Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 27
Lord's Day 27
Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?
No, only the blood of Jesus Christ
and the Holy Spirit
cleanse us from all sins.
Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism
the washing of regeneration
and the washing away of sins?
God speaks in this way for a good reason.
He wants to teach us
that the blood and Spirit of Christ
remove our sins
just as water takes away
dirt from the body.
But, even more important,
He wants to assure us
by this divine pledge and sign
that we are
as truly cleansed from our sins spiritually
as we are bodily washed with water.
Should infants, too, be baptized?
Infants as well as adults
belong to God's covenant and congregation.
Through Christ's blood
the redemption from sin
and the Holy Spirit, who works faith,
are promised to them
no less than to adults.
Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant,
they must be grafted into the Christian church
and distinguished from the children of unbelievers.
This was done in the old covenant by circumcision,
in place of which baptism was instituted
in the new covenant.
Thus, baptism instructs us visibly about the removal of our sins. For as water washes dirt from the body, so the blood and Spirit of Christ remove “the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins” (A. 69). The blood of Christ denotes all his suffering, which culminated in the shedding of his blood. In this suffering he paid the punishment for our sins and thereby paid for our debt. Hence, we can say that his blood, that is, his suffering, cleanses us from sin, namely, from the guilt of sin (Justification). And the Spirit of Christ renews is. He releases us from the bonds of unrighteousness, causes us to become dead to sin and teaches us to lead a blameless life that is pleasing to God. More and more, he removes the pollution of sin (Sanctification). (See Ans. 70).
The water in baptism is, thus, sign of the blood and Spirit of Christ and the washing (sprinkling) with this water teaches visibly that the blood and the Spirit of Christ cleanse us of all our sins.
- Baptism is also a Seal on the same promise which it depicts for us as sign. It seals to us that the promise is true and trustworthy, and that it applies to Me; I am entitled to it. Baptism does not work forgiveness of sins. Only the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins (A. 72).
Roman Catholics, therefore, err in their doctrine that baptism causes regeneration and is, thus, essential to salvation. That is why they recognise lay baptism for children who are likely to die soon after birth and can not be brought to church for the sacrament.
Baptism also does not seal something that is already worked in us. It does not seal that we are already regenerated so that we must presume every baptised infant to have been regenerated. Prof. Lucas Lindeboom posited, inter alia, the following thesis, shortly before the General Synod of 1905: “Baptism does not sign and seal what Is Present in the person being baptised, or what Is Presupposed to be present, but the promises of the covenant of grace, revealed in the gospel.” That is why the Form for the Baptism of Infants (Address to the Parents) also says that baptism is an ordinance of God to seal to us and our children His covenant, and why LD 25, Answer 66 says that the sacraments seal to us the promise of the gospel. So also, Answer 69 states clearly that Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave a promise. It is the Promise which is sealed in baptism.
Baptism is a sign which illustrates that promise for us and seals it to us as trustworthy, in order to encourage and strengthen us in the acceptance of the promise in faith. Therefore, if one asks what baptism says to us as seal, the reply must be: The Promise (that God gives us forgiveness of sins out of grace, because of Christ's sacrifice) is true and trustworthy, and is meant for us; we are entitled to it. This is apparent also from Q. 71, which states that Christ has Promised that he Will wash us with His blood and Spirit. Baptism, therefore, assures us that we may claim forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. God assures us of his grace toward us.
Against this, some will say that baptism does not assure us that I am entitled to forgiveness of sins, but that I Have forgiveness. They point to the fact that the Catechism says in Answer 69 that water Washes the dirt away, and in Answer 73 that we Are cleansed from our sins spiritually. But we must not forget that those are the answers of a believing confessor, that is, someone who has accepted his baptism. Our entitlement to forgiveness of sins is like a cheque. When you have a cheque for $1,000, you do not have $1,000, but you are entitled to it. The cheque is evidence of your entitlement. The payee, who believes the cheque to be reliable, is apt to say, “I have $1,000.” But the cheque is not the same as $1,000. Rather, it is the evidence and assurance of his right to the money.
- What is important, therefore, is that we Make Use of baptism. Just as not everyone who hears the gospel will be saved, so also, it can not be said of everyone who is baptised that he has or will receive forgiveness of sins. We must make use of baptism. We have to Accept the Promise which is Signed and Sealed to us, and cleave to God, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, . . . trust Him, and . . . love Him with our whole heart, soul, and mind, and with all our strength” (Forms for the Baptism of Infants and Adults, Doctrine of Baptism, third point). Otherwise, baptism, that cheque of God's grace, will make us the more guilty! Thus, baptism obliges us to profess the Lord's Name in our entire life and, therefore, also in the church (public profession of faith).
- Yet baptism is called “the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins” (see Q&A 73). We call this a Sacramental Locution, in which the Sign is spoken of as if it were the depicted matter itself. We also do that when we say that a bank note is $10, even though it only seals our entitlement to $10.
- The Institution of baptism. Answer 69 says that Christ instituted baptism. This refers to its institution shortly before the Ascension (Mt 28:19, 20). Yet, John the Baptist already baptised people. And his baptism was in substance like the Christian baptism. They are both a baptism to repentance and of forgiveness of sins. But he baptised only in Israel and only those who came to him. Only after Pentecost could baptism be administered among all nations. See also Answer 71 about the institution of baptism and learn the texts in that answer.
Mt 28:19: “In the Name of” means “to or in communion with” God. For his name is he himself, as he revealed himself to us. Baptism points to that communion and seals it.
- Who must be baptised? The BC, art. 34 says: “For that reason He has commanded all those who are His to be baptised.” Hence, we should baptise all those who are sanctified in Christ, who belong to God's covenant and his congregation. That means: the believers, those who profess their faith, and their children. It is not permissible to baptise all who are presented for baptism in the hope that they will later learn to understand it and thereby to bind them to some extent to the church.
- Answer 74 confesses separately that infants (i.e., of believers) should (i.e., must) also be baptised. For there have always been opponents of the baptism of infants. The Catechism says that they must be baptised because they “belong to God's covenant and congregation.” (Learn Gen 17:7 and Acts 2:39). That is why they are entitled to the sign and seal of the covenant. Prof. Lindeboom, in the theses already referred to, therefore, said, correctly: “Baptism is administered, Not on basis of presumed regeneration, But on the basis of the Lord's command, to those who profess their faith, and to their children because the promises of the covenant extend also to them.” That is why the children must “by baptism, as sign of the covenant, . . . be grafted into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers” (A. 74). They are not received into the covenant and the church by baptism. They Are in them according to God's promise, but this is made Visible in baptism. In baptism they receive the “mark and emblem” (BC, art. 34) of the Lord, to whom they belong.
This is the more so since baptism replaced circumcision (Col 2:11, 12). That is why the children must now be baptised, just as formerly they were circumcised. Were it not so, then infant baptism should have been forbidden in the NT. But since that is not the case, the rule which was established in the beginning of the OT, remains in force.
- Opponents of infant baptism argue:
a. Holy Scripture does not command baptism. But that was not necessary either (see above).
b. There is no example in the NT of infant baptism. That is not surprising, for the church was being gathered by conversion from among the heathens at that time. Nonetheless, we always read in connection with such a conversion: he was baptised, with all his family (Cornelius, Acts 10:48; the jailer, Acts 16:33). Hence, these baptisms took place according to the rule of the covenant that when a father belongs to the congregation, his family also belongs.
c. They do not understand baptism. But those who were circumcised did not understand their circumcision either and yet God required them to be circumcised. See also the Form for the Baptism of Infants (Doctrine of Baptism): “Although our children do not understand all this . . . ,” etc.
d. We do not know whether the children believe. But we do not baptise them on the basis of their faith, but on the basis of God's promise and command.
B. Cross References
- The BC, art. 34 speaks extensively about baptism. Note that this article:
a. points out that baptism replaced circumcision;
b. explains that baptism does not work something in us, nor says anything about something which is supposedly worked in us, but speaks to us of what the Lord wants to be for us; it serves us as “a testimony that He will be our God and gracious Father for ever”;
c. clearly states that baptism is given to us to signify to us that, “As water . . . ,” etc.
d. point out that baptism benefits us throughout our whole life;
e. gives detailed reasons why children also must be baptised.
- Article 56 of the CO states that the sacraments must be administered in a public worship service. Further, art. 57 states: The consistory shall ensure that the covenant of God is sealed by baptism to the children of believers as soon as feasible.
It is not necessary to emphasize the phrase, “as soon as feasible,” to such an extent that the mother is prevented from being present and acting as witness to the baptism of her child. But every unnecessary postponement of baptism is wrong.
The CD I, 17 says: God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy.
a. For God's covenant placed these children under the promise. The covenant also placed them under the obligation to accept the promise in faith when they grow up. But the Lord prevented their growing up and, thus, they were not faced with their obligation. Nevertheless, they have God's promise! However, it not permissible to draw the same conclusion for those who do grow up. The Lord chose a different route for them, in the course of which he causes them to be further instructed as they grow up.
C. Form for The Baptism of Infants
The Explanation of Baptism
a. Of our misery as children of wrath since baptism signifies the impurity of our souls;
b. Of our deliverance through Jesus Christ, since baptism signifies and seals to us the washing away of our sins through his blood.
i. The Father testifies and seals to us that He establishes an eternal covenant of grace with us [and] adopts us for His children and heirs.
ii. The Son promises us that He washes us in his blood from all our sins and unites us with Him in His death and resurrection.
iii. The Holy Spirit assures us . . . that He will dwell in us and make us living members of Christ, imparting to us what we have in Christ.
c. Of the thankfulness to which baptism calls and obliges us.
The Grounds for the Baptism of Infants
a. Just as they share without their knowledge in the condemnation of Adam, so are they, without their knowledge, received into grace in Christ.
b. They are included in God's covenant and in his church (Gen 17:7).
c. The promise of the forgiveness of sins and of the Holy Spirit is made to them (Acts 2:39).
d. In the old dispensation children were circumcised.
e. Christ blessed the little children also.
Prayer before Baptism
This part of the Form, which is intended for the entire congregation, concludes with the prayer before baptism, after the admonition to the parents to instruct their children in the doctrine of baptism.
Three Questions of the Parents
a. Declaration of the parents concerning the children of the church as sanctified in Christ.
b. A repeated confession concerning the doctrine of Holy Scripture.
c. A promise to instruct their child in the doctrine of baptism and to cause him or her to be instructed therein (Reformed education, catechesis, and instruction in the home).
- Prayer of Thanksgiving
- What does the Catechism speak about in each of Q&A 69, 70, 71, 72, 73 and 74? Answer this question with the Catechism open in front of you.
- What is the sign of baptism? Are there objections to sprinkling with water? Why not? Why did the church adopt sprinkling with water? Which form of administration has a greater symbolism? Why?
- Why was the sign of baptism given? Of what is the water a sign? What is visually depicted by the sprinkling with water? Of which two acts of salvation does baptism therefore speak? What is signified by “Christ's blood”? How does it remove sin? How does Christ's Spirit remove sin?
- Of what is baptism a seal? What do the Roman Catholics say about baptism? What do you know about lay baptism? Does baptism seal anything in the person being baptised? If not, what does it seal? What does baptism say as seal? To what can baptism be compared?
- To what does baptism admonish and oblige us? How can the Bible speak of baptism as “the washing away of sins” and “the forgiveness of sins”?
- Who instituted baptism? In what way should the baptism of John be distinguished from Christian baptism?
- Who should be baptised?
- Why should children also be baptised? On what basis are they therefore baptised? What did baptism replace? Which four objections are brought against infant baptism? How do you respond to each of them?
- What do the CD say about children who die in infancy? Is it permissible to draw the same conclusion about children who are growing up? Why not?
- List the main parts of the Form for the Baptism of Infants. What do the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, respectively, testify in baptism? What are the grounds which the Form gives for infant baptism? What are the questions posed to the parents?