And that immersion as a sign of baptism is not necessary to express the essential idea of the sacrament may also be gathered from the foot-washing of the disciples, which Jesus performed in the upper room where He was gathered with His disciples to celebrate the last supper, John 13:4-10. After Peter had objected to Jesus’ washing his feet, and the Lord had answered that if He did not wash his feet, Peter would have no part with Him, and the apostle rushed to the other extreme and said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,” the Lord answered him: “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.” Surely, in the bodily sense of the word one is not entirely clean by having his feet washed. But if bodily washing is a symbol and a sign of a spiritual reality, foot-washing is entirely sufficient, according to the words of the Lord. On the basis of all these passages of Scripture, it certainly seems evident that immersion is not necessarily the only mode of baptism.
But although centrally the sacrament of baptism signifies the washing away of our sins through the blood of Christ, it implies much more. This is evident from such passages as Romans 6:3-6: “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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 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.” It is true, as some Reformed theologians emphasize, that this passage does not speak directly of the sacrament of baptism, but rather only of spiritual baptism. But it is also true that it speaks of this spiritual baptism under the figure of baptism itself. And then it teaches us very plainly that baptism signifies our incorporation into Christ, so that we are planted together in the likeness of His death and resurrection. For the text tells us that when we are baptized into Jesus Christ, we are baptized into His death. Secondly, it teaches us that baptism is the symbol of our being buried together with Christ into His death. And, thirdly, it teaches us that baptism signifies our being raised with Christ in newness of life.
The same is taught in Colossians 2:11, 12, a text, by the way, which also teaches plainly that baptism is come in the place of circumcision: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen again with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Also this passage, like the one from Romans 6, emphasizes the fact that baptism signifies our incorporation into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. And that baptism signifies more than the mere forgiveness of sins may also be gathered from Titus 3:5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Now, it may be doubted whether the word “washing” in this text refers directly to baptism, or whether regeneration itself is called a washing. But there can be no doubt about the fact that the text at least refers to baptism. Also here, therefore, we have plain proof that baptism signifies not only the remission of sins, but also our regeneration and renewal by the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the prayer before baptism in our Form for the Administration of Baptism are mentioned the two great types of baptism, namely, the flood and the passing through the Red Sea. We read as follows: “O Almighty and eternal God, Thou, who hast according to thy severe judgment punished the unbelieving and unrepentant world with the flood, and hast according to thy great mercy saved and protected believing Noah and his family; Thou, who hast drowned the obstinate Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, and hast led thy people Israel through the midst of the Sea upon dry ground, by which baptism was signified . . .” And this also is based on Scripture. We may refer to I Peter 3:21: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” When the apostle writes in this verse about “the like figure whereunto,” he refers to the immediately preceding verse, where we read: “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” It ought to be plain, therefore, that baptism is typified in the water of the flood. It was not by the ark, but by the water of the flood that the eight souls were saved. They were saved in the ark, but not by the ark. The meaning is, evidently, that the flood separated the church in the ark from the wicked world and from total destruction. And this is affected in reality by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. That baptism is typified not only by the flood, but also by the passage through the Red Sea is evident from I Corinthians 10:1, 2: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Egypt was a type of the bondage of sin and of the fellowship with the world. And Moses, the mediator of the old covenant, was a type of Christ. The passage through the Red Sea, therefore, was a type of the separation of the church from the wicked world and of her deliverance from the bondage of sin, and of our baptism into Christ, the Mediator of the new covenant.
It is undoubtedly true that the forgiveness of sins is fundamental as far as our salvation is concerned. Nevertheless, it is also evident from the doctrinal part of the Form for the Administration of Baptism that the sacrament signifies indeed much more than the washing away of our sins. In that Form we read not only that holy baptism “witnesseth and sealeth unto us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ”; but it also teaches that through baptism “God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that he doth make an eternal covenant 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.” Again, it teaches also that “when we are baptized in the name of the Son, 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.” And it teaches us that “when we are baptized in the name of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost assures us, by this holy sacrament, that he will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying unto us that which we have in Christ, namely, the washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented “without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.” It is evident, therefore, that the entire promise of God, sure and unconditional, to the elect, is sealed and signified by the sacrament of baptism. Baptism, therefore, has a very rich significance. For the water of baptism signifies the death of Christ into which we submerge, and from the which we arise unto newness of life. The water in baptism signifies the blood of Christ. And that blood means that He voluntarily laid down His life and satisfied God’s righteousness, and thus made an atonement for sin. Hence, in that blood we have both the remission of sins, the removal of the guilt of sin, and also the cleansing from all defilement and pollution of sin. Not only justification, but also regeneration and sanctification are symbolized in the water of baptism. Through that death of Christ we pass through baptism. On this side of that water of baptism there is the guilt of sin, death, corruption, pollution, the world, and damnation. But as we pass through the water of baptism, we find on the other side righteousness before God, peace, perfect freedom, and the favor of the friendship of God, life eternal in His everlasting covenant. And thus baptism has a very rich significance.
It undoubtedly need not be emphasized that the sacrament of baptism is not effective in itself. That is, through the ceremony of baptism grace is not conferred upon the one that is baptized. The theory that baptism works by itself and confers grace upon the one that is baptized in the church was taught already in a very early age of the church in the new dispensation. This was emphatically taught especially in respect to the baptism of infants. Even a man like Augustine held to this theory. According to him, baptism was absolutely necessary unto salvation because it removed the guilt of original sm. Later in the Romish Church this theory was fully accepted: not only in the case of infants, but also in the baptism of adults the outward sign is always effective, according to them. In “The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent” it expressed this officially in the Decree of the Sacraments, Canon 8. In this canon they declare him accursed who denies that the sacraments do not confer grace upon him that receives them through the act performed, but who insist that faith alone in the divine promise suffices for the obtaining of this grace. And the same view is expressed in Canon 6 of the same chapter, in the following words: “If anyone saith that the sacraments of the new law do not contain the grace which they signify; or, that they do not confer grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto; as though they were merely outward signs of grace or justice received through faith, and certain marks of the Christian profession, whereby believers are distinguished among men from unbelievers: let him be accursed.” According to the Roman Church, the grace bestowed upon him that is baptized delivers by itself, as a sign, from the guilt of original sin and of all actual sins committed up to the time of baptism. It, also delivers from the corruption or defilement of sin and from eternal punishment. It incorporates the one that is baptized into the communion of saints, and effects spiritual renewal by the infusion of sanctifying grace.
The Reformed churches always rejected this. The mere fact that one has received the outward sign of baptism by the church does not mean that his sins are washed away. It is very well possible, according to their view, that one is externally baptized, and therefore is received as an external member of the church in the world, and yet has no part with Christ and all His benefits. As de apostle writes in Romans 2:28, 29: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” What is said here of the Jew and of circumcision certainly applies also to the members of the New Testament church and to baptism. The blood of Christ alone is able to cleanse us from all sm. There is no other remedy that can cleanse us from sin except that act of perfect obedience that was accomplished by Christ when He shed His blood and poured out His life for us. And the application of that blood of Christ is effected upon the sinner by the Holy Spirit of grace. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ that takes our soul into the blood-bath and washes away the guilt of sin to justify us, and the pollution of sin to sanctify us. It is the Spirit that takes the blood of Christ and pours it over our souls, completely cleansing us from all iniquity. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ Who applies unto us the death of our Savior, and causes us to partake of and appropriate that deed of Christ whereby He poured out His life as a sacrifice for sin, so that it becomes our own by a true and living faith. And of this power of the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse away our sin, and of this grace of the Holy Spirit whereby He brings our souls into a saving contact with that blood of Christ, baptism is a sign and seal.
We must now ask and answer the question: who are the proper candidates for baptism? To this question the Reformed churches always have answered: all adults that have not been properly baptized before and who profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also all children of believers.
Baptists of every color, be they Arminian Baptists or so-called Calvinistic Baptists, most emphatically deny that infants of believers have the right to be baptized. One of the most emphatic of these latter, that is, of the so-called Calvinistic Baptists, is Dr. John Gill, from whose work, “The Body of Divinity,” I quote the following arguments against infant baptism.
First of all, on page 856 he argues that children are not included in the church of Christ. Writes he: “Not the infants with them; who were neither baptized nor admitted to membership in the churches; no one instance of either can be produced in Scripture: they are not members by birth; for that which is born of the flesh, is flesh, carnal and corrupt, and unfit for church fellowship: nor do they become such by the faith of their parents; for even their faith does not make them themselves church members, without a profession of it, and giving up themselves to the church, and received by it into it: men must be believers before they are baptized; and they must be baptized before they become members; and they cannot be members till they make application to a church, and are admitted into it. Infants, as they are born, are not meet for membership, being unregenerate, unholy, and impure by their first birth, and must be born again ere they are fit for the kingdom of God, or a gospel church state; the federal holiness, talked of, is a mere chimera, and is unsupported by I Corinthians 7:14; they are not capable of understanding and of answering questions put unto them; nor of giving up themselves to a church; nor of consent and agreement to walk with it, the nature of which they are unacquainted with, and of what belongs to a member of it, either as a duty or privilege; nor are they capable of answering the ends of church-communion, the mutual edification of members and the glory of God: and such who plead for their membership, make a poor business of it; not treating them as members, neither by admitting them to the ordinance of the supper, nor by watching over them, reproving, admonishing, and laying them under censures, when grown up, and require them, were they members.” To me it is rather evident that Gill is an obscure writer; he is not very clear.
On page 900 he argues particularly against infant baptism, as follows: “Not the infants of any, be they born of whom they may; and to whom the above characters, descriptive of the subjects of baptism, do by no means belong; with respect to their first birth, though born of believing parents, they are carnal and corrupt, and children of wrath, as others; That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and they must be born again, or they cannot see, possess, and enjoy the kingdom of God, or have a right to be admitted into the church of God now, nor will they enter into the kingdom of God, into heaven hereafter, unless born again; their first and carnal birth neither entitles them to the kingdom of God on earth, nor to the kingdom of God in heaven, be it taken in either sense; for the baptism of such there is neither precept nor precedent in the Word of God.” This, that there is neither precept nor precedent for infant baptism in the Word of God, Dr. Gill then attempts to prove.