George Gillespie (1613-1648) on infant baptism



George Gillespie (1613-1648) discusses 22 important topics in his work A Treatise of Miscellany Questions, a collection of papers posthumously published by his brother. In chapter 17, he argues the case for infant baptism. For the sake of clarity, I have added a few notes and my own translations where I deemed it necessary:


Master Tombes in his Apology for the two Treatises, and appendix concerning Infant Baptisme, inserts a letter to Mr. Selden, pag. 90. in which he intimateth his opinion, that Paedobaptisme did not succeed into the roome of circumcision, wherein he saith, he was the more confirmed, having read of Baptisme, used among the Jews before the time of John Baptist, in their admitting of Proselytes, and that therefore John was not accused for Baptizing, as if that had been a Novation or new rite introduced, but for Baptizing without authority.

I do not marvel that Mr. Tombes is so cautious, that Baptisme should not be thought to succeed into the roome of circumcision, for so he should make baptisme more like to the circumcision of the Arabians, who are not circumcised, till they be 13. years old (as Zonaras Annal. tom. 1. de rebus Iudaicis, pag: 13. tells us) because their forefather Ishmael was circumcised about that age, then to the circumcision of the eighth day, ordinarly used among the people of God under the old Testament. For my part, I think the Apostle, Col. 2. 11, 12, doth plainly hold forth, that baptisme hath succeeded into the roome of circumcision: which is also the common and received opinion of Divines. However, because Mr. Tombes doth rather think that the Christian baptisme, succeedeth to that baptisme used among the Jews in their admission of Proselytes, this hath Ministred occasion to me, to apply my thoughts, to search a little into the Original of Baptisme by water, and whether the Original thereof, or that which God had respect unto in the institution thereof, maketh any thing against, or for Infant-baptisme.

That Baptizing with water is a divine institution, is plaine from John 1. 33. He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, &c. As for that which this institution had reference unto in the old Testament, or Jewish customs, first of all consider Ezech. 16. 4. As for thy nativity in the day thou wast borne, thy navel was not cut, neither was thou washed in water to supple thee, &c. Where the Chaldee saith, The Congregation of Israel was like unto a childe cast out into the open field, whose navel is not cut, and it is not washed in water, that it might be cleansed. The Septuagint whom Hierome [Jerome] followeth, and thou art not washed in water unto salvation. εἰς σωτηρίαν in salutem. Hierome [Jerome] applieth it to Baptisme, as being necessary even to Infants who are in their blood and sinful pollution, and have therefore need to be washed in the Laver of regeneration, and baptized.

Not only the Hebrews, but the Heathens had a custome of washing Infants soon after their birth, in those hote countries. Hence that of Virgil. lib. 9. Aeneid—

Durum à stirpe genus, natos ad flumina primum 

Deferimus, saevoque gelu duramus, & aestu.

[own translation: a race from a tough lineage, we first bring our newborns to the river, and toughen them with the water’s fierce chill]

Pienda de rebus Solomonis, lib 1. cap: 13. noteth that from the Hebrews and Egyptians, this custome of washing new born babes was derived almost to all nations, for which purpose, he citeth many Testimonies.

In the next place consider, that as the institution of Baptisme by water related to that in Ezech: 16. 4. So also to the Typical Baptisme of all the Children of Israel, men, women, and children in the red sea, and in the cloud, 1 Cor:10. 1. 2. Moreover brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea. And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and the sea. The Apostle speaking there of the Church which was brought out of Egypt (whom he calls our fathers, because they were the people and Church of God long before us, and from them the law and service of God was transmitted and propagated to us) showeth that as their Sacraments could not profit them to salvation, they living in sin and provoking God after they had received those Sacraments, no more can our Sacraments profit us, if we sin as they did. For their privileges were the same with ours. The Manna and Water out of the Rocke was the same for substance and signification to them, which the Supper of the Lord is to us; the same spiritual meat, the same spiritual drinke was given both to them and us. So likewise their passing through the Sea, and under the cloud was the very same for substance and signification with our Baptisme, and they were externally baptized with a true Sacrament of Baptisme, as well as we. That Baptisme of theirs, did fitly resemble this Baptisme of ours in diverse respects. For instance. 1. They were first brought out of Egypt before they were brought through the sea, so we are first redeemed by Christ, and finde grace and favour in his eyes, before we receive the seals of the Covenant of grace. Baptisme is intended only for the redeemed of the Lord. 2. They were baptized unto Moses, (or as the Syriac, and Arabic, as likewise Augustine, by Moses) that is, Moses was the leader and commander of the people, (so Theophylact) and he the Captaine of their salvation, or rather Moses was a typical Mediatour typifying Christ; or they were baptized unto Moses, that is, they were by Baptisme dedicated and consecrated to that Doctrine, Covenant, promise of life, faith and obedience, which God revealed by the hand of Moses. So are we baptized unto Christ, or unto his death, and the benefits and fruits thereof. The same Covenant of grace for substance, was sealed by their Baptisme and ours. 3. That Baptisme of theirs did visibly separat between them and the Egyptians: for the cloud divided them from the Egyptians, and the Sea drowned the Egyptians. So our Baptisme, which is unto us a token of Salvation, is unto aliens and those without, a token of perdition, and distinguisheth between the Church and the rest of the world. 4. Their Baptisme was by water, both in the sea and cloud (it being also probably conceived that they were sprinkled with drops both of the sea and cloud) so is ours by water. 5. The sea resembleth the water, the cloud resembleth the Spirit in our Baptisme. So Athanasius. that is beside the water in Baptisme, the Spirit is also poured out from on high, and there is an influence of grace from above, according to the good pleasure of Gods will, upon so many as are ordained to eternal life. That the cloud did typify the Spirit was Damascens observation, who is herein followed by some interpreters. 6. They passed but once through the red sea; but the cloud continued alwayes with them in the wilderness. So the external Baptisme is a transient action, and but once used to one person, not reiterated; but the Spirit and gracious presence of God continueth ever with them in this world. 7. They passed through the sea, and were under the cloud, and so baptized, before they did eat of the Manna, or drink of water out of the Rocke, so must we be baptized, before we be fit to receive the Lords supper. 8. All that were baptized in the sea and cloud, were not acceptable to God, for with many of them God was not well pleased, and he sware in his wrath, that they should not enter into his rest; so of those that are now baptized, many are excluded from the heavenly Canaan.

For these and the like respects the Apostle compareth, paralelleth and equalleth their Sacramental privilege of Baptisme with ours. And as P. Martyr observeth upon the place, the Apostle doth not give instance in their circumcision, but in their Baptisme, that his paralell and comparison with our Baptisme might be the more evident. Now therefore if this paralell hold so fully, then add two considerations more to make it yet more full; they are both of them against the Anabaptists. First they were truly baptized with water, when but wet or besprinkled under the cloud, (and therefore the Apostle saith, they were baptized in the cloud) so are we and our children truly baptized with water, when sprinkled as well as dipped, which is not at all inconsistent, but most agreable to the signification of the verbe βαπτίζειν. For althogh it signifieth immergere, tingere [note: both Latin verbs here signify dipping/immersion], in which sense Iulius Pollux, lib: 1. cap, 9. reckoneth among the passions of a ship, βαπτίζεσθαι, submerge to be drownd or run under water (and if any shall contend that the native signification of βαπτίζω, is mergo, or tingo [note: to dip/immerse], I neither think it can be convincingly proved, nor that it maketh against sprinkling though it were proved) this I hope cannot be denied that βαπτίζω, doth also signify abluo, lavo [note: both Latin verbs here signify washing], and so is used for any manner of washing by water, which whosoever will deny shall contradict Hesyclius, Budaeus, Stephanus, Scapula, Arias Montanus, Pasor in their Lexicons, and the Holy Ghost himself, 1 Cor: 10. 2. 2 Heb: 9. 10 Luke 11. 38. with Mark 7. 3, 4. Secondly I observe, that though the infants of the people of Israel were not fitt to eat of the Manna and drink of the water out of the Rock, as those of some age did, yet the youngest of their Infants were baptized and received a sacramental seal of their interest in Christ and the covenant of Grace, which is a notable precedent to our Infant-baptisme, and it must needs hold, unless we weaken, yea subvert the Apostles argumentation in that place. For what more certain than that among so many hundreth thousand people, there were diverse Infants who had not yet the use of reason, nor were able to give an account of their Faith? What more uncontravertable then that these Infants were with the rest of the congregation baptized in the Sea and under the cloud, being externally incorporated in the Commonwealth of Israel, and the seed of Abraham? What more manifest than that the Apostle holds forth to us that their baptisme was materially or substantially the same with ours, both for the grace signified and sealed, and for the very element of water? So that this Infant-baptisme of theirs, is (upon the matter and according to the Apostles doctrine) a good warrant for Infant-baptisme among us, as well as if the new Testament had expressly told us that some Infants were baptized by Christ or his Apostles. This argument hath taken deep impression in my thoughts, and while I look after the suffrage of Divines, I finde some of very good note have had the same notion from this Text against the Anabaptists, showing also that their objections against Infant-baptisme fall as heavy upon that baptisme of the children of Israel. My Reverent Brother Mr. Bailly, hath drawn an argument from the same Text for Infant-baptisme. See Anabaptisme. p. 149, 150.

But now thirdly whereas tis stood upon that the Original of Baptisme was derived from the Baptisme used among the Jews in the admission of Proselytes, first it must be proved by these who are of this opinion, that the Jewish custome of baptizing with water the Proselytes whom they received, is older than John Baptist, which I finde supposed, yet not proved. Mr. Ainsworth on Gen: 17. 12. is indeed of that opinion that the custome of baptizing Proselytes, is older than John Baptist, but he brings no Testimony for this, older than Moses Maimonides [Note: Maimonides was a 12th century Jewish philosopher]. Mr Marshall in his defence of Infant baptisme. pag. 170. yieldeth to Mr. Tombes, that Baptisme was a knowne rite among the Jews at their admitting of Proselytes, long before it begun to be a Sacrament of Divine Institution. And so from Mr. Tombes his own supposition, he argueth for Infant-baptisme, which he had reason to do. Nevertheless I have never yet read any proof or Testimony brought to prove the Baptisme of Proselytes, which is not far short of John Baptist or Christs dayes. The Scripture mentions no signe or seal or ceremony of the initiation of Proselytes, but circumcision, after profession of their faith and desire to worship the true God and to be of his people. The baptizing of Proselytes was one of the Jewish traditions and inventions in their later and declining times. When it began I have not yet found, neither have I yet seen any proof which can make that custome older than John Baptist, or as old as Christs baptisme. Next let it be proved to be as old as it can, yet the greatest searchers of the Jewish Antiquities have observed that the Baptisme of Proselytes was administred not only to those who were grown up and of age, but to children also under age. So Dr Buxtorf. and Mr Selden.

Such a Proselyte under age the Hebrew writers call גר קטן , Ger katan [own translation, literally: young sojourner] and they reckon a son to be minor & puer [minor and boy], from his nativity till he be thirteen years old (for which see Buxtorf in the word קטן) so that by their principles a child of one year or two years old might be baptized as a Proselyt upon the consent of the Father or of the court.

I conclude, that since the institution of Baptisme by water hath respect unto those baptizings or washings in the old Testament, which are mentioned Ezek: 16, 4. 1 Cor, 10. 1. 2. whereof Infants as well as aged persons were partakers; and since the very Talmudists admit the Infants of Proselytes as well as themselves to Baptisme, surely Mr. Tombes hath gained nothing, but loosed much by starting this question.

I add another Text, Eph: 5. 26. where the Apostle (having respect as I conceive to those passages in the old Testament) saith, that Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it, &c. Are not the children of the faithful parts of this Church, which Christ loved, and for which he gave himself, that he might sanctify and cleanse it, and that he might present it to himself a glorious Church; not having spot or wrinkle? If so, then remember that whole Text is copulative; and none that belong to the Church and body of Christ may be secluded from any part of the Text. We may as well hold that the Children of believers not yet grown up to knowledge and the use of reason, are incapable of the love of Christ, or of justification, sanctification and glorification by Christ, as to hold that they are uncapable of the washing of water by the word, i. e. of Baptisme, which cannot be made void, but is efficacious to all the members of Christ, young and old, by virtue of the word of promise and Covenant of grace sealed in that Sacrament; according to that of Augustine, Accedit verbum ad elementum & fit Sacramentum [own translation: the Word added to the element makes a Sacrament]: The washing of water, by the word, can no more be restricted to the Church of aged or actual believers, than Christs love and death with the ends and effects thereof, can be restricted to such. The complication of these benefites, is clearer in the Original; the nearest rendering, whereof is thus, That cleansing it with the laver of water, by the word, he might sanctify it. The Tigurine version thus, ut illam sanctificaret, mundatam lavacro aquae, &c. [own translation: that it might be sanctified, it is to be cleansed by the washing of water].