Jason writes to ask (re-phrased for clarity):
In your paper on baptism you wrote:
“It is sometimes said, ‘I was baptized as an infant but did not come to faith until much later, so I was re-baptized.’ Might it not be the case that if one is baptized in infancy and later comes to faith, God has been faithful to his promise in the sign. The sign is like a seed which God through his sovereign, gracious Holy Spirit, brought to fruition. We should rejoice that we believe and all that baptism promises is true for us. So I wondered what might be the case if one never came to faith. In short is this the answer? The promise is salvation to those who believe (therefore it’s conditional, i.e. not a promise of election, which is to say it is not a promise to grant saving faith).”
There’s a distinction between the administration of the covenant of grace (i.e. the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and church discipline) and the eternal decree. When we talk about “the promise” we’re talking about the administration. When we talk about outcomes, we’re talking about the decree. We don’t know what the decree, in any given case, is so we look at the promises. God said, “I will be a God to you and to your children….” That’s a promise. It’s not a promise that means, however, that every child of every believer will necessarily come to faith. Why not? I can’t say. Ask God. Ask Paul in Rom 9 and he says, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated” (Read Rom 2:28; 9:6 – read all of Rom 9!). When one comes to faith, we see that as a fulfillment of the promise—because this is how Scripture speaks. If one doesn’t come to faith we continue to pray and to trust in the promise and leave the outcome to God. We never know as God knows. We don’t judge the heart. That’s God’s business. We judge profession of faith and, when necessary, the church judges a life that grossly contradicts one’s profession of faith in church discipline (Matt 16;Matt 18). We employ a “judgment of charity” as to profession. We don’t look across the congregation to try to guess the elect. Nor do we ask, “Am I elect?” We ask, “Do I believe?” If one believes it is because of God’s unconditional electing grace.
Thus, there can be a delay between the administration of the sign (per divine command) and the realization of the benefits of the covenant or “the promise” (Acts 2:39). It’s always been thus. Not every circumcised child came immediately to faith and some (e.g. Esau) never came to faith. Who knows about Ishmael (Gen 17) but that doesn’t prevent God from commanding infant initiation into the covenant of grace and making the promise, “I will be your God and your childrens’ God.”
So we obey God and trust the promise. In my case, there was a chronological delay but God was faithful to the promise even though there was a considerable delay between the administration of the sign and the realization of the promises in my experience (i.e., the application of the benefits in the ordo salutis). That delay doesn’t change the meaning of my baptism. I’m thankful for all that baptism promises to those who believe. I’m thankful that God graciously brought me to life, to faith, and through faith, into union with Christ whereby I understand that my baptism is a sign of the union with Christ enjoyed by believers (Rom 6). Baptism itself doesn’t confer or create that union nor does it confer or create any of the benefits of Christ. That’s why we speak of the sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified. WCF 37.2 says:
There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.
Baptism doesn’t create that union but because of the close relation between the sign (baptism) and the thing signified (union) it sometimes sounds as if baptism creates union or confers benefits. This is why it’s important to bear in mind that, ultimately, God sovereignly elects whom he will and that it is election that determines the outcome of the administration of the covenant. It is not, as some have said, that the administration of the covenant of grace determines election.