Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Teaching of Westminster Regarding the Salvific Significance of Infant Baptism

The Westminster Standards contain a robust doctrine of baptism. The Confession of faith and the Directory for Public Worship as finally set forth by the Assembly of divines propound several instructive statements regarding the salvific significance of the sacrament as administered to infants. Over the past 160 years, however, there has been much disagreement amongst Presbyterians representing denominations confessionally subscribing to the doctrine of the Standards concerning their teaching on this matter.
In the mid to late 19th century, notable American Presbyterian theologians espousing differing views regarding the salvific significance of infant baptism adduced their filial Westminster Standards in support of their respective positions. J. H. Thornwell of Columbia Theological Seminary held that the baptized children of believers were externally members of the visible church and enjoyed a special relation to the covenant of grace, but that they were to be considered spiritually at enmity with God, and unregenerate. Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary held that the baptized infants of believers were members of the visible church in full standing and to be recognized and treated as true children of God and heirs of all of Christ’s salvific spiritual benefits, and presumably among the elect. In a work originally published in 1940 and recently brought back into print, Lewis Bevens Schenck, former Bible and religion professor at Davidson College, sought to show that the Westminster Standards may be brought into line with a number of historic Reformed authorities in teaching that infants of believers may be presumed to be regenerate and therefore ought to be baptized. In recent years, David F. Wright of New College, University of Edinburgh has published an article discussing the teaching of the Westminster Standards on the subject of baptism wherein it is asserted that the Confession of Faith teaches that elect infants are ordinarily regenerated in the administration of baptism.
Thesis: This paper will demonstrate that the Westminster Standards 1) ascribe spiritual salvific efficacy to baptism in the case of elect infants, 2) do not teach presumptive regeneration, and 3) do not teach baptismal regeneration.

To explain and defend this thesis I will, for each statement of the thesis, a) clarify the statement and demonstrate its factuality based on exegesis of the Standard documents, b) outline other views respecting Westminster’s teaching on baptism that are relevant to the statement, and c) evaluate these other views.

1) The Westminster Standards ascribe spiritual salvific efficacy to baptism in the case of elect infants.
a) By this statement I mean that the Westminster Standards teach that beyond signifying (that is visibly showing) and sealing (that is confirming as with an oath) the saving benefits of Christ, the administration of baptism entails the actual giving of these saving benefits in the case of the elect (whether infant or adult).
The Confession of Faith in Ch. 28.1 - On Baptism, states,
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.[1]

Here it is taught that besides initiation into the visible Covenant community, the true spiritual saving benefits of Christ are signified and sealed for recipients of baptism.
The Confession elucidates further as to the mode of dispensation of God’s gracious work in connection with the sign and seal. In Ch. 27 of the Confession of Faith - On the Sacraments, it is taught that in virtue of the inseparable sacramental union of the sign with the thing signified, worthy receivers are promised benefit by the right use of the sacraments. Furthermore, in the Confession of Faith Ch. 28.6, On Baptism this statement is given:
The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time[2]

The Confession’s statement that “the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred” indeed intends a strong sense of efficacy. This becomes evident from the debate over the wording of the Confession of Faith on Baptism from Jan. 5 1646 as recorded in the minutes General Assembly. The subject matter of the debate is designated in the minutes “Debate upon baptism, ‘the grace of God bestowed sometime before.’” Jeremiah Whitaker opens the recorded discussion saying of baptism,
That it doth confer grace I do not find, but our divines do hold it. When they oppose the papists they say it is more than a sign and seal. Chamier saith the grace that is signified is exhibited; so it is in the French confession: it doth efficaciter donare. I conceive that it doth not confer it ex opere operato.[3]

For Whitaker the language of conferring and exhibiting intends something beyond signing and sealing. Whitaker’s appeal to the Chamier and the French confession shows that by grace “conferred and exhibited” we may understand grace efficiently given. This is distinguished from ex opere operato (the Roman Catholic view of baptismal efficacy) although detail as to the points of distinction is not provided. From the Confession’s statement, it may be surmised that the difference from Rome lies in that not all who receive the sacrament are thought to be regenerated but only those to whom the grace belongs – i.e. the elect. Also the efficacy is not tied to the moment of administration.
Whitaker goes on to note the strong language of Scripture in describing baptism as an ordinance prescribed to effect salvific ends. He also poses arguments from comparison of baptism with the Word and the Lord’s Supper, both of which seem to him to serve as instrumental means of grace. Herbert Palmer responds to Whitaker’s statements, countering the first point by replying “when Scripture speaks of the efficacy of baptism it speaks of those that are grown up,” and on the other points, denying the suggested consequence of Whitaker’s strict parallel of baptism with Word or eucharist. Palmer seems to indicate that he understands baptism to convey grace to those only who have already received grace of regeneration. Yet he admits that the sign and seal of baptism are not “naked.” He concedes to Whitaker, “a further union in the sacrament, it is such a union as that whatsoever is promised by the word, that is granted unto him by participation in the sign.”[4] So though there was disagreement as to the nature and temporal nuance of the work of grace conferred with baptism’s sign and seal, it seems agreement must have emerged that spiritual grace is “conferred and exhibited” or efficiently given to the elect. The clearest evidence that agreement was reached on this point is, of course, the inclusion of the language in the Confession. [5]
b) J. H. Thornwell claimed the Westminster Standards to teach that baptized infants of believers and unregenerate. Thus it could be called into question whether he held the Standards to teach that the administration of baptism entails the actual giving of the saving benefits of Christ.
Thornwell conceived of the church as subdivided into two classes respecting the covenant. The first class he delineates as “the true children of God, among whom alone exists the genuine communion of the saints.” This class consists of adult professing members of the church. The second class he calls “heirs apparent of the kingdom.” [6] This class consists of the children of professing members who are accepted into church membership in expectation and confidence based on the gracious promise of God that they will one day, upon the condition of faith and profession, enter into the true communion of the saints. Their baptism signifies and seals the saving benefits which will accrue to them if the condition of faith is fulfilled.
Thornwell is clear, however, in stating that until profession is made they are by no means to be regarded as having a part in the true communion and they are known by the Church to be “dead in trespasses and sins.”[7] Of the baptized children of believers Thornwell posits “in heart and spirit they are of the world.” Therefore the church is to treat them “precisely as she treats all other impenitent and unbelieving men.”[8] For Thornwell, the thought of subjecting non-professors already by nature outside the communion of the saints to discipline or excommunication is misplaced. Rather their conversion is to be sought through teaching and persuasion in the context of an external covenant. Thornwell appeals to the Westminster Standards and the larger body of Reformed confessions and theologians to corroborate his position.[9]
c) On Thornwell’s view, the salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of elect infants could be upheld. The baptism of infants could, for Thornwell, entail the actual giving of the saving benefits of Christ in the case of the elect. Thornwell would then be correct in claiming his view to be consonant with the Westminster Standards in this regard. Yet, it would need to be stipulated that even though the fact of their givenness is entailed and certainly anticipated in baptism, these benefits typically are not actually given until profession of faith is made. This stipulation would bring Thornwell into contradiction with the Confession of Faith 28.6 (cited above) which plainly states that the saving benefits are exhibited and conferred “to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time.” So Thornwell would be wrong in claiming Westminster to deny that saving grace can be generally conferred and exhibited to infants.
Charles Hodge affirmed Westminster’s teaching of the spiritual salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of the elect. Hodge also opposed Thornwell on his views which held baptized infants to be presumably unregenerate and to be assigned a second-level status as church members. Rather, Hodge claims that they are church members of equal status with adult professors of faith, and similarly ready recipients of spiritual grace. He says
The status, therefore, of baptized children is not a vague or uncertain one, according to the doctrine of the Reformed Churches. They are members of the Church; they are professing Christians; they belong presumptively to the number of the elect. These propositions are true of them in the same sense in which they are true of adult professing Christians. [10]

Thus Hodge could affirm the teaching of the Westminster Standards that the administration of baptism entails the actual giving of the saving benefits of Christ in the case of the elect without having to stipulate contrary to Westminster that for baptized elect infants the actual giving of the saving benefits must be generally deferred until profession.[11]

2) The Westminster Standards do not teach presumptive regeneration.
By this statement I mean that the Westminster Standards do not teach that the infant children of believers brought for baptism are to be judged by the church to have been regenerated from birth.[12]
The Directory for Public Worship devised by the Westminster Assembly directs pastors, in instructing the congregation as to the institution, nature, use, and ends of baptism before administering the sacrament to an infant, to say “that they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized.”[13] In the minutes of the General Assembly from July 16, 1644 debate is recorded over the meaning of this phrase and specifically of the word “holy.” In this debate Thomas Goodwin appears to present a view which approximates a doctrine of presumptive regeneration.
Goodwin’s is the first statement recorded in the debate as he begins thus
I do not know what distinction you will make betwixt federal and real holiness. It is such a holiness as if they die they should be saved. Whether a holiness of election or regeneration I know not but I think it is they have the Holy Ghost. [14]

He is called into question at first by Lazarus Seaman and qualifies his claim saying, “I do not affirm that they are actually saved, but we are to judge them so.”[15] Therefore Goodwin affirms that of infants born into the Covenant of Grace and brought for baptism, it is to be judged by the church that they are saved and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit before baptism (although he confesses he does not know whether this implies they are to be judged regenerate, or simply elect).
Goodwin is opposed, however, by almost all of his fellow divines whose statements are recorded in this debate. First Stephen Marshall responds thus to Goodwin’s statement
But for that said, we must judge that they are saved, I conceive we are not bound to judge that they are saved, for if so, that I must judge of them all singly that they are saved, I have no warrant. It is sufficient to believe in the general, that the infants of believing parents are federally holy. [16]

Marshall denies that the judgment of charity ought to involve presumption regarding the salvific status of infants born to believing parents brought for baptism. Samuel Rutherford then enters to speak of the distinction, which he seems to understand as commonplace, between federal and real holiness:
There is an ordinary distinction or real and inherent and federal holiness; I did not think to hear that real and federal holiness are one and the same. Where there is real and inherent holiness there must be a seeing of God, and being in the state of salvation.[17]

Rutherford confirms that in judging an infant federally holy, the matter is not adjudicated as to the infant’s salvific status which, in distinction, only real holiness concerns.
Goodwin maintains his side in the argument insisting he has been misunderstood and offering various clarifications and qualifications. He restates in several speeches that his aim is by no means to utter infallible pronouncement as to the reality of the matter, or to claim all Covenant infants to be saved. Rather he means only a judgment as to their real holiness which answers to the promise “I am thy God and the God of thy seed.” This he takes as an indefinite (not universal) proposition. Yet, he is opposed on every side as each of the rehearsals of his position is reproached from another quarter.[18]
Stephen Marshall, one of the more vocal opponents of Goodwin in the recorded debate, composed a polemical treatise directed against the baptistic doctrine of John Tombes which was entitled A Defense of Infant-Baptism, and was printed in 1645 during the progress of the Westminster Assembly. In this tract Marshall explains the Covenant of Grace in the “large” sense to include many who are not regenerate. [19] All who are members of the visible church, namely professors of the true religion and their children, are said to belong to the Covenant of Grace in this sense and to enjoy the administration of grace in outward ordinances and church privileges. [20] Of all of these he asserts “they are to be accounted his [God’s], to belong to him, to his Church and family, and not to the Devils.”[21] Yet it becomes evident that in accounting thus all who are fitted for membership in the visible church, Marshall means not to enter unto judgment as to their salvific status. He says of those christened with the denominations just listed “few of those many so called are elected.”[22]
Certain statements of Samuel Rutherford, in his tract The Covenant of Life Opened from 1655 also aid us in deepening our grasp of the issues involved in the debate over the wording in the Directory. Here Rutherford sharpens the distinction between the “federal or Covenant holiness” and “real holiness.” Federal holiness by which infants are qualified for baptism is “holiness of the seed, society, family or nation which is derived from a father to son.” Real holiness, on the other hand, is “not derived from a believing father, to make the son a believer… nor is it internal and effectual confederacy with God, that, by which one is a son of promise.” Real holiness, for Rutherford is the holiness of election, in the divine dispensation of which individuals are either chosen or passed by in God’s secret wisdom and providence. To the eye of the church, the presence or absence of federal holiness is manifest, and that of real holiness is hidden.[23]
In all, both Marshall and Rutherford remain reticent concerning judgment as to the salvific status of Covenant members (whether infants or professors). And if it is the case, as it appears to be from the statements of Marshall and Rutherford, that a distinction is to be made between federal holiness and real holiness such that judgment can be decided regarding the federal holiness of a person without it affecting or involving judgment regarding his or her real holiness - so do the Westminster Standards. The Standards give no statement as to whether a positive judgment is to be made by the church concerning the spiritual salvific status of infant children born into the Covenant of Grace presented for baptism.[24]
b) Lewis Bevens Schenck held that the Westminster Standards do teach presumptive regeneration.
Schenk produced a dissertation for Yale University in 1939 published in 1940 under the title The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant: An Historical Study of the Significance of Baptism in the Presbyeterian Church in America. Schenk’s intent was to call the American Presbyterian Church in the dissolute state of her position regarding the significance of infant baptism back to the “glorious doctrine” of presumptive regeneration to which she was heir. In his analysis, he plots the development of Reformed dogmatic conceptions of the significance of infant baptism with respect to salvation and the Covenant of Grace starting with John Calvin down to his present day. No slight emphasis is given to the statements of the Westminster Assembly as Schenck seeks to expose the deviation of subsequent Presbyterian theologians from the true doctrine of their Standards. The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Directory of Public Worship along with various extramural writings and historical commentaries are cited in order to demonstrate that Westminster’s teaching with regard to the significance of infant baptism was of a piece with Calvin’s. He cites the phrase referenced above from the Directory of Public Worship which says of which says of infants brought for baptism “that they are Christians and federally holy before baptism” as proof of his claim.[25] Schenk writes of the Reformed consensus -
Membership in the invisible church meant vital union with Christ, or regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Since the word presume meant to admit a thing to be or to receive a thing as true, before it could be known as such from its phenomena or manifestations, the presumption that an infant was a member of the invisible church meant that it was believed to be engrafted into Christ and regenerated before it gave any ordinary evidences of the fact.[26]

Schenck held that Calvin, and the Westminster Assembly in following him unswervingly, spoke to the effect that baptized infants are to be judged members of the invisible church from the womb, meaning by this to assert that they presumably enjoyed vital and saving union with Christ before baptism. Thus, Schenck thought that in the Westminster Standards, infant baptism signifies and seals the salvific benefits of Christ which infants of believers presumably possess before the rite is administered.
c) Schenck’s claim that the Westminster Standards teach presumptive regeneration is mistaken. The Statement from the Directory of Public Worship which Schenk cites as proof of his claim has been shown from the minutes of the Assembly and the writings of Marshall and Rutherford, to intend no judgment as to the infants’ spiritual salvific status. The Westminster Standards and the writings of the divines here examined appear to withhold judgment as to the salvific status of infants presented for baptism.
Robert S. Rayburn, in an article reviewing the Reformed doctrines of covenant children, covenant nurture, and covenant succession, gives a more guarded assessment of the Standards’ teaching as to the church’s judgment regarding the salvific status of infants brought for baptism, but finally expresses broad agreement with Schenck. In assessing the statements of the Directory for Public Worship pertaining to the issue of the church’s judgment of Covenant infants’ salvific status, Rayburn mitigates his statement but proceeds to support Schenck’s thesis saying, “this, I admit, is less than might have been said and less than Calvin did say. But it is his doctrine of covenant succession in its broad outline.”[27] In light of the deeper analysis of the minutes of the Assembly and the writings of individual divines, Rayburn’s claim too may call for revision. It is another question whether Calvin taught presumptive regeneration. He speaks strongly of the inclusion of infants in the membership of the church before baptism and argues that they are by no means excluded from regeneration and justification in virtue of their infancy.[28] Yet, neither are Calvin’s claims without qualification, and as the divines’ were generally committed to maintaining consistency with the continental Reformers, and especially Calvin, perhaps their clear distinction between federal and real holiness and their reluctance to judge as to the real holiness of infants brought for baptism may invite further analysis of Calvin’s doctrine.

3) The Westminster Standards do not teach baptismal regeneration.
By this statement I mean that the Westminster Standards do not teach that the Spirit’s work of regeneration is ordinarily temporally concurrent with the administration of baptism in the case of the elect and therefore does not teach a doctrine which entails this.[29]
It must first be conceded that some of the divines at the Assembly at Westminster clearly did hold to a doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Cornelius Burgess produced a work in 1629, roughly fifteen years before the convening of the Westminster Assembly entitled Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants: as professed by the Church of England, according to the Scriptures, the Primitive Church, the present Reformed Churches, and many particular Divines apart. In this treatise, Burgess expounds his view of baptismal regeneration, and commends it as the sober view drawn from Scripture and upheld by the divers ecclesiastical authorities mentioned in the title. In the opening pages Burgess states his position thus
All elect infants, do ordinarily, in Baptism receive the Spirit of Christ, to seize upon them for Christ, and to be in them as the root and first principle of regeneration, and future newness of life.[30]

Burgess proceeds to carefully define the position’s central terms. He delineates that by “Spirit” he intends “the Holy Ghost dwelling in every true Christian and working grace” and not “only the grace wrought by the Spirit.”[31] By “regeneration” Burgess means, “spiritual life taken in the largest sense” although he immediately distinguishes, purportedly, “according to the Scriptures” between regeneration “initial” and “actual.” These distinctions are further elucidated, “initial regeneration” as participation in the Spirit of Christ whereby the seed and foundation of spiritual life are first laid in a Christian, and “actual regeneration” as the spiritual being produced in a Christian by the Spirit bringing him forth a new man able to believe, repent etc. when lives to years [32]
Burgess does not wish to maintain that baptized infants are the recipients of the full mature benefit of Christ that a professing adult enjoys. His contention is that they are ordinarily given the indwelling Holy Spirit in the administration of baptism as the seed which shall grow into the future full mature benefit.
Burgess guards his position with qualifications to avoid misapprehension or undue offence to Reformed brethren. He notes as points of general agreement
That some infants may and do receive the Spirit to unite them unto Christ, before baptism.
That the Spirit is not given to all, but to the Elect only
That the outward element hath not in it any physical force, either by virtue of the consecration, institution, or administration, to confer the Spirit to any at all.[33]

These points seem to set his position off against the Roman Catholic ex opere operato view. Yet Burgess affirms the following
the communication of the Spirit unto infants, from Christ himself for their first apparent engrafting into his body, and to be to them as the first seed and principle of Regeneration, in the ordinary course of regenerating such, as after Baptism, do live to years of discretion [is] ordinarily given in the baptism of the Elect
And … all the Elect do ordinarily receive the Spirit in baptism so that such as receive Him before or after, and not in Baptism, are to be held to receive the Spirit in an extraordinary and not in the ordinary course of divine dispensation thereof. [34]

Thus, it is the ordinary temporal concurrence of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration with the administration of baptism which Burgess seeks to prove. This he argues as the plain doctrine of Scripture, the Church Fathers, the Reformers, and the Church of England of his day. He devotes a full section of the tract to showing the 39 Articles and the Directory of Public Liturgy (which the Westminster Assembly was commissioned to revise) to be in agreement with his doctrine.
In the Directory for Public worship, the one administering infant baptism is directed to pray that God, “would join the inward baptism of His Spirit with the outward baptism of water.”[35] Debate over inclusion of this phrase in the Directory is recorded in the minutes from Session 260 July 19 1644. In the debate several of the divines evidence an affinity for the baptismal regeneration conception. Edmund Calamy is recorded stating that “it is a wonder anyone should exclude the Spirit from the time (of baptism).” Jeremiah Whitaker’s comment that “we may and should pray that God would at time give them the inward washing… we are said to be baptized into Christ” is also telling (Whitaker is also mentioned in Burgess’ 1629 tract as a fellow proponent of baptismal regeneration).[36] In this debate, while support of the baptismal regeneration view is not unanimous, it does seem from the recorded minutes to have been the prevailing sentiment.
There is no overt expression contained in the Standards, however, which would define the moment of Spiritual regeneration ordinarily at the time of administration of baptism. On the contrary, there are several expressions contained in the Standards which tend to deny that an ordinary temporal course can be defined. Therefore we must conclude the Westminster Standards do not teach baptismal regeneration.
Confession 28.6, cited above, qualifies its affirmation of baptismal efficacy in its first clause stating “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered.” As shown above, Cornelius Burgess also qualifies his baptismal regeneration view in this way, but then asserts the ordinary temporal concurrence of the work of the Holy Spirit with the minister’s proper administration of the sacrament. The Confession does not return to such an assertion. The final clause of the same statement in Confession 28.6 says that the grace promised is exhibited and conferred “according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time.” The Directory for Public Worship instructs the pastor administering baptism, in explaining the institution, nature, use, and ends of the sacrament to teach “that the inward grace and virtue of baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and power thereof reacheth to the whole course of our life.”[37] These statements of the Standards express restraint from prescribing an ordinary temporal course for the Holy Spirit’s work of conferring and exhibiting to the elect the grace signed, sealed, and promised in baptism, as they leave the appointed time of this work to the counsel of God’s own (unrevealed) will.
b) David F. Wright in his article “Westminster and Baptism,” published in The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century, offers a synopsis of the Westminster Standards’ teaching on baptism which deals in part with the Assembly’s view on the salvific significance of baptism. Weighing the strong language of the Confession of faith and Directory for Public Worship as to the efficacy of baptism with the tenor of the debates touching on the topic of baptismal efficacy recorded in the minutes of the Assembly, Wright concludes that the Assembly intended to propound a doctrine of baptismal regeneration. For Wright this entails two things – 1) the Standards teach the spiritual salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of the elect, and 2) the Standards teach the ordinary temporal concurrence of the Holy Spirit’s saving work with the administration of baptism. He cites the words of Confession section 28:6 as centrally significant in bespeaking this intention, which reads – “the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost.”[38] Wright calls attention to the fact that the verb here employed “exhibit” was at that time stronger in meaning than in modern English usage, and that its conjoining with “confer” in the context may carry roughly the conceptual weight which “convey” would for us.
Wright’s assessment is not without nuance as he shows himself mindful of language in the Standard documents and Assembly minutes which might temper his claim as to the authors’ intent. He notes the variety of qualifications added by the Assembly to the statement that baptism exhibits and confers the grace of salvation, namely that the efficacy is not tied to the moment of administration, and that grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed to baptism that it is necessary for regeneration or that all baptized are regenerated.[39] Thus, Wright notes that the baptismal regeneration doctrine which he perceives in the Westminster Standards is certainly distinct from ex opere operato.
Yet Wright maintains that these qualifications serve only to clarify the core declaration of the Confession which he thus expounds:
The Westminster divines viewed baptism as the instrument and occasion of regeneration by the Spirit, of the remission of sins, of ingrafting into Christ (cf. 28:1). The Confession teaches baptismal regeneration. [40]

Robert Letham, in his very recently published work The Westminster Assembly: In its Historical Context cites these statements of David Wright favorably in speaking to roughly the same inquiry.[41] Both men take care to note the measures taken by the divines to distance themselves from the Roman ex opere operato view of baptism. The sign is by no means invested with the inherent power of the thing signified, and the giving of the thing signified in baptism is not necessarily conjoined to the moment of time of administration, nor is the reception of the rite required for salvation. Yet they both observe a strong commitment to preserving a close association between sign and thing signified such that the occasion of administration of baptism is ordinarily temporarily concurrent with the Holy Spirit’s efficacious saving work in the case of the elect whether infant or adult.
c) Above it has been argued that the Westminster Standards do teach the spiritual salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of the elect such that baptism entails the actual giving of the saving benefits of Christ in the case of the elect (whether infant or adult). This is part of the baptismal regeneration doctrine which Wright claims to observe in the Standards’ teaching, and on this claim Wright is correct (as is Letham in following him). The other essential article, however, of the rendition of the baptismal regeneration doctrine which Wright (and Letham) purport is contained in the Standards is the ordinary temporal concurrence of the Spirit’s saving work with the administration of the sacrament of baptism. It has been shown that the Westminster Standards do not explicitly prescribe an ordinary temporal course for the Holy Spirit’s work of conveying to the elect the grace signed, sealed, and promised in baptism. Therefore, though his claim is not without warrant, as the resources examined render it probable that many of the divines held to the ordinary temporal concurrence of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration with the administration from baptism, his claim that the Standards themselves teach this would be inaccurate. Thus, an in-depth examination of the Westminster Standards, the minutes of the Assembly, and the writings of the divines can lead us to a closer grasp of the baptismal doctrine propounded in the Standards. We may conclude that the Westminster Standards teach the spiritual salvific efficacy of baptism in the case of the elect, and that they do not teach presumptive regeneration or baptismal regeneration.
[1] Alexander McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith. (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2001.), 112-113.
[2] Ibid., 115.
[3] Chad B.Van Dixhorn, Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly. v. 7. (Cambridge 2004) 236.
[4] Ibid., 236.
[5] Cf. Ligon Duncan, The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century (New York: Mentor 2001), 126. David F. Wright notes the significance of these words and argues they would have had stronger verbal denotations in the Puritan era than they might in modern English.
[6] James H. Thornwell, Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986),
340.
[7] Ibid., 342.
[8] Ibid., 341.
[9] Cf. Ibid., 352, 355. Thornwell claims that in the Westminster Confession the professing body is chiefly in view in its statements on Church discipline when the church is contemplated and when it is said that her purity is to be sought.
Cf. R.L. Dabney, “The Changes Proposed in Our Book of Discipline.” The Southern Presbyterian Review, 12, no. 1 (1859): 44. Dabney discusses Thornwell’s views on church membership as they led him to propose change to the Presbyterian Book of Discipline.
[10] Charles Hodge, “The Church Membership Of Infants,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 30, no. 2 (1858): 389.
[11] It should be noted that Hodge did not discern warrant to presume the regeneration of infants before or in baptism. Again on this point, however, he took measures to avoid distinguishing between baptized professing adults and baptized infants with respect to church membership status.
Cf. Ibid. 374-376, 382. Hodge’s extended footnotes are helpful for understanding his commitment to maintaining consistency in his view with Westminster’s doctrine and defending a sound interpretation of the Westminster symbols against presumptive and baptismal regeneration views.
Cf. John Murray, Christian Baptism (Philadelphia: P&R Pub., 1972), 57-59. Murray engages Hodge’s viewpoint.
[12] Cf. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1996), 639. The original (non-modified) Kyperian doctrine of presumptive regeneration makes this judgment the ground of admittance to baptism. It is clear from the minutes of the Assembly cited in the following paragraphs that the divines also denied that the judgment of charity should be made the ground of baptism. Here, though, I am arguing that the Standards do not teach that the church is to presume infants of believers to be regenerated from birth.
[13] McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 383.
[14] Van Dixhorn, Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly v. 5, 204.
[15] Ibid., 204.
[16] Ibid., 204.
[17] Ibid., 204.
[18] Cf. Duncan, The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century, 181. Wright suggests Goodwin is in fact misunderstood by the rest of the Divines.
[19] This is opposed to the “strict” sense which correlates to invisible church membership.
[20] Stephen Marshall, and Daniel Featley. A Defence of Infant-Baptism. London: Printed by Ric. Cotes, for Steven Bowtell, and are to bee [sic] sold at his Shop, at the Bible in Popes-head Alley, 1646. Early English Books Online; accessed November 3, 2009. 99.
[21] Ibid., 105.
[22] Ibid., 106.
[23] Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened. Edinburgh: Printed by Andro Anderson for Robert Brown, and are to be sold at his shop, 1655. Early English Books Online; accessed November 7, 2009, 83-84.
Cf. Rutherford, Samuel. The Due Right of Presbyteries, or, A Peaceable Plea for the Government of the Church of Scotland. London: Printed by E. Griffin, for Richard Whittaker and Andrew Crook, 1644, 109-111. Rutherford’s idea of the Church and membership are herein further elucidated.
[24] I recognize that the “judgment of charity” was common currency of the day. I do not believe the Standards to be inconsistent with the view that baptized infants may be judged by the church to be probably regenerate. Here I simply mean to argue that in the Standards themselves no judgment is enjoined on the part of the Church concerning the true or probable salvific status of infant members (or adult members for that matter).
[25] Lewis B. Schenck. The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant. (Phillipsburg: P&R Pub, 2003), 45
[26] Ibid., 136. Interestingly, here Schenck draws the language for stating his position from Hodge’s footnote in “The Church Membership of Infants” outlining the presumptive regeneration view which Hodge rejects.
[27] Robert S. Rayburn, “The Presbyterian Doctrines of Covenant Children, Covenant Nurture, and Covenant Succession,” Presbyterion 22 no. 2 (1996): 89.
Cf. Ibid., 79. Rayburn in line with Schenk understands Calvin to have unequivocally espoused presumptive regeneration.
[28]Cf. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960.),
4.16.17, 1340.
[29] It is understood that the Westminster divines rejected the other aspects of the Roman Catholic ex opere operato view. Statement 27.3 On the Sacraments clearly denies the grace exhibited in the sacraments to be conferred by and power in the Sacraments themselves. This statement avers, rather, that their efficacy depends only upon the work of the Spirit of God and the word of their institution. The ordinary temporal concurrence of the human administration and Divine work of regeneration is here considered. This ordinary temporal concurrence is an essential article of “baptismal regeneration” as conceived by David F. Wright and Robert Letham.
[30] Cornelius Burgess, Baptismall regeneration of elect infants professed by the Church of England, according to the Scriptures, the primitiue Church, the present reformed churches, and many particular divines apart. Oxford : Printed by I. Lichfield for Henry Curteyn, 1629. Early English Books Online; accessed November 10, 2009, 3.
[31] Ibid., 12.
[32] Ibid., 14.
[33] Ibid., 19.
[34] Ibid., 20- 21.
[35] McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 383.
[36] Burgess, Baptismall Regeneration of elect infants, 56.
[37] McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 383.
[38] Duncan, The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century, 168.
[39] Ibid., 168-169.
[40] Ibid., 169.
[41] Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly:Reading its Theology in Historical Contex (Phillipsburg: P&R Pub, 2009), 333.

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