BAPTISM

 

"IF any man is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5: 17). One fact alone is sufficient to destroy for ever the dream that the new birth is the result of baptism, as the official words are repeated over the baby, "This child, which is now regenerate." The leading Anglican organ, The Guardian, gives (Dec. 29, 1944) the figures reported by a joint Committee of Canterbury and York. Statistics, says the report, reveal that, "while 67 per cent. of all children born in England and Wales are baptized at Anglican fonts, only 26 per cent. become confirmed, and only 9 per cent. continue even as Easter communicants, while the percentage who become regular communicants is of course much smaller still." Every God-planned believer is an epistle of Christ, - known and read of all men (2 Cor. 3: 2), a letter which gives evidence of conversion to everyone. But what man of the world can detect a new birth in every six or seven men out of every ten he meets, not more than one in ten of whom ever attend a place of worship? He will tell you at once that he sees not the remotest regeneration, or 'epistle of Christ,' in this 67 per cent. of the entire population which has been 'baptized', and his trust in a Church that makes the statement can only become bankrupt.

 

A Rite

 

The most profound word on baptism ever uttered defines beyond all possible challenge who are to be baptized, the exact form of the ritual, and the spiritual truth which the rite is made to picture. But before examining it we do well to ponder carefully what a rite, or ritual ceremony, exactly is. A rite is a spiritual truth pictured by things which can be seen and felt, so preserving the truth, visibly, for ever. The broken loaf is the broken body of Christ, and the wine poured out is His outpoured blood, both absorbed by the believer - crucified Christ appropriated for ever. Therefore a mutilated rite is a ruined truth; for the ritual is an exact picture of the spiritual truth which it shows to all who see it.

 

The Baptized

 

Now we first learn who are to be baptized. "Are ye ignorant" for we may never have mastered the meaning of a ritual which we have sincerely and rightly undergone "that all we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus" - for even in Paul's day there were Christians who had not obeyed the command - "were baptized into his death?" (Rom. 6: 3). This is critically important for all who honestly desire to know God's mind on baptism. Four times in this passage the baptized are defined as those who have shared Christ's death; who, having been crucified with Him, have been laid in His tomb; souls now walking in newness of life. "He that hath died is justified from sin." Paul adds (verse 11):- "Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus." In the ever memorable words of George Muller:- "There was a day when I died, died utterly; died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will - died to the world, its approval or censure - died to approval or censure even of my brethren and friends - and since then I have studied to live unto God."

 

A Funeral

 

But, while it is only the dead in Christ that are to be baptized, the death is not the baptism. A funeral must follow death, and it is baptism which is the funeral. "They that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof " (Gal. 5 : 24): so Paul now says,- "We were BURIED therefore with him through baptism into death": baptism is a public funeral with the Lord. So the baptistry shines forth in its marvellous symbolism: a trench dug in the earth for a dead man, laid on his back as a corpse; by other hands, for no man can baptize himself any more than he can bury himself: the body placed under the judgment flood, a picture so close to reality that if the baptized were kept under the judgment flood for five minutes, he would be a corpse.* 

 

[*Immersion is practised even in the Arctic regions. One who had been his church's baptizer for many years told the writer that he had baptized not less than 2,000 with his own hands, and had never known any ill effects, bodily. "John was baptizing near Aenon, because there was much water there" (John 3: 23). A tumbler-full would be enough for the sprinkling of either babies or men.] 

 

"The world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6: 14); baptism is the public funeral, closing every vista of worldly glory, and opening the narrow avenue that leads to the [millennial*] Kingdom. "Of all revealed truths, not one is more clearly revealed in the Scriptures than [regenerate] believer's baptism - not even the doctrine of justification by faith; and the subject has only become obscured by men not having been willing to take the Scriptures alone to decide the point" (George Muller).

 

[* It is the Millennial Kingdom, for the Promised Land could not be reached without a passage through the Sea.The sea was redeemed Israelís baptism, (1 Cor. 10: 2. cf. John 3: 5.)].

 

Immersion

 

Thus the form of the ritual is placed beyond all challenge. Even a great Anglican Bishop, the beloved Dr. Handley Moule, translates the passage thus:- "We are entombed therefore with Him, by means of our baptism, into His death"; and he adds,- "As to the 'Plunge,' and 'emergence,' baptism was at first, theoretically, an entire immersion." It has rarely been denied. "All commentators of note (except Stuart and Hodge) expressly admit or take it for granted that the ancient prevalent mode of baptism by immersion and emersion is here implied" (Lange). Therefore the sprinkling of 'holy water' on an infant's brow is not baptism in any sense or form: the infant is neither spiritually buried nor spiritually risen with Christ; and thus the truth for which the rite stands is totally destroyed.* 

 

[* The wish to bring the family to Christ, and to dedicate each infant, is a noble motive; but to confound it with the ritual of the born again - and, still worse, to make it the cause of re-birth - is a blunder as obvious as it is grave. Nor is baptism given as the badge of a sect: we are nowhere told to refuse fellowship to the un-baptized [regenerate] believer.]

 

Resurrection

 

But baptism embodies much more than a funeral. "Having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him" (Col. 2: 12). But it is more even than resurrection. "We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead, so we also" - ascending out of an open grave, and abandoning the moth-eaten garments of a buried life - "should walk" - for we are corpses no more - "in NEWNESS OF LIFE." The hard, deep, black trench which God draws between the Church and the world, is the baptismal grave which drowns the old life, and smothers and suffocates all the past; and we rise out of the tomb, typically washed, to walk with God.

 

The Type

 

The New Testament ritual is wonderfully confirmed by its Old Testament type. "Unto him that loveth us, and washed us from our sins" - total immersion in the baptismal bath - "and made us to be PRIESTS unto his God and Father" (Rev. 1: 5). The ancient priests underwent a similar ritual. At the entrance of the Tabernacle was the altar of burnt offering: at the far opposite end was the Holy Curtain behind which was God: lying exactly mid-way between was the Laver, or brazen sea of water. So when the priests were consecrated, and before they could act as priests, Moses presented them to the people at the altar of burnt offering - atonement: then as the first act, when they crossed the threshold as priests, they washed in the laver of water; and so, emerging, reached the immediate presence of Diety - to walk with God.* 

 

[*The priests were bathed both in hands and feet (Ex. 30: 19): so to-day the additional rite of feet-washing (John 13: 15) completes the ritual cleansing.]

 

The Kingdom

 

The Holy Spirit lets drop a warning and an incentive very valuable to an ear sensitive enough to hear. "For if we become united with him in the likeness of his death" - that is, baptism, the ritual photograph - "we shall be also" - 'shall be,' at a future date; 'also,' that is, correspondingly - "of his resurrection" - that is, the First.* The sentence would appear to make baptism part of the fidelity which wins the Kingdom. So our Lord says,- "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God"; but He then adds "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3: 3). It might be objected that since all martyrs are (apparently) in the Kingdom (Rev. 20: 4), and all martyrs have not been baptized, baptism cannot be a condition of reigning; but it may be that martyrdom - which sacrifices every thing for God - is an exception which proves the rule, as the perfect obedience requisite for the Kingdom. Obedience alone ushers into the reign of Christ, and baptism is the very first command given us after conversion. "Repent ye, and he baptized EVERY ONE OF YOU in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins" (Acts 2: 38).

 

[* "Not in the likeness of His resurrection but in the fact: the Lordís resurrection has just been referred to (verse 4) as 'out of dead ones'; that is, a selective resurrection, leaving others dead. The "if" marks the resurrection to be the prize of our calling, not attained by all believers, but dependant on the holiness called for by God - the contrast to the Ďcontinuance in siní of the proposal" (Govett).] 

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Notes

 

1. Advent.  What the Scriptures assert even Modernists admit. Dr. Griffith Thomas experienced it. He says:- " 'I remember quite well when I was an instructor at Oxford University that a party of German theologians came over to visit us. So far as scholarship was concerned, we must not forget that these German theologians ranked as of the best. Asked a question on the Advent, they replied that there was absolutely no question that both Jesus and Paul taught that this age would end in apostasy and cataclysm, which would be ended by the visible return of Christ.' 'Only,' they said, 'Jesus and Paul were mistaken.' "

 

2. Glory.  Dr. Griffith Thomas adds:- " 'That the Lord will come in Person to this our earth: that His risen elect will reign here with Him and judge: that during that blessed reign the power of evil will be bound, and the glorious prophecies of peace and truth on earth find their accomplishment - this is my firm persuasion, and not mine alone, but that of multitudes of Christ's waiting people, as it was that of His primitive apostolic Church, before controversy blinded the eyes of the Fathers to the light of prophecy.' "