W W W W  World Wide Web Witness Inc.  Home Page   Contents Page for Volume  What is New



What it is, what it is not and
How it helps

Last time, we pursued the second of three areas evoked by BAPTISM.

We dwelt on BAPTISM BY FIRE.

Now we come to BAPTISM BY WATER.

(See also News 51, Excursion, End-note1, and 
The Pitter-Patter of Prophetic Feet Ch. 5)

These things are real issues with Biblical answers, relating not to superstition, presumption or preference, but to the expressed mind of Christ. There is a right way to bring up a child, and this is part of it . There is a right approach to the things of God, and that is to follow what is written. Do it right and be pleasing in His sight.

Q: What is Biblical water baptism ? Why is it done, when should it be done, what does it signify, what does it do ? In short: What is the pith, point, purpose, time and theme of baptism with water ?

A: In turn, or suitable order, let us take these points. Biblical Baptism with water is something which means a dipping, immersing, sprinkling, pouring.


Jay Adams, in his Meaning and Mode of Baptism, notes R.W. Dale's work, Classic Baptism, in touching on what the frequently used, underlying Greek word found in the New Testament,
b a p t iz w  CAN mean. It may mean all these things, and to dye, plunge, tinge, sprinkle. Its MAIN use is not immerse. In fact, an essential component of its meaning comes to be: anything which can thoroughly change the nature of a thing, with dyeing one way of doing this. (Adams also cites research on usage of another term used quite seldom in the New Testament, with somewhat similar breadth of meaning - pp. 2-3 op.cit., though this has little relevance here.)

In the Bible itself, Hebrews 9:10 refers to various baptisms, using this word in the Greek. It then illustrates: the blood of goats and calves, bulls, heifer's ashes. Now in these Old Testament cases, sub-cases of various gifts and offerings, in a context of purifying (9:13), we have the facts. The ashes would be sprinkled, the blood was sprinkled by Moses on the book and the people (Exodus 24), the sprinkling was a norm in purificatory rites. In 9:13, sprinkling is indeed specifically mentioned. Immersion was, as John Murray shows in his Christian Baptism, not the mode for cleansing.

There is no warrant whatsoever for immersion. Pouring is suggested perhaps in consecration, as of a king - take David and Samuel (I Samuel 16:13). The day of Pentecost, Acts 2, was a case of "baptism" in which flames SAT UPON the heads of those concerned. This could relate to sprinkling or pouring, but not to immersing. In I Corinthians 10:1-2, the Israelites passing through the Red Sea are said to have been "baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea". Of course, as far as the sea was concerned, IMMERSION WAS PRECISELY WHAT DID NOT AND MIRACULOUSLY COULD NOT occur! There may have been some spray...

Adams makes the point that BAPTISED INTO MOSES shows up a central feature. It is in effect a submission, a rendering, a coming under authority, like a dyeing in one way: a seal, an acceptance, an undertaking and a rendering. This transforms the situation, so taking care of one fundamental meaning of the term. He also notes John 3:22-25, in which we find an argument about purification related to BAPTISM. Purification is endemically, in the Old Testament, a sprinkling issue: that is the norm. Exodus 24:8 shows the classical, basic case of sprinkling with the blood, to which Hebrews, as we saw, also refers.

Similarly, Jesus Christ made quite an issue of the point with Simon Peter. Wanting to wash Peter's feet, Christ was met by Peter's protestation. Not my feet only, but also my hands and face, said he. At first, he did not even want Christ to wash his feet at all, then he compromised in his reverential concern, by having face and hands too. Christ refused.

"He who is washed does not need except to wash his feet, but is entirely clean; and you are clean, but all of you." That is in John 13:6-10. There you have it. It is symbolism, and it is not necessary to pretend we are dealing with hygiene per se, with lustratorysignificance, when it is merely symbolic. Otherwise, of course, confusion could arise as if it were principally medical, or the extent of body surface paralleled the extent of cleansing and other asinine errors. Not so. Sprinkling had been the norm; part had been the issue; part remained the point.

Feet had also been a washing item in the priesthood, along with hands (Exodus 30:19, 40:31) and this was a parallel to that. Sacramentalism was obviously far from the line, as Christ made the feet sufficient, while referring to the disciples as not ALL being clean: that is, even in the work of washing feet, there was an emphasis that pre-empted, one fixing on the actual state of the heart, which was, as always, what mattered. Christ Himself, for that matter, overcame John the Baptist's protest about it being wrong to baptise Him, not by acknowledging He was a sinner (as I Peter 2:22 denies), BUT byindicating it was necessary to FULFIL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS. Why ? What does the Bible show ?

Levites were sprinkled with water as part of their official induction, and Christ adapted this to Himself, our Great High Priest: the water of sanctification. You find this rite in Numbers 8:6-7,where it is definitively  stated: "Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them . Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them. Sprinkle water of purification on them, and let them  shave all  their body and, let them wash their clothes and so make themselves  clear. " For this ceremonial,  formal purpose the Levites had to be sprinkled, and the water used is the water of purification, which specially symbolises sacrificial offering via the ashes of the beast slain, associated with that water (Leviticus 19)  

Here the mode is stressed and singular. It is sprinkling, all sprinkling in the signification of purity, here made more emphatic, the necessary prelude  to  service. Thus, it was not a counter-image to fact, but a fulfilment of  all righteousness, even  to the uttermost point, thus conjoining Christ with the requirements before His death fulfilled the symbolism, and pointing to the sin field to  come, to be conquered by His taking it indeed upon Himself.

Christ thus COULD not, as a non-sinner, be baptised to repentance, but WAS baptised as a setting apart from all common things (cf. John 17:19, "I sanctify myself for their sakes, that they might be sanctified through the truth"). And that ? It was, as noted for the priests, sprinkling. "Thus you shall do to them to  cleanse them." Born in human form, yet without sin, Christ is baptised as man, yet only by overturning due protest, clarifying the point, as He marched into service as lowly as could be. It is almost like an enacting of Romans 8:1-4, I Peter 2:20-24, who would indeed in due time have sins enough to bear and take upon Himself! So Christ met the measure of it in His own immeasurable way. So are deep things taught in simple ways.

The mode would be kept, unless stated otherwise, which could make this baptism one of consecration  to the Levitical work of service. The protest was made since Christ did not fit as a non-sinner. That said, it was overturned by Christ, since whatever could be done to satisfy the symbols of service, would be;  and what was not normal, would be overborne by protest, by which the exception is registered, which later more deeply is explained. Not a word is said about any change of mode, when John the Baptist baptised this non-sinner into formal service of His messianic  mission, starting so lowly, but soon to be both despised and rejected,  and glorified beyond all measure. .

Indeed, sprinkling in sacrificial modes is seen in multitudes of cases, as found for example in Leviticus 8:19, 24,30, in the last case referring to blood and oil sprinkled on the clothes of Aaron and his sons. In the case of leprosy, likewise, it was a sprinkling occasioned by the purificatory ceremony - Leviticus 14:7; just as on the great annual day of the atonement, it was a sprinkling on the altar in the Holy of Holies which was the acceptable, indeed authorised mode - Leviticus 16:19.

Interestingly, following through Christ's own enormous emphasis on taking symbols as symbols, not actual substitutes for reality, we have Moses putting, presumably by touch, blood on the right ears, and thumbs of right feet, great toes of right feet of Aaron's sons.


A: Could you clarify that ?

Q: What is the summary of what we have found so far ?

A: Baptism is in purification as a norm, sprinkling, and it is not immersion. Sprinkling is of vast usage in most varied situations dealing with purity, purification, vocation, calling to work for the Lord. Symbols are symbols, not realities, and the part can and often or even normally did stand for the whole. Christ was super-emphatic about that. Christ's own baptism - since John characterised his own baptising as for repentance - was not, and could not have been for repentance, or therefore of that type.

Hence John protested, but Christ changed the ground of it to fulfilling all righteousness, which implies divine declaration, and the only Biblical one fitting is priestly vocation, into which indeed He was proceeding, being witnessed with the voice from heaven, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, this His acceptance as sinless but priestly in vocation.

Q: Where does it indicate that John the Baptist was baptising in terms of repentance of sins ?

A: In Matthew 3:2, it characterises his message, focussing repentance; and in Matthew 3:6, we learn that many "were baptised by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins." His language and messages were exceedingly biting and piercing, in exposing sin, and his call to repentance was anything but merely theoretical.

Christ's baptism could not fit into this mould, so John protested; at which Christ re-organised John's thinking. At this, John ceased to protest, and so executed the baptism. Indeed Luke, shortly after the account of Christ's baptism, note s the age of the Messiah - about 30, which was needed, for the priesthood in the Mosaic law.

Q: You talked of being baptised into Moses. I am interested in that concept. Is there anything else of this kind in the Bible ?

A: In Romans 6, we learn that those "baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death." It then uses the word THEREFORE in verse 4 to preface three expressions of this fact. Thus, the TOPIC is being baptised into His death. The figures or features of it follow the THEREFORE, and include

1) one's own life being buried as He was buried,

2) being crucified with Him as He was crucified and

3) being planted with Him, as He, placed in the ground arose like a germinating plant, exuberant and victorious from apparent defeat, with a body far more splendid than before.

But let us consider now the phrase "baptised into Christ".

Q: What does that mean ?

A: Baptism implies - as we saw - a subordination, or transmutation, an acknowledgment and a change. "Baptised into Moses" meant this: he was their leader, with whom they suffered, with whom changes were experienced, who provided a new kind of living in the presence of God. So too here, being baptised into Jesus Christ implies a change, a transmutation indeed, an acknowledgment of His leadership, in fact Lordship, of His saving graces, that His provisions are just and true, that His diagnosis is sound and correct, that His mission and ministry is authoritative and divine*1.

For the adult, it directly means that what He required to be found in Him, IS being found in Him; that what He claimed to be, on account of which one could come to Him, HE IS, and that one so proceeds. It implies further that in so doing one is entering in the New Covenant, the one in His blood, and belongs to Him.

Q: But does not the verse I see here in Romans 6:4 indeed talk of being buried with Him in baptism. Is that sprinkling, or anything like it ?

A: Hardly. Nor is planting (6:5) like it, nor is being crucified (6:6) particularly like sprinkling or immersion. Actually, it is usually as well to see what an author is talking about.

Here Paul is speaking not at all of any sacrament, but of the reality. The issue is this: sin or not? And Paul is saying this: No! a thousand times no, leave it, demit it, resign from it. Be planted together with Christ, as if buried, sharing in the death He died for you by having your own old life buried with His sin-bearing life. Be buried with Him by having your old life put right away like a corpse. Be crucified with Him, in the sense that your old life is like a criminal condemned and exposed and dealt with. DO NOT carry on with the old life; but be infilled with the new.

What is it saying ? This: Be transformed under Christ's leadership by being identified with Him in His death: this is the thematic meaning. Be baptised (Romans 6:3) INTO Him, as the Jews at the Red Sea, into Moses (see II Corinthians 5:14-16 to amplify here, as well as I Corinthians 10:1-2).

The topic is, after all, sanctification, and as John Murray points out eloquently in his Christian Baptism, if you wanted to be literal about one figure of speech, you would need to apply each of them consistently, ending in nonsense sacramentally: not surprising, since that is not the topic. We are dealing with alignment in spirit with aspects of His life, under various botanical or penal or grave-yard aspects.

This is what it means to be BAPTISED INTO CHRIST vitally (I Corinthians 12:13), by the Holy Spirit brought into Christ. This is spiritual not symbolic. It is gloriously spiritual, not comically sacramental. The New Covenant is in His blood (Matthew 26:28), and thereby you share in its provisions, so gaining its effects - and THAT is the theme of Paul here: living and looking like a Christian in actual spiritual reality, dynamically indwelt and realistically transmuted, and not being merely formal and dysfunctional. Not only is it not sacramental, it is an antidote to sacramentalism; he is showing the deeper spiritual significance of what you do, not talking pictures about what is inadequately realised.

More bluntly, it is saying this - (the KEY Romans 6:3):-

  • When you are "baptised into Christ", it is into His DEATH you come - you die, the sinning personality, and come to life anew: so baptism is into His burial, into this and not into licence. Life starts with planting with Him, and He, not libido, is Lord; with crucifixion with Him, the present and effectual remedy to sin, as He also is its atonement. The issue is CHRIST, the living Son of God in His strength and His amazing remedy, not symbols in their weakness - you'll see the apostle dwelling on this sort of issue further in Romans 8:3. Of course, as Paul tells the Corinthians (1:25), the WEAKNESS of God - His self-imposed vulnerability on the Cross - is stronger than men.

It is His modus operandi, and there, incidentally, you see more on ... POVERTY OF SPIRIT.

Thus NOT ONLY is the topic nothing to do with sacraments; it transcends them in a reality teaching that is explicit; and not only is this so, the topic is a specific about Christian development, not beginnings; and more than this also, the figures are varied, and not at all possessed of a common denominator which fits any concept of the way to baptise. This is gross irrelevance; and past that, totally inapplicable in any case, to any idea of anyone at all, if treated fully.

Q: Is there more on this mode ?

A: Indeed yes. In Isaiah 52:15 and Ezekiel 36:25, when (see SMR Ch.9) the Jews come in numbers to the Lord, the mode of application is SPRINKLING.

That is partly because, you see, purificatory mode and sprinkling are all but synonymous in the formal emphasis of the matter at Old Testament level, and this pictures, where not fulfilled, apply. Isaiah 52:15 is especially interesting, as it says: SO SHALL HE SPRINKLE MANY NATIONS.

The thought is immense: the JEWISH MESSIAH, rejected for the time (Romans 11 - only a time) by His own people, becomes a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6) and so, as if they were part of it all, HE sprinkles them (Gentiles of all people! the thought might have been - see Isaiah 65:10-13).

What then ? HE sprinkles ... THE GENTILES! the OTHER nations - those of them who believe (Isaiah 53:1 brings that out acutely). It is the Gentile nations who now in significant measure become accessible and receive this spiritual surgery at His hands. That is, the "sprinkling" with His blood is obviously, and biologically, necessarily symbolic; but it is a salvation "in the body of His flesh through death" - Colossians 1:22, which they receive. As to the mode, it is one of sprinkling with blood; just as the Jews, coming at last to Him, whose blood is once for all shed, so that there is NO MORE SACRIFICE (Hebrews 9:12,25) are sprinkled at reception in that time - with WATER!


Q: I am convinced about this least important part: HOW it is done. I am clearer about the more important part, WHAT it means. BUT WHO get it ? You see people storming away about believers' baptism, infant baptism, and there seems quite a division.

A:There is. In the Reformation, the Baptist or believers' baptism position was not in favour at all, and anabaptists, as they were called, had rather a hard time. They insisted on being baptised again, after perhaps being baptised as infants, and so had it twice. Many felt this rather gross; and various anabaptist movements were associated with rash and untimely apocalyptic ideas, so that the movement had less favour than many of its exponents have now.

Q: Where then can we find the answer ?

A: Where indeed, if not from the Bible (II Timothy 3:16) to which we are directed to turn, and which, being the word of the Lord (Isaiah 8:20, II Peter 3:16, see Appendix D SMR), is the final word.

Q: What then is the fact ?

A: The fact is this. In Colossians 2:11-12 we are informed that if one has been baptised, then one has been circumcised - indeed, circumcised with "the circumcision of Christ" - that which the unchanging Saviour (Isaiah 43:11) imparts... Obviously, this is not literal, as water does not perform a surgical operation, whether sprinkled or poured. It is the MEANING of the one which is thus Biblically INCORPORATED in the MEANING of the other.

Baptism is the circumcision of Christ, we thus learn, and HE has acted as the LORD of the Old Testament (John 8:58, Philippians 2:10). WHAT however is that meaning in the case of circumcision ? It is easy to take a Biblical Concordance, such as I suggested earlier you should obtain, and simply follow many instances of the use of the concept of circumcision in the Old Testament.

One of the most striking is this: You are uncircumcised in heart! God protests to Israel, meaning that they lack purification, transformation, cleansing and unity with Himself. That is found in Jeremiah 9:26, and it is repeated by Stephen, as recorded in Acts 7:51, where it is joined with "stiff-necked", signifying by indirection, that being circumcised in heart would mean, being biddable, devoted, willing in the presence of the Lord, acknowledging Him and being activated by Him in loyalty. This, moreover, is in the context of a call for glorying in the LORD HIMSELF ONLY, and KNOWING Him in His life. Thus (Jeremiah 9:23):

"Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him who glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord."

In fact, Paul's remonstrance that if you are "baptised" into Christ, you are crucified with Him in Romans 6, is precisely to the same effect in its kernel. HOW be circumcised when your hearts are alert to sin, dull to hear, slow to believe, inclined to stray from covenantal directions: what in the world is such a circumcision as that! is the cry of Jeremiah. UNCIRCUMCISED IN HEART! comes the divine irony through the prophet. The clash is total: all is required.

"Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked. For the LORD you God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God... who does not regard persons, nor take reward", cries Moses in the midst of the rehearsing of the covenant history, in Deuteronomy 10, before the face of the Almighty. There are no formalistic exceptions in whom the realities of the covenant are assumed though they are forsaken, where God is mocked in specious spirituality.

So Paul in the New Covenant asks: DID YOU NOT KNOW that as many of you as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death!" - and also into His life, living into the very presence of God (Romans 6:1-11). BAPTISM, says Peter (I Peter 3:21) is NOT a matter of clean bodies but of GOOD CONSCIENCE towards God through the resurrection of Christ!

The outward rites are inward wrongs, redoubled, when they find people happy to "belong" but unwilling to live in the manner to which GOD would have them accustomed! The clash is total. Colossians 2 carries the case to its direct format, even stating that if they are BAPTISED, then they ARE circumcised without hands. Same doctor, same case, same intention: all is required.

Q: What then does this show us to the point ?

A: This: that circumcision (and you can verify this in scores of Old Testament sites as well) means just what Christian baptism does. God has not in fact changed (He stresses this in Malachi 3:6), and His covenant, Old or New is just the same in this, that sin, sacrifice, love and mercy are in place from the same God for the same purpose.

In the Old, animals took the picture as sacrifices, in the New, Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Yet, as Romans 4 makes stridently clear, the gospel which Abraham believed is just the same as that at present. The law was a teacher to make our sin seem as serious as it is; but the grace, love, mercy, sacrifice which no man can provide, but God only: all this is precisely the same and has never changed throughout this time.

In fact, justification by faith is just the same, and remains immutable (Hebrews 6:17, 9:26-27 cf. Psalm 32, cited by Paul in Romans 4:7-8, and used by David around 1000 B.C., long after Abraham). What does Paul say of Abraham ? This which we read - Romans 4:20-25:

  • He did not stagger at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him, but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him who raised up Jesus, our Lord, from the dead: who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification."

Baptism, circumcision is the way in, and it
symbolises what you come to, your arrival location and situation, your grant-making sovereign, your life providing Lord: God in His covenant of new life, through penalty bearing provisions (Genesis 22:11-14, Leviticus 17:11, 16:15ff., Isaiah 53:1-6), and His own power to save,

  • who is "mighty to save" (Isaiah 63:1), and
  • in whom is that word, which is to be followed, in unity of spirit and heart with Himself, who covers you with His faithfulness, and leads you with His goodness (Deuteronomy 12, John 14:21-23).

It is time to summarise a little, and proceed at the same time, to the next questions.

Q: What then are these ?

A: To whom is baptism to be given, and when ?


Q: Why don't you expound the thing now more fully with overall conspectus?

A: Very well.

So then, circumcision is an introductory rite for the SAME type of covenant as that for which BAPTISM applies (Acts 3:38-39). They have the same meaning, and the covenantal meaning of circumcision included God's desire for this formal application of the covenant sign and seal to a child, so much so indeed, as seen in Exodus 4:24-26, that he threatened Moses with death, if he declined so to put this authorised seal on his young son. Paul expressly parallels the two, and indeed goes much further.

He asserts the content of the one to incorporate, to include that of the other. BAPTISM has all the content of circumcision; it is "the circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11). The realities of the one are implicit in the realities of the other. So far from divorcing in ANY way the meaning and structure of circumcision from that of baptism, Paul goes to the extraordinary and in one way bold length of alluding to the whole burial, planting, crucifixion with Christ on the part of the Christian, in terms of "the circumcision of Christ".

The concepts are allied to the point of identity of core, message, meaning; and to invoke what you wish to put to death, substituting for it with a central qualification of new restrictions, is hardly the way to do it! If children are to be excised, removed, abstracted, dealt a void hand in this thing now that the New Testament has shown God's face in Christ Jesus, then to invoke it in the NEW tender mercies which are so far removed from their symbolism in children, and the force and necessity of that symbolism, would be to invoke a blunt instrument for a surgical operation.

SYMBOLS are NOT here removed; they are replaced. They ALWAYS had a meaning, and a place of operation, and the meaning always symbolised what was to come when faith came to the one now in infant of days. Here the identity of MEANING, of what the symbols represented, is made clear. If however the POINT OF APPLICATION of the new SYMBOL is to be such that the CHIEF recipient of old time,  is to be EXCLUDED, it would be more than confusing to use the two terms in this interchangeable way, after the practice of thousands of years, while without saying so, removing the place where it must chiefly be placed - the infant, from what it was to what it is now assumed by Baptists to be!

IF the principles were to be so changed that the symbol now COULD not and SHOULD not be used to represent these things as the basis for life, where before they HAD TO BE USED as a CRUCIAL MATTER for that same purpose, then the very content would vary. God would be a different God, of a different mind, another attitude, variable principles, and equivalence would be hence denied for that very reason. Yet it is affirmed! Moreover, as to Him, His ways are everlasting (Habakkuk 3:6), there is no shadow of variation in Him (James 1:17).

What then ? as to this circumcision here in Colossians 2:11ff., it is true that this is speaking in terms of meaning; but then, that is our point. The MEANINGS are identical to the point at least, that baptism has all of circumcision in it, with NOTHING left over.

If when the one is done, you HAVE the other, this has to be so. Otherwise, when you had the one, you would NOT have the other. It is even spoken of, moreover, in terms of Christ's circumcision! There is a medley of equivalence if you wish!

Against any such views of variability of priniciple, the apostle however affirms this:

  • that when you have the one you DO have the other. The nature of the one is the nature of the other; the function of the one is the function of the other; the place and status of the one is that of the other.


  • you CANNOT exclude the first if you have the second, or excise circumcision if you have baptism without doing violence to the words of this master builder of the church of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 3:10). Some say, it looks better this way; but looks often seem better for some stuffy substitute of flesh for truth, human will for divine sovereignty, human contrivance for divine command. The simple covering of sprinkling is enough, and speaks not of some dirge like dripping mass arising anti-triumphant to 'new life', but of a overall oversight and complete envelopment. As Christ said of the foot-washing occurrence, illustrating the principle:
  • "He who is washed does not need except to wash his feet, but is entirely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you" - John 13:10. Undue attention to the ceremony can conceal the necessity of what it conveys! The sprinkling began in blood and continues in water, all the necessary blood having been spilled in that of Christ, infinitely capable as it speaks of His life given in sacrifice, and when it is HIS, it IS sufficient! Being more liberal with water for the sake of its cheapness or new concepts of its washing - as if the thing were a bathroom exercise (against I Peter 3:21) merely misses the point, innovates and distances from the real concept of covenantal acceptance of the whole person, with ALL the beauties of the covenant, not some one merely taken apart. Indeed, this often leads all too well, to the concept of free-will as if God were an object in a super-market to be bought when one wishes, on demand, by one's own methods and desire, not a gracious sovereign to be received gratefully at HIS!

Both the concept of innovation and that of alienation to be newly aligned compete for mastery in these human contrivances. Though the symbols are not the end of the world in themselves, the attitude of invention conveys so readily a philosophy of one's own, far removed from the realities of the outrage of God mercifully met in Christ, who covers one in that gracious goodness which cost so much and is applied by a miracle of mercy. True it is but symbol; but the symbol is placed to reach and to teach, and WHAT it teaches is crucial. ALWAYS when God teaches, it is essential to listen and to be still! (Habakkuk 2:20).

Foolish presumption can lead not merely to unauthorised change, but express and forward incorrect attitudes and THESE in turn can readily assist alien views to grow and so invade the vigour of the faith, erode the teaching and interfere, like pollutants in good, with the growth and even the health. That in its turn can molest the church, facilitate its turning to new thought from MAN instead of TRUE thought from God, compromise its testimony and impede its testimony of, to and through the truth.

  • Such developments do not help the world to see Christ. This is indeed therefore a just domain of Christian Apologetics.

What do we have then ? Spiritual equivalence is asserted to this point, so that baptism has incorporated circumcision. What is invoked is applied; but it is invoked with indeed a flash of drama! The principle is asserted, be the applications what they will! Nothing is novel, nothing is denied; all is affirmed and all is fulfilled. Such is the way when it is the word of God with which one deals (Proverbs 8:8, Isaiah 45:26, Matthew 5:17-29).

NOT ONLY is there the whole portmanteau of spiritual principles which the Lord SO OFTEN reviewed and enforced in the Old Covenant days, what Paul calls the ROOTS of the olive tree in which the Jews lived, and into which we Gentiles have been "grafted": and these are clear on the collective character of the family unit before the Lord in the covenant, as an operating unit, in addition to individual significance; but there is ALSO this further feature which commands our attention.

THIS area IN PARTICULAR is displayed by Paul as to the meaning and place of CIRCUMCISION/BAPTISM: that baptism conveys circumcision now that it is in its New Covenant place. Circumcision? Something expressly and chiefly for CHILDREN, for INFANTS of days is invoked by Paul as JUST WHAT baptism is saying, is featuring, is focussing. Is it to be imagined, then, that the Lord of all clarity is saying this? To express it is to deny it: for it would be an absurdity and a horror indeed! Let us consider just where it leads, to follow the ANTI-infant baptism line. It would be as if the Lord were to speak in some such way as this:

·       Oh, I am indeed unchanging, and have in the most emphatic manner possible made it clear that the family, the household MUST receive the emblem of the covenant at or near the time of BIRTH, in a symbol. NOW however I say that BAPTISM really INCORPORATES this CIRCUMCISION. Let us however not imagine that I still approve of those principles of circumcision; for in fact I do not like any more the whole idea of doing such things to the young. {This however is not only change: it is TRANSFORMATION of principles.}

·       Where before I INSISTED that the males be circumcised for THIS PURPOSE OF IDENTIFICATION AND DISPLAY AND TESTIMONY of the whole specialised core of the covenant, now that the covenant has FLOWERED from the Old Covenant into the New one, I really somehow feel it differently. It just does not take me, any more; I guess I have changed my mind or feelings or something. {This would be flat contradiction.}

·       It WAS a matter of PRIME principle, but now I am averse to it! Oh! I am not telling you of this spectacular change of heart or mind or both which somehow has just happened in Me; on the contrary, I am paralleling circumcision and baptism to the last degree. Somehow you may work it out. Whereas before I threatened death to Moses if he did NOT see it and do it faithfully, before all and without fear, now you will just have to understand WHILE I so intimately parallel both the two rites and the two covenants, in their meaning, that I am NOW throwing out the main part of the one which I am paralleling, and a kernel element of the other; and do NOT, repeat NOT want you to continue as if I had ever said anything on the subject before! {Double contradiction.}

God however is not so mocked. Our God foreknows all, understands all, is clear and uncontrived, keeps His words, and changes not. Such changeability, inefficiency and misleading as would here be implied in terms of such mutation: it is far from Him.

He does NOT state cardinal principles of the UTMOST importance, ONLY to junk them. He does NOT junk them without saying so. He does NOT, in the face of such things, so speak while telling us that the old and the new are a case of fulfilment and NOT abrogation, or dismissal of the old. He does NOT then tell us that the one SPECIAL covenantal feature in view is DISMISSED in the New version, while affirming that NOTHING is contradicted or removed from its place, but ONLY fulfilled.

He does NOT, then, tell us that the two SPECIAL features, circumcision and baptism, NECESSARY as SYMBOLS but NOT AT ALL having salvation within them, are parallel so that having one is to have the other, while secretly and in complete contradiction of the whole essence of the one, removing it from the parallel, WITHOUT SAYING SO! God is not a mocker, is not confused, is not variable, nor is there any flicker in Him; nor is He available with a mouth into which we put artificial teeth. It is our EARS we need to exercise when He speaks, not our hands, to make up our thoughts and to supply them to His mouth. "DO NOT ADD TO HIS WORDS LEST HE REBUKE YOU AND YOU BE FOUND A LIAR!" is startling relevant here (Proverbs 30:6).

Let us then face it. Does this allow the view that the infant component of the COVENANT is irrelevant now? Does this identification of covenantal meaning allow a reduction in a MAJOR feature of it? Or does the specification of this particular aspect allow a reduction in a major feature in it, which God expressly parallels, incorporating the one in the terms of the other?

NOT in the case of baptism, or it could not incorporate circumcision. The principles would be averse, converse, juttingly contrary the one to the other. To pursue such a case, one would be insisting on rules unknown in the Old Covenant, on particulars CONTRARY to its whole role and procedure. However, we are not treated to a novelty: far from it. The RITES are paralleled, composed, compounded, conjoined. Let not man put asunder what God has joined! Further, in Acts 2, already cited, we find this: that the promise is "to you and to your children". The general is a fulfilment, the particular is a fulfilment, and the one incorporates and does not reject the wisdom or roots of the other. There is therefore no option. Infants MUST be baptised.

Of course, we realise that some things take reflection, so that this is not REQUIRED in Presbyterian churches of members; for it is important that people ponder and develop and understand, not being merely jostled into conformity at the outset, except in the things essential. That is where the more sacramentalist approach will often be seen, in undue emphasis on this or that at the outset. Nevertheless,  the TEACHING is clear and assured, lest we fail anyone, and it is NOT made to appear uncertain. Omission of it is omission of sound doctrine, and we look for all to grow, though of course there is no FORCED growth. We leave it to the Lord, having made it clear in teaching.

That reference of Peter to children in Acts 2, moreover, where "the promise is to you and to your children" would have been singularly unfortunate if it had meant that the children were now to wait long before the covenantal involvement became theirs, whereas previously, in the Old Testament 'shadow' for which Christ is the Substance (Hebrews 8-10), there were not only immediate beneficiaries, but primary and utterly essentiallly so. It would be in the utmost degree contradictory, to affirm this were it to be implied that  the excision of children was in mind for the application of the New Covenant:  if indeed it was to indicate that their part was to be truncated, that the scope of the covenant's formal impact by rite, was now circumscribed to the exclusion of ... children, that their coverage was drastically reduced. This would rather resemble the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland, where nothing, nothing at all means what it seems.

 'Fulfilment' - Matthew 5:17-20 - would that be such a thing ? Quite the contrary, this would be abortion, not consummation! To abort the law, however, is PRECISELY what Christ said He had NOT come to do! If one "makes" Him do it, then one does it alone, mouthing an effect without other author than oneself. With Him, this is far from wise, for no man ever manipulated or will manipulate HIM! Inclusion  of infant children from the sacrament of baptism is both necessary and beautiful. As always, the sacramental, covenantal impact of this introductory rite is to STAMP the child with the SIGNIFICANCE of what is necessary for salvation. Circumcision NEVER saved; it was a symbolic remonstrance, and offering of identity for the child of a GODLY family, fearlessly unashamed in an often hostile world, to be marked as belonging while merely under the parental roof, to a family of the Lord's people in their covenantal relationship to God.

Reference to Rome's horrid, anti-scriptural,  ex opere operantis concept of MAKING the child  a Christian by baptism (or regenerating, with automatic expunging of precedent sins, with significant carry-over to Lutheran concepts of baptismal regeneration,  despite the irrevocability of  I John 3:9, the denunciations of Isaiah 1 and the correlative phenomenon of many baptised not becoming Christians) is no more excuse for refusing to obey the testimony of scripture, than would be the removal of the Lord's Supper, because some have transformed it horribly into an idolatrous 'Mass' (cf. SMR pp. 1086, 1088Cff).

Such is an irrelevant remonstrance based on a pathology from which the scripture has most carefully removed both baptism and circumcision (cf. I Peter 3:21, Jeremiah 9:25-26).

In Deuteronomy 29:11-12 (cf. 1:39) , we find ALL the people brought together for the covenantal assemblage, even the children and little ones too, "who had no knowledge of good from evil" to the issues in hand; and the words are addressed to all. Whether conscious of it or not, cognisant of it or not, able to appreciate its portent, or not: they are ALL involved in the requisitioned covenantal assemblage. It is an assemblage for covenantal purposes, and the children are not there for convenience, but by command.

They bear of course the covenantal seal, for how would they fail to have what God had engendered marked on their flesh, and how would they come as if mere prayer or hope were to the point. It is a people of the Lord, and even infants must, repeat, as Moses learned (Exodus 4), MUST have that divine seal and stamp of public testimony, whether they yet know good and evil, or not. That is explicit. The covenantal people so assembled, were so met by the seal and so were relevant to God as such.

The failure to see this point has perhaps been partly a result of political democracy, where individualism may hold sway to the point that everyone does his or her own thing; but family reality before the covenant commanding God, whose New Covenant is in a NEW BLOOD, but not for a new God: this is by no means removed by such preference and cultural invasion, intrusion or irrelevance.

GOD is dealing with us, not we with Him! HE it is who is the commander. God has with vigour, address and energy COMMANDED the seal on the Old Covenant child, and equated the significance of baptism with circumcision to the point that if the latter applies, then so does the former in this respect.

The command is not removed, but the equivalence is asserted. If God had desired to remove the relevance of children, then He might have indicated in Acts 2, that the promise was to the adults only, an innovation in formula, and that it would apply also to their children when they were at some relevant age, so that in essence no more would they be children. He might have done this, to remove the insistence of centuries; but He did the precise OPPOSITE. It was to them and to their children; and so it always had been in terms of the seal, the covenantal application, and the non-saving nature of this symbol, while it was a testimonial necessity.

The normal completeness of the family, indicated as in Acts 16 as for Abraham, concerning the covenant whether of circumcision or baptism, is "household". That term remains for the household of the newly converted Philippians gaoler. A saved household does NOT (and a godly home never did) MEAN that all were converted; but it DID mean that the children, not yet knowing good or evil, were SANCTIFIED as in I Corinthians 7. The family as a unit were in the right relationship with God, with the symbol on all, and the reality to which it referred in some. Nothing was excluded from the divine covenantal eye; and it was essential that this should be so. It is not that the sacrament saves, but that its omission saves the word of God from application. The call is there.

It remains so. When God alters His word, He says so; His understanding of mankind ? Never. He does not change and truth is His domain, while Christ IS the truth. His ways do not change.

His wishes are clear; and they are  not touched. What HE has said in principle and practice, in form and formula, remains except in this, that NOW it may be administered to ALL. Males are no more by the nature of the action the only ones included. Male and female are all one in Christ Jesus, and the promise is not merely, in its applications, to the male children, but to "YOUR CHILDREN."

ALL that is touched in the effort to exclude the children is the obedience to the biblical concepts and fixities, and the willingness to understand once and for all that when God does NOT mean household to be understood, but adults, He is perfectly well able to say so; and when He DOES wish to indicate a major change in attitude to the impact of covenant on children, He does not indicate the promise as to adult and children alike, or the relevance to household in precisely the fixed and millenium-old manner.  Such is to defile the purity of His word, and the clarity of His utterance in favour of simple variation in thought on the part of the reader, then attributed by misled confusion to the Lord! Such a change however He has never said, but rather has He insisted on the equivalence which checking of the meaning of both sacraments independently shows.

There are some ways of being contrary, and to assume that continuity of phrase and expression, and emphasis on children in the entry mode relative to the New Covenant as in Acts 2, Acts 16,  together is an index to a vast and total overhaul so that what was once MEANT for children CHIEFLY  (circumcision - adults added in the 'rare' cases of their not having been there when young, or new conversions) was now not NOT ALLOWED TO COVER THEM at all: this is one of the best.

That is to say, it is one of the worst defilements of liberty so to enact in the face of the face of the Lord, and His mouth! REMAIN UNLESS FULFILLED, is the command of Christ (Matthew 5:17ff.), and NOTHING is fulfilled about God's attitude to children by symbolic venue in terms of the equivalent conceptions of circumcision and baptism to which Paul so emphatically refers. The blood is fulfilled in Christ's, but the child is not fulfilled in His death. It remains not knowing good or evil, but covered symbolically as before. We do not change what God has not changed, or make an excuse of a fulfilment, to excise what is not so.

This bring us to Joshua, who learned that the Lord is indeed the COMMANDER (Joshua 5:13ff.).

The same situation occurs likewise in Joshua 8:30-35, where we read that

  • "Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel .. and they offered on it burnt offerings .... and there in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses .... The all Israel, with their elders and officers and judge, stood on either side of the ark before the priests ... And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers were living among them."

Again, in II Chronicles 20:13 is the same participation in explicit presence (along with "strangers" expressly noted in the Joshua case), as a whole covenant people; for after all, it happens to one, then to all if the battle fails; and many is the battle fought with liberalism, modernism, neo-evangelicism and the unruly hordes of revisionism, often imported direct from "abroad", outside the kingdom, from the current whims of the world, and allowed to infest the thinking of the people.

Here in trial, Jehoshaphat the godly king is confronted with an evil assault on his people, and he rehearses with eminent reasonableness before the Lord, the case of the situation, and how it has come. "Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord ..." We read in this case that

  • "all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel" who announced, "Tomorrow go down against them...You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you" - from II Chron.20:4-17.

A difference is made where immaturity prevents understanding, indeed, and a crucial one in this case of responsibility for errors: but nothing alters the covenantal assemblage, seal, overall totality of the people. Relating in different respects to the covenant, they are all embraced, nevertheless, ex officio, and pro forma and in terms of the reality of families as bearing in their midst the young, whose futures are so closely related, as a stamped, sealed and called people.

To be sure, many are called but few are chosen; but the assemblage speaks for itself. To this body, God addresses Himself by covenant. Christians too are as to church, a "special people", and a "holy nation" (I Peter 2:9) not differentiated by alteration, but conjoined by language to the attitudes God has expressed so eloquently, constantly and categorically. God, as it were, goes out of His way to emphasise this continuity of approach BY the very use of such terms as those just quoted.

The "circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11), then, is that which effects the stated results, the spiritual activity correlative to circumcision; and this does NOT need to be circumcised, but taken just as it is! The interplay of the two Old and New, is so intense and so constant and so central and so peripheral that it is a matter of the same language, "shadows" yielding to "substance" (Hebrews 10;1), but let us emphasise, it is to the substance which cast the same shadows! Children do not evaporate but come into their more substantial involvement in both genders, in a covenant now consummated at Calvary.

This does NOT imply, as Deuteronomy 29:18 made very clear, any sacramentalistic ideas. IF there were unbelief, then there was NO benefit; rather indeed, it was worse, for the negatives of the covenant were intense and at times extreme. There never was any benefit then, for fraud; there never has been, never is and never will be! Treachery is never appreciated. Being near with the lips but far in the heart is never acceptable (Isaiah 29:13)! Reality counts and it was and is required.

Thus if baptism is to incorporate circumcision at the level of meaning, then ONE part of the covenant to which circumcision was unquestionably the sacramental and essential entry, in terms of procedure, was this TOTALITY concept for ALL. The circumcision of Christ cannot be invoked if it involves a radical surgery on the whole concept of circumcision; for otherwise, this would be an invitation to disaster, an activation of ruin, a focussing of the misleading. Indeed, circumcision was not merely APPLICABLE to children: THEY were its CORE and basic CONTENT for operation. It ALWAYS was more direct for the proselyte who could understand, on becoming a Jew; it NEVER was exempted because the young of the believers could not comprehend.

This included those who were merely the infants of those who were actively and consciously involved. Indeed, DAYS OLD ONLY was the normal PRESCRIPTION FOR IT! God does not change. Unless therefore HE says differently, His principles, ideas, attitudes and preferences remain as binding as the sun as a source of heat! Prescriptive details may vary; substantial principles do not. Shadows are fulfilled; their substance then ARRIVES, and is not at all NEGATED! The circumcision of Christ will lack nothing in intent, in coverage, that the original held. It may extend - it does not contract. It may amplify, it does not suppress.

Literally, Colossians is this: In whom you are circumcised ... having been baptised. The point here: the CONCEPT of COVENANTAL OBLIGATION AND ENTRANCE WAS SECURELY ALLIED AND ALIGNED WITH CIRCUMCISION, AND IT IS NOW THE CASE THAT WHAT THAT DID, BAPTISM NOW DOES. NOTHING in the nature of the realities does it bring about per se. It signifies. But WHAT IT SIGNIFIES in the one case, the old one, as in the other, the new one, is such that the new one swallows up all of the old. They are correlative concepts - we have indeed, correlative covenants, correlative concepts, correlative initiatory rites under the sovereign eye of the unchanging God who tells His mind to His people, and reproves those who tell their minds in His name! (At the limit, we have Jeremiah 23:21,28-29.)

If however children were now emphatically NOT to receive the covenantal emblem, then equally emphatically these twin terms would NOT be equivalents at all. They would rather signify an extreme division, departure and change. There would be covenantal rupture, schism of rites, disruption of the divine assertion both of non-abrogation of the law (Matthew 5:17-19) and of divine preference in specific covenantal commitment.. There would be, as it were, war in heaven, and those ideas of REQUIRING impact covenantally on babes on the 8th day after birth, would be now those REFUSING it till the 14th year or so. INSTEAD of having a babe unable to know what was going on, yet COVENANTALLY INVOLVED BY SYMBOL, in the Old Testament (God's unquestionable and emphatic desire), you would have a vast multitude of the now covenantally uprooted REQUIRED to absent themselves from such a provision, in the New...

No more would this covenant seal constitute an emblem for all the family, and a message to all, and an indication for all of the ONLY way in which God would deal with men. Now on this strangely imagined basis, in the New Testament, with the "promise to you and to your children" ringing in their ears, the Jews would have to understand this, on this model: that God had changed His entire disposition about families, about totality, about the need to have infants participate as a part of the household in the formal and authorised covenantal symbol of entry.

Themes would be scattered, conceptions ruptured, approaches brought into twentieth century democratic concepts instead of divine sovereignty ones. We would modernise Christianity till God was a different God. His ideas on education, on the covenant in it, would be radically transformed. But it is God who transforms us, not we called to transform... Him! God does not develop or evolve, but swears in Malachi:


Do you then think that some people deliberately deny this privilege to their children?

A: No! let me be clear. I am not saying that this sort of exclusion and denial to children is the intention of those who refuse to place this seal on their children. It may be; it may not. It is an area where they do not see. I am saying this: that this does deprive the children of what God has once and for all made clear is His will for children, whatever the format; and God has formally paralleled the two seals, saying that if you have the one you have the other.

Q: Could you then expound the concept of the parallel further for me?

A: Yes! and let me do it, first of all, in terms of a question. Does He parallel them BY saying so, in order to mutate the one WITHOUT saying so! Parallel explicit, is this licence for innovation? The standard of reference having been stated, are we then despite all, to disperse the discipline, subtract the coverage and render anaemic the fulness of what is invoked? Or mutate for our convenience what God has once stated, and that in principles of the utmost rigour?

HOW! If you had the one, you would have ONE set of beliefs, and if you had the other, you would have the different set of beliefs, and they are enormously divergent in idea, in ideology and in practice. One approach refuses God's formal action when the child is not consciously aware of CHOICES and so on; the other approach however states that "YOU HAVE NOT CHOSEN ME, BUT I HAVE CHOSEN YOU" IS WHAT Christ in fact said (John 15): so that this 'YOU MUST CHOOSE CHRIST" concept, as a criterion, is not only a mutation of the concept of God, but a rejection of it.

If however this contradiction of Christ is not the ground of this abortion of God's stated desires, then that merely makes it worse in this, that it is even more uncalled for, however wrongly.

Baptism is "circumcision made without hands" (Colossians 2:11), but not without comprehensive coverage. The two covenants are not only correlative but in perfect unison (Romans 4), preach the same justification by faith, and relate in the same principial way to their beneficiaries. If God wished to rethink it - let Him tell us! (cf. Amos 3:7, Proverbs 30:6). Yet to assume He would rethink these basics, is perhaps as much a derogation of the divine splendour as to assert that He did! Those are the first and second errors: HE did not say so; and to ASSUME He has done so is in its implication, little short of lèse-majesté.

The evidence is of neither of these negative things about God. It is expressly the contrary. Let us not imagine His words at all, far less in derogation of the divine One.

Q: Do we then have to listen with attention rather than extrapolation and intervention, to the word of God?

A: When it comes to doctrine, let GOD be the teacher, and then indeed, great shall be the peace of your children (Isaiah 54:13). THIS however requires that they be "TAUGHT OF THE LORD", NOT OF THE FLESH. When God speaks, it is well to listen, not to invent. What then, when God ALSO cardinally and categorically aligns not only the covenants themselves as in Romans 4, Hebrews 10 (where shadows become substance and the same faith is affirmed in the same salvation) in their teaching and principles, but goes further... He in fact even uses this very feature of circumcision-baptism as an express parallel, so that the one INCORPORATES the other

or entrains it

or is synthetic with it, as two brothers, or as husband and wife,

so that the one is found meaning the other ?

What then? This - in view of these things:

to render this null is DOUBLY to nullify what God says. This then is the third error; and as to the mistake made:

  • 1) it is to invent,
  • 2) it is derogatively to invent and
  • 3) it is to invent in the face of express confirmation not only of the covenantal realities but of the twin-ship of the modes in view, in particular.

It is nothing less than this - a treble division from the word. The basis of the departure from the word may be a fear of the error of baptismal regeneration, or of church salvation; but these things are abhorrent in any case, and if taught, should be fought: but what should not be fought is this, that the word of God so teaches, always did, and has never changed this approach to the young.

No! Let us turn and if need be return to what HE declares!

Let me add this: Luke 1:21-24 shows Jesus being presented at the Temple. There is an entire covenantal structure into which He is entering. A sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves is made. THAT is internalisation of the covenant if anything could be. The child is AMIDST the procedures, not AWAITING THEM! He is part of the household and hence part of what the people of God believe and want and do; and whatever the future, this is the present, this is the child, these are the parents, and this is the pictographic, and indeed sacrificial reality. So GOD HIMSELF elected to be used when in infancy, by HIS OWN PRESCRIPTION. And as to Him ? HE IS the TRUTH!*2

Let us emphasise this, that just as prescriptively, Christ STATED with SEVERE SOLEMNITY that He had NOT come to abort or destroy the LAW, but to fulfil it. "Fulfilling" this aspect is not to reject it! and removing this is to destroy it. Again, the same result, we are not free to fiddle with the divine covenantal and conceptual structure re sins, families, sacrifices, relevances, involvements. As they were in principle, so they are. There the word of God rules; there the stated purpose of Jesus Christ is HONOURED, and not dishonoured. Indeed, whatever WE do, HE will act on it; for He is Lord.

HENCE the Philippian gaoler's HOUSEHOLD, exactly the word used in the Old Testament Hebrew equivalent, is baptised, and so is Lydia's (Acts 16:15,30-33). HOUSEHOLDS were and remained the notional entity in this case. THEY REMAIN AS THEY WERE: HISTORY AND THE CONTEMPORARY IN WEDLOCK IN THE TESTAMENTS. To assume that what was meant was this: that only older persons were present, is to assume in excess of the word of God. It uses the term always used, with doubtless the traditional meaning ESTABLISHED IN A MULTITUDE OF REFERENCES INTERNAL TO THE BIBLE, THE WORD OF GOD, THE OVERALL CONTEXT. If we take it as it comes, not adding to the concept or subtracting, not enforcing contrary and novel concepts but using the cultural, religious and emphatic norm: then households mean whatever there are, just as they always did. They are the units explicitly invoked for the baptism.

Thus, not only does God swear by Himself that He does not change; He equates the concepts, parallels the significance of the rites and uses the same terminology that applies to what was the Old Testament insistence which He made, in the New Testament. And as to God, He is a CLEAR writer, in His words being nothing twisted or crooked (Proverbs 8).

Finally, if you think God is going to change His mind, and agree with principles never formulated by Himself and written to us, you are adding to the word of God. If God wants to develop a theme, leave that to Him. If you want to, by all means, but please to not impute your ideas to Him.

"WITH WHOM", asks Isaiah, "TOOK HE COUNSEL ?"(40:14-15).

I think we can both answer that one. He speaks His mind, and what He says, stands unless He develops it. When infinity of understanding stands on one side, and we on the other, the presumption of adding our thoughts to His is all but unthinkable.

In terms then (Proverbs 30:6) of His insistences and usages, and the examples (II Timothy 3:16), and the terminology, and the equated concepts, we are simply not at liberty to make alterations to the household of faith. He has TOLD us what to do and what to go by; let us then do it!

What then ?

Infants therefore should be baptised.
However, just as God said He would destroy the circumcised with the uncircumcised (Jeremiah 9:25),
so we have no trust in baptism at all.

To summarise: Baptism is given to those who receive Christ, to whom it has not already been given, in terms of the covenantal special people. In Acts 2:38-39, we see this category in focus, since Jews in general had not been using such a sacrament. Hence ALL the people lacked it. Hence they all needed it, none having been involved before in Christian baptism, in the nature of the case. THIS baptism was in fulfilment for the New Covenant, in terms of the payment now made.

Expressly then Peter cried to them that this which he proclaimed was for them and for their children. This was fitting, traditional, affirmed in the divine environs of revealed procedure and hence custom: the exact opposite to this - some covenant divorced from children - was affirmed. "REPENT AND BE BAPTISED... FOR THE PROMISE IS TO YOU AND TO YOUR CHILDREN..."

So far from any change in view, there is the standard covenantal affirmation which embraces the household of faith, the household of the believers: and this? It is the NEW COVENANT IN MY BLOOD which Christ declared, the fulfilment and not in anything the abrogation of the old as He also affirmed. So it was likewise in Acts 16:15 and 16:31. God consistently declares in terms of continuity of principle and concept; and to believe otherwise is to insert words into the divine mouth, which neither needs nor accepts such ... dentistry.

Q: Surely. But you were just saying this: that baptism as a sacrament does not save us,
were you not ?

A: This is correct.


Q: What ? After all that, you do not propose to have it save us at all ?

A: Of course not. I Peter 3:21 tells us this - that baptism saves us.

Q: What!!

A: ... and it goes on to say this: The baptism he refers to is NOT the removal of the dirt of the flesh, but the witness of a good conscience towards God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

You see right here how the term can be used. This "baptism" is a witness of a conscience! It is the same idea of submission, of trust and allegiance*1, of acceptance and adoption, of receiving the authorised blessing, in terms of a person who TRANSMUTES us, regenerating us as our Saviour, just as He also accepts us.

Q: But what has Noah to do with it ? It refers there I think to Noah and his ark, a way of salvation which now, to change the figure, is to be Christ and His resurrection. It is as if He were the new ark, and we the new escapees from a doomed world, and we are baptised by the touching of the bottom of the ark on the thrashing waters, like a sort of baptism. It is THROUGH FAITH in our new ark that this comes. Is that then the meaning of this ?

A: Certainly. Our ark is indeed ascended into heaven where like an anchor, the whole vessel, it stays as our sure guarantee (Hebrews 6:18-20). From there He will come to remove us when the time comes, as the ark removed Noah from the destruction. It is then however not merely to be a removal, but a claiming of the redeemed who are His (I Thessalonians 4).

Thus no sacrament saves anyone. When you have directly involvement personally, it is He who is symbolised in the action and undertaking He has stipulated, He who has done the works fitting for salvation Himself, who should be trusted: this ceremonial action itself a seal, not a substitute.

That is ONE reason why it should not be emphasised as if it were a just criterion of division (anti-sacramentalist would be better, making it clear, for example, that the marriage ring is not at all the marriage!). It is faith in the crucified and bodily resurrected Jesus Christ, in His saving power and guilt-ridding work, that is the necessity for salvation. Baptism merely attests it. THIS ATTESTATION HOWEVER IS REQUIRED WITHOUT EXCEPTION, now as in the days when the patterns of things to come were in place (i.e. temple and sacrifices, before Christ and His own offering - Hebrews 8-10).

It is required of ALL who are in the Christian family. Standing orders do not change; and when they are changed by those who do not have the authority to do this, it is ... at best confusion and disorder. Principles back of it, alien to the word of the Author, these things aggravate the assault.

Q: But are the Baptists then without ground at all ?

A: Yes, but not without some excuse. I'll seek to trace that for you.

Actually, many teach that*3 baptism does something more, in itself changes the child or changes his future, or guarantees his place in heaven (kill all the innocents, like Herod, to make sure of it ?). This not unnaturally (but we must live by supernatural graces) provokes reaction. To dispense with the abuse of the phenomenon, or feature, along with the feature itself, may be the movement of heart. Correction, however, is one thing; reaction another.

Many Baptists have their equally obnoxious (because unauthorised) equivalent, imagining that if the child be of Christian parents and (maybe ?) be dedicated, God will receive it just like that. (What then, a new massacre of the innocents? a slaying to ensure they all go to heaven!)

To move, then, from the superstitious and anti-scriptural view of baptismal regeneration as a doctrine of its nature, to believers-only baptism and its fellows, is merely to move from one radical and illicit extreme to the other; and often the fires of just dissatisfaction with the one humanistic conception leads to desire for the other.

It is better to be moderate, and accept with precision what the Bible teaches, which is neither of these, as we have shown. The same extremism of reaction is found in predestination as we show in Predestination and Freewill, and in spiritual music, as again shown in Question and Answer 13. You get it again in the millenial controversy, when various philosophies are used and pushed, instead of accurate, place by place, context by context exegesis of what is being TAUGHT RIGHT HERE, allowing the chips to fly where they will. Then you find the elements of some "camps" to have good basis, but others to be mere extremes, causing division and loosing something of the richness of the Bible in its comprehensive and overall teaching. This appears in Appendix A in The Shadow of a Mighty Rock, and elsewhere.

None of this is Biblical. GOD will hear His own people who come to Him by faith with their prayers; and it is surely true that carrying out the divinely inculcated principles He has given is an aid to access to Him, very different from any human replacing of them, unauthorised, a superficial work of supererogation on the one hand, and denudation on the other. This is indeed the more so, when He equates the relevant rites in their meaning in both Testaments.

It is possible to prevail with God, indeed, and parents would do well to do this from an early age in their marriage. I myself had much prayer about children, before deciding to seek an engagement. Why should I bring up devils! I really strove with the Lord and sought His face about this. After all, I had had to fight enough of them in seminary, it seemed, and had been persecuted around the globe. I wanted at least my own household, hard enough to bring up in Christ, to be safe.

Yes, you may seek and prevail with the Lord, as graciously He sees fit to enable this; and to be importunate with Him in your needs is Biblically authorised and commended (Luke 11:8). One may be heard BECAUSE of importunity in a good cause. It is blessed. BUT this is not to have any trust in the mere symbols. That is idolatry at worst, confusion and disorder of a high order at best. The reality is that God is not dependent on our errors in His approach to any person. He is just, God and the Lord, and does that which is right. His name is wonderful. In my Predestination and Freewill, I trace some of these things in more detail.

Q: How is this some excuse or rather extenuation for the Baptist "believers only" for baptism, concept ?

A: In this. Since some would make the symbol, the sacrament, the baptismal act a guarantee of heaven and so forth, or a weapon in a corrupt church's armoury in enslaving the people, or some such thing: then the removal of this weapon could seem helpful. Actually, this may not always have been the conscious thought, but the concept of abuse often removes the thing abused altogether, in the well known baby with the bathwater case.

It is always unfortunate, sometimes understandable; but when God is concerned, never justified. With Him, it becomes presumption.

What is needed is faith to carry on in the way given, on the concepts provided, but to do it without doubting. We do not change the structure of things divine, because of the corruption of things human. THAT merely, in the end, adds to it.

Q: But what is the point of baptism then ?

A: It is to signify, to stamp, to seal, to exhibit before all the ownership and interest in the parties concerned. If they are adults, or mature age, then it is also an exhibition of their faith. Beyond that, it attests God and this is to praise Him, showing His compassions are not in vain, that He is sought, and illustrating the things of God before the public eye. It can provide scope for testimony in the apt covenantal questions put, whether to child or parents. Further, It is a way of authority by which, having so testified publicly, the parents can approach God with confidence for everything needed for godly upbringing of the children as is required (Ephesians 6:4).

You have agreed to do as He said, realising that His covenant is expressed on your own children, as is fitting, for they are important not in some merely personal way, but in the household of faith, as those young and around the people who know the Lord, whom the Lord knows and for whom He answers; if all the pots and pans are 'holy', how much more the children! (Zechariah 14:21, I Cor. 7:14). Thus in I Cor. 7 Paul is not saying that if your children are converted they are holy, but that in the Christian household, they are 'holy' - in the contextual sense, sanctified, set apart in a way recognised and sure, certain and assured, not merely hopeful or individual.

The FAITH is individual, but as with all of Christianity, the PROVISION is objective. The traffic to heaven in prayer and for care, for counsel and for wisdom, the blessing as this continues is all arranged, organised, provided. Children are not some accretion, addition of oddments, but a direct, divinely organised continuation of the race with all their delightful features and odious possibilities; and in THIS predicament, as also in this OPPORTUNITY, there is a statutory, a spiritual, a ceremonially explicit provision and procedure, a registration and an expression for all, that THIS, your child is without barrier or mere innovation, put covenantally in the Lord's hands, so that what could seem impossible in sudden need, is not so, what could be beyond all conceivable human wisdom is not so. The channel is not merely open by faith, but opened for faith!

WITHOUT it, you could do the same. But it would be rather like refusing a key to the flat, when it is offered. It complicates things and removes the precise provision made for a specific activity. The children are not merely devoted to Him, or dedicated to Him; they ARE His - not in the sense that they are recipients per se of eternal life as yet, but in this sense, that they are yours and you are His, and you expect His covenanted help. This is one illustration of doing things decently and in order.

However some are so troubled by superstitious abuses met with, that they feel happy where the whole thing is absent ... rather like a household where there have been car accidents, not having a car. They are afraid in many cases that even if a careful and Biblical form of infant baptism be executed, then someone will trust in it, and salvation be fouled.

In this case, however, it is an issue of faith NOT to succumb to any pressures, personal or otherwise, that would put words, ideas or concepts into God's mouth, contrary to what HE has DEFINED, and RE-DEFINED.

Q: But is that all the reason for this clear case of complicating God's divinely simple provisions, on His own total conceptual platform - if I can say it that way ?

A: No. Sometimes there is another. It may often be latent. IF the Old Testament's deity were manhandled into being an evolving God...

Q: What? If you believe that rubbish, I'm going!

A: This MIS-conception is met with: and some, holding such rubbish, may then feel that the OLD Testament is not really reliable, that God did not quite make it a few thousand years ago, as He does now, in speaking His mind, in articulating His thoughts; and that now He has wiser ideas.

Q: Why that is irrational blasphemy! Who holds that ?

A: Many would hold such things, except they would prefer a different way of saying it, one carrying more dignity but no more reality. In that sort of irrational view (SMR pp. 28-32, 305-316G, 264ff., 580), and sometimes it could be simply an unconscious cultural conditioning from the world with its evolutionary absurdities and trashings of truth: then the OLD WAY of seeing it, is dispensed with, and some philosophic concepts of our Age are substituted.

What is one result of such a thrust from the clammy hand of culture, as from other revisionism of Biblical reality ? This!

Goodbye then, infants. Alas, you CAN WAIT and not reach the sort of covenantal congregational involvement - knowing or not knowing - that the divine One held so crucial and so commanded in former times! JUST WAIT, CHILD: MAN HAS SPOKEN!

Q: That settles that! As for me, I am not baptised. Should I be ?

A: Do you believe, as I begin to think you do, with all your heart, in the Lord Jesus Christ, sent from His eternity with His Father, to bring ;us back to God by His substitutionary sacrifice in the place of all who come to Him ? Do you...

Q: Wait. Yes. Now...

A: Do you repent of your sins, so that you view them with abhorrence, and do you desire to abide in the Lord and in His word all your days, and do you commit yourself unreservedly to His cleansing, keeping power, knowing this, that He who begins a good work in you will surely complete it ?

Q: Yes. And I want to be sprinkled.

A: That, or affusion... but this is your will ?

Q: Yes. Can we have this sacrament now ?

A: Why so hurried ? We will clarify a few more things, and perhaps have it in two weeks time; and in that time, ask any more questions.

Q:Do you think then that I am perhaps not a Christian.

A: Love hopes all things...

No, it is not that. It must be realised clearly by you that this baptism will not AT ALL save you; but it is a blessed illustration and proclamation of your faith, and it is divinely authorised, and it does speak. Rest in Him, and so resting you can have the sacrament securely, spiritually and be blessed in it.


Q: Let me have one more item. We have looked at the crucifixion, planting with Christ, burial with Christ aspects, seeing that being baptised into Christ involves participation in the undertaking, the removal, the dying into life, like a seed, as Christ put it, that drops into the ground; unless it dies, it cannot live. But what about the LIFE that comes, in this sequence ?

A: There is indeed that, and it is well to dwell on it more explicitly and with more directness. Just as "Christ having been raised from the dead, dies no more," and "Death has no longer dominion over Him," so also, "just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

"For," says Paul, "if we have been planted (united) together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection."

The germinal seed shares the ground; the germinating plant shares the air, the planting has phases, inward and outward, downward and upward.

Indeed, we can see phases, or better, further aspects in this vitalisation, dynamisation, implantation. There are:

  • I) imbuement - the deep and inward moulding, melding, reformation, inculcation, associated with the coming into life of that which is prepared;


  • 2) equipment - the provision, as when a baby learns to walk, with its pre-organised genetic agencies, prescribing the orbit of the behaviour, which certainly is not initiated in a vacuum, but on a site fitting, and made suitable, for such learning - the potential supplied for its activation in walking in due course;


  • 3) enablement - the dynamic, desire and help needed to go from the first dawning of light, the first signs of lift, to the full day, the soaring - the gift of the Holy Spirit for this living being as we saw, certain and assured and immediate;


  • 4) enduement - that specific and blessed nearness of the Lord through His Spirit, so that there is a companionship of power, a friendship of strengthening, a spiritual opening of the eyes; and indeed, sometimes a smack or two with it, to alert the new-born to the world and its demands, lest he/she be impaled on its points, rather than overcoming its challenge; so that


  • 5) there is, finally, a victory which is by faith, as I John 5:4: this is the heritage of the twice born, of those born into the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (see The Kingdom of Heaven, The Love of God and the Spirit of Envy, pp. 17-33), and this is in itself of great significance.

Thus, in this, you do not entirely automatically hold and retain the victory and the triumph, any more than a baby automatically learns to walk. There are times when you must learn to value it acutely. I am sure the illustration from the childhood of a physical baby is not any accident. GOD made babies of both the physical and the spiritual varieties, and there is a conspicuous parallel in the behaviour of both; but at different levels.

In fact, the child of God must learn to recognise the frauds of this world, not to love it, to live exuberantly in it, but never with it, for its people, to deliver and help them, but never by them: only by the Lord. He is like a pilgrim, a missionary, whether sent abroad or not, a light in darkness, and of course, this implies much.

For example, if you want a congenial world in which you are LIKE others, you will not find one this way. It is GOD or the WORLD, and you CANNOT have both! Thus James has it like this:

  • "For every good gift and every perfect gift is form above, and comes down from the Father lights, with whom thee is no variation or shadow of turning. OF His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" - 1:17-18.


  • Then, he says (4:4): "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God!" He is not even satisfied with that, as he gains utterance from God: "Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture days in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously ?' "

You see something of that last point in a coach for football: he is not satisfied with half-breed athletes. He wants a total commitment, an abounding enthusiasm, a dedication to a task. He is 'jealous' of large fatty meals, slack living, lest it spoil the fruits of training and make second-rate footballers. Much more is this so with the Lord. Indeed, Paul even explicitly makes this comparison with athletics, and so working as to win the prize (II Timothy 2:5, 4:7-8, I Corinthians

  • Further, in Philippians 3:7-8, he despises the things he once thought gain, in that they are a mere impediment or irrelevance in comparison with his desire "that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is form the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death."

And then ?
"I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me." There is then a specialised mission, a generalised Christian mission and a companionship as close as in the womb with the mother, with the soil in the seed, as new life bursts forth with laws and powers of its own.

However, in this case, the superintendence, gracious fellowship and kindly loving provisions are as fresh as the dew. David says this of Christ, who at that time was till to come: "He shall come down like rain upon the grass before morning, like showers that water the earth", and Hosea declares:

  • "On the third day, He shall raise us up; that we may live in His sight. Let us therefore know, hunt after the knowledge of the Lord. His rising is fixed like the morning dawn; that He may come to us like the rain, and moisten the earth like the latter rain" - 6:3 *4.

That, incidentally, is an amazing corporate sort of presentation of the killing and raising of Christ (6:1-3). It is one where His bearing of sin is seen as one in which all who are His participate in this regard: that it is for THEM, and it is THEIRS which He bears, sin, personal, individual, of the personality which with the sin is convicted, crucified and pardoned, ready for life in the resurrected benediction of Christ, healer and pardoner of the soul. They arise not FROM Him, but WITH Him, and remain IN Him. This brings up the remaining point in our assemblage concerning the new life in Christ.

You recall, we had: embuement, equipment, enablement, enduement, and victory. That last is one in which we follow on and participate in His victory over death and sin and His breaking of it: His is the power, ours is the reception. But now: we have IDENTIFICATION. There is SUBSTITUTION in which HE PAYS for us, and there identification in which we walk with Him, in newness of life, He being raised, and we being His. Friendship with God, such as Abraham had, is like the dawning of the morning and the showers of His beauty. Now the way is so simple, so clear, so complete: walk with Him (John 15:14-15).

You die into Him, and STAY buried in your old man, though he may try to resurrect himself, he is there: and you arise ONCE FOR ALL, and in Christ is the power to overcome the strains and thrusts of sin, whether through the corpse of the old nature and its rottenness or the world, or Satan or any other vehicle of ruin (Galatians 5:17-18, Romans 8:11-14). We do not dip into the Lord, and arise dripping. We are washed and then, in new life,  ARISE with and in the Lord, with His dynamic.

We, our 'old man', or old natures, are buried, and stay there, while the new life is sprouting in the Spirit of new dynamism and spiritual mercy. We are baptised INTO CHRIST, a covenantal involvement that never ends, nor can anything separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-39, 5:7-11). We, as Paul puts it, in a "having been crucified with Christ" state or condition (Galatians 2:20 he uses the perfect passive to show this).

Q: Well, that is about the limit of my capacity for today. It is certainly good to wait upon the Lord. Do YOU love the Lord with all your heart ?

A: That is a sudden question. Indeed, He IS love, and not to love Him with all the heart is like being scorched next to a waterfall. Far better to plunge in and share in its cool refreshment. It is a sort of partnership in peace - and our Lord is the Prince of peace, whose gift is a peace which passes all understanding, and not only so, it is one which actively GARRISONS are hearts against intrusion, invasion and meddlesome incursions.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! THAT is not mouth-tumult, but expression of reality! - consult Psalm 103, and 111, and add to that, 148, with 145 and 146, 85: Psalms of ravishing delight and reverential joy in the Lord, whose goodness never fails, whose friendship is precious, and indeed as Peter puts it in I Peter 1:8:

  • "Whom, having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory..."





A use of the term "baptism" in a somewhat similar way is found in the Gospel of Mark - 10:38-39. The kernel of the concept is strikingly parallel to what we have just seen; but here it is CHRIST JESUS THE LORD to whom it relates. Moses acted as a type of Christ in many things, in intercession, in deeply involved love when he would have sacrificed himself - though as a sinner in this it would be of no avail, in compassion, in leadership, in bringing forth water from rock... but Christ was full and complete, in ALL things the perfect example, the perfect atonement, the crucial axis on which the pardon could turn.

Again, as in I Corinthians 10, this "baptism" is here a symbol of all the covenant's provision, in the personal presence of the leader. Just as, in the Old Testament case, all down to the youngest were called to the covenant assembly (Deuteronomy 29), so all proceeded in one body through the Red Sea ( I Cor. 10), stratified in capacity but unified in grouping and in unison. The people as called, named and led had a path swept before them as the divinely directed case required; and this, in terms of the covenantal call, as illustrated and indeed dramatised in the blood of the lamb, placed before they left, and indeed that they might leave - alive, on the doors of their homes in Egypt.

Here now in Mark's Gospel, it is a question of Christ's proceeding AS the covenant (Isaiah 42:6), to activate and enable its application, the New Covenant in HIS blood (Matthew 26:28). What then is this, His "baptism", in which the disciples are asking to share so near the end of His earthly ministry, as Mark records. It concerns His call to horror, abasement, endurance of mockery without flinching by reply, or deviation from devotion to His task, with total spiritual accuracy and intensity.

Under ANY, and under THIS test, for Him perfection is the requisite standard. It does not matter at all what may be the elevation of His task; the fact remains that if even in His vicarious work for others, He sins, then all is lost. For His own sins, if that were the case, He would pay, and have nothing for others; and He would then merely attest Himself a fraud. With God, ALL things are possible. With GOD-on-EARTH, any lapse spells deceit. With Christ, there is no lapse. What then applies to God, whether in the Old Testament or in the New ? here is one aspect - NOTHING is too hard for the Lord! (Luke 1:37, Genesis 18:14). This then it was which He was to face, and it is with this He is - to use His own chosen term - to be "baptised".

This His coming "baptism" therefore, referred to call, commission, covenant, discipline, enduement, enablement, suffering in the consummation of divine duty, transformation (trebly, into becoming the counterpart of a criminal, being marred beyond the form of man, and rising beyond the reach of death), as well as imbuement. It is not some episode, but a life; not an event but a narrative; nor is it paralleled in such things. It is a shrouding, containing covenant. Divinely directly, it takes its toll; divinely embraced, it triumphs in the path chosen.

Disciples could be baptised with the baptism with which He was baptised, the stated desire of some, in the sense (Isaiah 26:19 cf. Romans 8:10):

"My dead body will they arise" -

that what He initiated and accomplished, they could receive in the way Paul states in II Corinthians 5:14-15:

"Because we thus judge that, if one died for all, then all died: and that He died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live to themselves, but to Him who died for them, and rose again."
The "all" is to be taken in consistency to refer to those who "died", that is were identified in Him in His death, He bearing and they yielding their sins and their selves in which the sins sinfully inhered.

What He took vicariously, those to be His must yield in the transforming power of His regeneration, that being thus crucified with Christ, they should live with Him in the enablements of His resurrection.

This sense of call to all in the Church, though many in due course will forsake it,since"many are called but few are chosen", embraces all tiny or aged, and is as always both to a people and to individuals.

Remember says Paul, in conveying a picture of Israel as an olive tree from which a whole Jewish people had been removed like cut off branches, but into which Gentiles had been GRAFTED:

  • "You do not support the root, but the root supports you" -

Romans 11:16.

"You," he says, " were grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree" (Romans 11:24 - italics added). The tree is not in its nature changed - because some leave, or some arrive - has no mutation of its root structure. It is the precise opposite that the apostle affirms. The roots are definitive and defining; and growth fulfils, does not replant, or signify a denial of the character of the plant or of Him who plants!

  • "You, "

again, he says, being grafted in,

  • "partake of root and fatness of the olive tree."

The tree never changes, and new branches should not debate with the roots, to change their hold or coverage of all the tree.

·       This then is the baptism by the Spirit of God into one body

·        (I Corinthians 12:13), for this is the way of the one who was able to allow His disciples to be so baptised; and it is relative to this vast structure of eternity in value, virtue and performance that one is baptised, not to be rescued dripping, but engaged for ever. In the case of the child, this avails as the symbolised becomes substantial, if so be in the will and wisdom of God, this is the enablement granted and the gift imparted. It notes it but does not confer it, it shows it but does not enact it, as of course is in any case true for all, though with the believer, it symbolises what is, with the infant, what is the nature of the faith into which it is called, and by which its household lives.

·       The root structure is never altered. In the case of the believer, if the faith is real, true and not vain, then this is the emblem of impartation of things holy and eternal, alive and productive which do not cease.

It may here be useful to add a reference to Mark 16:16. Now, obviously a statement that he who has a ticket and steps on the aeroplane will be lifted off does not entail that he who lacks a ticket and steps on, will not be taken off. You can be as universal as you like in indicating what will happen IF you do something, without in the least necessarily implying that it CANNOT happen if you do not. PAY TAXES and have the benefits of civilisation does NOT entail that if in some category, you are duly assessed as having none to pay in some year, or over your last years, you will NOT have those benefits. In other words, in formal logic, a sufficient condition is not the same as a necessary condition.

Any effort to make out some sort of sacramentalism from this verse is therefore quite vain. In addition, Paul makes it clear he was not sent to baptise but to preach the gospel (I Cor. 1:14-17). If baptism were a necessary part of the gospel, that statement could not be made. Further, it shows a distinct cleavage. He even thanks GOD he did not baptise any (with one or two exceptions), something at odds with its being necessary to salvation. As Paul says, in Galatians 6:14, "God forbid that I should glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world." The cross is not baptism. Baptism is not found within it!

In fact, those who hear the gospel, in the broad general sweep of things, being at the time of the Great Commission, a new people to be brought into the New Covenant, would be all unbaptised, having had circumcision (Colossians 2:11-14) in those days as the required preparatory rite for children as for all Christian households, to use Paul's term in Acts 16:31. Baptism with water was a proper action for any and for all who had not come to the Lord Jesus Christ. Even John the Baptist's baptism was preparatory towards Christ, not consummatory, representing the sacrificed Saviour (and hence Acts 19:2-5, which makes the distinction cardinal!).

The category of persons old enough to relate to preaching, and so to hear preaching such as is in this verse commanded, to audit this instrument of salvation,  here in view (Mark 16:15), on due response should be baptised. That is all. There is nothing magical about it. Neither it nor circumcision secured eternal salvation (Jeremiah 9:23-26). It was however , as was circumcision earlier, REQUIRED, a sign, a signal, a public testimony, a blessed obedience, which in the adult to whom the preaching would then relate, would present quite possibly at times a substantial risk, which in fact related to testimony of salvation, which could be made in many other ways.

Indeed, here as in Mark 10, it is another baptism, that of the Spirit,

  • that certain, assured seal and occupancy which comes to anyone and everyone who is a believer in Christ Jesus, and saved by Him (Romans 8:9-16, Ephesians 1:13-14, John 6:51-54, I Cor. 12:13),

which is necessary in this, in that if it has not happened, neither has faith! Those who, being believers, thus with certainty and immediacy inherit this spiritual baptism into the one body (I Cor. 12:13), will be saved; it is these, and not mere formalists who neither know the Lord nor have faith in Him, merely repeating (or perhaps not even repeating) forms not embraced in reality, or formulae which while true, are no substitute for the embrace by faith of the Lord and of His salvation. NO WORDS without faith will atone for sin; and only CHRIST HIMSELF by His blood, will do that, through faith (Ephesians 2:1-10).

For further, see The Kingdom of Heaven... Appendix, and Biblical Blessings, Appendix III, The Living God, pp. 319ff..


The truth is what God says. It is unadornable, unrationalisable, as if we could do a little re-think for Him, entirely reasonable, but proceeds from His own self.

Hence the covenant schema, fact, function, form and fulfilment is not apt for recomposition. It is what it is; and His word is what it is, what it was until and unless He restates it, developing or fulfilling.

When the Eternal God speaks, His word does not fall, as Christ declared (Matthew 5:17-20), and indeed exacted with extreme intensity (cf. SMR Appendix D, pp. 1175ff.). It is not subject to abolition - only to fulfilment. The nature of family cohesion, covenant necessity and infant application is stated. The form is enlarged, re-drafted. If then the form changes, what is not changed stays. It cannot be otherwise, since it is God who speaks. To alter what He does not alter, it is to cram words into the mouth of God, and then ventriloquise His utterance. It is fiasco not faith.

God has stated the family unit, the covenantal group, the applicability of the covenant and its signs and seal. He has not revised or "fulfilled" this character of man as made. He has re-stated the covenantal initiatory rite, as to its form. Let God speak, and let us not interrupt Him in the guise of interpretation. If He chose to alter His mind, He would tell us. so. No, since He is eternal, His word endures forever, only its consummation coming, its fulfilment (I Peter 24-25, Matthew 5:17-20). It is when we see Him face to face that the preliminary expressions will yield to the perfect vision which sees for itself (I Corinthians 13:9-12); but His word will not be broken. He said it. Let us not presume (Proverbs 30:6), something which has peril indeed.


This sort of view could be either of two well-known ones. It could be that of baptismal regeneration: a sort of magical ministration of salvation through symbols, which - if convenient - yet is abysmally void of scriptural legitimacy, while incandescently contrary to its positive teaching, as has been shown. The other view would be "presumptive regeneration", which would mean that sooner or later, if a parent or parents be among the faithful, then the baptised child is sure to become a Christian.

That of course would condemn Isaac in no uncertain style, for if he be a patriarch of weight and strong character, then how did his circumcised son Esau inherit what Romans 9:7-13 teaches - that the purpose of God according to election might be sure! We have elsewhere at some length shown the love of God to be such that none reach hell through lack of it, rather only despite it; so that is not the issue here (e.g. The Kingdom of Heaven... Ch.4). The point is this: that the Bible does not give certain grounds for any view that this presumptive regeneration will occur in the case of each and every child of a Christian. The benefits of baptism are many, and some are outlined in this presentation; but they do not include an automatic guarantee to all believers.

It should perhaps be added that of course the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much, as James tells us in his 5th chapter. Certainly people may prevail with the Lord as equally certainly they should seek Him, for the eternal salvation of the souls of their children; and indeed, this could be done before marriage even occurred, and in the light of its prospect. Having no desire to bring up devils, I did this very thing. It is however all in the hands of God and His discretion, a LOVING and sure discretion; and none is lost simply through some circumstance, for all are elected by HIS positive choice. Dying in infancy does not guarantee salvation even for the children of believers; for then it were better than all die young in case any be damned. It is however no statistical matter, but an inter-personal one in which that God who IS love exercises His love and knows who are His - be they young or old, or found at this point or that. ALWAYS He has known them, before the foundation of the world with its time clocks! (Ephesians 1:4).


This is in Keil's translation. Keil and Delitzsch are amazingly learned and rather lively expositors: theirs is the classic 24 volume, Commentary on the Old Testament series.