In this penultimate instalment from Attersoll's Badges we come to the matter of infant baptism. Here he sets out the reasons why children of believers are admitted for baptism and deals with a number of objections.
Editor’s Note: The original work has been edited by the writer and it is hoped that such revisions have not detracted from the intent or meaning.
Although it cannot appear unto us, that infants and new born babes brought to be baptised, have actual faith, but rather is like they want the habit of faith which have a not the use of understanding, unless God extraordinarily work it, which lies not in us to judge of: yet we baptise them and admit them to this sacrament, which we do upon very good grounds and sufficient reasons.
First therefore, we will prove by evident demonstration out of the scriptures, the doctrine of children's baptism to be conformable to the Jews circumcision, agreeable to the practise of the Apostles, allowable by the words of Christ, answerable to the custom of the primitive church, reasonable in itself, profitable to the infants, available by the ordinance of God, and very comfortable to all christian parents. Secondly, we will maintain this assertion against the objections and arguments of the Anabaptists and other adversaries that have crossed and contradicted this truth.
Demonstration from Scripture
First Argument - The doctrine of children's baptism to be conformable to the Jews circumcision.
Touching the first, that the baptising of infants is warranted by the word of God, I will make it appear by sundry reasons. We see in the Old Testament, that all males by express commandment were willed to be circumcised the eighth day. If God made infants partakers of circumcision: why should we not hold the same of baptism, being instituted for us instead of circumcision, there being the same promises in both, and there being the same ends of both? If then the covenant made with Abraham remain stable and stedfast, it does no less belong to the children of Christians at this day, then it did appertain to the children of the Jews under the Old Testament: unless peradventure we will say, that our Saviour Christ by his coming has restrained or diminished the grace and love of his Father, which were detestable blasphemy against the Father, and an horrible reproach against the Son of God. From hence then, we reason thus, if the infants of the Jews were circumcised, then the children of Christians are to be baptised: but the infants of the Jews were circumcised: therefore also the children of Christians are to be baptised.
Against this reason, sundry exceptions are taken by the adversaries of this doctrine, which are not unworthy the consideration. They say, circumcision was a sign of mortification, it was tied to be administered the eighth day, and that women ought not to be baptised, if baptism were like to circumcision, in as much as they were not circumcised. I answer, these objections will easily appear to be very cavils and mere dreams of idle and addle brains, if we diligently observe, both wherein circumcision and baptism agree, and in what points they differ.
(a) Points in which Circumcision and Baptism Agree
They agree, first, in one author of them both, that is, God himself, who first appointed the Minister of circumcision, which was Abraham, and John the Minister of baptism, whereof he was called the baptist.
Secondly, in the chief and principal ends for which they were instituted, namely, to seal up the promises of grace by Christ.
Thirdly, by both of them is wrought our visible receiving into the church: the Jews were received by circumcision, the christians are entered by baptism.
Lastly, by both of them our mortification, regeneration, newness of life, and justification are signified. So then they fully agree in the ends which they respect, and in the things which they signify, to wit, in the substance and nature of the things themselves.
(b) Points in which Circumcision and Baptism Differ
Again circumcision and baptism differ only in certain circumstances: first, in the form and manner of doing, as circumcision was administered by cutting away of the foreskin and effusion of blood, but baptism by washing and sprinkling with water.
Secondly, in the outward sign, which is different in both.
Thirdly, in the circumstance of time: for circumcision promised from God grace and mercy in the Messiah to come, baptism in the Messiah already exhibited.
Fourthly, in the subjects or persons that are partakers of them: circumcision belongs only to the male children, but baptism is common to male and female. Notwithstanding, howsoever the bodies of the men children alone were imprinted, yet through them the women were after a sort made partakers and companions of circumcision, so that albeit God commanded only the males to have this sign in their flesh, yet the females were not excluded from being members of the church, nor accounted strangers from the covenants of promise. For as the man is the head of the Woman, so they were accounted as circumcised in the man, yea they were reckoned and numbered with the men, namely, the unmarried with their father, and the married with their husbands. Now, their circumcision was thus comprehended in the men, so that it was unto them instead of circumcision to be born of the circumcised, may be gathered by many places, as Luke, 13, Where the woman which Christ healed of a spirit of infirmity bound together, is called the daughter of Abraham, to signify that the privilege of his posterity belonged no less to her and all women that were faithful, then to the males; and that she was as well his daughter, as they his sons. Likewise Gen. 34, the sons of Jacob, communing with Hamor after their sister was humbled and abused, said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to an uncircumcised man, for that were a reproof unto us: but in this we will consent unto you, if ye will be as we are, that every man-child among you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, &c. where these two are set as contrary one to another, our sister, and the uncircumcised, which teaches that they were accounted as circumcised in the males, so that it was enough to them to be born of parents that were circumcised.
Fifthly, they differ in the settled time which is limited for circumcision, being precisely and necessarily tied to the eighth day: but in baptism it is not so, there is greater liberty left to the church: yet the Sabbath following would not without urgent cause be omitted.
Sixthly, circumcision was instituted for the Israelites that were the seed of Abraham: but Baptism was instituted for all nations that are willing to join themselves to the fellowship of the churches of Christ that profess his name, of whatsoever land and language they be.
Lastly, circumcision was to endure only till the coming of the Messiah, but the body being come, the figure must cease, whereas baptism is to continue unto the end of the world as our saviour teaches Matt, 28:19 Teach and baptise, and lo I am with you until the end of the world. Wherefore, the circumcision of the Turks which live in infidelity, and of the Moors which profess Christianity used at this day is nothing worth, albeit they retain the outward sign and ceremony: because the institution of it was only to endure the blessed times of the Gospel. Thus we see, that notwithstanding the differences between circumcision and baptism in circumstances of time and manner of doing: yet being in substance and effect the same, the argument stands strong and invincible, proving the baptising of infants in the time of the Gospel, from the commandment of circumcising infants in the time of the Law.
Second Argument - The practise of the Apostles and succeeding ages.
Again, let us consider the practise of the Apostles and ages succeeding in this point. For albeit it be not expressed, that any infant was baptised by the hands of the Apostles: yet we find in divers places, that whole families and households have been baptised, in which no doubt were many infants and sucklings as Act. 16:15. Lydia being converted to the faith was baptised, and all her household. And again Verse. 33, of the same chapter, the jailor was baptised and all that were with him. So was Crispus the chief ruler of the Synagogue and his household baptised, and the household of Stephanas.
Furthermore, when Peter commanded the Jews, new∣y converted to the faith of Christ, and hungering after salvation in him whom before they had crucified, to be baptised: he adds this as a reason, For the promise is made to you, and to your children, and to all that are a far off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Nevertheless will some say, we read not directly that any infants were here baptised in these places? But do we read that any were excluded? And seeing the scripture expresses all the household, who shall dare to debar infants? Are not they a principal part of the house? Besides, if the baptism of children be not to be believed, because it is not named and expressed: we might with as good reason shut out women from the Lord's Supper (if any were as great an enemy to the communicating of women as to the baptising of Children) seeing we do not expressly read, that they were not admitted to the Lord's table in the Apostles' times. Wherefore, children's baptism is no human tradition, no apishimitation, no ancient corruption of this Sacrament: but is grounded on the unblamable practise of the Apostles, which has the force and strength of a commandment.
Third Argument - The Example of Christ
Thirdly, Christ by his own example allows and approves their baptism as we see, Mark. 10, when the disciples rebuked those that brought little children to Christ that he might touch them, he said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God: verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. Where we are to observe, that he says not, of these only is the kingdom of heaven, but of such like infants, which shall be in all ages and times of the Church. In this act of Christ embracing the infants brought unto him and sharply rebuking his disciples that forbade them: we are to consider that he commands children to be brought unto him, and addeth a reason, To such belongeth the kingdom of heaven. If any object, it is said, he embraced them, it is not said, he baptized them: or if any reply and say that there is no agreement and resemblance between baptizing and embracing: I answer, he laid his hands upon them, he prayed for them, he commends them to his Father, and said the kingdom of heaven is theirs. All this is a great deal more then to give them the outward sign. For if reason require, they should be brought to Christ: why should they not be received to baptism, which is a sign of our union with Christ? If the kingdom of heaven belong to them: why should the sign be denied unto them, whereby the door of entrance into the Church is opened? Why should we drive them away from Christ: whom Christ calls unto himself? Neither let any say, these children were of years and grown up in age, able of themselves to come and repair to Christ: For the Evangelist uses such words as signify such young infants as are babes and hang upon their mothers breasts, therefore, by coming in this place he means to draw near or to have access. Again they were such as were brought to Christ by others, Luke 18:15, they were carried in their arms, they walked not on their feet, and Christ also took them in his own arms.
Fourth Argument - The Practice of the Primitive Church
Besides, here agrees the practise and custom of the primitive church: for no teacher so profound, no doctor so learned, no writer so ancient, which doth not refer the beginning hereof to the precise times of the Apostles. Let the Anabaptists and adversaries of this truth tell us, who was the first author and inventor of children's baptism, if they refer it not to Christ? who first administered it? What was his name, if they cancel, let them not hide it? Let them declare the time when it began? Let them shew the place where it was devised? Let them name the child first baptised, and in what assembly or church it was? If they cannot do these or any of them, let them acknowledge the baptism of children to be the ordinance of God, and not of man: warranted both by doctrine of the scripture and practise of the church.
Moreover if there were no writer to avouch this ancient truth, yet is it in itself very right and reasonable. For do we not see and behold daily very babes and infants, oftentimes among men admitted to their inheritance, have they not livery and season of land, and have they not the wand or turf taken in their hands, according to the custom of the Manor of which they hold? They know not what is done: they perceive nothing what the Lord of the Manor or steward speaks unto them: yet we see among the wisest men in this world, this is not thought foolish, neither is such an admission called into question, but they are afterward instructed what they have done, what they have undertaken and taken upon them, what services and duties they owe, what their Lord requires of them.
Thus they are admitted in their infancy to a temporal inheritance and possession this they hold to the end of their life: and of the validity of such entrance no tenant makes doubt. Why then should it seem unreasonable to give them baptism, the sign of the covenant, being born heirs of the promise, that after they come to discretion they may make use of it as the rest of the members of the church? They shall understand afterward that which they understand not for the present: and yet if it please God to take them in mercy to himself from the miseries of the world, before they know the mystery of their baptism, he works extraordinarily by ways best known to himself the force of their baptism in their hearts, and seals up their engrafting into Christ Jesus. If then children have the white wand delivered unto them to assure them of the inheritance which they hold: let none deny unto them the partaking of this sacrament, whereby they are assured of an eternal inheritance howsoever for the present time they are not capable of the knowledge thereof.
Lastly, the privileges and prerogatives of children are no less than those of elder years. For infants are a part of the Church of God, they are the sheep of Christ, they are the children of the heavenly father, they are inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, they are redeemed with the blood of Christ, and engrafted into his body: why then should they not bear the mark of Christ, seeing they are a principal part of his possession? If they be a part of the houshold, they ought to have entrance into the house: if they belong to the City of God, who shall dare to shut the gates against them? Or if they be in the number of the sheep of Christ, who shall presume to keep them from the sheep-fold? Or if they be sound members of the body of Christ, who shall cut them off as rotten members? Wherefore then, should they not receive the seal whereby the promise is confirmed unto them, seeing they have the promise itself of salvation? Why should they not be partakers of the outward sign, seeing they are partakers of the thing signified? Why should they be put back from the figure, seeing they have the truth itself? Why should they not be partakers of the sacrament with the faithful, seeing they are enrolled in the fellowship of the faithful? And who shall deprive them of the seal of the covenant, seeing they are partakers of regeneration and remission of sins.
On this we reason, whosoever are in the covenant and Church of God, to them belongs baptism, which is the seal of the covenant: but infants are in the covenant and of the Church: therefore to them belongs baptism which is the seal of the covenant. Again, to whom the promise appertains, they may and ought to be baptised: but the promise was made even to infants: therefore they may and ought to be baptised.
Furthermore, to whom forgiveness of sins and the Holy Ghost are promised and given, they ought by no means to be denied the outward sign: but forgiveness of sins and the Holy Ghost are promised to infants and given unto them: therefore infants ought not to be kept from the element of water, no more then such as are of years of discretion. Thus much of the first point, putting children into the right and possession of baptism, as if it were the right heirs into their inheritance, from which they have been wrongfully and unjustly dispossessed.
Objections of the Anabaptist
Having now sufficiently proved by the scripture, that children are to be baptised: it remains that we should maintain this assertion against the cavils of the Anabaptists. For as the former reasons, grounded upon the evident demonstration of the word, as upon a pillar that cannot be shaken, may persuade us to embrace the truth: so the weakness and sophistry which appears in the objections of the adversaries, serves to confirm us in this persuasion. But let us examine what is the strength of them.
Objection 1 - Infant Baptism is not commanded
First they object it was never commanded that infants should be baptised. I answer, unblamable examples and practises not contradicted, are in the nature of precepts. Again, the will of God approving and appointing children's baptism appears, in that it came in place of circumcision, baptism is our circumcision. Besides we have a general commandment, Go teach all nations and baptize them. And the Apostle says, all were baptised in the cloud and in the sea. Christ saith, all nations, the Apostles saith all the Israelites: let them show, where infants are excepted and exempted: for we hold this as a certain principle, that a general commandment includes the particular, and comprehends the same under it, as well as if it were by name expressed.
Objection 2 - Must children therefore be admitted to the Lord's Supper
Secondly, they obiect, if infants may be baptised, then they may be admitted to the Lord's Supper: for why should not the supper be given to the whole church as well as baptism? I answer there is not the like reason and respect of both. There is great difference between these two sacraments. For baptism is a sign of our entrance and receiving into the Church, so that the Supper is to be granted to none but to such as are baptised, and are fit to bear strong meat, being instituted for our confirmation and sealing unto us, that God having once received us into the Church, will also evermore preserve us in it, that we never fall from it, nor forsake it, and will nourish and cherish us by the body and blood of Christ. Wherefore, the Lord Jesus, to show that his Supper was not for children but for men, would not administer it in the element of milk, which is for infants and for new born babes: but in bread and wine which are for strong men that are of age.
Again, sundry conditions and considerations are required in the Supper which debar young infants, that although they are to be baptized, yet they ought not to be admitted to the Lord's Supper, seeing by their young years they are excluded. For it is required of all those that come to this Supper, to show forth the Lord's death, to discern the body and blood of Christ, and try themselves whether they have faith and repentance. But infants cannot do these things, they cannot show forth the Lord's death they are not apt to discern his body and blood, they are not able to examine themselves, and therefore infants for good causes are excluded from this Supper.
Objection 3 -Believing is joined to Baptism
Thirdly they object, that it is said Teach and baptise: and again, He that shall believe and be baptised shall be saved: where upon they conclude, that such as believe not, are not to be baptised; inasmuch as Christ before baptism commands teaching, and afterward joins baptising with believing. But infants are not capable of doctrine, neither do they actually believe: therefore they are not to be baptised. Again, if repentance be necessarily joined as Acts 2 Amend your lives and be baptised: then infants must be separated and secluded, who cannot repent. But repentance is necessarily required: therefore infants are to be barred from the sacrament of baptism. I answer, first, those sentences are not general to all, but belong only to men of sufficient years and discretion to discern between good and evil. By this fraud of extending, stretching, and falsely applying general sentences of Scripture, a man might rear and raise many monstrous conclusions. If a man would go about to prove that children are not to be nourished and fed with corporeal food, because the Apostle would have none to eat but such as labour, were he not worthy to be spitted at or hissed out of the schools, because he carries that indifferently to all ages, which is limited and restrained to a certain age? So must we not rack and rent asunder the general sentences of scripture, Except ye repent, ye shall all perish: faith commeth by hearing, & hearing by the word of God: he that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved. These belong only to men of discretion, and are not to be applied to infants, whom they do not concern. Again, Christ in those words instructs his Apostles, what order they should observe in the conversion of the Gentiles: first, they must instruct them in faith, then baptise them being instructed, and lastly guide them in true obedience being instructed, when he adds Teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you. Besides, if they strictly urge and stiffly stand upon the words, as they literally lie in order: why may we not first baptise them before we teach them, because it is said, baptising them in the name of the Trinity, and teaching them to observe what I command. But he treats in this place of such as are grown up, which must first have knowledge in the gospel, faith in Christ, and repentance from dead works before they be baptised: but infants are baptised by reason of the promise made to their parents.
Moreover, we might oppose unto these, the example of circumcision, which we know and they are not ignorant was given to infants, who could not yet believe: so that such as bar them from baptism, because they are not capable of faith and repentance, might in like manner exclude the infants of the Isralites from circumcision. Baptism is the sacra of repentance and faith, though neither of these be in infancy, yet they are baptised to the repentance and faith to come, which albeit they be not actually formed in them, yet by the fruits afterward they shall appear to be in them.
Lastly, if baptism should be given on∣y to those that truly believe, it should likewise be denied to such as are of understanding: for we are able to pronounce of these that they do truly believe, and certainly apprehend the promises of the Gospel. Wherefore, if infants are not to be baptised, because they have not faith and want repentance: neither are they of sufficient age to be baptised, of whom it cannot be directly and undoubtedly said, they do believe. Simon the sorcerer mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles was baptised, and yet remained an hypocrite. If they say, profession of faith is sufficient to make members of the visible church: I answer, our saviour Speaks not of a bare profession of faith, when he said He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, for then all that profess faith should receive the reward of their faith, which is the salvation of their souls. Again, profession of faith is for such as are capable of it, which agrees not to the age of infants: as they cannot deny the faith before men, which they have not acknowledged: no more can they confess the truth of doctrine, which they never learned. Now, to be born in the church and in the covenant, is to infants in place and stead of an actual confession and real profession. Such as are grown up must believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth the gospel of salvation: it is sufficient for others to be the children of such as have confessed the faith.
Objection 4 -Infants have not sinned and need not baptism
Fourthly they object in this manner, baptism is given for remission of sins: but infants have not sinned: they therefore cannot be baptised: I answer, infants commit not actual sin, yet are guilty of original sin, they want inherent righteousness, they have a proneness to all evil, their whole nature is corrupted being in the seed of Adam. Albeit therefore infants have not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, in their own persons, yet they have sinned in him, and in his loins, in whom all are dead. This the holy man teaches, Job. 14. Who can bring a clean thing out of filthiness? There is not one. Likewise, the prophet David confesses this truth, Psal. 51, Behold, I was born in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. So the Apostle Paul, Rom. 5. Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them also that sinned not after the manner of the transgression of Adam, which was the figure of him that was to come: for as by one man's disobedience, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Wherefore, such as hold infants without all guilt of sin, never knew the greatness of Adam's fall, of God's justice, of man's misery, and of Christ's endless mercy.
Objection 5 - Christ was not baptised as an infant
Lastly, they object, that Christ himself was not baptised until 30 years of age. I answer, no more did he preach before he was thirty: yet hence it follows not, that none ought to enter that calling before that age. True it is, he that desires that worthy office must be no new plant, no younger scholar, none lately come to the profession and gathered immediately from heathenish religion to the fellowship of the Gospel: yet the office of teaching is not tied to 30 years, the age may be less if the gifts be great, and fit for that calling. Again, Christ stood not in need to be baptised in respect of himself, being without original or actual sin to be washed away, and therefore John at the first put him back: yet he would be baptised for our sakes, to fulfil all righteousness, to sanctify our baptism in himself, and that thereby we might know he was installed into his office. But we stand in need to be baptised, to seal up the washing away of our sins, and therefore there is a great difference in this respect between Christ and us. Besides, the Evangelist does testify, that albeit our saviour were baptised at thirty years of age, yet he was circumcised at 8 days old. Now we have proved before, that the same which circumcision was to the Jews, baptism is to all christians. If then he in his infancy were circumcised, then children in their infancy may be baptised, and are not commanded to wait thirty years: for baptism is our circumcision as the Apostle teaches: but Christ in his infancy was circumcised, when the eight days were accomplished: therefore children in their infancy may be baptised. Furthermore, baptism was not hitherto as yet in use, it was not commanded to be used when he was a child, and therefore he could not possibly be baptised, unless we will imagine he might be baptised, before baptism was. So that we see, as he would not have his circumcision deferred one day beyond the time appointed: so he was presently baptised, so soon as baptism was instituted of God, and administered by John. We are no more tied to this circumstance of time in Christ's baptism, then we are to other circumstances of time, place, and persons in the Supper: he ministered it in an upper chamber, and before his passion: we in churches, before dinner, & after his resurrection. Lastly, when the time appointed came, that the promised Saviour and redeemer of mankind should manifest himself to the world, then he shewed himself openly, then he came to the preaching and baptism of John, and began to publish the glad tidings of salvation, and to exhort men to repent and believe the gospel.
These are the chiefest objections against children's baptism, that carry any show and probability of reason, which hitherto we have dissolved and discussed.