Paedo-Baptism Answers Calvin et al - Baptism saves?

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Sam Jer

Puritan Board Freshman
I ran across this website, claiming a bunch of reformers held a form of baptismal regeneration that holds that this ordinarily happens to elect infants at baptism. I found it while looking for the source of a quote quoted by "Redeemed Zoomer", a conservative PCUSA lay-person advocating the reform of the denomination, that quoted one of the quotes this website contains (namely Knox's).

1. Are these quotes correct and un-manipulated?
2. Was this doctrine disputed at the time?
3. Is this view common in any Reformed or Presbetyrian circles today?
4. Is this view condemned by any major Reformed or Presbetyrian churches or organizations?
5. What, if anything, does this have to do with presumptive regeneration?
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I wouldn't be able to check if they are manipulated in any way but I think these are presented in a misleading way. The view was disputed with the papists but the state of the question in dispute was not whether or not regeneration can concur with the time of the administration of the sacrament, but whether regeneration is so tied baptism that it occurs Ex opere operato, "from the work performed." Sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant of grace, but baptism and the Lord's Supper are seals of the covenant in different ways. Baptism is a seal of the promise of the covenant, and is for all within the visible church, whereas the Lord's Supper is a seal of the grace of the covenant, and is for those who know the Lord savingly.
Herman Wistius' ON THE EFFICACY AND UTILITY OF BAPTISM IN THE CASE OF ELECT INFANTS WHOSE PARENTS ARE UNDER THE COVENANT was recomended to me as the standard work on this topic. I found it a very thorough and helpful examination, both historically and theologically.

From the introduction in the link above:
Next Witsius turns to how these benefits or blessings relate to therite of baptism. He examines this matter at great length. Here we simply observe that Witsius shows how Reformed theologians have offered different answers to this question: some arguing that these blessings precede the rite of baptism; others arguing that the blessings issue forth after baptism; still others maintaining that these blessings are not tied to the act of baptism and so may come before, after, or at baptism; and finally those who aver that the blessings of baptism are tied to the moment of baptism itself—that is, the view that is now called baptismal regeneration. Witsius regards this last position as aberrant and heterodox, and he carefully rebuts it. For his part, Witsius defends the position that God typically bestows the blessings signified in baptism to elect infants prior to the rite of baptism—a perspective that has longstanding Reformed pedigree. Lastly, Witsius considers the question of the nature of baptism’s efficacy. Specifically, he asks wherein consists the efficacy of baptism?Witsius’s answer to that query is that it consists in the confirming and certifying of promised grace. Baptism, we must not forget, is a sacrament; and as a sacrament it is a seal; and seals function to confirm and certify something. Thus the efficacy of baptism, given that it is a sacrament (and of course Witsius is assuming the validity of the Reformed conception of sacraments), is altogether moral in nature rather than physical or substantive. In other words, baptism is not a physical agent that bestows grace. The sign (the washing of the water) is not to be confused with the thing signified (the blood of Christ that washes away all our sins), though they are closely related to one another. Witsius ably depicts the Reformed rejection of Roman Catholic and Lutheran positions on this question, even as he carefully refutes the few writers, falling under the wide Reformed umbrella, who advocate something akin to Romish or Lutheran views

"so we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted" (Scots Confession)

"We, too, acknowledge that the use of baptism is necessary – that no one may omit it from either neglect or contempt. In this way we by no means make it free (optional). And not only do we strictly bind the faithful to the observance of it, but we also maintain that it is the ordinary instrument of God in washing and renewing us; in short, in communicating to us salvation. The only exception we make is, that the hand of God must not be tied down to the instrument. He may of himself accomplish salvation. For when an opportunity for baptism is wanting, the promise of God alone is amply sufficient." (John Calvin. 1547 Antidote to the Council of Trent Calvin)
Do you believe that the preached word is "necessary – that no one may omit it from either neglect or contempt," as pertains to our salvation?

As a matter of predication, God does his saving work all by himself, without any external inputs. The Holy Spirit acts in regeneration and all his work by his own creative and restorative supernatural power, not leveraging man's inputs or anything in creation to arrive at his ends. These things are true, at the same time that God has purposed and ordained that he will work by certain means unto saving ends; which particulars he explains in his word so that we who receive that word should be aided and strengthened in our faith.

So we accept that, had he intended he might have simply worked savingly in the heart of this one or that without the association of any means; but he preferred the use of means, specifically his word mediated through a less-than-perfect instrument. In this way, Calvin or you or I might well say that the preached word is "necessary" for salvation--not absolutely, but without a doubt providentially.

One way the word is represented to and received by believers is through those two, dominical sacraments he appointed. They alone are the authorized means of visibly, tactilely, olfactorly, and lingually (i.e. the senses other than hearing) signifying to men the truth and benefits of the gospel. God works by the use of means. Ergo, baptism is "necessary – that no one may omit it from either neglect or contempt." It is not the Reformed view (following Calvin) that the sacraments themselves or their use create or initiate faith, but liven and strengthen faith. To omit by neglect or contempt would be the opposite of faith, even if it was dressed up in the terms of piety--as when some say, "I don't trust in human activity, as I am more spiritually minded than that." Instead, faith makes due use of the ordinary means God has appointed, putting faith not in the means themselves but in the God of the means.

Did baptism regenerate the adult convert who submitted him to the church's baptism following his profession of new faith? Should we read Calvin to say that regeneration of his soul must have waited on his formal union with the body of Christ on earth? Surely not. Yet, baptism is necessary for God has willed it. It did not create faith where none existed before, or add some sufficiency to weak, self-produced faith; but it was (one may say) a kind of first-watering of the seed of faith that had sprouted within him by the will, work, and word of God. It supplied an indescribably important and vital benefit at a crucial moment.

What of the infant, who lacks the intellectual maturity to grasp the word in its standard mode of verbal expression? How is baptism necessary to him, if it does not create faith or a state of grace at the moment of its application? Or as it does not (cannot) at that time act on faith's tiny sprout? Some of the early reformers actually conceived that the "seed of faith" in the elect was watered by infant baptism in order to sprout it. It seems, over the years and centuries, the Reformed have moved away from that concrete concept of faith as a seed-sprout-plant within (could we find it still at its smallest, if we searched the correct room of the heart?) to a faculty of the soul that is either quick or dead.

One result of dropping the earlier concept (as a utilitarian analogy, it's neither bad nor good): a certain perspective on baptism's benefit to an elect infant was lost (perhaps for a better gain). Yet, we shouldn't abandon the idea that this child derives benefit from baptism. Baptism is when God early speaks to him more through the caress of water upon his skin than the meaning of the murmuring of the words of institution. Later on, when he is able to apprehend the meaning of that sign (much as he is able to appreciate his physical birth only long after the occasion), that God so spoke early to him ought to make the professor that much more aware of God's singular care and providence toward him his whole life, even before he had any awareness or could admit God's saving communication cognitively.

God made baptism necessary for him, and saw to it that the sign was delivered to him very early; whereas he grew into realization of its necessity and benefits as opposed to adopting a convert's perspective. He became aware that there is a sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified. He looked at the sign (an existing thing) as it was given (once upon a time) and now sees in it God's washing and renewing instrument. Thus, he who is baptized as a child or an adult finds the efficacy of baptism is made unto faith. The efficacy is not tied to the moment of administration. Perhaps, if it is the will of God, his supernatural regeneration could begin at birth, or at his baptism, or previous to either as it was for John the Baptist in the womb; or that supernatural efficacy could be delayed for one reason or another for a course of many years and dark wanderings.

Still for the elect, the day of new life must come before this life comes to an end. The promise of God embedded in baptism is made sure by the exercise of saving faith, by the spiritual apprehension of Christ in his saving glory. We may say the communication from God through baptism--which is a saving word and necessary--has its moment in time; and there is the moment of reception of that word by a heart regenerated, made capable (faculty quickened) of accepting that communication for all its worth.

I hope this is helpful and maybe clarifying.
It was indeed helpfull.
Could you explain a bit more how it is it "waters" a seed already there, as opposed to planting the seed, as the word preached and beleived does at conversion, and as opposed to being a mere symbol, without any efficacy, as the Bapticostals assert?
Your question is kind of the point, and possibly one reason why the Reformed moved tactically away from such affirmation of faith's "seed." What shall we say, that the elect are born with such a seed, and the reprobate are born without? Or that baptism both plants and waters such a seed? Or assuredly does one or the other? Some Reformed may like to affirm some such in their sacramental theology, yet it has more than mild speculation attached (it seems to me).

Faith--knowledge, assent, trust--is certainly fulfilled in the rest and comfort resulting. The childlike faith that Jesus praises for its purity is mostly trust, not developed learning and approval with trust as the outcome. So, the "watered seed" is stirred to trust in God as much as, and more than, the newborn is rewarded for his trust in mother. Such accompanying knowledge and assent as could be present is barely noticeable.

As an analogy, the seed-idea has some use. After all, water on a seed has a certain effect on vegetation in the world; seeds, planting, reaping--agricultural concepts such as these are all found throughout the Bible. So there's some reasonable employment of the idea; but there is no clear biblical affirmation that an actual "seed of faith" is nestled within each person or elect person, to be acted on by the water of baptism; or that baptism contains "seed" that is dropped in soils of varying quality or productivity, as later on proved through conversion-reaction to the spoken word as complementary means of grace.

The water of baptism (lawfully performed) does not create faith in every baptized person, contrary to what some non-Reformed confess. It does not infallibly predict the mature, saving faith of all children baptized; and it does not affirm the presence of persevering faith in all supposed converts. Nor is the water a bare sign or symbol, lacking any efficacy. But it does speak a word of grace to God's elect, yea right at the time of administration. It does have effect unto faith, by whatever means that faculty of believing may be quickened and when such work is done. Moreover, we should affirm our faith in God's promises that belong to us "and our children," and do more than hope-so in regard of them as we employ divine means according to their intent.
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