EcclesiaArticles about the Church
The Faith of Infants by Dr. Francis Turretin
Fourteenth Question: The Subject of Faith
Do infants have faith? We distinguish.
I. Concerning the subject of faith a question is moved as to infants. There are two extremes: (1) in defect, by the Anabaptists, who deny all faith to infants and under this pretext exclude them from baptism; (2) in excess, by the Lutherans, who, to oppose themselves to the Anabaptists, have fallen into the other extreme, maintaining that infants are regenerated in baptism and actually furnished with faith, as appears from the Mompeldardensi Colloquy (Acta Colloquy Mantis Belligartensis , p. 459). “The round assertion of our divines is that actual faith is ascribed to infants with the most just right” (Brochmann, “De Fide Justificante,” 2, Q. 10 in Universae theologicae systema , 2:429).
II. The orthodox occupy the middle ground between these two extremes. They deny actual faith to infants against the Lutherans and maintain that a seminal or radical and habitual faith is to be ascribed to them against the Anabaptists. Here it is to be remarked before all things: (1) that we do not speak of the infants of any parents whomsoever (even of infidels and heathen), but only of believers, or Christians and the covenanted. (2) Nor do we speak of every single infant as if such faith is given to all without any exception; for although Christian charity commands us to cherish a good hope concerning their salvation, still we cannot certainly determine that every single one belongs to the election of God, but leave it to the secret counsel and supreme liberty of God. Since indeed the predestination of God makes a difference between children (Rom. 9:11) and the promise of the covenant was ratified (v. 8) not in the children of the flesh, but in the children of the promise, we therefore treat here indefinitely of infants of every order and condition (who pertain to the election of God, whom it is not for human judgment to distinguish).
III. We embrace our opinion in two propositions. The first is opposed to the Lutherans: “Infants do not have actual faith.” The reasons are first because they have not an actual knowledge of anything. Hence they are said not to know good or evil, nor can they discern between their right and left hand (Dt. 1:39; Is. 7:16; Jon. 4:11). Nor ought the objection to be raised (a) “Still the knowledge of many things is born with us.” It is one thing to have the principles and seeds of knowledge in the common notions implanted in us (which we grant); another to have actual knowledge (which we deny), (b) “Faith does not depend upon the use of reason; nay, it ought to bring reason into obedience to it” (2 Cor. 10:5). It is one thing for faith to depend on the use of reason as a principle; another for faith to suppose reason as its subject. The former we deny with Paul, who on this account wishes the reason to be captivated into the obedience of faith. The latter we hold with him, who wishes our spiritual worship to be reasonable (iogikon, Rom. 12:1). Therefore where the use of reason is not, there neither the use or exercise of faith can be.
IV, Second, infants are not capable of acts of faith, or of knowledge because intellect does not exist without action; nor are they capable of assent, which ought to be carried to the object known; nor of trust, which is concerned with the special application of the promise of grace. Therefore neither are they capable of faith, which consists of these three acts. Nay, it is most absurd (asystaton) that there should be a movement of the intellect or of the will without knowledge (which is always supposed for them).
V. Third, they are not capable of hearing and meditating on the word from which faith is conceived: “for faith cometh by hearing” (Rom. 10:17). Nor must it be said with Brochmann that God appointed baptism as a laver of water for the regeneration of infants in the word, as for adults he destined the hearing of the word. Although baptism is the external sign of regenerating grace (at whose presence God can give it to infants by the Spirit without the hearing of the word), still it cannot be said that actual faith is given to them (which cannot be such except insofar as it actually exerts itself about the hearing of the word).
VI. The little children spoken of in Mt. 18:6 (who are said to believe in Christ) are not infants in tender age (tenelia delate), but children who already enjoy some use of reason. For the passage refers to those who can be “called” and “offended,” which cannot apply to infants endowed with no knowledge of good or evil. Nor is there any disproof either in the name paidion (given to them) because it is general, signifying children of more advanced age as well as infants. Or in the word brephous, which we have in Lk. 18:15, because (aside from the fact that it is not found in Mt. 18 where children believing is treated), it can also be extended to the age capable of instruction—as Timothy is said “to have known the holy scriptures from a child” (apo brephous, 2 Tim. 3:15). Again, Christ by paidia who believe in him, can mean adults who are equal to infants in humility, innocence and modesty. Nor can it be concluded that infants and children are equal in spiritual intelligence, since age contributes nothing to faith. Although age contributes nothing to faith as the efficient cause per se, still it is required for it as a receptive subject (because a thing is received after the manner of the recipient).
VII. When the apostle says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6), he speaks of adults, various examples of whom he in the same place commemorates and whom alone the proposed description of faith suits (Heb. 11:1). Now it is different with infants who please God on account of the satisfaction of Christ bestowed upon them and imputed by God to obtain the remission of their sins, even if they themselves do not apprehend it and cannot apprehend it by a defect of age.
VIII. Although faith depends on the operation of the Spirit effectively, it can also depend in some measure on reason instrumentally and subjectively because it is the instrument by which the act of faith is elicited from a mind renewed by the subject in which it is received. Hence the use of reason being removed, there can be no actual faith.
IX. The cause of Paedobaptism is not the actual faith of infants (of which they are no more capable than of that instruction by which adults are taught and are made the disciples of Christ,Mt. 28:19), but both the general command to baptize all the members of the church and the promise of the covenant made to parents and also to their children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39). Nor does it thence follow that the sacrament is an empty ceremony to those using it without faith because this is the case only with adults, who are capable of faith and in whom on that account there ought to be a mutual stipulation on the part of God and man. But not in regard to infants, to whom the sacrament does not cease to be efficacious and ratified on the part of God, although on the part of man it cannot be known or received by faith.
X. It is one thing to obtain the fruit of baptism by an active sealing on God’s part; another to be sensible of its fruit by a passive sealing on man’s part. The former is well ascribed to infants, but not the latter.
XI. The examples of Jeremiah and John the Baptist indeed teach that infants are capable of the Holy Spirit and that he is also given at this age, but it cannot be inferred that they actually believed. Jeremiah is indeed said to have been sanctified from the womb as a prophet of God, and John is said to have leaped in his mother’s womb at the presence of Christ, but neither is said to have actually believed. Besides, even if any such thing were ascribed to them, the consequence would not hold good; for this would be singular and extraordinary from which a universal rule ought not to be drawn.
XII. It is one thing to praise God subjectively and formally from knowledge and affection; another to praise him objectively and materially. Infants are said to praise God in the latter, not in the former sense (inasmuch as God, in the care and preservation of them, wonderfully manifests his own glory, Ps. 8:2).
XIII. Second proposition: “Although infants do not have actual faith, the seed or root of faith cannot be denied to them, which is ingenerated in them from early age and in its own time goes forth in act (human instruction being applied from without and a greater efficacy of the Holy Spirit within).” This second proposition is opposed to the Anabaptists, who deny to infants all faith, not only as to act, but also as to habit and form. Although habitual faith (as the word “habit” is properly and strictly used to signify a more perfect and consummated state) is not well ascribed to them, still it is rightly predicated of them broadly as denoting potential or seminal faith. Now by “seed of faith,” we mean the Holy Spirit, the effecter of faith and regeneration (as he is called, 1 Jn. 3:9), as to the principles of regeneration and holy inclinations which he already works in infants according to their measure in a wonderful and to us unspeakable way. Afterwards in more mature age, these proceed into act (human instruction being employed and the grace of the same Spirit promoting his own work by which that seed is accustomed to be excited and drawn forth into act).
XIV. The reasons are: (1) the promise of the covenant pertains no less to infants than to adults, since God promises that he will be “the God of Abraham and of his seed” (Gen. 17:7) and the promise is said to have been made “with the fathers and their children” (Acts 2:39). Therefore also the blessings of the covenant (such as “remission of sins” and “sanctification”) ought to pertain to them (according to Jer. 31 and 32) and are communicated to them by God according to their state. In this sense (as some think), the children of believers are called “holy” by Paul (1 Cor. 7:14). This may with more propriety be referred to the external and federal holiness which belongs to them, according to which (because they are born of covenanted and Christian parents—at least of one) they are also considered to be begotten in “holiness” (i.e., in Christianity, and not in heathenism, which was a state of uncleanness [akatharsias] and impurity).
XV. (2) The kingdom of heaven pertains to infants (Mt.19:14), therefore also regeneration (without which there is no admittance to it, Jn. 3:3, 5). Now although Christ proposes this to adults for an example of humility to show that they ought to be like children in disposition in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, still he does not exclude (but includes in that promise) infants themselves, from whom it commences.
XVI. (3) There are examples of various infants who were sanctified from the womb (as was the case with Jeremiah and John the Baptist, Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:15, 80). For although here occur certain singular and extraordinary things (which pertained to them alone and not to others), still we may fairly conclude that infants can be made partakers of the Holy Spirit, who since he cannot be inactive, works in them motions and inclinations suited to their age (which are called “the seed of faith” or principles of sanctification).
XVII. (4) Infants draw from natural generation common 4. notions (koinas ennoias), and theoretical as well as practical principles of the natural law; and if Adam had continued
innocent, the divine image (which consists in holiness) would have passed by propagation to his children. Therefore what is to prevent them from receiving by supernatural regeneration certain seeds of faith and first principles of sanctification, since they are not less capable of these by grace than of those by nature?
XVIII. Although there seem to be in infants no marks from which we can gather that they are gifted with the Holy Spirit and the seed of faith (because their age prevents it), it does not follow that this must be denied to them since the reason of their salvation demands it and the contrary is evident from the examples adduced.
XIX. As before the use of reason, men are properly called rational because they have the principle of reason in the rational soul; thus nothing hinders them from being termed believers before actual faith because the seed which is given to them is the principle of faith (from which they are rightly denominated; even as they are properly called sinners, although not as yet able to put forth an act of sin).
XX. If any of our theologians deny that there is faith in infants or that it is necessary for their salvation (as is gathered from certain passages of Peter Martyr, Beza and Piscator), it is certain that this is meant of actual faith against the Lutherans, not of the seed of faith or the Spirit of regeneration (which they frequently assert is ascribed to infants). Peter Martyr, after saying that the Holy Scriptures do not say that infants believe, adds: “I judge that it is sufficient that they who are to be saved be determined by this—that by election they belong to the property of God, they are sprinkled by the Holy Spirit, who is the root of faith, hope and love, and of all the virtues, which afterwards it exerts and declares in the sons of God, when their age permits” (Loci Communes, Cl. 4, chap. 8.14 , p. 826). Thus Calvin: “Yet how, say they, are infants regenerated, having a knowledge neither of good nor of evil? We answer, the work of God, even if we do not understand it, still is real. Further infants who are to be saved, as certainly some of that age are wholly saved, it is not in the least obscure were before regenerated by the Lord. For if they bring with them from their mother’s womb innate corruption, they must be purged from it before they can be admitted into the kingdom of heaven, into which nothing impure and polluted enters” (ICR, 4.16.17, p. 1340). This he fully discusses in the following sections.