top of page

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 passion, removes the impediment which debarred Infants from entering heaven, and so far makes them heirs of the kingdom. Hence Cajetan says, Baptism effectually opens a way into heaven for every baptized person, by taking away both personal and natural guilt. The Carthusiano also writes, that to open the kingdom of heaven nothing else is wanting, than that the impediment on account of original sin, which prohibited entrance to the whole human race, should be taken away. He then adds, This particulary takes place, equally as it respects the one or the other hereby, because the merit and efficacy of our Lord's passion is applied to them in Baptism. These things may suffice as to that adoption or acceptation into the kingdom of heaven, which we readily acknowledge to be bestowed upon all baptized Infants. And whereas the greater part of these are taken hence before they can be supposed capable of exercising reason and freewill, I hesitate not to say with Bucer, that no age has ever presented so many citizens to heaven.

To these considerations I now subjoin, as being in accordance with my present object, that as the justification, regeneration, adoption, or sanctification of which we have been speaking arises from the forgiveness of original sin, through the blood of Christ applied to Infants in Baptism; and as their remission of sin remains the same in riper years, and cannot be lost, although it may not be accompanied with those effects, which (according to the arrangements of God) are confined to the age subject to original sin alone; who does not see that it is unsound reason, wishing to infer from the example of Infants the possibility of losing justification or sanctification, once possessed, in the case of adults ? But to make the matter still plainer, I add some propositions which may tend to explain it more fully.


The justification, regeneration, and adoption, which we grant to be the privilege of baptized Infants, is not exactly the same with that justification, regeneration, and adoption, which in the question about the perseverance of the saints, we contend, can never be lost.

1. The justification is not of the same kind; for the justification of Infants does not require the hearing of the word, nor faith, nor any personal act of apprehending the cause of justification, nor any self-application of it; but it is the mere act of God alone, apprehending Infants and applying the justifying cause to them. So that Aquinas judged rightly, Children may be justified without exercising their own will, as they have not the power of turning to the justifying cause. The cause of justification, that is, the death of Christ, is applied to them by the ordinance of Christ. But all those who can exercise reason and free-will, are justified plainly in another manner, viz., by hearing and believing the Gospel, by apprehending Christ, as the Apostle says, (Rom. iii. 25, 26; and Rom. v. 1.) Hence the Schoolmen consider the conversion to God of children (when they are old enough to use their reason) to be requisite for their justification. That a person who is justified in this manner by faith and has in this way obtained peace with God, can so lose his justified state, as really (for that he deserves it we confess) to become an enemy, or to fall into a state of condemnation, this we utterly deny. As, therefore, the justification of an Adult presupposes the act of the believer, and as the justification of an Infant is the mere passive receiving of the act of another, they cannot either inreality or in reason be considered as of the same kind. Therefore if our opponents would prove (which they never can) that this justification of Infants, which is only of remission of original sin, (and of quite a different nature from the justification of Adults) may be be lost, still they would gain nothing, because they are not disputing about the same thing.

2. In the second place, neither is what is called the regeneration of Infants, of the same kind with this new creation, or spiritual new birth in Adults, which we contend can never be totally abolished or lost after it has once been produced in the regenerate heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a common axiom that the same subject does not admit of more than one accident of the same species; but the Christian Infant who is regenerated in Baptism acquires another regeneration, when as an Adult he believes the Gospel; he is therefore either twice born again, or this baptismal regeneration is not the same with that of Adults, of which St. James speaks (i. 18), Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. And St. Peter, (1 Epis. i. 23.) Ye are born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. And St. Paul, (Eph. iv. 24,) Put ye on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. This regeneration which is designated by the name new creature, and by which by the infusion of spiritual gifts in believers restores and repairs the image holiness and righteousness that we had lost, is that which we contemplate in the question concerning the perseverance of the renewed or saints. And as to the regeneration of Infants, I would say the same as Augustine says of their faith, (Epis. 23), that it is not that regeneration which consists in a renewal of the will, but the Sacrament of regeneration itself which makes the Infant regenerated. It is therefore a vain effort on the part of those opposing the perseverance of the saints in a state of regeneration once obtained, who contend that the regeneration of Infants in the Sacrament (which is not of the same kind) is really lost by all, who, when arrived at an age capable of reflection, perish in their unbelief and impenitency. For such persons do not perish because they have lost the sacramental regeneration appropriate to them as regenerated Infants : but because they never were partakers of that other regeneration by the seed of the Word and the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, which is necessary for the effectual regeneration of Adults.

3. In the last place, we must say the same in speaking of the state of adoption, or of acceptance among the children of the kingdom, as we did concerning their justification and regeneration. For that adoption which we concede to all baptized Infants is not precisely the same with that which we maintain in the question of the perseverance of the saints, to be perpetual and never lost. Men are therefore either misled by equivocal terms, or try to deceive others, who, from that adoption of Infants conferred in baptism, argue against that adoption of Adults wrought by faith, of which St. John speaks (i. 12) To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God; even to as many as believed on His Name. It is the opinion of the Orthodox that this adoption is permanent, and bears all who enjoy it to heaven ; and this is supported by the express testimony of holy writ; If sons, then heirs (Rom. viii. 17.) And these sons are they who abide in their Father's house for ever. (John viii. 35.) Whatever makes for the adoption of Infants in baptism, unless it is proved that those adopted by faith in the Son of God may fall away and perish, not only leaves our judgment concerning the perseverance of the saints unshaken, but does not even touch the question.

That this point may appear yet clearer, we must observe, that men are said to be the adopted children of God in many ways, (1.) Some are called sons as to the eternal, unchangeable, and secret purpose of God to bring them to an heavenly inheritance. Of this adoption the Apostle speaks, (Eph. i. 5,) He hath predestinated us to the adoption of sons; and St. John when he says (xi. 52), that Christ died not only for the Jewish nation, but that He might gather together the sons of God. Of this adoption St. Augustine must be understood as speaking when he says," The sons of God not yet born are predestinated and cannot perish. And should any one offer to prove that any one of these adopted sons of God may become apostate and perish, he is rather to be derided by all, than refuted by any one ; for they undoubtedly shall reign with Christ, whom God Himself has of His own good will predestinated to the kingdom. If any one of those should perish, God would be either overcome or deceived; neither of which things is possible.

2. They are called sons of God, or born of God, whom on believing in Hisown Son, God endows with the prerogative of sons, that is, the Spirit of adoption, crying in their hearts Abba, Father, renewing and restoring them to the image of God, and at last sealing them to the day of redemption. This adoption is (so to speak) the genuine fruit of that secret one, which now, brought to light by its effect in time, testifies that eternal adoption. Of this Rada says truly, Although God does not adopt by a new act, yet He does by a new effect. This it is, which once obtained or received, we contend can never after be either abolished or abrogated. Ambrose teaches the same : Can God the Father (says he)4 withdraw those very favours which He Himself bestowed, and banish from His gracious and paternal affections those whom He has adopted ? So Augustine also taught the same truth, both when he denies that any of the sons of promise can perish, as well as when he teaches that those who shrank from their engagements were not in the number of sons, even while they held the faith of Even Biel himself, one of the Schoolmen, when speaking of this adoption,' denies that any who perish iere among the adopted sons of God-an opinion which he supports by this reason, that such were never predestinated by the will of God to a heavenly inheritance. Protestant authors are very unanimous in thinking that none who ever attain to this adoption shall afterwards perish. Bucer (in Matt. vii), affirms that those who at any time should fall from Christ had never attained the spirit of sons; and in John i. 12, he also affirms, that no one so believes as to become a son of God, but he whom God has chosen from the beginning for this. Calvin asserts that the reprobate never were endowed with the Spirit of adoption. Peter Martyr is of the same opinion. All the cause of our adoption, says he, depends upon election. Luther says generally of the adopted, that they are heirs of God, equal in dignity and honour to Paul and Peter, and to all the saints; because faith is accompanied by adoption and heirship, as certainly as it is by regeneration. Melancthon confesses that they are made so, not by nature, nor on account of their ownmerits; and a little after, they only are the sons of God who are chosen by God. Chemnitz shows that this adoption is connected with the infallible attainment of a heavenly inheritance. The greatest dignity of preeminence, says he which Christ bestows upon believers is in making us sons of God. Nor is this title without a reality ; for if we are sons, then we have a Father propitious to us; we are then heirs of God, brethren of Christ, and partakers of His inheritance, which can no more fail us, or be taken away from Christ our brother; and in that confidence we cry, Abba, Father, etc. When our Divines defend the perseverance, and infallible attainment of salvation, as to the adopted, it is manifest that they intend by it the adoption which we have been describing.

3. Men are called the sons of God, by external alliance with Him, or being reckoned among the visible people of God. In this sense all the Israelites who entered into covenant with God, by the seal of circumcision, are called sons of God (Exodus iv. 23) and children of the kingdom (Matt. viii. 12), even those who would be banished from that kingdom and cast into outer dark In this sense all Christians are by covenant sons of God, although the greater part of them by their lives prove themselves to be children of the devil. Both individuals and whole nations may fall from this external adoption, and become apostate ; as is evident in the case of those who have abandoned Christianity for Mahometanism. But this is not the adoption to which we have respect, when treating of the perseverance of the saints—the [true] children of God.

4thly, and lastly. He is called an adopted son of God, whoever is disposed sufficiently for his present condition for the attainment of the kingdom of heaven, although he be not predestined of God, nor sealed by the Spirit of adoption for its future possession. Adam in the state of innocence was such an adopted son of God, because he was sufficiently prepared according to his condition at that time for the attainment of life eternal. The same may be said of the non-elect angels regarded in their state of creation. And in this manner almost all baptized Infants are accepted or adopted of God; because God hath willed that they should be blessed, if they remain in their present state, and subsequent sins do not form an impediment. But this adoption (as you see) is limited; not that absolute, eternal and infallible adoption founded in election,and which Aquinus confesses never fails. Nor is that a mere image of this eternal adoption, which the Holy Spirit stamps upon and seals in the hearts of believers. Those persons therefore prove nothing who would refute our opinion concerning the perseverance of the saints, or of the sons of God regenerated by faith, (which opinion has reference only to the first and second kinds of adoption) by the examples of those who are considered adopted, by the third and fourth kinds, and yet depart from God, and from the Divine covenant, and so eternally perish; for we never asserted the infallible salvation of those who are thus adopted.


The justification, regeneration and adoption of baptized Infants brings them into a state of salvation as far as they are capable.

For the goodwill of God, in releasing them from the guilt of original sin, and embracing them with His favour, is sufficient for placing them in a state of salvation without any immediate infusion of inherent grace. When Vasquez ingeniously acknowledges that although habits of this kind are imparted to Infants by virtue of baptism, yet undoubtedly they are not so imparted to them in order that it may be a necessary means of their salvation. Malderus concedes to us, (p. 547) that man without any inherent gift may be accepted by God even unto life eternal. And hence our Fathers and Divines, although they differ from the Papists, inasmuch as they deny that justification, regeneration, or that sanctification which constitutes the new creature, by the infusion of spiritual graces, are adapted to infants; yet they all agree in this—that infants, according to their circumstances, are so justified, regenerated, and sanctified in baptism, that if they should die in that state of Infants, there would be no doubt either of their election or salvation. Certainly Augustine everywhere teaches that baptized Infants, if they depart this life forthwith do undoubtedly pass to life eternal. And by this very speedy removal it is manifest that they were of the number of the predestinate children of God. Fulgentius lays down the rule generally concerning all baptized Infants. The sacrament of faith which is holy Baptism, so long as their age is incapable of reason, is sufficient for their salvation. The opinion however of the ancients is well known. We may now pass on to ourown writers, who freely concede that a state of salvation is so conveyed to Infants in baptism, that as many as die in infancy obtain the benefit of salvation by it. Bucer (on Matt. xix.) writes, I have not the least doubt, that those who are removed in infancy will, through the sacrifice of Christ, be saved. And again, those who leave this world early, inasmuch as they belong to Christ, will be also blessed in Him. The Church of England holds the same opinion. And lest any man should think that the delaying the time of Confirmation until they are grown up, would be an injury to children, let him be assured from the plain Word of God, that Infants who die before Confirmation have everything necessary for their salvation, and are undoubtedly saved.

From all this it is very evident, that Infants are indeed placed in a state of salvation, but with respect only to their age and condition. So that they who perish in riper years without having fulfilled their baptismal vow, do not lose the state of salvation which they had as far as Infants are capable ; but they lose that state which being changed, the Divine appointment ceases to be sufficient for the salvation of the Adult, which was sufficient for the salvation of the Infant. It is therefore plainly foolish and frivolous to seek for arguments against the final perseverance of the saints from the case of Infants : this we shall make yet still more evident.


Those who, in Baptism, according to the common condition of Infants, were truly justified, regenerated and adopted, when arrived at years of discretion, do not continue justified, regenerated or adopted as Adults unless by repentance, faith, and the renunciation promised, they fulfil their vow taken upon them at baptism.

For although both as regards Infants and Adults, justification, regeneration, and adoption, manifest a Divine agency ; yet these heavenly motions, as far as they relate to Infants, do not require in them any previous exercises of free will; but in Adults these things must be considered as pre-requisites by the Divine ordination; and those spiritual affections which they allow in Infants, if they are not allowed in Adults, their justification, regeneration, and adoption can in no way consist. But this was shewn in our second proposition ; here then more is not necessary.

It needs only be remarked, They who argue that the faith, justification, and adoption, (as St. Paul understands the matter) of Adults, may some time or other be lost, because the justification and regeneration of Infants, from the peculiar form of the Covenant, ceased to have saving efficacy in Adults through the breaking of their engagements, argue both inconsequentially, as well as employ manifest equivocation

To these propositions which sufficiently show that the loss of faith and righteousness, or justification, sanctification, and that adoption which follow faith in Christ, cannot be proved from the case of Infants, I will add only one other in refutation of the calumnies of our opponents with respect to that insensibility or stoicism, which they are in the habit of charging upon us.


When we teach the perseverance of the saints in a state of justification once obtained, we do not deny that the quality, or exercise of the faithful or righteous man is mutable or may be lost, by reason of the subject matter; but we affirm that the special love of God does not permit, that he who by believing in Christ shall have been justified and adopted as a son of God, by losing that faith and holiness should cease to be a child of God and perish for ever.

For the gift of perseverance is made to those who truly believe, are adopted, and sealed with the Spirit of adoption, for this very purpose, that looking to the possibility of their falling through the fickleness of their will, they may, nevertheless, by the effectual operation of Divine grace, be preserved from ever actually doing so.

The reason is evident; because effectual calling, which draws after it justification, sanctification, and adoption flows from predestination. (Rom. viii. 30.) And such is the admirable operation of the Almighty, in effecting the salvation of the predestinate, that He allows their will to act of its own accord, that is contingently; and yet He Himself brings about their salvation infallibly. Thus Aquinas writes : The order of predestination is certain, and yet the will produces its effect only contingently. A predestined person may perish, if his own power be considered ; he cannot if the decree be considered which he derives from God's predestination. When therefore we assert that justification, sanctification, adoption and glorification, are the fruit or effect of absolute predestination, and indeed abiding, yet do not in so arguing determine that the will is compelled to believe, to abide in faith and obedience to God, but is powerfully, though at the same time sweetly inclined by God and moved to whatever act is connected with their salvation from the ordination of God-we are unjustly charged with holding a stoical necessity or fate. And in this sense, Fathers, Schoolmen, and our own Divines, nay, the Sacred Scriptures themselves, hold it impossible, that any of the elect children of God, justified and adopted, should ever fail of salvation. Henry of Ghent has explained this matter very well, where he is enquiring (Quodlibet 42nd sec.) Whether Paul might not have been killed before his conversion? The sum of it is that the effect of predestination may be hindered as far as God is considered, although not upon the ground that it was predestined. Or, in this way-As far as God is concerned it is immutable ; on the part of the creature, it is contingent or mutable, although it never will be changed. Such is his statement. I perceive that Bishop Montagu, although he imputes many things invidiously to those who maintain absolute predestination to eternal life from Divine necessity; yet apart from the heat of controversy, he acknowledges that very impossibility of perishing as it respects the elect, which we attribute to them. In his Answer he plainly states that it was not possible for David to perish in his sin, on account of the gracious purpose of God to save him; and in his Appeal he acknowledges that Peter could not finally fall. If then the impossibility of perishing when God is considered, does not of course imply any necessity, compulsion, or fate, as to the salvation of the elect; neither does the impossibility of their falling away assume any necessity, or anything like it, as to their perseverance.

But it does coincide with my present object to treat this entire controversy of perseverance. Enough has been done to shew that it is a weak, and indeed a childish argument, which would derive from the case of Infants (who cannot exercise their reason) any proof against our opinion. But I must desist; there is no necessity for my saying more, at least to you, to whom a word is sufficient. Farewell, my most learned Brother; and may you long adorn the Professor's Chair, by the consistent profession of an Orthodox Faith.

2,424 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page