faith of our fathers

Arthur Middleton on the scriptural doctrine of baptism

The New Testament states that baptism is the means of a new and spiritual birth, as Jesus told Nicodemus, ‘begotten of water and the Spirit.’ These words refer to Christian baptism and are proved by the fact that for sixteen centuries they were uniformly interpreted in this sense by Christian teachers. So to be baptized is to be ‘begotten anew’ and forms part of the teaching of our Lord. (John 2.3, 5).

To be begotten or born is sometimes used in Holy Scripture as a phrase which denotes being made a Christian, so that baptism is regarded as the means of entrance into the Christian Church (John 1.13; 3.3–8; 1 Cor. 4.15; James 1.18, Acts 2.41). Being thus begotten anew in holy baptism, Christians are made to be the sons of God. St Paul asserts in Ephesians that Christians are members of the body of Christ after a reference to the cleansing and sanctifying of the Church by the washing of water. The inti mate character of this union with Christ is further shown by the description of baptism as the means whereby Christians are partakers of the death and burial and resurrection of their Lord.

Gift of the Holy Spirit

By means of baptism, also, the gift of the Holy Spirit is received. The agency of the Spirit is a mark of the baptism of Christ, as distinguished from that of the Baptist. ‘He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.’ The Spirit is described as given as well as acting. Ananias told St Paul, with evident allusion to his coming baptism, that he was to be ‘filled with the Holy Ghost.’ In the Epistle to Titus, Paul connects the ‘renewing of the Holy Ghost’ with the ‘washing of regeneration.’ The whole Church is indeed the habitation of the Holy Ghost, since the whole Church is the mystical Body of Christ and the gift of Pentecost is an abiding possession. It is no less true that the soul of each baptized person is a temple in which he dwells.

These effects of baptism carry with them the gift of salvation. A new birth through grace, sonship to God, union with Christ, the reception of the Holy Spirit, only result in nothing less than the saving of the souls of people on whom such privileges are conferred. Our Lord declared that he who believed and was baptized should be saved. The baptized admitted into the Christian Church were described by Luke (Acts) as being in the way of salvation. The inquiry of the Philippian gaoler, what he must do that he might be saved, led to his being baptized. Peter speaks of regeneration as being an ‘inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away’ and asserts that ‘Baptism now saves.’

Forgiveness

Baptism, again, is the means whereby the soul of man obtains forgiveness of sins from the mercy of Almighty God. The general teaching of the Bible in itself implies that since baptism affords the entrance into the way of salvation all past sin must be forgiven to those who receive it. That this is one of its effects is more directly taught in St Paul’s account of the words of Ananias to him at the time of his Baptism, ‘Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins’ (Acts 22.16).

To understand baptism, other Scriptural truths need recognition. Man created in the image of God had supernatural gifts by virtue of being endowed with moral likeness to God. The sin of Adam destroyed this moral likeness, though not the image of God. Subsequent sin alienated him further from God as natural efforts failed and the Old Testament revelation and law emphasized man’s inability to serve God in his own strength or provide a remedy. So the Son of God became man to bring the forgiveness of sins, the re storation of man to the moral likeness of God. Through Christ man received from God great benefits because he had retained the divine image which distinguished him from the beasts. From the Fall to the Incarnation, God saw man as always capable of redemption and holiness as divine gifts. In the biblical revelation there is the hope that God is willing to help man, and man is capable of being helped. The making of an atonement for sin is every­where in Holy Scripture ascribed to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For our transgressions

As Paul says, ‘He was delivered up to death for the sake of our transgressions, and He was raised for the sake of our justification’ (Rom. 4.25). Raised from the dead, His Manhood was enriched with new powers which were not for himself alone. The new life which was his not only transcended natural laws, but was capable of being communicated to others. As Adam’s sin was a source of death to the human race, so Christ is a source of life. Each Christian in receiving baptism is brought into union with the life which is in Christ. By means of baptism he unites each baptized person to himself and in union with him alone can man truly live. Thus, the gift of the new birth is the gift of the true life which man needs. ND

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