Turretin Answers Objections Against Infant Baptism (1)

IV. Nor ought it to be objected that Christ puts instruction before baptism and so speaks of adults, who can be instructed, and not of infants (“teach [μαθητεύσατε],” he says). Although Christ placed teaching before baptism, this must be referred to the baptism of adults, of which first and especially he was speaking in reference to the state of the primeval church to be constituted of adults. Therefore, here we must distinguish between the church to be constituted and constituted. In the former, adults were to be taught before they were baptized; but in the constituted, infants were to be baptized before they were taught. The predicates are such as they are permitted to be by their subjects; infants are not capable of instruction, therefore it does not pertain to them. In the meantime, the command of Christ is to be understood analogically of infants from the nature of the covenant and the perpetual use of the church from Abraham (Gen. 17:19*). The verb μαθητευειν (used by Christ) properly is not so much to teach by preaching as “to make disciples.” This is done also by the administration of baptism, which is a sacrament of initiation and the first entrance into the church and family of Christ. Thus μαθητας ποιειν (Jn. 4:1) is not simply to teach, but to make disciples and to receive into a profession of discipline; as among the Jews disciples were often made, not who were already taught, but that they might be taught. Hence the heathen to Hillelm (?Hillel): “Make me a proselyte that you may teach me.” That this is to be so understood is proved by the verb διδασκειν (which is added), which would seem to be tautological unless to μαθητευειν is referred to something else than simple instruction and doctrine.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–97), 19.20.4 (p. 415). [modified]

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  1. As only males received the covenantal sign of circumcision, should then female infants not require water baptism, just as Paul said the requiring of circumcision was denying the faith.

    • Allan,

      We have always recognized that circumcision was typological. As with types there are always limits. For example, priests were only male but now, In Christ, we are all priests. We are all sons, by adoption, both male and female.

      I addressed this particular objection in the recent Heidelcast series, “I will be a God to you and to your children.”


    • Besides which, Paul frankly declares in the context of explicit baptismal reference that a host of OT and OC limitations on active female inclusion in covenant-religious life is done away in Christ in NC religious life, Gal.3:27-29. He does that, AND he correlates the substantive, spiritual meaning of both circumcision and baptism in Col.2:11-12.

      So, we have the same essential teaching OT & NT with regard to the sign/seal of the covenant of grace; AND the new covenant is better! Yes, you can have it all.

  2. Just checking the strength of the linkage. Luther said it was the parents who supplied the required faith in a child’s baptism, thus linking baptism to the fruit of faith, namely regeneration and Justification.

  3. I don’t know what the Reformed minister says, but the Anglican one after ‘baptising’ the infant, offers thanks to God that by the completion of that administration, the child is now ‘regenerate’ and so an heir of eternal life. But then prayer is made that the child’s end will be like its beginning, and so the doctrine of the perseverance of saints evidently cannot survive the history of the baptized millions, or else baptismal regeneration has not occurred

    • Allan,

      Neither the catechism nor the Anglican Articles teach baptismal regeneration so I wonder from which edition of the BCP (or rite) this language comes?

      To be sure, the word “regeneration” often means “sanctification” or “setting apart” rather than the full-fledged sense of “endowed with new life.” Context is important here but the Reformed confessions, which include the Anglican Articles, do not teach baptismal regeneration, i.e., that at baptism the Spirit necessarily awakens the baptized to new life.

  4. In the Book of Common Prayer, the priest is instructed to say;
    ‘We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this Infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own Child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church. And humbly we beseech thee to grant that he being dead unto sin, and living unto righteousness, and being buried with Christ in his death, may crucify the old man, and utterly abolish the whole body of sin; and that, as he is made partaker of the death of thy Son, he may also be partaker of his resurrection; so that finally, with the residue of thy holy Church, he may be an inheritor of thine everlasting kingdom; through Christ our Lord. Amen.’

    My earlier point was that even Luther connected regeneration & justification to the child by way of the parents’ (or god-parents) faith.

    How regenerate can mean set apart, which again is an act of the Spirit more than of man, is problematic!

    • Allan,

      To which edition of the BCP are you referring?

      The noun “regeneration” (and the related verbs) were long used to denote both the act of setting apart (as the Fathers and Calvin frequently used it) and to signal the life-giving work of the Spirit.

  5. BCP 1562 & others

    The regeneration word group surely is unrelated to the sanctification group, so one wonders why.

  6. 39 Articles:
    Article XXVII
    Of Baptism
    Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

    My take:
    Notice: “a sign of profession” and “a mark of difference”,,, and especially that the efficaciousness of Baptism is qualified by the phrase “they that receive Baptism rightly.”, i.e. unto those in whom “Faith is confirmed.” The Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion are the doctrinal standard of historic Anglicanism and alone inform and direct how to understand the liturgical sections of the Book of Common Prayer.

    • I forgot to highlight: a sign of Regeneration or new Birth. Regeneration or new Birth is referred to as being given as a sign, again dependent upon its confirmation in Faith.

  7. You referenced me to; https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship – which has the identical wording that I quoted originally, ie.,

    ‘Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this Child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church,………………….. We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this Infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own Child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church…………. ‘ etc.

    My original point, was that Luther accepted that faith had to be present in some manner in infant baptism, and connected this faith to regeneration and justification, which is just what the Anglican Book of Liturgies quoted above (at the address referenced to me) gives the priest to say.

    • Allan,

      Yes, Luther did argue for infant faith, as did some of the Reformed. That view, however, was never confessed by any of the Reformed churches and arguably is not confessed by the Anglicans. There is, as Jack Miller notes, a distinction between liturgical forms and confessional documents. I don’t know of a confessional Reformed theologian who has argued for baptism on the grounds of infant faith since the 18th century. There may be those that did but most abandoned that argument. I certainly reject it for three reasons:

      1. It’s speculative. We have no idea if an infant has faith.
      2. It concedes the Baptist position that only believers may be baptized;
      3. We know nothing from Scripture about the children of believers into the visible covenant communion upon the ground of infant faith;

      We baptize the children of believers on the basis of the divine command and promise. That’s sufficient.

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