BAPTISM AND THE REMISSION OF SINS
Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel, Sunday evening, June 29th, 1958.
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and he baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."Acts 2:38
THIS evening we are considering a text that to some is a cause of disquiet. Peter is preaching on the day of Pentecost, the day when, with many others, he has received the Holy Spirit and the remarkable experience has taken a form which has attracted the attention of a large number of people in Jerusalem. Religion has been vitally manifested in a way people had never previously seen. It was clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that something had happened. They thought the disciples were delightfully drunk but Peter soon removed that impression as he set before them the issue of Jesus as Messiah. When our Lord spoke to His disciples about His death they rebuked Him for mentioning such a possibility, but now the truth is clear to Peter and he makes it clear to the assembled people that the Christ must needs have suffered and rise again from the dead. To their amazement the people find their consciences stabbed awake in a way they had never known in the temple or synagogue and they were concerned as to what they should do. For answer Peter pronounced the terms of the text.
BAPTISM AN ISSUE
Tonight we are to witness the baptism by immersion of friends who have declared their faith in Christ and, as we believe, rightly interpreting the Word of Scripture, desire to render obedience to the first ordinance commanded of our Lord. In this particular ordinance, of the larger denominations the Baptists stand alone. The Free Churches, as a whole, believe the Church to be the Body of Christ unfettered by any relationship to the State such as is embraced by the Anglican communion. They are one in their general attitude to the claims of episcopacy. They have no radical difference in their understanding of the Eucharistic feast but, apart from the Baptists, they are one with the Anglican and Roman communions in the sprinkling of infants. Although not necessarily endorsing baptismal regeneration they do not consent to the interpretation of the ordinance as we shall observe it tonight. Now
THE TRUTH OF GOD
never needs apology or adaptation. God never requires us to take a verse of Scripture and give it a twist to make it apparently to support our view. In the great pilgrimage from carnality to the pure eternal truth of God every Christian has continually to step out of some measure of darkness into light. If we find a text we cannot understand our simple duty is to weigh it carefully, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the promise that by God's help whatever truth IS given us to that truth we will be utterly obedient. It is no use to God if we obstinately hold to a position and in order to justify ourselves deliberately adapt verses of Scripture to compel them to mean what we want them to mean. Hence we look at this text this evening because it links together the remission of sins, baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit.
According to the Prayer Book a baby being sprinkled by the clergyman in the Triune Name is by that rite thereby regenerate, born again, is given a Christian name and should it die, will most certainly go to heaven. If this were really true then we should find Anglican churches crowded to the doors week by week by those who, having been born again by sprinkling, had a hunger and thirst after God. Where there is life there is appetite and if people have become regenerate they should have an appetite for God, His Word, His House. Nobody has a right to call himself a Christian who has no hungering and thirsting after God. Quite clearly the Romanists and the Anglicans have no evidence that in the sprinkling of a baby it becomes the subject of an action of God whereby it is born again.
REMISSION OF SINS?
The text also links baptism with the remission of sins. This is sometimes an occasion of misunderstanding for those who come forward for baptism by immersion on confession of faith. The candidate sincerely believes that in baptism sins will be remitted by God, a wonderful assurance of forgiveness will be experienced and henceforth sin will not be the problem it has been hitherto. A text such as we have this evening may be interpreted in that way. If it is the post baptismal days may provide a great and grievous shock; for after the exaltation of the baptismal rite they may be surprised to find that the sin question is just as big a problem as ever. Indeed it is possible that many who have come forward for baptism and subsequently sat down at the Table have forsaken the fellowship of the Lord's people and departed also from the Lord because the power of sin was so strong in the life when they thought that by baptism it would have been broken.
OUR LORD'S EXAMPLE
should have warned them. His was a wonderful experience. As He was baptised in the Jordan the heavens were opened upon Him and the Father declared Him to be "MY Son, in Whom I am well pleased." Nevertheless by the Spirit Who then came upon Him, He was forthwith driven into the wilderness to he tempted and tempted severely of the Devil. So far from baptism being the occasion when we shall say goodbye to the fierceness of temptation it may well be the beginning of challenge from the devil in a more intense form than ever before. It would be an evil thing indeed if anybody should be baptised in the hope that by such a rite they were to be delivered from their old nature, the power of temptation and their besetting sins. It is important therefore, that we should see in what way the remission of sins is related to baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the teaching of Scripture they are inseparable.
REMISSION, BAPTISM, THE SPIRIT
are to be the experience of every believer. One cannot be known without the other. It is, however, disastrous if we select the external rite and declare that the administration of baptism carries with it remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is an equally evil thing indeed if we insist on the possibility of any one of them without the others. In the Scriptures they are bound together even as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One and failure to recognise this fact will almost certainly lead to grievous spiritual confusion.
THE SPIRITUAL PROCEDURE
If we may judge from the day of Pentecost the first vital contact with the Gospel involves the hearer in the conviction of sin. In the case of those in Jerusalem they were convicted that their attitude to Jesus was wrong. That so far from His being an evil doer worthy of death, they were the evil doers in bringing Him to the Cross. His blood was on their hands. They stood before God verily guilty in their heart attitude to Jesus. This left them in a state of hopeless despair in which they desired to know of Peter what they should do. His answer was plain that conviction must be followed by repentance. All that lay in conviction must be expressed Godwards in repentance.
In repentance there is a twofold action. They were to turn from their previous attitude to Jesus in rejecting Him as an unholy blasphemer and they were to turn to Him trusting Him wholly to save them by the blood He had shed. The change of mind about Jesus involved an inevitable change of mind about themselves and when that took place they repented. Always when a man refuses to repent, while he may not recognise the fact, he has wrong thoughts about Jesus and peculiarly "holy" views about himself. Therefore without reservation the conviction of sin must be resolved by an unqualified repentance known to God as coming from the heart of the sinner.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
is thereby conferred by Jesus on the repentant sinner who has changed his attitude to the Lord. He has declared that God is holy in all His ways and the sinner is the unholy one. He now receives the Holy Spirit from Jesus for the express purpose that as he realises he is unholy by nature and desire, the Spirit of God may change his nature, his appetites, his desires and invest him with the power of God to do the will of God. Henceforth he should not serve sin, but serve God! The moment he is really concerned with the will of God he will inevitably want to know where he is to begin and he finds that
OBEDIENCE BEGINS IN BAPTISM
This is the initiatory rite wherein he solemnly declares to God in the presence of fellow baptised believers that henceforth his life is to be in accordance not with the will of man, not with the will of the world, not with the will of Satan, not with the will of his old nature, but with the will of God. The nature of baptism declares this. He is buried beneath the waters because all obligations outside of the will of God are ended and henceforth he has no obligation but the will of God. He is raised up out of the waters to walk in newness of life because as a believer he has received the Holy Spirit for the express purpose of enduing him with the power of God fully to accomplish the will of God in his life.
THE THREE-FOLD EXPERIENCE
cannot really be separated. He has turned away from his sin and turned to Jesus His Saviour Who, knowing his repentance to be real, has conferred upon him the gift of the Holy Spirit to fulfil the will of God for which outside of God he has no power to do. The Lord has ordained that thereupon his first act of obedience shall be in the ordinance of baptism wherein these tremendous spiritual facts are symbolised and because he is committed to the will of God he is committed to baptism. That is to say no man can truly turn from his old life to seek the new life in Christ without receiving the Spirit for obedience and having thus received the Spirit he will proceed to baptism by immersion in which all his spiritual experience is symbolised. In so submitting to baptism he will know the remission of sins within the context of obedience to God and that means he will be taking hold of the resources of God to resist temptation. He will also be fully trusting the Holy Spirit to give him enabling grace to fulfil the will of God.
The peril of Christians is in partial response. Some seem to want nothing more than the remission of sins. If a person wants forgiveness of sins but does not want holiness for the future then the remission of sins can never become a reality in experience. If they want holiness in their own strength and according to their own calculation they will find that to be impossible for we grieve and quench the Spirit if we do not fully recognise that He alone has the power to make us holy as we trust Him. For that He requires absolute obedience to the known will of God and a perpetual trust in the Lord in heaven that the Spirit may exert His power within the believer. If the believer sees this but does not decide to be baptised he is declaring he wants to be a Christian but he refuses the first initiatory act of obedience clearly laid down by the Lord. Therefore he sentences himself to spiritual frustration. Hence it is true to say that a vital remission of sins involves the convert in a committal to holiness of life. In which he must have the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Spirit is given to those who are obedient to the will of God. The first step in obedience is baptism.
FULNESS OF BLESSING
therefore is to be known in the consummation of conviction of sin in repentance, holiness of life in the Spirit, and obedience initiated in baptism and henceforth exercised in every detail in the daily life. While not questioning the integrity of those who differ from us, we affirm that in Scripture and in experience the remission of sins as a vital fact leads on inevitably to unction and power in the Spirit to be holy. It is expressed in the submission of the believer in baptism as he dies to his own will and lives unto God. A marriage ceremony does not make the couple love each other. It is the suitable public ratification of the love that is in their hearts if indeed marriage is to bring them happiness. How could a man declare his real love for a woman if he refused to enter publicly into his marital obligations? Even so we cannot experimentally know the full blessing of salvation if at any point we hold back from Lord's will. Therefore remission of sins upon repentance is a fact between God and the believer by virtue of the blood of Christ shed for sin. The sinner who sees this being truly repentant will gladly receive the Holy Spirit by faith that henceforth he shall not be the slave of sin. The dedication of his life to the will of God brings him to the baptismal waters in which obedience his remission of sins finds its Divine ratification as henceforth his desire is to walk in newness of life not in his own strength but in the power of the Spirit. All this is expressed in baptism wherein he is buried to himself and to his past that he may walk obediently in newness of life in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way baptism, the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit are one.
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