Adapted from a Sermon By
The Rev. Isaac Watts, D. D.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19
In our last sermon from Isaac Watts we considered what the scriptures teach us regarding the institution of the Lord’s Day, the day on which the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated. This morning, again with Isaac Watts as our guide, we will consider the other sacrament given to the Christian church: Christian Baptism.
And our text is Matthew 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In all the religions which God has prescribed to mankind, there have always been some outward rites or ceremonies appointed for man to perform, by which God would represent the blessings of his own grace, and by which men might profess their humble acceptance of those blessings, and their own correspondent obligations to duty.
These are a sort of seals of the covenant of grace between God and man: Such were sacrifices, which we have good reason to believe were appointed to Adam just after his fall, when the Lord God made them coats of the skins of animals which were sacrificed: Such was the rite of circumcision given to Abraham and his children: Such were the many ceremonies or ordinances which were prescribed to the Jews by the hand of Moses, in which, by many offerings made by fire, by washings and sprinklings of water and of blood, the blessings of the covenant of grace were described in a sort of picture , or symbolic language; and the people gave themselves up to the Lord in a way of covenant, according to the several appointed rules of duty.
In the religion or gospel of Christ, there are only two ordinances of this kind, instituted for Christians to observe, that is, Baptism which is performed by water; and the Lord's Supper, which is celebrated by bread and wine. The institution of baptism is contained in the words of our text, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Lord's Supper is represented in 1 Cor. 11. 26. as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. And so it appears that both of them are to continue until the Redeemer comes the second time, and puts an end to this world.
Baptism is our subject this morning, and in order to get a brief outline of it, we will consider it under the following four headings:
I. We will consider what this ordinance of baptism is, and what it implies or represents.
II. Who are the persons to whom it is to be administered.
III. In what manner this ceremony is to be performed.
IV. What practical inferences or exhortations may be drawn from this subject.
I. First. What is baptism, and what is implied in it, or intended by it?
The ordinance itself, that is, Christian baptism, is the washing a person with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
When it was introduced by John the Baptist, it was yet imperfect, and therefore it was repeated in the name of Christ to the Ephesians, who had received the baptism of John before; Acts 19. 3-5. And even as our Lord himself practised it in the days of his personal ministry, it did not seem to be drawn out into its complete form: John baptized his disciples, pointing their faith to Jesus, who should come after him: Jesus might possibly baptize into his own name as a great prophet, but not under the character of the Messiah, since he kept that point very much concealed from his common followers or disciples in his lifetime.
However, all that was done both under the ministry of Christ, and of John the Baptist, seem to be continued and included in this most perfect form of baptism, which our Lord appointed to his apostles after his resurrection from the dead, and just before his ascent to heaven. Whatever we find therefore in the baptism of John, as well as of Christ himself, or his apostles, we may reasonably presume are contained also in the outward form, and in the spiritual meaning of Christian baptism.
Let us go on to consider in some particulars, What does this baptism, this washing with water, mean and imply in a spiritual sense, highlighting as we go what is the use of the sacred names of Father, Son, and Spirit, in this ordinance.
i) Christian baptism implies a humble acknowledgment of some defilement; otherwise there would be no need of washing.
Sin is often represented in scripture as a matter of uncleanness, which pollutes the soul, and this it does in two ways.
First, The principle of sin within us defaces the image of God, which was stamped on man in his first creation, and in this way it makes us unfit for the presence of God, and communion with him as he is a God of spotless holiness:
And, secondly, The guilt of our actual sins exposes us to his punishing justice on account of the breach of his law, for every sin is a transgression of the law of God, and deserves death.
Whoever therefore is baptized, professes and declares that he is a defiled creature, a sinner; that he is guilty in the sight of God, and lies exposed to his anger; that he is unfit to converse with him, or to stand before him. So the Jews who attended on the ministry of John, Matt. 3. 6. were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins: and therefore they came to the water seeking to be purified. The foundation of our hope and salvation is laid in the acknowledgment of our misery. This acknowledgment is eminently made to God the Father, as the supreme Governor of the world, whom we have offended by sin.
ii) Baptism implies a belief of the blessed provision which God has made in his gospel for the purification of our souls from sin, and all its defilements.
1. He provided for the removal of the guilt of sin;
for he sent his own Son Jesus Christ to take flesh and blood upon himself, that he might die to make atonement for the sins of men, and that God, without dishonour to his governing justice, might pardon repenting sinners. This is sometimes called in scripture, washing away our sins by the blood of Christ; 1 John 1. 7. Rev. 1. 5. And for this reason the blood of Christ is called the sprinkled blood; Heb. 12. 24. Now this is particularly applied to baptism; Acts 22. 16. Ananias said to Paul, rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name that is the name of Jesus. Therefore baptism is called the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; Mark 1. 4.
2. God has also provided for the removal of the principle of sin, which defiles the soul of man, by the persuasive arguments of his gospel, which was revealed by the Spirit of God, and by the powerful operations of this Spirit on his heart.
It is the Spirit of God who is appointed to work on the dark and sinful mind of man, to change his corrupt nature, enlighten his mind, and give him a new bent and bias toward holiness. This is called in various scriptures renewing us by his Spirit, regenerating us, or causing us to be born again by the Spirit, giving us a new heart and a new spirit, sprinkling clean water upon us, and making us clean, and pouring out his Spirit upon men, and their offspring; John 3. 3, 6. Ezek. 36. 26. Isa. 44. 3. This also is in scripture applied to the ordinance of baptism, and therefore we are said to be born of water and the Spirit; John 3. 5. And the washing of regeneration is explained by the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly; Tit. 3. 5, 6.
But here we should pause to observe, that though both the ceremonies of the gospel, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, do in some way represent both these methods of purification from sin, that is, by the atoning blood of Christ, and by his sanctifying Spirit: yet the Lord's Supper more expressly represents the death and blood of Christ, and so more naturally and properly displays our pardon and justification from the guilt of sin by the atonement which Christ has made; whereas it is the more peculiar function of baptism to represent our regeneration or sanctification by the Spirit of God, or the cleansing our natures from the power and principle of sin, by pouring the Holy Spirit upon us under the emblem of water; by which emblem, in scripture, the Spirit of God is often revealed to us.
However, in general it should be understood, that Christian baptism, in the completeness of it, implies a belief of both these blessings, even these provisions of God the Father, for the cleansing us both from the guilt and from the principle of sin by the blood of Christ, and the operation of his Spirit: And this is likely to be one reason why we are baptized in the name of the Father, as the author of these blessings, and of the Son and Spirit, as divine mediums to procure and convey them.
3. The next thing implied in Christian baptism, is a humble acceptance of these blessings in the way God has chosen to give them; that is, by repentance for sin in the sight of God, by faith in Jesus Christ his Son, and by seeking the influences of the Holy Spirit, and obeying them.
When we come under this ordinance, we do as it were, by way of action and emblem, consent to accept of this purification, both from the guilt and principle of sin; we repent and are ashamed of our past iniquities; we trust in Jesus Christ and his atonement for pardon; we declare our desire to become new and holy creatures, by the cleansing and purifying power of the Spirit of God in the gospel; and therefore when persons professed their belief in Christ, and repentance of their sins, they were baptized; and those who were sincere were inwardly cleansed from their defilements, and received both these blessings. In first Corinthians, when the apostle had been enumerating many of the vile pollutions of the inhabitants of Corinth before their conversion, and such were some of you, said he, but you were washed in baptism, as a token and seal that you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. See 1 Cor. 6. 11.
Faith and repentance were the great things required of those who were admitted to baptism: This was the practice of John, and this was the practice of the apostles in the history of their ministry. Did John the forerunner of Christ preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins? Matt. 3. 2, 8. so did the apostle Peter, Acts 2. 38, when he declared repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And John the Baptist called them to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus. Acts 19. 4.
And here the sacred names of Father, Son, and Spirit, are of great use and importance again. When we are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we do humbly accept of God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as our Father and our God; we accept of the Son of God as our Saviour, especially by the blood of his sacrifice, and of the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier by his gospel, and his powerful influences.
4. Baptism also naturally implies a profession of our obligation to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and our engagement to act consistently with this profession;
that is, to live in harmony with these favours we receive from God, that is to say, the pardon of our sins and the sanctification of our souls; to watch against sin for time to come; to abstain from all pollutions of flesh and spirit: for we are not washed by the blood and Spirit of Christ that we may defile ourselves again. We engage to carry on the work of repentance and mortification of sin all our lives, as well as to live upon Christ by faith for the remission of daily rising transgressions.
In short, it includes a holy resolution, through the grace of Christ, and by the help of his Spirit, to follow every other means which God has appointed for the rooting out of sin, with all its defilements, from the soul, and restoring us to purity and holiness, and the likeness of God.
And so baptism becomes a seal of the covenant of grace between God and men, an acceptance of his blessings, and engagement to their correspondent duties, even as circumcision was to Abraham, a seal of his justification by faith; Rom. 4. 11. and an eminent proof and assurance of his obedience.
Persons who desire baptism, and yet will not take these obligations upon them, have no claim to this ordinance; and therefore John drove away the scribes and Pharisees from this baptism, because they would not bear fruit in keeping with repentance; Matt. 3. 7-9.
5. Baptism being significant of all these blessings and these duties, it becomes the appointed ceremony and sign of professing the whole Christian religion, and the rite or form of entering into the visible church of Christ.
Those who are baptized are professed Christians; they are avowed disciples of Christ. And in this also the sacred names of Father, Son, and Spirit, have their proper, plain meaning. Baptism is a profession of the religion which was contrived by the wisdom and grace of God the Father, it was published and preached to the world by Jesus Christ his Son, and it was confirmed and established by the miraculous gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit.
It implies also a resolved obedience to the authority and commands of the Father, a professed belief of the gospel as taught us by the Son, with a dependence on the grace and salvation of Christ, as carried on by all his offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, together with a compliance with all the outward discoveries, and all inward influences of the Holy Spirit: This is the duty, and these are the engagements of every professor of Christianity.
As circumcision was the way to enter into the Jewish church, and becoming a professed disciple of Moses, and so by it an obligation arose to perform and practise the whole Jewish law, Gal. 5. 3. so by baptism we lay ourselves under a holy obligation to practise the whole religion of Christ, and to wait for all its promised blessings.
We hope for the love and grace of the Father, the salvation of Jesus Christ, his Son, and the sanctifying and comforting influences of the Holy Spirit; and we are hereby devoted to the service and honour of the blessed Trinity, God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
Having said this much in describing the ceremony itself, and what is its spiritual meaning, we come now in the second place to look into,
II. Who are the subjects of this ordinance of baptism, or to whom it is to be administered?
And here the most proper and evident subjects of it, are
· persons who confess their sins, and profess to repent of them, and who accept of this grace and salvation offered in the gospel
· Those who have been taught the chief doctrines and duties of the gospel of Christ, and profess to believe and receive them, and to comply with them
· Those who take upon themselves the religion of Christ, become his disciples, and give up their names to him.
Here there is no difference, whether Greek or Jew, whether male or female, as there was in the Jewish ceremony of circumcision, which belonged properly to the Jewish nation, and admitted none but males: but all professors of the gospel must receive this ceremony, and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and this is the most common account the New Testament gives us of this matter, that when persons professed their faith in Christ, they were baptized. There are so many texts of this kind that there is no need to cite them.
And here we come to one of those very rare occasions where we have to depart from Isaac Watt’s teaching: That is the subject of infant baptism. We believe that only those whom we have just mentioned should be baptised, whereas Isaac Watts believed that the infants of believing parents should also be baptised.
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology gives a very good overview of the different views on this matter. There he describes and refutes at length the main arguments for infant baptism which I will very briefly summarize.
1. The first common argument for infant baptism is that infants were circumcised in the Old Covenant and Circumcision is parallel to Baptism.
But though baptism and circumcision are in many ways similar, it is important to see that what they symbolize is also different in many ways. In the Old Testament what was symbolized was the entrance into the covenant community (Israel) by physical birth. In the New Testament, what is symbolized is the entrance into the Church as the covenant community by spiritual birth. It comes about not by an external act (which applies to infants) but by internal faith in one’s heart (which an infant cannot express).
2. The second argument for infant baptism is the New Testament account of Household Baptisms.
Grudem shows that “the examples of household baptisms in the New Testament are really not decisive for one position of another.” “When we look at the actual examples more closely, we see that in a number of them there actually are indications of saving faith on the part of all of those baptized. In fact, of all the examples of household baptisms in the New Testament, the only one that does not have some indication of household faith as well is in Acts 16 speaking of Lydia. And since it contains no information as to whether there were children or not, it is not a strong support for infant baptism.
We go on now to the third general heading, that is “In what manner is this ceremony to be performed?” to which also I will refer to the work by Wayne Grudem.
And again at this point we have to depart from the teaching of Isaac Watts who supported baptism by sprinkling. It seems that the evidence from the narrative as well as the Greek used to describe baptism show that “the practice of baptism in the New Testament was carried out in one way: the person being baptized was immersed or put completely under water and then brought back up again.”
Grudem lists three reasons which makes this evident which are, very briefly:
1. The Greek word baptizo means “to plunge, dip, immerse” something in water. And this is the commonly recognized and standard meaning of the term in ancient Greek literature both inside and outside of the Bible.
2. The sense “immerse” is appropriate and probably required for the word in several New Testament passages. For example, in Mark Chapter 1 verse 10, Mark tells us that when Jesus had been baptized “he came up out of the water”.
3. The symbolism of union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection seems to require baptism by immersion. For example, Paul tells the Colossians, “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2:12)
But this shall suffice for a hint of this controversy, says Isaac Watts, which has filled large volumes in the world, made a huge noise in the church, and destroyed the love of a multitude of Christians. I do the rather venture to speak one, says he, charitable word on this subject, that is to say, that since this controversy has some difficulties concerning it, persons of an honest and sincere soul in searching out the truth, may happen to run into different opinions: And the things wherein we agree are so important, as should not bring us to quarrel about the lesser things in which we differ.
Our brethren who reject infant baptism, as well as we who practise it, all agree in a belief of the sacred institution of this ordinance, and in our reverence for it: We all agree that the children should be devoted to God, and should be partakers of all the utmost privileges into which scripture admits them, and that they should grow up under all possible obligations to duty; and since each of us desires to find out the will of Christ, and practise it accordingly, it is a most unreasonable thing, that we should be angry with each other, because some of us are devoted to God and Christ by this ceremony a little sooner, or a little later than others; or because some devote their children to God in baptism as a claim of privileges and an obligation to duties, before they can do this for themselves; whereas others let this claim and obligation alone, until children themselves are capable of acting in it:
Or because some of us think this ordinance requires much water, and that the whole body should be immersed in it, and others suppose a little is sufficient.
In short, where faith in Christ, and love to God, and obedience to the sanctifying operations of the Spirit, are made necessary to salvation, and agreed upon by us all, it is sad that these lesser things should raise such unhappy and scandalous contentions among the disciples of the blessed Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace.
Having considered some account of the subjects of this ordinance, and the manner in which it should be performed, we come now to the last thing which was proposed, and that is to mention a few practical exhortations relating to the point in hand.
Exhortation I. Adore the wisdom of God, and give thanks to his goodness, who has appointed such sensible helps to our faith, such sensible memorials of his grace and our duty.
True religion is in a great measure an inward and spiritual thing; but its preservation is greatly helped by having some of the most considerable points of it held forth or represented in visible ceremonies, to strike the senses of men, and to dwell upon their imagination. The God of nature knows us well, how much we are touched and affected with the things we can see and hear and touch, and therefore he has condescended to deal with us in this way in all ages of his church; and for this reason the two great blessings of the New Testament, that is to say, cleansing from the defiling principles of sin by the Holy Spirit, and washing from the guilt of sin by the blood of Christ, are held forth to our senses in the two great ordinances of the gospel, Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Words and discourses, precepts and promises, given out by the lips of men, often vanish into the air, and are lost and forgotten: Writings are preserved indeed, but are inaccessible to many; and though our age is blessed with so much knowledge, yet multitudes in all former ages could not so much as read.
But these sensible emblems and ceremonies preserve the articles of our holy religion in the blessings and in its duties from age to age, and write them upon the memory of the unlearned, and that in lasting characters. Blessed be God for his condescending goodness in such an evangelical ceremony!
II. Let us enquire into the spiritual meaning of all Christian ordinances, and never content ourselves with the mere outward forms without enjoying the blessing it is a picture of, and practising the respective duties.
Children should enquire of their parents when they see a believer washed with water, and say, “What is the meaning of this washing? And what are we to understand by the use of these names. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” And parents should be able and willing to instruct their children, and teach them these important points of their holy religion: that they are under a defilement by sin, they are to be washed from the guilt of it in the blood of Christ, and to be cleansed and purified from its principles by the renewing grace of the Spirit.
So it was among the Jews; Exod. 12. 26, 27. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians: and so should it be among Christians.
But remember, that washing with water in ever so solemn a manner, and using these sacred names with ever so great seriousness by the pastor, does not profit the persons baptized, if they still continue to wallow in their sinful pollutions, and take no care to seek purification of heart and life. You may be washed with the water of baptism, and yet be driven down to hell among the polluted souls.
III. Do not think yourselves exempt or excused from this ceremony, though you possess all the graces which it pictures.
Christ himself passed under it, Matt. 3. 13-17. Those who had received the Holy Spirit received baptism also. Peter declares in Acts Chapter 10, Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people? Acts 10. 47. As there must be faith for there to be true salvation, so it is the common and appointed way of God that there should be baptism too. Mark 16. 16. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. A wilful and entire neglect and contempt of any ordinance of Christ gives too much reason to suspect whether there is any true faith at all.
IV. Take all proper occasions to refresh the sense of your baptism on your spirits, and to act over again between God and your own souls all that baptism implies, though the ceremony itself is but once to be administered to you.
When you see baptism administered to others, remember you yourselves were once baptized; recall the season when you were in this way washed with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Acknowledge your defilement by nature and by practice: Go to the laver that is opened for sin and uncleanness, even the fountain of the blood of Jesus; seek the fresh influences of the purifying Spirit to cleanse you from all the impurities of your heart, and to make you clean and holy. Give yourselves up anew with sacred pleasure to God as your Father, to Jesus as your Saviour, to the Holy Spirit as your Sanctifier; renew the surrender of yourselves to Christ as his disciples, and engage yourselves afresh to be the Lord's.
V. Be very watchful to answer all the engagements of your Christian baptism, to guard yourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and to grow up into greater degrees of holiness and purity.
It was a happy and successful defence against temptations in the early Church, when the Christian could say, “I am baptized.” Let this also be the constant language of our souls; “l am washed in the sacred water of regeneration, how can I defile myself again? I am devoted and consecrated to Christ, how can I estrange myself from him? Forgive, O Lord, all my shameful pollutions, since I have been washed in the Christian baptism, and guard me, blessed Spirit, against every new defilement, that I may be presented at last before my God and my Saviour without spot or blemish, in the day of his public glory and of my complete joy.”
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. (Jude 1:24)