In this post, we’ll look at the problematic language in parts of the Westminster Confession.
Westminster Confession of Faith
CHAP. XI. – Of Justification
1. Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: (Rom. 8:30, Rom. 3:24) not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christs sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, (Rom. 4:58, 2 Cor. 5:19,21, Rom. 3:22,2425,2728, Tit. 3:5,7, Eph. 1:7, Jer. 23:6, 1 Cor. 1:3031, Rom. 5:1719) they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. (Acts 10:44, Gal. 2:16, Phil. 3:9, Acts 13:3839, Eph. 2:78)
This is a very clear statement on the exclusive nature of justification, apart from any human act.
2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification:
Faith “alone” is the instrument of justification. Good.
(John 1:12, Rom. 3:28, Rom. 5:1) yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. (James 2:17,22,26, Gal. 5:6)
Hmmm. One wonders what is meant by “other saving graces”- especially since baptism is viewed as a “sacrament” – that is, having *some* connection to grace.
3. Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Fathers justice in their behalf. (Rom. 5:810,19, 1 Tim. 2:56, Heb. 10:10,14, Dan. 9:24,26, Isa. 53:46,1012) Yet, in as much as He was given by the Father for them; (Rom. 8:32) and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; (2 Cor. 5:21, Matt. 3:17, Eph. 5:2) and both, freely, not for any thing in them; their justification is only of free grace; (Rom. 3:24, Eph. 1:7) that both the exact justice, and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners. (Rom. 3:26, Eph. 2:7).
Again, justification is only “of free grace” – but what of the “other saving graces” in the previous section. No clarification on the language is given.
4. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, (Gal. 3:8, 1 Pet. 1:2,1920, Rom. 8:30) and Christ did, in the fulness of time, die for their sins, and rise for their justification: (Gal. 4:4, 1 Tim. 2:6, Rom. 4:25) nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them. (Col. 1:2122, Gal. 2:16, Tit. 3:47)
5. God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; (Matt. 6:12, 1 John 1:7,9, 1 John 2:12) and, although they can never fall from the state of justification, (Luke 22:32, John 10:28, Heb. 10:14) yet they may, by their sins, fall under Gods fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance. (Ps. 89:3133, Ps. 51:712, Ps. 32:5, Matt. 26:75, 1 Cor. 11:30,32, Luke 1:20)
6. The justification of believers under the old testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the new testament. (Gal. 3:9,1314, Rom. 4:2224, Heb. 13:8)
Justification worked the same way under the OT as the NT. This is VERY important — and I’ll come back to it in my criticisms if the baptism language.
CHAP. XXVII. – Of the Sacraments
1. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, (Rom. 4:11, Gen. 17:7,10)
Just a side note: neither of these two passages cited speak of a covenant of grace. This idea is central to covenant theology, but it is contrived. The Westminster Confession is notorious in this regard (proof-texting). That is not to say, of course, that God didn’t act in grace in the OT. It is to say that, unlike the Abrahamic covenant, the Sinai, Noahic, and New covenants, there is no actual covenant language in Scripture that points to the institution of an over-arching covenant of grace under which all biblical covenants are subsumed. This notion is an important part of the traditional justification for infant baptism, but I will argue that it is unnecessary to forming a biblical view of infant baptism.
immediately instituted by God, (Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:23) to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: (1 Cor. 10:16, 1 Cor. 11:2526, Gal. 3:27, Gal. 3:17) as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; (Rom. 15:8, Exod. 12:48, Gen. 34:14) and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word. (Rom. 6:34, 1 Cor. 10:16,21)
2. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other. (Gen. 17:10, Matt. 26:2728, Tit. 3:5)
Think about what this just said: “the names and EFFECTS” of the one are attributed to another.” So, in some way, the grace that is signified by the sign is present in the sign — the thing signified (grace) is “attributed” to the sign. WHY do we need language like this? It’s simply because of a contrived mystical view of the signs — the idea that *something spiritual and unseen* is happening when the sacrament is given or performed. Really? Do we have a single OT verse that says something mystical was happening with circumcision? That grace was somehow imparted or “triggered” at circumcision? Poor girls. There is simply nothing like this in the text. It is contrived and inserted into these narratives. In fact, we are never even told that the members of Abraham’s household who were circumcised believed anything at all — and yet in what follows this household circumcision will be used to justify a mystical view of baptism. WHERE IS THE BIBLE FOR THIS? Okay, end of rant. Frankly, all of this is unnecessary if one wants to practice infant baptism. There is a better and more scriptural way to argue for it, though that doctrinal idea is not self evident (i.e., passages must be read in certain ways and certain conclusions drawn about the meaning of certain passages).
3. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them
This is better (sort of). There is nothing IN the sacrament itself that makes it efficacious. Thank goodness!
; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: (Rom. 2:2829, 1 Pet. 3:21)
also a relief.
but upon the work of the Spirit, (Matt. 3:11, 1 Cor. 12:13) and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers. (Matt. 26:2728, Matt. 28:1920)
So the Spirit gets credit for the efficacy of the sacrament. Well and good. But that still means grace is conferred or “exhibited” in the sacraments (and one wonders what “exhibited” means – just “shown” – when above the Confession had the thing signified [grace] being “attributed” to the sign). This is like reading the fine print of a credit card application, where the language goes back and forth, saying and not saying X.
4. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained. (Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:20,23, 1 Cor. 4:1, Heb. 5:4)
I wonder why it would matter who performs baptism? Is there a NT verse that says only elders/bishops should baptize or serve communion? This sounds very “mediatorial” to me, as though grace is being dispensed through a priestly figure.
5. The sacraments of the old testament in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new. (1 Cor. 10:14).
Here again we have the idea of “sameness” between the sacraments of the OT and NT — the notion that they are firmly theologically linked and mutually interchangeable or transferable.
CHAP. XXVIII. – Of Baptism
1. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, (Matt. 28:19) not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; (1 Cor. 12:13) but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, (Rom. 4:11, Col. 2:1112) of his ingrafting into Christ, (Gal. 3:27, Rom. 6:5) of regeneration, (Tit. 3:5) of remission of sins, (Mark 1:4) and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:34) Which sacrament is, by Christs own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world. (Matt. 28:1920)
Here we learn that baptism is “a sign and seal” of certain things TO THE RECIPIENT: the covenant of grace, regeneration, remission of sins, and “giving up to God to walk in newness of life.” Now here’s my question. Can any of the readership produce a clear Scripture verse that has circumcision being a sign of regeneration and remission of sins? Without this biblical evidence, what the confession says is in error. Circumcision was of course the sign of a covenant (the Abrahamic) — but NOT the covenant of grace, so this equation fails here as well. I guess one could cogently argue that the circumcised were pledging to follow the true God, so the fourth item seems sound.
2. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto. (Matt. 3:11, John 1:33, Matt. 28:1920)
Why a minister? (Answer: because PRIESTS performed circumcision).
3. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person. (Heb. 9:10,1922, Acts 2:41, Acts 16:33, Mark 7:4)
4. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, (Mark 16:1516, Acts 8:3738) but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized. (Gen. 17:78, Gal. 3:9,14, Col. 2:1112, Acts 2:3839, Rom. 4:1112, 1 Cor. 7:14, Matt. 28:19, Mark 10:1316, Luke 18:15)
This language is very interesting, since it DISTINGUISHES those who profess faith from infants who receive baptism. I’d agree — infants are not believing anything when they get baptized. We’re all grateful that an infant is able to recognize where mommy’s milk comes from, much less put the burden of understanding the gospel on them. Ah, but the ELECT infant can believe, or is supernaturally enabled to believe by virtue of his/her election. Nice. Now you’ve linked infant baptism to election, and so we’re back to the problem of non-perseverance for many who are baptized (even of believing parents). Why isn’t the covenant of grace working here? I’d say because it’s an artificial construct that helps create these conundrums and ought to be dispensed with. But that’s me.
5. Although it be a great sin to condemn or neglect his ordinance, (Luke 7:30, Exod. 4:2426) yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it
Interesting – grace and salvation are not “so” inseparably annexed to it . . . does that suggest that grace and salvation really are *just a tiny bit* connected to baptism? For sure grace is, since the Confession has already told us that the thing signified (grace) is “attributed” to the sign (the sacrament). But salvation? Yikes.
, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: (Rom. 4:11, Acts 10:2,4,22,31,45,47) or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated. (Acts 8:13,23)
Let’s thank the writers of the Confession for affirming the obvious here. But let’s take that thanks away when we realize they do nothing to explain how this all works both ways with election, perseverance, and apostasy. And then there are the bigger questions: please produce Scripture showing how circumcision was part of regeneration and remission of sins. Why would the OT (and Paul of course) distinguish between a circumcision of the heart vs. circumcision of the flesh? And one cannot say the circumcision of the flesh affected the heart, since the Scripture is clear that the circumcision of the heart was not brought about by human hands (cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Rom. 2:29).
6. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; (John 3:5,8) yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost,
This is crystal clear – grace is conferred at baptism to the recipient. Where does this come from? Where do we see the Bible affirm this about circumcision? And, going back to the clear statement of the Confession on justification — about how no human act brings justification or faith, what are we to think? Baptism isn’t a human act? Okay, if we allow that odd parsing of the situation, then we have the Spirit “alone” conferring saving grace to the infant who is baptized. Huh? How is this really different from baptismal regeneration in catholicism? Is it only a matter of wording? And so why doesn’t it “work” for every recipient? And don’t isolate it to the elect (see above and other posts for that dead end). What a confused, garbled piece of doctrine.
to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of Gods own will, in His appointed time. (Gal. 3:27, Tit. 3:5, Eph. 5:2526, Acts 2:38,41)
Oops. I guess they DID link it to election — back to the endless loop.
7. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person. (Tit. 3:5)
Next up … modern theologians on the same issue.