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"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 KJV
"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." Rom 3:27-28
HOME > Doctrine > "A Mirror, or Looking Glass, Wherein You May Behold The Sacrament of Baptism Described" (1533) by John Frith
"A Mirror, or Looking Glass, Wherein You May Behold The Sacrament of Baptism Described"
(English Reformer, Protestant, Martyr)
"The Works of Tyndale & the Works of Frith"
Edited & Updated by HAIL & FIRE
CONSIDERING the manifold and lamentable error wherewith not the ignorant people only but also the learned (as they seem) have been long seduced, as touching the blessed sacrament of baptism, I thought it expedient therein to write my mind, trusting, by that means, to bring again the blind hearts of many unto the right way, and I doubt not but that the elect and chosen of God that know their Shepherd's voice, and have the spirit to judge all things, shall easily perceive whether this be conformable to their master's voice, and shall hereby be admonished to leave their wandering in the dark and loathsome ways which lead unto death, and to walk without stumbling in the comfortable light which brings their consciences to rest, and such peace that passes all understanding.
One error is this: They put so great confidence in the outward sign that without discretion they condemn the infants, which die or they be baptized, unto everlasting pain. Another is this: They cleave so strongly unto the weak ceremonies, that they think if a drunken priest leave out a word, as Volo say you, or Credo say you, or forget to put spittle or salt in the child's mouth that the child is not christened; yea, so much give they thereunto the beggarly salt, that they will say, "Spill not the salt, for it is our Christendom," and use also to swear by it; saying, "By this salt, that it is our Christendom." Alas! What blindness is this. These two errors are the principle that I do intend at this time to confute; for when they are fallen, the other that are grounded on these must needs decay. First, we must mark three things in every sacrament to be considered, the sign, the signification, and the faith which is given unto the Words of God. The sign in baptism is the plunging down in the material water, and lifting up again, by the which, as by an outward badge, we are known to be of the number of them which profess Christ to be their Redeemer and Savior.
This outward sign does neither give us the Spirit of God, neither yet grace, that is the favor of God. For, if through the washing in the water, the Spirit or grace were given, then should it follow that whosoever were baptized in water should receive this precious gift; but that is not so, wherefore I must needs conclude that this outward sign, by any power or influence that it has, brings not the Spirit or favor of God. That every man receives not this treasure in baptism, it is evident; for, put the case, that a Jew or an infidel should say that he did believe, and believed not indeed, and upon his words were baptized indeed (for no man can judge what his heart is, but we must receive him unto baptism if he confess our faith with his mouth, albeit his heart be far from thence), this miscreant, now thus baptized, has received this outward sign and sacrament, as well the most faithful man believing. Howbeit, he neither received the Spirit of God, neither yet any grace, but rather, condemnation. Wherefore, it is evident that the exterior sign gives not this gift, which is also as certain in all other sacraments, yea, in the sacrament of the altar, which may be called a double sacrament. For, it is not only a remembrance that the natural body of Christ was broken and his blood shed for our redemption, as the evangelists do testify, but also it is his spiritual body, which is the congregation of the faithful, as St. Paul testifies, saying, The bread which we break, is it not the partaking (that is to say, we that are partakers), of the body of Christ? For we, saith he, though we be many, yet are we one bread and one body. But for all that, the receiving of this sacrament gives us not the Spirit of God, neither yet his favor; for the wicked receives it, as well as the good, howbeit, that receiving is to their damnation. Wherefore it follows that the outward sign gives no man any grace. Moreover, if the Spirit of God and his grace were bound unto the sacraments, then, where the sacraments are ministered, there must the Spirit of grace wait on; and where they were not ministered, should be neither Spirit nor grace. But that is false, for Cornelius and all his household received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. Insomuch that Peter said, May any man forbid that these should be baptized with water, which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And so he commanded them to be baptized, in the name of the Lord. Here may we see, that, as the Spirit of God lighteth where he will neither is he bound to anything. Yea, and this example does well declare unto us, that the sacraments are given to be an outward witness unto all the congregation of that grace which is given before privately unto every man.
So is baptism given before the congregation unto him which, before he receive it, has either professed the religion of Christ, or else has the Word of promise by the which promise he is known to be of the sensible congregation of Christ. And for this cause, when we baptize one that is come unto the age of discretion, we ask of him whether he believe; if he answer, Yea, and desire baptism, then he is baptized: so that we require faith in him before he is baptized, which is the gift of God and cometh of grace, and so is it (that is, baptism) an outward sign of his invisible faith, which before was given him of God.
If an infant be brought unto baptism, whom his friends offer up, willing to sanctify and fulfill the commandment and ordinance of God, we inquire of his friends, before the congregation, whether they will that their child he baptized and when they have answered yea, then he receives baptism. Here also went before the promise of God that he of his grace reputed our infants no less of the congregation than the infants of the Hebrews; and through baptism does the congregation receive him, which was first received through grace of the promise. Thus may we see that baptism brings not grace, but does testify unto the congregation that he which is baptized had such grace given him before: so is baptism a sacrament, that is, the sign of a holy thing, even a token of the grace and free mercy which was before given him, a visible example of invisible grace, which is done and given through the gentleness of God. By this may we perceive how gross their ignorance is, which, without discretion, condemn the infants that depart out of this world, not baptized in our material water. For, if that water give no grace, as I have sufficiently proved, why should they condemn more before that washing, than after? Besides, that the election of God is free and follows not our faith, but faith follows the election, as it is written, “And there believed as many as were ordained unto everlasting life;” for they that are chosen from the beginning, are, no doubt, chosen before they had faith. We ought not therefore, to give such unadvised judgment on these children, which, by their age, have not yet heard our faith, seeing God's election is hid from our eye.
The children of Israel were a people which God had chosen from among all nations of the world, and gave them circumcision for a token and memorial of that election, which circumcision was a figure of our baptism, and they thought that the Gentiles, which were not carnally circumcised, had been all condemned. But their opinion deceived them, for there were also of the Gentiles, which, although they were not circumcised outwardly, were elect of God and were spiritually circumcised, which only is the thing that God regards, as Paul testifies, saying, “He is not a Jew which is a Jew outwardly, neither is that circumcision anything, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is hid within the circumcision of the heart” (Romans 2), which is the cutting off of carnal desires and is the true circumcision. This circumcision was in price with God, with the which, the Gentiles were circumcised. And in like manner, may we say of our baptism, he is not a Christian man which is washed with water, neither is that baptism which is outward in the flesh; but that is the very baptism which God alloweth, to be baptized spiritually in the heart, that is, to subdue and weed out the branches of sin, that it reign not in your mortal bodies and bring them into bondage under it; of the which our baptism is but a sign. And there are many, I doubt not, which are thus spiritually baptized, although their bodies touch no water, as there were Gentiles thus spiritually circumcised and yet never cut off the foreskin of their privy members.
Furthermore, the children of the uncircumcision are of the people and congregation of God, as well as the children of the Hebrews, which, under the law, were members of their congregation. I take the congregation of God in this place even somewhat largely, that is, for all them that are thought or counted to be the members of Christ, as it is taken (Matthew 13), where Christ compares it unto a net which receives both good fish and evil; and again (Matthew 25), where he likens the kingdom of heaven, that is to say, the congregation of God, unto ten virgins, of the which five were wise and five foolish.
But I speak not in this place of the elect, sanctified and invisible congregation, which is without spot and without wrinkle, and are only known unto God, who had chosen her before the foundations of the world were laid. Neither is it to be esteemed but that God is as merciful unto us which are of the spiritual Israel, as he was unto the carnal Israel. St. John, St. Paul, and such other were they not being infants of the congregation of God, elect in Christ Jesus before the creation of the world, howbeit in their infancy they neither had faith, nor yet knew anything of this election. Matthew, Zaccheus, the thief, and Mary Magdalen, were they not likewise so chosen, yet they themselves knew it not until they were enlightened of the Holy Spirit and drawn unto Christ by our heavenly Father; neither knoweth any man of another's election, but every man may know his own through his faith and will that he has to fulfill the law of God. Of this sensible congregation of Christ was Judas, yea, and all the other which after forsook Christ; neither knew the Apostles but that Judas had been of the elect, sanctified, and invisible congregation of Christ, as well as Peter or John, so that our judgment recounts all faithful and chosen that seem to be; but Christ knows them that are his and them that shall forsake him.
Now is there an opinion risen among certain, which affirm that children may not be baptized until they come unto a perfect age and that, because they have no faith; but verily, I think that they are far from the meekness of Christ and his Spirit, which, when children were brought unto him, received them lovingly and embraced them in his arms (Matthew 9), and when his disciples blamed the bringers, he called them to himself saying, “Suffer children to come unto me and forbid them not, for, of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Luke 18). And albeit, they have no faith, but are only of that invisible congregation that is without spot or wrinkle, yet, as I have said, they have a promise, as well as the children of the Hebrews, by the which they are of the visible congregation, which thing only is testified in their baptism. So it appears, that these men are ignorant what baptism is; for, our baptism does not testify that we are of that pure congregation, which was chosen and sanctified in Christ before the world began, which have their names written in the book of life, of the which it is not possible that one should perish; for then were it a false testimony, seeing many that are baptized fall afterward into perilous heresies and utter desperation, which brings them unto death everlasting. And, as for faith, if they have none when they are baptized, let them pray unto God to give it to them afterward; for, the lack of faith hurts not the sacrament, but the sacrament may be as well ministered unto a miscreant as to a faithful, if he say that he has faith or he has any promise of God. But this matter will I pass over; for I trust the English (unto whom I write this) have no such opinions.
Now will I proceed with the second point of this sacrament, which is the signification. The signification of baptism is described by Paul in the sixth chapter of Romans: that, as we are plunged bodily into the water, even so, we are dead and buried with Christ from sin; and, as we are lifted again out of the water, even so, are we risen with Christ from our sins, that we might hereafter walk in a new conversation of life. So that these two things, that is, to be plunged into the water and lifted up again, do signify and represent the whole force and effect of baptism, that is, the mortification of our old Adam and the rising up of our new man. What is the old Adam? Verily, even that by natural inheritance which is planted in us through Adam's fall, as to be unfaithful, angry, envious, covetous, slothful, proud, and ungodly: these, and such other uses, wherewith our nature is envenomed, ought we with all diligence to cut off and mortify, that we may daily be more patient, liberal, and merciful, according to that our baptism does signify; insomuch that a Christian man's life is nothing else but a continual baptism, which is begun when we are dipped in the water, and is put in continual use and exercise as long as the infection of sin remains in our bodies, which is never utterly vanquished until the hour of death; and there is the great Goliath slain with his own sword, that is, death, which is the power of sin, and the gate of everlasting life is opened unto us. And thus is Paul to be understood (Galatians 3), where he saith, “All ye that are baptized into Christ, have put on Christ;” that is, you have promised to die with Christ as touching your sins and worldly desires past, and to become new men, or creatures, or members of Christ. This have we all promised unto the congregation and it is represented in our baptism. But alas! There are but few which indeed fulfill that which they promise or rather, that the sacrament promises for them. And for this cause it is called by Paul, the fountain of the new birth and regeneration (Titus 3) because it signifies that we will indeed renounce and utterly forsake our old life, and purge our members from the works of iniquity through the virtue of the Holy Spirit, which, as the water or fire does cleanse the body, even so does it purify the heart from all uncleanness: yea, it is a common phrase in Scripture to call the Holy Spirit water and fire, because these two elements express so lively his purging operation.
Now have we expounded the signification of baptism, which signification we may obtain only by faith; for, if you be baptized a thousand times with water and have no faith, it avails you no more towards God, than it does a goose when she ducks herself under the water. Therefore, if you will obtain the profit of baptism, you must have faith, that is, you must be surely persuaded that you are newly born again, not by water only but by water and the Holy Spirit (John 3), and you are become the child of God, and that your sins are not imputed to you, but forgiven through the blood and passion of Christ, according to the promise of God. This faith have neither the devils, neither yet the wicked; for the wicked cannot believe the remission of their sins, but fall into utter desperation and make God a liar as much as in them is; for, they believe not the testimony which he gave of his Son, and this is that testimony, that all which believe on him have everlasting life (John 5). And the devils cannot believe it, for they have no promise made to them. Thus, through Christ's blood, whereof our baptism has its full strength and vigor, are we regenerated and made at one with the Father; for, by our first natural birth we are the children of wrath (Ephesians 2) and the enemies of God (Romans 5).
Finally, baptism is an ordinance instituted of God, and no practice of man's imagination put in use in Christ's time, and after his resurrection commanded to be ministered unto all that believe, whether they were Jews or Gentiles; for Christ saith to his Apostles, “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:” wherefore, although it seems never so exterior a thing, yet ought it to be had in great price and much reverence because it was commanded of God to be done. Besides that it is an outward figure or witness unto the congregation, of the invisible promise given before by grace unto every private man and by it does the congregation receive him openly, to be counted one of them, which was first received by faith, or through the grace of the promise; it puts us also in remembrance that we (advertising the kindness of God and our promise in baptism), may learn to die and mortify our rebelling members: otherwise it gives no grace, neither has it any secret virtue [that is to say, power], as we have sufficiently proved; and therefore is he sore to blame that so unadvisedly condemns these infants, judging his brother, which is in God's hand, yea and peradventure baptized in Christ's blood, for God's election is unknown to man.
Now will I endeavor myself to overthrow and utterly put out the second error, which has long reigned and seduced many; and that is, of them which so strongly stick unto the weak ceremonies. Concerning the ceremonies of baptism, yea, and all other, we must behave ourselves wisely, as charity teaches us, seeking the profit of many, that they may be saved. We must consider, that we have our conversation with men in this world, of the which, the most part know not God. Some are young, some weak, some perverse, and some stiff-necked and obdurate unto the using of ceremonies, which, although they be not noisome unto the faith, nor contrary to the Word of God, yet will it be hard to find such. They are good and expedient (as milk) to lead the young tenderly into the more perfect knowledge of God. The second sort are the weak, unto whom, in all things, it behooves us to have respect and bear their infirmities by charity; for their sake (Acts 15) did Paul circumcise Timothy, yea, and for their sake he had strength to captivate his liberty and never eat flesh nor drink wine, than to offend one of them. The third kind of men are perfect - I mean not so perfect that they are clean without sin, having no remnants of the old Adam assailing them, for such are there none, but only Christ, but I call them perfect, which have perfect knowledge in the use of things, which know that whatsoever enters into the belly defiles not the man, which know that all such things are pure unto them that are pure (Titus 1), which know that if we eat, we are nothing the better, or if we eat not, we are nothing the worse (1 Corinthians 8); these are free between God and their conscience, and may use all things: howbeit they are yet bound as concerning their neighbor which is weak and has not the knowledge, yea, bound, under the pain of sin, to abstain from wounding of their conscience; for he sins against God that wounds another man's conscience (1 Corinthians 8). The fourth kind are self-willed and obstinate, which put confidence in such indifferent things. For I think them not needful unto our salvation. Them ought we to resist to the face, and not to yield an inch unto them; as Paul gives us example, which would not for their pleasure circumcise Titus, but utterly resisted their obdurate ignorance. If you make this division, you shall know how to behave yourself towards all men, but now it is meet that we show you which are the ceremonies of baptism.
The ceremonies of baptism are easily expressed, if you know what the substance of it is and how the Apostles ministered it; and where may we have that better expressed than in Acts 8, viz. where Philip baptized the Eunuch, chamberlain to the Queen of Candace? This Eunuch did acknowledge that Jesus was the son of God, which is the sign of our faith, and he desired baptism, and Philip, at the next water they came to, washed him in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. There will no man deny but that that baptism was as full and as good as ours; and yet was there neither font nor holy water, candle, cream, oil, salt, godfather, or godmothers, or any other popery. Wherefore we may conclude that all these things are but ceremonies, that is to say, exterior things, which make baptism neither a mite better nor worse. Thus say I, not to have these ceremonies that want judgment disannulled, which are not noisome to our faith, for fear of offending the weak, but only that you may know how to use them as indifferent and to put no confidence in them. For then should they hurt and unquiet our conscience, if, through negligence, or otherwise, anything were undone; and so should they be an occasion to pluck us from Christ, which were instituted for a means to bring us unto him. Therefore, the seniors and ministers of the congregations ought to instruct their flocks to take these things indifferent, which neither save nor damn, whether they be done or undone. And if they perceive the people cleave too sore to them, then ought they to seek out a time convenient, and to abrogate and alter those ceremonies, or else they cannot escape the wrath of God. For they that seek health in such ceremonies are fallen from grace, and tread under their foot the blood of Christ, unto their condemnation. But their blood shall be required at your hands, which better should have instructed them. And, as concerning the abrogation or alteration of ceremonies, we have a godly example of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was instituted and commanded of God to be kept by the children of Israel. Notwithstanding, because it was a sign or a ceremony and did signify unto them that it was God which sanctified them with his Spirit and not themselves with their holy works; and also because that all ceremonies and shadows ceased when Christ came, so that they might be done or left undone indifferently; our forefathers, which were in the beginning of the church, did abrogate the Sabbath, to the intent that men might have an example of Christ's liberty and that they might know that neither the keeping of the Sabbath, nor of any other day, is necessary according to Paul, “Ye observe days, times, and months; I am afraid of you that I have laboured in vain towards you” (Galatians 4). Howbeit, because it was necessary that a day should be reserved, in the which, the people might come together to hear the Word of God, they ordained in the stead of the Sabbath, which was Saturday, the next day following, which is Sunday. And although they might have kept the Saturday with the Jews, as a thing indifferent, yet did they much better to overturn the day, to be a perpetual memory that we are free and not bound to any day, but that we may do all lawful works to the pleasure of God and profit of our neighbor. We are, in manner, as superstitious in the Sunday as they were in the Saturday, yea, and we are much madder. For the Jews have the Word of God for their Saturday, since it is the seventh day and they were commanded to keep the seventh day solemn; and we have not the Word of God for us, but rather against us, for we keep not the seventh day as the Jews do, but the first, which is not commanded by God's law. But Paul adds, That no man judge us as concerning holy days, meats, and such other exterior things (Colossians 2); yea, and in no wise will he that we observe them, counting them more holy than other days. For they were instituted that the people should come together to hear God's Word, receive the sacraments, and give God thanks. That done, they may return unto their houses and do their business as well as any other day. He that thinks that a man sinneth which works on the holy day, if he be weak or ignorant, ought better to be instructed and so to leave his hold. But if he be obstinate and persevere in his sentence, he is not of God but of the devil, for he makes sin in such as God leaves free. According to this example, would I that our ceremonies were altered, because (as I have said) the people seek health in them: and what villainy can they do more to Christ's blood?
And, as concerning godfathers and godmothers, they promise for their godchildren that they shall mortify the root of sin which springs ill their bodies, and subdue their lusts under the law of God. They promise also that they will instruct and bring up their godchildren in the faith of Christ; which office pertains to their parents, for they are commanded of God to teach their children (Exodus 13; Deuteronomy 4 and 5); so that the parent should be either alone or at least the chiefest godfathers. But and now-a-days the fathers may not be suffered to know anything themselves: how should they then instruct their children? They keep the Scriptures and Word of God from you and bear you in hand that it is heresy. Alas! How long will you lack understanding and perceive you not yet, that they would keep you in darkness, so that you should not espy their privy practice and sleight conveyance? Are you so mad [to think] that this blessed Word, which made the evil good, will make the good evil? Think you that this wholesome medicine, which heals all infirmities, is now changed into such a nature that it will poison you? Are you so simple and childish to surmise that this godly doctrine, which discloses all hypocrisy and confounds all heresies, should make you to err and fall into heresies? I pray God give you eyes to see, ears to hear, and open your hearts that you may perceive what his pleasure is. For surely, ignorance shall not excuse you; as Ezekiel, speaking in the person of God, saith unto the curates: “Thou son of man, I have made thee an overseer unto the house of Israel, thou shalt hear the word of my mouth, and shalt show it them from me. If I say unto the wicked, thou shalt surely die, and thou show him not, nor exhort him to turn from his wicked way that he may live; then he shall die in his wickedness, but I will require his blood at thy hand. Yea, and if the righteous turn from his righteousness, and do iniquity, he shall die; although thou show it him not. he shall die in his sin, but I will require his blood at thy hand. Take heed, you curates, unto your charge, and let no man excuse himself through ignorance” (Ezekiel 33).
"But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." Psalm 37:11 KJV
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