/ James Faris

The Handle of Their Infant Baptism

What advantage does a presbyterian child have over a child raised by baptist parents? In what way does a presbyterian child receive grace through baptism that the child of baptist parents does not?

Among many blessings, presbyterian children receive a “handle,” as one author says, a tangible, personal expression of God’s love. The parents are to use it frequently. Philip Henry was the father of the famous Bible commentator Matthew Henry. Philip's biographer wrote:

In dealing with his children about their spiritual state, he took hold of them very much by the handle of their infant baptism, and frequently inculcated that upon them, that they were born in God’s house, and were betimes dedicated and given up to him, and, therefore, were obliged to be his servants. [1]

Such children have a tangible grip for their parents to use to inculcate truth. People baptized as adults often speak of the powerful experience of baptism. Those baptized as infants should know just as powerful an experience, if their parents and elders and fellow-saints would only use the tool the Lord has given.

As children grow, they do not remember the feeling of the baptismal waters of their infancy, but children are captivated by the stories of things that happened to them before they can remember. Baptism is a tangible sign and seal of God’s love and of his work of which they must be made vividly aware. The Lord publicly claimed each specific child in this real, historical event; it is personal.

As parents put their children to bed at night, they can tenderly put their hand on the head of the child - the handle of their infant baptism, as it were. They should tell their children about the day they were baptized. What was the weather like that day? Where did it happen? Who was there? What vows did the parents make? Who was the pastor? Did the child wiggle? Cry? How did the congregation respond? Details like these are important to communicate the historical reality of the event in which God acted. Setting the historical context sets up the opportunity to remind children of what their baptism means. So how then do parents speak to little children about the meaning of their baptism in these tender moments?

  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that he was baptized with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
  • Holding her by the handle of her infant baptism, remind her that the waters of baptism on her head mean that she is a sinner by nature and is deserving of God’s judgment.
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that baptism means he comes from sinful parents.
  • Holding her by the handle of her infant baptism, remind the child of her original sin and actual sins - even sins committed the same day.
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that he can do nothing to achieve salvation - that not even his baptism has the power to save - and that he needs a Savior.
  • Holding her by the handle of her infant baptism, remind her that this means she has been blessed with the covenant of grace - the message of the whole Scripture and that she must learn to love the Bible.
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that his baptism means that God loves us so much that he would send Jesus to live without sinning, to die for our sins and wash us clean, and that he forgives.
  • Holding her by the handle of her infant baptism, remind her that baptism means that God sends his Holy Spirit to give us newness of life, and remind her that baptism signs and seals God’s covenant love.
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that baptism signifies and seals union with Jesus Christ and that he needs a personal relationship with Jesus.
  • Holding her by the handle of her infant baptism, remind her that this means that God has claimed her as a member of his church, the family of God, just as the Lord did with the children of Abraham, of children in all of the Old Testament covenants, and just as he did with the children in churches in places like Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae in the New Testament.
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that baptism means that the promises God made to Abraham and Israel have come to fulfillment in Jesus.
  • Holding her by the handle of his infant baptism, remind her that this emblem means that Daddy and Mommy’s have been saved by grace, and tell the story of their personal faith in Christ.
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that his baptism calls him to faith and repentance each day.
  • Holding her by the handle of her infant baptism, remind her that, in baptism, God has called her to obedience and to walk in newness of life.
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that the emblem of baptism is given by a King who sits as the resurrected Lord in heaven who loves to take children upon his lap and say “to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
  • Holding her by the handle of her infant baptism, call her to seek first the kingdom of God in all of life and to know that there is not a second of her life over which Jesus does not say, “Mine!”
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, remind him that the sign and seal of baptism requires that he look beyond the act of baptism to the eternal God who has given this great gift.
  • Holding her by the handle of her infant baptism, warn her of the grave danger of rebelling against our covenant keeping God.
  • Holding him by the handle of his infant baptism, teach him to pray and give thanks in prayer to God for baptism and and all that it represents.

Covenant children should have a profound experiential sense of God’s claim on their lives in baptism. They should know that, from before they can remember, God owns them and has expressed his grace to them personally through the historical means of baptism - something that actually happened to them in time and space. So, let us take them by the handle of their infant baptism and show them Jesus!

Matthew Henry experienced the blessing of his baptism in a way that I hope covenant children will today as well. In reflecting on the way in which his father would take him by the handle of his infant baptism, he wrote:

I cannot but take occasion to express my gratitude to God for my infant baptism; not only as it was an early admission into the visible body of Christ, but as it furnished my pious parents with a good argument (and, I trust, through grace a prevailing argument) for an early dedication of my ownself to God in my childhood. If God has wrought any good work upon my soul, I desire, with humble thankfulness, to acknowledge the moral influence of my infant baptism upon it. [2]


  1. J.B. Williams, The Lives of Philip and Matthew Henry. A republishing of An Account of the Life and Death of Philip Henry, 1698, and Memoirs of the Life, Character and Writings of the Rev. Matthew Henry, 1828. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974. Part I, p. 85. ↩︎

  2. Ibid. Part II, p. 129. ↩︎

James Faris

James Faris

Child of God. Husband to Elizabeth. Father of six. Pastor of Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ordained as a pastor in 2003.

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