William Perkins On Baptismal Regeneration

Paul, Rom. 4. stands much upon this to prove that justification by faith is not conferred by the sacraments. And from the circumstance of time he gathers that Abraham was first justified and afterward received circumcision, the sign and the seal of his righteousness. Now we know that the general condition of all sacraments is one and the same and that baptism succeeded circumcision. And what can be more plain then the example of Cornelius (Acts 10). who before Peter came to him had the commendation of the fear of God and was indued with the spirit of prayer. And afterward when Peter by preaching opened more fully the way of the Lord, he and the rest received the holy Ghost? And after all this they were baptized. Now if they received the holy Ghost before baptism, then they received remission of sins, and were justified before baptism.

William Perkins, A Reformed Catholic, 611.


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  1. Lutherans don’t hold to the ex opere operato formulation of Rome, so I’m not sure the point applies to us. Lutherans don’t deny that such things can be separated chronologically, but that does not prove the conclusion that the Sacraments are without God’s saving action. There is a huge unstated assumption in Perkins that a Lutheran cannot grant, which is that justification happens only once in a lifetime. For us, we receive the forgiveness of our sins “daily and richly” (to quote Luther) in the Christian Church, so it isn’t at all shocking to a Lutheran that someone receives forgiveness, life and salvation through the preaching of the Gospel, and later receives the same thing again through Baptism. To a Lutheran, saying that Baptism doesn’t save is equivalent to saying Jesus Christ doesn’t save, since Jesus Christ is the person into whom we are baptized (Rom. 6, Col. 2, Gal. 3). I’m curious why Perkins doesn’t use the example of Paul, who had a direct revelation of the risen and ascended Christ, was already ordained, and yet was told, “rise up and wash away your sins.”

  2. Your comments reflect a major misconception that evangelicals have of orthodox Christians. Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this. All the saints of the Old Testament, the thief on the cross, and thousand of martyrs down through the centuries have been saved without Baptism. Baptism is not the “how” of salvation!

    Lutherans believe that baptism is one of several possible “when”s of salvation, it is not the “how” of salvation. The “how” of salvation is and always has been the power of God’s Word/God’s declaration of righteousness.

    A sinner can be saved by the power of God’s Word when he hears the Word preached in a church, preached on TV or radio, reading a Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room, or reading a Gospel tract that contains the Word. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. In each of these situations, the sinner is saved the instant he or she believes. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation to occur.

    However, the Bible in multiple passages, also states that God uses his Word to save at the time of Baptism.

    It is the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, that works salvation in the sinner’s spiritually dead soul, according to the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, and the third chapter of Romans. Your “decision for Christ” does not save you, neither does your decision to be baptized.

    God saves those whom he has elected, at the time and place of his choosing. Sometimes God saves them while hearing a sermon in church, sometimes at home reading the Word, and sometimes by the power of his Word spoken during Baptism.

    God does 100% of the saving. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. There is no passage in the New Testament that asks sinners to make a decision for Christ. The Bible states that God quickens sinners, gives them faith, and they believe and repent.

    The sinner does not decide to be saved. God decides to save the sinner!

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • Augsburg Confession Article IX:

      Baptism they teach that it is necessary 2] to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace.

  3. “Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this.”

    Dear Gary,

    Luther and the Lutherans (and the Roman Church) do believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation. You’re right that for Lutherans, Baptism is the “when” of salvation but it is also the “how” of salvation. Both cannot be separated anymore than baptismal water (“when”) can be separated from the *Word* of God (“how”).

    The question then is whether the “necessity” of Baptism is a legal (Law) or evangelical (Gospel) one.

    As you’ve RIGHTLY said. God works 100 per cent (no ifs; no buts) in salvation. If Baptism is understood in terms of legal necessity, as in the case of Rome (the Sacraments of the New LAW), then salvation would be a process of 50 per cent divine work and 50 per cent human work.

    But if Baptism is the Gospel, then God has BOUND Himself to the baptismal water (which then creates the evangelical necessity) to save sinners. IOW, the necessity of God doing ALL the work in salvation, as you rightly pointed out. This is why for Luther, Baptism is not one of the many places to be saved, but THE place where the Word of God is proclaimed sacramentally (as is the Lord’s Supper). So that, the proclamation of the Word involves preaching (and Absolution), Baptism and the Lord’s Supper all at once.

    So, yes, Baptism for Luther and the Lutherans is necessary – necessary because Baptism is the Gospel.

  4. Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther by Jonathan D. Trigg is a very expensive book, published by Brill.

    But I would encourage you to read Gerhard Forde’s The Preached God which has a chapter on Baptism. What I shared to you is precisely based on that.

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