Two Books (4)

Previous article in this series: February 15, 2012, p. 220.

We continue our treatment of a couple of papers written by Dr. William Young on Abraham Kuyper’s extensive influence on Reformed thought, and in par-ticular Kuyper’s doctrine of God’s covenant. These are papers that were written for theological journals some 30 years ago but have now been published in book form (Reformed Thought) along with other of Young’s selected writings.

As stated previously Dr. Young is severely critical, not only of Kuyper’s inflated view of common grace, but also, and especially, of Kuyper’s covenant view and, in particular, his doctrine of presupposed regeneration.

Young charges Kuyper with departing from historic Calvinism and of being guilty of introducing a neo-Calvinistic, Hyper-Covenantism into Dutch theology.

Into this camp, with these labels, Young throws Hoeksema and his covenant view—this regardless of Hoeksema’s (and our own) reiterated criticism of presupposed regeneration.

Why? Because he charges Hoeksema (along with Schilder) with teaching presumptive election, which to Young amounts to the same thing. “…who [while they] denied presumptive regeneration, held what amounts to a doctrine of presumptive election of the children of believers” (p. 116, Chap. 6, “Conversion”).

What exactly Young means by presumptive election is not clear. But if he means that Hoeksema taught that believers are to view all their children as elect, Young is mistaken. Such was no more Hoeksema’s covenant view than was presumptive regeneration.

But when it comes right down to it, flinging these labels left and right does not bring us to the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue (and the reason for the charge of Hyper-Covenantism) is practical, as Young himself makes plain. The very next words out of his pen after the above-quoted sentence are:

Such views [as Hoeksema’s] stand in diametric opposition to the position stated by Archibald Alexander (1772-1851) in his Thoughts On Christian Experience (1844): “The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state [emphasis ours—KK], until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured.”

It comes down to this, how believers are to view, deal with, and address their children, their little ones. As having spiritual life, and hence as lambs as far as their spiritual character goes? Or as being numbered with the spiritually dead, and hence, in the language of many a Presbyterian, as little vipers as far as their early spiritual character goes? They are as dead to responding spiritually to spiritual instruction as children of the pagans. That, according to old Archibald A. and Dr. Young, is how they are to be viewed and accordingly educated.

That is the issue.

According to Young, it is the latter that is true Calvinism and the biblical, apostolic perspective. To oppose this notion that at the baptism font children of believers are to be viewed as little vipers devoid of the Holy Spirit, needing to be born again and converted later in life, is what puts one in the camp of Hyper-Covenantism.

As stated in the last issue, while this may be the teaching of many a historic Presbyterian and Calvinist theologian, we are not convinced it was Calvin’s perspective. But even more to the point, it certainly is not the biblical, apostolic perspective and doctrine.

While there are any number of biblical passages that make this clear (and we will supply a list later in a quote lifted from Dr. Herman Bavinck [!]), there is one passage that stands head and shoulders above all the rest and simply will not allow, will not countenance, such a perspective.

That passage is Isaiah 40:11. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

No one can deny this is Messianic.

And no one, at least no Reformed, Calvinistic man, can deny that this text is covenantal, and covenantal as pertaining to the New Testament age and Kingdom. Anabaptist theologians may deny it. But a Reformed, Calvinistic man?

And how, according to the gospel promise made in this text, would and does this great Messiah Himselfview the mothers of Israel with their offspring?

Mind you, not Calvin, not Kuyper, not Bavinck, not old Archibald A., but the Messiah Himself, that great Shepherd of His sheep.

As ewes and little vipers?

God forbid. But as ewes and lambs.

And note you well that the text has reference not simply to “sheep” in the generic sense, but specifically to those carried in the arms of this Messianic Shepherd King. What is that but reference to infants and toddlers? In fact, even in the womb labeled as lambs, yes, just like John the Baptist. And, as should be evident from this great New Testament kingdom promise, the refer-ence is not just to an exceptional few who along with the infant John would be put in some kind of special category as being regenerated, but rather as a comforting, encouraging kingdom-rule for the children given and received.

And neither will it do to dismiss this stated reality with the argument that the text is simply speaking in terms of election, looking at these children from the perspective of God’s counsel and what they will one day become via conversion. The very figure, the little lamb with trusting eyes and the Messiah with a shepherd-tenderness holding this little warm body in His own bosom, militates against such a view.

The great Shepherd leading ewes and carrying what are at present really little vipers?

That is in keeping with Mark 10:16? “And he took them up in his arms…” and held them. What Jesus held (and holds also today) were little vipers (spiritually)?

The figure of Isaiah 40 with its remarkable and attractive beauty has been turned into something grotesque.

“Lambs” has reference to the natures of these offspring, their being of the same spiritual ‘species’ as these promise-believing mothers. To be sure, not natures of their own natural conception, but the new Spirit-baptized natures (washed and cleansed) worked in them by this coming Messiah by the very power of His covenantal grace.

Such is the promise made to God’s true Israel concerning the coming kingdom.

And this is not an isolated text. Consider Psalm 71:5, 6: “For thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trustfrom my youth [!]. By thee have I been holden up from the womb [!]…”

According to the well-known exegetical principle of Hebrew parallelism, this string of truths hangs together. In other words, this is a confession of an aged saint concerning his hope and trust in Jehovah God by God’s own grace from earliest childhood, and that arising out of God’s special dealings with him already in the womb.

For one to deny that these Old Testament words are to be applied to the New Testament age, and to our covenant seed as the new Israel of the Messianic age, would have everything common with the Anabaptists’explanation (due to their separating the Old from the New Testament way in which God gathers His church), but surely such a denial of New Testament application would have little in common with what is truly aReformed, covenantal exposition.

In the end, the real issue is not whether Hoeksema is to be labeled as Hyper-Covenantal. The real issue is whether Dr. Young and old Alexander and those of like persuasion should not be labeled “Hypo- (or Sub-) Covenantal.”

Say what they will, when it comes down to the language that Young and the old Princeton men used in connection with the covenantal texts found in Scripture, their application and perspective differ precious little from that of the Calvinistic-Baptists. In fact, the more one reads them, the more it becomes apparent that there is less difference between themselves and their Baptist brethren, than the slight difference they claim exists between Hoeksema’s and Kuyper’s view.

For all practical purposes the Presbyterian view of and treatment of their children as espoused by Young is virtually indistinguishable from that of a thorough going Baptist.

Not Hoeksema as Hyper-Covenantal, but Young asHypo-Cove-nantal.

And then there is this issue of Calvin and what was Calvin’s view of children of believers.

This in the interest of determining what is in line with historic Calvinism (not in line with certain ‘Calvinists,’ but Calvinism).

That Calvin’s view was not one of presupposed regeneration (with its attendant evil of a dormant regeneration as applied to youthful church members living in a carnal way), we can all agree on.

But was Calvin’s view like that of old Alexander, historic Presbyterianism, and Dr. Young? Are our little ones to be viewed and addressed as if they are spiritually dead, with no expectation of spiritual sincerity at a young age, and having more in common with little vipers than with lambs?

Of that we find nothing in Calvin.

The best Young can produce is a quote found in Calvin’s Institutes in reply to an accusation made by the Anabaptists that Calvin based his doctrine of baptizing all infants of believers, or at least argued for it, on the one isolated instance that John the Baptist had the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. To which Calvin responded, “We make no such argument.”

In the interest of a brief response to what Young’s argument is on the basis of this statement of Calvin, we will quote Young’s whole paragraph on this matter.

[Dr. A.] Kuyper [for support of his covenant view] quotes from the Institutes of the Christian Religion(4.16.17-20), to find support in Calvin, who does teach “that some infants are saved, and that they are previously regenerated by the Lord, is beyond all doubt.” What Kuyper fails to quote is Calvin’s rejoinder to the Anabaptist evasion that the sanctification of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb “was only a single case, which does not justify the conclusion that the Lord generally acts in this manner with infants.” Calvin’s rejoinder is: “We use no such argument.” But Kuyper does use such an argument, in contending that children of the covenant are to be presumed to be regenerated because, he argues, that is the general manner of the Lord’s dealing with them. Calvin does speak of a seed of future repentance and faith implanted by the Spirit, but does not state the false proposition that this is the case with all baptized infants, nor the highly disputable thesis of Voetius that this is the case with all elect children of believers. Certainly there is no hint of the presumptive doctrine of Kuyper in any of these texts of Calvin (p. 39, Chap. 3).

First, significantly, Young is compelled to concede that Calvin did teach “that some infants are saved, and that they are previously regenerated by the Lord, is beyond all doubt.”

Keep in mind that the words between quotation marks are Calvin’s own words of argument against the Anabaptists in order to compel them, by reference to Scripture’s testimony concerning the infant John, to acknowledge that even they could not deny that someinfants were regenerated by God in the womb.

And once they were compelled to acknowledge that, they could not then argue that, since infants cannot actively believe, they cannot be regenerated either as infants, which would mean that infants ought not be baptized, because baptism speaks not only of God’s promises but of newness of life and rebirth (the interested reader may confer Calvin’s opening statement of the section from which the above quotes are lifted—Institutes, 4.16.17).

The simple fact is that John the Baptist had the Holy Spirit and His life already in the womb prior to his being old enough to understand Scripture and believe. And if God could do that in one covenant seed, are we to imagine He cannot or does not do it in others?

As Calvin declares:

But to silence this class of [Anabaptistic] objectors, God gave, in the case of John the Baptist, whom he sanctified from his mother’s womb,

Luke 1:15,

a proof of what he might do in others [emphasis ours—KK] (Institutes, 4.16.17).

And then comes the statement found in Young’s above quote (but now per the Beveridge translation, rather than Battle’s version):

They gain nothing by the quibble to which they [the Anabaptists] here resort—viz. that this was only once done, and therefore it does not forthwith follow that the Lord always [!] acts thus with infants.

It is in response to that statement, the Anabaptists’ argument that it does not follow from John’s regeneration as an infant “that the Lord always [!] acts thus with infants” that Calvin responds thus: “That is not the mode in which we reason.” Or, as Battles translates it, “We make no such argument.”

The Beveridge translation makes plain that Calvin is not here denying that this is the general way in which God works in the children of believers. He is denying that he ever taught that all the children of believers receive newness of life (“that the Lord always acts thus”), or that this was the reason why the Reformed baptized infants. Nor is this what is signified by infant baptism.

Of course Calvin would distance himself from that view. That view has too much in common with Rome’s declaration, “We baptize all of our infants. And therefore they all must be viewed as having the washing of regeneration.”

Calvin wanted no part of that mentality.

But neither then can it be stated that by his opposition to that perspective Calvin was opting for Young’s view, namely, “Let us rather view our children as being unregenerate and spiritually dead.”

Young’s view would take the Reformed right back to the camp of viewing little John’s renewal as an isolated instance. And what is that but what the Anabaptists wanted to make of it and against which Calvin was arguing! They too were willing to acknowledge it might have been how the Lord worked in one or two specialinstances. But it must not be applied in any generalway.

Exactly what Young wants to make of John’s history. But not Calvin.

Calvin’s view is more clearly stated in paragraph 20 of Chapter 4:16 of the Institutes.

In response to the Baptists’ argument that infants should not be baptized because baptism is by Paul called a seal of the righteousness by faith (Rom. 4:11), Calvin responds:

In fine the objection is easily disposed of by the fact, that children are baptized for future repentance and faith. Though these are not yet formed in them, yet the seed of both lies hid in them by the secret operations of the Spirit.

Make of this statement what men like Young will, there is no evidence that by “future repentance and faith” Calvin had in mind children in their later adult life. There is every reason to maintain that Calvin had in mind children as they reach teachable age. In fact, Young and those of the old Presbyterian persuasion had better hope that by “future faith” Calvin did not refer to decades later in life. If that is what Calvin had in mind, then Young and his friends will have to concede that Kuyper, with his view of presupposed regeneration, and that odious view of a child’s regeneration lying dormant for decades, was in line with Calvin after all. For Calvin speaks here of the Spirit planting the seed of regeneration in infants. And he states it as a general rule. If Calvin’s reference to infants being baptized with a view to future repentance and faith has reference to their adulthood, there is validity to Kuyper’s claim that dormant regeneration is in keeping with Calvin himself. It is not Kuyper, then, who was so Neo-Calvinistic in his covenant view, but it is Young and Alexander who have departed from Calvin’s line.

In fact, we are persuaded they have.

Which is not to say we are convinced that Kuyper’s view was entirely biblical, or in line with Calvin’s either.

Who, in our estimation, in his covenantal view of the children of believers, was?

A theologian named Herman Bavinck.

And Hoeksema’s view is strikingly similar.

If the one is to be charged with Hyper-Covenantism, honesty requires that the same charge must be leveled at the other.

Proof by extensive quotes from Bavinck, next time.