Presumptive Regeneration

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by Travis Fentiman, Jan 18, 2018.

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  1. Travis Fentiman

    Travis Fentiman Puritan Board Freshman

    What is to be made of Presumptive Regeneration (PR), which has become so popular in the modern, Reformed Church?

    Jesus told Nicodemus, who was a teacher in Israel and externally in the Covenant in good standing, “You must be born again.” (Jn. 3:7)

    It is largely not known that the classical era of Presbyterianism in the 1600’s largely argued against Presumptive Regeneration in their controversy with the Separatists, Independents and Congregationalists, who all advocated it.

    While the English presbyterians Stephen Marshall, William Perkins and Cornelius Burges held to a very soft form of PR, a mild form and a moderate form of PR respectively, yet in the debates where the doctrine came fully into the spotlight, in the most extensive writings on the subject in Church history in the English language, these mid-1600's presbyterians (articles and books are linked on the page) argued strongly against the doctrine:

    Scots: Samuel Rutherford, David Dickson, James Fergusson and James Wood;
    English: William Rathband, Thomas Blake and Francis Fullwood;
    Dutch: Willem Apollonius.​

    The Introduction to the topic on the webpage (written by myself) argues extensively from Scripture against PR (and is one of the most detailed and thorough contemporary articles on the subject that I am aware of).

    There is a special section in the Introduction, at the end, on ‘Raising Children in the Covenant’.

    As this topic is likely to stir a bit of chiming in and debate, please get a good feel of the webpage's Introduction and resources before assuming things or making claims that are refuted by what you haven't read (Prov. 18:13).

    I will probably not be commenting below; my article says plenty.

    If you hold to PR, I hope these resources bring fuller light on the subject that would encourage you to reconsider the topic more fully. If you do not know much about PR, do not have a strong opinion, or if you do not believe in PR, I hope this page is of help to you and confirms to you what the Scriptures do teach about this subject.

    Blessings to all.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2018
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  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I believe one source fueling a PR inclination, is any tendency to presume to know--beyond an increasing "judgment of charity" over the long term--the salvation condition of another person.

    Putting insufficient weight upon the "5th Head of Doctrine," Perseverance, encourages presumption of all sorts.

    We should not lay "revivalistic" emphasis on ANY moment of our faith-experience of the past. It may be all kinds of "nice-to-know" when someone passed from death to life--when (in mathematic terms) the tangent function (first derivative) of the curve of his life passed from a negative slope to a positive one. But it is not a necessary thing; while the "being saved" of the present hour (rather than the "I'm saved already" of this hour), and the "will be saved" of the finish is of maximum interest to the person in the midst of running his race.

    "Credible" profession of faith is just that: something that is believable on some ground, including the absence of countervailing evidence.

    "Assurance" is an inward work of the H.S. in the heart of a believer (and not in my heart, about your heart).

    Ministers of the gospel should be preaching the listener's interest in "the old, old story" as much to the hoary head, baptized decades before as an infant, long since a communicant, and faithful all his life by life and by testimony; as to the youth in the pew: compliant or restless, docile or spirited,

    The gospel is the ignition of the flame of our Christian life. The whole Word of God is the fuel, the nourishment of our lives. But the gospel is a constant source of spark for that fire. Sanctification is not a fire that just "feed itself," nor the Word just fuel that burns upon the heat residue of the earlier devotion (though none would deny the worth of it).

    The fire the Lord God threw upon his altar, Lev.9:24, had a "staying power" illustrated by the perpetual burning upon it; which human priests by their ministerial limitations kept going in some sense by constant fueling of dedicated offerings. The gospel that has come to each believer cannot be simply referred back to "the hour I first believed;" but it must be viewed as the very flame itself in this hour. The fire of today's devotion is not a byproduct of my improvements on what was originally incited by a gospel-now-surpassed.

    Not just potential converts, but Christians need the gospel. Once this truth is apprehended, presumption is largely cut off at the root.
  3. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    What is to be said in relation to C. Burgess' book on the subject? Considering that Burgess wrote the book in the day of Westminster, it is interesting to note that no writings were written in response (if it such a putrid doctrine).
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    This seems a bit prejudicial, in it's own right. In the webpage essay, one may find a discussion of the topic as it appears in the Westminster Assembly Minutes.
    Stephen Marshall (Presbyterian) answers Thomas Goodwin (Congregationalist), the former offering a quite "soft" form of PR, as Travis has classified him.

    C.Burges he classes as a "moderate PR." It would appear from the historical record that the chief opponents of the Divines (influential in the day) were the Baptists; and not so much advocates of doctrines that would be seen as possibly on the return road to Rome (PR becoming BR)

    As for who should answer whom, it might not serve in the same sense to "take down" a fellow IB, the way it fit the times to "take down" a CB. But one might find contrasting and contemporary views of this question by comparing S.Rutherford (note the context included in his quotes from the webpage) and C.Burges.

    I found it interesting that Thomas Boston (whom I respect) is enlisted as a principal advocate for views undergirding PR theology; and is seen by some researchers as leading a Presbyterian shift away from Rutherford's earlier stance.
  5. Travis Fentiman

    Travis Fentiman Puritan Board Freshman

    I would also note that Burges' book is actually not about presumptive regeneration (as the modern reprinter entitled it), but is about a form of baptismal regeneration. The original title of the book was:

    Baptismall regeneration of elect infants professed by the Church of England, according to the Scriptures, the primitiue Church, the present reformed churches, and many particular divines apart

    The difference is that presumptive regeneration (for instance as promulgated by Abraham Kuyper), held that regeneration, or the presumption of it, is the grounds for baptism.

    What Burgess actually argues, is that baptism is the event at which most infants are regenerated. That is, they are regenerated through the Word and Spirit acting therein (it is said). If they are not actually regenerated, then they should be presumed to be regenerated at baptism until found out otherwise (which usually means when they're teenagers, adults, etc.).

    Note that Burges' book is only arguing that *elect* infants are regenerated at baptism, which is technically within the bounds of the WCF which only speaks to elect infants.

    But this means that not all babies baptized are regenerated. If most or all babies may not be regenerated by baptism, this is a rather strained use of the phrase 'baptismal regeneration'. And it seems clear that Burgess was in fact straining language to appeal to many in the Anglican Church who would otherwise hold to forms of baptismal regeneration, in order to reconcile them.

    And the WCF is explicitly against any normal sense of baptismal regeneration, in denying that baptism is necessary to salvation, amongst its other qualifications. Patrick Ramsey has an excellent article on the WCF not being baptismal regeneration in the Confessional Presbyterian journal.

    And as Rev. Buchanan mentioned, because their was not a single treatise responding to Burges's work does not mean that it was not interacted with amongst numerous publications of the time. To find such possible interactions, though, would take a lot of searching. And there is less reason why anyone would wholesale openly oppose Burges, as the issue was not over who was regenerated, but simply *when* they were regenerated, and a human presumption to this based on certain evidential factors that Burges supplies.

    All that said, too much is made of Burges, and should we really wholesale accept everything he says when it is rather clear his great broad strokes really need a fair amount of qualification? And he was not the only one, or the most important one who wrote on the topic...

    Numerous of the books from where the articles on my page are extracted were dedicated to the Westminster Assembly, being written 1644-45, and no doubt had some influence upon it.

    Regarding Marshall:

    Marshall at the Assembly argued against Goodwin that the grounds of baptism is not an inherent holiness in the infant, however, in Marshall's book on infant baptism, he still attributes a 'judgment of charity' to infants being externally in the covenant, and hence presumes them to be saved (I think 'judgment of charity' has no meaning in that context, and is contra how the phrase was used by Calvin and others).​
  6. Travis Fentiman

    Travis Fentiman Puritan Board Freshman

    I do believe it is correct, along with James Walker, John MacPherson and John Macleod, that Boston fundamentally changed the trajectory of covenant theology in Scotland, and held to a significant form of Presumptive Regeneration.

    Previously I only had a quote and reference to Boston on the webpage which partially demonstrates this under the subsection 'History of the Scottish Presbyterians', under John Macpherson's work, but I just added the link on the reference so that one can click it and read Boston at large oneself where he treats it. Hope it is of help and interest to folks.

    And I do think it is rather easily verified that Boston was this change. I have also collected All the Writings of the Scottish Covenanters, and there simply was no one before Boston who was advocating what he was advocating before him, especially in such great detail and argument.

    Boston gives his account of his development of views in pp. 155-156 of A General Account of my Life. What I find interesting about his account, is that he was (1) responding to nominalism in his day (which Rutherford and others fundamentally accepted for church membership, baptism, etc.), (2) he was unsatisfied with and responding to Fullwood's work, and (3) it was simply a private change and opinion of Boston.

    Such a private change of opinion by one man is hardly safe ground for a massive change in theology, especially when his library was so small he really must have been unaware of much of the literature that we are now aware of on the subject.

    But of course, I highly respect Boston as well.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2018
  7. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Is this tied into the belief that some hold that only the children of saved parents will receive the election unto salvation?
  8. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    I've never heard that view. Does someone actually believe that?
  9. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    "The second possible explanation of the place of children in the covenant can be more persuasively argued. All the children of believers without exception are in the covenant in this sense, that God promises them all salvation and extends to them all His covenant grace in Christ. However, the actual fulfillment of the promise, the actual reception of covenant grace, and the actual realization of the covenant with them personally depend upon their believing in Christ and thus taking hold of the covenant when they grow up. The covenant consists of promise and demand, which demand is a condition that the children must fulfill. The promise from God is for all without exception. But if the child should not fulfill the demand that he believe, he forfeits the promise. This is the view of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands ("Liberated"), of the Canadian Reformed Churches, and of the American Reformed Churches.

    The appeal of this view is that it puts all our children without exception in the covenant. This is naturally pleasing to the parents (although the implication of this view is that not only some but also all of the children can fall out of the covenant, which is not so pleasing). Also, it seems to do justice to the language of Scripture and of the creeds. God said to Abraham, "...and to your seed," not, "...and to some of your seed." The Heidelberg Catechism says that the infants are included in the covenant, not some of the infants. In the form for baptism, we confess that our children are sanctified in Christ, not some of them.

    Are not all the children of believers baptized? Are not all the children required to be baptized?"
    This is listed as one way that has been seen in the reformed church, but the author rejects this view.
  10. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    There is nothing here that says that only children of believers are among the elect. @Guido's Brother here on PB holds the Liberated view, but I daresay he would never claim that only the children of believers can be saved.

    For what it's worth, the Protestant Reformed Churches, to whom you linked, hold to presumptive regeneration.
  11. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    This issue regarding children and election has been discussed here on the board, and one viewpoint does seem to be the one that was alluded to here in this article.
  12. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    That's certainly true. However, there is nothing in the article about "only the children of saved parents receiving election unto salvation." Everyone in the Reformed world believes that there are elect people who are not born to believers.
  13. Nate

    Nate Puritan Board Junior

    Tyler, could you help me with the sources that support this conclusion? Or, could you help me understand which of the 7 forms of PR you have in mind for the Protestant Reformed Churches? Is it form 7? I have several books on my shelf from Protestant Reformed authors that directly address and oppose PR as taught by Kuyper. I know that William Young suggested that churches like the Protestant Reformed Churches may have a sort of practical PR even they officially oppose PR, but that is different than saying that they hold to PR.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2018
  14. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I was referring to those who would be infants and small children especially.
  15. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    I'm sorry, I must have been mistaken. I've always heard that Protestant Reformed folks held to presumptive regeneration. Several years ago I read a few things touching on the covenant from Engelsma, etc., and I always read it through that lense. I thought they owned it. Where do Protestant Reformed folks interact with PR, and distinguish their view from it? Does Hoeksema cover it in his Dogmatics?
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2018
  16. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    I don't think I understand what you're getting at. In your post above (#7), you said that these people only believe that children of believers are elect, that is, that no one but the children of believers will be saved. I don't know if that is what you meant, but that is what you said. Perhaps you can rephrase what you were saying. Try to be clear, precise, and elaborative.
  17. Nate

    Nate Puritan Board Junior

    That's too bad if you've always read Engelsma etc through the lens of them supporting PR.

    Yes, Hoeksema addresses PR and distinguishes his view from it in his Reformed Dogmatics (Chapter 8, section: Grounds for Infant Baptism). He also extensively interacts with it in the book: Believers and Their Seed. Other Protestant Reformed writers argue against it in books such as We and Our Children and God's Everlasting Covenant of Grace (both by Herman Hanko). In each case, the authors reject PR and instead promote the views of the Three forms of Unity and the Westminster Confessions as the basis for baptizing children.
  18. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Thanks, brother. I'll be sure to read up on this. I'm sorry for the misrepresentation.
  19. Nate

    Nate Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks for the interaction and LMK if you find sources to the contrary.
  20. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    My point was that there are some Reformed who think that the children of saved parents seem to be for certain included among the elect of God. they might be seeing this in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 7:14.
  21. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    There certainly are some groups who presume their childrens' election. That's one of the things that undergirds presumptive regeneration. However, most (maybe all) of these groups would say deny that their children are certainly elect; only, they claim that Christian parents should behave as though their children are certainly elect, thus presuming that they are.
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  22. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    The difficulty in this issue is not in the abstract. I think everyone realizes that some covenant children may not be elect. The issue is how you treat children practically in the church and home. You have to make some sort of practical presumption when you actually teach your children. You still treat them as Christians when you teach your children to say "Our Father..." and to take hold of the promises made to them. You teach them that God is "our God", and that Christ is "our Savior", and that "our house" will serve the Lord. So, in practice you are still presuming they are elect and do not treat them as part of the world. This is where people start talking passed each other in debating over this. You are not going to say to your child, "I think you are externally in the covenant but not internally." We have no access to God's perspective about their internal or external state (i.e. election). I think Thornwell's "heir-apparent" view is a helpful formulation of this, training and preparing your children to inherit the promises, (thus presuming "election"), but leaving the time of regeneration/faith in God's hands, not presuming "regeneration" until they make public profession of faith.
  23. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    This comeback isn't as much dissent from your thoughts, as an admission I think we all must make.

    I agree the questions and issues are practical; but the language we have for our use is constrained by other practical realities. I think the language of "presumption," even if in time past one looked for qualifiers that set some value on the presumption in view (for instance: "presumed innocent, until proven guilty), we have to admit the term is out of favor.

    It is given the same negative gloss as "assumption," which is another term that has perfectly honorable connotations (for instance: granting the primary, unargued assumptions/axioms that form the basis for arriving at the current question).

    When "presumptive regeneration" has become tied to some brand of theology, whether those types are pleased with it or angry at being tarred with the brush, if the term is a problem, one has to come up with some other way of dealing with the subject. We have do decide how much energy we are willing to expend for clarity, whether early or late.

    "Presuming election" has the same problem with the first term that PR has; and a new problem with the second term. Election is something that we take for granted belongs to the believer, the true Christian. But it is a factor of salvation that is not "historical," not even in the cosmological sense; let alone, in the context of a man's life.

    We use the language, "unconditional," when talking about election. I tend to think that puts discussion of election outside of directly considering what we do in believing families and churches, or the treatment we give anyone, including our children.

    On the other hand, it is precisely because of its unique utility in the matter of children of believers dying in infancy that it has precious application. Why? Because the promise of God combined with his election-to-salvation-of-anyone-saved is literally everything the believing, grieving parents have to hold on.

    Indeed, there are some branches of Christianity that put physical baptism in place of those things, or in front of them; but our doctrine of sacramental signs-and-seals allows baptism is a support to, not a replacement for, the assurance and hope of believers (the Reformed have always denied that water-baptism "saves," as some others read 1Pet.3:21 to teach).

    We name and treat our little ones, in secular terms, as fellow citizens of our native lands. So, little Judy is an "American." In terms of our religion, she's also a "Christian." That's the proper term, a citizenship term. I don't care what errors others may make of it, reading too much into it, not distinguishing between the attribution to a child and the representation of an adult on the same question, etc.

    A synonym for them is "disciple." We're all disciples, and identified as such by baptism; we're all being made disciples, too. Our children are just not as advanced (generally speaking) as those who are older and more developed in the faith. And sometimes, a disciple is revealed as Judas.
  24. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't disagree with anything you've said Bruce. I guess, I'd rather try to reclaim the term "presumption" though since it is a useful term. :)
  25. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Would that not fall under though raising them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, but still not really saying they are actually saved as of yet?
  26. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Again, we all 'presume'. No one knows who are actually elect or reprobate-ever!
  27. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    As anyone ever "seen" or "heard" a spirit or a soul? While I have some problems with models of presumptive regeneration, everyone is going to presume something.
  28. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    You can't raise your children in the fear of the Lord without presuming some sort of relationship to the Lord for them. The fear of the Lord is a mark of faith. It presupposes your submission and trust in the Lord.
  29. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    The lord can still take his scriptures though being presented to even the unsaved child and use them to bring him to a saving knowledge of Jesus still, correct?
  30. Gforce9

    Gforce9 Puritan Board Junior

    I think you missed Patrick's point entirely. He was calling you to account for your use of Reformed, covenantal language ("Would that not fall under though raising them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, but still not really saying they are actually saved as of yet?") while arguing from a baptistic position.
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