TE Keister’s Reply to TE Moon’s Defense of TE Lawrence – Part 2

Posted by Wes White

You can read the first part of Lane’s reply here.

F. Next up is Heinrich Bullinger. He says:

For to whomever the Lord promises that he will be their God, and whomever he receives and acknowledges for his, those no man without horrible offense may exclude from the number of the faithful. And God promises that he will not only be the God of them that confess him, but of infants also; he promises to them[I.e. the infants of believers] his grace and remission of sins. Who, therefore, gainsaying the Lord of all things, will yet deny that infants belong to God, are his, and that they are made partakers of purification through Christ? (emphasis and explanation TE Moon, p. 383 of Decade 5).

The quotation does not prove that the infant gets grace and remission of sins through baptism. In fact, when Bullinger tells us how the child gets purification, he says that it is through Christ, not through baptism. This detail seems to have escaped TE Moon’s notice entirely, especially since it is in a section he italicized. Though this one quotation does not at all support TE Moon’s contention, Bullinger must be understood in the entirety of his teaching, not just in one quotation. Bullinger elsewhere says this:

Therefore in baptism, water, or sprinkling of water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and all that which is done of the church, is a sign, rite, ceremony, and outward thing, earthly and sensible, lying open and made plain to the senses: but remission of sins, partaking of (everlasting) life, fellowship with Christ and his members, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are given unto us by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus, is the thing signified, the inward and heavenly thing, and that intelligible thing which is not perceived but by a faithful mind (Decade 5, p. 250).

And then, proving that the unbelievers do not get anything through the sacraments, Bullinger says:

That each part (the sign and the thing signified, LK) retaineth their natures distinguished, without communicating or mingling of properties, it is to be seen hereby; that many be partakers of the sign, and yet are barred from the thing signified. But if the natures of the parts were united or naturally knit together, it must needs be then, that those which be partakers of the signs must be partakers also of the thing signified. Examples of scripture, as they are ready, so are they evident. For Simon Magus, in the Acts of the Apostles, received the sign, and was baptized: but of the thing signified he had not neither received so much as one iota (emphasis added, Decades 5, p. 271).

And again, later:

For so it cometh to pass, that many receive the visible sacraments, and yet are not partakers of the invisible grace, which by faith only is received (Decades 5, p. 273).

This is clearly not the position of TE Moon and TE Lawrence, who believe that baptism is always efficacious to give at least something to the receiver. TE Moon says that that Bullinger knows that, in the end, only the elect will have final and true enjoyment of those things (p. 6). However, Bullinger says that it is the elect, and only the elect, who enjoy any part of the blessings of the sacraments. The non-elect receive no benefit, not one iota, from the sacrament. Indeed, Bullinger is emphatic on this point.

Further, even in the part quoted by TE Moon, Bullinger says that Godpromises remission of sins. Bullinger stops short of saying that God givesremission of sins in baptism.

G. The next quotation is from the Belgic Confession.

Christ shed his blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for adult persons; and, therefore, they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ hath done for them (from article 34, translation Schaff’s).

One does not even need to go outside the quotation itself to refute TE Moon’s reading of it. TE Moon simply quotes it, and does not argue the point specifically. However, as was said before, there is no disagreement over whether children can be saved, regenerated, etc. But the Belgic Confession does not say that that comes at the water rite. In fact, it says the opposite: the force of the “therefore” in the middle of the quotation shows that it because saving realities can already exist in infants, that therefore they ought to be baptized, plainly indicating that, in these cases, the thing signified already existed in their lives. Plainly, it does not come by baptism. And again, when one examines the context of the Belgic Confession, and sees what it says concerning sacraments in general, one can see the difference:

From article 33: For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost.

It should be noted here that the thing “by means whereof” refers to the inward and invisible thing, as is evident by the phraseology of “God workethin us.”

And from article 34: as water washeth away the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is seen on the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him, so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath unto children of God. Not that this is effected by the external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God. (emphasis added).

The Belgic Confession does not nail down the time at which this internal sprinkling occurs. It certainly does not say that it happens at the same time as the outward sprinkling. It merely says that there is an analogy between the inward and the outward sprinkling.

H. Next up is the Scotch Confession.

We are fully persuaded that, by means of baptism we are engrafted into Christ, made partakers of his righteousness, through which our sins are covered, and on account of which kindness and grace are purchased (translation TE Moon’s).

TE Moon argues that the phrase “by means of baptism” (per baptismum) is clearly instrumental (p. 6, footnote 11). On the surface, this quotation does not seem to be taken out of context. And this statement is not immediately qualified as all the others have been. However, there are still statements in the Scotch Confession and in the other works of John Knox that help explain. In the end, we will see that even the Scotch Confession does not say what TE Moon thinks it says. First of all, the Confession says this about Sacraments in general (I am translating the Scottish brogue into more contemporary English):

And their Sacraments, as well of Old as of New Testament, now instituted by God, not only to make a visible difference betwixt his people and they that was without his league: but also to exercise the faith of his Children, and, by participation of the same Sacraments, to seal in their hearts the assurance of his promise, and of that most blessed conjunction, union and society, which the elect have with their head Christ Jesus (emphasis added, p. 467 of Schaff).

This is the definition of what the Sacraments are for, and should be allowed to qualify the statements following concerning what Baptism does. In other words, the instrumental nature of Baptism is only true for the elect, and the instrumental sense is applied only to assurance.

The instrumental nature of baptism is not defined in the Scotch Confession. However, John Knox elsewhere qualifies his statements in exactly the same way all the others we have seen so far have done.

In 1556, 4 years before the Scotch Confession was published, Knox has this to say about baptism (again translating the brogue):

We have some respect also, that no more be given to the external sign, than is proper to it, that is, that it be the seal of justice and the sign of regeneration, but neither the cause, neither yet the effect or virtue…Baptism is the sign of our first entrance in the household of God our Father, by the which issignified that we are received in league with him, that we are clad with Christ’s justice, our sins and filthiness being washed away in His blood (emphasis added, volume 4 of the Works of John Knox, “Answers to Some Questions Concerning Baptism,” pp. 122-123).[1]

Secondly, in 1561, just one year after he wrote the Scotch Confession, he penned these words:

Albeit that the Sacraments are pledges to assure us of the grace of God, yet I Confess that they were unprofitable, except the Holy Ghost should make them effectual in us as instruments, to the intent that our faith should not be distracted from God, and stay upon creatures. Also, I Confess that the Sacraments are depraved and corrupt, when they are not referred to this end, to seek in Jesus Christ all that appertaineth to our salvation, and when they are applied to any other use than that our faith thereby should be wholly confirmed toward him (emphasis added, p. 366 of volume 5, in Additional Prayers for the Scholars of Geneva).

It should be noted that the same instrumental language is present here as is present in the Scotch Confession. To seek in Jesus Christ everything concerning salvation and that our faith should be wholly confirmed toward him, those are the only two proper uses of the sacrament, for John Knox. So the instrumental language of the Scotch Confession is explained here.

I. The Calvin quotation on the bottom of page 6 is possibly the most egregiously misunderstood passage of them all.

Baptism, must…be preceded by the gift of adoption, which is not the cause of half salvation merely, but gives salvation entire; and this salvation is afterwards ratified by Baptism.

Firstly, Calvin explicitly says within the quotation itself that salvation isafterwards ratified by baptism. Secondly, and more importantly, the relative pronoun “which” in the first line does not refer to baptism. Indeed, it cannot, for “baptismum” is neuter singular accusative, whereas “quae” is feminine singular nominative, agreeing with “gratia,” not with “baptismum.” Therefore, it is adoption which gives salvation entire, not baptism.[2]

J. Next comes a series of theologians that TE Moon thinks is adequately covered in Schenk’s book, The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant. The names dropped are Hodge, Warfield, and Lymond Atwater, and others. Hodge is dealt with below. But we must attend to Warfield and Atwater. Warfield’s doctrine of baptismal efficacy is stated in his article entitled “Christian Baptism,” found in volume 1 of his Shorter Writings (pp. 325-331). He is clear that baptism is a sign and seal of various salvific benefits, and is not those benefits themselves (p. 325). Furthermore, at no place does Warfield claim that salvific benefits come in baptism. Rather, he constantly uses the language of sign and seal (even using the letter analogy on page 327 that I used above). He says, “By receiving it, we do make claim to be members of Christ” (ibid). He does not say “By receiving it, we are made members of Christ.” Now, the claim is not all that baptism does, for Warfield. It is also a sign and seal of benefits. But he never says that baptism conveysthose benefits. It witnesses to God’s engagement and testimony to procure our salvation (ibid). Dr. Atwater believed in presumptive membership in the invisible church for infants of believers (Schenk, p. 131). But this is not the same thing as saying that salvific benefits come in baptism.

K. Charles Hodge is next on the list:

Since the promise is not only to parents but to their seed, children are by the command of God to be regarded and treated as of the number of the elect (“The Church Membership of Infants,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 30.2 (1858), pp. 375-376.

The quotation isn’t even relevant to the question of what baptism does. Hodge’s point is that infants can be said to be members of the church (and this is true regardless of whether they are baptized or not!). Furthermore, elsewhere in the article, he specifically states the opposite of the position of TE Moon and TE Lawrence:

The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is not only repudiated by all the Reformed Confessions, but, what perhaps, will to many minds be more convincing, it is impossible to reconcile the doctrine with their theology. Every one knows that the Reformed Churches adopted the theological system of Augustin. They all taught that none are born of the Spirit but those who are finally saved. If a man is called (regenerated,) he is justified; and if justified, he is glorified. There is no such thing, according to their doctrine, as falling from grace. If the Reformed therefore believed that all who are baptized are vitally united to Christ, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost, then they held that all the baptized are saved. They assuredly did not hold the latter, and therefore it is no less certain that they did not hold the former. It is impossible for a man to be a Calvinist, and believe the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (pp. 382-383).

L. Two final quotations (pp. 10-11), which TE Moon mangles out of all recognition.

The first is by Charles Hodge.

He stands in a peculiar [unique or special] relation to God, as being included in his covenant and baptized in his name; that he has in virtue of that relation a right to claim God as his Father, Christ as his Saviour, and the Holy Ghost as his sanctifier; and assured that God will recognize that claim and receive him as his child, if he is faithful to his baptismal vows (Essays and Reviews, p. 310).

In analyzing this quotation, TE Moon says:

Here we have nothing more than a summary of the position of TE Lawrence on the matters deemed heterodox by the majority: the language of adoption, salvation and forgiveness, and even the new life of the Spirit, all with the call to be faithful to one’s baptismal vows. This in Hodge is true adoption: it is preposterous to think that anyone has the right to call God his Father unless it is true. It may not be final, absolute adoption (Hodge knows that and so does TE Lawrence). But it must in some way be true, or they have no such right. And that applies to calling Christ their Savior, and the Holy Ghost their sanctifier (emphasis original).

In answer to TE Moon’s claims, it need only be pointed out that the relation to God is the foundation of the right to claim God as his Father. And that secondly, baptism, if anything, gives a person a right to claim God as Father, but does not actually effect that relationship. Such an interpretation is simply not responsible to what Charles Hodge said, either here, or elsewhere, as we have seen above. But the mangling has to do with an implied caricature of the committee’s position again, for the call to be faithful to one’s baptismal vows is a confessional matter, as is the language of adoption, salvation, and forgiveness. But such is not attributed by Hodge to baptism, but to the relation a person has with God, which is signified by baptism, but not effected by it.

M. Lastly, the Rev. George Mair’s position is my own. TE Moon summarizes Mair’s position, saying:

Thomas Boston remarks that his friend, the Rev. George Mair, taught that baptism seals all members of the visible Church to have a right to Christ and the benefits of the covenant (p. 11).

I believe that baptism seals all members of the visible church to have a right to Christ and the benefits of the covenant. Having a right to those things doesn’t mean that one has them, especially not simply by virtue of baptism. So Rev. George Mair is not saying the same thing as TE Lawrence or Moon.


[1] The six volume Works of John Knox are available on http://books.google.com/.

[2] As this particular volume of Corpus Reformatorum is available online, there is no reason TE Moon could not have checked the original Latin. At best, the English translation has an ambiguous “which.” But the qualifying statement at the end is still clear: adoption, which gives salvation entire,precedes baptism, and is ratified by baptism. In this particular quotation, there seems to be a definite reading comprehension problem on the part of TE Moon. Now, it is possible that TE Moon understands this passage simply to be talking about the fact that children get adoption and salvation. His words are: “Here is Calvin speaking of our covenant children as adopted and given salvation, which is sealed in baptism” (p. 6). Then follows the quotation. But if this is so, then it is not clear why he brought this passage into the discussion at all. At any rate, Calvin is certainly not saying that these things come by baptism. Rather, he is saying that they are ratified by baptism. Either way, the passage does not help TE Moon’s case in any way whatsoever.

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2 Comments

  1. TE Stephen Welch said,

    February 24, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Wes, thanks for spending the time in giving more of the particulars regarding TE Moon’s position. It is so apparent that one statement made by Bavinck or Calvin can be taken out of context and used to promote something that goes beyond the confessional standards. I have Schenck’s Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant in my library, but have never taken the time to read it. What is your opinion on this book? I have heard pros and cons from others about it. Rob Rayburn recommends the book but so did Louis Berkhof.

  2. Sam Rico said,

    February 25, 2010 at 11:37 am

    At a recent Presbytery meeting up north, an elder under question was defending his supposed view of holding to apostasy and his potential sympathies with the Federal Vision (FV). Those accused of being FV, or those loosely associated with FV, are reputed to hold some form of teaching apostasy. The elder under scrutiny, justified his stance by quoting a passage in Numbers where the LORD pardons the iniquities of the Israelites. The elder than added how the Bible states that that generation perished in the wilderness account of their unbelief. True, the Israelites did perish. No doubt a difficult tension, and I applaud this elder for bringing it to light and attempting to teach it. The tension is this: the Lord pardoned Israel’s sins, but that generation perished from unbelief. So, were the Israelites forgiven or were they unbelievers?

    Tension and paradox abound in Scripture. The above elder claims to just teach the Scripture, and does not intend to affirm apostasy. What he appears to teach, however, is this: a forgiven believer can perish from unbelief. When questioned his caveat is this: “I am just teaching the text.”

    In the PCA we hold to a creed, the Westminster Confession of Faith. Although the WFC is a compromise between a variety of denominations in the 17th century on certain points of doctrine, it clearly teaches perseverance of the saints and rejects apostasy. Thus, the onus is on any teaching elder in the PCA, who teaches such things as pardoned Israelites falling away from unbelief, to explain how their interpretation of the WFC and Scripture jive. And no teaching elder in the PCA can take the high ground by saying, “Well, this is my view of Scripture”; for, as teaching elders, we have vowed that the WFC is our interpretation of Scripture.


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