John Brown of Wamphray was a Covenanter who was exiled to the Netherlands from Scotland in 1662; he lived from 1610-1679. For a time before his death he ministered to the Scots congregation in Rotterdam and while in exile he wrote some thirteen books. Among these books is his Exposition of Romans and I am going to quote a few passages from this book on the subject of sacraments and baptism since my curiosity has been peaked by the frequent writings over on Garver’s blog.
In commenting on Romans 4.11-12 Brown distinguishes between what he calls “external covenanters” and “internal covenanters”:
…he (Abraham) is a father to all those who profess faith in Christ, and so walk in the steps of that doctrine which Abraham believed and professed, and therein was a father to them by example, in casting them a copy, tho’ they believed not sincerely and savingly; so that such have a fundamental right to all the ordinances which are bestowed upon external covenanters: and to those who come up to the terms of the covenant, and believe savingly, as Abraham did, who have a right unto the saving blessings bestowed on internal covenanters, such as the righteousness of faith imputed: and of these, I think, he is mainly speaking here…
Speaking of circumcision and the sacraments by extension Brown writes:
However there be such a strait union betwixt the sign in the sacrament and the thing thereby represented, as that they become, in some manner, proportionably one; whence it is that the sign getteth the name of the thing signified, and the thing signified the name of the sign, yet they remain really distinct, and cannot be properly the same; for sacraments are signs, and so must be really distinct from the thing which they signify and represent, for nothing can be a sign of itself.
He goes on to say that sacraments, “…are not bare, void and ineffectual signs, but such as exhibit grace, and seal and confirm the covenant.” Brown continues:
Sacraments are not physical, efficient causes of grace, principal or instrumental, nor do they effectuate and produce grace and holiness by any inherent quality or power in them, or by God’s elevating them for the production of such an effect, but all that they work is only by way of sign and seal; and no inward graces do they confer, but what an outward sign or seal is apt to confer, viz, by working upon the understanding and faith of the receiver, for nothing that is material can produce any spiritual effect; they are here only said to be signs and seals of the righteousness of faith,
Brown summarizes a definition of what a sacrament is:
Hence we have a complete definition of a sacrament, viz. That it is a “holy sign, instituted of God, whereby Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied unto believers.” See Gen. xvii.7,10; Exod. 13; 1 Cor. Xi.13,26; Matth. Xxvi. 26,27,28.
Being externally in covenant with God, though it entitles to external privileges and ordinances belonging to covenanters, as to the seals, Acts ii.38-39, and giveth a remote right unto salvation, that is, salvation offered unto them upon terms, an so salvation is of such, John 1.22, yet such have not a real and near right unto the spiritual mercies and blessings of the covenant, until they perform the conditions required, and believe savingly, and so walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham;
Later, speaking of Romans 6.2-4 Brown writes:
His using the word baptized into Christ, and into his death, serves to illustrate, clear and confirm this matter more, viz. that believers are both united unto Christ and to his death and burial; because baptism is an ordinance of God, instituted for this end, among others, to seal believers union with Christ, both in his death, burial and resurrection, and communion in the fruits flowing therefrom; and they are baptized, and have now fled into Christ by faith, which is the condition of that covenant whereof baptism is a seal. So then, to be baptized into Christ is somewhat else than to be baptized in his name, as we hear, Acts ii.28 for to be baptized in his name, is to dedicate and consecrate ourselves to him by baptism, to profess and avouch ourselves his, in taking his badge and livery: but to be baptized in him, is to be really united unto him; in a relative sense, to be implanted in him, and ingrafted by faith, and thereby made to participate of his influence and virtue, all which is the thing signified, exhibited and sealed by baptism.
Baptism is a sacrament appointed of God, to signify and seal the ingrafting of all believers into Christ, and the certainty of their partaking of the fruits and effects of his mediation, both for the mortifying of corruption, and strengthening the new man of grace; it seal and confirms to all who will believe the promise, and lay hold upon him in whom all the promises are yea and amen, the certainty and undoubted accomplishment of all which is promised in the new covenant: therefore we are said to be baptized in him, and baptized in his death, and buried with him in baptism, that as he was raised from the dead, we might walk, &c. See Col. Ii.12. And in particular, baptism doth represent, signify, and seal our regeneration in both its parts, both our mortification and vivification; our being under the water represents our mortification, and our coming up again, as it were, our vivification.
Tho’ baptism being a seal of the covenant of grace, which is held forth to all within the visible church, be applied to all that are members of the visible church, and is a sign representing the spiritual thing signified to all; yet it is not a seal of confirmation to all, but only to such as believe and lay hold on Christ; to those, and those only, it sealeth their ingrafting into Christ, and interest in his death and resurrection, for their mortification and vivification: