We concluded our preceding article by quoting what our Heidelberg Catechism has to say about the sacrament of baptism in Lord’s Days 26 and 27. In these Lord’s Days emphasis is laid upon the fact that our sins are washed away only through the blood and Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Heidelberg Catechism emphatically denies that the outward washing of water itself is the washing away of our sins. This, we understand, is the teaching of Rome, and it is emphatically denied by the Reformed conception of the sacrament. It is maintained in these Lord’s Days that only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin. And the Heidelberg Catechism concludes its discussion of the sacrament of baptism by maintaining that this sacrament must also be administered to the infants of believers.
Finally, we would quote from the Second Helvetic Confession, Article XX, which speaks of Holy Baptism: “Baptism was instituted and consecrated by God; and the first that baptized was John, who dipped Christ in the water of Jordan. From him it came to the apostles, who also did baptize with water. The Lord, in plain words, commanded them to preach the Gospel and to ‘baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost’ (Matt. 28:19). And Peter also, when divers demanded of him what they ought to do, said to them, in the Acts, ‘Let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38). Hence baptism is called by some a sign of initiation for God’s people, whereby the elect of God are consecrated unto God.
There is but one baptism in the Church of God; for it is sufficient to be once baptized or consecrated unto God. For baptism once received does continue all a man’s life, and is a perpetual sealing of our adoption unto us. For to be baptized in the name of Christ is to be enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance, of the sons of God yea, and in this life to be called after the name of God; that is to say, to be called a son of God; to be purged also from the filthiness of sins, and to be endued with the manifold grace of God, in order to lead a new and innocent life. Baptism, therefore, does call to mind and keep in remembrance the great benefit of God performed to mankind. For we are all born in the pollution of sin and are the children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, does freely purge us from our sins by the blood of his Son, and in him does adopt us to be his sons, and by a holy covenant does join to himself, and does enrich us with divers gifts, that we might live a new life. All these things are sealed up unto us in baptism. For inwardly we are regenerated, purified, and renewed of God through the Holy Spirit; and outwardly we receive the sealing of most notable gifts by the water, by which also those great benefits are represented, and, as it were, set before our eyes to be looked upon. And therefore are we baptized, that is, washed or sprinkled with visible water. For the water makes clean that which is filthy, and refreshes and cools the bodies that fail and faint. And the grace of God deals in like manner with the soul; and that invisibly and spiritually.
Moreover, by the sacrament of baptism God does separate us from all other religions and nations, and does consecrate us a peculiar people to himself. We, therefore, being baptized, do confess our faith, and are bound to give unto God obedience, mortification of the flesh, and newness of life; yea, and we are soldiers enlisted for the holy warfare of Christ, that all our life long we should fight against the world, Satan, and our own flesh. Moreover, we are baptized into one body of the Church, that we might well agree with all the members of the Church in the same religion and mutual duties.
We believe that the most perfect form of baptism is that by which Christ was baptized, and which the apostles did use. Those things, therefore, which by man’s device were added afterwards and used in the Church we do not consider necessary to the perfection of baptism. Of this kind is exorcism, the use of lights, oil, spittle, and such other things; as, namely, that baptism is twice every year consecrated with divers ceremonies. But we believe that the baptism of the Church, which is but one, was sanctified in God’s first institution of it, and is consecrated by the Word, and is now of full force, by the first blessing of God upon it.
We teach that baptism should not be ministered in the Church by women or midwives. For Paul secludes women from ecclesiastical callings; but baptism belongs to ecclesiastical off ices.
We condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that young infants, born of faithful parents, are to be baptized. For, according to the doctrine of the Gospel, ‘theirs is the kingdom of God’ (Luke 18:16), and they are written in the covenant of God (Acts 3:25). Why, then, should not the sign of the covenant of God be given to them? Why should they not be consecrated by holy baptism, who are God’s peculiar people and are in the Church of God? We condemn also the Anabaptists in the rest of those peculiar opinions which they hold against the Word of God. We therefore are not Anabaptists, neither do we agree with them in any point that is theirs.”—end of quote of Art. XX of the Second Helvetic Confessino.
In distinction from the Romish Church, the Protestant conception of the sacrament of baptism stresses the sacramental, or rather the symbolical character of the sacrament. Rome maintains that the water in baptism is essential unto salvation, speaks of the water of baptism as the water of regeneration in that literal-natural sense of the word, maintains the essential significance Of the sacrament to such an extent that no salvation is possible for one who has not been baptized. It is true, as we have seen, that Rome makes two exceptions to this rule. In the first place, they exempt those who suffer martyrdom, contending that their death as martyrs procures unto them their salvation. And, in the second place, they speak of a “baptism of desire,” and refer to the salvation of those adults who, although not having been baptized, nevertheless reveal the desire for it and show that they would have submitted to the sacrament of baptism had the opportunity presented itself to them. For the rest, however, Rome contends that salvation is impossible without the sacrament of baptism. According to Rome, it is impossible for children who died before receiving the sacrament of baptism to enter heaven. These children enter Limbo, enjoy salvation according to their own capacity, but are eternally deprived from the joy and life of heaven. The protestant conception of the sacrament of baptism, however, emphasizes its symbolical significance, and refuses to ascribe any magical power to the water of sacrament itself. This is emphasized in all the Protestant and Reformed symbols from which we have quoted in our preceding articles. And in our Heidelberg Catechism Question 72 reads: “Is, then, the outward washing of water itself the washing away of sins?”, and the answer is emphatically in the negative.
Secondly, Rome rejects the baptism of John the Baptist as being of the same significance and force as the baptism of Christ. NOW it must surely be admitted that the sacrament of baptism was not formally introduced and instituted until the glorification of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Pentecost. It is only then that we read of the command unto the disciples to go out into all the world and to teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. At the time of John’s baptism circumcision was still the sign and seal of the covenant. The sign of circumcision had, at John’s baptism, not yet been replaced by that of baptism. John, although the greatest of the prophets, and standing upon the threshold of the New Dispensation, himself still belonged to the Old Dispensation. It is for this reason that he baptized only Israelites and adult Jews. We do not read of children having been baptized by him. Nevertheless, we may certainly maintain that the baptism of John had essentially the same significance as that of Christ.
Thirdly, the Protestant conception of the sacrament, in distinction from Rome, lays all emphasis upon the one atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will have more to say about this in due time. It speaks very little of the sacrifice of Christ. Rome, we know when discussing the sacrament of baptism, stresses the essential significance of the sacrament. Rome, of course, lays all emphasis upon the sacraments, upon the Roman hierarchy, the essential significance of the sacrament and of the hierarchy unto salvation. The Protestant conception, however, directs and points us to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. This, too, is emphasized in all the Protestant and Reformed symbols from which we have quoted. The Heidelberg Catechism lays all emphasis upon this in Questions and Answers 69-74. Every answer in the Heidelberg Catechism, in its treatment of the sacrament of baptism, calls our attention to this, speaks of our being washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ, and emphasizes that the Holy Spirit calls baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of OUR sins only because the sacrament is a Divine pledge and token whereby He assures us that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water. The sacrifice of Christ is THE reality; the sacrament of baptism is merely a Divine sign and seal.
In connection with the above, Lutheranism did not rid itself entirely of the Roman Catholic conception of the sacrament. Luther did not regard the water of baptism as common water, but as a water which had become, through the Word with its inherent Divine power, a gracious water of life, a washing of regeneration. Luther, as we will see later, did not rid himself completely of the Roman Catholic conception of the Lord’s Supper either. Through this Divine efficacy of the Word the sacrament effects regeneration. In the case of adults, Luther made the effect of baptism dependent upon the faith of the one that was being baptized. Calvin and the Reformed conception of the sacrament of baptism, however, broke away from the Roman Catholic conception of baptism completely and entirely.
In the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, drawn upon the year, 1530, some thirteen years after the German reformer nailed the ninety five theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Art. IX, speaking of Baptism, reads as follows: “Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that by Baptism the grace of God is offered, and that children are to be baptized, who by Baptism, being offered to God, are received into God’s favor. They condemn the Anabaptists who allow not the Baptism of children, and affirm that children are saved without Baptism.” In our following article, the Lord willing, we will quote from Luther’s Catechism, drawn up in the year, 1529, some twelve years after the igniting of the spark of the Reformation in 1517, in Wittenberg, the evening before All Saints Day.