John Calvin on Baptismal Regeneration

As with Luther, I am posting these for discussion. Did Calvin believe in a form of baptismal regeneration? Maybe not as closely as what others would, I think he did. He was never completely free from the Fathers. I am not meant to be a Calvinist — so I open this up to discussion (as always) concerning what this Reformed theologian thought, taught, and practiced.

Calvin’s children’s catechism, dating from 1538-9, he writes the following questions and answers:

“My child, are you a Christian in fact as well as in name?

Yes, my father.

How is this known to you?

Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Later, in the same work, Calvin writes: “How did you come into this communion of the church? Through baptism. What is this baptism? It is the washing of regeneration and cleansing from sin.”

“Now baptism was given to us by God for these ends (which I have taught to be common to all sacraments): first to serve our faith before him; secondly, to serve our confession before men…Accordingly, they who regarded baptism as nothing but a token and mark by which we confess our religion before men, as soldiers bear the insignia of their commander as a mark of their profession, have not weighed what was the chief point of baptism”

“For inasmuch as is given for the arousing, nourishing, and confirming of our faith, it is to be received as from the hand of the Author himself. We ought to deem it certain and proved that it is he who speaks to us through the sign; that it is he who purifies and washes away sins, and wipes out the remembrance of them; that it is he who make us sharers in his death, who deprives Satan of his rule, who weakens the power of our lust; indeed, that it is he who comes into a unity with us so that, having put on Christ, we may be acknowledged God’s children. These things, I say, he performs for our soul within as truly and surely as we see our body outwardly cleansed, submerged, and surrounded with water…And he does not feed our eyes with a mere appearance only, but leads us to the present reality and effectively performs what he symbolizes”.

“The first thing that the Lord sets out for us is that baptism should be a token and proof of our cleansing; or (the better to explain what I mean) it is like a sealed document to confirm to us that all our sins are so abolished, remitted, and effaced that they can never come to his sight, be recalled, or charged against us.”

“Baptism also brings another benefit, for it shows us our mortification in Christ, and new life in him…hrough baptism Christ makes us sharers in his death, that we may be engrafted in it”

“But 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, as if the force of the former one were spent…For, though baptism, administered only once, seemed to have passed, it was still not destroyed by subsequent sins”

“We now see the reason why Christ employs such magnificent terms, to commend and adorn that ministry which he bestows and enjoins on the Apostles . It is, that believers may be fully convinced, that what they hear concerning the forgiveness of sins is ratified, and may not less highly value the reconciliation which is offered by the voice of men, than if God himself stretched out his hand from heaven. And the church daily receives the most abundant benefit from this doctrine, when it perceives that her pastors are divinely ordained to be sureties for eternal salvation, and that it must not go to a distance to seek the forgiveness of sins, which is committed to their trust.”

is dispensed to us through the ministers and pastors of the church, either by the preaching of the Gospel or by the administration of the sacraments; and herein chiefly stands the power of the keys, which the Lord has gifted to the society of believers. Accordingly, let each one of us count it his own duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it.”

“When Christ enjoins the Apostles to ‘forgive sins,’ he does not convey to them what is peculiar to himself. It belongs to him to forgive sins. This honor, so far as it belongs peculiarly to himself, he does not surrender to the Apostles, but enjoins them, in his Name, to declare the forgiveness of sins, that through their instrumentality he may reconcile men to God. In short, properly speaking, it is he alone who forgives sins through his apostles and ministers”

“The entire power rests in the fact that, through those whom the Lord had ordained, the grace of the Gospel is publicly and privately sealed in the hearts of believers”

Calvin is a far better pastor than theologian, but there are times he comes close to good, sound theology.

Other John Calvin posts — and maybe start here.

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13 Replies to “John Calvin on Baptismal Regeneration”

  1. Joel,
    I don’t have the time to quote the whole, but I will quote the main part, this comes from one of Calvin’s first confessions, Instruction in Faith (1537)…. “28, Baptism, “And again (Rom. 6:3-11) St. Paul shows how we are buried in his death . . . By these things it is not signified, however, that the water is cause, nor even instrument, of purgation and regeneration, but only that the knowledge of such gifts is received in the sacrament…
    Baptism serves likewise as our acknowledgment of faith in the sight of men; because it is a mark by which we publicly declare that we wish to be numbered among the people of God…etc.”
    I will try to write more later…
    Fr. R.

  2. Joel,
    No, not at all..forgive me for not quoting more of this section (I was pressed for time). Calvin remember just does not like the notion of Rome’s position of baptismal regeneration. But he insists upon baptism as both a real sign and seal of Christ’s death and resurrection, but it is also something of the official mark of the Christian’s identity and faith in Christ. But baptism is done only once!  And it is also a covenant sign for Calvin, of grace and glory. I will write more if I can later.
    Fr. R.

  3. What a load of unscriptural rubbish. The man is talking about things he is only feeling, he doesn`t look very far in the scriptures. As a young man he wouldn`t probably had enough time to do so anyway.

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