John Owen

“The end of his message and of his coming was, that those to whom he was sent might be “blessed with faithful Abraham,” or that “the blessing of Abraham,” promised in the covenant, “might come upon them,” Galatians 3:9, 14. To deny this, overthrows the whole relation between the old testament and the new, the veracity of God in his promises, and all the properties of the covenant of grace, mentioned 2 Samuel 23:5…Infants are made for and are capable of eternal glory or misery, and must fall, dying infants, into one of these estates for ever. All infants are born in a state of sin, wherein they are spiritually dead and under the curse. Unless they are regenerated or born again, they must all perish inevitably, John 3:3. Their regeneration is the grace where of baptism is a sign or token. Wherever this is, there baptism ought to be administered. It follows hence unavoidably that infants who die in their infancy have the grace of regeneration, and consequently as good a right unto baptism as believers themselves…In brief, a participation of the seal of the covenant is a spiritual blessing. This the seed of believers was once solemnly invested in by God himself This privilege he hath nowhere revoked, though he hath changed the outward sign; nor hath he granted unto our children any privilege or mercy in lieu of it now under the gospel, when all grace and privileges are enlarged to the utmost. His covenant promises concerning them, which are multiplied, were confirmed by Christ as a true messenger and minister; he gives the grace of baptism unto many of them, especially those that die in their infancy, owns children to belong unto his kingdom, esteems them disciples, appoints households to be baptized without exception. And who shall now rise up, and withhold water from them?” (Works, Volume 16, Banner of Truth Trust (Carlisle, 1988) Pages 335-337)

The sacraments of Christ’s church are extraordinary-the act of baptism is not an empty rite as some would attempt to have us believe. There is much majesty and mystery there that this side of heaven we will not comprehend fully. ‘We see now, dimly’, but later face to face’. We do not believe like the Romans that baptism saves in an absolute fashion, but we do believe it can save at times. We do not believe that the bread and wine are the actual blood and body of Christ, but on the other hand, we do not believe they are just bread and wine, either. Consider Matthew 18 and what occurs when two or three are gathered in Christ’s name:

18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them

The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Mt 18:18–20.

The statement, ‘if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing’, says much. We can see a legal system that extends beyond the physical, entering the spiritual realm and stamped by God’s finger alone. The same can be said of the supper and baptism. Glorious things are unified in the physical realm; Spiritual with the physical.


Calvins Catechism helps here:


Heidelberg Cat Q74

Question 74
Are infants also to be baptized?
Answer 74
Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; (Genesis 17:7) and since redemption from sin (Matthew 19:14) by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; (Luke 1:15Psalms 22:10Isaiah 44:1-3Acts 2:39) they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers (Acts 10:47) as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, (Genesis 17:14) instead of which baptism is instituted (Colossians 2:11-13) in the new covenant.

The 39 Articles:

XXVII. Of Baptisme.

Baptisme is not only a signe of profession, and marke of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened: but is also a signe of regeneration or newe byrth, whereby as by an instrument, they that receaue baptisme rightly, are grafted into the Church: the promises of the forgeuenesse of sinne, and of our adoption to be the sonnes of God, by the holy ghost, are visibly signed and sealed: fayth is confyrmed: and grace increased by vertue of prayer vnto God. The baptisme of young children, is in any wyse to be retayned in the Churche, as most agreable with the institution of Christe.


Q. 35. How is the covenant of grace administered under the New Testament?
A. Under the New Testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.

Q. 165. What is baptism?
A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.

Q. 166. Unto whom is baptism to be administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.

Q. 167. How is baptism to be improved by us?
A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.


Quest. 94. What is baptism?
Ans. 94. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,(1) doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.(2)

(1) Matt. 28:19.
(2) Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27.

Quest. 95. To whom is baptism to be administered?
Ans. 95. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him;(1) but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.(2)


“The word used in the New Testament for the holy ordinances which we call sacraments is mystery, implying that there is in the holy rite more than meets the eye in the visible element. As means of grace the sacraments are closely related to the word of God. The sacrament, indeed, has no independent existence, and cannot be administered apart from the word. It also teaches and imparts no new thing, but only presents in another form what has been already set forth in the word. The word has all that is essential to the sacrament, and the sacrament is, to use a phrase of the Reformers borrowed from Augustine, a verbum visibile, a visible word. ‘Faith’, says Durham, ‘takes Christ in the word, and strikes hands with Him in the sacrament.’ The sacrament, therefore, comes after the word, as helping to secure the end for which the word is given”.

John Macpherson, The Sum of Saving Knowledge, ed. Marcus Dods and Alexander Whyte, Handbooks for Bible Classes and Private Students (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, n.d.), 106.

“Erroneous views of the meaning of baptism appeared early in the Church. The sacrament of regeneration was spoken of by some of the early Fathers in a way that was suitable only if used of regeneration itself. This tendency, developed into a dogma of Baptismal Regeneration, is current not only in the Romish Church, but also in the High Church section of the Church of England. The error results from confounding the sign with the thing signified, and thinking of the sacrament as conferring grace by some power in itself. While opposing this error, we must guard against the contrary extreme of the Socinians and others (perhaps Zwingli should be included), who look upon baptism as nothing more than an initiatory rite, for if this be all, it is then no means of grace. [See Confession of Faith, chap. xxviii. § 1; Author’s Handbook, p. 150.]”

John Macpherson, The Sum of Saving Knowledge, ed. Marcus Dods and Alexander Whyte, Handbooks for Bible Classes and Private Students (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, n.d.), 108–109.


“1. The efficacy of baptism is not confined to the moment of administration; but though not effectual at the time it is administered, it may afterwards be effectual, through the working of the Spirit.—John iii. 5, 8.”
~Robert Shaw on ch 28:6

“(4.) Infants were members of the Church under the Old Testament from the beginning, being circumcised upon the faith of their parents. Now as the Church is the same Church; as the conditions of membership were the same then as now; as circumcision signified and bound to precisely what baptism does; and since baptism has taken precisely the place of circumcision, it follows that the church membership of the children of professors should be recognized now as it was then, and that they should be baptized. The only ground upon which this conclusion could be obviated would be that Christ in the gospel explicitly turns them out of their ancient birth-right in the Church.”

Archibald Alexander Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith: With Questions for Theological Students and Bible Classes (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1869), 472.

“(a.) That baptism does not only signify, but really and truly seal and convey, grace to those to whom it belongs according to covenant—that is, to the elect.

(b.) But that this actual conveyance of the grace sealed is not tied to the moment in which the sacrament is administered, but is made according to the precise provisions as to time and circumstance predetermined in the eternal covenant of grace. So property may be sealed and conveyed in a deed to a minor, but the minor may not actually enter into the fruition of it until such time and upon such conditions as are predetermined in his father’s will.

(c.) The efficacy of the sacrament is not due to any spiritual or magical quality communicated to the water.

(d.) But this efficacy does result (1) from the moral power of the truth which the rite symbolizes. (2.) From the fact that it is a seal of the covenant of grace, and a legal form of investing those persons embraced in the covenant with the graces promised therein. (3.) From the personal presence and sovereignly gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, who uses the sacrament as his instrument and medium.

(e.) That through these channels the grace signified is really conveyed to the persons to whom, according to the divine counsel, it truly belongs, yet this grace and the influences of the Holy Ghost are not so tied to the sacrament that they are never, or even infrequently, conveyed in any other way. The very grace conveyed by the sacrament must be possessed by the adult as a prerequisite to baptism, and is often subsequently experienced through other channels.”

Archibald Alexander Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith: With Questions for Theological Students and Bible Classes (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1869), 477–478.


“The supernatural efficacy connected with Baptism, and owing to the presence of the Spirit of God with the ordinance, is an efficacy competent to infants as much as to adults. Even upon their unconscious natures the Spirit is free to work His work of grace, not less than upon the natures of adults whose understandings and hearts are consciously consenting to the work. The work of regeneration by the Holy Ghost is a work which it is as easy for Him to accomplish upon the infant of days as upon the man of mature age,—upon the child who enjoys but the rudiments of his moral and intellectual life, as upon the adult whose moral and intellectual powers are co-operating in and consenting to the gracious change. But broadly marked although the regeneration of the infant and the regeneration of the adult be, by the absence in the one instance, and the presence in the other, of a capacity moral and intellectual for faith and repentance, yet it is never to be lost sight of or forgotten that the work is the work of the Spirit of God, and not to be explained on any natural principle either in the former case or in the latter. The presence of his complete and perfect intellectual and moral powers in the case of the baptized adult, and the exercise of those powers in connection with the truths represented and signified in the Sacrament, afford no adequate explanation of the sacramental grace or efficacy connected with the ordinance in consequence of the power of the Spirit in it. At this point we have got beyond the limits of the natural, and into the region of the supernatural; and it is not more and not less supernatural in the case of infants than in the case of adults. Sacramental grace, properly so called, is a mystery of which there is no explanation, except that it is the grace of the Spirit of God. Admit that this grace is conveyed in any given case through the channel of Baptism to the believing adult, and you admit a mystery, which the presence and active exercise of his moral and intellectual powers do not in the least explain. Admit that this grace is conveyed in any given case through the channel of Baptism to the infant incapable of believing, and you admit a mystery too, but one not more mysterious than the former, and not more difficult to explain, from the absence or incapacity of his moral and intellectual faculties. In one word, the efficacy of infant Baptism, whatever that may be shown from Scripture to be, is not more mysterious than the sacramental virtue ascribed to adult Baptism.

III. There seems to be reason for inferring that, in the case of infants regenerated in infancy, Baptism is ordinarily connected with that regeneration.

To all infants without exception, Baptism, as we have already asserted, gives an interest in the Church of Christ as its members. To all infants without exception, Baptism, as we have also already asserted, gives a right of property in the covenant of grace, which may, by their personal faith in after life, be completed by a right of possession, so that they shall enter on the full enjoyment of all the blessings sealed to them by their previous Baptism. And beyond these two positions, in so far as infants are concerned, it is perhaps hazardous to go, in the absence of any very explicit Scripture evidence; and certainly, in going further, it were the reverse of wisdom to dogmatize. But I think that there is some reason to add to these positions the third one, which I have just announced, namely, that in the case of infants regenerated in infancy, Baptism is ordinarily connected with such regeneration. I would limit myself to the case of baptized infants regenerated in infancy,—a class of course to be distinguished broadly from baptized infants who never at any time in their lives experience a saving change; and also to be distinguished from baptized infants who experience that change, not in infancy, but in maturer years. There are these three cases, plainly to be distinguished from one another. There are, first, those infants baptized with an outward Baptism who never at any period come to know a saving change of state or nature. To such Baptism may be an ordinance giving them a place in the visible Church, and giving them also a right of property in the covenant of grace, never completed by a right of possession, and therefore given to them in vain; but it can be nothing more. There are, secondly, those infants baptized with water in infancy, but not regenerated in infancy by the Spirit of God, whose saving change of state and nature is experienced by them in after life. To such Baptism is an ordinance giving them a place in the visible Church, and giving them also a right of property in the covenant, at the moment of its administration; and in after years, when born again by the Spirit through faith, Baptism becomes to them, in addition, the seal, as it had previously been the sign, of the covenant,—their right of property having been completed by the right of possession, and the Sacrament, although long past, having become in consequence a present grace to their souls. But there are, thirdly, those infants baptized with water in infancy and also regenerated in infancy; and with regard to them I think there is reason to believe that this Baptism with water stands connected ordinarily with the Baptism of the Spirit.

That many an infant is sanctified and called by God even from its mother’s womb, and undergoes, while yet incapable of faith or repentance, that blessed change of nature which is wrought by the Spirit of God, there can be no reason to doubt. There are multitudes born into this world who die ere their infancy is past,—who open their unconscious eyes upon the light only to shut them again ere they have gazed their fill,—and who, in the brief moment of their earthly being, know nothing of life save the sorrow which marks both its beginning and its close. And with regard to such infants dying in infancy, there is a blessed hope, which the Scriptures give us to entertain, that they are not lost but saved,—that they suffer, and sorrow, and die here from their interest in Adam’s sin, but that, not knowing sin by their own personal act or thought, they are redeemed through their interest in Christ’s righteousness. But saved though infants dying in infancy may be, yet there is no exemption, even in their case, from the universal law of God’s spiritual dispensation towards men, that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Within the brief hour of an infant’s life, and ere the unconscious babe passes through the avenue of death into the Divine presence, must that mighty change of regeneration be undergone, which none but the Spirit of God can work; and among the rudiments of its intellectual and moral life, sleeping in the germ, there must be planted the seed of that higher life, which in heaven is destined to expand and endure through all eternity. And where, in the brief history of the young life and early death of these baptized little ones, shall we say that this mysterious work is wrought? At what moment, rather than another, is this regeneration by the Spirit accomplished? We dare not limit the free Spirit of God. The beginning of the life that comes from Him may be contemporaneous with the commencement of natural life in the infant, or it may be contemporaneous with its close. The Spirit of God is free to do His own work at His own time. But in the appointment of an ordinance to signify and represent that very work,—in the command to administer that ordinance as a sign to the little infant during the brief hour of its earthly life and ere it passes into eternity, there does seem to me some ground to believe that in such a case, of infants regenerated in infancy, the sign is meant to be connected with the thing signified,—that the moment of its Baptism is the appointed moment of its regeneration too,—and that, ordinarily, its birth by water and its birth by the Spirit of God are bound in one. It is Baptism which gives the baptized infant a right of property in the blessings of the covenant of grace; and when the infant is placed,—not from its own fault,—in such circumstances as to bar the possibility of its completing its title to those blessings by seeking through its personal faith a right of possession in them also, then it is consistent with the analogy of God’s appointments in other departments of His Church, that in such extraordinary cases the absence of a right of possession should not exclude from the blessings, but that the right of property alone should avail to secure them; or in other words, that in the case of infants regenerated and dying in infancy, their Baptism should coincide with their regeneration.

~James Bannerman; Church of Christ