Cornelius Burges' view of baptismal regeneration

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Puritan Board Freshman
How would you evaluate the following baptismal position?

Cornelius Burges, a member of the Westminster Assembly, held to a form of baptismal regeneration explained in his book "Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants" (1629). Here is his position put concisely:

1. Initial regeneration in elect infants ordinarily begins in baptism.
2. This "initial regeneration" is a "seed" of grace that will necessarily ripen and produce "a further seed in due time and season". There is a continuity between infant baptism of elect infants and adult conversion.
3. Only God's preordination of elect infants unto grace and glory makes the sacrament "effectual upon them, and not upon others".

(explanation based on the work of E. Brooks Holifield in The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England, pp. 84-85)


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Burgess represents the "highest" position in Reformed sacramentology. To move past him is basically to move into Lutheranism.

Note that Burgess does NOT say that baptism itself regenerates, but would define the time of baptism as that hour when "ordinarily" God begins his work of regeneration in the elect baptized person. And he's thinking here of the infant and his connection to the covenant.

Burgess would have us thinking very highly of the willingness of God to associate his actions with the actions of men, as concurrent works. Just as he associates his work of effectual calling with the human work of preaching the gospel, so too his regenerational work with the church's covenant signs and seals of that work.

Burgess is probably quite close to Calvin and other early Genevan-style reformers in this matter. They were apparently quite willing to take a "presumptive regeneration" outlook on the children of the church who were baptized.

The WCF is, I think, somewhat moderate in its affirmations, allowing for both higher and lower views of "sacramental efficacy." It points to Holy Spirit as the agent of regeneration, and allows that he works in the elect according to his own schedule--which may or may not have a close connection to the hour of someone's baptism. And that it is faith laying hold of the promises in baptism (a right use of this ordinance) wherein its efficacy is discovered.

All that Burgess would, I believe, wholeheartedly endorse.


Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks, Rev. Buchanan; I think that's helpful. Burgess seems to be well within Calvinistic orthodoxy, despite his strong view of baptismal efficacy.

On the other hand, Samuel Ward (1571-1643) was also writing on baptism around the same time, and his view can be summarized:

1. All infants are (without any doubt) justified through baptism and original sin is abluted. Thus baptized children who die within infancy are assured of salvation, having received this "initial grace".
2. Infant baptism does not ablute actual sins, so those baptized as infants who commit actual sins will be condemned for those. Justification for infants is therefore temporary, and does not last into adulthood.
3. Unbaptized infants can also be saved, but baptized infants who die in infancy are certainly saved.
4. Many children within the covenant will perish; infants of the faithful often fall away as adults, while infants of infidels sometimes become ardent Christians.
5. Baptism is the means by which parents can fulfill the covenant condition for their children.
6. Adults are required to have repentance and faith; without these adult baptism is ineffective.
7. Baptism actually conveys the grace that it seals.

(Holifield pp. 78-83)

Note the stark contrast between Ward's view and Burges' view.
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