THE WICKET GATE
"Know ye not that all we who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? "Romans,ch.6,verse 3
LET us briefly recapitulate the steps in truth we have taken. We know what constitutes a Christian. He is one who has heard the Word of truth. Having heard, the Gospel of his salvation he has believed on Jesus, and that believing attitude to the Lord in heaven has evoked a response from the Saviour Who as an imparting Spirit on the Throne of the Father has sealed him with the Holy Spirit. Thereby Divine decree and action constitute him "a new creation."
The Spirit is an abiding gift, bestowed upon the believer to accomplish in him, in all his weakness, the entire will and purpose of God. No longer does he wish to live according to his own plans because sufficient light has now dawned upon him, making him to see the vanity and futility of all that is outside of the will of God. We have been saved from our sin and self-will that we may heartily embrace the will of God and know experimentally the marvellous power of the Holy Spirit to that end and for that purpose.
Such a person having come thus far will find himself concerned with the ordinances. What is an ordinance? It is an authoritative direction given by our Lord, obedience to which He requires because He so commands. It is the duty of every believer to satisfy himself as before the Lord and in the light of the Word as to the ordinances. Let it be made perfectly clear and plain that each believer must discern the Lord's will and be obedient to that will whatever that will may be. Some people do not call them ordinances, but "sacraments." The word " sacrament" connoted originally the Roman soldier's oath of fidelity. Its meaning is now somewhat changed but it is a satisfactory word if the thought of fidelity is maintained. There are two ordinances left by our Lord. They are Baptism and the Lord's Supper. In this chapter we shall consider baptism and in the next the Lord's Supper.
First let us be satisfied that the command is in the Scripture. Right at the end of Matthew's gospel you will find these words, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway even unto the end of the world." (Matthew, ch. 28, verses 19 and 20.) There then, is the command of our Lord as He ascended into heaven, the last instruction given to His disciples. There can be little doubt that it is the duty of the Lord's people, as disciples are made, to baptise them into the Triune Name according to His commandment.
Secondly, baptism is to be understood by the Scriptures, because they alone reveal this commandment. Any alterations in baptism, which have no justification in the Scriptures, are not to be laid upon people as being the command of the Lord. At least the commencing point is to see what the Scriptures teach, how this commandment is presented in the New Testament, before bringing preconceived ideas and the bias of tradition to bear upon it. So frequently we are told what the "Church' teaches, but the " Church " has no authority whatsoever to teach anything that is not contained in Holy Scripture. I have sometimes been in a strange neighbourhood and not knowing my way around, have taken a devious route to my destination. On my return some friend will tell me exactly which is the direct and best route which, of course, in common sense, I take. But not so the ecclesiastic. He says: " Oh no! That is the roundabout route I took, and having taken it, that is the one and only route for me in the future." That is the traditional mind!
We do not need to know what the Church teaches; what we do need to know is what Christ teaches, and every disciple should see how very far-reaching is the distinction. With all this in our minds let us see what New Testament baptism was. What was the method? There can be no doubt that our Lord went down into the Jordan: " And straightway, coming up out of the water. " (Mark, ch. 1, verse 10). There are pictures of our Lord with the water being poured over His head, standing in the water, nevertheless. Let me recommend you to put into the hands of any Romanist you know, a copy of Father Ronald Knox's translation of the New Testament. He is an Anglican turned Romanist. What does he say about baptism in this chapter of Romans? " Baptism then suggested the idea of total immersion." If then our Lord went down into the Jordan to be immersed and Paul taught immersion, who is the gentleman who has altered the instructions? And when we find him ought he to be venerated or put on trial for spiritual treason? Now who were the people baptised? You will notice that our Lord was given the name of Jesus without being baptised. That is very important. When He was baptised He was about 28, there was no mention of giving Him a name then! You will find people argue that baptism (e.g. the sprinkling of a baby) takes the place of circumcision, but if you should hear such an argument you will be able to observe that our Lord was both circumcised and baptised.
Let us then look at the record of the Acts concerning the day of Pentecost. You cannot mistake it, "Then they, having received His word, were baptised." We have therefore reached some important conclusions. There is no evidence in the Scriptures that our Lord or any of the Apostles were baptised by sprinkling as babies. On the day of Pentecost, baptism was administered to those who believed. True we are told, as with the Philippian gaoler that not only he, but his household were baptised, but it is also true that the Word was preached not only to the gaoler but to all that were in the house. It was surely they who being in the house had first heard the Word and believed, that were baptised. In any event who invented the offices and titles of godmothers and godfathers? Nothing our Lord said as He ascended suggests their need, and there is not a scintilla of evidence in the epistles. They are the exclusive fabrication of the ecclesiastical mind. It would appear that those who stand for these matters are more concerned about baptised babies than they are about baptised believers. But the ordinances of the Church are not for babies but for believers. We must be clear and definite on an issue of far-reaching importance. Who constitute the Church? Baptised babies or baptised believers? The answer of the Scriptures is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt: " If thou believest thou mayest." The Ordinance of the Lord's Supper is a command laid primarily on the believer, the ordinance of baptism is a command laid upon the church. No individual, as such, has the right to arrange with an individual to baptise him. In my understanding of the New Testament the person conducting the ordinance must have the authority of a local Church to baptise.
I have known at least one case where a person arranged baptism with one who was not the pastor of a church nor qualified by any company of believers so to act. While I will not say it was not a valid observance I am sure in my own mind it was an irregular proceeding. Usually the Pastor of a Church will conduct the ordinance, but any person so authorised by the local assembly may do so. We should not think these things unimportant.
The ordinance should be in relation to a church not only as authorising the person who conducts the service but because such persons as are baptised are to be confessed members of the local assembly. I have baptised many persons who, for example, belong to the Anglican Church. Having seen the truth of baptism by immersion and that of the believer, they nevertheless desire to continue in the fellowship of the Anglican Communion. Some Anglicans as well as Baptists, may think their position to be incongruous but they are doing the Lord's will as they see it and in such circumstances it is a joy to baptise them. And to desire for them God's blessing as they return to their own fellowship in the Anglican Communion or any other denomination. But, while I have done so in the past, I would not again baptise a person who did not intend to join any Church at all! These wandering stars in the firmament are surely out of the Lord's will. Every Christian should be a pledged member of some assembly. To obey the command to baptism and to ignore the commitment to a fellowship is a strange reading of Scripture. Now let us consider what was the purpose of the ordinance as far as that purpose can be ascertained from the Scriptures. Both the ordinances are connected with death. We are baptised into His death.
It is a strange paradox that has transformed an ordinance associated with death into a ceremony connected with the birth of a baby. We are saved by His death and much more by His life. Not the life prior to His death but the life subsequent to Calvary, the life that Jesus took out of the grave. That distinction is all-important. For it must be clear that if His resurrection life is to function in us then in some way there must be an experience of death for each believer. What then has died in the believer? Romans 6 supplies the answer, " Our old man was crucified with Him." We are to know this. But how many do? And who did it ? The wonderful truth is that as surely as God brought His Son to the Cross for our redemption, He also nailed our old nature to the Cross with Him. Faith that takes hold of our salvation must also take hold of this same fact bound up irrevocably in the Cross and inseparable from it. It is impossible for a person to believe that Christ died for him, a sinner, without also believing that God crucified the old nature in that redemption. God did so in order that the body of sin might be destroyed. Father Ronald Knox translates it: " that the living power of our guilt might be annihilated." When that living power of guilt is annihilated then we may walk in the living power of the resurrection life of Jesus. Baptism therefore is the solemn affirmation that we have not only entered into the truth that Christ died for our sins but we have equally believed that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that we should no longer serve sin.
We sin because we take our eyes off the work of God in Christ in our behalf. The old nature wrestles hard within us because we do not maintain with steadfast faith the assurance that its power has been crucified by an act of God. Hence the believer foolishly attempts two things which are impossible. He seeks to overcome the old nature and to live the Christian life in his own strength, whereas he is to reckon that God has surely brought his old nature to death in the Cross, which believing, the power of the old nature shall be broken. He is to trust the Holy Spirit to maintain in him the resurrection life of Jesus in all its wonderful power, the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Many Christians think that all this is too involved and abstract to be taken seriously. They prefer the dying effort to live the Christian life, which gradually expires, and they sink down into the weakness of the flesh. A condition that does not seem to be remarkable because it is the condition common to most Christians. Nevertheless it is very far from what God intended. Sin in one form or another will abound in our lives until we enter into our spiritual liberty in the Cross. The new convert must remember that without faith it is impossible to please God and therefore impossible to enter into the high spiritual privileges and liberties for which Christ died and lives. Patient waiting upon God, serious meditation on the truths of Romans 6 will lead us, under the guidance of the Spirit, into that life of victory. It must ever be a closed land to those who seek it in their own strength; but will become an open door to those who reckon themselves indeed to be dead unto sin and living unto God in Jesus Christ.
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