Baptism - Introductory


H. A. Ironside


So much has been said and written on this subject, so various and conflicting have been the opinions expressed, so widely divergent are the meanings even, given by scholars to the very word baptism, that one naturally hesitates to write on such a theme. But a verse in the only Book that is authority in the matter says: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5). With such a word as this before us, who, really anxious to know the mind of the Lord on any question, need fear to search for himself, in humble dependence on Him whose word it is? Let us then turn to the pages of the blessed volume which alone can thoroughly furnish "the man of God unto all good works" (2 Tim.3:16,17), and of which we are told, "The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple" (Ps.119:130). A similar word comes to encourage us from Ps.19:7; "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (last clause).

Simple though we are, then (perhaps the simpler, the easier taught), we need not fear to turn for the time from every human channel to the great river of divine instruction itself, and ask, "What saith the Scripture on Baptism?" That it has much to say upon the subject is evident. It cannot therefore be to the glory of God to ignore it. Where He has spoken He would have us reverently listen and obey.

And first, I would desire to press on the reader the former part of the verse last quoted, as it brings before us the great subject of

Conversion to God

"The law (doctrine, see margin) of the Lord is perfect, CONVERTING THE SOUL." One who does not know what it is to have truly turned to God, in other words, one who has not been born again (John 3:3), need not expect enlightenment in divine things. Scripture plainly declares of such that they " have the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Eph.4:18); and again, " There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Rom.3:11). See the first twenty verses of the chapter.

Has my reader ever been truly converted to God? If such is your profession how was it brought about? On what are you now resting for salvation? Are you at this moment a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, or do you just believe what the Gospels tell us about Him? Do you know the joy of forgiveness, of justification from all things' (Acts 13:38,39). Can you truthfully say: " Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God?" (Rom.5:1,2). If this be a knowledge foreign to you -- something your soul has never yet entered into -- if these questions must all be answered in the negative, I entreat you to consider for a moment your solemn condition in the presence of God.

If unsaved, you are by nature a sinner (Rom.3:19), by practice a transgressor (Prov.13:15); by nature a child of wrath (Eph.2:3), by practice a son of disobedience (Eph.2:2, N.T.); by nature an alien (Eph.2:12), because born at a distance from God; by practice alienated (Col.1:21) and an enemy to God. You are lost by nature (Matt.18:10,11) because of a lost race; lost also by practice, because of having deliberately wandered away from God (Lk.19:10).

Terrible, then, is your situation, awful your condition, and do what you will, you are absolutely helpless in yourself to retrieve it. Baptism will not assist you here; church membership will avail you nothing; to partake of the communion is but to eat and drink judgment to yourself (1 Cor.11:27-29); religious efforts are all in vain. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6), and it can never rise above its own level. Cultured, it is only cultured flesh; religionized, it is but religious flesh; no amount of care and cultivation can change it into "spirit." Just as flesh is born of the flesh, "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." There must be a new birth. Without it there is no hope, no salvation, no heaven; for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption" (1 Cor.15:50).

One alone can meet your case, and that One, the Eternal Son of God, of whom it is written: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not; but as many as received Him to them gave He power (the right, or authority) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:11-13). Here is hope for you, and here alone. Godly parentage will not insure salvation-- "not of blood." Good resolutions and well meaning professions will avail nothing-- "nor of the will of the flesh." Ordinances, by whomsoever administered, will never save, but only mock-- "nor of the will of man." The Holy One, who has been so grossly sinned against and rejected so long, alone can save and bring about the new birth-- "but of God."

"The Word become flesh" (John 1:14) told a religious doctor that, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God " (John 3:5). That is, the word of God, likened to water,* from its cleansing efficacy (Eph.5:26) is that by which new birth is brought about (James 1:18; 1 Pet.1:23-25). This word is applied by the Spirit, and the believing sinner is born anew.

((* I am aware that many have fancied the Lord here was referring to baptism. That such was by no means the case I think the following note, from the pen of an honored servant of Christ, will make plain to any one who carefully weighs the facts pointed out:
"CHRISTIAN BAPTISM-- * * * Is not that rite intended here by the water? Let us clear this point. 1st: Christian baptism was not instituted till after the Lord's resurrection; and signified burial with Him unto death (Rom.6:4; Col.2:12). Obviously that could have no meaning nor effect till the Lord had died. Now the Lord was speaking of life through birth, and of a blessing THEN to he enjoyed, not of burial unto death. 2nd: Before His death the kingdom of God was preached, and men were pressing into it (Lk.16:16). 3rd: The apostles were made clean by the Lord before His death, through the word which He had spoken to them (John 15:3), and so before the institution of Christian baptism, of which the Twelve and others had no need, and to which they never submitted. Of a vital work in the Foul the Lord spoke to Nicodemus, and not of a sacramental rite to which the person is now subjected. Of the soul, and not of the body, have we teaching here." --C.E.Stuart in "Tracings from the Gospel of John "

I might add that the way the Lord Jesus Himself speaks of "the water that I shall give him," in John 4:14, is, to my mind, proof conclusive that in neither the third nor fourth chapters does He refer to an ordinance, but to "well of water springing up into everlasting life."))

Have you, then, believed God's word? " For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God " (John 3:16-18). "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36).

"Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" (John 9:35).

If so, then to you, as a believer, the remaining pages are addressed.