On the Salvation of Infants in & without the Church

“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

Gen. 17:7

“…but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.  Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters…”

Isa. 1:4

“(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth)…  As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’  What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”

Rom. 9:11-14

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Order of Contents

Introduction
Articles
Quotes
The Doctrinal History of the Topic
On the Timing of Regeneration in Church-Children
On the Nature of the Damnation of Reprobate Infants

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Introduction

Westminster Confession 10.3 states that dying ‘elect infants’ are saved through Christ.  While the views that:

(1) all dying infants are elect, and/or

(2) that all infants dying in the visible Church are elect,

are technically allowed by the wording of the Westminster Confession (a consensus document), yet the historic viewpoint dominant amongst the Westminster divines was that:

(3) not all dying infants, and not all dying infants in the Church, are elect.  Some are not elected and perish.

Most all of the resources provided here, though they have some minor variations, evidence and argue this viewpoint.

On the good hope that believing and faithful parents may have for their children (to say nothing of visible-Church parents who are not believing or faithful), see John Flavel and Twisse.

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The Canons of Dort

Those who believe that every child of professing Christians that dies in infancy is elect and goes to Heaven often appeal to the Canons of Dort (1618-19), First Head, Article 17, as teaching this.  It will be shown, however, that so far from the Canons teaching this, this was the position of the Arminians at the Synod of Dort, which the Canons noticeably differed from in contra-distinction thereto.

Quotes will also be supplied from some leading historic Dutch theologians saying that they never intended to teach that every dying infant of professing Christian parents goes to Heaven.

In this regard, the declaration of Dort comes much closer to the doctrine that would be later taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1645).

Article 17 of the Canons of Dort says:

“Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy”

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The Arminians at Dort

Under the 31st Session of the Synod, in Dec. of 1619, is given the ‘Sentences of the Remonstrants’, which, being signed by all the thirteen Arminian divines, declared their sentiments regarding predestination, in ten articles.  The last two articles make their position regarding dying infants of Christians very clear:

“IX.  All the children of the faithful are sanctified in Christ, so that
not one of them, dying before the use of reason, perishes; in no wise, on
the contrary, are even some of the children of the faithful, dying in in-
fancy, before any sin of act [actuale] committed in their own person, to
be counted in the number of the reprobate, so that neither the holy
laver of baptism, nor the prayers of the Church can in any way profit
them to salvation.

X.  No children of believers baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, while they are living in the state of infancy, are to be counted among those who have been reprobated by an absolute decree.”

Acta Synodi Nationalis…  Dordrechti Habitae Anno 1618 & 1619…  (Leiden: Elzevir, 1620), p. 114, as translated in Philip Krauth, Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic system. A Review of Dr. Hodge’s Theology  (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874), p. 56

Later in the same month, at Session 34, the Arminians further challenged the Synod to make their views known on the disputed point as to whether any dying infants of Christians are reprobates:

“IV.  It has been given out among the common people that we have…  falsely represented the doctrines of the Contra-remonstrants…  If this be true, let them as plainly and flatly renounce those doctrines as we do.

4.  We especially [unice] desire to know from this venerable Synod, whether it acknowledges as its own doctrine and the doctrine of the Church, particularly [nominatim] what is asserted…  concerning the creation of the larger part of mankind for destruction, the reprobation of infants even though born of believing parents.”

Acta Synodi Nationalis…, p. 119 & 121 (bot) -122 (top) as trans. in Krauth, Infant Baptism…, p. 58

Th Rmonstrants in 1610 at Gouda, had xprssly rjctd any taching p. 63

“that God … has decided to deliver some from this fall and
corruption to declare his mercy, and to leave in damnation
others, young as well as old, and even some children of covenant
people, who are baptized in the name of Christ, when they die in
infancy, to declare his righteousness.”

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Article 17 in Context

The official response of the Synod was Article 17 of the First Head of its Canons.  There had been a long history of theological dispute between the reformed and the Arminians (and their predecessors) before the Synod of Dort.  Philip Krauth documents this history surrounding this topic in part in Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic system…  (1874), pp. 46-56).  Regarding the statements on the topic in the Synod, Krauth wrote:

“Those that were meant for the great public are cautious and illusive in the framing.  The truth [that the Reformed held that some dying children of professing Christians may go to Hell] was too palpable to be denied, nor did the men of Dort desire to deny it, but they wished to avoid the odium of unmitigated statement.”

Article 17 bears this out.  Without knowing the background to the theological debate, the average person might think that the Synod was affirming the salvation of every dying infant born to persons in the visible Church.  However, what it says is (emphasis added):

“Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy.”

That the term ‘godly parents’ differed significantly from simply parents with a Christian profession may be illustrated by the teaching of Francis Gomarus and Melchior Leydekker.

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Gomarus & Leydekker

Gomarus (1563-1641)† had been a veteran theological professor at the University of Leiden.  Shortly after Jacob Arminius also became a theological professor there, Gomarus entered into a fervent dispute with him regarding the doctrines of salvation, so much so, that those that opposed the Arminians ere called Gomarists.

† On his life, see Simonetta Carr, ‘Francis Gomarus and the Synod of Dordt’ (2018) and Simon Kistemaker, ‘From the Archives: Leading Figures at the Synod of Dort’  Reformed Faith & Practice, vol. 3, issue 2 (summer, 2018)

Gomarus and Arminius ere called to formally dispute before the supreme civil court of the Netherlands in 1609 at the Hague.  During this time Arminius fell sick and died.  However, his theological followers, less than three months after his death, in 1610, submitted their Five Articles of Remonstrance (Protest).  It as these five articles that that the Synod of Dort, a decade later, responded to with their ‘Five Heads of Doctrine’.

Gomarus had a prominent position at the Synod of Dort as the lone representative of the University of Groningen.  While districts of delegates each submitted to the Synod their valuations of the five articles of the Remonstrants, Gomarus as entitled to submit his on evaluation to the Synod.  In that evaluation he says (emphasis added):

“14.  We piously believe that the infants of those who are in God’s covenant through Christ, and true believers, are also elect, if thy die before the use of reason, from the formula of the Covenant, ‘I am your God and the God of your seed.’ (Gen. 17 & Acts 2:39)  If surely thy reach to the use of reason, we know that only those are elect which believe in Christ; of course, they only are saved according to the Gospel.” – Acta Synodi Nationalis…, pt. 3, p. 23

Gomarus makes clear that at the Synod of Dort there as a strand of theology that held that only the dying infants of, essentially, only elect and regenerate parents, who were spiritually faithful, could be considered elect.  This likely was not Gomarus’s opinion alone, as he may have taught his viewpoint in reformed universities, to hundreds of upcoming pastors and theologians for decades.  In fact Gomarus’s distinction calls for the need to reevaluate many statements of theologians in the Reformed Orthodox era.

Coming later in that era, Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721), was a Dutch theologian and professor at Utrecht, who followed in the mainstream of Dutch reformed theology.  He was a colleague of Herman Witsius.  In his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, commenting on the liturgy in the national Dutch, reformed Church, Leydekker said:

“The faith demanded of parents in the formula of baptism is indefinite: this, to wit that godly persons’ infants are sanctified in Christ.”

– Of the Truth of the Reformed Faith & of the Sanctity of the Same, in 3 Books, or a Commentary on the Palatinate Catechism  (Utrecht, 1694), Lord’s Day 27, Q. 74, Annexum, p. 327.  As trans. in Kraut, p. 27.

Leydekker held, with Gomarus, like Article 17 of the Canons of Dort, that any promise for the spiritual salvation of infants to professing Christian parents, is only to ‘godly’ parents.  Leydekker goes further than what Gomarus explicitly stated (though Gomarus’s statement does not necessarily exclude the following qualifications):

“And that faith is true, although there should be here and there an exception…  That divine promise has a common truth, though God reserve to Himself, according to His own power and liberty, the exclusion of some infants.  Faith…  performs its office when it lays hold of the promise as it is given, and reverently leaves to God liberty of application.  The believer is bound…  to acquiesce in the promise given…  and to trust in it, or, in the judgment of charity to hope well concerning this infant which is to be baptized— nay, to believe that this infant belongs to Christ, unless God, by a singular decision, wills its exclusion.  The faith demanded of parents is not vain…  though here and there one (of the infants) does not belong to the election…  although there is not an internal baptizing of exactly all infants.” (Ibid.)

Leydekker and Gomarus believed that the Abrahamic promise that God would be a God to him and his seed, for whatever other external aspects it included, yet had a special regard to spiritually saving the children of godly parents.

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Of the Salvation of the Dying Infants of ‘Believers’ & the ‘Faithful’

While Gomarus and Leydekker make explicit the qualifications inherent in their view, the brief statements of many continental theologians in that era do not, and thus many of such pronouncements on the issue remain ambiguous.

In the Greek New Testament, the terms ‘believers’ and ‘the faithful’ are evidenced to comprehend two sorts of people, either:

(1) Persons who externally profess belief and faith in Christ, and who yet may be reprobates, and

(2) Persons who have a saving belief and faith in Jesus, and demonstrate that in their faithful living.

As theological terms in other languages often tend to reflect the breadth of the original terms in the Bible, and must often be qualified by the very statements of the Bible, so it is not surprising that the same terms of ‘believers’ and ‘the faithful’ in Reformation languages, including Latin, the multi-national, universal language of the day, also comprehended in the terms ‘believers’ and ‘the faithful’ both true, elect and regenerate believers exercising a spiritual saving faith, and external, professing believers, externally in the Covenant (or presumed to be so on some persons’ theologies), who yet remained reprobates.

Due to this, there is a need to reevaluate the many pronouncements on this subject from that era, in that it is very possible that some persons who made statements regarding the salvation of the dying infants of ‘believers’ and ‘the faithful’ only meant to refer to spiritual Christians, and not all parents in the Church (it should be remembered that there is evidence that in many contexts in that era, in the national Dutch reformed Church and the Church of Scotland, sometimes the majority of Church members did not come to the Lord’s Table).

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Presumption

presumption of 1611

Subjective, not objective, may be wrong

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The Foreign Delegates to the Synod & Presumption

The nature of the public declarations of such an important synod as that of Dort is of a consensus document.  The consensus of such a group is near always what can be agreed upon by most, or all, of the parties through majority votes, which process guards against unnecessarily excluding the judgment of upright persons who hold minor differences in good conscience.

The Synod had invited numerous delegates from foreign countries and asked their opinions about the doctrinal issues at hand.  These evaluations of the delegates of foreign nations tended to be more detailed, substantive and qualified than the final production of Article 17 from the Synod.

A helpful survey and discussion of these evaluations as they bear on the specific point at hand, with the relevant parts of them translated into English, is found on pp. 66-75 of Cornelius Venema, ‘The Election and Salvation of the Children of Believers who Die in Infancy: a Study of Article I/17 of the Canons of Dort’  MJT 17 (2006).  One example of the judgment of foreign delegates on the topic is that of the Swiss, who told the Synod (p. 67):

“…as concerns the children of believers, since God by virtue of the covenant of grace is their God, and since Paul calls them holy who are born of a believing father and/or mother, and since the Lord of heaven declares them heirs of the heavenly kingdom, if they die in their infancy, before the years of discretion, we hope the best of them.”

The lack of the Arminian certainty on the topic is noticeable.

Presumption section 9, ‘ought not to doubt’ a subjective attitude rather than objectively stating the certainty of it as the Arminians had.

“Even a strong, hopeful attitude that such children are elect leaves the door open to the possibility that they are not elect.” – p. 98

“But this would be tantamount to granting the truth
of the Arminian complaint, namely, that the Reformed view
provides believing parents no reason to be confident of the
election of such children.”  Not true, explain, namely Rutherford

Homer Hoeksema: “not one of the judgments of the various delegations expresses “a purely objective and Scripturally established statement in regard to the salvation of infants of believers who die at an early age” – Venema, p. 91, while not ‘adequate’ yet is true

“the Scripture passages appealed to in the judgments of the delegates to the
Synod (Gen. 17:7; Matt. 19:14; Mark 10; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor. 7:14) do not teach that all the children of believing parents who die in infancy are elect;” – p. 91

Joel Beeke, “Children Dying in Infancy: Young People Ask … (9),” The Banner of Truth (January, 1988), pp. 22-3. Beeke appeals to the judgments of some of the delegations at Dort to argue that “they did not believe that each particular child dying in infancy of believing parents would enter into glory.” According to Beeke, Article I/17 affirms merely that God “normally” works salvation along covenantal lines, though there may be “Esau’s” among the deceased infant children of believers. – p. 91

“The judgments of the various delegations to the Synod of Dort indicate
that there was a general consensus among those present that not
all of the children of believing parents are elect. ” p. 97  but doesn’t mention dying infants

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Never denied Arminius statement, pp. 53-4

Not only such, they explicitly affirm it.

while Article 17 as intended to refute ‘the false accusation’ that children of believers, no in the original from Calvin, r unjustly and tyrranically torn from mothers breasts, yet Reply of Episcopius as just, p. 60, Venema unaware of this, p. 86

Explain further Gomarus’ theology as it reflects on the covenant terminology of Article 17, that believers might be elect or not elect, but godly is specific, and the ‘covenant’ might refer only to election, or to outward covenant, but then Godly withr a continuation of election, or a narrowing of the outward covenant.

the judgments of the foreign divines and that of Gomarus preceded the writing of the canons.

for more on the procedur of the synod see venema, p. 65

Venema does acknowledge my point about Gomarus on p. 72

Particular Synod of South Holland is reserved, not to curiously inquire, tc.  p. 73

Polyander, ‘Although’, p. 78

Delegates from the Palatinate clearly ant the hidden judgment of God, p. 79

Venema, p. 80

“Therefore, the accusation of the Arminians, namely, that
the Reformed churches teach the reprobation of (some of) these
children, is a false one that does not accord with the truth or with
charity.”  Fals

“Indeed, a weak reading of Article I/17, which would allow for the possibility of the
reprobation of such children within the secret will of God, would lend support to, perhaps even confirm, the validity of the Arminian Accusation.” p. 84-5

Krauth’s vi is more credible, that thy didn’t want an odious sound of words.

“The only answer that would prove the falsity of the Arminian accusation would be one that positively affirmed the election and salvation of such covenant children.” p. 85

Include a list of names on this page not only from Dutch and German backgrounds, but all Continental writers, including Beza, etc.

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Articles

1600’s

Burgess, Anthony – Pt. 4, ch. 5, section 9, ‘Of the state of Infants that die in their Infancy, before they are capable of any Actual Transgressions, and that die before Baptism’  of A Treatise of Original Sin  (London, 1658)

Burgess (d. 1664) was a Westminster divine.

Harrison, Michael – Ch. 5, ‘Showing that the Doctrine of the Anabaptists, in excluding Infants from Baptism, and shutting them out of the visible Church, makes all Infants to be of the visible Kingdom of Satan, and so leaves us no well-grounded hope of the salvation of any dying in infancy; and is therefore to be justly abhorred as false Doctrine’  in Infant baptism God’s ordinance, or, Clear proof that all the children of believing parents are in the covenant of grace  (London, 1694)

Harrison (fl.1690-1700) was reformed.

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1800’s

Krauth, Charles P. – Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic system. A Review of Dr. Hodge’s Theology  (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874)  75 pp.

Charles Hodge had argued in his Systematic Theology that all dying infants in the Church are saved, and that specifically with regard to the interpretation of the WCF. 

Krauth, a conservative Lutheran, argues that the WCF can only mean that not all dying infants born in the Church are elect, and evidences this viewpoint through the broad swath of historic Calvinism.

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1900’s

Stephens, J.V. – Elect Infants, or, Infant Salvation in the Westminster Symbols  1900  180 pp.  See especially, Ch. 8, ‘Opinions of Some Westminster Divines’

Stephens was a Cumberland Presbyterian (which Church’s distinctives are not wholly recommended).  In chapter 1 he expresses some sentiments about the New Testament and the early Church’s teaching that we do not wholly agree with, but otherwise the work is a very good and faithful survey of the historical context and viewpoint of the greater part of the Assembly.

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Order of Quotes

Summary Quotes
Zurich Consensus
Musculus
Vermigli
Beza
Ursinus
Zanchi
Swiss Delegates at Dort
Pareus
Bucan
Boyd
Wendelin
Becmann
Rutherford
Dickson
Momma
Heidegger
Leydekker
Witsius
Guertler

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Quotes

Summary Quotes

Philip Schaff

Creed Revision in the Presbyterian Churches (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890), p. 18  Schaff footnotes the divines quoted in Krauth to support this statement.

“The Continental Calvinists, with few exceptions, followed the great Geneva Reformer in confining salvation to elect infants after previous regeneration, whether baptized or not, and in excluding non-elect infants, whether baptized or not.”

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1500’s

The Zurich Consensus  1548-51

Calvin wrote the first draft of this document, which Henry Bullinger wrote notes on.  William Farel and Bullinger had a hand in revising it into its final form in 1551.  The document was intended to bring unity to Calvinist and Zwinglian churches churches on the sacraments contra the positions of Romanism and Lutheranism, and did so to a significant extent.  See Wikipedia for background.  The commentary on the linked webpage of the Consensus is by Lutherans.

Article 16

“Besides, we carefully teach that God does not exert his power indiscriminately in all who receive the sacraments, but only in the elect.  For as He enlightens unto faith none but those whom He hath foreordained to life, so by the secret agency of his Spirit He makes the elect receive what the sacraments offer.”

Article 17

“By this doctrine is overthrown that fiction of the sophists which teaches that the sacraments confer grace on all who do not interpose the obstacle of mortal sin.  For besides that in the sacraments nothing is received except by faith, we must also hold that the grace of God is by no means so annexed to them that whoso receives the sign also gains possession of the thing.  For the signs are administered alike to reprobate and elect, but the reality reaches the latter only.”

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Wolfgang Musculus

Common Places of the Christian Religion (1560), ‘Of Baptism’, cols. 287b-288a

“II. Unto Whom Baptism Ought Not to be Given


Wherefore there be certain lets and impediments to hinder, that the grace of baptism cannot take place.  And they be of two sorts, the one is secret: the other is manifest.

That is secret, in case that a man be not of the number of the elect, but be of the reprobate.  And albeit this let do always make the man void of the grace of Christ, yet it cannot be observed in the church of Christ, as touching the administration of the sacraments, yet we can’t baptize the elect only, and admit them to the communion of the Lord’s Supper only, and put away the reprobate, no more than it could be done in the Old Testament, in which God Himself did institute the sacrament of circumcision, the sign of his covenant, that He would not have any difference made in the administration thereof betwixt the elect and the reprobate, by the presumption of man, but He did so reserve the knowledge of this difference unto Himself, that He commanded that the sacrament of his grace should be ministered the eighth day to all infants, as well reprobate as elect, as well unto Esau whom he hated in his mother’s womb, as unto Jacob whom He loved before that he was born.

Therefore seeing that this difference of the elect and reprobate of the newborn infants is so hidden from our judgment , it is not meet that we should inquire upon it, when baptism ought to be ministered, lest by oversight we may reject the vessel of grace, and lest we should seem to seek to be wiser and more circumspect in the administering of the sacrament, than God Himself was in the first institution of the same.”

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Peter Martyr Vermigli

Common Places,

Book 2, ch. 1, ‘Original Sin’, sections 32-33, p. 233-4

“Howbeit, if I should be asked concerning the infants of Christians, which depart without this sacrament: mine answer should be, that we must have a good hope of them and stick fast to the Word of God; namely, to the covenant made with Abraham, wherein God promises Himself, not only that He would be a God unto him, but also unto his seed.  Which promise, seeing it is not so general, as it comprehends all; therefore I dare not promise certain salvation particularly unto any that departs hence.  For their be some children of the saints, which belong not unto predestination; such we read to be Esau, Ishmael, and others more, whose salvation is not hindered, in respect that they were not baptized.

I always except the children of the elect; for we doubt not to number them among the company of believers, though they as yet believed not by reason of their age: even as they which be born of infidels, are reckoned among the unbelievers, although of themselves they withstand not the faith.  So as the children of the godly, departing without baptism, by reason of the covenant that God hath made with their parents, may be saved; if they appertain to the number of such as be predestinate.  Also, I do except all others, if any there be, which by the secret council of God belong unto predestination.”

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Book 4

ch. 7, ‘Of Sacraments in General’, ‘Of Circumcision’, p. 110

“What is to be judged of the soul of a child so killed, having as yet not received the sacrament [of circumcision]?  I answer that we, as touching his salvation or condemnation, can affirm nothing on either side.  For if he pertained to the number of the elect so that he was predestinate to life, there is no cause but that he may be saved: forasmuch as grace is not bound unto sacraments.  But if he were a vessel to that end made of God, to show forth in him His wrath, and so to be condemned, what can we complain on the severity of God, especially seeing we are all born the children of wrath and condemnation?  Howbeit in my judgment we ought to hope well in him.”

Ch. 8, ‘Of baptism, baptizing of infants and the holiness of them’

p. 116

“For as our own salvation is, so verily is altogether the salvation of our children of the mere election and mercy of God, which oftentimes goes together with natural propagation.  Weigh with thyself, that even they be elected of God which be also born of saints, as we saw it came to pass in Isaac…  Not that it doth always so happen of necessity: because the promise is not general as touching all the seed, but of that only in which the election together consents.  Otherwise the posterity of Ishmael and Esau were of Abraham. But because we ought not to be over-curious of searching out the secret providence and election of God, therefore we judge the children of the saints to be saints, so long as by reason of their age, shall not declare themselves strangers from Christ.

We exclude them not from the Church, but embrace them as members thereof, hoping well, that as they be the seed of the saints according to the flesh, so also they be partakers of the divine election, & that they have the Holy Ghost and grace of Christ: and for this cause we baptize them.

Neither must they be heard [e.g. Anabaptists] which move a doubt of this matter and say: What if the minister be deceived; And what if for a very truth, the child be not the child of promise, of divine election and of mercy?  Because the same cavil may also be as touching them that be of lawful age [who are baptized].  For we also know not whether they come feigned, or whether they believe truly: whether they be the children of predestination, or of perdition; whether they have the grace of Christ, or whether they be destitute thereof, and do falsely say that they believe…

And so not all, so many as are baptized, are either saved or predestinated unto eternal life.  Neither can we by any other means discern between the baptized who belong unto salvation, and who be not the sons of God, but that we daily judge of them by their works.”

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p. 120

16. Neither must it be thought that I have spoken these things, to the intent that I would promise salvation unto all the children of the faithful which depart without the sacrament: for if I should so do, I might be counted rash.  I leave them to be judged of the mercy of God, seeing I have no knowledge of the secret election and predestination.  But this only I affirm, that they are in very deed saved upon whomsoever the divine election lighteth, although they be not baptized.  For God hath not tied grace unto the sacraments as though without them He neither can nor will save any also.  I hope well of such young children, because I see that they be born of faithful parents.  Which (as it hath been declared) hath no mean promises: which though they be not general as concerning all (as appeareth of Jacob and Esau, which had both one father and one mother), yet when as I see nothing otherwise, it is meet that I should hope well of the salvation of such infants: otherwise not all be saved which are baptized.  Certainly Esau was circumcised when he was a young child…

And yet nevertheless we must hope that the children departing with baptism are saved, since there appeareth nothing to the contrary: yea and rather on the otherwise we have arguments of their salvation, because they be born of the faithful, the promise is extant, they are adopted in the Church, and sealed with the Sacrament.  Wherefore letting pass the curious inquiring of predestination or election of God, we will hope well of them.”

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Theodore Beza

Acts of the Colloquy of Mt. Belligart, which was held in 1586  (Tubingen, 1587), ‘On Baptism’, p. 479.  The translation is from Kraut, p. 26; see there for a fuller account of the exchange with the Lutheran Jacob Andrea, who held otherwise.

“The Holy Spirit exercises his power in the elect alone…  the other who are condemned and not elect, being left…  The adoption is offered in circumcision, to all who are circumcised; but the elect alone receive it, whose eyes God has opened, that they may see and be saved.  The rest, to whom God hath not vouchsafed this grace, are left to his righteous judgement, and yet God remains true.  The same takes place in Baptism, which many thousand infants receive, who yet are never regenerated, but perish forever.”

Response de M. Th. de Bèze aux Actes de la Conférence de Montbéliard imprimées a Tubingue (Geneva, 1587), as translated by Witsius, ‘On the Efficacy and Utility of Baptism in the case of Elect Infants whose Parents are under the Covenant’, p. 149

“With regard indeed to infants born within the pale of the church and divinely elected (of which character I have said, we must not rashly conclude everyone to be) and dying before they attain to the use of reason, I have little difficulty in concluding on the basis of the divine promise that they are engrafted into Christ from their birth.”

Confession of the Christian Faith, 4.48  as quoted in ‘The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology’, p. 263  in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos  ed. Gaffin  (P&R, 1980)  Kraut, p. 26-27 has another translation of this passage, though gives the reference as De Spirit. Sac., IV, 29, which we are not able to find.

“The promise, accepted by the parents in faith, also includes their children to a thousand generations…  If it is objected that not all of them who are born of believing parents are elect, seeing that God did not choose all the children of Abraham and Issac, we do not lack an answer.  Though we do not deny that this is the case, still we say that this hidden judgment must be left to God and that normally, by virtue of the promise, all who have been born of believing parents, or if one of the parents believe, are sanctified.”

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Zacharias Ursinus

Sudhoff, Olevianus und Ursinus, pp. 633 ff.  as quoted in Geerhardus Vos, ‘The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology’, p. 265  in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos  ed. Gaffin  (P&R, 1980)

“Our continual answer to the Anabaptists, when they appeal to the lack of faith in infants against infant baptism, is that the Holy Spirit works regeneration and the inclination to faith and obedience to God in them in a manner appropriate to their age, always with it understood that we leave the free mercy and heavenly election unbound and unpenetrated.”

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Jerome Zanchi

A Supplication… with an Explanation of the [Lutheran] Articles of Concord  in Works, vol. 7, pt. 1, col. 48, Article 5  As translated by Krauth, p. 27

“We believe that elect infants, when they are baptized, are not baptized with water alone, but are endowed also with the Spirit of Regeneration.”

Works, vol. 8, Of the Christian Religion, Ch. 15, ‘Of Baptism’, col. 516, section II  as translated in Krauth, p. 31

“The power of Baptism has place in the elect alone.  They only are baptized, not with water merely but with the Spirit also.  Though all these things (enumerated previously) are affirmed of Baptism, and are truly attributed to it as the organ of the Holy Spirit, and all who are baptized are truly said to become and be such sacramentally; yet we believe that these things are fulfilled in fact, only in the
elect.

All are baptized with water, but the elect only, with the Spirit;
all receive the sign, but the elect only are made partakers of the thing signified and offered through Baptism.”

.

1600’s

The Swiss Delegates at Dort  1618/9

Acta of Handelingen der Nationale Synode, ed. J. H. Donner & S. A. Van den Hoorn (Leiden: J. H. Donner, n.d.) as translated in Cornelius Venema, ‘The Election and Salvation of the Children of Believers who Die in Infancy: a Study of Article I/17 of the Canons of Dort’  MJT 17 (2006), p. 67.  Note the language of reserve.  Translated in Kraut, p. 28 as “If the infants of believers die in infancy before the years of discretion, we have good hopes concerning them.”

“That there is an election and reprobation of children, as well as of adults, we cannot deny before God, who mercifully loves and irreprehensibly hates those who are not yet born.  But as concerns the children of believers, since God by virtue of the covenant of grace is their God, and since Paul calls them holy who are born of a believing father and/or mother, and since the Lord of heaven declares them heirs of the heavenly kingdom, if they die in their infancy, before the years of discretion, we hope the best of them (wij hopen van hen het beste).”

.

David Pareus

As quoted in Krauth, Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic System…  (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874), p. 20.  Krauth gives as the reference: Pareus, Castigations in Bellarmine on the Loss of Grace (1613), Book 6, p. 871, though the page number does not exactly correspond to the Google Books edition (1613), though it appears to be close.

“Neither Zwingli, nor Calvin, nor any one of us, places, without distinction in heaven with the saints, all infants who die without baptism, whether unborn or in birth, or while they are carried to baptism, but they pronounce this, by the law of charity, of the infants alone of the Church, born in the Covenant if they be prevented by death, nevertheless, without interference with the election of God, which as of old in the family of Abraham and Isaac, so in after time often hath made, and doth make a discrimination which we are neither to search into nor to scoff at, but to adore (Rom. 9:11).  This is the constant judgment of ourselves, and of our divines concerning this question.”

.

William Bucan

Institutions of the Christian Religion  trans. Robert Hill  (London, 1606), Locus 47, ‘Who are to be Baptized?’

p. 712

“Neither does this hinder [baptism], because all that are born of faithful parents are not elected; for we are not to inquire into the secret judgments of God, but probably we may duly conjecture that all which are born of Christians are elected.”

p. 735

“Are all these benefits received by baptism, equally by all those which receive the same?

No, for they are not alike: for the ingrafting into Christ, and the benefits which follow it, are not bestowed upon the reprobate, although they be offered them when they are baptised.

For God calleth and justifieth, regenerateth, and glorifieth effectually them whom He hath elected and predestinated to these things, Rom. 8:3, but the elect, as well infants, as they of years are equally incorporated into Christ, either in, or before baptism, and are endowed with the imputation of his righteousness, forgiveness of sins, and the right of eternal life, for they are all alike the sons of God, but regeneration is not wrought alike in all, nor are the gifts of the spirit, faith, hope, and charity, given alike unto all, or received alike of all, but according to the pleasure of God, as the parable of the talents teaches, and Eph. 4:7.

To everyone is given grace according to the measure of the gifts of Christ: and we do see that the effects of regeneration are more and greater in some, and in other some fewer and lesser.”

.

George Downame

A Treatise of the Certainty of Perseverance, ch. 12, pp. 397-8  being bound with The Covenant of Grace, or an Exposition upon Luke 1:73-75  (Dublin, 1631)  Downame (d. 1684) was a reformed Anglican.

“Secondly it is not necessary that every one that is baptized should presently be regenerated or justified.  But the sacrament of Baptism is a seal unto him of the righteousness of faith, which is the righteousness of Christ, either to be applied by the Holy Ghost, to the elect dying in their infancy, or to be apprehended also by faith in them, who living to years of discretion have grace to believe.

§. 4. Thirdly we are to distinguish of the effects of baptism, and of the time thereof.  For it is not the effect of baptism to begin, or to work faith, which in those of years, must go before baptism, neither can infants though baptized, whiles they want the use of reason, actually believe, but to seal to the baptized the righteousness of faith, and so to justify sacramentally, which effect is not to be restrained to the time when baptism is administered, but to be to the whole course of a man’s life, whensoever he shall believe and repent.

As for the elect, which die before the use of reason; the sacrament of baptism is the seal and means of Christ’s righteousness to be applied to these by the holy Ghost.  For as some have been sanctified from the womb, yea and some in the womb, so it is not to be doubted, but that those infants whom God in their infancy intendeth to glorify, He doth bestow upon them his spirit, which is the spirit of faith, 2 Cor. 4:13, and the spirit of regeneration, whereby He doth illuminate their minds, and sanctify their hearts and every way prepare and fit them for his own kingdom.

Fourthly we are to distinguish between the judgment of charity, and the judgment of certainty.  For although in the general we know, that not every one that is baptized is justified or shall be saved, yet when we come to speak of particulars, we are to judge of them that are baptized, that they are regenerated and justified, and that they shall be saved; until they shall discover themselves not to be such.

And so our book of Common-Prayer speaketh of them, as the scriptures also teach us to speak of them that are baptized, that they are regenerated and engrafted into the body of Christ, though perhaps they be regenerated sacramento tenus [so far as by the sacrament], and engrafted only into the body of his visible church: But this judgement of charity is no matter of certainty, or of faith, but may be deceived.

The like judgment of charity our church conceiveth concerning all those that die in the bosom of the church, and depart this life in the profession of the faith, so that not all are justified before God, or sanctified by saving grace, who to us, judging according to charity, seem to be such.”

.

Robert Boyd

Roberti Bidii A trochoregia Scoti SS. theologiae in academiis salmuriana, glascuana, & Edinburgena professoris eximii, in epistolam Pauli Apostoli ad ephesios praelectiones supra CC. lectione varia, multifaria eruditione, & pietate singulari refertae  (London, 1652), p. 762  as translated by Witsius, ‘On the Efficacy and Utility of Baptism in the case of Elect Infants whose Parents are under the Covenant’, p. 130  Another translation of the same is in Krauth, pp. 20-21.

“Meanwhile, we in no wise so connect the grace and mercy of God towards infants with the faith of believing parents as to infer any prejudice to the free and secret election of him who, both among infants and adult professors of the faith, knows who are his own and has sealed them with a seal known only to himself.”

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Marc Frederic Wendelin

Theological Exercitations, 37.1,18-19  as translated in Charles P. Krauth, Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic system. A Review of Dr. Hodge’s Theology  (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874), p. 16

“All infants of Christians, even before baptism are holy, with a federal and external holiness, on account of which they ought to be reputed a part of the visible Church and people of God, and as federates be admitted to the seal of the Covenant.  Some infants of Christians, even before Baptism, nay even in their mother’s womb, not indeed by nature, but by grace, are holy with an internal sanctity, and these infants are believers and regenerate…

The internal sanctity is not necessarily conjoined with the federal, but in many infants and adults is separated from it.  This we learn from the event; for those who were once sanctified never wholly lose their sanctity.

There is no need here of inferences or citations, to convince me.  Of my own accord, and freely and expressly I confess, with [Zacharias] Ursinus and our other teachers, that not all who are baptized, whether adults or infants, become participants of the grace of Christ, for the election of God is most free: it is therefore a prerogative of the elect alone, which baptism seals.”

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William Twisse, Westminster divine

A Treatise of Mr. Cotton’s clearing certain doubts concerning Predestination, together with an examination thereof  (London, 1646), ‘The Seventh Doubt’, pp. 255-6

“…this point touching children that die in their infancy before the guilt of their actual sin?  I would not hastily determine anything.  Praestat dubitare de occultis, quàm ligitare de incertis.  ‘It is better to doubt of secret things, than wrangle about things uncertain.’  They stand or fall to Him who hath said of the infants of such parents as commend them to the blessing of Christ, ‘Of such is the kingdom of God.’

But to my understanding it is most agreeable to the analogy of faith to range little children under the covenant of parents, it being God’s usual manner of dealing to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him, and to show mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep his commandments.”

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Christian Becmann  d. 1648

As quoted in Krauth, Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic system… (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874), p. 20.  Krauth gives as the reference: VI, 90.  This may possibly be from his Vindiciae der Predigt Abr. Sculteti von Götzenbildern, contra Jesuitas et Lutheranos (Hanau 1620)

“Not all baptized children are true regenerate Christians, who shall be saved; for God the Lord hath reserved unto Himself his secret foreknowledge toward children, also, yet unborn.”

.

Rutherford, Westminster divine

Covenant of Life Opened  (1658), Part 1, ch. 13, ‘There are two sorts of Covenanting, on external, professed, visible, conditional, another internal, real, absolute and the differences betwixt them. 2. Infants externally in Covenant under the New Testament…’, pp. 90-91

“For the proposition, when God saith, ‘I will be thy God, O Abraham, and the God of thy seed’:  Is it needful that God require the same conditions, that is actual believing, that He may save father Abraham, and also actual believing from hearing the word of the Covenant preached from all infants born of Abraham and dying in infancy, or then all these infants so dying must be eternally damned?

Nay.  We believe many infants (we reserve to the holy and glorious Lord his liberty of election and reprobation, Rom. 9:11-12) among the Jews were saved by the Covenant of Grace, though they died infants.  And this we condemn in Anabaptists, that they show no revealed way of God of saving infants of believing parents dying in infancy, more than of saving pagans and their infants, for to them both are alike without the Covenant of Grace and without Christ; and therefore believing parents have no word of faith or of the Gospel to pray for the salvation of their children dying in infancy, for such prayers have neither warrant in the Covenant of Works, nor in the Covenant of Grace, by their way.

And yet that we are to pray, is to be gathered from Gen. 18:19; 2 Sam. 12:16; Job 1:5; Mk. 10:16; Ps. 28:9; and if we pray for their salvation, they must be saved by either Law or Gospel.  It’s not enough, to say that we may pray for savages that never heard of the Gospel, nor of the Covenant of Grace, that they may be saved.  For seeing there is no name under Heaven by which men may be saved, but by the name of Jesus, Acts 4:12; Jn. 14:6.  There is no other warrand of praying for such, than that God would send them the Gospel; and since Christ prayed for infants and blessed them, which is a praying for them (Gen. 48:15-16; Deut. 33:1,6-8, etc., Eph. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:3; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:3.  See Mk. 10:16.  He must own them as blessed in Christ in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed, and so Covenanted with God in Christ.”

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Samuel Clarke

Clarke here does not distinguish whether the infants are in the church or not, nor does he mention baptism.  Medulla theologiæ, or, The marrow of divinity contained in sundry questions and cases of conscience…  (London, 1659), ch. 42, p. 410.  Clarke (1599-1682) was a puritan.

“Question:  What are we to think of infants, and idiots?

Answer:  Such of them as belong to God’s election, he worketh in them for their justification, and sanctification after an extraordinary, secret, and wonderful manner, applying Christ to them, his righteousness, obedience, and virtue of his death, and resurrection by his holy Spirit, who all-sufficiently supplies unto them the defect of all inferior instruments, and means, and hereby purgeth them from the guilt, punishment, and corruption of their sins.  Now in these there cannot actually be this conflict, because they have not the acts and operations of spiritual graces, but only the seeds of them: yet even in them, through spiritual regeneration, there may be some kind of conflict between the Spirit and the flesh, the seed of grace, and of corruption striving one against another.  But this is meant of elect infants dying in their infancy.”

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John Flavel

A Token for Mourners, or, the advice of Christ to a distressed mother bewailing the death of her dear and only son…  (1674), p. 86

“10th Consideration:  The present felicity into which all that die in Christ are presently admitted, should abundantly comfort Christians over the death of such as either carried a lively hope out of the world with them, or have left good grounds of such an hope behind them.

Some there are that carried a lively hope to heaven with them, who could evidence to themselves and friends their interest in Christ and in the Covenant.  Yea, though they had died in silence, yet their conversations would speak for them, and the tenor of their lives leave no ground of doubting touching their death: others dying in their infancy or youth, though they carried not such an actual hope with them, yet they have left good grounds of hope behind them.

Parents now ponder these grounds; you have prayed for them, you have many times wrestled with the Lord on their behalf; you have taken hold of God’s Covenant for them, as well as for your selves, and dedicated them to the Lord, and they have not by any actions of theirs destroyed those grounds of your hope, but that you may with much probability conclude they are with God.”

.

David Dickson, Westminster divine

Truth’s Victory Over Error (Edinburgh, 1684), ch. 28, ‘Of Baptism’

Question 3

“By what reasons are they [Anabaptists] confuted?


(2) Because, the outward sacrament of water, cannot be denied to such, as have received the Spirit of Christ, and to whom the promises of the New Covenant, sealed up in Baptism do belong (Acts 10:47; 11:15-17).  But to some infants of believers, as well as to others come to age, the Spirit of Christ hath been given (Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:15; Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:13,14).  And to them do the promises belong (Acts 2:39).

Question 4

“Are all that are baptized, undoubtedly regenerated?

No.  Acts 8:13,23.


By what reasons are they [Romanists & Lutherans] confuted?


(3) Because, infants that are predestinated unto life, though they die in their mother’s belly, yet they cannot perish (Mt. 18:14).

(4) Because, some children before their Baptism, have been beloved of God, whose love is unchangeable (Rom. 9:11,13).  Others have been regenerated by the Holy Ghost (Lk. 1:15): and some have also been comprehended within the Covenant of Grace (Acts 2:39).

(5) Because, that Baptism, without faith, and the inward operation of the holy Spirit, hath no efficacy to Salvation (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).

(7) Because, very many that are baptized within the visible Church, are damned (Mt. 7:13-14).


(9) Because, not all that are baptized are elected (Mt. 20:16)…

(10) Because, the Holy Ghost, is a most Free Agent, and Worker: and therefore his operation (whence the efficacy of Baptism depends) whereby we are regenerated, is not tied to any one moment of time (Jn. 3:8).”

.

pp. 95-96 of Book 1, Ch. 6, ‘Of the Means to Draw on the Making of this Covenant’  in Therapeutica Sacra  (Edinburgh, 1664)  See the whole 4 paragraphs of the relevant section.  Emphasis added here.

“Fourthly, this external covenanting, wherein God promiseth to be the believers God, and the God of their children, is a mean not only to beget and foster faith in the covenanting parents, for their own salvation, but also a mean to comfort them about the salvation of their infants, dying in their infancy, whether before or after their baptism; and a mean to give them good hope of those children’s blessed resurrection, by virtue of the promise, because in covenanting, the Lord doth promise to be the believer’s God, and the God of his children, and doth not exact the condition of actual faith from their dying infants.”

.

Wilhelm Momma

On the Varied Condition and State of the Church of God under the Threefold Economy: the Patriarchs, the Old Testament, and then the New Testament  4th ed.  (d. 1677; Basel, 1718), vol. 2, p. 207

Momma here calls Jacob Andrea ‘crude’ for his rebuffing response of Beza above at the Colloquy of Mt. Belligart. 

Momma had considered that it was his “supremest solicitude not to depart a nail’s breadth from the faith and confession of the Reformed Church.”  (as quoted and described in Krauth, p. 26)

.

Johann Heidegger

Body of Theology, 25.49-50  as translated in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics ed. Bizer, trans. Thompson (1950; rep. Wipf & Stock, 2007), pp. 622-3

“Even in early times circumcision also conferred upon the circumcised among the non-elect a privilege above the non-circumcised.  To them were entrusted the oracles of God, Rom. 3:1-2.–By a like reasoning  there is a common grace and favor of God, which all baptized  persons possess, even the non-elect, viz., initiation and ingrafting into the outward body of the Church, in virtue of which even though perishing they have a right to the name of huieis basileias [sons of the kingdom] and enjoy the outward privileges of God’s covenanted.–But this is the mere courtyard, shell and surface of baptism.

As for adults, outward baptism does not seal inward grace for all of them, but for those alone who bear in their hearts a faith the reverse of feigned and confess it in words.  Nor yet for the children of believing parents one and all, but only for the elect is baptism the sign of regeneration and universal spiritual grace.  Although it is right and godly in the case of individual children of the kind to have good hopes of the judgment in love, in the case of them all it is not so.”

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Melchior Leydekker

Of the Truth of the Reformed Faith & of the Sanctity of the Same, in 3 Books, or a Commentary on the Palatinate Catechism  (Utrecht, 1694), Lord’s Day 27, Q. 74, Annexum, p. 327.  As trans. in Kraut, p. 27.

“The faith demanded of parents in the formula of baptism is indefinite: this, to wit that godly persons’ infants are sanctified in Christ.  And that faith is true, although there should be here and there an exception…  That divine promise has a common truth, though God reserve to Himself, according to His own power and liberty, the exclusion of some infants.  Faith…  performs its office when it lays hold of the promise as it is given, and reverently leaves to God liberty of application.  The believer is bound…  to acquiesce in the promise given…  and to trust in it, or, in the judgment of charity to hope well concerning this infant which is to be baptized— nay, to believe that this infant belongs to Christ, unless God, by a singular decision, wills its exclusion.  The faith demanded of parents is not vain…  though here and there one (of the infants) does not belong to the election…  although there is not an internal baptizing of exactly all infants.”

.

William Haworth

Absolute Election of Persons, not upon Foreseen Conditions, Stated and Maintained in Some Sermons preached at Hartford…  (London, 1694), pp. 4-5.  Haworth was a reformed congregationalist pastor in Hartford, England from 1673-1703, and is arguing against a conditional election.

“2nd Reason:  The Scripture doth plainly hold out, that infants that die as soon as they be born, or those that die in the womb, or before they come of years, if any of them be saved, as who dare deny that then they are elected: of such (the Scripture saith) is the Kingdom of God; He means such children as were brought to Him whom He blessed, children of disciples that followed Him and believed on Him.  ‘The branches are holy’, Rom. 11, and in the same chapter the Jews are said to be be beloved with the love of election for their Fathers’ sake: children are elected, if any are saved: none are saved but the elect; it’s said Rom. 11:7, ‘the election hath obtained’;

but now what conditions did these infants fulfill of obeying and per••••ing [performing?], when as they were cut off before they were capable of doing anything, or using any means, and God had decreed and determined them unto death in their infancy?  Remember now that elect infants dying in infancy make but one body together with us of those that shall be saved.  Here are some elected without conditions.

.

1700’s

Herman Witsius

‘On the Efficacy and Utility of Baptism in the case of Elect Infants whose Parents are under the Covenant’, p. 127, 130, 137   in MJT 17 (2006), originally an appendix in William Marshall, Popery in The Full Corn, the Ear, and the Blade; or, The Doctrine of Baptism in the Popish, Episcopalian, and Congregational Churches; with a Defence of the Calvinistic or Presbyterian View (Edinburgh: Paton and Ritchie, 1852).

“And, in the first place, I assume as admitted by all orthodox writers upon the subject, although it is not safe to pry too curiously into the secrets of the divine counsels or to draw too confident conclusions concerning the lot of those dying in infancy, that a distinguished privilege belongs to those infants whose benefit it is in divine providence to be born of parents whom the grace of the Most High has honored with the saving fellowship of his covenant.

For it would be altogether wrong to suppose that the promise made to Abraham (“I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee”) has been either revoked or brought within narrower limits by the introduction of the better dispensation, especially seeing that Peter, on the glorious day of Pentecost, impressed upon his hearers that the promise of the Spirit of grace was given not to themselves only but also to their children; and that the Lord Jesus took up in his arms the children of covenanted parents, blessed them, and, in a word, declared that of such is the kingdom of heaven (which Scripture testimonies I do not feel myself called to dwell upon at present, as I have expounded them at length in another place).

Indeed, the height and depth of eternal predestination forbids us to pry into its hidden things with more than a lawful curiosity. Yet, judging soberly, there can be nothing to prevent us from conferring the sign and seal of the covenant upon those whom it is proper to acknowledge as the covenanted people of God; meanwhile the secret things of predestination have been left to God according to his freedom.

XIV. From all this we infer that there is no such thing signified and sealed, much less conferred, upon all covenanted infants  in baptism as a kind of common justification, regeneration, and sanctification, which shall place them in a state of salvation prior to the use of reason and become insufficient for their salvation after they have grown up, nor any remission of original sin, whether revocable or irrevocable; but that the whole efficacy of baptism, insofar as it implies a state of salvation even conformably with that period of life, belongs exclusively to infants who are elected.

Hence, among orthodox theologians disputing about the efficacy of baptism, the question is chiefly, if not solely:  What benefits does it confer upon elect infants, who alone in the estimation of God have, strictly speaking, a right to it?”

.

Nicholas Guertler

Theological Institutions, containing the Fundamentals of the Reformed Religion  (Magdeburg, 1721), ch. 33, ‘Of the Salvation of the Delivering ‘Seed’, Third Time Period, p. 850, thesis 178  As translated in Kraut, p. 27

“Many sprinkled with water, both infants and adults, do not obtain salvation, beyond doubt because they do not receive Baptism entire, but only its first and most common part.”

.

.

The Doctrinal History of the Topic

Articles

Krauth

Warfield, B.B.

Stephens

Webb, R.A.

Venema, Cornelius P. – ‘The Election and Salvation of the Children of Believers who Die in Infancy: a Study of Article I/17 of the Canons of Dort’  MJT 17 (2006) 57-100

Venema provides helpful background information to the interpretation of the Canons of Dort on this subject (including looking at the various edits in Article 17 before it was finalized), in general demonstrating, in his view, something of a general consensus on the straightforward meaning of Article 17 through Dutch history. 

He does show that some of the delegates at Dort spoke with some qualification on the subject, with not 100% certainty that every child born to professing believers is elect.  The two persons that he uses to exemplify the ‘weaker view’ of the clause, ‘a declaration of attitude’ as opposed to ‘certainty’, are two Protestant Reformed teachers in the 1900’s.

However, Venema does not cite the views of specific German Reformed and Dutch Reformed theologians and historical interpreters of the Canons through history. 

As is seen in the quotes above by the Dutch Ursinus, Leydekker, Witsius & Guertler, and the German Wendelin, Becmann & Momma, these theologians did not believe that one could conclude that every infant born to professing believers was elect.  See especially David Pareus who says that ‘[n]either Zwngli, nor Calvin, nor any one of us’ thought that all such children were elect, and ‘[t]his is the constant judgment of ourselves, and of our divines concerning this question.’

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Canons of Dort:
Article 17

“Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy”

.

.

On the Timing of Regeneration in Church-Children

1500’s

Zurich Consensus

Intro

Calvin wrote the first draft of this document, which Henry Bullinger wrote notes on. William Farel and Bullinger had a hand in revising it into its final form in 1551. The document was intended to bring unity to Calvinist and Zwinglian churches churches on the sacraments contra the positions of Romanism and Lutheranism, and did so to a significant extent. See Wikipedia for background. The commentary on the linked webpage of the Consensus is by Lutherans.

.

“Article 20. The Benefit Not Always Received in the Act of Communicating.

The advantage which we receive from the sacraments ought by no means to be restricted to the time at which they are administered to us, just as if the visible sign, at the moment when it is brought forward, brought the grace of God along with it. For those who were baptized when mere infants, God regenerates in childhood or adolescence, occasionally even in old age.

Thus the utility of baptism is open to the whole period of life, because the promise contained in it is perpetually in force. And it may sometimes happen that the use of the holy Supper, which, from thoughtlessness or slowness of heart does little good at the time, afterward bears its fruit.”

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John Calvin

Institutes 4.16.21

“…they repeatedly go wrong through their deluded notion that the thing ought always to precede the sign in order of time…  in infant baptism nothing more of present effectiveness must be required than to confirm and ratify the covenant made with them by the Lord.”

.

1600’s

Thomas Cole, Westminster divine

A Discourse of Regeneration, Faith and Repentance, Preached…  (London, 1692)  Cole (1628-1697) was a puritan.

“Before I enter upon this, let me put this question, viz., I will put it, without any positive solution, only I will suggest to you my thoughts, and leave the matter to your further consideration.  The question is this: viz., Whether any who live till they come to the use of reason, are converted or regenerated before they come to the use of reason, after the manner of elect Infants dying in infancy?

I dare not deny but it may be so, because of some Scriptures that look that way.  John the Baptist is said to be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb; Jeremiah, to be sanctified from the womb.  Though these texts are capable of another construction, ’tis evident that Paul distinguishes his separation, or sanctification, from the womb, unto office, from his effectual calling by grace in conversion [Gal. 1:15]:

But admitting this, that some now living may have been regenerated in their infancy, before they come to the use of reason; yet this I may say, that such persons, when grown up, must needs be little acquainted with the manner of their regeneration, because ’twas done before they knew it: nothing can fall under their observation, but the after effects of it, manifested in their lives; how ’twas at first wrought, is too hard a question to put to such.

I will venture to say this, that I conceive it is usually otherwise, viz., that those who live till they come to the use of reason, are not ordinarily converted before they come to the use of reason.

Because God loves to be understood by us in all the acts of his kindness towards us, therefore He will have some part of the known history of our lives to be a standing witness to us of our former unregenerate state.  ‘Such were some of you.’ [1 Cor. 6]  ‘I was before a blasphemer, a persecutor; but I obtained mercy.’  He had undeniable proof and evidence of this in his own experience, and within his own remembrance; which made him so much admire the free-grace of God towards him, that put such a difference between him and others, and between him and himself, heretofore and now.”

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Matthew Henry

Select Works, on Baptism

“Baptism doth not work as a spell, or charm, or by any physical influence; but it acts as a motive, or argument, by moral agency; and we then make use of our baptism, when we improve that argument with ourselves, for our quickening, caution, encouragement, as there is occasion.”

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1800’s

Alexander, Archibald

Opening pages of Religious Experience

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1900’s

Article on Neo-Calvinism and surveying Calvin from John the Baptist

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On the Nature of the Damnation of Reprobate Infants

1600’s

Willet, Andrew – Rom. 5, Controversy 21, ‘That the punishment of original sin is everlasting death’  in Hexapla, that is, A Six-fold commentary upon…  Romans…  (1611), pp. 278-80

Burgess, Anthony – pp. 546-7  of Pt. 4, ch. 5, section 9, ‘Of the state of Infants that die in their Infancy, before they are capable of any Actual Transgressions, and that die before Baptism’  of A Treatise of Original Sin  (London, 1658)

Burgess (d. 1664) was a Westminster divine.

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1800’s

Krauth, Philip C. – 31. ‘Calvinism and Romanism on Infant Salvation’32. ‘Calvinism & Pelagianism’ & 34. ‘The Synod of Dort’  in Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic system. A Review of Dr. Hodge’s Theology  (Philadelphia: Lutheran Books Store, 1874), pp. 45-51, 55

Krauth was a Lutheran professor of theology.  He surveys Calvin, Chamier & Maresius on the nature of the damnation of reprobate infants, contra Romanism. 

Romanism typically held that such infants only suffer the loss of being outside the Kingdom of God and the loss of the vision of God, but that they do not suffer positive punishments of ‘sense’ (this involving the special category, or area of Hell, of the Limbo of Infants).  The Reformed, with some exceptions, usually argued that infants do suffer punishments of sense for Adam’s Original Sin.  Maresius is translated at greatest length from the Latin.

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“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”

1 Cor. 7:14

“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel;”

Rom. 9:6

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