James D. Slopsema is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Having instructed us in the meaning of baptism and establishing the necessity of infant baptism, the baptism form now proceeds to lead us in prayer.
The prayer of the baptism form, along with the introductory exhortation to prayer, is as follows:
That therefore this holy ordinance of God may be administered to his glory, to our comfort, and to the edification of his church, let us call upon his holy name.
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 on dry ground, by which baptism was signified—we beseech thee, that Thou wilt be pleased of thine infinite mercy, graciously to look upon these children, and incorporate them by thy Holy Spirit, into thy Son Jesus Christ, that they may be buried with him in newness of life; that they may daily follow him, joyfully bearing their cross, cleave to him in true faith, firm hope, and ardent love; that they may, with a comfortable sense of thy favor, leave this life, which is nothing but a continual death, and at the last day, may appear without terror before the judgment seat of Christ thy Son, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Ghost, the one only God lives and reigns forever. Amen.
We notice in the introductory paragraph of exhortation the purpose of this prayer. The purpose of this prayer is that “this holy ordinance of God may be administered to his glory, to our comfort, and to the edification of his church.” This is contrasted with the warning given to parents immediately after the prayer. There parents are warned against using baptism out of custom or superstition. To avoid such a misuse of baptism and to facilitate its proper use, the baptism form leads the congregation in prayer just prior to the administration of baptism itself.
A brief analysis of this prayer reveals that its basic concern and request is that God graciously incorporate our children into Jesus Christ that they may walk in newness of life. This is a very appropriate prayer, since this is the essence of baptism itself. Baptism is the sacrament of incorporation into Jesus Christ and all His blessings. What a beautiful way, then, to prepare the congregation and parents to use baptism for God’s glory as well as for the comfort and edification of the church.
The prayer begins by pointing out the two Old Testament types of baptism: the salvation of Noah and his family through the flood, and the salvation of Israel under Moses through the Red Sea. By these two notable events in the Old Testament “baptism was signified.”
This certainly is Scriptural. I Peter 3:20, 21 speaks of “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. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us . . . .” According to this passage the destruction of the world by the flood and the saving of Noah and his family in the ark was certainly a type or picture in the Old Testament of baptism. In I Corinthians 10:1, 2 we find that the same is true of the destruction of Egypt and the saving of Israel at the Red Sea. There we read, “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 in the cloud and in the sea.”
Both these Old Testament types of baptism have essentially the same elements.
In both instances, for example, the church was saved from certain destruction through God’s judgment on and destruction of the world. In the case of Noah the church was in great peril of being swallowed up by the world. Through persecution and world amalgamation the church in Noah’s day had dwindled to merely eight souls. Were the world allowed to continue, the church would soon have been swallowed up. Hence, God saved the church by destroying the world in the flood. It is customary to think of Noah being saved from the flood by the ark. However, the passage we have cited from I Peter 3:20, 21 has a different emphasis. There we read that Noah and his family were saved in the ark bythe waters of the flood. You have the same idea also with the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea. For approximately 400 years Israel had been in bondage in Egypt. At the instigation of the devil Egypt sought to destroy Israel. To save Israel, which was His church, from certain destruction, God destroyed Egypt through the ten terrible plagues and the drowning of Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea.
The second element that both these types have in common is that in both instances the church was saved by water. The church in Noah’s day was saved by the waters of the flood. The church in bondage in Egypt was saved by the waters of the Red Sea.
The final element that both these types have in common is that in both instances the church was brought to a new life. Through the destruction of the world in the flood the church of Noah’s day was brought to a new creation. The Scripture makes very clear that the flood drastically changed the earth so that Noah stepped out of the ark into a new creation. And although sin still clung to Noah and his family, nevertheless, in this new creation they were able to enjoy a life they never knew before in the world that had been filled with violence. The same was true with Israel when God brought her out of Egypt. From Egypt God led His church to Canaan where she was able to live a new life as God’s covenant people and enjoy the blessings of God as never before.
The spiritual realities to which both of these types point are briefly described for us in Romans 6:3, 4, “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.”
Now we ought to notice that when this particular passage speaks of baptism, it is not referring to the sacrament of baptism by the church but to the spiritual reality symbolized in baptism, viz., incorporation into Jesus Christ. Notice, that this passage speaks of being “baptized into Jesus Christ.” The word translated “baptize” really means “to immerse.” This idea of immersion has been wrongly applied by the Baptists to the mode of baptism. They claim that immersion is the only proper way for baptism to be administered. Rather than applying to the mode of baptism, the idea of immersion applies rather to the spiritual realities depicted in baptism. The sacrament of baptism is a sign and seal of being immersed into Jesus Christ, or, if you will, of incorporation into Christ. This certainly is the thrust of the expression “baptized into Christ.”
The spiritual reality of being baptized into Christ is further explained in Romans 6:3, 4 as being baptized or immersed into Christ’s death and resurrection.
When we are baptized into Christ we are first baptized into His death. To be baptized into Christ’s death means -to become one with Christ in His death. It means to be crucified with Christ so that our old sinful nature is destroyed. And this is of extreme importance. For, so long as our corrupt nature lives, the devil and the powers of darkness are able to control us. The devil very cleverly excites the evil lusts of our sinful flesh so that we are led time and again into sin and ultimately to destruction. But being baptized into the death of Christ, this old sinful nature of ours is crucified with Christ. At the cross, our evil nature was principally destroyed and with it the power of the devil to lead us to destruction. Being baptized into Christ, we are safe from all the attempts of the powers of destruction to consume us.
This is the spiritual reality depicted in the destruction of the world in Noah’s day as well as the destruction of Egypt at the Red Sea. Even as God twice by water destroyed the world and its ability to destroy the church, so does He by the blood of the cross forever destroy the power of the forces of darkness to lead His church to destruction and ruin.
The positive truth implied in our being baptized into Jesus Christ is that we are baptized into His resurrection. To be baptized into Christ’s resurrection means to be one with Him in His resurrection so that we are risen with Him into newness of life. Of this we read in Romans 6:5, “For if we have been planted together into the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” And again in verse 8 we read, “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
Now to be risen with Christ means to be raised up to a new life of obedience and service in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection. It means to be born again in the power of the resurrection unto the new life of fellowship and communion with the ever blessed God.
This spiritual reality also was depicted in the two great types of baptism in the Old Testament. For both Noah and Israel were saved by God through water to lead new lives in His service and fellowship. Noah was delivered from a world of violence to lead a new life in the new creation after the flood. Israel was delivered from Egypt’s power to lead a new life in Canaan.
Having called our attention to these two great types of baptism, the baptism form in its prayer leads us to ask that God in His grace and mercy make all these things living realities in the lives of our baptized children, This certainly is the request we make when we are led to pray, “we beseech thee, that thou wilt be pleased of thine infinite mercy, graciously to look upon these children, and incorporate them by thy Holy Spirit, into thy Son Jesus Christ, that they may be buried with him into his death, and be raised with him in newness of life.”
What follows in this prayer is a development of what the new life is that we seek for our children. We are led to pray that our children may daily follow Jesus; that they joyfully bear their cross; that they cleave to Christ in true faith, firm hope, and ardent love. This is very simply what it means to live in newness of life in the power of the cross.
Finally, the form leads us to pray that our children may leave this life with a comfortable sense of God’s favor and at the last day appear before the judgment seat of Christ without terror. This is the fruit of walking in newness of life. Those who in the power of the cross daily follow Christ, joyfully bear their cross, and cling to him need not fear the day of judgment. They can rather leave this life through death in peace and can in confidence stand before the judgment seat of Christ knowing that great is their reward in heaven.
For all this we pray when we are led in prayer by our baptism form. When baptism is administered according to this form, let us one and all utter this prayer with a sincere heart that baptism may be administered to God’s glory, to our comfort, and to the edification of Christ’s church.