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Thoughts on Baptism

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    It is a point that has elicited much discussion, whether or not sin is remitted in the act of baptism. Some—yes, many—have strenuously insisted that we are justified in this rite; and neither before nor in any other way. Or, that remission of sin is granted in this action, and not otherwise. Though we would give the rite all the importance which the Scriptures accord to it, and that is not small, we cannot indorse that view. We find that that idea was held at a very early age in the church; and with it was held the idea of “baptismal regeneration;” the idea that gifts and graces, even a divine life, were imparted in baptism; that without baptism no one could possibly be saved; and for this reason infants were baptized. Even Cyprian, one of the best of the early African bishops, taught that infants should be baptized very soon after birth, that thus they might avoid the danger of the loss of a soul! Unfortunately, these false views of baptism, very early ingrafted into some parts of the church, have not entirely been put away. The same false application is still made, if not always to the same class, that is, to infants.TOB 118.2

    On this subject, as on other subjects, injustice is done to the Scriptures by drawing conclusions from a single text, without taking pains to examine other texts, and so secure a harmony of the evidence. The same virtue and power may be ascribed to faith, yet again, it is said to be nothing alone. At first, a penitent is doubtless accepted on his faith alone; but as duties are met, they must be discharged, or our faith is neutralized and we lose the favor we had enjoyed. Faith is the spring of action, and action is the life of faith.TOB 119.1

    The relation of truths must be regarded. However important a truth or a duty may be, if it is removed from its place and its relation, it is perverted verted. And a truth perverted is often the equivalent of error.TOB 119.2

    The word translated “for,” in Peter’s words, “for the remission of sin,” (eis) is most frequently rendered in, to, or into; the latter is generally to be preferred. It is translated into over one hundred and twenty times in Matthew alone; and is translated nearly twenty different ways. Greenfield gives it the following definitions, and in the following order: On, into, upon; in, among; to, towards, near to, by; in, on, towards a person; towards, against; to, even to, until; to, for; that, so that, in order that, for the purpose that; for, about, concerning, as to, in respect to, on account of; in, at, among; before, in the presence of; according to, in accordance with.TOB 120.1

    We would not by any means convey the idea that either of these definitions might with equal propriety be applied in any given case. We only wish to show the latitude which usage gives to the word, and that a definition may not be selected and applied arbitrarily to the text in question. “In order to” is by no means the first definition, and if it is to be appropriated here, a reason must be given outside of the definition itself. Nor do we deny the importance of accepting the proper definition of words as the means of settling controversies; but when different definitions are given to the same word we need to exercise care in distinguishing between them in any case. In this case we must be guided to some extent by the doctrine of remission as presented in the Scriptures. As this is a great subject, we shall be obliged to present some thoughts on the scriptural view of remission as briefly as possible.TOB 120.2

    We would correct the idea, which is too prevalent and is still growing, that justification by faith, and salvation, are identical. Paul was certainly justified by faith, yet lie found zealous striving necessary lest he should be a castaway. 1 Corinthians 9:27. He taught distinctly that we are justified by faith without works. Romans 3:27. And with equal distinctness he exhorted his brethren to work out their salvation. Philippians 2:12.TOB 121.1

    It is easy to see the reason of this. In Romans 3 he is speaking of “remission of sins that are past,” over which works, or future obedience, can have no possible influence. From these we must be “justified freely by his grace.” Romans 3:24. But the gospel embraces prevention as well as cure. Future obedience cannot remit sin, but it will prevent sin; and, practically, one is of no benefit without the other.TOB 121.2

    The hackneyed expression, “Once in grace, always in grace,” finds not the least warrant in Scripture, and doubtless has been used to the destruction of multitudes of souls. It has been supposed to be the sure foundation of trust, but it is the open door to presumption. The Lord said by Ezekiel: “When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.” Ezekiel 33:13. All of God’s dealings with man have been based on this self-same principle. The opposite view—the view of the adage above—makes a man’s probation to end with his conversion, which is not the truth. “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Matthew 24:13.TOB 121.3

    The remission of sin is precisely equivalent to the remission of the penalty. But, according to the scriptures quoted, the absolute remission of the penalty is contingent on enduring to the end, or on continued faithfulness to the end; as Paul also says, God will render “to them who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” Romans 2:7. Therefore, “justification by faith” does not place any one beyond probation, but brings him into such relation to God that he is enabled by divine grace to work out his salvation; Philippians 2:12; or, by diligence, to make his calling and election sure. 2 Peter 1:10. Of course, all this has reference to the decisions of the Judgment,—“Judgment to come.”TOB 122.1

    The difference between justification by faith and final salvation is fully shown by the texts quoted. One changes man’s relations during his probation; the other is by the determination of the Judgment, which closes his probation. Then the question will arise in many minds, What is the relation of a person justified by faith? Or, In what sense is remission granted before the Judgment? The Saviour sets this matter clear in his teachings. But before quoting his language we wish to present the following illustration:—TOB 122.2

    A. owes B. a sum which he is not able to pay, and C. engages to be responsible for the debt on certain conditions. In order to make it sure, C. deposits with B. much more than will cover the amount of the debt. Now it is stipulated that if A. fulfills the conditions prescribed, B. may cancel the debt from the deposit made by C. As long as A. continues faithful to the conditions, so long B. rests satisfied in regard to the debt, and of course he does not trouble A. for it, because he knows A. has not got it, while he himself has it in deposit. Thus A. is accounted just (or justified) in the sight of B., and yet not just in himself, because he fails to pay a just debt. He is justified through his surety. If he continues faithful “to the end,” till the term of conditions closes, then B. draws from the deposit and cancels the debt. Now he is free in fact, as he was before by faith; the debt no longer stands against him. But if, to the contrary, A. at any time refuses or neglects to fulfill the conditions, C.’s deposit does not avail for him; his debt is not canceled; he falls from the favor which he had enjoyed through his surety, and the debt stands against him as fully as if no deposit had ever been made. And more than that, he is considered more culpable than before, inasmuch as the means of removing his indebtedness was kindly placed within his reach, and he refused it.TOB 122.3

    Such is the condition of the believer in Christ. He has received conditional forgiveness, being yet a probationer for eternal life, which has been placed within his reach by Christ, his surety. For proof, consider the following:—TOB 123.1

    Our Saviour, in Matthew 18:23-35, presents the case of a servant who owed his lord ten thousand talents. But having nothing wherewith to pay, and manifesting honesty of purpose, “the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” But this servant met his fellow-servant who owed him the trifling sum of two hundred pence, and who pleaded for mercy in the same terms in which he had so successfully pleaded before his lord. But this servant would not show mercy. He thrust his fellow-servant into prison till lie should pay the debt. Hearing of this, his lord called him and said unto him, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me. Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.” This is our Saviour’s own view of forgiveness under the gospel, or justification by faith, while we are waiting for the decisions of the Judgment. And to place this beyond all possibility of doubt, the Saviour made the application, thus: “So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”TOB 123.2

    The teaching of the Saviour in this scripture is in perfect agreement with the word of the Lord in Ezekiel 33:13,—if the righteous man turn away from righteousness and commit iniquity, “all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered;” that is, he shall be treated as if he had never been righteous.2For a more extended argument on this point, see pamphlet entitled, “The Atonement,” published at the Office of the Review and Herald, Rattle Creek, Mich.TOB 124.1

    That baptism is a means of bringing us near to God, and placing us where his grace in the gospel is extended to us, no one can deny. That it is the means—the only means, as some have taught—is not according to the teachings of the Scriptures. Many have had the experience of Cornelius and his household; if not in the same measure, yet by the witness of “the self-same Spirit,” imparting a blessed assurance that the Father has graciously accepted them for his dear Son’s sake, before their baptism. Their joy may be increased in obeying this rite, and so it may be by taking up any cross for Jesus’ sake.TOB 124.2

    We are aware of the objection which is here interposed, namely, that we have no just right to claim that we have received the favor of God, been justified, or received the Spirit of God as the Comforter, before our baptism; that it is baptism which secures the blessing, and through which we receive the Comforter; that we know we have the Spirit, not by our experience or consciousness, but because we have been baptized in his name.TOB 125.1

    This objection is not sustained by the Scriptures. This makes baptism the evidence, which it is not, and shuts out the witness of the Spirit altogether. It is the Spirit—not baptism—which bears witness that we are the children of God. Romans 8:11-16. And this view is not only unscriptural in its statement, but, as could only be expected, disastrous in its results. It has filled churches with formalists, destitute of the true power of godliness, who are strongly entrenched in vain hopes, who trust to their baptism as the evidence of their adoption into the household of the Lord.TOB 125.2

    But, it is replied, Ananias said to Paul, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22:16. And we say also, that Peter, relating the case of Cornelius and his friends, says the Lord purified their hearts through faith; Acts 15:6-9; and through faith they received the witness of the Spirit before their baptism. To deny that God may work in this same manner now is to deny the experience of multitudes, in all ages of the Christian church, whose conversion to God and whose genuine piety were beyond all doubt.TOB 125.3

    On Acts 22:16, Alexander Campbell, in his debate with McCalla, made the following remark: “Paul’s sins were really pardoned when he believed; yet he had no solemn pledge of the fact, no formal acquittal, no formal purgation of his sins, until he washed them away in the water of baptism.” No fault can be found with this; no one can object to having, in the words of Mr. Rice, “the emblem connected with the grace.”TOB 126.1

    If it be insisted that we must confine ourselves to the order laid down in Acts 2:38, 39, we then reply that according to this scripture the position we call in question is still faulty. That position leaves the professed penitent to take for granted his reception of the Spirit, because it is promised on condition of baptism. But not a single instance can be found in the New Testament where such a view obtained. See Acts 8:15-17: “Who, when they were come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost (for as yet he was fallen upon none of them; only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”TOB 126.2

    Here the reception of the Holy Spirit was a matter of consciousness or experience with them. Had they taken for granted that they had received it because they were baptized, making baptism their evidence, as many now do, they would have rested under a delusion. The same remarks apply to Acts 19.TOB 126.3

    This is sufficient to show that too much has been ascribed to baptism, by those who make it the sole means and the evidence of justification, or remission of sin. That it stands related to remission—that it is even an essential part of that system by which we receive remission—cannot be denied. It is a gospel duty, and all parts of the gospel are essential. All confess that the gospel itself is absolutely essential; and we cannot suppose that an essential whole is made up of non-essential parts. While we deprecate the abuse and perversion of the ordinance, we can find no excuse for slighting and disparaging it, or for neglecting it. “Every word of the Lord is pure.”TOB 127.1

    Another instance of the use of the Greek word eis deserves a notice. It is found in Matthew 3:11: “I indeed baptize you with [en, in] water unto [eis] repentance.” It can hardly be supposed that this text will bear the construction put upon Acts 2:38—baptize in order to repentance—so as to make the repentance altogether in the future. Indeed, we could not imagine that John would have baptized any if he knew that the work of repentance were not already then commenced. So in Acts 2:38, and in every case where baptism is truly and properly administered according to the gospel plan. Faith lays hold of the grace, already commenced in the heart, of which baptism is the significant emblem.TOB 127.2

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