Davenant and Ward on Infant Baptism

Joel Garver, ubiquitous in his learning and lauded by divines across the world, has translated a letter from John Davenant to Samuel Ward, and he has also reposted a letter from Ward to Archbishop Ussher. Both letters have to do with the efficacy of infant baptism.

Davenant’s letter to Ward is here.

Ward’s letter to Ussher is here.
Both men affirm that some type of grace is given to all in baptism. Particularly, they affirm that original guilt is taken away from all baptized infants.

Davenant also affirms some critical distinctions between “efficacy” in infants and “efficacy” in those who have reached the age of reason. Two particularly important statements that he makes are:

That the justification, regeneration, adoption, which we admit does belong to baptized infants, is not univocally the same with that justification, regeneration, and adoption, which we say is never lost with regard to the matter of the saints’ perseverance.


The justification and regeneration and adoption of baptized infants confers on them a state of salvation according to the condition of infants.

So baptized infants have “infant benefits” so to speak. These are not the same as those possessing full use of their reason, which would be the ever-persevering benefits. However, these “infant benefits” are sufficient for the infants’ salvation prior to reaching such age.

I believe this is essentially Calvin’s position as well, and it is how we should understand his own language of people rejecting the grace that was given to them at baptism. Compare what we’ve seen in Davenant to this from Calvin:

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


Muller Comes Through For Us

In the latest issue of the Calvin Theological Journal, Richard Muller reviews Jonathan Moore’s English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology. He mostly likes the book, but he does take issue with Moore’s presentation of “hypothetical universalism” in relation to the Reformed Tradition. Muller writes:

Moore also underestimates the presence of non-Amyraldian or non-speculative forms of hypothetical universalism in the Reformed tradition as a whole and thereby, in the opinion of this reviewer, misconstrues Preston’s position as a “softening” of Reformed theology rather than as a continuation of one trajectory of Reformed thought that had been present from the early sixteenth century onward. Clear statements of nonspeculative hypothetical universalism can be found (as Davenant recognized) in Heinrich Bullinger’s Decades and commentary on the Apocalypse, in Wolfgang Musculus’ Loci communes, in Ursinus’ catechetical lectures, and in Zanchi’s Tractatus de praedestinatione sanctorum, among other places. In addition, the Canons of Dort, in affirming the standard distinction of a sufficiency of Christ’s death for all and its efficiency for the elect, actually refrain from canonizing either the early form of hypothetical universalism or the assumption that Christ’s sufficiency serves only to leave the nonelect without excuse. Although Moore can cite statements from the York conference that Dort “either apertly or covertly denied the universality of man’s redemption” (156), it remains that various of the signatories of the Canons were hypothetical universalists- not only the English delegation (Carleton, Davenant, Ward, Goad, and Hall) but also the [sic] some of the delegates from Bremen and Nassau (Martinius, Crocius, and Alsted)- that Carleton and the other delegates continued to affirm the doctrinal points of Dort while distancing themselves from the church discipline of the Belgic Confession, and that in the course of seventeenth-century debate even the Amyraldians were able to argue that their teaching did not run contrary to the Canons. In other words, the nonspeculative, non-Amyraldian form of hypothetical universalism was new in neither the decades after Dort nor a “softening” of the tradition: The views of Davenant, Ussher, and Preston followed out a resident trajectory long recognized as orthodox among the Reformed.

~CTJ, 43.1 pg. 150

I would add that the thought of the “English hypothetical universalists” is nearly identical with that of the University of Heidelberg, namely Ursinus, Paraeus, and Kimedoncius. Davenant quotes Paraeus directly in his Dissertation on the Death of Christ. Thus, there is little unique to England among the English hypothetical universalists.

Davenant and Calvinism

John Davenant was perhaps the single most influential delegate at the Synod of Dort (particularly for what he kept out of the final version of the Canons). Much of his influence was examined in my BH post on the subject, but it is certainly the case that he remains a neglected figure. I had never heard of him until I began my studies on Dort, and as I survey some of the secondary literature, I see that a few commentators have questioned whether or not he ought to be considered a Calvinist (because of his moderate position and its contrast with that of high Calvinism). G Michael Thomas addressed Robert Godfrey’s claims on Davenant in Thomas’s book The Extent of the Atonement, but I would like to address this issue a little myself by contrasting Davenant with John Overall, a man who had great influence on Davenant, but also a man whose historical point of view was quite different from Davenant’s.

Davenant wrote an extended treatise on the extent of the atonement, partly meant to explain the Canons of Dort. This is his A Dissertation on the Death of Christ. It was originally included within his Colossians commentary, but some modern reprints have removed it. In this treatise, Davenant affirms that Christ’s death established the new covenant and that the death of Christ is sufficient for all men, but for the elect alone effectually. Davenant’s two-fold approach to the death of Christ, allowing for a general universal atonement and a particular effectual atonement, was not original to him, however, and as Peter White has noted, Davenant was directly influenced by Bishop John Overall (Predestination, Policy and Polemic, pg. 191). Overall’s treatises on the atonement can all be found in Anthony Milton’s The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort (pg. 64- 92). Continue reading