Calvin on Unrepentant Covenant Children

It is certainly true that when children of believers reach the age of discernment [and have never repented or believed] they will have alienated themselves from God and destroyed utterly the truth of baptism. But this is not to say that our Lord has not elected them and separated them from others in order to grant them His salvation. Otherwise, it would be in vain for Saint Paul to say that a child of a believing father or mother is sanctified, who would be impure if he were born of and descended from unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:14).

John Calvin, Treatises Against the Anabaptists and Against the Libertines pg. 52

This entry was posted in calvin, covenant, ecclesiology by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

43 thoughts on “Calvin on Unrepentant Covenant Children

  1. Someone should alert Calvin to the proper usage of the word “elect” in the Reformed tradition.

  2. The whole point of the quote is to show that there is a covenantal electing which is different from eternal electing.

    Calvin also taught that the children of believers had a seed faith, which would either grow up and be confirmed at the age of reason or would be eradicated through ingratitude. This comports with his larger sacramental theology.

    I’m well aware of the context, and I did, in fact, read the whole book.

    What I don’t understand is why this is a problem for critics of the FV and their supporters. Why is the unearthing of real history so dangerous? Why must it be met, not with arguments and counter-examples, but rather scoffing and appeals to current powers that be?

    Why is this?

    I think the inability towards responsible scholarship lies on the other side of this. The more I read folks of varying traditions (Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran), the more I see the level of sheer mythology that late 20th century pop-Calvinism is entrapped by. This isn’t an FV thing at all. The FV is a smokescreen. A distraction. Who cares about it anymore? It is a nice swear-word to silence other points of view. Let it begone! I don’t have to be defined by this silliness at all. This is much bigger.

  3. Steven, Gabe, and Stewart:

    In the citation you provided Calvin simply does not say that there are two different kinds of electing, one covenantal and the other eternal. He is simply saying that even though a baptized child of believing parents rejects the faith when he reaches the age of discernment, it does not mean he’s not one of the elect.

  4. Gabe,

    Go back and re-read the quote. The only election Calvin even mentions in it is election to salvation. He contemplates no such thing as the non-Reformed contrivance of some “covenantal electing” that is not for the purpose of saving the elect individual in this passage.

  5. Well Calvin says that they were elected and separated from others, and they then alienated themselves from God and destroyed the truth of their baptism.

  6. Calvin has a covenant election for Israel:

    “See here, I pray you, the election of God, whereby he putteth such difference between the lineage of Abraham and all the rest of the world, that he made the same lineage his church of purpose, that the signs of his favor and of his covenant should remain there, and that his name should be called upon there, so as he offered the promises of salvation to them that descended of the same race and lineage… Lo, here, I say, a general election that belonged to all the children of Abraham, and yet was that grace to be confirmed by faith but in a part of them. …Now then, God’s general election which extended to the whole people was not sufficient, but it behooved every man to be partaker of it in his own peculiar behalf. And how was that to be done? By faith. …Lo, here, the double election of God. The one extendeth to the whole people, because circumcision was given indifferently to all, both small and great, and the promises likewise were common. But yet for all that, God was fain to add a second grace, by touching the hearts of his chosen, namely of such as he listed to reserve to himself, and those came unto him, and he made them to receive the benefit that was offered them. Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon 72, Deuteronomy. 10:15-17, p., 439.”

    Peter Lillback argues that Calvin carried this over to the Church, and it was precisely this use of covenant that was employed against the Anabaptists.

  7. Steven,

    In the entire passage you quote from Calvin’s sermon on Deuteronomy the subject is Israel, which he refers to as “his church of purpose.” Nowhere in it does he discuss his view of election vis-à-vis the church.

    Tell me, Steven: what do your RTS professors think of these theological positions of yours?

  8. Gabe,

    Yes it is. As an English teacher, I diagram sentences for a living. It never ceases to absolutely astound me how incapable FV/NPP proponents are of exegeting English sentences in standard Reformed works.

  9. Ron, is that a threat of some kind? Silly. I think you’d be surprised about a few of the theological positions that some RTS professors hold.

    Steven has shown a willingness to engage in a discussion with you over the meaning of the text, but all you seem to want to do is fire off sarcastic quips about FV/NPP boogie men. Would you mind going line by line through the original quote. I would really like to hear your take.

  10. Stewart,

    Threat? I live far from RTS Jackson and don’t know any of the professors there. I have absolutely no voice at that institution. But if, as you seem to be indicating, there are professors there who are sympathetic to the FV/NPP positions to which Steven holds, then I think more of us in the PCA should know about it, so we can bear it in mind when interviewing candidates from that seminary.

    As far as your ironically sarcastic reference to “sarcastic quips about FV/NPP boogie men”: I’ve never read anyone outside the FV (though this is not so much the case with the NPP) who can be outdone when it comes to sarcasm, which is frequently of the most venomous variety imaginable (just skim through some of the more potent contributions of Horne and Jordan on Green Baggins).

  11. Ron, is there any chance you’ll engage the original quote Steven posted? Since I don’t have the text myself, I’d like to hear your take on its meaning.

  12. Stewart,

    I believe I actually did that in my comments 7 and 9. When I challenged Steven on his interpretation of the citation he posted he referred me to Calvin’s commentary on Deuteronomy instead of something in the original context that would support his position, so I remain unimpressed. Meanwhile, I don’t have a copy of the work to which he refers, but I’ve ordered a copy of it from Amazon.

  13. Ron, if you’re going to challenge someone over context, then it might behoove you to know the context yourself, and perhaps even own the work in question.

    Regardless, how about you give us your interpretation of 1 Cor 7:14. That might help the discussion along. We all should have that text available.

  14. Jeez you guys.

    First of all, no one at RTS believes whatever it is that I believe. I’m a freak and live in a cave. My incorrigibility and illiteracy is obvious to all.

    However, there are likely a few professors that believe what Calvin did about the special election of Israel and, in the New Covenant, the Church. John Frame of RTS Orlando clearly thinks this is biblical, as he explains in his Doctrine of God. Richard Pratt is roughly on the same page. Dr. Allen Curry thinks that Robert Rayburn’s position on covenant succession is pretty close to accurate, and that is my understanding of what Calvin is articulating.

    We’re talking about Calvin here and whether or not he has a category for covenantal election. That is the only point I’m after here.

    Now, my quote from the Sermons on Deuteronomy was to show that Calvin had a special election for Israel. This seems undeniable to all. Having this established, I argue, following Peter Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary (see his The Binding of God) that Calvin used the fundamental continuity between Israel and the Church to uphold infant baptism.

    The Old Covenant of grace, which was relegated to the nation of Israel, has been opened up to all of the nations in the New Covenant. That is how I understand Calvin.

    That this is indeed what he is doing is evident from the immediate context of the Treatise Against the Anabaptists and Against the Libertines.

    The quote I blogged about (originally a year or so ago by the way. I was transferring old stuff over, and that’s how it got reposted) is from page 52. This is the fist chapter on the question of infant baptism, and the opponents are the Anabaptists, specifically the Seven Articles.

    Calvin grounds the practice of infant baptism on the Old Covenant practice of circumcision, but more specifically on the fact that the promise given to the father is also given to all of his children. Calvin writes:

    “But we must now note that when a man is received of God into the fellowship of the faithful, the promise of salvation which is given to him is not for him alone but also for his children. For it is said to him: “I am thy God, and the God of thy children after thee” (Gen. 17:7). Therefore the man who has not been received into the covenant of God from his childhood is as a stranger to the church until such time as he is led into faith and repentance by the doctrine of salvation. But at that same time his posterity is also made part of the family of the church. And for this reason infants of believers are baptized by virtue of this covenant, made with their fathers in their name and to their benefit.” (pg. 46-57)

    So Calvin is arguing that the children of believers are included in the promise that God gives to the believer himself. The next paragraph down Calvin states explicity, “For when it is a question of baptizing a man of age, who has not been a Christian, then before such can be done, he must be taught what baptism means. But with respect to his children, they are baptized under the doctrine which he has received, which holds that God is not only his personal Savior but also the Savior of his children” (pg. 47).

    So there you have it. Calvin believes that God is the personal savior of the adult believer and the savior of his children. This is why they are to be baptized. This is what Calvin means when he says that the children already possess the reality of the sacrament, and therefore we should not deny them the sign of the sacrament.

    Now the original quote that I posted has to do with the question of how to respond when these children, the ones to whom God has promised to be a Savior, do not, in fact, enjoy the promised salvation. When they reach the age of discernment, they will either accept the truth of their baptism or they will reject the truth of their baptism. This is what Calvin is talking about when he says they “will have alienated themselves from God and destroyed utterly the truth of baptism.” He then goes on to say, “But this is not to say that our Lord has not elected them and separated them from others in order to grant them His salvation.”

    Now clearly Calvin does not mean that though these children reject God, they are still eternally elect and will go to heaven. Those who reject God and scorn his church, never repenting, are not saved. They are not eternally elect.

    Thus, what do we say about them?

    We could say “Well, I guess we see now that they never were anything.” That’s a standard response and one suitable to a Reformed baptist position.

    Calvin’s response is different. He says they were elected and separated from others so that God could grant them His salvation, but they, in their hard hearts and faithless ingratitude, rejected what God offered and are thus held all the more accountable.

    This same argument can be found in Calvin’s Institutes. In Book IV, Chapter XVI Calvin argues for infant baptism. His arguments in the Treatise are essentially a condensing of what is found in the Institutes.

    Calvin begins by stating the new rejection of infant baptism. He moves on to say what baptism means- the covenant, access to God, the first entry into immortal life, the forgiveness of sins, etc. (pg 1326 ed. McNeil). He then moves to the example of the Old Testament, arguing that “circumcision was for the Jews their first entry into the church, because it was a token to them by which they were assured of adoption as the people and household of God, and they in turn professed to enlist in God’s service” (1327).

    Then Calvin connects this directly to the Church: “In like manner, we also are consecrated to God through baptism, to be reckoned as his people, and in turn we swear fealty to him” (ibid).

    Now whatever you want to call this consecrating to God, it is different than a non-consecrated status.

    Calvin says that the covenant members are a holy seed, sanctified, separated, and elected. There’s no need to be superstitious about terms. Calvin can apply these terms to the covenant because the Bible does. When I distinguish them from “eternal election,” I am doing so for systematic theology purposes. I don’t want anybody mistaking me for teaching that eternal election is losable, nor do I want them to think that I deny absolute predestination.

    Continuing with Calvin, he writes a little later in the Institutes, “If Christ intends the washing with which he cleanses his church to be attested by baptism, it does not seem fair that he should not have his testimony in the little ones, who are rightly considered a part of the church, since they have been called heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven [Matt. 19:14]. For Paul embraces the church universal when he speaks of it as cleansed with the washing of water” (IV. XVI. 22; pg. 1345).

    Now let us continue on a little more, for Calvin is stronger still, “From his statement elsewhere that we have been engrafted into the body of Christ through baptism [1 Cor. 12:13], we in the same way conclude that infants, whom he counts as his members, must be baptized, that they may not be sundered from his body.”

    You can read more of this in Calvin. His refutations of Servetus are short and to the point. He consistently sounds the theme of covenantal separation (whatever you please to call it) and the inclusion of the children of believers. Once those believers reach the age of reason, they are to embrace the promises in faith, or they will reject them in faithless ingratitude.

    “By baptism they are admitted into Christ’s flock, and the symbol of their adoption suffices them until as adults they are able to bear solid food” (IV. XVI. 8; pg. 1355).

    I believe my point stands. I believe this is what Calvin taught. I do not understand the objections to it, where they are coming from, what they themselves hold, nor what they wish to thrust upon Calvin. I do not speak for my professors, but I have great faith that they are able to read Calvin correctly.

    This whole controversy has caused an over-reaching, a recoiling away, not just from the suggestions of pastoral use of these doctrines, but from the very doctrines themselves. That is the shame. That is what I want to fight back against. That is why I list these historical quotes.

  15. I agree Steven, that Calvin is pretty consistent and clear on these issues. However, I would depart from him in places, regarding the relationship between Israel and the Church, circumcision and baptism, and the “status” of covenant children compared to pagan children, but I don’t think Calvin would expect us to rest on his laurels, so to speak. He was compassionate with the fathers before him, but he also moved on beyond them and sought to be more in line with Scripture than those who came before him, I think.

  16. Steven,

    You wrote:

    First of all, no one at RTS believes whatever it is that I believe. I’m a freak and live in a cave. My incorrigibility and illiteracy is obvious to all.

    Then am I to assume that your professors would take exception to pretty much everything you wrote after these statements?

  17. Steven, thanks for the long post clearing things up for us. I’m glad someone has the time and ability to bring stuff like this into the light. Keep it up. One of the good thing about this “controversy” is that many of the pop-calvinists in the church today are actually having to deal with the actual words of Calvin, and I think they are discovering that they really don’t like him that much.

  18. Stewart, et. al.:

    In order to be understood properly, all the statements of Calvin presented above must be read in light of his prefatory statements on the sacraments in general in Institutes 4.14.17, which I will cite here in toto, highlighting what I believe to be pertinent to this discussion (the italicized word is original to the Battles translation):

    Therefore, let it be regarded as a settled principle that the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace. But they avail and profit nothing unless received in faith. As with wine or oil or some other liquid, no matter how much you pour out, it will flow away and disappear unless the mouth of the vessel to receive it is open; moreover, the vessel will be splashed over on the outside, but will still remain void and empty.

    Moreover, we must beware lest we be led into a similar error through what was written a little too extravagantly by the ancients to enhance the dignity of the sacraments. That is, to think that a hidden power is joined and fastened to the sacraments by which they of themselves confer the graces of the Holy Spirit upon us, as wine is given in a cup; while the only function divinely imparted to them is to attest and ratify for us God’s good will toward us. And they are of no further benefit unless the Holy Spirit accompanies them. For he it is who opens our minds and hearts and makes us receptive to this testimony. In this also, varied and distinct graces of God brightly appear. For the sacraments (as we have suggested above) are for us the same thing from God, as messengers of glad tidings or guarantees of the ratification of covenants are from men. They do not bestow any grace of themselves, but announce and tell us, and (as they are guarantees and tokens) ratify among us, those things given us by divine bounty. The Holy Spirit (whom the sacraments do not bring indiscriminately to all men but whom the Lord exclusively bestows on his own people) is he who brings the graces of God with him, gives a place for the sacraments among us, and makes them bear fruit.

    We do not deny that God himself is present in his institution by the very present power of his Spirit. Nevertheless, that the administration of the sacraments which he has ordained may not be unfruitful and void, we declare that the inner grace of the Spirit, as distinct from the outward ministry, ought to be considered and pondered separately, God therefore truly executes whatever he promises and represents in signs; nor do the signs lack their own effect in proving their Author truthful and faithful. The only question here is whether God acts by his own intrinsic power (as they say) or resigns his office to outward symbols. But we contend that, whatever instruments he uses, these detract nothing from his original activity.

    When this doctrine is taught concerning the sacraments, their worth is duly commended, their use clearly indicated, their value abundantly proclaimed, and the best mean in all these things retained, so that nothing is given to them which should not be given, and conversely nothing taken away which belongs to them. In the meantime, that false doctrine is removed by which the cause of justification and the power of the Holy Spirit are enclosed in elements, just as in vessels or vehicles, and that chief force which has been overlooked by some is clearly set forth.

    We must also note this: that God accomplishes within what the minister represents and attests by outward action, lest what God claims for himself alone should be turned over to a mortal man. Augustine also wisely admonishes this. “How,” he says, “do both Moses and God sanctify? Not Moses on God’s behalf; but Moses by the visible sacraments through his ministry, God by invisible grace through the Holy Spirit. There, also, is the whole fruit of the visible sacraments. For without this sanctification of invisible grace, what is gained from these visible sacraments?”

  19. I’m quite familiar with Calvin’s sacramental thought. The signs must be received in faith, a faith which can only be given by the Holy Spirit, in order to lead to the signified benefit.

    But now what does Calvin say about infants of believers?

    He says that they are in the covenant until they reach the age of believers, from whence they shall confirm all that has been said about them in their baptism, or they will “destroy utterly the truth of baptism” in their rejection and falling away.

    Everything you have posted from Calvin works consistently with this point, and as of yet, I do not see how you have even touched the points that I have affirmed.

  20. Steven,

    This is the part I do not see in any of your citations of Calvin:

    But now what does Calvin say about infants of believers?

    He says that they are in the covenant until they reach the age of believers, from whence they shall confirm all that has said about them in their faith, or they will “destroy utterly the truth of baptism” in their rejection and falling away.

    In your citation of Calvin in comment 20, you quote him as saying:

    “And for this reason infants of believers are baptized by virtue of this covenant, made with their fathers in their name and to their benefit.”

    This is perhaps the closest I’ve seen Calvin come to saying that the infants of believers are in the covenant, but even here he stops short of that. Even though the promise of salvation by grace through faith is also made to the children, according to Calvin the covenant itself is made with their fathers.

    Meanwhile, pardon me for pressing this issue with you, but it sounds as though you’ve already locked horns with your RTS professors on these points. Is this a safe assumption?

  21. To your last question, no. I typically don’t “lock horns” with profs.

    I talk to them, and to say that Calvin taught that children of believers are in covenant is not controversial.

    As far as your resisting the term “covenant,” I do not understand it. Calvin says that they are “holy by supernatural grace,” they are “elected and separated from others in order to grant them His salvation,” and they are “admitted into Christ’s flock.”

    I would think that any of these phrases equal “covenant,” but since you need the explicit term, here goes:

    “Those who embrace faith in Christ as grown men, since they were previously strangers to the covenant, are not to be given the badge of baptism unless they first have faith and repentance, which alone can give access to the society of the covenant. But those infants who derive their origin from Christians, as they have been born directly into the inheritance of the covenant, are expected by God, are are thus to be received into baptism” (Institutes IV.XVI.24 pg. 1347).

    Personally I think the “covenant” is the least controversial of the terms used.

  22. And this questioning about my relationship to my teachers is ironic. When I left for Seminary, my EPC pastor (an RTS Orlando grad. and one smart dude) gave me a copy of Lewis Bevens Schenck’s The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant. He told me to read it and to know the historical facts.

    It is true that some of the later covenant theologians (especially in Britain) moved to a more exclusive view of the covenant, restricting its membership to the elect. I think this is where you can really understand the roots of the Reformed Baptist movement. There is at least one professor here who would maintain that position. But, we have a few profs who were greatly influenced by Van Til and Murray, and they would not agree to such a formulation.

    At least one prof. has had fraternal relations with the Canadian Reformed Seminary, which if you are familiar, rests its entire raison d’etre on this question.

    The history of covenant theology goes up and down. Calvin is early on, and not, in my opinion, a “federalist.” His theology, however, inspired the federalists, as they developed certain thoughts and neglected others. Other traditions (Anglicans, Mercersburg, Neo-Calvinism, Liberated theology, WTS) developed other aspects, and now we are dealing with the convergence of these traditions in an under-prepared and hot-headed landscape.

  23. I’m probably done on this one. My position is sound and unoriginal to me. None of this is FV, but the confusion on Calvin sure explains the confusion on the FV.

    Again, my point is that for Calvin, the covenant includes all children of believers, and when the children reach the age of reason they either confirm what was said about them in the word and sacrament or they deny it and cause themselves to be cast out. Calvin speaks in “free offer”language, with the fault falling squarely on the reprobates ingratitude if he grows up and does not experienced the blessings said about him.

  24. The problem with citing the Reformed tradition is that we always cite our biased fathers in the faith, and never the ones who disagree with them (and us). Over at Greenbaggins, they only know of Turretin, Owen, and Berkhof (all of whom I’ve read extensively, and appreciate in some regard); in other Reformed circles, they read Kuyper, Van Til, and Schilder, while in others they read Dabney, Hodge, and so on.

    There is no monolithic Reformed covenant theology, but there is a ballpark.

    In that sense, then, the Federal Vision really is out in left field. 😉

    This is why I’d rather focus on the Scriptures themselves, and when we say “let Scripture interpret Scripture,” ACTUALLY MEAN IT AND DO IT.

  25. Steve,

    You cite the following from Calvin as proof that children of covenant believers are automatically in the covenant:

    “Those who embrace faith in Christ as grown men, since they were previously strangers to the covenant, are not to be given the badge of baptism unless they first have faith and repentance, which alone can give access to the society of the covenant. But those infants who derive their origin from Christians, as they have been born directly into the inheritance of the covenant, are expected by God, are are thus to be received into baptism” (Institutes IV.XVI.24 pg. 1347).

    My problem with this citation is as follows: in the first half of it Calvin explicitly identifies faith and repentance as that “which alone can give access to the society of the covenant” (emphasis mine). Is he then contradicting himself by adding something else that can “give access to the society of the covenant,” namely, having Christian parents? It seems more likely that for Calvin, to “have been born directly into the inheritance of the covenant” makes one an heir of the covenant, i.e., on the one hand, one who “has” it in the sense that it is promised to him, but on the other hand, one who will not “have” it until he receives it through faith. After all, as you yourself quote Calvin as saying, it is only through faith and repentance that we come into the covenant.

  26. But Calvin explicitly rejects that explanation. He says that the adult believers come into covenant one way, and the children come in another, through their being children of the adult believer.

    In the Treatise, Calvin takes issue with applying the same requirement of adults to children, “Seeing then that in these passages our Lord makes special mention of those who can be taught, and who at the time have not become His disciples, it is entirely misleading and a perversion to apply them to children of Christians who lack the capacity to understand, and yet are included in the covenant God made with their fathers by which they became part of the family of the church” (pg. 48).

    Again, the children are included in the covenant that God made with their parents.

    Calvin says that God’s work in children “is beyond our understanding” when he regenerates infants (1340).

    In IV.XVI. 19, Calvin says “But these men do not perceive that when the apostle makes hearing the beginning of faith he is describing only the ordinary arrangement and dispensation of the Lord which he commonly uses in calling his people- not, indeed, prescribing for him an unvarying rule so that he may use no other way.”

    A few sentences later, Calvin asks, “But since they think that it would be quite absurd for any knowledge of God to be attributed to infants, to whom Moses denies the knowledge of good and evil, let them only tell me, I ask, what the danger is if infants be said to receive now some part of that grace which in a little while they shall enjoy to the full?”

    At the end of part 20, Calvin says, “To sum up, this objection can be solved without difficulty: infants are baptized into future repentance and faith, and even though these have not yet been formed in them, the seed of both lies hidden within them by the secret working of the Spirit” (1343).

    So there is a future faith and repentance to be grown up into, but there is also a present seed hidden within. That is the seed that is either confirmed or choked out.

    Calvin later says, “By baptism they are admitted into Christ’s flock, and the symbol of their adoption suffices them until as adults they are able to bear solid food” (IV.XVI.8).

    Until the children grow up to where they can handle solid food, the symbol of their adoption suffices.

  27. Compare this “seed” talk with Calvin’s commentary on the Parable of the Sower, and you start to get a consistent picture of the “seed”:

    Matthew 13:22

    “And he who received the seed among thorns. He places in the third class, those who would have been disposed to receive the seed within, if they had not permitted other things to corrupt and render it degenerate. Christ compares to thorns the pleasures of this life, or wicked desires, and covetousness, and the other anxieties of the flesh. Matthew mentions only the care of this life, along with covetousness, but the meaning is the same; for under that term he includes the allurements of pleasures, which Luke mentions, and every kind of desire. As corn, which otherwise might have been productive, no sooner rises into the stalk than it is choked by thorns and other matters injurious to its growth; so the sinful affections of the flesh prevail over the hearts of men, and overcome faith, and thus destroy the force of the heavenly doctrine, before it has reached maturity.

    Now though sinful desires exert their power on the hearts of men, before the word of the Lord springs up into the blade, yet, at first, their influence is not perceived, and it is only when the corn has grown up, and given promise of fruit, that they gradually make their appearance. Each of us ought to endeavor to tear the thorns out of his heart, if we do not choose that the word of God should be choked; for there is not one of us whose heart is not filled with a vast quantity, and, as I may say, a thick forest, of thorns. And, indeed, we perceive how few there are that reach maturity; for there is scarcely one individual out of ten that labors, I do not say to root out, but even to cut down the thorns. Nay more, the very number of the thorns, which is so prodigious that it ought to shake off our sloth, is the reason why most people give themselves no trouble about them.

    The deceitfulness of riches. Christ employs this phrase to denote covetousness He expressly says, that riches are imposing or deceitful, in order that men may be more desirous to guard against falling into their snares. Let us remember that the affections of our flesh, the number and variety of which are incalculable, are so many injurious influences to corrupt the seed of life.”


    Matthew 13:36

    “We must now inquire what he means by the wheat, and what by the tares These terms cannot be explained as referring to doctrine, as if the meaning had been that, when the Gospel is sown, it is immediately corrupted and adulterated by wicked inventions; for Christ would never have forbidden them to labor strenuously to purge out that kind of corruption. With respect to morals, those faults of men which cannot be corrected must be endured; but we are not at liberty to extend such a toleration to wicked errors, which corrupt the purity of faith. Besides, Christ removes all doubt, by saying expressly, that the tares are the children of the wicked one And yet it must also be remarked, that this cannot be understood simply of the persons of men, as if by creation God sowed good men and the devil sowed bad men. I advert to this, because the present passage has been abused by the Manicheans, for the purpose of lending support to their notion of two principles. But we know that whatever sin exists, either in the devil or in men, is nothing else than the corruption of the whole nature. As it is not by creation that God makes his elect, who have been tainted with original sin, to become a good seed, but by regenerating them through the grace of his Spirit; so wicked men are not created by the devil, but, having been created by God, are corrupted by the devil, and thrown into the Lord’s field, in order to corrupt the pure seed.”

  28. Calvin speaks of two different types of election in many many places:

    “This is as yet partially obscure, but it may be shortly explained. We may remark that there was a twofold election of God: since speaking generally, he chose the whole family of Abraham. For circumcision was common to all, being the symbol and seal of adoption: since when God wished all the sons of Abraham to be circumcised from the least to the greatest, he at the same time chose them as his sons: this was one kind of adoption or election. But the other was secret, because God took to himself out of that multitude those whom he wished: and these are sons of promise, these are remnants of gratuitous favor, as Paul says. (Romans 11:8.) This distinction, therefore, now takes away all doubt, since the Prophet speaks of the unbelievers and the profane who had departed from the worship of God. For this their unbelief was a complete abdication. It is true, then, that as far as themselves were concerned, they were strangers, and so God’s secret election did not flourish in them, but yet they were God’s people, as far as relates to external profession. If any one objects that this circumcision was useless, and hence their election without the slightest effect, the answer is at hand: God by his singular kindness honored those miserable ones by opening a way of approach for them to the hope of life and salvation by the outward testimonies of adoption. Then as to their being at the same time strangers, that happened through their own fault.” Commentary on Ezekiel 16:20

    “As for instance, whenever we read that God had repudiated his own people, it is certain, as Paul says, that the calling of God is without repentance, (Romans 11:29:) nor does he declare this only of the secret election of each, but also of that general election, by which God had set apart the race of Abraham from the rest of the nations. At the same time many of Abraham’s children were reprobates, as he instances in the case of Esau and of others: yet the election of God was unchangeable; and hence it was that there remained still some hope as to that people, that God would at length gather to himself a Church from the Jews as well as from the Gentiles, so that those who were then separated might be hereafter united together.” Commentary on Zechariah 1:17.

    “There was another, a general election; for he received his whole seed into his faith, and offered to all his covenant. At the same time, they were not all regenerated, they were not all gifted with the Spirit of adoption. This general election was not then efficacious in all. Solved now is the matter in debate, that no one of the elect shall perish; for the whole people were not elected in a special manner; but God knew whom he had chosen out of that people; and them he endued, as we have said, with the Spirit of adoption, and supplied with his own grace, that they might never fall away. Others were indeed chosen in a certain way, that is, God offered to them the covenant of salvation; but yet through their ingratitude they caused God to reject them, and to disown them as children.” Commentary on Hosea 12:3-5, Introductory Comments.

    “It is easy to explain why the general election of a people is not always firm and effectual: to those with whom God makes a covenant, he does not at once give the spirit of regeneration that would enable them to persevere in the covenant to the very end. Rather, the outward change, without the working of inner grace, which might have availed to keep them, is intermediate between the rejection of mankind and the election of a meager number of the godly.” Institutes, 3.21.7.

    Frankly, I assumed that everyone agreed that Calvin taught that children of believers were in covenant and that there is a two-fold electing.

    My original point in quoting Calvin was to show how he applies this theology to specific and personal instances.

  29. Calvin seems tame compared to the Westminster Directory for Publick Worship that states children of believers are Christians before Baptism, and that this is why they are to be incorporated through Baptism.

    Don’t necessarily agree with that formulation, but it is fairly clear in the 17th century Reformation traditions.

  30. Steven,

    It seems to me that all of the references you’ve supplied from Calvin in support of your “two-fold electing” thesis are limited in each context to Calvin’s discussion of the situation that pertained under the Mosaic covenant (which Paul calls “the old covenant”). And in the specific case of the old covenant you’d be perfectly correct if you concluded that “everyone agreed that Calvin taught that children of [Israelites] were in covenant and that there [was] a two-fold electing.” But the same does not apply under the New Covenant, which is a very different animal. In comment 12 you wrote, “Peter Lillback argues that Calvin carried this over to the Church,” but I have yet to see anything persuasive from the pen of Calvin himself that he actually does this. I realize it’s frustrating for both of us to be looking at the same texts and to see two very different things in them, but there you have it.

    The FV, of course, agrees with you on this idea of two distinct kinds of election, both in Scripture and in Calvin, but many of them also follow this to its logical conclusion: that there must also be two kinds of justification, and two kinds of union with Christ, and so on, which in my view puts them in the same category as rationalistic Arminians. Do you take this approach as well?

  31. Ron,

    Which covenant do you think Calvin has in mind when he speaks of the “Covenant of salvation” of which reprobates are members, but fall away?

    I think we’re just going to have to reckon with Calvin’s system.

    As I understand him, the covenant of grace- we can leave the question of covenant of works to the side for now- includes both the Old and New Testament, with a measure of “discontinuity” for the Mosaic Covenant, which is Israel specific. The “New” Covenant, for Calvin, is the opening up of the old to all of the nations of the world through the church.

    Thus, when Calvin speaks of “Abraham’s children” he is speaking of the covenant of grace. In Pauline language, there could be a contrast between Abraham and Moses, but typically the Church looks back beyond Moses to Abraham for an example. The Abrahamic covenant is the promise-covenant. The New Testament is the coming of this promise.

    So for Calvin, the progression is Abraham–> Moses–> Church. There is generic continuity with some discontinuity in the midst.

    His argument for infant baptism is that the covenant is essentially the same now as it was under the old administration, with the changes being outward. The substance, as he says, was and is Jesus Christ.

    So the children of believers are to be baptized based on the covenant. The promise that God gives to the parents, once they come to faith, itself includes the children as well.

    See Calvin in the Treatise:

    “But we must now note that when a man is received of God into the fellowship of the faithful, the promise of salvation which is given to him is not for him alone but also for his children. For it is said to him: “I am thy God, and the God of thy children after thee” (Gen. 17:7). Therefore the man who has not been received into the covenant of God from his childhood is as a stranger to the church until such time as he is led into faith and repentance by the doctrine of salvation. But at that same time his posterity is also made part of the family of the church. And for this reason infants of believers are baptized by virtue of this covenant, made with their fathers in their name and to their benefit.” (pg. 46-57)

    The infants of believers are baptized “by virtue of this covenant.” The parents “made” the covenant, but the covenant was in the name of the infant and for his benefit. It is like my father making a policy for me as a child. He made it, but I am indeed in it. When I grow up, I can decide whether to keep it or reject it, but either way, I’m in it for the time being.

    In the Institutes Calvin, writes:

    “Such is the value of the promise given to the posterity of Abraham, – such the balance in which it is to be weighed. Hence though we have no doubt that in distinguishing the children of God from bastards and foreigners, that the election of God reigns freely, we, at the same time, perceive that he was pleased specially to embrace the seed of Abraham with his mercy, and, for the better attestation of it, to seal it by circumcision. The case of the Christian Church is entirely of the same description; for as Paul there declares that the Jews are sanctified by their parents, so he elsewhere say s that the children of Christians derive sanctification from their parents (I Cor. 7:14). Hence it is inferred that those who are chargeable with impurity (I Cor. 7:15) are justly separated from others” (IV.XVI.XV).

  32. I really would like to leave the other issues to the side for now. My fear is that the resistance to seeing Calvin’s teaching that children are in the covenant is due to a larger suspicion that “I’m up to something.” by quoting him.

    I do not believe that Calvin is “FV.” That is not my point. I understand the progression of covenant theology to include several discontinuities, with a basic continuity running throughout. FV is basically a progression from WTS’s union with Christ emphasis and redemptive historical hermeneutic, all charged with a liturgical postmillennialism that comes from a mix of Lutheranism, Rushdoony-Milbank, and the dark caverns of JBJ’s mind.

    Calvin is a long way before all that.

    Calvin is pre-Federalist. You can see Muller’s Christ and the Decree for the “three covenant” views that were around in the first generation Reformers. I think Calvin best fits with this group (Bullinger, Musculus, Vermigli).

    Beza and Perkins modified this to a “two covenant” view (works and grace), which fit nicely with their larger Ramist system. I’m not using “Ramist” as a slur either. This is simply how they went about things. Everything was paired. Check out Ames’s Marrow for a perfect example. Thus supralapsarianism was also appealing to them.

    After this bi-covenantal view, the pactum salutis arose as an attempt to ground soteriology in the workings of the Trinity. A new “three covenant” view developed, but this one was an attempt to ground and enforce the basic bi-covenantal structure.

    Bi-covenantalism has the covenant of works with Adam and the covenant of grace with Christ. Paul, of course, is speaking about Moses, and so it wasn’t long before folks started to “recapitulate” Adam’s covenant in the Mosaic covenant. You see bits of this in Owen and Witsius, with the fullest expression, of course, with Kline in the 20th century.

    This changes what “the covenant” is though. For Calvin, the covenant includes corporate groups of people. The children of believers are themselves included in the parents. They come with them. Thus there is a covenant group. Knox takes this to Scotland and gets a covenant nation.

    But, when we move everything back to Adam/Christ parallels, the “groups” become the elect and the reprobate. This changes things, and I think this is why we have a hard time interpreting Calvin. Obviously he believes in election and reprobation, but these are not the same thing as the covenant for him.

    The Dutch have retained an “objective covenant” so to speak, and this is why they had their spat over presumptive regeneration in the early 20th century. Kuyper based the covenant on regeneration, but he included all children in it as well. Thus he said that all children of believers are regenerate (except of course, those who aren’t). The Schilderites rejected that the covenant was based on regeneration, and rather argued that it included both regenerate and reprobate.

    That controversy though was just the understandable clash of ideas between covenant and election. It is one that we are still having.

  33. Steven,

    I’m extremely pressed for time, so I won’t be able to contribute much to the discussion today.

    However, I can pause for a moment to deal with the very beginning of your most recent response to me, in which you wrote:

    Which covenant do you think Calvin has in mind when he speaks of the “Covenant of salvation” of which reprobates are members, but fall away?

    Once again, I find myself frustrated by the fact that you get something totally different out of Calvin than I do. The actual quote you must be referring to is from Calvin’s commentary on Hosea, which you cite in comment 34, where you quote Calvin as follows:

    “Others [i.e., the non-elect in Israel] were indeed chosen in a certain way, that is, God offered to them the covenant of salvation; but yet through their ingratitude they caused God to reject them, and to disown them as children.”

    Calvin clearly states that the covenant of salvation was offered to the non-elect in Israel; he does not say that they were members of that covenant and later fell away from it. How you can possibly read it otherwise is something I find totally mystifying. So when you follow up with “I think we’re just going to have to reckon with Calvin’s system,” I respond with a hearty, “Amen!” But before we reckon with Calvin’s system, we must reckon with his actual words—what he actually wrote.

    I apologize for not having time to read further in your comments right now, as I’m very much behind the eight ball for the rest of today and this evening, but I look forward to considering more of what you wrote tomorrow.

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