Take Away the Doctrine of Original Sin, and the Baptism of Infants Seems to be a Very Ridiculous Thing

Anyone familiar with Augustine’s writings against Pelagius will recognize when his methodology reappears in later writers. One of his more memorable proofs for original sin was infant baptism. The argument went something like this, “If they don’t have any sin, then why are we baptizing them for the remission of sins?” You can’t wash off something that isn’t there.

This was a simple but effective maneuver. Peter Brown argues in his biography on Augustine that it was the practice of infant baptism that secured popular support for Augustine. Just like with Athanasius, liturgical practice helped secure dogma, at least in the larger public arena.

Again, the argument works because the belief that baptism washes away sins is presumed. Baptismal Regeneration was a doctrine universally agreed on prior to similar agreement on the doctrine of original sin. Therefore it could serve as the ground of the argument for original sin.

I find it informative that Augustine could use the argument in the 4th century, but it is even more interesting to me that folks still used it in the 17th century. Edward Polhill did just that in England in 1678 (*Hint- This is about thirty years after the Westminster Assembly). Here’s his argument:

Our Saviour Christ instituted baptism, and that for infants; but if there be no original pollution in them, what need a washing ordinance for them? The washing of their bodies, whose pure, innocent, undefiled souls are incapable of spiritual washing, is but a shadow without substance, a sacrament without internal grace, a thing too insignificant for Christ the wisdom of God to institute. Hence, when the Pelagians on the one hand granted the baptism of infants, and on the other denied original sin, St. Austin saith, that hey spoke wonderful things. In sacramento salvatoris baptizantur, sed non salvantur, redimuntur sed non liberantur, lavantur sed non abluuntur; In our Saviour’s sacrament infants are baptized, but not saved; redeemed, but not delivered; washed but not cleansed. And a little after he asks, If they are saved, what was their sickness? If delivered, what their servitude? If cleansed, what their pollution? Take away the doctrine of original sin, and the baptism of infants seems to be a very ridiculous thing. To avoid this absurdity, the Pelagians asserted, That the baptism of infants was necessary, not because there was any original sin in them, but that they might be capable of the kingdom of heaven. But I answer, Where there is no defect, there is all due perfection. If infants are pure and free from all sin, then have they all their righteousness and rectitude which ought to be in them; and if they have so, they are, without baptism, capable of heaven; or if they were not, the baptismal washing, which imports pollution, seems to be a ceremony very unfit and incongruous to be applied to them who are without spot, or to render them apt for heaven.

~ A View of Some Divine Truths pg 58-59

So in a dramatic sort of irony, we could say that those who deny baptismal regeneration are the semi-Pelagians.


More Polhill on Union with Christ

Let us distinguish ourselves according to the two Adams. Whatever is vicious or defective in us, relates to the first Adam: whatever is gracious or prefective of our nature, relates to the second. Never can we be too humble under the sense of original corruption which adheres to our nature. Never can we be too thankful for that supernatural grace which gave us a new nature. Because we have a Divine nature in us, we should live suitably to it. Had we but one single creation, we had been eternally bound to serve and glorify God; but when he sets to his hand the second time to create us again in Christ Jesus unto good works, how should our lives answer thereunto! When in the horrible earthquake at Antioch the emperor Trajanus was drawn out of the ruins, it was a very great obligation upon him to serve and honour God who so signally delivered him; how much greater obligation lies upon us, who are drawn by an act of grace out of the ruins of the fall! How should we live in a just decorum to that Divine nature which we are made partakers of! We should still be bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit, and shewing forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Again; because the relics of corruption are still remaining even in the regenerate, we should ever be upon our spiritual watch; we should set guards within and without, that sin may not creep in by the ports of sense, nor rise up out of the deep of the heart. When a temptation approaches to us, we should say as a holy man did, Auferte ignem, adhuc enim paleas habeo; take away the fire, yet I have chaff within. If a Jonah fall into a pet against God; if a David wallow in adultery and blood; if a Peter deny his Lord with a curse, what may not we do! The remnants of original sin in us should make us keep a watch over our hearts, and ponder the path of our feet. Our flesh is an Eve, a tempter within us; nay, a kind of devil, as an ancient speaks, Nemo sibi de suo palpet, quisque sibi Satan est.

~A View of Some Divine Truths pg. 61

And also:

Secondly, we receive a human nature from Adam, and have we not a divine nature from Christ? are we not called his seed? are we not begotten by his Spirit and word? were we not in a spiritual sense seminally in his blood and merits? how else should any such thing as the new creature be produced in a lapsed nature? These things are as proper to make us parts and members of Christ, as a human nature is to make us parts and members of Adam; therefore, the communication of righteousness from Christ must be as full and great as the communication of sin is from Adam. Bishop Usher tells us, that we have a more strict conjunction in the Spirit with Christ, than ever we had in nature with Adam; one and the same spirit is in Christ and believers, but there is not one soul in Adam and his posterity: the communication from Christ, therefore, if answerable to the union, must be as great, nay, greater than that from Adam.

~pg. 83

I shall seek to explain what Polhill’s language about union with Christ and “communication” of righteousness means at a later time. For now I just wish to show what sort of union he has in mind. We are legally united to Christ, it is true, but this is only the case because we are also seminally united to him through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Also, in my previous post on Polhill, I cited from Speculum theologiae in Christo which is available online through Google books. I have, however, recently purchased Soli Deo Gloria’s The Works of Edward Polhill which include the Speculum as well as others. Speculum is called A View of Some Divine Truths, and that accounts for the change in title in my new citations. It is all the same book, though.