Notes on Baptism
(1) A Historical Survey
The subject of Baptism has provoked more unkind feelings and acrid words than
probably any other Scripture question has, and yet if people realised its significance
the strife of tongues would cease. It is an individual exercice and not a responsibility
of a local Christian company. There is only one Baptism as one Lord and one
Faith (Eph. 4: 5). It may be well to mention that on the subject of the Baptism
of the Spirit there is little or no difference of view amongst real Scripture
students. "By one Spirit we (the Christians) are baptised into one body." With
that matter water baptism is not directly connected. The fracas is over water
baptism. Christendom has been divided into two great opposing camps according
as the individuals favour one or other of two views:- (1) Believers' baptism,
( 2) Household or paedobaptism, (from paidion, Greek word for child).
In the first place we shall take a brief survey of the history of the subject
in the last nineteen centuries. The first mention of baptism is in connection
with John the Baptist's mission. His baptism had the result of establishing
a confessedly repentant and separate remnant in Judaism. The result of his preaching
and action was to prepare a company who would ultimately receive the Lord. His
baptism was to the life of Christ while here and thus is quite distinct from
baptism in the Christian era, the significance of which is to the death of Christ.
However, they were on the same principle relative to their surroundings. Moreover,
that remnant became the nucleus of the Christian company after the death, resurrection
and ascension of Christ and the consequent coming of the Holy Ghost to earth.
The subject of baptism receives 25 citations in the Book of Acts, , eight of
them referring to John's baptism. There were instances of believers who only
knew John's baptism, e.g., (1) Apollos (Acts 18: 25), ( 2) twelve disciples
at Ephesus (Acts 19: 3). The bearing of the subject formed a very important
element in the preaching of the Apostles.
Early in the second century of the Christian era the wholly unscriptural doctrine
of regeneration by water baptism had obtained many adherents. So it was only
a step to obtain security for heaven as early as possible in the life of the
person. Hence the ritualist has ever since had his children baptised in view
of the danger of their dying before the rite could be performed and thus they
would be shut out of heaven. On the contrary, Scripture shows that baptism only
relates to earth and to people living thereon. The first condemnation of the
practice of infant baptism recorded was by Tertullian in 197 A.D. Pelagius,
a contemporary of Augustine about 400 A.D. denied the validity of baptismal
regeneration but said that baptism only introduced the child into the Kingdom
of God where it had the opportunity of receiving salvation. Columba and the
simple monks of Iona in the sixth century are credited with being the first
who are mentioned as deferring baptism until a profession of faith was practicable,
but sometime later, in the next century, they were crushed by papal edict. Somewhat
later, the Armenians contended that baptism should be by request of the individual,
so as to be a confession of faith. They insisted that the practice of infant
baptism had brought "the world" into the Christian profession. The persecuted
Waldenses (1200-1500 A.D.) seemed to have arrived gradually at the same conclusion
as the persecution grew. In the Reformation of the 16th century, Luther, founding
a great national church, was unable to curb the general custom of infant baptism
and the current doctrines founded thereon. Similarly, Zuingli failed in Switzerland!
About the same time, the Anabaptist (" baptised again") movement sprang up in
Germany and Switzerland, etc. (It was really the emergence to public view of
a river which had been flowing underground for a thousand years; the obscure
martyrs had carried on the testimony throughout the centuries). Unfortunately
the Anabaptists were confounded with a communist parallel movement and thus
they were persecuted both on political and ecclesiastical grounds. Many were
put to death by Romanists and Protestants alike!
Towards the end of the 16th century there sprang up in England two classes of
congregations:(a) Independents who baptised infants, one of whose parents was
a believer, (b) Baptists who baptised believers only. The 17th century witnessed
the rise of the Society of Friends who in spite of intense persecution bore
unflinching testimony to the Holy Spirit's indwelling of believers and oral
ministry thereby. But in pressing that truth they became lop-sided in dispensing
with all ordinances including Baptism. Although a Baptist, John Bunyan declined
to make Baptist views a ground of fellowship. In the first half of the 19th
century, the early Brethren were not agreed as to the practice of baptism. J.
N. Darby taught that baptism introduced a Christian's child into a place of
privilege, but he condemned the Anglican theory of baptismal regeneration. At
first he had only a small minority of his associates who shared his views. Many
others of his associates were strong advocates of deferring baptism until a
confession of faith was possible. Prominent amongst these were G. V. Wigram,
William Kelly and C. H. Mackintosh. We shall make quotations from their writings
From an analysis of the historical development of the subject one is forced
to the conclusion that a strong element in the practice of believers' baptism
was originally developed as a protest against the abuse which had been made
of the paedobaptists' contention.
(2) The General Bearing of Baptism
The doctrine of baptism is conclusively stated in Rom. 6: 3-4, "Know ye not
that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His
death? Therefore, we are baptised with Him by baptism into death." The preposition
in the A.V. text translated "into" really bears the construction of "unto the
significance of" His death. The eunuch in Acts 8, clearly apprehended the implication
of Philip's preaching and the bearing of the prophetic teaching of Isaiah 53,
concluding with the statement "His life is taken from the earth." He saw that
if the only One who had a perfect title to live here had His life taken from
the earth it was time for him to be associated with that One in the place of
death and burial symbolically set forth by baptism. That would close the record
of his life as a man of the world. Moreover, it should be noted that the eunuch
was a man of marked distinction in the world's affairs. Baptism for him would
imply that he could not again be recognised as one of the world's grandees!
That is no less incumbent on all others who follow the same course, hence the
sequel for every baptised person is to be true to the implication of his or
her baptism. We should not be found striving for a place in the world which
cast out our Lord.
(The scriptural mode of baptism was undoubtedly immersion in water). Some hold
that baptism appertains to the Jew and does not apply to the Gentile urging
that the commission in Matt. 28, was given as an antecedent to the Kingdom to
be instituted. But in the Acts, the Apostles preached and enacted baptism repeatedly;
indeed it is one of the fundamental principles in the initial stages of the
Christian era. So that anyone ignoring baptism is not really on Christian ground.
He may be right for heaven, but he is not right for earth!
The theory of baptismal regeneration enunciated in the early Christian era is
an untenable fiction. Water baptism has nothing whatever to do with heaven,
its sole concern is for earth. No mere ordinance can put one right for heaven!
Baptism by the Spirit is into the one body which has the issue of heaven in
The Baptist View
The Baptist view is that baptism is the sequel to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is maintained that (1) it is an act of obedience to a command of the Lord,
proving to the public the honesty of our belief. (2) It is a figure of what
has taken place in God's reckoning in relation to the Christian as soon as he
believes. (3) It is the answer of a good conscience. (4) It is a public confession
of faith, that in scriptural language the individual has put on Christ. He has
adopted a new profession with the privileges and responsabilities thereof, i.e.,
henceforth he is on the Lord's side against the world. The illustration is sometimes
given that just as immediately on the death of a king his successor becomes
ruler although his coronation may be deferred for some time when he will be
declared officially king before the world at large. The believer is baptised
in the name of the Trinity and of the Lord Jesus.
Baptism is not only a figure of association in death but also of burial. We
are buried with Him by baptism. A further thought is impressed in baptism being
a figure of resurrection because Rom. 6: 4, goes on to say, " 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." Again "buried with Him in baptism wherein also ye
are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised
Him from the dead" (Col. 2: 12). The alternative translation of "wherein" as
"in whom" is rejected by this contention. So by coupling both ideas of death
and resurrection in the thought of baptism it would be untenable to baptise
infants since obviously they could not walk in newness of life. Christian baptism
would thus be the door into the sphere of Christ's righteousness and life (Many
baptists would probably demur to the last rendering of their view since they
would admit that baptism has no subjective import).
Baptists having baptised one who makes an unfounded profession of faith and
subsequently believes do not as a rule baptise that individual again. ( If they
did it would be without meaning). On the negative side the Old Testament incidents
which are adduced by the paedo-baptist in support of his view, viz., Noah and
the flood, Abraham and circumcision, Moses preserved in the ark among the bulrushes,
the passage of the Red Sea, Hannah's presentation of Samuel for service in the
House of God, etc., are all capable of diverse expositions and prove nothing
conclusively. Then as to the three households baptised relative to the apostle
Paul's ministry, viz., those of Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and Stephanas,
there is no reference to the constitution of these and the inclusion of unconscious
infants therein would be a speculative hypothesis On the positive side of the
argument action is taken on "he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved"
(Mark 16: 16). In Peter's initial ministry at Pentecost his instruction is direct
and unequivocal, "repent and be baptised every on of you in the name of Jesus
Christ for the remission of sins"; also "they that received his word were baptised"(Acts
2: 41). Again in the Cornelius incident "can any man forbid water that these
should not be baptised who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we" (Acts
10: 47). Since the Holy Ghost had fallen on them all, there could not be any
question about their baptism. Believing, repentance and baptism are indissolubly
joined together in the Acts, To the argument that children of believing parents
are holy (or set apart) and thus suitable for baptism (1 Cor. 7: 14), the answer
is given that they are holy because of relation with their believing parents
and baptism would not make them less or more sanctified. It is denied that there
is any sphere of divine favour instituted through baptism. The baptist views
infant baptism as valueless just as John's baptism was invalid after the death
of Christ. Thus would be like having paid a debt in counterfeit coin. The debt
would still require to be discharged. So the individual would still need to
be baptised and that would not reckoned " baptising again" in any real sense.
(Unfortunately the majority of writings on the subject of baptist views are
largely occupied with pouring ridicule on the views of various opponents and
but little doctrinal evidence is offered. So from the mass of verbiage it is
often difficult to extract thoughts of value in the argument).
"I can only say that I have for 32 years been asking in vain
for a single line of Scripture for baptising any save believers or those who
profess to believe. Reasoning I have had, but of direct Scripture authority,
not one tittle. It is always with extreme reluctance I touch on the subject
of baptism. There is such a difference of judgment amongst those whom I love
and honour that it is not for profit to discuss it. All enquirers should take
the N.T. and study carefully and prayerfully, and if they cannot find anything
how can they act without clear divine authority." C.H.M.
Though baptised myself as a believer, I cannot sympathise with such or ignore
scriptural light on baptism. On the other hand, who can fairly say that paedo-baptism
has been shown to be an article of faith. Tracts have been published, but we
are far from having that warrant of Holy Writ which we justly look for before
we accept any doctrine as Christian. Intelligent men on all sides admit that
the households of Scripture decide nothing as to this. There may have been no
infants or the household might be said to be baptised without including them,
because of the nature of the case. Never do we hear of Peter or any other proceeding
to baptise in the first place but to preach, then those who received the word
were baptised, but it was the receiving and confessing the name of the Lord,
not the baptism which constituted them disciples, however certainly the initiator
rite followed their confession. The word of God is too wise to insinuate that
He (the Philippian jailer) was baptised before he believed because it is afterwards
said that he rejoiced believing in God with all his house. It is remarkable
while his joy is given in the aorist, his faith is described as implying the
present or continuing result of what is past. Nothing can be more palpably erroneous
than saying that "Baptism is a subjective thing ," such indeed is the notion
of the Baptists who reduce baptism to signify the state of the baptised, whether
there is any subjective reality depends on the faith of the recipients." W.K.
The above are fair examples of the views of C. H. Mackintosh and W.
Kelly on the subject. Although G. V. Wigram had definite baptist views they
formed little or no part of his ministry or writings. It is narrated that a
pert lady once said to Mr Darby "What does Mr Wigram hold on baptism?" She was
unprepared for the cutting rejoinder "Madam, he holds his tongue." If we realised
how little we were true to the significance of our baptism, we, too, would seek
to emulate G.V.W.'s practice.
Household or Paedo-Baptist View
The name in which baptism is enacted is more important than the mode, amount
of water, period of life, or the person performing the rite. The usual "Believers
baptist" standpoint is apt to be in collision with Scripture! The outstanding
stumbling block is that the Apostle Paul baptised households. At once the critic
asserts that the constituents were all converted. Scripture does not say so.
In making the statement unconsciously he gives away his ground to the other
side, who maintain that the trend of Scripture doctrine would justify household
baptism. The Baptist is very upset when asked if his family of small children
will go to heaven if the Lord came immediately. He will reply, " Yes, certainly"!
On being asked for scriptural warrant for the statement he will probably make
irrelevant remarks. He accepts the value of the death of Christ assuring a place
in heaven for his children without Scripture, and denies them (with Scripture)
a place on earth in the external sphere connected with the House of God where
God dwells. We are quite sure that his young children will have a place in heaven
due to the sovereign grace of God, but there is no specific Scripture saying
so. The Baptist's great contention is that his opponent has no Scripture evidence
for his action, but he cannot have his argument both ways!
In Acts 2 Peter abjured his hearers to repent and be baptised in the name of
Jesus Christ. Remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost followed, which
is the reverse order from the Baptist's theory. The promise was to the Jews
and their children whom he exhorted to save themselves from that untoward generation.
(There was no longer salvation in Judaism, the best circle of the world.) The
Jew was to dissociate himself from the world! Before the crucifixion the Jew
said, "His blood be on us and on our children," the Holy Spirit said, "The promise
is to such." Peter opened the door to let the repentant Jews and their children
into the kingdom of heaven. Then Saul of Tarsus was told by Ananias "arise and
be baptised and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Obviously
the washing away of sins could not be relevant to eternal matters). In a governmental
way he was to dissociate himself from the sins and the place to which they attached.
He had to clear himself of identification with his guilt as a Jew and enemy
of Christ. He was to lead a new kind of life under the authority of the Lord.
His was a business to be henceforth run under new management!
In Acts 16, Lydia's heart was opened, she and her house were baptised. (No reference
was made to their hearts being opened). They were brought into Christian association
in consequence of her faithfulness. In v. 32 the Apostle spoke the word of the
Lord to all that were in the jailer's house ( a wider term than in v. 31), v.
33 says he was baptised, and all his straight way, i.e., his house, viz., those
under his direct responsibility. The Christian does not advocate baptising all
children but only those who are his! In v. 34 the structure of the sentence
in the original implies " he, believing in God, rejoiced with all his house."
"Believing" is in the singular, but his house partook of his joy. Conversion
made a revolution in the house of the erstwhile brutal ruffian! Conversion is
not worth much if the onlookers do not recognise a great change. Then as to
the household of Stephanas, the Apostle did not remember having baptised any
other, so that no responsibility attached to either baptiser or baptised else
he would have remembered. "Children obey in the Lord your parents" (Eph. 6:
1 ). The literal rendering puts emphasis on "obedience in the Lord." They teach
their children the truth, which laid hold of will spoil them for the world!
1 Cor.7: 14, is in perfect accord showing that the House is a place of privilege.
Under the Law, the Jew put away strange wives as unsanctified, but in grace
the "believing" sanctifies the "unbelieving" element in the marriage bond which
was declared valid and the children legitimate so that they could enter the
outer court of the temple. In 1 Peter 3: 21, baptism is the figure of the Noah
incident of v. 20, "which now saves you," ( obviously as to earth only). The
Noah type of the Lord's death did not indicate the atoning value (of which only
the blood could be witness) but the separating result of His death condemning
the world-system for the Christian household. The Jewish Christians' good conscience
demanded why they were enduring suffering, while under the old Jewish order,
from which they had been dissociated, obeying God gave earthly blessing. That
question is answered by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. the consequence of
His death. Its significance separated the Christian from the course of the world
and saved him from the world and its principles. Baptism puts a person under
the authority of the Lord, but eternal salvation is in Christ! Baptism is only
relative to life on earth. The erstwhile malefactor who died with Christ was
not baptised. He had forfeited the right to live. (So there is no sense in baptising
a dying person). But of all the blood-bought throng he will be the only one
who can say, "I was crucified with Christ." The Apostle said, "I am crucified
with Christ." That was a spiritual apprehension which led him to be true to
The Baptist's view was due to a revulsion of feeling against the age-old gross
abuse of the Scriptural ordinance. But the abuse does not render invalid the
significance of the ordinance! Hence of much greater consequence is that we
subject ourselves to scrutiny as to how far we are true to the significance
of our baptism. The Christian baptises his children in view of their living
on earth confessedly separating them from the world to Christ by baptism and
he is responsible to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
If the parent is separate in heart from the world, he will not train his children
There is not any command to be baptised! The Lord instructed his Apostles in
Matt. 28, but that was not a universal injunction. Moreover, it is not a public
confession. It simply introduces to the outward privileges of christianity which
are no mean advantage in the mercy of God. Baptism is not a symbol of being
dead and risen with Christ. "We are buried with Him by baptism unto death" (Rom.
6.). Baptism is putting on Christ (Gal. 3: 27 ). To the eye they were identified
with Christ thereby hence there was no sense in seeking to put on Moses (the
Law). Baptism is not a sign that they had put on Christ previously! Israel (men,
women and children) were baptised to Moses in the cloud and in the sea thus
separating to him under his authority. Whether they had faith or not was tested
by the wilderness journey. A soldier may wear a uniform and be a traitor, nevertheless,
he is responsible in a very different way than a civilian is! Noah prepared
an ark to the saving of his house (Heb. 11: 7). (In baptism, salvation and not
forgiveness of sins or conversion is in view). Noah's sons and their wives shared
his salvation, although they had no direct dealings with God.
It is evident that immersion was the proper Scriptural procedure but sprinkling
has become common and christian profession is recognised thereby. The water
(much or little) signifies association with the death of Christ. Baptism has
no reference to a subjective state in the soul. Baptism does not confer any
virtue, it is purely objective. In the Cornelius incident of Acts 10, the Spirit
came first because of the natural prejudice of the Jews. There are only two
things in Christianity, evident to the eye, viz., Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
The former is initial and non-recurrent, but the Lord's Supper is recurrent.
"As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death,
till He come" (1 Cor. 11: 26). I did not baptise myself, but in partaking of
the Supper, I have the privilege of confirming my baptism. Every time I put
my hand to the cup I am symbolically taking the Lord's side against the world!
Extracts of Letters from J. N. Darby
I would as much avoid being an antibaptist as a baptist. If
you can offer to persons means of appreciating truth and prevent souls from
falling into sectarian spirit I desire no better (Vol. 1: 244). They have been
harassed by ardent baptists; such a display I have rarely witnessed, it was
deplorable. I decline controversy and sought only liberty of conscience. The
whole Baptist principle is nothing more than conscientious want of light. I
occupy them rather with Christ for half the evil is being occupied with ordinances,
whatever side may be taken (1: 309). Reference to John's baptism, as far as
it went, would have hindered His (Christ's) being put to death. I see a command
to baptise, none to be baptised (1: 363). We purge ourselves from evil in a
great baptised mass. But there has been much confusion and abuse that one must
have patience with those thrown on these ordinance ways of correcting them (1:
I never have pressed any to baptise their children. While recognising it as
a christian ordinance I think it is in scripture purposely left in the background,
while eternal life and union with Christ are fixed in Him. Ordering of all on
earth is provisional. I have no doubt as to infant baptism of the children of
a Christian. But I feel that Christ did not send me to baptise. I leave to others
activities on either side. With Peter it is everywhere to repent and be baptised
for the remission of sins and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. He does not
go to our death with Christ or resurrection with Him (2: 55-66). I fear in being
occupied with the manner (of baptism) Christ should become less the only object
of the heart (2: 176). Peter said, "Repent and be baptised for the remission
of sins" not "because your sins are remitted." "Be baptised" means "become a
christian." It was profession they came into. If true faith and repentance were
there they got the actual administered remission and received the gift of the
Holy Ghost.... My thought has always been to connect baptism ecclesiastically
with the house (one of the two characters of the assembly ), not with the kingdom.
Baptism is the formal entrance into the place of privilege (2: 494). The mischief
is occupying people with an ordinance. If a person has not been baptised, he
ought to be. I should not rebaptise a person sprinkled in infancy, though I
do not like the form . . . I have no wish to enter controversy with you on baptism.
I dread a sectarian tendency. It blots out the House of God, where God's blessings
and presence are found. But I have no wish to persuade anyone on these points
(2: 536, 569).
Baptism is to death; no hint in scripture of giving life. The English service
gives forgiveness of sins to an infant who has never committed any and has no
real forgiveness by redemption at all (3: 242). If one makes it a sect it is
a very great evil; baptism becomes the centre of union instead of Christ. The
Holy Spirit has never been received by baptism of water. As to baptism of infants
I have never tried to persuade anybody; I believe everyone must act according
to his own conscience. The children of believers are relatively holy. 1 Cor.
7: 14 has precisely that bearing. I deny this is a matter of obedience, those
who treat it so upset christianity in its first principles. (The doctrine of
remission of sins and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by baptism comes
from the enemy) ( 3: 328-329). A person who never has been baptised ought to
be before breaking bread. The only commission to baptise was to the twelve to
baptise Gentiles (not Jews). Baptism has nothing to do with the unity of the
body, but admission by a form which expresses Christ's death (3: 495). A great
mistake Baptists make is not seeing that there is a place of blessing set up
by God besides the fact of individual conversion (3: 557). I am baptised to
His death, not because I have died! I wash away my sins, not because my sins
are washed away. It is a formal entrance into the privileges, not a witness
that I have received them. I have never sought to convince anyone. If they are
content to follow their conscience I have nothing to say, but I am sure if scripture
be right their views are wrong (3: 560).
Baptised for the Dead
The Greek preposition huper in conjunction with the genitive case is translated
in the A.V. 113 times "for," 8 times "of," 6 times "instead of" or "on behalf
of," once "concerning," J.N.D. in one place renders it "in view of" or "with
reference to." Other scholars concur in translating the word in this instance
as "concerning" or "relating to," and reject the superstitious theory of baptising
a living person for a dead one who had not been baptised. The par. (v.v., 20-28)
is parenthetic while v. 29 is connected with the subject of v. 19, where the
denial of the resurrection from the dead is shown to involve that Christ was
not raised and if so all were plunged in hopeless gloom. Because in that case
it would be absurd to spoil one's prospects for this life by being baptised;
since baptism formally dissociates us from the old manner of life. We would
be identifying ourselves with the death of one who was reckoned by the world
to be unfit to live any longer, and there would be no further prospect beyond
the grave. Hence the argument would be to enjoy all that we can of this life.
But death is not the goal; resurrection opens a new sphere of endless blessing!
At the time, persecution was rampant and many were dying as martyrs, but baptised
persons were stepping into the places of the dead, just like fresh soldiers
stepping forward to fill the blanks in an army due to casualties.
We have illustrated the subject by reference to a historical incident. The first
half of the 18th century was marked by Jacobite turbulence in the Scottish Highlands.
In 1757, the thought occurred to William Pitt, (the elder), that the warlike
character of the Highlanders could be used to better purpose against the King's
enemies. So he invited the Highland chiefs to form territorial regiments. As
a result, Cameron of Lochiel raised 1100 Cameron men who measured more from
shoulder to shoulder than any other 1100 men in the British Isles. In the following
years, they performed doughty deeds of valour. During the two centuries which
have elapsed since the initiation of the regiment, successive waves of recruits
have filled the depleted ranks. But it is safe to say that never since its initiation
has the regiment presented such magnificent men as at first. Yet although these
have passed away, the Cameron Highlanders continue; and at every juncture since,
they have sought to maintain the honour of the regiment. So we may not compare
favourably with the faithfulness of the early Christians, but we are responsible
to maintain the Christian traditions as presented in the scriptures, in the
same way as they did, and to the best of our ability, with the same magnificent
outlook relative to the Coming and the Judgment Seat of Christ.