The Reformed Faith

An Exposition of the

Westminster Confession of Faith

Robert Shaw

Chapter XXVIII. Of Baptism

Section I.—Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptised into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, or his engrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.

Exposition

This section, in the first place, Affirms that baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, instituted by Christ, and to be continued in his Church unti1 the end of the world; and, secondly, Declares the ends of baptism.

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, instituted by Christ. John, the harbinger of Christ, was the first who administered baptism by divine authority. The Lord "sent him to baptise with water;" and "there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptised of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins."—John i. 33; Mark i. 4. Jesus, after he entered on his public ministry, employed his apostles to baptise those who came to him; for "Jesus himself baptised not, but his disciples."—John iv. 2. The baptism of John was a sign of faith in Christ as shortly to be revealed; whereas the baptism of the disciples of Jesus was an expression of faith in him as already come. But baptism was not formally appointed as a perpetual ordinance in the New Testament Church until after the resurrection of Christ, when he gave the following commission to his disciples: "Go ye, therefore, and teach," or make disciples of, "all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."—Matt. xxviii. 19, 20. These words not only contain an express institution of baptism, but also a plain intimation of the will of Christ that this ordinance should be continued in the Church in all succeeding ages; for he promised to be with his disciples in executing his commission, not only to the end of that age, but "to the end of the world." Baptism has, accordingly, continued to be practised by all sects of Christians, with the exception of the Quakers. It appears to them that, as it is the distinguishing character of the gospel to be the dispensation of the Spirit, the baptism of water was only a temporary institution, and is now superseded by the baptism of the Spirit. But it cannot be questioned, that the apostles did use the baptism of water after the dispensation of the Spirit had commenced. The Apostle Peter makes a distinction between being baptised in the name of Christ and receiving the Holy Ghost; and he actually dispensed baptism to those who had previously received the Holy Ghost. - Acts ii. 38, x. 47. It appears, therefore, to have been the judgment of Peter, that the baptism of the Spirit does not supersede the baptism of water.

II. This section declares the ends of baptism: - 1. It is a solemn admission of the party baptised into the visible Church, and to all its privileges. "It supposes the party to have a right to these privileges before, and does not make them members of the visible Church, but admit them solemnly thereto. And therefore it is neither to be called nor accounted christening—that is, making them Christians: for the infants of believing parents are born within the covenant, and so are Christians and visible Church members; and by baptism this right of theirs is acknowledged, and they are solemnly admitted to the privileges of Church membership." 2. It is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, and of the benefits of that covenant. These benefits are, engrafting into Christ, or union with him; the remission of sins by virtue of the blood of Christ; and regeneration by the Spirit of Christ. It is not intended that remission of sins and regeneration are inseparably connected with baptism; for our Confession, in a subsequent section, expressly guards against the opinion "that all that are baptised are undoubtedly regenerated." 3. It is a sign and seal of the party baptised being devoted to God, and engaged to walk in newness of life. Baptism is a dedicating ordinance, in which the party baptised is solemnly given up to God to be his and for him, now, wholly, and for ever. He is, as it were, enlisted under Christ's banner, to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh. He is bound to renounce every other lord and master, and to "serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of his life."

Section II.—The outward element to be used in the sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

Exposition

This section embraces the following points:—1. That the outward element to be used in the sacrament of baptism is water. This outward sign represents the blood and Spirit of Christ.—Rev. i. 5; Tit. iii. 6. As water has a cleansing virtue for removing defilements from the body, so the blood of Christ removes the guilt of sin and cleanses the defiled conscience, and the Spirit of Christ purifies the soul from the pollution of sin. 2. That baptism is to be administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. To be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, signifies that we are baptised by the authority of the persons of the Holy Trinity; that we are baptised into the faith and profession of the blessed Trinity; and that we are solemnly devoted to the service of these divine persons. 3. That baptism is to be dispensed lay a lawfully ordained minister of the gospel. They only have authority to administer baptism who have received a commission from Christ to preach the gospel.—Matt. xxviii. 19. We have no account of any one dispensing the ordinance in the primitive Church, but such as were called, either ordinarily or extraordinarily, to the work of the ministry. It is the unfounded opinion that baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation, that has led the Church of Rome to permit this rite to be performed by laymen and women in cases of urgent necessity.

Section III.—Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.

Exposition

This section relates to the mode of administering baptism. This is a subject which has occasioned much controversy among Christians, and the dispute is still carried on with unabated zeal. A large and respectable body of Christians strenuously contend that baptism can only be valid when performed by immersion, or by dipping the whole body under water. Our Confession does not deny that baptism may be lawfully performed by immersion; but maintains that it is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water on the person. No conclusion can be drawn from the word baptise, or from the original term; for it has been most satisfactorily proved that it signifies to wash with water in any way. Several instances of the administration of baptism are recorded in the New Testament; and in some of these cases it is not credible that baptism was performed by immersion. When three thousand were baptised in one day, it cannot be conceived that the apostles were capable of dipping all this multitude in so short a space of time. When whole families were baptised in their own houses, it cannot be thought that, on every occasion, a sufficient quantity of water could be found for immersion. Besides, the application of the spiritual benefit signified by baptism is in Scripture frequently expressed by sprinkling and pouring out. - Isa. xliv. 3; Ezek. xxxvi. 25; Heb. x. 22; xii. 24; Tit. iii. 6, 6. It may be added, that baptism by immersion cannot, in some cases, be dispensed with convenience or decorum; nor in some countries, and at certain seasons, without endangering the health of the body. This affords, at least, a strong presumption against the absolute necessity of dipping the person into the water; and from all these considerations we must conclude that it is sufficient and most expedient to administer baptism by sprinkling or pouring water on the person.

Section IV.—Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptised.

Exposition

This section relates to the subjects of baptism. That baptism is to be administered to all adult persons who profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him, and who have not been baptised in their infancy, is admitted by all who acknowledge the divine institution of this ordinance. But there are many who confidently assert that baptism ought to be confined to adults. These were originally called Anabaptists, because they rebaptised those who had received baptism in their infancy, and Antipaedobaptists, because they were opposed to the baptism of infants. They now assume the name of Baptists; but this designation we cannot concede to them, if it be intended to insinuate that others do not baptise, and are not baptised, agreeably to the principles of the gospel. Our Confession affirms, that "the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptised." This might be confirmed by numerous arguments; but only a few of them can be here stated with the utmost brevity. 1. The infants of believing parents are to be considered as within the covenant, and therefore entitled to receive its seal. The covenant which God made with Abraham was substantially the same with that under which believers now are. This appears by comparing Gen. xvii. 7, where the covenant made with Abraham is expressed, with Heb. viii. 10, where the new covenant is expressed. In the one, the promise is: "I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee; and in the other: "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." We thus find, that when God established his covenant with Abraham, he embraced his infant seed in that covenant; and that the promise made to Abraham and to his seed is still endorsed to us is evident from the express declaration of the Apostle Peter (Acts ii. 39): "The promise is unto you, and to your children." If children are included in the covenant, we conclude that they have a right to baptism, the seal of the covenant. 2. Infants were the subjects of circumcision under the Old Testament dispensation; and as baptism under the New Testament has come in the room of circumcision, we conclude that infants have a right to baptism under the present dispensation. That, under the Old Testament, the infants of God's professing people were to be circumcised, cannot be doubted; for the command is express: "Every man-child among you shall be circumcised."—Gen. xvii. 10. That baptism has now come in the room of circumcision is evident from Col. ii. 11, where it is called "the circumcision of Christ." It must therefore follow, either that the privileges of the Church are now greatly abridged, or else that the children of the members of the Church now are to be admitted to baptism, as they were to circumcision under the former dispensation. 3. That the children of professing Christians are members of the visible Church, and therefore entitled to baptism, appears from the words of our Saviour (Luke xviii. 16): "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God." By "the kingdom of God," we apprehend is to be here understood the Church on earth; and if children are members of the visible Church, it cannot be denied that they have a right to baptism, the sign of admission. But if by "the kingdom of God" be understood the state of glory, the inference is strong that, being heirs of eternal life, they ought not to be denied that ordinance which is the seal of their title to it. 4. The warrantableness of infant baptism may lie inferred from the commission of the apostles to baptise "all nations," which certainly includes infants; and from the practice of the apostles, who baptised "households," upon a profession of faith by their domestic heads. Paul baptised Lydia "and her household," the Philippian jailer "and all his," and "the household of Stephanas."—Acts xvi. 15, 33; 1 Cor. i. 16. "Now, though we are not certain that there were young children in any of these families, it is highly probable there were. At any rate, the great principle of family baptism, of receiving all the younger members of households on the faith of their domestic head seems to be plainly and decisively established. This furnishes ground on which the advocate of infant baptism may stand with unwavering confidence." 5. That the infants of believing parents ought to be baptised; and that it is sufficient if one of the parents be a member of the visible Church, is evident from 1 Cor. vii. 14: "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." "The word unclean, in almost all instances in the Scriptures, denotes that which may not offered to God, or may not come into his temple. Of this character were the heathen universally; and they were, therefore, customarily and proverbially, denominated unclean by the Jews. The unbelievers here spoken of were heathen, and were, therefore, unclean. In this sense, the children born of two heathen parents are here pronounced to be unclean also, as being, in the proper sense, heathen. To be holy, as here used, is the converse of being unclean, and denotes that which may be offered to God. To be sanctified, as referring to the objects here mentioned, is to be separated for religious purposes, consecrated to God - as were the firstborn, and vessels of the temple; or to be in a proper condition to appear before God. In this text it denotes, that the unbelieving parent is so purified by means of his relation to the believing parent, that their mutual offspring are not unclean, but may be offered unto God. There is no other sense in which a Jew could have written this text, without some qualification of these words. The only appointed way in which children may be offered to God is baptism. The children of believing parents are, therefore, to be offered to God in baptism."

The objections usually brought forward against the warrantableness of infant baptism, are either frivolous in themselves, or proceed from mistaken views of the ordinance. Is it urged, that in the New Testament we have no express injunction to baptise the infants of professing Christians? This, we reply, is precisely what might have been expected, because the Church-membership of the children of God's professing people was fully established under the Old Testament, and their admission by the rite of circumcision was a privilege well known, and universally extended to them; so that, unless it had been designed to abridge the privileges of the children of believing parents under the New Testament, there was no occasion for any explicit injunction to baptise their children. But no hint is given in the New Testament that the privilege of infants, which had been so long enjoyed under the former dispensation, was to be withdrawn; and as the privilege is not revoked, it must be continued. Is it asked, What benefit can infants derive from baptism? With equal propriety, we reply, it might have been asked, What benefit can a child, eight days old, derive from circumcision? To put such a question is almost impious, because it implies an impeachment of the wisdom of God. He appointed circumcision to be administered to infants under the Old Testament; and with equal propriety is baptism administered to them under the New Testament. Is it objected, that we have no express example of the baptism of infants under the New Testament? All the cases of baptism recorded in the New Testament, we reply, are cases in which it was administered to converts from Judaism or Paganism to Christianity; and if we do not find it explicitly stated, that any infant born of Christian parents was baptised, as little do we find any example of those who were born of Christian parents being baptised in adult age. This entirely accords with our practice at the present day. We baptise adult converts from among Jews or Heathens; and as the apostles baptised "households" on the faith of their domestic heads, we also, consider ourselves warranted to baptise the children of professing Christians. But those who defer the baptism of the children of professing Christians until they arrive at adult age, have no precedent or example for their practice; for, though the Book of the Acts contains the history of the Church for upwards of thirty years, in which time the children of those who were first baptised by the apostles must have reached maturity, yet we have no record of the baptism of a single individual born of Christian parents. From this silence, we justly infer that they must have been baptised in their infancy; and we defy the advocates of adult baptism to adduce a single scriptural example of their practice. Is it urged, that infants cannot profess their faith in Christ? We reply, that when faith, or the profession of it, is spoken of as a prerequisite to baptism, it is always supposed that the subjects of it are capable of instruction; and that if this proved anything, it would prove too much; for this objection, if valid against infant baptism, must also be valid against infant salvation, since the Scripture connects faith and the profession of it, in the case of adults, with the one as well as the other.

Section V.—Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptised are undoubtedly regenerated.

Exposition

This section affirms—1. That baptism is not of such absolute necessity to salvation, that none can be saved without it. God has not made baptism and faith equally necessary.—Mark xvi. 16. The penitent thief was saved without being baptised. But baptism is an instituted means of salvation, and the contempt of it must be a great sin on the part of the parents, though the neglect cannot be ascribed to the child before he arrives at maturity, and cannot, therefore, involve him in the guilt. 2. That baptism is not regeneration, nor are all who are baptised undoubtedly regenerated. That the baptism of water is regeneration, and that every person duly baptised is born again, is the doctrine of the Church of Rome; and this doctrine has been embraced by many in Protestant Churches, and receives too much countenance from the Liturgy of the Church of England. It is a very dangerous doctrine; and that it has no warrant from Scripture appears from the case of Simon Magus, who after baptism remained "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity."—Acts viii. 13, 23. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says: "I thank God that I baptised none of you, but Crispus and Gaius." But if baptism be regeneration, his meaning must be: "I thank God that I regenerated none of you." And could Paul really give thanks to God on this account? How absurd the idea! "Christ," says he, "sent me not to baptise." But can it be thought that Christ did not send the chief of the apostles to promote the great work of regeneration? Unquestionably Paul made a great difference between baptism and regeneration.

Section VI.—The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time.

Section VII.—The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered to any person.

Exposition

1. The efficacy of baptism is not confined to the moment of administration; but though not effectual at the time it is administered, it may afterwards be effectual, through the working of the Spirit.—John iii. 5, 8.

2. Baptism is not to be administered to any person oftener than once. This is plain from the nature of the ordinance. It is a solemn admission of the person baptised as a member of the visible Church; and though those that "walk disorderly" are to be cast out, yet there is no hint in Scripture that, when readmitted, they are to be baptised again. The thing signified by baptism cannot be repeated, and the engagements come under can never be annulled.

It may be remarked, that the naming of the baptised person is no part of this institution. The custom of publishing the child's name at baptism probably arose from the practice of the Jews at their circumcision.—Luke i. 59-63. It belongs to the parent to give a name to his child, and this may be done before baptism. There may be a propriety in publishing the name of the person baptised, who is then admitted a member of the visible Church; but this is by no means essential to baptism, nor even any part of the ordinance.

We ought to improve our baptism, especially when we are present at the administration of it to others, "by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptised, for the mortifying of sin and quickening of grace; and by endeavouring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ, and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptised by the same Spirit into one body."

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