In distinction from the Protestant view, the Roman Catholic Church lays all emphasis upon the sacraments. Whereas the Protestant view stresses the priority of the Word of God, Roman Catholicism assumes that the sacraments contain all that is necessary for the salvation of the sinner, need no interpretation, and therefore render the Word completely superfluous as a means of grace.
According to Rome, the sacrament of baptism is the sacrament of regeneration. They declare accursed who claims that the sacraments do not contain the grace which they signify, or do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto, but who insist that they are outward signs of grace or righteousness received through faith. According to the Romish Church, the grace bestowed upon him that is baptized delivers, through the external operation of the sacrament, from the guilt of original sin and all the actual sins committed up to the time of baptism. It also delivers from the corruption of the defilement of sin and from eternal punishment. And it incorporates the one baptized into the communion bf saints and effects spiritual renewal by the infusion of sanctifying grace.
Rome, therefore, connects regeneration with the water of baptism, and makes all salvation dependent upon the sacrament and upon the Romish hierarchy. According to Rome, the first effect of baptism is the remission of sin. And when Rome speaks of the remission of sin, it means not only pardon, but also the removal of sm. Rome simply connects justification and sanctification. It declares accursed who deny that the guilt of original sin is remitted by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which is conferred in Baptism, or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away (Council of Trent, Session V, 5). It is true that there remains in the baptized concupiscence, or an incentive to sin, but this is remedied, according to Rome, by the other sacraments, especially that of penance. And, positively, the sacrament of baptism bestows the grace of a Divine quality which is essentially identical with man’s lost gift of donum superadditum (the added gift which God gave Adam in in. addition to his natural perfection), and thereby makes man like unto God, incorporates him into the body of Christ, and thus into Christ Himself, and enables him to perform supernatural good works and places him in the position to merit eternal life. Except in very exceptional cases, this infused grace is imparted to the sinner only through the sacrament of baptism; baptism is absolutely necessary unto salvation. The Word of God is no longer important in this conception of Rome; all emphasis is laid upon the sacrament, and, of course, upon the Romish hierarchy which administers it.
THE PROTESTANT VIEW OF BAPTISM
In the Gallican or French Confession of Faith, Art. 35, we read the following: “We confess only two sacraments common to the whole Church, of which the first, baptism, is given as a pledge of our adoption; for by it we are grafted into the body of Christ, so as to be washed and cleansed by his blood, and then renewed in purity of life by His Holy Spirit. We hold, also, that although we are baptized only once, yet the gain that it symbolizes to us reaches over our whole lives and to our death, so that we have a lasting witness that Jesus Christ will always be our justification and sanctification. Nevertheless, although it is a sacrament of faith and penitence, yet as God receives little children into the Church with their fathers, we say, upon the authority of Jesus Christ, that the children of believing parents should be baptized.” In this article we are taught that baptism is a sign and seal of our incorporation into the body of Christ, and therefore of its resulting benefits, that is, the washing away of our sins, and the renewal by the Holy Spirit; and this article also informs us that baptism emphasizes that the grace of baptism is not limited to the moment when we are baptized, but continues throughout our whole life.
Article 34 of our Belgic Confession or Thirty Seven Articles reads as follows: ‘We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law, hath made an end, by the shedding of his blood, of all other sheddings of blood which men could or would make as propitiation or satisfaction for sin; and that he, having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, hath instituted the Sacrament of Baptism instead thereof, by which we are received into the Church of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions, that we may wholly belong to him whose ensign and banner we bear, and which serves as a testimony unto us that he will forever be our gracious God and Father. Therefore he has commanded all those who are his to be baptized with pure water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; thereby signifying to us, that as water washeth away the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is seen on the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him, so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath unto children of God. Not that this is effected by the external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God; who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and to enter into the spiritual land of Canaan. Therefore, the Ministers, on their part, administer the Sacrament, and that which is visible, but our Lord giveth that which is signified by the Sacrament, namely, the gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing, and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of his fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with all his deeds.
Therefore, we believe that every man who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal ought to be, but once baptized with this only Baptism, without ever repeating the same: since we can not be born twice. Neither doth this Baptism only avail us at the time when the water is poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life. Therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, who, we believe, ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And, indeed, Christ shed his blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for adult persons; and, therefore, they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ hath done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law, that they should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ’s suffering and death shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb, which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what Circumcision was to the Jews, that Baptism is to our children. And for this reason Paul calls Baptism the Circumcision of Christ.“—end of quote.
In this thirty fourth article of our Belgic Confession the Fathers emphasize, first of all, that the sacrament of baptism signifies that we are received into the Church of God and separated from all other people and strange religions. It also emphasizes that we wholly belong to God, whose ensign and banner we bear, and it serves us a testimony that the Lord will forever be our gracious God and Father. Thirdly, this sacrament is not only a sign of the washing away of our sins, as water cleanses the body of its filth, but it is also a sign of regeneration, regenerating us from children of wrath unto children of God. And, in opposition to Rome, the sacrament of baptism emphasizes that all this is effected, not by the external water, but only by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God, and by the grace of God. And, finally, this thirty fourth article teaches us that this sacrament must be administered only once, inasmuch as we are born only once, and that it must also be administered to the infants of believers.
Our Heidelberg Catechism treats the subject of Baptism in Lord’s Days 26 and 27, Questions 69 through 74.
Question 69: How is it signified and sealed unto thee in holy Baptism that thou hast part in the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross?
Answer 69: Thus: that Christ has appointed this outward washing with water, and has joined therewith this promise, that I am washed with his blood and Spirit fr6m the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.
Question 70: What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?
Answer 70: It is to have the forgiveness of sins from God, through grace, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which lie shed for us in his sacrifice on the cross; and also to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and unblamable lives.
Question 71: Where has Christ promised that we are as certainly washed with his blood and Spirit as with the water of Baptism?
Answer 71: In the institution of Baptism, which runs thus: Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned. This promise is also repeated where the Scripture calls Baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins.
Question 72: Is, then, the outward washing of water itself the washing away of sins?
Answer 72: No; for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.
Question 73: Why, then, doth the Holy Ghost call Baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?
Answer 73: God speaks thus not without great cause: namely, not only to teach us thereby that like as the filthiness of the body is taken away by water, so our sins also are taken away by the blood and Spirit of Christ; but much more, that by this divine pledge and token be may assure us that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water.
Question 74: Are infants also to be baptized?
Answer 74: Yes; for since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God, and both redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost, who works faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be engrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is appointed.