E. L. Lovering, Ilfracombe
All quotations are from the Revised Version.
A group of young people is discussing the subject of Baptism, and we are surprised to hear how varied are the views expressed.
‘When I was an infant, I was baptized in the church and became a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven’, said one young man quite firmly. To this came a sharp reply from one of the company who, though he too claimed to be a Christian had never been baptized. ‘I see no reason’ said he, ‘why baptism is necessary, for surely neither the sprinkling of water on the head of an infant nor the complete immersion of a person in water can make any difference to the soul’. ‘This is most strange and conflicting’, rejoined a third member, ‘for one of you believes that water baptism is the gateway to the kingdom of God, while the other dismisses the act as unessential and unnecessary’.
Meanwhile, a fourth person, while listening intently to the views already expressed, had been ‘thumbing’ the leaves of his Bible and very sensibly suggested that, as the whole subject was dealt with in the New Testament, they might quietly and reverently refer to some relevant passages. Let us join them now and with a humble spirit and ready mind endeavour to find the answers to their problems.
What saith the Scriptures?
Our first authority must surely be the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who in His great commission to the disciples said, ‘Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the consummation of the age’. Matt. 28. 19, 20, marg. Similar verses were read in Mark 16. 15, 16 and special reference made to the fact that, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned’. From these verses our Bible friend indicated to his companions that only disciples and believers were baptized.
This did not meet with immediate and wholehearted agreement, so he proceeded to refer them to the practice and example of the apostles in the early church. They turned to the book of the Acts and read such verses as the following: ‘ They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls’, 2. 41. ‘But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women’, 8. 12.
Our friend then reminded them of the story of the Ethiopian chancellor who, having been up to Jerusalem to worship, was returning homewards and was reading from the prophet Isaiah chapter 53. 7, 8. Arriving at the place where there was water, the eunuch asked to be baptized and Philip went down into the water with him and baptized him, 8. 36-38. Reading further in the book he told of a ruler of the synagogue named Crispus who had ‘believed in the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized’, 18. 8.
After further discussion on these scriptures they concluded that on the authority of the Saviour Himself and the example of the early church there was certainly a valid reason for baptism.
It was also very apparent that in every case baptism followed believing and that the only proper subjects for baptism were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Someone remarked, however, that there had been a reference in the Acts to households being baptized and that when the gaoler at Philippi had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, he ‘was baptized, he and all his, immediately’ , 16. 33. It was pointed out that to assume that infants were included in these households was quite unjustified, as in fact, it was clearly stated that they that heard the word, believed and rejoiced in salvation, 16. 34.
‘What then happens’ said one of the company, ‘if as an infant I was sprinkled at my christening or immersed; do I need to be baptized again?’ Our Bible friend said ‘we shall find some help in that connection if we read Acts 19. 4, 5’. Paul had come to Ephesus and found some disciples who had been baptized unto John’s baptism of repentance. Having now heard the full gospel of the Lord’s death and resurrection, ‘they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus’. One should be baptized in obedience to the express command of the Lord subsequent to salvation whatever one’s previous background may have been.
The discussion now turned upon the mode of baptism. Reference was made to John 3. 23 where we read that ‘John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there’, and to Acts 8. 38 where both Philip and the eunuch ‘went down into the water’. These verses certainly seemed to indicate that much water was required and pointed to baptism by immersion. It was also pointed out that baptism was in water not with. water.
Consideration was then given to the spiritual significance of baptism. Turning now his Bible to Romans 6. 3-4, our Bible friend noted that the believer who had been baptized was said to have been ‘baptized into his (Christ’s) death’. Hence baptism was a symbolic act of our identification with Christ in death, burial and resurrection, being raised to ‘walk in newness of life’. In Christ the believer is ‘a new creation’, 2 Cor. 5. 17 marg., the old Adam-nature has been judged, condemned and buried and it is his privilege and responsibility to live as one who is raised and seated with Christ in the heavenlies.
This thought provoked deep exercise of heart and conscience among the little company there gathered and we can only pray that those amongst them who had previously doubted the relevance of baptism in their Christian experience were led to follow their Lord and Saviour through the waters of baptism, with the resulting joy of obedience to His words. Could you have been one of that company?