Whoever reads and impartially considers what we have declared in our confession may readily perceive that we share a common centre with all other true Christians on the Word of God (revealed in the Scriptures of truth) as the foundation and rule of our faith and worship. In addition, we have also industriously endeavoured to make clear that in the fundamental articles of Christianity we consider the same things to be of first importance. We have therefore expressed our belief in the same words that have been spoken on similar occasions by other societies of Christians before us.
We have done this so that those who want to know the principles of religion which we hold and practice may make a reasonable assessment from the very words of those who together cooperate in this work. We do not want others to be misguided either by undue [inappropriate or disproportionate] reports or by the ignorance or errors of particular people who – though they have the same name as ourselves – may provide an opportunity for bringing scandal to the truth we profess.
It is true that we do differ from our brothers who are paedobaptists with regard to the subject and administration of baptism, and such other circumstances as have a necessary dependence on [an inevitable connection to] our observance of that ordinance. We also habitually attend our own assemblies for our mutual edification and the discharge of those duties and services which we owe to God and – in his fear – to each other. Nevertheless, we do not want these things to be misinterpreted, as if the discharge of our own consciences in these things did in any ways release us from our duty to or alienate our affections or conversation [conduct] from any others that fear the Lord. Rather, as we have opportunity, we may and do participate in the labours of those whom God has endowed with abilities above ourselves, and has qualified for and called to the ministry of the Word. We earnestly wish to demonstrate ourselves to be those who follow after peace with holiness. Therefore we always keep that blessed irenicum, or healing word, of the Apostle before our eyes: “if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind” (Phil 3.15–16).
Despite everything that has been written on this subject, we continue to believe and to walk in a different way to these others. This should not lead anyone to judge that we are simply being stubborn. The truth of the matter is that in this we worship God according to the best of our understanding, out of a pure mind yielding obedience to his precept, following that method which we take to be thoroughly in accordance with the Scriptures of truth and to primitive [early church] practice.
It would be inappropriate to make any hint of a statement that would suggest that what we do in the service of God is done with a doubting conscience, or that our state of mind is that we are acting this way for the present, but with the reservation that we will change our behaviour at a later date after more mature deliberation. We have no reason to do so! We are fully persuaded that we what we do is in accordance with the will of God. However, we do very earnestly offer this: that if any of the servants of our Lord Jesus should, in the spirit of meekness, attempt to convince us of any mistake either in judgement or practice, we shall diligently consider their arguments. We account such a man to be our chief friend who is an instrument to convert us from any error in our ways, because we cannot deliberately do anything against the truth, but rather all things for the truth.
We have, therefore, seriously endeavoured to consider what has already been offered to address our concerns in this regard. We are not willing to say any more in case it should be thought that we want to renew conflicts about these things. However, because it might be reasonably expected that we should give a reason why we cannot agree with what has been argued against us, we shall – being as plain as we can, but also as brief as that allows – set out to satisfy the expectations of those who are looking over what we are now publishing in this regard.
1. First, there are those Christians who agree with us that repentance from dead works, and faith towards God and our Lord Jesus Christ, is required in persons who are going to be baptized. They therefore supply what is lacking in the infant (who is not capable of confessing either repentance or faith) by providing others who undertake [guarantee] these things on the child’s behalf. We find in church history that this is a very ancient practice. However, we must consider that the same Scripture which cautions us against censuring our brother, with whom we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ, also instructs us that “each of us shall give account of himself to God” and that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14.4, 10, 12, 23). Because of this we cannot, for ourselves, be persuaded in our own minds to build such a practice as this upon an unwritten tradition. We choose instead, in all points of faith and worship, to turn for help to the holy Scriptures, both to inform our judgement and to regulate our practice. We are well assured that a conscientious [close and thorough] attention to the Bible is the best way to prevent and to rectify our defects and errors (2Tim 3.16-17). And if any such case happens to be debated between Christians, and cannot be clearly and easily determined from the Scriptures, we think it is safest to leave such things undecided until the second coming of our Lord Jesus. This is what they did in the church of old, waiting until a priest should come forth with the Urim and Thummim in order to inform them certainly of the mind of God about a matter (Ezr 2.62-63).
2. Then there are our Christian brothers who ground their argument for the baptism of infants in a presumed federal [covenant] holiness, or membership in the church. We consider that they are deficient [fall short] in this: that even if this covenant holiness and membership should be what they suppose, with regard to the infants of believers, still no command for infant baptism immediately and directly results from such a quality [standing] or relation.
All instituted worship receives its sanction [authority and approval] from the precept [rule of God’s Word], and is to be governed by that precept in all its necessary circumstances [details].
It was this way in the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants. The sign of that covenant was appropriated [assigned] only to the male, despite the fact that the female descendants as well as the male were comprehended in the covenant and part of the church of God. Furthermore, this sign was not to be set upon any male infant until he was eight days old, although he was within the covenant from the first moment of his life. Neither could the danger of death, or any other imagined necessity, warrant circumcising the child before the set time, nor was there any reason to do so. The threat of divine punishment in being cut off from his people followed only when the precept was neglected or despised.
Righteous Lot was closely related to Abraham physically, and a contemporary with him, when this covenant was made. However, because he was not a direct physical descendant, nor belonged to his household family (even though he was of the same household of faith as Abraham), neither Lot himself nor any of his posterity (because of their descent from him) were signed [marked] with the signature [mark] of this covenant that was made with Abraham and his descendants.
This should be enough to show that where there was an explicit and particular covenant and an associated sign – the kind of covenant which separated the people with whom it was made, and all their offspring, from the rest of the world, as a people holy to the Lord; a covenant which constituted them the visible church of God, even though it did not include all the faithful people who were then in the world – nevertheless the sign of this covenant was not set upon all the people who were within this covenant, nor to any of them until the appointed time. Neither was the sign set upon other faithful servants of God who were not descended from Abraham. We conclude that it depends purely [entirely] upon the will of the Lawgiver to determine what shall be the sign of his covenant, and to whom it should be given, at what time, and on what terms.
If our brothers suppose that baptism is the seal of the covenant which God makes with every believer (about which the Scriptures are entirely silent), we have no desire to contend with them about this. However, we consider that the seal of that covenant is nothing else than the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in the particular, individual people in whom he takes up residence. Neither do they or we imagine that baptism is in any way substituted in the place of circumcision, and therefore that it ought to have the same breadth, extent or terms as circumcision. This is because circumcision was suitable only for male children, while baptism is an ordinance suitable for every believer, whether male or female. Circumcision extended to all the males who were born into Abraham’s household, or who were bought with his money, equally with those males who were direct physical descendants of Abraham. But baptism is not extended so far in any true Christian church that we know of, so as to be administered to all the poor unbelieving servants that the members of that church have purchased to serve them, and so brought into their families. Nor is it administered to the children born to those servants in their household.
We consider the same parity of reasoning [the equivalent logic] holds for the ordinance of baptism as for that of circumcision (Ex 12.49), namely, the same law for the stranger as for the one born in the home. That is, if anyone wants to be admitted to all the ordinances and privileges of God’s house, the door is open. The door is open on the same terms that anybody was ever admitted to all or any of those privileges that belong to the Christian church; anyone entitled to do so is free to challenge that principle of like-for-like admission.
And what about the text of Scripture that says, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised” (Rom 4.11-12)? We believe that if the scope of the apostle in that place is properly considered, it will be clear that you can take no argument from that verse to enforce infant baptism. Since we find a full and fair account of those words given by the learned Dr Lightfoot (a man who cannot be suspected of partiality in this controversy) in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 7.19, we shall simply transcribe his words without any comment of our own upon them:
Circumcision is nothing in respect of the time; for now it is vanished, the end of it, for which it had been instituted, being accomplished. That end the apostle shows in those words, Rom. 4:11, σφραγῖδα τῆς δικαιοσύνης τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐν τῇ ἀκροβυστίᾳ· a seal of the righteousness of the faith in uncircumcision. But I fear the words are not sufficiently fitted by most versions to the end of circumcision, and the scope of the apostle; while they insert something of their own.”
After Dr Lightfoot has reproduced various versions of the words (in the main agreeing in sense with that which we have in our Bibles) he proceeds in this way:
Others to the same sense; ‘as though circumcision were given to Abraham for a sign of that righteousness which he had while as yet he was uncircumcised;’ which we deny not in some sense to be true; but we believe circumcision especially looks far another way.
Give me leave to render the words thus; “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which should hereafter be in uncircumcision:” I say, ‘Which should be,’ not ‘which had been;’ not which had been to Abraham as yet uncircumcised, but which should be to his seed uncircumcised, that is, to the Gentiles that should hereafter imitate the faith of Abraham.
For mark well upon what occasion circumcision was appointed to Abraham, laying before your eyes the history of it, Gen. 17.
First, This promise was made to him, “Thou shalt be the father of many nations,” [in what sense, the apostle explains in that chapter;] and then a double seal is subjoined to establish the thing, viz. the changing of the name ‘Abram’ into ‘Abraham;’ and the institution of circumcision, ver. 4, “Behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.” Why is his name called ‘Abraham?’ For the sealing of his promise, ‘Thou shalt be a father of many nations.’ And why was this circumcision appointed him? For sealing the same promise, ‘Thou shalt be a father of many nations.’ So that this may be the sense of the apostle, very agreeable to the institution of circumcision; “He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith, which hereafter the uncircumcision (or the Gentiles) was to have and obtain.”
Abraham had a double seed; a natural seed, that of the Jews; and a faithful seed, that of the believing Gentiles. The natural seed is signed with the sign of circumcision, first indeed for the distinguishing itself from all other nations, while they were not as yet the seed of Abraham; but especially in memory of the justification of the Gentiles by faith, when at last they were his seed. Therefore upon good reason, circumcision was to cease when the Gentiles should be brought in to the faith, because then it had attained to its last and chief end; and from thenceforth ἡ περιτομὴ οὐδέν, circumcision is nothing.
All of this is from Lightfoot. We earnestly desire that his words may be seriously considered, for we are pleading not simply his authority, but the evidence of truth in his words.
3. Whatever is the nature of the holiness of the children mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7.12-14, anyone who concludes from this that all such children (whether infants or older in years) have an immediate right to baptism clearly press more into the conclusion than is warranted by the premises [earlier statements in the argument].
The present issue is not what the apostle actually means when he talks about holiness here, so we will not now say that it means this or that, and nothing else. However, it is evident that the apostle uses the principle to determine not only the lawfulness but the expedience [propriety; appropriateness] of a believer living together with an unbeliever in the state of marriage.
We accept that when the apostle asserts of the unbelieving spouse that he is sanctified [set apart or made holy in some way] by the believer, this means a little more than is involved in the simple fact of the marriage of two unbelievers. This is because, although the marriage covenant has a divine sanction which makes the marriage bond of two unbelievers lawful, and their union [sexual relationship] and living together undefiled in that respect, there is no reason to suppose from that fact that both or either of those people are sanctified by their marriage. But the apostle urges the believer living together with the unbeliever in the marriage relationship on this basis: that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. Nevertheless, here you have the influence of a believer’s faith rising from a subordinate to a superior relation (from the wife to the husband who is her head) before it can descend to their offspring. Therefore we say that, whatever is the nature or extent of the holiness spoken of here, it cannot convey to the children an immediate right of baptism. If it did, that holiness would be of another nature and a larger extent than the root [source] and original from which it comes. It is clear from the apostle’s argument that holiness cannot be transmitted to the child from the sanctity [holiness] of one parent only. If either father or mother is unholy or unclean (in the sense intended by the apostle) then so will the child be also. For the production of a holy descendant it is necessary that both the parents be sanctified. The apostle asserts positively that this is done in the first place by the believing parent, although the other is an unbeliever. He then argues that, as a consequence, their children are holy. It therefore follows that, as the children have no holiness other than that which they derive from both their parents, so neither can they have any right by this holiness to any spiritual privilege apart from those in which both parents participate. And therefore, if the unbelieving parent (though sanctified by the believing parent) does not by their relationship have a right to baptism, we cannot then consider that there is any such privilege transmitted to the children by their birth-holiness.
Besides, if it had been the usual practice in the days of the apostles for the believing father or mother to bring all their children with them to be baptized, then the holiness of the children of believing Corinthians would not have been an issue when this letter [to the Corinthians] was written. Rather, the holiness of the children might have been argued from the fact that they had passed under the ordinance of baptism, which represented their new birth, even though they derived no holiness from their parents by their first birth. This would have been used as an exception against the apostle’s logical inference, “otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy” (1Cor 7.14). However, the Scripture is entirely silent concerning the sanctification of all the children of every believer by this ordinance, or any other way apart from that which has been mentioned before.
This might also be added: that if this birth-holiness qualifies all the children of every believer for the ordinance of baptism, then why not for all other ordinances? Why not for the Lord’s supper, as was practiced for a long time together? For if we go back to what the Scriptures speak generally of this subject, it will be found that the same qualities which entitle any person to baptism also qualify them for participation in all the ordinances and privileges of the house of God, which are enjoyed in common by all believers.
Whoever can and does interrogate [carefully question] his conscience toward God when he is baptized (as everyone must do who embraces it as a sign of his own salvation) is capable of doing the same thing in every other act of worship that he performs.
4. What about the arguments and inferences [deductions] that are usually brought for or against infant baptism from those few examples which the Scriptures provide of whole families being baptized? They are only conjectural [largely speculative] and therefore they cannot be conclusive in and of themselves one way or the other. However, since most of those who deal with this subject with a view to supporting infant baptism employ these examples to support their argument, we think it is appropriate (in the same way as in the various matters mentioned before) to show that such inferences are invalid.
Cornelius worshipped God with all his household. The Philippian jailer and Crispus the ruler of the synagogue believed on the Lord with each of their households. The household of Stephanas devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints. Up this point we see that worshipping and believing run parallel with baptism. If Lydia had been a married person when she believed, it is probable that her husband would also have been named by the apostle, as in similar cases, because he would have been not only a part but the head of that baptized household.
Who can give any probable reason why the apostle should mention four or five households being baptized, and no more? Or, why does he so often vary in the method of his greetings (Rom 16), sometimes mentioning only particular people of great significance, and other times those people and the church in their house? The apostle greets the saints who were with them, and those who belonged to Narcissus who were in the Lord. He thus salutes either whole families, or part of families, or only particular people in families, on the basis of their being “in the Lord.” For if it had been a usual practice to baptize all children with their parents, there were at that time many thousands of Jews who believed, and a great number of the Gentiles, in most of the principal cities in the world. Among so many thousands it is more than probable that there would have been several thousands of households baptized. Why then should the apostle in this respect single out one family of the Jews and three or four families of the Gentiles in a case that was common [typical]? Whoever imagines that we wilfully exclude our children from the benefit of any promise or privilege that belongs by right to the children of believing parents is thinking far too severely of us. To be without natural affection is one of the characteristics of the worst people in the worst times. We freely confess ourselves to be guilty before the Lord in this: that we have not with more vigilance and diligence trained up in the fear of Lord those related to us. We do humbly and earnestly plead that our omissions [shortcomings] in these things may be forgiven and that they may not prove to be the cause of any injury to ourselves or those who belong to us. However, with respect to that duty which weighs heavily upon us, we acknowledge that we are obliged by the precepts of God to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and to teach them his fear both by instruction and example. Should we treat this precept lightly, it would demonstrate that we are more vile than the unnatural heathen [godless people lacking natural feelings and ethical standards] who do not like to retain God in their knowledge. Our baptism might then be justly accounted as no baptism to us.
There are many special promises that encourage us as well as precepts that oblige us carefully to pursue our duty in these regards. The God whom we serve, who is jealous of his worship, threatens that he will punish the transgression of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate him. But he does more abundantly extend his mercy, even to thousands – with respect to the offspring and succeeding generations – of those who love him and keep his commandments.
When little children were brought to our Lord that he might pray over them, lay his hands upon them and bless them, our Lord rebuked his disciples for forbidding their access. This clearly declares that “of such is the kingdom of God.” In addition, when people asked the apostle Peter what they must do to be saved, he not only instructed them in the necessary duty of repentance and baptism, but he also encouraged them in that duty by the promise which had reference not only to them but also to their children. In the examples just mentioned, if our Lord Jesus was not speaking about the qualities of children (as he does elsewhere) such as their meekness, humility, sincerity and such like, but intended also to communicate that those very people and others like them are entitled to the kingdom of God; and if the apostle Peter when he mentioned that particular promise was speaking not only to the present and succeeding generations of those Jews who heard him (the same phrase does occur in Scripture in that sense) but also to the immediate offspring of those who heard; and whether the promise itself related to the gift of the Holy Spirit, or of eternal life, or any grace or privilege which tends to secure that life – whatever the case may be, it is neither our intention nor to our advantage to confine the mercies and promises of God to a narrower or lesser compass [range or extent] than he is pleased freely to offer and intend them. Neither do we lightly esteem them. We are rather obliged – out of duty to God and affection to our children – to plead earnestly with God and to use our utmost endeavours [efforts] that both ourselves and our children may be partakers of his mercies and gracious promises. Nevertheless, we cannot from either of these texts take a sufficient warrant for the baptism of our children before they are instructed in the principles of the Christian religion.
With regard to the situation with the little children, if from the beginning the children of believers were admitted to baptism, then it seems by the disciples forbidding them that they were brought for some other reason less frequent than baptism must be imagined to have been. In addition, no account is given as to whether or not their parents were baptized believers. With regard to the example of the apostle Peter, if the words and actions following afterward are taken as interpreting the scope of the promise he held out, then we cannot imagine that it refers to infant baptism, because the text immediately adds, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized.”
It is evident from the Scriptures that there were some believing children of believing parents in the days of the apostles, even some who were at that time in their father’s family home and under their parents’ tuition and education. To these the apostle, in several of his letters to the churches, gives commands to obey their parents in the Lord. Given their young age, he attracts them to listen to this precept by reminding them that it is the first commandment with promise.
It is also recorded by the apostle to the praise of Timothy, and to the encouragement of parents early to instruct and children early to attend to godly instruction, that ἀπὸ βρέφους – that is, from a child – Timothy had known the holy Scriptures.
The apostle John rejoiced greatly when he found some of the elect lady’s children walking in the truth, and the children of her elect sister joined with the apostle in his greeting.
However, that this state of affairs that all the children of believers were considered to be believers was not generally the case (as would have been true had they all been baptized) may be gathered from the character which the apostle gives of people who are suitable to be chosen to eldership in the church, a position which was not held by all believers. Among the others there is this express qualification given: if there be any having believing or faithful children, not accused of riot or who are unruly. We may from the apostle’s writings on the same subject grasp the reason for this qualification. It is that in situations in which the person intended for this office of teaching and ruling in the house of God had children capable of being governed, there might be first a proof of his ability, industry and success in this work in his own family, in a private capacity, before he was ordained to exercise this authority in the church, in a public capacity, as a bishop [overseer] in the house of God.
We have mentioned these things because they have a direct reference to the controversy between our brothers and ourselves. Other things that are more obscurely technical and wordy, which are frequently introduced into the argument, but which do not necessarily concern it, we have purposely avoided, so that the distance between us and our brothers may not be widened by us. For it is our duty and desire, as far as we possibly can while maintaining a good conscience before God, to seek a more complete agreement and reconciliation with them.
We are not unaware that – concerning the order of God’s house, and entire [undivided or unbroken] communion [fellowship?] in it – there are some things in which we, as well as others, are not in full agreement among ourselves. For instance, the recognised principle and conviction of conscience of various ones of us who have agreed in this Confession is that we cannot hold church communion with any others than baptized believers, and with churches constituted of such people. However, some others of us have greater liberty and freedom in our spirits in that regard. Therefore we have purposely omitted [left out] the mention of things of that nature, so that we might concur in giving this evidence of our agreement – both among ourselves and with other good Christians – in those important articles of the Christian religion on which we mainly insist. Notwithstanding this, we all consider it to be our chief concern – both among ourselves and among all others that in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours, and who love him in sincerity – to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In order to do that, we shall pursue all possible lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering [patience], bearing with one another in love.
Furthermore, we are persuaded that if the same method were introduced into frequent practice between us and our Christian friends who agree with us in all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith (although they do not agree with us in the subject and administration of baptism) it would soon produce a better understanding and brotherly affection between us.
In the beginning of the Christian church, when the doctrine of the baptism of Christ was not universally understood, still those who knew only the baptism of John were the disciples of the Lord Jesus; and Apollos was an eminent minister of the gospel of Jesus.
In the beginning of the reformation of the Christian church, and its recovery from that Egyptian darkness in which our forefathers for many generations were held in bondage, when people turned back to the Scriptures of truth they came to different degrees of understanding (which are continued to this time) concerning the practice of this ordinance.
Do not let our zeal in these things be misinterpreted. The God whom we serve is jealous of his worship. By his gracious providence the law of his worship remains among us. We are forewarned by what happened in the church of the Jews that it is necessary for every generation – and frequently in every generation! – to consult the divine oracle [revelation], compare our worship with God’s rule, and to take heed to what doctrines we receive [accept] and practice.
If the ten commandments displayed in the idolatrous popish [Roman Catholic] service books had been received as the entire law of God, simply because they agree in number with his ten commandments, and also agree in substance with nine of them, then the second commandment forbidding idolatry would have been utterly lost.
If Ezra and Nehemiah had not made a diligent search in the particular elements of God’s law and his worship, then the Feast of Tabernacles – which for many centuries of years had not been properly observed in accordance with the divine institution, although it was kept in the general idea – would not have been kept in the proper way.
It may be the same way now with regard to many things relating to the service of God, which retain the appropriate name of their institution but still unintentionally (where there is no sinister purpose) may vary in their circumstances [outward forms and details] from their first institution. And it may be that – because of some ancient departure from the truth, or because of that general corruption of the service of God and the suspension [even destruction] of his true worship and the persecution of God’s servants by the antichristian Bishop of Rome, over many generations – those who consult [study, seek counsel from] the Word of God cannot yet reach full and mutual satisfaction [agreed conviction] among themselves as to what was the practice of the primitive [early] Christian church in some points relating to the worship of God. However, insofar as these things are not of the essence of Christianity, and considering that we agree in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, we perceive that there is sufficient ground to lay aside all bitterness and prejudice, and in the spirit of love and meekness to embrace and accept each other as Christian brothers, and to leave each other at liberty separately to carry out unto God those other services (in which we cannot agree), according to the best of our understanding.
 This is a difficult phrase. In the original it reads, “may all persons of right challenge the like admission.”
 Rather than the translation given in the original appendix, I have used a slightly more accessible version from John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Matthew-1 Corinthians, Acts-1 Corinthians, vol. 4 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 214.
 Again, I am using the slightly more modern translation of Lightfoot, 214–215.
 Do the authors mean, “at the same time as baptism”?