RPM, Volume 19, Number 28 July 9 to July 15, 2017

The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

By Dr. Zacharias Ursinus

TWENTY-SIXTH LORD'S DAY OF BAPTISM.

Question 69. How art thou admonished and assured, by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to thee?

Answer. Thus, that Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding thereunto this promise, that I am as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.

EXPOSITION

Concerning baptism we must enquire particularly:

I. What it is:
II. What its design is:
III. What the words of the institution of baptism signify:
IV. In what the lawful use of baptism consists:
V. The forms of speech which are used in regard to it:
VI. The proper subjects of baptism:
VII. What baptism has taken the place of:
VIII. In what baptism and circumcision agree and differ.

The first two propositions belong properly to the 69th and 70th Questions of the Catechism and will be considered in the exposition of these questions; the third and fourth belong to the 71st; the fifth to 71st and 72nd; the sixth to the 73rd; the seventh and eighth will be explained when we come to treat the subject of circumcision which immediately follows.

I. WHAT BAPTISM IS.

The word baptism comes from the Greek baptizw, which is derived from baptw, which means to plunge, to dip, to wash, or to sprinkle. In the eastern church they were ordinarily immersed. Those, however, who lived in the colder regions of the north were commonly sprinkled with water. But this is a matter of no importance, as washing may be performed either by dipping or sprinkling. Baptism now is a washing.

The Catechism defines baptism to be an external washing with water instituted by Christ, to which this promise is added, that when we are baptized, we are as certainly washed by his blood and Spirit from all the pollution of our souls, that is from all our sins, as we are washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away. It may also be thus defined: Baptism is a sacred rite instituted by Christ in the New Testament, by which we are washed with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to signify that God receives us into his favor, on account of the blood which his Son shed for us, and that we are regenerated by his Spirit; and that we, on the other hand, bind ourselves to exercise faith in God, and to perform new obedience to him. Or, it is a sacrament of the New Testament instituted by Christ, which seals unto the faithful, who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the remission of all their sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the ingrafting of them into the body and church of Christ; whilst they, on the other hand, profess that they receive these blessings, and that they ought, and will henceforth live unto him. Or more briefly: It is a washing with water appointed by the Son of God, during which these words are repeated: I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to declare that he who is thus washed, whether by dipping or sprinkling; is reconciled to God by faith, and is sanctified by the Holy Spirit unto eternal life. We are said to be received into divine favor on account of the blood of Christ shed for us in his death upon the cross, which is the same as to say that we are reconciled on account of the entire humiliation of Christ applied unto us by faith. The words of the institution of baptism confirm this definition: "Go and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;" (Matt. 28:19) that is, testifying by the sign of baptism, that they are received into favor by the Father on account of the Son, and are sanctified by his Spirit. "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 1:4; 16:16.)

Baptism, therefore, includes these three things: 1. The sign, which is water, and the ceremony which is connected with it. 2. The things which are signified thereby, which include the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, the mortification of the old man, and the quickening of the new man. 3. The command and promise of Christ, from which the sign obtains its authority and power to confirm.

Obj. 1. Baptism is called an external washing with water. Therefore it is nothing more than a mere sign. Ans. This objection separates things which ought not to be disjoined; for when we say that baptism is an external sign, we connect with it the thing signified. Hence we do not add the exclusive particle only. Baptism without the promise would, indeed, be a mere naked sign; and to unbelievers, who do not receive the promise with faith, it is only an external washing with water, as in the case of Simon Magus; but the promise and the thing signified are joined with the sign in the proper use of the sacraments.

Obj. 2. There were baptisms, or washings under the Old Testament. Therefore baptism is not a sacrament peculiar to the New Testament. Ans. There is a great difference between the various washings prescribed by the law, and baptism as we have it. 1. Those washings were not signs of initiation into the church as baptism is. 2. Those washings were instituted for the purpose of removing ceremonial uncleanness, as if anyone had polluted himself by touching a dead body, or any unclean thing, his ceremonial uncleanness had to be removed by a ceremonial washing: baptism, on the other hand, has been instituted for the purpose of washing away moral uncleanness, or sin. It is for this reason that the Scriptures declare baptism to be the washing away of sin. 3. Those washings signified a cleansing by and for the sake of Christ who was to come: baptism seals the same by and for the sake of Christ already come in the flesh. 4. Those washings were binding upon the Jews alone; baptism is binding upon all nations, or the whole church. Lastly, those washings were abolished by Christ, because ceremonial impurities, together with the ceremonial law itself, ceased when Christ came into the world: baptism, on the other hand, will continue to the end of time; for it is said, "Baptize all nations; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Those, therefore, who urge this objection are deceived by the ambiguity of the word washings, which has nothing in common with baptism, properly so called, except the name.

II. WHAT ARE THE ENDS OF BAPTISM?

The chief end of baptism is, the confirmation of our faith, or a solemn declaration by which Christ testifies that he washes us with his blood and Spirit, and confers upon us remission of sins, and the Holy Ghost, who regenerates and sanctifies us unto eternal life. Or it is a sealing of the promise of grace, that is, of our justification and regeneration, and a declaration of the will of God, to this effect, that he here grants these gifts to those who are baptized, and that he will forever grant them. For he himself baptizes us by the hand of the minister, and declares to us this his will.

That baptism is a declaration and confirmation of the will of God concerning our salvation which he promises to effect, and grant is evident: 1. From the formula of baptism, according to which we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. By this act we are given over to God the Father. Son, and Holy Ghost, and declared to be his property. 2. From the promise annexed to the rite of baptism: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16.) God declares, therefore, by this rite that he will save those that believe and are baptized. 3. From other passages of Scripture in which baptism is spoken of as a saving ordinance. "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." "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 in baptism," &c. "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ," &c. "According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 22:16. Rom. 6:3. Col. 2:11. Titus 3:5.)

From this it is evident why baptism is not repeated; because it is the sign of our reception into the favor and covenant of God, which remains forever sure and valid in the case of those who repent. He, therefore, that has lost a sense of God's favor by falling into sin, does not need another application of baptism, but repentance for his sins. The same thing is also evident from the fact, that regeneration does not take place more than once in the same individual. We are born but once, and renewed but once: for he who is once truly ingrafted into Christ, is never wholly cast away: for "him that cometh to me," said Christ, "I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37.) Hence it is sufficient that baptism which is the washing of regeneration, should be received but once, especially since regeneration and salvation do not absolutely depend upon baptism; otherwise it would be necessary for us to be rebaptized as often as we might sin. To these reasons we may yet add, that baptism has taken the place of circumcision, which was never performed more than once upon the same individual.

From what has been said it is also evident that the baptism of John was the same in substance with Christian baptism. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, that those who heard him might believe on Jesus Christ, who was to come after him. This now is the character of the baptism which we have, with this difference, that we are baptized in the name of Christ as already come, and not about to come. Hence the baptism of John, and of the apostles, and that which we administer is the same as to substance, differing only as to the circumstance of signification. John baptized in the name of Christ who was to suffer and rise again: the apostles baptized, and we are now baptized in the name of Christ, who has already suffered and risen again: otherwise our baptism would not be the same as the baptism of Christ, who was baptized of John.

Obj. John said, "I baptize with water." Therefore it was a baptism of water only. Ans. John uses this language for the purpose of distinguishing his own ministry from the efficacy of Christ in baptism: for if this were not so it would follow that Christ was baptized merely with water; and that we are baptized in the same manner, or else we have not the same baptism which Christ had.

2. Another end of baptism is the declaration of our duty to God, and the binding of ourselves and the" Church to gratitude, or to faith and repentance. To faith, that we may acknowledge for the true God, no one but this God, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and that we may worship him alone, and receive with faith the benefits which he offers. To repentance, that being continually admonished by this rite, that we are washed by the blood of Christ, and renewed by his Spirit, we may walk in newness of life, and thus shew our thankfulness to God for his benefits, according to what is said: "John preached the baptism of repentance." "Such were some of you; but ye are washed," &c. "How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein. 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 us Christ was raised up from the dead, by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Mark 1:4. 1 Cor. 6:11. Rom. 6:2, 3, 4.) To be baptized into Christ's death, is to be made the partakers of all the benefits of his death, just as if we ourselves had died; and also to die unto sin, or to mortify the lust of the flesh by virtue of his death, and with him, be raised to a new life: for God promises, and binds us to this mortification of the old man in our baptism.

3. Baptism was appointed to be the sign of our entrance and reception into the church; because God will have all those who are members of his church to be admitted in this way, so that those who are not baptized, when they enjoy sufficient opportunities, are excluded from the church.

It is proper to make mention here of those passages of Scripture which affirm that all those who became Christians, as the Ethiopian Eunuch, Cornelius the centurion, the Philippian Jailor, Lydia, Paul, &c., were immediately after their conversion, baptized. It is for this reason also that the Lord's Supper is given only to such as are baptized: for they alone have been received into the church. The words of the institution of baptism are also here in place: "Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them," &c. The word which is here translated teach, means, according to its proper signification, make disciples, so that it may more properly be translated, go and make disciples, baptizing them, &c. It is thus rendered by John, in the fourth chapter and first verse of his gospel: "The Pharisees had heard, that Jesus made, and baptized more disciples," &c. The same thing is also established by the substitution of baptism in the place of circumcision, which was the sacrament of reception into the Jewish Church.

4. Baptism serves as a mark by which the true church may be discerned from all the various Sects which exist in the world. This end naturally grows out of the former; for those who are received into the church by a public sacrament, are by this, as by a badge, distinguished from the rest of mankind. "Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them," &c., as if he would say: "Gather me a church by my word, and those whom ye shall make my disciples, who believe with their whole hearts, baptize all of them, and them alone, and separate them for me from the rest of mankind."

5. Baptism was instituted to signify our taking of the cross, and to afford comfort concerning the preservation and deliverance of the church from all her afflictions. Those who are baptized are plunged, as it were, in affliction; but with the full assurance of deliverance. It is for this reason that Christ speaks of afflictions under the name of baptism, saying, "Are ye able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? " (Matt. 20:22.) The ceremony connected with baptism intimates deliverance from our varied afflictions. We are immersed, but not drowned, or suffocated. It is in respect to this end that baptism is compared to the flood; for as in the flood, Noah and his family who were shut up in the ark were saved, yet not without much anxiety and peril, whilst the rest of mankind who were without the ark perished; so, those who are in the church, and who cleave to Christ, will most certainly be delivered at the proper time, although they may be pressed with afflictions and dangers from every side; whilst those who are out of the church will be overwhelmed "with the deluge of sin and destruction. We may here appropriately refer to the passage of Paul, where he compares the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea to baptism: "All were baptized unto Moses in the cloud, and in the sea." (1 Cor. 10:2.)

6. Another end to be effected by baptism is to declare the unity of the church, and to establish that article of the Creed: I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of the saints. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." "There is one word, one faith, one baptism." (1 Cor. 12:13. Eph. 4:5.) This end may be embraced under the fourth; because baptism in separating and distinguishing the members of the church from the rest of mankind, connects and unites them with the church, and with one another.

7. Baptism contributes to the preservation and spread of the doctrine which promises free salvation for the sake of Christ's death. It furnishes a suitable occasion for those who are baptized to learn who is the author, and what the signification and use of this sacrament.

Question 70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?

Answer. It is to receive of God the remission of sins, freely, for the sake of Christ's blood, which he shed for us by his sacrifice upon the cross; and also, to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so We may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and unblamable lives.

EXPOSITION

There is in baptism a double washing: an external washing with water, and an internal washing with the blood and Spirit of Christ. The internal is signified and sealed by that which is external, and is always joined with it in the proper use of baptism. This internal washing is again two-fold, being a washing with the blood and Spirit of Christ. Both are specified in the answer of the Catechism, and may take place at the same time. To be washed with the blood of Christ, is to receive the pardon of sin, or to be justified on account of his shed-blood. To be washed with the Spirit of Christ, is to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, which consists in a change of evil inclinations into those which are good, which the Holy Ghost works in the will and heart, so as to produce in us hatred to sin, and a desire to live according to the will of God.

That this double washing from sin is signified by the sacrament of baptism, is evident from these declarations of Scripture: "John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." The same thing is also taught when the Scriptures declare that we through baptism "are dead, and buried with Christ," "that we have put off the body of the sins of the flesh," "that we have put on Christ," &c. Baptism is, therefore, the sign of both these forms of washing, or benefits of Christ, which include the forgiveness of sin, and the renewing of our nature; and that not only because it has some resemblance to both, but also because these two benefits are inseparably connected, so that neither one can be without the other. If Christ do not wash us we have no part in him, and he who has not the Spirit of Christ is none of his. These benefits, however, differ from each other. Justification, which is by the blood of Christ, is complete and perfect in. this life by imputation, for "there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1.) Regeneration, on the other hand, which is effected by the Spirit of Christ, and which consists in a change of our evil nature to that which is good, is not perfected, but only begun in this life; vet in such a manner that this beginning does really take place in all the godly, and is experienced by them as long as they are in this life, because they truly and heartily desire to obey God in all things, and are greatly grieved on account of their defects, and remaining corruption.

Question 71. Where has Christ promised us that he will as certainly wash us by his blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism?

Answer. In the institution of baptism, which is thus expressed, "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;" "he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." This promise is also repeated, where the scripture calls baptism "the washing of regeneration, and the washing away of sins."

EXPOSITION

The words employed by Christ in the institution of baptism, which are recorded by Matthew and Mark, embody the proof of the definition, and principal ends of baptism which we have already explained, "Go ye, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mat. 28:19. Mark 16:16.) These words require a short explanation.

Go ye, and teach all nations: as if he would say, do not confine your instructions to the posterity of Abraham, or to particular nations; but go and teach the whole world. Christ here removes the wall which had hitherto separated the Jews from all other nations, and makes a distinction between the sacraments of the Old and the New Testament. The Old were instituted for the Jews only, but Christ here declares that baptism was not for the Jews only, but for all nations.

Baptizing them: that is, all those who come unto me through your teaching, and are made my disciples. The children, also, of such as come unto Christ, and are his disciples, are included amongst the number of those who are proper subjects of baptism; for these are also disciples of Christ, being born in the church, which to infants is the same as a profession of faith. The order which Christ here lays down must be observed. He commands that they should first be taught, and afterwards baptized, because he speaks of adults who might be converted to Christianity, and declares that the sacraments should not be alone, but joined with the word. The word ought to precede, and the sacraments follow in the case of adults.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: The words in the name of, signify, 1. That baptism was instituted by the command and authority of the three persons of the Godhead in common, and that they command that those who will be members of the church should be thus baptized. When the minister baptizes, his act is just as valid as if God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost performed it. From this it follows in like manner, that these three persons are the three divine, and consubstantial subsistents of the Godhead, and that they constitute the one true God in whom we are baptized. 2. They signify that these three persons confirm unto us by their own declaration, that they receive us into their favor, and will truly grant us all the benefits which are signified by baptism, if we believe. And this, we may here observe, is the principal end of baptism. 3. To be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is to bind the person baptized to the knowledge, faith, worship, trust and honor of this true God, who is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, which is the second end of baptism, which Paul thus expresses: "Were ye baptized in the name of Paul;" (1 Cor. 1:18;) as if he would say, Ye ought to bind yourselves to him, in whose name ye were baptized.

He that believeth: The condition of faith is joined to the promise; for those who are baptized do not receive that which is promised and sealed by baptism unless they have faith, so that without faith the promise is not ratified, and baptism is of no profit. In these words we have expressed in a concise manner the proper use of baptism, in which the sacraments are always ratified to those who receive them in faith; whilst the sacraments are no sacraments, and profit nothing in their improper use.

The proper use of baptism consists in these things: 1. In observing those ceremonies and rites which are of divine appointment; all others are to be rejected. Hence it is evident that the various corruptions which the Papists have connected with the administration of this sacrament, such as the use of oil, spittle, exorcism, tapers, salt, and such like are to be thrown away as idle inventions. And as to the argument which the Papists employ in justifying these things; that they belong to the order, and significance of baptism; we may reply that the Holy Ghost knew full well what was necessary for the order and propriety of baptism; and as he has not instituted them, they do not properly belong to it. And as to their signification it is sufficient to reply that it does not belong to men to institute signs to express the will of God; which may be said in regard to all other corruptions of a similar nature.

2. The right use of baptism consists in administering it to those for whom it was instituted, that is for those who are converted and members of the church, and when they receive it in true faith, according as it is said: "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest be baptized." (Acts 8:37.)

3. Baptism is properly used when it is observed with the design for which it was instituted, and not for the healing of cattle and abuses of a similar character.

4. When it is administered by the ministers of the church to whom Christ has limited it, and whom he has sent to teach and baptize, and not by women and others whom God has not sent.

And is baptized: Christ designs to confirm us by this sign. Hence he adds, and is baptized, that we may know by this external washing with water, as well as by our faith, that we are of the number of those who shall be saved.

Shall be saved, that is, he that is baptized may know that he enjoys the benefits which are signified by this sacrament, which consist in justification, and regeneration if he believe. For the promise is not ratified without faith, neither is baptism of any profit when thus received. The promise of salvation is added both to faith and baptism, but in a different respect. It is added to faith, as the necessary means by which we receive salvation; and to baptism, as the sign which seals that which faith receives.

He that believeth not, shall be damned; that is, even though he may have been baptized. The use of baptism does not save without faith. Not to be baptized does not condemn, if there be no contempt of this sacrament; for not the want, but the contempt of the sacraments condemns. But there can never be any contempt of the sacraments where there is faith. And hence it is that Christ does not retain both members of the first proposition in that which stands in opposition to the promise; he merely says: "He that believeth not, shall be damned." Christ makes this distinction, because there is not the same necessity for faith and baptism to salvation. Faith is absolutely necessary to salvation, so that no one can be saved without it: for "without faith it is impossible to please God." (Heb. 11:16.) But the sacraments are necessary when they may be observed according to divine appointment. Contempt of the sacraments under such circumstances, is inconsistent with faith. This is the reason why Christ promises salvation to those that believe and are baptized, keeping in view the distinction which is here made. Yet he does not deny salvation to those who are deprived of this sacrament.

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