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BAPTISM is the divinely appointed memorial of the resurrection of Christ. The great fact of the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3, 4), to be our great High Priest and Saviour.
Baptism is a profession of faith in the Saviour, who went into the grave for us, and rose again to life. It is the great object-lesson to teach the truth that the sinner must die to sin and the world, and have a resurrection by the power of divine grace to a new life of obedience. The ordinance is the sign of an actual experience, the means by which the believer confesses the work of grace in the soul.
The Scriptures teach the essential conditions necessary to baptism:
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Mark 16:15, 16.
"What doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” Acts 8:36, 37.
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Acts 2:38.
Thus it is seen that instruction in the gospel, belief in Christ, and repentance are conditions to precede baptism.
Baptism for Believers The experience of which baptism is the sign is thus stated:
“We are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Rom. 6:4.
“As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Gal. 3: 27.
“Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.” Col. 2: 12.
In this ordinance, commanded of God, the believer is following the example of Christ, who, when baptized by John in Jordan, said, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.”
The Form of Baptism
"Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water." Matt. 3:16.
"They went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” Acts 8:38.
“Buried with Him by baptism. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” Rom. 6:4, 5.
, While the outward form of a religious service, without the spirit and the experience which the form professes, must ever be unacceptable to God, yet when the Lord prescribes a form, it is imperative that His instruction should be followed. The form of the ordinance as commanded by God emphasizes the divine meaning of the service.
Scriptural baptism is a burial "in the likeness" of Christ's burial, as the lifting up of the believer from the watery grave is a likeness of the resurrection of Christ. Of the meaning of the word "baptism,” Luther wrote:
"Baptism is a Greek word; in Latin it can be translated immersion, as when we plunge something into water that it may be completely covered with water.”— Opera Lutheri, De Sac. Bap. 1, p. 319 (Baptist Encyclopedia, art. "Baptism").
Calvin, after arguing that the form is an indifferent matter, says:
"The very word 'baptize, however, signifies to immerse; and it is certain that immersion was observed by the ancient church.”—“Institutes,” lib. 4, cap. 15 (Baptist Encyclopedia, art. “Baptism"').
Of the practice in primitive times, Neander, the church historian, says:
“In respect to the manner of baptizing, in conformity with the original institution and the original import of the symbol, it was generally administered by immersion.”—“History of the Christian Church,” Torrey's translation (London edition), Vol. I, p. 429.
The perversion of the ordinance into sprinkling, and that in infancy, takes away the divinely ordained object-lesson; and in the case of the infant must of necessity substitute mere ceremonialism for experience, for the child of unaccountable years can have had no experience of believing and repenting, which are the necessary conditions to fulfil the meaning of baptism. The change in the ordinance, like
most of the changes that came about in the days of the "falling away” from the primitive faith and practice, was by gradual process.
Dean Stanley, in his "Christian Institutions," page 24, says that it is not till the third century that “we find one case of the baptism of infants.” Of the change from immersion to sprinkling, he says:
“What is the justification of this almost universal departure from the primitive usage? There may have been many reasons, some bad, some good. One, no doubt, was the superstitious feeling already mentioned which regarded baptism as a charm, indispensable to salvation, and which insisted on imparting it to every human being who could be touched with water, however unconscious.”
The common practice as late as the twelfth century is thus described by a Roman Catholic cardinal of that time, named Pullus:
“Whilst the candidate for baptism in water is immersed, the death of Christ is suggested; whilst immersed and covered with water, the burial of Christ is shown forth; whilst he is raised from the waters, the resurrection of Christ is proclaimed.”— Patrol. Lat., Vol. CXXX, p. 315 (Baptist Encyclopedia, art. “Baptism”).
Dean Stanley, of Westminster, one of the first scholars of the Church of England, wrote:
“For the first thirteen centuries the almost universal practice of baptism was that of which we read in the New Testament, and which is the very meaning of the word 'baptize,'— that those who were baptized were plunged, submerged, immersed into the water. That practice is still, as we have seen, continued in Eastern churches. In the Western church it still lingers among Roman Catholics in the solitary instance of the Cathedral of Milan; among Protestants in the numerous sects of the Baptists. It lasted long into the Middle Ages. . . . But since the beginning of the seventeenth century, the practice has become exceedingly
With the few exceptions just mentioned, the whole of the Western churches have now substituted for the ancient bath the ceremony of letting fall a few drops of water on the face. The reason of the change is obvious. The practice of immersion, though peculiarly suitable to the Southern and Eastern countries for which it was designed, was not found seasonable in the countries of the North and West. Not by any decree of council or parliament, but by the general sentiment of Christian liberty, this remarkable change was effected. Beginning in the thirteenth century, it has gradually driven the ancient catholic usage out of the whole of Europe.”—“Christian Institutions,” pp. 21, 22.
The facts are undeniable, and emphasize the importance of reformation and return in practice to the plain instructions of the Word of God. As the record shows, it was not the spirit of the New Testament church that made this change in the divine ordinance; rather it is the spirit of the church of the "falling away," against which the Lord warns all believers, “because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant."
The Path He Trod
OUR Saviour bowed beneath the wave,
His voice we hear, His footsteps trace,