Trialogus. Chapter 10. On Baptism
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5 min read
Let us indulge no more in these vexatious disputes with Pseudis, but pass at once to the other six sacraments. And as you do not discuss them according to the order before-mentioned, but according to their comparative authority in Scripture, next to the eucharist you must treat of baptism.
I agree with you; and in the first place let us observe where the institution of baptism is established in Scripture. In the last chapter of Matthew Christ commands his disciples, saying, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” And accordingly Philip, when about to baptize the eunuch, Acts 8., first instructed him in the faith, as did the apostles, Acts 2., when they baptized the people. John the Baptist, however, had no need to instruct Christ, Luke 3., but, on the contrary, was instructed in humility and other virtues by our Lord. On account of the words in the last chapter of Matthew, our church introduces believers, who answer for the infant which has not yet arrived at years of discretion. Those who have attained years of discretion, while yet under instruction, are called, before baptism, catechumens.
How necessary this sacrament is to the believer may be seen by the words of Christ to Nicodemus, John 3., “Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And such, accordingly, is the authority from Scripture, on which believers are customarily baptized. The church requires for baptism, pure water—no other liquid: nor is it of moment whether the baptized be immersed once, or thrice, or whether the water be poured on the head; but the ceremony must be performed according to the usage of the place, and is as legitimate in one way as another, for it is certain that bodily baptism or washing is of little avail, unless there goes with it the washing of the mind by the Holy Spirit, from original or actual sin. For herein it is a fundamental article of belief, that whenever a man is duly baptized, baptism destroys whatever sin was found in the man. Now inasmuch as before sin can be taken away, satisfaction is required, and satisfaction for sin cannot be made save by the death of Christ, so therefore the apostle saith, (Romans 6.) “We who are baptized into Christ Jesus, are baptized into his death.”
What you say of the outward appearance pleases me; but tell me clearly, I pray you, how it is that Christ, who was so greatly opposed to sensible signs, has made a washing of this nature necessary to salvation? For it seems to derogate from the Divine munificence and power, that God, with all his merit and passion, should not be able to save an infant, or an adult believer, unless an old woman, or some one else, shall perform the ceremony of baptism, just as for an unbeliever. In the same manner the child of a believer is carried into the church to be baptized, according to the rule of Christ, and in failure of water, or some requisite, (the whole people retaining their pious intent,) the child is not baptized, and meanwhile dies by the visitation of God; it seems hard, in this case, to assert that this infant will be lost, especially since neither the child nor the people sinned, so as to be the cause of its condemnation. Where is the compassionate bounty of the Divine Christ, if such an offspring of believers is from this cause to be lost, when God, according to the common principles of theology, is more ready to reward than condemn men, both through the obedience and passion of Christ, and his own long-suffering?
You have urged this point with much subtlety and acuteness. But you must attend to the distinction of terms on this subject. Some things I state as absolute assertions, others as suppositions; and in this last sense I regard the holy doctors of the church to have spoken, even the greatest of them, who came after the writers of Scripture. But I state those things as absolute assertions, which are either testified by my own senses, or plain from faith in Scripture; while others, of which, though lacking of argument, I feel persuaded as probable, those I suppose to be true. And it is in this way of supposition that I speak on this subject.
With regard to your first instance, in respect to signs, it appears to me that Christ approves of the use of signs, though he condemns their abuse. Thus I understand Matthew 12., “An adulterous generation seeketh after a sign,” &c. For Christ, in his own person, is a sensible sign, and as it seems to me, the sacrament of sacraments, since the definition of a sacrament applies to him in the highest degree: for as Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, and all who had been stung by the serpents were healed on looking up to that serpent, as is said, Numbers 21., so Jesus our living serpent, having the likeness of sin upon him, though he could not possibly sin, was suspended on the cross, that those who are stung by the poison of the old serpent, sin, may become spiritually whole. Christ therefore approves of signs, both under the new law and in the old, but is opposed to their abuse. You must mark, then, that the mystical body of Christ, during the time of the old law, was like a child, to be instructed in many ways by such sensible signs; but as the church grew in age under the law of grace, signs of this nature are not so much to be regarded. Accordingly I think there is in the present day a threefold abuse of these signs.
In the first place, because the signs of the old law are observed, which, according to the decision of the apostles, should now cease, as appears from Acts 15. and the epistle to the Galatians. And especially is this the case with regard to signs denoting objects which have passed away; for consistency would require that those who observe the signs should look to the objects of which they are significant.
The second abuse with regard to signs consists in the undue importance attached to them. Many attend so much to the observance of such signs, which are not according to the law of God, but have been improvidently ordained from human fancy, that they would sooner transgress the decalogue than neglect such observances.
The third abuse is, the burthening of the church with such signs which Christ hath declared should be free from them, so that the yoke is even greater than was endured by the church under the old dispensation.
Of these two abuses, our religious generally are guilty. It is plain that signs, especially those instituted by Christ, may be lawfully used with moderation, these three abuses being guarded against. Since, then, Christ himself instituted the sign of baptism, why should we not in a prudent manner observe it, especially as we are still only pilgrims, and have not yet attained to clear knowledge; and seeing that it is necessary that we should be led in this way by some signs of this nature?