21 February 2004

scots divines on baptism (part i)

I've been reading up on some of the earlier (pre-Westminster) Scots Reformed theologians regarding their doctrine of baptism.

The place to begin, I suppose, is to recall what the 1560 Scots Confession of John Knox teaches regarding baptism. It states,...so we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted... (Chapter 21)This is in keeping with, for instance, the teaching of Calvin who could write, in his 1547 Antidote to the Council of Trent,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.Of course, there are various qualifications one must make with regard to these assertions, for instance, they are not directed toward instances of utterly unbelieving reception of the sacraments. But the basic Reformed teaching is clear: Christ and his benefits are offered to us and received in the believing reception of baptism. Furthermore, it is a distinct question what effect the sacrament might have for those who receive it unbelief or who only believe temporarily and later apostatize.

Whatever the theological complications, the outlook of Calvin and the Scots Confession is carried forward in the writings of the Scots divines who followed. There are five divines, in particular, whose views I'd like to briefly summarize: John Craig (1512-1600), Robert Bruce (1554-1631), Robert Rollock (1555-1599), Robert Boyd of Trochrig (1578-1627), and John Forbes of Corse (1593-1648).

John Craig, like Martin Bucer, had once been a Dominican Friar, but after his conversion to the Protestant cause, fled and returned to his native Scotland. He co-pastored with John Knox in Edinburgh and later became a chaplain to James VI. Craig is probably best known for his Catechisms of 1581 and 1592.

The larger Catechism of 1581 was approved by the Church of Scotland and, in the abridged form of 1592, remained the primary catechetical tool of the Scottish church until the publication of the Westminster Catechisms some 50 years later. Regarding the sacraments in general, the 1581 Catechism states:Q: Do all men receive the favour of God by means of them?
A: No. Only the faithful receive it.

Q: How then are they true seals to all men?
A: They offer Christ truly to all men.
Like Calvin, Craig maintains the true objective offer of Christ in the Gospel ordinances of baptism and the eucharist, though only the reception of Christ unto salvation for those who receive him in the sacraments by faith. The Catechism continues futher on:Q: What is the signification of baptism?
A: Remission of our sins and regeneration.

Q: What similitude hath baptism with remission of sins?
A: As washing cleanseth the body, so Christ's blood our souls.

Q: Wherein doth this cleansing stand?
A: In putting away of sin, and imputation of justice.

Q: Wherein standeth our regeneration?
A: In mortification and newness of life.

Q: How are these things sealed up in baptism?
A: By laying on of water.

Q: What doth the laying on of the water signify?
A: Our dying to sin and rising to righteousness.

Q: Doth the external washing work these things?
A: No, it is the work of God's Holy Spirit only.

Q: Then the sacrament is a bare figure?
A: No, but it hath the verity joined with it.
In light of what we have already seen, the basic affirmation here is the following: the remission of sins and regeneration are joined with the external washing of baptism, so that the Holy Spirit works remission, imputation, mortification, and newness of life for all those who receive the sacrament in faith. Note that "regeneration" here does not seem to be used so much in the narrower sense of later Reformed dogmatics (with reference to the initial, immediate, and instantaneous work of the Spirit) as it does in the sense that Calvin used in his Antidote to Trent (with reference to the ongoing process of mortification and sanctification).

Craig's 1592 Catechism also adds the following:Q: How long, and by what way doth baptism work in us?
A: All the days of our life, through faith and repentance.
Here we see the common Reformed emphasis that baptism is efficacious not only when the water is upon us, but for our whole lives. As Calvin writes, "we are not to think that baptism was conferred upon us only for past time, so that for newly committed sins into which we fall after baptism we must seek new remedies of expiation in some other sacraments...But we must realize that at whatever time we are baptized, we are once for all washed and purged for our whole life" (Institutes 4.15.3).

Through Craig's Catechisms, then, the emphases of Reformed sacramental teaching and piety continued to be present within the Scottish church.