WHY BAPTISM AS SYMBOL AND NOT A SAVING ORDINANCE

imgresBy J. B. Moody, D. D.
Pastor First Baptist Church.
Tampa, Florida.

Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. – Rom. 6:3-4.

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. – Col. 3:1.

THE question as stated indicates the Baptist view, and the ”why” calls for the reasons. It will be my aim to clearly express some of the reasons, and to compress them in the fewest words possible for me.

Baptists believe that baptism is symbolical, because it is an outward ordinance, ”to be seen of men.” There are spiritual qualifications for those seeking the ordinance, but these are preparations for the ordinance, and not the ordinance itself. The visible features of the ordinance are to declare the spiritual features, not to procure them. It expresses a saving faith, not procures it. It expresses repentance not procures it. And so of all other related doctrines. If baptism is for the saved, it is not for the unsaved; if for the believer, it is not for the unbeliever; if for the justified, it is not for ”the already condemned.” Baptists believe that forgiveness, justification, and salvation are of Christ, through faith, and that this saving and justifying faith must precede baptism and hence the relation these sustain to baptism makes baptism symbolical. Baptists are confirmed in this view from several considerations. I will mention a few.

There is but one plan of salvation for all ages. When the writers of the New Testament argue the plan of salvation by grace, and justification by faith, and other vital doctrines, they prove these doctrines by quotations and references to the Old Scriptures. Take the Epistle to the Romans as sufficient proof of this position. There, Paul goes over the whole ground covered by the gospel, beginning with the fall and ruin of man and proceeding step by step through all the – doctrines of the gospel, and he supports every argument by: ”Thus is it written” or ”Thus saith the Scriptures;” showing that he was preaching the same gospel that the Old Scriptures contained. So Peter in the house of the Gentile said: ”To him give all the prophets witness that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Acts 10:43. So Paul in Rom. 3:21-22. Christ and the Apostles preached salvation according to the Scriptures and that meant always the Old Scriptures. When the writer of the Hebrews said, ”we are not of them that draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul;” he proceeded to define faith-the faith that is ”unto the saving of the soul,” and then to illustrate it in the persons of the Ancients, beginning as far back as Abel, and Enoch, and when he was through with the exemplars of the olden times, he closed by joining ”us” to the list. ”Wherefore seeing we (of this time) are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses (referred to in the previous chapter) let us (as they did) lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and letus run with patience the race set before us (as they did), looking (as they did) unto the author and finisher of faith.” (Not our faith, but the faith defined and exemplified by them, and us, and which was ”unto the saving of the soul.”)

If we are saved now as men were saved in the olden times, then salvation does not depend on baptism, and baptism like other outward ordinances becomes symbolic. I use the word symbolic in its comprehensive sense, including ”emblem,” ”type,” ”shadow,” ”figure,” etc. It is more correct to say that ordinances are typical when they declare prospectively, and symbolical when they declare retrospectively. But is the province of outward ordinances to show or declare, or to procure?

Look first at the Passover, Ex. xiii :8-io ”And thou shalt show thy Son in that day saying, this is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and’ for a memorial between thine eyes, that the Lord’s law may be in thy mouth; for with a strong hand hath the Lord brought you out of Egypt. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.” The Passover was a ”show” ordinance, a ”sign,” a ”memorial,” and it was ”because of.” Retrospectively it symbolized what was done in Egypt; prospectively it typified ”Christ our passover who was to be slain for us.” Thus we see the declarative nature and province of this ordinance.

So with the Sabbath, Ex. xxxi:i6-i7, ”Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”

Every time the Sabbath is kept in spirit and in truth, two things are declared; first, retrospectively that God made heaven and earth in six days, and rested on the seventh; and prospectively, as we learn elsewhere, that ”there remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God” and that we must labor to enter it. Sabbath-keeping does not procure these things, but declares them, in symbol, and type, and thus we learn the province of ordinances.

The ordinance for the ceremonial cleansing of lepers also confirms this view of ordinances. In Lev. 14:2-20 we find that after the leper had been inspected by the priest, and found ”the plague of leprosy healed in the leper,” which could only be clone by divine power, then the ordinance for ceremonial cleansing was in order. Christ’s testimony on this point is unmistakable. See Mark 1:40-45. ”And there came a leper to him beseeching him and kneeling down to him said, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean. And Jesus moved with compassion put forth his hand and touched him saying, I will, be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken the word, immediately the leprosy departed from him and he was cleansed. And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away, saying, see thou say nothing to any man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded for a testimony unto them.” This seems as though it were written especially for our sakes, that the right view of ordinances might plainly appear to all men. The ordinance did not procure his cleansing, but declared it.

In Hebrews, chaps, ix and x, there is a summing up of these old ordinances, with such explanatory words as these: ”The Holy Spirit thus signifying,”(sign-i-fy-ing) ; ”a figure for the time then present;” ”the patterns of things in the heavens;” ”a shadow of good things to come;” ”a remembrance again made of sins every year,” etc. This is inspired testimony on ordinances, being declarative instead of procurative of what they expressed. Pilate though a Roman had the right conception of ordinances. In publicly washing his hands, he intended todeclare his innocence. He was far from confessing his guilt, and washing that he might be innocent. ”He took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person.” Of course he was not literally washing blood from his hands, for his blood was not yet shed. O, that our opponents knew as well about the nature of ordinances as this heathen governor! Through this door has come about all the perversions of the gospel of grace and of the doctrines of Christ. Instead of going to Christ for salvation, men have been directed to ordinances, and the elements and emblems of these ordinances have been ”consecrated,” and deified, and thus the world is filled with idolatry in the guise of Christianity. What a duty rests upon Baptists to contend for the ordinances ”as symbolic and not necessary to salvation!” Let us thank God, and take courage, as the Protestant denominations are coming more and more to our help. They see our view is correct, when they look at it, not in their creeds, but in the Word of God.

But let us look particularly at the ordinances of the New Testament. Were they ordained to show by symbol, emblem or type, the great fundamental doctrines of the gospel? The Lord’s supper ”shows” his death (in emblems) till he come. While we do it eis remembrance of him, yet it is clear, that in doing it, wedeclare the fact that we hold him in affectionate remembrance. The supper is not necessary to a remembrance of his death, but necessary to a proper declaration of it. The memory must precede the declaration of it.

Is baptism an exceptional ordinance in this regard? Evidently not; for baptism is called a ”figure,” a ”likeness,” a ”washing away of sin,” which can not be literally done with literal water. It is called a ”clothing” a ”putting on of Christ,” which can be done only symbolically, and not really in baptism, for the Romans were exhorted to put on Christ after they had been baptized (Rom. 12:14) but they were not exhorted to be baptized again; and hence Christ is really put on some other way, which fact can only be symbolized by baptism. Now, since the other ordinances are not necessary to the reality of the things they set forth, so we concluded that baptism is not necessary to the reality of the things it sets forth. We are baptized eis repentance, but so far from repentance depending on baptism, the very reverse is true. We are baptized eis the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, eis Christ, eis the name of Christ, eis the death of Christ, etc.; but none of these depend on baptism, but baptism depends on them. Only the reallydead are to be baptized, hence we are baptized eis death symbolically. If we are baptized eis one body, the one body really exists before our baptism, and our baptism is the formal declaration of it. Then, is it not reasonable to conclude, that the same interpretation should be given to baptize eis remission of sins? If baptizeeis repentance denotes the previous repentance, then does not baptize eisremission denote the previous remission? Christ blood was shed eis remission, but the shedding of that blood was not an outward ordinance. If ordinances declare symbolically what has taken place, and typically what will take place, then the remission of sins is either before baptism, or after baptism, and can not be in baptism.

This view is powerfully confirmed, not only in the Province of Ordinances,but also in those many Scriptures which predicate salvation with all of its accompanying blessings to grace, ”through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” All efforts to make pre-baptism faith a dead faith, have resulted in failure, and resemble one cutting off the limb on which he sits; for it effectually makes his baptism a dead baptism.

The woman of whom Christ said: ”She loved much because she had been forgiven much,” and to whom he said: ”Thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace,” was a proper subject for baptism. If she had not been baptized, then salvation was predicated of her pre-baptism faith, and her pre-baptism love evidenced her forgiveness. If she had been baptized, then Christ overlooked her baptism, and predicated her salvation of a faith that was not expressed, or ”perfected” in baptism, and proved her forgiveness by a love that expressed itself in other ways than baptism. When Christ said: He that believeth not is condemned, but he that believeth is not condemned, he was talking about faith necessary to baptism, for he was addressing an unbaptized man on the subject of salvation. When he said: ”He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life,” he was talking of the faith that is pre-requisite to baptism, for he was talking to unbelievers. When Peter said: ”To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him should receive remission of sins,” he was addressing unbaptized Gentiles, who, hearing this, believed; and God who knows the heart, bore them witness giving them the Holy Spirit as he did to the Apostles, and put no difference between them, purifying their hearts by faith. And when they spoke with tongues and magnified God, then answered Peter: ”Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we.” When Paul spoke of ”the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all that believe,” he was referring to a righteousness by faith- as ”witnessed by the law and the prophets.” This faith was expressly ”without works,” and ”without law,” and evidently without baptism. So, all the scriptures that predicate salvation and its blessings of repentance, confession, love, etc.; and those promises to prayer, sacrifices and good works. These could not be fulfilled to the unbaptized millions who have repented, believed, confessed, loved, prayed, sacrificed, and continued to the end in good works, if baptism was essential to salvation. If space permitted I would add the testimony of our experience, and personal consciousness, to the obtaining of these blessings according to the promises, and by which we certainlyknow, that baptism is symbolical and in no sense a saving ordinance.

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