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Our Baptism Form starts out with speaking of the sacrament of baptism as a holy sign. It is more than that, for it is also a seal as well as a sign, but it is nevertheless first of all a sign.

To the question, Of what is it a sign?, the answer can be given, that baptism is a sign of our entrance into God’s covenant through the washing away of our sins. By nature we are outside of God’s covenant, a part of the fallen human race, dead in trespasses and sins, without hope and without God in the world. But God has established an eternal covenant with us in Christ, in whom He saves us from our sins and takes us unto Him forever.

Thus baptism may be defined as the sacrament instituted by God to be administered by the church, whereby God signifies and seals to the heirs of salvation their entrance into His covenant through their incorporation into Christ, the deliverance from sin and the separation from the world.

This immediately marks the difference between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both are sacraments, but baptism speaks of our entrance into the covenant, while the Lord’s Supper speaks of our abiding in it. The symbolism of baptism is plain. We are afar from God in a world of sin and death as we are by nature, but God takes us unto Himself, causing us to pass through, the water of baptism whereby all our sins are washed away, so that we can abide in His covenant forever. We pass from the world, through the water of baptism, into God’s covenant life. Therefore the Flood and the Red Sea are both Old Testament types of baptism, for in each, case God spoke of the fact that He separates His people from the rest of the world of wickedness unto Himself and unto His fellowship forever. The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of heavenly communion with God in Christ. The table of communion, the bread and the wine, the eating and drinking, the fellowship with Christ, Who is the Host at the table, and with the saints who are gathered about the table as guests, are all a symbolism of the life of God’s covenant as it is known in part here on earth and is finally fully realized in heaven. For the believer it is a foretaste of the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.

Therefore there is also a difference between the administration of the sacrament of baptism and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The first is administered to us; we celebrate the latter as an act of faith. We are baptized, for it is God Who takes us into His fellowship by an act of His sovereign good pleasure. We partake of the Lord’s Supper as a conscious act of faith by the grace that is given us to live in conscious faith. Secondly, the sacrament of baptism is administered to infants, because “they also are included in the covenant”; but the Supper is celebrated by adults who have knowledge of the work of God’s grace within them. And finally, there is this difference, that we are baptized but once, but we celebrate the Lord’s Supper repeatedly, for the simple reason that we enter the covenant but once, but we continue to abide within the covenant without end.

Though baptism is a sign of our entrance into God’s covenant, emphasis always falls on the fact that this entrance is possibly only through the washing away of our sins in the blood of Jesus Christ.

The word ‘baptize’ is derived from the Greek word ‘baptidzo’, which means ‘to dip in’, as a pen is dipped into the ink, or as clothing are dipped into the water in the process of washing them. This dipping is a symbol of washing, cleansing; which is one of the symbolical meanings of water in Scripture. Water, as you know, is rich in symbolical significance in the Bible. A tumultuous sea of water with its foaming breakers surging against the shore is a symbol of the nations of the earth. The nations, aroused by their inward unrest of wickedness, are like a troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and, dirt. Isaiah 57:20. A stream of water from a fountain is a symbol of the quickening powers of the Spirit, as for example in John 4:14, But the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” A dipping into water and drawing out again speaks of the washing, cleansing power of the Spirit.

It is not difficult to see that the Baptists use this as an argument against our practice of sprinkling and in favor of immersion as the only proper, Scriptural form of administration of baptism. The argument is simple enough, if ‘baptidzo’ means to dip in, those who are baptized must be immersed. To bolster this argument they generally refer to such passages as John 3:28, which speaks of much water at the place where John was baptizing; or Mark 1:10, which speaks of Jesus coming out of the water after being baptized; or Acts 8:36, where the eunuch sees a body of water and requests Philip to baptize him there. Even though we waive any attempt to refute these arguments, the fact remains that Scripture nowhere explicitly demands immersion as the only proper form of baptizing. Over against these passages we might place such passages as Acts 16:15, 38, where no large amount of water is mentioned at all. It may even be considered doubtful whether immersion was used in those cases, since whole families were baptized, which may as well as not have included little children, and in the case of the jailor it was in the dead of night.

In any case the emphasis does not fall on the amount of water that is used, but on the symbolism. And then sprinkling also expresses the idea of baptism. In the Lord’s Supper, which is a sign of eating and drinking, even of feasting on the Bread and Wine of eternal life, so one thinks of indulging in an enormous meal, but a small portion of bread and wine serve as a sign of the spiritual reality.

The Form emphasizes that this washing presupposes our natural corruption and guilt. Baptism teaches us that we are by nature impure, leprous. We are such even from our birth, for we are conceived and born in sin. And we are so depraved that we must necessarily obtain salvation outside of ourselves, only in the way of loathing and humbling ourselves before God.

A few remarks in passing are not superfluous. It deserves to be stressed that “we are conceived and born in sin.” This truth is often slighted and denied, especially in our day as the Pelagian tendencies grow within the church. Even the attempt to speak of a restraint of sin in the heart of the wicked, or of the good that sinners do, is a deliberate move in that direction. We cannot maintain too consistently that we are all bound under an original corruption. Through the transgression of our first parents our nature became so corrupted that we enter into this world at birth with a depraved human nature. We are dead in trespasses and sin from the moment of our conception and birth, according to the plain teachings of Scripture and the Confessions. Ps. 51:5; Job. 14:4; Heid. Cat. Lord’s Days 2 and 3, questions 5 and 8.

It is necessary also to distinguish between original corruption and original guilt. The transgression of God’s commandment also made Adam guilty. And because he was the representative head of the whole human race we also became guilty in him. Ephesians 2:3 calls us children of wrath. See also Jer. 3:25; Rom. 5:18, 19; Lord’s Day 4, question 10.

Our depravity makes us unable and unwilling to save ourselves. At the same time we are so guilty that we have deserved nothing but eternal condemnation. But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath, quickened us together with Christ. Eph. 2:4, 5.

This the church confesses concerning herself and her seed in baptism. By nature we are leprous and outcasts, abiding in a world of sin. By our natural birth we and our children, are no different from those born in the world, for grace is not inherited. But God, who gathers His own unto Himself in the line of generations, gives the heirs of salvation the mark, of His covenant upon their foreheads as a sign of His grace. He separates them from the world, causes them to pass through, the death of Christ, where they die unto the world, and takes them unto Himself into His covenant life. Romans 6:4, “Therefore we are buried with Him (Christ) by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead to the glory of the Father, even, so we also should walk in newness of life.”

But baptism, is more than a holy sign. It is also a divinely instituted seal. The Baptism Form expresses this by saying, “Holy Baptism, witnesses and seals unto us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ.”

Seals as well as signs play an important part in our daily lives. A manufacturer places his stamp upon an article to assure the buyer that the article is genuine. We need but think of an Elgin watch or Campbell soups. Also the dollar bill issued by the government is marked with the seal of the government to guarantee that it is worth its given value. All counterfeit money is an attempt to imitate this seal in order to deceive the public, and it fails to have any true value just because it is not issued on the authority of the government. Likewise the signature on a check is a personal seal whereby the signer vouches for the value of the check, which makes the check as good and trustworthy as the person who signs it. If it were not for this oath, or seal, business transactions would be impossible in a sinful world.

A seal is also common in Scripture. In John 6:27 Jesus speaks of Himself as the bread of life, which God seals, guarantees by the signs and wonders He works. In 2 Tim. 2:19 the foundation of God is said to be sealed with a two-fold seal, the seal of God’s election on the one side of the cornerstone, and the work of grace that sanctifies unto eternal life on the other side. Revelation 7:3 speaks of the true servants of God being sealed on their foreheads as a mark of distinction that protects them in the midst of the judgments that come upon the world. And in Heb. 6:13 we read that when God made His promise to Abraham, “because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself.” Which is another way of saying that God seals His own promise by affixing His own name and signature to it.

So also sacraments are seals. They are distinguished from ordinary seals by the fact that they are holy seals, instituted by God. In the sacraments God gives us earthly signs as seals of that which He has promised us in His Word. The dipping into water is a natural sign of washing and cleansing, but in baptism this becomes a holy sign, and at the same time a divine seal of the promise of God that He washes away all our sins. Bread is a natural token of food, but in the Lord’s Supper it becomes a holy sign of Christ, the bread of life. And wine is a natural symbol of making the heart glad, but in the Supper it speaks of the power of the Blood to gladden the heart in the God of our salvation. When we partake in faith of this bread and wine God assures us of His promise in the Scriptures that His salvation in Christ is also for us. This He does by His Spirit in our hearts. Thus God also assures the heirs of salvation through baptism that the promise of His Word is sure, and that He cleanses them from all their sins and takes them into His covenant forever. Scripture says in Rom. 4:11, “And Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.”