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William Attersoll's Badges of Christianity (3) - The Baptism of John


In the second part of his Badges of Christianity Master Attersoll sets out that in every true baptism, there be outward and inward parts united each to the other. Here, flowing from this doctrine, he concludes that the baptism of John and of Christ are in nature and substance all one. Although it is no matter of faith to dispute of John’s baptism; seeing no person is now baptized therewith: yet the discussion is relevant as by this doctrine he tackles the contrary doctrine of the Trent-Council that teaches, If any shall say, that the baptism of John hath the same force with Christ’s baptism, let him be accursed.


Master Attersoll strives to show the truth of this point out of the Scriptures that these baptisms are all one in substance and effect, and not of any other kind and nature.

The Argument in Eight Points

For first John preached the baptism of repentance to remission of sins, they have therfore the same doctrine, the same word, the same promise, the same repentance, the same forgiveness of sins, as they had the same outward element of water. And the Apostle teacheth, that there is one body, one spirit, one hope of the calling, one Lord, one father, one faith, and one baptism.


Second, the baptism of John was consecrated and sanctified in the person of Christ, for Christ was baptised with the baptism of John.


Thirdly, it may appear [Master Attersoll will treat with this point in Part 4], that John baptised in the name of the blessed trinity.


Fourthly, neither Christ nor his Apostles rebaptized any that were baptized by the ministry of John. Apollos did know only the baptism of John, he is taken & instructed further in the faith and ways of the Lord, but we read not that he was baptized again.


Fifthly, if John’s baptism were not the same with our baptism, it would follow that Christ was baptized with another baptisme then we are, and that our baptism was not sanctified in the person of Christ: which taketh away our comfort and consolation, that we which are the members of Christ have one and the same baptism with our head.


Sixthly, if the baptism of John were not one with the baptism of Christ, here the error of the Anabaptists should be confirmed, for such as were baptized of John, should be rebaptized.


Seventhly, the Apostles themselves should not be truely baptized: for they (no doubt) were baptized of John, some of them being first his disciples, otherwise they should be unbaptized. For Christ with his own hands baptized none, as appears in John. 4:1, 2, and it is not likely that one of them baptized another: yea they should baptize other into another baptism then themselves had received.


Eighthly and last of all, Christ himself testified, that the baptism ministred by John, pertained to the fulfilling of righteousness Matt. 3:15, and Luke testifies, that the publicans and people being baptized of him, justified God; but the Pharisees dispised the counsel of God against themselves & were not baptised. Wherefore seeing John baptised with water in the name of the Trinity to remission of sins and that the blessed Trinity was present thereat, we conclude his baptism was the same with ours: only herein in lies the difference, in the circumstance of time, John baptised in Christ that should suffer death and rise again, we baptise in the name of Christ already dead and risen again to life.

Dealing with the Objections of Cardinal Bellarmine

Against this evident truth directly confirmed, Bellarmine the Jesuit takes many exceptions, and makes many objections: all which stumbling blocks lying in the way (at which many stumble) are to be removed, before we conclude this chapter.


First Objection - John's Baptism was instituted by himself and not Christ.


For he reasons that, the baptism of John was instituted by John himself not by Christ, he was, not the minister only, but the author thereof: therefore it was no sacrament at all, especially of the New Testament, and consequently not the same with the baptism of Christ. I answer, we must consider in this reason, the base and vile account that the Jesuits make of John’s baptism, they make it an idle and vain ceremony without fruit or force, and no sacrament or seal of heavenly grace.


Again, if John’s baptism were no sacrament, then Christ which received no other outward baptism, received no sacrament: and we should be baptised with an other baptism than Christ was. Furthermore, shall we hear with patience and hold our peace, when these Jesuits or Jebusites enemies of the people of God, bleach out their own baptism, and blot John’s baptism out of the sacraments: and admit the false sacraments of Penance, Orders, Matrimony, etc.


Lastly, what intolerable boldness or blindness is there in these bayards, that make John and not God, to be the appointer, author, and ordainer of his baptism: contrary to express evidence of Holy Scripture? For seeing no man taketh this honor upon himself but he that is called of God as Aaron was: shall we think he would usurp this office without God’s word and warrant? And does not Christ himself propound the question to the chief priests and elders of the people touching John’s baptism, and teach that he baptized and preached by the authority and commandment of God? Besides, do not the Evangelists say, he was sent of God, John. 1:6, and that the word of God came to John in the wilderness, and he came into all the coasts about Jordan preaching and baptizing? Luke 3:2, 3. yea, John himself testifieth that he was sent to baptize, John. 1:33, And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. Whereby appears, that John’s baptism was with authority of God not of John: and John was not the author, but only the minister thereof.

Second Objection -Christ’s baptism gave the HolyGhost, John’s baptism gave not the Holy Ghost.

Again, he objects and alleges Matt 3:11, where John himself says, I baptize with water, but Christ shall baptize with the Holy Ghost. From what he gathers that Christ’s baptism gave the HolyGhost, John’s baptism gave not the Holy Ghost: therefore their baptisms are not all one. I an∣swer, these words were spoken to inform the people that he was not that Christ, Luke. 3:15, 16. so that they make a difference, not between the baptism of Christ and of John, but between the persons of Christ and of John, between the minister of the sacrament, and the substance thereof. For this is true of all the ministers of baptism to the end of the world, that baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity: they pour on the water, they can do no more, they can go no further, Christ must give the grace of regeneration and sanctification.


Third Objection - The Disciples of Ephesus rebaptised.

Moreover, another objection he takes out of Act. 19:4, 5. where Luke speaks of certain disciples at Ephesus, to whom Paul said,


Have ye received the Holy Ghost, since ye believed? And they said unto him, we have not so much as heard whether there be an Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, unto what were ye then baptized? And they said, unto John’s baptism. Then Paul said, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe in him, which shall come after him, that is, in Christ Jesus. And when they heard it, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. So Paul laid his hands on them, and the Holy Ghost came on him, and they spake the tongues and prophesied, and all the men were about twelve.


In these words it should seem at the first sight, that Paul baptized the disciples of Ephesus with the baptism of Christ, which had before received the baptism of John. If then he baptized them again in the name of Christ whom John baptized, it followeth necessarily that the baptism of John was one, and the baptism of Christ another, otherwise it should be a needless and fruitless repetition. Besides this, the place seemeth to favour rebaptization, and is alleged by dangerous heretics to that purpose. Wherefore, the place being difficult, the doubts divers, and the errors many that are gathered and sucked from hence: let us assay by the assistance of God to open the true and natural meaning thereof. If we shall weigh and consider the words aright according to the true interpretation thereof, agreeable to the drift of the place, to the circumstances of the text, to the propriety of the words, to other testimonies of Scriptures and to the proportion of faith: we shall see they favour and further neither rebaptization maintained by the Anabaptists, neither real difference between John’s baptism and Christ’s, defended by the Papists. True it is, there is in this Scripture a double history and narration inserted, intermingled, and mixed the one within the other, which causeth some doubt and confusion, but may easily be cleared and understood.


For first of all. the words inverse 5, And they which heard it were baptized: are not the words of Luke the writer, but of Paul the speaker, continuing his speach of John’s disciples and hearers, and are not to be understood of the twelve, as appeareth by the two Greek conjunctions, which are used by the makers of that tongue to join and to disjoin, having relation one to the other, and knitting together the parts of the sentence answering fitly each to other, as may be seen in many places, wherefore, Luke speaks not here of Paul’s baptism, but Paul speaks of John’s baptism. He sets down the office of John verse 3, then the prose cuts both the parts of it, mentioning his preaching verse 4. and his baptizing verse 5. Again, these twelve abiding at Ephesus dwelling far from the land of Judæa where John preached and baptized were living about 30. or 40, years after the death of John, could not hear his doctrine from his own mouth, or receive baptism at his hands. Now, whereas they are said to be baptized to John’s baptism, the meaning is, they embraced & professed the same doctrine which John preached by word, and sealed with his baptism.


Second, we have a like example, touching the Samaritans baptized by Phillip, The Holy Ghost was yet come down upon none of them, but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus: then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. Here we are to observe this order, Phillip preached, the people believed, and were baptized: afterward the Apostle's hands were imposed and so the Holy Ghost is received. They gave the gifts of the Holy Ghost by laying on of hands without baptism, Act. 8:17, neither do we read, that laying on of hands was used in baptism, neither were these baptized again, but only confirmed and strengthened by imposition of the Apostle's hands. So in this place, the twelve Ephesian disciples had embraced and received the doctrine that John preached, and were baptized in the name of Christ: then the Apostle layeth his hands upon them, and they receive the Holy Ghost, they are no more rebaptized then were the disciples at Samaria.


Thirdly, if the fourth and fifth verses were to be sundred and dismembred contrary to the use of the Greek particles, which serve to conjoin the whole, and to separate the parts of the sentence (as though the one were spoken of Paul, the other of Luke) why does Luke afterward in verse 6, repeat and assume the name of Paul? What need was there to make mention of him again? Does not this show, that in the speech before, he had spoken of John and his hearers that heard him preaching in the wilderness? Furthermore, the Apostle neither accuses nor condemns the baptism of these Ephesians, neither enquires whether they were baptized or no, seeing they were in the number of the professors of the faith & believers of the gospel (for they are called disciples) but whether they had received the gifts of the Holy Ghost?


Fourthly, if such as have been once baptized were to be repaptized, because they are sometimes grossly ignorant, and know not some necessary fundamental point of religion concerning the Trinity, concerning the offices or person of Christ, and such like holy principles: the Apostles themselves should have been baptized again, who conversing with Christ, hearing his doctrine, seeing his miracles, knowing his behaviour, had yet tasted little of his spiritual and heavenly kingdom, but dreamed that the Messiah should have a temporal and earthly kingdom. The Samaritans also should be baptized anew, because being baptized they did not immediatly receive the Holy Ghost. Likewise, Apollos should be baptized again, who was weak in knowledge, understanding only the baptism of John, yet he was not rebaptized, but Aquillia and Priscilla took him, and instructed him further in the faith of Christ and in the ways of God. And if Baptism were so often to be repeated, as God of his mercy shows us the errors of our mind and faults of our life: how often should we be baptized? Should not the faithful many times, not only in a year but sometimes in a day require baptism? Besides, we must consider, that these 12 disciples were not ignorant of the Holy Ghost the third person in Trinity, but of the extraordinary and miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which appeared in cloven tongues on the Apostles, as the words are taken, Act. 8, 17, 18, 19, and Chap. 10:44, 45, 47, and chap. 19:6.


For it were unreasonable and absurd to imagine, that such as are said to be disciples of Christ, professors of the faith, and members of the Church, could be ignorant wholly of the Holy Ghost, which John saw come down upon Christ in a visible shape, without the knowledge of which Spirit, none can be said to be a believer and to be faithful: such are so far from being admitted into the Church, that they deserve not to sit in the porch. Neither may we think without intollerable injury done unto John, who was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb, that he would ever have received to his baptism such rude and gross disciples as had never heard whether there were an Holy Ghost.


Last of all, if Paul had baptized these 12 disciples of Ephesus, why are they passed over in silence and not rehearsed, where, of set purpose he reckons up such as were baptized by him? he declared how he baptised none save Crispus, Gaius, and the houshould of Stephanas, he maketh no mention at all of this history. Nay, if he baptized these, might not the Corinthians have taken exception against him, and accused him of falsehood and forgetfulness? And albeit they speak properly and particularly of the Corinthians, yet afterwards he extends his doctrine further, and concludes generally that he knew not whether he had baptised any other; which he would never have spoken, if he had baptised the 12 together: especially seeing he adds, Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel. And seeing the former was written after this history, and as some suppose from Ephesus where these disciples dwelled, as it may in part be gathered out of chap 16. when Paul says, I will tary at Ephesus until Pentecost: how can it be that the Apostle baptising, these Ephesians and writing his Epistle from Ephesus should not remember them among the rest, being many and also present with him before his face?


Thus we have opened the meaning of this place, which the unlearned and unstable have wrested (as they do also other scriptures) to their own destruction: and we have proved the baptism of John to be one and the same in substance with the baptism of Christ, and therefore to be neither imperfect nor unprofitable.