OF INFANT BAPTISM.
Here a question arises, by which the devil through his followers confuses the world, with respect to Infant Baptism; and it is this: "Do they also believe, and is it right to baptize them?" In reply we briefly say:– Let every man who is inexperienced, decline this question, and leave it to the learned; but if you wish to answer, answeer thus:
That Infant Baptism is pleasing to Christ, is sufficiently proved by his own acts; namely, God has sanctified many of those, and given the Holy Spirit to many baptized in their infancy, and at the present day there are many still, in whom it is perceived both from their doctrines and their deportment of life, that they have the Holy Spirit; as it is also given to us through the grace of God to be able to expound the Scriptures, and to acknowledge Christ, which could not be done without the Holy Spirit. But if God did not approve of Infant Baptism, he would not grant even a particle of grace from the Holy Spirit. In a word, if Infant Baptism were wrong, hitherto, down to the present day, there could not have been a Christian on earth. Now, since God confirms Baptism by the communication of his Holy Spirit, as it is truly perceived in some of the Fathers, as, St. Bernard, Gerson, John Huss, and others, who were baptized in their infancy; and as the holy Christian church can not discontinue until the end of the world, it must indeed be acknowledged that such baptism of children is pleasing to God. For he cannot be against himself, or favor falsehood and knavery, or grant his grace and Spirit to this end. This is perhaps the best and strongest evidence for the inexperienced and unlearned. For this article, I believe in a holy Christian church, the communion of saints, &c.,– can neither be withdrawn from us, nor can it be overthrown.
Here we further assert, that it is not of the greatest importance as to this point, whether the person baptized believes or does not believe; for Baptism does not become wrong on this account, but all depends upon the word and command of God. Now this is indeed a nice point, but it is founded upon the assertion, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the word of God intimately united; that is, when the word is connected with the water, then baptism is right, although the individual may be destitute of faith at the time of his baptism; for my faith does not make, but it receives Baptism. Now Baptism does not become wrong, even if it be wrongly received and applied, since, as observed above, it does not depend on our belief, but upon the word of God.
For even if a Jew, at this day, should come with deceit and wicked design, and with all sincerity we should baptize him, we should nevertheless say that the baptism would be right. For here is the water together with the word of God, even if he does not receive it as he should: precisely as the unworthy who go to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, receive the true Sacrament, even if they do not believe.
Thus you perceive, that the objection of the factious spirits is vain and useless. For, as said, even if children believe not, which however is not the fact, (as now shown,) the baptism would still be right, and no one should rebaptize them; even as the Lord's Supper is not impaired, when some one approaches it with an evil design; and it would not be admissable for him in consequence of this, to receive it again in the very same hour, as if he had not before received the true Sacrament; for this would be blaspheming and calumniating the Sacrament in the highest degree. In what way do the word and institution of God become nugatory and of no avail, because we use them improperly?
For this reason we say, if you have not believed, believe yet, and thus declare: "The baptism was surely right, but I alas! have not received it rightly." For I myself, and all who permit themselves to be baptized, must thus say before God: "I come hither in my faith and that of others, yet I cannot depend on my belief and the prayers of many others for me, but I rely on thy word and command, even as I go to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, not upon my faith, but upon the words of Christ, whether I be strong or weak, for this I let God provide; but I know that he orders me to go, to eat, and to drink, &c., and that he gives me his body and his blood,– which words will neither belie nor deceive me."
Now, we pursue the same course with respect to Infant Baptism. We bring forward the child under the impression and the hope that it believes, and we pray God to give it faith; but we do not baptize it on this account, but rather because God has commanded us to do so. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor, and in a word, all persons, may prove false and deceitful, but the Word of God cannot fail.
Wherefore, those are presumptuous and deluded spirits, who infer, that where faith is not right, there baptism must also be wrong; precisely as if I would conclude, that should I not believe, it must follow that Christ is nothing; or thus, if I be not obedient, there must be neither father, nor mother, nor magistrate. Is this a correct and fortunate conclusion, if no one does what he ought, that the thing in itself shall be nothing, or avail nothing? Rather reverse the argument, and conclude thus: that for the very reason that Baptism has been received improperly, it is right and of importance. For if it were not right in itself, it could not be misused, and there would be no sin committed by abuse. It is thus: Abusus non tollit sed confirmat substantiam, abuse does not destroy the substance, but confirms it; for gold remains no less gold, even though a harlot should wear it in sin and shame.
Let it, therefore, be concluded that Baptism is always right, and maintains its full nature or character, though but a single individual were baptized, and though he did not truly believe. For the order and Word of God are not to be changed or rendered mutable by men. But fanatical spirits are so blinded as not to see the word and command of God; and they do not look upon Baptism otherwise than water in a brook or in a vessel; or upon a magistrate otherwise than upon any other person; and because they see neither faith nor obedience, they consider Baptism and the magistracy to be of no avail in themselves. Here is an insidious, seditious spirit, which would readily tear off the crown from civil authority, to have it trampled under foot, and besides, would pervert all the works and ordinances of God, and reduce them to nothing. We must, therefore, be on our guard and well prepared, and not suffer ourselves to be directed or drawn away from the Word of God, lest we should consider Baptism a mere empty sign, as the fanatics dream.
In the last place, it is also necessary to know what Baptism signifies, and why God instituted this external sign and form in the celebration of this sacrament, through which we are first taken into the community of the Christian church. The act consists in our being put in connection with the water, and, after its passing over us, in being withdrawn from it again. These two, our being put in connection with the water, and being withdrawn from it again, signify the efficacy and the work of Baptism, which are nothing else but the mortification of the old Adam, and afterwards, the rearing up of the new man; both of which are to be pursued by us through our whole life, so that a Christian life is nothing else but a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For it is necessary for us to lead such lives, that we may ever cleanse ourselves of whatever belongs to the old man, and come forth in whatever pertains to the new. What then is our old Adamic nature? It is that which is innate in us from Adam,– urging us to hatred, envy, unchastity, avarice, indolence, arrogance,– yes, to unbelief, with all blasphemies, and to whatever else that is immoral in its tendency. Now when we enter into the kingdom of Christ, these vices must daily decrease, so that we may become continually milder, more patient, and meeker, and become still freer from unbelief, avarice, hatred, envy, and arrogance.
This is the proper use of Baptism among Christians, indicated through the act of baptizing with water. Now, if this amendment of life does not follow, but the old Adamic nature is left unrestrained to increase in vigor, the design of Baptism is frustrated, and God's ordinance is opposed. For those who are out of Christ can do nothing else but daily become worse, as the proverb truly says, "Worse and worse; the longer he sins, the more wicked the sinner." If, last year, one was arrogant and avaricious, he is now much more avaricious and haughty; so that vice progresses with age, and increases from early infancy. A young child has no peculiar vice, but if it grows up, it becomes immodest and unchaste, and when it attains the years of maturity, real vice prevails, and continually increases.
Our old nature, therefore, acts unrestrained, if it is not checked and suppressed through the power of Baptism. On the other hand, where persons have become Christians, it daily decreases, until it ceases entirely. This is properly speaking, the daily burial in, and resurrection from Baptism. Thus this external sign was instituted not only to operate efficaciously, but also to signify something. Now, wherever faith is manifested by its fruits, there Baptism is not an empty signification, but the work of mortifying the flesh is connected with it; but where faith does not exist, there a mere fruitless sign remains.
And here you perceive that Baptism, both in its virtue and in its signification, includes the third sacrament also, as it was customary to call repentance, which is properly nothing else but Baptism, or its application. For what else is repentance but attacking the old man with earnestness, and entering into a new life? If, therefore, you live in repentance, you show the fruits of Baptism, which not only signifies this new life, but also demonstrates and practises it. For in this Baptism, the Holy Spirit, grace, and virtue, are given to suppress the old man, that the new may come forth and increase in strength.
Therefore, Baptism ever continues valid. And even if one falls from it and sins, we nevertheless always have access to it, that we may again subject the old man to ourselves. But no one is permitted to sprinkle us with water again; for, if a person should even permit himself to be immersed into water a hundred times, it would still be no more than one baptism; this work, however, continues and the signification is permanent. Thus repentance is nothing else than an access and a reaccess to Baptism,– to repeat and to practice that which we had before commenced, and which, however, we had neglected.
This I say, in order that we may not fall into the error, which we had entertained a long time, that we could no more avail ourselves of the benefit of Baptism, after we had fallen into sin again. And this error arises in consequence of not considering Baptism any thing more than an external work which was once performed. And indeed it originated from these words, written by St. Jerome: "Repentance is a subsidiary plank, which is intended to rescue us, and upon which we must swim and pass over the sea of this world, after the vessel is broken, into which we had stept and taken sail, when we entered into the community of the Christian church." But by these words, the use of Baptism is destroyed, so that it can be of no more benefit to us. They are, therefore, neither correctly spoken, nor rightly conceived; for Baptism does not fail, since, as already said, it is the order or institution of God, and not a device of ours: but it is not a rare occurrence to depart from it; yet if any one departs, let him see that he swim to it, and hold on, till he gets on board again, and pursues his course in it, as he had commenced.
Thus we see how excellent an institution Baptism is; it rescues us from the jaws of the devil, makes God our own, subdues and removes our sins, and strengthens the new man in us daily, ever going on and continuing its work, till we shall be removed from this state of wretchedness to that of eternal felicity. Each one ought, therefore, to consider Baptism as a daily garment, with which he should always be clothed, that he may ever be found in faith and its fruits, that he may suppress the concupisence of the old man, and increase in the new. For if we wish to be Christians, we must carry out the work of Baptism, which entitles us to the name of Christians; but if any one falls from it, let him return to it. For as Christ, the mercy-seat, does not retreat or prevent us from coming to him again, although we commit sin, so all his treasures and gifts remain open to our enjoyment. Now, if in Baptism the remission of sin is once obtained, it still continues daily as long as we live, that is, while we are encumbered with the old man.