William Attersoll (1566?- 1640) was an English conforming Puritan.
Little is known of this divine other than what can be gleaned from his own writings, but from here we learn that he was "a poor labourer in the Lord's vineyard, and a simple watchman in his house.". Master Attersoll was the author of many biblical commentaries and religious treatises including the seminal, The Badges of Christianity. Or, A treatise of the sacraments fully declared out of the Word of God Wherein the truth it self is proved, the doctrine of the Reformed Churches maintained.
The Badges of Christianity contain three books, the first of which sets forth the true doctrine of the Sacraments in respect of their parts, uses, and number against the errors of Rome. The second and third books deal with Baptism and the Lord's Supper respectively.
It is to the second book Of the Sacrament of Baptism that 'honourable badge whereby we are dedicated unto Jesus Christ' that we now turn in our new series.
In this article we present Master Attersoll's consideration of the word "Baptism" and what it is.
Editor’s Note: The original work has been edited and re-formatted by the writer and it is sincerely hoped that such revisions have not detracted from the intent or meaning.
On the word “Baptism”
This word in Scripture has many significations.
First, in the native and proper signification, it signifies to dip, to dive, and plunge under water, as Matt. 3:16, John 3:22-23, and Acts, 8:38-39.
Secondly, to cleanse and wash any thing with water, even when this sacrament is not administered, as Mark. 7 where it is said, the Pharisees did not eat, except first they washed. So Heb. 9:10, the old tabernacle did consist in washings.
Thirdly, it signifies the Cross, afflictions, mysteries, persecutions, and inward vexations of the spirit, as Luke, 12:50 where Christ said: But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! And Matthew 20: 22. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I must drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I shall be baptized with?
Fourthly, it is taken for a liberal and plentiful distribution of the graces and gifts of God, as in Acts 1:5. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. that is, ye shall receive a greater measure of the gifts of God then ye have done before.
Fifthly, the word is taken for the doctrine of John, which he delivered before he administered the sacrament of baptism, as in Acts. 18:25. where Apollos is said to be an eloquent man, and mighty in the scripture, knowing nothing but the baptism of John.
Lastly, it is taken for the whole work and action of the sacrament of baptism, as Matt, 28:19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: and in this last sense we are now to speak of it.
Let us therefore see what this sacrament of Baptism is.
Baptism is the first sacrament, whereby, by the outward washing of the body with water once into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost the inward cleansing of the soul by the blood of Christ is represented. This description of baptism is to be opened and further expounded unto us: wherein five points are to be considered of us.
The First Description
First, it is called the first sacrament, both in respect of the other sacrament of the Lord's Supper: and because when the nations were converted, and believed in the name of Christ, they were immediately baptized, as we see the practise of the Church, Acts. 2:4. and 10:47. and 8:12. Where after embracing the faith, we see the partaking of baptism, and the sealing up of their conversion.
The Second Description
Again, it is said there must be an outward washing of the body with water, because the Apostle declares thereby the nature of a sacrament of baptism, Eph, 5. Calling it the washing of water through the Word: and it has a just proportion or relation to the spiritual washing of our new birth, Tit. 3:5. being also called the baptism of repentance and amendment of life for remission of sins. Dipping into the water is not necessary to the being of a sacrament: sprinkling of water is not necessary to the being of a sacrament: but wetting and washing with water is necessary to the being of a sacrament. Now whether the whole body should be washed, or the face only: and whether it should be done once or thrice, is not greatly material, but left indifferent to the church to decree and determine, what shall be thought fittest to be received and practised.
The Third Description
Thirdly, it is added in the former description, that baptism is once only to be administered. For as in natural generation, man is once only born: so it is in spiritual regeneration. And as circumcision was once only received in the flesh, whereby the fore-skin was circumcised: so is baptism once only to be administered, not oftentimes to be repeated. Wherefore, the Apostle in Eph. 4. says, There is one baptism, one faith.
Again, Christ willed the Apostles to minister baptism, not baptisms. Lastly, in baptism the death of Christ is represented, and he died but once: so that as his death was not to be repeated, no more is baptism to be reiterated.
The Fourth Description
Fourthly, the form and manner of doing, is said to be in to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Whereby is meant, that we have fellowship with God in three persons (as a wife hath with her husband, who passes into her husband’s name) to be subject to him, to obey him, to acknowledge and call upon him, to worship no other god but the true Jehovah. This therefore is not to be understood only of using the name of the Trinity in baptizing, but by it also is meant, that the persons baptized are received into the grace and fellowship of God, to become his people, and to be partakers of his covenant to their spiritual comfort.
The Fifth Description
Lastly in the description before remembered, it is affirmed that the outward washing of the body, represents the inward cleansing of the soul by the blood of Jesus Christ. This appears expressly Gal. 3:27 All that are baptized into Christ, have put on Christ and Titus 3:5. 6. According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of the new birth, and the renewing of the Holy-Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our saviour. So also the same Apostle, We are therefore buried with him through baptism into his death Rom 6:4. These testimonies out of the word of truth do evidently teach, that this is the principal scope and end of baptism, to assure our consciences by external washing, of the inward cleansing of our souls by the blood of Christ for remission of sins. This being the description of baptism, let us see what good uses may be made thereof, and every part in order, as they have been laid before us.
The Good Uses
The Good Use of the First Description
And first, touching the first point mentioned before in the description, that baptism is the first sacrament. This teaches that such as are gained to the faith, & children of such as are in the profession are immediately to he baptized. So was the Eunuch when he was instructed: so was Paul when he was converted: so were the Jews when they repented. And indeed this is a true saying, that men cannot be incorporate into any religion (whether it be true or false) unless they be combined together by some communion and fellowship of visible sacraments. Again, Is baptism the first sacrament of the New Testament? Then it follows, that he which is not baptized, is not to be admitted to the Lord’s Table: he that hath not received the first sacrament, is not to be made partaker of the second. As in the Old Testament, circumcision was the sacrament of entrance and admission, and none was admitted to eat the Passover but such as were circumcised, as we see in Exod. so none has this right and privilege to come to the supper of the Lord, unless first they be entered, and the door opened to them by baptism. For a man must be known to belong to our family and household, before he presume to eat of the children’s bread, that belongs not to strangers.
The Good Use of the Second Description
Touching the use of the second point, to wit, that there must be washing with waters we learn that washing with water is of the necessity of baptism. Indeed there may be a washing without baptism, but there can be no baptism without washing. The washing of water through the word. So that this washing is necessary, because of the fit similitude that is between it and our regeneration or new-birth. The water is apt to cleanse us & leaves no stain behind: so is our justification and sanctification represented by the blood of Christ, as shall be considered. Therefore such as used sand, or blood, or such like matter not fit for washing, did not indeed baptize, but horribly profane the sacrament of baptism.
The Good Use of the Third Description
The third point in the description is, that baptism is once only to be administered which affords unto us these three uses.
First, it shows a difference between it and the Lord's Supper. The Apostle Paul speaking of the supper of the Lord saith, As oft as ye shall eat this bread and drink of this cup: and Christ our saviour, Do this as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me, therefore it must be often received of the church. But baptism once ministered, is not again to be repeated. As we are once only born into the world, but after our birth are daily nourished: so we are but once baptized, but there is continual use of the Lord’s supper, where at we are fed to eternal life.
Secondly, this teaches, that all rebaptizing is unlawful, as we see by the examples of the Apostles, who baptized not the believers and members of the church the second time. For Acts 2. it is noted, that such as believed the gospel, continued in the Apostles doctrine, in fellowship, in breaking of bread & prayer: but not in baptizing again, or being baptized again. And Acts 19:4, 5 the disciples which were baptized, and had not received the gifts of the Holy Ghost, Paul instructed further in the doctrine of Christ, and did not rebaptize them, but lays his hands upon them, and they receive the visible gifts of the Holy Ghost. The reason is plain against rebaptizing, because it signifies and seals up our once being born again, our once setting and settling into the body of Christ, and our spiritual marriage once with him, who is the spiritual husband of his Church. Whereby we see, that such as have been baptized by heretics or other wicked ministers, are not to be rebaptized. It came in place of circumcision: but none were twice circumcised, therefore none to be twice baptized.
Thirdly, it is a sacrament that represents our spiritual incorporation into the Church: but it is sufficient once to be ingrafted, & consequently sufficient have it once administered. This error of rebaptizing, arose upon a corrupt understanding and interpretation of the place of Acts 19 When they heard it, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The difficulty of this place is taken away, if we consider they be the words of Paul continuing his speech of John’s baptism, not of Luke declaring what Paul did. But of this place we shall have better and fitter occasion to speak further in the chapter following, where it is at large expounded. Furthermore, if baptism be administered once for ever, it shows that he which comes to Christ once truly and indeed, shall never be cast away, whom Christ Jesus loves once, he loves for ever, because his graces and gifts are without repentance. What shall separate us from Christ, when we are by his working adjoined unto him? Wherefore, this outward washing, being not often repeated, but once only used, doth effectually seal up our once joining to God, who has made an ever lasting covenant with us, he shall never turn away from us, to do us good, we shall be his people and he will be our God for ever. Indeed if we could clean fall away, from the grace of God, we should have another regeneration and another baptizing to be the seal thereof: but because we are built upon the brazen pillar of God’s election, the gates of hell shall not prevail against us, for this foundation remains sure, and has this seal, The Lord knows who are his. This appears in David, Psal. 51. He desires to have a clean heart, he prays that the Holy Spirit be not taken from him: thereby declaring that the spirit was within him, and that he had a sensible feeling thereof, howsoever the flesh for a season had gotten the upperhand. Here then is a great comfort sealed to all Christians, in all temptations, against all the terrors and fears of conscience, where with they are ready to be swallowed up and overwhelmed. This must strengthen and stay us up, that although we may fall grievously, yet we shall not fall finally from the state of grace. He that is once a sound and lively member of Christ, can never be wholly cut off. True it is, sin may lessen our conjunction and weaken our communion with Christ: but if we be truly in Him, the band shall never be dissolved, we shall never be wholly severed and fall from him, as 1 John 2: 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they should have continued with us, but this commeth to pass, that it might appear, that they are not all of us. Now if any man by falling into sin, were totally separated from Christ for a time, surely in his recovery and rising from sin he were to be baptized the second time: for baptism is the sacrament, initiation and ingrafting into Christ, and an universal falling would require a new ingrafting. But it were most absurd to say, we should be as often baptized as we fall into sin: and therefore howsoever Satan may buffet, molest, tempt, and wound us grievously, yet he can never master us wholly and overcome us finally, as the Apostle declares, 1 John 3. Whosoever is born of God committeth not sin, for his seed remaineth in him, neither can he sin, because he is born of God. This assurance of our standing for ever in the covenant, is the root of all courage and comfort in trials and temptations, it helps us to fight manfully against sin, it preserves us from security, it nourishes us in good works, it increases in us a care to please God, and lastly it confutes the popish fancy of the forged sacrament of penance, whereby (they say) a Christian being clean fallen from grace is restored, finding no comfort in his baptism: whereas the true believer never falls finally from faith, neither needs an outward seal to assure his pertaining to God’s favour and love. Indeed every christian that is fallen through infirmity, must rise up, repent unfeignedly, and show forth the fruits thereof: yet the force and strength of his baptism is not lost, the fruit and comfort thereof remains for ever, and is extended as well to the time to come as to the time that is past. So many therefore as affirm, that the faithful in their falls, have remedy in penance, but no comfort by their baptism, do set up themselves, magnifying their own dreams and devises above the holy ordinances of God.
The Good Use of the Fourth Description
The fourth part of the former description of baptism, is the form of baptizing into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. This teaches that whosoever is baptized, has made a solemn promise to confess and profess the Christian religion, to be the servant of Christ, to fight his battles under his banner, against all the enemies of his faith and salvation, against sin, against Satan, against the world: he hath vowed to renounce the works of the flesh, and to serve the true God. So often then as we are present at the administration thereof, we must consider the covenant into which we are entered, which we made in the presence of men and angels, which we are bound to keep for ever. Wherefore, let us learn daily to die unto sin, and follow a new life by the grace of sanctification. Secondly, this form of administration teaches us, to assure our own hearts of God protection and defence, as a wife doth of her husbands tuition and preservation of her from all dangers. Let us look for life, salvation, government, and nourishment from him alone in Christ For as he calls us from the fellowship of Satan, of sin, and of the world to have fellowship with himself: so he promises to be our aide and defence in time of need, on whom we are in every estate and condition to depend.
The Good Use of the Fifth Description
The last part of the description, shows, the inward cleansing of the soul by the blood of Christ. This teaches that they abuse baptism, that in the outward work seek remission of sins, as though the force of washing away sins were found in the element of water. Baptism therefore is not the washing away of sins: only the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin, 1. John 1:7. Again this declares the perpetual use of it in the Church, seeing it has this effect to assure remission and forgiveness of sins: unto this let us bring our children: of this let us make them partakers: from this let us by no means keep them: and in this let us continually renew our covenant with God.