1 Baptism by Martyn Lloyd Jones We are considering the means of grace that are available in the Church, and are administered by the Church for the upbuilding and the strengthening of the Christian believer, and in our last lecture we looked in general at what are called the sacraments. Now we come to a detailed consideration of the two ordinances which were commanded by the Lord and which we regard, therefore, as obligatory: baptism and the Lord s Supper. First, let us take the biblical doctrine of baptism. It is probably unnecessary for me even to mention the fact that this is a subject about which there has been great disputation. Whereas many people might, perhaps, have been comparatively ignorant about some of the other causes of dissension, I am sure that at some time or another, every professing Christian has been engaged in discussion on the question of baptism. And equally saintly, equally spiritual, equally learned, people are to be found holding the various opinions. Therefore it behooves us once more to say that not only trust we approach the subject with caution, but, still more importantly, in a Christian manner and in the Spirit which we claim we have received and to whom we submit ourselves. Never has it been more important to avoid mere labels, glib generalizations and dogmatic pronouncements than when considering a subject like this. Is it not perfectly obvious, before we go any further, that this subject cannot be finally decided, that it is not one of those subjects concerning which you can give an absolute and unmistakable proof? If it could, there would never have been all this controversy and there would not have been denominational distinctions. I would cite the example of Professor Karl Barth, the great Reformed theologian (though my citing him does not mean that I agree with his essential position). Barth was brought up in the typical Presbyterian manner, but he has undergone a great change in his view of baptism. Having been brought up to believe in infant baptism he has written a book to say that he no longer believes that, but believes in adult baptism. So it ill behooves us to be over dogmatic and to give the impression that there is only one possible point of view. As we saw in the last lecture, baptism is not essential to our salvation. No sacrament is essential to salvation: if you say it is, you are aligning yourself with the Roman Catholics. Protestants have always said that while baptism and the Lord s Supper are commands of the Lord, and we should therefore practice them, they are not essential. They do not add grace; they simply point to it and bring it to us in a special way. So we must approach the subject with this caution and with a Christian spirit. There are three main positions on this subject: the paedo (infant) baptists, the Baptists, and the Salvation Army, together with the Quakers. In the early Church there was no definite reference to infant baptism until AD 175. That silence does not prove, however, that infant baptism was not practiced before that date. An important piece of evidence comes from Tertullian, who was a great man in the early Church at
2 the end of the second century. Now Tertullian changed his views on this subject and became an opponent of infant baptism. So there is surely a very strong case for saying that in Tertullian s day it could not be established that infant baptism was taught and practiced by the apostles, for if it was, a man like Tertullian would never have spoken against it in the way that he did. Another very interesting bit of evidence is that the great Saint Augustine, whose mother was a Christian, was not baptised as an infant. Again, you cannot lay too much weight on that argument, but it is significant in that it demonstrates that infant baptism was not the universal practice. As we go on through the centuries, we find, in general, that right up until the Protestant Reformation there was only infant baptism. The main Protestant Reformers continued that practice, but towards the end of the sixteenth century a new body of people arose who were called Anabaptists because they believed in rebaptising on confession of faith (the prefix ana means again ), when one was old enough to be able to make a personal statement. That brief historical survey leads us to the next question: What is the meaning of baptism as it is taught in the Scriptures? Here the significant thing to observe is that the phrase that is generally used is baptise into. There is the famous command, for instance, in Matthew 28:19 : Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in [into] the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Exactly the same phrase is to be found, in a most interesting way, in 1 Corinthians 1:13, where Paul says, Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in [into] the name of Paul? It is the same thing in Corinthians I0:2 where we are told that the children of Israel were all baptized unto Moses I shall refer to that again later on. There is also the statement in Romans 6:3 6 where Paul argues, Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? And we read in 1 Corinthians 12:13 : For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles ; and it is the same in Galatians 3:27 and in Colossians 2:12. We considered a number of these statements when we were dealing with the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see volume 2, God The Holy Spirit, ). What, then, do we learn from this? Well, surely, the first and the important thing about baptism is that it suggests union, being placed into something: we are baptised into the Holy Spirit, baptised into Christ, baptised into the body, baptised unto Moses. It is very important that we should bear in mind that the primary meaning of baptising is not cleansing but this union, that we become identified with a certain context, that we are put into a certain atmosphere. And, of course, in the quotation from Matthew 28:19, we are told that we are baptised into the blessed Trinity, into the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So the primary meaning of baptism is union, but that is not the only meaning. There is
3 also the secondary sense of cleansing and purification. In baptism we are cleansed from the guilt of sin, as we see in Peter s reply on the Day of Pentecost to the people who cried out saying, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Peter tells them, Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins ( Acts 2:37 38 ). We find this meaning also in Acts 22:16 where Paul is told, Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord ; and in 1Peter 3:21, where Peter, talking about the people in Noah s ark, says, The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God). In other words, baptism is an assurance that we are delivered from the guilt of sin and, also, from the pollution of sin. There are many statements of this. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 we are told that some of the members of the church at Corinth had been guilty of certain terrible sins, yet Paul says, But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified And, no doubt, that washing does partly refer to baptism. Likewise, in Titus 3:5, where Paul speaks of the washing of regeneration, there is undoubtedly a reference to the same thing. So the meaning of baptism is that it puts us into this position of union, but in order that we may be there, we need to be cleansed and purified from the guilt and the pollution of sin. What, then, is the purpose of baptism, if that is its meaning? Here we must start with a negative. The function, the purpose, of baptism is not to cleanse us from original sin. That is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and not only that Church but the Lutheran Church also, and, indeed, certain sections of the Church of England teach quite specifically that the purpose of baptism is to cleanse us from original sin and to regenerate us. So they speak of baptismal regeneration. People often do not realise that that is the teaching of the Lutheran Church, and, in a sense, is the official teaching of the Church of England, though there are many in that Church who repudiate the suggestion. But we say that the purpose of baptism is not to deliver us and to cleanse us from original sin, nor to regenerate us. So what is the function of baptism? Well, as I indicated in the last lecture, baptism is a sign and a seal. First, it is a sign and seal of the remission of our sins and our justification. As we have seen, baptism is something that speaks to me. As the engagement ring on the finger speaks, so baptism speaks to those who are baptised, giving them an assurance that their sins are forgiven and they are justified. They are not justified because they have been baptised; they are baptised because they are justified. Baptism is not the means of their forgiveness and justification, but an assurance of it. But more than that, and, I would say, especially, baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration, of our union with Christ and of our receiving the Holy Spirit. Now, again, I say it is a sign and a seal. I do not become regenerate as I am baptised; I only have a right to be baptised because I am regenerate. Baptism tells me that I am regenerate; it certifies to me that I am born again, that I am united to Christ and that
4 the Holy Spirit dwells in me. It is the sealing of that to me. It is God s way of giving me a pledge. As He gave the rainbow, and as He gave circumcision to the chosen race, so He gives us a sign and a seal of our regeneration in the act of baptism. And then, thirdly and lastly, baptism is a sign of membership of the Church which is His body. It is a separating from the world and an official introduction, in an external manner, into the visible body of Christ. We are already in the invisible but here we enter into the visible and baptism is a sign or a badge of that. Let me, then, summarize this again and re emphasise it. The prime purpose, the function, of baptism is as a seal for the believer. It is not primarily something that we do; it is something that is done to us. It is something of which we are the passive recipients. Our witness and our testimony follow that and are subsidiary to it. Now I emphasise this because I think you will agree that so often it is put the other way around, and the emphasis is on our action, our bearing witness, our giving a testimony. But that comes second. The main thing and the first thing about baptism is that it is something that God has chosen to do to us. It is God giving us the seal of our regeneration and, as we are baptised, He is speaking to us and telling us that we are regenerated. But, of course, as we are baptised, we are incidentally bearing our witness to the fact that we have believed the truth. So that, secondarily, baptism, is a bearing of witness and of testimony. But again we must point out, as we did in dealing with sacraments in general, that baptism does not give us any blessing that the word itself cannot give us. It does not add to grace; it does not do something to us which cannot be done in any other way. So we do not say that baptism is essential, though we do say that it is of the greatest possible value. And, in any case, it is obligatory because our Lord has commanded it, and we rob ourselves of this particular seal of the promises of God to us if we do not submit to baptism. It is primarily meant, therefore, to assure us and to reassure us and to strengthen and increase our faith. So I repeat, people are very wrong when they just represent baptism as an occasion for bearing witness and as an evangelistic medium, while failing to emphasise that it is, first and foremost, God in His infinite grace and kindness stooping to our level, doing something objective, something that can be seen, and thereby sealing to us the promises of forgiveness and regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now that brings us to something more controversial: Who is to be baptised? And here, of course, there is a great division between those who say that infants are to be baptised and those who say that only conscious believers are to be baptised. This is the very centre and nerve of the controversy. Let us start by looking at the arguments that are produced in favour of infant baptism. First, people point to the incident of the little children who were brought to our Lord for His blessing. Luke tells us that they were actually infants. Our Lord picked them up in His arms and blessed them and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and
5 forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God (Luke 18:16 ). The reply, of course, is that there is no mention at all of baptism at that point. It is one thing to say that our Lord can bless children, but it is very different indeed to say that He therefore taught that children should be baptised. The second argument that is produced is based on Acts 2:39, a verse to which I have already referred. When Peter is preaching on the Day of Pentecost, the people cry out and say, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter replies, Repent, and be baptized every one of you [into] the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you and to your children In that passage, the argument goes, those people are told that baptism applies to their children as well as to themselves. But whenever I read this argument in any book, I notice that the rest of the verse is always left out: and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Clearly, by children Peter does not mean physical descendants, he does not mean the children of those listening but, in effect: The promise is not only for you who are immediately here, now, but is for the next generation and the generation after that and after that and it will continue down the running centuries. And it is not only for Jews but also for those who are afar off the Gentiles, those who are outside the commonwealth of Israel. Indeed, it is for as many as the Lord our God shall call. The third argument stems from Acts 16:15 and 33. We are told that when Lydia believed on the Lord, She was baptized, and her household. And Luke also writes that the Philippian jailer was baptised he and all his, straightway. It is argued that this must mean that the children and perhaps even the infants in both the households were also baptised. To which, of course, the answer is that we are not told there were any children at all in either household. There may have been, I do not know, and nobody else knows. A household can consist of grown up children, indeed, it does not even necessitate that. The household may well have consisted of the servants. There is clear indication, in the case of the jailer at any rate, that they must have been adult because we are told that the word was preached not only to the jailer but also to his household. We read, And they [Paul and Silas] spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. Those in the household seem to have been capable of listening and receiving the truth. So there again there is no clear case for infant baptism. The next evidence which is given is found in 1 Corinthians 1:16 where Paul says, I baptized also the household of Stephanas; besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. Once more, the argument is that there must have been children in the household. But if we go to 1 Corinthians 16:15, we read this: I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints). That is surely a suggestion that the household of Stephanas did not include children, but adults who had believed the truth and were now helping and ministering to the saints.
6 And then the last argument at this point is 1 Corinthians 7:14 where we are told that the children of believing parents are sanctified by their parents. Here our reply is that that does not of necessity mean that children were baptised. It just means that they were allowed to enter into the church services and have certain common privileges belonging to the Church. Indeed, there seems to me to be a conclusive answer at this point because we are told that an unbelieving husband is sanctified by his wife and that an unbelieving wife is sanctified by her believing husband. The same term is used about an unbelieving husband or wife as is used about the children. Clearly, therefore, this verse is not dealing with baptism at all. So we can sum up by saying that in the New Testament there is no clear evidence that children were ever baptised. I cannot prove that they were not, but I am certain that there is no evidence that they were; it is inconclusive. The statements are such that you cannot make a dogmatic pronouncement. The second line of argument in favour of infant baptism is the analogy based upon circumcision. We are told that baptism in the New Testament corresponds to circumcision in the Old Testament, and whenever a son was born to a Jew he was circumcised almost at once. Thus the apostle Paul says of himself, Circumcised the eighth day ( Phil. 3:5 ). The argument is that all sons born to Israelite parents were introduced into Israel officially and were given that sign by circumcision. Therefore, it is said, when we come over to the Christian era, surely the New Testament parallel should likewise be carried out with young children. There is no doubt that in many ways this is a very powerful argument. But my difficulty is this: it seems to me that it ignores the essential point which is the mode of entry into the kingdom. Now the mode of entry into the kingdom of Israel was by physical descent and by that alone. The great contrast between the Old and the New is the difference between the physical and the spiritual, and the New Testament teaches that the mode of entry into the kingdom of God is not by physical descent but by spiritual rebirth. We must be born of the Spirit before we enter the kingdom of God. So it seems to me that that argument breaks down at that point. People have also argued for infant baptism on the grounds that in the Old Testament God entered into a covenant with His people, and baby boys were circumcised as a sign of that covenant. In the New Testament God has inaugurated a new covenant and it is said that the children of those who are in the new covenant relationship should therefore be baptised. But this argument is based upon Acts 2:39 and I have already suggested to you that to say that this verse refers to physical children is to misinterpret its meaning. So that is another inconclusive and, indeed, a fallacious argument. But now let me say something on the other side. There are people who seem to think that they can solve this problem very simply. They say infant baptism must be wrong because baptism is the seal and the sign of regeneration and we do not as yet know
7 whether a child will be regenerate or not. But that is a very dangerous argument, surely, because are you certain that the adult is regenerate? Someone may certainly say that he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, but does that prove that he is regenerate? If you say that you are sure he is, because he has said that he believes, then what do you say later on when he denies the faith entirely, as many have done? No, we cannot be certain that anybody is regenerate. It is not for us to decide who is born again and who is not. We have presumptive evidence but we cannot go beyond that. Therefore that argument must not be used as a basis for adult baptism. Similarly, people often say something like this: Look at the thousands of children who were baptised when they were infants. They were accepted into the Christian Church but subsequently they lapsed, proving that they were never really Christians at all. The answer again, of course, is exactly the same. That has happened, alas, thousands of times with people who were baptised on confession of faith when they were adults. We must be very careful as we handle these arguments because the same point can be raised on both sides. We must not base our arguments on observations but, as we have been trying to do, on the Scriptures. What, then, do we conclude at this point? Surely the critical question to ask is this: What is baptism meant to do? What does it signify? What is its purpose? Well, I have already answered the question. If the great thing about baptism is that it is a sealing by God of that which I know has already happened to me, then, surely, it is for an adult believer. It cannot be a seal to an uncomprehending infant, that is impossible. If baptism were only a sign, then I could see a great argument for baptising an infant. But, as everybody is agreed, even those who put up the case for infant baptism, much more important than the sign is the sealing. Surely, then, baptism is only for a person who knows, who is aware of, what is happening. It does seem to me that, as you look at the case of the Ethiopian eunuch and the apostle Paul himself, both of whom seem to have been baptised more or less in private, the important thing about baptism is the seal. As far as I myself am concerned, that last argument is conclusive. That brings me to my last main heading: What is to be the mode of baptism? How is it to be administered? Again, you may be familiar with the great discussion. There are two main schools of thought: sprinkling and immersion. What has history to say about this? Well, it has a great deal to say but unfortunately it does not decide anything! This much, however, can be said on historical grounds. For the first thousand years of the Christian Church, the common mode of baptism was immersion. Even Roman Catholics say that it is right that a person should be immersed. They do not put it in the first position but they say that it is legitimate and they give instructions as to how it should be done. The Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church still practise immersion and say that immersion is the way many of our Baptist friends will be surprised when they hear that they are not the only believers in immersion! In the Church of England prayer book of Edward VI,
8 immersion was put before sprinkling. Sprinkling was only allowed as an alternative to immersion in the case of illness or incapacity of some kind. The present practice was only introduced in the prayer book of The Westminster Confession says that the right way to baptise is by sprinkling and it excludes immersion, but it is very interesting to note that after a long discussion in the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abbey, the Westminster divines had a final vote. Twenty five voted for excluding immersion and twenty four voted against excluding it, so their decision was carried by a majority of one! But what are the arguments? There are people who say that the Greek word baptizo absolutely settles the argument. But it does not because the scholars are divided about its meaning. The word baptizo does not prove anything. Here is an interesting bit of evidence. If you read Luke 11:37 38 you will find this: And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner. The word used there is baptizo and clearly it does not mean that they were surprised that he did not go and have a complete bath. No, it was the custom of the Pharisees, before they sat down to eat, to hold their hands under running water. They thought it was essential and were surprised that our Lord, instead of holding His hands under running water, immediately sat down. So there is the suggestion of sprinkling. Again, the argument for immersion is brought forward on the basis of Romans 6 and those parallel passages that I mentioned earlier. But the reply is that those verses do not of necessity refer to the rite or the ceremony of baptism. In all those verses Paul is arguing for our union with Christ he argues not only that we are buried with Him, but that we are crucified with Him, that we have died with Him. Baptism does not indicate that at all, does it? But, people say, it does indicate the burial and the rising. Of course, but Paul argues about the dying and the crucifixion also. So supporters of baptism by immersion are pressing the argument further than the apostle himself takes it. Then there is another argument based upon our Lord s baptism and that of the Ethiopian eunuch. We are told that our Lord went up straightway out of the water ( Matt. 3:16 ), and that Philip and the eunuch also came up out of the water ( Acts 8:39 ). That, it is said, is conclusive proof that baptism must be by complete immersion. But Acts 8:39 does not say that. All it tells us is that Philip and the eunuch stood in the water and then came up out of it, because we are told that both of them came up out of the water. And if that is meant to prove that the eunuch had been totally immersed, then Philip also must have been totally immersed. No, surely the verse simply indicates that they were standing in the water and does not tell us exactly how Philip performed the baptism. And the same applies in the case of our Lord. But there is another bit of evidence which seems to me to be very important. In the Old Testament things were set apart, purified, consecrated and sanctified by
9 sprinkling. The horns of the altar were sprinkled with blood, and blood was sprinkled in front of the curtain of the Holy Place ( Lev. 4 ). Sin was remitted by sprinkling with water into which the ashes of a heifer had been put ( Num. 19 ). The author of the epistle to the Hebrews uses that symbolism. He talks about having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience ( Heb. 10:22 ) they are purified by sprinkling with the blood of Christ. The Old Testament use of sprinkling for cleansing seems to me to be significant and important. And there is, finally, this argument, for what it is worth: thousands of people went to John the Baptist, attended his preaching and were baptised by him. Surely if baptism by immersion, in the sense that is generally accepted today, was John s method of baptism, then the physical problem involved enters into this argument. To summarise, it seems to me that, on the evidence of the Scriptures, the practice in New Testament times was something like this: the person to be baptised and the one baptising stood together in the water. If it was the river Jordan, they stood in the Jordan and the one who was baptising the other placed his hand in the water and sprinkled the water over the one who was to be baptised. I am not able to give you all the evidence, obviously, but in the writings of the various Fathers there is a great deal to suggest that, and as we have seen, it seems to me to fit in perfectly with what happened to the eunuch. However, we surely cannot arrive at any finality and, therefore, the only view, it seems to me, which one is justified in taking is that one should allow both methods. The mode of baptism is not the vital thing. It is the thing signified that matters; it is the sealing that counts, and, for myself, I would be prepared to immerse or to sprinkle a believer. If there is an adequate supply of water such as a river, I think the best method is to stand in the water and to baptise in that way. I would not refuse even to immerse completely. What I am certain of is that to say that complete immersion is absolutely essential is not only to go beyond the Scriptures, but is to verge upon heresy, if not to be actually heretical. It is to attach significance to the mode, a view which can never be substantiated from the Scriptures, and certainly it is out of line with the practice that was consistent throughout the Old Testament. In conclusion, as far as I am concerned, those who are to be baptised should be adult believers. I cannot see the case, as I have tried to show you, for infant baptism. But as to the mode, it can be sprinkling or immersion or a combination of the two, which I personally believe is the more scriptural and the method for which great evidence can be produced historically. But, having said that much about who is to be baptised and how such a person is to be baptised, let us again emphasise the importance of understanding that it is by this means that God has chosen not only to signify, but also to seal to us our redemption, our forgiveness, the remission of our sins, our union with Christ, our being baptised into Him and our receiving the Holy Spirit. And thus God stoops to our weakness, authenticates our faith, gives us assurance and strengthens us and fortifies us when we are attacked by the devil, who tries to tempt us into
10 unbelief. Baptism is God s appointment and, whatever the mode, let us remember the thing that is signified, the thing that is sealed.