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An Antidote Against Anabaptism - John Reading. Part 1: Infants of Christian Parents ought to be Bapt

John Reading (1588-1667) was a conforming English Puritan who was appointed by the Westminster Assembly to be one of nine commissioned to write annotations on the New Testament (which were published in ‘Annotations upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament 1645).

Here we begin a presentation of John Reading's: 'Antidote against Anabaptism, in a Reply to the plea for Anabaptists.'

Editor’s Note: The original work has been edited and re-formatted by the writer and it is hoped that such revisions have not detracted from the intent or meaning.
What is Baptism?

I need not be long in describing this sacrament; only I say that baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, succeeding circumcision the seal of the Old, appointed by Christ for our inlet into his Church, our implantation into Him, and the similitude of his death and resurrection, in which the water sanctified by the Word, represents the blood of Christ, seals and exhibits to the elect all the benefits of his inestimable merits, death, passion, and resurrection, to our regeneration, remission of sins, and cleansing our bodies and souls from them all; though not presently so, that we have no sin; yet so, as that believing in Christ we have no guilt of original or actual sin imputed to us to condemnation: for the water, by the ordinance of God, touching the body, the Spirit of Jesus baptises body and soul. Hence Baptism is said to save us, 1 Pet. 3:21.

The end of Baptism is, that being baptised we might be illuminated; being illuminated, we might be adopted sons of God; being adopted, we might be perfected, that we may become immortally blessed. In our being baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, we do as it were, by a solemn oath or covenant, declare and protest, that we are wholly devoted to one God in trinity of unity; and God on his part herein testifies, that by this seal of his covenant, he receives us into the participation of his free mercies in Christ, and into the holy communion of his Church, the body of Christ, 1 John. 5:7, 8.

The Protestant Church holds, that the subject of baptism are all they who either are, or (professing faith, repentance, &c.) desire to be admitted into the Church and covenant of God: and that infants of Christian parents, being within the same, ought to be baptised, forasmuch as the covenant and promise of God is to parents and their children.

The Pelagians and Donatists (long since condemned of heresy by the Church) and now again of late, the Anabaptists deny the baptism of children to be lawful, until they come to years that they may be taught, and profess their faith, and repentance, and desire of baptism, upon these and the like grounds:

Objection 1

Christ saith Go therefore and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: therefore teaching must go before baptism; and consequently infants may not be baptised before they be taught.

Unto which we answer,

1. That in the cited place there was not intended an exact and complete model of Christ's commission to the Apostles; for there is no mention of the Lord's Supper: Christ only names the two more usual things for making or initiating disciples for the gathering of a Church, that is, teaching for them who were capable, thereof, and baptising for them and their children not yet capable of doctrine; that having their names given unto Christ, and being admitted into his school, they might as they grew up to capacity, be instructed concerning the mysteries of salvation in Christ: neither was this the first institution of baptism; for when Christ spake these words, he was about to ascend up into heaven: he had some years before that time appointed baptism among the Jews converted to the faith, and confirmed it by his own reception of baptism, not that he needed it, or had any sin to be washed away therein; but to sanctify the element of water by his sacred body, to the use and end of baptism; that is, to appoint for us a laver of regeneration: and in the cited place (being to leave the world) he enlarged the commission of baptism on the receivers part; as if he had said, Hitherto ye were not to go into the way of the Gentiles, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel: but now go and call the Gentiles also, go baptize and teach all nations the mysteries of the Gospel, as I have taught you: now therefore the order and laws of baptism are not hence to be derived.

2. Christ then sent his disciples to convert and baptise those Gentiles, who possibly had not so much as heard of Christ, much less of faith in him, and baptism into his Church: it was necessary therefore that the Apostles should first instruct them what they were to do in baptism, and why: but when the parents were baptised and instructed, so that there were churches settled among the Gentiles; then their children were also to be baptised into the same covenant of God, which runs to covenanted parents and their children; which before their parents sealing and admission into Christ's Church might not be: so that (as has been often noted) we must distinguish between a Church to be constituted and settled, and a constituted or settled Church: as also between persons of years, and infants presented to baptism. In a Church to be constituted and converted from Judaism or Paganism, those that are of years must necessarily first be taught, and afterward baptised; but in a constituted or settled Church, infants are first to be baptised, and then to be taught when they are able to learn: no otherwise was it in circumcision which was the former seal of the same covenant and righteousness of faith, into which we are now, under the Gospel, baptised. When Abraham according to God's commandment, came to circumcise the men of his family, doubtless he first instructed them, and preached to them the reason, use, and end of that sacrament, according as the Lord said, Gen. 18:19. I know him that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord: but when Isaac was born, he did not expect till he was come to years of discretion to learn, but circumcised him on the eighth day, Gen. 21:4.

3. In the cited place, the word μαθητεύω signifies also make disciples; which was to gather a Church both by preaching the Gospel, and administration of baptism, the sacrament of initiation, and first entrance of infants thereto. So these two means are expressed in the very next words of Christ that is, baptising them in the name of the Fa∣ther, Son, and Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded. Some do well observe that μαθητεύω is to teach them that are strangers to doctrine, that they may become disciples (and so in any human school also, schoolers are entered or admitted, before they are therein taught,) but μαθητεύω signifies to teach them that are disciples. So Matt. 27:57 it is said of Joseph of Arimathea, μαθητεύω who also was Jesus's disciple. And so the same word is expounded John. 4:1 to make disciples—the Pharisees heard that Jesus made and baptised more disciples than John. So that here appears no such necessity of the order (by our adversaries pretended to) as can conclude that none may be baptised, but such as are first taught.

4. If the order of those words must determine the order of the actions, then by the same reason, repentance must be before faith; for Mark. 1:15. it is said, Repent ye and believe the Gospel. So Rom. 10. 9. If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart, &c. thou shalt be saved. Does it follow therefore a man may make confession of Christ with his mouth to salvation, before he believes in him in his heart? and indeed if the order of words may determine in what order we must act in this business, then from other places of Scripture it may be concluded that baptism must precede teaching, as Mark. 1:4. John did baptise in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance, and Matt. 28:19, 20. when Christ had said—baptising them, &c. he presently infers teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded. So John. 3:5. the water is named before the Spirit, and Eph. 5:26. the washing of water, that is, of baptism, is named before the word.

5. Christ doth not in the cited place, in one syllable prescribe or limit the Apostles, whom they should baptise, and whom not, but only enjoins that they baptise all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all those things which he had formerly taught them: his principal end being there to command them to preach and to set to the seal of the Gospel-covenant; mentioning no particulars, but intimating, that all those that were of capacity should be taught; and that those that were not of present understanding (yet if born of such persons as had given their names to Christ) should be admitted to the seal of the righteousness of faith in Christ, that they might be instructed when, and as they were able to learn.

Objection 2

There are two conditions of baptism, believe and repent, which seeing infants, as such, cannot do, their baptism ought to be deferred until they can.

We answer,

1. These are the conditions, if the question were concerning persons of years to be baptised; but it is concerning infants, on whom no such condition is, or can reasonably for the present, be laid.

2. The argument is impious and ridiculous, as if one should say, the condition of eating is labouring, which seeing infants cannot do, let their eating or feeding be deferred till they can. The Apostle saith, If there be any that will not labour, let him not eat, 2 Thess. 3:10. Who (of any sense) does not understand that of those that can, and will not? and why not so in believing and repenting, seeing that God requires impossibilities neither in things temporal nor spiritual?

3. As in the baptism of those who are of years, a previous faith is required, so is a subsequent faith of those who are baptised infants, which if they afterward have not, they forfeit the benefit of the seal which they received.

4. Though infants, as such, cannot have actual faith, yet have they the seeds thereof in baptism, covered or shut up in the habitual beginning of grace, which Christ both can, and doth work in them. Nor is it simply necessary that the sacraments should in the same moment in which they are administered, effect all things which they figure or represent—yea a dilatory paction has place, when in the making thereof there is some invincible let to present performance, as want of the present use of reason is to infants faith, repentance, and obedience to the Gospel, unto which they are by covenant bound in their baptism: and indeed to be within the covenant gives the infant a just capacity to the seal of the same: Now infants of believing and baptised parents are within the Covenant, Gen. 17:7. Act. 2:39.

Objection 3

Christ was not baptised in his infancy, although the deity hypostatically united, dwelt in him fully; but deferred the same until he was about 30 years of age: therefore what ever habitual faith or seeds of grace can be pretended to for infants, they ought not to be baptised until they come of years to know what they do.

We answer,

1. Christ requires not that we should imitate him in all that he did, which is proposed to us for doctrine, but not for imitation: for example, he was both circumcised (as being of the seed of Abraham under the law, the righteousness whereof he was to perform, Mat. 3:15) and also baptised: if we should be so, Christ should profit us nothing, Gal. 5:2.

2. The time was not come at the birth of Christ, for the repealing of the seals of the ceremonial law, nor was the seal of the new Covenant to be instituted until the time drew near wherein he was to publish it by preaching the Gospel, and accomplishing the great work of our redemption in his blood: therefore he that was Saviour both of Jews and Gentiles, was circumcised in his infancy, and baptised as soon as that sacrament was instituted.

3. They that herein require imitation of Christ, intimate a necessity of deferring baptism until the age of 30 years,which our antagonists (that I know of) do not practise.

4. A bare example without a precept doth not bind to imitation: Christ administered the communion with unleavened bread after supper, in an upper room to twelve men only and no women: but seeing we find no precept in the Gospel which commands us to do the same, we believe we are not bound by that example. There was neither neglect, contempt, nor danger in so long delaying Christ's baptism; there must needs be some of all these in the delay of our children's baptism: Christ had no sin, but we have both Original and Actual: he not only foreknew, but foreordained (as God) the manner and time, as of his nativity, so also of his death: we neither know nor can appoint the time of our departures hence; therefore we may not defer our children's baptism; they may suddenly die.

5. Christ would not before that age be baptized, and enter into his public ministry, among other causes, for this al∣so, that the truth hereof might answer the type preceding in the Levitical Priests, who although they were received into the College of Priests at five and twenty, yet were they not admitted to exercise their ministry until they were thirty years old, Numb. 4:3.

Objection 4

The Lord's Supper may not be given to infants, by reason of their incapacity: on the same ground neither ought baptism the other sacrament.

We answer, that the reason why we may not administer the Communion to infants, is because God hath given an express command,—Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup— And there follows a dreadful reason,—For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body: Now infants can neither examine themselves, nor discern the Lord's body, because they cannot understand the institution, end, use and condition of that sacrament: Therefore we do not administer it unto them until they can be instructed therein. No such limitation can be shown concerning baptism; for though faith and repentance be mentioned as conditions of baptism and remission of sins, and salvation to persons of years; yet the case is far otherwise with infants, who though they cannot (as such) actually believe and repent, yet we doubt not of their remission of sins and salvation: neither could those infants who were circumcised actually be∣lieve and repent, yet that barred them not from the seal of the same righteousness of faith. Again, that which is said Mark 16:16, is very considerable (as has been noted). He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that be∣lieveth not shall be damned: It shows that the condition of believing is proposed to persons of years, who may be∣lieve, or obstinately reject the Gospel, which infants (as such) cannot do: and therefore it cannot for present concern them, without involving them all in the sentence of damnation; which opinion were damnable and Antichristian, Christ having positively pronounced for them—Of such is the Kingdom of God: To Infants, to be born within God's Covenant, and to receive the seal thereof obliging them to future faith, repentance and obedience, is instead of all these. Lastly, baptism is the seal of initiation, entrance and admittance into the Church; that therefore we give infants, that when they shall be capable of the Sacrament of Confirmation (the Lord's Supper) they may receive that also.

Objection 5

The Spirit acknowledges no other means of regeneration than the incorruptible seed, the Word of God, 1 Pet. 1:23. which seeing infants cannot receive, they cannot be regenerate; therefore their Baptism is effectless to regeneration.

We answer, the major appears false by Titus 3:5. St. Peter speaks there only of those believers who had been taught by the preaching of the Gospel, comprehending under it the seal thereof, baptism, the laver of regeneration, which is taught in that word as a means of regeneration.

Objection 6

Faith must go before the sign or seal thereof as Abraham believed first, and then received the seal, circumcision; therefore until infants can actually believe, they must not be baptized.

We answer, that if we speak of persons of years, they must first believe, or make profession of their faith; because by baptism they are to be admitted into the Covenant of God, and communion of his Church, to which they were formerly aliens and strangers: But it holds not in infants born of Christian parents, they being already within the Covenant and Church, and so having present right to the seal thereof: so in Isaac's circumcision at eight days old, the seal went long before the faith or profession thereof.

Objection 7

God brings not the blind into his Covenant, but enlightens them, that they may know the will of God for their salvation: but infants, as such, are not capable of illumination; therefore they are not to be baptised.

We answer:

1. God calls the poor, maimed, halt, and lame unto the great supper, that is the Communion of Christ, Luke 14:21.

2. The Greek Divines were wont to call baptism, illumination; and it can be no less than impious presumption to affirm, that God does not in the baptism of elect infants, secretly infuse such a light as he knows sufficient to their salvation; seeing that it is certain, that as God dwells not in all that know him, Rom. 1:21. so neither do all those presently know him in whom he dwells by the spirit of illumination and regeneration (until they have received such a further measure of the Spirit which is of God, that they may know the things which are freely given to them of God, 1 Cor. 2:12.) which appears, in that elect chil∣dren are saved; which, without the spirit of regeneration, none can be, John 3:3, 5. and doubtless the soul of an infant in God's divine presence in heaven, has therein more illumination then the most knowing mortal in the world hath.

3. Neither did the Apostles themselves presently understand all these things necessary to salvation which Christ taught them; neither did he propose doctrines to them above their present capacity: I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now: He patiently expected their future abilities; with a—What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know,—John 13:7. which both Peter and the rest had experience of, when the promised Comforter taught them, and brought all things to remembrance which Jesus had said unto them, and the Spirit of Truth guided them into all truth; and shall we not believe that God will graciously bear with an infants present defect of understanding, which himself gives him by degrees, and in such measure and time as his self appoints?

4. As faith and confession sufficed the penitent thief, without baptism; so baptism, the seal of the righteous∣ness of faith and repentance suffices an elect infant, dying without confession of faith, and actual repentance; and the living, until he come of age and ability to know and make profession.

Objection 8

With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation, Rom. 10:10. But infants can do neither of these; therefore they profane the holy seal, who give it to them who cannot be profited thereby.

We answer.

1. The same might have been objected against circumcision, where the seal sufficed, until the sealed came to years and ability to believe and confess.

2. The Apostles speaks there concerning persons of years, it nothing concerns infants, as such.

3. If giving the seal to those who cannot be profited thereby, be profanation of the same, how often do you profane the holy seal? How can any mere man know whom to baptise, though of years, and whom to put by? None can foresee men's final estates but God alone. We know that Judas and Simon Magus were baptised, though whatsoever they confessed with their mouth, 'tis certain they did not believe with their heart unto righteousness. Did their baptisers profane baptism? If not, how maliciously is this objected against us, baptising infants of believers, Christ himself expressly avowing them as subjects of his Kingdom?

Objection 9

The seals of the New Testament are perfect and spiritual: but infants are carnal; and, The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14. Therefore these seals agree not to, and with infants present incapacity.

We answer, the Apostle there speaks concerning the understanding of divine mysteries, not comprehension of profane and carnal men: Now infants being carnal, as born of flesh, want regeneration, that they may become spiritual, and enter into the Kingdom of God; and because they are by corrupted nature imperfect, therefore they ought to be admitted to the ordinary means by God appointed to make them perfect.

Objection 10

The Apostle bids us, draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water, Heb. 10. 22. Which seeing infants cannot for present do, the washing of their bodies with the pure water of baptism belongs to others who can have a good conscience, not to them.

We answer, the Apostle there shows, what we who are baptised, and of age ought to do, and with what confidence, not who ought to be baptised; and so it nothing concerns infants till they come of age.

Objection 11

Baptism which saves us, is with the testimony of a good conscience: this infants cannot have who have no knowledge; Therefore infants ought not to receive that baptism which cannot save them.

We answer,

1. The Apostle speaks not there of the subject of baptism, but of the fruits and effects thereof in those who are of ripe years; the fruits which indeed elect infants, if living, shall here reap in due time; and into which they are for present sealed: Now the outward administration of the sign of the covenant (concerning which our present question is) is one thing, and the inward effect thereof another: As it is also in the Word preached, the administration must be indifferently to all, Mark 16:15, whether stony, thorny, highway, or good ground, God's seeds men must diligently sow; the fruit and efficacy will be to believers only, Heb. 4:2. but that no mere man can foresee.

2. What illumination infants have by the secret working and influence of God's holy Spirit, belongs to God's secret counsel, and therefore not to our inquest.