CONVERSION TO GOD CHAPTER 5
PRINTED BY H. & J. PILLANS & WILSON
AN APOSTLE DEALING WITH INQUIRERS.
The earnest inquiry - Natural - The first inquirers under Christianity - What caused the inquiry - Peter's response - Repentance - Its place - What is it - From evil towards God - What causes it - In what way it is God's gift - Baptism - The word not a translation - In a river - Many waters - Going into and coming out of the water - Christ's baptism of suffering - Buried in baptism - Resurrected in baptism - Prominence and importance of a name - Remission of sins - The gift of the Holy Spirit - Many unreported works - The blessed decision - Objections considered
THE preaching of Peter was effectual. The assembled people were pricked in their heart. The simple narration of events, and the conclusive application of prophecy, could not be disputed. Jesus was Lord and Christ. In His humiliation they had opposed Him even to the taking of His life. What could they now expect from Him in His exalted position? What was to be done? There was for them a gloomy prospect. In anguish of soul, they asked instructions from the apostles.
Their inquiry was natural. They saw that they had grievously erred. They had overlooked the value of the most forcible evidence. They had not merely declined Jesus as the Messiah, they had taken an active part in the most decided rejection of Him, putting Him to a cruel death. What could now be done to rectify the mistake, and atone for the crime? Was there any hope for them? Could they do anything towards obliterating the past? What would be demanded of them to be on terms of peace and friendship with their Messiah, whom they had so shamefully maltreated? What shall we do? was the natural outburst of hearts torn with anguish by having cruelly, though in ignorance, taken the life of a dear Friend. The desire to put themselves right after so great an error - the desire, if possible, to undo the mischief, finds vent in these words. May we not also think of a longing to be engaged in the service of their rightful King?
Acts 2 clearly discloses who they were that eagerly asked what they should do. They were not only inhabitants of Jerusalem, but Jews from places far apart. Members of the one nation, brought together from various distances, were present on the day of Pentecost. But it is of more importance for us to note that they were
THE FIRST INQUIRERS UNDER CHRISTIANITY.
For the first time, under the commission for the whole world, we have anxious inquirers. Christianity was being introduced, and the first inquirers were asking guidance how to act. In all efforts for the conversion of others the inquiry-room is a place of grave responsibility. What answers shall be given to the inquirers? How can we set them safely at rest? How can we calm their troubles, and, at the same time, secure their salvation? This first meeting of inquirers under the Christian dispensation should be to all Christian teachers, and, indeed, to all Christians, a matter of earnest study. With an apostle to guide them, they must have been guided aright. His instructions were the instructions of the Spirit; for the apostles spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance. Peter's laws were Heaven's laws, for having received the Holy Spirit, whosesoever sins the apostles remitted, they were remitted. What they bound on earth was bound in heaven. Let us, therefore, follow with care all the movements - inquiry, instruction, and action - on that first occasion of conversions to Christ after His ascension.
Here it may be useful to take a retrospect of the cause, or causes, that resulted in the anguish of heart and inquiry what to do. It may be said that it was the work of the Holy Spirit. It may also be said that Peter's address, or the facts which he adduced in his address, or the hearers' reflection on these facts, produced the anguish and inquiry of Pentecost. If we think of these four as combined into one cause, we shall be near the truth. Apart from the language employed by Peter, the Spirit taught nothing, so far as is recorded. The facts were facts before Peter rehearsed them; but not until his hearers heard them could they think of their applicability to them and to their circumstances. It was when they heard that they were pricked in the heart. Human speech was employed to bring home conviction, and human ears were the channel through which the potent truth found an entrance to their understandings and hearts. Again, Peter's speaking had availed little, but for the cogent nature of the facts presented by him; and his earnest speaking and all his appropriate facts had been to no purpose in producing conviction, even though he was guided by the Holy Spirit, but for the reflection of the hearers and their application of the facts to their own case. The need of attentive hearing had been impressively taught by Christ in His oft-repeated words, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." He that desires to enjoy God's blessings, let him employ the means with which God has already blessed him. Reflection by Peter's hearers upon the things spoken led to a deep conviction of their antagonism to God, and caused their earnest inquiry.
What was Peter's response to the eager cry of the anxious ones? How did he guide them out of anxiety into safety? His answer is brief, and to the point. They want to know what to do; he gives them two commands. They are in dread alarm, and anxious for some assurance of safety; he gives them two promises. The commands are, repent and be baptised; the promises are, remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
To appreciate Peter's instruction, and to be in a position to benefit by it, we must trace the meaning of the words, so far, at least, as to have a moderate understanding of them.
is the first of the two things commanded. What is repentance? In order to make thoroughly sure work, let us assume nothing and search for everything. If we act on the definition of a modern dictionary, we may get an idea different from that of Scripture; and if we assume that we already know, we shall, in all probability, be thereby prevented from obtaining any additional light from the Word of God. Let us act, then, as if we knew nothing of repentance. Let us proceed as the reader of a letter who comes across a word that he does not understand, cannot make out, perhaps not even spell. How does he obtain the meaning? He looks at what goes before and at what comes after; and thus in most cases, even in a short letter, he will decipher the meaning. In the event of the word occurring several times, he will, without doubt, find out what the word is - he will discover what meaning fits into the different places. He judges by the context. We now proceed to do the same with 'repentance.' We will examine, not one passage, but several and try to discover what one thought agrees with the context in all the different passages.
Glancing first at the passage before us, we are not much helped toward the actual meaning, but at least the place of repentance is partly indicated. We see that to repent is a command for an inquirer to attend to prior to being baptised. We proceed to another passage, the next where repent is found, Acts 3:19. "Repent ye therefore, and turn again." Now, we observe that, as baptism follows repentance in the second chapter, turning or conversion follows it in the third. Repentance, then, is something going before both baptism and conversion. Chapter 26:20 speaks to the same effect. Paul preached alike to Jew and Gentile, "that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." Repentance, whatever it is, goes before turning; while repentance and turning are followed by works meet for, worthy of, suitable to, spring from repentance. The Revised Version translates thus: "They should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance.' The Revised Version is literal. But whether we adhere to the common Version or to the Revised, the meaning is the same as respects the connection with repentance. In either case, repentance is something which precedes baptism, precedes conversion, and precedes the works in a changed life that show repentance to be genuine. It thus seems to precede every public manifestation of a changed life. For whatever baptism is, and whoever should be baptised, it is an overt act, of which others are spectators. The place of repentance is prior to such an overt act. Conversion or turning is at least a change of conduct; it is a turning from vanities to serve God. Repentance pre-dates such a manifest change. Works meet for repentance imply a continuous practice of certain appropriate things. These works, however, are subsequent to repentance, and are consistent with, agreeable to, the repentance thus going before. Repentance must, therefore, be very early in the convert's experience, as it precedes baptism, conversion, and general Christian conduct.
Another passage marks off repentance more definitely. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance" (2 Cor. 7:10). Sorrow works repentance, and is therefore both distinct from repentance, and prior to it. Not more distinct from each other, are the machine and the machinest who works it, than are repentance and the sorrow which causes it. The nature of the sorrow here named is noteworthy. It is not any kind of sorrow; it is godly sorrow. It is not a selfish sorrow, simply regret because sin has been discovered and will be punished; it is sorrow in God's sight, sorrow because of sin done against the Holy One. Even such commendable sorrow, however, is not repentance, or any part of it; but it works repentance, leads on to it. The way into a town is not the town; but following on in the road to the town, the traveller reaches it. So, following on in the pathway of godly sorrow repentance is reached. The place of repentance is subsequent to godly sorrow.
The order of events in the inquirer's experience may therefore be put together thus: - Convinced of sin, as were the Jews on the day of Pentecost, he is sorry for sin, not merely for its evil consequences to himself, but also because it is sin against God; godly sorrow is at work. This genuine sorrow produces, leads on to repentance; and repentance results in baptism, conversion, and the living of a life in harmony with repentance. Repentance is more than sorrow, and it is less than reformation. It springs out of sorrow and leads on to reformation.
What it is, then, that thus comes in between real sorrow for wrong-doing and the turning away from it to serve God? What is that which follows sorrow for sin, and precedes the giving of it up? What is repentance? Change of will is the only thing it can be. Between sorrow for wickedness and the abandonment of it, there is the resolve to abandon it, the I will. The man who is sorry for his conduct, who regrets his previous behaviour, is so far experiencing a change of mind respecting that conduct. He views it differently from what he did formerly. The intellect views it in a new light. When this change of mind and the accompanying sorrow go so far as to be changed of will, repentance is reached.
Perhaps the passage of Scripture which most clearly illustrates repentance is Luke 15, especially the parable of the prodigal. The young man was sorry for his former wasteful and sinful conduct, and resolved to give up entirely the course of life into which he had drifted. It was a right kind of sorrow; and when it reached the point where he said, "I will arise," there was repentance. When that resolution, that "I will arise," that repentance, led on to the going to the father, there was turning or conversion.
But it is not every mental resolution that can be denominated repentance. A man may resolve to do evil; that would not be repentance, but the very opposite. Repent of evil is the Scripture command. That they repent not of their evil deeds is a ground of sinners' condemnation (Rev. 2:21; 9:20-21). Repentance is a resolving to forsake evil, a determining to abandon a wrong course. It implies previous sin, a sorrowful viewing of it, and a resolution to forsake it. It looks backward toward evil, and forward toward God; it is from evil toward God (Acts 20:21). It is a decision to be done with sin and to live for God.
There is more, however, than a command inducing to repentance. God's kindness is the real inducing power. This is implied in Paul's question in Rom. 2:4: "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Do you not know that the design of God's kindness is to cause repentance? It is not punishment, nor terror, so much as love, that is operative when one resolves to leave sin and serve God. Punishment, terror, law, might make men hate sin, but never could drive them to have trustfulness in God and to love Him. But love draws them. The kindness of God, the love of God in Christ Jesus, in His provision of mercy and grace, constrains inquirers to enlist in His service. It is with the sinner repenting as it was with the prodigal. Sorrow for wrong-doing and remembrance of his father's abundant care even over his servants, prompted him to say, "I will arise." In the same way, sorrow for past sin, and knowledge of God's love in His willingness to pardon, lead the sinner to resolve to turn from sin and become a servant of God. Divine kindness leads to repentance.
And perhaps this is the key to repentance being spoken of as God's gift (Acts 5:31); 11:18). God in Christ gives the means, and hence may be said to give the effect. He provides inducements to repentance, and thus He is the cause of repentance. To repent is man's act, but the love which constrains to repentance is of Christ's revealing. The power and the means are from God, and thus the thing itself is His gift.
is the second command. How shall we proceed in the investigation of it? We cannot obtain so much help from different translations as we did in tracing 'convert' in our second chapter. Translators have adopted a different course with the two words, 'convert' and 'baptise.' The Greek for 'convert' they translated by different words, the Latin word 'convert' being the most difficult to understand by the English reader. But for 'baptise' they have not even given a Latin equivalent; they have merely put the Greek word into English form. If they had done with other commands of the Lord as they have done with 'baptise,' we should have had a strange New Testament to read. The commission, as recorded by Matthew, would have read somewhat like this: Go, matheteuse all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, didasking them, etc. Who but a Greek scholar could then have made sense of it? And yet the revisers perpetuate the hiding of the meaning of 'baptise' by want of translation. King James's translators made five exceptions and the revisers four, translating the verb 'wash' and the noun 'washing' (Mark 7:4,8; Luke 11:38; Heb. 9:10). The revisers leave out the latter half of Mark 7:8, and in the margin of Mark 7:4 they give baptise and baptisings. But we need not suppose ourselves Greek scholars. We can act as we did with repentance; i.e., we can examine the occurrences of 'baptise,' note what goes before it and what comes after it - what are its accompaniments, and thereby learn what meaning agrees with the context in each case.
The first mention of baptism runs thus in the Revised Version: "Then went out unto him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan; and they were baptised of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matt. 3:5-6). The persons baptised were sinners who confessed their sins, and the place in which they were baptised was the river Jordan. To baptise in a river does not suggest sprinkling. Do those who practise sprinkling go into a river to perform it? Has such a thing ever been heard of as sprinkling in a river? Pouring is about as unlikely. It is unnecessary and unnatural to be in the river for the purpose of pouring. That could be done more comfortably, and fully as well every way, on the bank of the river. But John baptised his candidates in the river. Whatever, therefore, baptism may be, it is highly improbable that it is either sprinkling or pouring. But washing and immersion agree with what is stated of John baptising in the river. He may have washed his applicants in the river, or he may have immersed, dipped, plunged them. His being in the river is accounted for on either supposition, but is in no way accounted for on the supposition of either sprinkling or pouring.
Nor was it an unusual thing for John thus to require a large supply of water when baptising. "John also was baptising in Aenon, near to Salim, because there was much water there; and they came, and were baptised" (John 3:23). The reason of his baptising in Aenon was, that there was much water, or many waters. It was for baptism that he needed much water. Such a statement could never be made in reference to a sprinkler, no sprinkler ever selecting a place of many waters in order to his sprinkling; but it is at once intelligible and natural, on the supposition of immersion.
Acts 8:38-39 teaches the same lesson. "And they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptised him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip." The men were both in the water, and between going in and coming out the one baptised the other. The idea of the one immersing the other is natural, as succeeding their going into the water, and preceding their coming out of it. Certain it is that no sprinkler goes into the water himself or puts his subject in it. For pouring, to be in the water is equally unnecessary. But to immerse in a river, or in any of nature's waters, it is a necessity that both baptiser and baptised go into the water.
Thus John and Philip, the one at the beginning of Christ's ministry, the other after his ascension, acted in baptising in such a way that, when the circumstances are recorded, the only reasonable conclusion is, that they must have either washed or immersed.
New Testament allusions to baptism speak to the same effect. "I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?" (Luke 12:50.) It is generally agreed that this verse has reference to Christ's sufferings. They were such as to be denominated a baptism. Does any one venture to call them a sprinkling? Is there any semblance of truth or propriety in saying that Christ had a sprinkling of suffering to undergo? No one who values the propitiatory sacrifice of the Saviour, or reverently thinks of His agony as narrated by the evangelists, can contract His sufferings within the figure of a sprinkling. No; He bowed His sacred head under the overflowing waters. His whole being went under the billows. He was submerged in suffering. It was no sprinkling, but an overwhelming.
Paul is even more explicit. We were buried with Christ by baptism (Rom. 6:4). There can be no burial apart from the complete covering over of that which is buried. The corpse may be carried into a cave, and a stone rolled on the mouth thereof; or it may be deposited in a sunken hole, and the hole filled up with soil; but in both cases the body is completely covered. A man or a railway train is buried by the fall of an embankment. There is a complete surrounding of the person or train by that which has fallen. In like manner, the entire person is surrounded by the baptismal waters. In the act of baptism there is an entire covering of the person baptised. What is there in sprinkling either resembling or suggesting a burial? Who that has been sprinkled could persuade himself to say, I was buried by sprinkling? On the other hand, every immersed one can say with intelligence and appreciation, I was buried by immersion. In immersion there is a burial.
John in the river Jordan, and among the many waters of Aenon, and Philip and the eunuch going into and coming out of the water, shut out all idea of sprinkling and pouring; and now Paul leaves us without any hesitation between washing and immersion. The fact of burial decides for immersion.
Another thought is added by Paul in writing to the Colossians: "Buried with Him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised" (2:12). Burial is here as in Rom. 6. To that is added resurrection. Both burial and resurrection are experienced in immersion. We are buried in a watery grave, and immediately raised therefrom to live a new and a holy life.
Need we trace the matter farther? The circumstances of New Testament baptisms, and the allusions to baptism, point unmistakably to immersion, and preclude all thought of sprinkling. As in the act of repentance there was the firm resolve to do the Lord's will, so now let the resolve be unhesitatingly adhered to. It cannot be doubted that baptism is enjoined in the same breath with repentance. These two - repentance and baptism - are linked together by 'and,' uttered in the same sentence, and are equally authoritative and binding. It would badly comport with any profession of repentance to hesitate about baptism. The man who resolves to serve God cannot consistently stop with resolving. Any repentance worthy of the name will lead on, not only to an investigation of what is meant by baptism, but also to the practice of it when understood. It is, therefore, to be expected that at this point honest inquirers will show their repentance by their baptism. Let the bad past be buried in the baptismal grave, and thence rise to live only for Christ.
THE PROMINENCE AND IMPORTANCE OF A NAME
merit attention. Peter's hearers were to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. This name was to be employed as a means for the removal of sin, as afterward it was found potent in the removal of bodily infirmity (Acts 3:6,16). Matt 28:19 gives the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as that into which the taught ones were to be baptised. The name of the Son is central there, between Father and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ may be said to be representative in Acts, representing the Godhead. Scripture proper names have a meaning. Jesus means Saviour. He saves His people from their sins. Christ means anointed. He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power. The Saviour's names are comprehensive histories compressed into a few letters. His name is not so much that by which he is known as that which is known of Him. There was knowledge conveyed by His name. To publish His name was to publish what was known of Him. His character was revealed in His name, as by the name Jehovah the promise-keeping character of God was made known to the Israelites (Ex. 6:2-8). To suffer for Christ's name is to suffer for Christ; His name represents His person. There is power, as well as appropriateness, in the name employed in baptism. The name in which we are baptised is of incomparable importance. There is no other name in which there is salvation, and no other name through which we have access to the throne of the universe (Acts 4:10-12,29-30).
"Upon the name of Jesus Christ" is the translation of Acts 2:38 in the American Bible Union Version. 'Upon' implies leaning, trusting to. Faith is not asserted of the converts on the day of Pentecost; but it is seen to be involved. While attending to the ordinance, they were not to place their faith in it, but in the person in whose name they were baptised. Be immersed, trusting to the almighty name of the anointed Saviour.
REMISSION OF SINS
is a most encouraging promise to sin-burdened inquirers. Sins are remitted, sent away, dismissed from the person who committed them. He and they have no more connection. His sins are no longer charged against him. He is pardoned. And it has pleased the Redeemer to give this priceless boon of forgiveness on such simple and easy conditions as repentance and baptism. Remission of sins is promised to those who attend to the two commands. It is not baptism alone, but baptism preceded by repentance. Peter taught the baptism of repenting sinners, as John had done before him (Mark 1:4; Matt. 3:6); and he promised Heaven's free pardon to all who obeyed.
These two things are thus seen to be involved in baptism - (1) There has been sin. (2) Sin is being abandoned. Baptism is not for sinless creatures, but for sinners. Hence John's hesitancy about baptising Jesus (Matt. 3:14). John's baptism was for repenting, confessing sinners; but Jesus had no confession of sin to make, and nothing of which to repent. It was only as giving sinners a pattern to attend to every divine appointment, and not that baptism was a means of grace to Himself, that Jesus was baptised. Inasmuch as baptism is for repenting sinners, it is likewise unsuitable to infants. They do not confess sins, nor do they repent. Sin is not yet chargeable against them. But they who know they have sinned should confess their sin, repent of it, and be baptised upon the precious name, in order to obtain the salvation which is in that name.
THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
is the second promise. What is meant by this promise? Does it mean what is commonly called the indwelling of the Spirit in the believer? Is it the presence of the Spirit of God to strengthen and give needful help to all saints? Is it the common heritage of all Christians? Or does the promise refer to such a possession of miracle power as the apostles had shown they possessed in the speaking of languages they had not learned? Everything narrated points to miracle power. Peter spoke of the gift, something that was before his hearers, with which they were at least partly acquainted, that which, in short, had been perplexing them respecting the apostles. It was miracle power that Peter and his co-workers possessed. The Holy Spirit as the abiding Comforter with every believer was not before Peter's audience. You obey the Lord, says Peter, and you will obtain the same gift that we have. You will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift, showing His presence with you in miraculous powers.
A study of Joel 2:28-32 leads to the same conclusion. Prophesying, dreaming, and seeing visions, belong not to all Christians, and are not received in the ordinary reception of the Holy Spirit. All is in the region of the miraculous. Neither in Joel 2 nor in Acts 2 is there any trace of any impartation of the Spirit other than the gift of miracle power.
The next occurrence of the same words - "the gift of the Holy Spirit" - confirms the conclusion to which Acts 2 and Joel 2 have led us. "On the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:45). It is beyond doubt that on this occasion there was miraculous manifestation; for the recipients of the gift were heard to "speak with tongues," i.e., they spoke in other languages, as the apostles did on the day of Pentecost.
The exposition of the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 in no way precludes teaching from other portions of the Scriptures respecting the help of the Spirit to all Christians. But that is not taught in the passage under consideration, and I dare not import it.
MANY UNREPORTED WORDS
were spoken by Peter. "With many other words did he testify and exhort." Here, as so often, much was done that is not fully reported. Luke's account is far short of a verbatim report of Peter's speaking. But that is not of so much moment when we have the purport of the whole. The many words of exhortation were to this effect: "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." God had put it within their power to free themselves from surrounding impediments. Peter calls upon them to use that power.
THE BLESSED DECISION
speaks well for the power of the truth and the earnestness of the hearers. "They that gladly received his word were baptised." Whether they had committed an unpardonable sin might have occupied their thoughts. Forgiveness on any terms was an invaluable blessing. Forgiveness on the easy conditions of repentance and baptism might well be gladly received. Sensible men, convinced of their sin, could not do otherwise than, having their hearts filled with joy, thankfully act as they were instructed. They decided to be baptised, and thereby assume the divine name and the Redeemer's yoke. In putting on the name of Jesus, they undertook to be thenceforth His obedient servants, and they received His forgiveness. To them it was the entering upon the most comprehensive service and the receiving of the greatest of blessings. Who sees not that it was their only safe and wise course?
The way of salvation then revealed to the thousands remains unchanged. Remission of sins is obtainable on the same conditions today. The laws which the Spirit then gave through the apostle are still in force. Can any man who owns himself a creature, and feels the guilt and oppression of sin - who knows that he has sinned against God, and that God brings pardon to him - can any such one hold up his head and question the propriety of the terms upon which pardon is presented? The state of mind and heart of any one who declines the Lord's plain and easy way, is not to be envied.
1. Is not the promise to children a proof that infants should be baptised? Or, as Alford has put it, "Thus we have a providential recognition of Infant Baptism, at the very founding of the Christian Church."
A command is not a promise. A command may have a promise attached, but the command and the promise are two distinct things. Baptism is a command, having the promise of forgiveness connected with it; but that which is called a promise in Acts 2:39, is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Again, children are not necessarily infants. See Acts 13:33 for an example of an audience being called children. They were of mature years, but they continued to be the children of their parents and progenitors. The promise of the Holy Spirit was not restricted to the people on the day of Pentecost; it was for their descendants also, and for the distant Gentiles, as many of them, at least, as the Lord should call to that special possession.
Instead of there being "a providential recognition of infant baptism," there is neither infant nor sprinkling named or alluded to in the whole context. I should have said that there is a providential reticence about infants, showing that baptism was not designed for them, and that there is a providential accompanying of repentance with baptism, proving the utter inapplicability of the ordinance to infants.
2. Could 3000 be immersed in one day?
Does it require any longer to immerse than to sprinkle? As a matter of fact sprinkling requires as long as immersion. The time occupied is in the utterance of the words, rather than in the act performed, and sprinklers have as many words to utter as immersers. But has any one who objects on the ground of insufficient time, ever taken the time to reckon it? One person can be immersed, without any haste, within one minute. That is, one person can immerse sixty in an hour. Suppose that the twelve apostles baptised at that rate for an hour, 720 would be baptised. After a few hours occupied with rest, further speaking, and preparation, suppose that 100 of the 720 were employed to baptise. How long would 100 men take to immerse the remaining 2280? At the rate of one each in a minute they would immerse 3000 in half-an-hour. In less than an hour-and-a-half the whole 3000 could be immersed. And this calculation takes no account of the 120, many of whom, as well as the twelve, would probably be available in baptising.
3. Where could they find water in Jerusalem to immerse 3000?
Are we bound to ransack Jerusalem for the water that was used eighteen centuries ago? If one inspired writer tells that 3000 were baptised, and another inspired writer declares that baptism is a burial, ought not that to suffice? But after so long a time the ruins of Jerusalem give ample evidence that there was abundance of water. The city of God, even in its desolation, corroborates the Word of God. The plentiful remains of pools, reservoirs, etc., suggest an almost endless supply of water. During all its sieges, Jerusalem is never reported to have been short of water.
4. Is baptism essential to salvation?
In the course of many years lecturing on Christianity, no question has been more frequently presented to me by objectors than this. Where any definite meaning has been attached to the words, it has been, 'Cannot we be saved without baptism?' The question does not mean, 'Is it certain that baptism is taught?' If that were meant, the query would be commendable. The meaning rather is, 'Granting that baptism is taught in Scripture, is it necessary? Cannot we do without it? Though I cannot deny it, may I not dispense with it?' One should avoid meddling with the motives of others; but it is impossible to avoid wondering why so many seem to be seeking an excuse to do without baptism.
Then, too, such a question is always put to the wrong party. A modern teacher of New Testament Christianity has no authority to say yea or nay to such an unqualified question. Our business is to deal with what is written. As it was with the Israelites, so is it with us - "Secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do" them (Deut. 29:29). We are only servants. It is the Master alone who can settle whether baptism can be dispensed with. He who appointed the baptism of believers is the only One who can rightfully set it aside. If the question may be put at all, it should be put to Him who said, "Go ... teach all nations, baptising them," and who declared, "He that believes and is baptised shall be saved." Even the apostles of Christ were only servants to teach what the Lord or the Holy Spirit taught them.
There is, moreover, a lack of fitness of things in a sinner asking if he cannot be saved without attending to such a simple ordinance. What? A sinner seeking after salvation stickling at a bath in water! It is difficult to imagine that any one in earnest about salvation will press such a question as, 'Cannot I be saved without baptism?' The natural intelligence and impulse of an earnest inquirer is to do whatever the Lord or any of His apostles enjoined.
But if the preceding question can be reasonably put, why not present another? 'Cannot I be saved without repentance?' Repentance, as well as baptism, is for the remission of sins. Peter said, "Repent and be baptised ... for the remission of sins." If it is defensible on any ground to ask an escape from baptism, it is logically defensible, from the construction of the sentence, to ask escape from repentance.
5. 'For' does not always mean 'in order to'; it may mean 'because,' as it often does. Be baptised 'because of' the remission of sins; i.e., because your sins are remitted.
If the subject were not one of too grave importance, it would be amusing to note the confusion herein displayed respecting the parts of speech, especially as the objection is given as it was first put before me by a schoolmaster. The preposition 'for' and the conjunction 'because' are made to change places as if equivalent. Wherever 'for' is a conjunction, 'because' can be substituted without any other change of the surrounding words. But that is impossible in the passage under consideration. The conjunction 'because' will not of itself suffice, and hence it is metamorphosed into 'because of'; or the whole structure of the sentence is change into 'because your sins are remitted.' The argument which is based on such a confusing of language is too limping and baseless to lean upon. The schoolmaster is requiring to learn the difference between a preposition and a conjunction.
But we cannot stop with what is argued for by the objector. If we concede what he wants, we must go farther. Repentance and baptism go together. If it is, 'Be baptised because of the remission of sins,' it must also mean, 'Repent because your sins are remitted.' One false step cannot be taken without entailing more mischief than was intended. Repentance because of remission is so palpably wrong that the exposition which leads to it should at once and for ever be abandoned. That is, if baptism because of forgiveness implies repentance because of forgiveness, we must dismiss 'because of,' and substitute 'in order to,' as the only admissible meaning of 'for.' Repent in order to obtain forgiveness, and be baptised with the same end in view. It is not repentance alone, nor baptism alone, but both these attended to by those who are trusting to the name of Jesus Christ.
'In order to' finds confirmation from another passage, where we have not only the same word, but the same phrase. "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). Christ's blood was shed in order to remission. The 'for' in both passages represents one Greek word. As Christ's blood was shed in order to pardon, so both repentance and baptism in Christ's name are commanded in order to pardon.
The inspired apostle has joined forgiveness with repentance and baptism; and the business of all who want to please God and be saved, is to gladly receive the word of Christ and His apostles and act on it.
6. Peter was speaking to Jews; there is no such teaching to Gentiles as baptism for remission of sins.
Yes: Peter was speaking to Jews; but in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gal. 3:28). There is one law for every creature in all the world (Mark 16:15-16). All nations are under the one set of conditions. To affirm that there are two lines of teaching - one for Jews and another for Gentiles - is to disclose ignorance of New Testament Christianity, and to represent God as if he were a respecter of persons.
7. To speak of baptism for the remission of sins, was a mistake of Peter.
Those who have reached that pinnacle of self-respect that they can deliberately condemn Peter, are not likely to be convinced of their folly by anything here said. More modest people are reminded that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke as the Spirit gave him utterance. The Spirit would not lead Peter astray; but a dozen of influences may be at work blinding the mind of any modern critic of Peter.
8. Is not the Holy Spirit promised to all believers when they are baptised?
Apart, for a moment, from Acts 2:38, I do not know that the Holy Spirit was ever promised or manifestly received in the act of baptism. It is true that the Holy Spirit was given to them that obeyed (Acts 5:32). But repentance and attendance to the Lord's supper are as much acts of obedience as baptism. It may therefore be that through all these alike we obtain the Spirit. As respects miraculous gifts by the possession of the Spirit, the evidence is that these were received sometimes before baptism, sometimes after it, but never said to be in it. Acts 10:44-46, is a sample of receiving the Spirit before baptism; while Acts 8:14-17.; 19:1-6, record the reception of the Spirit after baptism. In the last passage named, the Revised Version teaches that Paul judged that the disciples in Ephesus would have received the Holy Spirit when they believed. And yet it was after baptism, and through the onlaying of Paul's hands, that the Holy Spirit was given.
The thought of receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism seems to be based on too cursory a view of Acts 2:38. It is hastily assumed that the Holy Spirit is promised on the same conditions as remission. But the passage does not read, 'Repent and be baptised ... for the remission of sins and for the gift of the Holy Spirit.' "Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" does not at all imply that the gift was received in being baptised. It might be after baptism by the laying on of an apostle's hands, as in two instances just named. Acts 3:19-20 will serve as an illustration of the verse we are considering in the second chapter. "Repent ... and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ." In the construction of the sentence the promise of the Lord's return is connected in precisely the same way with repentance, conversion, and forgiveness, as in the second chapter the gift of the Holy Spirit is with repentance, baptism, and forgiveness. If, in the one case, 1800 years have elapsed between the repentance, conversion, and forgiveness on the one hand, and the return of Christ on the other, there need be no difficulty that, in the other case, a few hours or days elapsed between baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. The receiving of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost by the many believers may therefore have been through the instrumentality of the onlaying of apostles' hands, as in Acts 8. But, however it was received, it is mere assertion to tell an inquirer that he will receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, more than in any other act of obedience.
ALEXANDER BROWN INDEX