The Anabaptists and their Stepchildren

by F.N. Lee


Calvin refuted the Anabaptists from Matthew 19:14

Declared Jesus of tiny covenanters: "Permit the little children, and do not hinder them (mee kooluete auta) to come to Me! For the Kingdom of heaven is of such as these." Matthew 19:14.

Some Anabaptists believed baptism was not essential for salvation, but others believed the opposite. In chiding the latter kind of Anabaptist heretics, Calvin observed286 that "baptism being, as they hold, necessary to salvation -- they, in denying it to infants, consign them all to eternal death. Let them now consider what kind of agreement they have with the words of Christ, Who says [in respect of covenant infants or paidia] that 'of such is the Kingdom of heaven!' Matthew 19:14." Compare specifically the word "infants" in the parallel passage Luke 18:15f.

The Anabaptists often ignored this text until they thought they had disproved both infant regeneration and infant baptism. Explained Calvin: "In regard to the meaning of this passage, they will [or want to] extract nothing from it -- until they have previously overthrown the doctrine which we have already established concerning the regeneration of infants."

On this same passage, Calvin further commented: "The Anabaptists....refuse baptism to infants, because [they say] infants are incapable of understanding that mystery which is denoted by it. We, on the other hand, maintain that since baptism is the pledge and figure of the forgiveness of sins and likewise of adoption by God, it ought not to be denied to infants whom God adopts and washes with the blood of His Son....

"Infants are renewed by the Spirit of God, according to the capacity[!] of their age -- till that power which was concealed within them, grows by degrees and becomes fully manifest at the proper time.... Hence it follows that they were renewed by the Spirit, [un]to the hope of salvation.

"In short, by embracing them, He [Jesus] testified that they were [already] reckoned by Christ among His flock. And if they were partakers[!] of the spiritual gifts which are represented by baptism -- it is unreasonable that they should be deprived of the outward sign" of holy baptism.

The Great Commission implies faith within covenant infants

In Christ's Great Commission, Jesus Himself commands His ambassadors to go and preach -- keeruxate -- and then to baptize those who would believe that preached Gospel. Mark 16:15f. For He enjoins those evangelizing ambassadors -- His Ministers of the Word and Sacraments -- to "go disciple all nations": matheeteusate panta ta ethnee. Matthew 28:19.

This obviously means the people in those nations -- including that large percentage of such people which constitutes the babies and the children in all those nations. Christ's preaching ambassadors -- His Ministers of the Word and Sacraments -- are thus to keep on baptizing them: baptizontes autous. Then His ambassadors are further to "keep on teaching them" --didaskontes autous.

"The meaning amounts to this," Calvin commented,287 "that by proclaiming the Gospel everywhere -- they should bring all nations to the obedience of the faith and...seal and ratify their doctrine by the sign of the Gospel.... It is said in Mark: 'he that shall believe and be baptized, shall be saved.'

"By these words, Christ...by a sacred bond...connects baptism with doctrine.... But as Christ enjoins them to teach before baptizing, and desires that none but believers shall be admitted to baptism, it would appear that baptism is not properly administered unless when it is preceded by faith.

"On this pretext, the Anabaptists have stormed greatly against infant baptism. But the reply is not difficult.... Christ orders them [His Ministers] to convey to all nations the message of eternal salvation -- and confirms it by adding the seal of baptism....

"On what condition does God adopt as children those who formerly were aliens? It cannot indeed be denied that, when He has once received them [the aliens] into His favour, He continues to bestow it on their children and their children's children.... Therefore, that promise which was formerly given to the Jews, must now be in force towards the Gentiles -- 'I will be your God, and the God of your seed after you!' Genesis 17:7."

Calvin's 1542 Form[ula] of Administering Baptism

That Calvin regarded the above-mentioned 'Great Commission' of Matthew 28:19 as in fact requiring the baptism especially of the infants of Christ-professing parents, is clear from his 1542 Form[ula] of Administering Baptism. That commences with the following very important statements:

"It is particularly necessary to know that infants are to be brought for baptism either on the Lord's Day...or at public service...under the eyes of the whole Congregation.... Our gracious God, not contenting Himself with having adopt-ed us for His children and received us into the communion of His Church, has been pleased to extend His goodness still farther to us by promising to be our God and the God of our seed to a thousand generations....

"He was pleased from the first (Genesis 17:12) that in His Church children should receive the sign of circumcision -- by which He then represented all that is now signified to us by baptism.... He adopted them for His children.... St. Paul says (First Corinthians 7:14) that God sanctifies them from their mothers' womb, to distinguish them from the children of pagans and unbelievers....

"Our Lord Jesus Christ received the children that were brought to Him, as is written in the nineteenth chapter of St. Matthew.... By declaring that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them...He clearly teaches that we must not exclude them from His Church....

After the promise [has been] made to the child..., the Minister baptizes it, saying: 'I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' [cf. Matthew 28:19]. The whole is said aloud, and in the common tongue, in order that the people who are present may be witnesses to what is done..., and in order that all may be edified by recognizing and calling to mind the fruit and use of their own Baptism."

By the latter, Calvin meant part of what is involved in and required by the life-long task of "the needful...duty of improving our baptism." See the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 167p.

"Be baptized [Acts 2:38f]: for the promise is to you and to your children!"

On Ascension Day, Jesus reminded His Apostles that John had truly "baptized [them] with water." Acts 1:5f. Yet He then added that they would also soon "be baptized with the Holy Spirit" -- namely on Pentecost Sunday, and indeed by Jesus Himself. Acts 2:32f cf. Mark 1:8. This would be accomplished not by a submersion under but by an outpouring of the Spirit. Indeed, He was shed forth from on high, and then came like raindrops and sat upon both the disciples and their sucklings. Acts 2:3-33 cf. Joel 2:16-29.

Now this 'baptismal' outpouring of God's Spirit on Pentecost Sunday attracted the attention even of many unconverted bystanders. Peter accordingly then preached the Gospel to those witnesses. Thus he told them: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you -- in the Name of Jesus Christ.... For the promise is to you, and to your children." Consequently, "they that gladly received his word, were baptized." Acts 2:38-41.

Note the order: first, repent; then, be baptized! Thus, both adults and their babies should start repenting before they get baptized. Repentance commences only incipiently --and thereafter needs to increase and continue recurring also post-baptismally and even life-long. Yet the beginnings of repentance should first be there, even in babies -- before any baptism is administered (either to adults or to infants). For faith can and should be possessed, even if not able to be professed, also by babies.

He who has repented and who believes in Jesus, even before he so professes, is obviously already regenerate -- prior to baptism. Regeneration should thus precede baptism. It was only after Peter's listeners had received his preached word -- by believing it -- that they were then baptized.

Rev. Prof. Dr. John Calvin's baptismal comments on Acts 2:38f

Commenting here, Calvin insisted288 that "we can be reconciled to God only by the intercession of the death of Christ.... Our sins cannot be purged and done away -- other than by His blood.

"Peter recalls us to Him -- by Name! He puts baptism...as the seal -- by which the promise of grace is fulfilled.... Not that those who desire to be accounted faithful, and have their place already with the Church, are to make a beginning in this [baptism] -- but that they are to continue to proceed in it [their prebaptismal faithfulness]....

"Baptism...is nothing else but a sealing of the blessings which we have through Christ.... Baptism is a help for confirming and increasing our faith.... The promise was made first to the Jews, and then to their children, and finally...to the Gentiles.... God reckons the children --with the fathers -- in the grace of adoption.

"This passage therefore sufficiently refutes the Anabaptists, who deny baptism to the children of the faithful while they are still infants -- as though they were not Members of the Church.... Peter spoke thus, because God adopted one nation as peculiarly His Own. And circumcision bears evidence that the right of adoption was shared even by infants....

"God made a covenant with Abraham when he [Isaac] was not yet born -- because he [Isaac] was the seed of Abraham.... So Peter teaches that all the children of the Jews are covered by the same covenant -- because the word continues in force which says 'I will be the God of your seed!'" Compare Genesis 17:7.

Were also the infants of believing Samaritan adults baptized?

Soon Christian "men and women" (some doubtless with babies) were driven into Samaria. Acts 8:1-3. Philip then preached the Gospel to the Samaritans. "When they believed," many "were baptized -- both male and female." Acts 8:12f. There, Philip baptized also the Ethiopian. Thus did Christ "sprinkle many nations" and "see His seed." Isaiah 52:15 to 53:10 cf. Acts 8:27-36.

Calvin commented here:289 "The fact that baptism came after faith, is in accordance with Christ's institution with regard to strangers. Mark 16:16. For they ought to have been ingrafted into the body of the Church by faith -- before receiving the sign.

"Anabaptists are being quite absurd, in trying to prove from these verses -- that infants must be kept back from baptism. Men and women could not have been baptized -- without making open confession of their faith. But they were admitted to baptism on this condition -- that their families were consecrated to God at the same time. For the covenant is in these terms, 'I will be your God, and the God of your seed.' Genesis 17:7."

Cornelius and his family trusted God long before their baptism

Cornelius of Caesarea -- and apparently his family too -- was already "regenerated" prior to Acts 10:2. This was long before they all received baptism at the command of Peter, in Acts 10:48.

Long before Peter arrived on the scene in Caesarea, that Gentile officer Cornelius was already "a devout man, and one who feared God with all his house.... He prayed to God always." Indeed, also his own soldiers called him "a just man and one that fears God." Acts 10:2,22,31,35,45,47,48.

Also Peter perceived that Cornelius -- and apparently his whole household too -- had for quite some time continually been "fearing Him and working righteousness." Hence, Peter finally concluded: "'Can anyone forbid water, that these [members of Cornelius's whole household] should not be baptized?' So he commanded them to be baptized in the Name of the Lord."

Commenting on this,290 Calvin stated: "Since baptism is an appendage to the spiritual grace -- a man who receives the Spirit is at the same time fit to receive baptism.... The inference that ignorant men draw from this -- that infants must be debarred from baptism -- is absolutely groundless.... Believers' children, who are born within the Church, are members of the family of the Kingdom of God -- from the womb....

"God has adopted the children of believers before they are born.... This testimony...powerfully refutes the superstition of the Papists, who bind the grace of the Spirit to the signs.... Luke narrates that men who had not yet been initiated in baptism -- were already endowed with the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:1f,22,35]. He is showing that the Spirit is not shut up in baptism."

Peter soon gave a report to the other Apostles -- about this pre-baptismal faith of Cornelius's household. Acts 11:1f. Explained Peter: "He had seen an angel in his house, who stood and said to him...'All your household shall be saved!' ... John indeed baptized with water.... Inasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did to us who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ -- who was I, that I could withstand God [by withholding baptism from them]?" Acts 11:13-16f.

Here, Calvin again castigated the Anabaptists: "Those who are opposing infant baptism, are waging war on God.... Those men are cruelly rejecting from the Church those whom the promise of God adopts into the Church.... Those whom God honours with the name of 'sons' -- they deprive of the external symbol" of infant baptism!

The actions of Paul in Antioch and Philippi condemn the Anabaptists

Now Paul told the Jews in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch that God had fulfilled the promises made to the fathers. He had now fulfilled those same promises to their children. For God had raised up Jesus from the dead. Acts 13:14,32f.

Calvin here commented:291 "It is certain that Paul is here speaking about the natural children who derived their origin from the holy fathers.... Certain fanatics [the Anabaptists], who make allegories out of everything, imagine that no account is to be taken here of descendants -- but only of 'faith.' But with a fiction like that -- they are making meaningless the sacred covenant of God, which says: 'I will be your God, and the God of your seed!' Genesis 17:7....

"Those who are born children of Abraham according to the flesh, are also to be regarded as God's spiritual children -- unless they cut themselves off by their own unfaithfulness. For the branches are holy by nature, because they have been produced from a holy root -- unless they are polluted by their own fault. Romans 11:16.... It is by faith that God separates His own."

Calvin insisted292 that "children who happen to depart this life before an opportunity of baptizing them in water, are not excluded from the Kingdom of heaven." For "by faith" -- God has already separated them as "His own."

The conclusion to be drawn, explained Calvin, is obvious. "Hence it follows that the children of believers are not baptized in order that, though formerly aliens from the Church, they may then for the first time become children of God. But rather are [they] received into the Church by a formal sign because, in virtue of the promise, they previously belong-ed to the body of Christ."

Thus "the children have faith -- in common with the adults. But nobody should take this in the sense as if I wish to say that faith always begins from one's mother's womb. For the Lord sometimes calls adults too -- sometimes earlier, and sometimes later. But I am only saying that all of God's elect enter into everlasting life by faith -- at whatever time of life they may be removed from this prison of destruction."293

In Acts 16:13-16, the writer records that at Philippi "on the sabbath...a certain woman named Lydia -- a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira -- was worshipping God.... The Lord opened her heart, so that she gave attention to the things which were spoken by Paul. Then, when she and her household had been baptized, she besought us, saying: 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord -- come into my home, and stay there!'"

Here Calvin commented: "It is clear...how in a short space of time, God had been effectively at work in Lydia. For there is no doubt that she genuinely embraced the faith of Christ, and gave her allegiance to Him -- before Paul admitted her to baptism.... Here holy zeal and piety reveal themselves in the fact that she dedicates her household to God at the same time....

"It certainly ought to be the common desire of all the godly to have their relatives who are under their charge [become] of the same faith.... Any man who wishes to rule over wife, children, and men-servants and women-servants in his home -- but will not trouble himself about giving any place to Christ -- does not deserve to be counted among the sons of God."

Also to the penitent jailor in Philippi, Paul similarly commanded: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved -- and your household!" Paul and Silas then "spoke the Word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house." Then he "was baptized -- he and all his -- immediately." The jailor then "rejoiced, believing in God with all his household." Acts 16:31-34.

Comments Calvin: "Luke again commends the godly zeal of the keeper [of the jail], because he dedicated his whole household to God. The grace of God is also reflected in that -- because He suddenly brought a whole family to godly unanimity."

Consequently, Calvin concludes in his Institutes of the Christian Faith (IV:16:8) that there is not "anything plausible in the objection that we nowhere read of even one infant having been baptized.... For although this is not expressly narrated..., they are not expressly excluded when mentioned is made of any baptized family (Acts 16:15,32). What man of sense will argue from this that they were not baptized?"

Calvin insists Acts 19:1-6 does not teach rebaptism

In Acts 18:25-28 one reads that in Ephesus "a certain Jew named Apollos..., deeply instructed in the way of the Lord and fervent in the Spirit, spoke diligently about the things of the Lord. Though knowing only the baptism of John, he began to speak boldly in the synagogue.

"When Aquila and Priscilla had heard him, they took him to them -- and explained the Way of God more perfectly to him.... Now when he was disposed to pass into Achaia [namely to Corinth], the brethren wrote exhorting the disciples to receive him [there].... When he had come, he [there] helped them who had believed.... For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publically --showing from the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ."

Next, in Acts 19:1-7, one reads: "Then it came to pass that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul...came to Ephesus.... Finding certain disciples [or 'taught ones' there], he said to them: 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you started to believe?'

"But they said to him: 'We have not so much as heard whether there is any Holy Spirit!' Then he said to them: 'With what baptism, then, were you baptized?' Then they said: 'With John's'....

"Then Paul said: 'John truly baptized, with the baptism of repentance. He said to the people that they should believe in Him Who would come after him -- that is, in Christ Jesus.'

"When they heard this, they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus.... And all the men were about twelve" in number.

On those twelve men, at Acts 19:2 Calvin rightly commented: "It is not likely that so few [Christian] disciples were left at Ephesus by Apollos. And they would have been instructed more correctly by him, seeing that he himself had learnt the Way of the Lord [Jesus Christ] precisely -- from Aquila and Priscilla.... I do not doubt that 'the brethren' [in Ephesus] whom Luke mentioned previously (18:27), were different from these particular men" mentioned in Acts 19:1-7.

One should carefully note it was indeed true triune Christian baptism which was formerly administered by John himself: on behalf of God the Father; pointing to Christ the Son; Who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Luke 3:8-16. So too, when John the baptizer (for the sake of God's true people) gave also Jesus true Christian Baptism -- "the Holy Spirit descended...upon Him, and a voice came from heaven saying: 'You are My beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased!'" Luke 3:22.

Yet after the death of John it does seem that some of those of his disciples who had not followed Jesus, did not continue (as had John) to baptize from the Father and toward the Son with the Spirit. Quite wrongly, those confused men then started to baptize "in the name of John" -- weirdly dispensing what they then apparently called "John's baptism." Also Simon the sorceror, and his disciple Menander, acted similarly.294

Such "John's baptism" was of course not at all the Christian Sacrament which John himself had administered. Indeed, it seems to be precisely such a Christless and Spiritless 'baptism' which the twelve in Ephesus had received, and which they there called: "John's."

At Acts 19:4f, Dr. Calvin therefore commented: "The baptism of John was a sign of repentance and remission of sins.... There is no difference between it and our own baptism.... We do not read that Christ baptized afresh those who came over to Him from John [see John 3:22f & 4:1f]....

"Fanatical men of our day, relying on this 'evidence' -- have tried to introduce Anabaptism.... Yet I do deny that the baptism of water was repeated." Also at Ephesus, there was only one baptism!" Ephesians 4:4-6 cf. Acts 19:1-7.

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (IV:15:18), Calvin further says of the Anabaptists that "they seem to think the weapon which they brandish irresistible -- when they allege that Paul rebaptized those who had been baptized with the baptism of John (Acts 19:3-5)." However, "it seem to some [Non-Anabaptists] that it was a foolish imitator of John who by a former 'baptism' had initiated them into vain superstition.

"This, it is thought, may be conjectured from the fact that they acknowledge their entire ignorance of the Holy Spirit -- an ignorance in which John never would have left his disciples.... I grant that John's was a true baptism, and one and the same with the baptism of Christ.... I deny that they were rebaptized (see Calvin's Instructions Against the Anabaptists)."

There, Calvin states that in 'Article One' (on Baptism) of The Schleitheim Confession of Michael Sattler and his Anabaptists, "these poor fanatics cite the usage and practice of the Apostles [Acts 19:2ff].... But of children who belong to the Church before they depart their mother's womb..., their fathers and forefathers received the promise upon which their baptism is founded....

"Peter testifies to the Jews that they are children of the promises...inasmuch as they are descendants of Abraham's race (Acts 2:39 & 3:25).... Otherwise, it would be in vain for Saint Paul to say that a child of a believing father or mother is sanctified -- who would be impure, if he were born of and descended from unbelievers (First Corinthians 7:14). Seeing then that the Holy Spirit, Author and Source of all sanctification, testifies that the children of Christians are holy -- is it our business to exclude them from such a benefit? Thus, if the truth of baptism is in them -- how can we dare deprive them of the sign, which is less significant and inferior?

"But the Anabaptists reply that the custom and practice of the Apostles was to the contrary.... They think they have a passage that is precisely in their favour in Acts 19:2ff -- where it is written that Saint Paul, having discovered certain disciples who had not yet received the Holy Spirit, 'rebaptized' them....

"They [the Anabaptists] cannot accept anything other than that Saint Paul rebaptized these disciples, owing to their ignorance. But if it is necessary for baptism to be repeated on these grounds -- then why weren't the Apostles rebaptized, who three years after their baptism were so filled with errors and misleading opinions as to think that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ was earthly, understanding nothing of His death and resurrection and many other things?" Thus Calvin, referring to Acts 1:5-8.

"As for ourselves," he added, "we would constantly require a lake or river in readiness -- if it were a matter of receiving baptism anew, every time our Lord should purge us of error!" But, of course, it is not.

Calvin refutes the Anabaptist views against paidobaptism

Speaking of the Anabaptists, Calvin added:295 "The assertion they disseminate among the common people, that a long series of years elapsed after the resurrection of Christ during which paedobaptism was unknown -- is a shameful falsehood. Since there is no writer -- however ancient -- who does not trace its origin to the days of the Apostles."

Calvin further observed296 that Abraham "received the sign of circumcision [as] a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, [while] yet being uncircumcised; so that he might be the father of all them that believe [Romans 4:11f].... We have no doubt that in distinguishing the children of God from bastards and foreigners, that the election of God reigns freely.... He was pleased specially to embrace the seed of Abraham with His mercy -- and for the better attestation of it, to seal it by circumcision....

"Paul declares that the Jews were sanctified by their parents." See Romans 11:16. "He elsewhere says that the children of Christians derive sanctification from their parents." First Corinthians 7:14.... To the same effect is the declaration of Peter to the Jews: 'The promise is unto you and to your children.' Acts 2:39.... God is so good and liberal to His people, that He is pleased as a mark of His favour to extend their privileges to the children [generated or conceived by and] born to them."

Dr. John Calvin next refuted the Anabaptists' objection that "spiritual regeneration is not applicable to earliest infancy." For 'how' -- they ask -- 'are infants regenerated?'

Here Calvin replied: "We answer that the work of God -- though beyond the reach of our capacities [fully to understand it] -- is not therefore null" in infants. For such "infants who are to be saved -- and that some are saved at this age is certain -- must, without question, previously be regenerated by the Lord....

"The Judge Himself publicly declares that 'except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.' John 3:3.... God gave, in the case of John the baptizer -- whom He sanctified from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15) -- a proof of what He might do in others [compare Luke 1:41-44].... The child, not yet born, would be filled with the Holy Spirit [compare Luke 1:15 & 1:41f].... Instead of attempting to give a law to God, let us hold that He sanctifies whom He pleases in the way in which He sanctified John -- seeing that His power is not impaired."

Continued Calvin297 (recycling Irenaeus): "Christ was sanctified from earliest infancy [from His conception onward], so that He might sanctify His elect in Himself at any age.... He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, so that -- completely pervaded with His holiness in the flesh which He had assumed -- He might transfuse it [His holiness] into us.... In Christ...we have a proof that the age of infancy is not incapable of receiving sanctification (infantiae aetatem non usque adeo a sanctificatione abhorrere)....

"We set down as incontrovertible, that none of the elect is called away from the present life without previously being sanctified and regenerated by the Spirit of God.... We deny...the power of God cannot regenerate infants. This is as possible and easy for Him to do, as it is wondrous and incomprehensible to us. It were dangerous to deny that the Lord is able to furnish them with the knowledge of Himself in any way He pleases."

The Anabaptists, however, 'deem it very absurd to attribute any knowledge of God to infants.' But Calvin replied298 that covenantal infants "are said now to receive some part of that grace of which they are to have the full measure shortly after....

"Some of those whom death hurries away in the first moments of infancy, pass into life eternal. They are certainly admitted to behold the immediate presence of God. Those, therefore, whom the Lord is to illumine with the full brightness of His light -- why may He not, if He so please, irradiate at present with some small beam...before He delivers them from the prison of the flesh"299 (alias when He lets them die in infancy and then takes their souls to glory)?

Calvin on why the babies of believers should be baptized

The Christian believers' infant "children are baptized for...[ongoing] repentance and faith. Though these are not yet formed in them [fully], yet the seed of both lies hidden in them by the secret operation of the Spirit" - - arcana tamen Spiritus operatione utriusque semen in illis latet.

Calvin went on:300 "If those on whom the Lord has bestowed His election...depart this life before they become adults -- He, by the incomprehensible energy of His Spirit, [first] renews them in the way which He alone deems expedient."

According to Calvin,301 the antipaidobaptistic and anabaptistic apostate "Servetus cannot show that...several years must elapse before the new spiritual life begins. Paul's testimony is that, though lost by nature, the children of believers are holy by supernatural grace [Romans 11:16 and First Corinthians 7:14].... When the office of teaching was committed to the Apostles, they were not prohibited from baptizing infants [Matthew 28:19].... How feebly Servetus has supported his friends the Anabaptists!"

Here Calvin concluded: "It is of importance to observe what Satan means by all this craft -- viz. to rob us of the singular blessing of confidence and spiritual joy.... Doubtless the design of Satan in assaulting paedobaptism with all his forces, is to keep out of view and gradually efface that attestation of divine grace which the promise itself presents to our eyes.

"In this way, not only would men impiously be ungrateful for the mercy of God -- but be less careful in training their children to piety. For it is no slight stimulus to us to bring them up in the fear of God and the observance of His Law -- when we reflect that from their birth they have been considered and acknowledged by Him as His children."

Calvin said Anabaptists and Romanists were not too dissimilar on baptism

In 1539, the Romish Cardinal Sadoleto absurdly insinuated that the Calvinists were essentially the same as the Anabaptists. In his reply, Calvin turned the tables. For he then demonstrated that the Anabaptists should rather be compared -- to the Romanists.

"Similitude is there in appearance, between the Pope and the Anabaptists," explained Calvin.302 "Satan never transforms himself so cunningly, as not in some measure to betray himself.... The principal weapon with which they [the Romanists and the Anabaptists] both assail us, is the same. For when they boast extravagantly of the Spirit -- the tendency certainly is to sink and bury the Word of God, that they may make room for their own falsehoods."

Against both Anabaptists and Romanists, Calvin again insisted in 1542: "Paul teaches that the children of believers are born holy (First Corinthians 7:14).... They do not become the sons of God through baptism. But because in virtue of the promise they are heirs of adoption, therefore the Church admits them to baptism.... As in Abraham the father of the faithful, the righteousness of faith preceded circumcision -- so in the children of the faithful in the present day, the gift of adoption is prior to baptism."303

In 1547, Calvin also declared304 to both the Anabaptists and the Romanists that "the Spirit of God must...be to us both an earnest and a seal. Romans 8:15. He it is Who...sprinkles our souls with the blood of Christ. First Peter 1:2.... I do not, however, concede to them that Paedobaptism had its origin in the tradition of the Church. It certainly appears to be founded on the institution of God, and to have derived its origin from circumcision....

"The offspring of believers is born holy -- because their children, while yet in the womb, before they breathe the vital air, are included in the covenant of eternal life. Nor indeed are they admitted into the [Visible] Church by baptism on any other ground than that they belong-ed to the body of Christ before they were born.... How could it be lawful to put [baptism as] the sacred impress of Christ -- on strangers? Baptism must therefore be preceded by the gift of adoption, which is...afterwards ratified by baptism."

Calvin's strongly anti-Anabaptist paidobaptism

Declared Calvin:305 "If anyone at this time maintains Paedobaptism keenly, and on strong grounds, I am certainly in the number.... The children of believers, [even] before they were begotten, were adopted by the Lord -- when He said, 'I will be your God and the God of your seed.' Genesis 17:7. That in this promise the baptism of infants is included, is absolutely certain.... The genuine children of Abraham, even before they are born, are the heirs of eternal life.... I maintain that they [covenant infants] may obtain salvation without baptism..., because the promise which assigns life to them while still in the womb has sufficient efficacy in itself.

"Paedobaptism rests on this ground -- that God recognizes those who are presented to Him by our ministry as already His own. Whence too He anciently called all who derived their origin from Israel, His own [Ezekiel 16:20f]. And justly! For the offspring was holy, as Paul teaches. Romans 11:16....

[Even covenant] children have need of regeneration. But I maintain that this gift comes to them by promise, and that baptism follows as a seal.... John the baptizer was sanctified from the womb [Luke 1:15-44].... That passage...I elsewhere produce...against the Anabaptists.... The infant [of a believer] is included in the covenant by hereditary right -- even from its mother's womb."

In a sermon on Deuteronomy 12 preached on 7th October 1555, Calvin did not urge his listeners to get rebaptized as adults --but instead to 'improve' their infant baptisms. Observed the genius of Geneva:306 "We see that God is contented.... His will is that in our baptism we should have such an assurance of our washing and cleansing by the grace that is purchased for us in our Lord Jesus Christ, as should continue with us for ever. Have we that? We must hold ourselves contented with it" -- and, indeed, 'improve' it!

In a sermon on Deuteronomy 31 preached in April 1556, Calvin declared:307 "As soon as our children be born, they be carried to baptism. And there, God doth show that His will is that they should be as of His household.

"Therefore when an infant is thus declared to be a member of our Lord Jesus Christ..., should he not when he cometh to age of understanding endeavour to learn that he was created by God Who, having created him after His own image, hath vouchsafed also to choose him to be of the number and company of His people, and has placed him in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the end he should be partaker of the inheritance of salvation? Considering so many and so inestimable benefits received at God's hand --ought he not, say I, to give himself wholly to Him and to His service?" Of course he should!

Calvin refutes Gnesio-Lutheran slander that he was an "Anabaptist"

Again in 1556, Calvin declared308 that hostile Gnesio-Lutherans like Joachim Westphal -- quite absurdly -- were "mixing us [Calvinists] up with the Anabaptists." However, Calvin then pointed out that in actual fact his greatest opponent was precisely "Servetus -- who was both an Anabaptist and the worst of heretics." Indeed, Calvin added: "I have accused Thomas Muntzer" -- that most dangerous of all the Anabaptists!

Now it is also true that even the Calvinists "sometimes allow children to die unbaptized.... [However, this] is because we [Calvinists] give hopes that infants may obtain salvation without baptism [which Servetus never did] -- because we hold that baptism, instead of regenerating or saving them, only seals the salvation of which they were previously partakers....

"Let an Anabaptist come forward and maintain 'that the symbol of regeneration is improperly conferred on the cursed children of Adam whom the Lord has not yet called to the fellowship of His grace!'" Yet God's "grace...is common to them [the infants of believers]. Hence it follows, that they are not 'absolutely regenerated by baptism' -- from which they ought to be debarred, did God not rank them among the members of His Son....

"You have no pretext, [Westphal,] for charging me with holding none to be learned who have not been taught in the school of Zuinglius. Though Luther differed from us -- did we ever contemn his erudition?"

The Gnesio-Lutheran Westphal "says there is good ground for the common proverb 'The unlearned make no heresies.'" To that, Calvin retorted:

"What then did the Anabaptists do? What Muntzer? What the Libertines? Nay, in the whole [heretical] crew of whom Irenaeus, Epiphanius and Augustine speak -- how many more were involved in error by gross ignorance, than by erudition? More correctly and wisely does Augustine say that the mother of all heresies is pride, by which we often see that the most ignorant are most highly swollen." The Anabaptists were proud of their ignorance!

Explained Calvin: "I say that infants begotten of believers are holy, and members of the Church [Invisible], before they are baptized.... They were members of the Church before baptism.... There is nothing to prevent our applying this to infants.... God gives the name of sons to those to whom the inheritance of salvation has been promised in the person of their parents.... There is nothing, however, to prevent His sealing this grace [in baptism], and confirming anew the same thing that He had given before" baptism to babies.

"I deny that any are duly baptized, if they do not belong to the body of the Church.... Who authorized you, Westphal, to bestow the pledge of eternal life -- the symbol of righteousness and renovation -- on [one whom you Gnesio-Lutherans wrongly consider to be] a 'profane' person lying under curse? Were an Anabaptist to debate with you, I presume your only valid defence would be [that of Calvinism -- namely] that baptism is rightly administered to those whom God adopted [even] before they were born....

"Did God not transmit His grace from parents to children -- to admit new-born infants into the Church, would be a mere profanation of baptism! But if the promise of God, under the Law, caused holy branches to proceed from a holy root [Romans 11:16] -- will you restrict the grace of God under the Gospel, or diminish its efficacy by withholding the testimony of adoption by which God distinguishes infants?

"The Law ordered infants to be circumcised on the eighth day.... Scripture declares them to have been holy from the womb; as being the offspring of a holy race.... Paul teaches that the children of believers are now holy [First Corinthians 7:14]....

Those whom God has already set apart for Himself, are rightly brought for baptism. We are...speaking of...an adoption manifested by the Word which [has] sanctified infants not yet born.... [The family of] Cornelius -- before he was baptized with his household -- having received the Holy Spirit..., justly held some place among the children of God." Acts 10:2,4,24,34f,43f. "Fanatical men impugn Paedobaptism." So the antipaidobaptistic Anabaptists were fanatics who pugnaciously undermined baptism itself.

Calvin's final words of opposition to the Anabaptists

In his Confession of Faith in the Name of the Reformed Churches of France,309 Calvin (according to Beza) insisted that "since baptism is a treasure which God has placed in His Church -- all the members ought to partake of it. Now we doubt not that little children born of Christians are of this number, since God has adopted them -- as He declares.

"Indeed, we should defraud them of their right -- were we to exclude them from the sign which only ratifies the thing contained in the promise.... Children ought no more in the present day to be deprived of the sacrament of their salvation, than the children of the Jews were in ancient times -- seeing that now the manifestation must be larger and clearer than it was under the Law. Wherefore, we reprobate all [Anabaptist] fanatics who will not allow little children to be baptized."

More fully, in the French Confession of 1559, Calvin (and his pupil Chandieu) rightly declared310 that "as some trace of the Church is left in the papacy, and the virtue and substance of baptism remain, and as the efficacy of baptism does not depend upon the person who administers it, we confess that those baptized in it do not need a second baptism. But, on account of its corruptions, we cannot present children to be baptized in it without incurring pollution.... Yet as God receives little children into the Church with their fathers, we say -- upon the authority of Jesus Christ -- that the children of believing parents should be baptized....

"We believe that God wishes to have the world governed by laws and magistrates.... He has put the sword into the hands of magistrates to suppress crimes against the First [Table] as well as against the Second Table of the Commandments of God. We must therefore, on His account, not only submit to them as superiors, but honour and hold them in all reverence as His lieutenants and officers, whom He has commissioned to exercise a legitimate and holy authority.... We detest all those who would like -- to reject authority; to establish community and confusion of property; and [to] overthrow the order of justice."

Indeed, in 1561 Calvin asked:311 "What affinity with Luther had the Muensterians, the Anabaptists? ... Did he ever lend them his support? Did he subscribe their most absurd fictions? Nay, with what vehemence did he oppose them -- in order to prevent the spreading of the contagion! He had the discernment at once to perceive what noxious pests they would prove....

"Are we not, independently of baptism, cleansed by the blood of Christ and regenerated by the Spirit? ... Christ is formed in us, like the foetus in the womb [cf. Psalm 22:9-10 and Second Timothy 1:3-5 & 3:14-15].... Hence, though God calls suddenly away from the world many who are children not merely in age but also in faith -- yet, one spark from the Spirit is sufficient to give them a life" immortal unto all eternity!

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Footnotes


286 Inst. IV:16:26 & Comm. on Mt. 19:14.

287 Comm. on Mt. 28:19..... 288) Comm. on Acts 2:38-39.

289 Comm. Acts 8:12-16.

290 Comm. on Acts 10:47 & 11:17.

291 Comm. on Acts 13:32f.

292 Inst. IV:15:22, 1559 ed.; compare the 1550 ed. where it is located in a discussion of the Lord's Supper (Corp. Ref. I:1038). See too Calvin's Opera Selecta (ed. P. Barth & W. Niesel, Munich, 1926-36).

293 Calvin's 1536 edition of his Institutes. See Corp. Ref. I:118 & I:982 (compare too I:1038, in n. 292 above).

294 After the rapid apostasizing of Simon the sorceror (Acts 8:9-23), he too is said to have started 'baptizing' others in(to) his own name. Later, also his 'disciple' Menander did likewise. See Tertullian's Against All Heresies ch. 1 and his On the Soul ch. 50; Irenaeus's Heresies I:21; Epiphanius's Heresies 22; and Theodoret's Heretical Fables I:2 & II:7. Also the Montanists later invalidly 'baptized' "in the name of the Father, Son and Montanus"; and/or "in the Name of the Father, Son and Priscilla"; and/or "in the Name of the Father, Son and Maximilla." See Basil's Epistolary Canons I:7; Theophylact's On Luke 24 p. 546; the Council of Laodicea (canon 8); the First Council of Constantinople (canon 7); and Jerome's Epistle 54 (to Marcella against Montanus). Also Marcus the sorceror invalidly 'baptized' -- "in the name of the unknown Father of all things; in the name of truth, the mother of all things; and in the name of Jesus who descended for the union and redemption and communion of the principalities or powers." See Theodoret's Heretical Fables I:9 and Irenaeus's Heresies I:18 and Epiphanius's Heresies 34 and Eusebius's Church History.

295 Ib. IV:16:8-9.

296 Inst. IV:16:13-17.

297 Ib. IV:16:18 (cf. Kramer's op. cit., p. 136 n. 1).

298 Inst. IV:16:19.

299 Ib. IV:16:20.

300 Ib. IV:16:21-22.

301 Ib. IV:16:31-32.

302 Reply by John Calvin to Letter by Cardinal Sadolet to the Senate and People of Geneva, in Tracts and Treatises, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, ed. 1958 (I pp. 1,23,36).

303 J. Calvin's Antidote to the [Romish] 'Articles Agreed Upon by the Faculty of Sacred Theology of Paris', Art. I (in Calvin's Tracts & Treat., I pp. 74f).

304 J. Calvin's Refutation of the 'Adultero-German Interim Declaration' on the True Method of Reforming the Church, in his Tracts & Treat. III pp. 253,269,275

305 J. Calvin's 1547 Appendix to the Tract on the True Method of Reforming the Church, in his Tracts & Treat. III pp. 346f.

306 J. Calvin: Sermons on Deuteronomy, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, ed. 1987, pp. 500 & 505a (30-40).

307 Ib., pp. 1078 & 1083b (30-40).

308 J. Calvin's Second Defence of the Sacrament in Answer to the Calumnies of Westphal, in his Tracts & Treat. II pp. 264f, 313, 319f, 327f & 336-40.

309 Ch. 26.

310 French Confession, arts. 28 & 35 and 39-40.

311 J. Calvin's True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper, in his Tracts & Treat. II pp. 501 & 534f.

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