Michael Horton on infant baptism


“Let me summarize what I regard as the most compelling arguments for infant baptism:

  1. God has brought us into a covenant of grace, and although not all members of this covenant will persevere (i.e., they are not elect and have not been regenerated), they enjoy special privileges of belonging to the covenant people. This was true of Israel, and the New Testament simply applies this to the New Testament church as well (Deut. 4:20; 28:9; Isa.10:22; Hosea 2:23; Rom. 9:24-28; Gal. 6:16; Heb. 4:1-11; 6:4-12; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
  2. Even though bringing someone under the protection of God’s covenantal faithfulness does not guarantee that that person possesses true, persevering faith (Heb. 4:1-11), that does not mean it is unimportant as to whether children of believers are given the seal of the covenant.
  3. Children were included in the covenant of grace in the Old Testament through the sacrament of circumcision, and in the new covenant (called the ‘better covenant’), God has not changed in his good intentions toward our children (Acts 2:39). Circumcision has been replaced by baptism (Col. 2:11). Therefore our children must receive God’s sign and seal of covenant ownership.
  4. The children of unbelievers are unholy, but the children of believers are set apart unto God. This is a distinction not only of the Old Testament (see the Passover, Exod. 12:42-51; also the distinction between the ‘house of the wicked’ and the ‘house of the righteous,’ especially in the psalms) but is continued in the New, where a believer’s children are regarded as holy (1 Cor. 10:2). How are they marked or distinguished from unbelievers, then? By the sign and seal of the covenant.
  5. Household baptisms are common in the New Testament reports of such events. Surely at least some of them included infants. If so, this would have been perfectly consistent with the Jewish understanding of the Abrahamic covenant (above #4).
  6. There is an unbroken record in church history support the practice of infant baptism, beginning with the earliest generations. There would surely have been a major controversy if the immediate successors of the apostles departed from apostolic practice on such a vital point. However, no such record exists.
  7. If baptism were a testimony of the believer’s faithfulness to the covenant, it would not be capable of being applied to those who have no faithfulness to offer. However, baptism is the work of God, not of human beings. It is not chiefly a sign of the believer’s commitment to call out a people for himself. Because salvation is by grace alone, God acts in salvation prior to any choice or action (Rom. 9:12-16). Infant baptism is an extraordinary divine testimony to his prevenient grace. Consequently, it obligates those who are baptized to remain faithful to the covenant but does not make their faithfulness a prerequisite of their inclusion.
  8. The reason there are so many examples in the New Testament of baptism only upon profession of faith is that the first generation is in view. As with Abraham’s circumcision, an adult trust in God’s promise and is justified—and only afterward is baptized. But also like Abraham, we present our household to receive the sign and seal. No orthodox Christian body would accept the practice of baptizing adults without a profession of faith.

So we already come to the New Testament expecting God to work with families across generations. New Testament believers, after all, belong to the covenant of grace that God made with Abraham: ‘For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith’ (Rom. 4:13 NKJV). Paul elaborated: ‘And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty year later (than the covenant with Abraham), cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ (Gal. 3:17, 29 NKJV).

Many people reject infant baptism because they do not believe that it is clearly commanded in the New Testament. However, this is to ignore the first half of the movie! It is to miss the point that we are children of Abraham in the same covenant of grace. It would seem, therefore, that one should believe in applying the sign and seal of the covenant to our children unless there is an obvious New Testament passage forbidding it. The only thing that has changed from Old Testament promise to New Testament fulfillment is the external sign and its extension, on the basis of prophetic fulfillment (Joel 2:28; Gal. 3:28), to females.

When we do arrive at the New Testament, we not only discover that there are no passages announcing that the children are excluded from the covenant, but we find the contrary. Adult converts are to ‘be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,’ thereby receiving ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ But the very next sentence reads ‘For the promise is to you and to your children’ (Acts 2:38-39 NKJV). After ‘the Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to heed the things spoken by Paul,’ ‘she and her household were baptized’ (Acts 16:14-15 NKJV). Later in the same chapter, the Philippian jailer embraces the gospel. ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ he asks Paul and Silas. They answer, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household. …And immediately he and all his family were baptized’ (vv. 30-31, 33 NKJV). Here is the pattern of Abraham and Isaac: The first generation of believers embraces the covenant of adulthood, after trusting the promise, while the following generations are presented for the initiation rite in their infancy.

Given the continuity of the covenant of grace in both testaments, we are not surprised to learn that when the head of the household became a believer, the children were given the mark of divine ownership. Notice how far Paul takes this in his counsel to a Christian wife of an unbelieving spouse: ‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the wife is sanctified by the husband’ otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy’ (1 Cor. 7:14 NKJV). When recognized in the light of the earlier scenes (viz., the avenging angel’s ‘passing over’ the homes of the Israelites in Egypt wherever the blood appeared on the doorpost), this fits perfectly. Paul is saying that the presence of even one believing parent is ‘blood on the doorpost.’ If believers are incorporated into Christ and his visible body along with their children, then they ought to receive God’s sign and seal.”

– Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, p.106-108

4 thoughts on “Michael Horton on infant baptism

  1. Kory Duncan says:

    Have you looked much into Jewish proselyte baptisms that I understand may have preceded Christian baptism? It’s my understanding that the practice in Judaism of ceremonial washings of the whole family of gentile converts may have been in practice at the time of Christ. This would provide an important cultural context to the practices of the first century church as so many of the first Christians were Jewish.

  2. shiraz shahzad says:

    i am Revd shiraz from pakistani presbyterian church i am going to compile a book upon infant bisaptism i need to print your cooments on this idealogy but in urdu language i must print in both languges in englisg as well i need your permiss with your pic as well kindly reply me soon

  3. […] Michael Horton on infant baptism (deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com) […]

  4. Reblogged this on iconobaptist and commented:
    Even though I do not believe in infant baptism, I have grown to respect my brothers and sisters in Christ who do. Not as a means of salvation, but as a sign of a covenant initiated by God. This post explains their case.

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