John Davenant on Baptismal Regeneration

Note: Purely Presbyterian recently wrote a piece entitled "Does Baptism Remit Sins?" I found this piece to be neither Scripturally, nor Catholically satisfying. Further, it presents a myopic view of the historical positions within the wider Reformation. To counter this, I decided to edit and present John Davenant's short letter on Baptismal Regeneration and the Perseverance of the Saints.



In the controversy upon the perseverance or falling away of believers or saints, the question relates to that faith or sanctifying grace which may be received, exercised, retained, or rejected only through the medium or some exercise of free will.

This is evident, because the Arminians labour to prove in the 3rd and 4th Articles (Collat. Hagiens, p. 114), that faith, regeneration, or sanctification are offered in such a way and manner to men that they may resist them; and then they endeavour to prove in their 5th Article that believers and saints so persevere in such a way in their faith and righteousness that the result of persevering always depends upon this condition :-If men are prepared for the contest, and are not wanting to themselves; which is equivalent to saying that their perseverance or apostasy (which is the point in dispute) depends upon the good or bad use which they make of free will, both in the acquisition and the loss of faith and righteousness. The Treatise of Bertiusl upon the perseverance and apostasy of the saints shews plainly that the present controversy concerns those only who exercise reason and free will in receiving, retaining, or rejecting faith, righteousness,holiness, or regenerating grace. Hence those axioms of his :-Faith and perseverance are not gifts depending upon predestination, but moral conditions imposed by the Almighty upon man: These gifts can neither be received in the first instance, nor subsequently admit of any increase, except through the will: The gifts of the Spirit are imparted to the regenerate to enable them to strive : The regenerate may act from either principle ; and other sentiments of the same kind.

I therefore infer that the present enquiry concerns those only who for a time are united to Christ by faith, and who, for a time, have lived righteously and holily, and who have had the power, by their voluntary act, to fall away from faith and righteousness. These things do not apply to Infants; consequently, the perseverance and apostasy which form the subject of our present enquiry have no relation to them. To use Tertullian's words (Contra Marcion p. 40), -It is a very proper rule in any question, that a reply should have a direct bearing upon the object of the inquirer.


In this enquiry concerning the loss of faith or of inherent, regenerating or sanctifying grace, it is assumed that they, who are said to have lost faith or to have fallen from grace, had received and possessed the same grace which they are presumed afterwards to have lost.

Nothing can be plainer; for it is argued foolishly, that that gift is either fallen from or in any way withdrawn, which is denied to have been conferred or maintained in Baptism. But the Remonstrants stoutly deny that habits of faith and love are infused, as is plain from their writings. Thus Grevinchovius (Dissert. de Electione, p. 324),-Who but would allow that the habit of faith is acquired by repeated acts of faith? What we deny is, that the internal principle of faith required of us in the Gospel is any divinely infused habit, by the influence and efficacy of which the will is regulated; and we therefore plainly deny, 1st, That the habit of faith precedes exercise; and 2ndly, That the will is physically disposed to act under the influence of this infused habit. Corvinus, Contra Anatom. Molin. (cap. 33, p. 562), allows that the act of faith is first produced in man by grace, and that the habit is attained by frequent exercise; but he totally denies that it is infused. He has more to this same purpose (cap. 44, p. 663). But Episcopius (De Bapt. Disp. 29) speaks more plainly than all the rest :The effect or object of Baptism is not any actual grant of grace, but merely a signification of Divine grace and of our profession ; and in his 15th Disputation, p. 44, he says that a habit of faith cannot be infused; this is a new fancy of the Scholastic writers.

Since, then, it would appear that acts of faith, of love, and righteousness cannot be found in Infants, and the Arminians altogether deny infused or inherent habits, what possible ground can they have for proving the loss of faith in Infants, whom at the same time they deny ever to have received it in Baptism ? And after Baptism they do not make it clear that they who perish ever received it. The author here quoted alludes to the statements of Aristotle and other Ethical writers after him, concerning the generation of habits by reiterated acts.


The Papal writers do not acknowledge as an article of faith that habits of faith or love are imparted to Infants in Baptism, nor do they teach as an article of faith that any are made holy formally by inherent habitual righteousness and holiness.

If I can prove this it will be plain that Papal authors also are unable to bring against us such instances of baptized persons as will justify them in concluding that faith and regenerating grace, when once implanted in the human heart, can totally and finally be lost; because it is not a matter of faith that such grace is infused into such Infants. That the opinion which maintains that grace and other virtues are infused into Infants at Baptism was not received by some of the ancient Schoolmen, Bonaventura (Lib. 4, dist. 4), Aquinas (3, qu. 69), and Gerson (Part 2, f. 149), admit. And among the moderns, Soto expressly teaches that the infusion of these habits into Infants was not so anciently and with such great certainty recognised as the Catholic faith was. Estius ingenuously acknowledges that this infusion of inherent righteousness formed a problematical question among the Schoolmen, and that the Master of the Sentences inclined to the negative. Still, it should not be concealed that some later Popish writers assert this doctrine of baptismal infusion with more authority than formerly was customary in that Church, I mean at the Council of Trent, where it was simply defined. But with their good leave I would observe that the Council of Trent could not have accomplished the making that a matter of faith which had for so many centuries not been so honoured ; and I add that the Council of Trent did not thus settle the point; for the passages from thence quoted to prove the infusion of theological virtues or of habitual righteousness, are plainly referable to those who are justified through the intervention of the exercise and acting of their own will. But where it is speaking (Sess. 6, c. 7; Sess. 5, sec. 5) of the general effect of Baptism, both in Infants and Adults, its doctrine is merely that such a grace is imparted as to remove the guilt of original sin, and take away all that which has the proper nature of sin ; but as to the habits of faith, and love, and righteousness infused there is not a word ; so that it is not yet decided, even amongst the Popish writers themselves, that the habit either of faith or of love is infused in Infants at Baptism. What was really defined was that all baptized Infants are rendered by such means pleasing and acceptable unto God. (Upon this point more presently.) But that this is effected by such infused habits, or by any inherent quality created in their souls by God, is still a matter of doubt.


Protestant authors do not allow that justifying faith, or love uniting to God, or regenerating grace, which restores all the powers of the soul is infused into Infants at the time of Baptism.

This being admitted, the loss of those gifts cannot be proved from the fact that some persons who were baptized in their infancy were condemned after they came to mature age for their voluntary impenitence and unbelief; for none could venture to affirm with certainty, that they were among those justified or regenerated, so called from these habits being received, or by the acts of these endowments being exercised.

But let us hear some of our reformed Divines. Calvin judges that no present advantage in the Baptism of Infants is to be looked for beyond the confirmation and sanction which it gives to the Covenant entered into with them by God. But with regard to faith and that renewal of the Spirit which consists in a new creation, or the restoration of all the faculties by the bestowal of inherent righteousness or holiness: that,he considers, will follow afterwards at such time as God shall see fit. But (Ibid, sec. 21) should any elect Infants, after having received the sign of regeneration, die before arriving at years of discretion, these He renews by the power of His Spirit in a manner incomprehensible to us, and in a way which He alone can accomplish. That the ancient Schoolmen also were of this opinion, I gather from Gerson (part 21, p. 146). For, though opposed to the notion of infused habits, they yet allowed,--If the soul of a baptized Infant leave the body immediately after Baptism, that God, in the very moment of separation, infused faith and the other virtues into it. Beza agrees with Calvin :The power of the Spirit, says he, abolishing the old man, does not commence from the very moment of Baptism, but when faith begins. We think it to be absurd to say that Infants are renewed before they can become acquainted with and apprehend Christ by faith. (Colloq. Mompel.) Bucer acknowledges that Infants, as far as they are capable, become partakers of the Divine goodness in Baptism, but that they have faith and love he denies, although they may be marked by the Spirit of God for salvation and are influenced as much as suffices for their age and state. Peter Martyr (In III. ad Roman, p. 175) affirms, that numbers may be found who have enjoyed the Sacrament of Baptism for a long time without any benefit, and yet afterwards being converted to God, have profited much through it. Nor do I know any one of our Divines who would pronounce that the regeneration which exists in the creation of qualities (which we call sanctification—the Papal writer's formal justification)is produced at the very moment of Baptism. Nay, they all refer this regeneration or spiritual nativity to the period of adult age, in which true and living faith is implanted in the heart of a baptized person from the immortal seed of the Word, and by the operation of the Spirit. Our Montagu transfers into his Appeal (p. 186) these words from the Belgic Confession:- We believe that true faith planted in each of us, regenerates and makes us, as it were, new men, by stirring us up to lead a new life. And from the French Confession :- We believe that we who by nature were the servants of sin, through the medium of this same faith are born again to newness of life. Since, therefore, neither Arminians, nor Papists, nor Protestants acknowledge that Infants, by the mere reception of Baptism itself, become partakers of those habitual endowments or spiritual qualities which are properly supposed to constitute a man just and inherently holy; no one can prove the loss of their faith or righteousness, or the apostasy of the saints by any argument derived from the case of Infants. Let me add a few things from the Fathers.


The Fathers do not acknowledge either actual or habitual faith and love to be bestowed upon Infants in Baptism. They teach, moreover, that conversion or the creation of the new heart, which is properly called regeneration, is produced only in those who are arrived at that time of life when there is the capability of exercising reason.

Augustine writes (Epist. 23) that the Sacrament of Baptism, when faithfully administered, although the Infant is not yet constituted a believer by that faith which consists in the voluntary act of those who believe, yet it is already constituted such by the Sacrament of that faith; and again : In baptized Infants the Sacrament of regeneration precedes, and if they shall retain Christian piety, then that conversion of their hearts also follows, the symbol of which had previously taken place on their body. (Lib. 4, Contra Donat, cap. 24.) And (cap. 25), The Sacrament of Baptism is one thing, conversion of the heart another : and then he soon after adds, The one may exist without the other in an Infant—if a man be wilfully destitute of either it involves him in guilt. So that Augustine teaches these two things: first, that the Sacrament of regeneration without conversion of heart may take place in Infants not yet possessed of reason and free will; the other, that this want of conversion, or of a change of heart, or of regeneration, does not involve them in guilt, because their age, not their will, is the impediment. Moreover, Augustine remarks that the regeneration of Infants seems to consist merely in a full remission of the guilt of original sin; but that the abolishing of the Old Adam, and the restoration of the image of the new, which requires new spiritual qualities, is the progress and perfection of this begun regeneration ; and that those only experience it, who can exercise reason and free will. Children, he says, who are altogether corrupt, in consequence of the remaining corruption of their parents, being begotten in sin, escape the condemnation which is due to the old man by the Sacrament of spiritual regeneration and renovation. And it claims our particular attention, and we ought to remember that only a full and perfect remission of all sin takes place in Baptism, not that change takes place immediately in the character of the man himself, but that spiritual beginnings, in those who daily advance in them, produce such an internal change from what was carnally old, till the whole man is renewed. From which it appears that the Sacrament of regeneration afford to Infants the first-fruits or commencement of future renovation, namely, a full remission and acquittal from the guilt of the old Adam ; but that it does not at the same instant convey to him the very restoration of the new man to the image of Christ, consisting in righteousness and true holiness. And in his XIV Book upon the Trinity he shews that baptismal renovation is effected in an instant : but in what sense ? By the remission of all sins. And a little after (cap. 17) he likens Baptismal Regeneration, by an elegant comparison, to the drawing out of a weapon infixed in the body, inasmuch as in it sin is plucked out, although tenderly; and regeneration, of which at an after-period adults are capable, he compares to the cure of the wound itself, which is effected in their gradual restoration to the image of Him who created them. Gregory Nazianzen observes this distinction : Baptism, says he, (De sancto Lavacro) is a seal for those who are beginning life; to those who are of riper years it is a grace, and the restoration of a fallen image. Jerome (Adversus Pelagianos 1, cap. 8) is so far from admitting the infusion of spiritual graces into Infants at the time of Baptism that he hardly allows it to take place generally in adults : If Baptism could forthwith make one just, says he, and full of all righteousness, then the Apostle would by no means reject a novice; but Baptism clears off the old sins, though it does not confer new virtues.

What more need to be said ? If Infants were born again, and made righteousness by the infusion of faith and holiness, why should the fathers, and especially Augustine everywhere resort to the faith of others. Justin Martyrsays that Children obtain the blessings flowing from Baptism through the faith of those who present them to be baptized. And Bernard (Epla. 77) asserts, that it accords with the character and benignity of God, that He allows the faith of others to profit those who cannot on account of their age exercise any of their own. We may therefore with Cassander (De Bapt. Infant.) affirm, that regeneration is to be regarded far otherwise in infants than in adults; and with our own Whittaker, that the fathers never even dreamt of that habitual faith of the Papists, which they would have to be infused into Infants by the mere act of Baptism. Hence every one may perceive how invalid is the ground for concluding that, because many infants perish in unbelief and impenitence after being baptized; therefore faith, charity, and other graces of the Spirit, produced in the renewed, are sometimes lost.

So far we have chiefly considered what is not bestowed upon Infants in Baptism. Now, lest we should seem to deny the efficacy of the sacred ordinance, I will endeavour to explain what is given and what is effected in it. This being accomplished, we shall at the same time shew, that no argument can be derived from it against the perseverance of the saints; or that those graces or spiritual endowments which are implanted in the justified and those regenerated by the Spirit from incorruptible seed can be lost. And here I am compelled to premise in the words of Augustine, that it is difficult to say what sanctifying influence a sacrament which is corporeally applied may have upon any man ; and if any one would offer to clear this question from all its difficulties, I would (as Whittaker has said before me) most gladly hearken. In the meantime we must attempt something ourselves.


All baptized Infants are absolved from the guilt of Original Sin.

And indeed this is the primary effect of it, it, upon which depends, as is said, their regeneration, justification, adoption, or admission into the kingdom of heaven.

For, to use Augustine's words, Neither sound faith, nor sound doctrine, will consider any one who has come to Christ by Baptism, excluded from the benefit of the remission of sins. And the Council at Milevis judged, that Infants are therefore baptized for the remission of sins, that what has been contracted by generation may be washed away in regeneration. Not that any distinction is there admitted between the elect and the non-elect, as to their participation of this effect. And hence in the Synodical epistles of the Exiles of Sardinia it is observed, (Resp. 1, sent. 2), Esau after he had received the Sacrament [of Circumcision] was free from the guilt of original sin. Prosper also allows as much in his replies to the Capitula of the Gauls; and the Council at Valence is most decidedly of the same opinion.

Both Papist and Protestant Theologians support this doctrine of the Fathers. Bonaventura writes, Infants receive the matter of the Sacrament, which is the remission of original sin. And the if no one is so hardy as to venture on this task, what shall we think of those professed Christians who withhold, or of others who try to persuade parents to withhold, their children from Baptism-from being placed under the care of a Covenant-keeping God. The Master of the Sentences affirms, that all Infants are partakers both of the Sacrament and its benefits in being cleansed from original sin. The XXVII Art. of our own Church and the form of Baptism maintain the same opinion. Nor do I see any reason why we should confine this benefit to the elect alone, as according to Lombard, (Lib. 4, Dist. 4) some have done, and some do now, as far as I can understand their writings. They entertain doubts on this point, because they think it in consistent that any one should be supposed in any sense, at any time, to be ordained unto eternal life, who was not predestinated infallibly to attain it. But this is not of such great importance; for it is certain as to fallen angels and Adam in a state of innocence, it has been considered that they were sufficiently ordained to eternal life, in a certain manner, and by a certain rational sign, although they were not infallibly predestinated to obtain this either by that ordination, or through that sign. A temporary ordination therefore unto life, by the remission of original sin in Infants, may be maintained without the benefit of election which infallibly destines and leads to eternal life. We may the more readily admit this, if we consider, that there is a certain ordination unto death, against the elect themselves, in respect of their present condition (as in the case of Paul, when he was a blasphemer and did not know Christ; or David, when he had committed adultery, and had not repented of it), though in the meantime their election to eternal life stands firm.

Let me now illustrate the latter clause of our Proposition. I have said that the remission of original sin, (as it respects Infants) is the primary effect of Baptism, and that other blessings follow from it and are as the result; for

1. That they are said to be justified in baptism springs from this remission of original sin. Infants, says Vasquez,” are baptized only that they may be released from original sin, and be justified from it. And Bonaventura has observed, that Infants by Baptism are justified from contracted guilt, not actual. The justification of Infants does not differ, therefore, in reality from the expiation or remission of original sin, since actual sin is not found in Infants from which they should be justified. And what some Papists maintain, that justification of Infants cannot be sustained with infused or inherent righteousness, that notion they are compelled to maintain from having decided that the formal cause of justification is always something in the justified person which makes him worthy of heaven or of eternal life. However it is not to be expected that wel who have expressed our abhorrence of this doctrine in the controversy about the justification of Adults should adopt it in the case of Infants.

2. Moreover, the opinion that Infants are regenerated in Baptism, that also depends upon this remission of original sin, that it is almost impossible to distinguish between them. As Augustine asserts, (De Trinit., 14–17), Renewal in Baptism is from the remission of all sins; and Cassander to the same effect, says, (De Bapt. Infants), Regeneration in Infants consists altogether of the removal of guilt and acceptance to life eternal. The same is to be said also of the translation of Infants from the old Adam, and their implantation and incorporation into the new; for this also is joined with the remission of original sin. And as soon as the guilt is removed from an Infant, which it contracted in the first Adam, it is considered as ipso facto to belong to the family of the second. Whence Beza has correctly united the two. Infants, says he, being baptized and dying before they could exercise faith, obtain thereby an introduction into the Covenant and the remission of their sins. And Augustine, (Contra Julian) that this translation, into the family of Christ, is always connected with the remission of original sin : He lies not under the obligation of his father's debts (he is speaking of baptized Infants) who has changed his father and his heirship.

3. Moreover, that which is called the sanctification of baptized Infants, consists almost entirely in this removal of original sin; for as their filthiness, entire as it is, arises from the pollution of sin, so must also their cleansing be. And as they are considered to be polluted habitually whilst the guilt of this sin is not removed, so also when that is effected may they properly be looked upon as sanctified. Although I would by no means deny that they are holy or sanctified in other respects; such for instance as their having been dedicated to the Holy Trinity (for to be dedicated to God is in a measure to be sanctified), their having been sprinkled in Baptism with the most holy blood of Christ to obtain the remission of indwelling sin; their having the Holy Spirit living in them, though not by faith as in an adult person, but in a secret way and unknown to us; for as Augustine (De Præd. Dei,) says, the Holy Spirit dwells in baptized Infants, although they know it not; and the dwelling where so holy a guest takes up his abode must, according to its capability, be thereby sanctified. And, in fine, they may justly be called holy and sanctified, who, though they have not been make partakers of infused faith, righteousness, or grace, either in habit or act, have the Author of holiness producing in them, in an ineffable manner, whatever is required that they may be accounted saints by such means. But what this is, or how it may be explained, if any one thinks he understands, let him shew it. I confess my own incompetency to do it.

4thly, and lastly. Adoption, or that acceptance into the kingdom of heaven—a privilege granted to all baptized Infants promiscuously, because of their present condition, is grounded upon this remission of original sin, or at least follows as a consequence from it. For whereas this adoption is nothing else than acceptance to eternal life, according to the present condition of the Infant; the washing away of original sin, removing as it does the only obstacle by which Infants were prevented from an entrance into heaven, by the same means constitutes them justified, and renders them fit for the participation of this heavenly inheritance.

This was the view of the Exiles of Sardinia in their Synodical Epistle :-In Baptism the chain of original sin is loosened, and the lost adoption of sons recovered. It is indeed the common opinion of Divines, that Baptism by taking away the guilt of original sin, in virtue of Christ's pass