The Westminster Confession, which was prepared by the Westminster Assembly in 1647, adopted by the Long Parliament, by the Kirk of Scotland, and the Presbyterian Churches of America, states that “baptism . . . is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of [one’s] ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins . . . by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost.”[i] Contrary to Baptists, who would gladly admit that baptism is a sign or picture of grace, though not a means of conveying it, the Westminster divines affirmed that the Holy Spirit also seals and confers grace through baptism. The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise states that “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are . . . sacraments[ii] . . . which are made effectual to the elect for salvation . . . sacraments become effectual means of salvation . . . a sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied unto believers. . . . The sacraments of the New Testament are baptism and the Lord’s supper. . . . Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's. . . . infants of such as are members of the visible Church are to be baptized.”[iii] The Westminster Larger Catechism affirms that “the sacraments become effectual means of salvation. . . . A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation. . . . Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord's. . . . infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized. . . . The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long . . . by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace . . . as those that have therein given up their names to Christ . . . as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”[iv] The Westminster Directory for Public Worship[v] states:
Before baptism, the minister is to use some words of instruction, touching the institution, nature, use, and ends of this sacrament, shewing, “That it is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: That it is a seal of the covenant of grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, and of our union with him, of remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and life eternal: . . . the promise is made to believers and their seed; and that the seed and posterity of the faithful, born within the church, have, by their birth, interest in the covenant, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the church, under the gospel . . . children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized: That the inward grace and virtue of baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and power thereof reacheth to the whole course of our life; and that outward baptism is not so necessary, that, through the want thereof, the infant is in danger of damnation, or the parents guilty, if they do not contemn or neglect the ordinance of Christ, when and where it may be had.” . . . [The minister] is also to admonish all those that are present, “To look back to their baptism; to repent of their sins against their covenant with God; to stir up their faith; to improve and make right use of their baptism, and of the covenant sealed thereby betwixt God and their souls.” . . . This being done, prayer is also to be joined with the word of institution, for sanctifying the water to this spiritual use; and the minister is to pray to this or the like effect: “That the Lord, who hath not left us as strangers without the covenant of promise, but called us to the privileges of his ordinances, would graciously vouchsafe to sanctify and bless his own ordinance of baptism at this time: That he would join the inward baptism of his Spirit with the outward baptism of water; make this baptism to the infant a seal of adoption, remission of sin, regeneration, and eternal life, and all other promises of the covenant of grace: That the child may be planted into the likeness of the death and resurrection of Christ; and that, the body of sin being destroyed in him, he may serve God in newness of life all his days.”
Then the minister is to . . . baptize the child with water: which, for the manner of doing of it, is not only lawful but sufficient, and most expedient to be, by pouring or sprinkling of the water on the face of the child, without adding any other ceremony. This done, he is to give thanks and pray, to this or the like purpose: “Acknowledging with all thankfulness, that the Lord is true and faithful in keeping covenant and mercy: That he is good and gracious, not only in that he numbereth us among his saints, but is pleased also to bestow upon our children this singular token and badge of his love in Christ: That, in his truth and special providence, he daily bringeth some into the bosom of his church, to be partakers of his inestimable benefits, purchased by the blood of his dear Son, for the continuance and increase of his church.” And praying, “That the Lord would still continue, and daily confirm more and more this his unspeakable favour: That he would receive the infant now baptized, and solemnly entered into the household of faith, into his fatherly tuition and defence, and remember him with the favour that he sheweth to his people; that, if he shall be taken out of this life in his infancy, the Lord, who is rich in mercy, would be pleased to receive him up into glory; and if he live, and attain the years of discretion, that the Lord would so teach him by his word and Spirit, and make his baptism effectual to him, and so uphold him by his divine power and grace, that by faith he may prevail against the devil, the world, and the flesh, till in the end he obtain a full and final victory, and so be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Since the baby is said to be a Christian before his baptism, he never needs to come to a point where he sees himself as a lost, hell-bound sinner who must, for the first time, repent and believe the gospel; as long as he continues to assent to Reformed doctrine as he grows older, and lives a moral life, he can have confidence he will go to heaven. If he lives in this manner, then “his baptism [was] effectual to him” as a “seal of adoption, remission of sin, regeneration, and eternal life, and all other promises of the covenant of grace” and he was planted in infancy “into the likeness of the death and resurrection of Christ” and had “the body of sin being destroyed in him” and was brought “into the bosom of [Christ’s] church, to be partak[er] of his inestimable benefits” and had “inward grace and virtue” conveyed by the sacrament. As a Reformed document, following John Calvin and opposed to the universal salvific benefit of infant baptism taught by Lutheranism, non-elect infants—those who, surviving infancy, fall away from Reformed doctrine and Christianity or live an immoral life—were not regenerated in infancy and did not have salvation sealed to them through the sacrament.