God’s Wisdom in the Use of Appointed Means: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 27


  1. Is, then, the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sins?

No,1 for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.2

[1] 1 Pet. 3:21; Eph. 5:26. [2] 1 Jn. 1:7; 1 Cor. 6:11.


  1. Why then does the Holy Spirit call Baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?

God speaks thus with great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby that just as the filthiness of the body is taken away by water, so our sins are taken away by the blood and Spirit of Christ;1 but much more, that by this divine pledge and token He may assure us that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water.2

[1] Rev. 7:14. [2] Mk. 16:16; *Acts 2:38.


  1. Are infants also to be baptized?

Yes, for since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God,1 and through the blood of Christ2 both redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents,3 they are also by Baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be engrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers,4 as was done in the Old Testament by circumcision,5 in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is appointed.6

[1] Gen. 17:7. [2] Matt. 19:14. [3] Lk. 1:14–15; Ps. 22:10; Acts 2:39. [4] Acts 10:47 [5] Gen. 17:14. [6] Col. 2:11–13.

God’s Wisdom in the Use of Appointed Means

Lord’s Day 27 at first appears to take up two different questions regarding baptism, but they are closely related.  The second question, of the baptism of infants, cannot be properly understood until the first question is answered.  That first question is whether the waters of baptism remove sins of themselves.

They do not.  If they did, then justification by faith alone would be a lie.  Forgiveness of sins and justification are two expressions for the same thing, and if we are justified by baptism, then we are not justified by faith alone.  Faith is the sole instrument of our justification, meaning faith is the means God uses to unite us to Christ and to His saving work, so that our sins are forgiven us.  Baptism is not the way we are united to Christ, else it would be possible for one who is baptized but does not believe in the gospel (and the Scriptures and experience tell us there are many) to be either saved without faith or to be united to Christ and still sent to hell.

But this is a long way from saying baptism is an empty ceremony without any purpose.  Just because some make too much of it does not mean we should make too little.  God does not tell us to do things for no reason, just for the enjoyment of watching us jump through hoops.   Baptism is a visual demonstration to us of our salvation, that our sins are thoroughly washed away from us, so that we who were red like crimson will be white as snow.  Beyond that, it is a promise, a “seal” from God.  If we believe the promise of the gospel, the benefits held out to us in baptism, the forgiveness of sins and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit will certainly be given to us.   Baptism is therefore primarily a message from God to us rather than, as is often believed, something we are saying to God.  God uses that physical message to call His elect to Himself in faith.

It’s in this light that we can understand why infants are baptized.  It is not because we think baptizing them removes their sin in any sense.  When a child is born into the church, he is given the promise of the gospel through the sacrament of baptism, which identifies him as a member of the church and holds out the promise to him every day of his life.  The message of baptism, though it is delivered one time, is not a one-time message.  It is a constant truth and reality, one which is sometimes apprehended and believed immediately, and sometimes not for many years.  Sometimes, sadly, those who receive the message never believe it at all.  But the child of the believer is a part of the church just as the child in the Old Testament was a part of Israel and received the sign of membership.  It is not an empty promise, either.  Though we have no promise about every baptized child coming to faith, it is an undeniable fact that the most common way that God has always preserved and propagated His church is through believing families, through mothers and fathers raising their children to faith.  Baptism is the beginning of the process.

Those who believe in the baptism only of adults often (and consistently) view their children as pagans to be evangelized.  But the Reformed treat their children as Christians to be discipled.  God did not place them in our homes by accident, and until they declare themselves by word or deed to be unbelievers, we will treat them as believers.  Among many other passages, Paul’s instruction to children to obey their parents “in the Lord” supports our contention that children should be treated as members of the church, and the several examples in the New Testament of household baptisms provide further evidence.  Jesus famously declared the kingdom of God to include little children, and we have no right to exclude those whom Christ includes.

In the sacraments we see how the external instrument mirrors the internal work, how the physical points to the spiritual.  What is happening with the physical elements points to the work the Spirit of God is doing internally.  Not in all cases, of course; many, lacking faith, will receive the sign but not the Spirit the sign points to.  That in no way undermines the true effectiveness of the signs that God has appointed, since they are not intended for the reprobate, but for God’s elect.

God is calling to Himself a people, and He is cleansing and purifying that people to be fit to be in His presence.  Though the internal work of the Spirit of God is the crucial element of the process, God created us physical beings, with physical senses, and He places us in families, communities, and nations.  Being a wise and powerful God, He uses everything He has created to achieve His ends with those He has chosen for salvation, for He did not make a mistake in making us as He did.  When He desires to save a person from wrath, He will prepare the circumstances by which that person will hear the gospel of Christ; perhaps He will bring them missionaries, or Christian friends, or very commonly, place them in families where they will hear that gospel.  And He will call them to faith through their whole person- their intellect, their emotions, their physical senses.  In all this He shows Himself to be a good and glorious God, making use of all He has created to accomplish His intentions toward His people.