Jacobus Koelman (1632-1696) on the insufficiency of external baptism and the need for conversion

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Jacobus Koelman (1632-1696) was a Dutch Nadere Reformatie minister who studied under the prominent Gisbertus Voetius as well as Andreas Essenius at the University of Utrecht. Koelman’s work The Responsibility of Parents to Raise their Children for God (De Pligten der Ouderen om Kinderen voor God op te Voeden) was addressed to the laity concerning baptism and the covenant. The most significant aspect of Koelman’s discussion in this regard is the way he makes it very clear that children of believers must be assumed not to be redeemed until proven otherwise, a complete reversal of the view hold by most of the other Dutch Reformed theologians. He begins by using terminology followed by many other leaders of the Dutch Nadere Reformatie: “Do not rest with the external baptism… Pray… that He will purify and renew them according to his image” (p. 9) While other Dutch theologian had gone that far – indeed it would become standard in the 18th century to stress that external baptism was not enough and that parents must therefore pray for their children’s conversion, Koelman goes yet further:

“Do not believe absolutely that all your children are loved by God, and certainly will be saved, or that they really are sanctified in Christ, and already regenerated and in a state of salvation; for this is unknown and uncertain. The Lord elects and chooses freely, whom He will… and rejects whom He will; and some he sanctifies from the womb, others He regenerates and converts when they are old, so that we must see them, as those who are still in danger of being lost, as guilty and depraved, and who are in need of being converted, and that you pray for them, teach them the faith and the Word and bring them up to godliness, so that they actually in person may agree to that covenant with God, and give themselves over to it in order to be saved.”

– Jacobus Koelman (1632-1696), The Responsibility of Parents to Raise their Children for God (De Pligten der Ouderen om Kinderen voor God op te Voeden), p. 12

For Koelman, God’s sovereignty is just as clearly in effect for covenant children as it is for the world. Though other theologians had said this, Koelman applied it. God can regenerate from the womb, he can also regenerate later, or never at all. While the vast majority of the other Dutch Reformed theologians had concluded from this that children of believers are to be viewed as redeemed until they prove otherwise, Koelman concluded the exact opposite.

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