Presumptive Regeneration...

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Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
Below is an article I recently wrote about Presumptive Regeneration. Since this is an active topic on the PB these days, I figured I'd post this. :worms:

Are We To Presume That Infant Children Of Believers Are Renegerate?

In 2003, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing republished a book by Lewis Bevens Shenck entitled The Presbyerian Doctrine of Children In The Covenant. This book was originally published in the 1940s and seeks to prove that the doctrine of Presumptive Regeneration is the historic doctrine of Reformed and Presbyterian churches as well as the correct biblical understading.

What is Presumptive Regeneration?

Presumptive Regeneration is the belief that Christians are to presume that children born to believing parents are regenerate from the womb based upon the Covenant.

Is Presumptive Regeneration Biblical?

No it is not. I believe that Presumptive Regeneration is a based upon a flautly, myopic view of the Covenant of Grace.

"And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you." Genesis 17:7​

The basic arguement for Presumptive Regeneration goes something like this, "Since God has promised to be the God of believers and their children, we are to presume our infants are regenerate until proven otherwise."

The Bible is clear that Covenant membership is no assurance of regeneration, therefore how can one make it the basis of presumption in regards to the secret councils of God?

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh—Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.” Jeremiah 9:25&26

"For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." Romans 2:28&29

"But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring." Romans 9:6-8​

What About David And John The Baptist?

Sometimes those who hold to Presumptive Regeneration will try to defend their position by demonstrating that David and John the Baptist were regenerate from the womb (Psalm 22:9, Luke 1:41). I have no problem with acknowledging that there are those who are regenerate from the womb. However, In light of the many passages like the ones I quoted above, is it really wise to presume that the case with David and John the Baptist are to be taken as normative?

What About God's Promise?

It is often argued that because God promises, in the Covenant, to be the God of believers and their children that this promise assumes the regeneration of the children. The answer to this arguement is so simple I marvel that it is used so frequently.

If God's promise, to be the God of believer's children, does indeed assume the regeneration of our Children, and a single child of a faithful Christian is not regenerated, then God has not kept His promise (which of course is an impossibility).

Let me put it this way...Does God promise to regenerate all of the children of believers? No. Does God promise to save all of the children of believers if they put their faith in Christ? Yes. God is not at fault for a covenant child who does not believe because He never promised that would be the case.

What About David's Son?

Another frequent arguement made in favor of Presumptive Regeneration is from the death of David and Bathsheba's son. David comforts himself after the death of the child by saying...

"23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."
2 Samuel 12:23​

Here David appears to comfort himself in the knowledge that his dead infant is now with the Lord. Some contend that all David is referring to here is the grave. I will grant that David is indeed comforting himself with the knowledge that his infant is now with the Lord.

The inference many brother's who hold to Presumptive Regeneration draw from this verse is that David must have believed in Presumptive Regeneration or else he had no basis to presume his infant son was in heaven. In being honest with my dealing of this arguement, I find it to be the best put forth by proponents of Presumptive Regeneration. Having said that, there are problems with this interpretation.

One consideration we should acknowledge up front is this passage of Scripture is historical narrative. We must always remember that important principle in biblical hermeneutics that "narrative is not normative." While I do not wish to press this principle too forcefully upon this verse (as to say that therein lies the answer and casually pass off the entire arguement), I do think it wise to keep it before us that we not lay undue weight upon this text.

Having said that, what we are dealing with here is how a covenant infant is presumed in death; not at conception or birth, and this is no little distinction. Consider Article 17 from The Canons of Dort...

"Since we must make judgments about God's will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy."​

Some who hold to Presumptive Regeneration actually use this statement to make an arguement that their doctrine is affirmed at this place in The Canons of Dort. Notice however, that this statement is not dealing with the conception or birth of a child, but of his death.

With these considerations before us, I find the arguement made from 2 Samuel 12:23 in favor of of Presumptive Regeneration to be weak at the very best.

Conclusion

The only basis the Scriptures gives us to presume the regeneration of another is by their fruit (James 2, Galatians 5:18-24) with the additional possibility that presumption may be legitimate in the case of the death of the covenant infant.

Finally, in denying Presumptive Regeneration I am not affirming Presumptive Unregeneration. My position is that in regards to the matter of how we presume our covenant children; we presume nothing. We simply raise them in the gospel of Christ; hoping and looking for the fruits of saving faith in their lives as they mature.
 
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Gesetveemet

Puritan Board Sophomore
Conclusion

The only basis the Scriptures gives us to presume the regeneration of another is by their fruit (James 2, Galatians 5:18-24) with the additional possibility that presumption may be legitimate in the case of the death of the covenant infant.

Finally, in denying Presumptive Regeneration I am not affirming Presumptive Unregeneration. My position is that in regards to the matter of how we presume our covenant children; we presume nothing. We simply raise them in the gospel of Christ; hoping and looking for the fruits of saving faith in their lives as they mature.
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Thank you Pastor what you wrote was clearly read in my eyes. :book2:


Layman Bill,


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Stephen

Puritan Board Junior
Thank you, brother for your article. I believe it was John Murray who may have been influential in promoting this, but certainly others as well. The Protestant Reformed Church has rejected Presumptive Regeneration and has a great book on infant baptism, but I cannot recall the title.
 

AV1611

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you, brother for your article. I believe it was John Murray who may have been influential in promoting this, but certainly others as well. The Protestant Reformed Church has rejected Presumptive Regeneration and has a great book on infant baptism, but I cannot recall the title.

Hoeksema's Believers and their Seed but I am sure they will have articles on this issue here.

[EDIT: They have loads!]
 

Stephen

Puritan Board Junior
Thank you, brother for your article. I believe it was John Murray who may have been influential in promoting this, but certainly others as well. The Protestant Reformed Church has rejected Presumptive Regeneration and has a great book on infant baptism, but I cannot recall the title.

Hoeksema's Believers and their Seed but I am sure they will have articles on this issue here.

[EDIT: They have loads!]

Thanks, Richard. That is the title I was trying to remember.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Someone is always going to take issue with the language. This is why definitions are so critical. I appreciated the article's defining the term, and then Rob's dealing with the view so expressed.

Now take the notion of promises. If I believe them, is that not a form of "presumption"? Of course it is. I take this as an incontrovertible fact, that brooks no contradiction. It's simply a dictionary definition.

"Ah," but you say, "there is a "presumption" that is proud, and goes too far! That assumes the promise holds without reference to the means." True. But this is why one must define his terms carefully. And if someone says, "I hold in certain instances to presumptive regeneration," rather than assuming what they mean is the definition expressed above, we would do well to ascertain the definition they understand.

Personally, I have a little problem using the language of "I presume nothing." I find that linguistic stance to have its own set of problems. "Presume" here seems pre-defined as "belief in the absence of evidence." But that is just the problem, for the Christian is obliged to believe in God, when the ONLY evidence is the promise--the full promise, including the means, as well as resignation to the sovereignty of God.

For instance, is it ever literally true in any specified circumstance that we have NO judgment? How about the impossibility of not having an "orientation" to our initial undecided stance? Furthermore, when we withhold judgment, then the correct term is "ambiguous" or"ambivalent". Who would like the term "regenerative ambiguity" or "ambivalent regeneration" applied to their position? Why not? Its so accurate! So precise! Every time we make a choice of words, we do so knowing that we are liable to misunderstanding.

I presume, that is, I believe that in the preaching of the Word, the Spirit is working to regenerate and convert my children. It is my operational position. If I didn't believe that, then I would ignore those means, or at least attend them ignorantly and as an operational unbeliever. The latter is the actual resting place of the arrogant presumptive-regenerationist.

I believe that my issuing of the law-sentence, and the gospel call, will have a good spiritual effect upon the elect. I hope in God's Word to me regarding my children, that he imparted them to me (and not to an unbeliever) because he intended to use me to effect their conversion. I assume the youngest of these children are Spiritual (1 Cor 2:13, 14 !), and can heed correction that is given with reference to the Law, and can believe in a gospel that is the power of God for salvation! Why else should I preach with reference to them other than evangelistically? And of course I look for fruit of regeneration and conversion, but must I wait until they are of a certain age? Or have made that profession? In order to address them as Spiritual?

I once heard a preacher teach that Eph 6:1 is a call BOTH to gospel obedience by believing children, AND an appeal to self-interest on the part of all the unbelieving children at Ephesus--a reference to an external law-authority, which has attendant advantages that flow from compliance. I.e., you're better off following God's law than flouting it. Of course, that's a completely non-covenantal approach.

What is the upshot of all this? Only that I agree that "presuming regeneration" from the womb, to the neglect of preaching law and gospel, is a great sin against our covenant youth, which is in reality presuming conversion, the first-fruit of regeneration, and all subsequent fruits of the Spirit.
 
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