Chapter 14. Menno Simons On Baptism
6 min read
6 min read
Menno Simons was one of the great Anabaptist leaders, the most prominent spokesman of the Northern Anabaptists in the defence of faith-baptism. He says:
All the rites ordained of God, both of the Old and New Testament, have been instituted that our faith may be exercised and our obedience proven. Therefore we must not use them at our own pleasure, nor change them to suit our fancies, but we must use them as the Lord himself has ordained and commanded in his Word.
For the truly regenerated and spiritually minded conform in all things to the word and ordinances of the Lord; not for the reason that they suppose to merit the propitiation of their sins and eternal life; by no means. For this they depend on nothing except the blood and merits of Christ, relying upon the sure promise of the merciful Father which was graciously given to all believers; which blood alone,
I say again, is and ever will be the only and eternally valid means of our reconciliation, and not works, baptism, or Lord’s Supper, as said above.
We are not regenerated because we have been baptized, … but we are baptized because we have been regenerated by faith and the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23). Regeneration is not the result of baptism, but baptism the result of regeneration. This can indeed not be controverted, or disproven by the Scriptures.
The Scriptures know of only one remedy, which is Christ with his merits, death and blood. Hence, he who seeks the remission of his sins through baptism, rejects the blood of the Lord and makes water his idol. Therefore let every one have a care, lest he ascribe the honor and glory due to Christ, to the outward ceremonies and visible elements.
Now since all truly believing and baptized Christians have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) and to put on Christ is to partake of Christ, his life, mind, nature, spirit and all that is his, and since it is clear that the means to obtain this is faith, and faith must prove itself by its power and fruits if baptism is to be properly received, it follows undeniably that baptism is for penitents and believers only.
Dear reader, this is to be held as a sure, eternal and unchangeable rule of divine truth to fulfil all righteousness, namely, first the true preaching of the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ; secondly, to hear with earnestness and to understand; thirdly, to cordially believe the Gospel and to carry out its teaching. This being the case, it follows that the unconscious infants have no faith, for they can not understand and learn, — If they die before they come to years of understanding and before they may hear and believe, they die under the promise of God and are saved, and this by no other means than the precious promise of grace given by Jesus Christ, Luke 18:16.
Faith is to precede baptism. For the beginning of all righteousness which avails before God is faith from which baptism results as a sign and proof of obedience. If the infants, then, had faith, their baptism would not be forbidden by the alleged words in Matthew and Mark.
All who bring you another doctrine respecting the signs or ordinances, and place them before or above faith and repentance, deceive you, however much they may adorn their teaching with choice words, such as sealing, sign of grace, etc. for it is in fact nothing but human wisdom, deception of souls and dissimulation. For, if the children under the Old Dispensation were received into the covenant by circumcision and those of the New Dispensation by baptism, as he [Gellius] says, it would undeniably follow that the infants who died before the eighth day and those who were not circumcised in the wilderness [Josh. 5:5], as well as all the females had no share in the grace, covenant or promise. The same would also apply to the children who have died before they ‘Could have been baptized. O great abomination!
It is in my opinion a great error which some entertain, that the children of Jewish parents were acceptable to Christ on account of circumcision, and that in this dispensation children are acceptable on account of baptism. O great reproach, that in every instance Christ, the only and eternal medium of divine grace, must be set aside and grace must be attributed to rites and lifeless elements. Here I would ask all infant baptists how they are going to prove that these children [whom Jesus blessed] were all circumcised and that there were not among them female children? If they were acceptable on account of their circumcision, as is asserted, then why were not the adults who were circumcised acceptable? He commanded that adults, although they were circumcised, should be baptized upon their faith, but concerning infants he gave no command to baptize. He took them into his arms, laid his hands upon them and blessed them, promised them the kingdom of heaven and dismissed them, but did not baptize them.
Luther writes that infants should be baptized because of their own faith, and adds, if infants had no faith their baptism would be blaspheming the sacrament. I believe it to be a great error of so learned a man through whom the Lord at the beginning of his writing affected not a little good, to hold that infants who are unable to hear and to understand, have faith, while the Scriptures so plainly state that they know neither good nor evil, that they can not discern right from wrong (Deut. 1:39; Jonah 4:11); and he says that faith is inactive and concealed in infants until they arrive at the years of understanding, even as in a believing person who is asleep. If Luther writes this as his sincere opinion, it shows that he has written much in vain concerning faith and its power; but if he writes this to please men, may God have mercy upon him. We know of a truth that it is only human reasoning and a fable of men, and by God’s grace it shall not make void the word and ordinance of the Lord. For we read nowhere in Scripture that the apostles baptized a single believer while asleep. They baptized those who were awake and not the sleeping ones. Why then do they baptize infants before they awake from that supposed sleeping faith, and confess it?
Beloved, since the ordinance of Jesus Christ is unchangeable, and it alone is acceptable to the Father; and since he has commanded that the Gospel should first be preached and, secondly, those who believe baptized, it follows that those who baptize and are baptized without being taught the holy Gospel and without faith, baptize and are baptzied on their own opinion, without the doctrine and command of Jesus Christ; therefore it is an ungodly, useless and vain ceremony. For had Israel circumcised their females because it was not expressly forbidden, they would have circumcised without the ordinance of God, for he had commanded that the males should be circumcised. It is the same in this instance. To baptize the unconscious infants, although it is not expressly forbidden in Scripture, just as it was not forbidden to circumcise the females, is to baptize without the ordinance of Jesus Christ; for he commanded that those should be baptized who hear and believe his holy gospel. Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 7:38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:33.
True, it is not expressly forbidden in the Holy Scriptures to bless, as they call it, holy water, candles, palms, goblets, and robes, to say mass and observe other ceremonies of similar nature; yet we say rightfully that these things are wrong, first because people put their trust in them, and secondly because they are done without the commandment of God, for he has commanded us not a word thereof; and never should any commandment be observed which is not contained or implied in his holy Word, either in. letter or spirit.
To baptize before that which is required for baptism, namely faith, is found is as if one would place the cart before the horse, to sow before plowing, to build before the lumber is at hand, or to seal the letter before it is written.
I do not doubt but that you will confess that the faith, which avails with God is a gift of God, a gift which brings forth all righteousness, and that such faith comes from hearing the divine word. If, now, it comes by hearing the Word, as Paul teaches, how will it be found in unconscious infants, for it is plain that they can not be taught, admonished or instructed.
Lastly, they appeal to Origen and Augustine and say that these assert that they have obtained infant baptism from the apostles. To this we reply and inquire whether Origen and Augustine have proved it from Scripture. If they have done so, we desire to hear it. But if not, we must hear and believe Christ and his apostles, and not Augustine and Origen.
Since, then, we do not find in all Scripture a single word by which Christ has ordained the baptism of infants, or that his apostles taught and practiced it, we say and confess rightly that infant baptism is but a human invention, an opinion of men, a perversion of the ordinance of Christ.