B.B. Warfield

Warfield on “the Argument in a Nutshell” for Infant Baptism

Benjamin B. Warfield sums up the argument in favor of infant baptism as follows:

“The argument in a nutshell is simply this: God established his Church in the days of Abraham and put children into it. They must remain there until He puts them out. He has nowhere put them out. They are still then members of His church and as such entitled to its ordinances. Among these ordinances is baptism, which standing in similar place in the New Dispensation to circumcision in the Old, is like it to be given to children.” (The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. IX, p.408)

The first thing that Warfield points out is that “God has established his church in the days of Abraham and put children into it.” And so the starting point and key to understanding his argument is a right understanding of the church and the covenant of grace.

In his book, Christ & Covenant Theology, Cornelius Venema includes an entire chapter dealing with Covenant Theology and the practice in infant baptism. In this chapter, he interacts with Warfield’s treatment of the subject (citing the statement quoted above), providing a brief overview of Covenant theology, and then showing how this view applies to infant baptism. There he writes,

“The Reformed practice of baptizing believers and their children, as Warfield rightly maintained, is largely based upon an understanding of the biblical doctrine of the covenant of grace. In the principal writings of the Reformers of the sixteenth century, and in the great confessional symbols of the Reformed tradition, the one argument for paedobaptism that repeatedly stands out is the covenant argument. Children, like adult believers, are to be baptized because they belong to the covenant community in Christ.” (p.258).

Venema then goes on to flesh out the covenant argument in what he himself calls “a series of steps, moving from the more general and basic elements of covenant theology to its specific implications regarding the proper recipients of Christian baptism” (Ibid).

He points out that one of the most important elements of Reformed covenant theology is that there is “one covenant of grace throughout redemptive history” (p.270), the same in substance, but differing in how it is administered. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:

“This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.” (16.5)

Another way of saying this would be to say that there has always been one way of salvation, whether in the Old Testament or in the New. In Galatians 3:7-9, Paul writes,

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (ESV)

Those who are “of faith” (i.e. those who trust in Christ alone for salvation) “are the sons of Abraham” (v.7).  All of the Old Testament saints were saved by grace through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), just as we are today. Their faith looked forward to the Christ who was yet to come; while our faith looks back to the Christ who has already come.

And God’s covenant with Abraham included even his infant offspring, who were also to receive the sign and seal of that administration of the covenant of grace, that is, the sacrament of circumcision. Genesis 17:9-12 says,

“And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. . . .” (ESV)

When you consider the fact that the sign and seal of the covenant (i.e. circumcision) was explicitly commanded by the Lord to be applied to infants (8-day-old male children!) in the Old Testament, many of the arguments against infant baptism begin to crumble under their own weight. As Calvin puts it, “For what will they [i.e. critics of infant baptism] bring forward to impugn infant baptism that may not be turned back against circumcision?” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.16.9).

That is why John Murray writes the following:

“If infants are excluded now, it cannot be too strongly emphasised [sic] that this change implies a complete reversal of the earlier divinely instituted practice. So we must ask: do we find any hint or intimation of such reversal in either the Old or the New Testament? More pointedly, does the New Testament revoke or does it provide any intimation of revoking so expressly authorised [sic] a principle as that of the inclusion of infants in the covenant and their participation in the covenant sign and seal?” (Christian Baptism, p.49)

Do we find any hint of such a reversal? No, we do not. And so Murray concludes by saying,

“In the absence of such evidence of repeal we conclude that the administering of the sign and seal of the covenant to the infant seed of believers is still in operation and has perpetual divine warrant. In other words, the command to administer the sign to infants has not been revoked: therefore it is still in force.” (Christian Baptism, p.50)

In other words, the burden of proof actually rests upon those who reject infant baptism, not on those who affirm it. There would actually need to be an explicit prohibition in Scripture forbidding us from baptizing infants, rather than an explicit command telling us to do so.

B.B. Warfield on the Importance of the Incarnation of Christ

BB Warfield 2It has been said that justification by faith alone is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. Likewise in his Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin similarly wrote that justification is “the main hinge on which religion turns” (Ford Lewis Battles translation, p.726). In other words, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is in some way the central doctrine of true Christianity.

Benjamin B. Warfield said something similar about another central Christian doctine – the doctrine of the two natures (God and man) in the one person of Christ. He writes,

“[T]he doctrine of the two natures is only another way of stating the doctrine of the Incarnation; and the doctrine of the Incarnation is the hinge on which the Christian system turns. No Two Natures, no Incarnation; no Incarnation, no Christianity in any distinctive sense.” (The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. III, p.259)

Warfield calls the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ “the hinge on which the Christian system turns.” Why? Because without it there really is no Redeemer, and so no gospel as well. Without the truth of the incarnation of Christ, you may still have a system of doctrine that goes by the name “Christian,” but it will not be truly Christian (to use Warfield’s phrase) “in any distinctive sense.”

In other words, it would be “Christian” in name only, and would then be essentially no different at its core from any other religion known to man, all of which (except for the biblical gospel alone) basically boil down to one form or another of salvation by works. You can either hold to a salvation by works (by self!), or a salvation by a Redeemer. And the only Redeemer (in order to actually be the Redeemer of sinners) must be both God and man in one person.

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.21) puts it,

“The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.”

The doctrine of the incarnation of Christ, which we celebrate every Christmas, really is “is the hinge on which the Christian system turns.” Without it, there is no real Christianity.


The Fundamental Apologetical Fact of Christianity

BB Warfield 2How important is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? In his book, The Person and Work of Christ, B.B. Warfield writes,

“From the empty grave of Jesus the enemies of the cross turn away in unconcealable dismay. Christ has risen from the dead! After two thousand years of the most determined assault upon the evidence which establishes it, that fact stands. And so long as it stands,  Christianity too must stand as the one supernatural religion The resurrection of Christ is the fundamental apologetical fact of Christianity” (p.543).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the “fundamental apologetical fact of Christianity.” It is the evidence and argument for the Christian faith from which the enemies of the cross still turn away in utter dismay. Facts, as the old saying goes, are stubborn things, and the resurrection of Christ is still the ultimate immovable object.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Warfield on the Most Precious Title of Christ

BB Warfield 2

In his classic book, The Person and Work of Christ, Benjamin B. Warfield has the following to say about Christ’s title of “Redeemer”:

There is no one of the titles of Christ which is more precious to Christian hearts than “Redeemer.” There are others, it is true, which are more often on the lips of Christians. The acknowledgement of our submission to Christ as our Lord, the recognition of what we owe to Him as our Saviour, – these things, naturally, are most frequently expressed in the names we call Him by.  “Redeemer,” however, is a title of more intimate revelation than either “Lord” or “Saviour.”  It gives expression not merely to our sense that we have received salvation from Him, but also to our appreciation of what it cost Him to procure this salvation for us. It is the name specifically of the Christ of the cross. Whenever we pronounce it, the cross is placarded before our eyes and our hearts are filled with loving remembrance not only that Christ has given us salvation, but that He paid a mighty price for it. (p.325)

Redeemer – it is the name of the Christ of the cross; and for that reason it is the most precious title of Christ to the heart of a believer!