28 January 2005

thomas taylor on titus 3

I've been preoccupied with the beginning of the semester, so haven't had much time to post anything terribly substantive here lately.

I am, however, leading a Bible study and we're currently looking at the book of Titus. This, of course, means that sooner or later we'll get to Titus 3:5, which speaks of "the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit." The tradition of Reformed exegesis has widely taken "the washing of regeneration" as a reference to the sacrament of baptism, often seeing "renewal in the Holy Spirit" as the inward reality that the outward washing seals.

There are, naturally, other various ways of understanding the passage, some of which make no reference to baptism at all or which relate the terms differently (e.g., taking the "washing" to be one of "regeneration and renewal" both "in the Holy Spirit").

Nevertheless, I've been poking around some older texts I have on hand, particularly various Reformed and Puritan commentaries. Among those is the commentary on Titus written by Thomas Taylor (1579-1632).

Though opposed to Puritanism in his youth, as a young adult Taylor became a strong advocate of the Puritan cause, eventually emerging as a prominent Puritan divine. His works were later highly praised by Westminster Divines such as Edmund Calamy and Joseph Caryl and many were translated into Dutch. During the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, Taylor was the well-known preacher at St. Paul’s Cross, London.

His comments on Titus 3:5 are fairly typical of Reformed and Puritan exegesis and reflection on the sacrament of baptism.

Here is an extended quotation from his commentary on Titus 3:5.




"But by the washing of regeneration."

We now come to the instrumental causes or means by which we are set into this new condition. These are two, outward and inward. By the outward means we are brought into the visible church, i.e., the washing of regeneration or baptism; by the second, or inward means, the renewing of the Holy Ghost, we are truly set into the body of Christ; for the Holy Ghost pours out plentifully upon our consciences pure waters to cleanse them both from the guilt and filthiness of sin...

Let us consider the persons to whom baptism is the washing of the new birth, and in so doing we may more clearly reveal how it is the washing of regeneration. We must not conceive it to be such to every baptized party, but only in those who have the gift of faith to receive the grace offered...

God in baptism not only offers and signifies, but truly exhibits grace, by which our sins are washed and we are renewed by the Holy Ghost.

Therefore it is called the washing of the new birth, both because it seals up the washing away of sins in the blood of Christ (Acts 2:38), and also because it betokens another washing by the Spirit of Christ; and this is the sanctification of a sinner, imperfect in this life but to be perfected in the life to come.

But the doctrine will remain obscure if we do not open two points before we come to make use of it. Let us see [a] how and [b] to whom baptism is the laver of regeneration.

[a] Let us consider the first both negatively and positively.

[i] Negatively, first, this effect is not ascribed to the work wrought, as the Popish doctrine teaches. Second, neither is it by any extraordinary elevation of the action, by which it is made to confer renovation; for this would be to make baptism a kind of miracle, and also to encroach upon the clause following, in which the work of renewing is ascribed to the Holy Ghost. Third, the waters of baptism have in themselves no inherent power or force to wash the conscience, as to wash the filth of the body. Fourth, nor does it have this power because grace is tied to it by any promise or means so that God cannot distribute it without this action; for grace is not tied to the word, and much less to the sacrament; nor is every baptized party truly regenerate, as by this theory they must needs be.

[ii] How then is baptism the laver of regeneration? In four ways.

First, it is an institution of God, signifying the good pleasure of God for the pardoning of sin, and accepting men to grace in Christ; as the word signifies this, so also does the sacrament, which is a visible word. And thus it is truly said of the word, and sacraments too, that they save and sanctify, because they signify the good pleasure of God in saving and sanctifying us. We say the king's writ of pardon saves a man; the document itself does not do it, but because it is signed by the kingd, it is the ordinary instrument to manifest the merciful mind of the king in pardoning such a malefactor.

Second, it is a seal or pledge of our sanctification and salvation, as certainly assuring these to the soul of a believer as he is or can be assured of the other. As a man having a bond for a thousand pounds sealed unto him may truly say, "Here is my thousand pounds," that is, a security confirming it unto me as surely as if I had it in my hands; even so may the believing party say of his baptism, "Here is my regeneration; here is my salvation."

Third, it is a means to excite and provoke the faith of the receiver to lay hold upon the grace of the sacrament, and apply it to these purposes, in which regard it may be said to renew in the same way in which faith is said to justify; that is, only as a means or hand to lay hold of Christ our righteousness. So baptism is a means helping forward our renewing by the true understanding and serious meditation of it.

Fourth, in its right use, it gives and exhibits Christ and all his merits to the fit receiver. Then God's grace puts itself forth, and after a sort conveys itself, by this instrument, into the heart of the worthy receiver. And thus principally it is the laver of regeneration, because in it and by it (as a means) the Holy Ghost freely works his grace in those in whom he delights; and thus we are fitly led on to the second point propounded concerning these persons.

[b] Let us consider the persons to whom baptism is the washing of the new birth, and in so doing we may more clearly reveal how it is the washing of regeneration. We must no conceive it to be such to every baptized party, but only those who have the gift of faith to receive the grace offered. "As many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12); "Christ loved his church and gave himself for it, that he might cleanse it by the washing of water through the word" (Eph. 5:26, 27), namely, the word believed; for how else can water have power to wash the soul?

It is, then, not the washing of the body with the water, but the receiving and applying the promise by faith, which brings grace into the soul; and without grace in the soul, both word and sacraments are unprofitable. This Christ required in baptism: "he who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Thus it is necessarily concluded that ungodly and unbelieving ones receive nothing in baptism but the element, and that as a naked sign, Judas ate the Passover, but remained a devil; Simon the sorcerer was baptized, but remained chained in the bond of iniquity and the gall of bitterness. Ananias and Sapphira were no doubt baptized among other Christians, but were not washed from their hypocrisy. Is it a marvel if unto ungodly ones the sacrament is as an empty box, or a dead letter without spirit? For nothing is promised them in the word, as all the promises are conditioned upon faith and repentance, which they lack; and can we marvel if the seal does no good to him who has no right in the covenant?

But though faith is required in men of years, what of children? In them we cannot expect faith, and therefore are we to conclude that in them faith is not requisite; or (by the former answer) that their baptism is unprofitable?

The well is deep, and we lack means to draw certain answers; but we will assay to deliver that which may be extracted out of the Scriptures and expositors, as most probable in the unfolding of this difficulty.

Let us first distinguish among infants. Some are elected and some do not belong unto the election of grace. The latter receive only the element, and are not inwardly washed; the former receive the inward grace in the right use of the sacrament. Hereby we do not tie the majesty of God to any time or means, for his Spirit blows when and where he lists; on some babes before baptism, yea from the womb; on some babes after. But because the Lord delights to present himself gracious in his own ordinance, he ordinarily accompanies it with his grace; here, according to his promise, we may expect it, and here we may and ought to send out the prayer of faith for it.

But it is objected, the child itself lacks faith.

[1] It indeed lacks actual faith [i.e., faith actualized in outward acts, such as repenting or believing upon the word of the Gospel], which presupposes hearing and understanding. Nor could it be that if they had actual faith at that time, they could ever utterly lose it, but in point of fact it must be developed in them by instruction.

[2] Yet they do not lack all faith. Christ himself reckons them among believers (Matt 18:6); and in this respect circumcision, which was administered to infants, was called a seal of faith.

[3] Some divines think this faith of the child is not other than the faith of its parents; but the truth is that the faith of the parents is so far theirs that it gives them right to the covenant. The covenant is made to Abraham and to his seed, and to the faithful and their seed; and the believing parent also lays hold on the covenant for himself and his seed, thereby entitling the child to the right of the covenant as well as himself; even as in temporal things he can purchase land for himself and his heirs. This truth confirms that apostle's saying, "If the root be holy, so are the branches"; and if the parent believes, the children are holy.

[4] But this may seem not to be a proper faith, first because some children saved are not of believing parents, and second because "the just shall live by his own faith" (Hab. 2:4); and therefore it is very probable that elected infants have a spirit of faith, that is, the Spirit of God working inwardly and secretly, but diversely in infants dying before the age of discretion and in those which survive. To the former God gives his Spirit which works either faith or something proportionate for their justification and salvation; and in the latter he works the seed or inclination of faith, which in due time shall bear fruit unto eternal life. And in this regard the Scriptures show how, after a marvelous and secret manner, the Lord can and has effectually wrought in infants, even in the womb, as Jacob, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and others.

Nor does it hinder that infants have no sense of any such thing, no more than it proves them not to live, because they do not know that they do so. But though we may not understand the manner of this secret working in infants, we know that Adam's corruption is not more effectual to pollute the infants of believing parents than Christ's blood and innocence is to sanctify them; and being so, his wisdom does not lack means to apply it unto them, even in their infancy, yea in the womb, to make it their own, although we cannot reach unto them. So much for the faith of infants.




Several aspects of Taylor's account are apparent and fit in with wider trajectories within Reformed dogmatics and exegesis. First, baptism is directed towards regeneration as one of its primary ends.

Second, "renegeration" here is understood, I think, in the broader sense as a process of renewal involving mortification of sin and newness of life. As such, it is an effect of faith, rather than a logical precondition of faith.

Third, baptism is understood as a "means" or "instrument," analogous to faith, which, when received in faith, conveys God's promise and grace. Baptism and faith are not in any competition with one another, but baptism is a place in which faith lays hold of the promises of God unto personal renewal in the Holy Spirit.

Finally, with regard to infant baptism, Taylor limits the effect of baptism unto renewal to elect infants unto whom the Spirit grants the "seed or inclination of faith," which in due time will bear the fruits of renewal as faith becomes actualized, presumably in the Spirit's effectual call through the ministry of the Word. For those infants who die before they can respond to the ministry of the Gospel in the Word, the Spirit works whatever is necessary for their salvation.