Henry Ainsworth (1571-1622) was an English Nonconformist clergyman and noted Hebrew scholar.
In the early 17th Century Master Ainsworth answered a number of the errors promulgated by the Anabaptists in his A Censure Upon a Dialogue of the Anabaptists. A Description of What God hath Predestinated Concerning Man, including errors relating to the doctrines of Election, Reprobation, Falling Away, and Free Will. Lastly, Master Ainsworth defends the right for infants of believers to be baptised by responding to a number of objections.
God willing we hope to set out Master Ainsworth's treatment of these objections in a number of articles. Here we begin with objections regarding the nature of and requirements for Baptism.
Note: The writer has updated the spelling, grammar and language of the original work and it is sincerely hoped that such revisions have not detracted from either intent or meaning.
Anabaptist Objection - Who may be Baptised?
Baptism (they say) is in that a good conscience makes request unto God, 1 Pet. 3.21, it is of repentance for remission of sins, Mar. 1, the washing of the new birth, Tit. 3:5 &c. If it cannot be proved by the Scriptures that infants have their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, have repentance, faith &c. they ought not to be baptized.
Their argument has only a show, no substance of truth.
First a man might frame as good a reason thus: Circumcision is not that which is outward in the flesh, but that of the heart, in the spirit, Rom. 2:28, 29, it is the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, Col. 2:11, it seals the righteousness of faith which they have, Rom. 4:11, and the circumcising of the foreskin of the heart, Deut. 10:16, to love the Lord &c. Deut. 30:6. Now if it cannot be proved by Scripture that infants have the love of God in their hearts, the righteousness of faith, the putting off of the body of sin &c. they may not be circumcised, and their circumcision is nothing. If this be not a good argument to keep children from circumcision, the other is no better to keep them from Baptism.
Secondly, Christian infants have the graces they speak of, repentance, faith, regeneration &c, though not actually, or by way of declaration to others; yet they have through the work of the Spirit, the seed and beginning of faith, virtually and by way of inclination; so that they are not wholly destitute of faith, regeneration &c. though it be a thing hid and unknown unto us after what manner the Lord works these in them, Eccles. 11:5. Which I further prove thus. If infants naturally are some ways capable of Adam’s sin, and so of unbelief, disobedience, transgression &c. then Christian infants supernaturally and by grace, are some ways capable of Christ’s righteousness, and so of faith, obedience, sanctification &c. But infants are capable of the former evils by Adam: therefore they are capable of the latter good things by Christ. That they are capable of the former, is before proved (where we treated of original sin) by Rom 5, Psal. 51, John. 3, and many Scriptures. The consequence, that therefore they are capable of the latter also, to wit of Christian graces, is thus manifested:
Because the first Adam was a figure of the second Adam Christ, so that as the sin of the first Adam, his fault, disobedience, and death for it came on all his children, both by imputation and infection or corruption of nature: so the righteousness and obedience of Christ comes on all his children, both by imputation and renewing of nature, unto life and salvation, as the Apostle compares them, Rom. 5:12,15-19,21.
Because infants being by Adam sinners, children of wrath &c. must be born again of the Spirit, or else they cannot see the Kingdom of God, Joh. 3:3,5,6. But the Christian infants dying in infancy shall see the Kingdom of God, and not be damned (as the adversaries grant) therefore by Christ’s doctrine they are born again of the Spirit: and so must needs in some measure have repentance, faith, holiness, without which there is no regeneration. Again, that infants have the faith and love of God in them, and regeneration in their measure is thus proved. They to whom God gives the sign and seal of righteousness by faith, and of regeneration, they have faith and regeneration: for God giveth no lying sign, he seals no vain or false covenants. But God gave to infants circumcision, which was the sign and seal of the righteousnesses of faith and regeneration, Gen 17:12, Rom. 4.11 & 2:28,29, Col. 2.11. Therefore infants had (& consequently now have) faith & regeneration, though not in the crop or harvest by declaration, yet in the bud and beginnings of all Christian graces. They that deny this reason, must either make God the author of a lying sign and seal of the covenant to Abraham and his infants: or they must hold that infants had those graces then, but not now: both which are wicked and absurd to affirm. Or they must say, that circumcision was not the sign and seal of the righteousness of faith, and then they openly contradict the Scripture, Rom. 4.11. Moreover, as the Apostle in Rom. 5, compares our natural estate in Adam, and our spiritual estate in Christ, so may we in this case. If we cannot justly object against God’s work in nature, but do believe that our infants are reasonable creatures, and are born not brute beasts but men, though actually they can manifest no reason or understanding more then beasts, (yea a young lamb knows and discerns his dam sooner then an infant knows his mother:) then neither can we justly object against God’s work in grace, but are to believe that our infants are sanctified creatures, and are born believers not infidels, though outwardly they can manifest no faith or sanctification unto us. And, why should it be thought incredible that God should work faith in infants? If because we know not or perceive not how it can be: let us consider, that we know not the way of our natural birth, and other earthly things Eccles. 11:5, John. 3:8, how then can we know heavenly things? If we make question of the power of God; nothing is impossible with him. He made all things of nothing; he can make the dumb beast speak with man’s voice, Num. 22, he can make the babe in the mother’s womb, to be affected and leap for joy, at the voice of words spoken to the mother, Luke. 1.44, and can he not also work grace, faith, holiness in infants? Hath Satan power by sin to infect and corrupt infants (as is before proved,) and shall not God have power to cleanse from corruption, and make them holy? If we make doubt of the will of God herein, behold we have his promises to restore our losses in Adam, by his graces in Christ, as he shows in Rom 5, that he will circumcise our heart, and the heart of our seed to love him, Deut. 30:6, we have the seal of his promise, in giving circumcision to infants, to signify and seal the righteousness of faith, Rom. 4.11, Gen. 17. And we have assurance of all his promises, and of that to Abraham & his seed in particular, to be confirmed unto us (not abrogated or lessened) by Christ, 2 Cor. 1:20, Luke. 1.72.73 &c. Gal. 3.14 &c. Wherefore they are but a faithless and crooked generation, that notwithstanding all that God has spoken and done in this kind, do deny this grace of Christ to the infants of his people, and the seal or confirmation of this grace by baptism now, as it was by circumcision of old.
Anabaptist Objection 2 - Who may be baptised?
But they proceed to plead against the truth thus: Regeneration is a turning from sin to God, 1Thess. 1:9. Titus 3:5; Repentance is a sight and knowing of sin by the law a confessing and sorrow for sin, &c; Faith is the ground of things hoped for Heb. 11.1. and is accompanied with obedience, James. 2. Let them either now prove, that infants are turned from sin, see, know, confess and sorrow for it, believe the promises of God, &c. or they say nothing.
They reason ignorantly and perversely, not only against the light of God’s word, but of nature. As if some brutish person should plead thus. A man is a living creature that hath a reasonable soul; and the proper affections of a man as he is a man, are the faculty of understanding, of thinking, capableness of learning, of remembering, faculty of reasoning, of judging and discerning true and false, good and evil, of approving and improving, of willing & nilling, of speaking, of numbering, &c. Now let them which affirm that infants are born men (as Christ doth in John. 16:21.) prove that infants do understand, do think, remember, judge, discern good and evil, approve, will, speak, &c. or else they say nothing. Were not such a disputer worthy to be laughed and hissed at? who requires the actual use and manifestation of human affections and faculties in infants; which are in them but potentially & in the seed and beginning: and because they cannot declare these things by their works, therefore he denies them to be of the generation of mankind, or born men into the world: or that they have the faculties of men at all in them any manner of way?
Even such is the argumentation of these erroneous spirits against the truth of religion. For as before they reasoned against the sin, transgression, and condemnation of Infants, (contrary to Paul’s doctrine in Rom. 5) because infants actually understand not the law, nor transgress against it; and will not consider how they are sinners originally in Adam: so now also they reason against the grace of Christ in infants, and his work of regeneration in them; because they cannot outwardly manifest the effects of regeneration or fruits of faith, (such as the scriptures that they allege do require in older persons) & will not understand that these graces are in them through Christ and his spirit, but in the beginnings only (as I have formerly proved) and are not in them as in those of full age, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. And here I desire to know of the Anabaptists in their next writings about these matters; first when they think that children (who in their opinion are born without any sin) begin to be sinners, whether at 2,3,5,7, or other years: and when they can justly reprove a child for sin, if it show in word, deed, or gesture any thing contrary to the law of God, as if it swear, curse, lie, disobey parents, take another’s goods, be froward, angry, or the like. Yea let any of them tell me (if he can) when he himself first fell from his innocency and became a sinner, being none before; by what act or transgression of what commandment. It is strange that an innocent man should fall from his innocency, and not know when and how.
Secondly let them say, whether every child so soon as it begins to be a sinner, hath not remedy for the sin by Christ; and so whether it it be not capable of repentance, faith, regeneration, &c. and consequently of baptism, so soon as it is a sinner.
Thirdly, seeing they insist so much on the perfection of the ordinances of the New Testament, as of the old, (which thing I willingly grant) I desire to know whether (as God appointed the eight day for the circumcising of a child after it was borne) Christ hath appointed any day, month or year for a child to be baptised after it is born. If they say none, but when the child can manifest repentance and faith: then what manifestation hath Christ prescribed, whether if the child say it repenteth him, & he believes, it is enough, or what rules and ordinances Christ hath given, by which we may certainly know that now (and not before or after) a child is to receive baptism, as a repentant and believing sinner: and let them tell us at what age of their children they or any of them hath first baptised his child unto remission of sins. These things are needful to be known, that we may walk by rule; and being not yet signified (to my knowledge) in any of their writings, I desire for my information, and for the better clearing of these controversies, that they would set down their doctrine touching these points. For it is required of all parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, Eph. 6.4. this they cannot do aright, unless they know when first they begin to sin, and consequently when first they begin to believe. If they blame a child for sin while it is an innocent, they commit iniquity: if they keep a child from Christ and Christian baptism when it is a repentant & believing sinner (which may be so soon as it is a sinner) they wrong their child most sinfully, to condemn that which Christ justifies. These things are worthy of serious consideration both in respect of our children’s estate, and of our own.
In the next article we shall look at Ainsworth showing and proving the commands for the baptising of the infants of believers.