Besides the regular elements in our worship on the Lord’s Day, there are special occasions, which bring delight to the pious heart. One of these is the administration of the sacrament of baptism.
Those who understand the sacraments find in them a great deal of comfort. I say, to those who understand, for there are many confessing Christians to whom the sacraments mean little or nothing. We know that the sacrament does not bring a message apart from the Word of God. They add nothing to the message of salvation. Still we are thankful that God has added the sacrament to His Word. The sacraments are pictures, simple pictures…but their simplicity reveals in a marvelously beautiful way the Savior, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.
They bring assurance because they are seals, which bring us the conviction that the promises of God can be trusted. We know from experience the value of a seal. No one goes into the grocery store and asks for a pound of coffee. We always ask for a special blend, the blend which we like best. And the only way by which we know that we are receiving what we ask for is the trademark. The trademark does not add anything to the coffee; it does not change the contents in the least; yet we would not buy unless the trademark, the seal told us that we receive what we want.
In the sacraments God stoops down to the weakness of our faith. The promises of God in Christ Jesus are so great that our faith is often not strong enough to take the promise as it stands. God in His loving kindness takes us by the hand and shows us under outward and easily understood form the spiritual depths and riches of the salvation which we have in and through our Lord. It is this which makes the sacrament so precious to the heart that cries out: I believe, but help me in my unbelief. The assurance of faith is often lacking because of the many sins which, though against our will, are found in our thoughts, words and deeds. They cry out against us and burden our souls. How precious the testimony of the water in baptism. God says to us, you know that water cleanses, it is the great universal cleansing agent. Now remember this, that as sure as water cleanses the filth of the body; so sure does the blood of Jesus Christ cleanse the soul of its impurity.
When parents come to present their child for baptism, God speaks of his covenant grace and faithfulness not only to these parents but to the en tire congregation. The child is baptized as a member of the church. In that fact we behold the realization of the promise that God is not only our God, but also the God of our children. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.” For baptism speaks to us first of all of our sin and accursedness.
The sacrament of baptism reminds us first of all of our sin and misery. This terrible truth needs emphasis in our day. Popular opinion has it that in the child is a germ of the good, which needs to be developed to lead it to perfection, But this is not the teaching of the Scriptures. And the congregation is in need of an ever deepened consciousness that we with our children are conceived and born in sin. When a child is born without any physical defect there is joy in the hearts of father and mother. Of course there is room for this happiness and reason for thankfulness.
But how little is the realization that the child which we have brought into the world is conceived and born in sin. How seldom do we talk about this, often it does not even enter our mind. We so easily turn away from that which distresses. But God wants us to face this truth. In Psalm 51 we find this confession; “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We and our children are conceived and born in sin. Because this is true, we and our children are by nature children of wrath. The apostle Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians states it clearly; We were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” It is well to meditate on this and looking upon the child, which has the love of our heart to say; Conceived and born in sin and therefore subject to all misery, yea to condemnation itself.
It is this which we need to understand in order to come to an understanding of the love of God manifested toward us and our children. By nature we are objects of God’s wrath. He is holy and therefore hates that which is evil. By nature we have no place in the Kingdom of God. As we are we cannot enter into that Kingdom of God.
Neither is it sufficient that the gates of the Kingdom are opened and the invitation to enter is presented to us. It is indeed true that we are unfit to be citizens of the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Natural man will not enter into that Kingdom. He refuses the saving hand extended to him. He nails the Son of God who comes to seek and to save to the cross.
There is only one way open and that is that God in his mercy and grace changes the very nature of man, he must be born again. This also is the teaching of the Scriptures. You are well acquainted with the words spoken by our savior; Verily, verily I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. We must be born again. What it is to be born again we do not know. We who cannot even explain natural birth, how would we understand this miracle of grace. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner. Regeneration is the recreation of the natural man. It is a change which goes into the roots of our existence. We read in II Corinthians 5:17 “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things have passed away; behold they are become new.”
This is what baptism teaches us. The sprinkling with water or the dipping in water tells us that we are unclean; but that God in his wisdom and sovereign grace has opened a way, whereby we can be cleansed. We are told that we should loathe ourselves and humble ourselves before God. We should remember that there is no way, no possibility that we could cleanse ourselves. That only God is able to do this.
Baptism if rightly understood is one of the means by which the Holy Spirit convinces us of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. There should be a humbling of self. With contrite heart and broken spirit the congregation appears before God. And the joy in this spiritual darkness is the promise of God that he will not despise the broken and the contrite heart; it is the declaration that such a heart is an acceptable sacrifice in the eyes of the Lord.