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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Presumptive Regeneration (and presumptive non-regeneration)

It should be indubitable among Bible students that Scripture and, therefore, Reformed Theology teaches that infants born of professing Christians ought to be regarded as elect in Christ unto salvation. Although sadly too often covenant children fall away; they are without exception to be regarded as elect until such time they demonstrate otherwise. Added to this, all who are to be regarded as elect are also to be regarded as regenerate. Such consistency does not preclude admonitions to make one’s calling and election sure, another matter altogether. There is no need to rehearse here a defense for the Reformed position with respect to the external status of covenant children other than to say that Ishmael, a foreknown apostate, was to receive the mark of inclusion into the people of God (a birthright indeed!), and nothing in the New Testament overturns that precept. Consequently, it is still the case under the newer economy that all those who qualify as part of the visible church are to be regarded as God's invisible-elect and those regarded as such are always to be regarded as already subdued.

Presumptive Regeneration:

When we turn to the question of presumptive regeneration, we are no longer to concern ourselves with how one is to be regarded but rather what is normative with respect to the actual (real-time) state of one’s soul. It is normative that covenant children born of faithful parents are elect, for God delights more in saving the seed of the faithful than damning them. However, it is quite another thing to argue that covenant children are typically regenerate early in infancy. I may presume election (and therefore final adoption) for the children of the faithful, as well as regeneration to occur at some time in their lives for this is normative, but I may not presume regeneration in early infancy for covenant offspring (though such infants are to be regarded as regenerate).

The Westminster Divines were indeed correct that elect infants dying in infancy are regenerate and united to Christ; nonetheless, one may not leap from that justifiable Westminster-premise to the conclusion that all elect infants are regenerate in infancy; nor ought we to reason that the mere possibility of early infant regeneration demands the normative probability of early infant regeneration.

Presumptive Non-regeneration:

Although presumptive regeneration is a false doctrine, Scripture does not afford us the premises to reason and presume that covenant infants are without regeneration either, let alone to be treated as such. Archibald Alexander could not have been more wrong when he wrote: "The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured. . . . Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul, at any period of its existence, in this world, yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences; and not many in early childhood."

Presumptive Non-regeneration worse in ways:

We must not embrace the false doctrine of presumptive regeneration – nor should we embrace the equally false doctrine of presumptive non-regeneration. Note well that the latter doctrine is more harmful than the first, for at least the first doctrine allows one to consider his covenant child as he ought - a disciple of Christ; whereas the teaching of presumptive non-regeneration demands that the child be regarded as outside the camp with the wrath of God abiding upon him, a monstrous practice that is not only foreign but also contrary to the teachings of sacred Scripture.

Presumptive Regeneration does not necessarily lead to more error:

Both presumptive regeneration and non-regeneration are false doctrines. And although it might often be the case - those that embrace the former doctrine need not have a lax attitude toward making one's calling and election sure. After all, Scripture is replete with warnings not to fall away and exhortations to persevere even when conversion is assumed if not even infallibly known. For even the technician of grace, the Apostle Paul, with full assurance of his conversion buffeted his body lest he be a castaway. Consequently, those that hold to the erroneous and presumptive doctrine of presumptive regeneration need not be delinquent in practice with respect to encouraging others unto final salvation. Accordingly, a deficient doctrine of presumptive regeneration need not reduce to a hyper-Calvinism of any sort. On the other hand, those who hold to presumptive non-regeneration, like our Baptist brethren and our latent-baptist paedobaptist brethren, always (if consistent) make the mistake of treating covenant children wrongly as pagans.

Regarding one as elect and converted need not lead to nominalism; but it should lead to rejoicing more in promise than fruit:

As we treat our covenant children from the womb as disciples of the Lord, we are to instruct them to believe the entire Bible as we call them to “accept, receive, and rest upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life,” (just as we with credible professions must do as well all our days). Although we are to presume the election of infants born of faithful parents, we may not presume anything at all regarding their regeneration while yet in early infancy. We're to remain agnostic as it were with respect to the probable state of their soul, but is that so terrible? After all, I'm to regard infants in the church as regenerated disciples of Christ (are there any other kind!), and on their way to glory through proper nurturing and employment of the means of grace - a most happy thought indeed. Upon fruit we may presume their actual conversion, which although a great blesssing, our greatest rejoicing is not to be found in the fruit we see later but in the child's birth into a Christian home, which allows him to be baptized in the name of the Triune God as a disciple of Christ! Coming at this from another angle, should we rejoice less over our covenant child's eternal state should God decide to take him while still in the womb rather than after he professes Christ? If not, then why not?

The only way that the fruit of conversion can become a greater occasion for rejoicing than a birth to faithful parents is if one doubts God's promise and precepts in the first place! Isn't my a priori confidence in my child's salvation simply confirmed by a good profession and not established by the fruit I see? Shouldn't I expect to see fruit if I am believing God's precepts and promises in the first place? Isn't my utmost rejoicing to be found in God's promise and precepts (signed and sealed at the font), which precedes the always future outcome of the embraced promise, namely the ever abundant fruit of salvation? What is more extraordinary after all, that God would place an undeserving child in a covenant home and place His mark upon him, or that He would keep His promise(!) according to His precepts?

Something horrible to presume:

As for presumption, if we want to presume anything unfortunate regarding the children of professing believers, then presume that those who do not confess Christ by their late teens are more probably reprobate than not; which is all the more reason to encourage our covenant youth to make their calling and election sure, even today.

Ron
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