Covenant infant Baptism

Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017

WSC 95 of 107

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved

Acts 2:37-47

WSC 95. To whom is baptism to be administered?

A. 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 baptised.2

1 Acts 8:36,37; Acts 2:38  2Acts 2:38-39; Gen 17:10; cf. Col 2:11,12; 1 Cor 7:14

It is the Lord’s Day, 28 May, AD 30. The Jews are celebrating Pentecost, while the Christians are praying together in an upper room.

Suddenly, the Holy Spirit is poured down upon the believers like a mighty rushing wind. They begin to speak in many different languages, praising God and testifying of the wonderful works of Christ.

Everyone who sees what is happening is amazed, though some doubt and mock the disciples, saying they must be drunk.

It is then that Peter stands up to address the people. He contends that the disciples are not drunk. And then, he preaches a compelling gospel message filled with references from the Old Testament.

He admonishes the Jews for their unbelief and for crucifying the Lord of glory.

By the time he ends the sermon, many who heard it are pricked in the heart. They cry out unto Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Peter answers with those classic words: “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…”

We have already touched on these words when we studied the means of grace based on WSC 88. In this message, we want to take a more in-depth look at the same text as we consider the subject of covenant infant baptism.

Our Shorter Catechism, Question 95 asks, “To whom is baptism to be administered?”


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; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptised.

Our text supports this proposition. But how?

Consider, first of all, who Peter is speaking to. He is speaking to a Jewish crowd. They are God’s covenant people. They are part of the visible church. Are they still part of the visible church as Peter preaches to them? Well, in a way, they are not. The Jews, in a sense, ceased as a whole to be part of the covenant people of God when the Jewish leaders called a curse upon themselves and their children. Remember how Pilate took a bowl to wash his hands before the multitude and told them, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (Mt 27:24). What was the Jews’ reply? They said, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Mt 27:25).

In the providence of God, this point marks the end of Israel as the covenant people of God. But their excommunicated status would be sealed only in AD 70 when General Titus marched into Jerusalem and razed her to the ground.

Thus, in a sense, the Jews as a whole were no longer in the visible church when Peter began to preach to them. They were already cut off from the olive tree that represents the visible church in Paul’s analogy in Romans 11. Only those who “profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him” are included in the visible church.  Thus, it was when they responded to Peter’s call to repent of their sin and, therefore, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ that they were regrafted back into the olive tree. And to mark their regrafting, they were to be baptised.

This is an essential point because it is only on this basis that this text is relevant to us who are Gentiles. Of course, the promise that Peter proffers is only for the elect, and like the Jews who are hearing Peter’s words, we can only know that God’s promise is for us when we respond to His word by faith and repent. “My sheep hears my voice, and they follow me,” says the Lord Jesus. When we respond to the word of Christ preached, we are grafted to the olive tree with the assurance that God’s promise is for us.

What about our children? No doubt, when we are grafted in, our children are also grafted in and are, therefore, to be baptised. And all our subsequent children are olive shoots that grow on the olive tree and, therefore, to be baptised. But does our text suggest the children of the believing Jews are baptised and, therefore, our children are to be baptised? Well, yes! For, from this text, we can see three things: the promise is part of the Abrahamic Covenant; the promise is extended to children of believers; and the promise is sealed by baptism.

1. The Promise Is Part of the Abrahamic Covenant

What is a promise? A promise is an assurance or agreement to do something for someone or to give something to him.

Peter speaks of a promise to those who are hearing him.  He is not making the promise, you must realise. He is telling the people of the promise of God. But let us understand that God has not made a promise to everyone hearing the sermon, head for head. The promise is only for the elect who will hear the voice of the Shepherd.

What is this promise about?

First, we can see that this is a promise to give the Holy Spirit. Peter says:

Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children,…

Those who repent and are baptised will receive the Holy Spirit, for God has promised.

Of course, we must understand that Peter is not teaching salvation by works. He is not saying that those who repent and are baptised will receive the Holy Spirit as a reward, for the Spirit must first be given to anyone who would truly repent and believe, and seek baptism by faith. The promise, instead, is that those who repent and believe and are baptised will enjoy all the blessing that comes with having the Spirit indwell them.

Secondly, from the way Peter suggests that the promise is for you and your children, we can infer that the promise is really part of the Abrahamic covenant, where God promises to bless Abraham and his children. The Abrahamic covenant is the administration of the Covenant of Grace referred to in the Old Testament. Turn to Genesis 17. This is what God said to Abraham:

And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. … 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee

Gen 17:2-7

Do you see how God promises to bless Abraham and his seed, and their seed in their generations?

Thus when Peter talks about the promise as being unto God’s people and their children, it is almost certain that he was thinking of the promise of the Abrahamic covenant.

Some of our Baptist brethren are unconvinced that Peter is referring to the Abrahamic covenant. They say Peter is referring to the Holy Spirit. “He says nothing about the Abrahamic covenant,” or so they claim. “You are bringing the Abrahamic covenant in only to show that we should baptise infants, but there is nothing about the Abrahamic covenant in Peter’s speech,” they suggest.

Well, we answer that the idea that the promise of the Holy Spirit is part of the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant did not come from us. It comes from the Holy Spirit. Turn to Galatians 3:13:

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith

Gal 3:13-14

There you have it. The promise of the Holy Spirit is part of the blessing of Abraham. When Peter refers to the promise, he is referring to the blessing of Abraham. The Jewish audience who hear it will understand this to be the case.

It is clear, isn’t it, that Peter is merely extending the promise of the Abrahamic covenant when he tells the crowd: “The promise is unto you, and to your children.

Why is this point significant? It is vital because children have an exceptional place in the Abrahamic covenant. In fact, there is an emphasis on the children in the covenant. It is on this basis that we say, secondly, the promise is extended to the children of believers.

2. The Promise Is Extended to the Children of Believers

Peter is speaking the promise to the Jews who are hearing the gospel. So the promise is made to them. But is the promise made to them because they are Jews or merely because they are hearing the gospel? Well, by calling them to repent and be baptised, Peter is suggesting that the promise will not be extended to all the Jews anymore. It is being extended to Jewish believers. These will be baptised as a seal of the promise.

Today, it is extended to all of us who have professed faith and have been included in God’s covenant body.

We may not go into the world and tell everyone that God’s promise is unto them. It is a promise made to the Church, the covenant people of God, and especially to those whose membership in the covenant is ratified by baptism. To be a member of the covenant is to be a member of a true branch of the visible church.

What about the children of believers? “The promise is unto you, and to your children,” says Peter. Thus, the same promise is extended to children of believers.

This, naturally, follows from the fact that the promise Peter is speaking about is the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant. In the Abraham covenant, a special mention is made of children. God requires Abraham to circumcise his children. He requires all his covenant people under the Old Testament to circumcise their children because He deigns to extend His blessing upon His people down the generations.

Peter is telling the people that God’s view of covenant children has not changed.

As we noted, in Paul’s analogy of the Church as an olive tree, the children of believers are the shoots on the olive tree.

Therefore, children of believers are included in the covenant. Children of believers are part of God’s covenant people.

Therefore, it follows that children of believers must be baptised too. In the Old Testament, children were in the covenant, and therefore they were circumcised. In the New Testament, children of believers are in the covenant, and therefore, they must be baptised too.

But were there any children baptised at Pentecost? No doubt, there were.

You see, Luke was a very careful historian. Notice how he speaks about the three thousand being added to the church. He says, in verse 41, “There were added unto [the church] about three thousand souls.” The word ‘soul’ is a very generic term. A case can be made that Luke is saying three thousand men, women and children were added to the church.

Later on in chapter 4:4, Luke tells us that five thousand men were added to the church. Now, the word ‘men’ there is very specific. It refers to male adults. Is Luke saying that only male grown-ups were added to the church? Of course not! He is saying that five thousand men, besides women and children, were added to the church. Remember how Luke describes the Lord’s miracle of feeding the five thousand?

Turn to Luke 9:14: “For they were about five thousand men,” he says. The same word for men is used here as in Acts 4:4. Does Luke mean that the Lord fed only male grown-ups? Of course not! Luke assumes that we know that is not what he means. We have to learn from Matthew that the Lord, in fact, fed five thousand men, besides women and children (Mt 14:21).

So there we have it. When indicating group size, Luke usually used the word ‘men’ according to Jewish custom. But there at Pentecost, he wants to emphasise the total number baptised, no doubt, including children. Remember how he had just spoken of the promise as being unto you and your children. The promise is extended clearly to children of believers! This is our second point.

Thirdly, we should consider how the promise is sealed by baptism.

3. The Promise Is Sealed by Baptism

The saints of the Old Covenant were circumcised to seal the promise made to them. Their children were also circumcised because the promise was extended to them. But now baptism has replaced circumcision under the New Covenant (Col 2:11-12), so naturally, the saints and their children should be baptised. Of course, only males were circumcised, but in Christ, there is neither male nor female (Gal 3:28), so we expect both male and female adults and their children to be baptised.

Our text indicates that this happened at Pentecost, especially with Luke saying that three thousand souls were baptised rather than three thousand men were baptised.

Our Baptist brethren insist that this is not enough proof. There is, after all, no commandment to baptise infants in the New Testament, and infants cannot believe.

Well, we may not be able to convince our Baptist friends despite the infallible indication that the apostle Peter is clearly alluding to the Abrahamic covenant when he tells the crowd that the promise is unto them and their children and to as many as the Lord shall call.

But let me give you briefly ten more indications that, together with our text, make baptism of covenant infants a biblical imperative.

First, given that the language which Peter employed is clearly covenantal and given that the Jews thought of religion as a family matter rather than as an individual matter, it would have been necessary for Peter to say specifically that the children are no longer included in the covenant community if he did not mean to tell the people that the children should be baptised with their families. But he says nothing like that.

Secondly, as mentioned earlier, in Acts 4:4, Luke tells us that five thousand men were added to the church. Given that in Acts 2:41, those who were added to the church were baptised, we can infer that these five thousand men were also baptised. However, as we noted, Luke could not be saying that only male grown-ups were added to the church. Undoubtedly, he was using the Jewish way of counting. And in the Jewish way of counting, women and children were included with the men. It would be culturally bizarre and unthinkable for the Jews if only women were included, but no children were included when Luke said that five thousand men were added. So, clearly, Luke was assuming that his readers would understand that he meant women and children were also added to the church (officially) by baptism.

Thirdly, there are many references to households being baptised in the New Testament, e.g., the households of Lydia (Acts 16:15), of the Philippian Jailor (Acts 16:33), of Crispus (Acts 18:8), of Cornelius (Acts 10:47, cf 10:2, 11:14) and of Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16). It may be that some of them did not have young children, but was it likely that all of them did not? Typically, those who are older get married and are no longer counted under the household. The fact that it was specially stated that the households were baptised suggests strongly that the early believers understood that baptism is not only to be administered to individuals who can believe personally.

Fourthly, and related to the third point, we see Dr Luke using a special word, panoiki, when he speaks of how the whole household of the Philippian Jailor believed (Acts 16:34). By using this word, Luke is suggesting that though everyone in the Jailor’s household was baptised, it is possible that some of them did not have personal faith, and were baptised because they were united to the Jailor. Such would be the case if there were young children.

Fifthly, the apostle Paul addresses the readers of his Ephesian letter as saints (Eph 1:1), and yet in the letter, he addresses the children directly (Eph 6:1). How may the children be regarded as saints by the apostle unless they bear the sign and seal of the covenant, which is baptism? When one is baptised, we have the warrant to regard him as a Christian.

Sixthly, in 1 Corinthians 7:14, the apostle Paul argues that the believing spouse sanctifies the unbelieving spouse, and that this is a logical conclusion since their children are holy. Paul’s argument will make no sense to the Corinthians unless they routinely baptised the children of unequally yoked couples. Children who were baptised were regarded as holy. In fact, children of believers are baptised because they are regarded as federally holy.

Seventhly, Paul’s analogy of the visible church as the olive tree in Romans 11 demands that infants be baptised. Why? Because adults who are grafted to the church are baptised, it is natural that infants who grow as olive shoots should also be baptised, just as the olive shoots of the Old Covenant were circumcised.

Eighthly, the fact that baptism signifies, seals and applies the grace of regeneration (Tit 3:5) implies that infants should be baptised. Why? Because regeneration is not restricted only to adults! John the Baptist was regenerated in the womb. Regeneration is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Though not all who are baptised are regenerated, the fact that children can be regenerated in infancy suggests that children should be baptised in infancy. And vice versa, a refusal to baptise children in infancy is to insinuate that God cannot regenerate a child in infancy.

Ninthly, we should baptise children because the Lord Jesus says concerning the Jewish children, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:16). Notice that He did not say: “of such shall be the kingdom of God.” He says, “Of such is the kingdom of God.” Adults who come unto the Lord were and are baptised, so why should children who are part of the kingdom of God not be baptised?

Tenthly, we should baptise children though they cannot yet believe because the reason for baptism is never faith. We do not baptise adults because of their faith; we baptise them because when they profess faith, they become members of the church visible. So we baptise them really because they are members of the visible covenant body of Christ. Children born into or adopted into the covenant body are automatically members of the covenant body. If we would baptise the adult members, then we should baptise the members who are children.

As we cannot be hundred per cent sure that all adults baptised are elect, we cannot be sure that all infants baptised are elect. But as we regard baptised adults as Christians, so we must regard baptised children as Christians.

Here, then, are ten more reasons why we should baptise our infants. Although no one verse says, “Thou shalt baptise thy infants,” we have many indications in Scripture that it was taken for granted by the apostles and the early Christians, and there are many biblical reasons why we should do so. A ten-fold cord is not easily broken. Infant Baptism is not a Roman Catholic invention, as some claim. It is a biblical and apostolic practice, continued by the ancient church, retained by the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century and upheld by a majority of those who continue in the spirit of the Reformation.


I trust that we can see not only that our text is best understood as alluding to covenant infant baptism, but that many other biblical and theological reasons support the doctrine.

So we see that our Catechism is undoubtedly correct on this matter:

WSC 95. To whom is baptism to be administered?

A. 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 baptised.

But what shall we do with what we have heard? Let me suggest three things as we conclude.

First, if you are a parent and have not submitted your children to be baptised, then may I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Moses neglected to circumcise his second son, Eliezer, and he was nearly killed by the Lord. Why? No doubt, because a wilful neglect of the sacrament indicates disdain for the covenant of God.

Secondly, if your children were baptised, remember that they bear the sign and seal of the covenant. Do not give up praying for them even if they turn away from the Lord. They belong to Christ. Until they are officially cut off from the olive tree, do not give up interceding for them and reminding them that they belong to Christ.

Thirdly, children and youths, you may not remember the time when you were baptised, but I want to remind you of the great privilege you enjoyed when your parents submitted you for baptism to signify and seal your union with Christ. You are most blessed of all people in the world, for God not only adopted you into His family, but appointed the church as your alma mater, your nurturing mother. Never forget her. And never forget what blessings the Lord had bestowed upon you when He conferred the sign and seal of His covenant upon you.

But remember, baptism does not save you. Although it is a vital sacrament, it will only do good for you if you personally repent of your sin and believe in Christ alone for your salvation.

If you turn away from the Lord, you would be of all men most miserable, for you would be worse than an infidel for your ingratitude. You will shatter your parents’ hearts. Baptism, in that sense, is a double-edged sword. Oh, why will you die?

But if you turn to Him, you will be the happiest person in the world, knowing not only forgiveness of sin, peace of conscience, and assurance of God’s love, but also an increase of grace and perseverance unto the end. May I urge you to turn to Him early. Confess Christ as your saviour early so that you may walk the path of abundance and freedom in Christ that the world does not know. Amen.

 —JJ Lim