The One Baptism
January 17th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
THE ONE BAPTISM
W. A. Criswell
1-17-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The One Baptism. In our preaching through the Book of Ephesians, in the fourth chapter, the apostle writes, "There is one body, and one Spirit, and one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" [Ephesians 4:4-5].
Last Sunday morning following that text, I spoke on the true unity of the church, the true ecumenicalism, the true ecumenism, The Sevenfold Unity of the Church. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all, sevenfold unity of the church. This morning I am picking out one of those seven unities. And I do it because of its unusual and unique position. It is in an altogether different world from the rest. And that is the one baptism.
When you turn to a commentary and read what is that one baptism, a commentary that you might read, just among a host of them, will say that refers to the water baptism, the baptism in water, the one baptism in water. Pick up another commentary, and the author will say that refers to the Spirit baptism, the one baptism by the Holy Spirit wherein we are added to the body of Christ.
Well, as I read the Book, and as I study it the best I can, I think it is both. There is one baptism – one! Initially, introductorily, it is the baptism in water, burial, and resurrection. Symbolically, it came to be used to depict the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We are taken out of death, and we are added to, in life, to the body of our Lord, buried and raised. But my persuasion is, whether it is in water or whether it is by the Spirit, there is one baptism. There is not two. There is not three. There is not half a dozen. There is one, as there is one body, and one Spirit, and one hope, and one Lord, and one faith, and one God and Father of us all, so there is one baptism, just one! There is not two. There is not three. There is one baptism.
Now, in the message this morning, we’re going to take it initially what it actually is. Symbolically, it refers to the work of the Holy Spirit, symbolically. But actually and initially and originally, it is an ordinance. And the ordinance is used to symbolize something else, such as, the bread and the fruit of the vine symbolize something else, but the Supper actually is the bread and the fruit of the vine that we eat and we drink. And it pictures something else. So with the one baptism, it actually is something. It is an ordinance, it is an action, and it symbolizes also something else.
The one baptism, first: it receives the highest honor. Look at its unique position here, one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one God, and one baptism. That is an unusual thing that the apostle should place that one baptism in that company that he names in the unity of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus.
And when I turn to the passage that you read this morning in the third chapter of the Book of Matthew, I am impressed there again with its honored and its unique position. For you see, the only time in all the Word of God that all three Persons of the Godhead are present and active is here in the baptism of the Lord Jesus. The Son comes to be baptized in the Jordan River, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him, and the voice of the Father is heard, saying, "This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased" [Matthew 3:16-17]. The Son submitted, the Holy Spirit descended, and the voice of the Father commended; the only time and place in the entire Word of God where all three Persons of the Godhead are present and active, the baptism of the Lord Jesus.
Another thing as I read the passage, the first public utterance of our Lord establishes the ordinance, the first time we hear the voice of Jesus in His public ministry is when He says, "Thus, it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" [Matthew 3:15]. Then John baptized Him. And when I follow the Book of Matthew out of which we read this third chapter, the last public utterance of our Lord established the ordinance in perpetuity. We are to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" [Matthew 28:19]. It receives the highest honor.
Second: it is commanded in the greatest name. When I turn and read through the Scriptures, I discover another marvelous thing; the only commandment, the only commandment that is made in the name of the triune God is the commandment to be baptized. "Go ye therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" [Matthew 28:20].
Well, why [are] those three Persons of the Godhead named in that baptismal formula and commandment? Well, the reason is found in this. In the 1 Corinthian letter, chapter 15, verses 1 through 4, the apostle Paul writes, "Brethren, I make known to you, I define for you, the gospel." What is the gospel? Paul defines it, "Brethren, I define for you, I make known unto you, the gospel wherein you stand," wherein you are saved. What is that gospel that saves us? "How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that He was buried, and the third day He was raised according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. And that gospel message is portrayed in the ordinance of baptism. The Lord died, and He was buried, and He was raised from the dead. In baptism, we are buried, and we are raised. And that salvation involves all three Persons of the Godhead. God the Father looked down from heaven on the lost and depraved children of old man Adam, and in His mercy and grace and love, He planned this way of salvation. It was born in the heart of God [Hebrews 10:5-10].
Second, the holy Son, Jesus, the divine and only begotten Son of God worked out that salvation in His life, He came down into this world to die for our sins, to suffer, to be crucified, and to be buried. And the Holy Spirit effected that salvation in our hearts. God loved us and planned it. The divine Son worked it out in His life and ministry and death and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit effected it, used it for the regeneration of our souls. That is the way we are saved, and that salvation in the gospel is portrayed in the ordinance of baptism, burial and resurrection [1 Peter 3:21]. And when I am baptized, I show publicly that I have accepted in love and in gratitude the provision of God’s grace for me. This is what God did for me, and I accept it. And when I am baptized, I am publicly announcing I am a disciple of the Lord, and I receive His grace and mercy from His loving hands.
Third, not only does it receive the highest honor, that one baptism; not only is it commanded in the greatest name, in the name of the triune God: but that ordinance illustrates and symbolizes and presents the greatest doctrine. Paul writes in the sixth chapter of Romans,
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:
It illustrates, it symbolizes, it presents the greatest doctrines. It refers to a past redemption, one worked out for us by the triune God. And it presents a present regeneration. We have been born anew. We have been raised in Christ. And it presents the most glorious hope we have, that of glorification, resurrection, the great visitation of God, the rapture, the coming for His people at the end time. Those three things are presented symbolically in the ordinance of baptism.
Let us look at what he says here. One: it is a symbol of the greatest fact of the Christian faith, which is that the Christ who died for us was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]. He died. He was buried. He was raised. And that resurrection of our Lord: demonstrates His deity, and it manifests His power, and it proclaims our redemption!
I have often thought, what if Jesus died for our sins and was buried, and He stayed dead, would we be saved? Would our sins be forgiven? I’ve just turned that over. Every once in a while I get to thinking about that. I don’t have any certain answer for it. If the Lord had not been raised from the dead, would His death on the cross have been sufficient to wash our sins away? Well, I am sure it would have been. Had Jesus died on the cross and been buried and stayed buried, the atonement would have been made for our sins.
But it would have been like a bridge that is just halfway across a great river or gulf, and it just stops in the middle. I don’t know how you would get over to the other side. For you see, the resurrection of Christ exhibited and demonstrated His deity [Romans 1:4]. This is not just a man who is dying; this is the Lord God incarnate, and His resurrection demonstrated that deity. "And in His resurrection," Paul says, "He was raised for our justification" [Romans 4:25]. What he means by that is He was raised to declare us justified. He went up there into glory after His resurrection in order to see to it that before God’s judgment throne we were declared righteous!
We’re not righteous. We’re not holy. We’re full of sin, all of us, saved sinners, unsaved sinners, we’re all sinners alike. But the Lord justifies us. He was raised for that justification to see us through, to see that we get to heaven. And had He remained dead, I don’t think, like that bridge, you just get that far and you never get over there on the other side. The great fact of our faith is, you’ll find this in the apostolic preaching, they preach the resurrection of Jesus. That’s the great glorious fact of our faith of resurrection, and that is proclaimed, is manifested in this holy ordinance, He who died for our sins and was buried is raised from the dead!
That’s why, to us, a crucifix could never be a symbol of the Christian faith. That’s a dead Christ, and He is nailed to a cross somewhere, on a wall or somewhere. We have a living Christ! So the sign of the Christian faith is the cross with the Savior gone from it! Where is He gone? He is raised from the dead and is in heaven! He lives there and in the Holy Spirit in our hearts and meeting with us here in our church! It symbolizes the greatest fact of our faith.
Second: it symbolizes the greatest fact of our experience, our death to the world and our death to sin, and our resurrection to a new life in Christ, a new life in the Lord. One of the most eloquent passages in Paul is Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but the Lord liveth in me: and the life which I now live [in the flesh] I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." It is death, and it is resurrection; that is what regeneration is. We are born in trespasses and in sin, dead in them, and the Lord resurrected us. He made us sensitive to the call of Christ, and to the Spirit of the Lord, and to the will of our God. He quickened us [Ephesians 2:1]. And as Paul said again, "If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; all things are become new, new" [2 Corinthians 5:17]. It is a new day, and a new life, and a new hope, and a new home, and a new love, and a new dedication. It is a new thing! And that is symbolized in our baptism; we are raised to a new life in the Lord.
Then it symbolizes, if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, someday, if the Lord delays His coming and we die, we believe that God will raise us out of the dust of the ground, out of the heart of the earth, and that we shall live in His sight. It symbolizes the greatest hope of the Christian, that we are going to live. Even though we die, we are going to be raised,
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
But I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-53]
If we die and are buried, we shall be raised from the dead. Now, that is what it is to be a Christian. That’s the faith. That’s the hope. That’s the glory. And it is symbolized in this glorious, unique, honored ordinance of baptism.
Well, what if you change it? One of the unusual passages in the eighth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, he quotes from Exodus, and he says, "As Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: "See," said the Lord, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee on the mount" [Hebrews 8:5; Exodus 25:40]. And the Book of Exodus is very careful to record that Moses did exactly that. He made that tabernacle exactly according to the pattern that God had showed him on the mount.
Now, we are to do the same thing with the ordinance of baptism. We are to do it exactly as God gave it to John the Baptist, exactly. We are not to change the pattern. And if you do, you ruin it. It is not baptism any longer. There is all in the one. There is one baptism! And when you change it, it’s not baptism any longer, it’s something else. There is one baptism that God gave to John the Baptist, submitted to by the Lord Jesus, and in perpetuity placed in the Christian church. There is one baptism. Now, when you break the mode it has no meaning at all.
What does your pouring mean? What does sprinkling mean? It means only what a man could sit down in a chair and philosophize, "Well, I think it could mean this. Well, I think it could mean this." And a man philosophizes about its meaning. But God said baptism is burial and resurrection. And when you break the mode, you break the meaning. You have to be buried and you have to be raised. That is what baptism is according to the pattern that God gave to the great first Baptist preacher [John 1:33].
Another thing, when you break that pattern, and you baptize unregenerated, unconverted people, then you lay the church open to all kinds of heresy. And the tragedy written on the pages of Christendom, which is some of the darkest pages in human history, all right, you need to know what I am referring to.
First, when you baptize people that are not regenerated, like unconscious infants, you lose a regenerated church. For God says, first, you must be a disciple. Then second, on that confession of faith you are to be baptized [1 Peter 3:21]. And when you baptize people into the church, you lose a regenerated membership. For you see, that’s the way they made the church congruent with the state. When a child was born, they registered his name in a book as a citizen of the state. And when the child was born, they christened the child into the church, and the church and the state were synonymous, they were the same. The Spirit had nothing to do with it. God had nothing to do with it. It was something that was done when they changed God’s pattern of baptism.
Then what happened? Why, the church used the state, then, to persecute. And I say it to the shame of the whole Christian faith. There is no darker page in human history than the page of the church using the state to burn heretics at the stake, to see them rot in dungeons. Sometimes whole little nations in genocide would be wiped out by the power and direction of the church. How could such a thing be, in the love of God and the mercy of God? Why, it came about by changing that ordinance of baptism and making the church and the state congruent. I am just exhibiting to you what happens and what tragedies follow when we break the pattern of God.
Now, not only does it receive the highest honor, and not only is it commanded in the greatest name, and not only does it exhibit, symbolize, the greatest doctrines: but the ordinance of baptism is in keeping with the most blessed of all examples. In the first chapter of the Book of John, the Baptist preacher is there on the banks of the Jordan River preaching the message, announcing the kingdom. And it was such an unusual thing. It was an astonishing thing!
The world had never seen that before. There were many ablutions and many washings and many baptisms, many of them. But a man always did it himself. He baptized his feet; he washed his feet. The word baptizō in Greek is just "immerse." He baptized his feet, he washed his feet. Or he baptized his hands; he washed his hands. Or sometimes he baptized himself; he washed himself all over. Sometimes he baptized his pots and his pans. But the first time in the history of the world that anybody ever saw a man take another man and wash him, baptize him, was when John did it on the banks of the Jordan River [Matthew 3:1-6].
Now there were as many Johns in that day as there are Johns today, so they call this one Iōannēs ho baptistēs, John, the one who baptizes. And immediately the whole world knew who he was because nobody ever did that before until John did it. And so a committee from the Sanhedrin went down there to the Jordan River, and they said:
"Who are you? Who are you? Are you Elijah?"
"Are you the Prophet Moses spoke about?"
"Are you the Messiah?"
Then they said, "Who are you?"
And he replied, "I am a voice crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord."
Then they said, "If you are not the Messiah, by what right, r-I-g-h-t, by what prerogative, do you come with this new ordinance?" [John 1:19-25].
And John replied, "God in heaven sent me to baptize, that the Messiah who is at hand, who is standing among you, and you do not know Him, that He might be made manifest to Israel and to the world" [John 1:33]. And it was upon that that Jesus came and was baptized. And John bore record saying, "I saw the Holy Spirit descending upon Him and abiding. This is He. This is He, the Son of God" [Matthew 3:13-17]. The holy example of our blessed Lord, God gave it to John for the manifestation of the Messiah to Israel and to the world.
Oh, sometimes I try to relive that. It was sixty miles from Nazareth down there to the Jordan River where John was baptizing, and the Jordan River is a muddy river. It starts up there, the water on top of Mount Hermon, which is twelve thousand feet high, and in just a comparatively short distance it runs down to the Dead Sea, which is twelve hundred feet below sea level. The Jordan, Jordan means "descend." It rapidly comes down, and it is a muddy river.
I read this week in my preparation for this message where a good Baptist was writing, saying, you should never baptize where the water is muddy. Dear me. All the years of my beginning ministry I would not have had any place to baptize because the only place I baptized was in creeks and in stock ponds, and they were all muddy.
I think of Naaman when Elisha the prophet said to him, "You go down and wash, dip yourself, baptize yourself" – the Septuagint reads it, the Greek translation reads it – "You baptize yourself seven times in the Jordan River, and your flesh shall come again like in the flesh of a little child, and you will be clean" [2 Kings 5:10]. And Naaman said, "In the Jordan? Are not Abana and Pharpar" – have you seen those rivers, Abana and Pharpar? They are not large, but they are just as clear and crystal. "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Why can I not wash in them and be clean? And he turned and went away in a rage" [2 Kings 5:11-12].
And it was then that the servant said, "My father, had he bid thee do some great mighty thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much better then to go down into that muddy Jordan and be baptized?" [2 Kings 5:13]. "Baptized," that is what the Greek says, baptized. And upon that, the great general Naaman pulled up his horse, "Whoa, whoa." And he swung them around and went down there to the Jordan River and dipped himself. The Greek says "he baptized himself seven times. And when he came up the seventh time, he looked. He looked, and his flesh had come again like in the flesh of a little child, and he was clean, and he was clean" [2 Kings 5:14]. Wash in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:14], wash and be clean, symbolized in our baptism, washing and cleansing.
Last, and we must hasten. Not only is it of highest honor and place, commanded in the greatest name, set forth the greatest doctrines, follow the most blessed of all examples, the baptism of our Savior: but our response is in keeping with the holiest urge in our hearts. Whenever a man is saved, the first thing he will want to do is to be baptized. And the Spirit of the Lord said to Philip, "Go down toward Gaza" [Acts 8:26]. And as he stood by the side of the road, the treasurer of Ethiopia came by in his chariot, and he was reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. And the Spirit said, "Go near." And the eunuch invited Philip to come, and he said, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this? All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Of whom speaketh the prophet this?" "Philip began with the same Scripture and preached unto him Jesus." And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water, and the eunuch said. "Look. Look, here is water. Here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptized?" I want to be baptized just like it says in the Book. And Philip answered and said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And the eunuch answered and said, "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God – God manifest in the flesh for your salvation and mine."
And he commanded the chariot to stand still, and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him, burial and resurrection. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing [Acts 8:26-39].
"Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" I want to be baptized. That holy urge will be in your heart when you are saved. I want to be baptized. I want to be baptized.
As I referred a moment ago, for the first ten years of my life as a young preacher, I preached out in the country. Didn’t have any baptistery, never had anything but just holes of water and ponds and wherever we could find a place. And I always did something when I was a young preacher. I took my Bible, and the people would be gathered all the way around the stock pond, or they would be on the bank of the river, or they would be on both sides of the creek. I always waded out into the middle of the pond or in the middle of the creek or the river, and I would open my Bible, and I’d preach to the people. It was always on a Sunday afternoon, and they were there by the hundreds. The whole countryside would gather around to the baptizing. And I would take my Bible and stand out there in the middle of the water and preach to the people.
Down here in south central Texas, there is a river called the Leon River. And I was out there in the middle of that river with an open Bible preaching before I was to baptize my candidates. Then I would always come back up on the bank and extend an invitation. Well, on that day and that Sunday when I got through preaching out in the middle of the river and came back up to the bank, I extended an invitation. And down the side of the bank of the river came a man named Will Burt. And he lived up there. He was the patriarch in Burt Hollow. Down he came. And this is his wife. These are his teenage children. And this is his brother, and his brother’s wife, and his brother’s children, and the whole hollow came, all of them, the whole patriarchal family up there in Burt Hollow. They all came. They all came.
And they said, "Today, we give our hearts to Jesus. And we want to be baptized."
"Why," I said. "You’re not prepared. You haven’t brought any extra clothes. You’re not prepared to be baptized."
Will Burt said to me, the old patriarch said to me, "We don’t have to bring extra clothes. We have been saved, and we want to be baptized right here and right now." So when I went out into the middle of the river; I not only had my candidates, twenty, thirty, thirty-five of them, but I had that whole patriarchal family up there in Burt Hollow. And I baptized them one after another. They went home with their clothes wet from the baptismal waters. "I want to be baptized now, now." "See, here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptized?" I got it in my soul. I have found the Lord. I want to be baptized.
That’s God, and that’s the Spirit of the Lord. That is why I’m so glad I’m a Baptist. And I’m so happy to have a baptistery in this church. And I’m so grateful to the Almighty Father. But when I look out over my congregation, every one of them has been baptized just like it says in the Book. There is one body. "There is one Spirit. There is one hope. There is one Lord. There is one faith. There is one God. And there also is one baptism."
God bless us as we follow the sweet and humble example of our Savior down through the waters of the Jordan.
Now, we are going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. By the way, do you know what song it was we always sang when we baptized? Do you know what it was? Are you country enough to remember? It always was, "Happy day, happy day,
when Jesus washed my sins away." And the song that we would sing, maybe, to begin with is, "Shall We Gather at the River." But while we were baptizing, they would always sing,
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day, happy day
When Jesus washed my sins away!
["O Happy Day," by Philip Doddridge, 1775]
Let us sing that, yeah! Let us sing that, let us sing that! My goodness, I get to thinking about those days, and get all happy over it yet.
To give your heart to the Lord or to follow the Lord through the Jordan, or to put your life in the circle of this precious church, while we sing this appeal, on the first stanza, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In the balcony you, on this lower floor, you, as God’s Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come, make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.