by Robert Govett
THE PASSAGE THROUGH THE RED SEA; A TYPE OF BAPTISM.
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." 1 Cor. x. 1, 2.
The escape of Noah and his family in the ark is presented to us as a type of Christian Baptism. 1 Peter iii. 20, 21. The escape of Israel through the Red Sea is also set forth by the Holy Ghost as a figure of the same ordinance.
Both events then foreshadowed baptism, but each presents it in a different point of view. The baptism of Noah sets forth the escape of the believer from the wrath of God, through death into the endless life of the resurrection. The baptism of the Red Sea represents the believer as escaping from the bondage of the law and Satan, of the world and the flesh, by the same path; his dying to them, and rising to a new life beyond their dominion.
There are three great baptisms, as there are three great dispensations of covenant and instruction from God: that of (1) Noah, of (2) Moses, and of (3) Christ Jesus. And in each case, the waters have been the witness of God that the old dispensation was concluded, and a new one begun. They are also a witness of corruption on the part of man, and of the consequent necessity of purification from the hand of God. Thus, in Noah’s day, the Adam-world became "corrupt:" Gen. vi. 11, 12; therefore God would bring forth the waters as His destroying element to cleanse a guilty world. And through them, believers were called to a new revelation of Himself, and new instruction concerning His will. They passed into the waters, thus dying to the old world, and were miraculously borne through them, thus living to the new, and became disciples of Noah and of the covenant made with him. But in the process of time, the Noah-world became also corrupt, and in the history before us, it is represented by Egypt, the fertile, the rich, and the wise, yet full of earthliness, idolatry, and slavery. From this scene of corruption on the part of man, and of judgment on the part of God, the Most High again called His people to pass through the waters—the former path of deliverance for the children of faith; and they were bound by covenant to Him and to His new scheme of revelation set forth in the law; and were made disciples of Moses, and enjoined to obey him. But yet once more, Israel, though once dead to the world in Egypt as the children of faith, are found to have fallen back again to it in another form; and as the children of the letter, and of the form of the law, they died in unbelief, and crucified their Deliverer, Christ Jesus, though sent forth from God to be the Revealer of a new dispensation of instruction and of salvation. Israel therefore, and Jerusalem especially, as the head of the Jews, are "spiritually called" Egypt Rev. xi. 8. It had become the world; and therefore of Jesus, though dwelling among the Jews, it is yet said, "He was in the world, and the world knew him not." John i. 10. "Ye are of this world; I am not of this world." "I speak to the world, those things which I have heard of Him." John viii. 23-26. John therefore was sent to call the children of faith again through the waters, that by a fresh deliverance, they might be saved, and condemn as corrupt and evil in the sight of God, the state even of Israel—God’s chosen nation. God regarded Israel now as Egypt, the house of corruption, earthliness, and bondage; and required of His people anew to pass through the water, dying to Moses and his law, that they might listen to a greater than Moses. But this is the Jewish aspect of baptism, and this must be dismissed for its more general and Gentile reference.
We have then to consider the meaning of baptism as it applies to us Gentiles. And the principle on which we are to interpret the historical and ceremonial parts of the law, when applying them to ourselves is, the taking spiritually, what under the law is spoken literally.*
* (Both the spiritual interpretation of Scripture, and its literal acceptation have their beauty and their place. It is Satan’s device to throw them out of their sphere, and thus discredit both. In interpreting the historical and ritual parts of the law, we must spiritualize, in order to make them appropriate to ourselves. But in interpreting the prophets, we must take them literally, as describing the earthly blessings belonging to the earthly people Israel. Satan has just reversed this. He has taught men to argue literally from the Jewish ritual, and hence infant baptism, dresses, and ceremonies, the union of Church and State, &c. He has taught them also to spiritualize the prophets, and hence confusion has resulted, and many look upon them as a part of the Word of God not intended to be understood.)
For the service of the Christian is not that of the letter, (which is the characteristic of the law), but of the spirit; as the Saviour announced at his first interview with the Gentile woman of Samaria; in studied contrast to the worship of Moses: "The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." John iv. 23. And Paul gathers up into a single sentence this foundation difference between the two dispensations: "We are delivered from the law, that we should serve in newness of the SPIRIT, and NOT IN THE OLDNESS OF THE LETTER." Rom. vii. 6.
We find then that the miracle of the Red Sea was intended to deliver Israel finally from Egypt, from Pharaoh, and the Egyptians.
What then is intended by Egypt? We may discover by its character as set forth in Scripture.
1.—It is the place of the smiting and judgments of God. "I will stretch out My hand and smite Egypt" Ex. iii. 20. "I (will) lay Mine hand upon Egypt, and bring forth Mine armies and My people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by great judgments Ex. vii. 4. "Thus, I will execute judgments in Egypt" Ex. Xxx. 19. But the world is now under judgment, "Now is the judgment of this world." John xii. 31; iii. 19; xvi. 8.
2.—It is the scene of the wisdom of the flesh. "And Solomon’s wisdom excelled all the wisdom of Egypt" 1 Kings iv. 30. "Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" Acts vii. 22. The world is the place of a certain kind of wisdom now, "Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" 1 Cor. i. 20.
3.—It is the place of "the pleasures of sin for a season" Heb. ix. 25; Num. xi. 5; and of "treasures" Heb. xi. 26. This also shows it to represent the world.
4.—It is the land of idolatry. "Defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt" Ex. xx. 7. Their "works were evil" Lev. xviii. 3. And thus the Saviour testified concerning the world (John vii. 7), that "the works thereof were evil."
5.—Lastly, there the people of God were in tribulation and affliction: Ex. iii. 7; and under reproach: Heb. xi. 26. So is it with the world— "In the world, ye shall have tribulation" John xvi. 33.
Egypt, then, as applied to us, answers to the world. And from Egypt was Israel to be delivered. But there was a ruler of Egypt who resisted their departure. To whom then does Pharaoh answer now? It is not difficult to reply. If Egypt be the world, the King of Egypt must correspond to the world’s prince, that is, to Satan: John xii. 31. He is the head and sower of sin, and identified with it. To him is committed the power of death: Heb. ii. 14. Hence, the Scriptures of the New Testament speak of both sin and death as reigning. "By one man’s offence, death reigned." "Death reigned from Adam to Moses" Rom. v. 14-17. "Let not sin reign in your mortal body" Rom. vi. 12. And the law to sinners is in fatal connection with sin and death. Hence, it is called the "law of sin and death" Rom. viii. 2. "The strength of sin is the law" 1 Cor. xv. 56.—And over all, such as are under law, sin has dominion, as we learn from the words: "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law, but under grace" Rom. vii. 14.
The deliverer of God finds Israel enslaved in Egypt and under the dominion of Pharaoh, and at the word of the Most High, brings down the plagues on the rebellious land. But none set Israel free. Then the lamb of the passover is slain, and blood effects what the power of the plagues could not. Pharaoh thrusts forth the redeemed by blood. He can retain them no longer. They are become the children of faith; they are no longer under the dominion of the law; as it is written, "Through faith, he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the first-born should touch them" Heb. xi. 28.
Moses and his people therefore journey at once that they may leave Egypt. Nor do they go alone. "The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them in the way: and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light:" Ex. Xiii. 21.
They are led out of Egypt, however, by a way which man never would have devised, and which appeared to Pharaoh and his Egyptians foolish. They did not take the near way, the regular caravan-road across the sands, but are commanded to encamp before the sea. This stirred up the covetousness, the contempt, the malice, the daring impiety of Pharaoh and his people. "It was told the King of Egypt that the people fled." And they said, "Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from following us?" Ex. xiv. 5. They pursue, therefore, and overtake Israel encamping in front of the sea, and cause much fear and disquiet to the unbelieving.
In all this we may trace the steps of the believer’s deliverance. The blood of the Lamb applied to his heart, first frees him from the dominion of sin, and he becomes the child of faith, no longer a subject of the prince of the world, but one of "the Church of the Firstborn, which are written in Heaven." And as the cloud becomes the leader of Israel out of Egypt, even thus does the Holy Spirit guide the redeemed by blood. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" Rom. viii. 14. And as the cloud led Israel at once down to the water, so does the Holy Spirit direct the convert, as his next step of faith, to baptism. Thus it was at Pentecost. No sooner did the three thousand believe in Jesus as the Messiah, inquiring with zealous earnestness, "What shall we do?" than the Holy Spirit (then manifested in the tongues of fire because it was night) directs them to be baptized—"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins" Acts ii. 38. Thus we are taught that faith in the blood of Jesus should precede baptism.
The rising up of Pharaoh and his people in order to enslave Israel again, sets forth that which the believer often experiences, that after a short interval of peace, the lust of the flesh and the bondage of the law, after appearing for a while stunned and powerless, again rise up and threaten to bring him into subjection. The Egyptians, as I judge, answer to the lusts of the flesh; as it is written: "The people fled." Now it is from Egyptian lusts that we are commanded to flee. "Flee also youthful lusts" 2 Tim. ii. 22. Concerning covetousness, it is written: "Thou, O man of God, flee these things" 1Tim. vi. 11. "Flee fornication" 1 Cor. vi. 18. And in the chapter whence the present subject is taken—"My dearly beloved, flee from idolatry" 1 Cor. x. 14. They go forth against Israel in martial array, armed for war. And this also is the attitude of the lusts of the flesh. "Lusts war in your members" James iv. 1. "Abstain . . . from fleshly lusts which war against the soul" 1 Pet. ii. 11.
Pharaoh’s pursuit of Israel was in effect the putting forth of a claim to them as his runaway slaves. But he must know that they are God’s, now that they are redeemed by the blood of the lamb. "Those are mine," said Pharaoh in his heart, "and they shall return to bondage again." The claim of the King of Egypt was tried in the Red Sea, and there was his cause lost, and himself and his people in it.
In this instance, as in the case of Noah, the sea represents death. It is the limit of Pharaoh’s empire—"the Egyptian sea" Isa. xi. 15; and death is the limit of the reign of sin. "Sin reigned unto death." That it is still the same unchanged element of wrath and destruction, as when at the flood, it swept nations away in its might, we behold in the overwhelming of Pharaoh and his host. In both cases, the waters are death to the unbeliever, but God’s way of escape for the children of faith. For in this instance, still more remarkable than in the case of Noah, God’s way of escape differs from man’s, and is opposed to it. Man’s plan would have been to have crossed the desert sands and to have fled into Palestine, leaving the sea to his right and escaping from it. But God’s way of deliverance was, that they should escape through it. The Egyptians tried the human way when too late. "Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; (but in vain), and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea" Ex. xiv. 27. It was the attempted escape of unbelief that met with destruction. But faith’s path, as of old, lay through it. "By faith, they passed through the Egyptian sea as by dry land; which the Egyptians essaying to do, were drowned" Heb. xi. 29. The Egyptians were condemned as soon as they entered the sea-depths. It was the very sphere and place of judgment, which none can cross, but those covenanted by blood. But justice was suspended for a while, till Israel was safe, as the waters of the flood waited for Noah’s entry into the ark. Even so, the world now is under judgment and condemnation, and when the numbers of the elect are completed, the wrath already sentenced and awaiting its execution, will be sent forth to destroy.
But let us notice the aspect of the passage through the sea as it regards Israel.
I. It was a delivering them up to the guidance and authority of Moses. "They were baptized unto (or into) Moses." In virtue of this, they might say, "We are Moses’ disciples." They put on Moses, as we put on Christ. They were shut up to the laws and ordinances he gave, for his baptism was from heaven, in a far more evident manner than even John’s. Their instruction was to commence after they were brought into the desert, as said Moses to Pharaoh: "We know not with what we must serve the Lord until we come thither" Ex. x. 26.
II. The waters were to them, as well as to their adversaries, DEATH. They were death to Egypt. Its cucumbers, melons, and leeks—its fish and its flesh-pots were forever cut off to them. They passed out of it by a way which cut off all hope of return.
It was death to Pharaoh and his Egyptians. His dominion over them ceased. His claim to their persons was made void, and their oppressors ceased to be. They died to their taskmasters, and their taskmasters to them. "Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the sea- shore" Ex. xiv. 30. Baptism in the sea sealed their liberty; they were no longer slaves, but freemen enfranchised of God. They trod on ground never subject to Pharaoh’s jurisdiction; the waters of an impassable ocean-depth rolled between them and all that yet survived in Egypt. God’s sentence therefore was at once pronounced and executed; and in the escape of Israel, God set forth their acquittal.—"Not worthy of death or of bonds."
Even thus, it is with the baptism of water appointed by Christ. It binds us to discipleship. It pledges us to obedience. We take His name into Whom we are baptized.
His new baptism of water teaches us, that Moses and his law are, to the Israel of God, no less bondage under the elements of the world, than were Egypt and Pharaoh to the earthly Israel. To us, it is as necessary as to the Israelite, to escape through the waters of baptism; for it is God’s appointed typical death to the world, and its lusts, to Satan and the law and sin. Thus, we show that our only hope is a passage through death, to the life and inheritance, and glory of the resurrection. The children of faith escape now as in Moses’ day, through the waters. They are known to the angel by the passover blood, and over them, the Spirit’s cloud is spread, and to them, His fire gives light. Heath is to them no longer death, but sleep. The sea is sea no longer, but dry land.
The waters as in Noah’s day, are the barrier between two worlds—that of the law and of judgment; and that of grace, and liberty, and blessing. Before the waters, lies Egypt, once fair and fruitful, but now battered by hail, burnt by lightning, and devoured by locusts; beyond them lies the wilderness—the place indeed of trial, yet of the presence of God and of heavenly food and drink. Egypt was full of the beauty and glory of sense; but the wilderness is full of the glory and beauty of faith. He who would escape from Egypt, deceitfully fair, and the place of bondage and of wrath, into the place of freedom and the light of God’s presence and blessing, should pass through the waters. This is God’s appointed way. The passage through the waters of baptism bespeaks you an Egyptian by birth; a child of wrath by nature even as others. But it shows you also to be a child of grace, trusting to the lifted rod and the journeying cloud, to make you a passage to the camp of Israel.
The history just considered, teaches us several points of importance.
I. It teaches us, who are the persons that should be baptized, and II. The manner in which baptism should be performed.
(1) As it regards the persons to be baptized. We are taught that faith is first necessary. Israel is redeemed from Pharaoh’s power by faith in the blood of the Lamb. "By faith, they kept the passover and the shedding of blood." Had it not been for the blood on their doors, they also had been swallowed up in the Red Sea. But once redeemed by blood, they are no longer to tarry in Egypt. Thus are we instructed, that the first step of redemption is faith in the sprinkled blood of Christ; the second, is the leaving Egypt, testified by passing through the waters of baptism. Till the blood of Christ is upon the heart, the man is an Egyptian, and to him the waters were only condemnation and destruction. Israel might pass through as the children of faith; but the Egyptian essaying to do it, is "drowned" Heb. xi. 28. A believer should not delay to receive baptism. "And now why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized" Acts xxii. 16. Israel must not stay in Egypt when redeemed. He is saved by blood in Egypt; but he must typically escape from Egypt through the water. Blood saves the believer from the destroying angel; water represents the escape from Pharaoh and from Egypt. Israel was justified by blood; but the effects of justification in preserving unto new life were seen by their passage through the Red Sea.
(2) Now, as infants cannot believe in the blood of Jesus, they cannot rightly be brought to baptism. They cannot believe; for as saith the Scripture, "How shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard?" Rom. x. 14. And until they believe in the blood of the lamb, they are Egyptians, to whom the water is only wrath and judgment.
(3) Again, the baptism of infants changes and destroys the beauty and order of the typical history before us. First, with regard to their position and place of abode. The dwelling-place of the baptized is no longer Egypt, but with "the Church in the wilderness." But baptized infants grow up worldly and unbelieving, and manifest that their abode is yet in Egypt, and therefore the meaning of baptism to them is a mockery. It represents them as safe while in utter peril. It acts as a falsehood, presenting them as dead to sin, while in reality they are living in it. Secondly, it is false as to the persons; confounding together the opposite classes of Israelite and Egyptian, affirming of those who have entered the sea, that they are all Israelites; though they have no faith. Thirdly, it reverses the two great steps of salvation. In the history of Israel, the blood of the passover is FIRST TO BE SPRINKLED, AND THEN COMES THE PASSAGE through the sea. But infant baptism supposes that the Red Sea is first to be passed and THEN THE BLOOD OF THE PASSOVER TO BE APPLIED. Thus it teaches that the Red Sea may be safely passed as well by the Egyptian as by the Israelite—as well without the blood of the passover as with it!
(4) In this glass, see also the unscripturalness of baptismal regeneration, which teaches that baptism makes the baptized a "member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." This is to suppose that the entrance into the waters made every Egyptian an Israelite. It shows also ignorance of the meaning of the waters of baptism, for they really represent death; but this doctrine supposes that they impart life! But who can doubt their nature that beholds them overwhelming and destroying all not possessed of previous faith? Had the waters given life, the Egyptians had not been drowned. How sad then the doctrine which affirms of baptism—that, "Being by nature born in sin, we are hereby made the CHILDREN OF GRACE!"
II. But what may we learn from this history as it regards the manner of baptism?
We can tell what is the Holy Spirit’s mind concerning this point also, by observing the expressions used: "They were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea."*
* (This shows that it should be translated "in" and not "with" in other passages also, as in John i. 26; Matt. iii. 11, &c.)
And again: "All our fathers were under the cloud," when baptized in the cloud. But one more expression is used concerning it, which completes the picture. "All passed through the sea." Hence, the Holy Spirit’s mind concerning the baptized is, that they should be in the water, under the water, and lastly, pass through the water. Here is baptism completely pictured. Can this be done in any way but by immersion?
Again, baptism, rightly performed, must be in a fixed place and depth of water, resting on a bed. Does a moveable basin represent a sea? Or is there any resemblance to a sea in some random drops sprinkled? Or is there any greater resemblance in a little rill of water poured from the hand? It might resemble a river; but can it possibly represent a sea? Much less, can it resemble passing through a sea. That supposes that the water is stationary and Israel in motion; but both sprinkling and pouring exhibit the water in motion, and the baptized as standing still. There must be a stationary locality and depth of water, in order to present to our eyes, the Egyptian’s burial-place and Israel’s field of deliverance. In a few drops or a stream poured on the baptized, there is no figure of danger or death; no resemblance to the mighty waters that overwhelmed the "host of Pharaoh." Yet this is the scene that baptism is intended to call to remembrance. A sea is described by God as a "gathering together of the waters unto one place" Gen. i. 9, 10. And such must the waters of baptism be, to represent the barrier and limit set by God between Egypt and the church in the wilderness. No doubt, sprinkling or pouring are far more convenient, but God rejected the convenient way of escape, and so must the believer.
Objection 1.—But some may object—The very passage you treat of, gives countenance and support to infant baptism; for you will not affirm that there were no infants in the host of Israel; and as all passed through the sea, these also were baptized.
Very true, we reply; only you forget the principle of interpretation, on which alone the history is applicable to us. In order to see the lessons which we are to receive from it, we are directed to take the events spiritually. Then Israel becomes spiritual Israel, or the Israel of God, and literal infants become spiritual infants, that is, "babes in Christ." And for such, the ordinance of baptism is suitable and to be desired.
Objection 2.—But it may occur to some, that the great and principal part of the history before us, has nothing corresponding to it in baptism. Here is no miraculous escape. Israel went through the sea on dry ground. It is not so now with the baptized. He comes up from the flood saturated with water. How then does he resemble Israel?
The answer is—that the Egyptian and the Israelite meet in the same person. The believer is a compound of the old man and of the new. As far as he is of the old man, he is an Egyptian; as far as he is of the new, an Israelite. As then, he is in the flesh; he is plunged like the Egyptian beneath the waters, that the flesh may be buried as dead. But as he is an Israelite in spirit, he comes forth unharmed, and escaping through the water. In baptism, are combined both the drowning of the old man and the resurrection of the new.
Have you ever believed in the blood of Jesus? If not, then you are an Egyptian, and against you, the angel of destruction is armed with the sword of God. You are an Egyptian, and you are heedlessly advancing through the suspended sea—to Israel a wall, but to you, only the waves of death, ready to fall down and overwhelm when once the longsuffering of God is exhausted. To you I would say, O sprinkle the blood of the lamb by faith upon your doors! and then you are free to pass through the waters of baptism with the blessing of God, and with the certainty of salvation, for "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."
To the believer in Christ Jesus, who has never been baptized as a believer, but as an infant, I would say—"Brother, that was not baptism." It was not right as to the manner; it was not (as here described) a being in the water, under the water, and passing through the water. And secondly, it was not right as to the subject of baptism. You were then an Egyptian, and to the Egyptian, baptism is only condemnation and wrath. Be baptized as an Israelite, that you may receive baptism aright. Escape from Egypt. Escape in God’s appointed way, through the water. The very reproach that the world casts on it, shows that it is the best way of escaping from the world. And remember! though fear is on the Egyptian shore, there are praises and songs on the opposite coast!
BAPTISM FORESHADOWED BY NOAH’S SALVATION IN THE ARK.
"He (Jesus) went and preached to the spirits in prison, which sometime (once) were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few,* that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us, (not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
* (More literally "Into which, few, that is, eight souls escaped through water, antitypically whereto baptism doth now save us also.")
In order rightly to enter into the design of this passage, it will be necessary first to set right a mistaken rendering of one of the little words in it, which has effectually obscured its meaning. It should be, not "by water," but "through water." And this may be made clear even to an English reader. The Greek preposition in question generally signifies "through," and points out either the means by which a thing is done, or the difficulties which prevent its accomplishment. So does the word "through" in English. We may say of a General—"He escaped through the fleetness of his horse," which points out the means of his escape; or we may say—"He charged, and escaped through the ranks of the enemy," where the preposition marks not the means of his escape, but the difficulties which he was obliged to surmount in order to effect it. An example of this meaning of the preposition occurs, where the people of Nazareth sought to kill Jesus; "But He passing through the midst of them went His way" Luke iv. 30. Also John viii. 59; Luke v. 19; Acts xiv. 22.
So it is in the case before us. The waters are set forth to us, not as the means of Noah’s escape, but as the difficulty which he must pass through, in order to salvation. The waters were not friendly, but destructive. He escaped in spite of them; not in consequence of them.*
* (Another difficult passage is much enlightened by the same slight change of rendering—"If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire" 1 Cor. iii. 15. It should be "so as through fire;" and the comparison is to a person escaping through a house on fire, who loses his goods, though he retains his life. Everyone must see that fire is not the means of his escape, but the hindrance to it. In like manner, Isa. xliii, 2; Zech. xiii. 9.)
The ark was the means of escape, the defense against the angry billows. The waters were the patriarch’s dread; the ark his refuge. "Noah went in, and his sons . . . into the ark, because of the waters of the flood" Gen. vii. 7.
This error being rectified, let us now inquire into the text. It has then affirmed, that the salvation of Noah and his house in the ark was intended to foreshadow the salvation of the believer of the present day by baptism.
The resemblances between our day and that of Noah may be classed under five heads: 1. The position of God. 2. Of the world. 3. The church. 4. The ark. 5. The waters.
1. The Most High had looked upon the world and condemned it. A sentence of destruction had gone forth from Him against it. "I will destroy man whom I have created from off the face of the earth" Gen. v. 7. Yet was a space of mercy granted, during which, as now, the longsuffering of God waited. "His days shall be an hundred and twenty years." And during that time, a refuge was making ready. "The ark was preparing." So is it now. The world is condemned, yet God spares, and in the meanwhile, sends his messengers to preach the refuge provided. Thus during his day, Noah also was "a preacher of righteousness" and his cry was then, as now, "Flee from the wrath to come."
2. The world also holds the same position as of old. "God looked upon the earth, and behold it was corrupt: for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth" Gen. vi. 12. Even thus it is now. "The whole world lieth in wickedness" 1 John v. 19. The men of Noah's day were engrossed and wholly taken up with the cares and pleasures of this life. "They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark." They were warned, but they believed not. And the result of that dispensation will be like the issue of the present. "Few, that is eight souls, were saved." "Many are called, but few chosen." "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" Matt, vii. 14.
3. The position of the church is the same. It is in the midst of the ungodly, vexed by their evil. But God’s eye is on it in mercy and acceptance. To it belongs the provided refuge. But it is called, in consequence of its position, to surrender things present. Its salvation in the days of Noah was through faith. And even thus are the people of God saved now. "By faith Noah, being warned of God, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is by faith" Heb. xi. 7. "By grace are ye saved through faith." The head of the church in that day answers to, and is a type of, the Head of the church now. His name was Noah, which signifies, "Rest." And the Lord Jesus is our "Rest," as it is written, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest." Noah was the only one seen by God to be righteous: "Thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation." Answerably to which our Noah is the "Just One," "Jesus Christ the Righteous."
4. To Noah was the charge given to build God’s instrument of salvation—the Ark. So to, the Lord Jesus was assigned the working out a righteousness for man.*
* (It is worthy of observation, that the ark was to be "pitched within and without with pitch." But this word signifies also "atonement" Ex. xxx. 10, &c. Thus then, spiritually taken, the atonement of Christ is the completion of his active righteousness.)
And at this ark, he was incessantly employed. He "fulfilled all righteousness." "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." "I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh wherein no man can work" John iv. 34; ix. 4. Day by day, He added some new beam, some massive rib to His august work; and towards the closing scene, He surveys it with complacency, and appeals to His Father. "I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." And as He drove the last nail into the completed ark, He said, "It is finished, and He bowed His head and gave up the ghost" John xix. 30. It is through the righteousness of Jesus that the sinner is saved. This is the only refuge from the wrath of God. And thus the Spirit by Paul puts it: "The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." Therefore is righteousness needed. And because of the righteousness provided of God, Paul declares that he was not ashamed of the Gospel, "for it is the power of God unto salvation, for therein is the righteousness of God revealed . . . unto faith" Rom. i. 16-18. And this is just the position which the ark holds. It was prepared by the command of God "to the saving" of Noah’s house. And as "grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life," so through the ark was Noah’s household preserved unto a new life and to the blessing wherewith the cleansed world began.
5. The fifth head of resemblance is found in the waters. And by considering what they were in Noah’s day, we shall obtain their present signification in baptism. The waters then were the element of judgment and destruction. "Behold I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life from under heaven; and all that is in the earth shall die" Gen. vi. 17. "The waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh" ix, 15. "The flood came and destroyed them all" Luke xvii. 27. "The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished" 2 Peter iii. 6. The waters then in baptism represent death. And this exhibits the difference of man’s way of escape, and God’s. When the flood came, man’s way of escape lay in striving with all his energies to escape from them. But the effort was weak and ineffectual. Of all those that fled from the waters, not one survived. They were overtaken thereby and perished. But God’s way of escape lay through the water. He did not set Noah on the pinnacle of some giant mountain, and there feed him while the floods raged and roared at his feet. No. His way of salvation lay in bringing him quite through them. And this makes Noah’s salvation so beautiful a type of salvation now. God’s way of salvation is the bringing the believer through the waters of death unto resurrection-life. He does not spare his children from death—does not set them high beyond its reach, but brings them through it, while the ungodly are retained by death in its most appalling form—the second death; even as the ungodly of Noah’s day were buried beneath the waters.
And thus the waters may be regarded as the barrier between the two worlds. Before them lay the Adam-world, the abode of sin and corruption, of violence and death—the kingdom of the thorn and the thistle, of labour, and pain, and sorrow, and the curse. Beyond them lies the Noah-world of sacrifice and acceptance, of righteousness and rest, of the covenant with the beast of the field and with man—the world of blessing and of the covenant, of the rainbow and the resurrection. Between these rolls the flood. He that would leave the Adam-world of judgment, and escape to the Noah-world of blessing, must pass through the intervening waters. And there is no passage from the one to the other save in the ark. He that would have part in the new world of blessing must thus die to the old world of the curse. His passage through the waters of baptism is provided of God, that he may be seen to die to the old world, and to the flesh, its inhabitant.
The world and its children are madly looking for the establishment of things as they are. On this side of time lie the good things of the worldly. They build their hopes where judgment frowns, and where death cuts off life at seventy years, and where the coming of Christ in vengeance is perpetually threatening. Their hopes are in earth where sin dwells, and where the sentence of labour, and sorrow, and death is continually carried into execution. But the believer, warned of God, flings up this hope of happiness. He says in effect, "I see that there is nothing satisfactory to be looked for here. Judgment is coming. Vengeance like the flood is at hand. I cannot tarry in a sentenced world. My hope is in the resurrection. My confidence is rested on this, that Christ hath died and risen, and will in like manner raise His saints to life eternal. In God’s appointed way therefore I will testify this."
He goes down willingly therefore into the waters of baptism. They are still in God’s view, and therefore in his also, the element of death. They represent that raging, that unsparing flood that swept a world to destruction. They are the waters of death still. And it were madness to go down into death except it were commanded. But now that Christ has commanded, it is faith to do so. The believer trusts in God’s provided Ark.
Noah was required, as the believer now, to die to the old world. Whatever possessions he might have had there, he must give up, when he believed the tidings of the destroying flood. He must have surrendered in faith all that he looked on with pleasure and affection, save those that were with him in the ark. He saw the world wicked and corrupt. He saw it lying under the threats and wrath of God. He knew that all hope of happiness under the wrath of God was vain. His entering the ark, then was his dying to the old world. And he trusted in God to provide him a new and a better world. In order to this, he passed through the destroying waters of the flood. And God failed him not, but brought him forth into a cleansed earth, and gave him a promise and covenant that the waters should never more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
So it is now with the believer. He believes the world and the flesh to be evil in God’s sight. He sees judgment ready to descend upon both. He will escape wrath therefore in God’s own appointed way.*
* (Thus does John the Baptist set forth the matter to those who came to his baptism. He regarded it as a token of faith in the coming kingdom and the coming wrath—as the result of the warning to flee from the wrath to come.)
Through death he trusts to pass to endless resurrection-life. This therefore he testifies in the way of Christ’s appointment. He suffers an emblematic death and burial beneath the flood. He, like Noah, "escapes through water." He is saved by an emblematic resurrection. And the lesson is set forth that there is no hope of happiness in anything short of a death with Christ and resurrection with Him.
With the unbeliever it is not so. He sees not God; he cares not for God’s judgment concerning things present. Earthly employments and enjoyments engross him wholly. The preaching of wrath to come he disbelieves and disregards. Therefore, for such unbelievers, there remains only the flood, when the time of the long-suffering of the Most High is past. Their hopes are wholly here. Their happiness withers under the blighting influence of the curse. And to them, death is the destruction at once of their portion and of their hope. So in the flood, the unbeliever and his wealth were swept away together. The waters then are a test of the unbeliever and of the faithful. Noah underwent them voluntarily, and was saved through them. The faithless were unwillingly overtaken by them and perished in them. Noah believed and was prepared. They were unbelieving, and surprised by judgment unto death.
So then, we may say to ourselves, when we see any believer coming up out of the waters of baptism,—"There is one of the escaped in the ark; there is one of those saved through water; he has believed in the coming wrath, and has escaped through it by virtue of the prepared ark." But how do you know that he has been in the ark? Because he has come up safely from the waters. All perished in the flood that were not in the appointed refuge. "Noah only remained alive, and the souls that were with him in the ark." He then has died with Christ and is risen with Him. The ark has borne for him the violence of the waters of death, and has brought him triumphantly through. He is saved.
But where is the ark? for we can see nothing answering to it. True; the salvation of Noah was temporal and earthly, and an earthly ark visible to the senses was provided. But our salvation is spiritual and eternal, and the ark is therefore spiritual. The law was the letter, the Gospel is the spirit. The law brought the earthly people to the "mountain that might he touched"—the visible, tangible mountain of Sinai. But the Gospel brings us to the Mount Zion, and the "heavenly Jerusalem," invisible, save to the eye of faith.
Our ark is the perfect righteousness of the Righteous One. And as Noah’s righteousness was imputed to his house unto life, so is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus "unto all and upon all them that believe." And as the ark, as soon as it was completed, was shaken by the battering waters of the flood, so as soon as the Lord Jesus had proclaimed his righteousness finished, it was tried by death. And as the ark went upon the face of the waters and was lifted up above them, so Jesus, though He was proved by death, "could not be holden of it." All other vessels were wrecked in that tremendous tide; but the vessel of God could not be sunk.
The escape of the ark was their escape who were within it. So the resurrection of Jesus, and His triumph over death, is the triumph of all who are in Him. The ark was the covering, both from the waters descending from above, and from those bursting up from below. So is the righteousness of Christ our stay and defense—our answer to every challenge, whether from above or from beneath. As soon as the ark is escaped, a promise is given from the Most High that no such flood shall ever again invade the earth. So too, those that are risen in Christ Jesus, no wrath can ever come, nor death draw nigh. "Neither can they die any more, but are equal unto the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection."
We have seen then, in several points, how baptism answers to the flood. The apostle adds farther, that "baptism doth also now save us." But lest this should mislead any to think that the receiving the rite or ceremony alone was what he intended, he carefully distinguished between what is not, and what is, the true and essential point of real baptism, which is inseparably connected with salvation.
Baptism is not "the putting away the filth of the flesh." It is no visible, and earthly, and external effect which the water would naturally produce. It is not intended to set forth that which water can effect for the flesh—its cleansing. And herein the Gospel takes a very different position from the Law. Both use water after a manner appointed of God. But the meaning in the respective cases is very different. Under the law, water was used for the cleansing of the flesh. "Every soul that eateth that which died of itself . . . shall both wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even; then shall he be clean" Lev. xvii. 15. "He that is to be cleansed, shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash (bathe) himself in water, that he may be clean" Lev. xiv. 8.
This was ordained because the law assumed that man might keep the commandments of God, and that the flesh could be clean. But now the Gospel has come, and it takes for granted what has been abundantly proved, that man is so fallen, as to be utterly unable to render the exact obedience which the law of God requires. It assumes the flesh to be radically and incurably unclean. It therefore ordains, not an occasional cleansing of it, as though it were subject only to occasional defilement, but a burial of it once for all, as utterly corrupt and dead. This is exhibited in baptism, which the Scriptures declare to be a burial: Rom. vi. 4; Col. ii. 12. The eye of sense could see the meaning of baptism under the law. The eye of faith alone can see it now.
But having learned what baptism is not, the Apostle goes on to teach what it is. It is "the answer of a good conscience towards God." Baptism then, considered in its essential part, is a transaction with the conscience. The law cleansed the flesh, but the conscience is left under defilement, unsatisfied, and guilty. Its "gifts and sacrifices could not make them that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience, which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings" Heb. ix. 9, 10. "The law . . . can never with those sacrifices . . . make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered, because that the worshippers once purged, would have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices, there is a remembrance again made of sins every year" Heb. x, 1, 2. With the gospel, it is the reverse. It buries the flesh as dead and corrupt: its design being, "that the body of sin might be destroyed" Rom. vi. 5, while it makes the conscience clean. "For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience?" Heb. ix. 13, 14.
The believer, in coming to baptism, has a good conscience. He is justified by the blood of Christ. He is, by faith, united to Him—one with Him. As Christ has died unto sin, so has he. As Christ has risen to life, so has he, in Christ. As Christ has kept the law, so has he, that is by faith, one with Him. His sins then are put away, by the sacrifice of Christ. His conscience is clear and clean of stain, as though he had never sinned. He can come with boldness. The sprinkled blood has purged him from an evil conscience. He comes to baptism, to present himself as buried with Christ, in token that he is dead with Christ; for who are buried but the dead? His answer, therefore, is the answer of a good conscience. Do you inquire of him, why he, a sinner, a sinner confessed, stands so boldly? His reply is—"I have in Christ suffered death, the penalty of sin. I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. I have died unto sin; I am living by a new life, not subject to the law of sin and death. I am in the ark of God, and the ark has borne the waters’ heaviest surges, and is come off a conqueror." Thus, by the resurrection of Christ, has he the answer of a good conscience.
The expression, "the answer," doubtless refers to the usual manner of performing the rite. Of those baptized, a profession of faith is required in Jesus as the Redeemer. This indeed, the hypocrite can give before man as well as the true Christian. But the real answer depends on the state of the conscience. If the heart feels what the tongue utters of faith in Jesus, then is the baptism good, and this part is its essence. Such baptism saves. It is the belief of the heart, conjoined with confession of the lip. This is salvation. "The word of faith which we preach is, "that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" Rom. x. 8, 10.
But let us next observe what light this view of baptism throws upon the questions—Who are to be baptized? and—What is the manner of baptism?
I. (1) With regard to the fit subjects of baptism, it shows that it cannot be rightly administered to infants. For they cannot give "the answer of a good conscience." First, they have not as yet either conscience or intellect: as it is written—"Before the child shall know to refuse evil, and to choose the good &c. Isa. vii. 16. Secondly, they have not a good conscience; for this comes by faith in Christ; and faith is impossible without knowledge; as it is written—"How shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard?" Rom. x. 14. And lastly, "the answer of a good conscience" they cannot have; for that supposes years of discretion and the use of articulate speech. (2) Infant baptism also destroys the established and necessary order of God’s salvation, as presented in the type before us. God’s method of escape is, first—"Believe" then—"Be baptized." First enter the ark—then pass through the flood. But the baptism of unbelieving infants supposes that YOU MAY FIRST ESCAPE THROUGH THE WATERS, AND AFTERWARDS ENTER THE ARK. This is its sad error with regard to the refuge provided. For if there be escape except in the ark, then Christ died in vain.
Next it is equally faulty with regard to the place of abode. Infant baptism supposes the child to have passed through the flood into the new world of blessing, while its life, as it grows up, most convincingly attests it to be living in the old world of disobedience and the curse.
And the doctrine of baptismal regeneration makes more fearful havoc still with the type, and supposes that the waters of death and judgment impart new life; and that the flood puts the unbeliever into the ark! But when once we return to the simple law of Christ to baptize such only as believe, all the difficulties with which the traditions of men have encompassed the truth, vanish like a cloud.
II. With regard to the manner of baptism. (1) The inspired comparison shows it to be total immersion. The world and its inhabitants were totally immersed and plunged beneath the waters. This the sacred historian carefully informs us—"All the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered. Fifteen cubits upwards did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man" Gen. vii. 19, 21. Nothing less, therefore, than total immersion, can represent the flood in its mighty billows overwhelming the world, and the children of unbelief. (2) The water of baptism represents the believer descending into death, and nothing but total immersion can represent the complete extinguishing of life.
(3) Neither sprinkling nor pouring, scripturally, convey the idea of the terrible and destroying waters of the deluge. Sprinkling, in Holy Writ, is in order to cleanse. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean" Ezek. xxxvi. 25.*
* (This text is frequently quoted by those who use sprinkling instead of immersion. If they would regard its context, they would see how utterly inapplicable it is. It is spoken of the Jews restored to their own land at the millennium—"Say unto the house of Israel, I will take you from among the Gentiles, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you.")
But baptism is to represent death and burial. "Buried with Him, in baptism" Col. ii. 12. Pouring water is an act of ministry and mercy. "Here is Elisha, the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah" 2 Kings iii. 11; John xiii. 5. "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring" Isa. xl. 3. (4) But baptism represents wrath, as displayed in the destroying, unsparing waters of the flood, and escape through them. Now an escape supposes danger, and to escape through the water supposes a person to be at some time in a place and depth of water. The water was God’s appointed element for destroying the old and fleshly, the condemned and unbelieving man. The ark was His appointed means of escape for the new and spiritual man, who is justified by faith. Now, as in the believer both the old and the new man are found, so is the double result of the deluge presented before us. He is immersed beneath the flood, in token of the old man being destroyed, (as were the children of the world in Noah’s day); but he comes up from the water and escapes through it, because he is of the household of Noah, and has his place in the ark.
Herein we may see the baneful effect of human traditions in obscuring and making void the meaning of God. Where there is no immersion beneath the water, the image of the deluge is lost; and in sprinkling and pouring, a new and false image is substituted, conveying a meaning at variance with the tenor of the Gospel, and representing the flesh as capable of being cleansed, instead of being, by God’s ordinance, directed to be destroyed.
Some plead for sprinkling or pouring, on the ground of convenience. They should first make death pleasant and convenient. They should first show that the unsparing, overwhelming deluge was pleasant or convenient. Baptism is intended by God to figure the wrathful, devouring, billows of the flood, and therefore, every step by which baptism is made to verge towards ease and convenience, is just so much taken from the meaning of God and His holy ordinance.
In conclusion, therefore, I would say, Do you believe in Christ? If not, flee at once from the wrath to come into the provided Ark. Die to the world and to the flesh, that you may live to God.
But, if by God’s grace, you do already believe, I would add, there is yet a step to be taken. Have you been immersed in the Name and into the death of Jesus? If you have not, this is your duty. It is not enough for Noah or his children to enter the ark. This is the first and great step. But he must escape through the flood. Faith is our fleeing into the refuge provided—the Ark of God. But faith leads on to baptism; as surely as the ark and its inmates must, in order to their escape, pass through the flood. First enter the Ark. Then escape through the water; and you are safe. "He that BELIEVETH and is BAPTIZED shall BE SAVED."
No rite administered to you while an infant, or an unbeliever, is Christian baptism. This, the present type proves. Baptism, while an unbeliever, would answer to the flood's coming on you before you were in the ark. And this would be destruction, not salvation. If, then, you be a child of faith, one of the household of Noah, a disciple of Jesus, escape in God’s appointed way—not from the water, but through it. Until you have passed through the waters, you are living in the Adam-world of disobedience, which is under the curse. Flee through the flood, therefore, into the Noah-world of blessing and obedience. Be where the ark is. It has left the Adam world and passed through the flood. Do you pass through it likewise, and the blessing of the Lord Jesus be upon your obedient subjection to His Word ! 1843.