BURIED BY BAPTISM
By Bishop S.M.Merrill
Merril, S. M. Christian Baptism: Its Subjects and Mode.
"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: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." Rom. 6:3-6.
IT is generally conceded, that, if immersion is taught in the Bible, it is here; and, if it can not be found here, but few persons will insist that it is the exclusive mode of baptism. The immersionist interpretation of this passage is well known. It assumes that baptism is a burial of the physical man in literal water; and it finds a resemblance between this burial of the body in water and the burial of Christin the grave, and a resemblance between the emergence of the body from the water and the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It thus makes baptism a representation of the burial and resurrection of Christ. I have several serious objections to this interpretation, and will mention some of them, before taking up my own exposition.
First. I object to confounding the "burial" with the "baptism." The two things are distinct, and should not be confounded. The terms are not synonymous, nor are they interchangeable. It is absurd to say we are immersed by an immersion, or that we are buried by a burial; therefore the "baptism" is one thing and the "burial" is another thing. It is by the perpetration of this mistake that immersionists gather nearly all the, comfort this Scripture affords them.
Second. I object to this interpretation that it violates all rule and authority by making '' some of the terms in this one process literal, and others figurative. It makes the "burial" literal, and the "death," the "planting," and the "crucifixion" figurative. These terms are all predicated of the same subject, in the same passage, and describe different parts of one process or experience, and are therefore all literal or all figurative.
Third. I object to this interpretation that it utterly mistakes the points of the comparison which the apostle makes, and substitutes for them other points of comparison which are not in the passage, and could not have been in the writer's mind. It assumes that the comparison is between baptism and the burial and resurrection of Christ. It sees in the act of putting the body under the water a representation of the burial of Christ; and, in the lifting of the body from the water, it sees the rising of Christ from the grave represented. This is the great point in the interpretation. If it is wrong here, it is wrong throughout; and it is wrong here, egregiously wrong. There is absolutely no such comparison in the passage. This will come out fully further along; but now I remark that the comparison is not at all between baptism, on the one hand, and the burial and resurrection of Christ, on the other hand. Baptism is not in the comparison at all. The comparison is wholly between the crucifixion, death, and burial of Christ, on the one side, and the mystical crucifixion, death, and burial that takes place in us when we pass from the natural to the spiritual state, on the other side; and this comparison goes far enough to take in the resurrection of Christ, on one side, and the newness of life in which the Christian walks, on the other. This blunder is a serious one. It obscures the meaning of the passage, destroys its beauty and harmony, and leads honest people to imagine that they have been "buried with Christ," when they have not so much as caught a glimpse of the high significance of this Scripture. If the comparison is as is claimed, why do the advocates of this interpretation invariably leave out the "crucifixion," and restrict the analogy to the "burial?"
Fourth. I object to this interpretation that it confuses and confounds the sacraments by putting baptism where the Bible puts the Lord's supper. In the Lord's-supper we show forth the Lord's death. This is the design of the Supper. But this interpretation makes baptism show forth or represent the death and burial of Christ. It places baptism where it does not belong, and gives it a meaning it was never intended to have; and, worse still, it destroys the design and significance of the rite as Christ ordained it. Baptism relates not to the death and burial of Christ, but to the office and work of the Holy Spirit. This is its fixed and invariable meaning, as we shall see more fully in the direct exposition, while the Lord's supper relates only to Christ's death, and not to the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the ordinance of the Holy Spirit, and the Supper is the ordinance of Jesus Christ.
But these matters will all come up in the proper place, and we turn to a direct examination of the passage before us.
The apostle had just spoken of the reign of sin, on the one hand, and of the reign of grace through righteousness, on the other hand. He had affirmed broadly that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound;" and then, anticipating an objection to this doctrine of the superabounding of grace, to the effect that it might encourage some to "continue in sin," and thus tend to licentiousness instead of holiness, he answers this objection, and shows that his doctrine leads to holiness, and not to sin. The answer which he presents to this objection is, that all who come under the reigning power of grace "die unto sin." This thought of a death unto sin is that which he enforces and elaborates throughout this chapter. Hence the language with which the chapter begins: "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? 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," etc.
There is a sense in which all that Christ suffered in redemption is made over to believers; and there is a sense in which all believers are united to Christ, and so identified with him in the contemplation of the Deity that Christ's suffering is attributed to them; so that it may be said that when Christ was crucified, they were crucified with him; when he died, they died with him; when he was buried, they were buried with him; and when he arose, they arose with him; but t o predicate a crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of believers on this ground alone would require a bold figure indeed. There is an actual experience to be gained, a real transformation into the image of Christ, by an inward fellowship in his sufferings. When the redemption is made over by faith, so that the believer shares it, and passes from the carnal into the spiritual life, then he comes into fellowship with Christ's sufferings, is made conformable to his death, and experiences the power of his resurrection. This is a veritable experience, which has its incipiency, its growth, and its full development; and this experience is described in the passage under consideration. When we apprehend Christ, and put him on, or enter into covenant with him, in baptism, we solemnly engage to die unto sin, and undertake to verify this whole process, which becomes a life - time work. The study of the terms and figures here employed to give expression to this profoundest experience of the soul, is our present task.
I begin by recalling your attention to the distinction between the "baptism" and the "burial." That which is done by baptism is not baptism. The burial is effected by baptism; therefore, the burial is not baptism. Baptism is the agent or instrument, and the burial is the result. This thought, that the burial is not an act nor an instrument, but a result or effect, is essential. Let it be clearly apprehended and borne in mind; for here is the starting-point of much of the blundering of the immersionists in their interpretation. Baptism is an action, a momentary action; but the result, the burial, is permanent. It is not temporary or momentary, but something which must continue as long as we remain dead unto sin and alive unto God.
Then, the question arises, Is this a literal or a figurative burial? Or perhaps this point would be more clearly brought out if I ask, Is the burial the literal covering of the body in the water, or is it a spiritual result wrought in the spiritual nature? The immersionist, of course, sees nothing in the passage but a literal burial of the body, by covering or sub merging it in water. But he who affirms this ought also to interpret the other terms in the passage in just as literal a sense. The "crucifixion," the "planting," and the "death," are all as literal and as material as the "burial." Indeed, these terms all belong to the same class, and are descriptive of parts of the same process or experience, and to separate them is to do violence to all rules of interpretation, and common sense as well. But who can believe that the crucifixion" is a literal crucifixion of the literal man? that the "planting" is a literal planting of the literal man? and that the "death" is the literal death of the literal man? He who can believe all this must possess a stock of credulity that rarely falls to the lot of reasoning men; and yet it is not a particle more absurd than it is to hold that the "burial" is literal, while the crucifixion and death are figurative.
The true answer to the question concerning the nature of the burial will be found by ascertaining the subject of the burial. What is it that is buried? Every thing in the passage must hinge on the answer to this question. The immersionist says it is the body, the literal man. If this turns out to be true, he gains a point; but it is a point which brings trouble on every side. But let us look a little. We never bury a man till he is dead. Hence, a burial always implies a death - a previous death. If we hear that a man has been buried, we need not be told that he had previously died. So in this Scripture. Here is a burial, and it implies a previous death; but the previous death is expressed, as well as implied, and it is a death unto sin. And that which dies is the subject of the burial. There can be no question here. The identical thing or person that dies is the thing or person that is buried. Then, if we can find out the subject of the death, we shall have found the subject of the burial. If it is the body that dies, the literal man, it is the body that is buried; but if it is not the body that dies, it is not the body that is buried. If it is the soul that dies, the soul is buried. Or if it is neither the body nor the soul that dies, literally, but something that pertains to either or both, then that thing which dies, whatever it is, must be the subject of the burial. Thus far, all is plain. But the question is, What is it that dies? It is not the body; for Paul was yet alive in the body, and was writing to men in the body. It was not the soul; for the soul was undergoing an experience that brought life, and not death. What, then, could it be? The question is vital, and we must move cautiously in quest of the answer.
The apostle Paul, in this Epistle, deals largely in personifications. Indeed, he personifies almost every thing he mentions. The law, sin, death, life, grace, righteousness-all are personified; all these, in the vivid, animated style of the apostle, pass before us as living personalities, clothed with all the powers and passions of active intelligences. In this way the carnal nature, the moral depravity of our being, is personified, and denominated the "old man," "the body of sin." This "old man" is the aggregate or assemblage of the sinful lusts and affections of the unrenewed nature; and the great problem in Christianity, and in human experience, is, as to the way of subduing of triumphing over this "old man" within us. This is the point in the apostle's argument, and he here teaches that the "old man"must be destroyed, or put to death by "crucifixion."
Now to the question, What is it that dies? The answer is found in the manner of the death. How is it brought about? The apostle answers this right here in the text; and you observe I am not going abroad to gather into the text a forced meaning. Right here we read that the death which precedes the burial, the death of the subject of the burial, is brought about just as Christ's death was brought about - by crucifixion. "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." Here it is. It is not the body that is "crucified," nor the soul, literally, but the "old man." The "old man" is crucified, dead, and buried - crucified with Christ, dead with Christ, and buried with Christ. And here the "old man" is left. He is "put off," not to be put on again. He is buried, not to be unburied again. He is not in the resurrection. That which is buried must remain buried. This is the death unto sin, with its cause, process and result. But what does all this mean? Can it be possible that this "crucifixion" of the "old man" must come into the account? Atonement's reflection will satisfy any one - unless it be some one whose creed is in danger that this whole experience is one process, given in the inverted order; the apostle beginning with the result, and tracing it backward to the starting - point. But the question may arise as to whether we have taken the right view of the "old man." May it not be that the "old man" means the body, the physical nature? If so, the body must be "crucified" before it becomes the subject of burial; and if the burial means an immersion in water, none but a dead body is fit for that ceremony!
We learn elsewhere what the apostle meant by the "old man." We read the following on this point, in Colossians in, 8-10: But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." Here is the "old man," and he has been "put off," but the body is not put off; neither is the "old man" put on again, but the "new man" is put on in his place. To the same effect we read, in Ephesians 4:22-24: "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." The antithesis is between the "old man" and the "new man," not between the body and the soul. The "old man," like a garment worn out or polluted, is "put off;" and the "new man," like a new garment, fresh and clean, is "put on." Thus the "old man," following the figure in the text, is "crucified," and thereby put to death; and, being dead, must be "buried" out of sight. This consummates the process, so far as the "old man" is concerned. The "old man" does not rise, but the ensuing "newness of life" is found in. the "new man," not in that which was crucified. The "old man" is "the flesh," the body of sin," "the body of the sins the flesh;" and, as certainly as there is meaning in language, this "old man" is the subject of the crucifixion, death, and burial mentioned in this passage of Scripture. Paul says Galatians 5:24: "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts;" that is, they have crucified the "old man," the embodiment of the affections and lusts. What can be plainer than this, or more in harmony with the whole tenor of apostolic teaching? But, if I am right in this, it is evident that these terms are all to be taken in the figurative sense, and the idea of a physical burial of the physical man in a physical element is as foreign to the passage as is the thought of burying a man in the moon.
And here I must recur to the mistake so often made in regard to the comparison, or analogy, found in this text. Immersionists, starting with the blunder of confounding the baptism and the burial, imagine that the comparison is between the act of baptism and the burial and resurrection of Christ. This, allow me to repeat, is all wrong - wrong in inception, and in every point of application. These is no resemblance between baptism, in any mode, and a crucifixion; and, therefore, there is no starting-point, nor foundation, for this prevalent notion, which has misled so many. The comparison is not with baptism at all. The only comparison in the passage is between the crucifixion, death, and burial of Christ, on the one hand, and the mystical or spiritual crucifixion, death, and burial of the "old man," "the body of sin," on the other hand. In this comparison there is force, be cause here there are points of resemblance, which, in the bold, figurative style of the apostle, may be traced so as to justify the analogy, and vindicate the rhetoric as well as the argument of the inspired man of God.
Now we must return to the word "buried." We have found the subject of the burial, and reached safe footing for the assumption of its figurative character; but we must study the figure a little more fully. Although the burial is figurative, the real idea of a burial must be carried out, in order to justify the figure. We therefore need a definition of the word, as much as if the burial were literal. What is a burial? There are many forms or modes of burial. Our impressions are mostly derived from modern customs. We very naturally associate with the word buried the kindred thought of a grave, with a coffin deposited, and earth shoveled upoi it till the grave is filled. But our Savior was not buried in this way. His grave was a room hewn in the rock - a room with floor, walls, and ceiling, so to speak - and large enough to admit several persons; for a number of the disciples walked into it after his resurrection. His body was taken from the cross and placed in this room, and the door was closed by rolling a large stone against it. Such was the burial of Christ; and the idea of representing or imitating such a burial by a sudden dip of the person in the water and out again, is far - fetched, to say the least of it. But still, regardless of mode, the word has a radical meaning, which we want to ascertain, if possible. Although, under the Roman law, a legal burial might be effected by casting a handful of earth upon the dead body, it is not to be supposed that the apostle had this loose provision of law in mind. We must rather assume that his idea of a burial accorded with the meaning of the word, which is to hide, to put away out of sight, to cover up. Let this, then, be the signification of the word today. It means a covering up out of sight. There is no burial where nothing is covered up.
But, if a burial means that the thing buried is covered up, the thing covered must be covered with something. There must be a covering - what is that? We have found the subject of the burial, and now we must find the covering. The "old man" is dead, and the "old man" is "buried;" and that which is buried is covered up out of our sight, and put away from our fellowship, as effectually as are our kindred when we bury them. But what can cover the "old man," "the body of sin?" Water will not do in this case, for all material elements are valueless in such an emergency. Now that he is "crucified," and is therefore in the "likeness " of Christ's death, how is his burial "with Christ" effected? Now, mark all the steps; for we are at a crucial point, one that you must not lose. Well, that which is buried is covered up; and it is always covered with that into which it is buried. If a man is literally buried into the earth, he is covered with earth; if he is buried into the sand, the sand is the covering; and if he is buried into the water, he is covered with the water. Now, how is it with the "old man"- into what is he buried? Not into the earth, nor into the sand, nor into the water; therefore the covering in this burial is not earth, nor sand, nor water. But this is a burial by baptism into death; therefore the covering is death. But what death is this? There was a death which preceded the burial, a death by crucifixion; but here is another death, which now becomes the covering, because the burial is into it. What death can this be? It is not the death of the body; for even those who insist on burying the body, refuse to bury it "into death." If they should make the death as literal as they do the burial, they would drown every one bur ied; but they will not do that. They prefer the inconsistency we have pointed out, and the destruction, of the apostle's rhetoric, to such a literal construction of death. Nor is the death which becomes the covering spiritual death, or the death in sin; for the process in question is one which breaks the power of this death, and releases the soul from its grasp. Neither can it be the "death unto sin;" for that, in the order of right conception of the process, is past. It was accomplished by the crucifixion. What, then, is the death into which the old man is buried, and with which he is covered? In order to obtain the answer, we need not leave the language before us. Right here in the text we have it: "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," etc. Here it is, so plain that we can not mistake the point. "Into his death;" that is, into the death of Jesus Christ. We are baptized into his death, and we are buried by baptism; so that we are buried into the death into which the baptism inducts us; and this death we know is the only covering for sin, the only covering for the old man, which is the "body of sin." The word "therefore," in the text, connects the burial with the death of Christ, and makes this the only grammatical construction. Here, then, is the process, so far as it relates to the "old man:" The "old man" is crucified as Christ was crucified; the "old man" dies as Christ died; and the "old man" is buried as Christ was buried. And as the "old man" is buried into the death of Christ, he is covered up by that death. Like as the lid of the ark of the covenant, overshadowed by the cherubim of glory, was the mercy - seat, which covered the tables of the law, so the sacrificial death of Christ, the true mercy - seat, covers the sins of all that are "crucified" with him." Blessed is the man whose sin is covered."
It has already been said that this burial is not a momentary affair, but a permanent result. I wish to emphasize this thought. The burial is not a ceremony, but a profound experience. It brings us into a new relation to Christ, a new state of spiritual activity, and makes us new creatures. Old things pass away, and all things become new. The language is not, "We were once for a moment buried with Christ," but, "We are buried." If we are in Christ today, we are as much buried with him now as we were at the hour of our entrance into the "newness of life." The aorist tense, here employed by the apostle, alludes to past time, to the period of crucifixion, death, and burial, but it also expresses a continued effect. When we say of a dead man that he is buried, we allude to a past occurrence, to the time when the burial took place; but we also include the thought that the man is yet in the grave. So this mystical burial was present with Paul and those to whom he wrote. And the effect metaphorically expressed by the burial must continue. To unbury the "old man" would be to give him back his life and power, and amount to an apostasy from Christ. He must remain beneath the covering of the atoning blood, so long as we remain dead unto sin, and our life continues hid with Christ in God.
The metaphor of "planting" comes into this text by the act of the translators, rather than by the apostle. Paul was given to the use of mixed metaphors; but we could not be true to ourselves, and the text, if we did not remark that the word sumphutoi, rendered "planted," simply conveys the idea of uniting or growing together, as in the case of grafting, and can only mean that by crucifixion! with Christ, as explained, we join Christ in his death, and so unite with him as to share its benefits. The whole idea is that by this process we reach the "likeness of Christ's death." There is no possible allusion to the mode of baptism in any metaphor this word may contain.
The analogy between the resurrection of Christ and the "newness of life" does not imply that the burial ceases. The "old man" is "put off," not to be "put on" again: The "new man" takes his place, and comes into the comparison, as soon as the resurrection of Christ is mentioned, "that like as Christ was raised up by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." The "newness of life" is the proper antithesis to the death and burial of the "old man;" just as the putting on of the "new man" is the antithesis of the putting off of the "old man," in the other passages cited; and the resurrection of Christ is not symbolized in the passage, but is itself made the symbol or pattern, as well as the source, of the newness of life to the believer. How different is all this from the immersionist rendering, which virtually says "that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so must our bodies be raised out of the water by the arm of the preacher!"
All this exposition, as far as developed, is corroborated by the other passage which speaks of burial in connection with baptism. I refer to Colossians 2:10-12: "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 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." Here is the same experience, implying the same process, and reaching the same result. Here we find the same "old man," though not named, to be "put off" "the body of the sins of the flesh." But here the metaphor of circumcision is brought in, and that of crucifixion omitted. The rite of circumcision becomes the illustration of the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh. "In whom ye are circumcised," is just as positive, and as literal, as the burial. But there is no comparison drawn between the manner of circumcising and the result attained; neither is there any comparison between the manner of baptizing and the result reached, which is the burial. We can not argue from the burial to the manner of baptizing, any more than we can argue from the "putting off the sins of the flesh" to the manner of the circumcision. The circumcision is not literal, for it is a "circumcision made without hands;" that is, a spiritual circumcision, or the result which circumcision, when taken in its spiritual import, always indicates. So the "burial" is not literal, but spiritual; that is, it is a spiritual result, which answers to the religious meaning and design of baptism, and not to its mode or outward form. The "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh," in this passage, is the same as the "crucifixion of the old man," and the destruction of the "body of sin," in the text in Romans. In one place the body of sin is put to death and buried, in the other it is "put off;" in one place the burial is associated with "crucifixion," in the other with "circumcision." In neither place is the mode of baptism brought into the comparison, and in neither place does the "old man" rise; but in both places the resurrection of Christ is made the pattern and pledge of newness of life "Wherein also ye are risen with him; through the faith of the operation of God" not by the muscular power of the preacher's arm! The truth is that, here in Colossians, the two rites, circumcision and baptism, are so blended in the illustration of this wonderful experience as to demonstrate the identity of their import, and to bring out the spiritual signification of each. The circumcision without hands is just as physical as is the burial in or by baptism. The preposition expresses agency.
The tenacity with which men hold their traditional notions of a text which has been used to bolster cherished prejudices is most wonderful. Hence, we must look again at this language. Here is the pronoun we. The apostle says, "We are buried;" and does not this refer to the persons baptized, simply as men? Well, yes; the whole experience is wrought within the person. The "old man" is "our old man;" and when "our old man is crucified," we are crucified; and when he dies, we die to sin; and when he is buried into Christ's death, we are buried. Yes; and when the "newness of life" is raised up in us, we are risen with Christ. Just so, when the "old man is put off," we put him off; and when the new man is "put on," we put him on; and we are the new creation. Our identity remains; but all this does not make the "old man" and the "new man" the same thing; nor do they occupy the same place in the metaphorical representations of the apostle. Paul uses the pronoun elsewhere quite as emphatically, when no one will imagine for a moment that he had any physical action on his person in view. Read Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: for 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." Here is the same thought. "I am crucified" not literally, nor is the whole person the subject of the crucifixion; but, as he more definitely states in Romans, the "old man" is, crucified, dead, and buried with Christ, and the new man, or newness of life, the life of faith in the Son of God, ensues. Turn as you will, you can not escape this style of thought. This personification of the carnal nature, and the metaphorical crucifixion, death, and burial of the "old man," is the key to much that is otherwise obscure in these Epistles, and, when clearly apprehended, it unlocks many mysteries, and sheds a flood of light upon some knotty questions in theology, in regard to the deepest experiences of the divine life. The experience it unfolds is vital. Unless the "old man" is crucified with Christ, dead and buried with him, so that "we" are brought or grafted into his death, we can have no fellowship with Christ, and must fail to reach the likeness of his resurrection. We can not, therefore, afford to fritter away a truth so important and precious as this; and it does seem to me that to reduce this crucifixion, death, and burial with Christ "into his death," to a sudden dip of the body in water and out again, is little short of handling the Word of God deceitfully.
But here is another question-one which you have, perhaps, anticipated: What has baptism to do with this burial? Or perhaps the real question is, Why is this effect, this consummation of the death unto sin, ascribed to baptism, as the agent of its accomplishment? We must weigh this point well; for you see that it reaches the heart of the subject.
This will also suggest the question as to what baptism is intended, whether the outward rite or that of the Holy Spirit; but I shall cheerfully accept the statement that the word is to be taken in its most obvious sense-that it means the ordinance established in the Church, to be administered by the use of water, wherever the Gospel is preached. Some insist that the baptism of the Spirit is meant, and that water is not in the passage. I make no point of this kind. The truth is never advanced by the assumption of extreme ground in its defense, not warranted by the facts, or the force of the words employed. The word baptize occurs a few times in the Scriptures in connection with the work of the Spirit, so that there is a baptism of the Spirit, which is the real baptism, of which that with water is but the symbol, or outward expression. But it is probable that the word baptism passes over from the outward rite to the inward work, as a metaphor, because of the relation between the ordinance and that which it represents. This relation is not accidental, nor is it temporary or variable. It is a relation chosen by divine wisdom, and established by divine ordination, and is therefore definite, fixed, and unalterable. When this thought is properly developed, it will show at once why the work of the Spirit is called a baptism, and why the whole work of salvation, which is wrought only by the Holy Spirit, is ascribed to baptism.
In order to the development of this foundation principle, you must indulge a seeming digression. The work of salvation is divided, so to speak, into two departments. The first relates to the law of God, and our relation to the law, as sinners; and, for the purpose of distinguishing it, we call this the legal aspect of the scheme. The other department relates to ourselves, to our interior state or condition, as depraved persons; and this we may designate the moral aspect of salvation. As sinners, we are under the law, under its curse, and liable to all its maledictions; and, within ourselves, we are spiritually blind, depraved, dead. To effect our deliverance from this twofold helplessness, is the purpose of the plan of salvation revealed in the Gospel. In the nature of the case, the work of saving us must have a twofold bearing; it must affect our relation to the law, and it must work a transformation in our spiritual natures. Accordingly, to meet this twofold demand, there are two distinct personal agents revealed, each engaged in his own appropriate department; namely, the Son of God, and the Spirit of God. All that pertains to redemption, properly speaking, or that concerns our relation to the divine law, is done by the Son of God himself, in his personal agency; and all that relates to our inward condition, or that affects our interior state or spiritual life, is done by the personal agency of the Holy Spirit. Hence, every particular act or element of the work of salvation that is expressed in the Scriptures by a forensic term, is ascribed to Christ, and belongs to the legal aspect of the scheme; and every other part - that is, all that relates to the inward work, as enlightening, quickening, regenerating, renewing, etc.- is ascribed to the Spirit, and belongs to the moral aspect of the scheme. This distinction is not arbitrary, nor is this distribution of the work and classification of terms an accidental or fictitious arrangement. The recognition of it is necessary to a proper understanding of the ordinances, and to right conceptions of many theological points connected with Christian experience. It is a distinction and distribution founded in the nature of things, and established by the wisdom and eternal purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
These two aspects of the plan of salvation, and the twofold work, were prefigured under the former dispensation. Pointing to our salvation from sin, in its twofold aspects, were two classes of typical services; namely, bloody sacrifices and watery ablutions. These related respectively to the redeeming blood of Christ and to the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, and lasted till Christ died and the Holy Spirit was given. Then all the typical bloody sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ, and all the typical washings with water were fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This done, and the typical services were no longer in place. Their meaning was lost in their fulfillment; but, in their stead, two services were instituted, adapted to the new dispensation-the one a commemorative rite, pointing to the blood of Christ, already shed; and the other a symbolic ordinance, pointing to the purifying influence of the Spirit of God. The Lord's supper recalls to the memory of the Church precisely that which was prefigured by the bloody sacrifices of the law; and Christian baptism symbolizes that which the old watery ablutions adumbrated. There is, therefore, a fixed, definite, unchangeable relation between the Lord's supper and the official work of the Redeemer. In this service, Christ's death is distinctively shown forth. It relates to Christ and to his work alone. The bread and wine are the symbols of redemption. The Lord's supper is the sacrament of the Son of God, and relates to the legal aspect of salvation; and there is an equally direct and permanent relation between the ordinance of baptism and the Holy Spirit. The water of baptism is the ordained emblem of the Holy Ghost working salvation within the soul. This is its invariable meaning and design. Apart from this it is without authority, and without sense or significance. Baptism is therefore the sacrament of the Holy Ghost. The work of the Spirit is the foundation of the ordinance; and baptism derives all its meaning, efficacy, and value from its relation to the Spirit, which it represents. It is on this account that the work of the Spirit is sometimes ascribed to baptism, and that the word baptism is applied to the Spirit, and used to denote the work of the Spirit. This is done by an easy figure of speech, in which cause and effect, and symbol and the thing symbolized, arc rhetorically interchanged - a figure which is familiar to all students of the Bible, and misleads no one.
This arrangement of the ordinances can not be reversed. The Lord's-supper does not relate to the Holy Spirit, is not an emblem of the Spirit, and can not be made to represent the work of the Spirit. If applied to, the work of the Spirit, its meaning is lost. It has its origin, its foundation, and its meaning in the official work of Jesus Christ in our redemption. So, on the other hand, baptism never relates to the Son, but always to the Spirit of God. It is not the symbol or emblem of the work of the Son, and loses its meaning, and is perverted, the moment it is employed in emblematical representation of what he did or suffered. Fidelity to truth demands this demolition of the foundation of the immersionists use of the text before us; for just here is their fearful mistake. Laboring under the erroneous impression that baptism might symbolize the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, immersionists have habitually forced this ordinance into a service it was never intended to perform. Losing sight of his death by crucifixion, and of his burial by being laid in a rocky sepulcher - a room with door and walls - they have imagined a resemblance between the burial of Christ and the immersion of the body in water, and between the resurrection of Christ and the lifting of the body out of the water; and upon this forced analogy, without foundation in fact or authority in Scripture, they have erected their exclusive superstructure, which can only stand by robbing this apostolical description of the mystical crucifixion, death, and burial, which destroys the reigning power of the "old man," of its real meaning, and reducing the profoundest experience of the regenerated soul to the mere form of an ordinance, and perverting that ordinance by thrusting it into the place of the Lord's supper! Misguided by this false light, multitudes have supposed that they have been "buried with Christ," and met the requirements of this Scripture, when they have looked no further than to the physical covering of their bodies in water, without crucifixion or death! The consequences' of such radical error are too numerous and grave to be passed over mincingly.
We must retain the ordinances in their appropriate places, and give them distinctively their appointed significations, if we would understand them or use them to edification. The Lord's supper represents the death of Christ, and baptism does not. Baptism represents the Holy Spirit in purifying the heart, and the Lord's supper does not. Baptism is the "sign of regeneration," the symbol of the inward spiritual washing that takes away our defilements and makes us one with the Lord. Taken out of this relation, and despoiled of this design, it is meaningless and void; and when divorced from its legitimate work, and forced into an unnatural service, what wonder that it becomes a mystery, a snare, a mere form and tinsel in the Church, according to the caprice of men!
Now we have reached the place for answering the question as to what baptism has to do with the burial. Understanding the relation between baptism and the Holy Spirit, the explanation of the relation of baptism to the "burial" of the "old man" into the death of Christ is natural and easy. The work of crucifying the "old man" is done by the Holy Spirit. No other power could nail him to the cross. The death unto sin, the result of the crucifixion, is by the same agency. No one will dispute this. What then? Why, the burial is but the consummation of the same process. But, if so, this entire work of conquering the "old man" and destroying the "body of sin" is really done by the Holy Spirit. Here the ground is firm. But why is all this ascribed to baptism? The reason is in the sense in which it is ascribed, which is now apparent. It is all explained by the relation between baptism and the Spirit. The effect, which is wrought by the Spirit, is ascribed to baptism by an easy figure of speech, in which the symbol is named for the thing symbolized. This is the whole of it. No other explanation has ever been given that obviates absurdities, and at the same time harmonizes the language and all the facts.
This position may be illustrated by the language of Christ with reference to the other ordinance. When the Savior instituted the Supper, he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take, eat; this is my body." It was not his body; but then it was the emblem of his body, and was to stand for his body, in that sense, till the end of time. He added the words: "Which is given for you." It was not yet given, for he had not yet died; but, in his unchangeable purpose, the consecration was made." Like wise after supper he took the cup, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Drink ye all of this." He did not mean that they should drink the cup, but that which was in the cup. Then he added: "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." It was not his blood literally, but only the fruit of the vine; nor was his blood yet shed, for he had not yet been crucified; but then the relation between the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ, then established, to abide through all the future, explains and justifies the language. It was a figure of speech in which the container was put for the contained, the emblem for that which it represented. Nothing is more common in language, or more beautiful in rhetoric; and this is precisely the way the apostle Paul ascribes to baptism that which was really wrought by the Holy Spirit. In one place it is said, "This is my body," when it was only the emblem of the body; and in the other place it is said, "By baptism," when it was by that which baptism always implies and represents. The figure of speech is the same; and that the whole process of induction into Christ is by the Spirit, is too plain to need proof. The apostle elsewhere says: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit."
And now, brethren, I have given my answer to the question concerning the relation of "baptism" to the "burial," and flatter myself that the view presented meets all the conditions of the case, and unfolds the meaning and design of the two ordinances, with their respective foundations, and manifests the folly of Romanism in multiplying the sacraments beyond the number ordained by the Lord Jesus, as no antagonistic interpretation has ever done. And you will permit me to express the belief that this exposition, however imperfectly presented, rescues these somewhat famous Scriptures from most frightful abuse, and reveals in them a beauty and force and depth of meaning which can never be seen so long as the mode of baptismal administration is regarded as the central thought, or allowed to have any thing to do with this highly figurative language. In fact, the mode of baptism is not mentioned or alluded to, directly or indirectly, in this whole argument, and has no pertinency to the subject, while the design and spiritual meaning of baptism come in naturally, and explain the allusion. I bring nothing fanciful or far - fetched, nor do I seek to capture your concurrence by any brilliancy of rhetoric or display of elaborate criticism; but I lay before you what seems to me the most natural explanation, and the plainest that will bring out the beauty and force of the passage.
I know that commentators, and men eminent for piety and learning, have accepted the statement that these Scriptures allude to immersion; but I know, also, that most of those have been absorbed in other great issues, which they treated critically, while they looked upon the mode of baptism as an incidental matter, of no vital significance, and passed over it by simply following in the footsteps of trusted authors. I therefore respectfully decline permitting the authority of great names to weigh aught in opposition to the well ascertained sense of the inspired record. I do not believe it in the power of human learning, ingenuity, or skill to find the mode of baptism here, without distorting the sense, and doing violence to the apostle's most striking conception of the death unto sin. I leave the subject with you, and pray that the light of divine truth may shine into our hearts until the mists of error and the film of prejudice shall be removed from our mental and spiritual vision.
published to the net May 22, 2009