Only, it depends upon the acceptance of this gracious bequest on the part of God, whether or not the sacrament is applicable to and valid for him that receives it. This view of the sacrament is the conception of the late Professor Heyns, who taught for many years in the Seminary of the Christian Reformed Church. And it is also the view of the Liberated in the Netherlands, or those that belong to the Reformed Churches under Article 31. According to this conception, the essence of the covenant is the promise of, God. And the distinction is made between the objective bequest of salvation on the part of God and the subjective acceptance of that bequest on the part of the believer. In the Baptism Form, Heyns made the distinction between the work of the Father and the Son, on the one hand, and the work of the Holy Spirit, on the other. In the sacrament God the Father “witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that he doth make an eternal covenants of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing and avert all evil or turn it to our profit.” And according to this same Baptism Form, the Son sealeth unto us, that he doth wash us in his blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of his death and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins and accounted righteous before God.” All this, according to Heyns, belongs to God’s objective bequest of grace and salvation. It is the promise of God which is applicable to all that receive the sacrament. But whether those that partake of this sacrament will also actually receive that salvation depends upon the subjective state of him that receives it, that is, upon the faith of the believer, and therefore, upon the acceptance on his part of the bequest and of the promise of God. And therefore Heyns wants to read that part of the Baptism Form that speaks of the application of salvation and of all that we have in Christ by the Holy Spirit in such a way that it is really dependent upon the choice and will of man. God the Father and God the Son objectively grant and bequest all that is included in the Baptism Form to everyone that receives this sacrament of baptism. But when it comes to the Holy Spirit, Heyns wants to emphasize that the Baptism Form does not say that the Spirit does dwell in us, but that He will dwell in us, applying unto us all that we have in Christ. But this is impossible, because it really excludes from the objective bequest or from the promise of God the work of the Holy Spirit and the application of all the blessings of salvation to the elect. And that this smacks of Arminianism and Pelagianism goes without saying.
We must therefore maintain that sacraments do not seal the persons that receive the sacrament, head for head and soul for soul. Nor do they seal an objective bequest or promise of salvation to everyone that receives the sign of the sacrament. According to Scripture, however, the sacraments seal the righteousness which is out of faith. The seal, therefore, can only be meant for the believer, and therefore, for the elect. That is why the element of faith was emphasized in all the quotations from the Reformed symbols which we have already mentioned. In the sacrament God assures with an oath that He reckons faith unto righteousness. Hence, through the same sacrament He assures the believers in Jesus Christ that He will surely grant unto them, without doubt, the grace of. His covenant and the salvation promised to them. In other words, the sacraments, like the preaching of the gospel, are not general, but particular. Even as the promises of the gospel are particular, and are only for the believer, that is, therefore, in last analysis, for the elect, so also the seal of the sacrament is a particular seal. The sacrament sets the inviolable seal of God upon the unbreakable correction between faith and righteousness, without the works of the law. This is evidently the, meaning of Romans 4:11: “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.” Sacraments have no positive value and meaning, except for the believer. Without faith one can never appeal to the outward sign of the sacrament as a proof that he is saved. The sign has indeed significance also for the unbeliever that receives the sign: but it is to his condemnation. This does not mean that God through the sacrament ever lies. The sacraments never lie: for they testify that they are the seal of the righteousness which is of faith. No more than the promise of the gospel lies when it declares that all those that believe in Jesus Christ shall have eternal life, no more do the sacraments lie when they seal the very promise of the gospel. But exactly because it is faith that is required in the true participation of the sacraments, and faith is not of man, but the work of God through the Holy Spirit, the author of faith, therefore the sacraments, as well as the gospel, are ultimately only for the elect. And just as for the unbelieving reprobate the gospel is a savor of death unto death, so also the sacrament, whether of baptism or of holy communion, is a savor of death unto death for those that have no faith. It is only to the believers, and therefore to the elect, that in the sacraments God seals His salvation.
The sacraments, however, are signs and seals that are instituted by God in the church. God ordained them and separated them unto the purpose of sacraments. Bread, water, and wine are indeed adapted in creation to be signs of the grace of Christ. But without anything else, they are not sacramental signs. This they become through the fact that God separated them and ordained them specifically to be signs of His salvation. This implies, of course, that the church receives the sacraments in order that they should be observed and administered by her. That this is true is evident from Scripture. That God instituted circumcision in the old dispensation as a sign and seal of the righteousness which is by faith is evident from Genesis 17:9-11: “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant, therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.” The same is true of the Passover. It also was definitely instituted by God for the church of the old dispensation, as is evident from Exodus 12:14: “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.” And that baptism was instituted by God through Christ is also very evident from Scripture. Matthew 28:19 reads: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and bf the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” And, concerning the Lord’s Supper, in I Corinthians 11:23-27 the apostle Paul speaks of having received the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper as a special revelation: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of tie. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had, supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” Sacraments, therefore, are signs and seals of God’s eternal covenant that are instituted by God through Christ, to be administered and to be received by the church.
THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
The Reformed confessions all emphasize the significance and the importance of the sacrament of baptism. Thus, the First Helvetic Confession, for instance, in Article 21, emphasizes four elements concerning baptism: in the first place, that on the basis of Titus 3:5 baptism is designated as the washing of regeneration. Secondly, it teaches that it is a visible sign administered through the administration of the church. Thirdly, it emphasizes that baptism is such a sign only for the elect. And finally, this article of the First Helvetic Confession teaches that children are baptized because they belong to the people of God and are presumed to be elect.
The Second Helvetic Confession explains the significance of baptism as follows: 1) Baptism can be administered only once, for “once received, it doth continue all man’s life, and is a perpetual sealing of our adoption unto us.” 2) Baptism is a sign and seal of our being enrolled and received into the covenant and family and into de inheritance of the sons of God. 3) It is a sign and seal of our being purged from all our sins by the blood of Christ and of our adoption unto children of God. And, 4) it is also a sign and seal of our inward regeneration and renewal through the Holy spirit.
The Belgic Confession teaches, in Article 34: 1) That baptism is instituted instead of circumcision. 2) That by baptism we are received into the church of. God .and separated from the whole world, that we may wholly belong to God. 3) That by baptism God testifies that He will forever be our gracious God and Father. 4) That baptism is a sign of the washing away of the filth of our soul and of regeneration from children of wrath unto children of God. 5) It is emphasized that this is not effected by the external water, but by the grace of God: “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 purging off the old man with all his deeds.”
The French Confession of Faith, Article 35, teaches the following concerning baptism: 1) 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, 2) it emphasizes that the grace of baptism is not limited to thg moment when we are baptized, but continues throughout our whole life.
The Scotch Confession of Faith does not contain a separate article on the sacrament of holy baptism, but it speaks in Article 21 of sacraments in general; and in this article it has the following sentence concerning the sacrament of baptism: “No, we assuredly believe that by baptism we are ingrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his justice, by which our sins are covered and remitted.” Hence, also in this article we are taught that baptism is a sign and seal of our incorporation into the body of Christ and of the washing away of our sins.
In the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England baptism is presented as follows, Article 27:
1) Baptism is a sign whereby the people of God are distinguished from the world.
2) Baptism is also a sign of regeneration, or of the new birth.
3) Baptism is an instrument whereby they that rightly receive the sacrament are grafted into the church of Christ. We may note here that it is emphasized that only those that rightly receive the sacrament are thus ingrafted into the body of Christ.
4) Baptism is a visible sign and seal of the promises of the forgiveness of sins and the adoption unto sons of God by the Holy Ghost.
5) Baptism is a means of grace for the confirmation and strengthening of our faith.
We will not quote any more of the early confessions. All we have to remark is that the Westminster Confession of Faith repudiates the theory that baptism is based on presumptive regeneration; and it also seems to imply that the efficacy of baptism is experienced only by the elect.
We must now, first of all, in our exposition of the sacraments call attention to the fact that these, that is, the sacraments, must be divinely instituted, and that too, in the church. In the old dispensation there were many washings, or purifications. But they had no sacramental value, for the simple reason that they were not instituted to be observed by the whole church, but regulated special cases, such as a woman after child-birth, contact with a corpse or carcass, or eating that which died of itself. The same may be said of the baptism of proselytes. Proselytes were also baptized, as a sign, together with their circumcision, of their incorporation into the Jewish nation. Also this indicates that baptism .as such was by no means an unknown rite, or ceremony. But nevertheless, it was not on the level of the rite of baptism as it was instituted by Christ to be observed by the entire church.
The importance of this is realized also by the Heidelberg Catechism. Hence, it devotes an entire question and answer to the institution of baptism, as follows:
“Where has Christ promised us, that he will as certainly wash us by his blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism?
“In the institution of baptism, which is thus expressed: “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.”
That baptism is an institution of God through Christ in the church must be emphasized; and it is important that this is clearly understood and shown. Many in our day attach no significance to baptism as a sacrament. To them it is a mere formality. The baby must be christened. At best, this means that the child is marked as a member of some church, and that it is not a mere heathen. Others simply deliberately reject baptism altogether, and contemptuously speak of “water baptism.” And water baptism, according to them, has no significance whatsoever; one must simply be baptized with the Holy Spirit, not with water. It is therefore very important that attention is called to the institution of baptism as of a divine appointment and ordinance.
Let us ask, first of all, what is the significance of the baptism of John for the church of the new dispensation? The Romish Church rejects the idea that the baptism of John is essentially the same as Christian baptism. In the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Session VII, on baptism, canon 1, we read: “‘If anyone saith that the baptism of John had the same force as the baptism of Christ: let him be anathema.”
But even among Reformed theologians there are those that deny the identity of the two baptisms. They point, for instance, to the fact that Acts 19:1-6 clearly speaks of some that were baptized by John and were rebaptized by Paul. The passage is well-known; nevertheless, I will quote it here: “And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” vss. 1-5.
The question is: where in this passage must be found the extent of the address of Paul to these men? For the passage continues as follows: “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with other tongues, and prophesied.” But even in the passage which we quoted, without verse 6, the question remains: are the words of the apostle Paul included in the whole passage, that is, especially also verse 5? If this is the case, the apostle teaches that the baptism of John was identical with the baptism of Jesus. And this interpretation seems to be the most probable. The clause in verse 5, “when they heard this,” may indeed, although not necessarily, leave the impression that when these men heard the words of Paul, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. But in the original we have only the simple participle for ‘When they heard this?” so that, we have the perfect right to translate instead of “When they heard this,” simply, “And having heard him.” In that case, the speech of Paul to the men addressed reaches unto the end of verse 5, and, in fact, also to verse 6, so that we may translate: “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying only to the people that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus; and those that heard John were indeed baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” In that case, of course, the text does not refer to any baptism by Paul, but rather tells us that Paul instructs those twelve men that the baptism of John had the same significance as the baptism of Jesus, and that, therefore, when they were baptized by John, they were baptized at the same time in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In favor of this interpretation is also the fact that Paul is not presented as taking any action until the sixth verse, which informs us, as I already quoted, that when Paul had laid hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came upon them; and they spake with other tongues and prophesied. If the text had meant to teach that Paul rebaptized those men, it would undoubtedly have read as follows: “And when Paul had thus spoken to them, he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he had laid hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spake with other tongues and prophesied.”
It must be admitted, as to the identity of the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus, that certainly baptism was not formally instituted until the glorification of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Only then do we read definitely that the disciples are commanded to go and to teach all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Matt. 28:19. Not only this, but at the time when John was baptizing, circumcision was still the sign and seal of the righteousness which is by faith; and that sign was not yet replaced by baptism, as in the days of the new dispensation. John indeed, as the greatest of all the prophets, stood on the very threshold of the kingdom of heaven. Nevertheless, he belongs to those still that were in the old dispensation. For the same reason John baptized only Israelites, and that too, evidently only adult Israelites. Children were not baptized by John. Yet the fact remains that the baptism of John had essentially the same significance as the baptism of Christ. It was the baptism of the remission of sins. For we read in Matthew 3:5, 6: “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan confessing their sins.” And also in Mark 1:4 we read: “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Besides, there can be no doubt about the fact that the baptism of John was divinely ordained. For of this we read in John 1:33: “And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” This is also true with regard to the question which Jesus puts to the chief priests and elders of the people when they question Him about the authority upon which He did those things, that is, especially the cleansing of the temple: “And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doeth thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye will tell me, I will tell you by what authority I do. these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus and said; We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” Matt. 21:23-27. Besides, we read that Jesus and John baptized for a time simultaneously: “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.” John 3:22, 23. Also this shows rather clearly that de baptism of John at the time was essentially, at least, the same as the baptism of Jesus Himself.
I must also say a word about the baptism of Jesus by John. Of this we read in Matthew 3:13-17: “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In this connection we must also ask the question: why was Christ Himself baptized? How, if the baptism of John was a sign of the remission of sins and could be received only upon the repentance of the same, was it possible that Christ could be baptized? Christ knew no sin. He was the Person of the Son of God in human nature. He was holy, undefiled, separate from sinners. He had no consciousness of sin. How, then, could he properly receive the sign of the forgiveness of sins? This seems to be a paradox; yet in reality it was very proper and necessary that also Jesus Himself should be baptized. It is true, of course, that as an individual He was not a subject for baptism. For He indeed was without sin, holy and undefiled, and therefore had no need of repentance and had no need of the forgiveness of sins at all. But it is different as soon as we conceive of Him as the Head of His church. With that church He was legally one, representing them before the face of God. The sins of all His people were upon Him. Hence, as being under the law He was circumcised; and as being the end of the law, it was necessary that He should be baptized. His baptism was unique in this sense; that it was a sign of His own sacrifice and of His own blood. This was His real baptism, of which the baptism of John was only a mere sign. He said later to the sons of Zebedee, when they approached Him with the request that He would grant them that they might sit one on His right hand and the other on His left hand in His glory: “Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Mark 10:38.