A Catechism on Holy Baptism

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Puritan Board Senior
Alexander Nowell wrote a Catechism and this is the section on Baptism.

M. How many sacraments hath God ordained in his church?


M. Which be they?

pBaptism and the Holy Supper, which are commonly used among all the faithful. For by the one we are born again, and by the other we are nourished to everlasting life.

M. Then tell me first what thou thinkest of baptism?

Whereas by nature we are qthe children of wrath, that is, strangers from the church, which is God’s household, baptism is, as it were, ra certain entry, by which we are received into the church; whereof we also receive a most substantial testimony, that we are now sin the number of the household, and also of the children of God; yea, and that we are joined and graffed into tthe body of Christ, and become his members, and do grow into one body with him.

M. Thou saidst before that a sacrament consisteth of two parts, the outward sign, and inward grace. What is the outward sign in baptism?

uWater: wherein the person baptized is dipped or sprinkled with it, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

M. What is the secret and spiritual grace?

It is of two sorts; that is, xforgiveness of sins, and regeneration; both of which in the same outward sign have their full and express resemblance.

n Luke 12:12. John 1:33 & 6:63 & 14:17, 26. 1 Cor. 12:4, 6 &c.
o John 1:33. Acts 1:5 & 10:47.
p Matt. 26:26 & 28:19. John 3:5 & 6:35. Tit. 3:5. The description of baptism.
q Eph. 2:3.
r Matt. 28:19. Mark 16:16. John 3:5. Tit. 3:5.
s Rom. 8:15-17. Eph. 2:19.
t 1 Cor. 6:15 & 12:27. Gal. 3:27. Eph. 4:15-16 & 5:30.
u Matt. 3:16 & 28:19. John 3:5, 23. Acts 8:36, 38.
x Mark 1:4. John 3:5. Acts 2:38. Tit. 3:5.

M. How so?

First, as the uncleannesses of the body are washed away with water, so the yspots of the soul are washed away by forgiveness of sins. Secondly, zthe beginning of regeneration, that is, the mortifying of our nature, is expressed by dipping in the water, or by sprinkling of it. Finally, when we by and by rise up again out of the water, under which we be for a short time, the new life, which is the other part, and the end of our regeneration, is thereby represented.

M. Thou seemest to make the water but a certain figure of divine things.

aIt is a figure indeed, but not empty or deceitful, but such as hath the truth of the things themselves joined and knit unto it. For as in baptism God truly delivereth us forgiveness of sins and newness of life, so do we certainly receive them. bFor God forbid that we should think that God mocketh and deceiveth us with vain figures.

M. Do we not then obtain forgiveness of sins by the outward washing or sprinkling of water?

No. For only Christ hath cwith his blood washed and clean washed away the spots of our souls. This honour therefore it is not lawful to give to the outward element. But the Holy Ghost, as it were sprinkling dour consciences with that holy blood, wiping away all the spots of sin, maketh us clean before God. Of this cleansing of our sins we have a seal and pledge in the sacrament.

M. But whence have we regeneration?

None other ways but from the death and resurrection of Christ. eFor by the force of Christ’s death our old man is, after a certain manner crucified and mortified, and the corruptness of our nature is, as it were buried, that it no more live and be strong in us. And by the beneficial mean of his resurrection he giveth us grace to be newly formed unto a new life, to obey the righteousness of God.

M. Do all generally, and without difference, receive this grace?

fThe only faithful receive this fruit: but the unbelieving, in refusing the promises offered them by God, shut up the entry against themselves, and go away empty. Yet do they not thereby make that the sacraments lose their force and nature.

y Acts 12:16. Eph. 5:26. Tit. 3:5-6.
z John 3:5. Rom. 6:3, 5-7 &c. Tit. 3:5.
z John 3:5. Acts 22:16. Eph. 5:26. Tit. 3:5.
b John 14:6, 17. Rom 3:4. Heb. 10:23.
c Matt. 26:28. Eph. 1:7 & 5:25. Col. 1:14, 20. Tit. 3:5-6. Rev. 1:5.
d John 3:5. Rom. 8:15-16. Heb. 9:14 & 10:22.
e Rom. 6:3 &c. toto.
f Mark 16:16. John 1:12 & 3:16, 18.

M. Tell me then briefly in what things the use of baptism consisteth?
In faith and repentance. For gfirst we must with assured confidence hold it determined in our hearts, that we are cleansed by the blood of Christ from all filthiness of sin, and so be acceptable to God, and that his Spirit dwelleth within us. And then we must continually, with all our power and endeavour, travail in hmortifying our flesh, and obeying the righteousness of God, and must by godly life declare to all men that we have in baptism as it were iput on Christ, and have his Spirit given us.

M. Sith infants cannot by age perform those things that thou speakest of, why are they baptized?

That faith and repentance go before baptism, is required only in persons so grown in years, kthat by age they are capable of both. But to infants the promise lmade to the Church by Christ, in whose faith mthey are baptized, shall for the present time be sufficient; and then afterward, when they are grown to years, they must needs themselves acknowledge the truth of their baptism, and have the force thereof to be lively in their souls, and to be represented in their life and behaviours.

M. How shall we know that infants ought not to be kept from baptism?

Seeing God, nwhich never swerveth from truth, not in anything strayeth from the right way, did not exclude infants oin the Jewish church from circumcision, neither ought our infants to be put back from baptism.

M. Thinkest thou these so like, and that they both have one cause and order?

Altogether. For as Moses pand all the prophets do testify that circumcision was a sign of repentance, so doth St Paul teach that it was a sacrament of faith. Yet the qJews’ children, being not yet by age capable of faith and repentance, were nevertheless circumcised; by which visible sign God shewed himself in the Old Testament to be the Father of young children and of the seed of his people. Now sith it is certain that the grace of God is both rmore plentifully poured and more clearly declared in the Gospel by Christ, than at that time it was in the Old Testament by Moses, it were a great indignity if the same grace should now be thought to be either obscurer or in any part abated.

g Matt. 26:28. Mark. 16:16. Rom. 8:9, 11, 15-17. Eph. 1:7 & 5:25-26. Col. 1:14, 20.
hRom. 6:3 &c, 6, 11 &c, 13, 19 & 8:13. Eph. 4:24. Col. 3:5.
i Rom. 13:14. Gal. 3:26-27.
k Mark 16:16. John 3:16, 18.
l Rom. 3:3 & 4:21-22, 24. Heb. 10:23.
m Matt. 28:19.
n Rom. 3:4 & 4:21. Heb. 10:23.
o Gen. 17:10-12 &c. Luke 1:59 & 2:21. Acts. 7:8. Phil. 3:5.
p Deut. 10:16 & 30:6. Jer. 4:4.
q Rom. 2:28-29 & 4:11. Gen. 17:7, 10-12 &c.
r Acts 2:17-18 & 10:45. 2 Cor. 3:6-9 &c. Gal. 3:23-24. Tit. 3:5-6.

M. Go on forward.
Sith it is certain that our infants have the force, sand as it were the substance of baptism common with us, they should have wrong done them if the sign, which is inferior to the truth itself, should be denied them; and the same, which greatly availeth to testifying of the mercy of God and confirming his promises, being taken away, Christians should be defrauded of a singular comfort which they that were in old time enjoyed, and so should our infants be more hardly dealt with in the New Testament under Christ, than was dealt with the Jews’ infants in the Old Testament under Moses. Therefore most great reason it is that by baptism, as by the print of a seal, it be tassured to our infants that they be heirs of God’s grace, and of the salvation promised to the seed of the faithful.

M. Is there any more that thou wilt say of this matter?

uSith the Lord Christ calleth infants unto him, and commandeth that no man forbid them to come, embraceth them when they come to him, and testifieth that to them the kingdom of heaven belongeth, whom God vouchsafeth to be in the heavenly palace, it seemeth a great wrong that men should forbid them the first entry and door thereof, and after a certain manner to shut them out of the Christian commonweal.

M. It is so. But whereas thou didst say before, that children, after they were grown more in years, ought to acknowledge the truth of their baptism, I would thou shouldest now speak somewhat more plainly thereof.

Parents and schoolmasters did in old time diligently instruct their children, as soon as by age they were able to perceive and understand, in the first principles of Christian religion, that they might suck in godliness almost together with the nurse’s milk, and straightways after their cradle might be nourished with the tender food of virtue towards that blessed life. For the which purpose also little short books, which we name Catechisms, were written, wherein the same, or very like matters as we now are in hand with, were entreated upon. And after that the children seemed to be sufficiently trained in the principles of our religion, they brought and offered them unto the bishop.

s Matt. 18:3-4, 10 & 19:14. Luke. 18:15-17. Rom. 4:16, 23-24. 1 Pet. 2:2.
t Rom. 4:16, 23-24.
u Matt. 18:3-4, 10 & 19:14. Mark 10:13-15.

M. For what purpose did they so?
That children might after baptism do the same which such as were older, who were also called catechumeni, that is, scholars of religion, did in old time before, or rather, at baptism itself. For the bishop did require and the children did render reason and account of their religion and faith: and such children as the bishop judged to have sufficiently profited in the understanding of religion he allowed, and laying his hands upon them, and blessing them, let them depart. This allowance and blessing of the bishop our men do call Confirmation.

M. But there was another confirmation used of late?

Instead of this most profitable and ancient confirmation, they conveyed a device of their own, that is, that the bishop should not examine children, whether they were skilled in the precepts of religion or no, but that they should anoint young infants unable yet to speak, much less to give any account of their faith; adjoining also other ceremonies unknown unto the Holy Scripture and the primitive church. This invention of theirs they would needs have to be a sacrament, and accounted it in manner equal in dignity with baptism; yea, some of them preferred it also before baptism. By all means they would that this their confirmation should be taken for a certain supplying of baptism, that it should thereby be finished and brought to perfection, as though baptism else were unperfect, and as though children who in baptism had put upon them Christ with his benefits, without their confirmation were but half Christians; than which injury no greater could be done against the divine sacrament, and against God himself, and Christ our Saviour, the author and founder of the holy sacrament of baptism.

M. It were to be wished therefore that the ancient manner and usage of examining children were restored again?

Very much to be wished, surely. For so should parents be brought to the satisfying of their duty in the godly bringing up of their children, which they now for the most part do leave undone, and quite reject from them; which part of their duty if parents or schoolmasters would at this time take in hand, do, and thoroughly perform, there would be a marvelous consent and agreement in religion and faith, which is now in miserable sort torn asunder; surely all should not either lie so shadowed and overwhelmed with the darkness of ignorance, or with dissensions of divers and contrary opinions be so disturbed, dissolved and dissipated, as it is at this day: the more pity it is, and most to be sorrowed of all good men for so miserable a case.

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