(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4, part 17)
Chapter 16. Paedobaptism. Its accordance with the institution of 
Christ, and the nature of the sign. 
    Divisions of this chapter, - I. Confirmation of the orthodox 
doctrine of paedobaptism, sec. 1-9. II. Refutation of the arguments 
which the Anabaptists urge against paedobaptism, sec. 10-30. III. 
Special objections of Servetus refuted, sec. 31, 32. 
1. Paedobaptism. The consideration of the question necessary and 
    useful. Paedobaptism of divine origin. 
2. This demonstrated from a consideration of the promises. These 
    explain the nature and validity of paedobaptism. 
3. Promises annexed to the symbol of water cannot be better seen 
    than in the institution of circumcision. 
4. The promise and thing figured in circumcision and baptism one and 
    the same. The only difference in the external ceremony. 
5. Hence the baptism of the children of Christian parents as 
    competent as the circumcision of Jewish children. An objection 
    founded on a stated day for circumcision refuted. 
6. An argument for paedobaptism founded on the covenant which God 
    made with Abraham. An objection disposed of. The grace of God 
    not diminished by the advent of Christ. 
7. Argument founded on Christ's invitation to children. Objection 
8. Objection, that no infants were baptised by the apostles. Answer. 
    Objection, that paedobaptism is a novelty. Answer. 
9. Twofold use and benefit of paedobaptism in respect, 1. Of 
    parents. 2. Of children baptised. 
10. Second part of the chapter, stating the arguments of 
    Anabaptists. Alleged dissimilitude between baptism and 
    circumcision. First answer. 
11. Second answer. The covenant in baptism and circumcision not 
12. Third answer. 
13. Infants, both Jewish and Christian, comprehended in the 
14. Objection considered. 
15. The Jews being comprehended in the covenant, no substantial 
    difference between baptism and circumcision. 
16. Another argument of the Anabaptists considered. 
17. Argument that children are not fit to understand baptism, and, 
    therefore, should not be baptised. 
18. Answer continued. 
19. Answer continued. 
20. Answer continued. 
21. Answer continued. 
22. Argument, that baptism being appointed for the remission of 
    sins, infants, not having sinned, ought not to be baptised. 
23. Argument against paedobaptism, founded on the practice of the 
    apostles. Answer. 
24. Answer continued. 
25. Argument founded on a saying of our Lord to Nicodemus. Answer. 
26. Error of those who adjudge all who die unbaptised to eternal 
27. Argument against paedobaptism, founded on the precept and 
    example of our Saviour, in requiring instruction to precede 
    baptism. Answer. 
28. Answer continued. 
29. Answer continued. 
30. Argument, that there is no stronger reason for giving baptism to 
    children than for giving them the Lord's Supper. Answer. 
31. Last part of the chapter; refuting the arguments of Servetus. 
32. Why Satan so violently assails paedobaptism. 
    1. But since in this age, certain frenzied spirits have raised, 
and even now continue to raise, great disturbance in the Church on 
account of paedobaptism, I cannot avoid here, by way of appendix, 
adding something to restrain their fury. Should any one think me 
more prolix than the subject is worthy let him reflect that in a 
matter of the greatest moment, so much is due to the peace and 
purity of the Church, that we should not fastidiously object to 
whatever may be conducive to both. I may add, that I will study so 
to arrange this discussion, that it will tend, in no small degree, 
still farther to illustrate the subject of baptism. The argument by 
which paedobaptism is assailed is, no doubt, specious, viz., that it 
is not founded on the institution of God, but was introduced merely 
by human presumption and depraved curiosity, and afterwards, by a 
foolish facility, rashly received in practice; whereas a sacrament 
has not a thread to hang upon, if it rest not on the sure foundation 
of the word of God. But what if, when the matter is properly 
attended to, it should be found that a calumny is falsely and 
unjustly brought against the holy ordinance of the Lord? First, 
then, let us inquire into its origin. Should it appear to have been 
devised merely by human rashness, let us abandon it, and regulate 
the true observance of baptism entirely by the will of the Lord; but 
should it be proved to be by no means destitute of his sure 
authority, let us beware of discarding the sacred institutions of 
God, and thereby insulting their Author. 
    2. In the first place, then, it is a well-known doctrine, and 
one as to which all the pious are agreed, - that the right 
consideration of signs does not lie merely in the outward ceremonies 
but depends chiefly on the promise and the spiritual mysteries, to 
typify which, the ceremonies themselves are appointed. He, 
therefore, who would thoroughly understand the effect of baptism - 
its object and true character - must not stop short at the element 
and corporeal object, but look forward to the divine promises which 
are therein offered to us, and rise to the internal secrets which 
are therein represented. He who understands these has reached the 
solid truth, and, so to speak, the whole substance of baptism, and 
will thence perceive the nature and use of outward sprinkling. On 
the other hand, he who passes them by in contempt, and keeps his 
thoughts entirely fixed on the visible ceremony, will neither 
understand the force, nor the proper nature of baptism, nor 
comprehend what is meant, or what end is gained by the use of water. 
This is confirmed by passages of Scripture too numerous and too 
clear to make it necessary here to discuss them more at length. It 
remains, therefore, to inquire into the nature and efficacy of 
baptism, as evinced by the promises therein given. Scripture shows, 
first, that it points to that cleansing from sin which we obtain by 
the blood of Christ; and, secondly, to the mortification of the 
flesh, which consists in participation in his death, by which 
believers are regenerated to newness of life, and thereby to the 
fellowship of Christ. To these general heads may be referred all 
that the Scriptures teach concerning baptism, with this addition, 
that it is also a symbol to testify our religion to men. 
    3. Now, since prior to the institution of baptism, the people 
of God had circumcision in its stead, let us see how far these two 
signs differ, and how far they resemble each other. In this way it 
will appear what analogy there is between them. When the Lord 
enjoins Abraham to observe circumcision, (Gen. 17: 10,) he premises 
that he would be a God unto him and to his seed, adding, that in 
himself was a perfect sufficiency of all things, and that Abraham 
might reckon on his hand as a fountain of every blessing. These 
words include the promise of eternal life, as our Saviour interprets 
when he employs it to prove the immortality and resurrection of 
believers: "God," says he, "is not the God of the dead, but of the 
living," (Matth. 22: 32.) Hence, too, Paul, when showing to the 
Ephesians how great the destruction was from which the Lord had 
delivered them, seeing that they had not been admitted to the 
covenant of circumcision, infers that at that time they were aliens 
from the covenant of promise, without God, and without hope, (Eph. 
2: 12,) all these being comprehended in the covenant. Now, the first 
access to God, the first entrance to immortal life, is the remission 
of sins. Hence it follows, that this corresponds to the promise of 
our cleansing in baptism. The Lord afterwards covenants with 
Abraham, that he is to walk before him in sincerity and innocence of 
heart: this applies to mortification or regeneration. And lest any 
should doubt whether circumcision were the sign of mortification, 
Moses explains more clearly elsewhere when he exhorts the people of 
Israel to circumcise the foreskin of their heart, because the Lord 
had chosen them for his own people, out of all the nations of the 
earth. As the Lord, in choosing the posterity of Abraham for his 
people, commands them to be circumcised, so Moses declares that they 
are to be circumcised in heart, thus explaining what is typified by 
that carnal circumcision. Then, lest any one should attempt this in 
his own strength, he shows that it is the work of divine grace. All 
this is so often inculcated by the prophets, that there is no 
occasion here to collect the passages which everywhere occur. We 
have, therefore, a spiritual promise given to the fathers in 
circumcision, similar to that which is given to us in baptism, since 
it figured to them both the forgiveness of sins and the 
mortification of the flesh. Besides, as we have shown that Christ, 
in whom both of these reside, is the foundation of baptism, so must 
he also be the foundation of circumcision. For he is promised to 
Abraham, and in him all nations are blessed. To seal this grace, the 
sign of circumcision is added. 
    4. There is now no difficulty in seeing wherein the two signs 
agree, and wherein they differ. The promise, in which we have shown 
that the power of the signs consists, is one in both, viz., the 
promise of the paternal favour of God, of forgiveness of sins, and 
eternal life. And the thing figured is one and the same, viz., 
regeneration. The foundation on which the completion of these things 
depends is one in both. Wherefore, there is no difference in the 
internal meaning, from which the whole power and peculiar nature of 
the sacrament is to be estimated. The only difference which remains 
is in the external ceremony, which is the least part of it, the 
chief part consisting in the promise and the thing signified. Hence 
we may conclude, that every thing applicable to circumcision applies 
also to baptism, excepting always the difference in the visible 
ceremony. To this analogy and comparison we are led by that rule of 
the apostle, in which he enjoins us to bring every interpretation of 
Scripture to the analogy of faith, (Rom. 12: 3, 6.) And certainly in 
this matter the truth may almost be felt. For just as circumcision, 
which was a kind of badge to the Jews, assuring them that they were 
adopted as the people and family of God, was their first entrance 
into the Church, while they, in their turn, professed their 
allegiance to God, so now we are initiated by baptism, so as to be 
enrolled among his people, and at the same time swear unto his name. 
Hence it is incontrovertible, that baptism has been substituted for 
circumcision, and performs the same office. 
    5. Now, if we are to investigate whether or not baptism is 
justly given to infants, will we not say that the man trifles, or 
rather is delirious, who would stop short at the element of water, 
and the external observance, and not allow his mind to rise to the 
spiritual mystery? If reason is listened to, it will undoubtedly 
appear that baptism is properly administered to infants as a thing 
due to them. The Lord did not anciently bestow circumcision upon 
them without making them partakers of all the things signified by 
circumcision. He would have deluded his people with mere imposture, 
had he quieted them with fallacious symbols: the very idea is 
shocking. I is distinctly declares, that the circumcision of the 
infant will be instead of a seal of the promise of the covenant. But 
if the covenant remains firm and fixed, it is no less applicable to 
the children of Christians in the present day, than to the children 
of the Jews under the Old Testament. Now, if they are partakers of 
the thing signified, how can they be denied the sign? If they obtain 
the reality, how can they be refused the figure? The external sign 
is so united in the sacrament with the word, that it cannot be 
separated from it; but if they can be separated, to which of the two 
shall we attach the greater value? Surely, when we see that the sign 
is subservient to the word, we shall say that it is subordinate, and 
assign it the inferior place. Since, then, the word of baptism is 
destined for infants why should we deny them the signs which is an 
appendage of the word? This one reason, could no other be furnished, 
would be amply sufficient to refute all gainsayers. The objection, 
that there was a fixed day for circumcision, is a mere quibble. We 
admit that we are not now, like the Jews, tied down to certain days; 
but when the Lord declares that though he prescribes no day, yet he 
is pleased that infants shall be formally admitted to his covenant, 
what more do we ask? 
    6. Scripture gives us a still clearer knowledge of the truth. 
For it is most evident that the covenant, which the Lord once made 
with Abraham, is not less applicable to Christians now than it was 
anciently to the Jewish people, and, therefore, that word has no 
less reference to Christians than to Jews. Unless, indeed, we 
imagine that Christ, by his advent, diminished or curtailed the 
grace of the Father - an idea not free from execrable blasphemy. 
Wherefore, both the children of the Jews, because, when made heirs 
of that covenant, they were separated from the heathen, were called 
a holy seed, and for the same reason the children of Christians, or 
those who have only one believing parent, are called holy, and, by 
the testimony of the apostle, differ from the impure seed of 
idolaters. Then, since the Lord, immediately after the covenant was 
made with Abraham ordered it to be sealed, infants by an outward 
sacrament, how can it be said that Christians are not to attest it 
in the present day, and seal it in their children? Let it not be 
objected that the only symbol by which the Lord ordered his covenant 
to be confirmed was that of circumcision, which was long ago 
abrogated. It is easy to answer, that in accordance with the form of 
the old dispensation, he appointed circumcision to confirm his 
covenant, but that it being abrogated, the same reason for 
confirmation still continues, a reason which we have in common with 
the Jews. Hence it is always necessary carefully to consider what is 
common to both, and wherein they differed from us. The covenant is 
common, and the reason for confirming it is common. The mode of 
confirming it is so far different that they had circumcision, 
instead of which we now have baptism. Otherwise, if the testimony by 
which the Jews were assured of the salvation of their seed is taken 
from us, the consequence will be, that, by the advent of Christ, the 
grace of God, which was formerly given to the Jews, is more obscure 
and less perfectly attested to us. If this cannot be said without 
extreme insult to Christ, by whom the infinite goodness of the 
Father has been more brightly and benignly than ever shed upon the 
earth, and declared to men, it must be confessed that it cannot be 
more confined, and less clearly manifested, than under the obscure 
shadows of the law. 
    7. Hence our Lord Jesus Christ, to give an example from which 
the world might learn that he had come to enlarge rather than to 
limit the grace of the Father, kindly takes the little children in 
his arms, and rebukes his disciples for attempting to prevent them 
from coming, (Matth. 19: 13,) because they were keeping those to 
whom the kingdom of heaven belonged away from him, through whom 
alone there is access to heaven. But it will be asked, What 
resemblance is there between baptism and our Saviour embracing 
little children? He is not said to have baptised, but to have 
received, embraced, and blessed them; and, therefore, if we would 
imitate his example, we must give infants the benefit of our 
prayers, not baptise them. But let us attend to the act of our 
Saviour a little more carefully than these men do. For we must not 
lightly overlook the fact, that our Saviour, in ordering little 
children to be brought to him, adds the reason, "of such is the 
kingdom of heaven." And he afterwards testifies his good will by 
act, when he embraces them, and with prayer and benediction commends 
them to his Father. If it is right that children should be brought 
to Christ, why should they not be admitted to baptism, the symbol of 
our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the kingdom of heaven 
is theirs, why should they be denied the sign by which access, as it 
were, is opened to the Church, that being admitted into it they may 
be enrolled among the heirs of the heavenly kingdom? How unjust were 
we to drive away those whom Christ invites to himself, to spoil 
those whom he adorns with his gifts, to exclude those whom he 
spontaneously admits. But if we insist on discussing the difference 
between our Saviour's act and baptism, in how much higher esteem 
shall we hold baptism, (by which we testify that infants are 
included in the divine covenant,) than the taking up, embracing, 
laying hands on children, and praying over them, acts by which 
Christ, when present, declares both that they are his, and are 
sanctified by him? By the other cavils by which the objectors 
endeavour to evade this passage, they only betray their ignorance: 
they quibble that, because our Saviour says, "Suffer little children 
to come," they must have been several years old, and fit to come. 
But they are called by the Evangelists "brethe kai paidia", terms 
which denote infants still at their mothers' breasts. The term 
"come" is used simply for "approach." See the quibbles to which men 
are obliged to have recourse when they have hardened themselves 
against the truth! There is nothing more solid in their allegation, 
that the kingdom of heaven is not assigned to children, but to those 
like children, since the expression is, "of such," not "of 
themselves." If this is admitted, what will be the reason which our 
Saviour employs to show that they are not strangers to him from 
nonage? When he orders that little children shall be allowed to come 
to him, nothing is plainer than that mere infancy is meant. Lest 
this should seem absurd, he adds, "Of such is the kingdom of 
heaven." But if infants must necessarily be comprehended the 
expression, "of such," clearly shows that infants themselves, and 
those like them, are intended. 
    8. Every one must now see that paedobaptism, which receives 
such strong support from Scripture, is by no means of human 
invention. Nor is there anything plausible in the objection, that we 
no where read of even one infant having been baptised by the hands 
of the apostles. For although this is not expressly narrated by the 
Evangelists, yet as they are not expressly excluded when mention is 
made of any baptised family, (Acts 16: 15, 32,) what man of sense 
will argue from this that they were not baptised? If such kinds of 
argument were good, it would be necessary, in like manner, to 
interdict women from the Lord's Supper, since we do not read that 
they were ever admitted to it in the days of the apostles. But here 
we are contented with the rule of faith. For when we reflect on the 
nature of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, we easily judge who 
the persons are to whom the use of it is to be communicated. The 
same we observe in the case of baptism. For, attending to the end 
for which it was instituted, we clearly perceive that it is not less 
applicable to children than to those of more advanced years and that 
therefore, they cannot be deprived of it without manifest fraud to 
the will of its divine Author. The assertion which they disseminate 
among the common people, that a long series of years elapsed after 
the resurrection at Christ, during which paedobaptism was unknown, 
is a shameful falsehood, since there is no writer, however ancient, 
who does not trace its origin to the days of the apostles. 
    9. It remains briefly to indicate what benefit redounds from 
the observance, both to believers who bring their children to the 
church to be baptised, and to the infants themselves, to whom the 
sacred water is applied, that no one may despise the ordinance as 
useless or superfluous: though any one who would think of ridiculing 
baptism under this pretence, would also ridicule the divine 
ordinance of circumcision: for what can they adduce to impugn the 
one, that may not be retorted against the other? Thus the Lord 
punishes the arrogance of those who forthwith condemn whatever their 
carnal sense cannot comprehend. But God furnishes us with other 
weapons to repress their stupidity. His holy institution, from which 
we feel that our faith derives admirable consolation, deserves not 
to be called superfluous. For the divine symbol communicated to the 
child, as with the impress of a seal, confirms the promise given to 
the godly parent, and declares that the Lord will be a God not to 
him only but to his seed: not merely visiting him with his grace and 
goodness, but his posterity also to the thousandth generation. When 
the infinite goodness of God is thus displayed, it, in the first 
place, furnishes most ample materials for proclaiming his glory, and 
fills pious breasts with no ordinary joy, urging them more strongly 
to love their affectionate Parent, when they see that, on their 
account, he extends his care to their posterity. I am not moved by 
the objection, that the promise ought to be sufficient to confirm 
the salvation of our children. It has seemed otherwise to God, who, 
seeing our weakness, has herein been pleased to condescend to it. 
Let those, then, who embrace the promise of mercy to their children, 
consider it as their duty to offer them to the Church, to be sealed 
with the symbol of mercy, and animate themselves to surer 
confidence, on seeing with the bodily eye the covenant of the Lord 
engraven on the bodies of their children. On the other hand, 
children derive some benefit from their baptism, when, being 
ingrafted into the body of the church, they are made an object of 
greater interest to the other members. Then when they have grown up, 
they are thereby strongly urged to an earnest desire of serving God, 
who has received them as sons by the formal symbol of adoption, 
before, from nonage, they were able to recognise him as their 
Father. In fine, we ought to stand greatly in awe of the 
denunciations that God will take vengeance on every one who despises 
to impress the symbol of the covenant on his child, (Gen. 17: 15,) 
such contempt being a rejection, and, as it were, abjuration of the 
offered grace. 
    10. Let us now discuss the arguments by which some furious 
madmen cease not to assail this holy ordinance of God. And, first, 
feeling themselves pressed beyond measure by the resemblance between 
baptism and circumcision, they contend that there is a wide 
difference between the two signs, that the one has nothing in common 
with the other. They maintain that the things meant are different, 
that the covenant is altogether different, and that the persons 
included under the name of children are different. When they first 
proceed to the proof, they pretend that circumcision was a figure of 
mortification, not of baptism. This we willingly concede to them, 
for it admirably supports our view, in support of which the only 
proof we use is, that baptism and circumcision are signs of 
mortification. Hence we conclude that the one was substituted for 
the other, baptism representing to us the very thing which 
circumcision signified to the Jews. In asserting a difference of 
covenant, with what barbarian audacity do they corrupt and destroy 
scripture? and that not in one passage only, but so as not to leave 
any passage safe and entire. The Jews they depict as so carnal as to 
resemble brutes more than men, representing the covenant which was 
made with them as reaching no farther than a temporary life, and the 
promises which were given to them as dwindling down into present and 
corporeal blessings. If this dogma is received, what remains but 
that the Jewish nation was overloaded for a time with divine 
kindness, (just as swine are gorged in their stye,) that they might 
at last perish eternally? Whenever we quote circumcision and the 
promises annexed to it, they answer, that circumcision was a literal 
sign, and that its promises were carnal. 
    11. Certainly, if circumcision was a literal sign, the same 
view must be taken of baptism, since, in the second chapter to the 
Colossians, the apostle makes the one to be not a whit more 
spiritual than the other. For he says that in Christ we "are 
circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off 
the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ." 
In explanation of his sentiment he immediately adds, that we are 
"buried with him in baptism." What do these words mean, but just 
that the truth and completion of baptism is the truth and completion 
of circumcision, since they represent one thing? For his object is 
to show that baptism is the same thing to Christians that 
circumcision formerly was to the Jews. Now, since we have already 
clearly shown that the promises of both signs, and the mysteries 
which are represented by them, agree, we shall not dwell on the 
point longer at present. I would only remind believers to reflect, 
without anything being said by me, whether that is to be regarded as 
an earthly and literal sign, which has nothing heavenly or spiritual 
under it. But lest they should blind the simple with their smoke, we 
shall, in passing, dispose of one objection by which they cloak this 
most impudent falsehood. It is absolutely certain that the original 
promises comprehending the covenant which God made with the 
Israelites under the old dispensation were spiritual, and had 
reference to eternal life, and were, of course, in like manner 
spiritually received by the fathers, that they might thence 
entertain a sure hope of immortality, and aspire to it with their 
whole soul. Meanwhile, we are far from denying that he testified his 
kindness to them by carnal and earthly blessings; though we hold 
that by these the hope of spiritual promises was confirmed. In this 
manner, when he promised eternal blessedness to his servant Abraham, 
he, in order to place a manifest indication of favour before his 
eye, added the promise of possession of the land of Canaan. In the 
same way we should understand all the terrestrial promises which 
were given to the Jewish nation, the spiritual promise, as the head 
to which the others bore reference, always holding the first place. 
Having handled this subject fully when treating of the difference 
between the old and the hew dispensations, I now only glance at it. 
    12. Under the appellation of "children" the difference they 
observe is this that the children of Abraham, under the old 
dispensation, were those who derived their origin from his seed, but 
that the appellation is now given to those who imitate his faith, 
and therefore that carnal infancy, which was ingrafted into the 
fellowship of the covenant by circumcision, typified the spiritual 
children of the new covenant, who are regenerated by the word of God 
to immortal life. In these words we indeed discover a small spark of 
truth, but these giddy spirits err grievously in this, that laying 
hold of whatever comes first to their hand, when they ought to 
proceed farther and compare many things together; they obstinately 
fasten upon one single word. Hence it cannot but happen that they 
are every now and then deluded, because they do not exert themselves 
to obtain a full knowledge of any subject. We certainly admit that 
the carnal seed of Abraham for a time held the place of the 
spiritual seed, which is ingrafted into him by faith, (Gal. 4: 28; 
Rom. 4: 12.) For we are called his sons, though we have no natural 
relationship with him. But if they mean, as they not obscurely show, 
that the spiritual promise was never made to the carnal seed of 
Abraham, they are greatly mistaken. We must, therefore, take a 
better aim, one to which we are directed by the infallible guidance 
of Scripture. The Lord therefore promises to Abraham that he shall 
have a seed in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, 
and at the same time assures him that he will be a God both to him 
and his seed. All who in faith receive Christ as the author of the 
blessing are the heirs of this promise, and accordingly are called 
the children of Abraham. 
    13. Although, after the resurrection of Christ, the boundaries 
of the kingdom of God began to be extended far and wide into all 
nations indiscriminately, so that, according to the declaration of 
Christ, believers were collected from all quarters to sit down with 
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven, (Matth. 8: 11,) 
still, for many ages before, the Jews had enjoyed this great mercy. 
And as he had selected them (while passing by all other nations) to 
be for a time the depositaries of his favour, he designated them as 
his peculiar purchased people, (Exod. 19: 5.) In attestation of this 
kindness, he appointed circumcision, by which symbol the Jews were 
taught that God watched over their safety, and they were thereby 
raised to the hope of eternal life. For what can ever be wanting to 
him whom God has once taken under his protection? Wherefore the 
apostle, to prove that the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, were the 
children of Abraham, speaks in this way: "Faith was reckoned to 
Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in 
circumcisions or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in 
uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of 
the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: 
that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be 
not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also: 
and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the 
circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of 
our father Abraham, which he had yet being uncircumcised," (Rom. 4: 
9-12.) Do we not see that both are made equal in dignity? For, to 
the time appointed by the divine decree, he was the father of 
circumcision. But when, as the apostle elsewhere writes, (Eph. 2: 
14,) the wall of partition, which separated the Gentiles from the 
Jews was broken down, to them, also, access was given to the kingdom 
of God, and he became their fathers and that without the sign of 
circumcisions, its place being supplied by baptism. In saying 
expressly that Abraham was not the feather of those who were of the 
circumcision only, his object was to repress the superciliousness of 
some who, laying aside all regard to godliness, plumed themselves on 
mere ceremonies. In like manner, we may, in the present day, refute 
the vanity of those who, in baptism, seek nothing but water. 
    14. But in opposition to this is produced a passage from the 
Epistle to the Romans, in which the apostle says, that those who are 
of the flesh are not the children of Abraham, but that those only 
who are the children of promise are considered as the seed, (Rom. 9: 
7.) For he seems to insinuate, that carnal relationship to Abraham, 
which we think of some consequence, is nothing. But we must attend 
carefully to the subject which the apostle is there treating. His 
object being to show to the Jews that the goodness of God was not 
restricted to the seed of Abraham, nay, that of itself it 
contributes nothing, produces, in proof of the fact, the cases of 
Ishmael and Esau. These being rejected, just as if they had been 
strangers, although, according to the flesh, they were the genuine 
offspring of Abraham, the blessing resides in Isaac and Jacob. This 
proves what he afterwards affirms, viz., that salvation depends on 
the mercy which God bestows on whomsoever he pleases, but that the 
Jews have no ground to glory or plume themselves on the name of the 
covenant, unless they keep the law of the covenant, that is, obey 
the word. On the other hand, after casting down their vain 
confidence in their origin, because he was aware that the covenant 
which had been made with the posterity of Abraham could not properly 
prove fruitless, he declares, that due honour should still be paid 
to carnal relationship to Abraham, in consequence of which, the Jews 
were the primary and native heirs of the gospel, unless in so far as 
they were, for their ingratitude, rejected as unworthy, and yet 
rejected so as not to leave their nations utterly destitute of the 
heavenly blessing. For this reason, though they were contumacious 
breakers of the covenant, he styles them holy, (such respect does he 
pay to the holy generation which God had honoured with his sacred 
covenant,) while we, in comparison of them, are termed posthumous, 
or abortive children of Abraham and that not by nature, but by 
adoption, just as if a twig were broken from its own tree, and 
ingrafted on another stock. Therefore, that they might not be 
defrauded of their privilege, it was necessary that the gospel 
should first be preached to them. For they are, as it were, the 
first-born in the family of God. The honour due, on this account, 
must therefore be paid them, until they have rejected the offer, 
And, by their ingratitude, caused it to be transferred to the 
Gentiles. Nor, however great the contumacy with which they persist 
in warring against the gospel, are we therefore to despise them. We 
must consider, that in respect of the promise, the blessing of God 
still resides among them; And, as the apostle testifies, will never 
entirely depart from them, seeing that "the gifts and calling of God 
are without repentance," (Rom. 11:29.) 
    15. Such is the value of the promise given to the posterity of 
Abraham, - such the balance in which it is to be weighed. Hence 
though we have no doubt that in distinguishing the children of God 
from bastards and foreigners, that the election of God reigns 
freely, we, at the same time, perceive that he was pleased specially 
to embrace the seed of Abraham with his mercy, and, for the better 
attestation of it, to seal it by circumcision. The case of the 
Christian Church is entirely of the same description; for as Paul 
there declares that the Jews are sanctified by their parents, so he 
elsewhere say s that the children of Christians derive 
sanctification from their parents. Hence it is inferred that those 
who are chargeable with impurity are justly separated from others. 
Now who can have any doubt as to the falsehood of their subsequent 
averments viz., that the infants who were formerly circumcised only 
typified the spiritual infancy which is produced by the regeneration 
of the word of God? When the apostle says, that "Jesus Christ was a 
minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the 
promises made unto the fathers," (Rom. 15: 8,) he does not 
philosophise subtilely, as if he had said, Since the covenant made 
with Abraham has respect unto his seed, Christ, in order to perform 
and discharge the promise made by the Father, came for the salvation 
of the Jewish nation. Do you see how he considers that, after the 
resurrection of Christ, the promise is to be fulfilled to the seed 
of Abraham, not allegorically, but literally, as the words express? 
To the same effect is the declaration of Peter to the Jews: "The 
promise is unto you and to your children," (Acts 2: 39;) and in the 
next chapters he calls them the children of the covenant, that is, 
heirs. Not widely different from this is the other passage of the 
apostle, above quoted, in which he regards and describes 
circumcision performed on infants as an attestation to the communion 
which they have with Christ. And, indeed, if we listen to the 
absurdities of those men, what will become of the promise by which 
the Lord, in the second commandment of his law, engages to be 
gracious to the seed of his servants for a thousand generations? 
Shall we here have recourse to allegory? This were the merest 
nibble. Shall we say that it has been abrogated? In this way, we 
should do away with the law which Christ came not to destroy, but to 
fulfil, inasmuch as it turns to our everlasting good. Therefore, let 
it be without controversy, that God is so good and liberal to his 
people, that he is pleased, as a mark of his favour, to extend their 
privileges to the children born to them. 
    16. The distinctions which these men attempt to draw between 
baptism and circumcision are not only ridiculous, and void of all 
semblance of reason, but at variance with each other. For, when they 
affirm that baptism refers to the first day of spiritual contest, 
and circumcision to the eighth day, mortification being already 
accomplished they immediately forget the distinction, and change 
their song, representing circumcision as typifying the mortification 
of the flesh, and baptism as the burial, which is given to none but 
those who are already dead. What are these giddy contradictions but 
frenzied dreams? According to the former view, baptism ought to 
precede circumcision; according to the latter, it should come after 
it. It is not the first time we have seen the minds of men wander to 
and fro when they substitute their dreams for the infallible word of 
God. We hold, therefore, that their former distinction is a mere 
imagination. Were we disposed to make the allegory of the eighth 
day, theirs would not be the proper mode of it. It were much better 
with the early Christians to refer the number eight to the 
resurrection, which took place on the eighth day, and on which we 
know that newness of life depends, or to the whole course of the 
present life, during which, mortification ought to be in progress, 
only terminating when life itself terminates; although it would seem 
that God intended to provide for the tenderness of infancy by 
deferring circumcision to the eighth day, as the wound would have 
been more dangerous if inflicted immediately after birth. How much 
more rational is the declaration of Scripture, that we, when already 
dead, are buried by baptism, (Rom. 6: 4;) since it distinctly 
states, that we are buried into death that we may thoroughly die, 
and thenceforth aim at that mortification? Equally ingenious is 
their cavil, that women should not be baptised if baptism is to be 
made conformable to circumcision. For if it is most certain that the 
sanctification of the seed of Israel was attested by the sign of 
circumcision, it cannot be doubted that it was appointed alike for 
the sanctification of males and females. But though the rite could 
only be performed on males, yet the females were, through them, 
partners and associates in circumcision. Wherefore, disregarding all 
such quibbling distinctions, let us fix on the very complete 
resemblance between baptism and circumcision, as seen in the 
internal office, the promise, the use, and the effect. 
    17. They seem to think they produce their strongest reason for 
denying baptism to children, when they allege, that they are as yet 
unfit, from nonage, to understand the mystery which is there sealed, 
viz., spiritual regeneration, which is not applicable to earliest 
infancy. Hence they infer, that children are only to be regarded as 
sons of Adam until they have attained an age fit for the reception 
of the second birth. But all this is directly opposed to the truth 
of God. For if they are to be accounted sons of Adam, they are left 
in death, since, in Adam, we can do nothing but die. On the 
contrary, Christ bids them be brought to him. Why so? Because he is 
life. Therefore, that he may quicken them, he makes them partners 
with himself; whereas these men would drive them away from Christ, 
and adjudge them to death. For if they pretend that infants do not 
perish when they are accounted the sons of Adam, the error is more 
than sufficiently confuted by the testimony of Scripture, (1 Cor. 
15: 22.) For, seeing it declares that in Adam all die, it follows, 
that no hope of life remains unless in Christ. Therefore that we may 
become heirs of life, we must communicate with him. Again, seeing it 
is elsewhere written that we are all by nature the children of 
wrath, (Eph. 2: 3,) and conceived in sin, (Ps. 51: 5,) of which 
condemnation is the inseparable attendant, we must part with our own 
nature before we have any access to the kingdom of God. And what can 
be clearer than the expression, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the 
kingdom of God?" (1 Cor. 15: 50.) Therefore, let every thing that is 
our own be abolished, (this cannot be without regeneration,) and 
then we shall perceive this possession of the kingdom. In fine, if 
Christ speaks truly when he declares that he is life, we must 
necessarily be ingrafted into him by whom we are delivered from the 
bondage of death. But how, they ask, are infants regenerated, when 
not possessing a knowledge of either good or evil? We answer, that 
the work of God, though beyond the reach of our capacity, is not 
therefore null. Moreover, infants who are to be saved (and that some 
are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be 
previously regenerated by the Lord. For if they bring innate 
corruption with them from their mother's womb, they must be purified 
before they can be admitted into the kingdom of God, into which 
shall not enter any thing that defileth, (Rev. 21: 27.) If they are 
born sinners, as David and Paul affirm, they must either remain 
unaccepted and hated by God, or be justified. And why do we ask 
more, when the Judge himself publicly declares, that "except a man 
be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God?" (John 3: 3.) But 
to silence this class of objectors, God gave, in the case of John 
the Baptist, whom he sanctified from his mother's womb, (Luke 1: 
15,) a proof of what he might do in others. They gain nothing by the 
quibble to which they here resort, viz., that this was only once 
done, and, therefore, it does not forthwith follow that the Lord 
always acts thus with infants. That is not the mode in which we 
reason. Our only object is to show, that they unjustly and 
malignantly confine the power of God within limits, within which it 
cannot be confined. As little weight is due to another subterfuge. 
They allege that, by the usual phraseology of Scriptures "from the 
womb," has the same meaning as "from childhood." But it is easy to 
see that the angel had a different meaning when he announced to 
Zacharias that the child not yet born would be filled with the Holy 
Spirit. Instead of attempting to give a law to God, let us hold that 
he sanctifies whom he pleases in the way in which he sanctified 
John, seeing that his power is not impaired. 
    18. And, indeed, Christ was sanctified from earliest infancy, 
that he might sanctify his elect in himself at any age, without 
distinction. For as he, in order to wipe away the guilt of 
disobedience which had been committed in our flesh, assumed that 
very flesh, that in it he might, on our account, and in our stead, 
perform a perfect obedience, so he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, 
that, completely pervaded with his holiness in the flesh which he 
had assumed he might transfuse it into us. If in Christ we have a 
perfect pattern of all the grace, which God bestows on all his 
children, in this instance we have a proof that the age of infancy 
is not incapable of receiving sanctification. This, at least, we set 
down as incontrovertible, that none of the elect is called away from 
the present life without being previously sanctified and regenerated 
by the Spirit of God. As to their objection that, in Scriptures the 
Spirit acknowledges no sanctification save that from incorruptible 
seed, that is, the word of God, they erroneously interpret Peter's 
words, in which he comprehends only believers who had been taught by 
the preaching of the gospel, (1 Pet. 1: 23.) We confess, indeed, 
that the word of the Lord is the only seed of spiritual 
regeneration; but we deny the inference that, therefore, the power 
of God cannot regenerate infants. This is as possible and easy for 
him as it is wondrous and incomprehensible to us. It were dangerous 
to deny that the Lord is able to furnish them with the knowledge of 
himself in any way he pleases. 
    19. But faith, they says comes by hearing, the use of which 
infants have not yet obtained, nor can they be fit to know God, 
being, as Moses declares, without the knowledge of good and evil, 
(Deut. 1: 39.) But they observe not that where the apostle makes 
hearing the beginning of faith, he is only describing the usual 
economy and dispensation which the Lord is wont to employ in calling 
his people, and not laying down an invariable rule, for which no 
other method can be substituted. Many he certainly has called and 
endued with the true knowledge of himself by internal means, by the 
illumination of the Spirit, without the intervention of preaching. 
But since they deem it very absurd to attribute any knowledge of God 
to infants, whom Moses makes void of the knowledge of good and evil, 
let them tell me where the danger lies if they are said now to 
receive some part of that grace, of which they are to have the full 
measure shortly after. For if fulness of life consists in the 
perfect knowledge of God, since some of those whom death hurries 
away in the first moments of infancy pass into life eternal, they 
are certainly admitted to behold the immediate presence of God. 
Those therefore whom the Lord is to illumine with the full 
brightness of his light, why may he not, if he so pleases, irradiate 
at present with some small beam, especially if he does not remove 
their ignorance before he delivers them from the prison of the 
flesh? I would not rashly affirm that they are endued with the same 
faith which we experience in ourselves or have any knowledge at all 
resembling faith, (this I would rather leave undecided;) but I would 
somewhat curb the stolid arrogance of those men who, as with 
inflated cheeks affirm or deny whatever suits them. 
    20. In order to gain a stronger footing here, they add, that 
baptism is a sacrament of penitence and faith, and as neither of 
these is applicable to tender infancy we must beware of rendering 
its meaning empty and vain, by admitting infants to the communion of 
baptism. But these darts are directed more against God than against 
us; since the fact that circumcision was a sign of repentance is 
completely established by many passages of Scripture, (Jer. 4: 4.) 
Thus Paul terms it a seal of the righteousness of faiths (Rom. 4: 
11.) Let God, then, be demanded why he ordered circumcision to be 
performed on the bodies of infants? For baptism and circumcision 
being here in the same case, they cannot give any thing to the 
latter without conceding it to the former. If they recur to their 
usual evasion, that, by the age of infancy, spiritual infants were 
then figured, we have already closed this means of escape against 
them. We say then that since God imparted circumcision, the sign of 
repentance and faith, to infants, it should not seem absurd that 
they are now made partakers of baptisms unless men choose to glamour 
against an institution of God. But as in all his acts, so here also 
enough of wisdom and righteousness shines forth to repress the 
slanders of the ungodly. For although infants, at the moment when 
they were circumcised, did not comprehend what the sign meant, still 
they were truly circumcised for the mortification of their corrupt 
and polluted nature, - a mortification at which they afterwards 
aspired when adults. In fine, the objection is easily disposed of by 
the fact, that children are baptised for future repentance and 
faith. Though these are not yet formed in them, yet the seed of both 
lies hid in them by the secret operation of the Spirit. This answer 
at once overthrows all the objections which are twisted against us 
out of the meaning of baptism; for instance, the title by which Paul 
distinguishes it when he terms it the "washing of regeneration and 
renewing," (Tit. 3: 5.) Hence they argue, that it is not to be given 
to any but to those who are capable of such feelings. But we, on the 
other hand, may object, that neither ought circumcision, which is 
designated regeneration, to be conferred on any but the regenerate. 
In this way, we shall condemn a divine institution. Thus, as we have 
already hinted, all the arguments which tend to shake circumcision 
are of no force in assailing baptism. Nor can they escape by saying, 
that everything which rests on the authority of God is absolutely 
fixed, though there should be no reason for it, but that this 
reverence is not due to paedobaptism, nor other similar things which 
are not recommended to us by the express word of God. They always 
remain caught in this dilemma. The command of God to circumcise 
infants was either legitimate and exempt from cavil, or deserved 
reprehension. If there was nothing incompetent or absurd in it, no 
absurdity can be shown in the observance of paedobaptism. 
    21. The charge of absurdity with which they attempt to 
stigmatise it, we thus dispose of. If those on whom the Lord has 
bestowed his election, after receiving the sign of regeneration, 
depart this life before they become adults, he, by the 
incomprehensible energy of his Spirit, renews them in the way which 
he alone sees to be expedient. Should they reach an age when they 
can be instructed in the meaning of baptism, they will thereby be 
animated to greater zeal for renovation, the badge of which they 
will learn that they received in earliest infancy, in order that 
they might aspire to it during their whole lives. To the same effect 
are the two passages in which Paul teaches, that we are buried with 
Christ by baptism, (Rom. 6: 4; Col. 2: 12.) For by this he means not 
that he who is to be initiated by baptism must have previously been 
buried with Christ, he simply declares the doctrine which is taught 
by baptism, and that to those already baptised: so that the most 
senseless cannot maintain from this passage that it ought to precede 
baptism. In this way, Moses and the prophets reminded the people of 
the thing meant by circumcision, which however infants received. To 
the same effect, Paul says to the Galatians, "As many of you as have 
been baptised into Christ have put on Christ," (Gal. 3: 27.) Why so? 
That they might thereafter live to Christ, to whom previously they 
had not lived. And though, in adults, the receiving of the sign 
ought to follow the understanding of its meaning, yet, as will 
shortly be explained, a different rule must be followed with 
children. No other conclusion can be drawn from a passage in Peter, 
on which they strongly found. He says, that baptism is "not the 
putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good 
conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ," (1 Pet. 
3: 21.) From this they contend that nothing is left for 
paedobaptism, which becomes mere empty smoke, as being altogether at 
variance with the meaning of baptism. But the delusion which 
misleads them is, that they would always have the thing to precede 
the sign in the order of time. For the truth of circumcision 
consisted in the same answer of a good conscience; but if the truth 
must necessarily have preceded, infants would never have been 
circumcised by the command of God. But he himself, showing that the 
answer of a good conscience forms the truth of circumcision, and, at 
the same time, commanding infants to be circumcised, plainly 
intimates that, in their case, circumcision had reference to the 
future. Wherefore, nothing more of present effect is to be required 
in paedobaptism, than to confirm and sanction the covenant which the 
Lord has made with them. The other part of the meaning of the 
sacrament will follow at the time which God himself has provided. 
    22. Every one must, I think, clearly perceive, that all 
arguments of this stamp are mere perversions of Scripture. The other 
remaining arguments akin to these we shall cursorily examine. They 
object, that baptism is given for the remission of sins. When this 
is conceded, it strongly supports our view; for, seeing we are born 
sinners, we stand in need of forgiveness and pardon from the very 
womb. Moreover, since God does not preclude this age from the hope 
of mercy, but rather gives assurance of it, why should we deprive it 
of the sign, which is much inferior to the reality? The arrow, 
therefore, which they aim at us, we throw back upon themselves. 
Infants receive forgiveness of sins; therefore, they are not to be 
deprived of the sign. They adduce the passage from the Ephesians, 
that Christ gave himself for the Church, "that he might sanctify and 
cleanse it with the washing of water by the word," (Eph. 5: 26.) 
Nothing could be quoted more appropriate than this to overthrow 
their error: it furnishes us with an easy proof. If, by baptism, 
Christ intends to attest the ablution by which he cleanses his 
Church, it would seem not equitable to deny this attestation to 
infants, who are justly deemed part of the Church, seeing they are 
called heirs of the heavenly kingdom. For Paul comprehends the whole 
Church when he says that it was cleansed by the washing of water. In 
like manner, from his expression in another place, that by baptism 
we are ingrafted into the body of Christ, (1 Cor. 12: 13,) we infer, 
that infants, whom he enumerates among his members, are to be 
baptised, in order that they may not be dissevered from his body. 
See the violent onset which they make with all their engines on the 
bulwarks of our faith. 
    23. They now come down to the custom and practice of the 
apostolic age, alleging that there is no instance of any one having 
been admitted to baptism without a previous profession of faith and 
repentance. For when Peter is asked by his hearers, who were pricked 
in their heart, "What shall we do?" his advice is, "Repent, and be 
baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the 
remission of sins," (Acts 2: 37, 38.) In like manner, when Philip 
was asked by the eunuch to baptise him, he answered, "If thou 
believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." Hence they think they 
can make out that baptism cannot be lawfully given to any one 
without previous faith and repentance. If we yield to this argument, 
the former passage, in which there is no mention of faith, will 
prove that repentance alone is sufficient, and the latter, which 
makes no requirement of repentance, that there is need only of 
faith. They will object, I presume, that the one passage helps the 
other, and that both, therefore, are to be connected. I, in my turn, 
maintain that these two must be compared with other passages which 
contribute somewhat to the solution of this difficulty. There are 
many passages of Scripture whose meaning depends on their peculiar 
position. Of this we have an example in the present instance. Those 
to whom these things are said by Peter and Philip are of an age fit 
to aim at repentance, and receive faith. We strenuously insist that 
such men are not to be baptised unless their conversion and faith 
are discerned, at least in as far as human judgement can ascertain 
it. But it is perfectly clear that infants must be placed in a 
different class. For when any one formerly joined the religious 
communion of Israel, he behaved to be taught the covenant, and 
instructed in the law of the Lord, before he received circumcision, 
because he was of a different nation; in other words, an alien from 
the people of Israel, with whom the covenant, which circumcision 
sanctioned, had been made. 
    24. Thus the Lord, when he chose Abraham for himself, did not 
commence with circumcision, in the meanwhile concealing what he 
meant by that sign, but first announced that he intended to make a 
covenant with him, and, after his faith in the promise, made him 
partaker of the sacrament. Why does the sacrament come after faith 
in Abraham, and precede all intelligence in his son Isaac? It is 
right that he who, in adult age, is admitted to the fellowship of a 
covenant by one from whom he had hitherto been alienated, should 
previously learn its conditions; but it is not so with the infant 
born to him. He, according to the terms of the promise, is included 
in the promise by hereditary right from his mother's womb. Or, to 
state the matter more briefly and more clearly, If the children of 
believers, without the help of understanding, are partakers of the 
covenant, there is no reason why they should be denied the sign, 
because they are unable to swear to its stipulations. This 
undoubtedly is the reason why the Lord sometimes declares that the 
children born to the Israelites are begotten and born to him, (Ezek. 
16: 20; 23: 37.) For he undoubtedly gives the place of sons to the 
children of those to whose seed he has promised that he will be a 
Father. But the child descended from unbelieving parents is deemed 
an alien to the covenant until he is united to God by faith. Hence, 
it is not strange that the sign is withheld when the thing signified 
would be vain and fallacious. In that view, Paul says that the 
Gentiles, so long as they were plunged in idolatry, were strangers 
to the covenants (Eph. 2: 11.) The whole matter may, if I mistake 
not, be thus briefly and clearly expounded: Those who, in adult age, 
embrace the faith of Christ, having hitherto been aliens from the 
covenant, are not to receive the sign of baptism without previous 
faith and repentance. These alone can give them access to the 
fellowship of the covenant, whereas children, deriving their origin 
from Christians, as they are immediately on their birth received by 
God as heirs of the covenant, are also to be admitted to baptism. To 
this we must refer the narrative of the Evangelist, that those who 
were baptised by John confessed their sins, (Matth. 3: 6.) This 
example, we hold, ought to be observed in the present day. Were a 
Turk to offer himself for baptism, we would not at once perform the 
rite without receiving a confession which was satisfactory to the 
    25. Another passage which they adduce is from the third chapter 
of John, where our Saviour's words seem to them to imply that a 
present regeneration is required in baptism, "Except a man be born 
of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of 
God," (John 3: 5.) See, they say, how baptism is termed regeneration 
by the lips of our Lord himself, and on what pretext, therefore, 
with what consistency is baptism given to those who, it is perfectly 
obvious, are not at all capable of regeneration? First, they are in 
error in imagining that there is any mention of baptism in this 
passage, merely because the word water is used. Nicodemus, after our 
Saviour had explained to him the corruption of nature, and the 
necessity of being born again, kept dreaming of a corporeal birth, 
and hence our Saviour intimates the mode in which God regenerates 
use viz., by water and the Spirit; in other words, by the Spirit, 
who, in irrigating and cleansing the soul of believers, operates in 
the manner of water. By "water and the Spirit," therefore, I simply 
understand the Spirit, which is water. Nor is the expression new. It 
perfectly accords with that which is used in the third chapter of 
Matthew, "He that comes after me is mightier than I;" "he shall 
baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire," (Matth. 3: 11.) 
Therefore, as to baptise with the Holy Spirit, and with fire, is to 
confer the Holy Spirit, who, in regeneration, has the office and 
nature of fire, so to be born again of water, and of the Spirit, is 
nothing else than to receive that power of the Spirit, which has the 
same effect on the soul that water has on the body. I know that a 
different interpretation is given, but I have no doubt that this is 
the genuine meaning, because our Saviour's only purpose was to 
teach, that all who aspire to the kingdom of heaven must lay aside 
their own disposition. And yet were we disposed to imitate these men 
in their mode of cavilling, we might easily, after conceding what 
they wish, reply to them, that baptism is prior to faith and 
repentance, since, in this passage, our Saviour mentions it before 
the Spirit. This certainly must be understood of spiritual gifts, 
and if they follow baptism, I have gained all I contend for. But, 
cavilling aside, the simple interpretation to be adopted is, that 
which I have given viz., that no man, until renewed by living water, 
that is, by the Spirit, can enter the kingdom of God. 
    26. This, moreover, plainly explodes the fiction of those who 
consign all the unbaptised to eternal death. Let us suppose, then, 
that as they insist, baptism is administered to adults only. What 
will they make of a youth who, after being imbued duly and properly 
with the rudiments of piety, while waiting for the day of baptism, 
is unexpectedly carried off by sudden death? The promise of our Lord 
is clear, "He that hearth my word, and believeth on him that sent 
me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but 
is passed from death unto life," (John 5: 24.) We nowhere read of 
his having condemned him who was not yet baptised. I would not be 
understood as insinuating that baptism may be condemned with 
impunity. So far from excusing this contempt, I hold that it 
violates the covenant of the Lord. The passage only serves to show, 
that we must not deem baptism so necessary as to suppose that every 
one who has lost the opportunity of obtaining it has forthwith 
perished. By assenting to their fiction, we should condemn all, 
without exception, whom any accident may have prevented from 
procuring baptism, how much soever they may have been endued with 
the faith by which Christ himself is possessed. Moreover, baptism 
being, as they hold, necessary to salvation, they, in denying it to 
infants, consign them all to eternal death. Let them now consider 
what kind of agreement they have with the words of Christ, who says 
that "of such is the kingdom of heaven," (Matth. 19: 14.) And though 
we were to concede every thing to them, in regard to the meaning of 
this passage, they will extract nothing from it, until they have 
previously overthrown the doctrine which we have already established 
concerning the regeneration of infants. 
    27. But they boast of having their strongest bulwark in the 
very institution of baptism, which they find in the last chapter of 
Matthew, where Christ, sending his disciples into all the world, 
commands them to teach and then baptise. Then in the last chapter of 
Mark, it is added "He that believeth, and is baptised, shall be 
saved," (Mark 16: 16.) What more (say they) do we ask, since the 
words of Christ distinctly declare, that teaching must precede 
baptism, and assign to baptism the place next to faith? Of this 
arrangement our Lord himself gave an example, in choosing not to be 
baptised till his thirtieth year. In how many ways do they here 
entangle themselves, and betray their ignorance! They err more than 
childishly in this, that they derive the first institution of 
baptism from this passage, whereas Christ had from the commencement 
of his ministry, ordered it to be administered by the apostles. 
There is no ground, therefore, for contending that the law and rule 
of baptism is to be sought from these two passages, as containing 
the first institution. But to indulge them in their error, how 
nerveless is this mode of arguing? Were I disposed to evasion, I 
have not only a place of escape, but a wide field to expatiate in. 
For when they cling so desperately to the order of the words, 
insisting that because it is said, "Go, preach and baptise," and 
again, "Whosoever believes and is baptised," they must preach before 
baptising, and believe before being baptised, why may not we in our 
turn object, that they must baptise before teaching the observance 
of those things which Christ commanded, because it is said, 
"Baptise, teaching whatsoever I have commanded you?" The same thing 
we observed in the other passage in which Christ speaks of the 
regeneration of water and of the Spirit. For if we interpret as they 
insist, then baptism must take precedence of spiritual regeneration, 
because it is first mentioned. Christ teaches that we are to be born 
again, not of the Spirit and of water, but of water and of the 
    28. This unassailable argument, in which they confide so much, 
seems already to be considerably shaken; but as we have sufficient 
protection in the simplicity of truth, I am unwilling to evade the 
point by paltry subtleties. Let them, therefore, have a solid 
answer. The command here given by Christ relates principally to the 
preaching of the gospel: to it baptism is added as a kind of 
appendage. Then he merely speaks of baptism in so far as the 
dispensation of it is subordinate to the fiction of teaching. For 
Christ sends his disciples to publish the gospel to all nations of 
the World, that by the doctrine of salvation they may gather men, 
who were previously lost into his kingdom. But who or what are those 
men? It is certain that mention is made only of those who are fit to 
receive his doctrine. He subjoins, that such, after being taught, 
were to be baptised, adding the promise, Whosoever believeth, and is 
baptised, shall be saved. Is there one syllable about infants in the 
whole discourse? What, then, is the form of argument with which they 
assail us? Those who are of adult age are to be instructed and 
brought to the faith, before being baptised, and, therefore, it is 
unlawful to make baptism common to infants. They cannot, at the very 
utmost, prove any other thing out of this passage, than that the 
gospel must be preached to those who are capable of hearing it 
before they are baptised: for of such only the passage speaks. From 
this let them, if they can, throw an obstacle in the way of 
baptising infants. 
    29. But I will make their fallacies palpable even to the blind, 
by a very plain similitude. Should any one insist that infants are 
to be deprived of food, on the pretence that the apostle permits 
none to eat but those who labour, (2 Thess. 3: 10,) would he not 
deserve to be scouted by all? Why so? Because that which was said of 
a certain class of men, and a certain age, he wrests and applies to 
all indifferently. The dexterity of these men in the present 
instance is no greater. That which every one sees to be intended for 
adult age merely, they apply to infants, subjecting them to a rule 
which was laid down only for those of riper years. With regard to 
the example of our Saviour, it gives no countenance to their case. 
He was not baptised before his thirtieth year. This is, indeed, 
true, but the reason is obvious; because he then determined to lay 
the solid foundation of baptism by his preaching, or rather to 
confirm the foundation which John had previously laid. Therefore 
when he was pleased with his doctrine to institute baptism, that he 
might give the greater authority to his institution, he sanctified 
it in his own person, and that at the most befitting time, namely, 
the commencement of his ministry. In fine, they can prove nothing 
more than that baptism received its origin and commencement with the 
preaching of the gospel. But if they are pleased to fix upon the 
thirtieth year, why do they not observe it, but admit any one to 
baptism according to the view which they may have formed of his 
proficiency? Nay, even Servetus, one of their masters, although he 
pertinaciously insisted on this period, had begun to act the prophet 
in his twenty-first year; as if any man could be tolerated in 
arrogating to himself the office of a teacher in the Church before 
he was a member of the Church. 
    30. At length they object, that there is not greater reason for 
admitting infants to baptism than to the Lord's Supper, to which, 
however, they are never admitted: as if Scripture did not in every 
way draw a wide distinction between them. In the early Church, 
indeed, the Lord's Supper was frequently given to infants, as 
appears from Cyprian and Augustine, (August. ad Bonif. Lib. 1;) but 
the practice justly became obsolete. For if we attend to the 
peculiar nature of baptism, it is a kind of entrance, and as it were 
initiation into the Church, by which we are ranked among the people 
of God, a sign of our spiritual regeneration, by which we are again 
born to be children of God, whereas on the contrary the Supper is 
intended for those of riper years, who, having passed the tender 
period of infancy, are fit to bear solid food. This distinction is 
very clearly pointed out in Scripture. For there, as far as regards 
baptism, the Lord makes no selection of age, whereas he does not 
admit all to partake of the Supper, but confines it to those who are 
fit to discern the body and blood of the Lord, to examine their own 
conscience, to show forth the Lord's death, and understand its 
power. Can we wish anything clearer than what the apostle says, when 
he thus exhorts, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of 
that bread, and drink of that cup?" (1 Cor. 11: 28.) Examination, 
therefore, must precede, and this it were vain to expect from 
infants. Again, "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and 
drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." If 
they cannot partake worthily without being able duly to discern the 
sanctity of the Lord's body, why should we stretch out poison to our 
young children instead of vivifying food? Then what is our Lord's 
injunction? "Do this in remembrance of me." And what the inference 
which the apostle draws from this? "As often as ye eat this bread, 
and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." How, 
pray, can we require infants to commemorate any event of which they 
have no understanding; how require them to "show forth the Lord's 
death," of the nature and benefit of which they have no idea? 
Nothing of the kind is prescribed by baptism. Wherefore, there is 
the greatest difference between the two signs. This also we observe 
in similar signs under the old dispensation. Circumcision, which, as 
is well known, corresponds to our baptism, was intended for infants, 
but the Passover, for which the Supper is substituted, did not admit 
all kinds of guests promiscuously, but was duly eaten only by those 
who were of an age sufficient to ask the meaning of it, (Exod. 12: 
26.) Had these men the least particle of soundness in their brain, 
would they be thus blind as to a matter so very clear and obvious? 
    31. Though I am unwilling to annoy the reader with the series 
of conceits which Servetus, not the least among the Anabaptists, 
nay, the great honour of this crew, when girding himself for battle, 
deemed, when he adduced them, to be specious arguments, it will be 
worth while briefly to dispose of them. He pretends that as the 
symbols of Christ are perfect, they require persons who are perfect, 
or, at least, capable of perfection. But the answer is plain. The 
perfection of baptism, which extends even to death, is improperly 
restricted to one moment of time; moreover, perfection, in which 
baptism invites us to make continual progress during life, is 
foolishly exacted by him all at once. He objects, that the symbols 
of Christ were appointed for remembrance, that every one may 
remember that he was buried together with Christ. I answer, that 
what he coined out of his own brain does not need refutation, nay, 
that which he transfers to baptism properly belongs to the Supper, 
as appears from Paul's words, "Let a man examine himself," words 
similar to which are nowhere used with reference to baptism. Whence 
we infer, that those who from nonage are incapable of examination 
are duly baptised. His third point is, That all who believe not in 
the Son remain in death, the wrath of God abideth on them, (John 3: 
36;) and, therefore, infants who are unable to believe lie under 
condemnation. I answer, that Christ does not there speak of the 
general guilt in which all the posterity of Adam are involved, but 
only threatens the despisers of the gospel, who proudly and 
contumaciously spurn the grace which is offered to them. But this 
has nothing to do with infants. At the same time, I meet him with 
the opposite argument. Every one whom Christ blesses is exempted 
from the curse of Adam, and the wrath of God. Therefore, seeing it 
is certain that infants are blessed by him, it follows that they are 
freed from death. He next falsely quotes a passage which is nowhere 
found, Whosoever is born of the Spirit, hears the voice of the 
Spirit. Though we should grant that such a passage occurs in 
Scripture, all he can extract from it is, that believers, according 
as the Spirit works in them, are framed to obedience. But that which 
is said of a certain number, it is illogical to apply to all alike. 
His fourth objection is, As that which precedes is animal, (1 Cor. 
15: 46,) we must wait the full time for baptism, which is spiritual. 
But while I admit that all the posterity of Adam, born of the flesh, 
bear their condemnation with them from the womb, I hold that this is 
no obstacle to the immediate application of the divine remedy. 
Servetus cannot show that by divine appointment, several years must 
elapse before the new spiritual life begins. Paul's testimony is, 
that though lost by nature, the children of believers are holy by 
supernatural grace. He afterwards brings forward the allegory that 
David when going up into mount Zion, took with him neither the blind 
nor the lame, but vigorous soldiers, (2 Sam. 5: 8.) But what if I 
meet this with the parable in which God invites to the heavenly 
feast the lame and the blind? In what way will Servetus disentangle 
this knot? I ask, moreover whether the lame and the maimed had not 
previously served with David? But it is superfluous to dwell longer 
on this argument, which as the reader will learn from the sacred 
history, is founded on mere misquotation. He adds another allegory, 
viz., that the apostles were fishers of men, not of children. I ask, 
then, What does our Saviour mean when he says that in the net are 
caught all kinds of fishes? (Matth. 4: 19; 13: 47.) But as I have no 
pleasure in sporting with allegory, I answer, that when the office 
of teaching was committed to the apostles they were not prohibited 
from baptising infants. Moreover, I should like to know why, when 
the Evangelist uses the term "anthropous", (which comprehends the 
whole human race without exception,) he denies that infants are 
included. His seventh argument is, Since spiritual things accord 
with spiritual, (l Cor. 2: 13,) infants, not being spiritual, are 
unfit for baptism. It is plain how perversely he wrests this passage 
of Paul. It relates to doctrine. The Corinthians, pluming themselves 
excessively on a vain acuteness, Paul rebukes their folly, because 
they still required to be imbued with the first rudiments of 
heavenly doctrine. Who can infer from this that baptism is to be 
denied to infants, whom, when begotten of the flesh, the Lord 
consecrates to himself by gratuitous adoption? His objection, that 
if they are new men, they must be fed with spiritual food, is easily 
obviated. By baptism they are admitted into the fold of Christ, and 
the symbol of adoption is sufficient for them, until they grow up 
and become fit to bear solid food. We must, therefore, wait for the 
time of examination, which God distinctly demands in the sacred 
Supper. His next objection is, that Christ invites all his people to 
the sacred supper. But as it is plain that he admits those only who 
are prepared to celebrate the commemoration of his death, it follows 
that infants whom he honoured with his embrace, remain in a distinct 
and peculiar position until they grow up, and yet are not aliens. 
When he objects, that it is strange why the infant does not partake 
of the Supper, I answer, that souls are fed by other food than the 
external eating of the Supper, and that accordingly Christ is the 
food of infants though they partake not of the symbol. The case is 
different with baptism, by which the door of the Church is thrown 
open to them. He again objects that a good householder distributes 
meat to his household in due season, (Matth. 24: 45.) This I 
willingly admit; but how will he define the time of baptism, so as 
to prove that it is not seasonably given to infants? He, moreover, 
adduces Christ's command to the apostles to make haste, because the 
fields are already white to the harvest, (John 4: 35.) Our Saviour 
only means that the apostles, seeing the present fruit of their 
labour, should bestir themselves with more alacrity to teach. Who 
will infer from this, that harvest only is the fit time for baptism? 
His eleventh argument is, That in the primitive Church, Christians 
and disciples were the same; but we have already seen that he argues 
unskilfully from the part to the whole. The name of disciples is 
given to men of full age, who had already been taught, and had 
assumed the name of Christ, just as the Jews behaved to be disciples 
under the law of Moses. Still none could rightly infer from this 
that infants, whom the Lord declared to be of his household, were 
strangers. Moreover he alleges that all Christians are brethren and 
that infants cannot belong to this class, so long as we exclude them 
from the Supper. But I return to my position, first, that none are 
heirs of the kingdom of heaven but those who are the members of 
Christ; and, secondly, that the embracing of Christ was the true 
badge of adoption, in which infants are joined in common with 
adults, and that temporary abstinence from the Supper does not 
prevent them from belonging to the body of the Church. The thief on 
the cross, when converted, became the brother of believers, though 
he never partook of the Lord's Supper. Servetus afterwards adds, 
that no man becomes our brother unless by the Spirit of adoption, 
who is only conferred by the hearing of faith. I answer, that he 
always falls back into the same paralogism, because he 
preposterously applies to infants what is said only of adults. Paul 
there teaches that the ordinary way in which God calls his elect, 
and brings them to the faith, is by raising up faithful teachers, 
and thus stretching out his hand to them by their ministry and 
labours. Who will presume from this to give the law to God, and say 
that he may not ingraft infants into Christ by some other secret 
method? He objects, that Cornelius was baptised after receiving the 
Holy Spirit; but how absurdly he would convert a single example into 
a general rule, is apparent from the case of the Eunuch and the 
Samaritans, in regard to whom, the Lord observed a different order, 
baptism preceding the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The fifteenth 
argument is more than absurd. He says that we become gods by 
regeneration, but that they are gods to whom the word of God is 
sent, (John 10: 35; 2 Pet. 1: 4,) a thing not possible to infant 
children. The attributing of deity to believers is one of his 
ravings which this is not the proper place to discuss; but it 
betrays the utmost effrontery to wrest the passage in the psalm (Ps. 
82:6) to a meaning so alien to it. Christ says, that kings and 
magistrates are called gods by the prophet, because they perform an 
office divinely appointed them. This dexterous interpreter transfers 
what is addressed by special command to certain individuals to the 
doctrine of the Gospel, so as to exterminate infants from the 
Church. Again, he objects, that infants cannot be regarded as new 
men, because they are not begotten by the word. But what I have said 
again and again I now repeat, that, for regenerating us, doctrine is 
an incorruptible seed, if indeed we are fit to perceive it; but 
when, from nonage, we are incapable of being taught, God takes his 
own methods of regenerating. He afterwards returns to his 
allegories, and says, that under the law, the sheep and the goat 
were not offered in sacrifice the moment they were dropt, (Exod. 12: 
5.) Were I disposed to deal in figures, I might obviously reply, 
first, that all the first-born, on opening the matrix, were sacred 
to the Lord, (Exod. 13: 12;) and, secondly, that a lamb of a year 
old was to be sacrificed: whence it follows, that it was not 
necessary to wait for mature age, the young and tender offspring 
having been selected by God for sacrifice. He contends, moreover, 
that none could come to Christ but those who were previously 
prepared by John; as if John's ministry had not been temporary. But, 
to omit this, assuredly there was no such preparation in the 
children whom Christ took up in his arms and blessed. Wherefore let 
us have done with his false principle. He at length calls in the 
assistance of Trismegistus and the Sibyls, to prove that sacred 
ablutions are fit only for adults. See how honourably he thinks of 
Christian baptism, when he tests it by the profane rites of the 
Gentiles, and will not have it administered except in the way 
pleasing to Trismegistus. We defer more to the authority of God, who 
has seen it meet to consecrate infants to himself, and initiate them 
by a sacred symbol, the significance of which they are unable from 
nonage to understand. We do not think it lawful to borrow from the 
expiations of the Gentiles, in order to change, in our baptism, that 
eternal and inviolable law which God enacted in circumcision. His 
last argument is, If infants, without understanding, may be 
baptised, baptism may be mimicked and jestingly administered by boys 
in sport. Here let him plead the matter with God, by whose command 
circumcision was common to infants before they received 
understanding. Was it, then, a fit matter for ridicule or boyish 
sport, to overthrow the sacred institution of God? But no wonder 
that these reprobate spirits, as if they were under the influence of 
frenzy, introduce the grossest absurdities in defence of their 
errors, because God, by this spirit of giddiness, justly avenges 
their pride and obstinacy. I trust I have made it apparent how 
feebly Servetus has supported his friends the Anabaptists. 
    32. No sound man, I presume, can now doubt how rashly the 
Church is disturbed by those who excite quarrels and disturbances 
because of paedobaptism. For it is of importance to observe what 
Satan means by all this craft, viz., to rob us of the singular 
blessing of confidence and spiritual joy, which is hence to be 
derived, and in so far to detract from the glory of the divine 
goodness. For how sweet is it to pious minds to be assured not only 
by word, but even by ocular demonstration, that they are so much in 
favour with their heavenly Father, that he interests himself in 
their posterity! Here we may see how he acts towards us as a most 
provident parent, not ceasing to care for us even after our death, 
but consulting and providing for our children. Ought not our whole 
heart to be stirred up within us, as David's was, (Ps. 48: 11,) to 
bless his name for such a manifestation of goodness? Doubtless, the 
design of Satan in assaulting paedobaptism with all his forces is to 
keep out of view, and gradually efface, that attestation of divine 
grace which the promise itself presents to our eyes. In this way, 
not only would men be impiously ungrateful for the mercy of God, but 
be less careful in training their children to piety. For it is no 
slight stimulus to us to bring them up in the fear of God, and the 
observance of his law, when we reflect, that from their birth they 
have been considered and acknowledged by him as his children. 
Wherefore, if we would not maliciously obscure the kindness of God, 
let us present to him our infants, to whom he has assigned a place 
among his friends and family that is, the members of the Church. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4
(continued in part 18...)

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