The Divine Institution of Baptism


The Divine Institution of Baptism

March 7th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM

Matthew 28:18-20

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 28:18-20

3-07-82       8:15 a.m.



Now as most of you know, the pastor in these present times is preaching a great doctrinal series on the Bible, and it is divided into fifteen sections.  And the section in which we are now involved is on ecclesiology, on the doctrine of the church.  And the last time I preached here it was the presentation, a doctrinal discussion of the ordinances of the church.  And now we take up each one:  this Sunday, The Ordinance of Baptism; and then a following Sunday, The Ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

In the heart of the Great Commission – which all of us memorized as children – in the heart of the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:18-20, there is this strange and strong and unusual ordinance.  The last three verses of the last chapter of Matthew:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.

Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations,

– then this ordinance –

Baptizing them in the name of the triune God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit:

Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:  and, look, lo,

– as though it were a marvelous surprise –

Look, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.  Amen.

[Matthew 28:18-20]


As our Savior looked down through the corridor and the vista of the years, He saw in every generation and in every age this sacred rite repeated again and again and again; thousands upon thousands standing in pools, and in ponds, and in rivers, and in creeks, and in lakes, and by the seaside, and in baptisteries in obedience to this tremendous mandate from our Lord.  And through all of the centuries of Christendom there have been tremendous outpourings, revivals led by the Spirit of God, and following after, immediately the baptism of these new converts to Christ.

In the second chapter of Acts, there is our first Pentecost and the three thousand converts who were baptized [Acts 2:41].  In the nineteenth chapter of Acts, all Asia turns to the Lord and is baptized [Acts 19:1-10].  In 404 A.D., in Constantinople, the then capital of the Roman Empire, John Chrysostom on an Easter day baptized three thousand.  Patrick, in Ireland, in 430 A.D., baptized the king and his son and twelve thousand men.  Clovis, the king of Francs, in 6 A.D., was baptized on Christmas Day with three thousand of his soldiers.  Augustine, missionary to the Anglo Saxons of England, in 597 A.D., in Canterbury, baptized ten thousand men, each man baptizing the man next to him, and – I quote from the history book – "and an infinite number of women and children."  Boniface, in 680 to 755 A.D., an English missionary to the Teutonic tribes in Germany, baptized over one hundred thousand in his lifetime, often many thousands at a time.  Vladimir, who was the first czar of Russia, lived in Kiev between 980 and 1015 A.D., was converted to the Christian faith, and he had hundreds of thousands of his subjects baptized.  Balthazar Hubmaier, our great Anabaptist who was burned at the stake in Vienna, on March 10, 1528, he baptized between six and twelve thousand converts every year.  In India, in 1878, six missionaries baptized 2,222 Telugus.  I was in South Korea, and the missionaries there earnestly asked me to stay over the following day, Sunday, to speak to a 1,400 South Korean soldiers who were to be baptized that day.  I couldn’t do it because I was to begin a crusade in Hong Kong that day; but I wished that I could.  At a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance, I listened to two Burmese pastors describing the thousands and the thousands of Burmese who were being won to the faith and were being baptized in communist Burma.  It continues to this present day, and not only those thousands who are following the Lord through the baptismal waters, but there are other thousands who gather round, looking upon that strong, strange, unusual ordinance.

It has through the centuries profound meaning to the church.  All of your ancient churches had beautiful baptisteries.  One of the most beautiful baptisteries I’ve ever seen in the world is in St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome.  When you go to Florence, there is the great Duomo, where Savonarola preached, and right by the side, the tall campanile, the great bell tower, and then next to it the baptistery.  They built those beautiful baptisteries in a separate building by the side of the church.  Michelangelo said, "The doors of that baptistery are worthy to be the doors of heaven."  If you go to Pisa, the cathedral, the Leaning Tower, the bell tower, and then the beautiful spacious baptistery.  I was in Sao Paulo; and in a Pentecostal church that baptized more than three thousand every year, to my amazement, the center of the pulpit is given to a large baptistery, and the lectern, the pulpit desk is to the side.  It is an unusual rite, ceremony.

Now, its meaning.  It has in it historical truth, the revealed past.  It has in it experimental truth, the meaningful present.  And it has in it prophetic truth, what God hath promised for the future.  Historical truth, the revealed past, the sudden appearance, the startling appearance of John the Baptist fell like thunder and lightning from heaven upon the Jewish nation [Matthew 3:1-3].  For five hundred, for four hundred years there had been silence in heaven.  Then this great prophet of God appears, and he does so with an unusual rite, one the world had never seen before.  And our Lord Jesus walked sixty miles from Nazareth in Galilee down to the Jordan where John was baptizing, and there He began His public ministry.  The first step of our Lord in His open messianic announcement to the world was when He sought baptism at the hands of John [Matthew 3:13].

In that beautiful and wonderful experience, we see for the first time in revealed recorded history all three persons of the Godhead actively involved:  the voice of the Father, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased"; the presence of the Holy Spirit lighting upon the Son in the form of a dove, and the second Godhead of the Trinity, Jesus our Lord submitting to the ordinance of baptism [Matthew 13:16-17].  It had in it the pledge of our Savior that He would die for our sins and be raised for our justification [Romans 4:25].  In speaking to John, He said, "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" [Matthew 3:15].  The only way that there can be made, according to Daniel chapter 9, an end of sin and a bringing in of everlasting righteousness is in the suffering, the death, and the burial, and the resurrection of our Lord [Daniel 9:24].  And when our Lord submitted to that ordinance, He pledged Himself to die for our sins according to the Scriptures; to be buried, and to be raised again according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3-4].

And in the life of our blessed Savior, there was a critical time in His life when His life was threatened by those who opposed Him [John 9:59].  And in the last verses of the tenth chapter of John, He returned to the place where He was baptized [John 10:40], and there relived that consecrated moment when He gave Himself to die for our sins [Mathew 3:15-17].  And this ordinance is the beginning of the new dispensation, the era and the age of grace.  It began with John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1-3], and it began with that ordinance administered in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:13-17].  I know that because in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, for a man to be an apostle, he had to be baptized by John the Baptist [Acts 1:22].  It was the announcement, the heralding, the opening of the new administration, the new oikonomia, the new dispensation, the age of grace in which we live.

Not only does the ordinance bring to our hearts as we look upon it the revealed past, historical truth, but it also brings to us experimental truth, the living, moving present.  It is in this ordinance that we announce to the world that we are united with Christ.  That is our response in our hearts when one is saved and committed to Jesus: the first thing he seeks is, "I want to be baptized,"  as the Ethiopian treasurer in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, when Philip the evangelist took Isaiah 53 as a text and preached to him Jesus [Acts 8:30-35].

As they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; What doth hinder me to be baptized?  I want to be baptized.  And Philip answered and said, If you believe with all your heart, you may.  And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior.  Then he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.  And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of God took away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

[Acts 38:36-39]


It is an experimental personal reaction to the Spirit of God in our hearts:  "I want to be baptized."  In that ordinance, we are united with our Lord.  Did you notice this little word in Matthew [3:15], "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness," the little word "us"?  "Thus it becometh us, thus it becometh us," not just for Him, but for "us."  We are united to Him in baptism.

In the tenth chapter of the Book of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, "Brethren, I would that ye should remember 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 Corinthians 10:1-2]  That’s a remarkable way to say it, isn’t it?  "They were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea."  They were united with their leader in that shekinah glory that covered them [Exodus 13:21-22], and in the Red Sea through which they were delivered [Exodus 14:21-31].  They were united in baptism to their great deliverer [1 Corinthians 10:1-2].  So it is with us:  we are united with our Lord in that holy ordinance; we are one with Him [Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:3-5].  It is an experimental reaction in our own hearts.

When I was in school, in college, in Baylor, every afternoon while through the years that I was there, every afternoon I took my Bible, and between Fourth Street that bounded the university on that side and the Brazos River, there was a large slum, a kind of a ghetto, filled with poor, ragged people.  And every afternoon in the years I was there, I took my Bible, and I went from door to door, from house to house, and knocked on the door.  And I would ask, "Are you Christians here?"  If they said, "Yes," I’d say, "May I come in and read God’s Word with you and pray with you?"  If they said, "No, we’re not Christians," I would say, "May I come in, and may I show you how to be saved?"  I did that for the years I was in school.

One evening, after my going through that dark and tragic section of the city, I was walking back to the school through the Oak Grove Cemetery, and I met a man who worked in the cemetery who was finishing the chores of the day and was on his way home.  I began to talk to him about Jesus.  He was an unbeliever; he was an infidel.  And I spoke to him in amazement that he lived in the tokens of the brevity of life, and yet he didn’t know God.  We knelt at a grave, he on that side and I on this side.  And I prayed for him, prayed for his soul.  And at the end of the prayer, I reached my hand across the grave, and I asked him if he would take the Lord Jesus as his Savior.  And he said, "Yes, I will.  I’ll give Him my heart and my life."  And across the grave we clasped hands as he gave his heart and life and soul in faith to the blessed Jesus.  And he stood up to turn his face homeward, and to make a confession of faith in the church, and to follow the Lord in baptism.

In one of those strange coincidences of life, the grave over which we clasped hands in faith and commitment was the grave of Dr. B. H. Carroll, head of the Bible department at Baylor, and then founder of our Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth.  And as I thought on my way to my room of the commitment of that man, who was an unbeliever, to the blessed Lord Jesus, one of the greatest sermons I ever read in my life is by B. H. Carroll, entitled "My Infidelity, and What Became of It".  He was a blatant and arrogant infidel, was a soldier in the Confederate army, was wounded and crippled.  And when in the providence of God his life was spared, in a marvelous and wonderful way he was saved, he was converted.  And now, may I read from that great, mighty man of God?

I will never forget the day I was baptized.  Oh dear friends, if you could ever know – God grant that you never know experimentally – the horrors of hell through which I passed in my infidelity, but when the Lord God converted my soul and I saw my dear Redeemer, when I gave myself to Him without reserving one atom, I said, ‘Lord Jesus, write Thy name on my head, and let it think for Thee; on my hands, and let them work for Thee; and on my feet, and let them walk for Thee.  Write it, Lord, all over me; for I am altogether Thine.’  Then lovingly I said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?  I am going to do it.  I will do what my Master commands me to do.’  And when I took His Book, the Bible, and read about baptism, I came up to the church and I said, ‘I want you to hear a statement that I have to make.  I think I’ve been converted.’  And that cold day, I stood up and told the story.  There was a bitter northern blowing, but my heart was warm.  I gave them the whole story.

‘Now, brethren, I do trustfully and lovingly receive the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior, and I want to be baptized.’  And I went down to the creek; and that dear pupil of Dr. Burleson’s, who was called the Spurgeon of Texas, W. W. Harris,


The first pastor of this dear church, and we named our building over here for him; that’s the Spurgeon-Harris Building:

And that dear pupil of Dr. Burleson, the president of Baylor, who was called the Spurgeon of Texas, W. W. Harris, led me down into the water, in Old David’s Creek, in Burleson County.  I see that creek today in my mind.  And when my feet walked down into the water, I thought of my burial, that the time would come when I would be dead, lying there in that grave, when my body would be cold, when it would be put out of sight; and in advance of death, I was erecting a monument that would tell Death that it should not hold me forever; and my heart was glad.  Then followed my burial with Christ and my rising with Christ.  And when I came up out of that water and the old brethren gathered round me, oh the glory of it! the glory of it! following Jesus!


This is not a cold, formal, meaningless rite or ritual.  It is always experiential.  It always is something of the soul and of the heart.  It is a response we make to our Lord when we have been saved, when we have found Jesus.

I haven’t time to expatiate on that; there is so much in the Bible about that kind of a doctrine.  When we are baptized, we are baptized all over; not just a part of me, not just a piece of me, but all of me.  As Dr. B. H. Carroll said, "My head, and my hand, and my heart, and my feet."  As Paul wrote it, "My brethren, I beseech you, give your bodies fully committed, a whole living sacrifice to the Lord" [Romans 12:1].  One of the strangest things I’ve read in history, when those Francs were baptized with Clovis their king, some of them held their right hands out of the water, holding their sword aloft, "This is not baptized"; they intended to fight.

I think one of the funniest things that ever happened to me in my life happened right there in that baptistery.  There was a man coming down into the baptistery to be baptized.  And when he got most of the way down in the water, why, he stopped, and said, "Wait a minute, pastor, I forgot to take my pocketbook out."  I said, "Brother, you come on down.  All my life I’ve wanted to baptize a man with his pocketbook."  All of us baptized, every part of me baptized.

And Paul describes it in Galatians 3:27 like this, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."  Isn’t that an unusual thing?  "All of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."  It’s like a man in an army:  this is his uniform. You see him marching down the street or marching away to war or marching into the field of battle; he has on a uniform, he belongs to us.  And that’s exactly what baptism is.  We are baptized into Christ; we have put on Christ, and we are now a soldier of the Lord [Galatians 3:27].

I come to the last, so briefly; it is prophetic truth.  It is a promise of tomorrow.  There are many scholars who say that the high watermark of all revelation is the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.  As you know, that is the great resurrection chapter.  And it begins, "My brethren, I make known unto you the gospel wherein ye are saved; 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;" then follows that long chapter on the resurrection from among the dead [1 Corinthians 15:5-58].  Baptism is that:  we are buried with our Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised with our Lord in the likeness of His triumphant resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].

Death is not the end of it, not according to Jesus and the gospel.  Isn’t that an unusual thing?  There is no faith and no religion in the world that teaches or believes in a resurrection of the dead.  All of the great religions believe in some kind of immortality.  The ancient Egyptian was buried with all of the accouterments of a life to come, the life of the soul, immortality.  Those ancient Greeks believed in some kind of a shadowy existence beyond the cold, dark River Styx.  The American Indian, when he was buried, was buried with his bow and arrow he needed in the happy hunting land.  But the resurrection of the body is unique to the Christian faith.  It is found in no other religion.

When Paul came to Athens, in Mars’ Hill at the Areopagus before the supreme court of Attica, when he spoke of the resurrection of the dead, they laughed [Acts 17:18, 22, 31-32].  The Epicureans scoffed out loud; they were atomic scientists.  They believed that we were made up of two kinds of atoms:  the coarser atoms make a physical body, went back to the dust; and the finer atoms, the soul, was scattered over the earth.  The Stoics were more gracious [Acts 18:32].  Those ancient Athenian philosophers were pantheists; they believed in a world soul, and when we died the soul went back into that great pantheistic world soul.  But the idea of a resurrection of the dead was unthinkable to the Athenian philosopher, whether he was a Stoic or whether he was an Epicurean.  And it was unthinkable to the ages of humanity in their generations.  The first time there was brought to light immortality of the physical body was in Jesus Christ; the resurrection of the dead [Matthew 28:1-7].

Could such a thing be?  Dear people, I wonder at that ten thousand times.  Ever since I’ve been a pastor, I have been laying in the heart of the earth these who have fallen asleep in Jesus.  And as I look at their silent forms and their cold faces, O God, could it be that these very bodies shall rise again?  This hand immortalized shall touch my living Lord.  These eyes recreated will see Him.  And this very heart will beat again in loving gratitude to Him [1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18].  Lord, could it be?  And then I say to myself that wonderful word of faith on the lips of Job:  "I know, I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon this earth: And though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, whom mine eyes shall behold, and that not as a stranger" [Job 19:25-27]. 

O Lord, what a triumph and what a victory.  To face death and the grave, and to cry with those who have trusted in our Lord, "O Death, where is thy sting?  O Grave, where is thy victory? . . . Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Corinthians 15:55-57].  And that faith is expressed in that holy ordinance:  I’m buried with the Lord, I’m raised with the Lord; my body, my physical frame, immortalized and glorified, shall someday magnify His wonderful name.  O Lord, give me a great faith to believe.

Now may we stand together?

Our Savior, truly, truly the greatest miracle of all time is Thy bodily, personal, physical resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7].  And truly, truly the greatest miracle that we shall ever experience is that final and ultimate day when the whole redeemed possession shall have been presented to Christ, and we shall live glorified, resurrected in Thy sight [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].  And our Lord, in that faith to which we’ve given ourselves, may we find strength and comfort for every assignment that lies before us and through every providence that overwhelms us.

And in this great throng who bow humbly before our Lord this morning, a family you, "Pastor, we’re coming today; God has spoken to us, we’re on the way"; a sweet couple you, or one somebody you, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles.  "Pastor, today we have decided for God."  Coming to put your life with us, coming to be baptized, coming to accept Christ as your Savior, answering the call of the Spirit in your heart, make the decision now; and when we sing this appeal, down that stairway, down that aisle, "Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God."

And Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us this precious moment of appeal and decision, in Thy saving name, amen.

While we sing, come, and welcome, welcome.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell




I.          Introduction

A.  The unusual rite in
the heart of the Great commission

B.  Jesus could see
through the years the uncounted numbers being baptized

1.  Great
outpourings of the Spirit, followed by great baptismal services(Acts 2, 19)


II.         Historical truth – the revealed past

A.  Startling appearance
of John the Baptist

B.  First recorded step
of Jesus’ public ministry – being baptized by John

C.  First
time all three Persons of the Godhead actively presented(Mark 1:9-11)

D.  Jesus’
pledge to go all the way to the cross (Daniel
9:24, Matthew 3:15)

This is the beginning of the Christian dispensation

Pre-requisite for apostleship(Acts 1:21-22)


III.        Experimental truth – the meaningful

A.  Our response in
faith to the Lord (Acts 8:34-39, Isaiah 53)

We are united with our Lord in baptism (Matthew
3:15, 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, Romans 6:3)

Grave digger in the Waco slums

B. H. Carroll describes his baptism(Romans 12:1)

All of us, the entire body consecrated (Romans
12:1-2, Galatians 3:27)


IV.       Prophetic truth – the unfolding future

A.  The gospel defined (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

      1.  Remainder of
chapter a revelation of our physical resurrection

B.  Proclaims the heart
of the gospel and our hope (Colossians 2:12)

      1.  Resurrection a
doctrine unique to Christian faith (Job 19:25-27)