These will be the closing comments in the debate between myself and Mr. Winsley concerning the subject of infant baptism, and as in my last post I shall answer several more of my partner’s objections to the practice. Throughout the debate, and throughout the history of the Baptist movement, one passage of Scripture has always been absolutely essential for the argument of believer’s baptism, Jeremiah 31:31-34 and the corresponding passage in Hebrews. Their understanding here is that God has established a “New Covenant” with His people and that one of the promises of this new covenant is that it can never be broken by any who partake of it. From here the Baptist argues that because the covenant is only partaken of by those who do truly believe, the sign of the covenant ought to be bestowed only upon those who do profess belief. Logically, because children cannot profess belief they cannot be baptized. And to this objection my response will always be that children of believing families have always been included in the covenant of grace; that we now live in the final and gloriously complete dispensation of the covenant does not alter that fact. Below I will give my parting explanations for why this is so.
The course of this debate has been helpful for me in that I have come to a more replete understanding of the credobaptist position and I would congratulate Mr. Winsley on his defense of the position. One thing which I have picked up on throughout and which I should now like to respond to is the idea that the previous forms of the covenant had a lesser emphasis on faith than does this new covenant era in which we now live. The misunderstanding centers around a belief that the Noahic, Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant eras centered around family descent and patriarchy whereas the new covenant is established in faith. Opposed to this false dichotomy between faith and descent the Bible places faith at the center of the covenant in every dispensation; regardless of the manner in which it was administered unto the recipient people. We read in Romans chapter four that God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision to seal the faith that he had already been given. And if we turn to Genesis 17 where God addresses Abraham we will find that the emphasis here is on Abraham’s children, notice:
“Again God said unto Abraham, Thou also shalt keep my covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant which ye shall keep between me and you, and they seed after thee, let every man child among you be circumcised.”
It is commonly assumed today that this act of circumcision was merely an external rite. A fleshly ordinance which bore no concern for the election of the individual who was to be circumcised. But if we search the Scriptures for what it has to say about circumcision we will find that this common assumption is most incorrect. The Bible speaks of circumcision in many passages and in roughly half of these it has an inward and spiritual focus. I will list some of these to follow:
“And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul? That thou keep the commandments of the Lord and his ordinances, which I command thee this day, for thy wealth? Behold, heaven, and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, and the earth, with all that therein is. Notwithstanding, the Lord set his delight in thy fathers to love them, and did choose their seed after them, even you above all people, as appearaeth this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of you heart, and harden your necks no more.” (Deut 10:12-16)
“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, that thou mayest love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and thou mayest live. And the Lord thy God will lay all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, and that persecute thee. Return thou therefore, and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments, which I command thee this day.” (Deut 30:6-8)
“Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among the thorns: be circumcised to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, ye men of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my wrath come forth like fire, and burn, that none can quench it, because of the wickedness of your inventions.” (Jeremiah 4:4)
“Behold, the days come saith the Lord, that I will visit all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised: Egypt and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all the utmost corners of them that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.” (Jeremiah 9:25-26)
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outward: neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one within, and the circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom 2:28-29)
These passages plainly and firmly establish that circumcision was always a sign and a seal of faith. Again, Romans chapter four says exactly that. In all of these passages we can see that what God demanded was that the people’s hearts be circumcised and that they not merely observe the fleshly ordinance. The verses from Deuteronomy 10 especially state that which I should like to stress: that God chose and spiritually circumcised both His elect and their children. In his previous article Mr. Winsley said that he does not teach his children that because of his faith they inherit some special place in the kingdom; and while I do not want to be unfair to his statement, it is not entirely correct. Yes, it is absolutely good and proper to teach one’s children that what is required of them is a personal and saving faith in the spilt blood of Jesus, no reformed church has ever taught differently. But the fact is that our children do inherit something which children of non-believers are not privy too: Deuteronomy 10 says that God chooses His elect and their seed after them. Peter affirms this in Acts 2:39 when he says that the covenant is for us and our children as well as whomsoever the Lord shall call. Now the Baptist should like to have this verse from Acts say that the covenant is for us and our children as well as whomsoever the Lord shall call so therefore not really our children because they can’t profess faith. But the truth of the matter is that they do inherit a birthright by being born into covenant homes. We are to assume our children’s election and raise them as such until they might prove otherwise. For my own part, I do not view my children as targets for evangelism; rather they are to be discipled to carry on the work which the Lord has begun in my fathers, continued through me and will pass on to my children. The Bible’s schematic of salvation and redemption is much greater than the salvation of human individuals. The salvation of individual souls is wonderful and our only hope but it is no more than a means to God’s accomplishing His ultimate work of reversing and destroying the works of sin and His enemies which bear the works of sin. This is God’s goal in history. The restoration of a redeemed mankind to their original purpose, and election and sovereign grace are merely a means to that end. God’s work is bigger than any one of us. The work is multi-generational, and so is God’s calling, just like the Bible says. Contrary to all this the Baptist tradition says that children are to be excluded from the covenant until they can prove able to understand and knowingly accept. Yet even a careful reading of Jeremiah 31 will undercut this understanding, it says:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” (Jeremiah 31:31)
Now I use a 1599 Geneva Bible and the word is rendered house, as in house of Judah and house of Israel, but it is in many translations rendered nation; both words have the same meaning. The word here employed is always used in Scripture to denote entire people groups, tribes or nations. And people groups, tribes and nations always includes everyone, by default. God never addresses a nation minus the children. No, He is speaking of everyone, men, women, children, the whole nine yards as they say. If the term here translated as house or nation excludes the children than it here must bear a meaning which it does nowhere else in Scripture. And as for the New Testament counterpart of this passage in Hebrews chapter eight, it speaks of the alteration of the means of dispensing the covenant. With the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ all the fleshly ordinances have been done away with; this means that washings, food laws and temple ordinances have been abolished. Notice that laws concerning covenant entrance are not touched. This is not by coincidence, laws pertaining to entrance into the covenant were not part of the prophetic and typical administration of the old covenant. They were altered yes. Just as Israel received a new name, Christians, they changed out the old sign of circumcision for baptism. As to what manner of things exactly are altered by the changing covenant administration I can do no better than to offer the words of A. W. Pink, a Baptist no less, from his commentary on Hebrews,
“But at this point a difficulty, already noticed, may recur to our minds: Were not the things mentioned in Heb. 8:10-14, the grace and mercy therein expressed, actually communicated to God’s elect both before and afterwards? Did not all who truly believed and feared God enjoy these same identical blessings? Unquestionably. What then is the solution? This: the apostle is not here contrasting he internal operations of Divine grace in the Old and N. T. saints, but as Calvin rightly taught, the ‘reference is to the economical condition of the Church.’ The contrast between that which characterized the Judaic and the Christian dispensations is the outward confirmation of the covenant.”
Notice what Pink stresses here, it is the outward ceremonies and economic situation of the church which changes with the transition of the covenant eras. Not a word concerning the inclusion, or rather the rejection of our children from the covenant. To further drive home the point we nowhere see our Lord forbid the children from coming to Him. When his disciples attempt to obstruct the little children from coming unto Him He rebukes them saying, “For of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Nowhere in the Bible do we find evidence that our children are to be excluded from the covenant, in fact, we are taught that they are to be raised to carry on our covenant assignments.
One last subject I should like to broach is that of the lack of Scriptural or Patristic evidence for the Baptist position. My comments here are not directed at Mr. Winsley as he has been rather gracious in refraining from prattling on about how we never see infants baptized in the New Testament records; and that is well thought out on his part because we also never see older children who have recently professed faith be baptized either. The Baptists always deny the possibility that any of the many household baptisms we find in the New Testament would include infants but despite the “sola Scriptura” line which is usually sung by Baptists, there is no record of any infant being denied baptism and then the individual being baptized after making a positive confession some years later. We find this position nowhere: Bible, early church, it is not to be found. Baptists do need to be frank with themselves here: as much as they like to chide their Presbyterian brothers of holding to a system which is built upon theological conjecture and inference, it is really the credobaptists who must do just that in order to maintain their position. We find in multiple baptism accounts from the New Testament that entire households are baptized, this would very strongly suggest that infants were included here. We nowhere have any record of a child from a believing home not being baptized and then receiving the sacrament only after making a positive confession, it’s just not in the Bible. I have just said the same thing twice but it really could be said again. With the line of argument often taken by the credobaptist position one would be led to believe that we everywhere have record of children being brought before the church at the age of ten or twelve and asked to make a positive confession, but it is nowhere to be found. So in conclusion of the Biblical proofs both sides must be willing to concede that the matter of infant baptism can only be resolved by applying one’s theology of the workings of the covenant to infants; and when this is done the surrounding evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the paedobaptist position.
Thus concludes my humble debate with Mr. Jonathon Winsley. It has been fun and I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to seriously debate this issue in a spirited yet dispassionate and reasonable manner. I would be lying if I said I haven’t learned some things about BOTH positions while putting these posts together and I hope that our work will prove beneficial to all five people who will read it in the future. I am especially grateful to Jonathan for not claiming victory over me when it took me almost a month to get this last post up on my blog. What can I say, preparing for the baptism of all these kids I have takes time! Alas, I jest. It has been sincerely fun and I only pray edifying to any who may happen to read,
Robert J. Hoyle