God's "way" of life is a matter of revelation; apart from revelation we cannot know what we ought to do. Man has sought out many inventions in religion as in other things, and from the confusion of human speculations we must turn to the divine way if we are to find the promised salvation of God.
It is significant that among the early names given in the Bible to the faith of the Christians was "The Way". Paul says that before his conversion he persecuted "this way"; but after he was convinced of his great mistake by meeting the risen Lord and had been appointed as Christ's ambassador to the Gentiles, he himself suffered persecutions as a preacher of "The Way". "After the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets" (Acts 22:4; 24:14, 15). We are warned that the way of God will not be chosen by the multitude; for Jesus said: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:13, 14).
Religion, according to one derivation of the word, is that which rebinds, and true religion is that way which God has appointed for men to be reconciled to Himself. Estrangement springs from ignorance of Him and of His Word, and from a life of self-will. The majority of mankind walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Eph. 4:17, 18). Such, Paul reminds the Ephesians, they once were; "Wherefore remember . . . that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (2:11-12). If God has revealed His purpose the duty of man is to believe and obey. To cherish a hope of a future based upon human speculation is folly; to refuse to accept God's way is rebellion.
The first step along the way of life, then, is belief of the things that God has promised. This is enjoined by Jesus when he gave his last commission to the apostles: "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 condemned " (Mark 16:15, 16). "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:18-20). When men are so "taught" by the word of God, they manifest faith in the things He has promised. Without this faith men are not well pleasing to God (Heb. 11:6). In support of their teaching the Apostles turn to the Old Testament to find in Abraham an outstanding illustration of the way to secure God's approval. "Abraham believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). The whole of the fourth chapter of Romans is devoted to unfolding the implication of this statement; and at the end of the chapter Paul declares that it was "not written for Abraham's sake alone, but for us also, to whom righteousness shall be imputed, if we believe on God" (Rom. 4:23, 24). "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation", but it is ineffective unless it is believed; so Paul adds "to everyone that believeth" (Rom. 1:16)
In Acts, Chapter 10, we read of a centurion, Cornelius, described as a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, devoted to almsgiving and to prayer, who was told by the angel of God to send men to Joppa for Peter: "he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do" (Acts 10:6). As we think of the exemplary character of the man, judged by human standards, we might wonder what he lacked to be approved of God. His devoutness and goodness in themselves were evidently not sufficient. The phrase, "What thou oughtest to do", has the authoritative ring of a divine imperative. With the angel's assurance that he "shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (11:14). Cornelius accordingly sent for Peter. When Peter arrived, Cornelius informed him: "We are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" (10:33). Peter then recounted the work of Jesus, showed that it was witnessed by the writings of the prophets, and declared that "whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (verse 43).
When a person "believes" or has "faith" in the Bible sense, he is fully persuaded of the truth of those things which are taught in the Scriptures. Belief is based on knowledge -- in the absence of knowledge there is no true faith: and Paul makes the emphatic declaration, truly reasonable when all the facts are considered, that without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6). To believe He is "a rewarder" presupposes an understanding of those "exceeding great and precious promises by which we might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). "Ye are saved by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8); for, in the words of both Old and New Testaments, "the just shall live by faith".
Knowledge and Responsibility
From this fundamental importance of faith two consequences follow: first that a state of ignorance of God's purpose ends in a sleep of death from which there is no awakening; and second, that the knowledge of God's salvation gives a man an increased personal responsibility to God.
The first is not only a matter of declaration, but is in accord with the teaching of Scripture concerning the mortality of man and the consequent complete unconsciousness of the death state, the evidence for which we examined in Chapter 3. Man dies and returns to dust, when he is as though he had not been. There is no interference with that sleep of death, where men have remained in ignorance of God and His purpose.
There are many of Adam's race whom God has "suffered to walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16), who have lived their lives to themselves, and consequently "have had their portion in this life" (Psa. 17:14). They are included within the class described by Isaiah. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish" (Isa. 26: 14); in contrast to these, however, the prophet adds: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead" (verse 19). Jeremiah spoke of some who would "sleep a perpetual sleep, and not awake, saith the Lord" (51:39, 57), and it is written in the Proverbs, "The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead" (21:16).
This principle -- that where there is no understanding of God's word men will not participate in the eternal life God has promised to them that obey Him -- is clearly set forth by the Psalmist. He declares in Psalm 49 that none can redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him, that he should live for ever and not see corruption. Men die, whether foolish or wise, rich or poor. Honour among men is no insurance against death: "Man being in honour abideth not, he is like the beasts that perish". "Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them." But the Psalmist himself has hope: "The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning", and he has the assurance: "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave". But men who have been entirely occupied with the present life for their own glory, "shall never see light. Man that is in honour and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Psa. 49:6-20).
This unenlightened state would have been the lot of every member of the race had not God revealed a purpose of redemption. The knowledge of that purpose brings both a privilege and responsibility; through that knowledge a man can become an heir of everlasting life through it he also becomes personally accountable to God.
These things are declared in many ways in the Scriptures. Jesus said: "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:46-48). Again: "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).
Many times Jesus said that the Jewish rejecters of his message would be excluded from the Kingdom which he would establish when the dead were raised. He said they would claim admission on the ground of having heard his preaching in their streets; but he would disclaim knowledge of them; and they would be thrust out, while they would see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom (Luke 13:25-29). Speaking of a day future to his ministry he said: "Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins" (John 8:21). In the teaching of Jesus, death will be the end of those who rejected his message, and who will be rejected by him in the day of judgment.
The same doctrine is found in the epistles. In the second chapter of the letter to the Romans, Paul says that the man who has knowledge to judge another while doing the things he condemns, is without excuse, and will not escape God's judgment. He despises God's forbearance and long suffering, leading him to repentance and as a consequence he treasures up wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. In that day God will render to every man according to his deeds: "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath . . . in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (Rom. 2:7, 8, 16).
Paul, as a preacher of the gospel, describes himself as "a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life" (2 Cor. 2:15, 16). The first century preachers of Christ were urgent that men should recognize the privilege and responsibility of the knowledge that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).
With Christ's command to teach all nations, there was added the injunction to baptize those that believed. The narrative in the Acts of the Apostles will establish the fact that in obedience to this injunction baptism was required of all converts after belief of the gospel. "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" was the query of the multitudes who heard Peter's message when he opened the door of salvation to the Jews. The answer was: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . . Then they that gladly received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:37, 38, 41).
When the preaching of the gospel extended beyond Judea, as the Lord had commanded, Philip "preached Christ " to the Samaritans. As a result, "the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did . . . but when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:4, 5, 12).
The same chapter in Acts records the instruction given by Philip to an Ethiopian proselyte. This officer of Queen Candace was reading Isa. 53, as he journeyed in his chariot homewards from Jerusalem. Philip asked, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" The man admitted the need for guidance, and Philip joined him and "began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus". With understanding of the Word, the eunuch desired to be baptized -- clearly Philip must have instructed him that it was necessary. "As they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (verse 36). Assured of his belief; Philip stopped the chariot, "and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him (verse 38).
When on the way to Damascus Paul was struck blind by the glory of the Lord, he could only ask, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" He was told to go into the city where he would receive the answer. The Lord's disciple, Ananias, was sent by the Lord to meet Paul, to whom he said: "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the holy spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized" (Acts 9: 17, 18). Reviewing his conversion later Paul quoted the words of Ananias to him: "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (22:16).
Reference has already been made to the centurion Cornelius. By preaching the gospel to this devout man Peter opened the way of salvation to the Gentiles. His action met with opposition from some of the Jewish believers, but it was unmistakably seen that God had "also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). God indicated His approval by bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius; and Peter witnessing this, was constrained to ask, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized?" "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (10:45-48).
The ministry of Paul demonstrates that baptism was required of all Gentiles who believed the gospel. Lydia "was baptized and her household" when she "attended unto the things which were spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14, 15). The jailor at Philippi asked, "What must I do to be saved?" and received answer: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house". This belief was made possible by instruction: "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, straightway" (verses 30-33). The record of Paul's preaching at Corinth is an illustration of the true order in conversion. "Many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:8). The three links are inseparable, and indispensable. Men must "hear" to know; they must then believe; obedience in baptism must follow.
The Meaning of Baptism
Baptism is an act of obedience which is rich in meaning. Its form and significance find abundant demonstration in the epistles where the meaning and implication of the rite are shown. The radical meaning of the word baptize -- "to dip" -- shows that baptism consists of complete burial in water. For this reason John the Baptist preached at Ænon on the Jordan, because there was much water there" (John 3:23); and Philip, as we have seen, "went down into" the water with the eunuch.
As for its significance: baptism is linked inseparably with the death of Christ -- it is the means of the believer's identification with the Lord's death. Paul was led to expound what baptism signified when refuting an error that some in Rome were teaching. Influenced by certain philosophies current, these mistaken teachers suggested that since the many sins of mankind allowed for the grace of God to abound in forgiveness, to multiply sin would allow increased opportunities for God's grace to be exercised. It was a pernicious idea, and Paul met it by pointing to the meaning of baptism: "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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Rom. 6:3-5).
Paul here affirms that the essential factors in Christ's work for men's salvation are unseparably connected with the rite of baptism and its significance, and are so understood by the believer. Christ died and was buried, and rose again, as a means whereby men could have sins forgiven and attain to life everlasting. The moral principles exhibited in Christ's voluntary death -- that sin rightly by divine decree brings death; and that the flesh with its tendencies to sin is unfit for everlasting existence and has to be repudiated -- are subscribed to by the believer. By baptism he identifies himself with the crucified Lamb of God in the way God has appointed: and recognizes that this way is a symbol which eloquently declares that death is the end to which, in the righteousness of God, men stand related. In baptism there is repudiation of our sinful nature: "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:6). As Christ rose from the dead to a new life, so from baptism the believer rises a new man -- the service to sin is repudiated, for death cancels all claims to service; the new life is an espousal of the way of righteousness.
The Proper Approach to God
God requires as a condition of the forgiveness of sins that we should recognize the relationship of sin and death as cause and effect, and that death is our due. But this recognition shown by submitting to baptism is of value only when accompanied by faith in Christ, because only in him has sin actually been overcome, and in him death has therefore been vanquished. The mere acknowledgment of the relation of sin and death would declare the truth, but could not bring salvation: accompanied by faith in the gospel, however, the act of baptism is an endorsement of and identification with what was accomplished in Christ's crucifixion. "I am crucified with Christ", Paul said, "nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). Such a close association with Christ brings a realization of all that was accomplished for us in Christ. "Ye are . . . buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:11, 12). By our union with Christ in baptism we become heirs of a glorious future with him when he comes again. "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:27-29).
By the act of baptism a man changes his status before God; his old past is buried; he rises a forgiven man. He has become by the adoption which is in Christ, a son of God. But he has only entered the way to eternal life the course lies before him; his efforts to reach the goal continue either until the Lord comes or until death brings rest in sleep. The heart being purified by faith, the rule of the course is "patient continuance in well doing" (Rom. 2:7). Character must be developed, and the desires of the natural man which are opposed to the will of God brought into subjection.
Holiness of Life
The standard of holiness enjoined by Jesus upon his followers is exacting. The law of Moses, a national as well as an individual code with penalties for disobedience necessarily dealt with the outward act. The rule of life laid down by Jesus touches the motives and impulses which lead to action. Lustful thoughts, angry feelings, undisciplined speech, litigious exaction of dues, are all alike condemned. The standard of perfection is that of God himself (Matt. 5-7; Eph. 5:1).
The rules for Christ's followers embrace all aspects of life: the mutual relationships of husband and wife of master and servant; of fathers and children (Eph. 5:24 - 6:9). The duty of love to fellow man is the one unsettled debt: but the love of neighbour springs out of the love of God which is begotten in response to God's love in Christ (Rom. 13:8).
Some find difficulty in accepting Christ's commandments as the rule of life because of misguided efforts to apply them to conditions other than those he had in mind. His teaching was designed primarily for the individual life of men and women who follow him. Whilst recognizing that the influence of Christ's teaching has resulted in some social legislation which has improved the condition of life for men and women, we yet maintain that his commandments were not designed to regulate the policies of states, whether internal or in relation to one another. The doctrine of non-resistance, for example, is a rule only possible of individual application; and for this only was it intended. The Lord's commandments are for those whose hopes and desires have no relationship with the present kingdom of men, but who are looking for Christ's Kingdom to come. Their attitude in present circumstances is described in the Scriptures as "sojourners"; as such, they do not join the fighting forces of any state; logically they also do not exercise the franchise, for a man who chooses the rulers is rightly committed to the consequences which follow the policies adopted by those rulers. The commandments of Christ are seen in their right perspective when viewed as a code of personal conduct in which obedience is tested, character is formed, and the virtues desired by God of His children are developed.
Jesus Christ himself attached great importance to keeping his commandments. In language which is simple and clear, he said: "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:14). Again he enjoined upon the apostles: "Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). He also said that in the day when the Kingdom of God will be established men will not secure his permission to enter by having acknowledged him as Lord, but by having obeyed God's commandments: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt 7:21).
Built on Rock
The address known as the Sermon on the Mount concludes with the parable of two builders; the one building on the sand through disregarding his commands, the other building on the rock by obedience to those commands. With an emphasis that belongs to poetic parallelism, point by point the contrast of the wise and foolish is set forth:
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them,
I will liken him to a wise man
which built his house on a rock:
and the rain descended,
and the floods came,
and the winds blew,
and beat upon thathouse;
and it fell not,
for it was founded on a rock.
And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not,
shall be likened to a foolish man
which built his house on the sand:
and the rain descended,
and the floods came,
and the winds blew,
and beat upon that house:
and it fell:
and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)
There are times of stress in life which test men's "building": a greater time of testing is coming when the responsible to God stand before Christ as their judge. With solemn reiteration in these closing words of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says this test will come to all -- wise and foolish -- who know his will; but the building that will stand is the life founded on the rock of his teaching and obedience thereto.
Helps Provided on the Way
In view of the urgency and finality that Jesus attaches to hearing and obeying his commandments, one might feel daunted at the difficulties of discipleship. There are helps provided, however, which give strength and courage for the task. First among them is the appointment by the Lord of observing "the Lord's supper" as a regular memorial of his work. "This do in remembrance of me", said the Lord, as he gave them the bread and the wine as emblems of his body and of his blood. This memorial service -- kept by the early Christians on the first day of the week -- provides a weekly reminder of the believer's association and fellowship with the Lord, of the need of communion with him and abiding in him, and of the example set by him of obedience to the Father's will. It also keeps before the participant the hope of a future in personal association with Christ. In the words of Paul; "As often as ye do this, ye do show the Lord's death till he come" (1 Cor. 11:26). Jesus said, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come" (Luke 22:18).
The believer by his union with Christ is related to one who died, but who rose again, and who is alive for evermore -- one who "ever liveth to make intercession" for them, and therefore is able "to save to the uttermost" them "that come unto God by him" (Heb. 7:25). He is the one mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), and is also "high priest" over God's house. The experiences of Jesus fit him for understanding human needs; as Paul says: "In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:17, 18). "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:14-16). The apostle John expresses the same truth: "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:6-9).
Fellowship with God
Reconciliation with God confers the privilege of access to the Father in prayer through Christ. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1, 2). "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13). "For through him we both (Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (2:18).
Fellowship with the Father by faith, in the nature of the case, is not something that is demonstrable; it belongs to the assured things which are guaranteed by the Word of God as true, and which are known by those who practice its teaching.
Reading God's Word
The Word of God is the guide in the way of life only by it can we know the will of God. The Scriptures are not a catalogue of doctrines and of commandments set out in the form of creeds and statutes; they are a record of God's dealings with men; their study provides unending profit and pleasure. The Bible is the means God employs for the enlightenment of men: by it men and women are changed. "Of his own will", says James, "begat he us by the word of truth"; Jesus said: "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth", and therefore it is written: "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).
The work of the Word of God is only begun when "the gospel of the kingdom of God and the things concerning the name of Jesus Christ" are believed. The daily reading of the Word gradually influences a believer's outlook, "renewing the mind" (Rom. 12:2), until the whole disposition becomes more Christ-like. "I commend you to God", said Paul in a parting admonition to the elders of Ephesus, "and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).
In reading God's word method is necessary; casual reading will only be partially effective. All the Bible should be read, and daily portions should he so arranged that this is accomplished within a reasonable length of time. For eighty years a method of Bible reading has been in use among Christadelphians which secures this result. Three sections of the Bible are read each day -- by this plan the Old Testament is read once and the New Testament twice in the course of a year. The experience of thousands has proved the value and practicability of this method; by it a knowledge of all parts of God's Word is acquired. If God is the ultimate author of the Bible, it is only reasonable that we should honour Him by reading it, and by its teaching fit ourselves for the inheritance provided for all who love and serve him.
New Testament Method
The New Testament references to baptism show that the form of the rite as practiced in the early church was that of total immersion. The meaning of the word baptism excludes any other method. The word baptism is an Anglicised form of the Greek word used in the New Testament, and its meaning is not ambiguous. Primarily It means to dip. Thus, Grimm-Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon has the following definitions: "I (1) to dip repeatedly, to immerge, submerge; (2) to cleanse by dipping; (3) metaphorically, to overwhelm. II In the N.T. it is used particularly of the rite of sacred ablution . . . an immersion in water ". Liddell & Scott's Greek Lexicon gives "dip, plunge" as the meaning. Abbott-Smith Manual Greek Lexicon of the N.T. defines the word as "to dip, immerse, sink", and under the noun cognate to the verb, "immersion, baptism".
In keeping with these definitions the early Christians practiced complete bodily immersion; the references in Part I of this chapter show that the rite, as illustrated in the teaching of the Apostles, had meaning only if baptism was a burial in water. No other form of baptism than "burial" in water yields the lesson and the meaning that are given to it in the N.T. epistles.
Since there has been a complete alteration in the method of baptism -- from immersion to sprinkling -- a few quotations showing how this change has come about, are desirable. The evidence of such a change long after the days of the apostles demonstrates that the altered form is unauthorized and therefore has no value as an act of obedience to God.
Bingham in his book Christian Antiquities, a book well known to students of the practices of the early church, says:
"In the apostolic age, and some time after, before churches and baptisteries were generally erected, they baptized in any places where they had convenience, as John baptized in Jordan, and Philip baptized the eunuch in the wilderness, and Paul the gaoler in his own house. So Tertullian observes that Peter baptized his converts in the Tiber at Rome, as John had done in Jordan, and that there was no difference whether a man was baptized in the sea, or in a lake, in a river, or in a fountain . . . But in after ages baptisteries were built adjoining to the church, and then rules were made that baptism should ordinarily be administered nowhere but in them".
Mosheim, speaking of the first century, says: "In this century baptism was administered in convenient places, not in public assemblies, and by immersing the candidate wholly in water". He also declared that baptism was only administered when there was understanding of the gospel: "None were admitted to the sacred font unless previously well instructed in the primary truths of religion, and affording indubitable evidence of a sincere and holy character" (Ecclesiastical History).
Baptism for Adults
Since baptism in apostolic times was only enjoined upon those who confessed their faith in the gospel, it is obviously inappropriate for the rite to be administered to infants who have neither knowledge nor faith. The following sentences from Neander's Church History trace the growth of the practice of baptizing children:
"Irenaeus is the first father of the church in whom we find any allusion to infant baptism . . . But immediately after Irenaeus, in the last years of the second century, Tertullian appears as a zealous opponent of infant baptism; a proof that the practice was not universally regarded as an apostolical institution; for otherwise Tertullian would hardly have ventured to express himself so strongly against it. 'Let them come', says he, 'when they grow up -- let them come when they learn; when they are taught whither they are coming; let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ; why should this innocent age hasten to the remission of sins?' When the notion of the magical effects of the mere administration of the sacraments gained ground continually the theory was finally evolved of the unconditional necessity of infant baptism. About the middle of the third century this theory was already generally admitted in the North African church . . . But if the necessity of infant baptism was acknowledged in theory, it was far from being uniformly recognized in practice".
Crosby, the historian of the early Baptist Churches in this country, states: "I have traced the practice of the British churches relative to baptism, from their commencement to the time that sprinkling was first introduced among them; and I find that in the first three centuries no other rite was used as baptism but that of immersion and no other subjects were baptized but those of adults upon a profession of their faith: and after the subjects were changed, and infant baptism was introduced by a massacre of almost all those that refused to comply with the change, yet immersion was continued for about twelve hundred years".
From "Burial" to Sprinkling
No statement of the change from burial in water to sprinkling could be more candid than the following extracts from the writings of Dean Stanley. In his Lectures on the Eastern Church, under the caption Immersion in Baptism, he says "There can be no question that the original form of baptism -- the very meaning of the word -- was complete immersion in the deep baptismal waters; and that, for at least four centuries, any other form was either unknown, or regarded as an exceptional, almost a monstrous case. To this form the Eastern Church still rigidly adheres and the most illustrious and venerable portion of it, that of the Byzantine Empire, absolutely repudiates and ignores any other mode of administration as essentially invalid. The Latin Church, on the other hand, doubtless in deference to the requirements of a northern climate, to the change of manners, to the convenience of custom, has wholly altered the mode, preferring, as it would fairly say, mercy to sacrifice: and (with the two exceptions of the cathedral of Milan, and the sect of the Baptists) a few drops of water are now the Western substitute for the threefold plunge into the rushing rivers, or the wide baptisteries of the East"
In his book on Sinai and Palestine, Dean Stanley comments on the choice of the river Jordan by John the Baptist as the place where he could baptize his converts and also on the gradual change in the form of baptism. Here are his words: "If from the general scene we turn to the special locality of the river banks, the reason of John's selection is at once explained. He came 'baptizing', that is, signifying to those who came to him, as he plunged them under the rapid torrent, the forgiveness and forsaking of their former sins". "There began that sacred rite which has since spread throughout the world, through the vast baptisteries of the southern and oriental churches, gradually dwindling to the little fonts of the north and west, the plunges beneath the water diminishing to the few drops which by a wise exercise of Christian freedom are now in most churches the sole representative of the descending river".
A further quotation from Dean Stanley is from an article that appeared in The Nineteenth Century Review, October, 1879, on the subject of Baptism. In it the Dean said: "For the past thirteen centuries the almost universal practice of Baptism was that of which we read in the New Testament, and which is the very meaning of the word 'baptize' -- that those who were baptized were immersed in water . . . But in practice it gave way since the beginning of the Seventeenth Century . . . With the few exceptions just mentioned, the whole of the Western Churches had substituted for the ancient bath the ceremony of sprinkling a few drops of water on the face. The reason of the change was obvious. The practice of immersion, Apostolic and primitive as it was . . . was peculiarly unsuitable to the taste, the convenience, and the feelings of the North and West . . . Not by any decree of Council or Parliament, but by the general sentiment of Christian liberty, this great change was effected. There is no one who would now wish to go back to the old practice. It had no doubt the sanction of the Apostles and their Master. It had the sanction of the venerable churches of the early ages and of the sacred countries of the East. Baptism by sprinkling was rejected by the whole ancient churches as no baptism at all . . . It is a striking example of the triumph of common sense and convenience over the bondage of form and custom".
"Commandments of Men"
In these quotations reference is made by Dean Stanley to "the wise exercise of Christian freedom" and "the general sentiment of Christian liberty". The claim to exercise such freedom is presumptuous; we shall search in vain to find any mention in the New Testament permitting such a liberty. The words of Jesus are: "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you". That Jesus commanded baptism after belief of the gospel is beyond doubt: "Go preach to all nations . . . baptizing". "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). The Dean admits that immersion had "no doubt the sanction of the Apostles and their Master". Is Christ's authority, then, less than that which attaches to the laws which men pass in their legislatures? It is a daring assertion to speak of a human alteration of a divine requirement as "a triumph of common sense". The words in effect mean that men can devise what form of religion they wish and are entitled to believe that God will respect their "convenience". The admissions are an acknowledgment, expressed by a leading churchman without apology or sense of shame, that men have corrupted the appointment of the Lord for their own pleasure. We have traced in earlier chapters the history of the corruption of some of the leading doctrines of the word of God, but in nothing more than this change in the form of baptism has Christendom repeated the error of the religious leaders of Christ's day in "teaching for doctrine the commandments of men", and so making the word of God of none effect by their tradition.
Those anxious to please God will not hesitate to observe faithfully the commandments of God. The simple rites of Christianity are full of meaning in harmony with Christian doctrine; but when men alter the doctrine the meaning of the rite is not understood. "Burial in water" and "death to sin" are related ideas in the Scriptures: baptism as a burial bears a symbolic relationship to the fact that man is dying because of sin; baptism as a means of union with Christ is a rite eloquently showing a faith that by such an identification with Christ in his death and his resurrection, the forgiveness of sins is possible in God's mercy. The complete loss of the significance of the rite by the change from baptism to sprinkling is frankly allowed by Dean Stanley when he says: "The substitution of sprinkling for immersion is a greater change even than that which the Roman Catholic Church has made in administering the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in the bread without the wine. For that was a change which did not affect the thing signified, whereas the change from immersion to sprinkling has set aside the larger part of the apostolic language regarding baptism, and must to many at the time, as to the Baptists now, have seemed the greatest and most dangerous innovation".