The Baptism of Believers
E. A. R. Shotter, Northampton
Before reading the following paper, readers may care to re-read the first part that appeared in the last issue; the present paper forms the conclusion of the subject. In the next issue, we hope to publish a paper on Baptism in the Spirit.—Editors.
After the Lord was received up into glory and the Holy Spirit had descended upon the waiting disciples in Jerusalem, we find this ordinance of baptism still practised. The message of the Gospel was 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost'. The sequel to this was that 'they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them (the believers) about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers'. What an impact on the public around! Fear came upon every soul! Repentance, baptism, remission, reception of the Holy Ghost, and fellowship in the church of God are all intimately connected here. Nor do any of the references, here or sub-sequently, appear to suggest a waiting period, however wise may be the motive behind the suggestion. Baptism also followed immediately upon the reception of the Holy Ghost by the Gentiles in Cornelius' house. He that has not the Spirit of Christ is none of His The evidence of conversion is the entry of the Spirit of Christ; without this baptism is not permissible; with it, it is not to be withheld.
According to Acts 19, John's baptism was insufficient, for whilst his was to repentance, yet it pointed on to another, namely, that of the Lord Jesus, in whose Name we are to be baptized. Here again the Holy Spirit is mentioned as connected with baptism. So tied together do these three truths of repentance, baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit seem to be that it behoves us to be very careful lest by separating them, we destroy some aspect of the tilings which accompany salvation.
Neither are we left in doubt as to whom should be baptized. Acts 8. 12 says, 'When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women'. Here, there is no separation of the people's faith from their ensuing baptism, and it is suggested that the act of baptism is not only witnessed by God and the believers present, but also spiritual intelligences, whether angels or demons, and also unbelievers arc onlookers. In the context it seems that Simon did not appreciate what he was doing by being baptized, but as a professing believer (see Acts 8. 13) he was baptized.
In the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, though verse 37 is omitted in the best manuscripts (testified by some marginal comments to Bibles), the fact that he went on his way rejoicing after he was baptized is proof surely that he had believed.
Speaking of his own conversion Paul says, quoting Ananias, 'And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord', Acts 22. 16. Docs this not suggest that, whilst salvation is of the Lord and He alone can loose us from our sins in His own blood, yet it remains for us to sec that we are disentangled from them by acknowledging that we are dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God?
The Effect of Baptism on the Believer's Life
Leaving the practical examples found in the Acts, let us turn to the Epistles for teaching concerning baptism. Perhaps the classic chapter for this is the sixth of Romans. Here we read, 'How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?'.
Baptism places the believer in the same relation to the old nature, the old man, with all his affections and desires, as physical death does to nature around us. There should be no response to it. We would never think of conversing with a corpse, nor yet entertaining one to a meal. No more should we show sympathy and kindness to the old man instead of keeping him buried. Those walking in the Spirit shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
The last that the world, religious, political and secular saw of the Lord Jesus was dead upon a Roman gibbet. He was then taken by devout souls and buried. 'Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead (ones) by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin'. What a terrible thing it would be to see a corpse lying decomposing on the face of the earth! The Israelites were commanded to bury those who were hanged on a tree the same day, that their land be not defiled. Should not we therefore be careful to see that the body of death is buried in the spiritual aspect of Romans 6? Living in newness of life, unencumbered by the old man, we should then know what it is to be more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
In Galatians 3 we read that 'as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ'. Does not this imply that those who have not taken this step in compliance with the commands - nay in obedience to the desires - of the Lord, have not yet put on Christ? What an anomalous position it must be to partake of the Love Feast of our Lord - to break bread in memory of Him - to worship Him and to tell Him of our intense love for Him - if we are unbaptized? Such arc still walking in a way which must grieve His heart, not acknowledging that they are one with Him, as well as one in Him, and yet showing forth His death till He come! It seems inconceivable, and yet it happens! A few may find valid reasons for remaining in an unbaptized state, but let each of us weigh our reasons at the foot of the cross, and only in the light of that great sacrifice on our behalf continue to walk in that state.
Baptism and the Church of God
In Acts 11.26 we read that the disciples were first (divinely, see Newberry margin) called Christians at Antioch. We speak of one who follows the profession of being a lawyer as being called to the Bar. That is his vocation - his calling. The Christian has a divine calling - that of being a Christian. It is laid upon him by none other than God Himself. Turning to Ephesians we read in chapter 4, 'I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation (calling) wherewith ye arc called, . . . Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit (the pledge of the inheritance) in the bond of peace. There is one body (the Church, which is His body) and one Spirit, . . . One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all'. In endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit who graciously leads us in our worship of the Father, who reveals Christ to us and helps our infirmities, praying with groanings which cannot be uttered as knowing the will of God, surely each one of us should be concerned about every fact of the fundamental truths of the Church of God in Christ Jesus. Using lowliness and meekness with longsuffering, let us forbear one with another to the building up of the body in love, acknowledging those things that are right, and taking advantage of those gifts which He has given for 'the perfecting of the saints . . . Till we all come in(to) the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ'. Finally Peter tells us that baptism saves us (not by the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but by the question of having a good conscience toward God) 'by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him', 1 Pet. 3. 21, 22. We must agree with God as to His dealings with our sin through the Lord Jesus, and as to the position as sons in which He has placed us through Him. It is a question of a good conscience - the answer that God is right in all that He has done - when we are baptized.
Baptism is a Necessity We conclude that it is incumbent upon each and every believer to be baptized (immersed) in the name of the Triune God. It is also incumbent upon those who are already believers to baptize other believers; Scripture does not contemplate a believer in an unbaptized state. It follows, therefore, that a believer who is not baptized renders himself ineligible to bear office or take public part in the church of God, for an elder must hold fast the faithful Word, and deacons must hold the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. If, therefore, these fundamentals have not been embraced how can they be held fast? Will it not be that such would be a hindrance to the spiritual edification of the church and tend to lower its standards to their own way of thinking? Let us then in tender love to our Lord Jesus Christ so walk even as He walked and hear Him say, 'Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown', Rev. 3. 11.