John's Baptism unto Repentance


H. A. Ironside

John's Baptism unto Repentance

We now go on to look at our subject proper. And first, we speak of John's baptism unto repentance.

This is quite distinct from Christian baptism (Acts 19:1-7). By it the Jew expressed his repentance and his need of forgiveness. It could not speak to the people of the death of Christ, though, no doubt, in God's mind, that was what was set forth; i.e., the fact that nothing but death was due the sinner, and that the Lord Jesus was to die in the stead of the guilty. His own baptism was the pledge of this; but I speak of that later. For the Jew it was the owning that the baptized one deserved nothing but death and judgment. It expressed self-judgment, and so it was called a "baptism unto repentance."

That the mode of administering it was the same as that of Christian baptism, however, I suppose no one would call in question, for, though we read of change in formula and object, we have no record of a change in mode. It is self-evident that the apostles, some of whom began baptizing shortly after becoming associated with the Lord, simply went on practicing the same manner in baptizing that their former teacher accustomed them to, as some of them had been followers of the Baptist prior to their hearts being directed to "the Lamb of God" (John 1:35-40)-and possibly all, as Acts 1:21,22 seems to teach. They certainly learned no new manner of administering it from Christ. See John 3:22,26; 4:1,2.
("An interesting point in connection with the disciples' practice was suggested to me by a brother since writing the above. When the mothers brought little children to Jesus, the disciples drove them away. Could they have so acted if they or John had ever practiced baby baptism? Jesus, on the other hand, received and blessed them, UNBAPTIZED, as the Christian parent can rest assured He does to-day. Re did not say, as it writer on household baptism, some years ago, that parents who brought unbaptized children to Him in prayer for blessing, were only bringing Cain's offering! Christ declared that "of such is the kingdom of heaven." Baptism is not needed to put them in it. They are already of it, it is the simple, child-like one who is recognized as a true subject of the Kingdom.)

Of John, then, we read that he came "preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt.3:1,2). The result is recorded in verses5 and 6: "Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins."

Mark similarly testifies (chap.1:4,5): "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judea; and they of Jerusalem, and were baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins."

If the significant little word "in," found in both these passages, be not conclusive as to the mode of his baptism being by immersion; if any can tolerate the amazing conception of John's taking the candidate into the water, then pouring or sprinkling upon his head as he stood there waist-deep, a passage in John's Gospel would seem to effectually dispel such an illusion for those who have ears to hear. "And John also was baptizing in Ænon, near to Salim, because there was much water there; and they came and were baptized. "If " much water" is the cause for choosing a certain place for baptizing, surely then baptism could have been neither by sprinkling nor pouring.

To this, the scriptural mode of baptism (abundantly confirmed by other passages, (see Acts 8:38,39; Rom.6:3-5; Col.2:12) our Lord Himself assents, for of Him it is expressly stated that He "was baptized of John in Jordan" (Mk.1:9), and He "went up straightway out of the water" (Matt.3:17), which could not be true if He did not enter the mystic stream that told of what He must yet endure for those under sentence of death, with eternal judgment beyond it.