I was reading one of my favorite theologians today on infant baptism: John Owen, the great congregationalist paedobaptist Puritan. I thought this part of his discourse would be good to publish on my blog because, as mentioned, there was a time for a while when, even as a Baptist, I believed my children were in the covenant, but I figured I should withhold the sign and seal of baptism from them until they professed faith. Owen takes this to task. He writes:
It may be it will be said, that although children have a right to the covenant, or do belong unto it, yet they have no right to the initial seal of it. This will not suffice; for, —
1. If they have any interest in it, it is either in its grace or in its administration. If they have the former, they have the latter also, as shall be proved at any time. If they have neither, they have no interest in it; — then the truth of the promises of God made unto the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.
2. That unto whom the covenant or promise doth belong, to them belongs the administration of the initial seal of it, is expressly declared by the apostle, Acts 2:38, 39, be they who they will.
3. The truth of God’s promises is not confirmed if the sign and seal of them be denied; for that whereon they believed that God was a God unto their seed as well as unto themselves was this, that he granted the token of the covenant unto their seed as well as unto themselves. If this be taken away by Christ, their faith is overthrown, and the promise itself is not confirmed but weakened, as to the virtue it hath to beget faith and obedience.
Furthermore, in this same discourse, Owen argues well the following:
God having appointed baptism as the sign and seal 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 not have baptized.
But this is contrary to the goodness and law [love?] of God, the nature and promises of the covenant, the testimony of Christ reckoning them to the kingdom of God , the faith of godly parents, and the belief of the church in all ages.
In other words, there is a reason why God does not have the church administer baptism to unbelievers: because baptism belongs to those who are the people of God. Why would we give baptism to an unbeliever? To whomever we deny it, we deny it because it does not belong to unbelievers. But, if we deny it to our infant children, we are also saying that they are unbelievers. We are treating them like any other child of pagan parents.
But the children of believing parents are not viewed that way by God. If our children are in the covenant, then they have a right to the sign of God's promise. They are holy; otherwise, they would be unclean.
Praise God for His kindness and mercy!