Calvin explains the baptism of the Day of Pentecost...

(Actually posted by Tim.)

There has been an extended debate over the nature of the Sacrament of Baptism that's gone on in the comments section of this blog this past week. For Pentecost Sunday, then, here's the command to be baptized that the Apostle Peter gave those gathered under his preaching on that first day of Pentecost, followed by Calvin's comment on that baptism...

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:37-39)

"Each of you be baptized...": Although in the text and order of the words, baptism doth here go before remission of sins, yet doth it follow it in order, because it is nothing else but a sealing of those good things which we have by Christ that they may be established in our consciences... (Calvin's commentary)

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And he goes on to say:

"Furthermore, we must not fetch the definition of baptism from this place, because Peter doth only touch a part thereof. Our old man is crucified by baptism, as Paul teacheth, that we may rise unto newness of life, (Romans 6:4, 6) And, again, we put on Christ himself, (1 Corinthians 12) and the Scripture teacheth every where, that it is also a sign and token of repentance, (Galatians 3:27.) But because Peter doth not intreat in this place openly of the whole nature of baptism, but speaking of the forgiveness of sins, doth, by the way, declare that the confirmation thereof is in baptism, there doth no inconvenience follow, if ye do omit the other part."

In other words, if you want to know the real force and significance of baptism in biblical Christianity (and hence, the Reformed Faith), this is not exactly the best place to look.

But may we all worship our God and Savior today for the great wonder he has done in bringing his Church to maturity of faith today, Pentecost. Let us celebrate this great work with glad hearts.

One more comment from Calvin (this was too good to let go without posting):

"Although baptism be no vain figure, but a true and effectual testimony; notwithstanding, lest any man attribute that unto the element of water which is there offered, the name of Christ is plainly expressed, to the end we may know that it shall be a profitable sign for us then, if we seek the force and effect thereof in Christ, and know that we are, therefore, washed in baptism, because the blood of Christ is our washing; and we do also hereby gather, that Christ is the mark and end whereunto baptism directeth us; wherefore, every one profiteth so much in baptism as he learneth to look unto Christ."

Amen.

>In other words, if you want to know the real force and significance of baptism in biblical Christianity (and hence, the Reformed Faith), this is not exactly the best place to look.

Not for the whole doctrine of baptism, no; but if you want to know whether baptism precedes and incubates, or follows, forgiveness of sins, this is the place for Calvin’s clear statement on that matter. As he says, explicitly:

"Although in the text and order of the words, baptism doth here go before remission of sins, yet doth it follow it in order, because it is nothing else but a sealing of those good things which we have by Christ that they may be established in our consciences..." (Calvin)

This is the biblical doctrine of baptism and therefore the emphasis Protestant and reformed shepherds should have. And lest anyone be misled concerning Calvin's view of the connection between faith and baptism, here are a few more comments he makes concerning the Apostle Peter's command that the new believers be baptized found at the end of Acts 2:

"...baptism is the seal whereby he doth confirm unto us this benefit, and so, consequently, the earnest and pledge of our adoption, it is worthily said to be given us for the remission of sins. For because we receive Christ’s gifts by faith, and baptism is a help to confirm and increase our faith, remission of sins, which is an effect of faith, is annexed unto it as unto the inferior mean."

Note well that baptism is a "seal" that "confirms" faith; it is a "help" that “confirms” and "increases" our faith; it is “nothing else but a sealing of those good things which we have by Christ.”

Thus it comes after, not before, forgiveness.

>Thus it comes after, not before, forgiveness.

How does this then relate to infant baptism?

We might go to Calvin on 1 Peter 3:21, where all sacramentalists rush headlong, to see Calvin clearly buttressing his comments from Acts. Here Calvin shows again that baptism is not inefficacious (as the Westminster Standards affirm), and that it is secondary to the work of the Spirit, that the critical need is to look to Christ, not the font:

"Moreover, when we speak of sacraments, two things are to be considered, the sign and the thing itself. In baptism the sign is water, but the thing is the washing of the soul by the blood of Christ and the mortifying of the flesh. The institution of Christ includes these two things. Now that the sign appears often inefficacious and fruitless, this happens through the abuse of men, which does not take away the nature of the sacrament. Let us then learn not to tear away the thing signified from the sign. We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

What then ought we to do? Not to separate what has been joined together by the Lord. We ought to acknowledge in baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renovation, and yet so as to leave to Christ his own honor, and also to the Holy Spirit; so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign. Doubtless when Peter, having mentioned baptism, immediately made this exception, that it is not the putting off of the filth of the flesh, he sufficiently shewed that baptism to some is only the outward act, and that the outward sign of itself avails nothing.

But the answer of a good conscience The word question, or questioning, is to be taken here for “answer,” or testimony. Now Peter briefly defines the efficacy and use of baptism, when he calls attention to conscience, and expressly requires that confidence which can sustain the sight of God and can stand before his tribunal. For in these words he teaches us that baptism in its main part is spiritual, and then that it includes the remission of sins and renovation of the old man; for how can there be a good and pure conscience until our old man is reformed, and we be renewed in the righteousness of God? and how can we answer before God, unless we rely on and are sustained by a gratuitous pardon of our sins? In short, Peter intended to set forth the effect of baptism, that no one might glory in a naked and dead sign, as hypocrites are wont to do.

But we must notice what follows, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ By these words he teaches us that we are not to cleave to the element of water, and that what is thereby typified flows from Christ alone, and is to be sought from him. Moreover, by referring to the resurrection, he has regard to the doctrine which he had taught before, that Christ was vivified by the Spirit; for the resurrection was victory over death and the completion of our salvation. We hence learn that the death of Christ is not excluded, but is included in his resurrection. We then cannot otherwise derive benefit from baptism, than by having all our thoughts fixed on the death and the resurrection of Christ."

>>Thus it comes after, not before, forgiveness.

>How does this then relate to infant baptism?

By:

"The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered" (WCF 28.6)

and

really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto (WCF 28.6)

The grace of God belongs to His elect, who are known by their faith and repentance. (cf. WCF 11.1; 11.3)

The WCF makes sense to me on baptism, I was just trying to figure out how to integrate the WCF view with the idea that forgiveness always precedes baptism. I must confess that I haven't squared the two notions.

Baptism does not always come after forgiveness. But the efficacy of baptism does. That is what the confession, and Calvin, say.

With all due respect, Tim, it sounds as though you are trying to make Calvin into something that he is not. You sound as if you are trying to make him say that baptism is *SOLELY* a outward sign that has no connection at all to the thing signified except to remind us of it and use some kind of object lesson to confirm it to us. As Fred Greco has shown from Calvin's comments on Peter's epistle, that is clearly not the case. Calvin saw the sign and the thing signified together (i.e., sacramental union), and that the sign is one instrument whereby God himself gives to us the the thing signified--but that thing signified doesn't come by any force in the outward sign itself, but by the power of God, and it comes when we look to Christ in faith for what he has to offer us in the sacrament. (BTW, that goes for both sacraments.)

As for baptism, i don't deny that, in the case of those adult converts, baptism did follow forgiveness of sins, but as David has pointed out, often times it does not. But even in those cases, baptism is not without effect until the time of some point of crisis conversion. God's grace is still at work in the lives of those baptized, and his promises and all the blessings he has to offer are therein offered to all to whom the sacrament is administered. Yet, they will not be truly effectual *UNTO SALVATION* except through faith, but even the grace of faith can be granted by the Holy Spirit's working in and through baptism, as Cornelius Burgess (a delegate to the Westminster Assembly) taught in his work on the baptismal regeneration of elect infants.

I point you to the other comments i posed from Calvin's commentary on the very same passage, where Calvin says that our old man is crucified in baptism, as per Romans 6, and that in baptism we are clothed in Christ himself, as per 1 Corinthians 12. I may be crazy here, but it sounds to me that Calvin is saying much more than simply that baptism confirms and strengthens faith as a sign to remind our consciences. He certainly says that, and it does that, for sure, but that's not all it does. Calvin affirms that the sacraments can be used by God as instruments and conduits of grace. But just as a pipe is nothing without being connected to a water source, and just as wiring is nothing without being connected to an electrical source, so the sacramental sign is nothing without God using to effectually apply the thing signified. This causes us to look to God, and not to the outward sign, but it also causes us to think highly of the importance of means in God's plan and to respect the sacraments.

I'm not Tim, but I believe I know the main thrust of his point (because it is what I emphasize as well), and that is that baptism is a confirming and strengthening ordinance, not a regenerating and vivifying ordinance.

The sacraments only have any power because of the Word, and the Word itself works by faith. So the chronological order of events means nothing in God's economy - all is subject to His purpose and means. That is why Calvin constantly warns against confusing the thing signified (forgiveness, repentance, regeneration) and the sign (baptism).

I believe that is all Tim is saying, against those who would make baptism into a regenerative ordinance.

Yes, Fred, and it's occurred to me that those who haven't understood this can't understand it because they won't understand it.

>The sacraments only have any power because of the Word, and the Word itself works by faith.

I thought Calvin taught that it was the Holy Spirit that gave power to the sacraments.

>So the chronological order of events means nothing in God's economy - all is subject to His purpose and means.

That's what I had always thought. That is why the whole chronological discussion seemed odd to me.

Tim and Fred, if you are accusing me of being obstinate, i am not. I understand both your point; i just don't agree with it. I fully affirm *DISTINGUISHING* the sign and the thing signified; it is the apparent *SEPARATION* that i have a problem with. The sign and the thing signified are absolutely distinct, but they can never be separated, even if the thing signified isn't effectual in every case, because of a lack of faith.

Furthermore, even the WCF is clear that the thing signified is (or at least can be) conferred *THROUGH THE SACRAMENTAL ACTION* according to God's purpose and timing. And what is the thing signified by baptism? Well, according to the WCF, at least part of what it signifies (and hence, what the sacrament confers when God desires it to do so) is regeneration. This is precisely what Cornelius Burgess taught in his work on the baptismal regeneration of infants. It is very difficult to argue, "This is what the WCF teaches," when one of the very delegates, especially one who was greatly instrumental and highly influential in the crafting of the section on the sacraments, argues that baptism *IS* a regenerating ordinance in the case of at least some of those to whom it is administered. Are you saying that Burgess, who crafted the very language used there in the chapters on the sacraments, is wrong in what the Confession teaches? It is one thing to argue that no form of baptism as an instrument of regeneration is what *SCRIPTURE* teaches (it's fine if you disagree and take an exception to the Confession); it's another thing to say that the *CONFESSION* doesn't teach it when one of the guys who *WROTE* the Confession says that's precisely what he means by that language.

Pastor Austin, it is as simple as this:

Those who partake of the font but not the Word are all lost.

Those who partake of the Word, and not the font (e.g. the thief on the cross) are all saved.

The places where Calvin clearly states that the purpose of baptism is to point us to have faith in Christ and is not regenerative are so ubiqituous that a blog is inefficient to repeat them all. (I have included several below).

The Standards are also clear (along with all of Reformed theology) that the Spirit works by His Word. Even in the extreme and rare instances such as John the Baptist, there is a mysterious application of the Word and faith. It is a bedrock of Reformed (Biblical) theology that you cannot separate the work of the Spirit and the Word.

Here Calvin speaks:

"We are not here discussing whether a human ministry is necessary for the sowing of God’s Word, from which faith may be conceived. This we shall discuss in another place. But we say that the Word itself, however it be imparted to us, is like a mirror in which faith may contemplate God. Whether, therefore, God makes use of man’s help in this or works by his own power alone, he always represents himself through his Word to those whom he wills to draw to himself." Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, reprinted 1977), III.2.6, p. 549

" But the sacraments properly fulfill their office only when the Spirit, that inward teacher, comes to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved and our souls opened for the sacraments to enter in. If the Spirit be lacking, the sacraments can accomplish nothing more in our minds than the splendor of the sun shining upon blind eyes, or a voice sounding in deaf ears. Therefore, I make such a division between Spirit and sacraments that the power to act rests with the former, and the ministry alone is left to the latter—a ministry empty and trifling, apart from the action of the Spirit, but charged with great effect when the Spirit works within and manifests his power." Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 2, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, reprinted 1977), IV.14.9, p. 1284.

"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. Would that we had not had so much experience of these two things — so far are they from needing an extended proof! 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 anything more is conferred upon him through the sacraments than what is offered by God’s Word and received by him in true 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. Augustine’s statement is just as true: there can be invisible sanctification without a visible sign, and on the other hand a visible sign without true sanctification. For men (as he also writes elsewhere) sometimes put on Christ to the point of receiving the sacrament, sometimes to the sanctification of life. And the first condition can be common to both good and evil men; but the latter is confined to the good and pious alone." Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 2, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, reprinted 1977), IV.14.14, pp. 1289-1290.

"If this is rather obscure because of its brevity, I shall explain it at greater length. I say that Christ is the matter or (if you prefer) the substance of all the sacraments; for in him they have all their firmness, and they do not promise anything apart from him. The less tolerable, then, is the error of Peter Lombard, who learnedly makes them the causes of righteousness and salvation, of which they are but parts. Accordingly, bidding farewell to all causes which man’s ingenuity fashions for itself, we ought to hold to this single cause. Therefore, the sacraments have effectiveness among us in proportion as we are helped by their ministry sometimes to foster, confirm, and increase the true knowledge of Christ in ourselves; at other times, to possess him more fully and enjoy his riches. But that happens when we receive in true faith what is offered there." Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 2, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, reprinted 1977), IV.14.16, p. 1291.

"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. Moreover, we must beware lest we be led into a similar error through what was written a little too extravagantly by the ancients to enhance the dignity of the sacraments. That is, to think that a hidden power is joined and fastened to the sacraments by which they of themselves confer the graces of the Holy Spirit upon us, as wine is given in a cup; while the only function divinely imparted to them is to attest and ratify for us God’s good will toward us. And they are of no further benefit unless the Holy Spirit accompanies them. For he it is who opens our minds and hearts and makes us receptive to this testimony. In this also, varied and distinct graces of God brightly appear. For the sacraments (as we have suggested above) are for us the same thing from God, as messengers of glad tidings or guarantees of the ratification of covenants are from men. They do not bestow any grace of themselves, but announce and tell us, and (as they are guarantees and tokens) ratify among us, those things given us by divine bounty. The Holy Spirit (whom the sacraments do not bring indiscriminately to all men but whom the Lord exclusively bestows on his own people) is he who brings the graces of God with him, gives a place for the sacraments among us, and makes them bear fruit." Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 2, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, reprinted 1977), IV.14.17, pp. 1292

"For Paul did not mean to signify that our cleansing and salvation are accomplished by water, or that water contains in itself the power to cleanse, regenerate, and renew; nor that here is the cause of salvation, but only that in this sacrament are received the knowledge and certainty of such gifts. This the words themselves explain clearly enough. For Paul joins together the Word of life and the baptism of water, as if he had said: “Through the gospel a message of our cleansing and sanctification is brought to us; through such baptism the message is sealed.” And Peter immediately adds that this baptism is not a removal of filth from the flesh but a good conscience before God [1 Peter 3:21], which is from faith, indeed, baptism promises us no other purification than through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood, which is represented by means of water from the resemblance to cleansing and washing. Who, therefore, may say that we are cleansed by this water which attests with certainty that Christ’s blood is our true and only laver? Thus, the surest argument to refute the self-deception of those who attribute everything to the power of the water can be sought in the meaning of baptism itself, which draws us away, not only from the visible element which meets our eyes, but from all other means, that it may fasten our minds upon Christ alone." Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 2, ed. John T. McNeill and trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, reprinted 1977), IV.15.2, pp. 1304-1305.

"Meanwhile, he shews that, whatever God offers us in the Sacraments, depends on the secret operation of His Spirit. Circumcision was then the Sacrament of repentance and renewal, as Baptism is now to us; but “the letter,” as Paul calls it, (Romans 2:27,) was useless in itself, as also now many are baptized to no profit. So far, then, is God from resigning the grace of His Spirit to the Sacraments, that all their efficacy and utility is lodged in the Spirit alone." Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. III, trans. Charles William Bingham (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprinted 1979), p. 285.

And for the record, I agree completely with Tim. I have seen a lifetime full of this over the last few years.

>It is a bedrock of Reformed (Biblical) theology that you cannot separate the work of the Spirit and the Word.

So is it a bedrock of Reformed theology that those incapable of an understanding of the Word cannot experience the work of the Spirit, be it either through age or incapacity?

Brothers - I have a question that is semi ignorant and am truly seeking resolution to...

Is there a problem with holding that during the New Covenant we as Christian parents may expect that our children receive faith at the time of their water baptism? (Only parents that have faith and have been baptized themselves)

Would this be a distinction between the old and new covenants, that 1) we might expect our children to believe (compared to in the O.T. when it was NOT usually the case) and 2) that for children in Christian homes that this faith is normally given at the time of their baptism?

I'm asking this question not because I believe in baptismal regeneration -- I STRONGLY OPPOSE IT -- or that baptism is necessary for salvation (it clearly isn't), but because, as a parent, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to discern exactly when my children receive the gift of faith since they are hearing the gospel all the time and show signs of life little by little. Is it contrary to scripture we might expect faith to be imparted and righteousness to be imputed at the time of baptism?

I wonder if we're being so careful to avoid teaching baptismal regeneration that we're denying parents the comfort of the promise and are instead encouraging them to treat their children like unbelievers, when in reality most of them aren't. The answer to the dilemma doesn't appear to be to treat them as unbelievers, but to call them to faith and obedience just as we would any other member of the church, expecting that they obey.

Do we need to expect them to have a conversion experience? My kids just believe... you know?

I love you guys - thanks for all the helpful writing you do here.

Pastor Greco,

I'm not sure what it is you have seen over the past few years, but it has clearly left you scarred. I will leave off from the discussion, because it is becoming unprofitable and the tone is ratcheting up to a point i believe unhelpful.

Let me say this, though, as i leave. I am unwilling (and, indeed, due to my conscience, unable) to retract anything i have previously spoken in this regard. You have not shown me where i am wrong or what expression of mine seems wrong to you. You have simply contradicted me in general, as though i were simply on the wrong track. Yet, your quotations of Calvin do not answer for you, since i find myself in wholehearted agreement with everything he said there in your quotes (having read them many, many times before).

For some reason (still unclear), you think i'm going off the other end of making the sacraments effectual in themselves. I have stated repeatedly that i do not hold that view. But you seem, though, unwilling to say with Calvin and the WCF that *WHEN THE SPIRIT WORKS* (and only then) the ministry of the sacrament to confer what it signifies is effectual. That is all i am saying. But i also see in you a tendency to go the other direction in what Calvin there describes (i noticed you didn't quote that part) as emptying the sacraments of any singificance and power at all, even when the Spirit acts. It is as though you are saying that the Spirit *ALWAYS* works independently of the sacramental action because he sometimes does.

I am perfectly willing to say with our standards that neither sacraments is absolutely essential to our salvation and that God himself, working through his Spirit, does indeed work apart from the ordained sacramental means that he instituted in his Church to bring people to salvation; are you, on the other hand, willing to say what our standards also affirm (with the proper qualifications that the sacraments do not have any inherent power in themselves to accomplish it and that it is the Spirit's work alone that does it), that God does often work in and through them actually to confer that which they signifiy?

From what has gone before, i doubt you'll go that far (even thought it's plain to me what the Standards say, even if you dispute that it's what Calvin says). Just understand that i am not taking away from the Word at all. I believe that the Word is essential in the efficacy of the sacraments (which is why it is preached and spoken in the Words of Institution at the administration of both of them, and why we are called to improve our baptisms, at least, at the administration of baptism to others), because they are, after all, the Word visible, as many a Reforme Divine calls them.

Yet, i am still, apparently, affirming a stronger understanding of efficacy than you are. I affirm that the efficacy of baptism lies, not only in the Spirit's using it to strengthen and edify us after the fact (i affirm that wholeheartedly and loudly, as the sacrament reaches to our whole lives and not just at the time of its administration), but also in the Spirit's using it to confer what it signifies, even (according as the Spirit chooses) at the very moment of its administration.

BTW, you still did not answer me about Cornelius Burgess. Whose view is more consistent with Burgess's view of "baptismal regeneration of elect infants," yours or mine? This is an important question, i believe, since he was singularly instrumental in the crafting of the langauge of Confession in the sections on the sacraments.

Thanks for your time and attention. Whatever answer you give will have to be it. This is all from me.

Dear Mark,

Calvin says there is no difference between baptism and circumcision save the nature of the external sign:

4. There is now no difficulty in seeing wherein the two signs (circumcision and baptism) agree, and wherein they differ. The promise, in which we have shown that the power of the signs consists, is one in both—viz. the promise of the paternal favour of God, of forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. And the thing figured is one and the same—viz. regeneration. The foundation on which the completion of these things depends is one in both. Wherefore, there is no difference in the internal meaning, from which the whole power and peculiar nature of the sacrament is to be estimated. The only difference which remains is in the external ceremony, which is the least part of it, the chief part consisting in the promise and the thing signified. Hence we may conclude, that everything applicable to circumcision applies also to baptism, excepting always the difference in the visible ceremony. [Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian religion. (IV, xvi, 4)]

Calvin writes opposing Anabaptists who reject the baptism of children, and in his argument the promises of the covenant to believing parents are explained:

His holy institution, from which we feel that our faith derives admirable consolation, deserves not to be called superfluous. For the divine symbol communicated to the child, as with the impress of a seal, confirms the promise given to the godly parent, and declares that the Lord will be a God not to him only, but to his seed; not merely visiting him with his grace and goodness, but his posterity also to the thousandth generation. When the infinite goodness of God is thus displayed, it, in the first place, furnishes most ample materials for proclaiming his glory, and fills pious breasts with no ordinary joy, urging them more strongly to love their affectionate Parent, when they see that, on their account, he extends his care to their posterity. I am not moved by the objection, that the promise ought to be sufficient to confirm the salvation of our children. It has seemed otherwise to God, who, seeing our weakness, has herein been pleased to condescend to it. Let those, then, who embrace the promise of mercy to their children, consider it as their duty to offer them to the Church, to be sealed with the symbol of mercy, and animate themselves to surer confidence, on seeing with the bodily eye the covenant of the Lord engraven on the bodies of their children. On the other hand, children derive some benefit from their baptism, when, being ingrafted into the body of the Church, they are made an object of greater interest to the other members. Then when they have grown up, they are thereby strongly urged to an earnest desire of serving God, who has received them as sons by the formal symbol of adoption, before, from nonage, they were able to recognise him as their Father. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian religion [(IV, xvi, 9)]

Though there are clear promises associated with the covenant of which baptism is the sign and seal, Calvin clearly rejects the idea that children are granted the gift of faith at baptism. However, while denying express linkage between baptism and faith, Calvin defends the ability of God to grant regeneration even to infants:

But how, they ask, are infants regenerated, when not possessing a knowledge of either good or evil? We answer, that the work of God, though beyond the reach of our capacity, is not therefore null. Moreover, infants who are to be saved (and that some are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be previously regenerated by the Lord. For if they bring innate corruption with them from their mother’s womb, they must be purified before they can be admitted into the kingdom of God, into which shall not enter anything that defileth (Rev. 21:27). If they are born sinners, as David and Paul affirm, they must either remain unaccepted and hated by God, or be justified. And why do we ask more, when the Judge himself publicly declares, that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”? (John 3:3.) But to silence this class of objectors, God gave, in the case of John the Baptist, whom he sanctified from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15), a proof of what he might do in others. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian religion. (IV, xvi, 17)

Finally, read here the hope of Christian parents--a hope not attached to baptism but to the birth of children into the covenant:

Why does the sacrament come after faith in Abraham, and precede all intelligence in his son Isaac? It is right that he who, in adult age, is admitted to the fellowship of a covenant by one from whom he had hitherto been alienated, should previously learn its conditions; but it is not so with the infant born to him. He, according to the terms of the promise, is included in the promise by hereditary right from his mother’s womb. Or, to state the matter more briefly and more clearly, If the children of believers, without the help of understanding, are partakers of the covenant, there is no reason why they should be denied the sign, because they are unable to swear to its stipulations. This undoubtedly is the reason why the Lord sometimes declares that the children born to the Israelites are begotten and born to him (Ezek. 16:20; 23:37). For he undoubtedly gives the place of sons to the children of those to whose seed he has promised that he will be a Father. But the child descended from unbelieving parents is deemed an alien to the covenant until he is united to God by faith. Hence, it is not strange that the sign is withheld when the thing signified would be vain and fallacious. In that view, Paul says that the Gentiles, so long as they were plunged in idolatry, were strangers to the covenant (Eph. 2:11). The whole matter may, if I mistake not, be thus briefly and clearly expounded: Those who, in adult age, embrace the faith of Christ, having hitherto been aliens from the covenant, are not to receive the sign of baptism without previous faith and repentance. These alone can give them access to the fellowship of the covenant, whereas children, deriving their origin from Christians, as they are immediately on their birth received by God as heirs of the covenant, are also to be admitted to baptism. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian religion. (IV, xvi, 24)

Do these portions of the Institutes help the connection between baptism and faith make more sense?

Love,

David

Tim, I'm rather disappointed in this entry. I have been in ministry a few years now and I have dealt with both stillborns and unbaptized believers. In both cases I have been able to offer baptism as the sign and seal and means of grace, without in any way casting doubt that believers and their children have God's favor and forgiveness prior to and without baptism.

I have been hanging with "bad company" for long enough now to confidently assert that this is true of all the "sacramentalists."

No one is pushing the superstitious views of Rome or the Campellites. The sad irony is that they are actually taking the Bible away from such people, rather than morphing with them.

Regarding your evidence above, the bottom line is that the same would be true of the paralytic and friends. Since they had faith before Jesus forgave them, they must have been forgiven before Jesus forgave them.

And yet, it is no attack on Reformed soteriology, to say that Jesus forgave the paralytic and his friends. Nor should claiming that we are offered and receive forgiveness in baptism as God's visible act that "confirms our interest" in Christ and "applies" Christ and his benefits to believers (SC #92), as some sort of denial that the unbaptized are forgiven.

-Mark Horne

Dear Mark,

I suspect that Tim and I have also preached to encourage men and women of faith by means of the objective truth of their baptiam.

But agreeing on the words--or even the meaning--of Calvin and the Westminster divines doesn't necessarily lead to similar sermons.

Let me add that I don't understand your analogy to the paralytic. Baptism, as a confirming ordinance, necessarily follows justification. But you suggest that justification precedes faith, and your point--even granting that you are speaking ironically--eludes me.

David Bayly

>Tim, I'm rather disappointed in this entry. –Mark Horne

Pastor Horne, we’re simply quoting Calvin. Your argument is with him—not us.

But maybe you’re not really opposed to his writing, but only to our application of his writing to our present denominational context? Maybe what you’re trying to say is that Calvin’s warnings are no longer needed because, as you put it, “No one is pushing the superstitious views of Rome or the Campbellites.”

Really? Here in my neck of the woods, the vast majority of non-mainline protestants attend Campbellite churches. Further, a number of the reformed men I went to seminary with—including two friends, Scott Hahn and Marcus Grodi—are now thoroughgoing sacramentalists who have converted to Rome. There are many others who have taken the Orthodox route. So you’ll understand my saying I’m not sure what world you live in. Are you unaware of this trend? Do you believe you and your friends are beyond danger of leading others to Rome, or ending there yourselves?

For myself, it’s clear a significant portion of the current theological controversy within the reformed world is not simply a matter of correcting the errors of twentieth century evangelicalism, but also of making common cause with former Lutheran, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, in his ECT enterprise of rapprochement with Rome. Are all the former PCA men who have converted to Rome simply anomalies? What about Neuhaus and Beckwith? Have you ever wondered what’s next for Nathan Hatch and Mark Noll? Do you ever wonder about yourself?

Speaking from the position of having grown up at the heart of evangelicalism, then spending a decade ministering to a PC(USA) parish in a town dominated by a WELS congregation, it’s clear the next step for many evangelicals will be the sacramentalism of decayed Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Anglicans, or Rome herself.

>...I have dealt with both stillborns and unbaptized believers. In both cases I have been able to offer baptism as the sign and seal and means of grace... -Mark Horne

If I’m understanding your comment correctly, I'd encourage you to rethink baptizing stillborns. While I can understand how compassion might lead you to such an act, it seems certain to encourage a superstitious sacramentalist view of baptism. Even Rome won’t do it.

I implied justification precedes faith? Pretty sure that's not what I said....

On the other hand, I did imply the baptism of stillborns! Ewww!

No, I simply meant to say I have and proclaim no doubts but utter certainty that God is the God not only of us but of our children. Stillborns will be reunited to us when we are present with Jesus and then ultimately at the resurrection to glory. In that sense, nothing is contingent on baptism.

I trust you knew that is what I meant.

For the rest, I've seen nothing to shake my knowledge that I am following firmly in the Reformed Faith. My writings on baptism have been in defense of the Reformed Fatih, as have beens my writings on obedience and all other topics. The only conceivable exceptions could be paedocommunion, pictures of Jesus, or Sabbath issues, and yet every presbytery I have been in has found that not to be a matter of the "vitals" of religion, or the system of doctrine and has welcomed me as a Reformed minister. Whether you agree with me or not, you would here about them from me first, not from others. I am incapable, for better or worse, of being less than loud about what I believe and Whom I trust.

Finally, my horizon of dicourse for the "no one is pushing..." comment was the PCA, CREC, OPC etc.

-Mark Horne

>...I have dealt with both stillborns and unbaptized believers. In both cases I have been able to offer baptism as the sign and seal and means of grace... -Mark Horne

>On the other hand, I did imply the baptism of stillborns! Ewww! No, I simply meant to say I have and proclaim no doubts but utter certainty that God is the God not only of us but of our children. I trust you knew that is what I meant. -Mark Horne

Since you said you offer baptism to stillborns, I concluded you offer baptism to stillborns. Had I known what you really meant was that you assure the parents of stillborns of God's covenant promises, I wouldn't have cautioned you against the baptism of stillborns, but said “Good job, brother!”

>I trust you knew that is what I meant. –Mark Horne

No, had I known that was what you meant, I would not have cautioned you against the baptism of stillborns. To do so would have been to lie.

>Finally, my horizon of dicourse for the "no one is pushing..." comment was the PCA, CREC, OPC etc. -Mark Horne

A number of PCA pastors have converted to Rome, and I'm not alone in believing Federal Vision leads there. After your latest comment, I decided to google “PCA convert Rome,” and I came across this post proving what I suspected—that others, too, see the Federal Vision as a likely trajectory to Rome:

http://cantuar.blogspot.com/2007/05/catholic-prespective-on-federal-visi...

The post is written by a Westminster Seminary reformed man who has converted to Rome and says this about the Federal Vision:

>Needless to say, I now follow the “Federal Vision” debate in the Reformed realm of theology with great interest. I suspect that it will play out like the Oxford Movement of the Church of England in the 19th century. The Federal Visionists will soon see that they are not tolerated by Presbyterians and over time they will be persecuted. Some of their great minds will become Catholic. Others will break away and start their own “Reformed Catholic” movements (similar to the Anglo-Catholic Ritualist movements). These breakaways will continue to write and develop their thought….

>Federal Visionists believe that the sacrament of Baptism actually accomplishes union with Christ – not in a nominal way, but in an ontological way. Again, very biblical and very Catholic….

>As a Catholic I believe the Federal Vision group is right in its theological tendencies and wrong about its denomination… Ultimately, I think that younger Presbyterians will gravitate toward what the Federal Vision offers. Many will sink their teeth into it and many will find it wanting. Many will discover that the Catholic Church is their true home, and many will discover her in a great moment of joy. This Federal Vision is really only a peek into the keyhole of the Catholic Church. The Federal Visionist has a vision of the beautiful things inside, but they have not yet appreciated the warmth of a true home.

Interesting, isn't it, Mark?

By the way, since you aren’t the only “Mark” posting on this blog, would you please do us all the courtesy of signing your last name? It’s a simple tweak on your TypePad preference and it would keep readers from confusing you with other Marks. Thanks, brother.

Tim Bayly: "[A] number of the reformed men I went to seminary with—including two friends, Scott Hahn and Marcus Grodi—are now thoroughgoing sacramentalists who have converted to Rome. There are many others who have taken the Orthodox route. So you’ll understand my saying I’m not sure what world you live in. Are you unaware of this trend? Do you believe you and your friends are beyond danger of leading others to Rome, or ending there yourselves?"

For my part, i believe that it is the low view of the sacraments that has led people to overreact in the other direction toward an unhealthy sacramentalism. Were the PCA on the whole to make a high view of the sacraments part of their whole warp and woof of who we are and what we teach instead of being the "we're not" Church ("we're not Arminian," "we're not Romanist," "we're not Lutheran," "we're not sacramentalists," "we're not Baptists," &c.), perhaps those men would have and could have been saved from their overreaction. If they had always understood that biblical and Reformed Christianity encompasses a high view of what God does in and through the sacraments, perhaps they wouldn't have gone as far as they did. In other words, had they not been a part of a denomination which, on the whole, strains out a gnat over the issue of sacramental efficacy, perhaps they wouldn't have swallowed the camel of papal infallibility, saint-worship, and purgatory. I'm just not sure how you can impugn the FV or anyone else who has a high view of the sacraments *AS* a Reformed Christian, when the beginning place of almost all of these men you've mentioned (the guy on the blog, Scott Hahn, and Marcus Grodi) were those so anti-Rome that they are willing to admit of hardly any kind of sacramental efficacy.

So, to be most blunt, i believe the blame for those who have crossed the Tiber lies more with those who advocate the lowest possible view of the sacraments in reaction to Romanism, because those who react in the other direction do so when they see the vapidity of such a low view, both historically and biblically.

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