by John G. Lake
Dutch Reformed Church Hall
Somerset East, Cape Colony
To understand this great subject of Christian baptism, we must view it through its various stages of progressive revelation. For, like the revelation of God to man, baptism has been continuous and progressive in its meaning and character. In the short time allotted to me to speak, I cannot spare the time to read all the Scriptures to which I shall refer, but I will tell you where they are to be found. When the report of this discussion is published, I urge you not only to read it, but to study it carefully and prayerfully, so that this question may forever be settled in your minds. For hundreds of years, many eminent scholars have tried to connect infant baptism with the practice of the male-child circumcision in the Old Testament. It cannot be done; there never was any connection, there never will or can be.
But there is a connection between Christian baptism—that is, a believer’s baptism—and the higher, or inner, circumcision of the heart, the cleansing of the natural man from carnality and sin, which the outward circumcision of the male child’s flesh typified.
Circumcise [purify] yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 4:4)
Again, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deuteronomy 10:16). From this Scripture, it will be seen that God demanded not only the circumcision of the body but also the circumcision (the purifying) of the inner heart-life from all sin.
Now we come to the New Testament. John the Baptist was the last of the Jewish prophets. His ministry crowned and closed the dispensation of the Father. When John began his ministry of baptism, Christ had not yet commenced His public ministry. The ministry of John was nearing its close before Jesus commenced His, for John was the forerunner of Jesus Christ.
(See Mark 1.)
Was John the Baptist an innovator? Did he on his own account introduce baptism? Where did his authority to baptize come from? John the Baptist was a Jewish prophet under the law. The common notion that he was a Christian disciple is an error, for Christ had not yet publicly appeared. Where, then, did his baptism spring from? I propose to show you the error of associating Christian baptism with circumcision of the male child.
Error of Associating Christian Baptism with Circumcision of the Male Child
John’s baptism had Old-Testament precedent and authority behind it. It is ignorance on this point that has caused the farce of infant baptism to obtain credence and support. Turn with me to Exodus 40 and read. For consecrating persons to the office of priesthood, the law says:
And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.(Exodus 40:12–13)
The Levites were also separated to the service of the tabernacle, from the Jewish multitude, in a similar manner. (See Numbers 8:6–7.) Note that neither the garments nor the anointing admitted one to the priesthood. This belonged to one by virtue of being a priest. It was the washing that separated him from the Jewish multitude and constituted him a priest.
This separation from the multitude and simultaneous separation from sin by a real, genuine repentance and a wholehearted turning to God were the conditions essential to the baptism of John. “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission [forgiveness and putting away] of sins” (Mark 1:4). In this demand, he stood only upon the high plane of circumcision (purifying) of the heart which God demanded.
Now, from whom did he demand repentance? From all who would be baptized, though already they, when children, had been circumcised. John himself had been circumcised. (See Luke 1:59.) Again, in Luke 2:21, we read that Jesus also was circumcised. This brings us to where we can plainly understand the reason why Jesus had to be baptized.
Why Was Jesus Baptized?
According to the law, a priest had to be thirty years of age before he could be consecrated to the priesthood. And in Luke 3, we read,
Now when all the people were baptized [Jesus came last, so His baptism was not an example for others], it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age.(Luke 3:21–23)
John the Baptist was a priest, as well as the son of a priest of the Levitical, or priestly, tribe. He was, therefore, a priest according to the law. He was filled with the Holy Ghost from his birth, which was the anointing and ordination of God. Therefore, by divine as well as human authority and appointment, he was qualified to administer the ordinance of separation to the Son of God. Water baptism was the visible sign of separation from the congregation of Israel to the priesthood according to the law of Moses. (See Exodus 40:12–13.) King by descent from David, priest through His baptism by John, Jesus was now a royal priest forever, “after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 7:11).
We will now return and further consider the baptism of repentance which John administered to the penitent for the “remission of sins.”
John did not baptize all who offered themselves as candidates. He refused baptism to the Pharisees and Sadducees. He demanded from them “fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8), the undeniable evidence of a change of heart. Children of Abraham according to the flesh, and circumcised the eighth day, they might have been, but, without the inner circumcision—without real repentance producing purity of life and character—they were denied the baptism of John.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who bath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.(Matthew 3:7–9)
Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. (See Genesis 17:10–14.) The Pharisees had been circumcised as children and therefore claimed the advantages and privileges of that covenant. But the covenant with Abraham was conditional: “Walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). There was no place for sin; the heart as well as the flesh must be circumcised. “And I will make a covenant with thee.” (See Genesis 17:2.) But the Pharisees, like those who depend upon what they call the covenant of infant baptism, wanted to claim the benefits of the covenant notwithstanding that they were godless and wicked men.
John drove them from him, warning them to flee from the “wrath to come.” Heart purity was an essential condition to John’s baptism.
And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father [like many today who argue, “We had Christian parents, and they had us baptized when we were babies”]: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees (heart-sin, the sinful nature): therefore every tree (the individual) which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (Matthew 3:9–10)
We have shown that the baptism of Jesus was His inauguration to the appointment and office of priest. He demonstrated and enforced His priestly authority when He cleansed the temple by casting out the money-changers and gain-getters. (See John 2:14–17.) When the Pharisees questioned His authority, He answered, “The baptism of John, whence was it?” (Matthew 21:25). He referred them to the baptism of John as the official act and seal of His separation and induction to the priestly office, which was the “fulfilling of all righteousness” of which He spoke at His baptism. (See Matthew 3:15.) Now we come to the evolution of baptism in the New Testament and there learn its deepening significance and its increased demand upon the life and heart and conscience of the baptized.
The Baptism of John
Into what name did John baptize? Into the name of the Father. John’s baptism was by single immersion into the name of the Father only; for the Son, Jesus, was not yet revealed. The public ministry of Jesus Christ commenced only when John’s preaching and baptism were at the climax of power and popularity, from that point to decline, to fade, and to pass away to make room for a new development under the preaching and baptism of Jesus.
Let us read in the third chapter of John:
And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou bearest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.(John 3:26)
Read on further, where John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (verse 30).
Now we come to the evolution of baptism under the personal ministry of Jesus Christ. Let us read in Mark:
Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.(Mark 1:14–15)
Jesus required repentance toward God and faith in God the Father, even as John taught. In addition, Christ demanded faith in Himself, the Son, as one with the Father and coexistent with Him from all eternity. Those who accepted Him as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, were baptized by a double immersion into the name of the Father, as were the disciples of John, and into the name of the then-present Son of God. All this only brings us to the practice of baptism as performed during the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
The Baptism of Jesus Christ
After the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, He initiated His disciples into the practice and teaching of Christian baptism. This is a baptism by triune immersion into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. In Matthew, we read,
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 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. Amen. (Matthew 28:18–20)
Here we have a command to baptize into a new name, the Holy Ghost, into which no man was ever baptized before. Christian baptism requires, therefore, from the candidate for baptism:
Faith in God as John the Baptist demanded from his disciples.
Faith in God the Son, an indispensable condition to the baptism administered by the disciples of Jesus.
Faith in God the Holy Ghost, the new name introduced by Jesus into the terms of the great commission in Matthew 28:19, which we have just quoted.
Like the ministry of John the Baptist, that of Jesus had its baptism. Are these baptisms alike? Again, was John’s baptism identical with Christian baptism? It cannot be so, for Christian baptism was administered to those who had already received the baptism of John. This is abundantly clear from what we read in Acts:
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. (Acts 19:1–6)
Christian baptism was to be administered in the name of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—and differed widely in significance from any that had preceded it. In the baptism of John, the name of the Trinity was not invoked.
The Johnaic baptism discipled the people to John. It was a seal of subjection to him as God’s prophet and as a sign of their faith in the after-coming Mightier One, who would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
(See Luke 3:16.)
The baptism administered by the disciples of Jesus was the seal of their acceptance of, and subjection to, Him as the promised and now-present Savior of man.
(See John 3:14–17.)
It is quite obvious, therefore, that these three baptisms differed in quality and scope. In central aim and in purity, they agreed, and repentance was common to all three. (See Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:14–15; Acts 2:38.) But repentance under Christian baptism differs from the other two, being threefold respecting the Trinity.
I have already proved that between Christian baptism, into the name of the Trinity, and the rite of circumcision, there is an impassable gulf of separation and distinction. When religious teachers endeavor to establish an identity between them, their arguments are unsupported by one honest interpretation of scriptural truth. The whole fabric of such contention is as flimsy as the spider’s web, while the earnest investigator is left with a list of specious arguments as groundless as they are unconvincing.
The high character of Christian, or believers’, baptism as instituted by Jesus Christ (see Matthew 28:18–20) is best seen and understood in the light of progressive revelation. This is further demonstrated in verses 1 through 6 of the sixth chapter of Romans. We will read the fourth and fifth verses:
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death [burial in baptism], we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.(Romans 6:4–5)
The “old man” of sin is buried in baptism, and the “new man” after the likeness and character of Jesus Christ is raised up. Lest we should fail to grasp the high and holy demands of God and be satisfied with less than the experimental knowledge of the perfect work of the grace of God within the heart, which God expects us to possess and for which He has made full provision in the redemption wrought by Christ on Calvary, we will further endeavor to emphasize certain important and convincing facts:
That John refused to baptize those who had been circumcised under the covenant with Abraham, until they had repented and brought forth the fruits of righteousness.
(See Matthew 3:7–8.)
That, though their parents had been circumcised when children, John warned them to “flee from the wrath to come.” They were children of wrath, their circumcision and all else notwithstanding, until they had truly repented and turned to God. John further warned them that unless they repented, they would be “cut down and cast into the fire” as worthless and incorrigible.
That God demanded circumcision (purification) of the heart, which is a conscious, practical, indwelling heart experience.
That John demanded repentance from sin and a turning to God, and that his baptism was the seal of separation to God. This is illustrated both figuratively and literally by the form of baptism which separated Jesus into His priesthood, being also that which separated sinners from their sins. (See Exodus 40:12–13; Matthew 3:13–17.)
That Jesus demanded repentance and faith, and baptized disciples. (See Mark 1:14–15; John 4:1–2.)
That those already baptized by John were rebaptized by Paul. (See Acts 19:1–5.)
That Paul declared that death unto sin (separation from sin) and resurrection life in God (conversion and sanctification) to be the import, the true significance, and purpose of believers’ baptism. (See Romans 6:1–14.) This will bring us to the place where we can see the tremendous importance of baptism as Christ established it. This is not the foolish practice of sprinkling water on a helpless infant’s nose.
The baptism of infants is of man’s invention, and a wicked parody of the true baptism instituted by Christ. Literally and figuratively, it is a screaming farce. On the other hand, heaven and earth bear witness to the deep spiritual meaning and significance of true believers’ baptism. “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 John 5:7).
The Father is He who gave His only begotten Son for our redemption (see John 3:16); the Word is Jesus Christ, “in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14; see also John 1:1, 14); and the Holy Ghost is He that witnessed to our pardon, and to our adoption as sons and daughters of the living God. (See Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5.)
Again, there are three that bear witness in the earth—the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and these three agree in one. The Spirit witnesses that He convicted us of sin. The water witnesses to our repentance and public renunciation of sin—that we have become disciples of Jesus Christ and that, being born of the water and of the Spirit, we have entered the kingdom of heaven. (See John 3:5.) The blood witnesses to the remission of our sins, for the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. (See 1 John 1:7–9.)
Oh, is it not sad that this ordinance of God, pregnant with meaning of spiritual worth and significance, should be robbed of all its original sense and purpose and degraded to mean only the outward symbol of a covenant made as with Abraham!
To the early Christians, obedience to God in baptism meant the forfeiture of the rights of citizenship and of the benefits and protection of the law. Secular history records that during the fierce persecution in the reign of Nero, and after the burning of Rome, a Roman officer was present at Christian baptisms to take down the name of the candidates; when this was done, the property of those baptized was confiscated to the State, and they themselves were outlawed to become the defenseless prey of malice, or cupidity, from which the State offered them neither protection nor redress.
They suffered every indignity which the forces of lawlessness and barbaric cruelty could heap upon them. They fought with wild beasts in the public arena. They were butchered to contribute to the enjoyment of a Roman holiday. Paul himself was compelled to take part in a gladiatorial contest, and he spoke of fighting wild beasts at Ephesus. (See 1 Corinthians 15:32.) In the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, we read:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy).(Hebrews 11:37–38)
May God help us to raise the standard of a true baptism as John did! Let us confess that in continuing the farce of infant baptism, which is one of the errors the Protestant churches have inherited from Roman Catholicism, we have robbed Christian baptism of its dignity and power and deep spiritual significance. Let us nobly acknowledge our error. “The times of this ignorance God winked at [overlooked]; but now commandeth all men every where to repent”
Let us return to apostolic practice by planting again the standard of baptism as instituted by our blessed Lord and Master. The conditions and blessings attached thereto may be enumerated as follows:
Repentance towards God’s circumcision of heart (heart cleansing); separation unto God; faith in a triune God; baptism of the triune man (spirit, soul, and body) into the name of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), bringing in a triune blessing; death to sin; life in God; and power for service; witnessed to in heaven by the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost and in earth by the Spirit and the water and the blood.
The question may well be asked: What do you do with babies?
To ensure an obedient, God-fearing race of children, let the parents themselves become obedient to God. Wayward, disobedient, and wicked children are “a seed of evildoers” (Isaiah 1:4), the product of parents who themselves refuse obedience to the law of their God. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
After the birth of the child, the parents in due time appear with their child before God in His house. The pastor receives the child and solemnly dedicates it to the Lord and His service. In this, again, we follow Bible custom and precedent. Let us learn what that means from Luke 2:22:
And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they
[Joseph and Mary] brought him [Jesus] to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord. (Luke 2:22)
Again, in Mark we read,
And they brought young children to him [Jesus], that he should touch them [not sprinkle them, but touch them]: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them [not sprinkled them].
The parents pledge themselves to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), to teach them the Word of God, and to instruct them in the exercise of faith and prayer until such time as they are converted and so obtain an experience in God of salvation from sin and regeneration of heart through faith in the precious blood of Jesus. Then follows baptism as our Lord commanded, at which time they publicly profess a personal and practical knowledge of the salvation of God, their discipleship to Jesus Christ, and that they have the witness of the Holy Ghost to their adoption.
These conditions being fulfilled, they are then baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
A Word to Young Converts about Baptism
Reverend Charles H. Spurgeon, in The Sword and the Trowel, alluding to the miracle performed upon Saul when his eyes were opened, wrote:
One more thing that Saul saw when his eyes were opened was what some do not see, although their eyes are opened in other respects. “He received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (Acts 9:18). He saw the duty of believer’s baptism and he attended to it directly. You who believe in Jesus should confess Jesus, and you who have confessed Jesus should gently bestir the memories of those very retiring young converts who are afraid to put on Christ in baptism. You know right well that salvation lies in the believing, but still how singularly the two things are put together, “He that with his heart believeth, and with his mouth maketh confession of Him, shall be saved.” (See Romans 10:9–10.) “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (See Mark 16:16.) The two commands are joined together by God; let no man put them asunder. Surely, dear friends, wherever there is genuine faith in Christ there ought to be speedy obedience to the other command.
Our Faith according to Scripture
We believe in, and preach, the following truths as found in the Scriptures:
First: Repentance and its fruits. (See Matthew 3:2–8; Mark 1:14–15; Luke 15:18–21; 2 Corinthians 7:10–11; Luke 19:8.) This embraces the new birth, when one’s name is recorded in heaven and one becomes a child of God.
Second: Sanctification, the act of grace which cleanses the child of God from the evil nature—the old man (see Romans 6:6) and the carnal mind (see Romans 8:7)—and makes him a partaker of His divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4).
Third: The baptism of the Holy Ghost, the fulfillment of the promise of the Father, the enduement of power for service upon a sanctified life (see John 15:3; Luke 24:49; Acts 2:4–5, 8); empowering for service with an irresistible message, as Stephen, in Acts 6:10. Also speaking in new tongues, a confirmation to the believer (see Mark 16:20) and a sign to the unbeliever (see 1 Corinthians 14:22).
Fourth: The full restoration of the gifts to the church. (See 1 Corinthians 12:7–10.)
Fifth: Divine healing provided for all in the atonement. (See Isaiah 53:5; Psalm 103:3; Matthew 8:17; John 10:10; 1 John 3:8.)
Sixth: The premillennial second coming of Jesus Christ. (See John 14:3, Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18.)
Seventh: Baptism by immersion (see Matthew 28:19–20) and the Lord’s Supper (see Matthew 26:26–29; 1 Corinthians 11:23–29).
We are not fighting men or churches but seeking to displace dead forms and creeds and wild fanaticism with living, practical Christianity. “Love, faith, and unity” are our watchwords, and “Victory through the atoning blood” our battle cry. God’s promises are true. Hallelujah! Our motto is: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
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