Reformed Baptismal Regeneration: Baptism in the Theology of Westminster Divine Cornelius Burgess

“Baptismal Regeneration” is not a phrase normally associated with Reformed, Westminsterian theology. And yet, a highly respected member of the Westminster Assembly, royal chaplain Cornelius Burgess, wrote a treatise entitled, “The Baptismal Regeneration of Elect Infants.” Published in 1621, this treatise argues that this baptismal doctrine “accords with the Scriptures, the Primitive Church, the present Reformed Churches, and many particular Divines apart.”

This paper traces the genesis of this publication (little-known today), setting it in its historical and theological context, and also follows its reception among English Puritans of Burgess’ day. Of particular note is that Burgess was invited as a distinguished participant in the convening of the 1643 Westminster Assembly, and so this paper gives attention to Burgess’ view in light of the publication of the Westminster Standards. I argue that Burgess’ exposition of “baptismal regeneration” represents the highest option of baptismal views afforded by Westminster Confession, and yet it still remains within the pale of established Reformed Orthodoxy. Giving attention to Burgess’ treatise opens a window not only into the context of English Puritans vis-à-vis the Church of England, but also into the theological process of the Westminster Standards.

No major academic studies on Cornelius Burgess exist, and there is very little discussion of his work in the scholarly literature. As more light is shed on the daily work and debates of the Westminster Assembly (e.g., the work of David F. Wright and Chad Van Dixhoorn), so greater clarity can be gained by highlighting the diversity of opinions of its Divines. This paper adds to the field by showing both the degree and limits of theological diversity within Reformed confessional bounds, particularly in the loci of sacramental efficacy. As such, the contribution of this research is both historical and relevant to Reformed systematic theology and dogmatics. I end the paper by offering how constructive insights might be gained from Burgess’ work in contemporary theological presentation.

3 thoughts on “Reformed Baptismal Regeneration: Baptism in the Theology of Westminster Divine Cornelius Burgess”

  1. Self Defeating Theory?
    What is the specific claim? Will the author suggest that the majority view among Reformed thinkers includes the idea that baptism was/is accepted as a sacrament (i.e. requirement for Salvation)? This seems odd and would likely meet strong opposition.

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