Although the Reformation was a movement which delivered the Church of God from the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, championed the truth of the Word of God that justification is only by faith and wholly without works, and returned the Word of God to the people of God, wresting it from the Romish Church, this does not mean that the I reformers were in complete agreement on all matters of doctrine and of the truths of the Word of God. As we noticed at the conclusion of our preceding article, Luther did not break completely with Rome on the doctrine of the sacrament of baptism. He also differed from Calvin in their views of the Lord’s Supper. But at present we are interested in the Protestant conception of the sacrament of baptism. And we concluded our preceding article with a quotation from the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, Art. IX.
In Luther’s Small Catechism, the Reformer devoted Part IV to the sacrament of baptism. In this catechism the German reformer explains how this sacrament should be clearly and simply explained to every household by the head of the family. This is set forth in this catechism as follows:
I. What is Baptism? Answer:
Baptism is not simply common water, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command, and connected with God’s Word.
What is that Word of God? Answer: It is that which our Lord Christ speaks in the last chapter of Matthew (XXVIII. 19): “Go ye (into all the world), and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
II. What does Baptism give, or of what use is it? Answer:
It worketh forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare.
What are such words and promises of God? Answer:
Those which our Lord Jesus Christ speaks in the last chapter of Mark: “He that betieveth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damneth.”
III. How can water do such great things? Answer:
It is not water, indeed, that does it, but the Word of God which is with and in the water, and faith, which trusts in the Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God the water is nothing but water, and no baptism; but with the Word of God it is a baptism—that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, third chapter (III. 5-6):
“By the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is certainly true (Or, ‘This is a faithful saying,’ ver. 8).
IV. What does such baptizing with water signify? Answer:
It signifies that the old Adam in us is to be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and perish with all sins and evil lusts; and that the new man should daily come forth again and rise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is it so written? Answer:
St. Paul, in the 6th chapter of Romans, says:
“We are buried with Christ by baptism into death; that like as he was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
It surely is evident from the short catechism of Luther that he did not rid himself completely of the Roman Catholic conception of the sacrament of baptism. It is true that there is a marked difference between the German reformer and Rome, a difference which also applies to their conceptions of the Lord’s Supper. Even as in connection with the Lord’s Supper, Luther did not advocate any change of the substances, bread and water, themselves, but emphasized that faith was absolutely indispensable in the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood, so also, in connection with the sacrament of baptism, he declares that, without the Word of God, the water is nothing but water, and no baptism. Rome simply lays all emphasis upon the external administration of this sacrament. However, Luther also declares in this short catechism that the water in Baptism is not common water, and that therefore all the benefits of this sacrament are connected with the water. And he also declares, even as in connection with his conception of the Lord’s Supper, that the water can do the great things it does because of the Word of God which is with and in the water, and faith which trusts in the Word of God in the water. So, the Divine working of regeneration is inseparably connected with the water itself.
Also in Reformed circles, as we will readily surmise, there is no unanimity of opinion in respect to the sacrament of baptism. And then we wish to state at this time that, although many view the sacrament as being dependent for its efficacy upon the will of the recipient of the sacrament, the truly Reformed conception of baptism stresses that the sacrament speaks not merely of something that will happen, but that it emphatically emphasizes what has already occurred, stresses the fact of our salvation as a Divine, unchangeable fact. It is simply the age-long controversy between the Reformed and Arminian conception of salvation which also applies here. It is the same old question whether the salvation and promise of the Lord is alone dependent upon the one and only sovereign God or upon the will of the sinner. It is the old question whether the sacrament of baptism is a Divine pledge of the salvation which He bestows in His sovereign grace and mercy upon whom He wills to bestow it, or whether that sacrament is simply a Divine pledge and assurance of the Lord of what He will do, provided that the sinner is willing to accept the same.
That the sacrament of baptism is a Divine pledge of salvation as a Divine, unchangeable fact is evident from our beautiful Baptism Form, from which we now quote:
The principal parts of the doctrine of holy baptism are these three:
FIRST. That we with our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are children of wrath, in so much that we cannot enter into the kingdom of God, except we are born again. This, the dipping in, or sprinkling with water teaches us, whereby the impurity of our souls is signified, and we are admonished to loathe, and humble ourselves before God, and seek for our purification and salvation without ourselves.
SECONDLY. Holy baptism witnessed and sealeth into us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ. Therefore we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For when we are baptized in the name of the Father, 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, And 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. In like manner, 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.
THIRDLY. Whereas in all covenants, there are contained two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism, admonished of, and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.
And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin, we must not therefore despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, since baptism is a seal and undoubted testimony, that we have an eternal covenant of grace with God. —end of quote from our Baptism Form.
Space forbids us to dwell at length upon this beautiful form, surely one of the most beautiful forms in our liturgy. We would make the following remark. It is true that we read at the close of this form of our obligation before God. Our attention is called to the fact that there are contained in all covenants two parts. We note that we do not read of two parties, but of two parts. And our part in this covenant of grace is that we are admonished and obliged through this sacrament of baptism unto new obedience, to cleave unto the one God, to trust in Him, and to love Him with all hearts and souls and minds and strength. This is our calling and obligation because of the sacrament of baptism. Why? Because the promises of the Lord depend upon our obedience? Because the Lord would establish with us His covenant of grace, give us everlasting life if only we believe in God, trust in Him, love Him with all that we are and have, forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life? Indeed not! Notice, please, that this beautiful baptism form begins with a statement which establishes our hopeless misery, that we and our children are conceived and born in sin, and that we cannot enter into the kingdom of God except we are born again. This statement of our utter sin and misery certainly closes the door to us as far as OUR entrance into the covenant of grace is concerned. Then, in the second paragraph, we read that the Father has established an everlasting covenant of grace with us, and that the Son has washed us in His blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of his death and resurrection. What does all this mean? That God’s establishing of His covenant is dependent upon our new obedience? Of course not! But it does mean that our new obedience is the fruit of God’s establishing of His covenant, and that we are admonished unto this new obedience because God HAS established His covenant of grace with us, the Son HAS washed us in His blood, and the Holy Ghost DOES dwell in us. Our calling, therefore, is the fruit of grace.