Gen. iii. 7-15; Luke vii. 29, 30; Rom. vi. 3-5; 2 Cor. xiii. 14.
Baptism—What Is It?
Notes of an address delivered at Chester.
IN this last verse, we have communion spoken of—communion in the Holy Ghost. What is communion? When I have common thoughts or common desires with you, or anyone else, I have communion. I could not have communion with a savage, because I have not his thoughts. I could not have communion with a beast, for it has no thoughts at all. If I was an unconverted man, I could only have communion with those who had the same nature. Communion of the Holy Ghost is the possession of the same thoughts, or interchange of thought. God wants us to think as He thinks. "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. ii. 11). Hence, I must have the Spirit of God in order to know the thoughts of God. I have the Spirit of God, and it is my blessed privilege, as a possessor of that Spirit, to think the thoughts of God. Communion, then, is having the same thoughts, affections, objects, and desires.
Man, originally, was made in the image of God and after His likeness. There is a great difference between the image and likeness. Man is still the image of God—a representative of God in the world. The likeness of God is a moral thing. Man lost the likeness of God by the fall.
The great thing God desires is that we should have fellowship or communion with Him. An unsaved, unregenerate man can have no communion with God. He has not the nature of God, therefore communion is impossible. We have nothing akin to God by nature. Without the life of God and His Spirit, communion is impossible. Man, in innocence had communion with God (Gen. iii. 8). God walked and talked with His creatures in the garden before the fall. But sin entered, and sentence of spiritual death was passed upon the man that sinned. Separation from God resulted, and communion ceased. Instead of communion, man strives to hide behind the trees of the garden. God cries, "Where art thou?" You have an echo of hell in that cry. The fall severed man completely from God. The question is—Has that defilement been handed down from generation to generation? Is the child of fallen man a natural child? Yes. The Word of God says, "Shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin," "Children of wrath."
By what means can the natural man who is cut off from God, dead to God, afar off from God, and, worse than all, loving his distance, be brought into relationship and communion with Him? By death and resurrection. God lays the axe to the root of the tree. He cannot forgive your evil nature. It is always the same sinful thing, that can never do any good. If a gardener waters and tends a thistle, he cannot make it a tulip. It has a nature distinct from the tulip. God deals not only with the fruit, but with the root. That is what the Pharisee does not like. The Lord's plan of salvation is to lay the axe at the root; to bring the sinner—the converted, saved sinner—into His presence; to convict him, and lead him to put his hand on his mouth and cry, "Guilty, guilty!" This is the first step to eternal communion with God.
What is superstition? What is natural religion? What is the great majority of worldly religiousness? Trying to work back into God's presence without death and resurrection; to get fruit from the old evil heart that can never be changed; Christianizing humanity; patching up men and women, instead of bringing death, and giving new life in resurrection.
Men cannot do without religion. In the most debased races of humanity, they have their gods of wood, &c, and "they that make them are like unto them." You will never have the State without the Church. Even the "Man of Sin" must have a prophet. Man, in order to alleviate conscience, will invent a religion if he has not got it. He fails to see his utter ruin, and that no man can be justified in the sight of God. God's way is to arraign man, pass sentence upon, and execute him. The moment I accept Christ, God has executed me in Him, for it is a substitutional thing. Then He makes over to me all that the Lord Jesus has done, having made over to Him all that I have done and am.
What is regeneration? The implantation of this Divine nature and that life which links me with Christ. I am united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. It is the same bond of union which united Christ, as man, and the Father. What an inestimable union was that!
What is baptism? Just burial—burial of that which is already dead. I do not bury anything that has life; that would be the greatest cruelty; but I bury those who have already died with Christ. Baptism is burial, and implies resurrection. God has already buried you; it has actually taken place; but there (in baptism) you confess the answer of a good conscience toward God, and that God was justified in accounting you lost, and dead, and buried. You justify Him in the plan of salvation; you tell Him that nothing avails but death and judgment. You understand then where you are; you understand that your sins have gone. But that is a small matter; the evil principle is still there. Is God going to forgive that? No. He brings it to the Cross. There you see two hanging; Christ and the child of God; Christ and me. No wrath would have fallen upon Christ had I not been there. "I have been crucified with Christ" (Gal. ii. 20) in the purposes of God. Not only is the fruit forgiven, but the root is judged. That would have been of little avail; but God having raised Christ to His throne, raised me with Him.
Not only my sins gone, but my standing is gone. There is no compulsion in the walk of the Spirit, except the compulsion of love. I have a new nature. The law does not apply to that. I have the law of the new creation. I am free from the old law which told me, "Thou shalt not" do this and that. Baptism confesses all that. I go down into the grave with Christ. A man may say, "I hear so-and-so is dead"; but when he says, "I have seen him buried," that is corroboration. We are going to your funeral, to see you buried (to those who were, to be baptized).
There is no more solemn act and responsibility than going under that water, for it is a going down with Christ into that grave. No living ones will, I trust, be put under the water. Your heart and mine does not like it. All who know what baptism is by personal experience, know it is a humiliating thing. It brings nothing but shame upon you. God intends it to be so. It was a shameful death Christ suffered. That is what the Spirit means when He says, "Even the death of the Cross." It was an excruciating death; a painful, lingering, shameful death. God was showing us in that what sin is in His sight. Every time I allow that self—the root of sin—to act, I am giving a life and standing, and allowing to act that which God has crucified and buried.
When I was in Australia, the lady and gentleman with whom I lived were very fond of dogs. One day, I was riding through the bush, and came to a nest of wild dogs. I put two of the pups into my pockets and brought them home. They were reared, and grew; and, to all appearance, were quite tame. At last they were thought so tame that they might let them out for a run. They did so; and every one of their beautiful fowls were torn to pieces by those two dogs. They seemed to be tame, but their nature was untamable. You would have to give them a new nature before they would be really tame. Never suppose that the natural man can love a Christian. God says, "I have put enmity between them" (Gen. iii. 15). Never be surprised that you cannot get on with the world. The nature of the world is one thing, and the nature of the believer is another. God help us that we may be led by the Spirit, for we have the evil nature within us, and we must keep it shut up. Don't let it out. Starve it. If you were to shut up a raven and a dove together in a cage, and feed the raven, and not the dove, the raven would soon overcome the dove, for the dove would be getting weaker and weaker if you did not feed it. The raven eats carrion, which the dove would not touch. Their food is different. A Christian asks me, "Can I go to theatre, concert," &c.? I say, "If you want to give the old nature a feed, go; if you don't, don't go." Ask yourself, "Which of the two natures do I want to feed?" Everything you do or say, feeds either one or the other. How solemn! We are truly most extraordinary beings.
I see two men in my mind's eye; one is dead. He has just been executed, and there he lies in the place of execution, perfectly insensible. The other is in the condemned cell. Every time the turnkey comes along, he trembles and thinks his time is come and he is about to be led out to execution. How he trembles and fears! He is just like a condemned sinner awaiting execution. Every time he is ill, someone dies, his health fails, &c., he thinks, "Ah, here's the jailor!" The man with an awakened conscience sees at once that he is not fit to face God. What a difference between him and the dead man! The dead man has no fear. He says to the law, "You have done your worst; you can do no more." He has satisfied the law. That dead man represents the Christian. Not that he is dead actually, but he has died to the law that he might live unto God (Gal. ii. 19). When the law comes and demands of him, in thunder tones, "Pay me what thou owest," he says, "I have paid you every farthing." Supposing I gave a man up to the law for an offence; he was tried, condemned, and executed; and supposing I had power to raise him up and give him life; and that, having done so, I said, "I am going to give you in charge for that offence," he could say, "I have now a life you cannot touch; this life is not the life in which I committed the deed." He has a resurrection life. Condemnation has no power over my Christ-life. You cannot condemn or execute the life of Christ, and that life is mine. "Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God" (Col. ii. 12). "Condemned already," and "not condemned," for the child of God. Nothing can be condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. These two sentences are passed upon every child of God.
What do they do who go down into the water? They justify God. They take the sentence of God, and say, "Yes" to it. That sentence is "condemned already." They say, "Worthy of death; worthy of hell-fire." "As a proof that I accept the sentence of Thy holy law, I go down into that water in burial." The Pharisees rejected the counsel of God. The unbelieving world does that. God justifies me at conversion, and I justify God by accepting His sentence upon me. I rise up then in newness of life. There is responsibility as well as privilege.
I have died. What have I died to? What were you alive to once? You were alive to sin once. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Rom. vi. 1, 2). I have died to sin.
I have died to the law. Those ten commandments were not for me to keep. The law was the strength of sin. Sin gave death its sting. Death has gone; its sting has gone; the law has gone. There is no peace in the thing which works wrath. It only applies to the old nature. The new nature delights to do God's will, delights to be holy, delights to love the children of God. If I am not so, I am living in the power of the old nature. I have been co-crucified with Christ. My sin was there, and all my hell was there, at that blessed Cross. I am dead to sin actually in God's sight.
I am also "dead to the world." The world crucified the Son of God. He crucified the world. I was crucified in the Cross to the world. The world is a crucified world. What will be the great question at the bar of God? "What about My Son?" God will say, "I sent My only Son to them." But the world meets Him on the way and passes Him by; His tears and groans mean nothing to them. They dread more the losing of five pounds, or failing in business, than losing their souls. Shall we not proclaim it before holy angels, testify it before our Father and God, magnify His grace before Him Who laid the foundation of it all in the Cross? That is what you do in baptism. You justify God; you magnify Him; you glorify Him and exalt His plan of salvation. If I knew that truth and did not obey it, I would doubt Christianity and its power if it did not draw me to obey. Tell me people are Christians, and I tell them they ought to be baptized. Remember the privilege and joy of it, and the anticipation of future reward. "Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father which is in Heaven" (Matt. x. 32). You confess Him in that path of death; and now, raised out of the grave, seeking to live a holy life. What responsibility! Grace is one thing and responsibility is another. A man comes to my burial, and afterwards sees me warming myself at the world's fire like Peter. That man asks me, "Art thou not one of this man's disciples?" That is the first question the world asks you; not, perhaps, in words, but by watching your words and actions. If we have not the root of the matter in our hearts, we cannot understand these things. Each one knows his own snares.
Let us remember the responsibility of the act. A great many take it as merely a matter of obedience. Obedience without knowledge is a blessed thing. What a blessed thing to know and say, "I am buried with Christ, and made conformable to His death in that water!" The brother who baptized me, as I rose up from the water feeling the shame, whispered, "As obedient children." As an obedient child, I prove my love to Him. He does not want us to sing about how much we love Him. What He wants is the proof of it. That's the responsibility of it. There is a Cross connected with it. Speak to a worldly Christian of it, and he will say the most foolish things about it.
In India, the Society of Friends had a great number of "converts," but these went in and out among their relations and countrymen without losing "caste." Other Christians went out who baptized; and, as a consequence, they had few converts, because the natives broke "caste" when they were baptized. Their friends would then have no more to do with them. That is what gives it its power. When the sacrifice was slain at the door of the tabernacle, and the offal, skin, &c, had to be carried right through the camp, to a place "without the camp" to be burned, it was a disgusting and shameful sight to Israel. God meant it to be shameful and loathsome, because death is the penalty of sin. When they led Jesus "outside the gate," fainting after the agony of the garden and the judgment scene, how faint and weary He was, dragged along with a rope round His neck; bleeding and torn, He endured that Cross and despised that shame for you. And is it not given to us to suffer? Is there no fellowship in His sufferings and shame? What is five minutes to the length of time He suffered? A lifetime would be but a small answer to the love of Jesus.
The death with Christ is death to sin, to self to the law, to the world, and to the flesh. If they sneer and despise you, you are a partaker of Christ's sufferings. Mad and foolish in the eyes of men it may be, but well-pleasing to God, because it justifies Him, it honours Him. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen" (2 Cor. xiii. 14). It is that communion into which we are brought out of death into resurrection in the pool of baptism; raised, with the water of death dripping from us, into newness of life. May it be so for His glory "till He come."
"The Witness” 1888