The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
A sacrament is the institution of God whereby a visible sign is connected with a divine promise. We recognize two sacraments in the Christian church: Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We shall here, by God’s grace, consider the blessed gift of Holy Baptism and the benefits which it confers.
God works among the lost and fallen children of Adam to reconcile and save them by the operation of His word and Spirit. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, states:
“I believe that there is on earth, through the whole wide world, no more than one holy, common, Christian Church, which is nothing else than the congregation, or assembly of the saints, i.e., the pious, believing men on earth, which is gathered, preserved and ruled by the Holy Ghost, and daily increased by means of the sacraments and the Word of God.
“I believe that no one can be saved who is not found in this congregation, holding with it to one faith, word, sacraments, hope and love, and that no Jew, heretic, heathen or sinner can be saved along with it, unless he become reconciled to it, united with it and conformed to it in all things.
“I believe that in this congregation, and nowhere else, there is forgiveness of sins; that outside of it, good works, however great they be or many, are of no avail for the forgiveness of sins; but that within it, no matter how much, how greatly or how often men may sin, nothing can hinder forgiveness of sins, which abides wherever and as long as this one congregation abides.” Luther’s Works, Phil. Ed., Vol II, p. 373.
Therefore we know that God works not only by the preaching of His word, but also by the sacraments. Christ gave command to His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Mt. 28:19. And in St. Mark, 16:15,16, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
We shall ask the question, “Is baptism necessary unto salvation?” The answer according to the Augsburg Confession is, yes. “Of Baptism, they teach, that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God; and that children are to be baptized, who, being offered to God through Baptism, are received into His grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who allow not the Baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.” Article IX.
The question then arises concerning the state of a child of a Christian who dies before baptism can be administered. Luther taught that we can trust such a child is saved, but our aim here is not to treat of the exception, but to establish the rule according to the words of Christ. Therefore we still must say that Baptism is necessary unto salvation when we consider the stature and authority of He who ordained and commanded it, and we shall leave any exception in the hands of our gracious God, who has promised to be the God of our children also. Jesus commands us to both preach and baptize. Which of these can we say is unnecessary? Consider how He said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” Mt. 28:18. Shall we answer back to Him and say that one or the other is not necessary? Rather, let us rejoice in both preaching and baptism, for herein God has provided the remedy for sin. And because sin and its consequent judgment of eternal death pertains to all mankind, regardless of age, so also does both preaching and baptism. We dare not look lightly upon Christ’s command to baptize, when it is supported and proved by the examples of the Apostles who immediately administered water baptism each time a person received the gospel by faith.
Consider further the power of Christ and His will to save the sinner. Christ has said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Shall be saved. What a sure and concrete hope is here given unto us! Jesus, Who holds all power in heaven and in earth, said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Should we not with great joy and zeal both preach and baptize? Should we not trust the gospel preached by the Word, and also the Promise preached in Baptism? We can certainly trust the baptismal promise even unto eternal life!
Here is the right and scriptural teaching on Holy Baptism by our Elder, Martin Luther, whose doctrine shone at the time of the greatest awakening and reformation since the time of the Apostles. Let us now carefully pray, read, study, believe, comprehend and confess what is here taught by our Elder. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This is taken from the Baker Edition of Luther’s sermons, Vol. VII, pp. 242 - 244. This extended quote will not be in italics:
“Christ comes, first, ’by water’; that is, by the holy baptism. He employs baptism as an outward sign of his work in the new birth of man and in man’s sanctification. This water by which Christ comes cannot be a mere, empty sign; for he comes not merely to cleanse or bathe the body with water, but to purify the whole man from all pollution and blemishes inherent in him from Adam. Christ has instituted a cleansing wholly unlike the Mosaic ablutions under the Old Testament dispensation. Moses came with various laws relating to washings and purifications, but they were only cleansings of the body or of the flesh and had daily to be repeated. Now, since these ceremonials contributed nothing to man’s purification in God’s sight - a thing to be effected by nothing short of a new birth - Christ came with a new order of cleansing, namely, baptism, which is not a mere external ablution from physical impurities, but a washing effective in man’s purification from the inward pollution of his old sinful birth and from an evil conscience, and bringing remission of sin and a good conscience toward God, as Peter says. 1 Pet. 3, 21. Paul, also (Tit. 3, 5), calls baptism the ‘washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.’
“Christ first instituted baptism through John the Baptist. To distinguish it from the Mosaic baptism, the old Jewish rite of washings, Christ styles it ‘a baptism unto repentance and the remission of sins.’ He designs that therein man shall perceive his inner impurities and know them to be, in God’s sight, beyond the power of outward Mosaic ablutions to reach; shall know also that purification of the conscience and remission of sins must be sought and obtained through the power of Christ the Lord, who instituted baptism.
“Secondly, that this cleansing of sin may be effected in us through baptism, something more than mere water must be present. Mere water could effect no more than do ordinary washings, and no more than Jewish and Turkish baptisms and washings effect. There must be a power and force accompanying the water effective to work inward purification, the purification of the soul. Therefore, John says, Christ came, not by water alone, but also by blood; not the blood of bulls, or of calves, or of goats, those Old Testament sacrifices, but his own blood, as Paul declares. Heb. 9, 12. He comes through the preaching office of the New Testament, which is his rule upon earth, imparts to us the effective power of his shed blood, his sacrifice for our sins, and thus applies to us the treasure wherewith he purchased our redemption.
“Hence there is now in baptism this efficacy of the blood of Christ. That is the true caustic soap which not only removes the uncleanness of the outer man, but penetrates to the inner nature, consuming its impurities and cleansing them away, that the heart may become pure in God’s sight. Thus, the blood of Christ is so effectively mingled with the baptismal water that we must not regard it as mere water, but water beautifully dyed with the precious crimson blood of our dear Saviour, Christ. Baptism, then, cannot rightly be regarded a physical cleansing, like the Mosaic ablutions, or like the cleansing the bathhouse affords; it is a healing baptism, a baptism or washing with blood, instituted by none but Christ, the Son of God, and that through his own death.
“In the record of Christ’s passion, careful note is made of the fact that blood and water flowed immediately from the spear-thrust in Christ’s side as he hung upon the cross; it is pointed out as a special miracle. The design there is to teach that Christ’s shed blood is not without significance, but stands for a washing or bath whose efficacy is present in the baptism with water; and that from the slain body of Christ issues an unceasing stream of water and blood, flowing on down through the entire Christian Church, wherein we must all be cleansed from our sins. What makes baptism so precious, so holy and essential is the mingling and union of the water with the blood of Christ; to be baptized into Christ with water is really to be washed and cleansed with the blood of Christ.“
And in the American Edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 51, pp. 327, 328 we find:
“Nevertheless, at the same time the dear God is so concerned for us that we do not go astray and grope for him in vain, that he has given us outward, visible signs upon which we are to fix our eyes and ears. Otherwise we might object that we did not know how or where to find him, or go wandering and fluttering hither and yon after our own thoughts, as was done in time past in the papacy, some running to St. James, others to Rome, and so on…
“But you may say; I do not see such great and glorious things in baptism as you have been talking about. I said a while ago that Christians are people who should believe and not see. Even though God were to reveal visibly how the Holy Spirit and the whole Trinity works in baptism, as was said above, and how all the angels are present, you still would not be able to stand it, you could not endure such majesty for an instant.
“Therefore he must so cover and veil himself that you may be able to endure it and say; True, I see nothing in baptism except water, into which the baptizer dips the child or which he pours upon it, and I hear nothing but the words which he speaks over it, ‘I baptize you in the name, etc.’ This my eyes and ears tell me. but the Word and faith tell me that God himself is present, doing the work. Therefore it is such a potent fountain of youth that it causes a man to be born again, washes away and drowns every sin within him…
“We shall leave it at that now, and earnestly entreat Christ our Lord to preserve us in pure understanding of the Word and the holy sacrament and defend us from all error, and to this end may he grant us his grace. Amen.”
Finally I will quote from the Philadelphia Edition of Luther’s Works, Volume II, pp. 220, 221. So richly and beautifully does Luther write of faith that I must include this:
“Now, the first thing in baptism to be considered is the divine promise, which says: ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’ This promise must be set far above all the glitter of works, vows, religious orders, and whatever man has added thereto; for on it all our salvation depends. But we must so consider it as to exercise our faith therein and in nowise doubt that we are saved when we are baptized. For unless this faith be present or be conferred in baptism, baptism will profit us nothing, nay, it becomes a hindrance to us, not only in the moment of its reception, but all the days of our life; for such unbelief accuses God’s promise of being a lie, and this is the blackest of all sins. If we set ourselves to this exercise of faith, we shall at once perceive how difficult it is to believe this promise of God. For our human weakness, conscious of its sins, finds nothing more difficult to believe than that it is saved or will be saved; and yet unless it does believe this, it cannot be saved, because it does not believe the truth of God that promiseth salvation.
“This message should have been untiringly impressed upon the people and this promise dinned without ceasing in their ears; their baptism should have been called again and again to their mind, and faith constantly awakened and nourished. For, just as the truth of this divine promise, once pronounced over us, continues unto death, so our faith in the same ought never to cease, but to be nourished and strengthened until death, by the continual remembrance of this promise made to us in baptism. Therefore, when we rise from sins, or repent, we do but return to the power and the faith of baptism from whence we fell, and find our way back to the promise then made to us, from which we departed when we sinned. For the truth of the promise once made remains steadfast, ever ready to receive us back with open arms when we return.”
There are presently debates concerning mode of baptism and at what age it ought to be administered. I will not make this letter too long, and so will state that Luther taught that both infant baptism and sprinkling were practiced at the beginning of the Christian church. This is witnessed also by St. Augustine. Both Luther and Laestadius were baptized by sprinkling in infancy, and God showed approval by granting to them His Spirit in such measure that great awakenings were effected, and a great harvest of souls was received into the kingdom of God. I, too, was baptized by sprinkling in infancy, and I confess that by the grace of God I too have received His Spirit, and have experienced both the awakening to the true knowledge of sin, and also the love and forgiveness of Christ in such measure that I have greatly rejoiced in spirit, and have even sat in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. I know there are many others who share this testimony. This assurance God has given that we have rightly received His word and sacraments, and we lack absolutely nothing. We lack nothing, but through these God has opened the windows of Heaven and has poured out blessing upon us.
Nevertheless, we will look briefly into Scripture to establish these matters. Plainly, the sacrament of Holy Baptism belongs to all disciples of Christ. Jesus instructs us to “teach all nations.” Disciples, by definition, are simply those who are taught of, and who follow, Jesus. He follows the instruction to teach with the command to baptize. Therefore, since little children are taught of God, and are His disciples, it is abundantly clear that the sacrament of Baptism belongs also to them. I once discussed with a Baptist, who told me that a person must mature and be able to comprehend the gospel and make a confession of faith. I simply told him that he had it backwards, for it is written, “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Mt. 18: 2,3. I said that rather than becoming older, Jesus instructs us to become younger, and He established this fact beyond all controversy by embracing a small child and saying that the kingdom of God belongs to little children. And faith being the prerequisite for baptism, we simply adhere to the words of Christ who affirms that little children believe in Him [Mt. 18:6]. It is infinitely more certain to trust the words of Christ Who says that little children believe, than to trust the words of a sinful man who says that he has faith. Christ did not say, He that confesses faith and is baptized, but He said, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. It is great error to base our baptism upon our faith or confession thereof, for the experience of true Christians is that faith seems to wax and wane (although faith is preserved in us by the Holy Spirit regardless of our feelings). Therefore we base our reception of the sacrament of Baptism upon the word and command of Christ, for His word and promise can never fail. Luther writes, “For faith doesn’t exist for the sake of baptism, but baptism for the sake of faith. When faith comes, baptism is complete. A second baptism is not necessary.” Am. Ed. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40, p. 246.
Luther writes in the same book, “I say the same thing about the baptized one who receives or grounds his baptism on his faith. For he is not sure of his own faith. I would compare the man who lets himself be rebaptized with the man who broods and has scruples because perhaps he did not believe as a child. So when next day the devil comes, his heart is filled with scruples and he says, Ah, now for the first time I feel I have the right faith, yesterday I don’t think I truly believed. So I need to be baptized a third time, the second baptism not being of any avail. You think the devil can’t do such things? You had better get to know him better. He can do worse than that, dear friend. He can go on and cast doubt on the third, and the fourth and so on incessantly (as he indeed has in mind to do), just as he has done with me and many in the matter of confession. We never seemed able to confess sufficiently certain sins, and incessantly and restlessly sought one absolution after the other, one father confessor after the other. Just because we sought to rely on our confession, as those to be baptized now want to rely on their faith. What is the end result? Baptizing without end would result.” [pp. 240, 241]
Scripture shows many examples of adult baptism, but this is to be expected for baptism was newly instituted. However, we can be certain that children were also included in baptism, for when Lydia received the gospel Scripture states, “And when she was baptized, and her household…” Acts 16:15. Also when Paul preached to the jailer it is written, “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightaway.” 16: 32, 33. The plain language of “household” and “he and all his” is certainly inclusive. Furthermore, the early Christians looked for the immediate appearing of the Lord, and it is not reasonable to think they would have withheld Baptism from their children when they considered it unlikely they would have years in which to mature. The word “straightaway” shows the urgency with which they considered Baptism.
Concerning the mode of baptism, as stated above, sprinkling and pouring have been practiced since the time of the Apostles. Remember how at the Last Supper Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, and Peter objected to Christ abasing Himself so. It is written, “Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. for he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.” Jn. 13: 6-11. We see here that the cleansing which comes by Christ is not dependent upon the specific mode, but is dependent upon the Word, the promise, and the eternal cleansing power of the blood of Him Who is present and working in our Baptism. Jesus could have humored Peter’s request, but rather denied it, and turned Peter’s attention from outward form and washing, to inward faith and cleansing.
The cause of this current distress among us is partly because we have failed to teach and maintain right doctrine. This has opened the way for these blasphemers to begin to teach our young in those matters of which we have been far too silent. We learn in Catechism, “Baptism works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe what the words and promises of God declare.” Ponder for a while these two words: Baptism Works. This precious truth is then trampled upon in the pulpit, when the working power of Baptism is completely rejected, and this sacrament becomes nothing more than a tradition. Even worse, the gift of Confession and Absolution has been elevated by many to replace Baptism as a sacrament, for auricular confession, and even enumeration of sins, is often demanded, while Holy Baptism, that Sacrament commanded by Christ, is minimized and said to be unnecessary. How far have we fallen?
Now a word of serious warning to those who have been rebaptized,. Luther writes, “For whoever permits himself be rebaptized rejects his former faith and righteousness, and is guilty of sin and condemnation. Of all things such behavior is most horrible. As St. Paul, says, the Galatians have severed themselves from Christ [Gal. 5:4], even making Christ a servant of sin, when they circumcise themselves.” Am. Ed. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40, p. 249. Recognize by this that your soul’s salvation is in jeopardy, and pray earnestly to God that He would grant unto you the grace of repentance. Concerning those who teach and propagate this damnable heresy, we recall the words of Paul in the same Epistle, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” [5:12] Yet I would tell you to approach God with prayer and fasting and in earnestness such as you have never known, if perchance He will grant you repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.
In Christian love,
Steven E. Anderson