24 March 2005

daniel rogers on baptism

I had seen the Puritan minister Daniel Rogers (1573-1652) quoted by several Westminster Divines with regard to the sacraments and it seems that his 1633 work A Treatise of the Two Sacraments of the Gospel (London: Thomas Cotes) remained well-regarded, widely read, and regularly cited among many prominent Puritans for the next several decades. Rogers's Treatise is, in fact, referred to several times by Stephen Marshall (whom Rogers followed as rector at Wethersfield) in his defenses of infant baptism before the Parliament and the Westminster Assembly.

Rogers was a fervent Puritan and Calvinist, a graduate of Christ's College, Cambridge, where he had publicly and quite successfully defended the Puritan cause against an opponent sent by Archbishop Bancroft. His Puritan convictions, however, led to his suspension from the ministry under Archbishop Laud in 1629, despite Laud's own great admiration for Rogers's scholarly skills. Nevertheless, Rogers maintained a very active and effective ministry at Wethersfield until his death in 1652.

In his treatise on the sacraments, Rogers begins his discussion of baptism by stating:

Baptism then is the first Sacrament of the Gospel, consisting of water, which is sacramentally Christ, wherein, by water duly applied, not only the presented party is made a member of the visible Church, but also sealed up to an invisible union with Christ and thereby interested in all those benefits of his, which concern the being of regeneration. (71)

He goes to discuss the sacramental union between the "sign" and the "thing signified." Rogers writes,

...although the grace of Christ must neither be equated nor tied to a dumb creature, yet he hath freely yielded to unite himself with his creature, so oft as he pleaseth to use it for the good of his own and for his glory; and, that to this end, we might learn to adore him in all such ordinances by which he draws near to us for our comfort and to set a mark of honor and esteem even upon those mean things which his wisdom hath devised for the release of our dullness, deadness of heart, and infidelity. (72)

The sacramental union, by which Christ through the word and Spirit takes up and uses water in the sacrament of baptism, is seen by Rogers as a useful doctrine, by which God teaches us to honor the ordinary material means by which he shares with us the benefits of Christ's mediation. He writes that part of the use of baptism is for God

...to teach us where he hath cast honour upon uncomely parts, yea, united himself for the gracing of a meet help to further us to himself, there to account reverently of his ordinances and not commonly: that which God hath not thought common, beware we of thinking so. Hath he taken water and joined it with a kind of equal necessity with himself in this kind of conveyance? Hath he said, "He that believes and is baptized, shall be saved"? And, "Except a man be born again of water, etc."? And shall not we fasten both our eyes upon Christ and water? Christ sacramental, in and by water? Better with it for our ease and help, than without it? Shall not he who despiteth water (appointed to such an inseparable holy end) despise the ordainer of water? Shall we take his name in vain, by slighting that by which he makes himself and the power of his Word and Spirit manifest to beget the soul to him, and be holden guiltless? (72-73)

Rogers takes a very dim view of those who would not hold the sacrament of baptism in the esteem that is given it by Scripture. He writes,

When Christ hath put both in one, shall we dare say, the one is strong, the other is base? Shall we slight it, slacken our haste to it, our holy preparing ourselves to it, our abiding at it, our offering up prayer for blessing it, our making it the joint object of our humiliation, faith, reverence, and thanks? Far be it from us so to abhor that Popish hyperbolical esteem of it and the merit of the work wrought of it, that we run into another riot to disesteem it!

Doubtless he that cares not for Christ in the word, Christ in the promise, Christ in the Minister, Christ in the water, Christ in the bread and wine, Christ sacramental, cares as little for Christ God, Christ flesh, Christ Emmanuel.

By these he comes near us. And "he that despiseth you despiseth me and him that sent me." Beware we of such contempt, even in the secretest of our thoughts and affections and let Christ in the water be honoured as Christ, for that sweet union and fruit which he brings to a poor soul thereby. (73)

With regard to the baptism of infants, Rogers maintains the practice of infant baptism against those whose "schismatical" and "peevish" arguments would reject it (78). He argues that infants, after all, are capable of the grace of baptism, though not in the exact same way as adults. He says, "although the child be not capable of the grace of the sacrament by that way, whereby the grown are, by hearing, conceiving, and believing, yet this follows not, that infants are not capable of sacramental grace in and by another way" (79).

He concludes, therefore, that "if the infant be truly susceptive of the substance of Christ, none can deny it the sacrament" (79). Rogers goes on to explain, with particular attention to infants of believers dying in infancy:

Now to understand this, mark that infants born of believing parents are of the number of those that shall be saved (though dying in their infancy) none of our reformed churches will deny. It is enough therefore that such before death do partake the benefit of election in Christ, together with the benefits of Christ in regeneration, adoption, redemption, and glory. Now that the Spirit can apply these unto such infants is not doubted, though the manner thereof to us be a hidden and mystical thing, yet so it is, the Spirit of Christ can as really unite the soul of an infant to God, imprint upon it the true title of a son and daughter by adoption, and the image of God by sanctification without [actual] faith, as with it. (79-80)

Since infants of believers are capable of these benefits and, in the case of those dying in infancy, undoubtedly partake of them, Rogers concludes, "I see no cause to deny, that even in and at and by the act of baptism (as the necessity of the weak infant may admit) the Spirit may imprint these upon the soul of the infant" (80).

How then are children, baptized as infants, to regard their baptisms? Rogers writes, "Let the use of the point be to all such as are grown to years of discretion, to look back to their baptism. Let such bless the Lord for his bounteous prevention of them with the sacrament even before they had any strength to conceive it!" (80).

Those who are baptized as infants, then, are not to doubt the grace of God towards them, but to look to God's promises in faith. After all, in baptism God gives to us "an unconditional free title to mercy and forgiveness," to which we must respond by an actual faith upon hearing the call of the Spirit through the Word (82).

Rogers writes to those who have grown up baptized:

...Wilt thou not say, what a shame were it for me to give over him now in the pursuit of his grace, when he hath formerly laid a pledge in my bosom of his gracious meaning to forgive and save men? ...Oh! be vigilant and studious to redeem the opportunity of grace and to follow all means for the obtaining of grace! Kill all base enmity and treachery which suggest the Lord to be thy foe; say thus, "Surely if he had meant to destroy me, he would never have done any such kindness for me, but this preventing freely, assures me of his blessing upon my attending the means to get vocation and faith." Oh! be not faithless, but faithful. (80-81)

After discussing infant baptism, Rogers returns to the question of the grace of the sacrament itself. He writes:

...the chief thing here considerable, is the true grace of the sacrament of baptism, which point is one of the most material both for knowledge and use, of all the rest. Conceive then, the Lord Jesus being wholly given of God in each sacrament (though for diverse ends) this former sacrament offers him wholly in point of our new birth or the new creature; Christ in all his breadth, height, depth, and length; Christ for being and regeneration. (83)

Rogers goes on to unfold various biblical texts and images in relation to baptism, ending with the sprinkling of blood for cleansing from sin under the Old Covenant, which he sees as a type of baptism. He concludes his discussion with this:

...baptism is a better sprinkling of a better blood, upon a better object, to a far better peace, even peace of conscience, as being passed from death to life. By all these places [in Scripture] not unmeet to be conferred together, we see, that whole Christ crucified, Christ in water, Christ in our regeneration, Christ in our union, and by it all his benefits are the extent of the grace of baptism. And that the Minister standing in God's stead, applying water to the baptized, doth by it apply the power of the Lord Jesus by the Spirit accompanying the same, to create a new birth of grace and life in the soul. (87)

While Rogers's manner of expounding the sacraments is not common to all English Puritans, particularly those who strayed towards Independency, his sacramental theology, nevertheless, represents one mainstream and influential strand of Puritan thinking in the first half of the 17th century.