wife pray together, said Whateley; “let them confer with each other of their heavenly country, let them sing a psalm together, and join in such religious exercises; so shall their hearts be knit together fast and firm to God first, and so to each other” (A Bride Bush, 49). For as they do so, he continued, “bright beams of God’s image will shine forth, and show themselves in each of them, and that is lovely and alluring, and will make them amiable to each other. These will nourish the spirit of holiness in them, and that kindles love” (A Bride Bush, 49).
The spiritual implications of marital love should move people to choose their spouses carefully. William Secker (d. c. 1681) warned against choosing a wife merely for her beauty: “If a woman’s flesh has more of beauty than her spirit has of Christianity, it is like poison in sweetmeats, most dangerous” (“The Wedding Ring, A Sermon,” 266).
In the next three posts on the heavenly man, Christopher Love, I want to open up (the first of three parts) his meditations on hell from Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653). In light of his ten sermons concerning saints in heaven (see this post), Love treats “the tormented condition of the damned in Hell” for seven sermons. In the first of the three, we will consider the justification for addressing the topic at all. In the next post we will consider vital questions that Love asks and answers in his sermons. Finally, in the third post, we will consider the controversial topic of Jesus’ descent into hell. 
The Puritans on Hell
As was the case for the glories of heaven, the Puritans did much to stir up the terror of hell wanting people to run from it to heaven. So, they consciously set forth a Christ-centered hell-fire tradition within which Love’s own preaching found itself.
John Bunyan emerges as a representative of such preaching and writing. In A Few Sighs from Hell (1658), he treats the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. While this passage is a parable, Bunyan claims that it pushes us hard to think on heaven and hell, getting to the former while fleeing the latter.
Satan would keep from us from this vital topic, notes Bunyan, settled in sin with “no fear of death, and judgment to come.” Discussing the rich man’s raised eyes from hell (Luke 16:23), he observes, “there is a hell for souls to be tormented in when this life is ended.” Even in his time, people made a “mock” of hell-fire preachers. Such people, he warns, will “find such an hell after this life is ended,” with no way out forever. As Bunyan could testify from his own experience (e.g. related in Grace Abounding), he wants us to dwell on the reality of hell as a catalyst “to seek  the Lord Jesus Christ,” rather than “slight it, and make a mock at it.”
Love’s Sermons
In Love’s seven sermons on hell, he seeks to “startle” those not unmoved by the glories of heaven. Thus, he wants to awaken “drowsie consciences.” Thoughts of eternal torment should, he argues, create “an awful fear of God” in our hearts, “startle” us from false security, eradicate fabricated hopes of glory, and turn us away from indulging in sin. 
The series launches from 2 Corinthians 5:11, “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Most importantly, they open up Matthew 10:28, “But rather fear him which is able to destroy both body and soul in Hell.” In this passage, Christ makes clear that the infliction of earthly suffering by men remains limited, even if they can kill us. So, we do not need to fear men. Rather, we should fear God who “can kill both body and soul.” This death does not denote annihilation but a “continual tormenting of body and soul for all eternity” (see Luke 12:5). 
The Legitimacy of Preaching Hell
Even in Love’s time, some opposed hell-fire preaching, for “this is not to preach the Gospel, but the Law.” In such convictions, Love sees the scheme of the devil, who does all he can to stop such preaching, wanting to “nuzzle” people to feel safe living in sin. You see, hyper-grace antinomian theology is not unique to the 21st century! He defends hell preachers from the charge of legalism by pointing to Jesus, the gospel preacher. He spoke on hell more than anyone else in the Bible. Also, why does the New Testament of grace address hell much more than the Old Testament? Love boldly claims that “Sermons of terror have done more good upon unconverted souls, than Sermons of comfort have ever done.” We fail to preach the whole counsel of God if we “run only upon strains of free grace.”
Love says that the following types of people need to hear sermons on hell: Unbelievers who actively resist Christians, those under the means of grace but are no better for it, great professors of faith without lives to support such, those influencing others to sin by wicked example, unrepentant adulterers, hypocrites using religion to commit heinous sins, and the unrepentant who reject a longsuffering God. Some of the sins Love hopes to restrain by hell preaching include lust, gluttony, pride, covetousness, and the fear of man. 
He could be more Christ and gospel-centered in his reflections, but his burden for hell-fire preaching, needs to be reclaimed in the church today, where speaking openly on hell remains unpopular often due to the fear of offending men. Instead, may remember to fear God and preach hell, since he can put us there for ignoring it.
In the previous two articles (see 1, 2), we have considered one argument for and one objection to infant baptism from the writings of Stephen Marshall (1594-1655). We are now going to turn our attention to a benefit of infant baptism. There are several avenues we could explore in this regard, but in this article, I want to focus on the enormous “benefit and fruit” infant baptism is for the parent.
When he was just a little boy, John Smith was captured by the enemy and taken to their dark and depressing kingdom in a faraway land. John lived there as a slave and was often beaten for no reason. Life was truly miserable. The one silver lining was that when John became an adult, he was allowed to marry and have a family of his own. He and his wife, Joan, had two children, Irish twins, an eleven-month old boy (Simon), and a newborn girl (Sophia). Shortly after the birth of their daughter, a unit of highly-trained soldiers from his homeland came to rescue him and bring him back home. John was elated; but his elation quickly turned to despair when he learned that they would not bring his wife and two children with him. “They aren’t allowed in the country unless they are able and willing to take an oath of allegiance,” the officer said. “If your wife is willing to do that then she may come. But I am deeply sorry. Your children are too young. They must remain here. Now quick, grab your things and let’s go.”
When a person is converted, the apostle Paul says that he is transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). But what about the children? Are they left behind in the kingdom of darkness like John Smith’s children? And what about when a Christian becomes a parent? If John Smith had children after he was rescued would he have to hand them over to the enemy or would they be allowed to stay with him?
The Bible is quite clear that that there are only two “visible” kingdoms in this world: the kingdom of the darkness and the kingdom of God’s dear Son. There is not a third or neutral visible kingdom. Consequently, Ezekiel Hopkins (1634-1690) rightly noted that children of believers must be in one of them. Either they are members of the “visible Church of Christ,” along with their parents or they are members of the “visible kingdom of the devil.” Therefore, if infants of believers are not members of the church, then as Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) said, “they are members of Satan, of the Kingdom of the Prince of darkness.”
But thanks be to God! The Bible tells us that they are rescued along with us. All of Israel, including the infants, left Egypt and travelled to the Promised Land. As Marshall noted, children of believers are “within the Covenant of Grace, belonging to Christ’s body, kingdom, family.” They are able to and do partake of the saving blessings of the covenant. Jesus loves our children and claims them as his own. To them belongs the kingdom of God (Luke 18:17).
However, it can at times be a struggle to believe that God is not only for us but also for our children. Is God really my God and the God of my children? This is where infant baptism plays a significant role. God visibly declares and confirms his covenantal love to our particular children in their baptism. Baptism is not some generic statement. God says to my child, “I love him, he is mine and I am his.” No wonder Marshall wrote:
How much may this comfort the soul of every believing parent, to behold this great love and goodness of God in his Covenant of Grace to them and their posterity, that not only themselves, but even their infants for their sakes, should be reckoned to the household of God, put into the Ark, wrapped up in a covenant of love, brought under the wing of God?
This benefit of baptism, or at least the truth sealed by it, becomes enormously precious if in God’s providence you have experienced, or will experience what is every parent’s nightmare, the death of a child. If a friend or relation dies outside of the church, and thus as a member of the visible kingdom of Satan, then we do not have much hope for him. We do not expect to see him in glory. But such is not the case for those who die as members of the church. We have every reason to believe that we will see them in glory. Marshall wrote:
While God does hereby honor [parents] to have their children counted to his Church, to his kingdom, and family, to be under his wing and grace, while all the other infants in the world have their visible standing under the Prince, and in the kingdom of darkness, and consequently while others have no hope of their children’s spiritual welfare, until they be called out of that condition; these need not have any doubt of their children’s welfare, if they die in their infancy, nor if they live until they show signs to the contrary: God having both reckoned them unto his people, and given them all the means of salvation, which an infant’s age is capable of.
Since a high percentage of infants and young children died during the seventeenth century—John Owen (1616-1683), for example, buried all eleven of his children, with only one surviving to adulthood—this benefit of baptism would have been near and dear to the hearts of puritans. They would have clung to the promises sealed in baptism as they laid their little ones in the grave. And we must do the same. One reason God gave us baptism was to bring comfort and provide hope to parents.
Inasmuch as infant baptism brings thanksgiving, comfort and hope to parents, so its rejection robs parents of these much-needed blessings. To argue that children of believers are not members of the church is to argue that they are in the visible kingdom of Satan where people are strangers to the covenants of promise, have no hope and are without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). An assembly of New England puritans put it this way in 1657:
If no children be members of the visible church, then we have no well-grounded hope according to ordinary course of dispensation, of the salvation of any dying infants: And the reason is, because salvation pertains to the Church, Isa. 45:17; Eph. 2:12; 5:23, 26; John 4:22; Acts 2:27; Luke 19:9. Those that are without the visible kingdom of God, are visibly in the kingdom of Satan; for he is the God of the world, 2 Cor. 4:4. And to him are men delivered, when they are cast out of the church, 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20. So if children live and die out of the visible Church, they live and die out of God’s visible kingdom, and visibly in the Kingdom of Satan: and then what visible ground of hope (according to ordinary course) of their salvation? But to account the estate of all that die children, so hopeless and forlorn, is contrary to the tender and rich mercy of the Lord, and to the doctrine of the Scriptures, and to godly parents most uncomfortable.
Furthermore, to argue that children of believers should not be baptized is to argue that they are not saved. If God specifically denies the sign to a particular person, then it is because God denies him the reality, which is to say that he is lost, and his parents without hope, at least from our perspective. Owen wrote:
God having appointed baptism as the sign of regeneration, unto whom he denies it, he denies the grace signified by it. Why is it the will of God that unbelievers and impenitent sinners should not be baptized? It is because, not granting them the grace, he will not grant them the sign. If, therefore, God denies the sign unto the infant seed of believers, it must be because he denies them the grace of it; and then all the children of believing parents dying in their infancy must, without hope, be eternally damned. I do not say that all must be so who are not baptized, but all must be so whom God would have not baptized.
This is not to say, of course, that if Christians do not believe that their infants are members of the church and refuse to baptize them that their infants are actually damned. Ignorance or incorrect beliefs doesn’t change reality. Marshall correctly wrote that he did not think that “believing Anabaptists do through their ignorance or error put their children out of this privilege.” Nevertheless, Baptists do destroy one major benefit of infant baptism: parental comfort.
God is our God and the God of our children. God loves us and our children. God has promised to save us and our children. We and our children are in the church. God has sealed these truths in our and our children’s baptism. So, parents, be filled with gratitude, comfort and hope.