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.