“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews… Jesus… said unto him, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God….’ ‘Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?'”
“For the Lord hath spoken, ‘I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me… a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord…’ ‘Wash you, make you clean… Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…”
“We pray you in Christ’s stead, ‘Be ye reconciled to God’… ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.'”
2 Cor. 5:20; 6:2
Order of Contents
What is Presumptive Regeneration?
The Biblical View
A Credible Profession of Faith
Judgment of Charity
Covenant Theology Gen. 17:7
Scriptures for Presumptive Regeneration?
. Intros of Epistles
. 1 Cor. 7:14
. John the Baptist
Scriptures Against Presumptive Regeneration
. Old Testament
. New Testament
. Externally in the Covenant
. Time-Periods in Church History
Jer. 31:31, ‘the New Covenant’
Lists of Historical Quotes?
Practical Tendencies of Presumptive Regeneration
Raising Children in the Covenant
. Westminster Minutes
On 1 Cor. 7:14
Can Infants have Faith?
Raising Children Externally in the Covenant of Grace
Rev. Travis Fentiman
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
What is Presumptive Regeneration?
The recent rise in interest in Covenant theology has also seen a rise in the popularity of the doctrine of Presumptive Regeneration.. What is to be made of this teaching which is becoming more common in reformed Christianity? And is it Scriptural?
It seems to have been largely forgotten that in the classical era of presbyterianism during the 1600’s, the majority of presbyterians (who held to a full-fledged Covenant-theology), argued early, often and at length from Scripture (as documented below on this page) against the doctrine of presumptive regeneration, which was a distinctive of the Separatists, Independents and Congregationalists (in chronological order).
The fullest argumentation in Church history in English against Presumptive Regeneration is provided and linked below in the presbyterian articles and books of the Scots: Samuel Rutherford, David Dickson, James Fergusson and James Wood; of the English: William Rathband, Thomas Blake and Francis Fullwood; and of the Dutch: Willem Apollonius.
This Introduction to the topic propounds and argues in extensive detail from Scripture what Dr. Joel Beeke has outlined on the subject:
“According to God’s promise (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39), the children of believing parents are included in the covenant of grace and must be received as members of the church by baptism.. This promise is precious, and the privileges it confers on our children are great indeed.
But they afford us no ground to presume that our children are regenerate and no reason to treat them as such before they come to saving faith and repentance.. We baptize infants based on many points, but not on account of ‘presumptive regeneration.'” (‘Praying for our Children’s Salvation’)
Presumptive Regeneration takes a variety of forms: some harder, some softer.. Harder forms of it include:
(1) holding the presumed regeneration of the infant (or of elect infants, or of the parents) to be the grounds of infant baptism;
(2) baptismal regeneration: that all, or most, infants are regenerated, normally regenerated, or presumed to be regenerated, at baptism;
(3) that all those externally Covenanted unto God partake of, or are presumed to partake of, all the spiritual blessings of the substance of the Covenant;
(4) that only the regenerate are externally Covenanted to God, or that there is no way that persons are Covenanted to God in the Covenant of Grace except internally, spiritually and savingly.
Softer forms of presumptive regeneration include:
(5) that Church membership is grounded upon, and presumes, regeneration;
(6) that persons who profess faith are to be presumed to be, viewed as, or treated as regenerate until demonstrated otherwise;
(7) that children of professing believers are to be presumed to be, viewed as, or treated as regenerate until they demonstrate otherwise.
Regarding presuming the regeneracy of Covenant-children, Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a great popularizer of presumptive regeneration, “taught that God can and often does regenerate his elect as infants” and that “covenant parents are to presume that their covenant children are regenerate until they give prolonged and conscious evidence in their mature years that they are unregenerate.” (Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Dallas: Scholarly Reprints, 1993, p. 131)
In order to better understand a pivotal point upon which the topic turns, let three categories of people be distinguished where persons profess faith, or are raised externally in the Covenant.. The middle category (which is a large share of people in the Church) is that which is in question:
(1) Those who profess faith and demonstrably show in their lives abundant, saving fruit of the Holy Spirit.. Such may be safely regarded as regenerate.
(2) Those who profess faith (or perhaps are too young to clearly profess faith) where the testimony of their lives is either unknown or mixed, it not being obvious whether the fruit thereof is of the saving work of the Spirit.
(3) Those who profess faith, but openly or habitually contradict this profession in the manner of their living, not having visible evidence of the Spirit’s saving work or fruit in their lives.. These persons may safely be regarded as unregenerate.
Are persons in category (2), where the saving fruit of the Holy Spirit is not clearly present, to be presumed to be regenerate? Presumptive Regeneration says: ‘Yes’; the majority of classical presbyterianism says: ‘No’.
The initial attractiveness that Presumptive Regeneration has for many people is often twofold:
(1) It seems to be a solution to the problem of Christians treating their children like heathens, and the attendant, hyper-crass conversionism which this often entails;
(2) The novelty of it, and hence unbounded (and untested) hope that this paradigm can mold contemporary Christianity into a more faithful, better, stronger and more ‘Covenantal’ form.
The Biblical View fully solves (1) without the excessive error.. On Biblically faithful evangelization of children, see the subsection below.
Regarding number (2), the seeming novelty of presumptive regeneration, with persons’ attendant, sincere and implicit trust in it:
Presumptive regeneration has actually been practiced, with its practical, deleterious tendencies realized, throughout centuries of Church history, particularly, since the Reformation in the Church of England, in certain Dutch Reformed churches especially since the 1800’s from the influence of Abraham Kuyper till today, and it is currently seeing a prolonged trajectory in American households immersed in Christian-Worldview-ism (a Christian worldview is necessary, just not to the exclusion of every other aspect of our Lord’s religion).
The Biblical View
The God of Truth never calls us to presume anything that is false.
We believe that all persons from conception have inherited original sin and a depraved nature, being unable to save themselves, because the Bible teaches this (Ps. 51:5; Jer. 17:9; Jn. 3:6-7; Eph. 2:1-3).
Scripture also teaches that children of professing believers are born externally into the Covenant of Grace (Gen. 17:7; Ps. 87; Mk. 10:14; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor. 7:14), and have God especially to be their God externally by Covenant (Gen. 17:7; Mt. 18:10), whether or not they are regenerate (Isa. 1:2-4; Rom. 9:13; 1 Cor. 7:14). Thus our children are set apart from the world, and receive special Covenant-blessings and a special providence from God, being born into and raised within the tent-pegs of Abraham.
As there is no promise in the Bible that God will regenerate all of our natural offspring, or all those externally in the Covenant, we ought not to go further than the Word of God and presume this.
However, as Scripture teaches that God may regenerate children in the womb (Ps. 22:9-10; 139:13-15; Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:15, 43-44), and as Covenant-children or professing adults may have a mustard-seed of saving faith (Mt. 17:20) which may not be very discernible to us (Lk. 2:19; Mk. 9:24), so we do not presume that they are unregenerate.
The way that Scripture gives for persons to discern whether another professing Christian is born of God is whether spiritual fruit is evident in their life.. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit (Mt. 3:10; 7:17-19; 12:33; 21:19; Lk. 6:43-47; 13:6-9; Jn. 15:1-5).
If, in category-(2) persons, this fruit appears absent, is not discernible or is mixed or ambiguous, the person’s regeneration (child or adult) is indeterminate, and should be held to be such, not out of presumption, but because it is indeterminate.
John the Baptist said to those who presume that persons are regenerate who are born into the visible-Church:
“Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father.'” (Lk. 3:8)
All children need to come to Christ from as soon as they are able to understand with saving faith and repentance by the call and offer of the Gospel and the urging of their parents, whether they are regenerate or not.
God has promised for the external means of grace in his Covenant to be the great river-bed through which the saving waters of his Spirit will flow:
“For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say, ‘I am the Lord‘s’; and another shall call himself by the name of ‘Jacob’; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of ‘Israel’.” (Isa. 44:3-5)
This promise of God pouring out his saving Spirit in and through the external bounds of the Covenant is not made to every natural descendant of a believer, and it should not be presumed to have been made so.. In the words of Francis Turretin (1623-1687, a leading figure of high-reformed orthodoxy) regarding Covenant-children:
“…although Christian charity commands us to cherish a good hope concerning their salvation, still we cannot certainly determine that every single one belongs to the election of God, but leave it to the secret counsel and supreme liberty of God.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology 2.583)
Hence, we pray earnestly that God would find it in his good pleasure, for Jesus Christ, to save our Covenant-children, and we ought to diligently take every means thereto, lest they fall away as Covenant-breakers.
For more delineating the Biblical view, see the section, ‘Raising Children in the Covenant’ in this Introduction, below.
A Credible Profession of Faith
While a credible profession of faith, adequate to the inquiry of church elders, is sufficient for entrance into the communicate-membership of a local church, yet what such a credible profession entails is often understood differently.
Many of the Independent, Congregationalist and Separatist traditions (though not all to the same degree) have historically sought to maintain a pure, regenerate Church-membership (believing that the visible-Church should only have regenerate persons in it).. Hence, a credible profession of faith has been understood to entail externally demonstrable evidence of habitual spiritual life, taking a prolonged amount of time (months or years) for elders to discern clearly, if at all.
However, this is not what we find in Scripture.. Many persons who repent and believe upon the hearing of the Gospel have no spiritual history, have little or no knowledge of spiritual experience, have no assurance therein and may not be able to clearly articulate any of these things.
The ministers of God in Scripture (an example to us) did not put willing converts through this, but accepted their professed repentance and desire to trust the Lord and Christ (in the New Testament) for salvation from their sins and their commitment to walk in his ways, in dependence upon Him (Ex. 19:8; 24:3-8; Josh. 1:15-17; 2 Kings 11:17; Mt. 3:5-6; Acts 2:37-41; 4:4; 8:36-37; 16:29-30; 22:16).
When Peter could have waited to baptize Simon, who had been a notorious sorcerer (Acts 8:9-11), to see if his repentance and amendment of life was genuine, he did not, but baptized him immediately upon his professed belief (Acts 8:12-13), though it was shortly found out that he remained in the ‘gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity’, his heart being ‘not right in the sight of God’ (Acts 8:20-23).. Yet, precisely because Simon was baptized and in the fellowship of the apostles, Peter was able to bring the Word of conviction to him (a means of grace), causing Simon to cry out to the Lord for help through them (Acts 8:20-24).
When Joshua exhorted all the people of Israel to ‘fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and truth’ and make clean riddance of all of their idols, they professed with lackluster their allegiance to the Lord (Josh. 24:14-16).. Joshua, having every reason to doubt their regeneracy and evangelical sincerity, tells them:
“You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God… He will not forgive your transgressions, nor your sins.” (24:19)
Yet, nonetheless, upon their insisted profession (24:21), with no further evidence of amendment of life, Joshua accepts their verbal commitment and makes a covenant with them that day (24:22-25).
What Joshua believed about their regeneration is unambiguous and his recorded actions are an example of how ministers should handle such situations today. Joshua pointedly tells them: “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen you the Lord, to serve Him,” and then proceeds to exhort them to evangelical obedience: “put away… the strange gods which are among you [which they hadn’t yet] and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.”
In case there is any doubt as to whether unregenerate, professing persons have a certain right to visible, church-membership in the sight of God: After Israel had, upon profession, outwardly Covenanted with God at Mt. Sinai, this same Covenant was shortly to be renewed before entering the promised land.. God, knowing their hearts, bewails, “Oh!! That there were such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all my commandments always!” (Dt. 5:29)
While most modern presbyterians who hold to presumptive regeneration do not seek a pure, regenerate Church membership, entailing close spiritual examinations, yet they often are still very willing to presume that persons born externally into the Covenant or professing faith, without clear spiritual fruit in their lives, are regenerate.. Which of these two errors at the opposite ends of the spectrum is worse, is hard to say.
Judgment of Charity
Historic presbyterianism (as evidenced by the writings below) has always held that we are to give a judgment of charity to persons who profess faith who are without significant, obvious contradictions to their profession in their life.. This stems from both natural ethics and 1 Cor. 13:4,7: “Charity… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things…”
The doctrine of Presumptive Regeneration often takes the judgment of charity to involve a positive determination as to the person’s regeneration, until the person becomes involved in scandal, is kicked out of the Church, etc.
Classical presbyterianism has largely not understood the judgment of charity this way, but, while giving the benefit of the doubt where possible and charitably hoping for the best, has held the judgment of charity to be consistent with a measure of indeterminacy as to another person’s regeneration, subject to the searching and testing of the person’s heart and life by time, the Word and the Lord’s ways with us (Ps. 7:9; 11:4-5; 26:2; Jer. 9:7; 11:20; Amos 9:9; Mt. 10:22; 13:20-21; Jn. 6:67; 1 Cor. 11:28-29; 2 Cor. 13:5; Rev. 2:23), in order to ‘make’ their ‘calling and election sure’ (2 Pet. 1:10) if they are regenerate.
This difference has been historically distinguished by the contrast in the Latin phrases between certitudine fidei (with the certainty of faith, as a dictate of the Faith) and quodam iudicio charitatis (by a certain judgment of charity). See John Calvin, Institutes, book 4, ch. 1, bottom of p. 20.
It is true that we are to give the benefit of the doubt that a seemingly, humanly-sincere, credible profession of faith is in fact a credible profession of faith (as opposed to it being not credible), yet a humanly credible profession of faith does not necessarily entail a person’s regeneration (Mt. 7:21-23; 13:20-21; Jn. 6:66; Acts 8:13,21-23; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; James 2:14-20; etc.).. Jesus thought this was obvious:
“…in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which He did.. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man.” (Jn. 2:23-25)
Jesus was not dependent necessarily on any special, miraculous or divine knowledge to know this.. He simply inferred it, the text says, from the depravity of man (despite that all these people were visible-Church-Israelites, externally Covenanted to God).. Anyone who has been taught the depravity of man from General Revelation, experience and from Scripture may infer it as well.. A humanly credible profession of faith does not commit us to a willful ignorance concerning, or a blind acceptance of, a person’s regeneration.
One should also be aware of an increasingly common trend for the doctrine of presumptive regeneration to be laid under the simple and historic language of a ‘judgment of charity’.. The language of a ‘judgment of charity’ may be all which is used, yet there is a presumption of regeneration under the use of that historic phrase.
Softer views of Presumptive Regeneration sometimes hold that being externally in Covenant with God and receiving the external, visible sign of that, baptism, is of itself a profession of faith.. Therefore by a judgment of charity one ought to presume that Covenant-children are regenerate.
However, things that differ should be distinguished, and being externally in Covenant and baptized is different from a personal profession of faith.. It is affirmed that being externally-Covenanted to God, having an external-holiness, being set-apart in God’s providence, having the objective, outward seal of baptism placed upon oneself, being raised in a home where Christianity is professed, and being outwardly recognized as the ‘people of God’ is a testimony, and hence a certain profession, to the Faith (just as it was in the O.T. with circumcision) that has been placed upon, and outwardly done unto, a person, but none of this is grounded upon regeneration, evidence of personal faith, nor of a personal profession of faith and hence there is nothing for a judgment of charity to presume or even give a benefit of the doubt to.
Note that John Calvin’s use of the traditional phrase, ‘judgment of charity’, is in the context of professing adults, not that of infants being born externally into the Covenant of Grace (Institutes, book 4, ch. 1, bottom of p. 20).
‘I will… be a God unto thee and to thy seed’, Gen. 17:7
The Covenant of Grace is often summed up through Scripture in the Covenant-promise and relationship that God would be a God unto his people (involving all which that entails) and that this peculiarly chosen people would be a people set apart in holiness and service unto God, to be his people (Ex. 3:7; Lev. 26:12; Ruth 1:16; 1 Kings 6:13; 2 Chron. 7:14; Ps. 50:7; Isa. 19:25; 51:16; Jer. 7:23; 11:4; 30:22; 31:1; Eze. 14:11; 36:28; 37:23-24; 37:26-2837:26-28; Hos. 1:9-10; 2:23; Zech. 2:11; Rom. 9:25-26; 2 Cor. 6:16 referencing Lev. 26:11-12; Rev. 18:4).. This promise is made to the children of professing believers (see in connection with this Gal. 3:7-9):
‘And Abram fell on his face and God talked with him, saying… 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. 17:3,7)
A main theological foundation for Presumptive Regeneration is that this promise of God to be a God unto the children of professing believers is speaking of a saving relation worked through the elect, which necessarily entails regeneration.
As this Covenant-promise to make the elect people of God alive unto Him is worked out in time through the visible-Church, even though the promise is not necessarily to every natural child, parents not knowing otherwise and having a promise which is premised to possibly include a significant portion of one’s children, ought to presume that all of their children are regenerate until it is made clear otherwise.
On this paradigm, the only way one is in the Covenant of Grace with God is by regeneration.. There is only one tier in the Covenant, those who are in it savingly.
If a child demonstrates himself in time to be unregenerate, then he was never in the Covenant to begin with.. Hence, while the child may have received overflow Covenant-blessings, being in the sphere where the Covenant is worked out and administered through outward means and Church ordinances, yet never having been in the Covenant, it is impossible for the child (or professing adult) to break his Covenant with God.
This paradigm became popularized in Scottish presbyterianism with Thomas Boston in the early-1700’s, in the mid-1800’s Dutch reformed Church through the thought of Abraham Kuyper (the founder of Neo-Calvinism), it was continued in many of the American, Southern presbyterians and it is probably the dominant viewpoint of reformed Christianity in America today.
It is true that the promise in Gen. 17:7 has a special reference to the chosen, elect-seed of professing believers, whom God promises to regenerate and make alive unto Himself (Jer. 24:7; Eze. 11:19-20; Gal. 3:29; etc.), as well as it having a special reference to Christ, the preeminent, Chosen, Elect, Seed and Head of believers (Gal. 3:16,19).
However, what is missing from the premises of the covenant theology underlying Presumptive Regeneration is that the Covenant-promise of God to be a God unto his people and their seed is not limited to a saving relationship.. It includes having a special external relation by Covenant and providence to the non-elect and unregenerate descendants of professing believers, and this promise, of itself, does not necessarily entail the regeneration of all, some or any of the children of professing believers (see Rutherford, Covenant of Life Opened, pp. 76-77, 87-88).
Nor is the extent of persons being outwardly Covenanted unto God grounded upon regeneration (or a presumption thereto).. Rather, the outward relation of the Covenant is grounded in an outward profession of faith, or in being the children of such professing believers, according to the revealed terms of the Covenant made and offered in Scripture (Ex. 19:8; 24:3).
Thus, the one Covenant of Grace has two tiers, or ways in which persons are in the Covenant:
(1) Those who are legally and externally Covenanted to God by an outward acceptation of (or being externally born under) its terms to be his people, God being externally their God, and they receiving a special providence and many common grace, Covenant-blessings therein, though they remain unregenerate (Gen. 17:7,11; Ex. 34:27; Esau was born in the Covenant, yet Gal. 4:29; Heb. 3:18); and
(2) Those who, through saving faith (Gen. 15:6; Heb. 4:3) in Christ (whom the Covenant holds forth and offers as the substance thereof, Jn. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 10:3-5, especially in the O.T. Ceremonial Law and the New Testament ordinances), receive Him into their hearts, are eternally united to Him in a living and vital union through which they receive Justification (Rom. 3:22; Gal. 2:16), Adoption as spiritual sons and daughters of God (Jn. 1:12), Sanctification (1 Thess. 5:23), Perseverance of the Saints (Rom. 8:38-39) and an inviolable future inheritance (Jn. 20:30) and glory (Rom. 8:29-30) with Christ forever.
Rutherford gives a human analogy to illustrate this two-fold relation of covenanting in Covenant of Life, pp. 89-91.. David Dickson, in his articles below, shows in Scripture how God uses the external bond of the Covenant of Grace as a means to fulfill his decree of election and the internal and spiritual aspects of the Covenant, in offering, drawing and wooing people to eternal salvation in Christ through the external bond of the Covenant (2 Chron. 15:12,15).
As the external bond of the Covenant is a principle source of the means of grace, it, on the one hand (due to God’s sovereignty and pleasure) does not work ex opere operato, always, only and woodenly effectually, binding God wholly to the creature (nor should it be presumed to); nor is being externally-Covenanted simply the letter of a dry and dead outward-shell, found useless in God’s effectual operations.. Rather as the waters of salvation have been decreed to run through the means of this external riverbed, there is a great blessing to be expected and received in it, though one should not have a carnal presumption thereto.
Those who have professed the name of Christ (along with those born under them) have (explicitly or implicitly) taken up the terms of the Covenant held forth in Scripture to be God’s people and to be a people unto Him and have bound themselves (realizing it fully or not) by God’s Covenant.
To see this teaching encapsulated in the Westminster Standards and in the theologians of the era, see the webpage, The Visible Church is Outwardly in the Covenant of Grace.
Professing unregenerate persons and their children are thus part of the external ‘Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the House and Family of God’ (WCF 25.2, on the Visible Church), are ‘under God’s special care and government’ (LC #63), residing under the tents of Abraham, and have Christ as their external Head (WCF 25.6), Prophet, Priest and King (LC 43-45, note how many of these relations and benefits in the Standards are to the visible Church, in some way).
Such unregenerate persons have bound themselves by Covenant unto a thrice Holy God, yet, fearfully, remain without any saving interest in the Savior.. In not sincerely trusting Christ for salvation and not being drawn thereto by the design, calling and swaying of the common-operations of the Spirit in the Covenant, nor in living and walking in holy service before God as his people (Gen. 17:1; Ex. 19:7-8; 24:3, 2 Kings 23:3; Micah 6:8, what they agreed unto), they have materially broken God’s Covenant of Grace (though God may suffer longer with them, as He did with visible-Israel through the book of Hosea.. Oh! But for the long-suffering kindness of God!).
For those who provide (through God sovereignly working in them) the instrumental condition of the Covenant, faith (LC #32), Christ (being our Covenant-Keeper) meets and provides the merit of all Covenant-obligations for us by imputing his righteousness to the sincere believer, bringing in God’s full, complacent satisfaction and spiritual blessings therein.
Persons are never to be excommunicated from the Church, per Rutherford, et al., and never were in Scripture, for being unregenerate (note Simon Magus not being excommunicated for remaining in ‘the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity’, Acts 8:23).. Persons may only be excommunicated for visibly (before Church courts) and fundamentally contradicting their outward, credible profession of faith, which was the term of their being outwardly Covenanted unto God and their admission under the government of the Church.
Such persons, being greater-excommunicated out of the universal, visible Church, have reneged on their the promise to serve the Lord in accepting the terms of his Covenant to be his people, have not met the condition or obligations thereof, have externally broken God’s Covenant of Grace and are formally Covenant-breakers (Dt. 31:16, 20; Heb. 6:4-8; 10:29).. Judgment entails, with the curse of the Covenant pursuing (Dt. 29:21; Neh. 10:29; 1 Cor. 10:5-11; 11:27-30; Heb. 12:24-25).
Yet, such excommunicated persons who have been handed over unto the world and Satan are not to be presumed to be unregenerate.. Rather, the apostle Paul holds out hope ‘that the spirit’ of the excommunicate ‘may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’ (1 Cor. 5:5)
Gen. 17:7, that God will be a God unto our children, is no promise that God will regenerate every one, or necessarily any, of our children.. Many generations through Scripture history were a testimony to this, and we may live in such a generation, or it may be quickly coming.
Nor is Gen. 17:7 a promise only to the elect.. Rather, it is to all of the natural descendants of professed believers, involving God externally being their God (in all which that involves).. The promise for God to be the God of professors’ children was just as much to all of Israel in Scripture (and manifested therein) as it is to the Church.
As there is no promise of God to regenerate all of our natural descendants, we ought not to believe or presume that He will, or treat them as if all persons externally in the Covenant are regenerate.
Rather, we ought to earnestly and tearfully pray to God (Ezra 10:1; Neh. 1:4-5;
James 5:16) that He would find it in his Covenant-mercies, for his pleasure in Christ, to regenerate and make alive unto Himself our dear children born so near upon the doorstep of the Kingdom of Heaven, and seek, by the call of the Gospel to those in the Covenant to compel them to come in (Lk. 14:23).
Scriptures for Presumptive Regeneration?
The Intros of the Epistles
The scriptures most commonly brought as prima facie evidence for presumptive regeneration are those in the opening addresses of the epistles where the apostles call the church-members they are writing to ‘elect’, ‘saints’ and ‘sanctified’ (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:2).
These terms are taken to refer to all of the church-members and are said to refer to real, saving, internal holiness.. As surely as not all of the church-members were saved, so, it is said, that Paul was presuming their regeneracy; hence we should too.
Where such passages necessarily refer to saving graces (Eph. 1:3-15; 1 Pet. 1:2) it is clear that the apostle need not be referring to all without exception (as is demonstrated in 2 Cor. 1:6-7 with 5:20 & 13:5 and 2 Jn. 1 with vv. 8-9).. Rather, he is speaking to the greater part of the churches, which, by giving a charitable benefit of the doubt, he treats them according to what they profess to be, especially as many of them have already demonstrated much saving fruit in their lives (Eph. 1:15; 1 Pet. 1:6,8,22; 1 Thess. 2:13-14; 3:6; Phil. 4:10,15,18; 2 Cor. 1:11,14; Rev. 2:2; etc.).
Most of the terms in the opening verses of the epistles though, need not refer to saving graces and can, and do, refer to the whole church without exception.. ‘Saints’ and ‘sanctified’ may refer to the external, federal-holiness that all church-members have due to their being externally-Covenanted unto God by their profession of faith.
Thus, the apostate in Heb. 10:29 is said to have been ‘sanctified’ by ‘the blood of the Covenant’, and his counting this an ‘unholy thing’ was done ‘despite unto the Spirit of grace’.. Such reprobates, Heb. 6:4-6 says, ‘were once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers [non-savingly] of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come.”
The false teachers in the church in 2 Pet. 2:20-22, which had brought in damnable heresies and returned to the world as dogs to their own vomit, had at one time ‘escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’, though they then denied ‘the Lord that *bought* them’ (2 Pet. 2:1).
This external, federal-holiness that all church members partake of (Rutherford, Peaceable & Temperate Plea, p. 164) is not a new doctrine in the New Testament, but rather, the apostle Peter, by his terminology, was alluding to passages in the the Old Testament that teach this same thing about the whole visible-Church people of Israel:
After externally delivering the people of God from worldly entanglements in the Exodus and through the Red Sea by his special Providence, Ex. 15:13 speaks of the whole visible-Church: “Thou in thy mercy has led forth thy people which Thou hast redeemed.” Speaking of unregenerate persons externally-Covenanted to God, Deut. 32:5-6 says of God’s visible people:
“They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation.. Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? is not He thy father that hath *bought* thee?”
Likewise, the terms ‘elect’ and ‘of the election’ equally refer to the Lord’s external choosing, or external calling, of the visible Church through the Gospel call.. Scriptures in the Old Testament abound which speak of God’s external choosing, or election, of his peculiar, visible people called out of the world (Ex. 19:5-6; Dt. 4:37; 7:6-8; 10:15; 14:2; Ps. 33:12; 135:4; Isa. 44:1-2).. 1 Pet. 5:13 demonstrates that the external calling of the visible-Church is likewise called an election:
“The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you…”
Thus John Calvin had no qualms in his commentaries and Institutes recognizing that the same principle of the outward, general election of Israel directly continues in the New Testament Church (Jn. 15:6; Rom. 11:17,21; ‘Calvin on the General Election of Israel’).
Thus the apostles in the introductions of their epistles are not presuming what is not true of the people they are speaking to, but are telling them what is true, either of the significant part of them with respect to the said saving graces or the whole of them in their external relations to God, all of them being called to the full measure (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2) of the saving mercies, communion and delights wherewith Christ has called us in the Gospel (so George Gillespie interprets these passages, Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland, p. 40).
1 Cor. 7:14
1 Cor. 7:14 says that the children born to a professing believer are ‘holy’:
“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.”
The doctrine of Presumptive Regeneration typically takes ‘holy’ in this verse to mean regenerate.. However, as it is clear from experience (‘by their fruit you shall know them’) that not all children of professing believers are regenerate, the apostle Paul is taken to mean that we ought to hold such children as, or presume them to be, regenerate.
However, the verse says that these children *are* holy, not that they are not holy, but should be presumed to be holy.. The holiness that all children of professing believers have is an external federal holiness, being born externally into the Covenant of Grace.. Thus, no presumption is needed and no contradiction to our theology by experience is ever presented.
While children may be born, and that in sin, by the will and physical actions of parents and yet concurrently (without a difference of time) made born again by God (Ps. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:15), yet John 1:12-13 posits a contrast between being born ‘of blood’, ‘the will of the flesh’ and the ‘will of man’, from being born ‘of God’:
“But as many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
In light of this intended contrast, we ought not to presume that God’s will in regeneration would always follow ‘the will of man’ in natural birth, even for those externally in the Covenant of God, whom John appears to have a special eye toward in this passage (Jn. 1:11,14,17,19,24,31,47,49).. The normal means of regeneration, the passage implies, is not the will of the flesh in natural birth (even for those in the Covenant), but is through believing upon Christ’s name, which takes older years to come to.
John the Baptist
The doctrine of Presumptive Regeneration often takes the instance of John the Baptist being regenerate from the womb as a pattern for Covenant-children born in the Church age.. Though not all Church-children are found to be born again from the womb, yet the pattern is inferred so far as to presume them to be so.
The angel speaking to John the Baptist’s father prophesied of John that:
“…he shall be great in the sight of the Lord… and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” (Lk. 1:15)
Later, when Mary, pregnant with the Messiah, came to visit Elisabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, who was pregnant with John, Elisabeth said:
“Lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” (Lk. 1:44)
The whole tenor of these events, with the other events surrounding them in chapters 1 & 2 of Luke, was miraculous, they being intended to be special signs of the coming of the Messiah.. The angel spoke a special, one-time prophecy (making John’s regeneration known by special, infallible revelation, not presumption) that John’s special ministry for immediately preparing the way of the coming of the Messiah would be one of turning many of the externally-Covenanted people to God, for which he would possess, as a prophet, ‘the spirit and power of Elijah’. (Lk. 1:16-17) Hence it was especially fitting that John would be holy and full of the Spirit from the womb (and publicly known to be such), even leaping therein by the (miraculous) knowledge of the Messiah being close at hand.
All we have in John’s case is a single instance of a baby being regenerate in the womb.. The text does not apply this to all Covenant-seed; that must be presumed.. However, given the special, miraculous tenor of all the events (which were extraordinary in their own time), it cannot, and should not, be inferred to be directly applicable to the regular course of all Church-children.
William Young gives John Calvin’s (1509-1564) interpretation of this Scripture-example of John, in contrast to that of the great popularizer of Presumptive Regeneration, Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920):
“Kuyper quotes from [Calvin’s] Institutes, book 4, ch. 16, sections 17-20 to find support in Calvin, who does teach: ‘That some infants are saved; and that they are previously regenerated by the Lord, is beyond all doubt.’
What Kuyper fails to quote is Calvin’s rejoinder to the Anabaptist evasion that the sanctification of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb ‘was only a single case, which does not justify the conclusion that the Lord generally acts in this manner with infants.’ Calvin’s rejoinder is: ‘For we use no such argument.’
But Kuyper does use such an argument, in contending that children of the covenant are to be presumed to be regenerated because in fact that is the general manner of the Lord’s dealing with them… Certainly there is no hint of the presumptive doctrine of Kuyper in any of these texts of Calvin.” (‘Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism’)
Perhaps to buttress the Presumptive argument we could add three other Scriptures which speak to the issue of regenerate, Covenant-children in the womb:
(1) “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jer. 1:4)
(2) “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.” (Ps. 22:9-10)
(3) “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” (Ps. 139:14-16)
(1) The case of Jeremiah is not clear: while the verse could be assuming that Jeremiah was regenerate from the womb, the specific context is a special setting him apart to be a prophet, which may not have necessarily involved him in being regenerate from the womb.. The same ‘set-apart’ language is used for a similar ordination from the womb to a prophetic purpose for the apostle Paul, who remained unconverted up through a significant portion of his adult life.
Either way, Jeremiah’s being set apart from the womb was clearly remarkable in its time (in comparison to Israel whom he plead with), and, due to the special prophetic revelation of the promise relating to him as a prophet, the verse cannot be generalized to apply to the whole people of God.
(2) & (3) Psalm 22 is a direct and detailed prophecy of the Messiah all the way through.. Messiah is prophesied in this portion of Psalm 22 to be holy from the womb (for the fulfillment see Lk. 1:35), as the perfect man and the fulfillment of what the people of God are called to be (though often are not) as holy unto the Lord.
The whole of Ps. 139, ‘a psalm of David’, is about David, a prototype of the Messiah.. While we have reason to believe that this psalm indicates that David was regenerate from the womb (it being revealed, and there being no Scriptural evidence otherwise), yet, this psalm, or Ps. 22, can hardly be applied to Israel as a whole, as Isaiah calls Israel, not simply evil-doers, but ‘a *seed* of evil-doers’ (Isa. 1:4, see also the multitude of Scriptures cited below which also prevent this conclusion).
Isa. 1:4 is emphasizing that the people of God were passing on through childbirth, and exemplifying, their sinful, rebellious natures through adulthood, unconverted, while externally in the Covenant, so much so, that Isaiah makes this (true) generalization and expectation of the unregeneracy of the seed of the Covenant-people of God in his time.
The reply is sometimes made that Jn. 11:11 gives reason to believe that, through the greater pouring out of the Spirit in the New Testament age, the regeneration in the womb spoken of with respect to John the Baptist and in Psalms 22 & 139 may apply more generally to New Testament Covenant-seed than it did in the Old Testament:
“Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (John 11:11)
It is not clear, though, that this general promise (which is typically understood by interpreters as pertaining to the greater knowledge and pouring out, and witness, of the Spirit in New Testament believers) specifically promises or implies regeneration in the womb, and hence this cannot be inferred from it.
Also, regarding the extent of the pouring out of the Spirit in New Testament times, see the subsection below, ‘Time-Periods in Church History’.
Scriptures Against Presumptive Regeneration:
Following right upon God’s ordaining of circumcision to be applied to Abraham and his children (Gen. 17:1-14), God promised to give another child to Abraham through Sarah who would bear the Promise (Gen. 17:15-16).. Abraham objected: “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” (v. 17)
God effectively says ‘No’, Isaac will be the bearer of the Promise, which Promise will descend through his seed (vv. 19,21).. It was known that Ishmael had been previously prophesied to have a fleshly, violent character (Gen. 16:12).
Though Ishmael had previously been prophesied to be unregenerate and that the promise of spiritual life would not run through his seed, yet in Gen. 17 God took no notice of his unregeneracy and commanded that Ishmael be circumcised with thre rest of Abraham’s household. Several years later, Ishmael (possibly in his late-teens) was found mocking and persecuting the toddler Isaac (Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29), to no Biblical student’s surprise:
“They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the [spiritual] children of God: but the children of the [eternal] promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom. 9:8)
Abraham rightly understood that circumcision, a visible, confirmatory sign and seal of being in Covenant with God (Gen. 17:7,9-11), was, at God’s command (Gen. 17:7), to be applied to his natural descendants (Gen. 17:10) to sign and seal this Covenant to them.. Hence, Esau had a full right to the seal of the Covenant which He was in with God, at the command of God, before God (by whose will the obligation of the institution of circumcision and the parties thereto was imposed).
This is despite the fact that Esau was a known reprobate in the eyes of God, by God’s choice and knowledge in his eternal decree (Rom. 9:11-13).. The extent of the latitude of the obliging power of the revealed command of God upon the creature is not limited to, or grounded upon, the secret, mysterious decrees of God:
“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deut. 29:29)
The Wilderness & Deuteronomy
The Mosaic economy, when God brought Israel out of Egypt and they only first began to learn of God’s ways and become practiced and disciplined in his House (Heb. 3:2-5), was the period of Israel’s youth as children under God their Covenant-Father (Dt. 1:31; Dt. 32:5-6; Isa. 1:2; 64:8; Mal. 2:10-11).. Thus, Hosea 11:1 says of the visible Church: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.”
The New Testament highlights this aspect of the Mosaic dispensation:
“…the heir, as long as he is a child… is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fullness of the time was come… to redeem them that were under the law…” (Gal. 4:1-5)
Thus, God’s fatherly ways with his children Israel in the Old Testament exemplify many principles common to child-rearing, especially for those externally in the Covenant of Grace.. Israel’s time in the wilderness especially reflected this:
“And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went…” (Dt. 1:31)
Did God their Father assume that all of Israel was regenerate, or did He make Himself oblivious to the condition of their heart? The following verse continues:
“Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God.” (Dt. 1:32)
God recognized that his professing children in the Covenant were manifest unbelievers at the earliest age.
It is precisely because God’s children were in the Covenant of Grace that He more closely tested, tried and examined their hearts to see, in an experimental way, if they were in the faith (Dt. 8:2-5):
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not… Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.”
In these trials the Lord, as their Father, pressed the Law upon the actions and consciences of his Covenant-children, in order to teach them not only right and wrong, but to experimentally (1) show them their spiritual bankruptcy and unregenerate nature and (2) in order to drive them to the Savior (3) held out and offered so clearly to them in the Covenant:
(1) “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death… But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” (Rom 7:5,8-10)
(2) “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions… Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:19,24)
(3) “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:14-15)
Though these children were born in the Covenant, had the Law driving them to Christ with the gospel offer and call pressed so often and closely upon them by a most faithful Covenant-Father, yet, so far from their nominal profession being a sign of their regeneration, Scripture concludes these children to be manifest unbelievers, Num. 14:11; 20:12; Dt. 9:23 (mainly due to persistent grumbling: Ex. 15:24; 16:2,7-9; 17:3; Num. 14:2; 27,29; 16:11; Dt. 1:27; is that familiar to any Covenant-parents?).
So far from church-membership being grounded upon presumed regeneration, the whole of Israel remained in Covenant with God in the wilderness, being his people, and yet all one and half million of them (approximately) were condemned to die in the wilderness as unbelievers (Heb. 3:17-19) while only two (Joshua and Caleb) showed any signs of regeneracy (Num. 14:6-10) and were allowed to enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:30).
At the border of the Promised Land, so far from presuming the regeneracy of even the new generation risen up in the Covenant (who were unlike their fathers), Moses, then the representative and minister of God, tells them, “Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” (Dt. 10:16) Moses then seeks to evangelize the people of God by calling them to make a choice upon the offer of the Gospel:
“The Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart that thou mayest do it. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil… I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God… that thou mightest live… I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life…” (Dt. 30:14)
In the wilderness the people of Israel had not been circumcising their children (Josh. 5:5,7).. Though the Israelites were adults and up to this point had not manifested any signs of regeneration, yet, given the people’s willingness to submit externally to the terms of the Covenant of Grace, God commands (coram Deo) all of them to receive the seal of being in this Covenant: circumcision (Josh. 5:2-3).
One does not find any examination of, or presumption of, spiritual life as a prerequisite.. So far from this being the case, God promises to use the outward, binding aspects of his Covenant as a means to work spiritual life in his externally-Covenanted people:
“And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land… and thou shalt possess it… And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” (Dt. 30:5-6)
Covenant & Election in Old Testament History
During the time of Elijah, all of Northern Israel (who were still formally, externally in Covenant with God as his people, though they had materially and fundamentally broken that Covenant to the furthest degree) had left off the Lord, except for 7,000 faithful ones scattered amongst the hills, unknown to Elijah himself. (1 Kings 19:18) These internally-Covenanted persons’ faithfulness was, the Lord says, due to his own secret choosing and preserving:
“Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)
Romans 11:1-11 gives a theological commentary on this history.. The question presents itself: If God (outwardly) chose the whole people of Israel as his own and yet has let them fall away in their own unbelief, has He left them off? “Hath God cast away his people?” (Rom. 11:1) The answer given is:
“God forbid… Even so then at this present time also [in the 1st Century] there is a remnant according to the election of grace [believing Jews that have joined the Church]… What then? Israel hath not obtained that which He seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” (Rom. 11:1,5,7)
Paul’s distinction is that it should be well-known that eternal election, while running through the outward-Covenant as its main means, is by no means co-extensive with the outward-aspect of the Covenant.. In many generations, eternal election includes only a fraction of those externally-Covenanted unto God.. In fact, it is often God’s purpose, as the text says, to justly and judicially blind a large portion of those in Covenant with Him.
God in Isaiah 6:9-13 commissions Isaiah to tell God’s Covenant people his Word, which would result in making “the heart of this people fat, and… their ears heavy, and shut their eyes.” God’s purpose in this was so that they would not “hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”
Note that this is said by Scripture to be part of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry to God’s Covenant-people (Mt. 13:13-15).. Isaiah 6:13 prophesies that the ‘holy seed’, or regenerate, would only make up about 1/10 of all those outwardly-Covenanted unto God under Jesus, the Faithful’s, ministry.
When God told Israel flat out that they were uncircumcised in heart (Jer. 4:4; 6:10, without qualification), it made them no less God’s visibly-Covenanted people.
Why anyone would presume that everyone in the visible-Church is regenerate, eternally elect, effectually called and have been given the gift of perseverance unto the end (all of which spiritual regeneration implies), is not clear and can only be the greatest mistake, contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.
Covenant-Grace in the History of Israel
The whole history of Israel is one of God’s gracious longsuffering with unregenerate reprobates, externally-Covenanted unto Him.
Oh see the love and mercy of God to his stubborn, unbelieving Covenant-children! God Himself by his Spirit taught his children to walk, holding their hands and feeding them along the way (Hos. 11:3-7):
“I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them….
…And my people are bent to backsliding from Me: though they [the prophets] called them to the most High, none at all would exalt Him.. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?… Mine heart is turned within Me, my repentings are kindled together.”
No people but those externally Covenantally-bound unto the Lord, have ever been so blessed, ever grown up with such Covenant-mercy lavished on them! From the beginning to the end:
“But because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers…” (Dt. 7:8)
“Thou in thy *mercy* hast led forth the people which thou hast [outwardly] redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.” (Ex. 15:13)
“I will mention the loving-kindnesses of the Lord… according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of His loving-kindnesses.” (Isa. 63:7)
How is the Covenant-mercy of God magnified in temporally and externally forgiving his people so early and so often, that we are not consumed?
“For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in his Covenant. But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned He his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. For He remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God…” (Ps. 78:37-42)
Israel would sing, and so do we in Psalm 136, of God’s chesed Covenant-love and mercy coming upon us, God’s visibly-Covenanted people, over and over again, like waves:
“O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for his mercy [chesed] endureth for ever…
To Him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever…
To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever;
And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever…
Even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever…”
Oh how this should bring the Lord’s Covenant-people to tears and true spiritual repentance!
“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
How unfaithful have we been to Him in his Covenant when He has been so tender and kind to us?
“The Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms… For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold…’” (Hosea 1:2; 2:8)
Yet for all of this, remarkably, Israel remained unregenerate growing up in God’s Covenant, showing oh so truly that *nothing* can turn human hearts unto the Lord, nay, not even common-Covenant-grace or the means of grace, apart from the special, sovereign and particular blowing of the Spirit (Jn. 3:8).
God does not strive forever (Gen. 6:3; Acts 7:51), and may we take heed lest we remain unbelieving in his Covenant and God removes his love and Covenant-mercies from us:
“For thus saith the Lord, ‘…for I have taken away my peace from this people… even loving-kindness and mercies.” (Jer. 16:5)
“All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them, for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more.” (Hosea 9:15)
Old Testament Evangelism in God’s Covenant
So far from presuming that the basis of those in the visible-Church is their regeneration, God sought to evangelize his unconverted, unregenerate, Covenant-people, early and often, again and again and again (evangelistic appeals to the Church being an offense to many who hold to Presumptive Regeneration):
“…the LORD God… sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people… But they mocked the messengers of God… until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people…” (2 Chron. 36:14-16)
“Yet He sent prophets to them, **to bring them again unto the Lord…** but they would not give ear.” (2 Chron. 24:19)
When the night appears dark, his Covenant-people, though held to be outwardly and nominally righteous in the court of the Church (Jer. 6:14; Eze. 13:16), are found in the court of God (who searches the heart) to be ‘a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers’, full of ‘wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores’ ‘from the sole of the foot even unto the head’ (Isa. 1:4,6).. Here it is that God throws open the doors to his spiritual feast and beckons his people to come and find spiritual life:
“Ho! Everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat… Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live…” (Isa. 55:1-3)
He drives them not simply to the common-blessings which all those in the Covenant receive, but to the spiritual substance of the Covenant, even the sure and eternal mercies of The One Greater than David (55:3-4).
Who is it that calls his people in the Covenant yet further to deeper mercies there held forth? It is not simply the minister; it is 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Word, inviting and wooing Israel and us with the alluring call and caress of a lady:
“Wisdom has built her house… She has mingled her wine; She has also furnished her table. She has sent forth her maidens, She cries upon the highest places of the city, ‘Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither’, as for him that wants understanding, She saith to him, ‘Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.'” (Prov. 9:1-6)
“Does not Wisdom cry?… She cries at the gates… ‘Unto you, O men, I call… Hear…'” (Prov. 8:1-4,8,10)
The New Testament
Just as the whole people of Israel were externally a part of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament, so they continued externally-Covenanted unto God through the Gospels into the history of Acts, per the New Testament:
“Blessed be *the Lord God of Israel*, for He hath visited and redeemed *his people*… to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and *to remember his holy covenant*… to give knowledge of salvation unto *his people* by the remission of their sins.” (Lk. 1:68,72,77)
“…a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of *thy people Israel*.” (Lk. 2:32)
“…a great prophet is risen up among us; and, that God hath visited *his people*.” (Lk. 7:16)
“…when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame walk, and the blind to see, and they glorified *the God of Israel*.” (Mt. 15:31)
“*Ye are the children* of the prophets, and *of the covenant* which God made with our fathers…” (Acts 3:25)
“*The God of this people of Israel* chose our fathers… *Ye are the children* of the prophets, and *of the covenant which God made* with our fathers…” (Acts 13:17,25)
“Who are *Israelites; to whom pertaineth* the adoption, and the glory, and *the covenants*…” (Rom. 9:4)
See also: Mt. 8:12; Lk. 1:16, 54-55, 69, 73; 2:25; Mt. 10:6; 15:24; Mk. 12:29; Jn. 1:47; Acts 3:13; 13:23; Rom. 11:16-17; 15:10; Eph. 2:12.
When John the Baptist and the Messiah opened their public ministries, they preached unto God’s Covenant-people, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel!” (Mk. 1:15) In case it is wondered whether this was intended to include a converting, saving belief and repentance, or was only limited to that which is to be in the daily life of regenerate, sanctified, Covenant-Christians, John the Baptist makes himself clear:
“Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, ‘O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?… And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.'” (Lk. 3:7-9)
The Pharisees and Sadducees took a different view of Covenant Theology.. Being as they were members of good standing in the Church, they thought that whosoever was naturally born in the Covenant ought to be presumed to be regenerate:
“We have Abraham to our father…” (Mt. 3:7,9; Jn. 8:39)
John the Baptist was more discriminating and experimental, and told them (as Jesus would later teach) that the only safe way for persons to recognize the regeneration of others (even among professors) is by their bearing saving-fruit in their lives, their saving-faith being demonstrated by their works:
John: “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” (Mt. 3:8)
Jesus: “Ye shall know them by their fruits… Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit [even those externally in the Covenant] is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Mt. 7:16-20)
Jesus continues his evangelistic ministry to the Covenant-people of God in the Sermon on the Mount, where he does not presume that everyone He is speaking to has eternal life, but rather sets forth the discriminating characteristics of those who are regenerate who do have a title thereunto so that those who do not have eternal life may find it:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth…
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Mt. 5:3,5,8)
Jesus then positively implies that many of those externally in the Covenant, whom He was speaking to, were not regenerate:
“…except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
…whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’, shall be in danger of Hell-fire.” (Mt. 5:20,22)
When Nicodemus, a teacher in the Church, in good-standing, comes to visit Jesus at night, Jesus says that he must be born again (Jn. 3:7) and was amazed that Nicodemus didn’t know that externally-covenanted people need to be born again.
To be clear, Jesus posits not only a distinction, but a contrast, between being born by the flesh versus being born by the Spirit (3:6), even for the Covenant-born people of Israel He speaks to in the plural (‘ye’, v. 7).. Not only must one be born of ‘water’ (outward baptism), but also must one be born of the ‘Spirit’ (v. 5).
Rather than saying that we are to presume that the Spirit always savingly blows upon all those externally-Covenanted to God, Jesus posits utter sovereign freedom to the Spirit:
“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (Jn. 3:8)
Jesus continues to evangelize the Covenant-people of God (most of whom He would not have known, and had no reason to suspect of bad behavior) throughout his ministry:
“Enter ye in at the straight gate…” (Mt. 7:13)
“Come unto Me… and I will give you rest…” (Mt. 11:28)
“Except ye be converted… ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 18:3)
So far from presuming upon the regeneracy of those visibly in the Covenant, Jesus says, “But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness…” (Mt. 8:12) even though many of the professors were in good standing in the Church their whole life (Mt. 7:22; Lk. 13:25-26).
Jesus then gets more aggressive with his evangelistic efforts to the Covenant-community.. He tells the twelve apostles:
“Go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel… Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves…” (Mt. 10:6,16)
Rather than persons being raised in the Covenant naturally floating along into saving spiritual life through a Biblical worldview, Christ tells these sons of the Covenant regarding entrance into the spiritual Kingdom of Heaven: “the violent take it by force.” (Mt. 11:12)
Anyone who has read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:28-30) and presumed that the older brother, who was in good outward-standing with his father (15:31), was regenerate (lacking any obvious, demonstrable works that would come under Church discipline) has not ‘eyes to see’ or ‘ears to hear’, which Jesus routinely warned the Covenant-community of (Mt. 11:15; 13:9,43; Mk. 4:9;23; 7:16; Lk. 8:8; 14:35; etc.).
Contra the Separatists, Independents and Congregationalists, Jesus did not base external-confederation with God or Church membership on regeneracy, but rather told his disciples to obey ‘the scribes and the Pharisees [who] sit in Moses’s seat’ and yet spoke of these same Pharisees (Mt. 12:38) and God’s Church-people generally, as ‘this wicked generation’ (Mt. 12:45):
“Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Mt. 23:33)
While we ought not to presume that all Covenant-children are serpents in Covenant-diapers (not knowing if some have been regenerated; we do not peer into the secret things of God, but rather keep to that which has been revealed, Dt. 29:29, leaving the question indeterminate), it is a common experience that many Covenant families do have serpents in Covenant-diapers from their earliest age.
Jesus recognizes from the dullness of the Covenant-people’s hearing (which is not a disciplineable offence that would result in being excommunicated from the Church) that the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 6:9-13) was coming true, that it was God’s will for that time, and in many time-periods of the Church, to judge the Covenant-people for their sins with a further hardening so that they would not be converted and healed (Mt. 13:15)..
Are there any persons in churches today that are dull of hearing God’s spiritual Word? Much of the church and many churches? Whole swaths of Christianity in our nation?
Should the Church be purged of those who have a profession of faith but no profession of regeneracy, having no assurance thereof? Jesus likens the outward aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven, the visible Church, to:
“…a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore…” (Mt. 13:47-48)
While it is Christ’s will for there to be a cleaning of his Church and a separation of the ‘bad’ and ‘wicked’ from the ‘good’ and ‘just’ at Judgment Day (Mt. 13:48), yet it is his will for this life that those who have a profession of faith not contradicted by scandal, are to be pulled along by the dragnet of the gospel and the means of grace in the Covenant-community, in hopes of saving some.
Jesus again places the safe recognition of other people’s regeneracy in this life not on a profession of faith without outward contradictory evidence thereto or church membership, but upon the bearing of saving fruit:
“For whosoever shall *do the will of my Father* which is in Heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt. 12:50, see also 7:21)
Paul, after calling the Roman church members he was speaking to, ‘saints’ and the ‘beloved of God’ (all of which is true of external, Covenant, Church-members), he yet goes on to speak of natural men.. Paul speaks in general when he declares:
“Therefore thou art inexcusable , O man…” (2:1)
Yet this general teaching applies in particular to any of the Church-members it may apply to.. Paul delineates it as applying to (note the use of the singular):
“whosoever thou art that judgest, for wherein thou judgest, thou condemnest thyself…
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath…” (2:1,5)
Paul, continuing to warn of eternal judgment to those in a natural condition, develops his arguments in the second chapter, dropping the use of ‘O man’ (man in general) and continues the use of the singular ‘thou’, in repetition, undoubtedly speaking to the ‘Jews first’ (2:9) and gentiles in the Roman congregations.
Paul then gives examples of hypocritical Jewish-Covenant teachers and distinguishes that:
“He is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter…” (2:28-29)
If it is unclear whether the whole N.T. visible Church is in view in these verses distinguishing persons externally in the Covenant of Grace (especially with regard to the physical seals thereof) and persons born by the Spirit savingly and internally in the Covenant of Grace, through saving faith, yet the rest of the N.T. makes it clear when it speaks of the visible Church as ‘Israel’, ‘the Tabernacle of David’ and Church-members as ‘Jews’:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision… and as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon *the Israel of God*.” (Gal. 6:15-16)
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to *the twelve tribes* which are scattered abroad, greeting.” (James 1:1)
“For this is the covenant that I will make with *the house of Israel* after those days [in the Church-age], saith the Lord; ‘I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:'” (Heb. 8:10)
“…God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets [Amos 9:11], as it is written: ‘After this I will return, and will build again *the tabernacle of David*, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up…” (Acts 15:15-17)
Hence, Rom. 2:28-29 should be understood to be applied as:
“He is not a Christian which is one outwardly, neither is that baptism which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Christian which is one inwardly, and baptism is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter…”
Likewise, Rom. 9:6, ‘they are not all Israel, which are of Israel’, is a general rule, and should be applied as: ‘They are not all the Church, which are of the Church’.. This is known and to be recognized not simply in the sight and court of God, but in the sight and court of man and the Church.
Paul writing in his first letter to the Corinthians says that many of them are ‘carnal’ (in contrast to ‘spiritual’), who ‘walk as men’ (3:1,3-4) with a nominal profession (3:4), striving, envying, and saying that they follow this or that Christian celebrity preacher (know any of these folks, who many say we must presume are regenerate?).. Paul, instead of feeding them meat, must feed them spiritual milk (3:2).
While it is possible that some of these persons were regenerate (Paul calls them ‘babes in Christ’, v. 1), it is likely many of them were not (as unregenerate-church-members are ‘babes in Christ’ externally).. Paul presumes this when he continues his exhortation further in the chapter:
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy…” (3:16-17)
While this warning could, for the regenerate (3:15), only refer to temporal death, yet it is also natural to understand this verse as referring to unregenerate-church-members, who have the common effects of the Holy Spirit in them (Heb. 6:4-6), are the temple of God (being made in the image of God), form part of the Church-temple externally, and will be destroyed forever.
Thus it is no surprise that Paul, in 2 Cor. 5:19-20, does not assume that all of the Covenant-community, externally in good-standing in the Church, are regenerate, but rather pleads with them:
“Be ye reconciled to God!” (5:20)
In case any thought that this only refers to regenerate, justified Christians forsaking sin and finding a greater measure of demonstrable peace with God in sanctification, the immediately following verses clarify that this ‘reconciliation’ is speaking of conversion:
“…in the day of salvation have I succoured thee; behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
This evangelical plea and offer of salvation preached to the whole Church, not presuming they were regenerate, was a gracious gift from God (6:1) which they are plead with (‘beseech’) not to receive in vain (by not savingly turning to the Lord).
Not only does Paul say this by the will of the Holy Spirit, but he says that this message to the Church is that of the Christian ministry through the whole of the Church age (5:18-19).. Ministers’ pleading with the visible-Church to be savingly reconciled to God, in fact, do so in the place, authority and will of Christ Himself:
“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God!” (5:20)
Paul presumed that many of the Church may not be regenerate, thinking it healthy that Covenant-members examine themselves in order to prove their own regeneracy:
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5)
John addresses his letter to ‘the elect lady and her children’ (v. 1).. Whether the recipient be understood as a Christian lady and her children (whom were externally elected, or called), or John is writing a general letter to the visible Church (which also, as has been seen, has been externally elected, or chosen) under this pseudonym, our point will be proven.
John tells the recipients:
“Look to yourselves… whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”
John warns them, persons in the Church, with credible professions of faith, externally in the Covenant, to examine themselves (‘Look to yoursevles’), lest they fall away from the doctrine of Christ that they had abided in.. John was not presuming that they were all regenerate.
The letters Christ sends to the seven churches in Revelation chs. 2-3 are marked, not by presumption, but by realism, spiritual discernment, insight, encouragement, frankness, discipline and warning (the same should be characteristic of parents’ bringing up of Covenant-children).
A great divide is often placed in presumptive theology between the secret-court of God and the revealed, open, external-court of the Church.. Since we cannot know the secret, All-Knowing court-of-God, the Church, based on Scripture promises we have previously looked at, should presume that all persons externally in the Church (without scandal) are regenerate.
What is ignored in this paradigm is that the revealed court of God is expected to be known by the Church.. The church-people of Laodicea were comfortably within good-standing in the Church, being lukewarm and self-sufficient (3:16-17, as many in our day), and had no specific, characteristic bad works that Christ rebukes them for.. Yet Jesus tells these Covenanted-church-members, “Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” and holds them responsible for recognizing this.
Jesus then evangelistically offers them salvation, knocking at the door of their consciences and hearts by his Word and Spirit, telling them to let Him in:
“I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich… Behold I stand at the door, and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.
In case one doesn’t think this Biblical teaching of letting Jesus into one’s heart, Christ desiring to come in, for those under the Word, is Reformed, see The Westminster Annotations (1645/53) on the passage, as well as Peter Martyr Vermigli in Predestination and Justification, pp. 66,143, James Durham in Christ Crucified, sermon 2, p. 74 and his commentaries on Song 5:2 and Rev. 3:20, John Flavel’s Christ Knocking at the Door of Sinners’ Hearts and Thomas Brooks in The Unsearchable Riches of Christ in Works, vol. 3, p. 194, amongst much more of Reformed history.
Christ then says to those that overcome this world, He will grant them to sit with Him in his throne (3:21) in Heaven, implying that many of the church-hearers may not overcome.. The same is assumed in Christ’s discriminatory preaching (a lost art in Reformed churches) in his exhortation:
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.”
Externally in the Covenant in the New Testament
It is often doubted, persons not always reading Scripture carefully, whether the clear teaching of being externally in Covenant in the Old Testament is reiterated with regard to the visible-Church in the New Testament.. As the N.T. assumes much continuity with the O.T., we ought not to expect that the same large foundations would be needlessly laid again, but we may expect to find the development and filling out of this teaching (sometimes by the way of assumption) in the details of the New Testament.
None will doubt that most of the parables in the Gospels are inclusive of the N.T. Church-age.
In the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward (Mt. 18:23-35), the unrighteous servant’s eternal abode is Hell, being delivered ‘to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.’ (v. 34). This parable is not said to be about the world, but about the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, including those in its visible-aspect on earth.. This professor (v. 26) with no saving faith, is called by ‘his king’ and ‘his lord’: ‘his servant’.. One of the otherwise-innocent servants is called this unrighteous servant’s ‘fellow servant’ (v. 28,31).
This unrighteous servant is not simply someone in the world, but has been outwardly and externally forgiven many things by ‘his king’ (v. 32).. The conclusion of the parable, a warning of eternal judgment, is applied directly, without presumption, to the outward Covenant-community (Jesus’ hearers):
“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” (v. 35)
The Parable of the Evil Husbandmen of the Vineyard (Mt. 21:33-40), while being most specifically about the Jewish nation, yet serves as a warning to the visible Church in all ages.. This vineyard was God’s Covenant-people (Isa. 5:1-7), of his own planting (Mt. 21:33), with the fruit expected therefrom.. God’s outward ‘servants’, though, wickedly kill the prophets and the Son of God sent to them, to try to carnally gain the Covenant-inheritance apart from faith in the Son.
Jesus says that the Kingdom of God will be taken from these people (v. 43), which of course assumes these unbelieving people had the Kingdom of God.. This same Kingdom, which has visible aspects, would be given to another ‘people’ (v. 43), the gentiles in the Church-age (so Rutherford, Covenant of Life, p. 79).. As for the unbelieving, unregenerate servants in the Kingdom, both in Jesus’s age and our own, God will “miserably destroy those wicked men’ (v. 41).
Many of the other parables (which it would take too long to expound) contain these same teachings, of the external holiness and special relationship that the unregenerate have to Christ in his Covenant-Church, with the eternal consequences thereof: the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Mt. 25:1-13, where half of the Church in good-standing is sleepy and unregenerate), the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30), the Parable of the Faithful and Drunken Servants (Mt. 24:45-51; Lk. 12:41-48); the Parable of the Fig Tree (Lk. 13:6-9); the Parable of the Professors Knocking at the Door (Lk. 13:25-30) and the Parable of the King Destroying the City (Mt. 22:6-8, which has more specific reference to Israel).
Those who make a great divide between God’s Covenant-relations to Old Testament Israel and his Covenant-relations to the Church often miss the many places in the New Testament where the Old Testament teaching that God was an external Covenant-Father to his visible-people (which has been demonstrated above) continues the same into the New Testament:
“The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, ‘Let the *children* [the visible-Jews] first be filled: for it is not meet to take *the children’s bread*, and to cast it unto the dogs.” (Mk. 7:26-28)
Speaking to the Covenant-people of God:
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
“After this manner therefore pray ye: ‘Our Father which art in heaven…’ (Mt. 6:9)
“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (Lk. 6:36)
“If ye then, *being evil*, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall *your heavenly Father* give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Lk. 11:13)
“And he [the elder brother] was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. And he answering said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years do I serve thee…’ And he said unto him, ‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.'” (Lk. 15:28-31)
“A certain man had two sons… And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir’: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, ‘The first’. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.'” (Mt. 21:28-31)
Speaking to the visible-Church, whom the writer to the Hebrews warns lest they fall away at the end of the same chapter, vv. 25-29:
“…the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, my son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord… For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:5-9)
Thus, it is clear that, while the spiritual father of unbelievers in the Church is the Devil (Jn. 8:44), yet God is externally a Covenant-Father to all those in the visible-Church. Oh that through saving faith in Christ these persons externally in the Covenant would be personally, legally adopted and translated into God’s spiritual family, partaking of his nature!
Romans 11 & John 15
Rom. 11:16-24 says that the outward nation of Israel was ‘holy’, being branches grown out of the root of the olive tree.. However these branches are threatened to be broken off due to unbelief (v. 19-29).
The professing gentiles are said to have been grafted into this olive tree and partake of the life flowing from the root.. They, the visible Church, is likewise warned that they may be cut off if they continue not in believing (v. 21-22).
John 15:1-6 says that this tree, or vine, is Christ and that his disciples abide in Him as branches.. However:
“if a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (Jn. 15:6)
The Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation took ‘holiness’ and ‘life’ in these passages to mean solely the real, internal holiness of the invisible Church predestinated to life (Covenant of Life, p. 113), which contradicts the texts, which say that some of these persons are cut off.. The Federal Vision, also in taking this ‘holiness’ and ‘life’ to refer to saving holiness, though believing that people can lose this, saves the coherency of these particular texts, but finds itself in contradiction to the rest of Scripture which teach es the perseverance of the saints. Presumptive Regenerationists take ‘holiness’ and ‘life’ as the presumption of saving-regeneration.
Classical presbyterianism, while affirming that believing branches on the Vine receive saving sap and strength from Christ, yet has understood these passages as including unbelieving-professors having an external-Covenant holiness and life in the visible-Church that they fall from, either in this life or at the Day of Reckoning.. Unbelieving professors really do derive (non-saving) sap, strength and support from Christ as their external-Head, though they fall away therefrom.
Needless to say, if Christ and Paul do not presume that every branch in the Covenanted-Vine is eternally saved (which regeneration entails), neither should we.
Heb. 10:29 says that the person who apostatizes from the visible-Church was ‘sanctified’ (set apart as externally holy) by ‘the blood of the Covenant’ by ‘the Spirit of Grace’:
“Of how much sorer punishment… shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the Covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of Grace.”
Another interpretation of this verse may be possible, as was allowed by John Owen. According to this alternate view, the pronoun ‘he’ in the phrase ‘…the blood of the Covenant, wherewith He was sanctified,’ refers to the Christ, the Son of God previously mentioned in the verse. The idea is that just as the high priestly family was sprinkled and sanctified by blood in the Ex. 29:20-21 in order to be consecrated, or sanctified, to the service of God in performing atonement, so Jesus, the High Priest, was uniquely set apart (sanctified) through his spilled blood, the blood of the Covenant.
(1) If the pronoun in Heb. 10:29 is speaking of Christ, it would be the only verse in the Bible which speaks of the Messiah being ‘sanctified by the blood of the Covenant’. Whereas, it was well-known and very understand that the Old Testament visible-saints were sanctified by the blood of the Covenant in entering into God’s Covenant in Ex. 24:8. The writer to the Hebrews directly refers to this foundational event in Heb. 9:19-20:
“For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats… and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.'”
In ch. 9:13-14 the writer to the Hebrews applies the example of the sprinkling of Old Testament visible-saints in Num. 19:4,13,18-21 to New Testament believers being purged by the blood of Christ:
“For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13-14)
Note that these verses speaking of the visible people of God being sanctified by the blood of the Covenant come in the chapter immediately before Heb. 10:29, forming part of its context.
(2) It is also strange to understand Christ (the greater) being sanctified by his own blood (the lesser) in the Covenant. Whereas the passage reads very naturally if the apostate (the lesser) is sanctified by Christ’s blood of the Covenant (the greater). See Christ’s argument about the greater sanctifying the lesser in Mt. 23:16-22.
For these two reasons it is more natural that the person being sanctified by the blood of the Covenant in Heb. 10:29 is the apostate. Lastly, if Heb. 10:29 were too unclear to demonstrate that visible-Church professors are externally covenanted to God, it makes little difference. As has been shown, with more Scriptures following, this teaching is taught in the New Testament in many places, not to mention it being constantly taught in the Old Testament.
In light of the visible-Church apostate being sanctified by the Covenant in Heb. 10:29, the Lord says in the next verse (v. 30), ‘Vengance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense.’ This judgment of apostates involves eternal punishment, as v. 31 implies: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And to whom is the writer to the Hebrews speaking this warning to? His visible-Church:
“And again, ‘The Lord shall judge *his people*’.” (10:30)
The non-presumptive warnings of the book of Hebrews to the Church (2:1-4 of drifting; 3:7-4:13, of not entering into Rest; 5:11-6:12, of falling back; 10:19-39, of willful sin and 12:1-29, of indifference and denial) are not simply hypothetical; they are real.. Visible saints, externally sanctified by the Covenant and the Spirit of God, do fall away forever.. Take heed.
Time-Periods in Church History
While it is true that there is promised to be a much greater outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-29; Jn. 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7) through the visible-Church (Isa. 32:15; Zech. 12:10) upon the nations (Isa. 62:1-4; Ps. 67; Isa. 19:18-25, etc.) in the New Testament era than there was with Israel in the Old Testament, this already being easily seen and confirmed in Church history which has gone before, yet there are many periods in the history of the Church where it has been prophesied that the regenerating winds of the Spirit amongst God’s Covenant-people would be limited.. To presume that the whole of the visible Church in good-standing is in the Invisible Church in these periods, or any period, is the height of folly.
Already in the book of Jude in the first century, numerous persons had crept into the Church who were of old ordained to condemnation (v. 4).. What are their offences? Things that often fly under the radar of Church discipline, and in fact are considered tolerable or even ‘cool’ by many professing Christians: swelling words, admiring persons for their own advantage, complaining, despising authority, speaking evil of persons with authority and fornication (vv. 7-8, 16).
2 Thess. 2 prophesied of a great apostasy inside the Church that would begin shortly after that present time (v. 7).. From this apostasy in the Church would rise the Man of Sin, or the Antichrist.. This Antichrist will rule in the Church (‘the temple of God’, v. 4) by usurpation till Christ’s Second Coming (vv. 8-9).. The effect of this will be that many in God’s Church will be deceived and damned (vv. 10-12).
The only entity, of course, who fits this description, or could fit this description, as universally recognized by the Reformation and her confessions, is the continuing Roman Papacy.. Ought one to have presumed that the whole visible-Church in the Middle Ages was regenerate? Ought one now to presume that the 1 billion plus people of God’s poor Church under the insidious tyranny of the Roman Pontiffs are regenerate?
1 Tim. 4:1-3 is a prophecy of such latter times, where the Church is plagued with seducing spirits, doctrines of devils and hypocrisy.
Some have better hope for the future ages of the Church, when the people of Israel will en masse turn to Jesus Christ and most of the nations of the world will follow (Rom. 11:11-27; Isa. 2:1-5; Zech. 14:16-21; Ps. 72:17-19; etc.), when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:9) However, even in the post-Millennium, will it be safe to presume that whoever is born into the Church is regenerate?
The Gospel says that when Jesus comes back that people will be doing the common activities of marrying and giving in marriage, working and eating and drinking, all of which is consistent with a good-standing in the visible Church.. And yet one person in the field will be taken and the other left; one saved and the other unsaved. (Mt. 24:36-42)
Jer. 31:31, ‘The New Covenant’
Presumptive Regenerationists, along with Calvinistic baptists, often find their covenantal starting point, not from the opening pages and development of Scripture, or from a clear didactic passage, but in the eschatological passage of Jer. 31:31-34, which may appear to say that the New Covenant with the Church in the New Testament era, is only with regenerate persons:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel… I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people…
They shall all know Me… for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Firstly, this passage about how the Covenant will be administered in the New Testament with the Church should not be set in isolation from, or in opposition to, the rest of the teaching of the New Testament, but should rather be qualified by these other passages as Scripture interprets Scripture.. As seen from above sections of this article, Scripture teaches that visible-Church-members, by their profession of faith, are externally Covenanted unto God.
Secondly, as with much of prophecy, the prophet sees and articulates a vision of an organic, spiritual whole which transcends, develops and progresses trough multiple future periods of history, including that of the Age to Come.. The full fruition of Jer. 31:31-34, which will endure eternally, is in Heaven.
In heaven it will be safe to presume (it being revealed and true) that whoever is in the Covenant is regenerate.. To posit that spiritual, prophetic reality as being fully true now is called the error of having an over-realized eschatology: having too much ‘now’ and not enough ‘but not yet’ in our eschatology.
Thirdly, this Jeremiah passage cannot be taken literally or absolutely:
– The New Covenant is said to be made with ‘the house of Israel’ and ‘the house of Judah’, but this is speaking of the Church (as the inspired writer to the Hebrews interprets its fulfillment, Heb. 8:9-13) and not physical Israel (Israel being prophesied by Rom. 11 not to be in the Covenant for most of Church history)..
At the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy, ‘the house of Israel’, or the Northern Ten Tribes, had for over a hundred years been dispersed and ceased to exist as a recognizable, political entity.. The Old Testament histories and prophecies spoke of the remnant of faithful northern Israelites moving south and joining the southern tribes, ‘the house of Judah’.. These are the persons which Jeremiah refers to in his prophecy.. The New Testament Church spiritually continued that which Israel was, and was meant to be, which this prophecy speaks of.
– The prophesy says, as an effect of God writing his Word in the people’s hearts, that “they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother…” Yet persons do need to be taught the gospel this side of Heaven (Rom. 10:14-15), need Christian instructors to teach them for every good work in sanctification, and Christ has ordained teachers in his Church as a perpetual ministry for this purpose till we reach Heaven (Eph. 4:10-13).
However, this prophecy does receive partial fulfillment in this life.. 1 John 2:27 says:
“But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
This verse means that God anoints us with his Spirit, who lives in us and teaches us internally in our spiritual walk before God. The Spirit sufficiently guides us and teaches us what is right, good and is God’s will, often not needing any man to teach us these things.. However 1 Jn. 2:27 cannot be taken absolutely either, lest it contradict the rest of the New Testament, which speaks of the necessity of teachers for the full well-being of the Church.
– The promise in Jeremiah to the Church is that “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (31:34) Yet, this is not absolutely done, in every way in this life: while God justifies persons with saving faith, legally forgiving their sins with respect to their positional standing before Him eternally, yet the regenerate still commit sins which God, in his Fatherly discipline, may hold them accountable to in the temporal affairs of this life, remembering their sins in this regard (Ps. 6:1-4; 38:1; 99:8; Mt. 6:15; 7:2; 18:34-35; Mk. 11:25-26; Gal. 6:7; Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19).
The Antinomians in the 1600’s, which the presbyterians argued against, held that Jer. 31:31-34 was to be taken absolutely and without qualification of the regenerate.. For a healthy antidote against the rising Antinomianism in our own day, which teaches that God is never angry with the converted, nor ever beholds any of their sins or disciplines them for it, see Rutherford refute this anti-Biblical teaching in A Survey of Spiritual Antichrist, Part 2, chapters:
29 – God is Truly Angry with the Sins of the Elect and Believers
30 – The Justified Countable to God for Sin
31 – God Punishes Sin in Believers
33 – To Crave Pardon for Sin or to have any Sense of Sin, Denied to Believers by Antinomians
41 – Antinomians say we are Completely Saved in this Life as in Heaven
59 – How… yet God Daily Pardons Sins
60 – How Sins be Remitted before they be Committed, and how not, and the Antinomian Error in this Point
We must wait for the full fruition of Jer. 31:34 in Heaven, where God will never again be angry at us for our sins, or discipline us for them, He putting them away forever.. Oh the Day!
Fourthly, the Jeremiah passage is interpreted in Hebrews 8:8-13.. One emphasis in the contrast between the Old Covenant administration and that of this prophesied New Covenant administration, is that God’s Spirit will be poured out more through the Covenant-people, manifested in Jeremiah’s specific emphasis on God writing his Word into his people’s hearts.
However, in the same book of Hebrews, the writer specifically says that the unregenerate apostate which had been in the Church was ‘sanctified’ by ‘the blood of the Covenant’ by the ‘Spirit’ (10:29), showing how the author of Hebrews understood the application of Jeremiah’s prophecy to be qualified in New Testament times (along with the many other verses quoted in a section above demonstrating that the author did not presume all those externally sanctified by the Covenant in the visible Church to be regenerate or to have the Word of God written savingly on their hearts).
Hence the contrast in Jeremiah 31:32 between the people breaking the Mosaic Covenant versus the fuller outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the Church must be relative and not absolute, as though New Testament Christians, without the saving effects of the Spirit, cannot break the New Covenant.. What a blessed hope and promise we may look forward to, that all who make it to Heaven, and reside there forever, will never break God’s Covenant.
Fifthly, Jeremiah says that in the New Covenant, ‘I… will be their God, and they shall be *my people*.” (31:33) It is simply an anachronism to think that the well understood phrase, ‘my people’ could only refer to a set of individuals, and not be an organic community of people, including their children (see Rutherford’s perceptive comments on many neglected Scriptures in Covenant of Life, pp. 77-80).
The first verse of Jer. 31 explicitly states this:
“At the same time, saith the Lord, will I be the God of all the *families* of Israel, and they shall be my people.”
A parallel passage in Jer. 32 states the same:
“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them.. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them…” (vv. 38-40)
Thus, Ps. 87, a prophecy of gentile, New Testament times, says:
“…O city of God… I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know Me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there.. And of Zion it shall be said, ‘This and that man was born in her’: and the highest himself shall establish her. The Lord shall count, when He writeth up the people, that this man was born there.” (vv. 3-6)
As children of believers must be included in Jeremiah’s Covenant-entailing phrase ‘my people’, though not all children prove to be regenerate, so the New Covenant must be made, in some way (apart from the spiritual substance of that Covenant) with unregenerate persons in the Church (especially as the *visible-Church* is called ‘my people’ in the New Testament, 2 Cor. 6:16; Rom. 9:25-26; Mt. 2:6; Rev. 18:4).
Lists of Historical, Presumptive Regeneration Quotes?
Numerous collections of quotes have been compiled claiming to evidence the doctrine of presumptive regeneration from a large share of reformed history.. Here are two from Grace Online Library and A Puritan’s Mind.
To give an idea of the relative worth and accuracy of such selected quotes, let us take the first quote from the first collection, from John Knox (with no reference given):
“The conviction of the writers of that [Scottish] Book of Common Order , was thus the Biblical perception that the children of believers are Christians already, before being baptized in their infancy.”
So far from this demonstrating that Knox believed in presumptive regeneration (was this an author speaking about Knox as a writer of the Book of Common Order?), the quote is consistent with orthodoxy, and proves no more: Children are externally-federally holy (and may be called ‘Christians’ in light of such, as the term ‘Christian’ is used of all those in the visible Church, Acts 11:20-21,24,26), and thus are to be baptized, rather than entering the Covenant through baptism.
Many of the quotes in the collections are no better.. The collections excerpt quotes from Samuel Rutherford and David Dickson (which quotes do not prove the collector’s point), both of which persons have multiple articles on this page below arguing at length against presumptive regeneration.
Both collections quote the 1800’s Free Church of Scotland professor of historical theology, Willliam Cunningham on ‘the Reformers and the great body of Protestant divines’.. From the quote, as presented, one would be left with the impression that this great body of divines taught that baptism presupposed justification and regeneration in infants.. Here are the sections referenced in full, with underlining signifying the part that was quoted in the collection.. Our emphasis has been added with italics:
Historical Theology, vol. 2
“The Reformers, and the great body of Protestant divines, in putting forth the definition of the sacraments in general, or of a sacrament as such, intended to embody the substance of what they believe Scripture to teach, or to indicate, as equally applicable to both sacraments; and in laying down what they believe concerning the general objects and the ordinary effects of the sacraments, they commonly assume, that the persons partaking them are rightly qualified for receiving and improving them, and further, and more specially, that the persons baptized are adults.
It is necessary to keep these considerations in view in interpreting the general description given of sacraments and of baptism, in our Confession of Faith and the other Reformed confessions; and with these assumptions, and to this extent, there is no difficulty in the way of our maintaining the general principle, which can be established by the most satisfactory evidence, namely, that the fundamental spiritual blessings, on the possession of which the salvation of men universally depends, justification and regeneration by faith, are not conveyed through the instrumentality of the sacraments, but that, on the contrary, they must already exist before even baptism can be lawfully or safely received.”
“…that the children of believers are capable of receiving, and often do in fact receive, the blessings of the covenant, justification and regeneration; and are therefore, unless there be some very express prohibition, either by general principle or specific statement, admissible and entitled to the outward sign and seal of those blessings; that there is a federal holiness, as distinguished from a personal holiness, attaching, under the Christian as well as the Jewish economy, to the children of believing parents, which affords a sufficient ground for their admission, by an outward ordinance, into the fellowship of the church…”
All which Cunningham affirms, we affirm.
Francis Turretin, the exemplar of high, reformed orthodoxy during the late-1600’s, is quoted in both collections as seemingly saying that infants of all Christian parents have ‘a seminal or radical and habitual faith’.
Institutes of Elenctic Theology 2.583
“The orthodox occupy the middle ground between Anabaptism and the Lutherans.. They deny actual faith to infants against the Lutherans and maintain a seminal or radical and habitual faith is to be ascribed to them against the Anabaptists.. Here it is to be remarked before all things:
(1) that we do not speak of the infants of any parents whomsoever (even of infidels and heathen), but only of believers, or Christians and the covenanted.
(2) Nor do we speak of every single infant as if such faith is given to all without any exception; for although Christian charity commands us to cherish a good hope concerning their salvation, still we cannot certainly determine that every single one belongs to the election of God, but leave it to the secret counsel and supreme liberty of God.”
Turretin is quoted a second time from a different place in his works as seemingly saying that infants of believers are baptized due to actual, seminal, Spirit-wrought faith.. However that whole section in Turretin is qualified by the following:
“When Scripture says that sins are cleansed, purged, destroyed and washed away in baptism (Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5), this must be understood not physically, but sacramentally; not absolutely with respect to all the baptized, but only with respect to those who believe (Mk. 16:16).” (Institutes 3.411)
While it is true that a number of historic, reformed figures throughout history have said and taught things inline with variegated forms of presumptive regeneration, what we do contend for is that when the subject of presumptive regeneration came fully into the spotlight, when it was most in focus, when theologians debated it most fully and at the greatest length in the most Scriptural detail, in the controversy between the Presbyterians and the Independents during the 1600’s, the great bulk of the Presbyterians during their classical era, as documented in the articles and books on this page below, argued emphatically, from the Scriptures, in extended detail against Presumptive Regeneration.
The mass of Scriptures and reasons brought to light from these old, massive barracks of argumentation, which directly bear against presumptive regeneration, are not easily overturned.
Practical Tendencies of Presumptive Regeneration
What happens when one presumes that all of one’s children, and the whole church in good-standing (not having obvious, demonstrable evidence otherwise), is regenerate, when they are not?
The level of what regeneration entails becomes much lower than what is found in Scripture, and in order to justify the rightness of one’s (erroneous) theology, there is a tendency to accept certain outwardly manifested, humanly produced actions as signs of regeneration, such as simply having a profession of faith (nominalism), having acceptable outward conduct, attending church, having a Christian upbringing and worldview, having an intellectual and notional acceptance of doctrine, etc. Giving false assurance to your children of their salvation is not recommended.
Liberals have regarded outward nominalism in religion as ethically acceptable; those who hold to presumptive regeneration often regard it as a sign of regeneration.
These things are very different than the fruit of the Spirit and the marks of a real, regenerated Christian, such as having:
A spiritual love for, and a precious fear of, God, a trembling at sin, being grieved for one’s own sins and fighting our sins, love for those around us, being humbled to trust upon Christ continually, having true spiritual joy and peace, having a love for God’s Word, prayer and fellowship with God, self-denial and sacrifice for God’s glory, being constrained by the love of Christ, growing in grace, kindness, long-suffering, faith, putting away habitual sins, becoming a new creature, our saving faith being demonstrated by demonstrable good works which glorify our Father in Heaven, and not trusting or presuming upon the externals of religion.
It is no coincidence that those who hold to presumptive regeneration are often, sadly, the most set against experiential and experimental religion.. When such persons deride those who cherish the experiential aspects of the Biblical religion (as taught throughout the Scriptures) as pietists, how can one help such people?
What happens when regeneration is held to be practically recognized by someone simply having a profession of faith? Assurance of salvation practically devolves into a person having an outward profession of faith (contrary to the Bible, Mt. 7:21-23; 13:20-21; Jn. 2:23-25; James 1:22; 2:14; etc.).
Rather, Assurance is a three-legged stool (none of which legs are a profession of faith):
(1) Believing the objective, salvific promises of God, and looking to Christ in them,
(2) the spiritual fruit evidenced in one’s life, and
(3) the inward testimony of the Spirit to our spirits that we are the children of God.
Lopping off the Biblical legs of this stool (which are explicitly taught in Westminster Confession of Faith, 18.2) for the uncertain assurance provided by an outward profession of faith, is tragic.
But perhaps the most tragic practical deficiency of presumptive regeneration, though, is many people making the inference that children born in the Covenant do not need to come to Christ in saving repentance and faith, and be urged thereto by their parents.. If persons are already regenerate, converted Christians, they do not need the evangelistic call of the gospel, already being justified; they simply need to be directed in Sanctification.
How long churches will retain the saving-flow of the oil of the Spirit while conversion remains simply accidental to raising children in a nominal Christian worldview, has already been played out with its deleterious effects in history.
Raising Children in the Covenant
Children of professing believers are born externally into the Covenant of Grace (Gen. 17:7; Ps. 87; Mt. 18:10; Mk. 10:14; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor. 7:14), and have God especially to be their God externally by Covenant (Gen. 17:7), whether or not they are regenerate (Isa. 1:2-4; Rom. 9:13; 1 Cor. 7:14).. No presumption is needed.
From conception, even in the womb, God has a special care, protection and providence about them (Ps. 22:9-10; 139:13-16; LC #63; this was even true of the apostle Paul who was not converted till much later in life, Gal. 1:15; nor is it clear that Jeremiah was regenerate from the womb, yet see Jer. 1:5) and their families (Jer. 31:31; Amos 3:2; 1 Cor. 7:14; 2 Tim. 1:16), directing them (Dt. 32:10), providing for them (Gen. 48:15) and blessing them (Dt. 12:7; Josh. 6:25; 2 Sam. 6:11-12).
As such children of professing believers are externally part of the family and house of God (Ps. 52:8; 31:20; Hos. 11:1; Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15; WCF 25.2), God, as their external-Covenant Father (Dt. 32:5-6; Jer. 3:14; Mt. 21:28,30; Lk. 15:29-30), by his invisible hand, brings them up, parents them (Hos. 11:3-4), disciplines them (Prov. 3:11; Jer. 31:18) and strives with them to draw them unto Himself with motions of his Spirit (Hos. 11:3-4; Rom. 10:21; Acts 7:51; Gen. 6:3), especially through providence (Jud. 13:3-4), the Word and the regular means of grace (Lk. 10:38-42; 19:5,9; Acts 11:14; 16:31) as well as through every diligent effort of their parents (2 Sam. 6:20; 1 Chron. 16:43; Isa. 66:12-13; Acts 10:22,33; Eph. 6:1; Gal. 4:19; 1 Thess. 2:7,11; 1 Cor. 4:15; Titus 1:4; Prov. 5:7; 23:26).
As such, these privileged children, being externally set apart unto God, designed to grow up into the Faith (Isa. 66:11; 44:3-5), as it ought to naturally occur, are able to genuinely call God ‘Father’ in the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:9), may be called ‘Christians’ (by outward designation, being externally set apart unto the Lord as his people, to grow up therein, as all the visible ‘disciples’ in the visible Church were called ‘Christians’, Acts 11:24-26) and they have the rights and privileges of the visible-communion of the saints.
Children of professing believers have Christ externally as their Head (as He is Head of the visible-Church, WCF 25.6) and they are part of his visible-Body (1 Cor. 12:12-27), which He specially cares for (Acts 9:1-5).. Christ bears an outward relation of Prophet, Priest and King to them (LC #43-45, note how many of these relations and benefits in the Standards are to the visible Church, in some way).
Christ, the Prophet, teaches them outwardly through the Scriptures (Rom. 2:17-18), through their parents (Prov. 3:1,5; 24:2124:21; 31:1) and even through non-saving counsel in their hearts (Dt. 32:10; Jn. 1:9; Isa. 28:23-29; Heb. 6:4-5; Ps. 25:4).
As a Priest, Christ calls the whole family into the ark (Gen. 6:18), seals them in it (Gen. 7:16), and none can deny the outward benefits received in externally abiding therein by reprobate Ham.. Did not Moses, a type of Christ, intercede and find temporal and longsuffering mercies from God for his visible people? (Ex. 31:9-14; Num. 14:18-20,23,35; Ps. 90, a psalm of Moses) Unregenerate children of professing believers, in praying the Lord’s prayer and forgiving others, have many of their sins temporally and externally covered over in this life (Mt. 6:12,14-15; 18:26-27,32,34-35).
Did not Jesus, our High Priest, while not undertaking the atonement legally in the place of unbelievers as he has for believers, yet externally wash the feet of Judas and has outwardly ‘bought’ even false teachers in the Church (2 Pet. 2:1)? As our High Priest (Eph. 4:8-10), Christ has given the gifts of faithful Church officers and administration to his visible-Church (Eph. 4:11), including for the profit of the children thereof.. Yea:
“Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them. Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits…” (Ps. 68:18-19)
As these children’s outward, external King, they are his citizens (Mt. 22:7; Ps. 87:2-6), are in his service (Mt. 21:28,30; 25:15,18-19,24-30), and bear his name.. In this capacity Christ has called them out of the world (2 Pet. 2:20, as he did Judas, Mt. 10:1,4) and ‘visibly governs them’ (LC 45).
What high privileges! If this were not enough, these dear children walk outwardly married unto the Lord (Isa. 54:5-7; Jer. 2:32; 3:14; 31:32; Eze. 16:31-32,38).. Oh may they put their saving trust in their external, heavenly Husband, whom they know so little of, who cares for them!
Bringing our Children to Christ
It may be that some of our children are regenerate from the womb (God having chosen to give them a new heart by his sovereign Spirit), and are trusting with seed-like faith in the sense of divinity stamped upon their souls (Ps. 22:9-10; 139:13-16; Lk. 1:44).. Even children who are regenerate, when they are able to understand more fully, need to come to Christ through saving faith and repentance (which is what a regenerate nature inevitably leads to).
Thus, whether or not our children are regenerate, we ought from their conception to be bringing them to Jesus for a blessing and so that He would intercede for them (Mt. 19:13,15).. From as soon as they are able to understand, we ought to be guiding and encouraging them to trust Jesus to save them from their sins and to repent and turn to Him.. Hold out the offers, invitations and call of the Gospel that God makes to us through his Word (Prov. 9:1-5; Luke 14:16-23) to your children continually in daily life, so that our dear children may perpetually be turning to Jesus and finding Him to be their only strength and hope in life and death.
How do We Know if our Children are Regenerate?
The way we are able to know if our children are regenerate or not is if we find in them saving faith and repentance.. However, a natural, common and carnal faith, repentance and nominalism often masquerade as the real thing, and are sometimes hard to distinguish therefrom, especially where genuine faith, the size of a teeny-tiny mustard seed, may be planted deep in a heart.
What is in the heart will manifest itself in the child’s life and works in time.. Even here though, common graces are sometimes notoriously hard to distinguish in real life from the fruits of saving grace.. Often the only way the difference is manifested is with prolonged time and trial (Mt. 13:20-21; Jn. 6:66-67), seeing if they persevere unto the end (Phil. 1:6; Jn. 10:28; 1 Pet. 1:5,9).. For many, the dividing of ways will only come when they leave their father’s house, being able to do more fully what they want to do without restraint.
In the meantime, Scripture says that children will be known by their fruits, and here is a rule that we can lay to their lives in order to help mold them, correct them, guide them, assure them, warn them by and to recognize their regeneration, or lack thereof, by:
“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.” (Gen. 21:9)
“But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” (Gal. 4:29)
“…and as he [Elisha] was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, ‘Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.’ And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.” (2 Kings 2:23-34)
“A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him” (Prov. 17:25)
“There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” (Prov. 30:11-12)
“…even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with… covetousness… inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding… without natural affection, implacable…” (Rom. 1:28-31)
“…the child Samuel grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord, and also with men.” (1 Sam. 2:26)
“Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desireth life… Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous… The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart…” (Ps. 34:11-18)
“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him.” (Lk. 2:40)
“…they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions… and He said unto them [his parents], ‘How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?'” (Lk. 2:46,49)
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Lk. 2:52)
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15)
“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” (1 Jn. 3:18-19)
“I rejoiced greatly that I found thy children walking in truth, as we have received commandment from the Father.” (2 Jn. 1:4)
Evangelizing our Children
If our children do not obviously and clearly exemplify the saving work of God in their souls, then we have no sure grounds to believe that they have savingly closed with Christ.
Further, it is a common means for God to regenerate children and bring them to conversion through the knowledgeable hearing of his Word, the message of Christ the Savior and their putting their conscious, understanding, faith in Him:
“And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?” (Ex. 12:26)
“But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn. 1:12-13)
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15)
“Of his own will begat He us with the Word of truth… receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:18,21)
“…for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” (1 Cor. 4:15)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16)
In speaking with our dear toddlers and young children about the Gospel, we ought to put it in the simplest language which they can understand, dealing kindly, lovingly, encouragingly and patiently with them, only speaking what they are able to bear and is appropriate and edifying to their little persons, as we would want to be treated by big people.
Any new-sprung, green-shoots of faith and repentance, or any appearance thereto ought to be encouraged and cultivated.. One ought to be very careful, like Christ, not to quench the smoking flax or break the bruised reed, and to help those with little faith.
Our children are close at the door of salvation (Mk. 12:34; Gen. 28:16-17), having God near to them in so many ways with Christ knocking by his Word and Spirit upon their little hearts to let Him come in (Rev. 3:20; Song 5:2).. They have been “enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers [non-savingly] of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come.” (Heb. 6:4-5)
And yet, it is evident, many of our children do not know Christ spiritually. How often does Christ lament over these Covenant-children as He did of the visible-people of God of old:
“How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Mt. 23:37)
Do you tell your children the truth? Do you tell them that it is the fragrance of Christ’s presence with them that they smell (Ps. 22:22,25), that it is Christ Himself preaching and calling to them by his own Word through his Spirit (Eph. 2:13,16-17; Ps. 40:7-9; 2 Cor. 5:20; Heb. 3:8-12 in the present tense, with Ps. 95:7-8; Rev. 3:14,18-20)? Will you be so presumptuous and lukewarm for your own Covenant-children’s salvation when Christ is so concerned and earnest for it?
Let your children know that the Lord has planted them, that you children are his beloved vineyard (Isa. 5:1).. He has set a fence about you; He has made ready the soil; He has built towers for protection and made a winepress of his gracious blessings to flow to you.. He has looked upon you, continually, for the fruit that He may rightly expect from you.
“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4)
The Lord exclaims, ‘What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?’ (Isa. 5:2-4) And yet often it is found that God’s vineyard, in our own families, has brought forth wild grapes. (5:2,4)
Dear children, when you were aborted by this world and thrown into the ditch in your blood and sin (Eze. 16:4), no eye pitied you, but Christ the Redeemer (16:5).. He has rescued you and caused you to grow up healthy and flourishing upon his gifts and graces.. He has clothed and decked you about with the beauties of his Word, signs and seals, testifying to his great love and grace to you (16:6-14).. You are his (16:8) and He has prepared you to enter into, and offers you the closest, eternal, spiritual, marriage-bond forever:
“Behold, I will allure her… and speak comfortably unto her… I will betroth thee unto Me forever, yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness and mercies… and thou shalt know the LORD.” (Hos. 2:14,19-20)
What does He want from you? What will make you intimately his forever? Christ, as a father (Isa. 9:6; 53:10; Lk. 15:1,5,20), says to you:
“My son, give Me thine heart.” (Prov. 23:26)
He is ‘The Kindness and Love of God’ to us (Titus 3:4).. Will you not have Him, so that you may say, ‘I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine’? (Song 6:3)
Have our children savingly placed their trust in the only Savior? Are our children spiritual Christians? Every child wants to know if he or she is going to Heaven.
You are their first pastor.. Help them to understand how we may know we will live forever in Heaven with God and how we can be assured of it, or whether we are still yet unconverted.
Tell them that God does not presume or see as man sees.. He does not look upon the outward appearance, but looks upon the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).. Tell your children not to presume upon their professions or that they are church-members; rightly warn them that our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9).
Little one, do you find that the Holy Spirit has overcome and opened your heart (Acts 16:4)? That He testifies to you that you are the spiritual child of God? Does your heart cry out to your Father, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 4:6) Or is our heart still friends with this world and contrary to God? (James 4:4)
Do you not have assurance that you are saved?
Christ is willing to save you from eternal Hell (Isa. 65:2; Jn. 6:37; 7:37).
Christ offers to save you (Dt. 30:11-15; Isa. 55:1-5).
It is Christ’s revealed will that you come to Him and be saved (Prov. 8:1-4,8,10,30-33; 9:1-6; Isa. 45:22; Jer. 7:13; Eze. 18:23,32; 31:11; Hos. 7:1; Mt. 11:28; 2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9).
He desires to save you (Dt. 5:29; 32:29; 2 Chron. 24:19; Ps. 81:13-16; Hos. 11:4,8; Mt. 23:37; Acts 3:26).
Christ says in his Word to you:
“…these things I say, that ye might be saved.” (Jn. 5:34)
Will you let Christ save you, seeing it is his will to do so? Yes? If you sincerely do, then know for sure, with God as witness, that Christ will save you:
Christ can save you; He is able; He is the Strong One of God.. He has risen from the dead and has overcome death, Hell and the grave.. And He will save you..
Rest assured that He will not turn you away, nor forget you.. You are in his hands and there is none that can take you away from Him.. His love for you is stronger than death; his Word cannot fail; He will keep watch over you and He will see to it that you are brought to where He is now, in Heaven.. You have a Savior stronger than anything in Heaven or in earth (Rom. 8:38-39).
Keep trusting in Christ and his promises; be faithful to Him and He will assure your heart.
Have you found his Spirit in you? Showing you God (Mt. 5:8) and bringing spiritual fruit in your life? Do you desire to do what He says because you love Him, and not to be a hearer only? Are you unsure? Then simply do his Word, throwing yourself upon his promise:
“He that has my commandments, and keeps them, He it is that loveth Me, and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to Him.” (Jn. 14:21)
I can only give you a little help as to what fruit I may be able to see in your little life, and what weeds you can work at taking out of your small garden.. Let us look at our lives through the mirror of the Word and see if we find ourselves in its descriptions of those going to Heaven.. Ultimately though, it is Christ that you must be satisfied with, who will be the assurance of your heart, or no genuine assurance will be found.
Parent, it is your job to assist your dear children, Christ’s visible sheep, to make their ‘calling and election sure’ (2 Pet. 1:10).. For more help on this, walk them in their life through 2 Pet. 1:4-8,10-11:
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…
If ye do these things, ye shall never fall… [but] an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’
For more help in understanding and spiritually guiding persons to Christ, including your children, and helping them with assurance, pick up William Guthrie’s concise, eminently readable, Scriptural and practical, The Christian’s Great Interest Buy (Banner of Truth, †1665, 255 pp.)
If our Covenant-children grow and, through a heart of unbelief, fall away from the outward profession of faith they have been raised into and which has been sought of them, they really fall away from all of these fore-mentioned Covenant-rights, privileges and graces.
Having externally broken the Covenant of Grace (which God graciously included them in by their birth) to no longer be his people, God removes his side of the bargain, and no longer is to them a God by Covenant, but hands them over to this world and the kingdom of the Satan (1 Cor. 5:4-5).
Not only have they trampled the sign and seals of the Covenant of salvation (dragging Christ’s name through their iniquitous practices), but they have really, trampled Christ’s spiritual presence (personally united to his humanity in Heaven) with them under their feet, crucifying Him again as it were (Heb. 6:6), putting Christ in Heaven to open shame in this earth with the consequent widespread knowledge of their degenerate testimony and actions.
God blots these young persons out of the membership of the book of the Covenant (Ex. 32:32-33; Ps. 69:28; Rev. 3:5; 22:19) and removes his hedge of protection and spiritual presence from them:
“I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” (Isa. 5:5-6)
“Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.” (Hos. 4:17)
“Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Mt. 23:37)
Hope through the Means of Salvation
God has especially promised to pour out his Spirit through the means of those outwardly in Covenant with Him and their children.. Prophesying of God’s people whom He has outwardly chosen (Isa. 44:1-2):
“I will pour water upon him that is thirsty… I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.. And they shall spring up… One shall say, ‘I am the Lord’s’… and another shall subscribe his hand unto the Lord…”
While this general promise is not without exception, and does not give us ground to presume that God has regenerated all of our children, it does give us ground to hope that God will bless the diligent use of the means of grace in the Covenant to much of our family.
We thus understand the following Scriptures, not as if God absolutely ties Himself to natural relations and means, ex opere operata, but that God is pleased to bless and work through natural relations and means:
“Zaccheus… today I must abide at thy house… This day is salvation come to this house…” (Lk. 19:5,9)
“…and call for… Peter, who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.” (11:14)
“And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.’ And they spake unto him the Word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he… was baptized, he and all his, straightway.. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.” (Acts 16:31-34)
While we have no assurance that God will save those in our house without the means of grace (especially for lazy and less-than-godly parents), we do have a reasonable hope to expect that we will find a greater measure of blessing for our children through a close and constant use of the means of grace.. The faithful and diligent labor of Lois and Eunice, the grandmother and mother of Timothy, teaching him the Scriptures since he was a young child (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15), was not in vain, though Eli’s too-little and too-late concern for his sons was (1 Sam. 2:12; 2:22-25, 29-30; 3:13-14).
It should be noted that no matter how faithful a parent is, the Lord may sovereignly choose to pass over a child from salvation for his own wise and just reasons.. It is not necessarily the parents’ fault that a child, or many children, or all of their children, do not grow up to be faithful to Christ.. Israel, the son of the perfectly faithful Father, was wayward (Isa. 1:2-4).. Even Jesus’ discipleship of Judas was not effectual, and Jesus thanked and glorified his Father that his Will was being done in passing over the reprobate in his audience who were externally in the Covenant of Grace. (Mt. 11:25-26).
David, a man after God’s own heart, on his death-bed, had not thought that God’s promise would be effectual to all of his children and lamented the failings of his own household, as we ought to. See how He takes refuge in God, though he had to watch numerous of his children fall away from the Lord:
“Although my house be not so with God; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although He make it not to grow.”
Those who idolize their children and their salvation will ruin them; those who seek the Lord first, and walk in his ways towards and with their children, will likely gain many of them.. Look unto the Lord our God; the salvation of your children is with Him.. Plead with God, for the love of Christ, that He would apply his general Covenant-promises particularly to each of your particularly-beloved children:
“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” (Deut. 30:6)
Presumptive Regeneration is a serious departure from the teaching of Scripture, and is deleterious to the churches which accept it and inculcate it.. Rev. Maurice Roberts of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) has sounded the alarm:
“To make the unusual [John the Baptist’s regeneration in the womb] the basis for assuming church children to be regenerate as a matter of routine strikes this reviewer as a perfect formula for producing a dead and formal church in the short space of one or two generations.
After all, Nicodemus was a church child and yet he was totally unacquainted with the saving grace which a new birth alone could give him.. Is not this the case with many thousands of church children like him? If such a privileged person as Nicodemus could be so ignorant of the essential element in a man’s spiritual life, namely renewal by God’s Spirit, is it not likely to be the same with most of our children born into Christian homes today?”
“Presumptive regeneration of church children is about the last thing we wish to see in our churches at this hour.” (Banner of Truth Magazine, June, 2005, appended to ‘Contra Schenck’)
When we come to a fuller knowledge of light and truth, we ought to repent of our former presuming upon ‘the secret things which belong unto the Lord our God,’ such as regeneration (Jn. 3:8), and instead look humbly and dependently to ‘those things which are revealed’ and ‘belong unto us and to our children forever’. (Dt. 29:29)
May our children, and all those in our churches, with sincere faith lay hold of Christ the Savior and all of his spiritual blessings held out to us in the Covenant.
“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him;
and He will show them his Covenant.”
Webb, Andrew – ‘Contra Schenck’ 2008 20 paragraphs with an Appendix by Maurice Roberts
On the presumptive regeneration views of Schenck, see below under William Young’s article.
Young, William – ‘Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinsim’ from the Westminster Theological Journal, vol. 36, 1973-74, with editorial revisions by Sherman Isbell
Neo-Calvinism was birthed from the Dutch thought of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd and others in the late-1800’s. It has had a tremendous effect on, and has become a dominant feature of, reformed thought in America.
Young shows where Neo-Calvinism has departed from historic Calvinism in 7 Theses, including: a change of Covenant Theology, an over-emphasis on cultural renewal and institutions, a depreciation of personal religion, and affirming the unBiblical doctrine of presumptive regeneration with its various implications.. Specifically, read Thesis IV on presumptive regeneration and Thesis V on experiential religion.
In Thesis IV Young demonstrates the historical revisionism of Abraham Kuyper on reading presumptive regeneration back onto numerous of the reformers and puritans.
Lewis B. Schenck’s early-1900’s book, ‘The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant: An Historical Study…’, has been influential in reviving the doctrine of presumptive regeneration in the contemporary era and largely uses the same early, reformed, historical figures and exact quotes (many times from the Latin) as Kupyer did (appearing to be heavily dependent on Kuyper), in order to evidence his presumptive-regeneration reading of reformed history.. Hence Young’s setting the historical record straight is also valuable as a correction to Schenck.
Ch. 9, ‘What Members are Necessarily Required for the Right and Lawful Constitution of a True, Politic, Visible Church, to the which we may Join in God’s Worship?’ 1642 28 pp. in A Peaceable and Temperate Plea
Rutherford was a Scottish presbyterian and Westminster divine.
pp. 242-244 & 251-265, ‘Whether or Not our Brethren Prove by Valid Arguments that the Constitution of the Visible Church is Only of Visible Saints, of Sanctified, Washed and Justified Persons’ in Pt. 1, Ch. 9, Sect. 9 of The Due Right of Presbyteries 1644
pp. 129-131 of ch. 16 of The Covenant of Life Opened 1655
Book 1, Chs. 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 of A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker, pp. 3-68 1658
Rathband, William – ‘Of the Matter of a True Visible Church, What is Required Thereunto, and How the Same May be Known’ 1644 8 pp. in A Brief Narration of Some Church Courses Held in Opinion and Practice in the Churches lately erected in New England
Rathband was an English puritan and presbyterian (see also here).
Apollonius, Willem – Ch. 1, Of the Qualifications of Church Members: Whether there be none to be admitted into the Communion of the External Visible Church but who is Endued with the Real, Internal Holiness of Regeneration… as may Convince the Consciences of the Church to which he Joins Himself… in A Consideration of Certain Controversies at this Time Agitated in the Kingdom of England, concerning the Government of the Church of God 1645
Apollonius was a Dutch puritan and presbyterian.
Fergusson, James – ‘The Fourth Main Difference’ 1652 in Section 5, ‘The Doctrine of Separation Tried and Found not to be of God’, Head 1 in A Brief Refutation of the Errors of Toleration, Erastianism, Independency, and Separation, delivered in Sermons on 1 Jn. 4:1, pp. 197-213
Fergusson was a Scottish presbyterian.
Wood, James – Pt. 1, Sections 1-9 of A Little Stone Pretended to be Out of the Mountain [Dan. 2:35], Tried 1654 See especially Section 2
Wood (c.1609-1664) was a Scottish presbyterian and an esteemed, professorial colleague of Rutherford. Wood, according to the later Free Church of Scotland professor, James Walker, was ‘among our ablest men’ and wrote ‘perhaps the best Scottish discussion of Church authority’ in his treatise against Independency. This work was written against the English Independent Nicholas Lockyer.
Walker (Theology & Theologians, p. 120) quoting Wood:
“‘I agree,’ in substance said Wood, ‘with the learned author [Richard Baxter, an Independent], that a serious profession of faith, combined with a professed subjection to the commands and ordinances of Christ, without any searching of the heart, is the ground on which members should be admitted into the Church; but I differ from him when he teaches that they are to be admitted under the notion of true believers,’ judged to be such even probably.
‘I agree with him, that if a man’s outward conduct were such as to show that he was not a member of the invisible Church, he should not be taken into the fellowship of the visible Church; but not on the formal ground that such conduct was a proof of his irregeneracy, but on the ground of its being materially inconsistent with his very outward profession of faith.
And my reason for holding that irregeneracy, or anything considered formally under the notion of a sign of irregeneracy, ought not to exclude from the visible Church, is, that I conceive ‘it is God’s revealed will in His word that men may be received into the visible Church that they may be [become] regenerate [through the means of grace], and that the ministerial dispensation of ordinances is by God’s revealed will set up in the Church to be means of regeneration and conversion…'” – A Little Stone, p. 150 ff.
Dickson, David – Therapeutica Sacra 1656 Scottish presbyterian
Book 1, Ch. 6, ‘Of the Covenant of Grace’
pp. [133-139] of ‘The Means to Draw on the Making of this Covenant’
Objection 1: But How Can the Church Receive Men in Church-Fellowship, who are Destitute of Lively Faith?
Objection 2: But Some will Insist and Tell us that the Visible Church is a Society of Saints, or Regenerate Persons… such as by the Judgment of Charity we must Esteem Regenerate.
Objection 3: But… How can the Consent be Serious where the Heart is not Sincere, where the Person is not Regenerate?…
pp. [184-185] ‘Fourthly, the Lord professes plainly that in the Dispensation of his Word and Works of Providence, He intends the trial of men and the discovery of their hearts to themselves and to others…’
Blake, Thomas – A Treatise of the Covenant of God 1658 English puritan and presbyterian
Ch. 5, The Outward, and not the Inward Covenant, is a Covenant Properly So Called
Ch. 6, Six Positions Tending to Clear the Things in Question
Ch. 29, Ministers of Christ must bring their People up to the Terms of the Covenant, Pressing the Necessity of Faith and Repentance
Ch. 30, A People in Covenant Must Come up to the Terms of the Covenant, being Engaged to God They Must Answer Their Engagements
Ch. 36, The Covenant of Grace Admits Christians in Gospel-Times in a State of Unregeneration, and is Not Limited in the Bounds of it to the Elect Regenerate (chapter numbering is off in the original)
Ch. 37, New Testament Scriptures Asserting the Latitude of the Covenant of Grace in Gospel Times
Ch. 38, Arguments Evincing the Covenant of Grace in Gospel-Times in that Latitude as Before Asserted
Ch. 39, Objections Against this Latitude of the Covenant Answered
Ch. 41, Interest in a Church-State is of Equal Latitude with the Covenant
Ch. 44, Impenitence and Unbelief in Professed Christians is a Breach of Covenant
Fullwood, Francis – A Discourse of the Visible Church, in a Large Debate of this Famous Question, viz. Whether the Visible Church may be considered to be truly a church of Christ without respect to saving grace? Affirm. Whereunto is added a brief discussion of these three questions. viz. 1. What does constitute visible church-membership? 2. What does distinguish it, or render it visible? 3. What does destroy it, or render it null? Together with a large application of the whole, by way of inference to our churches, sacraments and censures ToC 1658
Fullwood (d. 1693) was a reformed Anglican, who held to presbyterian principles (see the title of this work).
Fullwood, as quoted by Thomas Boston (Works, 6:130):
“The Word of God, Gen. 17:23, acknowledges that one may have a right to the first seal of the covenant, and that coram Deo, that has no saving grace. Ishmael was thirteen years old, verse 25, when he was circumcised, and therefore of age to answer for himself; yet Ishmael had no saving grace, neither was he within the covenant of Isaac–the covenant of absolute and certain salvation, from which he was excluded, verse 19..
Yet Ishmael has a right to the first seal of the covenant coram Deo, as is most most evident from the immediate command of God, that he that was born in Abraham’s house, must needs be circumcised, verse 12, and accordingly Abraham understood it. He proceeds upon the command of God to circumcise Ishmael first of all. Now what is it that giveth one right to any ordinance but the command, or at least more evidently than the command of God Himself? And that right which we have from God’s command, is doubtless a right coram Deo, and in his sight.”
The Visible Church in Covenant with God, or, An Inquiry into the Constitution of the Visible Church of Christ. Wherein the divine right of infant baptism is defended Buy 1769
Mather (d. 1806) was a New England, puritan, congregationalist minister of the older variety.
“Moses Mather and the Old Calvinist establishment responded with alarm [to the doctrine of the New Divinity pastors]. If gracious affections are ‘the Band of Union to the visible Church; it will follow, that no Person in an unrenewed State can be a Member of it.’ (Mather, Visible Church, p. 54) In Mather’s mind, it was only a small step from such a position to denying infant baptism.” – Peter Wallace, ‘Visible Saints and Notorious Sinners’
The Visible Church, in Covenant with God; Further Illustrated 1770
Bavinck, Herman – Saved by Grace: the Holy Spirit’s Work in Calling and Regeneration Buy 1902, rep. 2008 RHB 170 pp. Dutch reformed theologian
This work, in treating of regeneration, calling, the Covenant, and the means of grace, enunciates and argues Bavinck’s differences in contradistinction to Abraham Kuyper.
“…there were certain points of difference with respect to which, it must be said, Bavinck’s views were more widely accepted than Kuyper’s.. These points of difference can be subsumed under the four heads:
(2) Kuyper held that regeneration, as a general rule, precedes baptism in covenant infants; Bavinck, on the other hand, maintained that the regeneration of covenant infants may occur before, at, or after baptism; both would agree that, in the case of some covenant infants, regeneration may never occur.
(3) Kuyper taught that the spiritual ground for infant baptism is presupposed regeneration in covenant infants (although he also spoke of the covenant as the legal ground for infant baptism); whereas Bavinck affirmed that the ground for baptism is not the presupposition that someone has been regenerated, or even regeneration itself, but only the covenant of grace.” – Anthony Hoekema, Herman Bavinck’s Doctrine of the Covenant, p. 168
While Bavinck did hold to a certain, softer form presumptive regeneration (Dogmatics 4.57, fn. 36), yet his work is very much worthwhile and helpful.
History of the Scottish Presbyterians
Walker, James – Section II of ‘The Doctrine of the Visible Church’ 1888 30 pp. in The Theology and Theologians of Scotland, Chiefly of the 17th & 18th Centuries, pp. 118-126
Walker was a theologians of the Free Church of Scotland.
The Church, according to the Scottish presbyterians, “…is a society not of believers, but of professors of belief, of saints not in internal reality, but as ‘adorned with external holiness,’ irrespective of the existence or non-existence of true grace.
Admission, accordingly, to this society is not on the basis of any judgment of a man’s being really a Christian, but on the basis of what appears to be a morally serious profession of Christianity, and a promised subjection to the laws of Christ. he should indeed be a Christian… But they are not admitted formally in that character; they have no standing in that character; and if it were revealed from heaven that a man was in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity, he would not be extruded on the formal ground of his irregeneracy…” – pp. 118-119
MacPherson, John – pp. 82-90 of ‘The Idea of the Church and Membership in it’, Lecture 2 in The Doctrine of the Church in Scottish Theology 1903
MacPherson was a professor in the Free Church of Scotland.. He delineates the marked difference between Rutherford and the 1600’s Scots versus the presumptive-regeneration view of the early-1700’s Scot, Thomas Boston, who has had a significant influence upon those that have followed after him.. The article concerns specifically the grounds of infant baptism and the latitude for whose infants are to be baptized.
“Turning now to Boston, we find him assuming an attitude utterly opposed to that of Rutherford…” – p. 85
Thomas Boston, ‘Who Have Right to Baptism, and are to be Baptized’ in Works 6.126-139:
“Conclusion I: None have a right to baptism before the Lord, but those who have actually a saving interest in the Lord Jesus Christ…
Conclusion II: Visible believers, and such as have a profession of religion, probably signifying their having a saving interest in Christ, have a right to baptism before the church, so that they may be admitted thereto, though indeed they have no saving grace, yea or never shall have it…
Conclusion III: None but visible believers, or such as appear to have a saving interest in Christ, have right to baptism before the Church…
Conclusion IV: All infants descended of parents whereof one only is a visible believer, has right to baptism before the church… Such are in covenant with God visibly; we are to look on them as probably within the covenant, as to the saving benefits thereof, so that none can forbid water.”
The History of Presumptive Regeneration
Tipson, Baird – ‘Invisible Saints: The ‘Judgment of Charity’ in the Early New England Churches’ Church History, vol. 44, Issue 4, Dec. 1975 , pp. 460-471
From the synopsis: “Few early New England practices troubled European observers more than the attempt to restrict church membership to the regenerate…”
Wallace, Peter – ‘Visible Saints and Notorious Sinners: Presbyterian Sacramental Doctrine and Practice and the Vicissitudes of the Baptist Movement in New England and the Middle Colonies’ n.d.
Wallace is an OPC pastor. Here is a summary of this scholarly article.
Wallace persuasively argues that baptists gained ground in the mid-late 1700’s in congregationalist New England, but did not do so in largely presbyterian Virginia, though both groups held to infant baptism. What was the difference?
Congregationalist New England, from the beginning, held that Church membership was based on real holiness, that church members must be ‘visible saints’. This very much comported with baptist theology, which was more consistent therein, and many church-members were lost from congregationalist churches to baptist churches. Rutherford had already argued in the 1640’s that the ‘New Church Way’ of the New England congregationalists, grounding church-membership on regeneration, was inconsistent with infant baptism.
The presbyterians in mid-late 1700’s Virginia, on the other hand, held that church-membership was grounded on a profession of faith uncontradicted by scandal, not on regeneration. The baptists consequently did not find much traction in Virginia.
Beach, J. Mark – ‘Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and ‘The Conclusions of Utrecht’ 1905′ MJT 19 (2008) 11-68
The Westminster Assembly Minutes
David Bruner, ‘The Teaching of Westminster Regarding the Salvific Significance of Infant Baptism’
“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.” (McPherson, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 383)
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 [an Independent] 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.” (Van Dixhorn, Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly, v. 5, 204)
He is called into question at first by Lazarus Seaman [a presbyterian] and [Goodwin] qualifies his claim saying, “I do not affirm that they are actually saved, but we are to judge them so.” (Ibid., 204)
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 [a presbyterian] 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.” (Ibid., 204)
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.” (Ibid. 204)
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. (Cf. Duncan, The Westminster Confession of Faith Into the 21st Century, 181. [David] Wright [a baptist] suggests Goodwin is in fact misunderstood by the rest of the Divines.)
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. (This is opposed to the “strict” sense which correlates to invisible church membership.)
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. (Stephen Marshall & Daniel Featley, A Defence of Infant-Baptism, 1646)
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.” (Ibid., 105) 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.” (Ibid., 106)”
On 1 Corinthians 7:14
Blake, Thomas – Ch. 51, 1 Corinthians 7:14 Vindicated in A Treatise of the Covenant of God 1658
Can Infants have Faith?
Turretin, Francis – The Faith of Infants †1687 21 paragraphs
This is the best article on the topic. Turretin says yes and no, and distinguishes.
Lutherans go too far in giving infants full fledged adult faith. Anabaptists go too far in denying any possibility of faith whatsoever in infants.
Turretin argues the historic reformed view that infants are capable according to their infant nature, to trust in the sense of divinity stamped on their souls (Ps. 22:9-10; Lk. 1:43-45). They may have a seed-form of faith, which, if present savingly by God’s regeneration, will blossom into trusting the Son of God to save them from their sins when they can understand and are taught such.
Raising Children Externally in the Covenant of Grace
See especially ‘Raising Children in the Covenant’ in the Introduction above.
How to Engage Children
How to Communicate the Gospel to Children
Books for Children
Stories about Children & Youth
Letters & Advice of Parents to their Children
Addresses and Books For Youth
Hildersham, Arthur – ‘Dealing with Sin in our Children’ Buy 1627 29 pp. from his Lectures on Psalm 51
Lawrence, Edward – ‘Parents’ Groans Over Their Wicked Children’ Buy 1681 25 pp.
Mather, Cotton – ‘Help for Distressed Parents. Or, Counsels & Comforts for Godly Parents Afflicted with Ungodly Children; and Warnings unto Children to Beware of all Those Evil Courses’ Buy 1695 62 pp.
Guthrie, William – The Christian’s Great Interest Buy †1665 255 pp. Reprinted by the Banner of Truth
This work will greatly help you guide your child to saving faith in Christ, and to gain an assurance therein.
Fear not: while puritans such as Thomas Hooker in New England thundered against hardened hypocrites (rightly, as the town churches were filled with them), Guthrie handles the reader gently and winsomely in ‘a most homely and plain style’, not crushing the bruised reed but building up even the smallest babe in Christ to know how to attain an assurance of salvation, even ‘Heaven on earth’.
Thomas Chalmers, one of the fathers of the later Free Church of Scotland, who wrote an Introductory Essay to the work, said that ‘while it guides, it purifies,’ and that it ‘is the best book I ever read’. Be not fooled, though the book is sweetly simple, John Owen said of Guthrie and his work, ‘That author I take to have been one of the greatest divines that ever wrote… I have written several folios [there are 23 volumes in Owen’s Works], but there is more divinity in it than in them all.’
Janeway, James & Cotton Mather – A Token for Children: being an exact account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children… to which is added, A Token for the Children of New England… preserved and published for the Encouragement in Piety of other Children Buy †1674 185 pp.
Archibald, Alexander – Religious Experience Buy 1844 1st Professor of Old Princeton Seminary
Ch. 1 – ‘Early Religious Impressions, Different Results… Examples of Ineffectual Impressions’
Ch. 2 – ‘Piety in Children, Comparatively Few Renewed in Infancy and Childhood, Souls Awakened in Different Ways… Progress of Conviction’
Ch. 3 – ‘The New Birth an Event of Great Importance, The Evidences of the New Birth, Diversities of Experience in Converts…’
‘Praying for our Children’s Salvation’ 11 paragraphs
“According to God’s promise (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39), the children of believing parents are included in the covenant of grace and must be received as members of the church by baptism.. This promise is precious, and the privileges it confers on our children are great indeed.. But they afford us no ground to presume that our children are regenerate and no reason to treat them as such before they come to saving faith and repentance.. We baptize infants based on many points, but not on account of ‘presumptive regeneration.'”
Bringing the Gospel to Covenant Children Buy
How do We Plant Godly Convictions in our Children? Buy
Parenting by God’s Promises Buy 2011 314 pp.
This is one of the best books on raising children.. It is Biblical, spiritual and doesn’t give simplistic and legalistic formulas for the discipline of complex and tender souls.
It is also one of the few contemporary books that gets the Covenant and the Gospel right with regards to children.. It guides one between the extremes of treating one’s children as unregenerate heathens (and the consequent hyper-evangelism that entails) and from presuming that they are regenerate-Christians, in decided conviction for the balanced and historic presbyterian view that:
Children of professing believers are born externally into the Covenant of Grace and need to come to Christ in faith and repentance from as soon as they are able to understand, by the means of the call of the Gospel and the suasions of their parents.
This book is a fine specimen of experimental religion.
Tripp, Tripp – Shepherding a Child’s Heart Buy 1995 211 pp.
This is one of the better Christian parenting books.. Tripp rightly stays clear of formulaic disciplinary methods and focuses on the heart of the matter, with a lot of practical wisdom. He has parenting books on other age-ranges and aspects of parenting as well.
“Abraham said unto God, ‘O that Ishmael might live before thee!’ And God said… ‘Isaac… I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant… in the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.”
Gen. 17:18-19, 26
“…and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord. And they said… ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?… Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians…’… And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground.”
Ex. 14:10-12, 22
“…all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea… But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
1 Cor. 10:1-5
The Works of the Westminster Divines on Covenant Theology
Congregationalism and Independency
Historic Reformed Quotes on the Visible Church being Outwardly in the Covenant of Grace
Historic Quotes that the Children of Professing Believers are to be Baptized Because they are Outwardly in the Covenant