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Author:Rev. A Veldman
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Southern River
 West Kelmscott
Title:Holy baptism points us to God's faithfulness
Text:LD 27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading : Gen. 17, 1-14

Text : LD 27, HC

Read: Art. 34, BC

CoD I,17
Ps. 62 : 1,4
Ps. 52 : 6
Ps. 105 : 1,2,3,4
Ps. 112 : 1
Ps. 100 : 2,4
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

This afternoon the preaching will once again draw your attention to the sacrament of Holy Baptism. We did so also last week Sunday. Yet LD 27 still elaborates on this issue, since during the time of the Great Reformation in the 17th century our fathers had to defend the firmness of God's covenant on the one hand against the sacramentalism of the Church of Rome and on the other hand against the individualism and subjectivism of the Anabaptists. Indeed a hard battle had to be fought on both fronts. The beauty of the Heidelberg Catechism now is that it fights this battle not by way of a scholarly dispute but in a very uncomplicated way the Catechism points us to the truth of Scripture. Well, it is this scriptural truth, which I would like to highlight also in this afternoon's sermon.

Focussing once more on the sacrament of Holy Baptism I minister the Word of God to you under the following heading,



In His faithfulness God:

gave us a place in His covenant

signified and sealed to us the promise of the covenant

sanctifies us to serve Him in His covenant

1. In the concluding part of LD 27 the question is raised, "Should infants too be baptised?" The Catechism deals with this question in response to the teachings of the Anabaptists, who had lost sight of the firmness of God's covenant. The Anabaptists based the certainty of their salvation on the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man. According to them the experience of the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart was of much greater significance than what God promises to us in His Word. But the result then is, beloved, that baptism is no longer considered as a certainty of God's promises towards us but instead it becomes a crowning of our faith; a crowning of my belief instead of an exhortation to believe. It can be clear that within this concept there is no place for infant baptism. For infants are as yet no able to give a clear testimony concerning the experience of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

In addition, those who on these grounds reject infant baptism often also try to make themselves strong by saying that the NT does not give any clear proof text with respect to the baptism of children, rather the opposite, e.g. in Mark 16, 16 it reads, "He who believes and is baptised will be saved." Yes, does this text not clearly show that faith, and therefore also the confession of faith, must precede baptism?

A superficial reading of this text may indeed give the impression that with this text these people have the truth at their side. Yet we must not forget that Mark 16 deals with a mission situation. Well, on the mission field people must indeed first come to faith before they can be baptised. However, once they have confessed their faith, not only they themselves are baptised but also their children. In the NT we read on a number of occasions about whole households that were baptised. Summarising, Mark 16 can never be used to reject infant baptism.

Yet more is to be said here. For to oppose the heresy, which rejects infant baptism, we have to dig deeper, as also Answer 74 of the Heidelberg Catechism does. The beauty of this answer is that it strongly stresses the unity between Old and New Testament. At the time of the OT God established His covenant with Abraham and his seed. In the NT we read that we too are children of Abraham, not by blood but by faith. By faith we too are children of Abraham and so part of that same covenant. This means, when dealing with the issue of infant baptism one always must take his starting point in Gen. 17, the chapter that deals with God's covenant with Abraham. The LORD says there to Abraham, "This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised."

Every male child - this also means the covenant relation God established with Abraham included not only Isaac but also Ishmael. It included both Jacob and Esau. They were all covenant children, who had received the sign of the covenant, which was a sure pledge to them: God is my father. Thus those born in Abraham's tent, in Isaac's tent, in Jacob's tent were all covenant children without exception. This did not depend on whether or not later on in life they would accept God's promises. They were included by virtue of God's grace. This, beloved, is the covenantal concept, which should always be dear to our hearts. After all, in many an evangelical circle this concept has been lost. There people zero in on the experience of faith, which means man comes in the centre instead of God and the trustworthiness of His promises.

So for a start we are to emphasize that God established His covenant with the believers and their seed. Children too belong to God's covenant, and this from their early youth. I think here of what David writes in Psalm 22,

"But Thou art He who took me out of the womb; Thou hast made me trust while on my mother's breasts. I was cast upon Thee from birth. From my mother's womb Thou hast been my God."

Thus even before we were able to understand God had already given us a place within His covenant. In Psalm 22 David confesses: this covenant relation between the believer and the LORD is not something just of today or yesterday, but it dates from birth. David cannot think of a period in his life that the LORD was not there as his faithful covenant God.

This is indeed a great miracle, beloved; a wonder of God's grace in the lives of His children. Before we could start even thinking about God, already for a long time God had though about us. David marvels at this miracle also in Psalm 139. Says David,

"Marvellous are Thy works .

My frame was not hidden from Thee,

When I was made in secret .

Thy eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.

And in Thy book they all were written,

The days fashioned for me,

When as yet there were none of them."

David thus sings a song of praise on God's love, which God had already shown towards him even before he began to live.

Well, beloved, this has indeed everything to do with that covenant relation we have with God. The certainty of this relation is not depending on whether or not one will accept it. For this relation is already there at the very moment when children of believing parents are born.

Summarizing: God comes to us without any condition. He grants us His grace not because we believe, but already even before we believe. At a moment that we as yet could not speak one word, God said already to us, "You are Mine!"

Until now we have merely focussed on some OT' texts. Yet, Br. & Sr., the same teaching we come across also in the NT. I think here of what the apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, Ch. 7, where we read that the children of the believers are holy "not - as it reads in the Canons of Dort - by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents." Yes, God also has adopted our little ones as His children and has given them a place within His covenant.

This does not mean that all those who have been baptised will also automatically be saved. Not all baptised children, when they grow up, become also obedient children of God. Some indeed do love God as their Father, others - although children of God - follow the lust of their own sinful heart. There are also unfaithful children of God, like Esau, whom Scripture calls a fornicator, a profane person, yet he too was circumcised. He too received the sign and seal of God's covenant.

Sometimes people wonder how is this possible? It is difficult to give an exact answer to questions like these. Yet one thing we should never doubt: the certainty of God's promises. Otherwise we loose all comfort. It is because of the certainty of these promises that as parents we may commit our children constantly to the throne of God's grace. We may do so, even when they have left the church. For they are still God's children for whom the way of return remains open as long as they live in today's grace. I hope to come back to this issue in the last point of the sermon.

So we saw, Br. & Sr., that children too belong to God's covenant. For as it reads in Answer 74, HC, "Through Christ's blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to adults." In the proof text underneath this answer we find a reference to Isaiah 44, where the LORD by the mouth of His prophet says to the Israelites,

"For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,

And floods on dry ground;

I will pour out My Spirit on your descendants,

And My blessing on your offspring."

In a similar way the Lord Jesus Himself once said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God."

Well, if indeed the children too belong to God's covenant, they should also receive the sign and seal of this covenant. In the OT this happened by circumcision. In the NT baptism has replaced circumcision. We read about this in Colossians 2. The apostle Paul, rejecting the heresy of the Judaists, says there that in the NT era there is no longer any need for a physical circumcision, like in the days of the OT. Says Paul, "baptism is the circumcision of Christ." In a similar way as the OT circumcision it signifies a purification of sin, which calls for a circumcision of the heart, i.e. for a breaking with sin in our life. I may refer here to what I have said about this in last week's sermon.

Summarising, although the sign has changed, what is signified and sealed by the sign has not changed. For in a similar way as during the time of the OT circumcision was a sign that God had adopted sinful people as children of His, likewise in the NT era does baptism signify that we, though conceived and born in sin, are children of God and belong to His covenant.

God thus has established His covenant with us and our children. And because of this we may entrust our personal life, but also the lives of our children to God, our faithful Father, who will never forsake the work of His almighty hands. We may do so as parents but also as congregation as a whole. After all, children born in the covenant are children of the whole congregation. Beloved, let us continually remember these children in our prayers: our boys and girls, our teenagers and youngsters who grow up in such a dangerous time. Satan is doing his utmost to win them for his kingdom. And because they are still young so easily they fall for the appealing tactics of the evil one. Satan knows quite well how to deceive children of God. Therefore, beloved, let us pray fervently especially for our young people. Commit them to Father's throne and pray, "LORD, God in heaven, keep them in Thy loving care, for they are Thy children, born in the covenant."

2. I now come to my second thought. I already said because children too belong to God's covenant, they should also receive the sign and seal of this covenant. Not that by baptism they become covenant children. For they already are. Neither do they by baptism become members of the church. Instead, because they already are members of the church they also ought to be baptised. Baptism thus is the visible sign of their incorporation in the body of Christ.

A visible sign also of God's promise, since the outward washing away with water as such does not actually wash away sin. Answer 72 deals with this issue. Then follows Q + A 73, which states that nevertheless calling baptism the washing away of sin and the washing of regeneration is for reasons that in this way God will teach us "that the blood and the Spirit of Christ remove our sins just as water takes away the dirt from the body." Whilst - and this even more important - God also "wants to assure us by this divine pledge that we are as truly cleansed from our sins spiritually as we are bodily washed with water." Baptism as a sign and seal thus points us to the sacrifice of Christ as the only ground for our salvation. On Calvary Christ freed us from our sins with the price of His precious blood. And in doing so He also obtained for us the life-giving Sprit who now renews our hearts and lives, and thus sanctifies us in the service of God.

Note well, beloved, that in all this baptism is not merely a sign, but also a seal. Our baptism gives us certainty. It's a pledge, a warrantee, as I said it last week, of which we have to make use in faith. With our baptism God has sworn an oath saying, "I am your God and I Christ I grant you salvation: forgiveness of sins and renewal of life." In sovereign love - which we did not deserve - God said, "This is all yours, My child! Accept it in faith and rejoice!"

That's how God has taken us for His account, beloved. And this stands. For God does not lie. In Scripture it reads, with God "there is no variation of shadow of turning." God's love is not like human love, which can change in one day. God is always the same: yesterday, today, and forever. His love towards us never changes. In your baptism, beloved, you have received a sure pledge, a warrantee of this divine faithfulness. And thus we may always count on God's faithfulness towards us.

Always! One could ask is this not worded too strongly? For there are also children of God that go astray and as result they no longer share in Christ and all His benefits.

Making remarks like these, Br. & Sr., we tackle things from the wrong angle. For who are we to dispute God's sure promise because of what we experience. For even in case children of God go astray God's promise still stands. The water that has been sprinkled on our forehead can never be undone. Likewise God's promise towards us can never be undone. To that promise we may always come back, even when we have turned our back upon God. As long as we live in today's grace there always remains time for repentance. If we do so - repent and return - we will experience indeed that our unfaithfulness towards God did not undo God's faithfulness towards us. Our baptism thus gives us time and again a very strong pleading ground. Whenever we use this pleading ground we will never be put to shame.

3. I now come to my third thought. In Answer 74 we read that as God's children we have been set apart. Our baptism distinguishes us from unbelievers. By our baptism God has marked us as His own and has placed us on the way to the eternal Canaan. The question, which I would like to address in this final point of the sermon is: whether we indeed see it as great privilege that we may walk on this way. Sometimes it happens that church members experience this privilege rather as a burden. I think here in particular of our young people, but there are others as well. Perhaps they don't say this with so many words, but in the meantime they feel hedged in by God's commandments. You are not allowed to do this and not allowed to do that, whilst there is still so much to enjoy. Is it really necessary to stick to all these rules? Would God really mind if I do this or that? Do we really have to live that strictly?

Beloved, instead of asking for more freedom to do this or that should we not rather thank God that He has taken us into His care; that God did so even before Satan got a chance to get us in His deadly grip. Moreover, by saying, "You are Mine!" it was not God's aim to tyrannize us. Instead God wanted to show us His love, His love for sinners lost in guilt. If God had not claimed us we would end up in eternal destruction. Knowing this God saved us from the powers of sin and death. Yes, it is only with God that we are really free. After all, we should not forget that what the world considers as freedom is no freedom at all; instead this so-called freedom is nothing else than a being enslaved to sin. Let me try to make this clear with a few examples.

In today's society people want to be free, e.g. in matters of love and sexuality. They plead for free and alternative relations. If a marriage does not work out one must also have the freedom to divorce, etc. But the bottom line is that many suffer from broken relations. It is in particular the children from these broken homes that suffer from it with all the consequences involved: crime, substance abuse and suicide.

Another example: today people want to make their own choice in matters of life and death. But it ends up in thousands of abortions, whilst euthanasia is the next step.

A last example: today it is said that parents should leave their children free. They must have the chance to make their own choices. In today's society 'authority' has become an obsolete word. But the result is that man becomes a law to himself.

I could give more examples. But hopefully from the ones I have given it is clear that the freedom proclaimed by so many today leads to nothing else but the destruction of life. Real freedom one finds only in Christ, by whom we have been redeemed from these destructive powers and who by His Spirit wants to renew our lives. In Christ we are no longer heading for death, but for eternal life instead. Our baptism signifies and seals this to us.

Does this now mean that all who have been baptised will also enter through the gates into the New Jerusalem? This depends, Br. & Sr., on whether those who have been baptised also accept in faith what God has promised to them in their baptism. I think here of Ishmael, for example, who mocked Isaac since he carried the messianic promise. The result was that Ishmael was cast out, although he too was circumcised.

The Lord Jesus once said, "The sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness." This text makes clear that it is indeed possible that you have been baptised and still will not enter through the gates into the New Jerusalem.

That's why parents have such enormous responsibility towards their children. We can't let our children just go their own way, instead it is the duty of believing parents to guide their children, to teach them in the riches of God's covenant; not only when they are young, but also in their teenage years and when they grow up as young adolescents. Furthermore by our way of life we also ought to give our children a clear example what it means to live by faith. After all, children see sharp and will recognize very soon whether parents also live what they teach.

In this context it is good remind each other of what we have promised at the baptism of our children, namely that we would indeed do our utmost to instruct them in the riches of God's covenant; to instruct them and to have them instructed therein. As regards the latter I may refer to the catechism classes and the school; the school, which sometimes is called the daughter of the church.

Let us then be thankful that we indeed have that opportunity to provide for our children a real Reformed Education. Yes, let us treasure that wonderful gift of the John Calvin School. Let us continue to surround this school with our prayers and support, also financially. For it is at this school that our children are trained, not first of all to gain a lot of knowledge, but above all to become well-equipped soldiers in the army of Christ. Thus first of all in the circle of the family, but next to it also in the catechism class as well as at school, where our children may receive ten years of Reformed Education - within that triangle we indeed have to do our utmost to make sure that the seed of the covenant is well-prepared when they enter society, prepared to fend of all kind of humanistic philosophy and diluted Christianity. Let us pray to the LORD that He may make all of us faithful in the execution of this very responsible task and let us also pray that He will bless our efforts. For without the LORD's blessing it's all in vain.

I realise that we fulfil this task with many shortcomings. As parents daily we fall short in the upbringing of our children. Especially when our children go through their teenage years and later on become young adolescents, it's not always easy to remain firm in the upbringing. Sometimes they rebel. Yet - as I said before - this should never cause us to stop guiding them, never stop us to speak with them about what the LORD requires of them. This might be difficult at times. But pray then that the LORD may give you strength, wisdom, but also love and patience to speak with your children. Yes, then the LORD will surely enable you to remain faithful in that very responsible task.

We have to do our utmost, yet in the end we can't give our children faith. We also see this, for example when children go astray. It indeed happens that we have warned our children over and over again, with all the weaknesses involved we have shown them the love of Christ. In prayer we struggled and committed them to the throne of God's grace. Yet they went their own way. How hard this can be for parents. Yet, as long as they live in today's grace there is always a way back for these children. That's why we should keep praying for them, and where there are opportunities also try to continue to speak with them. For also these wayward sheep of the flock are still covenant children and for that reason we are never allowed to write them of altogether. We keep praying that the LORD may bring them back. Pleading with their baptism we may then pray to God saying, "Father, even though we can't reach him or her anymore with our warnings, wilt Thou with Thy Spirit soften this hardened heart. After all, she or he is still Thy child." Beloved, this pleading in prayer never end for parents who saw their children go astray. Likewise as congregation we should continue to pray for these wayward sheep of the flock. Yes, here lies a duty for all of us!

I come to the conclusion of this sermon. Two Sunday's in a row we have paid attention to the sacrament of Holy Baptism. May the LORD grant that it has not been in vain. But let us now also work with the teaching we have received. Yes, may God grant that out of thankfulness for that covenant relation we have with the LORD it becomes indeed our desire to serve the LORD in holiness with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we indeed do so our desires will no longer go out to all that this world has to offer us, but then we will live for the LORD only. Yes, if then sometimes through weakness we still do fall into sin, we don't have to despair of God's mercy. For through faith we may know that in our baptism we have received a seal and trustworthy testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God.

Br. & Sr., and also you young people, what more can be said. Live then from these riches, from the riches of your baptism! If you do so God does not assure you an easy journey, but He does promise you a safe arrival in the New Jerusalem.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2000, Rev. A Veldman

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