Heidelberg Catechism: Lord's Day #27


Welcome to the Cornerstone Baptist church podcast. My name is Justin Wheeler, I am the preaching pastor for Cornerstone and today we are in week 27 of our journey through the Heidelberg Catechism. Today, I will be talking to you about questions 72-74.


This week, we are still on the subject of baptism and this will be the week when we have to take a major detour from what Heidelberg has to say. As we have worked through the catechism over this year, we have hit a few questions that made us scratch our heads, but on the whole, it has been really helpful, which is why we are working through it as a church.

However, from day one I knew we were going to reach a few points along the way where our understanding of certain doctrines would be quite different from what the Heidelberg teaches and today we have finally come to that point. Question 74 asks,

Question 74: Are infants also to be baptized?

Answer: Yes.

But I, and my fellow credobaptist brothers and sisters would answer that question with a clear and resounding, no. It is not newborn babies that we see being baptized in the NT, but only newborn believers in Christ. So, today we are going to briefly address the differences between our position and the paedobaptist position. I am also going to reword question 74 and ask, “Who can be baptized?” But let’s also not skip over questions 72 & 73.

Lord’s Day Focus...

Question 72: Is then the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sins?

Answer: No; for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.

Part of the reason this question is necessary is because we often have difficulty with understanding spiritual realities and their connection to physical realities. A few weeks ago I quoted Matthew Henry when he said,

“We live in a world of sense, not yet in a world of spirits; and because we therefore find it hard to look above the things that are seen, we are directed in a sacrament to look through them, to those things not seen, which the sacraments represent.” –Matthew Henry[1]

 I find this idea very compelling because it brings some clarity on why it is hard for us to understand the connection between the physical world and the spiritual world, but it also shows how God has given us these ordinances in order to help us see those connections more clearly.

The water of baptism, a physical experience, does not actually wash away and cleanse our hearts from the effects of sin, our spiritual need. Baptism is a sign and symbol of that cleansing but it doesn’t actually work that way.

When a person is baptized they are declaring themselves to be united with Jesus. The picture of baptism is one of the individual identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In this way baptism saves us not because there is magical sin cleansing power in the water but because we are trusting in the work of Christ to cleanse us from sin. Our baptism is an appeal to God that we are trusting in what He has provided to save us from judgment.

“The waters of baptism, like the waters of the flood, demonstrate that destruction is at hand, but believers are rescued from these waters in that they are baptized with Christ, who has also emerged from the waters of death through his resurrection (Schreiner).”[2]

Baptism is not an exercise of us trusting in the water to cleanse us and save us; it is an exercise of displaying our trust in the Jesus and the Spirit of God to save us and cleanse us.

Question 73: Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?

Answer: God speaks this way for good reason. He wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away our sins just as water washes away dirt from our bodies. But more important, He wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that the washing away of our sins spiritual is as real as physical washing with water.

This question and answer are addressing the language that Paul uses in Titus 3 when he writes,

Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit

One of the interesting things to point out from this verse is that water baptism is not mentioned in it. The reason it is so often associated with baptism is the use of the term washing and the general context of the passage. But the main point of this text is not the physical washing of regeneration (new birth) but the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about that new birth in our hearts.

The catechism does a great job answering this question and showing the connection between the physical and the spiritual. “The blood and Spirit of Christ wash away our sins just as water washes away dirt from our bodies.”

Now, let’s look at the final question of the week and the one that is going to give us a few problems.

Question 74: Are infants also to be baptized?

Answer: Yes. Infants as well as adults are in God’s covenant and are His people. They, no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith. Therefore, by baptism, the mark of the covenant, infants should be received into the Christian church and should be distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.

Now, I not only think the question is the wrong question, but I also disagree with the answer itself. Those who hold to a paedobaptist view, do so, because of their understanding of the continuity between the covenant that God made with His people in the Old Testament and the covenant that God has made with His people in the New Testament. They would agree that there are some significant differences between the two covenants and their signs, but they see them as being a continuum.

Let me give you a couple of quotes from Stephen Wellum where he works to explain what I’m talking about.

The Reformed paedobaptist conception of “the covenant of grace” may be defined in a number of ways, but at its heart it is understood as God’s sovereign gracious choice by which he chooses to save a people for himself by providing sinners life and salvation through the last Adam, the covenantal head of his people, the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as all that is necessary to bring the elect to saving faith by the effectual work of the Holy Spirit. 

Given that the “covenant of grace” is an organic unity across the ages, this entails—so the argument goes—that the people of God (Israel and the church) are essentially one (in nature and structure), and that the covenant signs (circumcision and baptism) are also essentially one, especially in regard to the spiritual significance of those signs. Furthermore, Reformed paedobaptists argue that since one cannot find any repeal in the NT of the OT command to place the sign of “the covenant of grace” upon covenant children, so the same practice should continue today in the church, given the underlying unity of the covenant across the ages. In a nutshell that is the Reformed covenantal argument for infant baptism.

This is a modest framework of support that gives rise to much paedobaptist thinking and if you were to go back and read question 74 again, you would be able to spot some of this in the answer.

Reformed covenant theology is very helpful and true in many of its points, but I think it gets this wrong. I think there are significant differences between the Old and New Covenants and that paedobaptists are wrong to see the two on such a strict continuum. This podcast is going to be really long if I go through all the points of disagreement so ill just stick with one and it is one that we have already been talking about; the difference between the spiritual and the physical.

The members of the old covenant were distinguished by their physical connection to Abraham. They were descendants, blood relatives, and as such they received the sign of being part of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Circumcision was that sign and oddly enough, only the male children were to receive that sign.

But when we come to the new covenant we see that its members are distinguished not by our physical connection but by our spiritual rebirth (John 3).

John 3:3“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Those who are members of the New Covenant, those who are to receive the sign of the New Covenant, are those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit. And that is what we see throughout and exclusively in the New Testament. The gospel is proclaimed, men and women believe in Christ and turn from their sin, and then they are baptized and brought into fellowship with the community of faith.

What we are going to see is that at no point is there any deviation from this pattern of baptizing disciples only and from this we must conclude that baptism was only administered to those who gave a credible profession of faith in Christ.

A. Acts 2 - The first sermon that was preached after the ascension of Christ is recorded for us in Acts 2. Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and he stands with boldness to proclaim the gospel of Christ and after his sermon we read, “Those who received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). They heard the message of Christ, they received/accepted this message for themselves and then they were baptized.

B. Acts 8 – The next time we see a group of people being baptized comes in Acts 8:12. In this passage Philip is preaching the gospel in Samaria and this is what we read,

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

When they believed they were baptized. So once again faith precedes baptism.

C. Acts 10 – Here we see Peter preaching the gospel to those of Cornelius’ household and while he is preaching, the Scriptures say “that the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word.”  So everyone who was present and heard the word was filled with the Holy Spirit and they began speaking in tongues, praising God and Peter declares, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

The household of Cornelius heard the gospel, they received the Holy Spirit, which was evidence of their conversion[3], and then they were baptized. (See Ephesians 1:13)

D. Acts 16 – In this chapter we see two instances of believer’s baptism. The first involves Lydia and the second involves the Philippian jailer. In Lydia’s case we read that Paul came and preached the good news to her and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Him…and after this she was baptized and her household as well. 

Next comes the jailer (vv. 32-33) who asks Paul what must I do to be saved?

Acts 16:31-33 And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."  32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

Now there is a phrase in here that I want to address because it has been used by paedobaptists over the years to support the baptizing of infants and it is where we read that Lydia and the jailer’s household was baptized. Paedobaptists argue that it is possible to infer from this phrase that unbelieving children were part of these households and therefore it is safe to assume that the early church practiced infant baptism. The problem with this is that there is no Biblical evidence to support the claim.

There is no text in the gospels, the book of Acts, or the epistles which give me warrant to believe that the baptism of anyone other than a converted believer in Christ was the common practice of the early church. Furthermore, if we are to make sense out of these household baptisms then we must let Scripture interpret scripture and we can expect that if an entire household is baptized it is because the entire household believed the gospel, because that is the consistent witness of the NT.[4]

And just so we are clear on this issue, Baptists and Presbyterians agree that there is no express command or clear example of infant baptism in the Bible.

John Murray (paedobaptist) wrote…

One of the most persuasive objections and one which closes the argument for a great many people is that there is no express command to baptize infants and no record in the New Testament of a clear case of infant baptism…The evidence for infant baptism falls into the category of good and necessary inference, and it is therefore quite indefensible to demand that the evidence required must be in the category of express command or explicit instance.[5]

I applaud men like Murray for their honesty, but I must question their final conclusion. If the Bible gives us no warrant to believe a proposed doctrine, that doctrine has no credibility. So for me it’s a matter of my conscience being bound to the plain teaching of God’s Word. The consistent witness of the New Testament and the command of Christ is that baptism is only intended for the individual who has received by faith the saving benefits of Christ’s atoning work and become His disciple.

So, if I could take the liberty to rephrase question 74, I would ask it this way;

Question 74: Who then should be baptized?

Answer: Those who, having been born of God’s Spirit, repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. In other words, only believers should be baptized.

There is plenty more that could be said but I hope that this conversation has been helpful to you.

Next week we will continue our study of the ordinances and I hope that you will join me again next week as we look at Lord’s Day 28 and questions 75-77.


If you want to learn more about Cornerstone Baptist church, you can find us online at Cornerstonewylie.org. You can follow us on Twitter or Instagram @cbcwylie. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/cornerstonewylie. You can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or google play to stay up to date on all the new content.

Thanks for listening.

[1] Matthew Henry A Puritan Theology pg. 748.

[2] Schreiner, Tom NAC Commentary on 1 Peter (Pg. 194)

[3] See Eph 1:13

[4] It is important to note that those who hold this view of infant baptism do so with a clear conscience and I would not want to have them go against conscience unless they are convicted otherwise by Scripture. But I must do the same and my conscience is clear that the position of Believer’s Baptism is the consistent and plain teaching of the NT.

[5] John Murray, Christian Baptism pg. 72 as quoted from Fred Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone.

Justin Wheeler

Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wylie, TX.