Jonathan Daughtrey   

Seminar on Jonathan Edwards


Professor Westblade


Edwards on Infant Baptism

Baptism, “a Christian sacrament marked by the ritual use of water and admitting the recipient into the Christian community,”[1] has been a widely controversial issue throughout the history of the Reformed church. The main ecclesiastical dispute over this sacrament has not been regarding the baptism of adults, for nearly all Christians agree that anyone having never before been baptized should, upon professing faith in Christ, receive the sacrament. Rather, the controversy has primarily been generated by the baptism of the infants of believing parents. This controversy was exemplified in the clash between Jonathan Edwards and the Separatists. Even in the face of this heavy opposition, Edwards wrote remarkably little concerning infant baptism. He produced no comprehensive or all-inclusive work on the topic, although some of his thoughts are included in various others of his writings, mainly “The Miscellanies,” and also in several sermons. When compiled, Edward’s limited amount of thoughts on baptism, which, though slightly deviant in certain areas, are for the most part aligned with those of traditional Reformed paedobaptism, can be assembled into four main parts: the reason infants ought to be baptized, what is and is not received through the administration of baptism to infants, and how exactly these things are received. Although not intended to be comprehensive or at all thorough in composition, some of Edwards thoughts on this ordinance are quite vague, a rare occurrence in his commonly methodical writings.

The reasoning Edwards employs in showing that infants ought to be baptized has its foundations in the Old Testament. He says, “I think it is evident from the New Testament that some things which had their first institution under the Old Testament, are continued under the New.”[2] The practice of infant baptism is among these things that he refers to here as having their “first institution under the Old Testament.” The institution of this practice, Edwards claims, goes back to the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant. In it, the Lord promised to be a God not only to Abraham but to his offspring as well. In discussing the covenant, Edwards makes reference to Genesis 17:7, wherein God tells Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and between your descendents after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant…” Abraham’s descendents entered into this “everlasting covenant” upon reception of the physical sign of circumcision. This sign, which had to be received within eight days of the descendant’s birth, was instituted in Genesis 17:10-11 where God tells Israel, “Every male among you shall be circumcised…and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.” The uncircumcised male,” the Lord told Abraham, “who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” Apart from this physical sign, one could not be reckoned a part of God’s covenant people.

This understanding of circumcision is the foundation upon which Edwards builds his defense of infant baptism. He proceeds to make the claim that “Persons are made Israelites by baptism according to Christ's institution, though circumcision ceases.”[3] “If a man be not baptized,” Edwards accuses him of “[remaining] a Gentile” and of being outside God’s covenant people.[4] He held that the infants of parents who professed faith in Jesus Christ should be unhesitatingly baptized because those children are reckoned members “of the covenant of grace with their parents.”[5] Baptism, Edwards asserts, replaces the Old Testament ritual of circumcision and functions in the same way, “[making] people Israelites.”[6]

This concept of the New Testament replacement of circumcision with baptism is one of the aforementioned areas wherein Edwards is uncommonly vague and surprisingly unthorough. He provides no reason for this connection, but merely states it. Typically, Edwards argues his position from seemingly every possible angle and rarely leaves a matter assumed or unclear. In this instance, however, he does not. It is not that Edwards’ reasoning is flawed or inconsistent, but that it is completely absent. His reasoning on this could, however, be assumed to be consistent with that of traditional Reformed paedobaptism, for it is aligned with it in nearly every other area of his baptismal thinking. Although not clearly defended, this is, nevertheless, the foundation that Edwards provides for us upon which he proceeds to build his doctrine of infant baptism.

Consider now, having thus established why Edwards believes infants ought to be baptized, what he believes they receive through baptism. It is helpful, however, to first observe what he claimed was not received. Although accused by some of remaining unclear on this point, Edwards eventually came to unquestionably believe that regeneration was not imparted to infants through baptism. In “The Miscellanies,” he poses the question, “[Are] all that are regularly admitted to baptism…spiritually regenerated.” His answer to this question is a resounding “No!” Later, he blatantly asserts that “Regeneration [is] not Baptism.”[7]

Elsewhere in “The Miscellanies,” Edwards discusses this topic of baptismal regeneration under several questions. Two of the applicatory ones are, “[Are] all admitted to baptism regenerated?” and “[Are] all children of Godly persons when baptized regenerated?” In response to the first question, Edwards replies “no.” He reasons that, “The Apostles and other inspired persons baptized many adult persons that were hypocrites, but they were regularly admitted to baptism,” citing the specific example of how “Philip baptized Simon Magus,” who was an eventual apostate. Edwards proceeds to observe that many baptized individuals in the New Testament “indeed had no part nor lot in the spiritual benefits of the gospel, and [were] yet in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity.”[8]

After answering this question of whether or not baptism regenerates “all that are admitted to it,” he moves on to address specifically the role of regeneration in the baptism of infants. Edwards likewise deduces that baptized infants “are not regenerated.” “Multitudes of [them],” he observes, “show no signs of grace at all, as they come to be capable of acting in the world, and prove wicked when they grow up.” This, he argues, is “[evidenced] through experience.”[9] Although curiously offering no further grounds, Edwards does, because he holds that salvation is not directly imparted through baptism, advise the parents of baptized children to “earnestly pray for [their] salvation,” just as adult believers “have reason to pray for their own salvation.”[10]

He undoubtedly denies that regeneration occurs in infants through the act of baptism. Earlier in his life, and this is what might lead some to think that he held to infant regeneration through baptism, however, his conception was quite different. He affirmed that unless children actually renounce what they have already received in baptism, they were to be reckoned as in Christ. John Gerstner mentions that this is evident in one of Edward’s sermons, wherein, addressing all of his baptized parishioners, he tells them:

You have already given yourself to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, have

devoted yourself to him, renounced the world, the devil and yourselves, that is if you will stand to your baptism and pretend to be a Christian. I acknowledge, if you renounce your baptism and turn atheist or heathen, this motive loses its force with you, but if you acknowledge your baptism, you must give yourself to God, and that entirely however difficult it may seem to you, for therein you promised you would so do, to the end of your lives.[11]


Gerstner observes that, “When Edwards says to those baptized in infancy that ‘you promised’ unless ‘you renounce your baptism’ he is regarding their non-renunciation as tantamount to their confirmation.”[12] Unless what was attributed to them in baptism was flagrantly denied, Edwards pronounced them Christians. As observed above, he eventually altered his view on this later on in life, but it is quite evident from this earlier position that Edwards could easily have been regarded to have attributed salvation to infants.

If baptism, like Edwards claims, does not regenerate, what then does it do? The answer to this question, the third point observed in his thinking on baptism, is what he describes as God’s “indefinite promises”[13] or “blessings of the covenant.”[14] To this, as in the carry over of baptism from circumcision, Edwards remains somewhat unclear, offering no specific description or definition of these blessings. Although not precise or comprehensive as to what these promises or blessings are or entail, he does, however, shed some light on them.

Although Edwards believes that it is not directly imparted through baptism, the blessing of regeneration is, however, “by the promises of God's Word…[indirectly] connected with baptism in infants.”[15] It is related insofar as, “The parents do sincerely, believingly and entirely, with a thorough disposition, will and desire, dedicate their child to God that they bring to baptism.”[16] Furthermore, he tells parents that they:

Have good grounds to hope that…the blessing of God will attend their thorough care and pains to bring up their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that by that means it may be brought to salvation. They that do thoroughly dedicate their children to God, will be willing to take thorough care to bring 'em up for God.[17]


Although not directly received through baptism, regeneration is a likely attribute of children who are brought up by parents who baptize them as infants, for these parents, through exercising utmost trust and reliance upon God to bless their efforts, will raise them in a manner such that the child will “grow in grace” and come to “fear the Lord.” Edwards assumes that:

If a parent did sincerely and with his whole heart dedicate his child to God he will afterwards take thorough and effectual care in bringing up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord continuing in prayer and dependent on God for them.[18]

In this assertion, he places a great deal of responsibility upon the parents in baptism. He intimately involves them in the baptism of their children and this covenantal blessing.

Elsewhere, and here lies the fourth and final point found in Edwards teaching on infant baptism, he says that much of the effectiveness of the baptism of a believer’s child lies upon the shoulders of the believer. If the infant is to receive these blessings, the parents must play their part. According to John Gerstner, Edwards goes as far as to say that, “The very efficacy of the sacrament itself depends upon the parent.”[19] Edwards brazenly asserts that, “If, [and only if], an adult person does sincerely and believingly dedicate the infant to God, baptism seals salvation to it.”[20]

A traditional vow taken by the parents upon the baptism of their infants is as follows:

[I] do now unreservedly dedicate [my] child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that [I] will endeavor to set before him a godly example, that [I] will pray with and for him, that [I] will teach him the doctrines of our holy faith, and that [I] will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? [21]

As demonstrated here, most traditional Reformed paedobaptists believe parents who baptize their children are accountable for raising their children in the “fear of the Lord” and setting a Godly example for them. This stance is further summarized by John P. Sartelle:

[Husband and wife should] love each other as the Bible commands, [they should] teach [their] children Scripture, they [should] discipline them as God’s Word teaches, they [should] pray with and for them daily, [and] Christ [should be] the center of their home.[22]

Until now, Edward’s thinking on infant baptism has been aligned with that of traditional paedobaptists. Here, however, he goes further than most, who typically emphasize the role of parents in bringing up their children in the fear and nurture of the Lord through example and teaching, but do not actually place the very effectiveness of the baptism upon their shoulders. Edwards claims that the parental act of baptizing one’s child must be done “sincerely and believingly.” Without this level of sincerity, and if the parents “belief” is lacking, the efficacy of the baptism, Edwards claims, is void.

Although he goes further than most traditional paedobaptist thinking here, in each of his other three points he remains in alignment with it. Even in spite of his relatively ambiguous writings on the topic, Jonathan Edwards undoubtedly had a widespread influence upon many people in regards to this controversial issue. His contributions are, however, only one thread in the long tapestry of baptismal thinking that has been constructed over the course of the history of the Reformed church.












Edwards, Jonathan. The Miscellanies 577-836. In Hillsdale College Dept. of philosophy

and religion [database online]. 16-20 November 2003.

Gerstner, John. “Jonathan Edwards on Infant Baptism.” Vol. 3. [online] 16-20 November 2003.

Sartelle, John P. What Christians should know about Infant Baptism. Phillipsburg, New

Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1985.

Webster, Daniel. Deluxe ed.Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield:

Merriam-Webster Inc., 1998.























































Why infants should be baptized-

Carry over of circumcision


            Just like Lord’s supper

My opinion:

1. Circumcision-There are many similarities (carry over of circumcision), though he doesn’t do a thorough job of explaining it.

2. Sprinkling-questionable, again, not very thorough.

3. Lord’s Supper- ok. Good job JE!

What isn’t received-


            Infant salvation in a young death

            My opinion: Amen

He is questionable in some areas though as to whether or not he believed in regeneration.

Quote from article

What is received-

            Covenant blessing

            Indefinite promises

My opinion: He is somewhat unclear here. Doesn’t really define what is received, although he does address it. This is a question in all of infant baptism.

How is it received-

            Importance of parents faith

            Quote article

            (873, 689-16, 595, 577)

            He was adamant and particular about how infants should be baptized.

My opinion: He does a good job of explaining this




            JE is sim. to trad. Paedobaptist thought

Quote article on how JE is aligned with trad. Paedobaptist thought 

Edwards almost dodges the topic of baptism



















[1] Daniel Webster, Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary Deluxe Ed., “Baptism” (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster inc.), 1998.

[2] John Gerstner, “Jonathan Edwards on Infant Baptism.” Vol. 3. [online] 16-20 November 2003, 3.

[3]Jonathan Edwards. The Miscellanies no. 597. In Hillsdale College Dept. of philosophy and religion [online database]. 16-20 November 2003.

[4] Ibid, 597

[5] Gerstner, 3

[6] Miscellanies, 597

[7] Ibid, 606

[8] Ibid, 577

[9] Ibid, 577

[10] Gerstner, 3

[11] Ibid, 5

[12] Ibid, 5

[13] Miscellanies, 689

[14] Ibid, 836

[15] Ibid, 577

[16] Ibid, 577

[17] Ibid, 577

[18] Gerstner, 3

[19] Gerstner, 3

[20] Gerstner, 3

[21] John P. Sartelle. What Christians should know about Infant Baptism.( Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company) 1985, 20.

[22] Ibid. 19