In his Heidelberg Catechism lectures, Zacharias Ursinus lists 17 “theses” on baptism. These form a section of their own, and they appear after his commentary and exposition of Heidelberg Lord’s Day 27. For those who have the hard-cover version of the P&R reprint titled Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, the theses begin on pg. 371. We have printed them in their entirety in what follows:
Theses Concerning Baptism
- Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, by which Christ testifies to the faithful who are baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the forgiveness of all their sins, the giving of the Holy Spirit, and ingrafting into the church and into his own body; whilst they, on the other hand, profess to receive these benefits from God, and will and ought, therefore, henceforth, to live unto him and to serve him. This same baptism was begun by John the Baptist, and carried forward by the Apostles. John baptized in the name of Christ, who was to suffer and rise again; the Apostles baptized in the name of Christ, as having suffered and risen from the dead.
- The first end of baptism instituted by God is, that he might thereby declare and testify to us, that he cleanses those who are baptized by his blood and Spirit from all their sins, and therefore engrafts them into the body of Christ and makes them partakers of all his benefits. 2. That baptism might be a solemn reception or initiation of every one into the visible church, and a mark by which the church might be known from all other religions. 3. That it might be a public and solemn profession of our faith in Christ, and of our obligation to faith and obedience to him. 4. That it might be an admonition of our burial in afflictions, and of our rising out of them and deliverance from them.
- Baptism has the power to declare or seal according to the command of God, and the promise which Christ has joined to it in its lawful use; for Christ baptizes us by the hand of his ministers, just as he speaks through them.
- There is, therefore, in baptism a double water; the one external and visible, which is elementary; the other internal, invisible and heavenly, which is the blood and Spirit of Christ. There is, also, a double washing in baptism; the one external, visible, and signifying, viz : the sprinkling and pouring of water, which is perceptible by the members and senses of the body ; the other is internal, invisible, and signified, viz: the remission of sins on account of the blood of Christ shed for us, and our regeneration by the Holy Spirit arid engrafting into his body, which is spiritual, and perceived only by faith and the Spirit. Lastly, there is a double dispenser of baptism: the one an external dispenser of the external, which is the minister of the church, baptizing us by his hand with water; the other an internal dispenser of the internal, which is Christ himself, baptizing us with his blood and Spirit.
- Yet the water is not changed into the blood or Spirit of Christ, nor is the blood of Christ present in the water, or in the same place with the water. Nor are the bodies of those who are baptized washed with this visibly; nor is the Holy Spirit, by his substance or virtue, more in this water than elsewhere ; but he works in the hearts of those who are baptized in the lawful use of baptism, and sprinkles and washes them spiritually by the blood of Christ, whilst he uses this external symbol as a means, and as a visible word or promise to stir up and confirm the faith of those who are baptized.
- When baptism is, therefore, said to be the laver or washing of regeneration, to save us, or to wash away sins, it is meant that the external baptism is a sign of the internal, that is, of regeneration, salvation and of spiritual absolution; and this internal baptism is said to be joined with that which is external, in the right and proper use of it.
- Yet sin is so washed away in baptism, that we are delivered from exposure to divine wrath and from the condemnation of everlasting punishment, whilst the Holy Ghost commences in us the work of regeneration and conformity with God. Remissions of sins, however, continue to the end of life.
- All, and only those who are renewed or being renewed, receive baptism lawfully, being baptized for those ends for which Christ instituted this sacrament.
- The church administers baptism lawfully to all, and only to those whom she ought to regard among the number of the regenerate, or as members of Christ.
- Since the infant children of Christians are also included in the church, into which Christ will have all those who belong to him to be received and enrolled by baptism ; and as baptism has been substituted in the place of circumcision, by which (as well to the infants as to the adults belonging to the seed of Abraham,) justification, regeneration and reception into the church were sealed by and for the sake of Christ ; and as no one can forbid water that those should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit purifying their hearts, it follows that those infants should be baptized, who are either born in the church, or come into it from the world with their parents.
- As the promise of the gospel, so baptism being unworthily received, that is, before conversion, is ratified and tends to salvation to those who repent, so that the use of it which was before unlawful is now lawful.
- The impiety of the minister does not make baptism void, if only it be performed in the promise and faith of Christ. It is for this reason that the true church does not re-baptize those who have been baptized by heretics, but instructs them in the true doctrine respecting Christ and baptism.
- And as the covenant once made with God, is also after sins have been committed, perpetually ratified in the case of such as believe, so baptism also being once received, confirms all those who repent in relation to the forgiveness of sins during their whole lives; and, therefore, neither ought to be repeated, nor deferred to the close of life, as if it then only cleansed from sin, when no more sins are committed after it is received.
- All those who are baptized with water, whether adults or infants, are not made partakers of the grace of Christ, for the eternal election of God and his calling to the kingdom of Christ, is free.
- Nor are all those who are not baptized excluded from the grace of Christ, for not the want, but the contempt of baptism excludes men from the covenant of God made with the faithful and their children.
- Since the administration of the sacraments forms a part of the ecclesiastical ministry, those who are not called to this, and especially women, ought not to take upon themselves the right and authority to baptize.
- Such rites as have been added to baptism by men, as the consecration of the water, tapers, exorcisms, anointing with oil, salt, crosses, spittle, and things of a similar character, are justly condemned in the church of Christ, as corruptions of the sacraments.