William Bradford Institute
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Early Settlement of America

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Infant Baptism, Part 1


by Francis Turretin


Fourteenth Question: The Subject of Faith
Do infants have faith? We distinguish.

I. Concerning the subject of faith a question is moved as to
infants. There are two extremes: (1) in defect, by the Anabaptists,
who deny all faith to infants and under this pretext exclude them
from baptism; (2) in excess, by the Lutherans, who, to oppose
themselves to the Anabaptists, have fallen into the other extreme,
maintaining that infants are regenerated in baptism and actually
furnished with faith, as appears from the Mompeldardensi Colloquy
(Acta Collquij Montis Belligartensis [1588], p. 459). "The round
assertion of our divines is that actual faith is ascribed to
infants with the most just right" (Brochmann, "De Fide
Justificante," 2, Q. 10 in Universae theologicae systema [1638],
2:429).

II. The orthodox occupy the middle ground between these two
extremes. They deny actual faith to infants against the Lutherans
and maintain that a seminal or radical and habitual faith is to be
ascribed to them against the Anabaptists. Here it is to be remarked
before all things: (1) that we do not speak of the infants of any
parents whomsoever (even of infidels and heathen), but only of
believers, or Christians and the covenanted. (2) Nor do we speak of
every single infant as if such faith is given to all without any
exception; for although Christian charity commands us to cherish a
good hope concerning their salvation, still we cannot certainly
determine that every single one belongs to the election of God, but
leave it to the secret counsel and supreme liberty of God. Since
indeed the predestination of God makes a difference between children
(Rom. 9:11) and the promise of the covenant was ratified (v. 8) not
in the children of the flesh, but in the children of the promise, we
therefore treat here indefinitely of infants of every order and
condition (who pertain to the election of God, whom it is not for
human judgment to distinguish).

III. We embrace our opinion in two propositions. The first is
opposed to the Lutherans: "Infants do not have actual faith." The
reasons are first because they have not an actual knowledge of
anything. Hence they are said not to know good or evil, nor can they
discern between their (1) right and left hand (Dt. 1:39; Is. 7:16;
]on. 4:11). Nor ought the objection to be raised (a) "Still the
knowledge of many things is born with us." It is one thing to have
the principles and seeds of knowledge in the common notions
implanted in us (which we grant); another to have actual knowledge
(which we deny), (b) "Faith does not depend upon the use of reason;
nay, it ought to bring reason into obedience to it" (2 Cor. 10:5).
It is one thing for faith to depend on the use of reason as a
principle; another for faith to suppose reason as its subject. The
former we deny with Paul, who on this account wishes the reason to
be captivated into the obedience of faith. The latter we hold with
him, who wishes our spiritual worship to be reasonable (logikon,
Rom. 12:1). Therefore where the use of reason is not, there neither
the use or exercise of faith can be.

IV. Second, infants are not capable of acts of faith, or of
knowledge because intellect does not exist without action; nor are
they capable of assent, which ought to be carried to the object
known; nor of trust, which is concerned with the special
application of the promise of grace. Therefore neither are they
capable of faith, which consists of these three acts. Nay, it is
most absurd (asystaton) that there should be a movement of the
intellect or of the will without knowledge (which is always
supposed for them).

V. Third, they are not capable of hearing and meditating on the word
from which faith is conceived: "for faith cometh by hearing" (Rom.
10:17). Nor must it be said with Brochmann that God appointed
baptism as a laver of water for the regeneration of infants in the
word, as for adults he destined the hearing of the word. Although
baptism is the external sign of regenerating grace (at whose
presence God can give it to infants by the Spirit without the
hearing of the word), still it cannot be said that actual faith is
given to them (which cannot be such except insofar as it actually
exerts itself about the hearing of the word).

VI. The little children spoken of in Mt. 18:6 (who are said to
believe in Christ) are not infants in tender age (teneila aetate),
but children who already enjoy some use of reason. For the passage
refers to those who can be "called" and "offended," which cannot
apply to infants endowed with no knowledge of good or evil. Nor is
there any disproof either in the name paidion (given to them)
because it is general, signifying children of more advanced age as
well as infants. Or in the word brephous, which we have in Lk.
18:15, because (aside from the fact that it is not found in Mt. 18
where children believing is treated), it can also be extended to the
age capable of instructionas Timothy is said "to have known the
holy scriptures from a child" {apobrephous, 1 Tim. 3:15). Again,
Christ by paidia who believe in him, can mean adults who are equal
to infants in humility, innocence and modesty. Nor can it be
concluded that infants and children are equal in spiritual
intelligence, since age contributes nothing to faith. Although age
contributes nothing to faith as the efficient cause per se, still it
is required for it as a receptive subject (because a thing is
received after the manner of the recipient).

VII. When the apostle says, "Without faith it is impossible to
please God" (Heb. 11:6), he speaks of adults, various examples of
whom he in the same place commemorates and whom alone the proposed
description of faith suits (Heb. 11:1). Now it is different with
infants who please God on account of the satisfaction of Christ
bestowed upon them and imputed by God to obtain the remission of
their sins, even if they themselves do not apprehend it and cannot
apprehend it by a defect of age.

VIII. Although faith depends on the operation of the Spirit
effectively, it can also depend in some measure on reason
instrumentally and subjectively because it is the instrument by
which the act of faith is elicited from a mind renewed by the
subject in which it is received. Hence the use of reason being
removed, there can be no actual faith.

IX. The cause of pedobaptism is not the actual faith of infants (of
which they are no more capable than of that instruction by which
adults are taught and are made the disciples of Christ, Mt. 28:19),
but both the general command to baptize all the members of the
church and the promise of the covenant made to parents and also to
their children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39). Nor does it thence follow
that the sacrament is an empty ceremony to those using it without
faith because this is the case only with adults, who are capable of
faith and in whom on that account there ought to be a mutual
stipulation on the part of God and man. But not in regard to
infants, to whom the sacrament does not cease to be efficacious and
ratified on the part of God, although on the part of man it cannot
be known or received by faith.

X. It is one thing to obtain the fruit of baptism by an active
sealing on God's part; another to be sensible of its fruit by a
passive sealing on man's part. The former is well ascribed to
infants, but not the latter.

XI. The examples of Jeremiah and John the Baptist indeed teach that
infants are capable of the Holy Spirit and that he is also given at
this age, but it cannot be inferred that they actually believed.
Jeremiah is indeed said to have been sanctified from the womb as a
prophet of God, and John is said to have leaped in his mother's womb
at the presence of Christ, but neither is said to have actually
believed. Besides, even if any such thing were ascribed to them, the
consequence would not hold good; for this would be singular and
extraordinary from which a universal rule ought not to be drawn.

XII. It is one thing to praise God subjectively and formally from
knowledge and affection; another to praise him objectively and
materially. Infants are said to praise God in the latter, not in the
former sense (inasmuch as God, in the care and preservation of them,
wonderfully manifests his own glory, Ps. 8:2).

XIII. Second proposition: "Although infants do not have actual
faith, the seed or root of faith cannot be denied to them, which is
ingenerated in them from early age and in its own time goes forth in
act (human instruction being applied from without and a greater
efficacy of the Holy Spirit within)." This second proposition is
opposed to the Anabaptists, who deny to infants all faith, not only
as to act, but also as to habit and form. Although habitual faith
(as the word "habit" is properly and strictly used to signify a more
perfect and consummated state) is not well ascribed to them, still
it is rightly predicated of them broadly as denoting potential or
seminal faith. Now by "seed of faith," we mean the Holy Spirit, the
effecter of faith and regeneration (as he is called, 1 Jn. 3:9), as
to the principles of regeneration and holy inclinations which he
already works in infants according to their measure in a wonderful
and to us unspeakable way. Afterwards in more mature age, these
proceed into act (human instruction being employed and the grace of
the same Spirit promoting his own work by which that seed is
accustomed to be excited and drawn forth into act).

XIV. The reasons are: (1) the promise of the covenant pertains no
less to infants than to adults, since God promises that he will be
"the God of Abraham and of his seed" (Gen. 17:7) and the promise is
said to have been made "with the fathers and their children" (Acts
2:39), Therefore also the blessings of the covenant (such as
"remission of sins" and "sanctification") ought to pertain to them
(according to Jer. 31 and 32) and are communicated to them by God
according to their state. In this sense (as some think), the
children of believers are called "holy" by Paul (1 Cor. 7:14). This
may with more propriety be referred to the external and federal
holiness which belongs to them, according to which (because they are
born of covenanted and Christian parentsat least of one) they are
also considered to be begotten in "holiness" (i.e., in Christianity,
and not in heathenism, which was a state of uncleanness
[akatharsias] and impurity).

XV. (2) The kingdom of heaven pertains to infants (Mt. 19:14),
therefore also regeneration (without which there is no admittance to
it, Jn. 3:3, 5). Now although Christ proposes this to adults for an
example of humility to show that they ought to be like children in
disposition in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, still he does
not exclude (but includes in that promise) infants themselves, from
whom it commences.

XVI. (3) There are examples of various infants who were sanctified
from the womb (as was the case with Jeremiah and John the Baptist,
Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:15, 80). For although here occur certain singular
and extraordinary things (which pertained to them alone and not to
others), still we may fairly conclude that infants can be made
partakers of the Holy Spirit, who since he cannot be inactive, works
in them motions and inclinations suited to their age (which are
called "the seed of faith" or principles of sanctification).

XVII. (4) Infants draw from natural generation common notions
(koinas ennoias), and theoretical as well as practical principles of
the natural law; and if Adam had continued innocent, the divine
image (which consists in holiness) would have passed by propagation
to his children. Therefore what is to prevent them from receiving by
supernatural regeneration certain seeds of faith and first
principles of sanctification, since they are not less capable of
these by grace than of those by nature?

XVIII. Although there seem to be in infants no marks from which we
can gather that they are gifted with the Holy Spirit and the seed of
faith (because their age prevents it), it does not follow that this
must be denied to them since the reason of their salvation demands
it and the contrary is evident from the examples adduced.

XIX. As before the use of reason, men are properly called rational
because they have the principle of reason in the rational soul; thus
nothing hinders them from being termed believers before actual faith
because the seed which is given to them is the principle of faith
(from which they are rightly denominated; even as they are properly
called sinners, although not as yet able to put forth an act of sin).

XX. If any of our theologians deny that there is faith in infants or
that it is necessary for their salvation (as is gathered from
certain passages of Peter Martyr, Beza and Piscator), it is certain
that this is meant of actual faith against the Lutherans, not of the
seed of faith or the Spirit of regeneration (which they frequently
assert is ascribed to infants). Peter Martyr, after saying that the
Holy Scriptures do not say that infants believe, adds: "I judge that
it is sufficient that they who are to be saved be determined by
thisthat by election they belong to the property of God, they are
sprinkled by the Holy Spirit, who is the root of faith, hope and
love, and of all the virtues, which afterwards it exerts and
declares in the sons of God, when their age permits" (Loci Communes,
Cl. 4, chap. 8.14 [1583], p. 826). Thus Calvin: "Yet how, say they,
are infants regenerated, having a knowledge neither of good nor of
evil? We answer, the work of God, even if we do not understand it,
still is real. Further infants who are to be saved, as certainly
some of that age are wholly saved, it is not in the least obscure
were before regenerated by the Lord. For if they bring with them
from their mother's womb innate corruption, they must be purged from
it before they can be admitted into the kingdom of heaven, into
which nothing impure and polluted enters" (ICR, 4.16.17, p. 1340).
This he fully discusses in the following sections.

 

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