Question: Doesn’t Calvin’s assertion that the children of the elect are automatically elect open up a huge can of worms? In thousands if not millions of family trees there must be at least one believer—that is, one person who, perhaps centuries ago, by Calvin’s definition, was one of the elect and was enabled to believe. By Calvin’s own reasoning, every son or daughter of that parent, as long as he or she didn’t “manifest to the contrary” (whatever that means) would also be among the elect, and thus all their descendants after them. Surely one could find a believer somewhere in the genealogy of most people in the Western world. Upon tracing that line forward to all of the sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, greats, great-greats and onward we would find that practically everyone, at least in the Western world, was and is one of the elect! That causes me to wonder why we are surrounded by so much immorality, considering the vast number of elect in the world throughout history and today. Is there something wrong with this picture?
Answer: I’m sure most Calvinists, seeing the logical consequences, would object to your scenario. The section of Calvin’s Institutes (IV: xvi, 21-32) from which you arrived at this idea is rather complex and contradictory. On the one hand, Calvin presents baptism of infants as the sure means of their salvation, provided they have faith in their baptism when they mature (xv, 3).
On the other hand, he declares that “Our children, before they are born, God declares that he adopts for his own [without baptism]....In this promise their salvation is included....How much evil has been caused by the dogma...that baptism is necessary to salvation...” (xv, 20); “children of believers are not baptised, in order that...they may...for the first time, become children of God, but rather are received into the Church by a formal sign, because, in virtue of the promise, they previously [i.e., from birth] belonged to the body of Christ” (xv, 22); “...God is so good and liberal to his people, that he is pleased...to extend their privileges to the children born to them” (xvi, 15); “whereas children, deriving their origin from Christians, as they are immediately on their birth received by God as heirs of the covenant, are also to be admitted to baptism” (xvi, 24); “it is no slight stimulus to us to bring them [children] up in the fear of God, and the observance of his law, when we reflect, that from their birth they have been considered and acknowledged by him as his children” (xvi, 32).
The child’s subsequent faith in his baptism would not effect salvation inasmuch as regeneration/salvation must precede faith; and regeneration seems automatically to be passed from elect parents to their children, who are themselves elect. Moreover, the elect cannot be lost. This doctrine, however, is titled “Perseverance of the Saints,” not perseverance of God, and can only be certain for those who maintain good works—a contradiction. You certainly point out a problem for Calvinists to ponder. Perhaps we will hear from some Calvinist readers who will give us their answer.