Baptism is a Blessing

Many are baptized who nullify the grace of God. Baptism is the established means whereby a man declares publicly that he is a Christian. It is the mark of his Christian profession before men:  it assures him the privileges of membership in the visible Church and, if he is sincere and faithful,  it is the pledge given by God that he will participate in all the blessings of redemption. It is in this sense alone that the Reformed Churches teach the necessity of baptism-the necessity of a divine precept. Even though not a means of salvation, the advantages of circumcision were great (Romans 3:1); and it is the same with baptism, the blessings of which are still more excellent and the usefulness of which is great in every respect….Consequently, baptism is a duty. If a man desires to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to be regarded as such, he is bound to be baptized, thus submitting himself to the commandment of Christ, as well as the invariable practice of the Apostles and to the constant and universal usage of the Christian Churches in all ages and in all parts of the world. Pierre Marcel.

The Church Can’t Read Hearts

The visible Church is administered by men. If, then, the Church were composed only of regenerate individuals, it would be necessary for its ministers, or for the Church itself, to be able to read the very hearts of its members and to be absolutely infallible in their judgments concerning men’s internal state…nowhere has Christ promised to the Church or to any individual the gift of probing men’s hearts in order to decide whether the regeneration  of grace has been effective in them or not, and if so to what degree. Pierre Marcel

Private Baptisms?

It is unthinkable to celebrate a baptism as a private ceremony, which borders on depriving the person baptized and his family of a portion of its benefits. Every baptism concerns the entire Church and ought to be celebrated before the Church and in the Church. The baptize person ought to be commended to God by the intercession of all. He ought to enter publicly into the covenant and into the Church and not secretly and unnoticed. The baptized person ought also to be publicly taken care of by the people of God. “Why is it that baptism takes place in the company of the faithful?…We have in it a mirror of the good which has already been communicated to us, so that we may benefit from it right to the end. For we see that unbelievers forfeit and exclude themselves from this adoption of God through their ingratitude. Thus, that we may be strengthened more and more, we ought to consider carefully when a baptism is celebrated that it makes contact with and that God calls us to Himself in order to show us in the person of another that by nature we were lost and damned. But since He has united to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ we are no longer regarded in our own nature, God does not consider who we are nor what we have merited, but He views us as if Jesus Christ was in us: as if, indeed, we ought never to be separated from Him.”  Quote from Pierre Marcel. The section in quote marks is Marcel quoting John Calvin.

The Fruit of Our Baptism

It is a significant fact that all the principle texts referring to baptism in the Epistles were not written with a view to informing us of the conditions necessary  for admission to it, but with the purpose of describing the fruits which ought to follow for those who have already received it, and to define the ends to which it should conduct those who are careful to preserve the memory of the baptism they have received.  Pierre Marcel in The Doctrine of Infant Baptism. Italics are his.

Circumcision is a Spiritual Sacrament

Pierre Marcel on the nature of circumcision in the Old Testament. Italics are his.

Circumcision thus represents the obligation resting upon him who received this sign, in authentication  of this promise, to circumcise his heart and living according to the covenant…

Circumcision, therefore,  truly has a spiritual meaning in perfect harmony with the covenant of grace, itself spiritual, of which it is the sign and seal. The device whereby an attempt is made to divide the Abrahamic covenant into two or three covenants distinct from each other [by Baptists], in order that, to suit the convenience of a certain people, a “carnal” element may be inserted into it, has no justification…

All that we have today in our sacraments the Jews had formerly in theirs, namely, Jesus Christ and His spiritual riches. The efficacy of the sacraments of the Old Testament is identical with that of the sacraments of the New, because they are equally signs, seals, and confirmations of the good will of God for the salvation of men. There is, it is true, a difference between the sacraments as regards outward appearance, but they are identical as regards their internal and spiritual significance. The signs have changed, while faith does not change. 

Baptism is about Sanctification

baptism-1Pierre Marcel makes a good point here about the focus of the Apostles when they discuss baptism.

It is significant that all the principal texts referring to baptism in the Epistles were not written with a view to informing us of the conditions necessary for admission to it, but with the purpose of describing the fruits which ought to follow for those who have already received it,  and to define the ends to which it should conduct those who are careful to preserve the memory of the baptism they have received.

Here is the Westminster Larger Catechism on how Christians should improve their baptisms:

Q167: How is our Baptism to be improved by us?
A167: The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others;

  • by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein
  • by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements
  • by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament;
  • by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace;
  • and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

Finally here is the Second Helvetic Confession on the obligation which baptism places upon us:

THE OBLIGATION OF BAPTISM. Moreover, God also separates us from all strange religions and peoples by the symbol of baptism, and consecrates us to himself as his property. We, therefore, confess our faith when we are baptized, and obligate ourselves to God for obedience, mortification of the flesh, and newness of life. Hence, we are enlisted in the holy military service of Christ that all our life long we should fight against the world, Satan, and our own flesh. Moreover, we are baptized into one body of the Church, that with all members of the Church we might beautifully concur in the one religion and in mutual services.

We tend to focus on regeneration and baptism or justification and baptism. But in the Bible, especially the Epistles, baptism is about our sanctification.

Contempt of the Sacraments

communion-table-1

Yesterday I posted a quote from Pierre Marcel where he explained that the Word is absolutely necessary for salvation whereas the sacraments are not. Does that make the sacraments a waste of time, a “get to it if you can” means of grace? Marcel says no. These paragraphs come right after the quotes from yesterday. All italics are his all bold is mine.

According to the Reformed view of a sacrament, sacraments are not necessary for salvation. The necessity of means is in general an absolute necessity, a condition sine qua non. In this sense, food is a vital necessity for the body, light is necessary for the use of sight, the Word for the exercise of faith. In our opinion, the sacraments possess a necessity of precept. It is a duty to make use of them, but they are not means necessary for salvation.One can be saved without them. The benefits which they signify, and of which they are the organs of signification  for sealing and applying them to believers, do not depend on their use in such a way that these benefits cannot be received apart from them.

Christ, however, has ordered His disciples to baptize all those who are received as members of His Church, and the He has required that His disciples should regularly commemorate His death by the celebration of the Lord’s supper; thus His people find themselves under a compelling moral obligation to obey these commandments of His. But it may happen that the exercise of this duty is counteracted by external circumstances…which hinder the obedience even of those who are disposed and desire to practice their Savior’s injunction. Even where obedience is not opposed by external circumstances the observance of these commands may be neglected through ignorance or through scruples of conscience which are unjustifiable. We believe that if such people possess faith through the Word alone their salvation is in no way compromised.

It is not the privation but the contempt of the sacraments which renders us culpable before God. Let us not forget that we are not spirits, but sensible and earthly creatures who cannot understand spiritual things otherwise than by sensible forms; not that God has instituted the sacraments in order that, by gazing upon signs, we might acquire a better notion of His benefits and be more firmly assured of His promises, and thus sustained and strengthened in our faith. No one can neglect the use of the sacraments deliberately  without exposing himself to grave spiritual consequences.The believer has no right to rely upon the operation of grace apart from the conditions upon which the promise of help is made, and these conditions are: the hearing of the Word and the participation  of the sacraments. It is for this reason that the faithful Christian, even at the cost of the greatest sacrifices, will go to hear the Word preached and will partake of the Lord’s Supper. In dispensing with these, excuses valid before God will alone be admissible.

To summarize: The Word is absolutely necessary for our salvation. The sacraments, while not necessary in the absolute sense, are a necessary part of obedience to Christ. We can be saved apart from the sacraments. We can either not have access to them or our conscience can be misinformed about their importance. Neither of these reasons would qualify as contempt. But the willful, deliberate, neglect and contempt of the sacraments will lead to the damnation of our souls.  We cannot expect the promise of grace to be given apart from the means of grace.