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Presbyterian vs Congregationalist vs Baptist Sacramentology

December 7, 2017 Leave a comment

Visible Saints and Notorious Sinners: Presbyterian Sacramental Doctrine and Practice and the Vicissitudes of the Baptist Movement in New England and the Middle Colonies is an interesting essay from OPC pastor Peter J. Wallace. He argues that after the Great Awakening, baptist convinctions grew in Congretationalist New England but not in the Presbyterian Middle Colonies because of a difference in sacramentology. Both baptized infants, but they had different views of the visible church.

Congregationalists held to the “English Puritan” belief in “visible saints.” The visible church is for those who have been saved. The Scots and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians rejected that idea. The visible church is for those who want to be saved. Wallace traces some of the history involving Isaac Backus, showing how the baptists convincingly pointed out that if the church is for those who have been saved, then there is no reason left for baptizing infants.

In Congregationalism, in order to partake of the Lord’s Supper (become a “communicant member”), one had to become a visible saint by professing that they were saved.

While the early Puritans, such as William Perkins, still insisted on baptizing all children within the parish [i.e. every English-born child], the increasing emphasis on inward subjectivity and the “disciplined and communal character of the Christian life” in English Puritanism led to a growing emphasis on baptizing only the children of visible saints.[14]  The original New England Puritans attempted to combine the ideal of the pure church with the holy commonwealth [i.e. state church], holding purity and inclusiveness in tension.[15]

They began to recognize this tension and adopted the Half-Way Covenant solution: rather than becoming a visible saint, one merely had to “assent” to Christian doctrine and the desire to be saved in order to have their children baptized (they had to have “historical faith”). They still could not take the Lord’s Supper. According to Wallace, this was a half-step back towards Presbyterianism (rooted in the parish model). “Hereafter the sacraments took on new functions in New England culture:  baptism was the symbol of inclusion in the holy commonwealth, while the Lord’s Supper became the test of purity within the commonwealth.”

Stoddard

Many years later, New England Congregationalist pastor Solomon Stoddard recognized that tension still remained. He took another half-step back towards presbyterianism.

[T]he inclusive policies of the Halfway Covenant received an extra push from the presbyterianizing Solomon Stoddard… Stoddard argued that the church should indeed consist of visible saints, and that those who did not exhibit such signs should be excluded altogether and banished from the church.  But those who qualified for baptism also thereby qualified for the Lord’s Supper.  The Halfway Covenant erred in retaining too strict a definition of visible saints:  “There is not the least foundation in Scripture, for two sort of adult members, one that might, an other that might not come to the Lords Supper; unless they were under offense, or wanted sufficient knowledge for that Ordinance.”[26] Instead, he declared that the Table was for all who made a “solemn Profession of Faith, & Repentance, & are of Godly Conversation, having Knowledge to Examine themselves, & discern the Lords Body.”  This profession was not “an Affirmation that they have Saving Faith and Repentance” but only “an Assent unto, & Acknowledgement of the Doctrine of Faith & Repentance (as the onely Doctrine according to which they hope for Salvation) together with a Promise of Obedience to all the Commandments of God.”[27]

When Stoddard replied in 1690 that the Lord’s Supper was a converting ordinance, he did so on the grounds that the means of grace were intended for all those in the visible church, not only for those who were regenerate, but for all members of the covenant–thereby including only those unregenerate who were already within the covenant.[30]

Edwards & the Baptists

On February 15, 1727, Edwards was ordained minister at Northampton and assistant to his grandfather Solomon Stoddard. Stoddard died 2 years later, leaving Edwards to fill the pulpit. Eventually, Edwards came to disagree with Stoddard’s sacramentology and returned to the Half-Way Covenant, requiring a profession of saving faith for admission to the Lord’s Table. The Northhampton congregation kicked Edwards out of the pulpit, but his views took root elsewhere.

Insisting that only those who were admitted to the Lord’s Supper could have their children baptized (and requiring transfers from “impure” churches to make a full profession of faith), the New Divinity pastors were often indistinguishable from the Separatists, and frequently cooperated willingly with Isaac Backus and the growing Baptist movement.[37]

Moses Mather and the Old Calvinist establishment responded with alarm.  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.”[38]  In Mather’s mind, it was only a small step from such a position to denying infant baptism…

Pushing the visible saints criterion to the next step, Backus argued that only the Baptists could faithfully continue the New England tradition, since even Edwards and the New Lights compromised their principles by allowing non-professing infants into church membership.  Claiming that only the New Testament was a sufficient guide to understand who the church should admit to the sacraments, the Baptists relied heavily on the argumentation of the New Lights to show that the only way to guarantee a church full of visible saints was to stop baptizing babies.[43]

The Great Awakening alone (to say nothing of later developments) produced almost 100 separatist churches–many of which became Baptist.  C. C. Goen’s survey of these churches suggests that “the logic of the pure church ideal” drove New Englanders to affirm believers’ baptism as the only way to guarantee a pure church.[44]  Denying entirely that the “ordinances” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were converting ordinances, Backus claimed that in them the “work of sanctification in believers is carried on,” but no salvific power.  Hence he denied access to all but visible saints.[45] He rejected infant baptism for several reasons:  1) it falsely supposed that there is no distinction between the old covenant, which was based on the family and the nation, and the new covenant, which was made purely with elect individuals; 2) it permitted the baptism of those who were neither regenerate nor even disciples, since they had not been taught; 3) historically, it was an innovation from the second or third century without warrant in the New Testament; 4) it violated the heart of the Puritan doctrine of visible saints, creating a territorial church that gets mingled with the world; 5) it is harmful to children by making them think that they are inside the covenant of grace, when actually even paedobaptists only believe that they are inside the external covenant; 6) if its advocates were truly consistent, they would give the Lord’s Supper to infants as well.[46]  His arguments resonated with his audience.  Within a span of only fifty years, nearly 300 Baptist churches were founded in New England.

Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterianism in America

Presbyterian sacramental doctrine and practice was rooted in its Scottish and Scotch-Irish background.  Puritan sacramental practices had developed through their attempt to purify the Church of England, resulting in an emphasis on the gathered congregation of visible saints, called out of the world.  Presbyterian sacramental practices had developed through the resistance of local communities against external pressure from England (not to mention a century of struggle with Scottish episcopacy), resulting in a strong emphasis on the sacraments as bonds which held together the whole community… Since Presbyterians emphasized the church “as the means of organising and disciplining the whole society” they only required “external [i.e. non-saving] profession and decent conduct” for church membership.[53] … This Scottish and Ulster Presbyterian community was transplanted to the new world, where it developed in slightly different directions from the parent communities, but still within a similar trajectory.

Wallace argues that Baptist principles did not experience the same growth in the Middle Colonies as it did in New England because Presbyterian sacramentology was not as susceptible to baptist critique of Congregationalism. Presbyterianism did not require a profession of saving faith – only an assent to the truth of Christian doctrine (“historical faith”).

The Presbyterian practice was that virtually everyone should be baptized (even those who were born of scandalous parents could be sponsored by godly folk, who would thereby promise to give them a Christian education).  But some profession was required for admission to the Lord’s Table.  Not indeed the Puritan requirement of a conversion narrative, nor an Edwardsean profession of the will; they simply required that each communicant have an adequate knowledge of Christian doctrine and an outwardly godly life.  Only the scandalous and profane were to be excluded from the Table…

The practice of American Presbyterians in determining the subjects of baptism prior to the Great Awakening was set forth in the Minutes of Synod in 1735:

“And [we] do also exhort all the ministers within our bounds, to take due care in the examination of all candidates for baptism, or that offer their children to God in that sacred ordinance, that they are persons of a regular life, and have suitable acquaintance with the principles of the Christian religion; that that seal be not set to a blank, and that such be not admitted to visible church relation that are manifestly unfit for it.” [68]

Here there is neither a requirement for an account of a conversion experience, nor is there any mention of a “profession of faith,” per se.  Insisting that ministers could not judge the heart, they did not require positive proof of godliness, merely an understanding of the gospel and a life that was consistent with such an understanding [i.e. not scandalous]…

[W]hile some New Side Presbyterians were drawn towards a practice that echoed certain features of the halfway covenant, others appear to have retained the traditional Presbyterian understanding that Christ called all who were “labouring and heavy laden” to the Table.  The key difference from the Congregational practice is that Presbyterianism had no strong tradition of the “visible saints” doctrine.  Rather, colonial Presbyterians had inherited from Ulster and southwestern Scotland a tendency to develop regional communities organized around their presbyteries…

This also helps to explain why Baptists never took root among the Scots and Scotch-Irish.  Baptists affirmed an extreme version of the Puritan visible saints criterion, insisting that the church should be composed only of the hopefully converted.  Presbyterians had little interest in starting with visible saints; they gathered all but the profane and scandalous into the church and through preaching, catechizing, and communing, sought to transform the community into visible saints.

John Green & Modern Presbyterianism

In 1764, under the influence of Edwards, John Green sought to change Presbyterian sacramentology.

At first he had followed his mentors, Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr in “admitting to the sacraments all who seemed desirous of leading a godly life,”[79] but now after reading Watts and Edwards he had decided that only those who could manifest a “relish for religion” would be permitted to have their children baptized (9)… Green concluded by asserting that membership in the visible church consisted of three things for an adult:  profession, life and baptism; but four for an infant:  being a child of believing parents, baptism, and then profession and life when he reached years of understanding.  Here he clearly followed the trend in New England to dissociate church membership from baptism.  Insisting that the church should discipline her youth, he argued that if by age eighteen or so they neither love Christ nor walk in his ways, churches should “drop them out of their number” (71).

Note that Green’s view matches the practice of modern American Presbyterianism. When a baptized infant becomes an adult, they must become a visible saint by professing saving faith, or else be dropped from membership entirely. But in the 18th century, Green’s views were rejected. “Faced with resolute opposition from even the New England-born ministers in the New York Presbytery, Green finally led a four minister secession in 1780, founding the independent Morris Presbytery on Edwardsean principles.”

Presbyterianism responded by the pen of John Blair. “Blair had previously established himself as one of the leading Edwardseans in the Presbyterian church” but came to reconsider his position. He argued since there is no promise of salvation outside the church, all those who want to be saved should be included.

Blair bluntly asserts that baptism alone makes one a church member:  “Membership in the Church of Christ admits not of Degrees” (9).  There are no grounds, he claimed, for distinguishing between the church and the congregation–as though one were gathered out of the other.  Rather, all who are baptized are commanded by Christ to come to the Table as soon as they have sufficient knowledge to examine themselves and discern the Lord’s body (11).

Rejecting Green’s insistence on trying to discern a work of grace, Blair argued that the “visible church consists of all those, who by an external Profession of the Doctrines of the Gospel, and subjection to the Laws and Ordinances of Christ, appear as a Society separate from the World, and dedicated to God and his Service” (13-14)…

Blair argued that if we view baptism as the seal of the covenant which truly makes us members of the visible church, then we should treat all baptized children as fully obligated to the covenant.  Those who do not live according to Christ should be cut off (20-21).  Yet the very means by which Christ has chosen to build faith within his people is through the sacraments.  Baptism and the Supper “exhibit Jesus Christ and him crucified” and by the Holy Spirit “quicken and raise the Affections, and enliven every grace” (21).  But if we truly believe that baptism brings our infants into the covenant, then we should believe that infants are “reputed the Professors of it untill they disavow it” (24).

But Blair went a step further and challenged the very notion of a profession of faith arguing that requiring a public profession of baptized infants denies their membership:  “Are not the signs which our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed and the Manner of Covenanting which he has prescribed sufficient, without the Addition of our own Inventions to supply the Defect?” (26).  Those who have been baptized should be welcomed to the Table as soon as they have sufficient knowledge to examine themselves.  No public profession is necessary…

[R]egeneration is not accomplished apart from the means of grace; hence we ought to welcome all who desire salvation into the church (74)…

In this argument Blair returns to the Scottish and Scots-Irish practice of viewing the sacraments as the bonds which hold the community together… [H]is description of the sacraments as converting ordinances … echoes the Stoddardean approach.  As odd as it may sound, Blair utilized an Edwardsean understanding of regeneration to undergird his Stoddardean (or more precisely, Presbyterian) view of the sacraments.

Conclusion

Wallace concludes

Scots and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians had never developed the “visible saints” criterion that had arisen among the English Puritans, but had welcomed all who desired salvation into the church.  While both camps may have sounded similar when insisting upon faithful participation in the Lord’s Supper, the actual practice of communion differed drastically, due to the fundamentally different conceptions of the nature of the visible church.

Below is attempt to categorize these differing views.

Baptism
Lord’s Supper
Non-Communicant Adults
Examples
Scottish Presbyterianism
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
only the scandalous; barred from communion but continue as members
John Blair, Solomon Stoddard
Half-Way Covenant
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
all baptized members who do not profess saving faith; continue as members & may baptize their children
Increase Mather*
Modern Presbyterian**
only the children of visible saints
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
if fail to profess saving faith when an adult, then dropped from membership (no non-communicant adult members)
John Green, Increase Mather*, OPC, PCA
Baptist
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
none
2LBCF adherents, Benjamin Keach, Isaac Backus

*At first, Increase Mather opposed the Half-Way Covenant, but when challenged, he could not reconcile his opposition with the practice of infant baptism, so he embraced and began to defend the Half-Way Covenant. He later argued against Stoddard’s practice.

**I am not sure how best to label this position

Further Reading:

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“In the Space of Six Days”

December 5, 2017 2 comments

I recommend listening to Dr. James Renihan’s recent lecture on the meaning of “in the space of six days” in 2 LBCF 4.1

“1. In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.”

Categories: science

Oliphint on Thomistic A Posteriori Knowledge of God

November 24, 2017 7 comments

Van Til’s disciple K. Scott Oliphint has been arguing for years that a rejection of scholastic, classical apologetics entails a rejection of classical theism as well. He says “much of systematic theology that’s done, especially in theology proper, needs a complete revision and re-write.” Oliphint himself has started such a re-write of theology proper. Pushing back against these revisions, and rightly defending classical theism, many reformed have regretfully felt the need to affirm Thomistic, classical apologetics as well. I do not believe that is necessary in order to affirm classical theism.

It is important to recognize that Oliphint sees deductive reasoning itself as Thomistic natural theology. When someone defends the doctrine of divine impassibility by stating “The Scripture speaks in such a way as to require viewing certain texts literally and others metaphorically or anthropopathically; otherwise we are left with seemingly contradictory propositions respecting the doctrine of God (cf. John 1:18 with Exod 33:23),” Oliphint objects that requiring Scriptural propositions to be non-contradictory is to impose Thomistic natural theology on Scripture. We should not seek to logically reconcile Scripture but should instead allow Scripture to limit our logic/reason.

So what is really a debate about the role of logic in the interpretation of Scripture has instead become a debate over Thomism vs presuppositionalism, regretfully (note that Oliphint has helpfully suggested that Van Til’s apologetic be called “Covenantal” rather than Presuppositional in order to distinguish his idiosyncratic view from other presuppositionalists).

Having said all of that, I actually found Oliphint’s recent 2-part lecture on Thomistic apologetics to be helpful insofar as it lays out Thomas’ a posteriori view of natural theology. Here are PDFs [1 and 2].

Implicit Knowledge

First, knowledge of God is not self-evident to men. All men possess implicit knowledge of God’s likeness, but it is very vague, general, ambiguous, and confused. We desire happiness (our “beatitude”), therefore we desire God.

“For man knows God naturally in the same way as he desires Him naturally. Now man desires Him naturally in so far as he naturally desires happiness, which is a likeness of the divine goodness. Hence it does not follow that God considered in Himself is naturally known to man, but that His likeness is.”

Natural Reason

To really have knowledge of God, we must observe the world around us and make various logical deductions until we arrive at who God is. This is known as a posteriori knowledge.

“Wherefore [because this implicit knowledge is vague] man must needs come by reasoning to know God in the likenesses to Him which he discovers in God’s effects.”

From Sense Experience

Thomas was not a fan of anything a priori. Knowledge was always and only gleaned by way of the senses…

[Rom 1:19] “Our natural knowledge begins from sense. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things, but our mind cannot be led by sense so far as to see the essence of God, because the sensible effects of God do not equal the power of God as their cause. Hence from the knowledge of sensible things, the whole power of God cannot be known, nor therefore can His essence be seen. But because they are His effects and depend on their cause, we can be led from them so far as to know of God whether he exists and to know of Him what must necessarily belong to Him as the first cause of all things, exceeding all things caused by Him.”

So Thomas’ understanding of Romans 1:19 is that Paul is speaking of the possibility of the human intellect, that is, natural reason, of itself to be able to demonstrate and conclude for the knowledge of God [based on sense experience].

Prove God’s Existence

“[T]here are certain things to which even natural reason can attain. For instance, that God is, that God is one, and others like these. Which even the philosophers proved demonstratively of God, being guided by the light of natural reason.”

So you can see in Thomas there’s no ambiguity in what he’s doing here and there’s no ambiguity in what he means by natural reason because he says his example is the philosophers did this – they demonstratively did this.

An Alternative

There was some precedence in the history of the church for the possibility of the beginning of a reformation in this area… John of Damascus, for example, argued that Romans 1 teaches that the knowledge of God is implanted in all men. Thomas is aware of that. What does he say about it? He cites John of Damascus in his argument against the self-evidence of God.

Objection 1. It seems that the existence of God is self-evident. Now those things are said to be self-evident to us the knowledge of which is naturally implanted in us, as we can see in regard to first principles. But as Damascene says (De Fid. Orth. i . 1, 3), the knowledge of God is naturally implanted in all. Therefore the existence of God is self-evident.

Reply Obj. 1. To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him. This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.

So he’s rejecting what John of Damascus has set forth because he cannot imagine a situation in which the proposition “God exists” is known by us in a way that the terms are self-evident.

Comments

[A] problem with Thomas is, if it is the case that the Logos has been revealing who God is from the beginning [John 1] such that we all know God, by virtue of being in the image of God, then guess what? The existence of God is self-evident to us – utterly so – and that’s what we suppress.

I completely agree with Oliphint here. The knowledge of God is not something arrived at as the result of contemplation of creation (wisdom). Rather, knowledge of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). And everyone, even infants – not simply those who rationally reflect upon nature – possess knowledge of God and what he requires of us. (I disagree with Oliphint that this knowledge is not propositional. I believe it is.)

This is not a new idea. These two epistemologies have wrestled against each other for centuries.

Arnobius asks, “What man is there who has not begun the first day of his nativity with this principle; in whom is it not inborn, fixed, almost even impressed upon him, implanted in him while still in the bosom of his mother?” (Stirling)

 

In the early chapters of his De fide orthodoxa, the Eastern Christian Father John of Damascus claims that human beings possess a naturally implanted knowledge of God’s existence. The Patristic tradition from which the Damascene draws his ideas emphasizes the ambiguity of this claim.

On the one hand, there are sources that treat such knowledge as naturally implanted propositional content. “God exists” is a proposition that governs our actions prior to any inferences we make about the world. On the other hand, there are sources that consider naturally implanted knowledge of God’s existence to be the conclusion of an innate inferential capacity. “God exists” is a proposition we arrive at posterior to our knowledge of the world.

“John of Damascus and the Naturally Implanted Knowledge of God’s Existence in Bonaventure and Aquinas” – Joseph Steineger

Augustine is a pre-eminent representative of the implanted, immediate, self-evident view, while Aquinas is a pre-eminent representative of aquired, mediate, a posteriori empiricism.

Augustine of Hippo stands unrivaled as the brilliant exponent of the Christian thesis that the knowledge of God and of other selves and the world of nature is not merely inferential. Whatever else is contributory to the content of human cognition, this knowledge involves a direct and immediate noesis because of the unique constitution of the human mind. Knowledge of God is no mere induction from the finite and nondivine, but is directly and intuitively given in human experience. However much knowledge of the self and of the physical world may be expounded by inference, it is brackted always by a primal antecedent relationship to the spiritual world which makes man’s knowledge possible and holds him in intuitive correlation with God, the cosmos, and other selves.

God, Revelation, and Authority – Carl F. H. Henry

Calvin followed Augustine in this regard.

The knowledge of God is given in the very same act by which we know self… That the knowledge of God is innate (I. iii. 3), naturally engraved on the hearts of men (I. iv. 4), and so a part of their very constitution as men (I. iii. 1), that it is a matter of instinct (I. iii. 1, I. iv. 2), and every man is self-taught it from his birth (I. iii. 3), Calvin is thoroughly assured.

Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God B. B. Warfield

B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge followed Calvin and Augustine.

Those who are unwilling to admit that the idea of God is innate as given in the very constitution of man, generally hold that it is a necessary, or, at least, a natural deduction of reason. Sometimes it is represented as the last and highest generalization of science. As the law of gravitation is assumed to account for a large class of the phenomena of the universe, and as it not only does account for them, but must be assumed in order to understand them;so the existence of an intelligent first cause is assumed to account for the existence of the universe itself, and for all its phenomena. But as such generalizations are possible only for cultivated minds, this theory of the origin of the idea of God, cannot account for belief in his existence in the minds of all men, even the least educated… We do not thus reason ourselves into the belief that there is a God; and it is very obvious that it is not by such a process of ratiocination, simple as it is, that the mass of the people are brought to this conclusion… Adam believed in God the moment he was created, for the same reason that he believed in the external world. His religious nature, unclouded and undefiled, apprehended the one with the same confidence that his senses apprehended the other.

Theology Proper, “The Knowledge of God is not due to a Process of Reasoning” – Charles Hodge

Kuyper likewise.

Adam possessed in himself, apart from the cosmos, everything that was necessary to have knowledge of God. Undoubtedly many things concerning God were manifest to him in the cosmos also; without sin a great deal of God would have become manifest to him from his fellow-men; and through the process of his development, in connection with the cosmos, he would have obtained an ever richer revelation of God. But apart from all this acquired knowledge of God, he had in himself the capacity to draw knowledge of God from what had been revealed, as well as a rich revelation from which to draw that knowledge. Our older theologians called these two together the “concreate knowledge of God”; and correctly so, because here there was no logical activity which led to this knowledge of God, but this knowledge of God coincided with man’s own self-knowledge. This knowledge of God was given eo ipso in his own self-consciousness; it was not given as discursive knowledge, but as the immediate content of selfconsciousness… [I]n this clear and immediate self-knowledge there was, without any further action of the logos in us, an equally immediate knowledge of God, the consciousness of which, from that very image itself, accompanied him who had been created in the image of God. Thus the first man lived in an innate knowledge of God, which was not yet understood, and much less expressed in words, just as our human heart in its first unfoldings has a knowledge of ideals, which, however, we are unable to explain or give a form to. Calvin called this the seed of religion (semen religionis), by which he indicated that this innate knowledge of God is an ineradicable property of human nature, a spiritual eye in us, the lens of which may be dimmed, but always so that the lens, and consequently the eye, remains.

pg 186-187, Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology

See also Kuyper’s The Natural Knowledge of God

It would be a mistake to assume Thomism is simply the historic Christian view.

Richard Muller

Oliphint’s selections from Muller are very interesting. I hope to get my hands on a copy to read in full.

“A generalized or pagan natural theology, according to the reformers, was not merely limited to non-saving knowledge of God. It was also bound in idolatry.”

The interpretation of that is that the theistic proofs, when done by one who is not regenerate, produces and idol – is bound by idolatry…

“This view, the problem of knowledge, is the single most important contribution of the early reformed writiers to the theological prolegomena of orthodox protestantism. Indeed, it is the doctrinal issue that most forcibly presses the protestant scholastics toward the modification of the medeival models for theological prolegomena.”

Conclusion

Thomism is merely one of the epistemologies offered in church history. There are good reasons to doubt that it is biblical. Instead, consideration should be given to the belief that general revelation is innate, propositional revelation implanted in every heart prior to any experience in the world – and that this latter view is more consistent with the reformed belief in the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. Oliphint has helped lay out these differences, even if his particular Van Tillian perspective is not to be embraced.

 

See also:

A Puritan View of Logic

November 22, 2017 Leave a comment

The following is from Perry Miller’s “The New England Mind” (1939). Miller was an authority on American Purtianism, though some of his understanding of their theology was deficient.


 

CHAPTER V

THE INSTRUMENT OF REASON

In the Puritan view of man, the fall had wrought many melancholy effects, but none so terrible as upon his intellect: “O Grief! that most efficacious instrument for arriving at deeply hidden truth, for asserting it, vindicating it and eliminating all confusion” — that instrument was warped and twisted. Adam had been created in the image of God, possessed of perfect holiness and an intuitive grasp of the principles of right reason, but after the fall he was no longer able to tell what should follow upon what, or to perceive the interconnections of things. Had the race been left in the plight to which he reduced it, surely it would have perished. Fortunately, however, God is merciful as well as just, and He did not utterly forsake His creatures. Knowing that men now desperately required guidance from outside themselves, God gave them explicit commands through the Prophets and through revelation; in order that all aspiration might not be extinguished among them He regenerated the wills of His chosen, and in addition, out of the superfluity of His bounty, He enabled several mortals to reconstruct, to some degree, the method which Adam had possessed in his integrity of drawing conclusions from given premises. In the Puritan conception of the human saga, the art of logic was a particular gift of God, bestowed upon fallen and hapless humanity, in order that they might not collapse in the ineptitude they had brought upon themselves.

Considered therefore in the light of logic, the fall of man had amounted in effect to a lapse from dialectic; the loss of God’s image, reduced to the most concrete terms, was simply the loss of an ability to use the syllogism, and innate depravity might most accurately be defined as a congenital incapacity for discursive reasoning. Regarded in this light, whatever mastery of logical methods the heathens, Plato and Aristotle, had achieved resulted simply from God’s being graciously willing that a few individuals should recover certain elements of the pristine rectitude in order that the whole race might not be devastated. By the same token it followed that a return to God through His grace involved also a simultaneous return to Him through logic. Grace brought men through the direct intervention of the Holy Ghost to will the truth, but the most gracious would also stand in need of logic, which had been devised “to helpe us the rather, by a naturall order, to finde out the truthe.” Both grace and logic were divine gifts, though the logic had been formulated by heathens and could be learned by the unregenerate. Pagans could not have discovered it without some divine help, as they themselves realized: their myth of Prometheus was their allegory of logic, and the fire stolen from heaven was really dialectic. Therefore Christian schools could use the texts of Greeks and Romans, and all students, elect or reprobate, could be made to learn the rules in the class-room, for the authority of logic was divine no matter who employed it. The art was not man-made, though men had written it down; it was a portion of heavenly wisdom, a replica, however faint, of the divine intelligence. Whosoever learned it approximated once more the image of God. By logic “(in some sort) is healed the wound we received in our reason by Adams fall: and this daily tryall teacheth, because by the precepts of Logicke, things hidden and darke, are clearly objected to our judgement.*”

Since we have for the purposes of this study created an issue where the Puritans themselves would have denied that one existed, in the opposition or at least in the latent tension between their piety and their learning, we are compelled to ask, in accordance with the terms of our inquiry, how in Puritan thought the piety and the intellectual heritage were reconciled, how dogma and rationality were joined, how the concepts of man as fallen and the saint as regenerated by irresistible grace were made compatible with the Puritan passion for learning, for argumentation and demonstration.

No Puritan ever believed that logic of itself could redeem. Many learned doctors were obviously outside the Covenant of Grace, and many who were uninstructed in dialectic were clearly sanctified. But since logic was a fragment of the divine mind, the saints, being joined to the divinity, must become logical. According to the doctrine of imperfect regeneration they would no more achieve perfect logicality than they would come to flawless holiness; nevertheless, by receiving grace they regained something of Adam’s original power to reason correctly. They learned the rules and methods of study, and they were given an ability to use them by conversion. God demands that men judge between truth and falsehood, and Scripture is not addressed to irrational beings. Puritan piety was formulated in logic and encased in dialectic; it was vindicated by demonstration and united to knowledge. “Logic does not teach fallacies,” said a Harvard thesis. It did not teach fallacies because it was instituted by God Himself, and what could be proved by logic was sanctioned from on high.

[…]

This veneration of logic was in part an inheritance from the past and in part a characteristic of the epoch. Neither humanism nor Protestantism had diminished the prestige with which medieval theologians invested the art. The study of antiquity generally enhanced it, and Protestantism was, in one sense, an appeal to logic for the arbitration of belief, since logic alone could interpret the Bible. Keckermann declared truly at the end of the sixteenth century that no other era in the world’s history had been so devoted to logic, produced more books, or studied it more assiduously. The necessity for logic in theology was no less than in other disciplines: “so necessary and useful to the study of theology,” said Henry Diest, “that without it there is absolutely no theology, or one maimed in body and imperfect in many respects.” Had we not logic we could not analyze texts, clear up controversies, defend ourselves against sophistry, protect ourselves against heresy. English Puritans swelled the Protestant chorus; in 1621 Richard Bernard wrote in his manual of pastoral care. The Faithfull Shepherd, that by logic are doctrines collected, confirmed, and proved; a sermon without logic, he said, “is but an ignorant discourse,” and logic therefore must be “the sterne, to guide the course of our speech, that the sudden and stormie blasts of violent affections ouerwhelme it not.”

[…]

New Englanders contributed freely to the glorification of logic. Charles Chauncy said that without logic the milk of Scripture would be soured:

Yea how shall a man know when a Scripture is wrested, or falsly applyed, or a false use is made of it, or a false consequence is drawn out of it, or a true, without some principles of logick, especially to hold forth these things to others he must needs be a shamefull workman, and many times ridiculous, neither rightly apprehending, nor dividing the word of trueth, that hath no knowledg how to interpret the Scripture.

John Eliot considered logic so important a part of Christian knowledge that he translated into Algonquin a short treatise, “to initiate the Indians in the knowledge of the Rule of Reason,” wherein he taught them that as soon as they could read the Word they must learn to analyze it. Davenport exhorted his congregation to exercise their “understanding . . . the dianoetical, discoursing faculty, whch is the seat of conclusions.” Samuel Willard told young scholars that they must know grammar and rhetoric to read Scripture, and logic “for the analysing of the Text, and finding out the Method of it, and the Arguments contained in it.” He explained to the people that “logical Analysing of the Scripture” was absolutely prerequisite to understanding it, “and do require a great deal of Time and study righdy to perform it; yea and whereof is one great reason why the Scriptures are often quoted impertinendy, and besides the genuine intention of them.”

[…]

At Harvard College, by the laws of 1646, the study of Scripture was specifically declared to involve “observations of Language and Logicke”; the laws of 1655 required that Scripture be read at morning and evening prayers and that one of the Bachelors or Sophisters “Logically analyse that which is read.” The B. A. was bestowed upon those able to read the Testaments and “to Resolve them Logically.” Samuel Mather of the class of 1643 showed nine years later how well he had studied his lessons when he wrote in the preface to Samuel Stone’s defense of Hooker, “There is no art but useth the help of Logick; nothing can shew itself to the eye of the mind of man, but in this light.”

[…]

The reign of logic in the New England mentality was an inheritance from the seventeenth century, and the rule continued unbroken until the Transcendentalists consigned consistency to the sphere of hobgoblins and Dr. Holmes wrote its epitaph in the supremely logical construction of a one-hoss shay.

 

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Romans 2:7 and 2:13

November 12, 2017 4 comments

R. Scott Clark recently wrote a lengthy post Romans 2:13: Justified Through Our Faithfulness? As is often the case, Clark’s defense of sola fide is helpful and encouraging, while his handling of historical theology is not. Clark has a tendancy to always paint the reformed tradition to be in complete agreement with him, even when it is not.

In this particular post, Clark addresses Norman Shepherd’s erroneous reading of Romans 2:13 (“the doers of the law will be justified”) as referring to the believer at the final judgment. Clark rightly explains how “The whole of chapter 2 is a prosecution of the Jews according to the standard that had been revealed to them,” but he misleads the reader into thinking that has been precisely the reformed interpretation until 1978. He neglects to mention that many have interpreted 2:7 (“to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life”) as referring to believers at the judgment.

v7 = Gospel

Clark says “Calvin found no good news for sinners in this section [ch. 1-3] of Romans.” Yet commenting on v6-7, Calvin says “[A]s he sanctifies those whom he has previously resolved to glorify, he will also crown their good works… The meaning then is, — that the Lord will give eternal life to those who, by attention to good works, strive to attain immortality.”

On v.7 John Brown wrote “tho good works have no casual efficacy or influence on our salvation, as any meritorious cause, either procuring a right to life, or the actual possession thereof, (Christ’s merits being the sole procuring cause) and so are not necessary upon that score; yet are they necessary as the way carved out by infinite wisdom[.]”

Even Gill says “[S]uch who believe in Christ, and perform good works from a principle of grace, shall receive the reward of the inheritance, which is a reward of grace, and not of debt.”

Examples could easily be multiplied. Most of these men hold to a “mediating position” wherein they view v7 as referring to the gospel, but v13 as referring to the law. This has always seemed quite inconsistent to me. Sam Waldron agrees: “I find such a position somewhat contradictory and certainly unsatisfying.”

v6-7 = Law

Recognizing this inconsistency, others have held that v6-7 refers to the law. The Geneva Study Bible (1560) notes “Glory which follows good works, which he does not lay out before us as though there were any that could attain to salvation by his own strength, but, he lays this condition of salvation before us, which no man can perform, to bring men to Christ, who alone justifies the believers, as he himself concludes; see (Romans 2:21-22).”

In 1692, in the midst of the Neonomian controversy in England, William Marshall wrote a very important book called The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification Opened. Marshall said

Those that endeavour to procure God’s salvation by their sincere obedience to all the commands of Christ, do act contrary to that way of salvation by Christ, free grace, and faith, discovered in the gospel… Christ, or his apostles, never taught a gospel that requireth such a condition of works for salvation as they plead for. The texts of scripture which they usually allege for this purpose, are either contrary to it, or widely distant from it… They grossly pervert those words of Paul, Rom. ii. 6, 7. Where they will have Paul to be declaring the terms of the gospel, when he is evidently declaring the terms of the law, to prove that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, and that no flesh can be justified by the works of the law, as appeareth by the tenor of his following discourse, Rom. iii. 9, 10.

Owen said

The words there [Rom 2:7] are used in a law sense, and are declarative of the righteousness of God in rewarding the keepers of the law of nature, or the moral law, according to the law of the covenant of works. This is evident from the whole design of the apostle in that place, which is to convince all men, Jews and Gentiles, of sin against the law, and of the impossibility of the obtaining the glory of God thereby.

Charles Hodge said

The question at his bar will be, not whether a man is a Jew or a Gentile, whether he belongs to the chosen people or to the heathen world, but whether he has obeyed the law. This principle is amplified and applied in what follows, in vers. 7-11… [I]t is more pertinent to remark, in the second place, that the apostle is not here teaching the method of justification, but is laying down those general principles of justice, according to which, irrespective of the gospel, all men are to be judged. He is expounding the law, not the gospel. And as the law not only says that death is the stages of sin, but also that those who keep its precepts shall live by them, so the apostle says, that God will punish the wicked and reward the righteous. This is perfectly consistent with what he afterwards teaches, that there are none righteous; that there are none who so obey the law as to be entitled to the life which it promises; and that for such the gospel provides a plan of justification without works, a plan for saving those whom the law condemns… The principle laid down in ver. 6, is here [v7] amplified. God will render eternal life to the good, indignation and wrath to the wicked, without distinction of persons; to the Jews no less than to the Gentiles.

and in his Systematic Theology, Part II, Ch. VI, S6 “Perpetuity of the Covenant of Works he says

[W]hile the Pelagian doctrine is to be rejected, which teaches that each man comes into the world free from sin and free from condemnation, and stands his probation in his own person, it is nevertheless true that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Hence our Lord said to the young man, “This do and thou shalt live.” And hence the Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, says that God will reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin, either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be condemned.

Robert Haldane said

According to his deeds. – That is to say, either according to his righteousness, if any were found in himself righteous, which will not be the case, for all men are sinners, but it will be according to the judgment to require righteousness… [I]t will regard solely the works of each individual, and that their deeds will comprehend everything that is either obedience or disobedience to the law of God… a perseverance with resistance to all that opposes, namely, to all temptations, all snares… It is not meant that any man can produce such a perseverance in good works, for there is only one, Jesus Christ, who can glory in having wrought out a perfect righteousness… But here the Apostle only declare what the Divine judgment will demand according to the law, to which the Jews were adhering for justification before God… This shows how ignorantly the Church of Rome seeks to draw from this passage a proof of the merit of works, and of justification by works, since it teaches a doctrine the very contrary; for all that the Apostle says in this chapter is intended to show the necessiry of another mode of justification than that of the law, namely, by grace, which the Gospel sets before us through faith in Jesus Christ, according to which God pardons sins, as the Apostle afterwards shows in the third chapter. To pretend, then, to establish justification by works, and the merit of works, by what is said here, is directly to oppose the meaning and reasoning of the Apostle…

Eternal life – The Apostle does not say that God will render salvation, but ‘eternal life.’ The truth declared in this verse, and in those that follow, is the same as that exhibited by our Lord when the rich young man asked Him, ‘What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’ His reply was, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,’ Matt. xix. 16… Luke x. 25… The verse before us, then, which delcares that eternal life shall be awarded to those who seek it by patient continuance in well-doing, and who, according to the 10th verse, work good, both of which announce the full demand of the law, are of the same import with the 13th verse, which affirms that the doers of the law shall be justified. In all these verses the Apostle is referring to the law, and not, as it is generally understood, the Gospel…

Note what else Haldane says.

I know that the view here given of these verses is contrary to that of almost all the English commentaries on this Epistle. I have consulted a great number of them, besides those of Calvin, and Beza, and Maretz, and the Dutch annotations, and that of Quesnel, all of which, with one voice, explain the 7th and 10th verses of this chapter as referring to the Gospel…

I have noticed that from this passage the Church of Rome endeavors to establish the merit of works, and of justification by means of works.

Accordingly, Quesnel, a Roman Catholic, in expounding the 6th verse, exclaims, ‘Merites veritables; necessite des bonnes oeuvres. Ce sont nos actions bonnes ou mauvaises qui rendent doux ou severe le jugement de Dieu!’ ‘Real merits; necessity of good works. They are our good or bad actions which render the judgment of God mild or severe!’ And indeed, were the usual interpretation of this and the three following verses the just one, it must be confessed that this Romanist would have some ground for his triumph. But if we take the words in their plain and obvious import, and understand the Apostle in this place as announcing the terms of the law, in order to prove to the Jews the necessity of having recourse to grace, and of yielding to the goodness and forbearance of God, leading them to repentance, while he assures them that ‘not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified,’ then the whole train of his discourse is clear and consistent. On the other supposition, it appears confused and self contradictory, and calculated not merely to perplex, but positively to mislead, and to strengthen the prejudices of those who were going about to establish their own righteousness. For in whatever way these expressions may with certain explanations and qualifications be interpreted in an evangelical sense, yet unquestionably, as taken by themselves, and especially in the connection in which they stand in this place, they present the same meaning as is announced in the 13th verse, where the Apostle declares that the doers of the law shall be justified.

v13 = Gospel

It is in the context of a great many commentators holding to a contradictory “mediating position” that Norm Shepherd argued that v13 refers to the gospel, just like v6. Thus it is not entirely out of nowhere, as R. Scott Clark implies (recall also Marshall above, who was writing against Presbyterian neonomians in his day). Shepherd said

20. The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25).

In his rejection of the Covenant of Works, Shepherd was very much following in the steps of John Murray (see Murray on Lev. 18:5 – Why Did John Murray Reject the Covenant of Works?). On Romans 2, Murray held to the mediating position. On v7 he said

The reward of this aspiration is in like manner the eschatology of the believer, “eternal life”… Could God judge any unto the reward of eternal life (cf. vs. 7) if works are the criteria? ‘The apostle thus speaks, not in the way of abstract hypothesis but of concrete assertion… He says not what God would do were He to proceed in accordance with the primal rule and standard of the law, but what, proceeding according to that rule, He will actually do.’… The determining factor in the rewards of retribution or of glory is not the privileged position of the Jew but evil-doing or well-doing respectively.

His rejection of the Covenant of Works left no reason for him to not follow through and carry this view on to v6, but he slammed on the brakes and argued for the hypothetical view of v13.

It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching of this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture…

This holds true as a principle of equity but, existentially, it never comes into operation in the human race for the reason that there are no doers of the law, no doing of the law that will ground or elicit justification – ‘there is none righteous, no, not one’ (vs. [3:]10)

Recall Sam Waldron

Though Murray clearly argues in his comments on verses 6-11 that the judgment in view is not hypothetical and that the works in view are evangelical works which vindicate one’s saving faith in the dya of judgment, yet to my surprise Murray also takes a hypothetical or empty-set view of Romans 2:13… Let me hasten to add that, though I respect John Murray a great deal and have sometimes named him as my patron saint (!), I find such a position somewhat contradictory and certainly unsatisfying.

John Kinnaird was an OPC elder who taught Shepherd’s false gospel. He was brought to trial but was defended by Richard Gaffin. Note what Gaffin said during his testimony

[W]hile a large number of Reformed exegetes have understood the scenario there, the final judgment scenario there, on the positive side, in verse 7 and 10 and 13, have understood that in a hypothetical sense… there have also been other exegetes, within the reformed tradition, that have questioned that hypothetical understanding. And you see that at least for verses 6 to 11 very clearly in John Murray’s Romans commentary.

The prosecutor brought up Murray’s comments on v13 and said “Can you reconcile the two statements by John Murray here?” Gaffin replied

I think really it’s regrettable we don’t have Professor Murray here to ask this question because I think … my own view in the light of what he has said,  and said so clearly about the judgment according to works in two … in verse six … that… it … that would argue for understanding verse 13 here in the same way as describing an actual positive outcome.  But he does, as you are pointing out,  back away from that.  But I can’t … see I think in my own view … it is Professor Murray that is in a bit of a tension here.

John Kinnaird was found guilty of teaching a false gospel, but he appealed to the OPC General Assembly where he was exhonerated. Why? Because the OPC had just prior voted to add Romans 2:6,7,13,16 as proof texts to WLC 90. For more on this see OPC Report on Republication – Background.

Conclusion

So the issue really has a lot to do with a long history of inconsistent exegesis of Romans 2:6-7 and 2:13 that we have to wrestle with. I agree with those who see 2:6-7 and 13 as both referring to the law.

Make Christ’s Work of Salvation Plain

October 19, 2017 2 comments

Commenting on the current dispute over John Piper’s view of final salvation, Pastor Chris Gordon notes

Just because past and current theologians use certain words to make distinctions, this does not mean they made Christ’s work of salvation plain to the sheep. Just because one can cite a thousand Reformed theologians, and ten thousand Puritan ones, it doesn’t mean they are were always helpful or clear. We have to decipher who are the most helpful theologians in making Christ’s work of salvation clear in our time and in our day.

This is especially true when the language of the theologians confuses them with regard to Christ’s work. It’s no longer merely an academic “debate” over language, it has now morphed into a serious theological problem among our people who are now confused in thinking salvation is by works.

Someone in the comment section provided a helpful quote from Ursinus about the use of language.

What Ursinus actually says about “whether good works are necessary to salvation” (pp. 484-485 of his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism):

“The…expression must be explained in this way; that good works *are necessary to salvation*, not as a cause to an effect, or as if they merited a reward, but as a part of salvation itself, or as an antecedent to a consequent, or as a means without which we cannot obtain the end. In the same way we may also say, that good works are necessary to righteousness or justification, viz: as a consequence of justification, with which regeneration is inseparably connected.”

Now listen to what he says in the very next sentence:

But yet we would prefer not to use these forms of speech, 1. Because they are ambiguous. 2. Because they breed contentions, and give our enemies room for cavilling. 3. Because these expressions are not used in Scriptures with which our forms of speech should conform as nearly as possible. We may more safely and correctly say, *That good works are necessary in them that are justified, and that are to be saved.* To say that good works are necessary in them that are to be justified, is to speak ambiguously, because it may be so understood as if they were required before justification, and so become a cause of our justification. Augustin has correctly said, ‘Good works do not precede them that are to be justified, but follow them that are justified.’…For good works are necessary…in them that are to be saved…as a part of salvation itself”

John Gill agreed.

It may be proper next to inquire what is the meaning of the word necessary, and in what sense good works are so. That they are necessary to be done, or ought to be done, by all that hope to be saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is readily granted; but not in point of salvation, in order to that, or with a view to obtain it…

True indeed, I cannot say that good works are necessary to salvation, that is to obtain it; which is the only sense in which they can be said with any propriety to be necessary to it, or in which such a proposition can be understood…

And as it will be difficult to fix any other sense upon the phrase, and persons are and will be naturally led so to conceive of it, this, and this alone, is a sufficient reason why it ought to be rejected and disused.

He recounts the Majoristic Controversy amongst the Lutherans about the use of the phrase.

Melancthon at length allowed that “good works were not necessary to salvation;” nor did he dare to assert it: “For these reasons,” says he, “we teach that good works; or new obedience, are necessary; yet this must not by any means be tacked to it, that good works are necessary to obtain salvation and eternal life.” In his answer to the pastors of Saxony, he has these words: “Nevertheless, let us not use this phrase, good works are necessary to salvation.”

The Formula of Concord addressed this controversy.

[T]he propositions are justly rejected, that to believers good works are necessary for salvation, so that it is impossible to be saved without good works… they take from afflicted, troubled consciences the comfort of the Gospel, give occasion for doubt, are in many ways dangerous, strengthen presumption in one’s own righteousness and confidence in one’s own works…

Accordingly, and for the reasons now enumerated, it is justly to remain settled in our churches, namely, that the aforesaid modes of speech should not be taught, defended, or excused, but be thrown out of our churches and repudiated as false and incorrect.

So why are there so many instances of reformed theologians using this language?

In short, because of their covenant theology. The Lutherans (and Gill) recognized that the Old covenant was a law covenant of works for temporal life in Canaan distinct from the New Covenant gospel of salvation through faith alone. The reformed, however, mistakenly think the Old Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. So they have to figure out a way to explain how Leviticus 18:5 can be a condition of the Covenant of Grace. They wind up making unhelpful, very qualified, and highly nuanced statements that just don’t need to be and should not be made – especially when there are people who profess to be reformed who use that same language and actually do mean that our own inherent righteousness will be judged on the last day to determine if we are saved (if you haven’t read O. Palmer Robertson’s The Current Justification Controversy, you’re likely misunderstanding the nature of the current concerns).

For further reading:

 

Baptism to a Thousand Generations?

October 8, 2017 1 comment

SummaryUpon the basis of how circumcision was administered, historically, the reformed practiced that the distant offspring of a believer were entitled to baptism, even if their immediate parents were unbelievers, apostates or excommunicates. Modern paedobaptists have rejected this practice, resulting in an inconsistency in their appeal to circumcision.


Joe Anady of the Confessing the Faith podcast interviewed former URC member and WSC graduate Mark Hogan about his change in beliefs from paedobaptism to credobaptism. In Part 3, Hogan mentions one of the inconsistencies that contributed to his change of mind. During seminary he read William Perkins arguing (from the basis of Israel) that the baptism of the believer’s offspring was not limited to the first generation, but extended down the line to include even offspring whose immediate parents were wicked. Hogan found no consistent answer for modern Presbyterianism’s rejection of this logic and practice. Gavin Ortlund explained this point was part of his change of mind regarding the baptism of infants as well.

Circumcision is given in Genesis 17:9 to “you and your seed [offspring, descendants; Hebrew zerah] after you, for the generations to come.” The individuals in view here are the intergenerational descendants of Abraham. The faith of an Israelite child’s parents was not what determined the child’s right to circumcision; it was the child’s association with the nation of Israel. In other words, the lines of covenant throughout the Old Testament weren’t drawn around individual believing families, but around the national family of Abraham. It wasn’t the “children of believers” who had the right to the sacrament of initiation, but the “children of Abraham.” So, given paedobaptist presuppositions, why not baptize the grandchildren of believers, too? If we’re really building off continuity with the Old Testament precedent, why stop at one generation?

Why I Changed My Mind About Baptism

Nehemiah Coxe made the same point in 1681.

The promises previously given to Abraham for his natural offspring involve those in remote generations as much as those immediately descended from him. And in some respects they were made good more fully to them than to the others… It was not Abraham’s immediate seed, but his mediate, that became as numerous as the dust of the earth and took possession of the land flowing with milk and honey…

The right of the remotest generation was as much derived from Abraham and the covenant made with him, as was that of his immediate seed, and did not at all depend on the faithfulness of their immediate parents. Thus, the immediate seed of those Israelites that fell in the wilderness under the displeasure of God were made to inherit the land of Canaan by virtue of this covenant with Abraham. They never could have enjoyed it by virtue of their immediate parent’s steadfastness in the covenant…

[I]f I may conclude my concern in this covenant is such that by one of its promises I am assured that God has taken my immediate seed into covenant with himself, I must on the same ground conclude also that my seed in remote generations will be no less in covenant with him, since the promise extends to the seed in their generations.

Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, p. 90, 97, 106

Perkins

The reformed generally were in agreement with this point and put it into practice as part of their national understanding of the church. The quote that initially gave Hogan pause is from Perkins’ 1604 commentary on Galatians 3:26-28.

Thirdly, it may be demanded, whether the children of wicked Christians, that is, of such as hold in judgment true religion and deny it in their lives, may be baptized? Answer. They may. For all without exception that were born of circumcised Jews (whereof many were wicked) were circumcised. And we must not only regard the next parents, but also the ancestors of whom it is said, “If the root be holy, the branches are holy” (Rom. 11). Upon this ground children born in fornication may be baptized, so be it, there be some to answer for them besides the parents. And there is no reason that the wickedness of the parent should prejudice the child in things pertaining to life eternal.

Lastly, it may be demanded, whether the children of parents excommunicate, may be baptized? Answ. Yea, if there be any beside the parents to answer for the child. For the parents after excommunication remain still (for right) members of the Church, having still a right to the kingdome of heavens out of which they are not cast absolutely, but with condition, unless they repent: and in part, that is in respect of communion, or use of their liberty, but not in respect of right or title: even as a freeman of a corporation imprisoned, remaines a freeman, though for the time he hath no use of his liberty.

The Works of William Perkins, v. ii, 232

(Note the erroneous reading of Romans 11 that is necessarily required. Perkins must interpret the root not as Abraham, but as every believer. Every believer thus has their own tree of which they are the root down to a thousand generations.)

Calvin

Perkins was just repeating what previous reformers concluded. In 1559, Scottish Presbyterian John Knox wrote to Calvin asking “whether it be lawful to admit to the sacrament of baptism the children of idolaters and excommunicated persons before their parents have testified their repentance.” Calvin replied

Respecting the questions of which you ask for a solution, after I had laid them before my colleagues, here is the answer which we unanimously resolved to send

[I]n the proper use of baptism the authority of God is to be considered, and his institution ought to derive its authority from certain conditions, one of the first things to be considered is who are the persons that God by his own voice invites to be baptized.

Now God’s promise comprehends not only the offspring of every believer in the first line of descent, but extends to thousands of generations. Whence it has happened that the interruption of piety which has prevailed in Popery has not taken away from baptism its force and efficacy. For we must look to its origin, and the very reason and nature of baptism is to be esteemed as arising from the promise of God. To us then it is by no means doubtful that an offspring descended from holy and pious ancestors, belong to the body of the church, though their fathers and grandfathers may have been apostates. For just as in Popery it was a pernicious and insane superstition, to steal or forcibly abduct their children from Jews or Turks, and forthwith to have them baptized; so likewise, wherever the profession of Christianity has not been altogether interrupted or destroyed, children are defrauded of their privileges if they are excluded from the common symbol; because it is unjust when God, three hundred years ago or more, has thought them worthy of his adoption, that the subsequent impiety of some of their progenitors should interrupt the course of heavenly grace. In fine, as each person is not admitted to baptism from respect or regard to one of his parents alone, but on account of the perpetual covenant of God; so in like manner, no just reason suffers children to be debarred from their initiation into the church in consequence of the bad conduct of only one parent.

Calvin’s Lat. Corresp., Opera, ix. P. 201; Calvin, John. Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters vol. 7; edited by Henry Beveridge. Edmonton, Canada: pp. 73-76. via BaylyBlog

Rutherford

In the 17th century, this practice was challenged by Congregationalists who argued “we do professedly judge the Calvinian Reformed Churches of the first reformation from out of Popery, to stand in need of a further reformation themselves.” They argued that excommunicants are not members of the church and that only the immediate offspring of communicant members may be baptized. In response to this pressure, and to defend the national church model, Scottish Prebyterian and leading member of the Westminster Assembly Samuel Rutherford again argued from Abraham and Israel.

Therefore there was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, and by that same reason, there is no more required of infants that they may be baptized but that they be born in the Christian church… Now if God be the God of Abraham’s seed far off and near down, to many generations, the wickedness of the nearest parents cannot break the covenant, as is clear… These are to receive the seal of the covenant whose forefathers are in external profession within the covenant.  For God commands not Abraham only to circumcise his sons, but all parents descended of Abraham to circumcise their seed: the seed of Abraham carnally descended to all generations… We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

But, say they: drunkards, murderers, sorcerers, swearers, and ignorant atheists, both fathers and mothers, whose children you baptize, do not profess the faith, for in works they deny and bely their profession.

Answer: 1. Then you will have the children of none to be baptized but those whose parents are sound and sincere professors in the judgment of charity. But so Joshua failed who circumcised the children of all professing themselves to be Abraham’s sons carnally, though Joshua knew and was an eye witness that their fathers did deny and bely their profession.

On The Baptism of the Children of Adherents

New England Congregationalists

In 1662, the New England Synod stated

Partic. 5. It is requisite unto the membership of children, that the next parents, one or both, being in a covenant. For altho’ after-generations have no small benefit by their pious ancestors, who derive federal holiness to their succeeding generations in case they keep their standing in the covenant, and be not apostates from it; yet the piety of ancestors sufficeth not, unless the next parent continue in covenant, Rom. 11.22…

If we stop not at the next parent, but grant that ancestors may, notwithstanding the apostacy of the next parents convey membership unto children, then we should want a ground where to stop, and then all the children on earth should have right to membership and baptism.

Modern Presbyterians

Modern presbyterian denomoinations that have rejected the unbiblical national ecclessiology of their forefathers have also rejected this unbiblical practice of the baptism of infants down to the thousandth generation.

For a child to be presented for baptism, at least one parent must be a communicant member of the Church… Only parents who are communicant members of the Church may be permitted to take parental vows.

OPC DPW 3.1.a

 

One of the few modern defenders of this practice, Gordon Clark, explains the logical implications of this modern abandonment of reformed tradition.

Does the Bible require or prohibit baptisms to the thousandth generation? If it does, and if a generation is roughly thirty years, a thousand generation from the time of Christ would include just about everybody in the western world. Then the church should have baptized the child of an intensely Talmudic Jew whose ancestor in 50 B.C. was piously looking for the Messiah. Or, George Whitefield should have baptized Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Tom Paine, as children, because one of their ancestors played a small role in the Reformation. Strange as this may seem to many, it ought to have been done if the Bible so teaches.

Some very eminent theologians have so held. The strictest view has not been universal; it is more American than European. The view that only the children of professing parents should be baptized seems to have been the result of colonial revivalism [and/or the rejection of a national church model]… as it… tended to view the ideal church as consisting entirely of regenerate persons… The logical result is the Baptist position; but in Presbyterianism it stopped short at requiring faith of the parents who wanted their children baptized. But if it did not result in Baptist practices, it involved a change in the theology of baptism.

-Gordon H. Clark. What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 1192-1194). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

The problem with the modern pratice (as Perkins, Calvin, Rutherford, and the reformed argued in the past) is that circumcision was not administered in this way. This great inconsistency led Hogan and Ortlund to change their minds regarding the proper recipients of baptism.

I encourage you to prayerfully consider this matter.

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