Reformed confessional statements continued to link the sacrament of baptism and the forgiveness of sin in the manner of John Calvin. The Second Helvetic Confession, composed by Zwingli’s successor Bullinger in 1562, the most widely adopted and authoritative of continental Reformed symbols after the Heidelburg Catechism and the official creed of the Reformed communions in Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia, states that “to be baptized in the name of Christ is to be enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance of the sons of God . . . to be cleansed also from the filthiness of sins . . . God . . . adopts us to be his sons, and by a holy covenant joins us to himself . . . all these things are assured by baptism. . . . We condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that newborn infants of the faithful are to be baptized” (Article 20). The extremely influential Heidelburg Catechism of 1563, drafted by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, and the chief symbol of German and Dutch Reformed churches, affirms that “Christ appointed this external washing with water . . . [of] holy baptism . . . adding thereunto this promise, that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away. . . . Christ promised us that he will as certainly wash us by his blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism . . . In the institution of baptism, which is thus expressed . . . ‘he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.’ This promise is also repeated, where the scripture calls baptism ‘the washing of regeneration, and the washing away of sins.’[i] . . . [T]he external baptism with water [is not] the washing away of sin itself . . . for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost, cleanse us from all sin. . . . [but] the Holy Ghost [doth] call baptism ‘the washing of regeneration,’ and ‘the washing away of sins’ . . . [with] great cause, to wit, not only thereby to teach us, that, as the filth of the body is purged away by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ; but especially that, by this divine pledge and sign, he may assure us that we are spiritually cleansed from our sins as really as we are externally washed with water.”[ii] The Belgic Confession of 1561, prepared by Guido de Brès, and revised by Francis Junius, a student of Calvin, became the recognized symbol of the Reformed Churches of Holland and Belgium. It stated:
The sacraments . . . seal unto us [God’s] promises . . . thereby assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us. For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God works in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. . . . [T]he number of sacraments . . . are two only, namely, the sacrament of baptism, and the holy supper of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Jesus Christ . . . having abolished circumcision . . . has instituted the sacrament of baptism instead thereof; by which we are received into the Church of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions, that we may wholly belong to him, whose ensign and banner we bear: and which serves as a testimony to us, that he will forever be our gracious God and Father. Therefore . . . as water washes away the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is seen on the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him; so does the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath, unto children of God. . . . Therefore the ministers, on their part, administer the sacrament, and that which is visible, but our Lord gives that which is signified by the sacrament, namely, the gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts, and filling them with all comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of his fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with all his deeds. Therefore we believe, that every man, who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal, ought to be but once baptized with this only baptism, without ever repeating the same: since we cannot be born twice. Neither does this baptism only avail us, at the time when the water is poured upon us, and received by us but also through the whole course of our life; therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, whom we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised, upon the same promises which are made unto our children.[iii]
If baptism is a testimony to infants that God “will forever be [their] gracious God and Father,” and God conveys and seals through it the invisible grace of “washing, cleansing and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness,” and the sacrament continues to be means of saving grace “through the whole course of our life,” and we ought not to be baptized twice because “we cannot be born twice,” it is clearly a channel of conveying salvation. This explains why the Belgic Confession affirms, as did Calvin, that “there is no salvation outside of . . . [the] congregation” (Article 28), the location where the sacraments are administered (Article 29); those outside of the church, the baptized community, are lost. Those who grow up in Reformed families, on the other hand, can properly believe that God is already their own Father because they have been baptized, and consequently they are under no necessity to, as lost sinners, personally and consciously repent and believe in Christ; God already performed the work of regeneration on them in their infancy, and this salvation was sealed to them in baptism.