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  • Writer's pictureTrey Talley

Baby Baptism: The Ineffective Seal.

(5th article of Baptizing Babies is not Biblical)


For those unaware of the argument of baby baptizers, they claim that baptism is a seal of the Covenant of Grace. Well, that certainly sounds important or even necessary for salvation. Any new parent hearing that the baptism of their newborn would seal them in the grace of God would be foolish not to do so. That is, if such a thing really did work. But before we go any further in the discussion, let’s have a couple of famous baby baptizers weigh in on the matter and, of course, reference the Westminster Confession of Faith to see some examples of how the word “seal” is used in connection with baby baptism.


Samuel Rutherford (1600 – 1661) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor and scholar whose writings have significantly shaped theological thought for many generations. He wrote that both circumcision and baptism are seals of the Covenant of Grace.


1. Circumcision of the flesh was a seal of the Circumcision of the heart promised in the Covenant of Grace, Deut. 30:6. and of the cutting of the foreskin thereof, Jer. 4:4. Jer. 9:26. Ezech. 36:26-27. and baptism is the same, Col. 2:11-12. Tit. 3:5.


2. Circumcision is a seal of the righteousness of faith, Rom. 4:11. so is baptism, as 1 Pet. 3:21. Rom. 4:24.


3. Circumcision is a seal of the Covenant, and by a metonymic called the Covenant of God in the flesh, Gen. 17.7,13. so is baptism a solemn installing of all Samaria, Acts 8. in the Christian Covenant, and so Acts 2:39.[1]


Louis Berkhof (1873 – 1957) was a Duch Reformed pastor, professor, and theologian whose work in Systematic Theology is still highly influential.


Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. It does not signify one thing and seal another but sets the seal of God on that which it signifies. If it be said, as it is sometimes in our Reformed literature, that Baptism seals the Promise(s) of God, this does not merely mean that it vouches for the truth of the promise, but that it assures the recipients that they are the appointed heirs of the promised blessings.[2]


The Westminster Confession of Faith:


1. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.[3]


4. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

 

Where is this Doctrine Found in Scripture?


Good question. We should always turn to Scripture to determine if God truly teaches a doctrine or practice.[4] When we do so with this issue, what we find in Scripture is not good for the baby baptizers’ doctrine of sealing babies in grace by baptism. As dogmatic as their language is in their confessions, by their pastors, and by theologians, we find not one single verse in the Bible that can be found to substantiate baby baptism as a seal of the grace of God. However, baby baptizers who know something about the issue point to the fourth chapter of Romans as proof. So, let’s read the passage to see if we can see it:


1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:


7“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”


9Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:1-12)[5]

 

Well, did you see it? Even though it is still not stated, if you squint your eyes just right, ignore the context, replace some words, and add some words, you will see it as clear as day. Every time I am pointed to this passage as proof that baby baptism is a seal, I feel like I am staring at one of those optical illusion artworks that were popular years ago, where if you stare at the blurry image long enough, you finally see the image that is hiding below. However, I have had no such success at staring at this text to find that baby baptism is a seal.


To get such a doctrine from this passage, one must put on special interpretive theological glasses that do two things: 1. Equate circumcision with baptism; and 2. Replace “Abraham,” as the one who was sealed, with “everyone who has ever been circumcised or baptized.” Once these two hermeneutical errors are held, it becomes clear as day that this passage supports baby baptism as a seal of God’s grace. However, we should always allow our theology to come from Scripture and force our theology upon Scripture.


As we examine this passage, first of all, don’t miss the obvious. Does Paul ever mention baptism in this passage? Of course, the answer is “No.” How does this passage become the proof text that baptism is a seal? Well, as stated earlier, one must come to this text with presuppositions from outside of Scripture, impose them on the passage, and then interpret it to their liking. Paul speaks much about Abraham and circumcision, yet he never mentions or alludes to circumcision being replaced by baptism. This would have been the perfect place for him to teach such a doctrine of replacement, so why doesn’t he? Because it was not true then, and it is not true now.


Paul says nothing about baptism, nothing about baby baptism replacing circumcision, and nothing about baptism being a seal. To use this passage is to make an argument from silence, which is a dangerous interpretive practice. If God did not speak, then to impose on Him words that are not His is a serious error. Not only is the seal of baby baptism an argument from silence, but to jump from circumcision as a seal to baptism as a seal, one must completely change the authorial meaning of the text. Arguments from silence and changing the author’s meaning are supposed to be a practice that is frowned upon by all reformed churches that abide by sola scriptura. Yet, when it comes to validating baby baptism, proper rules of interpretation are often abandoned.


Next, according to Romans 4:11, who was sealed? All who were circumcised under the Abrahamic Covenant or baptized under the New Covenant? Or was it only Abraham? The right answer is critical, and to arrive at the correct answer is to place a death nail in the baby baptizers’ argument of baptism being a seal. So don’t miss it. Look again at verse Romans 4:11, don’t worry about putting on any special interpretive glasses, and just let the Scripture speak to arrive at your answer:


11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. (Romans 4:11a)

 

The text clearly says that “he,” Abraham, one single man, was circumcised as a seal. There is no mention of circumcision being a seal for all of the others who received it. Circumcision is not mentioned as a seal when God commanded Abraham to circumcise all who were in his home. In fact, of all the people in the Bible, only Abraham is said to have received baptism as a seal. This is not by accident or lack of oversight by God. It is clear from Scripture that Abraham, and only Abraham, received circumcision as a seal. To arrive at any other interpretation, one must add words to the text.


Circumcision was a sign for the Israelites that separated them nationally and symbolized the spiritual need for heart circumcision, but as far as circumcision being a seal, the Bible only uses the word for Abraham’s circumcision.[6] We must accept that Abraham is unique in Biblical history, and so was the meaning of his circumcision. He was justified, declared righteous, and had faith before He received any sign or seal. Paul makes that point in Romans 4 to emphasize salvation by grace alone. Circumcision was completely ineffective in justifying Abraham because he was already justified. Paul’s point was to look to Christ for salvation, not to a sign. Paul makes this point as well in Galatians.


7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9)

           

When did Abraham receive the seal? It is important to understand that Abraham received the seal only after receiving God's grace. For Abraham, and only Abraham, circumcision was not only a sign but an external seal that represented the covenant God had previously made with him and the justification he had already received. The seal pointed backward to something that God had already declared. The seal of circumcision did not play any part in his justification by God. He had faith for many years and was declared righteous while he was uncircumcised. The seal of circumcision did not contribute in any way to his salvation. We must allow the text to say what it says without adding to it. Abraham was to become the father of all who believed.


11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11-12)

 

If people are taught that baby baptism is a seal of the grace of God upon one’s life, as it was for Abraham, then it would only make sense for them to also believe that the baby is now sealed by God, righteous, justified, has received the grace of God, and will inherit the promises of God just like Abraham. Such an assumption is a dangerous doctrine that can only be easily arrived at by misinterpreting the fourth chapter of Romans.

 

 The Seal That Works.


If you would like to have a doctrine of “sealing” based on Scripture, you can, but it has nothing to do with baby baptism and everything to do with God. Let’s read over these three passages that speak of being sealed to see: 1. Is baby baptism mentioned as being a seal? 2. How effective is the seal? and 3. Who is doing the sealing?


13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)


30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)


21And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

 

There is much written in these passages about the seal of God; however, there is no mention of circumcision or baby baptism as that seal. The meaning of “seal” in these Scriptures does not require one to stare at what cannot be seen with normal vision and hope that you will be able to see what others supposedly see. Why not? Because when Paul teaches about the seal that all believers receive, he is perfectly clear. Once again, this would have been an excellent opportunity for him to write about baptism being the seal, but it wasn’t, so he did not write that it was. Instead, he wrote about the true seal of God’s grace. Paul teaches that believers are sealed, but such a seal has nothing to do with baby baptism.


How effective is the seal mentioned in these passages? It is 100% effective. Now, this is a seal that actually works! In fact, the sealing is foolproof, immutable, permanent, eternal, and guaranteed by God Himself. How does this act of sealing a person in grace differ from the baby baptizers’ seal of baptism? Though baby baptizers claim that baptism seals a baby in the covenant of grace, they also have to acknowledge that many who are sealed in grace become unsealed and objects of God’s wrath. Since most protestant baby baptizers are unwilling to say that regeneration happens at baptism (baptismal regeneration), they have to create this doctrine of a seal of grace that may or may not truly be a seal. According to most baby baptizers, a baptized baby who has received the seal of God’s grace could break the seal. As Berkhof, in the same paragraph (quoted earlier) about baby baptism being a seal, writes:


This does not necessarily mean that they are already in principle in possession of the promised good, though this is possible and may even be probable, but certainly means that they are appointed heirs and will receive the heritage, unless they show themselves unworthy of it and refuse it. [7]

 

What kind of seal is this? What kind of grace is this? A person who is sealed in grace can become unsealed because they show themselves unworthy and refuse the seal of grace that they have already received. From this, I get the title of this chapter, Baby Baptism: A seal that doesn’t seal. By their own admission, the seal that they place on babies is not effective at keeping them in the covenant of grace. Sadly, Berkoff is not alone; most baby baptizers admit that many of their baptized babies have grown up to show no indication of salvation. How is this possible if they have received the “seal” of the Covenant of Grace? These are reformed believers who supposedly believe in salvation by grace alone, yet they admit that the seal of grace can be broken. What of the doctrines of Grace Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints? I thought grace was the unmerited favor of God. But by their own admission, grace becomes something that must be earned. This flies in the face of the doctrine of grace taught by Paul.


8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)


Salvation is given by the grace of God and is not acquired or lost by works. If it were, there would certainly be room to boast, but instead, God is the one who gets all the credit for giving us grace and keeping us in His grace.

         

Summary: Circumcision was a seal for Abraham and a sign for others. Circumcision was not given as a seal of God’s grace to all who received it. Circumcision was not a seal that was replaced by baby baptism. Baby baptism (or adult baptism) is never considered a seal of God’s grace. The only seal of God’s grace is the supernatural work of the Spirit, which brings regeneration and guarantees that the recipient will inherit the kingdom of God. Why would any confession, theologian, or pastor give people hope in a practice that is unbiblical and that, admittedly, does not seal? Sadly, parents and those who have been baptized as babies place much hope in the baptism that “sealed” them. However, there is no hope, no grace, and no seal outside of belief in Christ. If one truly desires to be sealed in the grace of God, then believe as Abraham believed. As Jesus said, “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[8] The promise is for those who believe.



[1] Infant Baptism Proven from the Scriptures (2): Samuel Rutherford, Infant Baptism Proven from the Scriptures (2) | Samuel Rutherford – Purely Presbyterian

[2] Systematic Theology, Berkhof, p.641

[3] WCF CHAPTER 28: Of Baptism: The Westminster Standards

[4] Acts 17:11, 2 Timothy 2:16-16

[5] All passages cited from: The Holy Bible: English Standard Version: The ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008).

[6] Genesis 17:10-14

[7] Systematic Theology, Berkhof, p.641

[8] John 6:44

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