Turretin Answers Objections To Infant Baptism (8)

XXI. Baptism (with respect to true believers) seals saving grace because it is connected with the internal baptism of the Spirit. But with respect to hypocrites, it does not have the accompanying grace of the Spirit, but is only a badge of profession by which they are distinguished from Jews, Turks and other unbelievers. And then it is administered, not from the force of election, but by reason of the general dispensation by which God determined by the word of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments to gather to himself a church, and by certain signs and marks to distinguish it from other and profane assemblies. Thus the doctrine of perseverance is not at all endangered here, which remains constant with respect to the elect.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–97), 19.20.21 (p. 420).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Dr Clark can you elucidate on “sacramental union” language. You’ve convinced me to leave baptistic theology but now the arguments of the Lutherans seem much more plain and straight forward textually. Christ in baptism: forgives sins and grants the Spirit Acts 2:38-38 and 22:16, buries and raises us with Christ Rom 6:3-4 and Col 2:11-12, clothes us Gal3:28, regenerates Jn 3:3-5 and tit 3:5, saves 1 Pet 3:21. The early Fathers spoke directly as the texts did. The Nicene creed said “We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. ” Lutherans say based upon these texts, not circumcision texts, infants are sinners and are to be brought to Christ for salvation. How do Reformed respond other than saying that’s symbolic language? The biblical justification for infant baptism, forgiveness of sins seems to be how the early church and Lutherans argued. The biblical texts directly dealing with baptism seem to be very plain and explicit. They say baptism is efficacious but circumcision wasn’t, basing their view on what the actual baptismal texts say. How are the Lutherans and early church fathers wrong on this? Thanks.

    • Hi Michial,

      Did you listen to the Heidelcast series, “I Will Be A God To You and to Your Children”? I deal with it there.

      The problem created by the confessional Lutheran approach to the efficacy of the sacraments is the same problem created by the Judaizing approach to circumcision. The sacrament is not the thing is signifies and seals. They fundamentally confuse the the sign with the thing signified. Was Esau circumcised in his heart? No. “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” The sign has never created the reality it signifies.

      The confusion of sign with thing signified leads to the Lutheran (and Federal Vision) view of perseverance. The Lutherans say that grace necessary conferred in baptism can be resisted. Really? So much for the perseverance of the saints. If grace requires my (passive) cooperation for final salvation, what has become of grace?

      If the sacrament becomes the thing signified then there is no longer a sacrament. The sacrament is one thing, salvation is another. In sacramental language, e.g., the Nicene Creed, they can be rhetorically identified but the sacrament never becomes the thing itself.

      On the fathers, we must be careful about anachronism, We may not read the idea of “moment of new life” into “regeneration” every time we see it in the Fathers. Do particularly 4th-century fathers (et seq) teach baptismal regeneration, i.e., that at the moment of baptism spiritual renewal is conferred? Yes. Is the universal teaching of the fathers? No.

      On sacramental union see:

      Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace

      See also, “Baptism and the Benefits of Christ

      The Sacraments Are True Signs and Seals of the Gospel

      A Metaphor is No Joke

      Circumcision Was Always About the Necessity of Regeneration

  2. I did listen to the entire series and have read all those cited sources. I still see more exegetical favor for the Lutherans based upon the baptismal texts. The NT doesn’t seem to draw a one to one analogy between circ and bap. They both point to the circ and bap of Christ on the cross but The latter is spoken of in efficacious terms. Baptism is greater by far than circ acc to the Apostles.

    • So, you’ve not shed your baptistic perspective on circumcision.

      Who is the first OT author to speak of heart-circumcision? Moses, the first OT author. Lev.26:41. Dt.10:16.

      The overlap in the essential meaning of the two rites is overwhelming. They speak to the same 5 primary symbols: 1) Death/sacrifice; 2) Cure/cleansing; 3) New humanity; 4) Seed of life; 5) Token/symbolic judgment.

      It’s ALL there in the OT first, then in the new. Both have the outward and the inward characteristic of a sacrament. Then there’s Col.2:11-12 that makes an explicit connection between the two. They end up teaching the same basic things, and have only incidental dispensation-specific qualities.

      Paul and Peter both make the telling connection between either the OT symbol and NT substance; or an OT illustration (e.g. flood/judgment, 1Pet.3:202-21) and NT symbolism (baptism). Could Scripture be more plain?

  3. Sorry for the large quotation but I love Luther. From the Largd Catechism on Baptism

    14] From this now learn a proper understanding of the subject, and how to answer the question what Baptism is, namely thus, that it is not mere ordinary water, but water comprehended in God’s Word and command, and sanctified thereby, so that it is nothing else than a divine water; not that the water in itself is nobler than other water, but that God’s Word and command are added.

    15] Therefore it is pure wickedness and blasphemy of the devil that now our new spirits, to mock at Baptism, omit from it God’s Word and institution, and look upon it in no other way than as water which is taken from the well, and then blather and say: How is a handful of water to help the soul? 16] Aye, my friend, who does not know that water is water if tearing things asunder is what we are after? But how dare you thus interfere with God’s order, and tear away the most precious treasure with which God has connected and enclosed it, and which He will not have separated? For the kernel in the water is God’s Word or command and the name of God, which is a treasure greater and nobler than heaven and earth.

    17] Comprehend the difference, then, that Baptism is quite another thing than all other water; not on account of the natural quality but because something more noble is here added; for God Himself stakes His honor, His power and might on it. Therefore it is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water, and in whatever other terms we can praise it,-all on account of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word, that no one can sufficiently extol, for it has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do [since it has all the virtue and power of God comprised in it]. 18] Hence also it derives its essence as a Sacrament, as St. Augustine also taught: Accedat verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum. That is, when the Word is joined to the element or natural substance, it becomes a Sacrament, that is, a holy and divine matter and sign.

    19] Therefore we always teach that the Sacraments and all external things which God ordains and institutes should not be regarded according to the coarse, external mask, as we regard the shell of a nut, but as the Word of God is included therein. 20] For thus we also speak of the parental estate and of civil government. If we propose to regard them in as far as they have noses, eyes, skin, and hair, flesh and bones, they look like Turks and heathen, and some one might start up and say: Why should I esteem them more than others? But because the commandment is added: Honor thy father and thy mother, I behold a different man, adorned and clothed with the majesty and glory of God. The commandment (I say) is the chain of gold about his neck, yea, the crown upon his head, which shows to me how and why one must honor this flesh and blood.

    21] Thus, and much more even, you must honor Baptism and esteem it glorious on account of the Word, since He Himself has honored it both by words and deeds; moreover, confirmed it with miracles from heaven. For do you think it was a jest that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Ghost descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty?

    22] Therefore I exhort again that these two, the water and the Word, by no means be separated from one another and parted. For if the Word is separated from it, the water is the same as that with which the servant cooks, and may indeed be called a bath-keeper’s baptism. But when it is added, as God has ordained, it is a Sacrament, and is called Christ-baptism. Let this be the first part, regarding the essence and dignity of the holy Sacrament.

    23] In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is, and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted; that is, what it profits, gives, and works. And this also we cannot discern better than from the words of Christ above quoted: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. 24] Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit, and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare, that he be saved. 25] But to be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live with Him forever.

    26] Here you see again how highly and precious we should esteem Baptism, because in it we obtain such an unspeakable treasure, which also indicates sufficiently that it cannot be ordinary mere water. For mere water could not do such a thing, but the Word does it, and (as said above) the fact that the name of God is comprehended therein. 27] But where the name of God is, there must be also life and salvation, that it may indeed be called a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water; for by the Word such power is imparted to Baptism that it is a laver of regeneration, as St. Paul also calls it, Titus 3:5.

    28] But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. 29] But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it. Now, if I believe this, what else is it than believing in God as in Him who has given and planted His Word into this ordinance, and proposes to us this external thing wherein we may apprehend such a treasure?

    30] Now, they are so mad as to separate faith, and that to which faith clings and is bound, though it be something external. Yea, it shall and must be something external, that it may be apprehended by the senses, and understood and thereby be brought into the heart, as indeed the entire Gospel is an external, verbal preaching. In short, what God does and works in us He proposes to work through such external ordinances. Wherever, therefore, He speaks, yea, in whichever direction or by whatever means He speaks, thither faith must look, and to that it must hold. 31] Now here we have the words: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. To what else do they refer than to Baptism, that is, to the water comprehended in God’s ordinance? Hence it follows that whoever rejects Baptism rejects the Word of God, faith, and Christ, who directs us thither and binds us to Baptism.

    32] In the third place, since we have learned the great benefit and power of Baptism, let us see further who is the person that receives what Baptism gives and profits. 33] This is again most beautifully and clearly expressed in the words: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. That is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive profitably the saving, divine water. For, since these blessings are here presented and promised in the words in and with the water, they cannot be received in any other way than by believing them with the heart. 34] Without faith it profits nothing, notwithstanding it is in itself a divine superabundant treasure. Therefore this single word (He that believeth) effects this much that it excludes and repels all works which we can do, in the opinion that we obtain and merit salvation by them. For it is determined that whatever is not faith avails nothing nor receives anything.

    35] But if they say, as they are accustomed: Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what, then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper’s baptism). God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. 36] For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it.

    37] Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith. Therefore they do us violence by exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.

    38] Thus we have these three parts which it is necessary to know concerning this Sacrament, especially that the ordinance of God is to be held in all honor, which alone would be sufficient, though it be an entirely external thing, like the commandment, Honor thy father and thy mother, which refers to bodily flesh and blood. Therein we regard not the flesh and blood, but the commandment of God in which they are comprehended, and on account of which the flesh is called father and mother; so also, though we had no more than these words, Go ye and baptize, etc., it would be necessary for us to accept and do it as the ordinance of God. 39] Now there is here not only God’s commandment and injunction, but also the promise, on account of which it is still far more glorious than whatever else God has commanded and ordained, and is, in short, so full of consolation and grace that heaven and earth cannot comprehend it. 40] But it requires skill to believe this, for the treasure is not wanting, but this is wanting that men apprehend it and hold it firmly.

    41] Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practise all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts. 42] In short, it is so transcendent that if timid nature could realize it, it might well doubt whether it could be true. 43] For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one’s door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive.

    44] Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body. 45] For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism, namely, that the body, which can apprehend nothing but the water, is sprinkled, and, in addition, the word is spoken for the soul to apprehend. 46] Now, since both, the water and the Word, are one Baptism, therefore body and soul must be saved and live forever: the soul through the Word which it believes, but the body because it is united with the soul and also apprehends Baptism as it is able to apprehend it. We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul, for by it we are made holy and are saved, which no other kind of life, no work upon earth, can attain.

    Let this suffice respecting the nature, blessing, and use of Baptism, for it answers the present purpose.

    • Michial,

      1. To reject the connection between circumcision and baptism is a Baptist argument.

      2. Paul clearly connects them in Col 2:11-12.

      3. Sacraments are sacraments, whether typological or new covenant. To make the new covenant sacraments efficacious in a way that the typological sacraments were not, is a Baptist way of reading redemptive history. You’ve simply shifted their over-realized eschatology to infant baptism.

      4. The key is the nature of the sacrament. There is much to admire in the Large Catechism but Luther so identified the gospel with the sacrament that the sacrament necessarily does what the gospel itself does. This creates a tension that Lutheran orthodoxy resolved in ways that, as I already suggested, create even greater problems.

      5. It does not help the Reformation to marginalize sola fide in favor of baptism. As I’ve argued to the Federal Visionists, baptism is not the instrument of justification and salvation. Faith is the alone instrument. Baptism is a sacrament of the gospel but not the gospel itself.

  4. Michael, I too appreciate the Lutheran catechism on baptism. I think there is much in there to learn from. The problem I have with The Lutheran is that they mix the sign with the thing signified as Dr. Clark has said. Yes, baptism does save when the spirit working through it brings us to faith in Christs cleansing blood shed for us.
    6. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered;q yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.r

    So to give an example, if you are driving down the freeway and see a sign for Disney World are you to stop there and say I’m there? By no means you must go to the place the sign points to. Same with baptism. Just because one has recieved the sign doesn’t mean they have anything until they have what the sign points to which is faith in Christs cleansing blood.

    • Russ,

      So to give an example, if you are driving down the freeway and see a sign for Disney World are you to stop there and say I’m there? By no means you must go to the place the sign points to. Same with baptism. Just because one has recieved the sign doesn’t mean they have anything until they have what the sign points to which is faith in Christs cleansing blood.

      I love good analogies, and this is a good analogy!

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