To be “incorporated into Christ” is fundamental. As we wrote last time, “out of this all blessings flow, even as without incorporation into Christ there is no blessing, no grace, common or otherwise.” This fundamental idea is found throughout Scripture in various forms. It embodies both the legal and the organic idea. To be incorporated into Christ according to the former means that Christ is our head and legal representative before God.¹ The latter idea stresses the idea that the elect are partakers of the life of Christ as members of His body.² Christ and His Church are one, and to be without this incorporation necessarily means that one is a stranger and alien to Christ and His Kingdom.³ From this it follows that those that are in Christ are also the heirs and recipients of all the blessings of salvation. To some of these blessings we now direct the attention of our readers, limiting ourselves to those that are enumerated in the baptismal prayer.
We begin with the petition, “that Thou (God) wilt be pleased of thine infinite mercy, graciously to look upon these children.” The request here for mercy and grace reminds us instantly of the passage of God’s Word inHebrews 4:16, where believers are enjoined “to come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need.” Throughout our life in this sinful world there are many desires and wants that arise in our souls, but essentially all of our needs are embodied in the terms “mercy and grace.” The former is the external desire and longing in God whereby He reaches out to help His people in their misery and suffering and to lift them up out of it into a state of highest happiness. Grace, in this connection, may be narrowly defined as “the unmerited favor of God toward His people,” but in the more comprehensive sense of the word it may be said to comprise the sum of all the goodness of God manifested in the salvation of His people. When God is so disposed toward us that He pours out upon us all His goodness and so effectually delivers us from the misery of sin and death and brings us into the joy and fellowship of His covenant, we lack nothing. He turns all things to our good. He loves us with an infinite and unbreakable love even when we are most undeserving of it. In that love He watches over us continuously, protects and preserves us until we are made ready to be taken into that glorious state which He has prepared for His own. Now here also, the prayer is not simply that God will do this. We know that God, in infinite mercy, always looks most graciously upon those that are incorporated into Christ. He has them engraven in the palm of His hand, that they may be continually before Him. But the thought conveyed in this petition is that of a subjective desire. Grant, O God, that these children who are baptized may always realize and be conscious of Thy grace and mercy throughout the days of their life. Many experiences they will have in this vale of tears that will occasion their crying out with the Psalmist, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will He be favorable no more ? Is His mercy clean gone forever? doth His promise fail forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?”4 In all these vicissitudes of life may they always be able to sing:
“These doubts and fears that troubled me, Were born of my infirmity;
Tho’ I am weak, God is most high, And on His goodness I rely;
Of all His wonders I will tell, And on His deeds my tho’ts shall dwell.”5
Such is the thought of this first petition.
From this the second petition follows, which is: “that they may be buried with him into His death, and be raised with Him in newness of life.” This request is almost literally based on the Word of God in Romans 6. We read there, for example, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (vss. 3, 4) Now in this passage the apostle makes plain that this must not be taken in a literal or physical sense of the word, but that he is speaking here of the sanctification of the child of God. Their “burial” then refers to the dying and putting away of the old man of sin. Our old nature is principally mortified in Christ. And the “resurrection” unto a new life here means that in principle they receive eternal life in Christ and put on the new man which is re-created after the image of God in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. This is literally stated by the apostle in verses 6 and 22: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin . . . . . But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” All of this follows from being incorporated into Christ and necessitates an incessant provision of God’s mercy and grace.
From all this it follows that the child of God is led to fulfill his part in the covenant of God. We recall that in the Baptism Form proper this part of the covenant was described in the following words: “that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in Him, and love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; and that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.” This same idea is now repeated in the prayer in the petition “that they may daily follow him, joyfully bearing their cross, and cleave unto Him in true faith, firm hope, and ardent love.”6 This is indeed the experiential portion of the covenant of God for His people in the midst of the present world.This is their part, that is, the part of the covenant which they must and do fulfill by His grace. They must not try in various nebulous and dubious ways to try to change this. They must follow Christ, walking in the way of His precepts and according to His Word. When they so follow Christ, they must expect cross-bearing, that is, suffering for Christ’s sake; and in this suffering they must not assume a glum attitude, but must rather “rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”7 They must ever be mindful of the words of the apostle in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for His sake;” and when they do this, they will be able to “cleave unto Him in true faith, firm hope, and ardent love.” This, too, is the gift of God; and without it we cannot have a part in the covenant of God.
In this light we further understand the meaning of the baptismal prayer when it describes this present life as “nothing but a continual death.” This is not a sad note of pessimism that somewhat spoils an otherwise beautiful confession of faith, but this is reality. Except for the life which the saints have principally in Christ, the present life contains nothing but death. It can never be anything else than death. Life and death are not mere biological states. To live is to experience the favor of God in the bond of the fellowship of His covenant and to die is to pine away under His terrible wrath. Now all that we see in this present life and world evidences that wrath of God which is revealed from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth under in unrighteousness. (Rom. 1:18) Let us never lose sight of or forget this reality. We are in the midst of death, and we are dying continuously. It may be a few years (or perhaps just a few moments) before the final stroke of death hits us, but the fact of death is inevitable. Now the baptism prayer does not ask that we may escape death; but it petitions that when our appointed time to die comes, we may be able to “leave this life with a comfortable sense of God’s favor.” When and where this prevails, we can die with comfort. Otherwise death is a terror and the occasion of inexpressible fear. Now it must be remembered that although the prayer of baptism here refers undoubtedly to the moment of our departure from this world, the petition itself may not be separated from the rest of the prayer. The very clear supposition is that we may walk all the days of our earthly life through the valley of the shadow of death in the consciousness of God’s favor. And we do this in the way of fulfilling our part in His covenant, putting off the old man of sin and wearing the armor of righteousness. Then we know throughout the present death that God is for us; and when the final moment comes, we do not doubt or become afraid, but we die in the comfort that the battle and the suffering is over, and we enter into the kingdom of peace which God has prepared for His own. Death, in the words of our Heidelberg Catechism, is then “not a satisfaction for our sins, but only an abolishing of sin, and a passage into eternal life.”8 Indeed, blessed are they that die in the Lord. They may depart in peace and with a sense of divine favor.
Following death there is a judgment. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27) With a view to that final day of judgment the baptism prayer concludes this section with the petition, “and at the last day, may appear without terror before the judgment seat of Christ, Thy Son.” This is the prayer for the believer’s ultimate and public justification. In the believer’s consciousness this justification is already reality. There can be no question about this. Romans 5:1 states, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” However, it is also true that it doth not yet appear what we shall be. The things that appear in this present world do not give indication of this justification of the saints. The cause of Christ is condemned by the world not only, but even that which calls itself church frequently does not hesitate to condemn the faithful saints in Christ. This is part of the reproach and shame which the children of God must bear in the world for Christ’s sake. Christ Himself was condemned by the world, and His disciples are not greater than the Master. The vindication of the cause of Christ, the cause of righteousness and truth, must wait until the final day of judgment; and then all creation shall know the verdict of the Sovereign Judge of all. That verdict will be the condemnation of all that is without Christ and the vindication of those that are incorporated into Him. To appear before His judgment seat without terror means that we live now in the comfortable sense of His favor, having the consciousness of faith that we are IN Him. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”9 Having this confidence we are further assured that there is nothing to fear when we are called upon to appear before His judgment seat. Looking at ourselves, apart from Christ, there is every reason to be filled with terror; for we know, too, that there is no escape from His judgment. But as we are in Christ, we have no fear, but pray more fervently that this day of judgment may come as quickly as possible.
The prayer of the church is that the God of all grace may richly bestow all these indispensable blessings upon those that are baptized into His Name.
The first of the two prayers in baptism concludes with the words: “through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one only God, lives and reigns forever. Amen.”
Just two things we would note in this most fitting and beautiful doxology. First, the church confesses here that even as her salvation through baptism and all that that implies is alone through Jesus Christ, so also she prays and can only pray through Him, her Lord. All her prayer is based on Him alone. He is all in all. Apart from Him we can ask nothing of God and have no basis on which to make our requests. All this therefore we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Secondly, it, is to be noted that in the final note of the prayer the church breaks forth in a beautiful confession. In this confession three fundamental truths are conveyed. They are: (1) Jesus Christ is God. (2) Jesus Christ is eternal. (3) Jesus Christ is sovereign. He reigns sovereignly with God, the Father and the Holy Spirit, over all things; and it is in the confidence of this confession that we may rest our prayers with God, looking not at the things that are seen, but at the things unseen, and be assured that all things He works together for good to them that love God, whom He has called according to His purpose.
5 Psalter No. 210:5
6 Baptism Form
8 Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 16