Gootjes: the Promises of Baptism

I am getting giddy about this new book, Teaching and Preaching the Word: Studies in Dogmatics and Homiletics.  It’s like re-reading my dogmatics notes from seminary.  Chapter 9 deals with the promises of baptism.  Gootjes tackles the issue of the promises mentioned at the beginning of the Reformed baptism form:

When we are baptized into the Name of the Father, God the Father testifies and seals to us that He establishes an eternal covenant of grace with us. He adopts us for His children and heirs, and promises to provide us with all good and avert all evil or turn it to our benefit.

When we are baptized into the Name of the Son, God the Son promises us that He washes us in His blood from all our sins and unites us with Him in His death and resurrection.  Thus we are freed from our sins and accounted righteous before God.

When we are baptized into the Name of the Holy Spirit, God the Holy Spirit assures us by this sacrament that He will dwell in us and make us living members of Christ, imparting to us what we have in Christ, namely, the cleansing from our sins and the daily renewal of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without blemish among the assembly of God’s elect in life eternal.

He deals specifically with the last part about the Holy Spirit.  He asks, “Can these words be applied to all children that are baptized?  Does the Spirit dwell in all of them?”  He surveys Calvin and Ursinus on these questions and then looks at the scriptural data.  I’m not going to rehearse his entire argument.  Let me just share his conclusion:

…The answer is simple.  The Form does not state that the Spirit actually dwells in all baptized children.  It does not speak of an existing situation.  Rather, this is presented as a promise for the covenant people of God.

That is in complete agreement with Scripture.  The promise of indwelling is first mentioned in Acts 2:39, “The promise is for you and your children…”  It is conditional on repentance and faith: “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven” (Acts 2:38).  It is also mentioned in Romans 8:9-11; there, too, it is conditional on faith.  When the Form for Baptism speaks of the indwelling and sanctifying work of the Spirit, it speaks of promises.  These are great gifts of the covenant offered by God and grasped with the hands of faith.

The same promissory character can be seen in the way the Form speaks about the meaning of being baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son.  The promise that “He will provide us with all good and avert all evil or turn it to our benefit” is fulfilled in those who believe (Rom. 8:28 speaks of “those who love him”).  And the covenant promise of the Son is the forgiveness of sins, and is fulfilled through our union with him, as Romans 6:5 says: “If we have been united with him like this in his death…”

The Form for Baptism follows Scripture in presenting the statement about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as promises.  In baptism, our Triune God promises himself and all his benefits to us.  These are splendid gifts, granted by God and accepted in faith. (192-193)

I hope this book gets the wide readership that it deserves!

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

3 responses to “Gootjes: the Promises of Baptism

  • John

    Two thoughts/questions, Wes:

    (1) Does Dr. Gootjes then go on to address the prayer after the baptism, where we thank God that he HAS forgiven us AND OUR CHILDREN all our sins and sealed the same unto us in holy baptism? Here, what is promised earlier in the form, before the baptism, is viewed as something God has indeed done.

    (2) Would you agree that every baptized person can look back at these promises and take comfort in them, e.g., saying to himself “God has promised ME that he would turn all evil away from my life or turn it to my good” or “the Holy Spirit has promised to present ME among the assembly of the elect in life eternal”?

    • Wes Bredenhof

      John,

      1. No, what I quoted is the end of the chapter. I’m sure you’re aware that there’s no broad consensus on how those words in the prayer should be understood. Personally, I have no problem with them as they are. From their earliest years, I teach my children to seek the Lord in faith, to ask for the forgiveness of their sins through Christ and I believe he answers those prayers. Moreover, the prayer is not making a statement about the salvation of every single person in the congregation. We are a congregation of believers who have been forgiven in the blood of Christ and this congregation includes children. On that basis we can pray this.

      2. Yes. Taking those promises in that way would be a response of faith, which is exactly what they call for.

  • Coosje Helder

    That was very nicely said! Sometimes it is hard to formulate into words what you “instinctively” know. This was perfect for me.

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