Extracted from: Selected Writings of John Knox: Public Epistles, Treatises, and Expositions to the Year 1559
"Among his [Knox's] subsequent letters are answers to questions which his countrymen had transmitted to him for advice. The questions are such as might be supposed to arise in the minds of pious persons lately made acquainted with scripture, puzzled with particular expressions, and at a loss how to apply some of its directives to their situation. They discover an inquisitive and conscientious disposition; and at the same time illustrate the disadvantages under which ordinary Christians labour when deprived of the assistance of learned teachers. Our reformer's answers display an intimate acquaintance with scripture, and dexterity in expounding it, with prudence in giving advice in cases of conscience, so as not to encourage a dangerous laxity on the one hand, or scrupulosity and excessive rigidness on the other." (M'Crie's Life of Knox [Edinburgh, 1955], p. 95.)
The advice which follows deals mainly with the subject of baptism. Among the questions Knox addresses are: Is Romish baptism valid? Should baptism be repeated in the case of those who were baptized in infancy according to the Romish order?
The other queries concern unrelated subjects: Are the prohibitions of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), respecting unclean foods still binding? How should tithes be collected and distributed?
Concerning Baptism, etc.
The baptism now used in the Papistry is not the true baptism which Christ Jesus did institute and command to be used in his kirk; but it is an adulteration and profanation of the same, and therefore is to be avoided of all God's children.
That it is adulterated, and so consequently profane, is evident: First, for many things are added, besides Christ's institution; and all man's additions in God's perfect ordinance, especially in his religion, are execrable and detestable before him. Secondly, the promises of salvation in Christ Jesus are not (in the papistical baptism) lively and truly explained to the people; the word is not preached; yea, that which they read is not understood. The end and use of a true sacrament are not considered, but rather the people are led to put their confidence in the bare ceremony.
That none of God's children ought, or may, with pure conscience, offer their children to the papistical baptism, one reason of the Holy Ghost (pronounced by St. Paul) may instruct and assure such as rather list to be obedient than contentious. "I would not," says he, "that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye may not drink of the Lord's cup, and the cup of devils. Ye may not be partaker of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils" (1 Cor. 10:21-22). If the causes why sacraments were instituted are rightly understood and considered, this reason of the apostle shall damn all those that offer their children to an adulterated sign; for as sacraments, besides other uses and ends, are ordained to be seals of the justice [righteousness] of faith, so are they also a declaration of our profession before the world, and an approbation of that doctrine and religion which are taught by such as with whom we communicate, in receiving the sacraments. Now it is evident that the papistical doctrine, in the chief point of our salvation, and their whole religion, are as contrary to Christ's doctrine and true religion, as darkness is unto light: which nevertheless is approved and allowed before the world, by all such as communicate with any of their adulterous sacrilege for sacraments they cannot be properly called. I add, whosoever offers their children to the papistical baptism, offers them to the devil, who was author and first inventor of all such abominations; and therefore, whosoever communicates with the papistical sacraments, approves (and before the world allows) whatsoever doctrine and religion they profess. Yea, farther, who offers their children to the papistical baptism, offers them not to God, nor to Christ Jesus his Son, but to the devil, [the] chief author and inventor of such abominations.
"Shall we be baptized again," do some demand, "that in our infancy were polluted with that adulterated sign?" I answer, "No," for the Spirit of regeneration, which is freely given to us by Christ Jesus our whole sufficiency, has purged from us that poison which we drank in the days of our blindness. The fire of the Holy Ghost has burnt away whatsoever we received at their hands besides Christ Jesus' simple institution. We damn it as detestable and wicked, and we only approve [of] Christ's ordinance the vain inventions of all men refused. And this, both before God and man, suffices, without reiteration of the sign; for by faith, and not by the external signs does God purge our hearts; and our plain and continual confession more serves to me than that we should be rebaptized. For that action, and the remembrance of it, should suddenly vanish when contrariwise our confession declares, that in our infancy we received the sign which Christ commanded, which our parents esteemed to have been the true sign of Christ. And in very deed, the malice of the devil could never altogether abolish Christ's institution, for it was ministered to us "in the name of the Father, of the Son, and the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28:19). And yet for that time, I confess, by reason of our blindness, it did not profit us, because it was adulterated, and mixed with men's dreams and fantasies. I confess, for the time it did not profit us; but now, as is said, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, illuminating our hearts, has purged the same by faith, and makes the effect of that sacrament to work in us without any iteration of the external sign.
Hereof I know two doubts may arise: Former, that to the regenerate man the sacraments are not greatly necessary; secondly, that it is all one whether our children be baptized with the papistical baptism, or with Christ's true institution. The first I answer, that no man is so regenerate, but that continually he has need of the means which Christ Jesus, the wisdom of his eternal Father, has appointed to be used in his kirk: to wit, the word truly preached, and the sacraments rightly administered. Christ has ordained and commanded the word and the sacraments to be used in his kirk; therefore ought not the bold presumption of man to separate the same. If the regenerate man has never received the sacramental sign of baptism, he is bound to receive the same. And that did Peter perfectly understand, seeing the Holy Ghost visibly descend upon Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:44-48), which he perfectly understood could not be without the Spirit of regeneration; and yet does he contend and obtain that they should not be forbidden to be baptized. And Paul also, after his own conversion, and after Christ Jesus had promised that he was a chosen vessel to him, yet was commanded to wash away his sins by baptism (Acts 22:14-16). Whereof it is evident that regeneration does not exempt man, but that once he ought to be baptized.
But the question is, whether a man baptized in Papistry ought to be rebaptized when he comes to knowledge? And I answer that he ought not: First, because Christ's institution, as is said, could not be utterly abolished by the malice of Satan, nor by the abuse of man; secondly, because the Spirit of Christ purges and removes from us all such venom as we received of their hands, and superstition makes not the virtue of Christ's institution to be ineffectual in us. We have some respect also, that no more be given to the external sign, than is proper to it : that is, that it is the seal of justice and the sign of regeneration, but neither the cause, neither yet the effect and virtue [power]. The seal once received is durable, and needs not to be iterated, lest by iteration and multiplication of the sign, the office of the Holy Spirit, which is to illuminate and to purge, be attributed unto it.
"But by the same reason," some may reply, "ought not the Lord's table to be commonly used?" Yes, but if the signification of both sacraments be deeply considered, we shall see why the one ought to be but once used, and the other often times; for the holy disciples and servants of Christ Jesus dare not dispense with the ordinance of their Lord and Saviour, but rather are humbly subject to the same. And therefore, such as this day contemn the use of the sacraments (of the Lord's table I mean, and also the external word) declare themselves repugnant to the wisdom of God, who has commanded his disciples to use that table in remembrance of him (1 Cor. 11:26): that is, of his death, and of the benefits purchased unto us by the same, till his coming again. He puts no term of perfection, what a man may attain in this life that he needs not to use the sacraments for aid and help to his infirmity; albeit some now-a-days brag of such perfection, that they suppose all such exercises to appertain only to them that are children and infants in Christ, and not to those that are grown to perfection. But as the punishment of such pride and arrogance is manifest this day to the kirk of God for their perfection has brought them to such obstinacy and blindness, that openly they blaspheme Christ Jesus so shall it be felt by them, when such as with full obedience so knit themselves to Christ's ordinance shall receive the crown of glory.
Baptism is the sign of our first entrance into the household of God our Father; by which is signified that we are received in league with him, that we are clad with Christ's justice [righteousness], our sins and filthiness being washed away in his blood. Now evident it is, that the justice of Christ Jesus is permanent and cannot be defiled; that the league of God is of that firmness and assurance, that rather shall the covenant made with the sun and moon, with the day and night, perish and be changed, than that the promise of his mercy made to his elect shall be frustrated and vain. Now, if Christ's justice is inviolable, and the league of God is constant and sure, it is not necessary that the sign (which represents unto me, and in some manner seals in my conscience that I am received in the league with God, and so clad with Christ's justice) be oftener than once received. For the iteration of it should declare, that before I was a stranger from God who never had publicly been received in his household.
"Not so," some shall say; "but because we have declined from God by manifest iniquity, and we, so far as in us lay, have broken that league made betwixt God and us, and have spoiled ourselves of all [of] Christ's justice; therefore, we desire the former league to be repaired and renewed by iteration of the sign."
I answer, the reiteration of baptism is not the means which God has appointed to assure our consciences that the league betwixt God and us is permanent and sure. But his Holy Spirit, writing in our hearts true and unfeigned repentance, leads us to the throne of our Father's mercy; and he, according as he has chosen us in Christ Jesus, his only well-beloved, before the foundation of all worlds were laid, and according as in time he has called us and given us the sign of his children, so does he acknowledge and avow us yet to be of his heavenly household. And to seal the same, his everlasting mercy, more deeply in our hearts, and to declare the same before the world, he sends us to the table of his dear Son, Christ Jesus our Lord, who at his Last Supper in his corporeal life (had with his disciples), he did institute for his kirk, and command the same to be used, in remembrance of him to his coming again. To the which, when we present ourselves, as in heart we do believe (I speak of God's chosen children), so in mouth do we confess, and before the world solemnly we protest, that we are the household of God our Father, received in the league of his mercy, according to the purpose of his own good pleasure; and that we, members of the body of Christ Jesus, were clad with his justice and innocence; and therefore now does he admit us to his table, and expressly in his word sets before us the bread of life which descended from the heaven, to assure our consciences that (our former defection from him notwithstanding) with joy does he receive us as the father did his unthankful and prodigal son, returning to him from his wretched condition and miserable poverty. This holy table, I say, has the wisdom of God commanded to be used in his kirk, to assure the members of his body that his Majesty changes not as man does, but that his gifts and vocation [calling] are such, as of the which he cannot repent himself towards his elect. And therefore need they not to run to the external sign of baptism (such, I mean, as once have been baptized, suppose that it was in the Papistry), but they ought to have recourse to the effect and signification of baptism (that is, that of free grace and mercy they are received in the household of God), and for the better confirmation of themselves in this mystery. And to protest the same before the world, they ought to address themselves, as occasion shall be offered, to the Lord's table, as before is said.
Hereof I suppose that it is proved, that baptism once received suffices in this life, but that the use of the Lord's Table is oftentimes necessary: for the one, to wit, baptism, is the sign of our first entrance; but the other is the declaration of our covenant, that by Christ Jesus we are nursed, maintained, and continued in the league with God our Father. The sign of our first entrance needs not to be iterate, because the league is constant and sure; but the sign of our nourishment and continuance, by reason of our dullness, infirmity, and oblivion [forgetfulness] ought oft to be used. And, therefore, whosoever yet objects that, if the papistical baptism can in no sort seal in our hearts the league of God's mercy, [it] seems that they, as apostates and traitors, have declined from Jesus Christ, refused his justice [righteousness], and established their own In few words, I answer, that so was whole [all] Israel under Jeroboam, and yet did none of God's prophets require, of those that were circumcised by the priest of Bethel (and by others in that confusion and idolatry), to be circumcised again; but only that they should turn their hearts to the living God, that they should refuse idolatry, and join themselves with the sanctuary of the living God, which was placed at Jerusalem, as in the days of Hezekiah and Josiah is evident. No more ought we to iterate baptism, by whomsoever it was ministered to us in our infancy; but if God of his mercy calls us from blindness, he makes our baptism, how corrupt that ever it was, available unto us, by the power of his Holy Spirit.
"But then," shall some say, "it is alike whether my child is baptized with Christ's true institution, or with the adulterated sign." God avert us from that willful and foolish blindness! For if so unthankfully we rend God's benefits offered, we and our posterity most justly merit to be deprived of the same; as no doubt they shall, who so lightly do esteem them, that they make no difference nor conscience whether they dedicate and offer their children to God or unto the devil. Neither shall the facts of our fathers, who did offer us to the same baptism excuse us; for according to the blindness of those times, they judged and esteemed that to be the perfect ordinance and institution of Christ Jesus, and therefore in simplicity, albeit in error, did they offer us their children to the same. They did not offer us to be circumcised with the Jew, or with the Turk, but to be baptized as members of Christ's body. The religion was corrupt and the sign adulterated, I confess. But this was unknown to them, and therefore their error and blindness are not imputed upon us, their posterity. But what shall avail us, to whom the light shines and the verity is so plainly revealed, that our own conscience must bear record that we do wrong, not of ignorance, but rather of malice; or that we dare not avow Christ Jesus before the world? Shall it not be said unto us, "This is condemnation, that the light is come into the world; but now, men love darkness more nor [than] light (John 3:19; 15:22).IfI had not come, and spoken unto them, they had had no sin; but now, have they nothing whereby to excuse themselves, because they have seen, and yet do halt?" This assuredly it shall be said to our confusion, if we proceed in such contempt of the graces offered. This, I trust, shall suffice the moderate.
Touching the blood of beasts forbidden to be eaten by the apostle (Acts 15:29, [it] does not bind this day the conscience of Christians; for it was but temporal, and served only till such time as the Jews and Gentiles might grow together in one body. And if any ask, "How can this be done?" I answer, by the plain words of St. Paul, who, writing to the Corinthians, plainly affirms that meats offered unto idols (which by the decree of the apostles is forbidden, as well as is blood) are not to be abhorred, neither yet to be abstained from, for any other cause, but only for the conscience of him that shall admonish that such things were offered unto idols. "For his conscience' sake," says the apostle, "thou shalt abstain; otherwise thou mayest eat whatsoever is sold in the butchery" (1 Cor. 10:25). And to the Romans, he solemnly protests, and that by the Lord Jesus, "that he assuredly knows that nothing is common (that is, unclean and defiled) by itself, but to him that esteems it unclean" (Rom. 14:14). And our Master and Saviour, Christ Jesus (the end of the law and the accomplishment of all figures), does deliver our conscience from all doubts, saying "Not that which entereth in by the mouth defileth the man, but that which proceedeth from the heart" (Matt. 15:11, 17-20). Hereof I suppose it is plain, that the precept to abstain from blood, given by the apostle, was temporal and not perpetual. For otherwise the Holy Ghost, speaking of the liberty of the Gentiles, would have restrained and excepted it, as he has done fornication (which in the same decree is expressed [Acts 15:29]) and licentious and filthy communication (which the Gentiles esteemed no or small sins).
Touching tithes, by the law of God they appertain to no priest, for now we have no Levitical priesthood. But by positive law, gift, [and] custom, they appertain to princes, and by their commandment to men of the kirk, as they will be determined. In their first donation, respect was had to another end than is now observed, as their own law does witness. For first, respect was had, that such as were accounted distributors of those things that were given to the kirk men, should have their reasonable sustenance of the same; making just account of the rest, how it was to be bestowed upon the poor, the stranger, the widow, the fatherless, for whose relief all such rents and duties were chiefly appointed to the kirk. Secondly, that provision should be made for the ministers of the kirk, that more freely, and without solicitude and care, they might attend upon their vocation, which was to teach and instruct the people of God. And some respect was had to the repairing of kirks; whereof no jot is at this day in the papacy rightly observed. The poor we see altogether neglected by the bishops, proud prelates, and filthy clergy, who upon their own bellies, license, and vanity consume whatsoever was commanded to be bestowed upon the poor. They preach not truly and sincerely, but their lands, rents, and pompous prelacies are all they care for, and sit reckoning of.
Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Reed
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