Sign and Seal

This will be one post reacting to all of Wilson’s recent posts. We’ll start with Sanctions and the Sacraments.

First, it is good to see more careful definitions flowing from our discussions. Wilson acknowledges that sacraments are not to be identified with the sanctions proper. However, the way in which he answers the question about what kind of union leaves vagueness. Covenantal union seems to be the union of a branch to a tree, according to Wilson. But that still doesn’t answer the question of the branch’s relationship to various benefits described in ordo salutis categories. Of course the covenants are redemptive historical in administration. However, it does not follow from that that we cannot relate ordo salutis categories to people in the covenant. We can. The elect participate in the ordo salutis and the non-elect don’t, even if they are all participants in the administration of the covenant of grace. I’m not sure that Wilson would disagree with this. At least, I hope he doesn’t. What has always disturbed critics of the FV is the blurring of terms that describe the benefits. FV authors will sometimes use terms that are usually related to the ordo, and they will instead use them of NECM’s. They say that they are not using the terms in the same way (the critics understand this point, by the way!). However, when it comes right down to defining the differences between “covenantal justification” and “decretal justification” I have yet to see ANY clear definitions. Why not keep justification as the term describing the decretal ordo salutis reality, and use completely different terms for what the non-elect participants in the administration of the covenant of grace receive? That is what the WS do. There are common operations common to all, and there are special operations that are exclusive to the elect. This is clear. This is non-confusing. The goal of teaching is to be clear and non-confusing. This is one thing that most FV writers have utterly failed to do. So, again I ask, what precisely is covenantal union? How is it related to the ordo salutis? One thing I promise the FV writers: the critics will never be satisfied unless a clear, unequivocally Reformed answer is given to this question. It is not enough to distinguish between covenantal union and saving decretal union, just saying that there is a distinction without enumerating the ways in which they are distinct. One must also prove that the “covenantal union” does not encroach upon the territory of election. In order to be Reformed, the FV would have to prove that “covenantal union” confers zero ordo salutis benefits. The ordo is unbreakable: if you have one benefit, you have them all. It is an unbreakable whole. That is non-negotiable territory. If covenantal union confers one single ordo salutis benefit on a non-elect person, then the system is Arminian, no matter what other qualifiers are attached, since the person will lose that ordo salutis benefit when he apostatizes. At best, Steve Wilkins, for instance, has been extremely unclear about this. At worst, he has actually ascribed ordo benefits to covenantal union (pp. 58ff of Federal Vision).

The second question I have for Wilson is this: if the covenant is Christ offered, then isn’t there a real sense in which unbelievers never participate in the covenant? See, I would say that, in terms of the breaking of the covenant, the unbeliever has broken the administration of it, not the substance of it. Would Wilson agree that the Covenant of Grace is made with Christ and with the elect seed in Him (LC 31)? This statement of the WS implies that the Covenant of Grace, ultimately speaking, is not made with the non-elect. That is simply the logical corollary of the statement. Does Wilson agree with the correlative negative? I am glad to see that he affirms a narrow and broad sense of covenant here.

Okay, on to the next post, which is “What It Must Have Meant.” I already answered “Green Baggins Takes an Exception,” and so will answer rather “Green Baggins Does Too Take an Exception.”

I am going to quote this paragraph in full, as it has numerous important points:

“You make it sound like you’re boys playing king of the dirt pile. Say uncle! A lot of theologizing is like that, isn’t it?”

Yes, it does sound like that if all we were doing is talking. But we are in a situation where the ministries of friends of mine are under assault, and not just verbal assault. The FV guys are bringing charges against no one, challenging the ordinations of no one, and we are not trying to get anybody removed from their pulpit. The same cannot be said in the other direction. In other words, this is not a neener neener debate. Ministries and livelihoods are on the line. Yes, the reply might come, but this is what confessional faithfulness to the truth requires. But that is where we encounter the kick in the teeth. As I showed in the previous post, the people who are bringing accusations that we are out of accord with the Westminster Confession are in fact themselves out of accord with the Confession. And they are accusing us of being out of accord with the Confession at just the place where we hold to the Confession and they do not. In such a situation, that anomaly should be pointed out.

In this quotation, Wilson is responding to a comment in a previous post of his. The short answer to Wilson’s point is that yes, there are people’s jobs on the line. And yes, the critics are trying to get FV men removed from the PCA. That should be rather transparently obvious, as a matter of fact. We have made no attempt to hide it. But what is the motive of the critics? Personal vendetta? Satanic maliciousness? Such have been accusations of the critics in the past (I have not seen Wilson utter such accusations). It is a good thing that such accusations see so clearly into the hearts and minds of other PCA (and other denominations) men, reading motives that are manufactured out of thin air. The motive of the critics is just this: the purity and peace of the PCA, and other denominations. Every last critic I know will say this, and mean it. That’s my motive, and anyone who says differently is lying through their teeth (or tooth, if a red-neck). They cannot read my heart. Of course, I cannot always read my own heart. But I know I am right on this one. I would also like to say on this point that if the FV is heresy, then it is our duty to remove such men from their pulpits. So, the FV cannot maintain some sort of moral high ground on this issue simply by saying that the FV is some sort of innocent victim, and that because they are not seeking the eradication of alternative views, that therefore they are the peace-loving ones.

The second point that needs to be addressed is the refreshing honesty of Wilson on the Confession here. He is right in this: the FV interpretation and the critics’ interpretation of the Confession CANNOT both be right and allowable. Wilson is of course specifically applying this idea to the issue of baptismal efficacy, which is the topic under discussion. However, Wilson’s statement seems to have a broader application. In other words, the FV should drop the facade that the Reformed world is just one big umbrella that can house many different views, and that the Confession allows both FV views and TR’s to exist simultaneously. No, it cannot. The FV interpretation and the TR interpretation contradict one another. That is what the TR’s have been saying all along. It is refreshing to see an FV guy say so. Let’s have none of this postmodern “everyone-can-get-along-we’re-just-one-big-happy-family” kind of thing. Why else do we have different denominations? We have them so that the greater unity of the church can actually be preserved. The TR’s have always said that the FV guys are quite free to teach their views. They aren’t any worse than Roman Catholic teaching, and most of the time much better. But don’t teach them in a WS context. The issue, then, is this: which interpretation of the Confession is correct?

BOQ: for any one to whom the grace of regeneration belongs, the Holy Spirit exhibits and confers that grace through a right use of the baptismal water. EOQ The problem with this is that it still begs the question of the nature of the grace conferred. It is not the grace of regeneration that is spoken of in that section. It is not the thing signified that is automatically conferred, even for the elect. It is the grace of baptism as a sign and seal of regeneration, not regeneration itself. Why use the language of sign and seal if the sign and seal are equal to the thing signed and sealed? There is no attempt here by Wilson to distinguish between the sign and the thing signified. Christ is what is signified. But He is not automatically conferred. That happens at the time-point of faith. This is not baptistic, since those of us who hold to this baptize our infants. Nor do we espouse a Baptistic hermeneutic, since we hold to one Covenant of Grace since Genesis 3:15. We also reject dispensationalism. It is hardly fair to state that the critics are Baptistic just because we don’t go to the same place the FV goes. I think our Baptist brothers would quite protest that.

Here is an analogy that explains the significance of the “sign” term: there are signs to any major city that say something like this: Bismarck 23, meaning 23 miles to Bismarck. Is the sign equal to Bismarck? No. It is distinguished from Bismarck. It is connected to Bismarck, because, if you follow the road to get there, you will arrive at Bismarck. The road between the sign and Bismarck functions like the sacramental union connecting the sign to the thing signified. This analogy would work even if the sign were within the city limits. Anyone can distinguish the sign that says “Welcome to Bismarck” from the city itself, even if the sign stands within the city limits. They are simply not the same thing. So, if one receives the sign in faith, one will be going on the road to Bismarck. The only problem with the analogy is that a person can actually start out in Bismarck, and travel to the sign. In that case, the sign functions to remind the person that he is still on the right road. He is not on the road that leads to Tokyo.

The “seal” term is a bit more difficult to analogize. Perhaps we can say that a seal that closes the letter is not the letter itself. A seal (stone) that closes a tomb is not the tomb itself, whether or not the tomb be empty. A seal is a mark of authenticity that is not the item itself but points towards the item as being genuine. It only functions this way for the elect, of course. The letter can be written before the seal is put on it. The tomb can be occupied before the tomb is set on it. The item can be obtained before the mark of authenticity is put upon it. But the seal itself does not have to be present for the thing itself to be possessed. But in each of these three instances of “seal,” we can see that the seal of a letter does not enclose a package, but rather a letter. The seal has a relationship to the letter. The stone has a relationship to that particular tomb. The sign of authenticity belongs to a particular item, and no other. That is what we call the sacramental union between the seal and the thing sealed. But a letter, a tomb, and an authentic item can all function perfectly well without the seal. Similarly, the seal can be possessed before or without the thing sealed. It should therefore be obvious here that neither I nor Warfield (I have been basically expounding his two pieces on the Sacraments in the SW) believe in “empty sign” theology. Empty sign theology should be carefully distinguished from the view that says there is a distinction between the sign and the thing signified. I wish the FV guys would get this straight. They seem to think that unless we believe that baptism confers the grace of regeneration to the elect, that therefore we believe in an empty sign. Does the sign that says “Bismarck 23” have no meaning or significance? Should we conclude that if one follows the road to Bismarck that we should end up in Tokyo? The sign has great significance, especially if one is afraid that one is lost, or on the wrong road. How often has just such a sign cheered up the anxious motorist? There’s how baptism can function as a source of assurance. No empty sign theology here. No exception to the WS, either.

On to the last post, “Green Baggins Does Too Take An Exception.”

Actually, I haven’t forgotten this section of the confession, and I agree with it whole-heartedly. But Lane doesn’t — notice how he modifies the straight reading of this portion also. The premises stated don’t yield the conclusion that “regeneration is not dependent on baptism.” Rather, they yield the conclusion that regeneration is not necessarily or absolutely dependent upon baptism.

I already answered this objection: BOQ FV guys are fond of pointing out that the norm appears to be that the sign and thing signified are normally annexed one to the other. But the grace promised in 28.6 is the efficacy of baptism as a sign and seal. This must be distinguished (however closely one wants to tie the sacramental union) from the thing signified. EOQ

I am really quite at a loss to know how regeneration can be even normally dependent on baptism if baptism does not confer regeneration for the non-elect. If it does “confer regeneration” for the elect, then it is rather the element that distinguishes the non-elect from the elect that is the thing upon which regeneration is normally dependent, not baptism itself. If baptism confers regeneration upon the elect only, and not on the non-elect, then it does not confer regeneration for the elect either, since such a position requires that regeneration be located within baptism itself. And if it is located within baptism itself, then regeneration would also be conferred on the non-elect, as indeed some say. No, it is the thing signified: Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who confers regeneration. See, Wilson is trapped by his infant baptism mentality. What about the vast majority of adult conversions? None of them are baptismally regenerated. So, for them regeneration is the direct result of the Holy Spirit on the heart. I would argue that it is the same for infants who are regenerated. It is a direct act of the Holy Spirit putting a new heart within that infant. Baptism signs and seals that, but is not the thing itself. Baptism can be the occasion for it happening. But to say that regeneration is normally dependent on baptism ignores adult conversions, and identifies too closely the sign and the thing signified.

But in the section of the Confession that Lane differs with, we were not talking about an unbaptized regenerate soul or a baptized unregenerate soul. We are talking about a baptized regenerate soul. Now, in that circumstance, does Lane agree or disagree that in the right use of the sacrament of water baptism that saving grace is really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit at the appointed time?

I would say that in the case of the baptized regenerate soul, the sacrament of water baptism really exhibits and confers the grace of baptism as sign and seal at the appointed time. The WS nowhere state that the grace of baptism is saving grace. Rather, it is the grace of baptism as sign and seal that is set forth there.

Lane says that potential efficacy of baptism is limited to the time of administration and, even then, baptism isn’t really doing anything.

I don’t recognize my position in this statement in any way, shape or form. I am the author of my statements, and I am quite sure I know what I am saying, and this isn’t it. Wilson has badly garbled my position here. Wilson doesn’t normally garble my position (I am not saying that he misunderstands me on a regular basis: it is this instance only). The efficacy of baptism is not limited to the time point of its administration. I have always said, and will always say this. What Wilson seems to think is that if I say it is the Word which regenerates at the time-point of baptism (assuming that regeneration happens to occur at that point in time: this is the point he missed), then the efficacy of baptism is tied to the point of its administration. But if the Word does not apply regeneration to the person at that time, but waits, then regeneration comes at some other point in time. Baptism signs and seals truly when faith comes. The sign can be present without the thing signified. But its efficacy occurs at the time-point of faith, whenever that is.

For the elect, the sign seals the thing signified. That’s why we can say that the thing signified is really exhibited and conferred.

This doesn’t follow at all. Notice the subtle shift between saying that the grace of sign and seal is really exhibited and conferred, versus saying that the thing signified and sealed is conferred. This is not what sacramental union means. The statements in the WS do not say that the thing signified is really exhibited and conferred. They say the grace of baptism is really exhibited and conferred on the elect at the appointed time. The grace of baptism has already been defined as the grace of sign and seal, not to be identified with the grace of salvation (the thing signified and sealed). These distinctions are absolutely crucial to maintain.

Lane and Warfield have the same kind of “workaround” for the confessional language. Notice how Lane says that that baptism does something — but before his trigger-happy brethren empty their clips into him, he hastens to add this this is okay because he doesn’t really believe it. The Word does it, not baptism. I understand something very similar to this being what Warfield means by the immediacy of God’s grace in salvation, which goes back to my original point in my book.

This should now be answered, if the reader be attentive. I do really believe that baptism does something. For the elect, it confers the grace of baptism as sign and seal. But it is the Word which regenerates (the Holy Spirit implanting it in our hearts).  


  1. R. F. White said,

    July 30, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Two questions that it might help to clarify:

    1. Do you and DW have a common definition of the expression “participate in the covenant”?

    2. Do you and DW have a common definition of “regeneration”?

  2. Stewart said,

    July 30, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    “But it is the Word which regenerates (the Holy Spirit implanting it in our hearts).”

    The Word regenerates? Why are you making the Holy Spirit’s work dependent on sound waves? God doesn’t need a preachers voice to save someone.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    July 30, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Good questions. I will throw out my definition of covenantal participation and regeneration, and we’ll see if Wilson agrees.

    I think there are two ways of participating in the covenant of grace. The first way is by coming to faith in Jesus Christ. One therefore has the substance of the Covenant of Grace: eternal life. These are in the Covenant of Grace and of it. The second way of participating is by externals only. They do not have the substance of the covenant, but only the outward administration of it. Inwardly, they are still (and always will be) goats.

    My definition of regeneration: God’s act of grace whereby the Holy Spirit works through the Word to take out the heart of stone that a sinner has by nature, and give him instead a heart of flesh. Being “born again” in accordance with John 3 is a very important metaphor for regeneration.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    July 30, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Why does the Word have to be spoken? It can be read or spoken. The effect might be delayed reaction. This is silly, Stewart.

  5. Stewart said,

    July 30, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    The point is still the same, Lane. God worked *through* something. Can God save someone without the use of a preacher’s voice or printed text? Does he not have the power to just zap them?

  6. July 30, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    I posted this over at Blog and Mablog, but then I thought that this would be the better place for it:

    I don’t know how it is any better to say that baptism regenerates SOME of the time rather than all of the time (ex opere operato). We wouldn’t allow our ministers to teach that decisional regeneration happens some of the time, but not ex opere operato.
    I still don’t see baptismal regeneration “lite” formulation of FV as being any improvement over the Lutheran and (some) Anglican views. It is superstitious and raises all sorts of knotty problems (not that squaring their doctrine with sola fide is at the top of the priority list for most of FV). Makes me wonder how Old Testament female saints were regenerated since they were not circumcised. It is also a doctrine that is works well when we are considering infant baptisms, but doesn’t make any sense (from a Reformed mind) when adult conversions are considered, where the presupposition is that those who come to be baptized have ALREADY been regenerated unto faith.

    After following FV for the last few years, I am more and more convinced that it is, essentially, a baby-driven theology. That is why paedocommunion is closely tied in.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    July 30, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    God does have the power to just “zap” people. He did that to Paul, literally. And that was almost in spite of his knowledge of Scriptures. In other cases, the Word is a seed, but only God can make it grow.

    David, good points.

  8. pduggan said,

    July 30, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    “I think there are two ways of participating in the covenant of grace. The first way is by coming to faith in Jesus Christ. One therefore has the substance of the Covenant of Grace: eternal life. These are in the Covenant of Grace and of it. The second way of participating is by externals only.”

    I’d rather say the first way is by participating in the externals while possessing faith in Jesus Christ. God uses the ‘externals” to give eternal life to those with faith. He doesn’t fail to use them. You omit any claim of how the externals function for those WITH faith, leaving the impression that they are superfluous.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    July 30, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    I’m fine with saying that the elect have the externals and the internal, and that the non-elect have the externals only. I am not fine with saying that we get to the internal through the externals necessarily.

  10. pduggan said,

    July 30, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    You think an unmediated experience of God is preferable then?

    What exercises do you do to have this unmediated experience? Is it just waiting?

    How about “we get to the internal though the externals ordinarily”

  11. greenbaggins said,

    July 30, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    There is a principium externum, and a principium internum, as Bavinck would say. There is a valid distinction there, I think. In the case of an adult who is converted, do you think they come to the substance of salvation by the externals? Or is it the Holy Spirit working directly on a person’s heart? Answer me that.

  12. pduggan said,

    July 30, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Externals include the word and the fellowship of visible church members, right? I think the answer is obvious, the HS uses the externals to work directly on the persons heart.

    I used flowers and dinner dates and talking and poems to woo my wife. I could NOT have wooed her without them. I suppose the HS cac, but doesn’t seem to do so very often. Lots of muslims are having dreams about Jesus though, so who knows.

  13. Anne Ivy said,

    July 30, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Wooing is not how the Holy Spirit works on someone, though. Christ pointed out that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” and the verb “draws” has zip-all to do with any form of wooing. It’s akin to dragging.

    The LORD needn’t woo, entice, solicit, implore, tempt or otherwise lure the elect to Him, unlike men attempting to snag themselves the female of their choice. He decides who He wants and acts to get ’em, and is never refused by those He’s chosen for His own.

    It’s occurred to me the FV is rather the flip side of the RC’s creeping universalism, as over the years I’ve had various RC’s loftily tell me the LORD can save whoever He wants, by any means He wants, so there’s no reason to think He isn’t saving some of those who die denying Christ. Sternly I’d be asked if I think I can put God in a box by saying He can NOT save someone who dies rejecting Him.

    Well, theoretically He could, but according to His Word, He doesn’t. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

    So there are RC’s who refuse to say the LORD necessarily uses any external means at all to save someone, to the point a Christ-hater who dies AS a Christ-hater can still be saved after death, and there are FV’s who say the LORD necessarily uses certain external means to save people. To the RC’s external means are nice but not necessary; to the FV external means approach becoming absolutely necessary.

    ISTM David is really onto something and that the FV is extraordinarily baby-driven. The whole thing falls totally apart when applied to adult converts, heaven knows. Presumably FV pastors would require an apparently-valid profession of faith on the part of a convert to Christianity before performing a baptism, but unless they’re going to say one can truly put one’s faith in Christ while still unregenerate, they’re going to have to acknowledge the convert’s regeneration preceded baptism, and was in no way dependent upon it. Which pretty much deep-sixes the whole FV theory, doesn’t it?

  14. R. F. White said,

    July 30, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    I agree: David is on to a key point. The baby issue is a symptom of a still broader issue, as I see it, namely, the tendency of historic Covenant Theology to reduce covenant to election.

  15. pduggie said,

    July 30, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    the FV theory is that “regeneration” is life within the community of God’s people, the saved society. It is formally entered into (and doesn’t exist formally) prior to the baptism of the adult.

    We weren’t discussing what the FATHER does. We were discussing what the Holy Spirit does, and what Christ the Husband does. “Come unto me, ye heavy laden” sounds like wooing to me. Does the Father use that external means to connect Christ to his people? I’d think so.

  16. anneivy said,

    July 30, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Dang, I forgot about the “regeneration = life within the community of God’s people” theory.

    Why would an adult necessarily be required to make a profession of faith as a prerequisite for baptism? So long as the adult is himself an official member of a Christian family, why wouldn’t that be sufficient? If the grown son isn’t a believer but still regularly attends church, maybe helps out around the church as needed, donates money, etc., then isn’t he a member of the church community for all practical purposes? Why not go ahead and baptize him if he’s willing, perhaps with his family making the baptismal promises on his behalf so he doesn’t have to lie like a rug?

  17. pduggie said,

    July 30, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    huh? Adult unbaptized converts don’t come from Christian families, usually.

    Your asking about a very unusual circumstance. Not the “ordinary” circumstances that the FV usually restricts itself to considering.

    “we get to the internal though the externals ordinarily”

  18. Anne Ivy said,

    July 30, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    It’s not such a weird situation, actually. A previously unchurched couple with older children come to Christ, for instance. What’s so odd about that scenario? Maybe some of the kids follow Mom and Dad, with one or two hold-outs.

    Voila. Unbelieving adult members of a Christian family.

    It’s my own family’s situation, AAMOF.

  19. July 30, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Lane, for those who want to know, the FV statement was prepared for the next edition of Credenda, where it will appear in hard copy. Jim Jordan wrote a letter to the editor of Christian Renewal, answering another letter, and he referenced the statement in that letter. So we released it early so folks would have access to it. That’s the story, and I’m sticking to it.

  20. pduggie said,

    July 31, 2007 at 6:58 am

    If he doesn’t submit to baptism, he isn’t going to be participating in the supper. His attendance and donations and help count for zilch in terms of the ordained means Jesus has given to unite the members of a church together in fellowship.

    If a kid is that old, it would be negligent for a session to not ask him about his own personal profession if he comes to be baptized.

    All this is also aside from the way in which accepting the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in baptism is a form of profession itself.

  21. Andrew Duggan said,

    July 31, 2007 at 11:58 am

    What do we mean really by older? 21? 18? 16? 14?

    Paul, you should only deny baptism to the older children of new believers if they are at an age where other baptized children would be disciplined out of the church for not making public profession. Anything less would be unjust.

  22. July 31, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    […] this Federal Vision statement is going to be printed in hard copy in Credenda/Agenda. So says Doug Wilson. It is being given out early because of Jordan’s reference to this document in a letter he […]

  23. pduggan said,

    July 31, 2007 at 3:11 pm


    sounds good to me. Make it so.

  24. July 31, 2007 at 4:41 pm


    You said: “The statements in the WS do not say that the thing signified is really exhibited and conferred. They say the grace of baptism is really exhibited and conferred on the elect at the appointed time.”

    This is what the WCF says: “VI. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; 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.” (Chapter 28, Article 6)

    Are you saying, Lane, that when the confession says “GRACE PROMISED” it is not referring to the thing signified? But some other grace that is simply the baptism itself? If so, How pray tell is this not by your own argument an empty sign, at least empty of the thing signified, because your argument is that the grace offered, exhibited, conferred is a just the “grace” of water baptism itself?

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West

  25. July 31, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Lane, if I may, I have to say that our beloved (but much neglected) Belgic Confession is worded in a more clear manner than the Westminster on the issue of baptism. I do believe there is ambiguity in WS in the wording because of its concensus nature. Here is the Belgic’s chapter (for those who don’t know it):

    We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, in whom the law is fulfilled, has by his shed blood put an end to every other shedding of blood, which anyone might do or wish to do in order to atone or satisfy for sins.
    Having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, he established in its place the sacrament of baptism. By it we are received into God’s church and set apart from all other people and alien religions, that we may be dedicated entirely to him, bearing his mark and sign. It also witnesses to us that he will be our God forever, since he is our gracious Father.

    Therefore he has commanded that all those who belong to him be baptized with pure water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.^76

    In this way he signifies to us that just as water washes away the dirt of the body when it is poured on us and also is seen on the body of the baptized when it is sprinkled on him, so too the blood of Christ does the same thing internally, in the soul, by the Holy Spirit. It washes and cleanses it from its sins and transforms us from being the children of wrath into the children of God.

    This does not happen by the physical water but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God, who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharoah, who is the devil, and to enter the spiritual land of Canaan.

    So ministers, as far as their work is concerned, give us the sacrament and what is visible, but our Lord gives what the sacrament signifies– namely the invisible gifts and graces; washing, purifying, and cleansing our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving us true assurance of his fatherly goodness; clothing us with the “new man” and stripping off the “old,” with all its works.

    For this reason we believe that anyone who aspires to reach eternal life ought to be baptized only once without ever repeating it– for we cannot be born twice. Yet this baptism is profitable not only when the water is on us and when we receive it but throughout our entire lives.

    For that reason we detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers. We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children.

    And truly, Christ has shed his blood no less for washing the little children of believers than he did for adults.

    Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, just as the Lord commanded in the law that by offering a lamb for them the sacrament of the suffering and death of Christ would be granted them shortly after their birth. This was the sacrament of Jesus Christ.

    Furthermore, baptism does for our children what circumcision did for the Jewish people. That is why Paul calls baptism the “circumcision of Christ.”

    Also, Lane, I hope you’ll do a post responding to Wilson’s latest response to you.

  26. July 31, 2007 at 5:41 pm


    Good post. But if I am understanding Lane correctly, he is not in agreement with the Belgic either, because as can be seen in your citation, the Belgic connects baptism to the the thing signified, where as Lane says that the grace given in baptism is baptism itself.

    Look at Lord’s Day 26 of the Heidelburg:
    Q69: How is it signified and sealed to you in Holy Baptism that you have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?
    A69: Thus: that Christ instituted this outward washing with water [1] and joined to it this promise,[2] that I am washed with His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.[3]

    Q70: What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?
    Q70: It is to have the forgiveness of sins from God through grace, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us in His sacrifice on the cross;[1] and also to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified to be members of Christ, so that we may more and more die unto sin and lead holy and unblamable lives.[2]

    Q71: Where has Christ promised that we are as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit as with the water of Baptism?
    Q72: In the institution of Baptism, which says: Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. [1] He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.[2] This promise is also repeated where the Scripture calls Baptism the washing of regeneration [3] and the washing away of sins.[4]

    This argument by Lane: “The statements in the WS do not say that the thing signified is really exhibited and conferred. They say the grace of baptism is really exhibited and conferred on the elect at the appointed time.” Just is not supported by the confessional data. I am surprised that he would even use it. Unless Lane didn’t mean the argument to say what it seems to.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West

  27. tim prussic said,

    July 31, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    BETTER THAN WESTMINSTER? How dare you?!?

  28. July 31, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    Yes, the Belgic “connects” baptism and the thing signified, but read more closely – it does not connect them in such a way that regeneration or forgiveness is procured of conferred by baptism. There is no such grammatical connection, either in the Belgic or Heidelberg.

  29. July 31, 2007 at 9:05 pm


    First of all, My main point is that Lane’s argument falls short of the confessional language. But that being said, I think your interpretation of the language falls short of giving it it’s full weight. Especially in light of questions 71 and 73. Lets look at them again.

    Q71: Where has Christ promised that we are as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit as with the water of Baptism?
    A71: In the institution of Baptism, which says: Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. This promise is also repeated where the Scripture calls Baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins.
    Q73: Why then does the Holy Ghost call Baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?
    A73: God speaks thus with great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby that just as the filthiness of the body is taken away by water, so our sins are taken away by the blood and Spirit of Christ; but much more, that by this divine pledge and token He may assure us that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water.

    Now certainly the language is clear that the water itself does not wash away sin, only the blood of Christ does. But look at the force of the language that calls baptism is the divine pledge that if we have been baptized that we can have certain assurance that we have the cleansing of the blood, or in other words we the sacrament is present so is the thing signified. Now if we compare the with WCF 28.6, we can see why the Westminster Divine’s used the language of the thing signified is “offered, exhibited and conferred”. There seems to me to never be in the first and second generation reformers such a distinction between the sign and the thing signified that you ever have the sign without the thing signified being present at the very least as presently offered and exhibited in the sacrament if not ordinarily actually conferred, by faith of course.

    Look at the language used by Ursinus in his commentary on Question 74 of the Heidelburg:

    Q74: Are infants also to be baptized?
    Q74: Yes, for since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God, and through the blood of Christ both redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is appointed.


    2. The first end of baptism instituted by God is, that he might thereby declare and testify to us, that he cleanses those who are baptized by his blood and Spirit from all their sins, and therefore engrafts them into the body of Christ and makes them partakers of all his benefits. 2. That baptism might be a solemn reception or initiation of every one into the visible church, and a mark by which the church might be known from all other religions. 3. That it might be a public and solemn profession of our Faith in Christ, and of our obligation to faith and obedience to him. 4. That it might be an admonition of our burial in afflictions, and of our rising out of them and deliverance from them.

    3. Baptism has the Dover to declare or seal according to the command of God, and the promise which Christ has joined to it in its lawful use ; for Christ baptizes us by the hand of his ministers, just as he speaks through them.

    4. There is, therefore, in baptism a double water ; the one external and visible, which is elementary; the other internal, invisible and heavenly, which is the blood and Spirit of Christ. There is, also, a double washing in baptism ; the one external, visible, and signifying, viz: the sprinkling and pouring of water, which is perceptible by the members and senses of the body; the other is internal, invisible, and signified, viz: the remission of sins on account of the blood of Christ shed for us, and our regeneration by the Holy Spirit and engrafting into his body, which is spiritual, and perceived only by faith and the Spirit. Lastly, there is a double dispenser of baptism: the one an external dispenser of the external, which is the minister of the church, baptizing us by his hand with water ; the other an internal dispenser of the internal, which is Christ himself, baptizing us with his blood and Spirit.

    5. Yet the water is not changed into the Flood or Spirit of Christ, nor is the blood of Christ present in the water, or in the same place with the mater. Nor are the bodies of those who are baptized washed with this visibly; nor is the Holy Spirit, by his substance or virtue, more in this water than elsewhere ; but he works in the hearts of those who are baptized in the lawful use of baptism, and sprinkles and washes them spiritually by the blood of Christ, whilst he uses this external symbol as a means, and as a visible word or promise to stir up and confirm the faith of those who are baptized.

    6. When baptism is, therefore, said to be the laver or washing of regeneration, to save us, or to wash away sins, it is meant that the external baptism is a sign of the internal, that is, of regeneration, salvation and of spiritual absolution ; and this internal baptism is said to be joined with that which is external, in the right and proper use of it.

    7. Yet sin is so washed away in baptism, that we are delivered from exposure to divine wrath and from the condemnation of everlasting punishment, whilst the Holy Ghost commences in us the work of regeneration and conformity wit11 God. Remissions of sins, however, continue to the end of life.

    8. All, and only those who are renewed or being renewed, receive baptism lawfully, being baptized for those ends for which Christ instituted this sacrament.

    Ursinus, Q74. Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp., 372-373.

    Wow, it is hard to miss the strong language used above by Ursinus.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West

  30. August 1, 2007 at 11:57 am


    You said “or in other words we the sacrament is present so is the thing signified.” That is not what this debate is about. That is a fairly benign statement. What we object to is the idea of causality – that baptism procures the forgiveness of sins or regeneration.

    “you ever have the sign without the thing signified being present at the very least as presently offered and exhibited in the sacrament if not ordinarily actually conferred, by faith of course.”

    Again, the problem is not with it being “offered and exhibited”. But the problem is that theologians (some, admittedly, who should have known better) have had to cobble together a fairly laughable account of paedofaith in order to make the “conferred by faith” part work. Laughable, because we have to believe that infants can have cognitive knowledge and trust in a Christ that has never been preached to them with comprehension. We have, perhaps, only one or two extraordinary and miraculous cases like that recorded in Scripture (and both were prophets).

  31. August 2, 2007 at 2:05 pm


    You said: “But the problem is that theologians (some, admittedly, who should have known better) have had to cobble together a fairly laughable account of paedofaith in order to make the “conferred by faith” part work.

    I assume that this is a reference to Ursinus’ commentary? I take it then that you are conceding that Ursinus and others of his generation expressed a much higher view of the sacrament of baptism then you and Lane are arguing for? I mean if you disagree with Ursinus and others, that’s fine, but I find it it a little disingenuous to then assert that the confessions, which were written by men such as Ursinus are more in support of Lane’s argument than one closer to Ursinus himself.

    Look at the following from William Bucanus”


    What analogy and agreement is there in the Sign with the thing signified?

    Very great: for even as the water does wash the body, and the filth thereof: so the blood of Christ by his merit does wash away our sins, and spiritual spots: for his spirit does sanctify us. And like as every generation consists of moist & watery matter…so our regeneration is by the holy Ghost in baptism, who is so often signified by the name of water: for even as water prepares the earth to bring forth fruit, and quenches thirst: So the holy Ghost, that same which sat upon the waters, makes us fit for good works, and quenches in us the thirsting after terrene [earthly?] things, and here good works are called the fruits of the spirit, and Christ says; “whoso thirsts, let him come to me and drink, for he that drinks shall never thirst; but this he spoke of the spirit which they that believe should receive.

    Secondly the sprinkling with water does plainly note the sprinkling of the blood of Christ for the remission of sins, and imputation of righteousness: but the staying under the water, though but a while, sets as it were before our eyes, the death, burial, and mortification of our natural corruption, the old Adam (by virtue of the death and burial of Christ) which is the first part of our regeneration. And the being taken out, the reviving of the new man, and newness of life, yea, and proportionately, our resurrection to come.

    p 709.


    Notwithstanding for the fitness, reference, and truth of the sign, and the thing signified, and also for the promise made to those that use them rightly, there is a Sacramental and Relative copulation, by reason whereof the name and the properties both of the sign and the thing signified are changed. Hereof baptism is called the Laver of Regeneration, and the water, the blood and spirit of Christ. Tit. 3:5. that is, not only the shadow but a most certain Testimony, that the baptized truly believes are cleansed with the blood of Christ, & regenerated by the holy Ghost.

    p 710.


    Because although hearing is an ordinary means of faith, yet because it is impossible that any should please God without faith. Hebr 11:6. Infants must needs have in the place of faith, the seed, or budding of faith, or the renewing of the spirit, although they are not yet endued with the knowledge of good or evil: for God holds them not for unclean, but adopts them for his children, and sanctifies them from the womb, as it is said. 1 Cor. 7:14. Your children are holy: that is to say, but an hidden operation, and enlightening of the spirit, which makes in them no motions, and new inclinations to God-ward, according to their capacity, as far as we can guess, without the word, which is the only seed of regeneration to them which are able to be taught. 1 Pet. 1:23. for the Lord gave a taste in John Baptist, whom he sanctified in his mother’s womb, what he is able to do in the rest. And yet must the secret works, and judgements of God be left unto himself, because the Church judges not of hidden things.

    p 716-717.


    Because though Infants have not sinned actually, as Adam, did Roms. 5:15. yet they have sinned Originally, in Adam, as included in his loins, vers. 22. and are dead in him: Secondly being conceived in sin (contrary to the Pelagians’ opinion) they are by nature children of wrath, and do daily die no less than men of riper years wherefore that they may please God and may be admitted into his kingdom, where no polluted thing enters. 1 Cor 15:30. they have needs of the spark of some regeneration, in abundance whereof they may afterward enjoy, which is sealed unto them by Baptism. And therefore it is not to be denied them, for except a man be born again of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven John 3:3, 5.

    p 717,


    Because though by reason of their years, they understand not God’s word, nor can believe in action, and profess their faith and repentance (whereof Baptism is a Sacrament, as circumcision was in times past) and enter into mutual obligations betwixt God and them, which belongs only to them of discretion, notwithstanding it is unto them in stead of professing of faith: for that they are born within the Church of the people of God, are not only within the covenant, but also are presented by them which believe, and do promise and make answer for them. And therefore Saint Augustine says, “the sacrament of faith makes children faithful, though they have not yet that faith which consists in the will of believers to make them faithful. Even as they do not know that they have the holy Ghost, though it be in them, or a mind and life, though it cannot be denied that they have both.

    p 718.


    What are the ends of Baptism?

    Fourthly, it is an instrument, whereby the plentiful effusion of the holy spirit upon us is communicated, with his gifts of faith, hope and charity. And other virtues. Tit. 3:6. by the Bath and renewing of the holy spirit which he has poured upon us plentiful: as Augustine says, “we are made by Baptism members of Christ, and of his fullness we have all received. John 1:16.

    p 735.

    Source: William Bucanus, Institutions of Christian Religion, Framed Our of God’s Word, and the Writings of the Best Divines, Methodically Handled by Questions and Answers, Fit For All Such as Desirous to Know, or Practice the Will of God, trans., by Robert Hill (Printed in London by George Snowden, 1606).

    More from Bucanus can be found at – Bucanus on the Efficacy of Baptism

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West

  32. August 3, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    […] be extremely interested in Wilson’s reactions to the baby-driven theology claims evident here and here. I would also be interested in Wilson’s not dismissing the Warfield quotations that […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: