Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hodge on Paedo Baptism

In light of the recent posts concerning paedo baptism, I thought this little excerpt from Charles Hodge might be enlightening to the conversation. I added some comments and questions at the end.

In either view we are said to be cleansed (whether from guilt or pollution) by baptism. What does this mean? How does baptism in either of these senses wash away sin? The Protestant and scriptural answer to this question is, that baptism cleanses from sin just as the word does. We are said to be saved by the truth, to be begotten by the truth, to be sanctified by the truth. This does not mean:
That there is any inherent, much less magic, power in the word of God as heard or read to produce these effects.
Nor that the word always and everywhere, when rightly presented, thus sanctifies and saves, so that all who hear are partakers of these benefits.
Nor does it mean that the Spirit of God is so tied to the word as never to operate savingly on the heart except in connection with it. For infants may be subjects of regeneration, though incapable of receiving the truth.
In like manner when the Scriptures speak of baptism as washing away sin (Acts 22:16); or as uniting to Christ (Gal. 3:27); or as making Christ's death our death (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12); or as saving us (1 Pet. 3:21); they do not teach:
That there is any inherent virtue in baptism, or in the administrator, to produce these effects; nor
That these effects always attend its right administration; nor
That the Spirit is so connected with baptism that it is the only channel through which he communicates the benefits of redemption, so that all unbaptized will perish.
These three propositions, all of which Romanism and Ritualism affirm, are contrary to the express declarations of Scripture and to universal experience. Multitudes of the baptized are unholy; many of the unbaptized are sanctified and saved.
How then is it true that baptism washes away sin, unites us to Christ, and secures salvation? The answer again is, that this is true of baptism in the same sense that it is true of the word. God is pleased to connect the benefits of redemption with the believing reception of the truth. And he is pleased to connect these same benefits with the believing reception of baptism. That is, as the Spirit works with and by the truth, so he works with and by baptism, in communicating the blessings of the covenant of grace. Therefore, as we are said to be saved by the word, with equal propriety we are said to be saved by baptism; though baptism without faith is as of little effect as is the word of God to unbelievers.
The scriptural doctrine concerning baptism, according to the Reformed churches is:
That it is a divine institution.
That it is one of the conditions of salvation. "Whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). It has, however, the necessity of precept, not the necessity of a means sine qua non. It is in this respect analogous to confession. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:10). And also to circumcision. God said, "The uncircumcised male child-should be cut off from his people" (Gen. 17:14) Yet children dying before the eighth day were surely not cut off from heaven. And the apostle teaches that if an uncircumcised man kept the law, "his uncircumcision was counted to him for circumcision" (Rom. 3:26).
Baptism is a means of grace, that is, a channel through which the Spirit confers grace; not always, not upon all recipients, nor is it the only channel, nor is it designed as the ordinary means of regeneration. Faith and repentance are the gifts of the Spirit and fruits of regeneration, and yet they are required as conditions of baptism. But if faith, to which all the benefits of redemption are promised, precedes baptism, how can those benefits be said to be conferred, in any case, through baptism? Just as a father may give an estate to his son, and afterwards convey it to him formally by a deed. Besides, the benefits of redemption, the remission of sin, the gift of the Spirit, and the merits of the Redeemer, are not conveyed to the soul once for all. They are reconveyed and reappropriated on every new act of faith, and on every new believing reception of the sacraments. The sinner coming to baptism in the exercise of repentance and faith, takes God the Father to be his Father; God the Son, to be his Saviour; and God the Holy Ghost to be his Sanctifier, and his word to be the rule of his faith and practice. The administrator then, in the name and by the authority of God, washes him with water as a sign of the cleansing from sin by the blood of Christ, and of sanctification by the Holy Spirit; and as a seal to God's promise to grant him those blessings on the condition of the repentance and faith thus publicly avowed. Whatever he may have experienced or enjoyed before, this is the public conveyance to him of the benefits of the covenant, and his inauguration into the number of the redeemed. If he is sincere in his part of the service, baptism really applies to him the blessings of which it is the symbol.
Infants are baptized on the faith of their parents. And their baptism secures to them all the benefits of the covenant of grace, provided they ratify that covenant by faith; just as circumcision secured the benefits of the theocracy, provided those circumcised by infancy kept the law. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration, that is, the doctrine that inward spiritual renovation always attends baptism rightly administered to the unresisting, and that regeneration is never effected without it, is contrary to Scripture, subversive of evangelical religion, and opposed to universal experience. It is, moreover, utterly irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Reformed churches. For that doctrine teaches that all the regenerated are saved. "Whom God calls them he also glorifies" (Rom. 8:30). It is, however, plain from Scripture, and in accordance with the faith of the universal church, that multitudes of the baptized perish. The baptized, therefore, as such, are not the regenerated.
The foregoing remarks are intended to show in what sense the Reformed understand this and similar declarations of Scripture. Christ purifies his church by baptism. That is the initiatory rite; which signifies, seals, and applies to believers all the benefits of the Redeemer's death. The apostle is speaking of the church, the body and bride of Christ, and of the effect of baptism on those who constitute that church, not of its effect on those who are not included in the covenant and are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.

This quote comes from Charles Hodge (1797 – 1878) in his commentary on Ephesians (pgs 320 and following). I am just wondering if it sounds as confusing to others as it does to me.

Let me ask some questions. For instance, where in the New Testament does it teach that “infants are baptized on the faith of their parents?” Where does the Scripture teach that the covenant is “ratified by faith”? How can it be said that baptism “secures to them [infants] all the benefits of the covenant of grace” and then add that there must be a ratifying in order for that to be “secure”?

Hodge goes on to state, “The baptized, therefore, as such, are not the regenerated.” So the question for me becomes, “Then why should we baptize those who are clearly unregenerate?” At least from the Baptistic standpoint we have a profession of faith by the individual, which we see all throughout Scripture, rather than by an individual’s parents on their behalf, which we never see in Scripture (Note: This statement concerns baptism, not circumcision).
Notice that he ends with this: “The foregoing remarks are intended to show in what sense the Reformed understand this and similar declarations of Scripture. Christ purifies his church by baptism. That is the initiatory rite; which signifies, seals, and applies to believers all the benefits of the Redeemer's death.” But can it be said of all who are baptized? Absolutely not, and he said that earlier. So it appears, at least to me, that Hodge really doesn’t show these “declarations from Scripture”, but rather follows after the Reformed “tradition” (yes, there are traditions in the Reformed community as well).

Finally, could someone tell me where in the Scripture baptism applies to believers all the benefits of the Redeemer’s death? I’m sorry, that sounds very Romanist to me, and I’m being gracious:)


Gordan said...

Tim, seeing that no peado-baptist has responded to you yet, let me try again to think like the Presbyterian I used to be. (Sorry for the book-length comment, too...)

Presbyterians can speak of "covenant grace" or "covenant election" as a thing separate from saving grace or decretal election. Covenant election would be about the fact that God has chosen/elected the church to function as the body of Christ on earth.

I think you have to keep in mind the division between the so-called visible and invisible church when you read these things. A Presbyterian will typically contend that baptism makes one a part of the former without necessarily ensuring he is part of the latter.

They would point to passages like Hebrews 6 to say that simply being part of the visible, covenanted church provides a person with many real and genuine (though not always salvific) benefits of God's grace. So that we can then wind up speaking in terms of one who has received some amount of real, New Covenant grace as a church member, and yet still must exercise faith to be saved. We can speak of church members who have received the grace of Christian baptism, and yet are still on their way to hell because they have yet to repent and believe.

Thus they can talk about baptism being always effective in terms of covenant grace, but not always effective in terms of decretal (salvific) election and justification.

Also, Scripture sometimes has a nagging habit of speaking of a thing's symbol when referring to the spiritual substance and virtue of the thing itself. I mean, by speaking of the "cross" what it's really talking about is the redemption Christ purchased by His suffering. If we approach that too focused on the materialistic, we'll wind up thinking there's something wonderful and saving about the wooden boards to which Christ was nailed.

In the same way, the Scripture often uses "baptism" as a way of referring to the whole salvific work of regeneration, forgiveness, justification by faith, positional sanctification, etc. If this is what "baptism" is supposed to mean, and not merely the washing of the flesh with water, then we'd have to say, "Yes, we are saved by baptism."

So, I would humbly suggest that these thoughts on Hodge's use of terms might help un-muddy what you've quoted. (I'll admit, though, it really does need to be un-muddied. I find his Systematic Theology to be much more clear and concise than this exerpt.)

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Let's see, baptism is as communion is, a glorious representation of an infinite Spiritual event. Sacred and spiritual, but emblematic none the less.

Hodges views are both Scripturally inconsistent in its attempt to make baptism a covenant, and also...goofy ( a deep theoloigical term).

Tim said...

Thanks guys for your comments.


I did try to keep in mind the paedo baptist covenantal view. I appreciate your attempt at trying to respond in the Presbyterian venacular and it's not that I don't understand what they are saying. It's that I don't see where it is clear in the Scripture. I do get the points you made concerning how we speak of baptism saving us, such as Peter brings up and your analogy of how the cross is used. I think that is fine. What I don't get are the references made to infants being baptized upon the faith of their parents and the other strings that are attached to that.


I do tend to agree with your here, though I guess in essence when one enters into baptism, at least outwardly he is presenting himself to the Lord of the Covenant. We are in agreement that both of these are to be practiced by believers and not by those who have yet to submit themselves unto Christ. Thanks for your comments.


I have been studying theologies for a while now. Both Eastern and Western. I collected a large mass of knowledge in sacramental, moral, and dogmatic theology. I have a wide collection of books, so I feel I can handle most objections when asked, though I am no card carrying apologist with a Pontifical Catechis certificate.

You hear various arguments, on grace and effiacy of works: faith alone or baptism and faith. Well baptism is a good work, produced by Jesus Christ. So I believe in Faith as a work, and effected by an external rite called baptism -- which is the sacrament of faith.

Yet, I find it very interesting and even obnoxious that the New Church of Vatican II (which claims to be the Church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church) has established a foreign rite to suppress the traditionl Latin Tridentine Catholic praxis (from the Council of Trent) to the point of invalidating the grace of baptism in this Novus Ordo rite. I'm not sure what is the mainstream Protestant stance on this new baptism?

In fact, I recently read this new scholarly book on the topic entitled "Praxis Obnoxia: A Moral-Theological Conclusion On The New Modernist Rite of Baptism."


I am very impressed with it, and I cannot refute its arguments, scholarship -- tons of quotes from theologians, doctors, councils, and Popes. Basically, the book proves the new rite of baptism is null and void--that means there is no valid baptism in the Vatican II church, and thus no valid sacraments and no salvation in that sect. It seems "very weird", I admit at first, but the facts are the facts, and I had to read the book a few times to really grasp the significance of what has happened since 1960s. Once you get the book you cannot put it down, it is so intense in scholastic volume.

I even spent some days of hours in the Gordon-Conwell College libraries to talk to some doctors, and even had a debate with a Greek Orthodox Professor from Harvard on this topic of conditional rebaptism or economia or oikonomia.

Not sure what's your stance? It seems Saint Cyprian would of rebaptized people coming from the New Church to the traditional Orthodox Catholic Church of the Romans.

Any opinions on this? A book review perhaps? Are you familar with "Praxis Obnoxia"? I must say this is a "Hot Topic" with Traditionalists and Conservatives.