A Catechism on Baptism

by Rev. John Willison


Back to Biblical Infant Baptism Home Page

John Willison was born in the neighbourhood of Stirling in 1680 and was ordained to the ministry in the parish of Brechin in 1703.  Translated to Dundee in 1718 he laboured there until his death in 1750.  Willison was a noted leader of the evangelical party in the Church of Scotland.  Among his writings were several catechisms of which this is one.





A Catechism on Baptism

by John Willison



Q1. What is the true nature and use of baptism?

A, Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, annexed as a sign and seal of God’s covenant with believers in Christ; wherein Jesus Christ hath ordained the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; to be a sign, not only of the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also a sign and seal of his interest in the covenant of grace, with all its blessings purchased by the blood of Christ, represented by that water, and particularly to signify and seal his ingrafting into Christ, his remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; his adoption into God’s family, and resurrection into everlasting life. And likewise his solemn dedication to God through Jesus Christ; and entering into an open and professed engagement to be the Lord’s, wholly and only his; and to walk with him in newness of life.

Matt. 28:19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”; Gal. 3:27 “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”; Mark. 1:4 “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”; Tit. 3:5 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”; Eph. 5:26 “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,”; Rom. 6:4-6 “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”; Rom 6:11 “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”; 1 Pet. 3:21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”.


Q2. How many sorts of baptism are mentioned in scripture?

A. We read of six-fold baptism: 
1. The Levitical baptisms or washings1,
2. The baptism of tears or repentance2
3. The baptism of affliction, blood, or martyrdom: thus Christ and the martyrs were baptized3
4. The baptism of the Holy Ghost, or the conferring of the gifts of the Holy Ghost4
5. It is sometimes put for the Christian faith or doctrine of baptism5
6. There is the sacrament of baptism, which we now speak of.
But principally, baptism is twofold, external and internal, of water and of the Spirit.


1 Heb.9:10 “Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.”.
2 Luke. 7:38 “And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.”.
3 Matt. 20:22,23 “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.”; Luke. 12:50 “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!”.
4 Acts.l:5 “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”.
5 Acts. 18:25 “This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.”.



Q3. What parts doth the sacrament of baptism consist of?

A. Of two parts: 
1. The outward and visible part signifying. 
2. The spiritual and invisible part thereby signified.



Q4. What is the outward part signifying?

A. The washing of the body with water, and the using of the words of institution.



Q5. What is the spiritual part signified by the washing with water?

A. 1. The washing away of the guilt of sin, or our justification by the blood of Christ applied to the soul.
2. The washing away of the filth of sin, or our sanctification by the Spirit of Christ in the work of regeneration.


Rev.1:5 “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,”; John. 3:5 “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”.


Q6. What is signified by the words of institution, or baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost?

A.  l. It signifies that ministers have authority from God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to administer this sacrament of baptism1
2. It signifies the baptized person’s entering into a solemn covenant with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, his choosing and taking God the Father as his God and Father; God the Son as his Redeemer and Saviour; and God the Holy Ghost as his Guide, Sanctifier, and Comforter; also it signifies his consecration to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and his coming under engagements to the faith, profession, and obedience of the holy Trinity; together with his solemn renouncing of the three great enemies of the holy Trinity, viz. the devil, the world, and the flesh2.


1 Matt. 28:18,19 “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”.
2 II Cor. 8:5 “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.”; I Pet. 3:21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”.



Q7. Why is the blood of Christ, and blessings of the new covenant, represented here by water?

A. Because of the near resemblance they have to one another in these things: 
1. Water hath a cleansing virtue for taking away filth and pollution from the body, so Christ’s blood cleanses the soul from sin. 
2. Water hath a refreshing virtue to a thirsty traveller, and the dry withered herbs; so Christ’s blood and benefits are most refreshing to the poor thirsty soul. 
3. Water hath an extinguishing quality for quenching fire; so the blood of Christ quencheth both the fire of God’s wrath, and the fire of our lusts. 
4. Water hath a mollifying virtue; it softens the hardened earth; so Christ’s blood hath softened many a hardened heart into tears, and melted them into a compliance with God’s will. 
5. Water is most necessary; our bodies could not live or subsist without it; so the blood of Christ is the most necessary and useful thing in the world; our souls without it would perish eternally. 
6. Water is cheap and free to all; no man is denied of it; so the blood of Christ is offered freely to all that please to accept of it. 
7. Water hath no effect nor operation upon us, unless it be sprinkled or applied; so neither hath the blood of Christ any effect upon us till it be applied by faith.


Q8 . Is there no sacramental element or rite to be used in baptism, but the washing with water in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost?

A. No; for though the papists join herewith salt, spittle, oil, and the sign of the cross, yet they have no warrant for these from Christ or his apostles; and therefore they are not to be regarded but as superstitious and antichristian additions to Christ’s holy institution.



Q9. For what special ends hath the Lord appointed baptism?

A . They are various: 
1. To be a distinguishing badge of our Christian profession, to distinguish us from Jews, Pagans, and Mahometans. 
2. To be a teaching sign or symbol for instructing us in the knowledge of the great articles of the Christian faith; particularly, it is a looking-glass to show us our natural pollution and misery by reason of sin, and our remedy provided in the blood of Christ. 
3. To be a confirming seal of God’s covenant for assuring believers of the reality of his love, the truth of his promises, and the certainty of their title to the children’s inheritance, and (as it were) for giving them infeftment [investment] and seising [possession] in all the blessings of Christ’s purchase; even as men are invested in the right, and put in the possession of a bargain by formalities of law; as a house is delivered us by a key; or a field by stone or earth. 
4. To be a gracious channel and means for conveying grace, and soul-purification, and spiritual blessings to those for whom they are designed. 
5. To be an obligatory bond on our path to be true and faithful to God, to renounce the service of sin and Satan, and to walk with God in newness of life. 
6. To be a meeting-place for parents to meet and treat with Christ concerning the salvation of their young ones.

Gal. 5:3 “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.”; Acts. 2:38 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”; Acts.2:41 “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”; Acts.22:16  “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”; Rom. 4:11 “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:”; Col 2:11,12 “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”; Eph. 5:26 “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,”; 1 Pet. 3:21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”; Luke. 18:15,16 “And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”.


Q10. When God seals his covenant with believers at baptism, what things are engaged and sealed on his part?

A.  1. That he will be our God. 
2. Receive and own us as members of his visible church. 
3. Give us a sealed right to church ordinances and privileges. 
4. Cut us off from the old stock of nature, and ingraft us into Christ. 
5. Take us into his family, and under his providential care. 
6. Entitle us to Christ’s purchase, and make over all the blessings and benefits of the new covenant, viz. remission of sin, regeneration, adoption, sanctification, resurrection to life, and eternal glory and happiness.



Q11. Doth baptism seal and apply these things equally to all who are baptized?

A. No; for to elect infants and believers in reality, it seals and applies these things absolutely. But to those who are only believers in profession, it seals and applies conditionally, that is, upon supposition that they be what they profess.


Q12. Have unbelievers then no benefit by their baptism?

A, Yes; in so far as they are hereby distinguished from the rest of the world, externally separated from Satan, the world, and the flesh, are dedicated to Christ and his service, become members of the visible church, and have a sealed right to gospel ordinances and privileges, if they do not forfeit these by their after-carriage.


Rom. 9:4 “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;”.


Q13. Is there any thing engaged or sealed on our part in baptism?

A. Yes, viz. that we will be the Lord’s, i.e. that we will be wholly the Lord’s, soul and body, in all we are, or have. 
2. That we will be only the Lord’s, and therefore renounce all other lords and masters, the devil, the world and the flesh.
3. That we will be the Lord’s by practice as well as profession, that we will mortify sin, wage war against Christ’s enemies, fight under Christ’s banner, and study conformity to him.


Rom. 6:4,5 “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:”; Rom.6:12 “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.”; I Cor. 6:19,20 “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”; II Cor. 8:5 “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.”; 1 Pet. 3:21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”.


Q14. Are the benefits sealed to believers immediately conferred upon them, at the moment of baptism?

A, Though a sealed right to these be then given them, yet the efficacy of baptism is not necessarily tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered: for God being a most free agent, makes this ordinance effectual, and confers his grace when and how he pleaseth; besides the fruit and power of baptism reacheth to the whole course of a believer’s life.


John. 3:5 “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”; John 3:8 “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”.


Q15. Doth not baptism remove original sin and confer regenerating grace to all the partakers of it?

A. No; for many partake of baptism who are unregenerated still: baptism of its own nature, or by itself, operates nothing; but only as the Spirit of God, (the author of grace) doth concur therewith; and being a free agent, he works grace before, at, or after baptism, as he pleaseth. And for original sin, it is not then taken away from believers themselves, except as to its guilt and dominion, (if it please the Spirit to co-operate at that time, and apply the blood of Christ), but as to its pollution and inherence, it remains in part during their whole lives, as is sadly verified by the complaints of the best of God’s people.


Psa. 51:5-7 “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”; Rom. 7:23 “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”; Rom.7:25 “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”; Acts. 8:13 “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.”; Acts 8:23 “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”.


Q16. What is the necessity of baptism?

A. It is necessary in respect of the command of Christ, who hath appointed it as a sign and a seal of his covenant, and an external mean of salvation; and therefore ought to be held in reverence, and sought for with all due care: and to contemn or neglect this ordinance of Christ’s institution is a very heinous sin.

 
Matt. 28:19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”; Luke.7:30 “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”; Ex. 4: 24,25 “And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.”.


Q17. Is outward baptism absolutely necessary to salvation? Or are they damned who die without it?

A. It is not the want, but the contempt of this ordinance, that exposeth to damnation; for the converted thief wanted baptism and was saved; besides, it would be a great injury to free grace, and a horrid thing in itself, to say, that it is in the power of wicked men to damn the souls of others, by their wilful neglect of this ordinance, or that the Israelites’ infants, who died before the eighth day, or while they were in the wilderness, were all damned; neither are parents guilty in this matter, if they do not neglect this ordinance of Christ, when and where it may be had.

 
Rom.4:11 “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:”; Acts.10:2 “A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.”; Acts.10:4 “And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.”; Acts.10:22 “And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.”; Acts.10:31 “And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.”; Acts.10:45 “And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.”; Acts.10:47 “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”.


Q18 . Where should baptism be administered?

A. In the place of public worship, and in the face of the congregation, where the people may most conveniently see and hear; and not in private places.


Q19. What is the necessity thereof?

A. In regard baptism is the public entry and door to Christ’s house, or the ordinance whereby persons are solemnly admitted into the church, and made members of Christ’s family: and therefore it is necessary that the church should be publicly called and assembled to the administration of this public church-ordinance. And that, for these reasons: 
1. That thereby they may witness, homologate [confirm], and consent to the admission of new members into the church or family of Christ. 
2. That the engagement of parents or the party baptized may be public and solemn before many witnesses. 
3. That there may be many to join in prayer for a blessing upon the ordinance: it is much for the interest of both parents and children, to have the prayers of all the godly in the congregation for them, on such an occasion; which to be sure are far more prevalent and effectual than the prayers of a few. 
4. That the whole congregation may be edified by the dispensing of this solemn ordinance, and excited to remember and improve their own baptism, and be faithful in keeping the covenant engagements which they then sealed before many witnesses, and also to be humbled for former breaches.


Q20. To whom is baptism to be administered?

A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, “and so strangers from the covenant of promise,” till they profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him; but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and so to be baptized.


Acts.8:36,37 “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”; Gen.17:7 “And 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.”; Gen 17:10 “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.”; Gal.3:9 “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”; Gal.3:14 “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”; Acts.2:38,39 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”; Acts.2:41 “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”; 1 Cor. 7:14 “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.”; Luke.18:15,16 “And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”; Rom.11:16 “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”.


Q21. To whom is baptism not to be administered?

A. Not to heathens and infidels, or persons openly scandalous; for these being without the covenant, and out of the visible church, have no right to the seals thereof; neither have their infants while they continue so. But if upon hearing the gospel they repent and believe, duly make profession of their faith and obedience, they have a right to this ordinance.


Eph.2:12 “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:”; Mark.16:15,16 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”; Acts.8:13 “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.”; Acts.8:36,37 “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”.


Q22. Who properly have a right to baptism?

A. All the members of the visible church, and their infants.

Acts 2:39 “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”.


Q23. What is it you call the visible church?

A. It is a society male up of those who in all ages and places of the world profess Christ and the true religion; and of their children.


Q24. What is the invisible church?

A. The whole body of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ their head.


Q25. Do all that are baptized become members of the invisible church, and thereby ingrafted into Christ?

A. No; for our baptism makes us only members of the visible church.


Q26. What is it to be really ingrafted into Christ?

A. It is for sinners to be cut off from the old stock of nature, and united to Jesus Christ, that they may grow up in him, and bring forth fruit unto him; and this is done upon our believing.



Q27. Are adult persons and infants to be baptized in the same way and method?

A . No; for the adult, or persons come to years, must first be instructed in the faith of Christ, and principles of Christianity, and are to make profession of the same, with confession of their sins, before they be baptized, according to the ancient practice1. But the infants of believers (of whom these things cannot be expected or required) are to be baptized without such profession or confession, their parents undertaking as sponsors for them.


1 Matt.3:6 “And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”; Matt.28:19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”.


Q28. But how should infants be admitted to baptism till they believe and confess their faith, seeing, according to Mark 16:16, they must first believe, and then be baptized?

A . This is only meant of adult persons without the visible church. And though infants do not actually profess their faith, as being incapable of it; yet they are to be ranked among believers, as being the children of believing parents: for infants are but parts of the parents wrapt up in another skin, and to be accounted but one person with them, as the root and branches are but one tree
1. We are to judge of children by their parents till they come to the use of reason, and be capable to choose their own way, and then indeed they may disinherit themselves by their degeneracy. But still then we are to judge of them by the parents, as we do of a graft taken from a tree and implanted in a new stock; for we judge of a graft by the tree from which it was taken, until it bear fruit by itself, whereby it may be discerned. It is upon this account that God calls the children of his people, “His children,” and children “born unto him.2” Now if children have a covenant relation to God, or be within the covenant (as the children of believing parents certainly are) they have a right to the signs and seals of it also3.

1 Rom.11:16 “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”.
2 Ezek.16:20 “Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter,”.
3 Gen.17:7 “And 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.”; Deut.29:10-15 “Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day:  That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; But with him that standeth here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day:”; Acts.2:39 “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”.



Q29. Ought not infants, according to this argument, to be admitted to the Lord’s supper also?

A. The infants of believers have, indeed, upon the same account, a remote right to this seal likewise; though for the present they are incapable to receive it, as wanting the actual exercise of reason, which is absolutely necessary in order to our examining ourselves, and discerning the Lord’s body; these being the indispensible duties of all such as partake of the Lord’s supper.


I Cor. 11:28,29 “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”.


Q30. Should they not, for the same reason, be kept from the seal of baptism, seeing they understand not the nature of that ordinance, nor the duties of the baptized?

A. 1. They understand as much of it as the Jewish infants did of circumcision at eight days of age; and yet that ordinance behoved not to be longer delayed. Now there is the same reason for administering the sacrament of baptism to infants under the gospel, that there was for circumcision under the law, seeing baptism is now come in its room, as the sacrament of initiation or entrance into the church, which circumcision then was. If by divine warrant, not only Abraham, but all his seed, had a right to the initiatory seal of the covenant1, then believers now, who are Abraham’s children, and under the same covenant with him, must still have the same privilege; seeing that ancient grant was never afterwards repealed, but expressly confirmed under the gospel2
2. Infants may reap the benefit of baptism, though they understand not its meaning. The infants Christ took up in his arms3, knew not his meaning, yet they got his blessing. An inheritance bequeathed to a poor child in the cradle is of use to it, though it understand not the advantage at present, nor hath the comfortable possession till it come to years. 
3. It is to be observed, that though the Jewish infants partook of circumcision, yet they were excluded from the passover; and that for the same ground that we exclude our infants from the Lord’s supper, which is now come in its room; viz. the want of the actual exercise of reason. For none were to share of the passover but such as could ask concerning the meaning thereof4. But this was not absolutely needful for partaking of circumcision, in regard that was only for conveying a right; but the other was for commemorating a benefit, which necessarily supposed understanding.


1 Gen.17:7 “And 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.”; Gen.17:10 “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.”.
2 Acts.2:39 “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”; Gal.3:9 “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”; Gal.3:14 “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”; Gal.3:16 “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”.
3 Luke 18:15-17 “And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and 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 shall in no wise enter therein.”.
4 Exod.12:26 “And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service?..".



Q31. Is there any other scripture warrant for the baptism of infants, besides that of the circumcision of the Jewish children?

A. Though that be sufficient warrant for it; yet we have more; for: 
1. Christ commands his apostles to disciple and baptize all nations, of which infants are no small part: as our Saviour excludes none from the ordinance, so he limits no time nor age for the dispensing of it: there was no need to give any express charge concerning infants, seeing their privilege was settled for many ages before, and they are still in possession of it, by the initiatory seal of circumcision, which was the same in substance with baptism. This was never reversed, but their right declared to continue1
2. Infants are capable both of grace and glory, and consequently are capable of baptism, which seals our right to these2
3. Children of believers are pronounced holy3, that is, federately holy, as being within the covenant; and therefore they must needs have a right to the seal of it. 
4. Infant baptism was universally practised in the ancient church, they deriving it from the apostles, whose example they followed in this matter; and of whom we have it several times recorded that they baptized such as believed with their households, such as the house of Lydia, the jailor, and Stephanas4.


1Acts.2:39 “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”.
2 Luke.1:15 “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.”; Luke.18:15 “And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.”.
3 I Cor.7:14 “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.”.
4 Acts.16:14,15 “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.”; Acts.16:33 “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”; 1Cor.1:16 “And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.”.



Q32. To whom pertains it to present the infants of the visible church to baptism?

A . It belongs properly to the parents, and not to those who are called godfathers or godmothers – because children have a right to baptism, only in and by their parents: and these only have a power, both by the law of God and nature, to dispose of their young ones, and to order their education; and they only are accountable to God for them. And in the sense of the law, their will is the children's will. Upon all which accounts, parents only ought to present their infants to God in baptism, and consent for them to the covenant of grace.


Josh.24:15 “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”; Deut 29:10,11 “Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water:”.


Q33. What doth the parents bringing and presenting their children in baptism import and signify in itself?

A. It imports these things: 
1. A public acknowledgment that their children are defiled by original sin, and need washing as soon as they come into the world. 
2. That they are bound by the ties of nature and common justice to do all they can for their children's help and relief in this miserable state; that they may (so far as lieth in them) repair the injury done them by conveying original corruption to them. 
3. That they believe no remedy can cure them, no fountain can cleanse them, but that of Christ's blood, which is represented by the baptismal water. 
4. That they willingly dedicate and devote their children to God, to be enrolled in his family, numbered among his children, and entirely disposed of by him.



Q34. What are the special duties incumbent upon parents, on the occasion of presenting their children in baptism?

A.  1. To wonder at God's grace and condescension, in taking such pains on us, as to lay the great mystery of godliness and scheme of our salvation before our eyes by visible rites and signs, thereby to affect our senses, and the more effectually to excite our minds to a serious consideration of the great things which God hath done for us. Since the gospel report which the word brings daily to our ears (concerning our misery and remedy, our ruin by sin, and recovery by Jesus Christ) makes but little impression on us; he is pleased to give a perceptible view of these things by baptism to the eye, to try if our eyes will affect our hearts1. And ought not this goodness to melt even the hardest heart? 
2. To admire God's free grace and mercy, that he is willing to take both us and our children into covenant with himself: that after the first covenant was broken on our part, he was content to enter into a second (a covenant of all grace), and that with his own condemned rebel creature! Abraham fell upon his face when God was covenanting with him; and David was astonished with admiration at it2. And so ought we upon this occasion. 
3. Parents ought to search and see if they be really in covenant with God themselves; for when we dispense this sacrament, we are to look on the parents that claim the benefit of it to their children, to be persons in covenant with God, otherwise their children have no right to the seal of it. Therefore it highly concerns parents, on this occasion, to inquire if they have as yet entered into covenant with God, by their own personal transaction, and renewing of their own baptismal dedication and engagement. And if they have dealt faithfully with God in this covenant, yea, or not. 
4. Parents ought, on this occasion, to renew the covenant which they made with God in their own baptism, take hold of the covenant of grace for themselves, accept of Jesus Christ the mediator of it, close with his righteousness, and dedicate themselves, as well as their children, to the Lord; and thus transact with God and Christ in secret. Which they are likewise publicly to own and renew, at the presenting of their infants, by a solemn profession of their faith in God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost; and dutiful obedience to him according to his word: believers should rejoice to come with their children to baptism, because every time they do it, God renews his covenant with them and theirs; as he did with Abraham at circumcision3.
5. They ought to be fervent in prayer, wrestling with God for the purification and acceptance of their young ones through Christ's blood; and for a solemn blessing upon the ordinance to be dispensed to them: and that God may join the inward and privy seal of his Spirit, with the outward seal of this sacrament. 
6. They ought to study to be well acquainted with the great truths of Christian religion, as contained in the holy scriptures, and agreeable thereto, summed up in our Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms; that so they may be capable to instruct and train up their children in the knowledge of these truths, according to the engagements which they publicly take on. Alas! there is little conscience made of such a solemn promise by many; they are ignorant of our excellent Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and will not so much as buy them, or read them over; notwithstanding of their reiterated engagements on this occasion. 
7. They are to make a solemn surrender and dedication of their children to God in Christ, as children of his family, subjects of his kingdom, and members of Christ's mystical body: and that for the end that they may be washed in Christ's blood, saved by his grace, guided by his Spirit, ruled by his laws, and disposed of by his providence. Thus we are to bring and present our children to God in baptism, as “living sacrifices to him, acceptable through Christ Jesus.” 
8. We are, in the name and behalf of our infants, they being parts of ourselves, as we showed before, to consent to the gracious offers and terms of the covenant of grace, and that they will be the Lord's wholly and only his. And for this end to teach them, when they come to understanding, the knowledge of God, and the way of salvation through Christ, according to his word; and to instruct them in the duties of the covenant, particularly the necessity of faith, repentance, and new obedience. And because children are more ready to be influenced by our examples than our precepts, we are to engage to show them the copy of a holy life, family-worship, and secret prayer, in our own conversation. Thus Abraham, the father of the faithful, entered into covenant with God for himself and his seed after him.4 And according to that covenant, he commanded his children and household after him, to keep the way of the Lord.5 And so believing parents under the gospel, being under the same covenant with faithful Abraham, ought to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”6.


1 Lam.3:51 “Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.”.
2 Gen.17:3 “And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,..”; II Sam.7:19 “And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord GOD; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord GOD?”.
3 Gen.17.
4 Gen.17:7 “And 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.”; Gen.7:9 “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.”.
5 Gen.18:19 “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.”.
6 Eph.6:4 “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”.



Q35. What are the duties incumbent upon the congregation, or those that are witnesses to the administration of the sacrament of baptism?

A.  1. Patiently to attend, and wait till it be done; for to remove before the administration of baptism, as many do, argues both a contempt of Christ's solemn ordinance, which he hath instituted for his church's good; and want of charity to those who are to be baptized, in that they decline to say and pray for them, and receive them into the communion of the visible church. And likewise it shows, that they have little regard to their own souls, when they turn their backs upon such an excellent mean of edification as this is. Let such consider whether it had been just and becoming for the whole congregation to have dealt so with respect to them when they were baptized as they deal now in reference to others. Stay still, and pray for the members to be ingrafted, as others did for you. 
2. To witness the administration of it with a holy awe and becoming reverence to the great author of it, and mystery represented by it. Remember that it derives its authority and institution, not from man, but from the exalted Lord of angels and saints. Had this ordinance been of man, it had been abandoned and come to nought many years ago; but being of divine original, it hath kept its authority throughout the whole Christian world, for the space of these 1700 years [Willison was writing in the 1700s]. Wherefore it becomes us all to pay a dutiful regard to the administration of it. 
3. Admire the wonderful kindness of God to fallen man, that he pitied us when wallowing in our blood and pollution, and provided a suitable remedy for us. Though he might in justice have suffered such wretches to drop into the devil's arms and hell's flames from the very womb; yet, behold he stretches out his merciful and fatherly arms to embrace us, as soon as we enter into the world; “Suffer little children,” saith he, “to come unto me,” to me their Friend and Saviour. 
4. Bless God that hath ordered your lot to be born within the pale of Christ's church, of Christian parents who early presented and dedicated you in such manner to God, whereby you got a sealed right to gospel-ordinances  and privileges, nay, to Christ and all the benefits of the new covenant, upon the condition of your faith; so that now you have encouragement to come and claim your right. Especially you, whose happiness it is to be born of godly and believing parents, bless God for this mercy, plead your interest in the covenant, for your claim is certainly better than others; you may go to God as your father's God, and therefore plead he is yours too; for when God entered into covenant with your fathers, he made it both for them and for you their seed: and how pleasant it is to sing with Moses at the Red Sea1, “He is my God, I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him.” But beware of thinking that your being of such parents necessarily entitles you to the saving blessings of the covenant, though you should do nothing yourselves; nay, if you put not in your claim when you come to age, you forfeit your right. Yet questionless, your birth still entitles you to many external privileges and mercies; upon which account, it is said2, “the like figure unto Noah's baptism doth now save us;” i.e. as the ark, which was a type of baptism, wrought a temporal salvation for all Noah's family; so baptism entitles the families of believers to many temporal privileges and blessings. But though all Noah's family was admitted into the ark, this did not entitle them to admission into heaven; so neither will our outward baptism save us from the deluge of God’s wrath, and bring us to heaven: and therefore the apostle adds for explication in the forecited verse, “Not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God;” i.e. not the outward washing of the body with water; but the faithful answer of a resolved soul, accepting of and adhering to the covenant sealed in baptism; for at the first planting of Christianity, people were generally grown up when baptized, and made answer publicly for themselves, making profession of their faith and obedience to the holy Trinity, and their renouncing the devil, the world, and the flesh. 
5. Bless God that you are born under the New Testament times, when the fountain for cleansing sinners is so fully opened in the word and sacraments, that the streams of it are daily so near you, and you invited to wash therein. Our access to the fountain is now plain and easy. It is not locked up, covered with leaves, or obscured with types and figures, as under the law: we have now an open view of it: there is a wide vent made to its streams, by Christ's death and wounds upon the cross; and excellent channels framed for conveying it to us, viz. the preaching of the gospel with its sacraments. O how inexcusable will we be for ever, if after all this we contemn the water of life, and die in our pollution. 
6. Be concerned for the precious souls of those that are to be baptized; pray fervently for them, that God may come and bless his own ordinance to them; give the inward grace with the outward seal: applying Christ's blood to the soul, as water is sprinkled upon the body, that he may regenerate them by his Spirit, stamp them with his image, make them instruments of his glory: that they may rise up, and do God better service in their generation, than, alas, we have done in ours. 
7. When you see and hear parents solemnly engaging for their children at their baptism, let such as are parents that have come under the like engagements, consider how they have performed them. Do ye make conscience of praying for your children, teaching them the principles of religion, admonishing them of their duty, warning them against sin, and learning them to read and pray? When took you them aside to tell them of the vows you took on at baptism in their name, and press them to renew personally their baptismal covenant? O have you not cause on this occasion to be humbled for your neglect and shortcomings, in performing your solemn engagements, and seek forgiveness through the blood of sprinkling? O negligent parents! remember what a fearful meeting will be betwixt you and your graceless children one day at Christ's tribunal, when they will come with accusations and curses in their mouths against you for your unfaithfulness in performing your solemn engagements, with respect to their precious souls. 
8. Let every one upon such an occasion call to mind his own baptism, how he was thus once presented, dedicated and sprinkled in like manner; and study by all means to improve his own baptism, which is a most needful, though much neglected duty.


1 Exod.15:2 “He is my God, I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him.”.
2 I Pet.3:21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us  (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”.



Q36. How is it that we ought to improve our baptism?

A.  1. Be sensible of the greatness of the privilege and dignity conferred upon you, in being baptized in the name of Christ, and sacramentally sprinkled with his blood for the remission of sin; and think much upon it. Alas, there are many who never think on Christ or his blood, and put no value upon their baptism. I have read of Lucian, a scoffing atheist, when he apostatized from the profession of Christianity, he mocked at his baptism, saying, “he got nothing by it, but a syllable to his name;” he was Lucius before, and at baptism was called Lucianus. And what do many get by their baptism but a name! Why, they undervalue their baptism, never think on it, nor study any way to improve it. 
2. You ought personally and explicitly to renew your covenant and solemn dedication to God, sealed at baptism. It is not enough that you are Christians by your parents' dedication, but you must be so by your own also, by ratifying your parents' deed, when you are of age; otherwise your baptism will profit you nothing; nay, instead of profiting you, it will be a witness against you, if you do not personally transact with God in Christ, and give away yourselves to the Lord in truth and sincerity. 
3. Improve your baptism, by labouring to secure and clear up your interest in the pardon of sin, adoption, sanctifying grace, and other blessings sealed to you in that sacrament. Remember, that these blessing were only sealed to you conditionally, upon your believing in Christ: and that they are not actually conferred, till you be sensible of sin, and close with Christ and his righteousness. Go, then, O penitent sinner, apply to the blood of Christ, by faith, which was sacramentally applied to you at baptism, and plead with God for pardon of sin; make use of your baptism as a strong argument for it; say, “Lord, have I thy seal, as well as thy promise, for my pardon? Got I not a pledge of it from thee, at my baptism? Behold thy ring and the bracelets, are they not thine? Lord, make good thy word, thy sealed promise;” I believe, Lord, help my unbelief. 
4. Press also for the joyful sense of this benefit of pardon sealed to you in baptism; the having whereof is the most comfortable thing in the world. We see the Eunuch, when he had got this seal of baptism, went on his way rejoicing, “O now,” thought he, “my case is blessed, I am a pardoned man, God hath received me into his family, and taken me into covenant with himself, and implanted me a member of his mystical body: I that was a plant of a strange vine, am now ingrafted into a noble stock; and shall I not be glad and rejoice in his salvation?” Thus, O believer, improve the seal of baptism, in order to your growing up to the comfortable assurance of your pardon of sin, and adoption into God's family; seeing these blessings are irreversibly promised and sealed to you in that sacrament. 
5. Improve your baptism as a spur to holiness and diligence in Christ's service; forget not him whose name you bear, whose livery you wear, and whose colours you are sworn to. Seeing you are solemnly dedicated to God, and all you have is consecrated to him at baptism; O then live as those who are not your own; spend your strength and time, not in serving sin and the world, but in worshipping of God, in loving, praising, and glorifying of him, “whose you are, and whom you ought to serve.” Alas, there are many, who list themselves to God's service by baptism, and yet turn deserters, and go over to the devil's camp, taking on to fight against their King and Lord, to whom they are sworn. They live as if they had been solemnly devoted to, and baptized in the name of the cursed trinity of hell, the devil, the world, and  the  flesh,  instead  of  the  ever-blessed and glorious Trinity of heaven: alas, they live as if they had renounced that, and not the other; which is certainly a most fearful guilt, and cannot miss to be attended with a severe doom. 
6. Be humbled for your manifold pollutions, your falling so much short of the grace of baptism, and walking unsuitably to your solemn engagements. Have you not cause to lament before God, for forgetting and slighting the free love of God manifested to you in baptism; and for having so little recourse to the fountain that was opened to you therein, for sin, and for uncleanness; and that you feel so little of the efficacy of the precious blood of your Redeemer, which was represented and applied to you in that ordinance, for melting of your hearts, cleansing you from sin, and quickening you to holiness. 
7. Improve your baptism as a shield against Satan's temptations:  1. Are you tempted to despairing thoughts of mercy, or troubled with perplexing doubts ant fears? Then remember the seal of free love you got in baptism. Christ himself was tempted after his baptism, to doubt of his filiation and Sonship: but gave Satan a peremptory repulse; teaching us thereby to do the same. Luther saith, that all his answer to the devil. when he tempted him to despair, was, “I am baptized into the belief of Christ.”  2. Are you at any time tempted to sin? Then remember your baptism. Luther also tells us of a holy virgin, that when she was tempted to  sin, replied, “I am baptized;” and indeed this is a sufficient answer to all Satan's temptations. “I am baptized and dedicated solemnly to God; I am not my own, but the Lord's; I am sworn to Christ, and how shall I serve the devil?” Profanity in a Christian is apostacy from Christ, and on the matter a renouncing of his baptism which is a fearful, nay, a devilish sin. 
8. Improve it as an argument to courage and resolution in time of danger or persecution. Steadfastly adhere to the doctrine of the Trinity, in whose name you are baptized; be not ashamed of Christ or his truths, seeing his name is called upon you, and you solemnly owned him before the whole congregation. “He that is ashamed of me,” saith Christ, “and of my words, in this sinful and adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels.”1. Dionysia encouraged Majoricus her son, an African martyr, when he was going to die, with these words, “Remember, son, that thou wast baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” 
9. Lastly, Do not trust to your baptism, and your having the name of Christ called upon you. An empty name and profession of Christianity will not save you; Simon Magus was baptized, and yet perished: many go with baptismal water on their faces, and sacramental bread in their mouths, to hell at last. Kings have both their common and privy seals; rest not in the outward seal, but seek the inward seal of God's Spirit changing your nature, and applying the blood of Christ for cleansing your souls.


1 Mark 8:38 “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”.


Q37. Why may not baptism be administered to a person oftener than once, as well as the Lord's supper?

A.  1. It is not commanded to be reiterated, as the Lord's supper is1
2. Circumcision under the Old Testament was not reiterated. 
3. The nature of this sacrament doth not require or allow of repetition: for as the Lord's supper is for nutrition, this is for initiation and implantation. This is the sacrament of our new birth and admission into the church: now as we can be but once new born, and once entered into the church; so we are no oftener to be baptized2.


1 I Cor.11:26 “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.”.
2 Tit.3:5 ”Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”.


Q38. Wherein do the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper agree?

A. In these things: 
1. They have both the same author, Jesus Christ. 
2. They are both seals of the same covenant. 
3. They signify and seal the same things, viz. Christ and his benefits. 
4. They are both to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none else. 
5. They are both to be continued in the church till Christ's second coming.


Q39. Wherein then do these two sacraments differ?

A. In these things: 
1. Baptism is to be administered but once, but the Lord's supper often. 
2. There is but one element in the first, viz. water; but in the second there are two, viz. bread and wine. 
3. The first may be administered to infants; but the second only to those that are of years, and capable to examine themselves. 
4. The first signifies our regeneration and admission into the church: but the second represents Christ as our spiritual nourishment, and sealeth our continuance and growth in him. 
5. Baptism is the door of Christ's house, by which we must enter; but the Lord's supper is the table at which the children must feed and receive strength.





Back to Biblical Infant Baptism Home Page