THE RELATION OF BAPTISM TO SALVATION
James R. Graves
“Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do
not the things I command you?
“Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
“If a man love me, he will keep my words “—commandments.”—Christ.
The above are the words of Christ, and fraught with meaning of the utmost moment to each one of us. The reasonable inference from the above solemn declaration is, That Christ accounts no one as his friend, in fact, that no one loves him, unless he obeys whatsoever things Christ commands him. Now Christian immersion stands first and foremost among the commands Christ enjoined upon all who profess to love him—the first and representative of all future obedience—since, embraced in its profession, is the pledge of unqualified and continued obedience in all the requirements of Christ. The questions proposed to be discussed, therefore, are
I. Has Christian immersion any connection with salvation?
II. If any, what is that relation?
III. In what circumstances should we consider ourselves unsaved, —no friends of Christ unless we obey his command to be baptized?
There are those who evidence impatience at the announcement of such a topic, because, in their opinion, the Scriptures do not furnish the shadow of a reason to justify any one in supposing that immersion in water—an overt act, and contingent entirely upon the will of third parties—can, in any way, by a merciful Savior, be connected with our eternal salvation; that simple faith in Christ is the one and all—sufficient thing that Christ requires of a believer to secure his richest blessings here, and salvation hereafter.
If there be no semblance of a connection between baptism and salvation, how can we account for the fact, that every denomination of professing Christians, save the Baptists, do, in the published Symbols of their faith, whether called "Decrees of Councils," "Confessions of Faith," "Creeds," or "Disciplines," teach that there is a vital connection—i.e., that, where baptism is wanting, no salvation can exist; and base their constant practice upon this doctrine? There must be a relation of some sort, or we can not rationally account for the almost universal belief and perpetuation of so gross an error through so many ages. Naked error can not endure the light, and it must have the outer semblance of truth with which to clothe itself.
The theory that baptism is essential to salvation, and that, in the use of this rite as the effectual means, the blessings of remission of sins and regeneration are obtained, and all the benefits of Christ’s mediation secured to the recipient, whether adult or infant, is commonly known as "baptismal regeneration;" and it might better be called baptismal salvation, since a regenerated person is, without doubt, a saved person. Now, this theory is held and practiced today by the overwhelming mass of professed Christians, by all Catholic and by all Protestant sects, as well as by many hundreds of thousands who do not class themselves with Protestants; as the Campbellites, Mormons, and lesser sects.
Among these sects have been found, in every age of their existence, the profoundest scholarship that has blessed or cursed the world. We must therefore admit, that if the Scriptures do not clearly teach a vital relation existing between baptism and salvation, there must be a very strong appearance of it for so many to be deceived; and this we do admit. If asked, at the outset, how is it possible for so many to be wrong, and wrong for so many ages, on so important a matter, while only a comparative few have been and are in the right, my answer is, that error, and especially religious error, has always carried the multitude; and that form of religious error that is peculiarly agreeable to the human heart is most certain to be popular. Mankind easily believe what they want to believe. It is the demand of the depraved heart of man to be saved, in part, at least, by his own self-help-deeds of righteousness that he can do—and not simply and solely by the unmerited grace of God. We might therefore expect that such a doctrine as salvation by circumcision would be universally popular to the Jews, and salvation by baptism to the Gentiles, who adopted the forms of Christianity, and this is lamentably true.
The following passages, in addition to those at the head of this, are the principal ones relied upon as proof-texts of a vital connection between baptism and salvation
I submit a brief statement of doctrine which all Protestant sects, in common with the Catholics, from whom they derived it, believe to be sustained by the above Scriptures:
"Holy baptism is the appointed sacrament of salvation, by which all past sins are washed away, and without which there is no promise of salvation."
CHRYSOSTOM. —"In baptism, or the spiritual circumcision, there is no trouble to be undergone; but to throw off the load of sin, and receive pardon for all foregoing offenses."
"The baptism of the church is given for the remission of sins."
"If there was nothing in infants that wanted forgiveness and mercy, the grace of baptism would be needless."
"The body of Christ is his true Church, into which no one can enter, except by baptism; by which sacrament the sinner is regenerated, and receives remission of all sins that are past : and it is therefore called the sacrament of salvation. If infants need not regeneration, baptism would be a needless grace, and an unmeaning ceremony to them."
LUTHER. —"This is not done by changing of a garment, or by any laws or works, but by a new birth, and by the renewing of the inward man, which is done in baptism, as Paul saith : ‘All ye that are baptized have put on Christ.’ Also according to Titus 3:5: For, besides that, they who are baptized are regenerated and renewed, by the Holy Spirit, to a heavenly righteousness, and to eternal life, there riseth in them also a new light and a new frame; there riseth in them new and holy affections, as the fear of God, true faith, and assured hopes, etc.; there beginneth in them also a new will, and this is to put on Christ truly, and according to the Gospel."
still the doctrine of the
"Baptism is not mere water only, but water put into God’s command, and united with God’s Word. It effects the forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the Devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the word and promise of God show. . . .The water, indeed, does not do this, but the Word of God that is with and by means of the water, and the faith which trusts that Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God the water is mere water, and no baptism; but, with the Word of God, baptism is a gracious Water of Life, and a bath of the new birth in the Holy Ghost."
LUTHER’S CHURCH AT WITTEMBURG. —"We believe and confess that baptism is that sea into the bottom whereof, as the apostle saith, God doth cast all our sins."
CONFESSION OF SUEVELAND. —"As touching baptism, we confess that it is the font of regeneration, washeth away sins, and saveth us."
PRESBYTERIAN CONFESSION OF FAITH. —"Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party to he baptized into the visible church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace,—of his engrafting into Christ,—of regeneration,—of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life."
If baptism is indeed a seal of the Covenant of Grace, then no one ever was or can be saved without baptism, or be engrafted into Christ, or receive remission of sins or regeneration. If the rite is not a "sacrament" of salvation, it is essential to it.
Every one confirmed in this church is required to give the following answer to the Bishop, after giving to him their Christian names
QUES. —"Who gave thee this name?"
ANS. —"My sponsors in baptism, wherein I was made an heir of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."
They are required to believe this in their hearts.
Mr. Melville, the most distinguished preacher of the Church of England, and standard defender of its faith, says:
"We believe it to be specially and through the sacrament of baptism that the Holy Ghost acts in renovating the nature which became corrupt through the apostasy. We really think that no fair, no straightforward dealing, man can get rid of the conclusion that the church holds what is called ‘baptismal regeneration.’ You may dislike the doctrine, you may wish it expunged from the Prayer Book, but so long as I subscribe to that Prayer Book, and so long as I officiate according to the forms of that Prayer Book, I do not see how I can be commonly honest, and yet deny that every baptized person is on that account regenerate.
These views of Mr. Melville were fully indorsed by Bishop McIlvaine. Because of these teachings, Bishop Cummings, a few years ago, seceded, and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church.
THE METHODIST DISCIPLINE.
According to this unalterable standard of American Methodism, it is conceded by Mr. Wesley that all infants are regenerated by baptism, and that, in the ordinary way, they can not be saved, unless baptized; and it is equally true that no regenerated adult person can be baptized according to the office of baptism of this church. Each one is required to confess that he is unpardoned and unregenerated, and comes to baptism to seek these blessings; and that he may receive them, the whole congregation is required to pray:
"Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin (and that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and they that are in the flesh can not please God, but live in sin, committing many actual transgressions), and that our Savior Christ saith none shall enter into the kingdom of God, except he be regenerated and born anew of water and of the Holy Ghost, I beseech you to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that, of his bounteous goodness, he will grant unto these persons that which by nature they can not have ; that they may be baptized with water and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ’s holy Church, and be made lively members of the same.
"O merciful God, grant that the old Adam in these persons may be so buried that the new man may be raised up in them. Regard, we beseech thee, the supplications of this congregation, and grant that these persons now to be baptized may receive the fullness of thy grace, and ever remain in the number of thy faithful and elect children."
Mr. Wesley, the father and founder of Methodism, in his Sermons and Doctrinal Tracts, the now standard theology of Methodism, says
"It is certain that our church supposes that all who are baptized in infancy are, at the same time, born again; and it is allowed that the whole office for baptism of infants proceeds upon this supposition." —Sermon 14.
This he teaches is its efficacy in case of adults:
"By baptism we, who are by nature the children of wrath, are made the children of God; and this regeneration, which our church, in so many places, ascribes to baptism, is more than barely being admitted into the church, though commonly connected therewith; being grafted into the body of Christ’s church, we are made the children of God by adoption and grace. . ."By water, then, as a means—the water of baptism—we are regenerated or born again; whence it is also called, by the apostle, the ‘washing of regeneration.’ If infants are guilty of original sin, then they are proper subjects of baptism; seeing, in the ordinary way, they can not be saved, unless this be washed away by baptism. Infants need to be washed from original sin; therefore they are proper subjects of baptism." —Sermon 14.
last General Conference, held in
THE DISCIPLES’, OR CAMPBELLITES’, CREED.
"Immersion is the means divinely appointed for the actual enjoyment of this first and greatest of blessings." —Mill. Harb.
"I affirm, then, that the first institution in which we can meet with God, is the institution of baptism."
This is a law, or a work—i.e., something to be done.
"It is not our faith in God’s promise of remission, but our going down into the water [an act or work that obtains the remission of sins."
"I assert that there is but one action ordained, in the New Testament, to which God has promised, or testified, that he will forgive our sins; this action is Christian immersion."
"No man has any proof that he is pardoned until he is baptized; and, if men are conscious that their sins are forgiven, and that they are pardoned before they are immersed, I advise them not to go down into the water, for they have no need of it."
"Remission of sins can not be enjoyed by any person before immersion."
"Before we are justified in Christ, live in Christ, and fall asleep in Christ, we must be introduced or immersed into Christ."
If the above is not baptismal salvation, the following most certainly is:
or is it not, through faith in the blood of Christ that we receive the
remission of our sins through the act of immersion? [Here a work and faith are
conjoined. Read on.] The value and efficacy of his sacrifice is the very
document itself which constitutes the burthen of the testimony; belief of this
testimony is what impelled us into the water. Knowing that the efficacy of the
blood is to be communicated to our consciences, in the way which God has been
pleased to appoint [through the act of immersion], we stagger not at the
promise of God, but flee to the sacred ordinance, which brought the blood of
Jesus in contact with our consciences. Here we have faith and works inseparably
conjoined.] Without knowing and believing this, immersion is a blasted nut: the
shell is there, but the kernel is wanting." —
baptism we are in spirit, as well as in person, buried with the Lord, wherein
also we are raised with him." —
The reader can see that all the different denominations—the last no more than the first—that were originated by men since the days of the apostles, do teach that baptism is virtually connected with salvation; so vitally, that without it, there can be no spiritual life, no possibility of salvation. They all understand the passages they quote to sustain their theory of baptismal regeneration literally; that sins are literally washed away by the literal water of baptism through the working of the Holy Spirit, and that it is the bath of regeneration, into which persons descend unpardoned sinners, and out of which they arise saints; that baptism seals them heirs of grace, washes them "whiter than snow."
The Baptist churches are alone in repudiating in faith and practice the above doctrine. They have alone, in all ages since the ascension of Christ, taught that a moral nature, renewed by the Holy Spirit—a birth from above—is in all cases essential to baptism, and that the rite, among other things, was appointed to symbolize this great fact; that it is the act for the profession of repentance exercised, of faith possessed, and regeneration enjoyed.
In 1120, the Baptists of Europe, put forth a tract, entitled "Antichrist," in which they say this:
"A third work of Antichrist consists in this, that he attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit unto the mere external act [of baptism], baptizing infants in that faith, teaching that thereby baptism and regeneration must be had, on which principle he confers and bestows orders, and, indeed, grounds all his Christianity, which is contrary to the word of the Holy Scriptures."
They also put forth fourteen Articles of Faith, of which this is one:
"ARTICLE 7. We believe in the ordinance of baptism. The water is the visible external, which [not confers but] represents to us that which by virtue of God’s invisible operation is within us, namely, the renovation of our minds and the mortification of our members through the faith of Jesus Christ, and by this ordinance we are received into the holy congregation of God’s people, previously professing and declaring our faith and change of life."
From the above the reader can see that the professed Christian world is divided into only two grand divisions viz.: Catholics, Protestants, Campbellites, and Mormons on the one side and Baptists alone on the other. All can see the doctrinal difference is fundamental and vital; and the two theories being the very antipodes of each other, they can not both be evangelical—scriptural. If one is scriptural, the other is perilously wrong; utterly unscriptural and subversive of the whole plan of salvation. If one theory will save the souls of men the other certainly will not, else there are two distinct and opposite plans of salvation.
This is a plain, unvarnished, honest statement of the case, written to honor the Author and Finisher of the Faith, for he is the one Lord and Savior—and can be the author of but "one faith," one baptism, and one church as the pattern of all his churches. It is incumbent upon every one professing to be the friend of Jesus, to examine honestly and prayerfully the word of God, and decide which of these two theories is the scriptural and right one; for the reader is bound to adopt the one or the other—risk his soul’s eternal salvation upon one or the other—for there is no possible middle ground. I have placed the theories fairly before your eyes, expressed in the very words of their Creeds and Confessions, and indorsed by their standard teachers.
Before entering upon the examination, I will assume four plain statements to be granted, and will therefore lay them down in the form of Axioms:
Contradictory propositions can not be equally true; if one is true, the opposite of it must be false.
The Holy Scriptures, rightly translated and interpreted, in no instance contradict themselves.
If any passage interpreted according to the primary or literal signification of the terms, conflicts with an admitted fundamental doctrine of the gospel or the general teachings of Scriptures, it must be interpreted by the secondary or figurative sense of the term, and, vice versa.
There is but one way revealed in the Scriptures by which a sinner can come to God through Christ and receive the blessings of pardon, regeneration, and salvation.
From the examination of the symbols of faith of the various denominations as expressed above, I will take it for granted that only two ways have yet been proposed; and from the word of God we are justified in stating that there are only two ways conceivable by which sinful man may come to God for pardon and salvation.
1. By an act of faith, an individual mental act upon repentance.
2. Through some overt act or "sacrament," dependent upon the will of others.
In scriptural terms:
1. By grace only, without works: or,
2. By works only, which God is graciously pleased to make efficacious.
There are a few cardinal truths which underlie and form the foundation of the gospel plan of salvation, which all who have rightly apprehended the gospel, and tasted of its blessedness, know to be saving truths.
1. That there is but one Mediator between God and man, and he the Priest of Calvary, who once offered himself up for us all. No human priest or mediator is therefore tolerated in the gospel, because there is no physical sacrifice to offer, no sacrament to perform, no visible seal to be fixed. There is no priest but Jesus.
2. That not by, or in connection with, or because of, works of any description or deeds of law of any character, moral or ceremonial, legal or ecclesiastical, does a sinner come, or is a sinner brought to Christ and saved, but by unmerited grace alone.
No denomination of professed Christians is entitled to be considered or called evangelical, that does not at least admit, hold vital, teach the above two truths, and whose practice does not accord with them.
It is a flagrant misuse and abuse of the term "evangelical," to apply it to a denomination that either theoretically or practically deny either of the above saving truths. What shall we say of those that both theoretically and practically deny both? It is to be an accomplice of most pernicious error to indorse such as evangelical, which means according to the teachings of Christ and his apostles.
Now in the light of the above axioms and truths, let us inquire for the true relation of baptism to salvation, for I concede, in the out-start, that there is some, and, indeed, a scriptural and intimate relation; but not as "a means to an end," but the evidence visible and proof of an end : not the cause of a certain effect, but the effect of a certain cause—salvation.
Then, 1st. —If baptism is inseparably connected with our salvation as a means to an end, or cause to an effect, then it must be as a means
(1.) To secure the actual remission of sins; or,
(2.) To effect the actual cleansing away of our sins; or,
(3.) To secure our justification before God; or,
(4.) To effect and secure the regeneration of our moral natures—i. e., the birth from above; or,
(5.) To secure our living union with Christ; or,
(6.) To seal all the blessings of the everlasting covenant to us,—which is salvation.
There is a process in mathematics, called elimination, by which the number of factors in two equations can be reduced. Let us see how many of the above hypotheticals can be eliminated, disproved, and so dropped out of, as not to encumber the operation.
1. Baptism is not a divinely appointed means to secure the actual remission of our sins.
I will make this evident from two considerations:
(1.) It contradicts both of the two great fundamental vital truths of Christianity which all evangelical Christians of every nation admits and teaches—that in connection with, or because of a work, a specific physical act, the remission of sins can be obtained; and more, those who teach this are wont to call baptism the law of pardon. If it is only in or by obedience to it sins can be remitted, then it is by a deed of law that salvation is obtained.
It violates the first great truth; because the sinner not being allowed to baptize himself must depend upon the will and physical assistance of another, as the administrator of baptism, thus exalting him to all intents and purposes into a real priest, a mediator between the sinner and God, for there is no other name given among men by which baptism can be administered, except the minister or official servant of a church; and if baptism brings the sinner into saving relations to Christ, or the efficacy of the blood of Christ to the soul, the administrator, by whatsoever name called, or in whatsoever habits dressed, he is a real priest.
But the express letter of the Word of God also condemns this theory, since it positively teaches that by and through faith alone the remission of sins are secured and enjoyed.
"To him gave all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." —Acts .
This was the gospel preached by all the prophets when they preached the plan of salvation, and it was this doctrine that all the saints of the Old Testament believed, and by which they were saved before the rite of water baptism was originated. Nor was there any rite in the Old Testament by which the actual remission of sins was in that age connected. There is, there never has been but one way of pardon, one plan of salvation, and that has been by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In connection with the above declaration of Paul in his sermon in the house of Cornelius, the Holy Ghost demonstrated then and there, and before the eyes of Jews and Gentiles, that the remission of sins and salvation were not depending upon the physical act of baptism. Let us read on:
"While Peter yet spake these words, [i.e., ‘that whosoever believeth on Him shall receive the remission of sins],’ the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word. And they of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" —Acts -47.
All these, the first converts of the Gentile world, were actually pardoned and regenerated before they were baptized. There can be no cavil about this, on the part of any who are willing to bow to the clear and positive teachings of God’s word.
But this forever decides that remission of sins is not secured through baptism as a means to an end, a cause for an effect.
I might pause here and multiply the clear, obvious statements of Scriptures until it filled pages.
Christ promised salvation to the believing, the unbaptized, thief upon the cross. Say not "he could not have been baptized, and, therefore," etc., but believe the great fact of the Gospel that Christ never promulgated heaven, never revealed but one act by which remission could be obtained, and that is through penitential faith on the Son of God; therefore the thief could be saved while nailed to the cross, otherwise he could not have been saved; for without remission of sins there is no salvation.
John the Baptist baptized his subjects to secure for them the remission of sins." I answer, not for the actual remission of their sins did he baptize any, nor did he ever teach that baptism was a, or the, condition of salvation. If we know certainly what he taught, in one sermon, we know he did not teach differently at any time. By turning to John 3:35, we find his very words:
"The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things unto his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth in him."
Christ taught the same doctrine:
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life."—John 3:14-17.
2. Baptism is not a sacrament in and by which our sins are actually cleansed away.
In all the Old Testament there was no typical atonement without the blood of sacrifices—
And all the blood of beasts,
On Jewish altars slain,
pointed to the blood of Christ that was to be shed for the actual remission of all sin—the "fountain that was to be opened for sin and uncleanness." Therefore when we enter the new dispensation, the first thing that greets our eyes is the rent veil and the open mercy-seat, over which we read:
"The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." —1 John 1:7.
There is not, therefore, a sin for baptism to wash away, since we come to the blood first. The baptismal cleansing can not be real but declarative only, since it does nothing towards the actual cleansing away of sin.
Nor can it be said that it is through baptism we reach his blood but through faith. Paul is very clear on this point:
"Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." —Rom. .
3. Nor is baptism an act or sacrament by or on account of which we obtain justification before God.
The word of God everywhere teaches that our justification is not conditioned upon our works—by deeds of law of any description whatever, or the grace of God is made of none effect—and how much less then to make it depend upon a deed or transaction which we are unable to perform, but must secure the consent of third parties—a church or priest—to do for us, thus making our justification before God depend upon the will and act of others, as well as our own, which is subversive of the whole plan of salvation. Faith, and faith alone, independent of all overt acts, does this, and consequently secures our salvation.
Let this question be forever put to rest by the clear and explicit teachings of Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, in which he emphasizes the fact that the saving righteousness of Christ is bestowed through faith in Christ, without any deed of law whatever, whether it be the law of baptism or of circumcision.
"Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. . . .To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus. . . .Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without deeds of law [any law]. . . seeing it is one God who shall justify the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through faith. . . .Now to him that worketh [seeks justification by baptism] is the reward not received of grace but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him who justifieth the ungodly; his faith is counted for righteousness. . . .Therefore it [salvation] is by faith that it might be by grace, to the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed. . . .Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." —Rom. chapters 4 and 5.
"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without deeds of law." —Rom. .
To faith, as the medium of justification, nothing can be added, or the whole scheme is destroyed.
"Christ is become of none effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law: ye are fallen from grace." —Gal. 5:4.
How then can baptism be required except as the profession and evidence of this.
The work of Christ is the only efficient, and faith the only instrumental, agency in our salvation. Neither baptism, nor any rite or ordinance of religion is a meant in order to this end:
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth these things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith, speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou wilt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in chine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." —Rom. 10:4-11.
It is perverting the plan of salvation to its utter subversion to teach that baptism is the law of pardon and justification before God.
4. Nor is it in, or by, baptism that we receive the promise of the Spirit.
This is a cardinal doctrine of the Campbellites—that the gift of the Holy Spirit is conditioned upon baptism, and that no one is justified by God’s Word to hope for the promise of the Spirit, except through water baptism.
But the scriptures teach us that we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith, and not through baptism:
"That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." —Gal. 3:14.
If by the gift of the Holy Spirit is meant remission of sins, or regeneration of heart or justification unto life and salvation, then from the scriptures we learn that no one ever received the gift before pardon and regeneration, etc., had been enjoyed; for believers in Christ, and believers only, ever received the "baptism" or "the gift of the Holy Spirit:"
"In whom after that ye believed ye were sealed by that Holy Spirit of promise." —Eph. 1:13.
This regeneration Paul explains by indicating its results, and tells us clearly by what means it is wrought in us:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved; and hath raised us up together, and made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." —Eph. 2:1-7.
"Now if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things [of the flesh, as above enumerated,] are passed away; and behold, all things are become new." —2 Cor. 5:17.
This is the work of the Spirit operating from above, and not through physical media, dependent upon the will of man—the administrator of baptism, be he minister or priest.
It is the Spirit of God that quickens, begets within us the divine life, and renews our souls in the likeness of Christ. This regeneration is not a change of state—merely professed relations—but the renovation and regeneration of our moral natures; and, I again emphasize it—it is not effected in, and by, the act of baptism as a means, any more than it was through the bloody sacrifices or ablutions under the legal dispensation,
"Not all the outward forms on
Nor rites that God has given,
Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth,
Can fit a soul for heaven.
The sovereign will of God alone
Creates us heirs of grace,
Born in the image of his Son,
A new, peculiar race.
The Spirit, like some heavenly
Breathes on the sons of flesh,
Creates anew the carnal mind,
And forms the man afresh.
Our quickened souls awake and rise
From their long sleep of death;
On heavenly things we fix our eyes,
And praise employs our breath."
5. Baptism is not the means by or through which we are regenerated or born again, as all the Protestant, as well as Catholic creeds do teach.
Christ, in his explanation of the new birth to Nicodemus, denominates spiritual regeneration a birth from above, and not from below.
"Verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born—anothen—not again—but "from above" he can not see, comprehend, understand, even the nature of "the kingdom of God," i.e., Christ’s visible, though spiritual kingdom on this earth. That he evidently referred to his visible earthly kingdom, —the qualifications for entering which Nicodemus came that night to inquire, —we learn, 1. From the fact that John thus denominated it when he announced its approach (Matt. ); the kingdom of heaven1 has approached, and, 2. From Christ’s use of the phrase (Matt. 4:17), also (Luke 17:21) the "kingdom of God is among—not within—you," and even in this same conversation, "for if I have told you earthly things, and ye believed not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" Thus clearly implying that this kingdom, though heavenly in its origin, was located upon the earth. By being "born from above," Christ taught the ruler of the Jews, and every inquirer of the way of salvation in subsequent ages, that it was not through earthly agents, as human priests, or ministers, in administering church rites, or sacraments, and the use of earthly elements, as water, or chrisms, that the regeneration of the heart could be effected, but alone through the direct agency and efficient workings of the Holy Spirit—that power which brought Christ alive from the dead—that the soul of a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins can be quickened and made spiritually alive.
6. Nor is baptism appointed to secure our spiritual union with Christ, by which we become the children of God.
Ritualists, who have perverted the whole plan of salvation, to the subversion of the souls of men, hold and teach that baptism is the first act in which a sinner can meet with Christ, or be united to Christ; and, therefore, the sinner is directed to the river, pond, or pool, as his first act, and his first step toward Christ; and they teach that by baptism he is literally introduced into Christ, and spiritually united to him. This is placing water before blood, and making the baptizer—be he Protestant, or Catholic, or Campbellites human priest—a mediator between the sinner and the Savior.
This doctrine is abhorrent to the Word of God, which every-where teaches us that we become the children of God by becoming one with Christ, God’s Son; and that the nexus—the uniting link or act—is faith, and faith only—a mental operation, and not a physical act.
"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." —Gal. 3:26.
By no other way, then, did any one ever become united to Christ, and become a child of God, in virtue of his union with Christ, since all become Christ’s, and the children of God, by faith alone—no act of the creature is necessary to be added to faith, and certainly much less an overt act of a third person can not be necessary; since this would be making our filial relation to God depend upon the will and pleasure of a sinful man, or men.
7. Nor does baptism in any way introduce us into, or secure for us the grace of God, by which we receive remission of sins and salvation.
If this were true, then would it be true that the grace of God was dependent upon our merits—upon works of righteousness that we may do by the will and assistance of others—which doctrine is dishonorable to God, and destructive of the whole scheme of salvation by grace. But what saith the Scriptures ?
"By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." —Rom. 5:2.
"In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by faith of him." —Eph. 3:12.
8. Nor is baptism a seal, or the seal, of the Covenant of Grace, that not only offers and applies, but confirms, all the blessings of that covenant to us.
It is most absurd, if not profane, to teach that any conceivable physical act performed by man is the Seal of the Covenant of Grace—a spiritual covenant; and the more so to say it has two or more seals. This is also to profane the office—work of the Spirit, by virtually committing it to fallible men, thus teaching that man—a priest—could do the work which a gracious God committed alone to the Holy Spirit.
The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is the Sealer, and Christ’s likeness, left upon the character as the result of the Spirit’s sealing, is the image and superscription of the seal itself.
"In whom [Christ also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." —Eph. 1:13.
"Grieve not the Holy Spirit by whom ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." —Eph. 4:30.
Now, having shown from the harmonious teachings of the Word of God that baptism is not a means of remission, or the cleansing away of sin, or of justification or regeneration, or union with Christ, or a seal of the Covenant of Grace, how can we understand the passages quoted at the opening of these pages, in which baptism seems so intimately connected with remission and salvation? It seems to me that Peter, who uses one or two of the most plausible, is the one to explain them, which, we think, he most clearly does. He says:
"The like figure whereunto baptism doth now also save us, ( not the putting away of the filth of the flesh,) but the answer of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
From this we learn, at least, two things—
(1) That baptism does not produce a good conscience—for one must have been produced before baptism in order for the rite to answer or satisfy its demands. Therefore baptism does not secure the remission of sins, and a conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ.
(2) That the rite of baptism was appointed, not to be a sacrament of salvation, but a figure, and a figure only, whether we consider it as related to repentance, to the remission of sins, or to regeneration. Whatever it is said to do, it does figuratively, —declaratively; and can do nothing, confer nothing really.
If we read "baptism of repentance," we must understand that it is an act professing repentance—declaring one in the exercise of repentance.
If it is the "baptism of the remission of sins," or to "wash away sins," it still is declarative of the remission of sins enjoyed, and figurative of sins actually washed away by the blood of Christ.
If we read the "bath of regeneration," we must understand it as the outward evidence and sign of the existing fact.
This is the pass-key to all the passages quoted by those who teach that baptism is an, or the, efficacious means of, and necessary to, salvation—joined to faith in Christ—on the part of an adult; but efficacious and essential to salvation without faith or consciousness on the part of infants.
Now, it must follow that baptism is connected with faith in our salvation declaratively only. It is a visible expression or declaration that faith exists; it simply expresses or professes a saved state. By faith we receive Christ and all the blessings that flow from a union with him; and in the act of baptism we confess Christ, and avouch our allegiance to him as our Savior and Lawgiver. It is in no sense a seal, but simply a sign of grace received, and a union formed, the visible and appointed fruit or evidence of a loving faith.
Baptism not alone does this; good works—all outward obedience—do it also. For without obedience our faith would be reckoned a dead faith, because, without the inseparable sign of life—growth.
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he bath faith, and have not works? can faith save him." —James 2:14.
They evidence that we are believers-that faith in, and union with, Christ does exist : but the observance of outward rites did not produce the faith, nor effect the union. In the same way a verbal confession of the sinner is joined with faith:
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God bath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." —Rom. 10:9, 10.
with the mouth," says
Illustration: In the Episcopal office, every one received into that organization is required to confess and affirm, that, in baptism, although it was administered to him when an unconscious infant, and asleep in his nurse’s arms, without knowledge or volition, he was made an "heir of God, a member of Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."
Now, with the Word of God to guide us, we say every one of all baptized into that communion, implicitly believing that statement, and depending upon it for salvation, will inevitably be lost; for no living infant or adult, without volition, ever was made an heir of God, a member of Christ, or an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. And we ask the thoughtful Christian to examine each of the Protestant Confessions, and decide if their teachings were implicitly believed by those baptized in infancy, if they would not be forced to conclude that their salvation was secured to them when their parents had baptism administered to them in unconscious infancy as the "sacrament of salvation," or "seal of the covenant of grace?"
It must be evident to all that the position we occupy as Baptists, touching the relation of baptism to faith, does not necessitate the conclusion, that, in every case, there is an absence of salvation where there is an absence of baptism, as we are forced to conclude from the position occupied by Catholics, and Protestants, and Campbellites, who teach that it is the seal of the covenant of grace, or the appointed sacrament of salvation, or the law of pardon. Many will doubtless be saved who were never baptized. They confessed Him with their mouths, and honored Him with their lives; and they were accepted of Him, as was the thief. But all these are saved without baptism, as, in other circumstances, they could be without good works, nay, without verbal confession. Yet the two latter are joined with faith in our salvation. Good works, a verbal confession, and a baptismal profession, are none of them agencies, or even instruments, in our deliverance; but merely its declaration and evidences. In this relation alone are they required by God; and they are required only as opportunity of obedience is offered, and as light, in order to obey, is possessed. Good works are declared essential to a living faith (James ); "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." And a verbal confession is required; and yet the thief was saved without the former, and who will say that he would have been lost had he not been able to express himself in the hearing of others, —that his secret reliance and trust in the Savior would not have been accepted? May we not say the same of baptism as associated with faith in preceding salvation. When it is not understood, or when opportunity of observing it is not enjoyed, its absence is not the absence of salvation.
But if baptism is the law of pardon, the divinely appointed means of remission, or the seal of the covenant of grace, then no one can be saved where there is no church or priest to administer it.
I submit here an illustration I submitted to Mr. A. Campbell in a written discussion had with him in 1853-54. He had said:
"I affirm, then, that the first institution in which we can meet with God is the institution of baptism."
"Remission of sins can not be enjoyed by any person before immersion."
"Before we are justified in Christ, live in Christ, fall asleep in Christ, we must be introduced or immersed into Christ."
Since Mr. Campbell has given us an illustration, will suppose one in turn:
father, taking a boat of tea from the remote interior to
One month after this, the fever prostrated the eldest daughter, and was rapidly hurrying her to the grave. She called her father to the bedside, and asked him if she might, in this last hour, trust this new religion in death; —if trusting upon the merits and promises of Him who died for sinners, and bore their sins in his own body on the tree would suffice to appease God’s violated law on her behalf; and if she might hope for a place in those heavenly mansions of our Father’s house on high.
"Yes, my daughter," said the distressed father, "without a doubt. This new Bible is true; we have felt its truth in our own hearts; it has proved its authenticity to us, that it is indeed from the great Father above. The Savior of the Bible says, ‘Whosoever cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out;’ and, ‘He that believeth on him is not condemned;’ and ‘That whosoever believeth on him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Do you believe on him, my child?"
"Oh, yes, father! I can, I do wholly, fully lay my soul on the blood and righteousness of Jesus my Savior only—on Jesus only; but, father, I have done, and I can do nothing."
"Hear, then," said the father, as he wiped away the tears of mingled joy and sorrow from his eyes, "hear what this Bible says to such: ‘Christ is the end of the law [of all law, my daughter, and works are of the law] for righteousness to every one that believeth’ not worketh, but believeth. And hear the reason, my child, ‘Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all."
"‘Sure to all the seed’ it reads, father, and to the seed which is of the faith of Abraham; but how may I know that I am of this seed, and am an heir according to this precious promise, that is sure, because it rests not in works, but in grace? and that word grace—grace—how sweet that word is to me now, father! all the books of the temple contain no word like it; grace, favor, free gift. The books of Buddha talk of works, works, works. Could I but know that I am of the seed!"
"The apostle answers your question, my child: ‘And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ Will not that solve your doubts?"
"Yes, yes! how beautiful, how glorious, how sweet these precious words and teachings to my soul! I never appreciated them so fully before. I feel that I am Christ’s: my spirit, my all rests upon him. But does it not tell how I became Christ’s, and a child of God? Read it now to me, father, read it now!"
And the old man read through his tears, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus," and bowed his head upon the sacred book. There was silence for a moment; and he heard soft whispers stealing from the couch, the tears were slowly trickling from the half-closed eyes of the dying girl, and a sweet smile was playing over her features as she whispered: "That’s it—that’s it: a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus; and then heirs according to the sure promise."
"And there are other passages, my child, shall I read them?" said the father.
"Oh yes! they are so precious; they just meet my case ; they fill my soul so completely; read them."
"‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’"
"There, father, that’s enough—enough," she faintly whispered. "My soul is more than satisfied. Blessed Savior!" and she looked up as if to see him above her couch—"Blessed Savior, through thee I come to thee."
And the whispers were hushed ; and the family gathered around the couch. The eyes, though glazed, were still upturned and full of light; the lips were parted, and a smile of unearthly sweetness illumined her features: She had gone to Jesus.
This is an illustration of salvation by faith alone. Will Mr. Campbell deny that that humble, believing child was regenerated, justified, sanctified, adopted, and saved—saved, too, according to the plan of salvation? He will not do it—he dare not do it in the face of that declaration of Christ himself; "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life, and shall never come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
Scriptures afford no ground for any one to hope for salvation who has the light
and will not use it—who cares not to know what Christ requires of him, and who
has an opportunity to be baptized as Christ was, and will not take up his cross
and follow him. We have no right to say that such a one is a child of God; he
does not give us the evidence of it: for by their fruits, not professions, we
are to know them. "But this is no more," says
Do parents, or relatives, or friends deter you? "If any man love father, or mother, or husband, or wife more than me, he is not worthy of me." He that is ashamed not of my person merely, but of my laws, of him will I be ashamed. Yet how many who call themselves Christians, or cherish the hope, are exactly in this case with respect to baptism! They are willing to bear the name of Christ, because to do so involves no reproach; they are more respected for this than they would be to disown him: but it is not so in coming out before the world, and designating and honoring by your acts his ordinances, and his despised church; and this the sinful neglecter of baptism sees. He or she knows, that, to submit to the rite Christ appointed, and to follow him in it, is to expose himself to scorn and contempt—is to bear the cross after Christ—is to offend family or friends. Let such hear the words of Christ: "Of him will I be ashamed." Such will he reject in abhorrence.
Remember that Christ is King, and is to be received as King as well as Savior. "How can you be his friends if you do not admit his rule? It is vain to boast that you trust his Cross if you do not reverence his Crown."
This refusal on the part of a professed disciple to hear the voice and obey the command of the Master for personal considerations and the assurance of salvation, is not consonant with the gospel scheme. That scheme, indeed, saves merely by grace, through faith—saves without the least merit on the part of man; but does it save rebels? does it license contempt of divine authority? "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" Will the Christian desire to do so? Is the gospel a doctrine of licentiousness? is it sent to open the flood-gates of error? to beget sin? to warrant us to serve our own wills and notions, fancies and conveniences? Nay, nay, but to subdue them—to renew our natures, and make us obedient to God.
The gospel knows no one, however high in profession, who does not love and obey the commandments of Christ; and they wholly mistake it who suppose themselves saved in willing or willful disobedience. Ignorance of the law, when they have it, and have sense to understand and opportunity to obey it, will not avail; nor will the plea of sincerity in their error. Hear the Savior to such: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
Rejectors of immersion! ponder these things. The institution you rightly understand, or it is in your power to understand it; you may know, without a doubt, how Christ was baptized; your conscience is convicted. If you knew that you were going to the judgment tomorrow, and your salvation depended upon your being baptized as Christ was, and as he has commanded you to be, you would not be at a moment’s loss; you would, this day, be "buried with him by baptism;" you would be "planted in the likeness of his death;" and yet you will not obey. Are you not, then, rebels against Christ, and consequently exposed to his wrath? You are willing to own his person; but you reject and deny his word, and dislike his law. Will he not reject and deny you before his angels? You knew your Lord’s will; but you refused to do it; and do you hope to escape being beaten with many stripes? You say Lord, Lord, and do many things in Christ’s name; but this being all, may he not profess unto you, "I never knew you?"
in all affection and earnestness, as one who loves your everlasting happiness,
as one who would be faithful to his mission, beg and entreat you seriously and
prayerfully to think on these things. Will you not, as you love your own souls,
and as you hope you love Christ, carefully examine the New Testament and see
what Christ requires of you as the act of baptism. Do not fail to do it—do not
refuse to do it, and still hope to be saved, for you have no right to hope for
salvation. Not because there is any merit in the act, or any grace conferred by
baptism per se, but because such aversion to do the will of Christ
should be an all-convincing evidence to you that your heart is not right in the
sight of God—that you are as Simon Magus was, "in the gall of bitterness
and in the bonds of iniquity." Think, I beg of you, can you be saved while
you openly contemn the authority, and reject the counsel of God against
yourself? Your neglect of baptism, and union with the
Your flagrant and inexcusable neglect of divine law declares you the enemy of Christ. You are willing enough to confess Christ in a way that will not expose you to opposition or reproach, but the cross you are unwilling to bear. Can you, then, be his disciple? "And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me." Does not this cross of Christ try you, and find you wanting?
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."
Didst thou, dear Savior, suffer
And bear the cross for me?
And shall I fear to own thy name,
Or thy disciple be ?
Inspire my soul with life divine,
And make me truly bold,
Let knowledge, faith, and meekness shine,
Nor love, nor zeal, grow cold.
Let mockers scoff, the world
And treat me with disdain;
Still may I glory in thy name,
And count reproach my gain.
1 The phrases “kingdom of heaven,” “