“The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the body, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The like figure?
Answer: The salvation of eight souls by water.
Yes, and those eight souls constituted the entire prediluvian Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That church had existed in the midst of a terrible host of enemies. If you consider the long lifespan of the people then living, you can easily surmise that there were many millions of people living at the time the Lord appeared unto Noah with the mandate to build an ark. It was the year 1656 after creation that the flood came.
And all those millions of people surrounded the one family of Noah.
And all of them were reprobate wicked. And all of them hated Noah and his family. And all of them were intent on his death and destruction. There must have been many more of the sons and daughters of God in the period prior to the flood, but they were all persecuted and killed. Now there was just one family left: eight souls.
But they were saved. And they were saved by water.
First, all their enemies were destroyed by the flood; and, second, they rode safely on the turbulent waters of the flood.
And that flood, that destruction, and that salvation by water was a figure.
And the like figure now saves you, my brother!
By the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is often presented, even in song, that the salvation of Noah and his family was by the ark.
It is not.
The above text is rather clear on that point. They were saved by the water of the flood.
Ask yourselves from what Noah was saved, and the answer is easy: they were saved from the godless world which was out to destroy them. Remember in this connection the history of Enoch. There was a bold confessor. Read Jude 1:14, 15. They were after him too, but the Lord took him!
Yes, water spelled salvation for the Church for it smothered the enemy, and the church was on the way upward to heaven.
And the same thing happened in another phase of the history of God’s’ church on earth. And again it was the water that saved the church. The godless world was after God’s people, fleeing from Egypt. But the waters of the Red Sea spelled salvation for the church while the flower of Egypt went down to a watery death.
And here is the sacrament of baptism of the New Testament!
Think here of the full sign: immersion, the bath of regeneration.
Think here also of the thing that is signified, whenever a child is baptized, and you will see how we are going down into the water of baptism with all our natural filth, sin, guilt and death, and appear on the other side perfectly cleansed, justified, and on the way to the eternal Canaan.
Baptism, however, is still only a sign: it is nothing in itself. Even if you were baptized a thousand times, it does not by itself warrant anything spiritual. Nothing happens when the water is sprinkled on your face.
All outward, external works are condemned and do not save. Let me say it again: baptism as such is not worth anything. Baptism as such is representative of all dead orthodoxy and dead formalism.
Read the text.
The text says: “even baptism doth also now save us”! Yes, but read on: “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh”!
If you submerge in a water bath you get rid of the filth of the body, and that is all! And in baptism it is a sign and a seal, and that is all.
But if you wish to know what baptism signifies, then listen: “the answer of a good conscience toward God”!
What is a conscience?
The conscience is as it expresses in the word: knowledge with someone else. And that someone else is God!
Every man, be he good or evil has a conscience.
And every man, whether he is good or bad has this knowledge with God concerning his being, thought, speech and conduct. The voice of the conscience is as it were a judgment over all our works. God says in your conscience: that thought is good or that thought is evil.
There are only a very few people who have no conscience. They are those whose conscience is seared shut: the conscience does not speak anymore and it judges no more. You have to live very close to the truth, the church of Christ, in order to have a seared-shut conscience.
Now the voice of that conscience is fed by the Bible. The Bible gives it its contents.
And a bad conscience is a conscience that speaks indeed, but you say: I do not agree! You begin to excuse yourselves, even against the voice of your conscience.
And a good conscience is a conscience which speaks and judges aright, and agrees with the voice of God that speaks within you. And a good conscience is very willing to be led and fed and directed by the Word of God.
And so you get knowledge with God of your God, and of yourself with all your sin and guilt, and damnworthiness. And when your conscience, fed by the Word, and applied by the Spirit of Christ, is convinced of all those horrors, you fall down, and cry for mercy.
And then you also obtain knowledge with God of your Redeemer, and of your Redemption.
But what is the meaning of the answer of a good conscience?
It seems that the translators of the Bible have had a difficult time with this word.
Let us look at the various translations.
In German we read Bund, and that means band, tie.
In French we read L’engagement, which means an engagement.
In English we read answer.
In Dutch it is vraag, which means question.
In Latin: stipulation, which is a covenant, engagement, agreement.
In the Revised version of the Bible we readinterrogation.
And in Greek eperooteema, used only once in the New Testament, and that is in this passage. The New Testament lexicon translates here: an intense desire, a longing for something.
It seems to me that the latter is the right translation, and therefore the Holland translation is the more correct. Although I can understand also that in some of the above translations we read of an answer. The action of the conscience viewed from the grace in the heart would allow the translation of the word: answer.
However, the general idea is clear.
The good conscience longs for God. That is the operation of the saving grace in the regenerated heart of God’s child.
To get the idea plainly, please, read the first two verses of Psalm 42. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” There you have your question of a good conscience.
When you are regenerated and converted, there is an action in your good conscience which forever will long for God. And that longing is always answered, and the final answer is when the angels come and carry you to heaven.
Now then, what has this to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
We are saved by the water of baptism, that is, not the washing away of the filth of the body, but that strong longing of the good conscience toward Jehovah.
Let us go back to that first figure Peter alluded to Noah and the pre-diluvian world, when the flood was coming.
Can you imagine how Noah and his family felt?
They must have longed for the God of their salvation. They must have yearned for His presence and delivery from that awfully godless world around about them.
And God heard that yearning question.
He sent water, and plenty of it. And that water both destroyed their enemies, and saved them. They were saved by the swelling waves of the flood.
Now notice: that terrible flood depicted the death of Jesus Christ, even as the returning waters of the Red Sea meant the death of your Redeemer. And so, whenever a baby is baptized in your churches, you hear of that terrible flood and Noah, as well as of Pharaoh and the Red Sea.
Can you imagine how God’s own longed for the safety of Canaan, after the nightmare of Egypt’s cruel bondage? Again that question, that longing for God.
And now the reality.
We, the Church of Jesus Christ, are saved also. We are on the way to the heavenly Canaan. And we stumble along on the way of eternal life with that perpetual question in our hearts: O God, we long for Thee in a land that is dry, without water.
And the water of Jesus’ death brings us safely home.
That water of Jesus’ death into which we are baptized could not hold Him.
You celebrate that on your Easter day.
He arose! He arose unto Life Everlasting.
And that resurrected life of Jesus works in all the children of God.
And it prompts your good conscience to do as He did.
Don’t you remember how He QUESTIONED God in the midst of the everlasting floods of water? My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
That questioning goes on and on in the weary ages of the history of the Church.
And Easter is your answer of God. You are saved.