by John Flavel
Come we next to consider that opinion of yours, which led you into these other gross mistakes and absurdities, and that is this, that the covenant of grace is absolute; and whatever covenant is not so, but hath any condition upon our part, must needs for that reason be a covenant of works. See page 229. It is observable (say you) that as the covenants mentioned Gen. 2 Exod. 20 &c. were all conditional, and therefore legal covenants, requiring strict and perfect obedience, as the condition propounded, in order to the enjoyment of the mercies contained in them, which are all therefore done away in Christ; so on the other hand we see, that the covenant God made with Abraham, Gen. 12:2, 3 and Gen. 17:2, 3 and Gen. 22:16, 17, 18 was wholly free and absolute, and therefore purely evangelical, &c. We will review these things anon, and see if you truly represent the matter; but in order to it, let me tell you,
First, What we mean by a gospel-condition.
Secondly, Prove that there are such in the gospel-covenant.
Thirdly, Shew you the absurdity of your opinion against it.
(1.) What we mean by a condition in the gospel-covenant. By a condition of the covenant, we do not mean in the strictest rigid sense of the word, such a restipulation to God from man of perfect obedience in his own person, at all times, so as the least failure therein forfeits all the mercies of the covenant; that is rather the condition of Adam's covenant of works, than of the evangelical covenant: nor do we assert any meritorious condition, that in the nature of an impulsive cause shall bring man into the covenant and its privileges, or continue him in when brought in. This we renounce as well as you: but our question is about such a condition as is neither in the nature of an act perfect in every degree, nor meritorious in the least of the benefit conferred, nor yet done in our own strength. But plainly and briefly, our question is, Whether there be not something as an act required of us in point of duty, to a blessing consequent by virtue of a promise? Such a thing, whatever it be, hath the nature of a condition, inasmuch as it is antecedent to the benefit of the promise; and the mercy or benefit granted, is suspended until it be performed. The question is not, whether there be any intrinsical worth or value in the thing so required, to oblige the disposer to make or perform the grant or promise, but merely that it be antecedent to the enjoyment of the benefit; and that the disposer of the benefit do suspend the benefit until it be performed? Thus an act or duty of ours, which has nothing at all of merit in it, or answerable value to the benefit it relates to, may be in a proper sense a condition of the said benefit. "For what is a condition in the true notion of it, but* the suspension of a grant until something future be done?" "Or,† as others to the same purpose, The adding of words to a grant, for the future, of a suspending quality, according to which the disposer will have the benefit he disposeth to be regulated?" This properly is a condition, though there be nothing of equivalent value or merit in the thing required.
And such your brethren, in their narrative, page 14. do acknowledge faith to be, when they assert none can be actually reconciled, justified, or adopted, till they are really implanted into Jesus Christ by faith; and so, by virtue of this their union with him, have these fundamental benefits actually conveyed unto them; which contains the proper notion of the condition we contend for.
And such a condition of salvation we assert faith to be in the new covenant grant; that is to say, the grant of salvation by God in the gospel-covenant is suspended from all men, till they believe, and is due by promise, not merit, to them as soon as they do truly believe. The notes or signs of a condition given by civilians, or moralists, are such as these, If not, unless, but if, except, only, and the like. When these are added in the promise of a blessing or benefit for the future, they make that promise conditional; and your grammar (according to which you must speak, if you speak properly and strictly) will tell you, that Si, sin, modo, dum, dummodo, are all conditional particles; and it is evident, that these conditional particles are frequently inserted in the grants of the blessings and privileges of the New Testament. As for example; Mark 9:23. ει δυνασαι πισευσαι "If thou canst believe." Acts 8:37. ει πις ευεις εξ ολης τησκαρδιας, "If thou believest with thy whole heart thou mayest," &c. Rom. 10:9. οτι εαν, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth, and believe with thy heart," &c. thou shalt be saved. Mat. 18:3. εαν μη, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Mark 5:36. μονον "Only believe." Mark 11:26. ει καὶ ουχ "But if ye forgive not," &c. with multitudes more, which are all conditional particles inserted in the grants of benefits.
(2.) Having shewn you what the nature of a condition is, I shall, I hope, make it plain to you, that faith is such a condition in the gospel-grant of our salvation; for we find the benefit suspended till this act of faith be performed; John 3:36. "He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." And most plainly, Rom. 10:9 having shewn before what the condition of legal righteousness was, he tells us there what the gospel-condition of salvation is; "The righteousness which is of faith, speaketh on this wise; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart, that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." I ask you, sir, whether it be possible to put words into a frame more lively expressive of a condition than these are? Do but compare Mark 16:16. "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned:" Do but compare, I say, that scripture-phrase with the words of Jacob's sons, which all allow to be conditional, Gen. 43:4, 5. "If thou wilt send our brother with us, we will go down; but if thou wilt not send him, we will not go down;" and judge whether the one be not as conditional as the other: more particularly,
If we cannot be justified or saved till we believe, then faith is the condition on which those consequent benefits are suspended.
But we cannot be justified or saved till we believe; Ergo.
The sequel of the major is evident; for, as we said before, a condition is the suspension of a grant till something future be done. The minor is plain in scripture; Rom. 4:24. "Now it was not written for his sake alone, that righteousness was imputed to him; but for our sakes also, to whom it shall be imputed if we believe." Οις μελλει λογιζεσθαι, Quibus futurim est ut imputetur, to whom it shall come to pass, that it shall be imputed, if we believe: And Acts 10:43. "Whosoever believeth on him, shall receive remission of sins." John 3:36. "He that believeth not, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him;" with multitudes more. Now, sir, lay seriously before your eyes such scriptures as these, that promise salvation to believers, and threaten damnation to all unbelievers, as Mark 16:16. doth, and then give a plain and clear answer to this question; either the positive part of that text promises salvation absolutely to men, whether they believe or believe not, and consequently unbelievers shall be saved as well as believers; and the negative part threatens damnation absolutely to sinners, as sinners; and consequently all sinners shall be damned, whether they believe or not: or else, if you allow neither to be absolute, but that none can be saved till they believe, nor any damned when they do believe; is not that a conditional promise and threatening?
If God's covenant with Abraham, Gen. 12:2, 3 and that Gen. 17:2, 3 were (as you say) pure gospel-covenants of grace, and yet in both some things are required as duties on Abraham's part, to make him partaker of the benefits of the promises; then the covenant of grace is not absolute, but conditional.
But so it was in both these covenants; Ergo.
The minor only requires proof; for which let us have recourse to the places, and see whether it be so or not.
(1.) For the first you instance in as a pure gospel-covenant made with Abraham, Gen. 12:2, 3. I must confess, as you dismember the text, p. 229. by chusing out the second and third verses, and leaving out the first, which was the trial of Abraham's obedience, in forsaking his native country, and his father's house; I say, give me but this liberty to separate and disjoin one part of a covenant from the other, and it is easy to make any conditional covenant in the world to become absolute; for take but the duty required, from the promise that is made, and that which was a conditional, presently becomes an absolute grant. Suppose, sir, that Abraham had refused to leave his dear native country, and dearest relations, as many do; think you that the promised mercies had been his? I must plainly tell you, you assume a strange liberty in this matter, and make a great deal bolder with the scriptures than you ought: and the very same usage the other scriptures hath.
(2.) For when you cite your second covenant with Abraham, you only cite Gen. 17:2, 3 and then call it an absolute gospel-covenant; when indeed you make it so, by leaving out the first verse, which contains the condition or duty required on Abraham's part; for thus run the three first verses; And when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abraham, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk thou before me, and be thou perfect, and I will make my covenant between me and thee, &c. Here an upright conversation before God is required of him, at God's entrance into this covenant with him; but that is, and must be omitted, and cut off, to make the covenant look absolute, I am really grieved to see the scriptures thus dealt with to deserve a design!
If all the promises of the gospel be absolute and unconditional, requiring no restipulation from man, then they cannot properly and truly belong to the new covenant.
But they do properly and truly belong to the new covenant; therefore they are not all absolute and unconditional.
The sequel of the major is only liable to doubt or denial, namely, That the absoluteness of all the promises of the New Testament cuts off their relation to a covenant; but that it doth so, no man can deny, that understands the difference between a covenant and an absolute promise. A covenant is a mutual compact or agreement betwixt parties, in which they bind each other to the performance of what they respectively promise; so that there can be no other proper covenant where there is not a restipulation or re-obligation of one part, as well as a promise on the other; but an absolute promise binds only one party and leaves the other wholly free and unobliged to any thing in order to the enjoyment of the good promised. So then, if all the New Testament promises be unconditional and absolute, they are not part of a covenant, nor must that word be applied to them; they are absolute promises, binding no man to whom they are made to any duty, in order to the enjoyment of the mercies promised: But those persons that are under these absolute promises, must and shall enjoy the mercies of pardon and salvation, whether they repent or repent not, believe or believe not, obey or obey not. Now to what licentiousness this doctrine leads men, is obvious to every eye. Yet this absoluteness of the covenant (as you improperly call it) is by you asserted, p. 229, 230. There is (say you) no condition at all, it is wholly free and absolute, as the covenant with Abraham, Gen. 12:2, 3. Gen. 17:2, 3. Thank you, sir, for making them so; for by cutting off the first verses, where the duty required on Abraham's part is contained, you make them what God never intended them to be. And the same foul play is in Deut. 30 where you separate the plain condition contained in ver. 1, 2 from the promise, ver. 6. Or if the condition, ver. 1, 2 be not plain enough, but you will make it part of the promise, I hope that after, in ver. 10 is too plain to be denied. As to the other texts, more anon; mean time see how you destroy the nature of a covenant.
Object. But say you, pag. 233. To impose new conditions, though never so mild, is a new covenant of works with some mercy, but not a covenant of grace, properly so called.
Sol. It is true, if those works or acts of ours, which God requires, be understood of meritorious works in our own strength and power to perform, it destroys the free grace of the covenant; but this we utterly reject, and speak only of faith wrought in us by the Spirit of God, which receives all from God, and gives the entire glory to God; Eph. 2:5, 8.
Object. But you will say, If faith be the condition, and that faith be not of ourselves, then both the promise and the condition are on God's part (if you will call faith a condition) and so still on our part the covenant is absolute.
Sol. This is a mistake, and the mistake in this leads you into all the rest; though faith (which we call the condition on our part) be the gift of God, and the power of believing be derived from God, yet the act of believing is properly our act, though the power by which we believe be of God? else it would follow, when we act any grace, as faith, repentance, or obedience, that God believes, repents, and obeys in us, and it is not we, but God that doth all these. This, I hope, you will not dare to assert; they are truly our works, though wrought in God's strength? Isa. 26:12. "Lord, thou hast wrought all our works in us;" i.e. though they be our works, yet they are wrought in us by thy grace or strength.
As for Dr. Owen, it is plain from the place you cite in the doctrine of justification, p. 156, he only excludes conditions, as we do, in respect of the dignity of the act, as is more plain in his treatise of redemption, p. 103, 104. in which he allows conditions in both the covenants, and makes this the difference, That the Old required them, but the New effects them in all the
I know no othodox divine in the world, that presumes to thrust in any work of man's into the covenant of grace, as a condition, which, in the Armenian sense, he may or may not perform, according to the power and pleasure of his own free will, without the preventing or determining grace of God; which preventing grace is contained in those promises, Ezek. 36:25, 26, 27, &c. Nor yet that there is any meritorious worth, either of condignity or congruity in the Popish sense, in the very justifying act of faith, for the which God justifies and saves us. But we say, That though God, in the way of preventing grace, works faith in us, and when it is so wrought, we need his assisting grace to act it, yet neither his assisting nor preventing grace makes the act of faith no more to be our act; it is we that believe still though in God's strength, and that upon our believing, or not believing, we have or have not the benefits of God's promises; which is the very proper notion of a condition.
If all the promises of the new covenant be absolute and unconditional, having no respect nor relation to any grace wrought in us, nor duty done by us, then the trial of our interest in Christ, by marks and signs of grace, is not our duty, nor can we take comfort in sanctification, as an evidence of our justification.
But it is a Christian's duty to try his interest in Christ by marks and signs; and he may take comfort in sanctification, as an evidence of justification. Ergo.
The sequel of the major is undeniably clear: so that can never be a sign or evidence of an interest in Christ, which that interest may be without; yea, and as* Dr. Crispe asserts, according to his Antinomian principles, 'Christ is ours (saith he) before we have gracious qualifications; every true mark and sign must be inseparable from that it signifies.' Now, if the works of the Spirit in us be not so, but an interest in Christ may be where these are not, then they are no proper marks or signs; and if they are not, it cannot be our duty to make use of them as such, and consequently if we should, they can yield us no comfort.
The minor is plain in scripture; 1 John 2:3. "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." The meaning is, we perceive and discern ourselves to be sincere believers, and consequently that Christ is our propitiation, when obedience to his commands is become habitual and easy to us; So 1 John 3:19. "Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him;" i.e. by our sincere cordial love to Christ and his members, as ver. 18 this shall demonstrate to us, that we are the children of truth; and again, 1 John 3:14. "We know that we are passed from death to life; because we love the brethren:" With multitudes more to the same purpose, which plainly teach Christians to fetch the evidences of their justification out of their sanctification, and to prove their interest in Christ, by the works of his Spirit found in their own hearts.
And this is not only a Christian's liberty, but his commanded duty to bring his interest in Christ to this touchstone and test; 2 Cor. 13:5. Examine yourselves, prove yourselves," &c. 2 Pet. 1:10. "Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure?" i.e. your election by your calling. No man can make his election sure a priori, nor can any make it surer than it is in se; therefore it is only capable of being made sure to us a posteriori; arguing from the work of sanctification in us, to God's eternal choice of us.
And as the saints in all ages have taken this course, so they have taken great and lawful comfort in the use of these marks and signs of grace; 2 Kings 20:3. 2 Cor. 1:12.
I am sensible how vehemently the Antinomian party, Dr. Crispe, Mr. Eyre, and some others, do oppugn this truth, representing it as legal and impracticable (for they are for the absolute and unconditional nature of the new covenant, as well as you); but by your espousing their principle, you have even run Anabaptism into Antinomianism; and must, by this principle of yours, renounce all marks and trials of an interest in Christ, by any work of the Spirit wrought in us. You must only stick to the immediate sealings of the Spirit; which, if such a thing be at all, it is but rare and extraordinary.
I will not deny but there may be an immediate testimony of the Spirit; but sure I am his mediate testimony by his graces in us, is his usual way of sealing believers. We do not affirm any of these his works to be meritorious causes of our justification; or that, considered abstractly from the Spirit, they can of themselves seal, or evidence our interest in Christ; Neither do we affirm, that any of them are complete and perfect works; but this we say, that they being true and sincere, though imperfect graces, they are our usual and standing evidences, to make out our interest in Christ by. And I hope you, and the whole Antinomian party, will find it hard, yea, and impossible, to remove the saints from that comfortable and scriptural way of examining their interest in Christ, by the graces of his Spirit in them; as the saints, who are gone to heaven before them, have done in all generations.
If the covenant of grace be altogether absolute and unconditional, requiring nothing to be done on our part, to entitle us to its benefits; then it cannot be man's duty in entering covenant with God, to deliberate the terms, count the cost, or give his consent by word or writing, explicitly to the terms of this covenant.
But it is man's duty in entering covenant with God, to deliberate the terms, and count the cost; Luke 14:26, to 34 and explicitly to give his consent thereunto, either by word or writing: Ergo.
The sequel of the major is self-evident: For where there are no terms or conditions required on our part, there can be none to deliberate, or give our consent to; and so a man may be in a covenant without his own consent.
The minor is undeniable in the text cited: If you say, These are duties, but not conditions; I reply, they are such duties, without the performance of which we can have no benefit by Christ and the new covenant, Luke 14:33. And such duties have the true suspending nature of conditions in them. If you say they are only subsequent duties, but not antecedent or concomitant acts, the 28th verse directly opposes you: Let him first sit down and count the cost. And for those overt-acts, whereby we explicitly declare our consent to the terms of the covenant, at our first entering into the bond of it, I hope you will not say, that it is a legal covenant too; Isa. 44:3, 4. "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine off-spring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses; One shall say, I am the Lord's, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord," &c. A plain allusion to soldiers, when they list themselves under a captain, or general.
What remains now to reply to these arguments, but either that the places by me cited and argued upon, do not intend the new covenant, under which we are; or that this new covenant hath its conditions, and is not altogether absolute, as you have asserted it to be.
And thus, sir, you are fairly beaten off (if I mistake not) from the new ground you had chosen and marked out to raise your battery upon, to demolish that strong fort which secures the right of believers infants to baptism; and you must return again to the old answers of Mr. Tombes, and others, to our solid and substantial argument from Abraham's covenant, Gen. 17 which have been baffled over and over by Baxter, Blake, Sydenham, and many other stout champions for infants baptism.
All that I am further concerned about, is to examine so many of those scriptures as you have spoken to, which are by us produced in defence of those four grounds or principles mentioned in the beginning of this discourse, whereon we establish the right of infants baptism; and to vindicate those scriptures from your strained and injurious interpretations of them: Which being done, they will each of them stand in those eminent places of service, where they have been so long useful to the cause we defend.
As for your pretended solutions of the incomparable Mr. Baxter's, and the learned and accurate Dr. Burthogg's arguments, I admire at your confidence therein; and let me tell you, without breach of charity, it is an high piece of confidence in you, to throw the gantlet, and bid defiance to two such worthies yet alive, and easily able to detect your folly, in the weakness and impertinency of your answers. Alas! my friend, you little know what it is to have such weak and inartificial discourses as yours brought under the strict examen of such acute and judicious eyes. But,
——Sic dama leonem
Insequitur, audetque viro concurrere virgo.
Nor will I presume to anticipate either of their answers to your discourse (if they shall think it worthy of an answer); but rather briefly reflect upon what you return to the arguments of those eminent divines that are gone to glory in the faith of that truth you oppose, and are not capable of defending their solid and regular interpretations of scriptures, against the notions you force upon them, contrary both to the grammar and scope of several of them.
And here sir, in the beginning, let me mind you what a learned and judicious person saith, about all interpretations of scriptures: "Four things (saith he) commend an interpretation, and establish it as a king upon the throne, against whom there is no rising up."
First, If the letter and grammar of the text fairly bear it.
Secondly, If the scope and argument of the place will close directly with it.
Thirdly, If the interpretation set up against it, cannot stand before, both, or either of the former.
Fourthly, If the judgment of learned, wise, and impartial men be found generally agreeable to it.
According to these rules (whereat you can have no just exception) I shall briefly, yet I hope clearly and sufficiently, answer some of the replies you make to the arguments of those deceased worthies: And,
(1.) In page 1. you produce Mr. William Allen's argument, ad hominem, against your practice: 'He tells you, your own principle condemns you; for you reject the baptizing of infants, because there is no example in the New Testament of it; and yet baptize persons at age, whose parents were Christians; which is as much without a gospel precedent, or example, as the former. The sum of your reply is, That though it should be granted, that there is no express example for the baptizing such in scripture, yet there are examples enough concerning the baptism of believers.'
Reply. Here you grant all that Mr. Allen objects; viz. 'That you are altogether without example or precedent for your practice; And object to him and us, what he nor we ever scrupled or denied; viz. The baptizing of some adult persons, upon the personal profession of their faith.' I have done it myself, and, in like circumstances, am ready to do it again. Once you clearly yield it, that you have no precedent nor example for your practice in the gospel: That is all that he seeks, and what he seeks, you plainly grant. As to the precept and examples of baptizing adult believers, whose parents were unbelievers, and themselves never baptized in infancy, that is not the point you are now to speak to; nor have we any controversy about it. Certainly you are none of the fittest persons in the world to clamour so loudly against us, for want of express precedents for infants baptism, whilst yourself confesses, you want even one precedent in the New Testament to legitimate your own practice; and in the mean time are found in the sinful neglect of a sweet and heavenly gospel-ordinance, viz. the singing of psalms, for which you have both precept and precedent in the gospel, Col. 3:16. Jam. 5:13. 1 Cor. 14:26.
(2.) It is objected against you, pag. 2. 'That if the commission, Mat. 28. excludes none from baptism, but such as are to be excluded by the order therein to be observed; and if baptizing and teaching are to precede, or follow one the other, as there named by Christ, then these two conclusions will follow. (1.) That infants are not there excluded from baptism, (2.) That a person may be baptized, before he be taught; for there we have, First, Μαθητευσατι παντα τα εθνη, disciple all nations; make them disciples, or Christians. Secondly, We have Βαπτιζοντες και διδασκοντες; which literally to translate, is baptizing and teaching. Now then discipling being a general word, that contains in it the two others that follow, viz. baptizing and teaching; and being the imperative mood, whereas the other two are participles; it is manifest, that the whole command or commission, is given in that, and the mode of execution in these. And if the mode of executing that general commission be expressed in these, where baptizing is first, and teaching comes after; what is become of the order of the Antipædobaptists that have been so long talked of?'
The sum of your answer is, 'That if baptizing be first, and teaching comes after; then it will follow, that the apostles understood not their commission aright; for they first preached, and then baptized them that by their preaching believed, Acts 8. Acts 10. Acts 2 with many other places you heap up to the same purpose. And therefore infants must be excluded by that commission, because uncapable of being taught. And therefore let us criticise as we please upon imperative moods, and participles, the case is clear, teaching must go before baptizing.'
Reply. It had been more modest to suspect that you understood not the text aright, than that the apostles understood not their commission aright. The order of the words (as this well-fortified objection declares that you cannot deny) puts teaching after baptizing: And though we should allow you, that they discipled adult persons by teaching, and taught others baptized in infancy, after their baptizing them; in both they followed their order and commission, in discipling the parents by preaching, and teaching their children baptized, by virtue of the promise to them, after their baptism. For he declares, Acts 2 'the promise is to them, and to their children;' which gives a right to both unto baptism: And so teaching, according to the order of this commission, may be an antecedent duty to the parent, and a subsequent duty to him and his baptized children. For if Μαθητευσατε includes teaching before baptizing, why should not Διδασοκτες, which is put after baptizing, respect the subsequent duty of teaching both the one and the other?
(3.) Mr. Allen's next argument, mentioned by you, pag. 5. is taken from Matth. 19:14. "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Whence he argues against your objection, of the incapacity of infants for baptism; that if they are capable of interest, or membership in the kingdom of heaven, or church, they are equally capable of the sign or cognizance, which is baptism.
To this you reply three things: (1.) 'That it remains to be proved, that these little children were infants, and not grown boys or girls, capable of making an actual profession of their faith in Christ. (2.) It is doubtful, whether they were for the present in the kingdom of God, or were only elected, and so in time should be of his kingdom. And (3.) whatever they were, they were brought unto Christ, who himself baptized not; not to his disciples, who did baptize.'
Reply. Your first exception is vain and groundless: That they were very young, and little ones, appears not only by Christ's taking them in his arms, but from the very notation of the word Παιδια, a diminutive word, signifying a little child, or infant. So John was called, when new born, Luke 1:76. And Christ, when he lay in the manger; and Moses, when among the flags. And if this be not enough, St. Luke gives them another, Luke 17:15. Τα βρεφη, infants; a word given to a child in the womb, Luke 1:47. And for what you object out of Piscator, that the same word is used of Timothy, who knew the scriptures from a child; it is an evident mistake or shift; For the word is, απο βρεφους: he knew them, not being an infant, but from his childhood, or infancy; that is, when he had passed his infant-state, in which state these were that were brought unto Christ. And, (2.) Whereas you question their present right in the kingdom of God, or whether it were not future, by virtue of their election? The text will not allow your interpretation, Των γαρ τοιοὑτων εσιν, Of such is not: not, εσεται, shall be, the kingdom of God. Their present church-membership, asserted by Christ, is also a known rule, to regulate for the future the disciples carriage towards them; which was too severe, harsh, and therefore highly displeasing to Christ: But by telling them they were members of the church or kingdom of heaven, (they being very probably the infants of believing parents, as their bringing them unto Christ with such affection, through the frowns and repulses of the disciples, shews) he gives them a known and plain rule, how to distinguish infants, and regulate their carriage towards them; which God's election can never be, that being an unrevealed secret. And, (3.) Whereas you say Christ did not baptize them: I reply we never urged this scripture, to prove he did so; but only to prove their church-membership; which, methinks, Christ asserts as plainly as words can assert it, whence he saith, Of such is the kingdom of heaven. And though you use to quibble at the word Τοιουτων, of such, as though it respected not the present infants, but grown persons, resembling them in humble innocent qualities; Mr. Sydenham hath sufficiently baffled that interpretation, by shewing its inconsistence with the scope and argument of that place, and how ridiculous this sense would be, when reduced to a formal argument.
(4.) The fourth argument you pretend to answer, p. 8. is drawn from 1 Cor. 7:14. "Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy." To this you answer two things: (1.) That the holiness here spoken of, is not a fœderal, but a matrimonial holiness, namely, legitimacy; and is as much as to say, Your children are no bastards, seeing one of you is a believer.
Reply. If this be the true and genuine sense of this text, then all the children in the world, not immediately descended from one, or both believing parents, must of necessity be all bastards; their parents, how solemnly soever married, must live in uncleanness: And what mad work (think you) will this assertion make in the world; and how many millions of persons will it nearly touch, both in point of honour and inheritance?
(2.) You say, though the holiness here spoken of, should be allowed to be a fœderal, or covenant holiness; yet for want of an express institution, it will not warrant our practice.
Reply. The holiness of the children being granted to be a covenant holiness, none can deny them to be within the covenant: how else come they to be holy by covenant; And if within the covenant, who can deny them the initiating sign, which is baptism? Or how shall they (ordinarily) be visibly admitted into the visible church without it? The connection betwixt their fœderal holiness, and right to baptism, will appear plain enough from Acts 2:38, which you come next to speak to.
(5.) You attempt to answer Mr. Allen's argument from Acts 2:38. "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 unto all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."
On this text, you know, we lay a very great stress for the proof of infants baptism; and deserves a remark, that you wholly suppress our arguments drawn from that text, but however return an answer to them all, such as it is. You first tell us, 'The promise here spoken of, is not a promise of any external privileges, but the promise of the gospel, or the grace of God in Christ Jesus.'
Secondly, 'That the promise was not to their children, as believers seed, nor to them, or any other uncalled by the Lord; but only a promise of remission of sins, and receiving the Holy Ghost, upon their actual repentance; which infants cannot perform, and therefore cannot here be intended.' This is the true and whole sense of your answer.
Reply. Now, because you have wholly omitted our argument from this text (for which doubtless there was some reason) I think myself obliged to let the world know, how we expound it, and what we duly infer from that exposition of it; and then let the reader judge, whether by the fore-mentioned rules of a just interpretation, you or we are in the right.
(1.) We observe this famous text to contain the first argument used by the apostle, after Christ's ascension, to persuade the Jews to embrace Christianity, by repenting, and submitting themselves to baptism, the initiating sign of it; and therefore here we justly expect much light about this controverted point: Nor doth the apostle, in this text, deceive our expectation.
(2.) We take it for granted, that the direct and proper scope of this place, is to persuade the Jews (to whom St. Peter preached) to repent, and be baptized. This you allow, when you say, p. 10. 'He uses it as a motive, why they and theirs should actually repent, and be baptized.' In these two then there is no controversy.
(3.) We take it for certain, that the promise here referred to by Peter, is that gracious promise, Gen. 17:7. 'I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee.' The adjoining of their children to them, saith Calvin, (and with him runs the general current of expositors) depends on the words of that promise, Gen. 17:6. If you be not satisfied with this, but rather will refer it to Joel 2:28. you are then obliged to answer Mr. Sydenham's argument a fortiori, from that reference. But you make no exception at all to this accommodation of it: And then the sense must be this; the promise shall run as before, 'to you and to your children.'
(4.) We say, that except it had had relation to the covenant with Abraham, there had been no occasion, or reason at all, here to have mentioned children as well as parents: 'The promise is to you, and your children.' It had been enough, if he had only intended the believing parents, exclusive of their infant-seed, to have said, The promise is made to 'as many as the Lord our God shall call.' What reason, or occasion, was there to bring in their children at all?
(5.) We find here the children both of believing Jews and Gentiles, mentioned in the promise, accompanying the precept of baptism; and the precept to them built on the promise, as that which gave them their title to baptism; Υμιν γαρ επαγτελιας, "For the promise is to you, and to your children." In the same line that he mentions baptism, he also mentions the promise upon which their right is founded; and in the same breath with which he mentions their children, he also mentions the promise: which he would never have done, had his design been to have excluded their children from both, or either of them; especially seeing their children had been so long in the possession of both. These things are obvious, natural, and every way agreeable, both to the grammar and scope of the text. Whence we argue:
Arg. If the promise be the same to believers under the gospel, that ever it was to Abraham and his natural seed; then the children of believers, by virtue thereof, have as good a title to baptism, as Abraham's children had to circumcision.
But the promise is the same: Ergo, &c.
Next let us consider your answers.
(1.) You say, The promise, here spoken of, is not a promise of any external privilege, but the promise of the gospel.
Reply. Your distinction is vain and groundless; for it opposeth promises, that contain external privileges, to gospel promises, contrary to 1 Tim. 4:8. "Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Secondly, Circumcision then, and baptism now, which have both their foundation in that promise, contain privileges in them of both sorts. This no man can deny, but he that thinks it no privilege to be admitted into the visible church, by the external initiating sign, and to be thereby distinguished from the Pagan world. You have no warrant, therefore, to divide those things which God hath united.
(2.) You say, The promise was not to them as believers seed, nor to any uncalled by the Lord.
Reply. Your meaning is, that these words [as many as the Lord shall call] are a limitation of the promise to them only, whether parents or children, that are actually called. Let this your interpretation be compared with, and examined by the scope of the text, which you confessed before to be a motive to persuade them and theirs to repentance and baptism, and see if it can stand before it, as ours doth. For if this be the meaning, then the apostle's argument must run thus: I exhort you, convinced Jews, to repentance and Christian baptism: for whereas you, and your children, have hitherto been an holy seed, and the promise formerly was to them as well as you: but now the case is altered: if you yourselves repent, and be baptized, you shall have the benefit of the promise; but as for your children they shall be in the self-same case, and state, with the children of Pagans and infidels. Indeed if any of your children shall hereafter believe, they shall have benefit by the promise, but no more than the children of Pagans and infidels, which upon repentance shall be equal with them. "Repent ye therefore, and be baptized; for the promise is unto you, and to your children." This, and no other, must the apostle's motive be, according to your interpretation and limitation of his words.
We make the motive or argument to run thus: God hath now remembered his covenant to Abraham, in sending that blessed seed, in whom he promised to be the God of him, and his seed; yea, and of all believing Gentiles, as well as Jews and their children: do not you therefore, by your unbelief, deprive both yourselves, and your dear children, of the mercies and privileges of so great a promise? "Repent, therefore, and be baptized; for the promise is unto you, and to your children," &c. Let the impartial reader judge both, and the acknowledged scope of the place determine the matter. And as it cannot stand with the scope of the place, so neither (as Mr. Sydenham* hath plainly evinced) with the grammar of the text, nor rules of logic, by which according to your exposition the word [children] must be redundant and superfluous, as being neither comprehended under Jews or Gentiles, those that are near, or far off: into which two classes, or ranks, the text distributes the whole world; but must stand out of the text, as a party by themselves, though expressly mentioned in it, as those to whom the promise belongs. But enough of this.
(6.) Having vindicated Acts 2:38, 39 which confirms our fourth assertion, viz. the identity of the promise the Jews were, and we are under; we proceed next to vindicate Col. 2:8, 9, 10, 11, 12, whereby we prove the succession of baptism to circumcision, and vindicate it from that foreign sense you force upon it, to the great injury of the text, as well as of our infants, whom you exclude from any concernment therein.
Without any representation at all of the grounds on which we proceed, to prove the succession of this ordinance to that, you (as rashly as confidently) call it a groundless inference; which, whether it be or no, let the impartial judge, when they shall see the grounds on which we build that assertion.
(1.) It is out of controversy, that the scope of this place is to take off the Colossians from circumcision, and other Jewish rites and ceremonies, which the false teachers at that time earnestly endeavoured to reduce them to; as appears ver. 4 to be his plain design: "And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words." And he saith it with great concernment of mind, as appears ver. 1.
(2.) It is as plain, that the argument by which he establishes them in the truth of the gospel, and secures them against the danger of returning to those Jewish rites, especially circumcision, is drawn from their completeness in Christ without it; ver. 9 and 10. And that whatsoever they had under circumcision, they now enjoy in as complete and full a measure and manner, as ever Abraham and his seed did. "And ye are complete in him," i.e. in Christ.
(3.) To evince this, he instanceth in the very case then under debate, viz. circumcision, ver. 11, 12. And first distinguishing of a twofold circumcision, one made with, and the other without hands, which he calls the circumcision of Christ: he tells them, as to both of these, (namely, inward circumcision of the heart, and the external sign thereof too) both are fully answered in baptism; "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," ver. 11, 12. That is, look, as before inward circumcision of the heart was signified by outward circumcision of the flesh, as the proper, direct, and appointed sign of it; so now, the same inward circumcision, or regeneration of the soul, is as really and fully signified to you, by the new gospel sign of it, which is baptism; and therefore you are as complete, in respect both of outward and inward privileges now, as ever Abraham and his seed were. Do but convert the proposition, and suppose the apostle's design had been to take them off from baptism, and bring them back to circumcision; and in order to it had said, "In whom ye are also baptized with the baptism of Christ, being circumcised with him;" would not the substitution of circumcision in the place of baptism have been clear? And why is not this as clear as that would have been?
(4.) We further say, That except he had intended in these words to have placed baptism as an external ordinance, in place and stead of outward circumcision, he could never have pitched upon a worse instance than that of circumcision, which was so much valued by them: yea, from the very instance he brings, he had put a strong objection into their mouths, against his assertion, ver. 10. That we are every way as complete without it, as the Jews were with it; for then their children enjoyed an ordinance of great value, which ours are deprived of, having none under the gospel in lieu of it. Hence we argue:
Argument. If the ordinance of baptism now be appointed to answer the same ends that the circumcision did to the Jews, and to make us every way as complete in privileges as circumcision did them, then it comes in the place and room of it; and our children have the same right to this, as theirs had to that.
But the antecedent is plain, from the scope and argument of the apostle in this text and context: Ergo, So is the consequent.
The sum of your answer is, (1.) 'That circumcision in the flesh, is neither expressed nor meant here, but that of Christ in his own person. (2.) That if baptism had been intended to have come in the place of circumcision; then it would follow, that females must be excluded from baptism.'
Reply. Your first answer is manifestly false: for if the apostle distinguishes of a twofold circumcision, one made with hands, the other made without hands; then it is manifest, he means the circumcision in the flesh, which is now abolished, and all its ends and uses answered in gospel baptism. And whereas you say, The circumcision here spoken of, is no other than the circumcision of Christ in his own person; I would gladly know how the Colossians are said to be circumcised in Christ's personal circumcision only? And whether the baptism here spoken of, wherewith they are said to be buried with him, be not meant of Christ's personal baptism too; and, consequently, there is no need of the outward ordinance to pass upon them, or us; but especially, it is worth while for you to explain the reason why he calls the Colossians' circumcision, a circumcision of Christ made without hands, if he only intends Christ's personal circumcision; when we all know, that Christ's personal circumcision was a circumcision made with hands; and could not possibly be such a circumcision as theirs was, consisting in the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, or mortification of their corruptions. Christ had no sin by propagation, to put off or mortify in his own person.
(2.) Your second answer is no less absurd; That, if baptism, according to our argument, succeeds in the place of circumcision, then females must be excluded from baptism. You had as good have said, that the enlargement of the privilege under the gospel, is no good medium to prove we are as complete now under baptism as they were under circumcision. Cannot baptism stand in the place of circumcision, because it answers all its ends with an advantage? This, to me, is a very strange answer; however, it must stand in the place of a better, rather than baptism shall stand in the place of circumcision.
Object. But if baptism succeed in the room of circumcision, and there be such an analogy betwixt them, as you pretend; then it will follow, that you are obliged to baptize your children on the eighth day as they circumcised theirs.
Sol. The objection is frivolous and vain: no man, that I know, doubts, but the Lord's supper succeeds in the room and place of the passover. Christ was the substance of that, as well as this; and that was abrogated by his institution of this, the very same night: as soon as he and his disciples had celebrated the one, the other was instituted, and immediately succeeded it. And yet Christians are not obliged to the same month, day, or hour, for the celebration of the Lord's supper: the analogy is betwixt the substantial parts of both; amongst which, the spiritual mystery, principal ends, and proper subjects, are of principal consideration; not the minuter circumstances of time and place. In the passover and the Lord's supper, there is a correspondence betwixt the proper subjects of both. No uncircumcised person, or stranger to the covenant, might eat of that, Exod. 12:43, 48. No unbelieving person, uncircumcised in heart, hath a right to this, 1 Cor. 11:27, 28. So in the other; the infants of God's covenanted people were the proper subjects of circumcision then, and so they are (say we) of baptism now; for the same promise is still to believers and their children, Acts 2:38, 39. Here lies the analogy, and not in the variable circumstances of time.
Whereas you say, p. 12. Baptism cannot succeed circumcision, because it leaves no character or mark upon the body, as that did. This very objection of yours is borrowed in express words from Socinus, that enemy of Christ, in disp. de bapt. p. 113. and fully answered by Maccovius, loc. com. p. 830, 831.
Object. But it will be further said, That according to our opinion, there can be no analogy, or correspondency, betwixt the very subjects of both ordinances; for infants, at eight days old, were the proper subjects of circumcision; but the subjects of baptism were adult believers, from the time of its first institution: and so the analogy fails in the very subjects.
Sol. This objection is grounded upon a great mistake: it is your opinion, not ours, that destroys it; for with us it lies fairly in these three respects of it. (1.) We find, that at the first institution of circumcision, Abraham, the father, at ninety years old, and all the men of his house, were first circumcised, Gen. 17:25, 26, 27. Answerably, at the first institution of baptism, parents, masters of families, &c. being adult believers, were first baptized. (2.) After the circumcision of Abraham, and the men of his house, their infant-seed were also circumcised, the promise belonging to them, as well as their parents. Answerably, under the gospel, the whole families of believers were baptized; and the promise runs to their infants under the gospel, as it did before, Acts 2:39. (3.) As in the days of circumcision, if any stranger that had not been circumcised in his infancy, should afterward become a proselyte, and join himself to the Lord, he was to be circumcised, of whatever age he was: so now, if any infidel shall be converted, he is to be baptized, upon his personal profession of faith: and so much for the analogy. As for your correspondency of indentity, I cannot understand it.
I meet with little more in your first part, wherein I have any concernment; only there I find four arguments, in mood and figure, against the innovation of symbolical rites, by human authority, into the worship of God; which is certainly the best page in your book: and of them I have nothing to say, but that they are good ware; and I very well knew the mark and number of that parcel of goods, and to whom they properly belong.
But yet before I dismiss your book, I think myself concerned to vindicate one place of scripture more, viz. Rom. 11:16, 17 which I alleged in the beginning for the confirmation of our first prow position, viz. That God's covenant with Abraham, Gen. 17 is the same covenant for substance we Gentile believers are now under, 'If the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive-tree, boast not against the branches,' &c. This place is deservedly of great value with us, to prove, that we Gentile believers, with our infant-seed, are invested under the gospel with the same substantial privileges that the Jews and their infants formerly enjoyed. Here, without opening one term, you proceed, in your wonted manner, confidently to deny the arguments of our learned divines from this place. I shall therefore open this famous text, and regularly deduce the right of Gentile believers infants to baptism from it. And here, keeping to the rules above;
(1.) I note, that verses 13, 14, 15. give us the true level and scope of the apostle's argument, which is to prove the calling in again of the Jews, though for the present broken off; and on this ground to excite himself to all diligence for their conversion, and suppress all glorying and boasting in the Gentile believers, as if they were more worthy than those, because they fill their rooms and places.
(2.) To prove the calling again of the Jews, he argues strongly, ver. 16. from the fœderal holiness derived to the branches from their root or ancestors; namely, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with whom the covenant was made, Gen. 17. 'For if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches;' i.e. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, being in covenant with God, fœderal holiness is from them derived to the branches. And this can be no other than fœderal holiness, because those their ancestors were utterly incapable to transmit any inherent holiness to them, that being the incommunicable prerogative of God. This fœderal holiness lying still in the root (the covenant with Abraham) will recover the branches again to life, though at present many of them be broken off; as Job speaks in another case, Job 14:7, 8, 9. 'There is hope of a tree, though it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease; though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof dry in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.'
(3.) We affirm, by the authority of this text, That all the Jewish nation was not broken off, but only a part of it: So the 17th verse plainly declares; 'And if some of the branches be broken off,' &c. Not all, but some; for many of them were converted to Christ; we read of three thousand at one sermon, Acts 2 and multitudes more at other times. All these converted Jews stood in the apostle's time as branches in the true olive, still enjoying all their privileges; and that which brake off them that were broken off, was nothing else but their own unbelief: Ver. 20. 'Well then, because of unbelief they were broken off.' For at the promulgation of the gospel, a new article was added to their creed; namely, That this same Jesus, whom they had crucified, is the promised and true Messiah. This some believed, and so stood by faith, still enjoying all their ancient privileges of the covenant: Others believed not, and their unbelief broke them off.
(4.) We find in this place two sorts of branches growing upon this root Abraham; some natural branches; namely, Jews by nature, embracing Christ by faith; others wild and foreign branches, viz. Gentiles by nature, but ingrafted by faith, and by their ingrafture growing among the natural branches, and with them partaking of the root and fatness of the olive-tree, verse 17 that is, the rich privileges of the covenant and promise to Abraham, Gen. 17. 'I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed.' This is the sweet juice and fatness of the olive-tree, which both sort of branches live upon, ver. 17. some on the external, others on the internal; some on both.
(5.) These naturally wild, but now ingrafted branches, viz. the believing Gentiles, being grafted by faith amongst the natural branches, and with them sucking the fatness of the same root and olive; that is to say, the privileges, ordinances, and franchises of the church; we cannot but judge it to be a natural, clear, and necessary consequent, that the same privileges the natural branches once had, and the remaing branches (amongst whom the Gentile believers were ingrafted) then had; the very same the Gentile believers, and their children, do now enjoy, by virtue of their interest in the same root; else we cannot understand how we should be said to partake with them of the root and fatness of the olive. Certainly the sap is the same which the root sends into all the branches, whether they be natural or ingrafted ones; and is as plentifully communicated to the ingrafted, as to the natural branches: For the watering of this olive with the more rich and plentiful grace of the gospel, must make the olive-tree as fat and flourishing as ever it was, to supply all its branches, and more than ever before.
Seeing then we Gentiles have (1.) the same grafting into the true olive; and (2.) that our present grafting in, is answerable to their present casting out; and (3.) that their re-ingrafting, in the end of the world, shall be the same for substance that ours now is, and their own first was: For when they were first taken in, they, and their children, were taken in together; when they were broken off, they and their children were broken off together; and when they shall be taken in again, they and their children shall be taken in again; And (4.) seeing all these their expected mercies are secured to them by the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which will extend again to them when their unbelief shall betaken away; me-thinks (as was said before) nothing can be clearer than this conclusion, That we Gentile believers are now invested with the same privileges they once enjoyed; and our children have the same fœderal holiness or relation to the covenants theirs had, by being grafted amongst them, and living on the same sap they did, and that by the same promise, Acts 2:39.
But you will say, There is no mention here made of the grafting in of our children with us. We reply, Neither is there any mention here made of the breaking off of their children with them; which yet was so. Nor was there need to say it, seing both their infants and ours are comprehended in the parents, as twigs are comprehended in the branch, or buds in the graft, and the one being holy, so is the other. And this fœderal holiness of the children is not only mentioned in this chapter, ver. 16 but also in 1 Cor. 7:14 Now are your children holy. And the very same promise, which conveyed the fatness of the olive to Abraham's natural seed, manifestly extends itself to the Gentile believers seed, Acts 2:38, 39. And if men will not shut their eyes, and study evasions, what can be plainer from scripture than this explication and application of this place? We have with us the consent of the generality of orthodox expositors; the sense itself is genuine, easy, and unconstrained, agreeable with the letter and scope of the text. Whether the sense you set up against it, be as probable as this, we come next to examine. And truly, sir, your answer is ambiguous as a Delphic oracle: For (1.) you tell us, p. 8. That the ingrafting spoken of in this place, is into the invisible church, by election. We say, it is into the visible church, by profession of faith; for we know not how to understand any breaking off from the invisible church, or falling from election: But it is like, you better considered the consequents of that opinion, drawn upon you by Mr. Sydenham, in his 85th page; and therefore, nauseating those dregs of Arminianism, you speak more orthodoxly to the point, page 27, where you honestly acknowledge, That the church of the Jews and Gentiles, as to the true essence and inward substance of either, is one and the same: In which respect, the believing Gentiles, according to the apostle's metaphor, are here said to be grafted in amongst them, and with them, to be made partakers of the root and fatness of the olive-tree: And in reference hereunto, it is rightly added by the apostle, that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance: The inward substance of the church and covenant of grace, whereon it is founded, being invariable, and which shall for ever remain immoveable, though the outward form and administration be not so. Well then, from hence we gave gained two things: (1.) That the church of the Jews and Gentiles are essentially and substantially the same church. (2.) That the Jews were not broken off from the invisible church, or from faith and election; for these, you truly say, are invariable and immoveable: And if you had denied it, the apostle assures us, that the foundation of God stands sure; and that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. But what then was their breaking off, and the Gentiles grafting in, which made this great alteration in the church? Can it be any thing else, but our ingrafting into the visible church, by the profession of our faith, from whence the Jews were broken off for their unbelief? For certainly, from the invisible church they were not broken off, and into the invisible church, multitudes of professing Christians are not ingrafted. It is evident, therefore, by grafting us into the olive-tree, he means the visible church; and by the fatness thereof, the ordinances and privileges of that church. Though he deny not but all sincere professors are members of the invisible church also, and do belong to the election of grace; but that is not the breaking off, or grafting in, here spoken of.
And now, having given up Mr. Tombes notion of the invisible church, and election, you are again put to your shifts; and must either shuffle, and seek to hide yourself in a heap of strange and unintelligible distinction, or (which had been much fairer) honestly have yielded the cause; and, wherever you meet with them, I find a whole troop of distinctions rallied together for this purpose, page 23, 24.
'This grafting in (say you) may be either into the visible or invisible church; either by faith, profession of faith, or by some outward ordinance. Children may be either grown men, or infants. The ingrafting in may be either certain or probable. Certain, either by reason of election, or their natural birth, being children of believers. Probable, as being likely: either because frequently, or for the most part, it happens so; Though necessary, and so not certain.' The thing to be proved is, That the children of believers are in the covenant of free grace in Christ, and by virtue thereof, to be baptized into the communion of the visible church.
Reply. Words enough, and distinctions enough, to reduce the text to an indivisible point. But whither doth all this tend; I will ask you two or three plain questions, and then make what use you please of your distinctions. (1.) Whether the breaking off of the Jews, and the ingrafting of the Gentiles, here spoken of, have relation to the invisible church by election, or to the visible church by profession of faith, and some outward ordinance? (2.) Whether, if it were into the visible church by profession of faith that the Gentile believers were grafted in, as doubtless it was (and by relinquishing the former sense, you here seem to yield it, saying, this ingrafture may be certain, upon the account of natural birth, being children of believers;) then I would fain know, why you so state the question, as to make the certainty of believers childrens interest in Christ to be the only ground of their admission into the communion of the visible church? This (say you) must first be proved, or no baptism for them.
Alas, poor infants! to what hard terms are they here tied up? Very much harder than the terms any of your own society are tied to: And if baptism must be suspended, till this point can be cleared, that the person to be baptized be first in Christ, and in the covenant of free grace, as to the saving benefits thereof; then farewell to all baptism, both of infants and adult professors too. For how can you prove, that the persons you baptize, are all, or any of them, really in Christ? May they not deceive you, as Simon Magus did Peter? I did not think you had proceeded in this matter upon a certainty, but a probability: And if you proceed with yours upon the grounds of probability, how come you to tie up the children of believers to a certainty of their interest in Christ as the antecedent suspending condition of their baptism? We need dispute no more about the proper subjects of baptism, for by this account we have lost the ordinance of baptism itself.
We thought, sir, that our children's title to baptism was derived to them from their believing parents, as the children of the Jews was to circumcision, from their circumcised and professing parents; and that the same promise which conveyed their children's privilege to them, Gen. 17 had conveyed the right of believers children to baptism unto them also, Acts 2:38, 39 and that the root being holy, the branches are holy also, that is fœderally holy, Rom. 11:16. But to this you make such an answer as astonishes me to read, p. 26; where allowing Abraham to be the root, you say, 'The holiness here spoken of, is first in respect of God's election; holiness personal and inherent, in God's intention:' Eph. 1:4. "He hath chosen us in him, that we should be holy." (2.) It is also holiness derivative; but not from any ancestors, but from Abraham only; and that not as a natural, but a spiritual father; wherein he is a lively image, or figure of Christ, and is derived from the covenant of grace, which passed in his name to him and his seed. And, lastly, it shall be inherent, being actually communicated by the Spirit of God, when they shall be actually called.'
Reply. Here we see into what brakes and pits men run themselves, when they depart from the plain and safe path in explications of scripture Here is such a tripartite distinction of holiness, as I never met with before. (1.) Here is personal holiness inherent in God's intention. By this you must either mean sanctification decreed for them, and to be bestowed on them at the time of their calling; and then it is coincident with the third member of your distinction. Or else you mean, that it is holiness inherent in the intention of God, as an accident in its subject; and then the simplicity of God's nature resists your incongruous notion. But it would be a less crime, to confound the first with the last member of your vain and self-created distinction, than to speak things so repugnant to the simple and un-compounded nature of God.
Or if your meaning be, That this holiness is in God by way of intention, but in them by way of inhesion; that will not deliver you out of your confusion neither, but run you into greater: For then you confound the immanent with the transient acts of God, and make the same thing at the same time, to be purely in intention, and in execution; or to be only in God's purpose to bestow hereafter, and yet, at the present, inherent in the persons he intends it for: So that I must leave your strange notion of personal holiness inherent in God's intention, to be cleared by a more metaphysical head than mine: or else to stand, among other rare and unintelligible notions, to be admired and applauded by the ignorant reader.
But then, when we come to the second member of your distinction, I am as much at a loss to find your sense as before: For there you tell us, 'The holiness here spoken of, is derivative holiness also; and that from Abraham only; and from him, not as a natural, but a spiritual father, resembling Christ herein.'
Reply. This word derivative is an equivocal word, and may signify either inherent personal holiness, or fœderal holiness; for both of them are derived. If you say the former, it looks too black and horrid for me to believe you mean it, though you should say you mean it; for then you make Abraham not only the figure and image of Christ, as you speak, but Christ himself, by attributing to Abraham Christ's incommunicable property and prerogative. Then Abraham may say to all his children, as Christ doth, John 15:4, 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches, &c. I am he that sanctifies you. But if you mean the last (as necessarily you must, if you mean any thing that hath orthodox sense in it) then this derivative holiness you speak of, is not personal holiness, or internal sanctification, but fœderal holiness, derived from covenanted ancestors, or parents to their children; and therein you come over to us, and to the true sense of the text. But why must this be squeezed from you with so much difficulty? And why did you hide this fœderal holiness under an equivocal term, lest you should seem to yield the controversy with a word? This is not fair.
Object. If you say we are too hasty, and triumph before the victory: For though you do yield it to be a fœderal holiness, yet it is such as can be derived from no other father, or progenitor, but Abraham only.
Sol. Yes, sir, I hope you will allow Isaac and Jacob, at least to be the root and first-fruit, as well as Abraham, seeing the covenant was jointly and expressly made with them all three, and thereby they became the root and first-fruit of that holy nation; and if that people be called the seed of Abraham, they are also called the seed of Jacob; and if father-hood be ascribed to Abraham, it is ascribed to Jacob too, Isa. 58:14. And if Abraham be first named in the covenant, so is Jacob: See Gen. 27:42. But if you allow these three patriarchs, perhaps that is all you will allow; for you seem to say, that no fœderal holiness can be derived from any other progenitors. Good sir, whatever your own private opinion be in this matter, allow us to believe otherwise, as long as those scriptures 1 Cor. 7:14 and Acts 2:39. stand in our Bibles: For we cannot think but the fœderal holiness of children results from the immediate parent's faith, or covenant interest, as well as from the remoter progenitors; else we cannot understand how the Corinthians' children should be holy, or how the promise should belong to the children of them that are afar off, viz. the Gentiles, who could derive no such thing to their children by a lineal descent from Abraham, but only as they became ingrafted branches by faith; and so suck the fatness of the olive to themselves, and to their buds, or children, as the natural branches did. I desire you to consider also, how this covenant passed, as you say it did, to Abraham and his seed, in Christ's name, if it be the same with Adam's covenant? Did that pass to Adam in Christ's name too?
I have now dispatched what I at first promised and intended, viz. the confutation of my friend's mistakes about the covenants; and the vindication of those scriptures, by which our arguments, deduced from one of them, are confirmed. And now I have no farther concernment with Mr. Cary's solemn call; save only to note his high confidence, rash, and most unchristian censures, of all his differing friends and brethren, with which he concludes his discourse; wherein he calls infants baptism,
(1.) A great abuse in the divine worship, page 242, 243. And yet he that so calls it, never looked half way into the controversy; nor is able, without manifest shuffling and contradiction, both to the words of God, and his own words, to answer our arguments; as is here made too evident.
(2.) That it is no other than a change of a divine institution, and making void the commandment of Christ, the horrid sin charged by Christ upon those hypocrites, the Scribes and Pharisees, Matth. 15:6. With no better than these doth he rank and associate the many thousands of God's choice and dear people, who differ in this circumstantial point from him.
(3.) He compares it with the sin of Nadab and Abihu; and with that of Israel, with respect to the ark; 1 Chron. 15:13. A sin, which provoked the Lord to execute judgment, by an immediate stroke in fire from heaven upon them. Thus Mr. Cary is ready to call for fire from heaven upon his brethren. Alas, poor man! he knows not what spirit he is of, as Christ told the disciples in a like case. It is well we are not in his hands, to execute the wrath, as well as charge the guilt upon us. But I hope all this is but rashness in him.
(4.) He affirms it to be no less than a transgressing of the law, a changing of the ordinances, and a breaking of the everlasting covenant. If it be a transgressing of the law, he should have shewn us in what scripture that law that forbids it is, or where God hath repealed his former grant to the children of his covenant-people. And for the changing of the ordinances, I am of opinion, it is he that is guilty of that sin, and not we: For we have proved, God settled this privilege upon the infant-seed of his people; that the promise, under the gospel, continues still to them; and if he exclude them from baptism, he changes the ordinance of God. And for breaking the everlasting covenant, for which he cites Isa. 24:5, 6 the Lord make him sensible of the danger he hath put himself under, from that very text he produces against us; for it is manifest, that the covenant there spoken of, is God's covenant with Abraham, renewed with the Israelites at Sinai, which in that text is truly called an everlasting covenant; when mean time, Mr. Cary hath pronounced it to be an Adam's covenant, and now utterly abolished. Who is it, sir, that fights against, and changes this everlasting covenant, you or we, that are for its continuance to us and our children?
(5.) He affirms these things to be of highest concernment to us. If so, then sure it must follow, that repentance from dead works, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, must be inferior things to them; for nothing can be higher than the highest, or equal with it. And then by making them the chief fundamentals in religion, as that expression doth (if it be not a vain and sinful hyperbole) the salvation or damnation of men depends upon compliance or non-compliance with them. And then, whether must you send all God's people in the world, that differ from you? Sir, I find your brethren in the appendix to their confession of faith, page 110. placing one of these which you make of highest concernment, among the other circumstances of religion; and doubtless that is in its proper place: Nor do I see how they can free themselves from participation in your sin, till they have admonished you for it, and caused you to expunge it out of your book.
(6.) That it is a settling of your thresholds by God's threshold: These words you recite from Ezek. 43:8 which speak of the idolatrous kings of Judah and Israel building temples and altars for their idols, in or near the courts of the temple of God; as the English annotations on the text will inform you; an abomination that defiled God's holy name, a wickedness not to be named, and for which the Lord consumed them, and calls it whoredom in the next words. Here sir, you have exceeded all the bounds of society and Christian charity, and made this circumstantial difference about the proper subject of baptism the grossest heathenish idolatry in the world; and consequently dissolved the bonds of Christian charity, and broken off all communion with us; for with such idolaters you ought not to have any communion.
Your more wise and moderate brethren, in the place above-cited, tell us, 'They are loth hereby to alienate their affections or conversations from any that fear the Lord, and are willing to participate of the labours of those whom God hath endowed with abilities above themselves; qualified and called to the ministry of the word; desirous of peace, and not of renewed contests hereabout.' This is a language of another air: And if they be (as I dare not suspect but they are) sincere in that profession, they dare not comprobate such a desperate and unchristian censure as yours is: If they do, then we may easily guess what our lot and treatment shall be, whenever Anabaptism gets the ascendant in England; we may expect as civil usage as is due to gross idolaters, and no better: But I hope better things.
(7.) You say, that as these things are of highest concernment, so they ought to be our most serious practice and endeavour, page 243. ult. Good Lord! whither hath zeal for an opinion transported you! Our most serious practice and endeavour! Sir, I thought the most serious practice of a minister had been to preach Christ and salvation to the souls of men, and not to baptize: I am sure St. Paul reckoned so, Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach; that is, baptism is not my principal work, or main business. And ver. 14th, he thanks God he had baptized none of them but Crispus and Gaius. I believe he never uttered such an expression about his other work of preaching Christ. And for all Christians, I thought the securing of their interest in Christ, living in the duties of communion with him, watching their hearts, and mortifying their corruptions, had been the object matter of their most serious practice, and faithful endeavour; and not the litigations about baptism. But I hope these were only inconsiderate expressions, falling from your pen, whilst you were in a paroxism of zeal, or a transport in the height of a conceited triumph: But whatever was the cause, I am sure you ought to revoke and repent such words.
(8.) You wish your testimony rise not up at last as a witness against us. Sir, we do not apprehend any cause we have to fear your testimony against us, or severest censures of us, whilst we are satisfied, that as you neither have the faculty or commission to be our judge, so neither is there any convincing evidence in your reply to our arguments. But I think you have much more cause to fear, lest those arguments should come at last as a witness against you, who deny and contemn them; when mean time, you are put to most lamentable shifts, even contradictions, and somewhat worse, to escape the point and edge of them.
(9.) To conclude, You tell us, we must not expect the special presence of Christ to be afforded to us, without our compliance in these points with you.
Sir, we never yet deserted the judgment or practice of infants baptism, and yet have had (blessed be Jesus Christ for it) great and manifold, sweet and signal proofs and evidences of his presence with us; He bath owned and blessed our ministry to the conversion of many; and there are some, and those not mean, or few, of our spiritual children, now in your societies in England, who have acknowledged us to be the first instruments of their conversion: The Lord lay it not to their charge, who now desert that ministry in which they first received Christ! But as for the departure of his presence, I assure you, friend, I am more afraid of the rents and divisions you now renew so unseasonably among the churches of Christ, than of any one thing amongst us beside. It grieved my soul to see you, quieta movere, awake a sleeping controversy, especially in such a season, when we are little more than half delivered from our enemies and dangers; you take us by the heel, as Jacob did his brother, whilst but yet in the birth. Sir, except you return to a more quiet and Christian temper, than you seem here to be in, I am out of hope that ever you and I shall see those blessed days, we have so often with pleasure, comforted ourselves with the hopes of. However, extend your charity (if you have any left) so far, as to believe that I am one, notwithstanding of all this, that am studious of the church's peace, and inquisitive into the rules of duty, not daring to hold any truth of God in unrighteousness; and yet well satisfied I am, in the path of my duty, wherein, though we cannot walk together, yet I hope to meet you at the end of our way, in our Father's house, where perfect light and peace dwells.
And here I had put an end to this debate, had I not received your return to some of these sheets, whilst the last of them was under my hand; wherein I only find four things in which I am concerned. In general, you tell me, 'You are not convinced of any error, by what I have said.' I am sorry to hear it: But considering the nature of error on one side, and the difficulty of self-denial on the other, you have not much deceived my expectation. More particularly,
(1.) You say, As to your hooking the Sinai covenant into this controversy, I gave you the first occasion of it; for when you shewed me your papers about God's covenant with Abraham, I told you, that you were best first to try if you could prove the covenant at Sinai, to be a covenant of works; forasmuch as our divines are so far from conceiting the covenant with Abraham to be a covenant of works, that they will not allow the Sinai law itself to be so; and to convince you of it, I lent you Mr. Roberts and Mr. Sedgwick on the covenant, to enlighten and satisfy you about it: But little did I think you had confidence enough to enter the lists with two such learned and eminent divines, and make them to follow your triumphant chariot, shackled with the incomparable Baxter and Allen, Sydenham and Borthogg, like three pair of noble prisoners of war. But whatever was the occasion (setting aside your sin) I am not sorry you have given a fit opportunity to enlighten the world in that point also.
(2.) You seem to fancy in your letter, that I once was of your opinion about the moral law, because you find these passages in a sermon of mine, upon John 8:36. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, then are you free indeed;" viz.
'That the law required perfect working, under pain of that curse; accepted no short endeavours, admitted no repentance, and gave no strength.' But finding me here pleading for the law, you think you find me in a contradiction to that doctrine.
The words I own; the contradiction I positively deny; for I speak not there, and here, ad idem; for in that sermon, and in those very words you cite, I speak against the law, not as God intended it, when he added it to the promise; but as the ignorance and infidelity of unregenerate men, make it to themselves a covenant of works, by looking upon it as the very rule and reason of their justification before God: This was the stumbling-stone at which all legal justiciaries then did, and still do stumble, Rom. 9:31, 32, 33. In this sense the apostle, in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians, argues against the law, and so do I in the words you cite; but vindicate the law in the very same sermon you mention, as consistent with, and subservient to Christ, in the former sense; and there tell you, 'The law sends us to Christ to be justified; and Christ sends us back to the law to be regulated. The very same double sense of the law you will find in this discourse; and from the mistaken end and abuse of the law, which the apostle so vehemently opposeth, I here prove against you, that the law in this sense cannot consist with, or be added to the promise; and therefore make it my medium to prove against you, that the true nature and denomination of the Sinai law, can never be found in this sense of it, but it must be estimated and denominated from the purpose and intention of God, which I have proved to be evangelical. Try your skill to fasten a contradiction betwixt my words in that sermon and this discourse.
I know you would be glad to find the shadow of one, to make some small excuse, or atonement for the many faults of that nature you have here committed.
(3.) Your letter also informs me, that yon hear you are answered by one hand already; and, for ought you know, many more may be employed against you, and I for one; and so we shall compass you about like bees.
Reply. I have only seen Mr. Whiston's little book against your brother Grantham, wherein he hath baffled two of your principal arguments; but you only come in collaterally there, and must not look upon it as a full answer to your book, but only as a lash for your folly, en passant. And for our compassing you about like bees, me-thinks you seem to be elated in your own fancy, by the supposition, or expectation, of a multitude of opponents. You know as well as I, who it is that glories in this motto, Unus contra omnes. Sir, I think your mind may be much at rest in that matter. Of all the six famous adversaries mentioned in your title page, there are but two living: and you know, Mortui non mordent; and of the remaining two, one of them, viz. Mr. Baxter, is almost in heaven, living in the daily views, and cheerful expectations of the saints everlasting rest with GOD; and is left for a little while among us, as a great example of the life of faith. And it is questionable with me, whether such a great and heavenly soul can find any leisure or disposition to attend such a weak and trivial discourse as this.
And as for myself, you need not much fear me; I have not, neither do I intend to vibrate my sting against you, unless I find you infecting or disturbing that hive to which I belong, and to which I am daily gathering and carrying honey; and then who but a drone would not sting.
(4.) To conclude: in the close of your letter you fall into the former strain of love, assuring me, 'That the ancient friendship of so many years, shall continue on your part.'
Reply. All that I shall return to this, is only to relate a short story out of Plutarch, in the life of Alexander; where he tells us, That whilst he was warring in the Indies, one Taxiles an Indian king, came with his company to meet him; and saluting Alexander, said, "What need you and I to fight and war one upon another? If thou comest not to take away our water, and the necessaries of life from us, for which we must needs fight: As for other goods, if I am richer than thee, I am ready to give thee of mine; and if I have less, I will not think scorn to thank thee for thine." Alexander, highly pleased with his words, made him this reply; 'Thinkest thou, that this meeting of ours can be without fighting; No, no; thou hast won nothing by all thy fair words; for I will fight and contend with thee in honesty and courtesy, and thou shalt not exceed me in bounty and liberality.'
I say with Taxiles, I had never armed against you, had you not come to take away our water, and the necessaries of life; I mean, the covenant of God with Abraham, which contains the rich charter of the Gentile believers children, and make it an abolished Adam's covenant, and told us, that we must come up to the primitive purity in these things; that is, in renouncing it as a covenant of grace, and relinquishing infants baptism, as grounded thereon.
Sir, were my own father alive, I must and would oppose him, should he attempt what here you do. Infant-baptism, with you is not; singing of psalms, that plain and heavenly gospel ordinance, with you is not; and will you take away our Benjamin also? What! the covenant of God with Abraham and his children in their generations? All these things are against us. No, sir, we cannot part with that covenant, as an abolished Adam's covenant, nor will I give it up for all the friendship in the world.
And yet I will say with Alexander, I will contend with you in friendship and courtesy, even whilst I earnestly contend against you for the truths of GOD, which you have here opposed, and I have endeavoured to vindicate.
One word more before I part with you; I do assure you, and the whole world, that in this controversy with you, I have not, knowingly or advisedly, misrepresented your sense: If you shall say I did so in my second argument, from the words, page 179, I assure you, both myself, and others could understand you no otherwise than I did in the papers I sent you; and when you told me, you meant there was no pardon in either of those covenants, but that it plainly directed to Abraham's covenant, you will find, I have given you as fair a choice as you can desire, either to stand to your words in the first sense, wherein I understand them, or (which will be the same to me) to your own sense, in which you afterwards explained it to me. And whereas I blame you over and over in my epistle and conclusion, for putting the proper subjects of baptism amongst the highest things in religion; let the reader view your conclusion, and see, whether you do, or not. If you say, you speak of the covenant there, as well as of baptism, I allow that you do so; yet I hope it is equally as bad, nay, in deed and truth, a great aggravation of your fault, to make this article, viz. God's covenant with Abraham, Gen. 17 an abolished Adam's covenant, one of the highest concernments of a Christian, the baptism only of adult believers another. My consequences from your words, are just and regular, how surprising soever they seem to you.
If you think fit to rejoin to this my answer, I desire you will avoid, as much as you can, a tedious harangue of words, and speak strictly and regularly to my arguments, by limiting, distinguishing, or denying, as a disputant ought to do: If so, I promise you a reply; but if I find no such thing, it shall pass with me but for waste paper; nor will I waste time about it. The Lord give us unity in things necessary, liberty in things indifferent, and charity in all things!
Flavel, Works Vol 6