System Subscription or Strict Subscription?

Lee Irons has a post about it here (part of an ongoing debate with Scott Clark). In that post, Lee makes this assertion:

Those who reject system-subscription in favor of strict subscription are not truly Reformed or Confessional, since they have a non-Reformed and a non-Confessional view of the Reformed tradition and the Reformed Confessions. 

The problem with this assertion is that even the most strict-subscriptionists belong to a denomination where it is possible to change the standards. It is difficult to do, of course, as it should be. However, there is a process whereby the Standards may be changed (witness the changes of the WCF as it came over to the US from Britain). If someone wants to change the Standards, let him propose it to his Presbytery, and if the Presbytery approves, let the Presbytery lay it before the General Assembly. This method is an inherent admission that the WCF is not infallible. It is inherent proof that strict-subscriptionists do not view the Standards as having equal authority with Scripture. At the very least, it proves that one can be a strict subscriptionist and still be Reformed, as if that had to be proven!

The Southern Presbyterians on Baptism?

Continuing on in RINE to chapter 22. I agree somewhat with Wilson’s assessment of the debate, that it is “a debate over the theology of children.” I think there is more to it than that, in that the debate also swirls around election, justification, apostasy, and especially the nature of benefits that non-elect church members receive. I would probably prefer, then, to say that the debate swirls around a nexus of issues, children certainly being one of them. That being said, I personally have no problem in asserting that children can have faith from the womb. I see nothing in Scripture to overturn that assessment, and actually see several pointers in this direction, from the reaction of John the Baptist to Jesus to David’s assertions in the Psalms about trusting in God from his mother’s breast. Where I would probably differ from the FV is that I would say that such a seed of faith, if it exists, will infallibly produce complete salvation over the course of one’s life, with apostasy not being a possibility. And I do not believe that every child of the covenant possesses it. If a child says at age 4 “I believe in Jesus,” I will not doubt the word of said child, but will encourage that child to continue to grow in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I do not believe that violent conversion experiences are necessary in their case, but that they can grow up into the faith. However, it is also true that many covenant children do need a violent conversion experience, because some of them were not regenerate from the womb. Every child’s story is different, and it does no good to force one single paradigm on how this happens. Some are regenerate from the womb, while others are converted later in life. But if the true faith appears, it will never pass away, because the Lord will finish that which He started.

That being said, Wilson makes some claims (based on Schenck’s book) with which I am having a hard time. Specifically, these claims that are being made about the Southern Presbyterians are difficult for me. First of all, there were no direct quotations from any Southern Presbyterians in support of a rather sweeping claim made about them. Secondly, there is evidence from Dabney that contradicts Wilson’s claims. Dabney says point blank “Infants are capable of redemption” (ST, pg. 779). He further asks this rhetorical question, “Can there be no meaning in a pledge of God’s covenant-favour applied to an infant, because the infant does not yet apprehend it? No sense at all; because it has no sense to him? Strange reasoning!” On the next page, Dabney goes on to talk about the infant’s moral education, noting that it begins “so soon as petulance, anger, selfishness, can be exhibited by an infant; so soon as it can apprehend the light of a mother’s smile beaming upon it as it hangs upon her breast; as soon as it can know to tremble at her frown.” This kind of language does not exactly sound like an overwhelming rejection of presumptive regeneration, unless by that one means that every covenant child is undoubtedly regenerate. To me, Dabney sounds like he is talking about catechizing, talking about treating each child as part of the covenant. Thirdly, I cannot find the Thornwell quotation in any of the four volumes which constitute his works.