23 February 2004

scots divines on baptism (part iii)

Robert Boyd of Trochrig, after studying under Rollock at Edinburgh, went to France where he studied and taught in several schools of the Reformed Church there, including the theological schools of Sedan and Samaur. After his return to Scotland, Boyd was made principal and professor of divinity at Glasgow University, though he later taught at Edinburgh for a time before his death.

In general, Boyd saw the sacrament of baptism as an "efficacious seal and instrument" by which God "confers and applies" what he signifies (Commentary on Ephesians 753). Thus, according to Boyd, in baptism Godapplies Christ's blood to our hearts and consciences first by sealing in us the remission of sins, then by renewing us in Christ's image, both by mortifying the old man in us by the efficacy of his resurrection and life or by inspiring us to new life with Christ. Thus, without the blood of Christ, we cannot obtain regeneration, and without the Spirit of Christ, his righteousness is not imputed to us. (753)As with other Reformed divines, we see here that baptism confers a two-fold benefit: remission of sins and regeneration. Again, "regeneration" refers not so much to the initiation salvation in some discrete act of the Spirit, but the ongoing death to sin and renewal of life in Christ. Indeed, Boyd appears to place regeneration, in this sense, logically or temporally subsequent to remissions of sins.

As a young man John Forbes of Corse studied in the Netherlands, gaining a profound knowledge of the church fathers, and where he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry. Forbes was later a professor of divinity at the University of Aberdeen and considered one the most prominent Reformed scholastics of his day. During the conflicts involving the Covenanters, Forbes fled to the Netherlands where he completed his most celebrated work, Instructiones Historico-theologicae.

In this treatise he gives some attention to the sacraments and baptism. He refers to the sacraments as "means of salvation and instruments enjoined by Christ" (Lib. X, cap. 4). Much of what Forbes says regarding baptism echoes his Scottish predecessors, but with regard to regeneration in relation to baptism, he makes a three-fold distinction (which has parallels in some of the continental Reformed divines).

First, there is a federal holiness enjoyed by those born of families within the covenant and on the basis of which such children are to be baptized. Second, Forbes speaks of a "sacramental and visible regeneration" with regard to those who are "regenerated and holy through baptismal regeneration and sanctity." Third, there is a spiritual and invisible regeneration that entails interior renovation and salvation.

According to Forbes, not all who enjoy sanctification and regeneration in either or both of the first two senses necessarily enjoys it in the third sense. As an example of a person who received only sacramental and visible regeneration, but not spiritual regeneration, Forbes points to Simon Magus. This baptismal regeneration is the "sanctification" of which Hebrews 10:29 speaks.

Nonetheless, regeneration in the third sense is not to be abstracted from the second, for it is by means of baptismal regeneration, received in faith, that spiritual regeneration is received and wrought. Thus Forbes maintains that we, therefore, should not doubt the salvation of one who receives baptismal regeneration and perseveres in the covenant by faith to the end.

This completes my brief survey. I didn't cover all the various divines I might have addressed, nor did I go into as much detail as I might have. Hopefully, however, this gives some taste of the various currents in baptismal theology of the early Scots Reformed.