Baptism in the Commissions


H. A. Ironside

Baptism in the Commissions

It is after having passed through all the agony of the cross that the risen Lord gives the commissions as narrated in the closing chapters of the Synoptic Gospels. Luke does not mention the baptism at all. He is occupied with the gospel. Baptism is not a part of that, as 1 Cor.15:1-4 bears abundant testimony, as also 1 Cor.1:17. The gospel is concerning God's Son (Rom.1:1-4), and not concerning ordinances, however blessed, or works, however proper to the man already justified by faith and a subject of grace (Titus 2:11-14).

We shall look, then, at the commissions recorded in Matthew and Mark. In chap.28:18-20 of the former, we read: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach (disciple, or make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in (unto) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (completion of the age). Amen."

The thought of baptizing nations, as such, we see no warrant for here unless preceded by national repentance. All nations are to be taught the gospel. If indeed the nations as a whole become disciples, then to baptize them is in place, but that, though it shall actually be, is in a future day (Zech.14:16). At present at least, it is, in my judgment, to individuals that the commission applies.

Markedly enough, neither here nor yet in Mark 16 is the believer or disciple told to be baptized, for it was to His servants that the word was addressed by the Lord. Consequently the command is rather to the preacher to immerse the disciple; but would any real lover of the Lord Jesus plead this an excuse for evading responsibility in the matter, shifting it altogether upon the shoulders of the servant, and being careless himself as to whether the divine pattern had been carried out! Do not the words, "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you," show us the importance of the recipient of the gospel seeing for himself that God's word is carried out?

Surely the heart that beats loyally to its absent Lord remembers His saying: "If a man love Me he will keep My words" (John 14:23), as also the other passage, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" (v.15).

And if these considerations be not enough, is not Peter's message in Acts 2:38 imperative as to it? "Repent, and be baptized every one of you," etc. Here is command and by the Holy Ghost. So, in Cornelius' house, "He commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). Baptism, therefore, if not directly commanded by the Lord in person, is by the Spirit in the apostle, and is surely one of Christ's "words " which he who loves Him will "keep." As to formula, it is "Unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Being, as it is, "baptism unto death," it is fitting that it should be unto the name of the Trinity--for how unitedly do Father, Son and Spirit participate in the offering of the Son of Man upon the cross! It was God, as Father, who withheld Him not, but gave Him out of love to the world (John 3:16); while He, the Son, was the voluntary sufferer (John 10:17,18); and yet it was "through the eternal Spirit that He offered Himself without spot to God"(Heb.9:14). Nor does "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5) nor the kindred passage quoted above from Acts 10 set this aside. Do not these scriptures simply keep before us in whose authority it was done--the former bringing out especially the contrast between the baptism of John and that of the Lord Jesus? It would not seem to be the formula that is in view at all. I take it that a full scriptural formula would be: "In the name of the Lord Jesus, I baptize thee unto the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

In Mark 16:15,16, baptism is directly connected with believing, and in such a way as to make it the public seal of faith, as, in some sense, "confession with the mouth" is in Romans 10:9,10.

Here we read, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned." Significantly, we do not read, "He that is not baptized shall be damned." Justification before God is by faith, apart from works (Rom.4:4,5); but it is taken for granted that a true believer will be desirous of fully identifying himself with his Lord, and thus baptism is looked upon as the very first act of faith, which alone gives it value, for apart from that it is a meaningless form. Some might be immersed in all good faith on the part of the evangelist, who were not real believers at all, as in the case of Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-13,18-23), but nowhere in Scripture do we read of any laborer knowingly baptizing one who was not saved, and never of the baptism of any too young to exercise faith in the Son of God.*

(* Philip baptized "both MEN and WOMEN" (Acts 8:12). If little children were also subjects of baptism in apostolic days, this, one would think, would have been the place to mention it. Let the present day evangelist follow Philip's example and he need not fear that he in acting contrary to Scripture.)

Baptism presupposes knowledge on the part of the subject as to its purport, as is clear from the apostle's appeal, "know ye not," in Romans 6:3, where he speaks of