Bernardus Smytegelt (1665-1739) on baptism in light of Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 2


Bernardus Smytegelt (1665-1739) was a Dutch Nadere Reformatie minister from Middelburg in the province of Zeeland. Smytegelt countered abuses of the sacrament of baptism in his time: Church members (both adults and covenant children) were often nonchalant and complacent regarding this sacrament, being self-assured and content with baptism alone, with little regard of their responsibility to respond to their baptism as members of the covenant by faith, repentance and obedience or gratitude. To counter this complacency, Smytegelt relates baptism to the three major topics of the Heidelberg Catechism, as shown below:

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A. 2

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?

Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

Smytegelt presents these three elements as requirements which the baptized must have experienced chronologically in order to be redeemed:

“Do you say, ‘We are baptized. How are we [spiritually] now?’ Baptism does not produce grace, neither does it certainly come joined with it. Go now into your heart. You and I are baptized, but have we gained something extra? Has God produced something in you? You will experience three things: First, you will see the impurity and ugliness of your heart during the growth of your life… Second, you must not hold that back from the Lord Jesus… The water cannot help you, the Lord Jesus must wash you in his blood. Have you gone to the second fountain, to the Spirit of God? Third, do you desire to live [faithfully to] your baptism?… Do you find these three signs? So truly is God then your God.”

– Bernardus Smytegelt (1665-1739), Des Christens eenige Troost (The Christian’s Only Comfort), p. 421

One finds in Smytegelt a view of external holiness which allows for a consistent relationship between the doctrine of covenant children and the necessary precedence of the knowledge of misery to the knowledge of redemption. The intention is to safeguard those who are baptized from complacency by placing a heavy emphasis on the relationship between infant baptism and conversion. Those who are baptized cannot be self-assured with baptism alone, but must examine themselves in light of Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 2, often succinctly expressed as “Sin, deliverance, gratitude”, in other words, “Have I come to know how great my sins and miseries are? Have I come to know how I may be delivered from these? And have I come to know how I shall express gratitude to God for such deliverance?”