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Taken from the forward of Pierre Ch. Marcel’s book The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism:

Some years ago it was my privilege to pastor an elderly couple who had served in the Middle East as missionaries in the early part of the 20th century. The husband was a native of Iraq and an expert in Semitic languages and culture. On numerous occasions we had fascinating discussions about the differences between the cultural situation presented in both the Old and New Testaments as it compared or contrasted with the cultural situation of modern America. Many aspects of “the American experience” as it influenced church life mystified him completely. At the top of the list was what he regarded as “the inconceivable idea” that children of Christian parents should not be regarded as part of the Church. In his biblically informed Middle Eastern mind the household was the basic unit of the Old Covenant people of God and of the church in its New Covenant form. He was utterly baffled by the very idea that children born in a Christian family would not be baptized and marked out as part of the Church.

This epitomizes the challenge of presenting the historic Christian position on household baptism (a far more biblical phrase than “infant baptism”) into our American evangelical climate. Conditioned by the spirit of independence that was instrumental in founding our nation, formed by the frontier revivalism that dramatically supplanted church and sacraments with ad hoc evangelistic meetings and personal “decisions for Christ”, and nurtured in an environment that now virtually absolutizes one’s personal “right to choose”, American religion is far more comfortable with baptistic individualism than it is with the corporate emphasis on covenant theology and its accompanying view of baptism. Those who hold to the uniform reformational view of household baptism face a powerful resistance in America’s baptist culture. — Pastor William Shishko, (OPC), p. 3.

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I have in hand a copy of Fesko’s new book, Word, Water, & Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism. This looks to be an excellent read — one which I intend to sink my teeth into most hungrily. The endorsement by Joel Beeke reads:

J. V. Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit is a major work that both models how to do theology by moving from historical theology to biblical and systematic theology and, most importantly, presents fresh insights for a Reformed understanding of baptism. Fesko’s fair-minded, page-turning history of the doctrine of baptism is itself worth the price of the book. Most enlightening, however, is his biblical-theological survey of baptism as new creation, covenant judgment, and eschatological judgment. The book’s emphasis on God’s judgment in baptism is particularly innovative and helpful. These insights pave the way for treating baptism systematically as a means of grace and as a sacrament in relation to its recipients and ecclesiology. Highly recommended for all who wish to grapple seriously with the doctrine of baptism and its implications.

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Heidelberg Catechism question 74 asks: Are infants also to be baptized?

Answer. Yes, for since they as well as the adult are included in the covenant and church of God ; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must, therefore, by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian Church, and be distinguished from the children of infidels, as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant.

Ursinus’ expository commentary:

For a proper understanding of this question we shall consider, first, Who ought to receive, and Who ought to desire baptism ? Those who are not yet disciples of Christ, not being of the number of those who are called^ and not believing the doctrine of the gospel, nor obeying the ministry, are not to receive baptism. Nor ought those who feel that they are not the disciples of Christ to desire baptism. And the reason why they ought neither to receive, nor desire baptism, is, because Christ says, first, teach or make all nations my disciples, and then baptize them. Hence all, and only those are to be baptized according to the command of Christ, who are, and ought to be regarded as members of the visible church, whether they be adults professing repentance and faith, or infants born in the church; for all the children of those that believe are included in the covenant, and church of God, unless they exclude themselves. They are, therefore, also disciples of Christ, because they are born in the church, or school of Christ; and hence the Holy Spirit teaches them in a manner adapted to their capacity and age.

From what we have now said, we may easily determine whether infanta are to be baptized. If they are disciples of Christ, and included in the church, (which we may fully establish by the covenant itself, and many other passages of Scripture) they are fit subjects for baptism. The Catechism adduces four reasons why infants, as well as adults, are to be baptized.

First, all that belong to the covenant and church of God are to be baptized. But the children of christians, as well as adults, belong to the covenant and church of God. Therefore they are to be baptized as well as adults. The major proposition is proven from the command of Christ, which requires the whole church to be baptized. ” Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them,” &c. And Paul says: ” By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor. 12: 13.) The minor proposition is clear from the covenant itself in which God declares, ” I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee:” and from what Christ says: ” Suffer little children to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Gen. 17 : 7. Matt. 19: 14.)

Secondly, those are not to be excluded from baptism, to whom the benefit of the remission of sins, and of regeneration belongs. But this benefit belongs to the infants of the church; for redemption from sin, by the blood of Christ and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult. Therefore they ought to be baptized. The major of this syllogism is proven by the words of Peter: ” Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ; for the promise is unto you and your children.” ” Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we.” (Acta 2: 38,35; 10:47.) The same thing is established by this argument: Those unto whom the things signified belong, unto them the sign also belongs, unless there be some condition in the way of using it which would forbid it, or unless there be. some circumstance connected with the institution which would not admit of the observance of the rite, as females formerly were debarred from circumcision on account of their sex, and as infants at this day are excluded from the Lord’s Supper because of their incapacity of shewing the Lord’s death, and proving themselves. The minor is manifest from the language of the covenant: ” I will be a God unto thee, and thy seed after thee:” and from the following passages of Scripture: ” Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” ” The promise is unto you, and your children.” ” Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant, which God made with our fathers.” ” Your children are holy.” ” For if the root be holy, so are the branches.” (Matt. 19: 14. Acts 2: 39; 3: 25. 1 Cor. 7 : 14. Eom. 11: 16.) So John the Baptist was sanctified from his mother’s womb. He who will now diligently examine these testimonies from the word of God, will see that it is not only lawful, but that baptism ought to be administered to infants also; for they are holy; the promise is unto them; the kingdom of heaven is theirs; and God, who is certainly not the God of the wicked, declares that he will also be their God. Neither is there any condition in infants which would forbid the use of baptism. Who then can forbid water, or exclude them from baptism, seeing that they are partakers with the whole church of the same blessings?

3. A sacrament, which God has instituted to be a solemn rite of initiation into the church, and which is designed to distinguish the church from all the various sects, ought to be extended to all, of whatever age they may be, to whom the covenant and reception into the church rightfully belong. Baptism now is such a sacrament. Therefore it ought to be administered to all ages, and as a necessary consequence to infants also; for to whom the final cause belongs, to him the effect is properly and necessarily attributed.

Fourthly, under the Old Testament infants were circumcised as well as adults. Baptism occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament, and has the same use that circumcision had in the Old Testament. Therefore infants are to be baptized as well as adults. The first proposition needs no proof. The second is proven by what the apostle Paul says: ” Ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein ye are also risen with him.” (Col. 2: 11, 12.)Baptism, therefore, is our circumcision, or the sacrament by which the same things are confirmed unto us, and to as many under the New Testament as under the Old by circumcision.

The Anabaptists, therefore, in denying baptism to the children of the church, do not only deprive them of their rights, but they also prevent the grace of God from being seen in its richness, since God wills that the offspring of the faithful should be included amongst the members of the church, even from the womb: yea they manifestly detract from the grace of the New Covenant, and narrow down that of the old, inasmuch as they refuse to extend baptism to infants, to whom circumcision was formerly extended; they weaken the comfort of the church, and of faithful parents; they set aside the solemn obligation by which God will have the offspring of his people consecrated to him from their very infancy, distinguished, and separated from the world ; they weaken in parents and children the sense of gratitude, and the desire which they should have to perform their obligations to God; they boldly contradict the apostles who declare that water should not be forbidden those to whom the Holy Ghost is given; they wickedly keep back from Christ infants whom he has commanded to be brought to him; and lastly, they narrow down the universal command of Christ which requires that all should be baptized. From all these things it is clear that the denial of infant baptism is no trifling error, but a grievous heresy, in direct opposition to the word of God, and the comfort of the church. Wherefore this and similar follies of the sect of the Anabaptists should be carefully avoided, since they have, without doubt, been hatched by the devil, and are detestable heresies which they have fabricated from various errors and blasphemies.

Objections to this doctrine are dealt with in the following:

Obj. 1. No doctrine is to be received which the Scriptures do not teach expressly, nor by example. But the Scriptures do not teach the doctrine of infant baptism by any command or example. Therefore, it is not to be received by the church. Ans. We deny the minor proposition: for we have the express command, ” Baptize all nations,” which includes the children of the church. There are, also, instances recorded in the Scriptures where whole families were baptized by the Apostles, without any intimation that the infant members of these families were excluded. ” Lydia was baptized and her household.” The Philippian jailor ” was baptized and all his.” ” I baptized also the household of Stephanus.” (Acts 16: 15, 33. 1 Cor. 1: 16.) To this answer the following objections are brought forward:

Obj. 1. But Christ does not expressly command that infants should be baptized. Ans. Neither does he expressly say that adults, men, women, citizens, husbandmen, fullers, and other artizans, such as the Anabaptists for the most part are, should be baptized. He commands that all who are included in the covenant and church of God should be baptized, of whatever age, sex, or rank they may be. Nor is there any necessity that there should be an express reference to every age and rank in general laws and commands ; because what is thus enjoined, is binding upon a whole class, and so includes all the separate parts which are comprehended in it. The Anabaptists themselves do not exclude women from the Lord’s Supper, and yet they have no express command, nor example for this practice in the Scriptures. We have a general command in relation to baptism: for it is said, ” Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them,” &c. This command requires that all who are disciples should be baptized. But infants arc disciples, because they are born in the church, and are taught after their manner. Peter, likewise, commands the same thing when he says, ” The promise is unto you and your children; therefore be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” ” Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we.” (Acts 2: 39; 10: 47.) Paul teaches the same thing when he says that we are circumcised in Christ, and buried with him by baptism. Therefore, our baptism has taken the place of circumcision, which substitution is equal to an express command.

Obj. 2. Those who are to be baptized must be first taught, for it is said, ” teach all nations, baptizing them,” &c. But infants cannot be taught. Therefore, they are not fit subjects for baptism. Ans. The major proposition is true of adults, who are capable of being taught, from which class of persons the first members of the church were gathered. These Christ command first to be taught, and then to be baptized, so as to be distinguished from the world. But it is false if applied to infants who are born in the church, or who become connected with it when their parents believe and make a profession of their faith; because, Christ does not speak of infants, but of adults, who are capable of being taught, and who ought not to be received into the church unless they are first taught. Infants are included in the covenant, because God says, ” I will be a God unto thee and thy seed,” even before they were capable of being instructed. Therefore, they are also to be baptized.

Obj. 3. But, in the examples recorded in the Scriptures where it is said whole families were baptized, the whole, by a figure of speech, is taken for a part, so that these instances merely teach that those who believed and made a confession of their faith were baptized. Therefore, infant baptism cannot be proven from these examples. Ans. We deny the antecedent; because the Apostles in recording these household baptisms intimate no such exclusion, and it is wrong to have recourse to a figure of speech, when there is no reason for rejecting the natural interpretation of any passage of Scripture.

Obj. 4. There are two reasons in favor of this synecdoche: the one is, that the Apostles did nothing contrary to the command and institution of Christ; the other is, that the circumstances connected with these examples exclude infants; for it is said, ” they preached the word to all that were in his house;” ” that they rejoiced,” and ” that they ministered to the saints;” which cannot be applied to infants. Therefore, they are excluded. Ans. The first reason which intimates that infant baptism is opposed to the appointment of Christ, is false, for Christ wills that all who belong to him and his church should be separated from the world by baptism, as we have shown. It is not true, therefore, that the Apostles refused to administer baptism to infants, according to the institution of Christ. And as to the second reason, it is of no force ; for the children could be baptized with their parents, although none but their parents and other members of the family of adult age heard the words of the Apostles, and ministered unto their wants; because their age might exclude them from understanding the doctrine of the Apostles, or from ministering to them, but not from baptism, any more than from salvation. Hence, it was said to Cornelius, ” Peter shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.” Rejecting, therefore, such vain cavils, we must firmly hold to the doctrine that infant baptism was commanded by Christ, and was always practiced by the Apostles and the whole church. Augustin says : ” The whole church holds to the doctrine of infant baptism by tradition.” And he concludes: ” What the whole church holds and has always retained, although it has not been decreed by any council, that it is just as proper for us to believe, as \f it had been delivered and handed down by apostolic authority”

Obj. 2. Those Who do not believe, are not to be baptized; for it is said, ” He that believeth and is baptized,” &c. But infants do not believe. Therefore, they are not to be baptized. Faith is necessarily required for the use of baptism, for he that believeth not shall be damned. But the sign of grace ought not to be given to such as are condemned. Ans. 1. The first proposition is not true, if understood generally; for circumcision was applied to infants, although they were not capable of exercising faith. It must, therefore, be understood of adults only, who are not to be baptized except they believe. Neither can our opponents say of adults that they do certainly believe. If infants, therefore, are not to be baptized because they do not believe, then neither are those to be baptized who have arrived to years of understanding, because no one can certainly know whether they have faith or not. Simon Magus was baptized, and yet he was a hypocrite. But, say our opponents, the church ought to be satisfied with a profession of faith. This we admit, and would add, that to be born in the church, is, to infants, the same thing as a profession of faith. 2. Faith is, indeed, necessary to the use of baptism with this distinction. Actual faith is required in adults, and an inclination to faith in infants. There are, therefore, four terms in this syllogism, or there is a fallacy in understanding that as spoken particularly, which must be understood generally. Those who do not believe, that is, who have no faith at all, neither by profession nor by inclination, are not to be baptized. But infants born of believing parents have faith as to inclination. 3. We also deny the minor proposition ; for infants do believe after their manner, or according to the condition of their age ; they have an inclination to faith. Faith is in infants potentially and by inclination, although not actually as in adults. For, as infants born of ungodly parents who are without the church, have no actual wickedness, but only an inclination thereto, so those who are born of godly parents have no actual holiness, but only an inclination to it; not according to nature, but according to the grace of the covenant. And still further : infants have the Holy Ghost, and are regenerated by him. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb, and Jeremiah is said to have been sanctified before he came out of the womb. (Luke 1: 15. Jer. 1: 5.) If infants now have the Holy Ghost, he certainly works in them regeneration, good inclinations, new desires, and such other things as are necessary for their salvation, or he at least supplies them with every thing that is requisite for their baptism, according to the declaration of Peter, ” Can any man forbid water to them who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we.” It is for this reason that Christ enumerates little children amongst those that believe, saying, ” Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me.” (Matt. 18: 6.) In as much now as infants are fit subjects for baptism, they do not profane it as the Anabaptists wickedly affirm.

Obj. 3. But if the sign of the covenant belongs to all those to whom its promise belongs, then the Lord’s Supper ought also to be administered to infants, because it is also a sign of the covenant. But it is not administered to infants. Therefore, they ought not to be baptized. Ans. We do not say that every sign ought to be applied to infants ; but only that there must be some sign of initiation into the church, which, in the new covenant, is baptism. This does not exclude infants, for it merely requires the Holy Ghost, and faith, whether it be actual or potential, as appears from the words of Peter, ” Can any man forbid water,” &c. Or, if the objection be thus framed: Infants ought to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper if they are to be baptized, in as much as the Lord’s Supper is designed for the whole church, as well as baptism. But they are not admitted to the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, they are not to be baptized: We reply, by denying the consequence, because there is a great difference between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the sacrament of initiation, and reception into the church, so that none are to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, unless they be first baptized. But the Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of our abiding in the church, or it is the confirmation of our reception: for God has instituted it that he might declare, and seal unto us, this truth, that having once received us into the church, he will for ever preserve us, so that we shall not fall away from it; and that he will also continue the benefits once bestowed upon us, and will feed and nourish us upon the body and blood of Christ unto eternal life. Adults, who are beset with various temptations and trials need this support. Again: regeneration by the Holy Ghost, and faith, or an inclination to faith and repentance are sufficient for baptism; but in the Lord’s Supper there are conditions added, and required which exclude infants from its use. It is required of those that observe it, that they shew the Lord’s death, and examine themselves whether they have repentance and faith. In as much now as infants are incapacitated to do this on account of their age, it is evident that they are justly excluded from the Lord’s Supper, but not from baptism. It does not follow, therefore, that infants are to be at once admitted to the Lord’s Supper, because they are to be baptized; for they are to be admitted only to those sacraments which are signs of reception into the covenant and church, and which have no conditions that exclude them on account of their age. Baptism now is such a sacrament in the New Testament; but it is different with the Lord’s Supper.

Obj. 4. But if baptism has come in the place of circumcision, then none but males ought now to be baptized, and they on the eighth day after their birth. But both males and females are now baptized. Therefore, baptism has not taken the place of circumcision. Ans. Baptism has not succeeded circumcision in all the circumstances connected with it, but in the thing signified, and as to its end and use. The two sacraments agree in these things; whilst they differ as to the circumstance of age and sex. God restricted circumcision expressly to the males, and spared the females. Yet he included them among the males, in as much as being born of circumcised parents was to them in the place of circumcision. They were circumcised m the males, or what is the same thing, they were accounted as circumcised. It is for this reason that Christ calls a holy woman ” a daughter of Abraham ;” and the sons of Jacob said: ” we cannot give our sister to one that is uncircumcised,” thus making a distinction between the expressions our sister and one that is uncircumcised. (Luke 13: 16. Gen. 34: 14.) God, therefore, formerly made an exception in the case of females, and ordained circumcision on the eighth day. But in baptism these things are not determined ; but the command is general, requiring all the children of the faithful to be ingrafted into the church, whether it be on the eighth day, or immediately after their birth.

Theses concerning Baptism.

1. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, by which Christ testifies to the faithful who are baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the forgiveness of all their sins, the giving of the Holy Spirit, and ingrafting into the church and into his own body; whilst they, on the other hand, profess to receive these benefits from God, and will and ought, therefore, henceforth, to live unto him and to serve him. This same baptism was begun by John the Baptist, and carried forward by the Apostles. John baptized in the name of Christ, who was to suffer and rise again; the Apostles baptized in the name of Christ, as having suffered and risen from the dead.

2. The first end of baptism instituted by God is, that he might thereby declare and testify to us, that he cleanses those who are baptized by his blood and Spirit from all their sins, and therefore engrafts them into the body of Christ and makes them partakers of all his benefits. 2. That baptism might be a solemn reception or initiation of every one into the visible church, and a mark by which the church might be known from all other religions. 3. That it might be a public and solemn profession of our faith in Christ, and of our obligation to faith and obedience to him. 4. That it might be an admonition of our burial in afflictions, and of our rising out of them and deliverance from them.

3. Baptism has the power to declare or seal according to the command of God, and the promise which Christ has joined to it in its lawful use; for Christ baptizes us by the hand of his ministers, just as he speaks through them.

4. There is, therefore, in baptism a double water; the one external and visible, which is elementary; the other internal, invisible and heavenly, which is the blood and Spirit of Christ. There is, also, a double washing in baptism; the one external, visible, and signifying, viz: the sprinkling and pouring of water, which is perceptible by the members and senses of the body; the other is internal, invisible, and signified, viz: the remission of sins on account of the blood of Christ shed for us, and our regeneration by the Holy Spirit and engrafting into his body, which is spiritual, and perceived only by faith and the Spirit. Lastly, there is a double dispenser of baptism: the one an external dispenser of the external, which is the minister of the church, baptizing us by his hand with water; the other an internal dispenser of the internal, which is Christ himself, baptizing us with his blood and Spirit.

5. Yet the water is not changed into the blood or Spirit of Christ, nor is the blood of Christ present in the water, or in the same place with the water. Nor are the bodies of those who are baptized washed with this visibly; nor is the Holy Spirit, by his substance or virtue, more in this water than elsewhere ; but he works in the hearts of those who are baptized in the lawful use of baptism, and sprinkles and washes them spirituually by the blood of Christ, whilst he uses this external symbol as a means, and as a visible word or promise to stir up and confirm the faith of those who are baptized.

6. When baptism is, therefore, said to be the laver or washing of regeneration, to save us, or to wash away sins, it is meant that the external baptism is a sign of the internal, that is, of regeneration, salvation and of spiritual absolution; and this internal baptism is said to be joined with that which is external, in the right and proper use of it.

7. Yet sin is so washed away in baptism, that we are delivered from exposure to divine wrath and from the condemnation of everlasting punishment, whilst the Holy Ghost commences in us the work of regeneration and conformity with God. Remissions of sins, however, continue to the end of life.

8. All, and only those who are renewed or being renewed, receive baptism lawfully, being baptized for those ends for which Christ instituted this sacrament.

9. The church administers baptism lawfully to all, and only to those whom she ought to regard among the number of the regenerate, or as members of Christ.

10. Since the infant children of Christians are also included in the church, into which Christ will have all those who belong to him to be received and enrolled by baptism ; and as baptism has been substituted in the place of circumcision, by which (as well to the infants as to the adults belonging to the seed of Abraham,) justification, regeneration and reception into the church were sealed by and for the sake of Christ; and as no one can forbid water that those should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit purifying their hearts, it follows that those infants should be baptized, who are either born in the church, or come into it from the world with their parents.

11. As the promise of the gospel, so baptism being unworthily received, that is, before conversion, is ratified and tends to salvation to those who repent, so that the use of it which was before unlawful is now lawful.

12. The impiety of the minister does not make baptism void, if only it be performed in the promise and faith of Christ. It is for this reason that the true church does not re-baptize those who have been baptized by heretics, but instructs them in the true doctrine respecting Christ and baptism.

13. And as the covenant once made with God, is also after sins have been committed, perpetually ratified in the case of such as believe, so baptism also being once received, confirms all those who repent in relation to the forgiveness of sins during their whole lives; and, therefore, neither ought to be repeated, nor deferred to the close of life, as if it then only cleansed from sin, when no more sins are committed after it is received.

14. All those who are baptized with water, whether adults or infants, are not made partakers of the grace of Christ, for the eternal election of God and his calling to the kingdom of Christ, is free.

15. Nor are all those who are not baptized excluded from the grace of Christ, for not the want, but the contempt of baptism excludes men from the covenant of God made with the faithful and their children.

16. Since the administration of the sacraments forms a part of the ecclesiastical ministry, those who are not called to this, and especially women, ought not to take upon themselves the right and authority to baptize.

17. Such rites as have been added to baptism by men, as the consecration of the water, tapers, exorcisms, anointing with oil, salt, crosses, spittle, and things of a similar character, are justly condemned in the church of Christ, as corruptions of the sacraments.

Taken from Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.

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Of Infant Baptism

by Dr. John Owen

“Dr. Owen was a renowned Puritan minister of the Independent (Congregational) persuasion, whose profound and edifying works are published by The Banner of Truth Trust. C. H. Spurgeon in the 19th century said of John Owen, “It is unnecessary to say that he is the prince of divines. To master his works is to be a profound theologian.” He was born in 1616, in Stadham, Oxfordshire, England, and he died 1683 in London.”

I. THE question is not whether professing believers, Jews or Gentiles, not baptized in their infancy, ought to be baptized; for this is by all confessed.

II. Neither is it whether, in such persons, the profession of saving faith and repentance ought not to go before baptism. This we plead for beyond what is the common practice of those who oppose us.

Wherefore, testimonies produced out of authors, ancient or modern, to confirm these things, which consist with the doctrine of infant baptism, are mere tergiversations, that belong not to this cause at all; and so are all arguments produced unto that end out of the Scriptures.

III. The question is not whether all infants are to be baptized or not; for, according to the will of God, some are not to be baptized, even such whose parents are strangers from the covenant. But hence it will follow that some are to be baptized, seeing an exception confirms both rule and right.

IV. The question is only concerning the children or infant seed of professing believers who are themselves baptized. And, –

First, They by whom this is denied can produce no testimony of Scripture wherein their negation is formally or in terms included, nor any one asserting what is inconsistent with that of their seed. But this is to be required of them who oppose infant baptism, that they produce such a testimony.

Secondly, No instance can be given from the Old or New Testament since the days of Abraham, none from the approved practice of the primitive church, of any person or persons born of professing, believing parents, who were themselves made partakers of the initial seal of the covenant, being then in infancy and designed to be brought up in the knowledge of God, who were not made partakers with them of the same sign and seal of the covenant.

Thirdly, A spiritual privilege once granted by God unto any cannot be changed, disannulled, or abrogated, without an especial divine revocation of it, or the substitution of a greater privilege and mercy in the room of it; for, –

1. Who shall disannul what God hath granted? What he hath put together who shall put asunder? To abolish or take away any grant of privilege made by him to the church, without his own express revocation of it, is to deny his sovereign authority.

2. To say a privilege so granted may be revoked, even by God himself, without the substitution of a greater privilege and mercy in the room of it, is contrary to the goodness of God, his love and care unto his church, [and] contrary to his constant course of proceeding with it from the foundation of the world, wherein he went on in the enlargement and increase of its privileges until the coming of Christ. And to suppose it under the gospel is contrary to all his promises, the honour of Christ, and a multitude of express testimonies of Scripture.

Thus was it with the privileges of the temple and the worship of it granted to the Jews; they were not, they could not be, taken away without an express revocation, and the substitution of a more glorious spiritual temple and worship in their room.

But now the spiritual privilege of a right unto and a participation of the initial seal of the covenant was granted by God unto the infant seed of Abraham, Gen. xvii. 10, 12.

This grant, therefore, must stand firm for ever, unless men can prove or produce, –

1. An express revocation of it by God himself; which none can do either directly or indirectly, in terms or any pretence of consequence.

2. An instance of a greater privilege or mercy granted unto them in the room of it; which they do not once pretend unto, but leave the seed of believers, whilst in their infant state, in the same condition with those of pagans and infidels; expressly contrary to God’s covenant.

All this contest, therefore, is to deprive the children of believers of a privilege once granted to them by God, never revoked, as to the substance of it, assigning nothing in its room; which is contrary to the goodness, love, and covenant of God, especially derogatory to the honour of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Fourthly, They that have the thing signified have right unto the sign of it, or those who are partakers of the grace of baptism have a right to the administration of it: so Acts x. 47.

But the children of believers are all of them capable of the grace signified in baptism, and some of them are certainly partakers of it, namely, such as die in their infancy (which is all that can be said of professors): therefore they may and ought to be baptized. For, –

1. Infants are made for and are capable of eternal glory or misery, and must fall, dying infants, into one of these estates for ever.

2. All infants are born in a state of sin, wherein they are spiritually dead and under the curse.

3. Unless they are regenerated or born again, they must all perish inevitably, John iii. 3. Their regeneration is the grace whereof baptism is a sign or token. Wherever this is, there baptism ought to be administered.

Fifthly, God having appointed baptism as the sign and seal of regeneration, unto whom he denies it, he denies the grace signified by it. Why is it the will of God that unbelievers and impenitent sinners should not be baptized? It is because, not granting them the grace, he will not grant them the sign. If, therefore, God denies the sign unto the infant seed of believers, it must be because he denies them the grace of it; and then all the children of believing parents dying in their infancy must, without hope, be eternally damned. I do not say that all must be so who are not baptized, but all must be so whom God would not have baptized.

But this is contrary to the goodness and law [love?] of God, the nature and promises of the covenant, the testimony of Christ reckoning them to the kingdom of God, the faith of godly parents, and the belief of the church in all ages.

It follows hence unavoidably that infants who die in their infancy have the grace of regeneration, and consequently as good a right unto baptism as believers themselves.

Sixthly, All children in their infancy are reckoned unto the covenant of their parents, by virtue of the law of their creation.

For they are all made capable of eternal rewards and punishments, as hath been declared.

But in their own persons they are not capable of doing good or evil.

It is therefore contrary to the justice of God, and the law of the creation of human kind, wherein many die before they can discern between their right hand and their left, to deal with infants any otherwise but in and according to the covenant of their parents; and that he doth so, see Rom. v. 14.

Hence I argue, –

Those who, by God’s appointment, and by virtue of the law of their creation, are, and must of necessity be, included in the covenant of their parents, have the same right with them unto the privileges of that covenant, no express exception being put in against them. This right it is in the power of none to deprive them of, unless they can change the law of their creation.

Thus it is with the children of believers with respect unto the covenant of their parents, whence alone they are said to be holy, 1 Cor. vii. 14.

Seventhly, Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1, – that is, of the covenant of God made with Abraham; and he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Rom. xv. 8. This covenant was, that he would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed.”

Now if this be not so under the new testament, then was not Christ a faithful messenger, nor did confirm the truth of God in his promises.

This argument alone will bear the weight of the whole cause against all objections; for, –

1. Children are still in the same covenant with their parents, or the truth of the promises of God to the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.

2. The right unto the covenant, and interest in its promises, wherever it be, gives right unto the administration of its initial seal, that is, to baptism, as Peter expressly declares, Acts ii. 38, 39. Wherefore, –

The right of the infant seed of believers unto baptism, as the initial seal of the covenant, stands on the foundation of the faithfulness of Christ as the messenger of the covenant, and minister of God for the confirmation of the truth of his promises.

In brief, a participation of the seal of the covenant is a spiritual blessing. This the seed of believers was once solemnly invested in by God himself. This privilege he hath nowhere revoked, though he hath changed the outward sign; nor hath he granted unto our children any privilege or mercy in lieu of it now under the gospel, when all grace and privilege are enlarged to the utmost. His covenant promises concerning them, which are multiplied, were confirmed by Christ as a true messenger and minister; he gives the grace of baptism unto many of them, especially those that die in their infancy, owns children to belong unto his kingdom, esteems them disciples, appoints households to be baptized without exception. And who shall now rise up, and withhold water from them?

This argument may be thus further cleared and improved: –

Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1, – that is, the covenant of God with Abraham, Gen. xvii. 7; for, –

1. That covenant was with and unto Christ mystical, Gal. iii. 16; and he was the messenger of no covenant but that which was made with himself and his members.

2. He was sent, or was God’s messenger, to perform and accomplish the covenant and oath made with Abraham, Luke i. 72, 73.

3. The end of his message and of his coming was, that those to whom he was sent might be “blessed with faithful Abraham,” or that “the blessing of Abraham,” promised in the covenant, “might come upon them,” Gal. iii. 9, 14.

To deny this, overthrows the whole relation between the old testament and the new, the veracity of God in his promises, and all the properties of the covenant of grace, mentioned 2 Sam. xxiii. 5.

It was not the covenant of works, neither originally nor essentially, nor the covenant in its legal administration; for he confirmed and sealed that covenant whereof he was the messenger, but these he abolished.

Let it be named what covenant he was the messenger of, if not of this. Occasional additions of temporal promises do not in the least alter the nature of the covenant.

Herein he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Rom. xv. 8; that is, undeniably, the covenant made with Abraham, enlarged and explained by following promises. This covenant was, that God would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed;” which God himself explains to be his infant seed, Gen. xvii. 12, – that is, the infant seed of every one of his posterity who should lay hold on and avouch that covenant as Abraham did, and not else. This the whole church did solemnly for themselves and their posterity; whereon the covenant was confirmed and sealed to them all, Exod. xxiv. 7, 8. And every one was bound to do the same in his own person; which if he did not, he was to be cut off from the congregation, whereby he forfeited all privileges unto himself and his seed.

The covenant, therefore, was not granted in its administrations unto the carnal seed of Abraham as such, but unto his covenanted seed, those who entered into it and professedly stood to its terms.

And the promises made unto the fathers were, that their infant seed, their buds and offspring, should have an equal share in the covenant with them, Isa. xxii. 24, xliv. 3, lxi. 9. “They are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them,” chap. lxv, 23. Not only themselves, who are the believing, professing seed of those who were blessed of the Lord, by a participation of the covenant, Gal. iii. 9, but their offspring also, their buds, their tender little ones, are in the same covenant with them.

To deny, therefore, that the children of believing, professing parents, who have avouched God’s covenant, as the church of Israel did, Exod. xxiv. 7, 8, have the same right and interest with their parents in the covenant, is plainly to deny the fidelity of Christ in the discharge of his office.

It may be it will be said, that although children have a right to the covenant, or do belong unto it, yet they have no right to the initial seal of it. This will not suffice; for, –

1. If they have any interest in it, it is either in its grace or in its administration. If they have the former, they have the latter also, as shall be proved at any time. If they have neither, they have no interest in it; – then the truth of the promises of God made unto the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.

2. That unto whom the covenant or promise doth belong, to them belongs the administration of the initial seal of it, is expressly declared by the apostle, Acts ii. 38, 39, be they who they will.

3. The truth of God’s promises is not confirmed if the sign and seal of them be denied; for that whereon they believed that God was a God unto their seed as well as unto themselves was this, that he granted the token of the covenant unto their seed as well as unto themselves. If this be taken away by Christ, their faith is overthrown, and the promise itself is not confirmed but weakened, as to the virtue it hath to beget faith and obedience.

Eighthly, Particular testimonies may be pleaded and vindicated, if need be, and the practice of the primitive church.1

(1) See also Dr Owen on the Hebrews, vol. i. Exercitation the sixth, and vol. ii. p. 256; in which place he gives further light into this truth of infant baptism.

[This note is appended by the editors of the folio edition of Owen’s Sermons and Tracts, published in 1721. The second passage referred to occurs in the exposition of chap. iv. ver. 9. – Ed.]

The Works of John Owen, Vol. 16, Banner of Truth 1991. pp 258-263. COPIED FROM CovenantofGrace.com

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Whenever one begins ‘reading up’ on a certain doctrine or a challenging issue, countless hours can go into endless reading.  If the case is particularly thorny, one can often end up even more confused (and frustrated) than ever before. It seems fair to say that the doctrine of baptism is probably one of thorniest issues in recent church history.

My effort here is to merely introduce readers to John Calvin (1509-1564) and his teaching on baptism. It would seem a misfortune if Protestants today attempt to learn about this doctrine all the while overlooking the work of theologians and teachers in our church’s history like Calvin.

Personally, I have found Calvin to be incomparably helpful in expounding biblical truth and clarifying difficult doctrines. Furthermore, his ability to engage polemical issues, take opponents objections in their full force, and then turn them around and dispatch them in a definitive manner, makes his writing seem unparalleled in some respects.

The following is a compilation of  Calvin quotations from his Institutes of the Christian Religion on the doctrine of baptism.  It begins with his explanation of the sacraments in general, moves to the doctrine of baptism itself, and finally ends with a defense of infant baptism. Without further introduction, here is Calvin:

The Sacraments

We have in the sacraments another aid to our faith related to the preaching of the gospel. It is very important that some definite doctrine concerning them be taught, that we many learn from it both the purpose for which they were instituted and their present use.

It is clear from the outset that the sacraments (and thus baptism) are about the gospel, and are as such to be an “aid to our faith.” For this reason, the sacraments were very important to Calvin, and their right use of tremendous importance.

First we must consider what a sacrament is. It seems to me that a simple and proper definition would be to say that it is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promise of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men. Here is another briefer definition: one may call it a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward him. (4.14.1)

So we see that there are two things here: First (and primarily), the sacrament is a sign and seal of God’s gracious promise of good will toward us in the Gospel. And secondarily, it is an attestation of our own commitment to God.

Word and Sign

Now, from the definition that I have set forth we understand that a sacrament is never without a preceding promise but is joined to it as a sort of appendix, with the purpose of confirming and sealing the promise itself, and of making it more evident to us and in a sense ratifying it. By this means God provides first for our ignorance and dullness, then for our weakness. Yet properly speaking, it is not so much needed to confirm his Sacred Word as to establish us in faith in it. For God’s truth is of itself firm and sure enough, and it cannot receive better confirmation from any other source than from itself. But as our faith is slight and feeble unless it be propped on all sides and sustained by every means, it trembles wavers, totters, and at last gives way. Here our merciful Lord, according to his infinite kindness, so tempers himself to our capacity that, since we are creatures wo always creep on the ground, cleave to the flesh, and, do not think about or even conceive of anything spiritual, he condescends to lead us to himself even by these earthly elements, and to set before us in the flesh a mirror of spiritual blessings. (4.14.3)

So, the sacraments come as a confirmation of the word of promise, further sealing it upon our consciences, and strengthening our otherwise always weak and trembling faith.  Once again, the sacraments are gospel, and are intended to help us in our neediness. God has purposed to condescend to our weakness in this way, and instituted this rite – even these sacramental signs. Because of this, we realize that God has considered us weak enough that he would not leave us with only his word, but would further confirm it by visible and tangible signs. That’s how weak we really are.

Naturally, then, we may expect our human pride to despise any notion of our dependency upon God’s provision. We might also expect our mortal enemy to defuse as much confusion and disruption into this ordinance as possible. If this is to be our lifeline, it stands to reason that the flesh oppose it and the enemy seek to over throw it.  And this can be seen in Church history:

What, therefore, was practiced under papal tyranny involved a monstrous profanation of the mysteries [sacraments]. For they thought it enough if the priest mumbled the formula of consecration while the people looked on bewildered and without comprehension. Indeed, they deliberately saw to it that, from this, nothing of the doctrine should penetrate to the people; for they spoke everything in Latin among unlearned men. Afterward, superstition came to the point that they believed consecration duly performed only in a hoarse whisper which few could hear.

Consequently, (and contrary to the Roman practice), “the sacrament requires preaching to beget faith.”

Indeed, it was known even from the beginning of the world that whenever God gave a sign to the holy patriarchs it was inseparably linked to doctrine, without which our senses would have been stunned in looking at the bare sign. Accordingly, when we hear the sacramental word mentioned, let us understand the promise, proclaimed in a clear voice by the minster, to lead the people by the hand wherever the sign tends and directs us. (4.14.4)

Thus, although we know and believe that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom 10.17), and as Luther said, the ears are the organ of the Christian, we still see that God has condescended to give us just these view visible signs. He hasn’t given us very many images, but these are two of them: Baptism, and The Supper.

And as Calvin never seemed to tire from citing the Church fathers (particularly Augustine) to help ground his teaching within the tradition of the church, he does so here:

Augustine calls a sacrament “a visible word” for the reason that it represents God’s promises as painted in a picture and sets them before our sign, portrayed graphically and in the manner of images. (4.14.6)

Received by Faith

Here Calvin moves onto discussing objections regarding those who partake of the sacramental signs and yet are impious and still under God’s wrath.

They are not reasoning closely enough when they argue that the sacraments are not testimonies of God’s grace because they are also offered to the wicked, who, however, do not find God more favorable but rather incur a heavier condemnation.  For by the same argument, because the gospel is heard but rejected by many, and because Christ was seen and recognized by many but very few of them accepted him, neither gospel nor Christ would be a testimony of God’s grace.

A similar thing can be seen in official documents. For most of the people ridicule and scorn that authentic seal, although they know that it was put forth by the prince to attest his will. Some treat it with indifference as not applying to them; others even curse it. Thus it can apply equally to both…

It is therefore certain that the Lord offers us mercy and the pledge of his grace both in his Sacred Word and in his sacraments. But it is understood only by those who take Word and sacraments with sure faith, just as Christ is offered and held forth by the Father to all unto salvation, yet not all acknowledge and receive him. In one place, Augustine, meaning to convey this, said that the efficacy of the Word is brought to light in the sacrament, not because it is spoken, but because it is believed. (4.14.7)

Thus, the sacraments actually hold forth the grace of God in Christ before the hearts of men. This is the free offer of the gospel, proclaimed in the Word, and attested and confirmed in the sacrament. This offer comes to us by God, well-intentioned and sincere.

And yet while some held too low a view of the sacraments (Zwinglian memorialists), others had too high a view (Lutherans, and namely Rome).

On the contrary, we must be reminded that, as these men weaken the force of the sacraments and completely overthrow their use, so, on the opposite side, there are those who attach to the sacraments some sort of secret powers with which one nowhere reads that God has endowed them. By this error the simple and unskilled are dangerously deceived, while they are both taught to seek God’s gifts where they cannot be found, and are gradually drawn away from God to embrace mere vanity rather than his truth. The schools of the Sophists have taught with remarkable agreement that the sacraments of the new law (those now used in the Christian church) justify and confer grace, provided we do not set up a barrier of mortal sin. How deadly and pestilential this notion is cannot be expressed–and the more so because for many centuries it has been a current claim in a good part of the world, to the great loss of the church. Of a certainty it is diabolical. For in promising a righteousness apart from faith, it hurls souls headlong to destruction. Secondly, because it draws the cause of righteousness from the sacraments, it binds men’s pitiable minds (of themselves more than enough inclined to earth) in this superstition, so that they repose in the appearance of a physical thing rather than in God himself.

But what is a sacrament received apart from faith but the most certain ruin of the church? For nothing ought to be expected from it apart from the promise but the promise no less threatens wrath to unbelievers than offers grace to believers. Hence, any man is deceived who thinks anythings more is conferred upon him thorough the sacraments than what is offered by God’s Word and received by him in truth faith.

From this something else follows: assurance of salvation does not depend upon participation in the sacrament, as if justification consisted in it. For we know that justification is lodged in Christ alone, and that it is communicated to us no less by the preaching of the gospel than by the seal of the sacrament, and without the latter can stand unimpaired. (4.14.14)

Thus, the sacraments (just like the word) brings the gospel to us, but is only effectual by faith. It must be mixed with faith. Apart from faith in Christ (the object of our faith) the sacraments (just like the word) only brings judgement to us. And poor souls are deluded who believe they can receive anything from God apart from faith in Christ. Separated from faith in Christ, the sacraments only condemn unbelievers.

The Sign Must be Distinguished from the Thing Signified

Hence that distinction (if it be duly understood), often noted by the same Augustine, between a sacrament and the matter of the sacrament. […]

He speaks of their separation when he writes, “in the elect alone the sacraments effect what they represent.” Again, when he writes thus of the Jews: “Although the sacraments were common to all, grace was not common–which is the power of the sacraments. So also the laver of regeneration is now common to all; but grace itself, by which the members of Christ are regenerated with their Head, is not common to all.” (4.14.15)

… by not lifting our minds beyond the visible sign, to transfer to it the credit for those benefits which are conferred upon us by Christ alone. And they are conferred through the Holy Spirit, who makes us partakers in Christ; conferred, indeed, with the help of outward signs, if they allure us to Christ; but when they are twisted in another direction, their whole worth is shamefully destroyed. (4.14.16)

Therefore, let it be regarded as a settled principle that the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace. But they avail and profit nothing unless received in faith. As with wine or oil or some other liquid, no matter how much you pour out, it will flow away and disappear unless the mouth of the vessel to receive it is open; moreover, the vessel will be splashed over on the outside, but will still remain void and empty. (4.14.17)

The Similarity between the Sacraments in the New Testament and the Old Testament

When these things are individually pointed explained, they will become much clearer.

For the Jews, circumcision was the symbol by which they were admonished that whatever comes forth from man’s seed, that is, the whole nature of mankind, is corrupt and needs pruning. Moreover, circumcision was a token and reminder to confirm them in the promise given to Abraham of the blessed seed in which all nations of the earth were to be blessed, from whom they were also to await their own blessing. […]

Accordingly, circumcision was the same thing to them as in Paul’s teaching it was to Abraham, namely, a sign of the righteousness of faith; that is, a seal by which they are more certainly assured that their faith, with which they awaited that seed, is accounted to them as righteousness by God. But elsewhere at a more appropriate occasion we shall pursue a fuller comparison of circumcision and baptism.

Baptisms and purification disclose to them their own uncleanness, foulness, and pollution, with which they were defiled in their own nature; but these rites promised another cleansing by which all their filth would be removed and washed away. And this cleansing was Christ. Washed by his blood, we bring his purity before God’s sight to cover all our defilements. (4.14.21)

So we see that just as the Israelites were to look beyond the sign of circumcision to the things signified (even Christ who was to be cut off for them) so too our sacraments today are the same.  Theirs looked forward in anticipation to the baptism of Christ in his death, and ours look back at it already accomplished.

As for our sacraments, the more fully Christ has been revealed to men, the more clearly do the sacraments present him to us from the time when he was truly revealed by the Father as he had been promised. For baptism attest to us that we have been cleansed and washed; the Eucharistic Supper, that we have been redeemed. In water, washing is represented; in blood, satisfaction. These two are found in Christ “… who” as John says, “came in water and blood” [1 John 5:6]; that is, to wash and to redeem. The Spirit of God is also witness of this. Indeed, “there are three witnesses in one: the water, the blood, and the Spirit” [5:8].

In the water and the blood we have testimony of cleansing and redemption. But the Spirit, the primary witness, makes us certain of such testimony. This lofty mystery has been admirably shown us in the cross of Christ, when water and blood flowed from his sacred side [John 19:34]. For this reason, Augustine has called it the wellspring of our sacraments. (4.14.22)

And now Calvin gets into the heart of the issue: Just what is the similarity between the Old and New Covenant? Where do we draw the line between continuity and discontinuity?

One thing becomes clear: with Abraham and all his children after him, although the sign of the promise differed for them (circumcision / baptism, passover feast / Lord’s Table), the thing signified always remained the same — namely the person of Christ and his work as part of the Covenant of Grace.

But we must utterly reject that Scholastic dogma (to touch on it also in passing) which notes such a great difference between the sacraments of the old and new law, as if the former only foreshadowed God’s grace, but the later give it as a present reality. Indeed, the apostle speaks just as clearly concerning the former as the latter when he teaches that the fathers ate the same spiritual food as we, and explains that food as Christ [1 Cor. 10:3]. Who dared treat as an empty sign that which revealed the true communion of Christ to the Jews? […]

Now, that the comparison should be appropriate, it was needful for him to show that there is no inequality between us and them in those boons in which he forbade us to boast falsely. He therefore first makes them equal to us in sacraments. And he leaves us no shred of privilege which could make souls hope to go unpunished. Nor is it lawful for us to attribute more to our baptism than he elsewhere attributes to circumcision when he calls it the seal of the righteousness of faith [Rom. 4:21]. Therefore, whatever is shown us today in the sacraments, the Jews of old received in their own–that is, Christ with his spiritual riches. They felt the same power in their sacraments as do we in ours; these were seals of divine good will toward them, looking to eternal salvation. If our opponents had been skilled interpreters of The Letter to the Hebrews, they would not have been thus deceived. (4.14.23)

Here we see Calvin touching on issues that haven’t seemed to go away in our day either. The question boeing: How much, then, is our baptism likened unto their circumcision?

But by way of objection they will quote what they read concerning “circumcision of the letter” in Paul [Rom. 2:29], that it has no place with God, confers nothing, and is empty. For such statements seem to press it down far beneath our baptism. Not at all! The very same thing could justly be said of baptism. But this is even said, and first by Paul himself, when he is showing that God cares nothing about the outward washing with which we are initiated into religion, unless the heart also be inwardly cleansed and persevere in purity to the end. Then it is said by Peter when he bears witness that the truth of baptism rests not in outward washing but in the testimony of a clear conscience [1 Pet. 3:21].

But in another place (they will say) Paul also seems completely to despise the circumcision made with hands when he compares it with Christ’s circumcision [Col. 2:11-12]. I reply: in this passage its dignity is not in any way reduced. There Paul is disputing against those who require it as necessary although it has already been abolished. He therefore admonishes believers to forsake the old shadows and stand fast in the truth. These teachers (he says) urge you to have your bodies circumcised. Yet you have been spiritually circumcised both in soul and body. You therefore have a revelation of the reality, which is far better than the shadow. But someone could have objected, on the other hand, that men ought not to despise the figure because they had the thing itself, inasmuch as among the patriarchs too there was that putting off of the old man, of which Paul is there speaking; yet outward circumcision was not superfluous for them. Paul forestalls this objection when he immediately adds that the Colossians had been buried with Christ through baptism [Col. 2:12]. By this he means that baptism is today for Christians what circumcision was for the ancients, and that therefore circumcision cannot be enjoined upon Christians without injustice to baptism. (4.14.24)

This then represents the clear continuity of substance between the old and new sacraments, not withstanding their differences in form. Although the signs differs, the thing signified is the same: Christ and all his benefits to be apprehended and embraced by faith alone.

This concludes part 1 on Calvin’s discussion on the sacraments in general. The next continues with Calvin’s discussion on the doctrine of baptism itself.

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Over the last week I’ve been digging in more deeply to our understanding of baptism, particularly in light of covenant theology.  However, one of the issues that comes up is that of baptismal regeneration.  Of course, it is generally those who hold to a ‘higher’ (or more potent) view of the sacrament who are labeled with the term.  Lately (in Reformed circles) this issue has come up in response to the Federal Vision movement.  Some critics of the movement claim its proponents hold to some form of baptismal regeneration. Of course, this is generally denied.

Today, I was reading through Josh Moon’s defense of TE Lawrence (Siouxland Presbytery PCA). And in it I found much to think about. Moon argues that Lawrence’s position on baptism (and the benefits it confers) is well within the bounds of our Reformed tradition.  To support this claim he points to Calvin, Ursinus, Owen, Bavinck, Hodge and others. All these great men are then cited as affirming the basic idea that all who are baptized into Christ are indeed “Christians” — and at least should be considered as such by the Church. Now, does that sound all that controversial? Well, I suppose it depends on what one means by  “Christian.”

However, as Moon moved to the ‘Testimony of Scripture’ I think I would have some questions. He writes:

We are told by the complainants that you cannot attribute forgiveness of sins to the potential reprobate. But that is clearly wrong. The unmerciful servant, Jesus says, was “forgiven his debt.” He moved from a state of condemnation to true and real forgiveness. This was no pretended forgiveness. Yet the servant was finally apostate. He failed to live up to the grace shown to him, and so the privilege of that forgiveness was revoked. And that, Jesus says, is how my father will treat each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. This, remember, is addressed to Peter and Christ’s own disciples. It is a parable about forgiveness and apostasy, and gives the complainants no ground at all for their complaint.

Moon claims that one can indeed have “real forgiveness” and yet, in the end, be damned. He says that this parable (found in the Gospel of Matthew ch 18:21-35) actually teaches about apostasy. My question is whether our Reformed theologians have understood this passage to be teaching what Moon believes it is.

On this passage (Mat 18) Calvin comments:

[I]t is foolish to inquire how God punishes (“how it is possible for God to punish”) those sins which he has already forgiven; for the simple meaning is this: though he offers mercy to all, yet severe creditors, from whom no forgiveness can be obtained, are unworthy of enjoying it.

So it seems Calvin wouldn’t go as far as Moon would in interpreting this parable.

Francis Turretin writes:

Although remission of sins ought to be applied often to daily sins, yet falsely would anyone thence gather that sins once discharged revive and return again by subsequent sins (as some of the Romanists hold), since it is a unchangeable gift of God. Nor does the parable of that ungrateful servant (…[Mt. 18]) prove this. It pertains to nothing else than to show that the remission of sins proposed conditionally does not belong to him in whom the condition is lacking. The design of the parable (which is to be regarded here simply) is no other than to teach that the mercy of God is not exercised towards the unmerciful; nor are sins pardoned by God, except to those who forgive the offenses of others. (Inst. 2.687)

Furthermore, one can read Matthew Henry on this passage who states:

We are not to suppose that God actually forgives men, and afterwards reckons their guilt to them to condemn them; but this latter part of the parable shows the false conclusions many draw as to their sins being pardoned, though their after-conduct shows that they never entered into the spirit, or experienced the sanctifying grace of the gospel.

All of these men interpret this passage in a particular way — and it appears — in a way at variances with Moon. Now, a little later Moon further writes:

We are told that the language of union with Christ cannot be attributed in any sense to the baptized indiscriminately – that it cannot be true for the reprobate. Yet John 15 and Romans 11 both use the language of being “in Christ”, which is union with Christ. And they use that language in speaking of those who might finally be (or have been) cut off. In both cases it is covenantal union in Christ that is then broken. And in both cases the possibility and the reality exist of apostasy. Paul in Romans 11 even speaks of those branches who are being “nourished by the root” who are then cut off.

But on these passages as well, I am curious as to whether our Reformed divines would have agreed with his interpretation. On Romans 11 Calvin writes:

Let us remember that in this comparison man is not compared with man, but nation with nation. (v. 16)

(v. 20: Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.) But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer, — that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith. And we must especially notice and remember what I have before said, — that Paul’s address is not so much to individuals as to the whole body of the Gentiles, among whom there might have been many, who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith. On account of these Paul threatens the Gentiles, not without reason, with excision…

And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. (v. 21)

But as he speaks not of the elect individually, but of the whole body, a condition is added, If they continued in his kindness I indeed allow, that as soon as any one abuses God’s goodness, he deserves to be deprived of the offered favor; but it would be improper to say of any one of the godly particularly, that God had mercy on him, when he chose him, provided he would continue in his mercy; for the perseverance of faith, which completes in us the effect of God’s grace, flows from election itself.

Otherwise thou also shalt be cut off, etc. We now understand in what sense Paul threatens them with excision, whom he has already allowed to have been grafted into the hope of life through God’s election. For, first, though this cannot happen to the elect, they have yet need of such warning, in order to subdue the pride of the flesh; which being really opposed to their salvation, ought justly to be terrified with the dread of perdition. As far then as Christians are illuminated by faith, they hear, for their assurance, that the calling of God is without repentance; but as far as they carry about them the flesh, which wantonly resists the grace of God, they are taught humility by this warning, “Take heed lest thou be cut off.” Secondly, we must bear in mind the solution which I have before mentioned, — that Paul speaks not here of the special election of individuals, but sets the Gentiles and Jews in opposition the one to the other; and that therefore the elect are not so much addressed in these words, as those who falsely gloried that they had obtained the place of the Jews: nay, he speaks to the Gentiles generally, and addresses the whole body in common, among whom there were many who were faithful, and those who were members of Christ in name only.

But if it be asked respecting individuals, “How any one could be cut off from the grafting, and how, after excision, he could be grafted again,” — bear in mind, that there are three modes of insition, and two modes of excision. For instance, the children of the faithful are ingrafted, to whom the promise belongs according to the covenant made with the fathers; ingrafted are also they who indeed receive the seed of the gospel, but it strikes no root, or it is choked before it brings any fruit; and thirdly, the elect are ingrafted, who are illuminated unto eternal life according to the immutable purpose of God. The first are cut off, when they refuse the promise given to their fathers, or do not receive it on account of their ingratitude; the second are cut off, when the seed is withered and destroyed; and as the danger of this impends over all, with regard to their own nature, it must be allowed that this warning which Paul gives belongs in a certain way to the faithful, lest they indulge themselves in the sloth of the flesh. But with regard to the present passage, it is enough for us to know, that the vengeance which God had executed on the Jews, is pronounced on the Gentiles, in case they become like them. (v. 21)

It seems abundantly clear that Calvin is not applying this passage to the elect in the same way as Moon, but deliberately makes a distinction: Some are in the covenant in a way different than others. Some can’t be ‘cutoff’.

On John 15 Calvin similarly won’t go where Moon goes:

(v. 6) Not that it ever happens that any one of the elect is dried up, but because there are many hypocrites who, in outward appearance, flourish and are green for a time, but who afterwards, when they ought to yield fruit, show the very opposite of that which the Lord expects and demands from his people.

To be fair, I am not saying that these interpretations are necessarily diametrically opposed or incompatible with each other (although maybe they are). However, there might be overlap. But, if so, it’s not clear. It seems there is at least a substantial differences between the way Calvin (and others) interpret these texts and how Moon and Lawrence do.

Now, I’ve met Pastor Moon, and have no ill feelings toward him at all. In fact, this December, I heard him preach on the ‘Preservation of the Saints’ which I thought was very good and which blessed me tremendously. However, I’m writing this because I find this language concerning, and frankly, contrary to what I have heretofore held to be correct.

Is there such a thing as ‘temporary forgiveness’? And if there is, is it based on ‘temporal justification’?  Is there any forgiveness without justification? Any forgiveness without atonement? Any atonement without the blood of Christ? And is there any blood of Christ spent on damned reprobates? May it never be.

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