13 November 2002

Once Again, Calvin on Baptism

I'm not always a big fan of Credenda or some of the things that have come out of Moscow, Idaho, but I have been reading "Reformed" Is Not Enough by Doug Wilson. At one point Wilson quotes Calvin's Antidote to the Council of Trent with regard to baptism. Here is that quote in a bit more context:We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made, but that regeneration is only begun and goes on making progress during the whole of life. Accordingly, sin truly remains in us, and is not instantly in one day extinguished by baptism, but as the guilt is effaced it is null in regard to imputation. Nothing is plainer than this doctrine.Later Calvin makes the helpful observation that in the sacrament of baptism, "Man is merely the hand; it is Christ alone who truly and properly baptizes." Since baptism is the place in which Christ is present and working to give remission of sins and to regenerate us, Calvin teaches that baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation. He writes:We, too, acknowledge that the use of Baptism is necessary--that no one may omit it from either neglect or contempt. In this way we by no means make it free (optional). And not only do we strictly bind the faithful to the observance of it, but we also maintain that it is the ordinary instrument of God in washing and renewing us; in short, in communicating to us salvation. The only exception we make is, that the hand of God must not be tied down to the instrument. He may of himself accomplish salvation. For when an opportunity for Baptism is wanting, the promise of God alone is amply sufficient.Also, for Calvin, baptism did not suffice merely for initial washing from sin, but for a whole life so that forgiveness of sins was continually enjoyed through a remembrance of baptism in faith and repentance. He writes,For we ought to turn our thoughts not only to the sprinkling of water, but also to the spiritual reality which begets the confidence of a good conscience by the resurrection of Christ...Such remembrance, I say, not only makes sins venial, but altogether obliterates them. Whenever there is any question of forgiveness of sins, we must flee to Baptism and from it seek a confirmation of forgiveness. For as God reconciles us to himself by the daily promises of the Gospel, so the belief and certainty of this reconciliation, which is daily repeated even to the end of life, he seals to us by Baptism.Why is it that this kind of perspective is so absent from our Reformed piety today?