Ques. 72. Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?
Ans. Not at all; for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost cleanse us from all sin.
Ques. 73. Why then doth the Holy Ghost call baptism “the washing of regeneration,” and “the washing away of our sins”?
Ans. God speaks thus not without great cause, to wit, not only thereby to teach us, that as the filth of the body is purged away by water, so our sins are removed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ, but especially that by this divine pledge and sign He may assure us, that we are spiritually cleansed from our sins as really, as we are externally washed with water.
Heid. Catechism, Lord’s Day 27
What does your baptism mean to you and mine to me?
Our baptism assures us that our sins are washed away by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. Baptism itself cannot wash away sins. The mere fact that we are baptized does not save us. Nothing, absolutely nothing can save us from our sins but the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. Our fathers never grow weary in these Lord’s Days that deal with baptism to emphasize this most important truth and to engrave it upon our hearts.
How does baptism assure us of the washing away of our sins by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ?
Baptism confirms the promise of the Holy Scriptures, that we have the right to the forgiveness of sins and to eternal life through the sacrifice of our Savior on the cross, so that we are buried with Christ in Baptism and raised again unto newness of life within God’s covenant as members of His church.
How can baptism assure us of these riches of salvation?
The Holy Spirit, Who never works apart from means, works this grace in us, giving us eyes to see and hearts to realize that we are conceived and born in sin, and therefore subject to all misery, yea, to condemnation itself, yet that God has established an eternal covenant with us, assuring us that He is our God and that we are His people forever. Only those who have the Spirit of Christ in their hearts can have that assurance.
One of the richest, most beautiful and basic truths of Scripture is the truth of God’s covenant, which permeates the entire revelation of the God of our salvation throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. On every page of Holy Writ our covenant God speaks to us as Jehovah, the Almighty, Unchangeable I AM, Who establishes an eternal relationship of friendship between Himself and His people in Christ Jesus. God’s covenant is uniquely Hiscovenant in its origin, in its establishment, and in its realization, even as all things are of Him, and through Him, and unto Him, to Whom be the glory, world without end.
God’s covenant originates in God Himself, even in His eternal, glorious Being as God above all, blessed forever. He lives His own covenant life of intimate fellowship as the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father continuously generates the Son in His very likeness, even as the Son continuously draws His life from the Father. The Father breathes forth the Holy Spirit upon the Son, and the Son breathes forth the Holy Spirit upon the Father, so that Father and Son meet in the Spirit, Who proceeds from both. Thus there is an intimate communion of life among the three persons. Each lives His own life, yet in complete harmony and unity of thinking, willing, speaking, and working. This communion of life is so complete that God needs no one and nothing to add to His blessedness, no more than the sun at noonday needs the light of a candle to add to its brilliance.
Yet in His eternal good pleasure God wills to reveal His covenant life outside of Himself, not only by telling us about it, but privileging us to share in that blessedness. God has chosen the Son, Who is the revelation of all the fullness of the Godhead, to be the Christ, the chief Servant over all God’s works and affairs. To Him God gives a people, chosen from before the foundations of the earth, to share in the glorious blessedness of His covenant fellowship, to the praise of the glory of His grace. This people is a harmonious whole, an organic unity, described to us as the Body of Christ, in which all the members have their own place and function in their own capacity. Christ and His people are eternally one, so that Christ cannot exist without His people, nor His people without Him, no more than the head can exist apart from the body or the body apart from the head. When God establishes His covenant with Christ, His people are included as inseparable members of His Body (Gal. 3:16, 29).
Even as the covenant originates in God, so also the establishment is from beginning to end the work of God. This was evident already in paradise. During the six days of creation God prepared a home for the highest of all the earthly creatures, man, who would dwell, as it were, in God’s house in the garden. God made Adam in His own image and likeness, so that He could know God, be devoted to God, and serve God in love. He was lord over all that he surveyed, and head of the human race that would be born from him. What an amazement must have flooded Adam’s soul as he opened his eyes and looked round about him in the midst of all God’s handiwork! He heard creation’s song in the rushing waters, in the whisperings of the wind, in the rustlings of the trees, and in the chorus of the great variety of birds. He saw the broad expanse of the heavens with the brightness of the sun by day and the splendor of the moon and myriads of stars at night. He beheld the majesty of the hills, the beauty of the trees and flowers, and the many kinds of animals, each a distinct creation, grazing or resting in the garden. Well may he have gasped, in awesome wonder: My God, how great Thou art! A single desire filled his soul, and that was to devote himself with all the creatures in loving devotion to his God. His joy knew no bounds when at the close of the day God came to walk and talk with him as his sovereign Friend. Added to all that, God gave to Adam a wife, Eve, who was flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, united with him in the bond of holy matrimony, in which they experienced the most intimate communion with their God, reflecting His love and His fellowship in their lives.
Yet Adam was fallible and fell into sin. He fell away from God by establishing an alliance with God’s adversary, the devil. He was guilty of breach of covenant, transgression of God’s command, even unfaithfulness and rebellion. This sin deserved everlasting condemnation in torments of divine wrath, separation from God. Yet God’s purpose was not foiled. Paradise was, after all, but an earthly replica of the heavenly Paradise to come. God keeps covenant forever, so that Adam, so to speak, fell into the waiting arms of Christ. While Adam and Eve cowered in fearful trembling, God came, sought them out, and after impressing upon them the horrible guilt of their sin assured them of the riches of His mercy in preparing for them a Savior. This Redeemer would be flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone, yet destined to be exalted higher than the heavens. In fact, God Himself would come in the likeness of sinful flesh, born of a virgin, to deliver them from the powers and dominion of sin to bring them to glory. Jehovah, as Immanuel, God with us, would exalt man to heavenly perfection and glory by the washing away of sins by His blood and Spirit.
This is the promise of the gospel, the glad tidings that were proclaimed to Adam’s descendants as they stood by the altar and ‘saw the smoke of the burning sacrifice ascend to heaven before the face of God. Through faith in the promised Seed they had peace with God, intimate communion of life as God’s friend-servants, and a foretaste of eternal life. God gathered His own out of the ever increasing human race, so that we can distinctly follow the line from Adam through Abel, Seth, and Noah to Shem and Abraham. Enoch and Noah walked with God. Abraham was called the friend of God. To him was given the peculiar distinction that he was called the father of all believers. God appeared to him in a vision of slain animals (Gen. 15), showing to Abraham that He would die as the sacrifice for sin, in order that Abraham and his spiritual seed might experience an everlasting covenant with their God. He came to His covenant friend in the person of the Angel of Jehovah with two angels to sit with him, to eat with him, to commune with him as He assured Sarah of the birth of the wonder child Isaac (Gen. 18)—all of which was accompanied with the promise, “I will establish Me and thee and I thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). The covenant life plainly continued through Isaac and Jacob, centering in Judah, and thus to David, to end in the virgin Mary and the Christ. When Israel was in the wilderness God led them by the cloudy pillar, fed them with manna, and gave them to drink water from the rock, all of which represented Christ among them. God dwelled among them in the tabernacle that stood in the midst of the camp. When they were settled in the land of Canaan, Solomon was privileged to build God’s House, where they had access to God through the bloody sacrifice and through the priest, both of which pointed to the promised Savior.
In the fullness of time God sent His Son into the flesh to share our life with us, yet in perfect holiness. The apostle John could say that they saw Him, our Light and Life, with their very eyes, heard Him with their ears, and touched Him with their hands. He allowed Himself to be led as a lamb to the slaughter, laying down His life for those given to Him by the Father. As the lion of Judah’s tribe the mighty Conqueror descended into Satan’s realm, took captivity captive, and marched triumphantly through death and the grave into the highest heavens, where He was given all power in heaven and on earth. From heaven He sends to us the Spirit of adoption, Godin us, giving us the adoption to sons and making us sons in God’s House, renewed in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness to devote ourselves to covenant fellowship to our God in intimate love.
The Final Realization.
The final realization of God’s covenant awaits us in the new creation. How shall one express a life that radiates infinite perfection—holiness, righteousness, truth, grace, love abounding? Words fail us to attempt to describe intimate covenant fellowship with God, living in mansions that we have not built, eating of bounties we have not prepared, filled with a blessedness we could never merit! Then we shall understand what it means that in Christ we share the fullness of divine glory. Then, and then only will we begin to fathom the wonder of grace, the realization of the promise: I will be your GOD!
That will be glory, glory unspeakable, filled with perfect knowledge, complete devotion, everlastingly serving God with our whole being in worship and adoration of His glorious NAME.