Baptismal Regeneration

And one of the malefactors which were hanged…  said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when Thou comest into thy kingdom.’  And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.'”

Lk. 23:39-43

“…for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.  How was it then reckoned?  when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?  Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.”

Rom. 4:9-10




Presumptive Regeneration



Order of Contents

Articles  6
Book  1
.    John Calvin  1
.    Westminster Confession  1

Against Baptismal Justification  2
More Quotes on Presumptive Regeneration  6
.    On the Debate at Westminster  2





Polanus, Amandus – pp. 64-66  of A Treatise…  concerning God’s Eternal Predestination  (1599)



Gillespie, George – bk. 3, ch. 12, ‘Whether the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper be a Converting or a Regenerating Ordinance’  in Aaron’s Rod Blossoming…  (1646)

Gillespie treats of both sacraments and answers the question: ‘No’.  Rather, as he shows, the Reformed held that the sacraments are confirmatory in their nature, as sealing something already possessed, rather than converting.



Buchanan, James – ‘The Doctrine of the Sacraments’  1843, p. 61, 13 pp.  in On the “Tracts for the Times” in the context of the Oxford Tractarian Movement of the mid-1800’s

Buchanan was a professor in the Free Church of Scotland.

Smyth, Thomas – Article VI: The Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration Examined  on Jn. 3:5  in Articles on Baptism  in Works, vol. 10  American, southern presbyterian

Cunningham, William – ‘Baptismal Regeneration’  (1863), p. 133, 8 pp.  from his Historical Theology, vol. 2

Cunningham was a professor in the Free Church of Scotland.

Guthrie, John – ‘Baptismal Regeneration’  being Part 3 of The Paedobaptist’s Guide on Mode & Subject & Baptismal Regeneration, pp. 182-219

Guthrie was a congregationalist minister in London.  The book was occasioned by a sermon of Charles Spurgeon criticizing baptismal regeneration.  In the controversy which ensued, paedobaptism itself was criticized as tending to baptismal regeneration.  Guthrie clears these misconceptions.

M’Crie, Thomas – ‘Baptismal Regeneration’  (1850), p. 157, 4 pp.  from his Lectures on Christian Baptism





Turnbull, Joseph – Baptismal Regeneration Refuted & Spiritual Regeneration Explained  (1854)  60 pp.





Theodore Beza

A Clear and Simple Treatise on the Lord’s Supper (1559, RHB, 2016), p. 146-7

“Regarding the baptism of infants, we have stated our case sufficiently and more: we consider it nothing else than the holy washing of regeneration.  Yet at the same time, we do not suppose that our salvation depends upon the sacrament of baptism, but upon our adoption according to the covenantal formula: “I will be your God and that of your seed.” [Gen. 17:7]  We diligently attend to this adoption in the children of the saints according to the Word of the Lord since it has been sealed upon them through the sacrament of baptism…

…little corruptions have arisen from no other source than from the understanding that baptism is necessary for salvation, which we consider entirely false.  We hold this view to be false because adoption by God must take place before anyone can be baptized rightly.  Otherwise why is a confession of faith required of adults before they are baptized?…

…those children whom (we claim) the Lord has already truly adopted before, according to the covenantal formula, are introduced into the outward company of the church through baptism.  Thus we leave the hidden judgments to God, just as we should.”



Antonius Walaeus

Synopsis of Pure Theology…  (Leiden, 1625), 44.27

“We reject the opinion of certain Ubiquitarians [Lutherans], who connect the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit in such a way with the external water in baptism that either it must exist in the water itself or at least can inchoate [begin] regeneration only in the very act of baptism, for this opinion is at variance with all those passages of Scripture in which faith and repentance, and therefore both the root and seed of regeneration, are demanded as a prerequisite in those who are to be baptized.”


The Presbyterians & Independents at Savoy

pp. 170-1 of ‘The Presbyterian Exceptions Against the [Anglican] Book of Common Prayer’  being Appendix 2  of The Book of Common Prayer as Amended…  A.D. 1661  ed. Shields  (Philadelphia: Claxton, 1867)



Herman Witsius

‘On the Efficacy and Utility of Baptism in the case of Elect Infants whose Parents are under the Covenant’, pp. 127-8 & 184-6  in MJT 17 (2006) 121-190, originally an appendix in William Marshall, Popery in The Full Corn, the Ear, and the Blade; or, The Doctrine of Baptism in the Popish, Episcopalian, and Congregational Churches; with a Defence of the Calvinistic or Presbyterian View (Edinburgh: Paton and Ritchie, 1852).

“…a distinguished privilege belongs to those infants whose benefit it is in divine providence to be born of parents whom the grace of the Most High has honored with the saving fellowship of his covenant…

III.  This however by no means implies that all the children of pious parents should be regarded as ordained to salvation by the divine appointment.  For it is manifest, both from the indubitable records of the sacred volume and the examples there placed beyond controversy, and from the experience of everyday life, that not infrequently the offspring of the best of men grow up with the worst dispositions, wickedly bent upon their own destruction.

Still God has given that pledge to pious parents that they may regard their little ones as the children of God by gracious adoption, until, when further advanced, they betray themselves by indications to the contrary, and that they may feel not less secure regarding their children dying in infancy than did Abraham and Isaac of old.

LXXVI. (2) If God usually bestows his grace at the same time as it is exhibited in the sacrament, and in the very administration of baptism both regenerates infants and delivers them from the guilt of original sin, the forwardness of parents in speedily presenting their children for baptism will accelerate their regeneration, with all its consequences, while their negligence will retard it; and thus the influences of divine grace upon the souls of some persons will be usually determined by the activity or the slothfulness of others.

LXXVII. (3) If infants, up to the period of baptism, are the children of wrath, and by receiving baptism pass immediately into a state of grace; and if the salvation of baptized persons dying in infancy is certain, while we have only the judgment of charity regarding the salvation of those not baptized, I repeat, there must be a most inexcusable want of Christian parental love (storges) and of paternal piety, when parents do not, at the very instant of birth, procure that baptism on which so much depends. Nor can those ecclesiastical constitutions be defended with the slightest show of reason, which impose the smallest delay upon the administration of the rite.

LXXIX. In like manner, I profess myself unable to reconcile with these doctrines such things as the following: that baptism is as necessary to salvation as food to the sustenance of life, or medicine to the restoration of health; that it is something approaching to a miracle if anyone is saved without baptism; that since we are not to presume too rashly upon the performance of miracles, the judgment of charity respecting the salvation of those dying without baptism rests upon a very doubtful foundation; and that, in the meanwhile, death supplies the want of baptism in infants, as, according to the Papists, martyrdom does in adults.

These things seem to me mutually to refute each other, for if death procures for infants what, according to the Papists, martyrdom procures for adults, the salvation of infants dying without baptism will be as certain as that of those who are baptized.  For who in the Romish church has any doubt of the salvation of the martyrs?  But where did this great man [Pierre Jurieu] learn that death supplies the want of baptism?  Has he been taught it by any testimony of Scripture?  Is there otherwise any argument in mere assertion, however emphatic?”



John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

From a letter to C.H. Spurgeon:

“Horrible as the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is, it would be still more so if combined with those scriptural principles which are usually called Calvinistic.”

[Specifically with the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, which baptismal regeneration almost always has to deny.]

“I can trust even for my unbaptized infant.”



On John Calvin

Cassidy, James – ‘Calvin & Baptism: Baptismal Regeneration or the Duplex Loquendi Modus [Two Ways of Speaking]?’  (2016)  24 paragraphs

“…while we admit that Calvin did use language concerning the sacraments which made it sound like he advocated something like baptismal regeneration, we maintain strenuously that he actually rejected such thinking.  Rather, what he does do – because of the duplex loqundi modus [two ways of speaking] of Scripture – is employ language which is proper of the res [thing] when speaking of the signa [sign].” – Conclusion



Interpretation of the Westminster Confession

Ramsey, D. Patrick – Baptismal Regeneration & the Westminster Confession  2008  61 paragraphs, from the Confessional Presbyterian, #4

Ramsey shows that a baptismal regeneration reading of the Confession is inaccurate.



Against Baptismal Justification



Edwards, John – ‘The Distinction used by some Late Divines of Justification at Baptism & Justification at the Day of Judgment, is Groundless’  (1708)  8 pp.  in The Doctrine of Faith & Justification set in a True Light, Part 3, ch. 4, pp. 433-41



Infant Baptism & Justification?  Contra Davenant



More Quotes on Presumptive Regeneration


Robert Baillie

A Dissuasive from the Errors of the Time, wherein the Tenets of the Principal Sects, Especially of the Independents, are Drawn Together in One Map  (1645), ch. 6, p. 119

“But that which makes men most afraid for their [the Independents’] Anabaptism, is their open deserting all the Reformed Churches, and the Brownists [separatists] themselves, in three grounds:

First, they deny the federal holiness of Christian children; against this Thomas Goodwin did preach, and deny openly that common distinction of protestants of real and federal holiness, requiring in every infant to be baptized a real and inherent sanctity.

If this ground be maintained, I see not how Anabaptism, or else Arminianism, will be avoided; for if this real holiness above federal, be the great ground of baptism, and this cannot be asserted in the judgement of verity of any infant; for whatever we say of the judgement of charity, yet in the judgement of truth, and with the certainty of faith wherewith we must assent to every Scripture, who can say that any particular infant is holy, and so that any Infant should be baptized? or if we can say in the judgment of truth, that every baptized infant is really sanctified, as it seems Mr. [John] Robinson has taught Mr. Goodwin, if Mr. Rathband understand right the 309th page of Robinson, Justification, the Arminians have won the field; for no man doubts but many baptized Infants, even in their way, do fall away totally and finally from whatsoever holiness can be supposed to be in them.

If these inextricable difficulties did move Mr. Goodwin to stop the press that it went not on with his sermons against the Anabaptists, himself does know.


Samuel Rutherford

A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker  (1658), Book 1

Ch. 8, pp. 34-35

“…for no doubt God in his decree and secret intention may intend, by the ministry of his servants, the true and real conversion of many hypocrites, such as are no less unconverted, then [Simon] Magus and Demas; for He hath mercy, on whom He will, Rom. 9:17, but according to this way, ‘these who are converts in the judgment of charity’ (he [Hooker] should say only converts in that judgment) are not according to God’s revealed intention and approving will or command taken in by pastors, that they may be really converted:

for God giveth, in no sort, this command to pastors in his revealed intention.  [Hooker:] ‘See that ye admit no fools to wisdom’s table or within wisdom’s house, but such only as you believe in charity are real converts, and both called and chosen,’ contrary to Prov. 9:1-4; Mt. 22:8-9,14.  Therefore [it would follow on Hooker’s terms], by my revealed intention and command you are not to intend their conversion, but to presuppose that they were already converted: otherwise, if the Lord by his revealed intention and command will have such hypocrites who are but nominal saints, brought in that they may be truly converted, there must follow two contradictory intentions revealed in God:

for the Lord’s command to pastors is [would be] ‘I command you to preach to these who are converts in the judgment of charity, that upon my intention, they may be truly converted’; and also: ‘I command you, my pastors, preach to no Church members, that upon my intention, they may be converted, because you are not to preach to any as pastors, but to such as ye know are already converted, according to my revealed intention and will.’

M. Hooker seeing this addeth:

‘But if M. Rutherford mean that the Church doeth of purpose receive them into the Church to be converted, then it is cross to his own tenet, and a person may be received to the seals of the covenant, who doeth not notify that he hath faith, nay the Church may receive them to the seals, whom she knoweth hath no right to the seals, for she knoweth they are not invisible members, which in Mr. Rutherford’s judgment only giveth them right.’

[Rutherford’s] Answer:  It is not cross to my tenet, that a person, such as Demas and Magus may be received to the seals, and yet they doe not notify [that] they have saving faith and internal conversion, for my tenet is that the Church can only judge of visible walking and profession in point of admission or not admission to seals, and in that point the Church hath nothing to do to judge whether they have faith-saving or not; none can partake savingly of the seals for their own personal salvation and without sin, but these only who have saving faith, but the Church may admit without sin multitudes, who eat and drink their own damnation, 1 Cor. 11:26-27, and yet pass no sentence of signs notifying faith or no faith, internal conversion or no internal conversion upon them.”


Ch. 12, pp. 52-53

“Hence let this query be answered by our [Independent] bre­thren, whether they think that profession doth notify to a cha­ritable judgement that all infants of Church-members, because born of Church-members, are real converts.  If so:

[1.]  birth must give conversion, and David must give to Absalom conversion by birth.

2.  All infants so born must be regenerate; but experience and Scriptures teach that many so born turn apostates, and prove sons of perdition.

How our brethren shall free themselves of some baptismal regeneration, and of the apostasy of the justified and truly sanctified, let them consider, and the sound Reader judge; for our brethren tell us, it is not lawful to put the seal upon a blank [in that baptism, they say, presupposes regeneration].”


Ch. 24, pp. 146-7

“If Mr. Hooker judge that Calvin, Peter Martyr, Beza, Ursinus, Pareus and our worthies cannot reason for infant baptism against Anabaptists, except thus:  …the really converted father must be baptized; therefore, the children; we have a weak part of it, for this strengthens Anabaptists not a little; for the common arguments both of our [congregationalist] Brethren and the Anabaptists are: they must be real converts that are Church-members, as I have proved.

And sure our Brethren judge it absurd that the seal of baptism should be put into a blank, or to a falsehood.  Now since Baptism is the seal of our regeneration, either must our Brethren put a blank and a falsehood (which the Church, who knows not the heart, without sin put upon Judas) or then with monstrous charity they must believe all baptized infants are regenerate.

But the truth is, the inward state of none can be said either a falsehood or reality to the Church, following the rule of the Word in dispensing of ordinances; for in the like, neither regeneration nor non-regeneration can be the object of the Church’s discerning.  Also this is to be observed, that Christ hath made the sounder part of the visible Church, the Church in the actual exercise of ordinances.  For:

1.  Christ never gave a power to err or to sin to his Church-visible [2 Cor. 13:8], or to any part thereof; as Nature gave not a power to the locomotive faculty to halt, but to move: therefore He cannot have given a power to a synod as many, but as proceeding right; to members as choosing discerningly, not as erroneously.


p. 520

“Catholics (as Augustine teaches) said, that it was the mind of Cyprian that the tares were in the Church, not lurking, but seen: to which the Donatists durst answer nothing, they were so moved with the authority of Cyprian.”


The Presbyterians & Independents at the Savoy Conference  1661

‘The Presbyterian Exceptions Against the [Anglican] Book of Common Prayer’  being Appendix 2  of The Book of Common Prayer as Amended…  A.D. 1661  ed. Shields  (Philadelphia: Claxton, 1867), p. 148

“XV.  That whereas throughout the several offices, the
phrase is such as presumes all persons (within the communion of the church) to be regenerated, converted, and in an actual state of grace (which, had ecclesiastical discipline been truly and vigorously executed, in the exclusion of scandalous and obstinate sinners, might be better supposed; but there having been, and still being a confessed want [lack] of that (as in the liturgy is acknowledged), it cannot be rationally admitted in the utmost latitude of charity) we desire that this may be reformed.ª

ª Urged by [Martin] Bucer in 1549, and by the Puritans from the beginning.  Enjoined by the Westminster formularies.  Discussed in the Answer and Rejoinder without result.  Conceded and proposed in 1668, and 1698.  Carefully applied throughout this edition.”



On the Debate at Westminster

Robert Letham

‘The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context’  in ed. Carl R. Trueman, The Westminster Assembly and the Reformed Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), pp. 329–331

“In the next session, S259 TU 16.7.44, the divines debated the proposed words “they are Christians & holy” in relation to infants presented for baptism. A lengthy dispute pertained to what Paul had in mind. Are those baptized holy in reality or are they to be considered holy merely in federal terms, by being in a covenantal relationship with God, which may or may not involve the regenerating presence of the Holy Spirit?

Thomas Goodwin claimed that the holiness in view is such that if they die they will be saved. He was uncertain whether they have the holiness of election or regeneration, but he thought they have the Holy Ghost. In short, Goodwin thought that those baptized are to be regarded as really holy, rather than simply federally holy.
Lazarus Seaman countered by pointing out that this is to make a different ground for baptism. Goodwin replied by denying that infants are actually saved, but affirming that we are to judge them so. This was too much for Stephen Marshall, who said that Goodwin was wrong: our judgment of charity must not determine whom we admit to the sacrament. We have no warrant to judge that they are saved. It is sufficient that the infants of believing parents are federally holy. Rutherford agreed, pointing out that real and federal holiness are different. The Lord has election and reprobation among infants; if they are in a state of salvation, how can any be lost?

To this barrage of opposition, Goodwin insisted that the question is not about the reality (whether or not the infant is regenerate) but “how I am to judge of them. I cannot judge that all are holy & saved, I judge so of this child & that child.” Marshall pointed to a clear mistake in Goodwin’s interpretation and application: the minister is to judge and believe that they are holy with the holiness Paul speaks of, not with any real holiness. While for Goodwin, the holiness in 1 Corinthians 7:14 is the holiness of salvation, Marshall’s rebuttal was that saving holiness infallibly saves. His underlying assumption was that since not all who are baptized will be saved, Paul cannot be referring to saving holiness. Goodwin did not give up. He agreed that an infallible judgment about an infant’s salvation was impossible, but what Paul had in view was a judgment compatible with the promise—an indefinite faith grounded on an indefinite promise.

Vines countered Goodwin by denying that the text had anything to do with the judgment of the minister about the child. It applied to each and every child in relation to the parents from whom they proceed. The holiness must be present in each one who comes into the category described in the text. If the infants were really holy, there would be a passing down of such holiness from the parents, and so they would be born regenerate and really holy. Moreover, whatever the kind of holiness intended in the text, it is altogether different from the judgment of the minister. Walker then underlined the distinction between federal and real holiness—many are called holy who are yet wicked and profane. Seaman pointed out that “federall holnesse is the true ground of administration of sacraments.”

Goodwin returned to the debate to state that it is not a holiness by traduction, but only by way of designation. Palmer put the text in its proper context. Paul, he said, is not speaking of what we are to judge, but of a case of conscience, whether if one parent is an unbeliever that makes the child unclean. The apostle says no—the child is holy. He speaks of the state of such children, and so it must be a universal proposition and so we are bound to believe it of each and every one. For his part, Goodwin pointed out that Palmer’s argument would also apply in 1 Corinthians 7:14 to the unbelieving spouse; holiness in the Old Testament refers to the judgment passed on them, and so it is a universal proposition.

The Directory eventually concluded that the children of believers are Christians and federally holy before baptism, and therefore that they are to be baptized. Goodwin’s argument for the real holiness of the infants aroused great concern. It appeared either to mean that all infants would certainly be saved, or to undermine election and reprobation. In the end, the exegesis of the passage was left unresolved.”


David F. Wright

Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective  (Great Britain: Paternoster, 2007), pp. 252–54

“With some relief, we turn to some contested exegesis.  In one of his letters from Westminster Robert Baillie wrote home as follows:

‘We have ended our Directorie for baptisme. Thomas Goodwin one day was exceedinglie confounded: He has undertaken a publicke lecture against the Anabaptists: it was said, under pretence of refuting them, he betrayed our cause to them: that of the Corinthians, our chief ground for the baptisme of infants, ‘Your children are holy’, he exponed of a reall holiness, and preached down our ordinare and necessare distinction of reall and federall holiness. Being posed hereupon, he could no wayes cleare himselfe, and no man took his part.’

The Directory ended up with the statement that the children of believers ‘are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized’. John Lightfoot was unfortunately absent from the Assembly on 16 July 1644, when the meaning and implications of 1 Corinthians 7:14 were rehearsed at length and in depth. We may judge it one of the company’s better days. The minutes are ample but not clear at every point.  Goodwin kept up his end from first to last.

‘It is such a holynesse as if they dy they should be saved/whether a holynesse of election or regeneration I know not; but I thinke it is they have the holy ghost.’

Lazarus Seaman spelt out the alarm that others showed: ‘all agree that this holynesse is the ground of baptisme … except he can make out this, the baptizing of infants is gone as toutching his judgment’. Goodwin in effect denied any distinction between real and federal holiness: the holiness predicated of the children of a single Christian parent by Paul is the same as that of ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people. Therefore be holy.’ If 1 Corinthians 7:14 speaks of any other holiness, then baptism is the seal of some other holiness than the holiness of salvation.

But saving holiness is what infallibly saves, commented Stephen Marshall anxiously. As Rutherford put it, ‘wher ther is reall and inherent holynesse ther must be a seeing of god, and being in the state of salvation’. But ‘the Lord hath election and reprobation amongst Infants noe lesse than those of age’.65  This emerged as the main objection to Goodwin’s interpretation, which was alleged to imply that all such infants would indubitably be saved (so Marshall) and that the decrees of election and reprobation could not stand (Rutherford).

So argument ensued on the difference between an indefinite proposition and a universal proposition. Goodwin’s case rested on the former: ‘an indefinite faith founded upon an indefinite promise’. Herbert Palmer could not concur: Paul’s answer to the ‘inconvenience’ to a child from one parent’s infidelity must be ‘a universal proposition and de fide we are bound to believe it de omnibus et singulis’. To be sure, Goodwin did not entertain every notion that some divines read into his position. He denied that he was speaking of a holiness received by the child by traduction from the parent, as Richard Vines had supposed (‘and so they shall be borne regenerate and really holy’),69 but only of a holiness by way of designation. Calamy came back at Goodwin: ‘he judges of the reall holynesse of the infant by the reall holynesse of the parent’. But this is how we all proceed, rejoined Goodwin; it is the children of believers that we baptize.71

The combined learning and piety of the Westminster theologians did not resolve the exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7:14. The verse had inevitably engaged the attention of previous generations of expositors, and had found the early Fathers and the Reformers of the sixteenth century espousing a variety of theories that, if not universally comprehensive, was at least indefinite. But whereas earlier exegetes had been especially preoccupied with avoiding the attribution to the children of a holiness which they could not comfortably credit also of the unbelieving partner, the dominant concerns of the divines at Westminster led in other directions. The irony lay in their very captivity to this verse in the first instance, for at least one thing can be incontrovertibly deduced from it—that the children in question who are declared ‘holy’ had not been baptized, nor, if the parallel with the unbelieving spouse extends this far, is their imminent baptism implied. This is, I think, the only place in the New Testament where children are in view of whom we know for certain whether they have or have not been baptized. They have not—but are said to be already ‘holy’.”




“And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth…  And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without…  And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.  And he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan…'”

Gen. 9:18, 22

while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.  The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God)…”

1 Pet. 3:20-21




Related Pages

The Perseverance of the Saints


Infant Baptism

Baptism for the Dead  (1 Cor. 15:29)