The third outward part of baptism is the element of water, which is the matter whereof baptism consists. This truth is taught in diverse places of the New Testament. Matt 3:11, I indeed baptize with water. And John 1 because he should be declared to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water and I Knew him not, but he that sent me to baptize with water, he said unto me, upon whom thou shalt see the spirit come and tarry still on him, that is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. So Act. 8:36. As they went on their way, they came unto a certain water, and the eunuch said, See here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized? then he commanded the chariot to stand still, and they went both down unto the water, both Phillip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And Chap. 10:47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? Nothing is so apt to set forth the blood of Christ and his merits, as water which is fit to cleanse and wash, and leaves no filth behind upon the body: by which outward work, Christ would have us feel the inward purging and purifying of the soul
The use of this outward part, is threefold.
The First Use - The Minister may not baptise with any other element
First, it teaches, that the Minister may not baptise with any other liquor and element, then with natural, common, and ordinary water: whereunto answer the flood, the red sea, and the Jewish purifyings, under the law. The curious questions, whether wanting water we may baptise with sand, or water distilled and compounded, came at the first from the dangerous and bloody opinion that they are damned which die unbaptised. If any demand whether sweet waters and distilled may be taken and used, or mingled with common water, especially when children of such as are in high place are to be baptised and sealed into the covenant, thereby to note a difference between person and person, forasmuch as God hath listed up the head of one above another: I answer, all power is indeed of God, and we with heart and tongue do give honour to whom honour pertains, and fear to whom fear belongs.
Notwithstanding, all mixture of the water is man's invention and an human tradition which in God's worship is not to be admitted. Whatsoever is mingled with common water, is a corruption, whatsoever the party be that is baptised. The Apostle teaches, that the church has all one baptism: not one manner of baptizing the poor, and another of baptizing the rich. Besides, why might we not allow mixture of water with wine in the Lord's supper, as well as the mixture of compound water with common water in the sacrament of baptism? Furthermore, if there might lawfully be admitted a different manner of baptising the children of rich-men and the children of poor men: then in the other Sacrament the like distinction might be received, and so a finer kind of bread be provided for the richer sort by themselves, and a courser sort for the poor by themselves, which separation the Apostle reproves in the church of Corinth, and calls it a despising of the Church and a shaming of the poor. For in the exercises of religion there ought to be no difference of persons, for all are one in Christ Jesus, and therefore the noble eunuch mentioned in Acts, 8. was baptised by Phil∣lip with ordinary water.
Now if no composition may be mingled: then much less may any other sign be used, and so the element clean changed, and the ordinance of God altered: for the church of God has no liberty to bring any other sign in place of water. If a man were baptised with sand, with blood, with wine, with milk, with snow, with oil, and such liquor, it is no baptism at all, but a mere void and idle action: such a person must afterward be sprinkled or washed with water, not that any should be rebaptized, but because all persons should be once baptised, the former action being merely frustrate. Although the form of words be retained in the administration which our Saviour commanded, and the body be washed in the name of the three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: yet if such an error be committed in the matter that the sign be changed, and another foisted in, contrary to the precept of Christ and practise of the Apostles, there is a nullity of the whole work, the party be-sanded, or be-bloodied, or oiled, is erroneously and unlawfully, not truly and effectually baptised. Nadab and Abihu are smitten with lightning from heaven for bringing strange fire into the tabernacle, whereas they should have taken of that fire which God had appointed, though other fire would as well have consumed the offering. And are not all other elements as strange fire that are brought into this sacrament, beside water? Or, have we greater liberty to change God's ordinances in the gospel, then the Jews had under the Law?
When God appointed the burnt offering to be offered, and commanded the people to bring either bullocks out of the herd, either sheep or goats out of the fold, either turtle-doves or young pigeons from among the birds: being thus limited and restrained, might they bring an Ass, or an Elephant, or a Camel unto him? might they cut of a dogs neck, or offer swine flesh before the Lord? So, whereas God has ordained the sacrament of baptism to be administered, and hath willed it to be done with water, most common, most usual, most plentiful, most fit, most significant: shall we take sand, or saw-dust, oil, or other element than God has allowed? The Lord likewise threatening a general dearth of corn, wine, and oil (of which things many of their offerings and oblations consisted) shows that the priests should weep and wail, because the meat-offerings and drink-offerings should cease. But what need was there, either that the priests should have lamented, or the offerings have ceased, if they might have used other elements, other signs, or other matter than God approved? If they might have taken water instead of wine, or milk instead of oil? Or if they might have taken unclean beasts instead of clean, or the fishes of the sea instead of the beasts of the field? Or creeping things for their offerings instead of such as chew the cud and divide the hoof? Now how can it be better warranted to us to take oil for water, than it was for them to take water for oil.
The Second Use - Confuting Popish corruptions
Again, hereby all Popish corruptions and mixtures brought into this Sacrament are confuted and condemned, as their cream, their tapers, their crosses, their censors, their salt, their spittle, their holy water, their exorcisings and conjurations, having also an opinion of salvation and worship annexed unto them. These men (as if it were a base and contemptible thing to baptize with water only, according to Christ's commandment) have brought in a new word and new elements, that is, new dross and new filth into the Church, and into the sacraments of the Church: as salt, that we may be seasoned with wisedom, and be kept from purifying in sin: oil, that we may be safe from evil suggestions: spittle, that our ears may be open to hear the word, and our nostrils to discern the smell of good and evil: crosses, that all our senses may be defended against the evil spirit.
True it is, if all the other parts and actions be observed, these inventions and additions, which are so many abuses make not baptism void, neither bring a nullity thereof: notwithstanding these beggarly ceremonies, as they are destitute of the testimony and approbation of the first and ancient churches, so they corrupt the pure, simple, and sincere institution of Christ none were used when Christ was baptised, neither gave he any such thing in charge to his Apostles, neither were they in use in the Apostles times, neither did they deliver them to the pastors and teachers which they ordained in every city. For Peter saith, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptised? He calls not for oil, salt, spittle, cream or any such thing, but only for plain, common, and ordinary water. Thus in one sacra they find many sacraments, and invent types, shadows, similitudes, and significations in the immediate service of God, whereas we have the body itself, that is, Christ already. They make these outward things able to give grace, power, and strength against the devil. But the Apostle teaches, that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, they are spiritual that must defend us from evil. If they refer all this trash and trumpery, not to the substance of the sacrament but to order and comeliness: do they not thereby blas∣phemously accuse the baptism of John and of the Apostles of Christ of uncomeliness and disorder? Whereas the comeliness and dignity of the sacraments is to be esteemed by the word of God, by the institution of Christ, by the simplicity of the Gospel, and by the example of the Apostles. Nothing is more comely, decent, and orderly then that which Christ commands and allows: nothing is more uncomely or unseemly, than that which man invents in the service of God, and in the celebration of the Sacraments, thereby inverting and perverting the holy ordinances of God.
The Third Use - The bare want of external purification, cannot bring the danger of eternal condemnation
Thirdly, if washing with water be an outward part of baptism which pertains to the flesh; but teaches not to the conscience, which touches the body, but cleanses not the soul: then the bare want of external purification, cannot bring the danger of eternal condemnation. Wherefore children dying without baptism are not rejected because they want baptism: for children that are elected are saved, though they die before baptism: and they that are not elected are condemned, though they be baptized. For it is not the want, but the continual contempt thereof that is damnable. Circumcision was as necessary to the Jews, as baptism is unto us. But all did not perish that died uncircumcised: therefore all perish not that die unbaptized. And if the salvation of the child did depend upon the outward sacrament, it had been an hard thing in the Lord (who wills not the death of a sinner) to have required the deferring of it one week, one day, one hour, one minute? We see in Joshua, it was omitted 40 years, while they were in the wilderness, through their continual journeys and uncertain abode in every place: yet it were an hard, cruel, and bloody conclusion to determine thereupon, that whosoever among them during that time dying before he was circumcised, was damned, When David's child died the seventh day, which was before he could be circumcised, (circumcision being limited to the eighth day) he did not cry out pitifully, it is damned, it is damned: but arose from the earth, washed himself, anointed his body, changed his apparel, refreshed himself, cheered his wife, came into the house of the Lord, worshipped God, praised him for al his doings, made his servants that attended on him wonder at his comfortable behaviour, and said, he should go to his child, but not his child return to him again. But if he had thought all condemned that die uncircumcised, his lamentation would have exceeded, for he had cause to have sorrowed more after his death, then he did in the child's sickness: and if circumcision had been of such absolute necessity, he might have said, The child being now dead, why should I not fast? why should I not weep? why should I not afflict my soul? seeing I cannot bring him again, or restore him to life to be circumcised? But because he sorrowed not as one without hope and he not on this or any like manner: it appears that his faith apprehended the salvation of the child, and feared not his damnation through untimely want of the outward sacrament.
Now, God is not straighter and harder to us under the gospel, then he was to the Israelites under the law: he is no less able and willing to save now without baptism, than in those days he was without circumcision. Again, how foolish, vain, and unreasonable a thing is it, to put life and death, salvation and damnation into the hands and liberty of mortal men, as of the parents that should bring them, or of the minister that should baptize them, or of others that perform other duties unto them: whereas eternal life and salvation stands sure and settled upon the brazen pillar of God's election (who knows who are his) and upon his merciful promise in his covenant, and not upon the lust and pleasure of any man, as we see in the example of Jacob, of whom God said, I have loved him, before he was circumcised, nay before he was born, or had done either good or evil.
Furthermore, we have shown before, that many believed, repented, and had the Holy Ghost before they were baptized. Yea the thief upon the cross repented of his sins and believed in Christ, yet was never baptised: notwithstanding he was received to mercy and certainly saved, as Christ saith, This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise. Besides, there is no greater necessity of baptism than of the Lord's Supper: but we may be saved without the Lord's Supper: therefore also without baptism. Lastly, if all persons dying without baptism be condemned: then infinite multitudes of children should or may perish and be damned without their own fault, through the carelessness of others: but none perish without their owne fault: therefore all dying without baptism are not condemnd. To these we might add the testimony and confession of the adversaries, which is strong against themselves, to whom we may say as Christ sometimes did to that slothful person, Thou evil servant out of thine own mouth will I judge thee. These make three sorts of baptism, of water, of blood, of the spirit: whereby they confess that the want of baptising with water is not damnable in all, seeing that want may be supplied, either with shedding of their blood for the testimony of the truth, or by spiritual regeneration and ingrafting into the body of Christ. To conclude, do we desire the custom and practise of the Church? It is well known, that in Thessalia the sacrament of baptism was celebrated but once in the year, namely, at Easter. In other places thrice in the year, and sometimes not until the hour of their death, when they were going the way of all flesh. Constantine the great was the first chri∣stian Emperor, yet was he not baptised till the time of his death. And Valentinianus a christian Emperor died without baptism: yet doth Ambrose give him his due commendation, and doubted nothing of his salvation. Shall we do these good men, these worthy Emperors, these godly christians this wrong, as to think they were damned, who were the chief pillars and protectors of the Catholic religion? Or if the churches above mentioned had held this hard opinion, that the want of baptisme was a sign of reprobation: would they have deferred it in the hour of death or ad∣ministred it at certain times only of the year? True it is, that custom is not to be followed, neither the negligence of those bishops to be allowed: but it teaches thus much that in deferring baptism they differed in judgement from the new church of Rome, and concurred in opinion with the reformed churches, for which causes their practise is alleged.
Dealing with Objections by those requiring the absolute necessity of Baptism
The reasons used to maintain the absolute necessity of this sacrament to salvation, are weak and not worth the answering.
Objection 1 - The threatening annexed to circumcision
First they object the threatening annexed to circumcision. The uncircumcised male shall be cut off from his people. To this I answer, first God commanded infants to be circumcised the eighth day, before which time they were forbidden to circumcise. Wherefore, infants that die before the eighth day, were not bound and obliged by this law. And seeing there can be no transgression where there is no law, they are not damned because they are uncircumcised, seeing God called many out of this life before they were capable of this sacrament. Again the commination and threatening is not to be understood generally of all, but of such as are grown up: not of children, but of men, as appears by the reason, For he hath broke my covenant. This cannot be applied to infants, who albeit they have not actual faith, yet cannot be said to contemn grace, to refuse the covenant, to reject the promises, or to lie in infidelity & hardness of hart. Wherefore, it belongs unto those only that being grown up and come to years shall approve the negligence of their parents, and will not suffer themselves to be circumcised. Now as to Peter, saying, Thou shalt never wash my feet, Christ answered, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me: so to the Israelite that should have said, I will never be circumcised, this threatening might fitly be applied, If thou wilt not be circumcised, thou hast no part in God, no portion in his blessing, no assurance of his promises in this life, or of his kingdom in the life to come. Lastly, to be cut off from the people, does not signify to be condemned, for even the negligence and contempt of the Sacrament is pardonable where repentance follows: as we see of such as can unworthily to the Lord's supper among the Corinthians, who were punished with diseases and death itself, yet the soul no doubt was saved in the day of the Lord. Sometime therefore, that phrase of speaking signifies temporal judgements of God on men and their fami∣lies for their wickedness. Sometimes it signifies the magistrates justice inflicted on malefactors, who bears not the sword in vain, which is expounded afterward, Thou shalt surely kill him. Sometimes, it signifies to be cut off from the bosom of the Church, which is done by the high and dreadful censure or excommunication. Whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be out off from Israel: the interpretation of which words is added verse, 19. That person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel. So the Apostle speaks, 1 Cor. 5. He which hath done this thing should be put from among you, that is, from your company and fellowship as verse 13 put away from a∣mong yourselves that wicked man. Thus we are to understand the threatening in this place, that such as contemn circumcision, either themselves, or allow the same contempt and negligence of others, shall no longer be reckoned and reputed among the people of God, but be seperated from them.
Objection 2 - Unless a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Again, they object John 3:5 Unless a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God: therefore say they, it is necessary to salvation to be baptized. This is the reason of Bellarmine, and of others. I answer first, it is not necessary in this place by water to understand material water, but the grace of Christ purging and cleansing as water does; which interpretation may be gathered by conference of a like place Math 3:11. He shall baptise with the Holy Ghost and with fire, that is, by the spirit of God which is as it were fire, lightning our hearts with the knowledge of God, inflaming them with his love, and purging them from evil affections. So when we are said to be born again by water and the spirit, he means, by the spirit shewing forth in us the force power, and property of water, as if he should say, we are born of water which is the spirit, as Joh. 7:38, 39. Again, if it were meant of water in baptism, it must be understood according to alike sentence John. 6. Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, ye shall not have life in you: which must be understood of such as are of years and grown in age. And thus Innocentius the third in the decrees expound it: so doth Peter Lombard. So then, if they will be tried, either by their own Pope, which is their holy father: or by Peter Lombard, which is their grand-master: this place cannot be enforced against infants, that die before they be baptised, but must be referred to men of greater years.
We reason not thus far, to justify and allow the sluggishness and neglect of careless parents, under colour and pretence of this, that the salvation of the child depends not upon the participation of the Sacrament: but to shew, that if it cannot be obtained as it ought to be desired, or if by godless parents it be deferred and neglected: yet salvation is not tied and glued to the outward water. Away then with he doctrine of the Church of Rome touching the absolute necessity of baptism, and touching children that die without it: a beastly and bloody doctrine joined with rigour and cruelty, full of error and fear, uncharitable in it self, presumptuous by entering into God's secret judgments, impious by binding him to second causes and ordinary means, injurious to thousands of poor infants, discomfortable to all good parents, and blasphemous against the bottomless mercy of a gracious God, who has said that he will be thy God, and the God of thy seed: where he makes a covenant of salvation with us and our children, not adding any condition of baptism, if it cannot be had, as it ought to be. If it cannot be had by the infant, the spirit of God does work the effectual knitting of them to the body of Christ by a secret working (as pleases him) instead of ordinary means. For when our Saviour had said Mark 16:16 He that shall believe, and be baptized shall be saved: does not add contrariwise, he that is not baptized shall be damned, but annexes only, He that believeth not, shall be condemned. Thus we have shewed the malice and madness of Satan against poor infants, and how he hath used proud and pestilent instruments to effect his purpose: partly the Anabaptists, who deny baptism to their bodies: and partly the Papists, who deny salvation to their souls for want of baptism.