The Divine Institution of Baptism
March 7th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE DIVINE INSTITUTION OF BAPTISM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-7-82 10:50 a.m.
The message today is entitled The Divine Institution of Baptism. In the heart of the Great Commission of our Savior you will find commanded that strange and strong and unusual rite. Reading from Matthew 28:18-20, the last three verses of the First Gospel:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and mathetusate—
an imperative command—
make disciples of all the nations—
then that rite—
baptizing them in the name of the triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo—
marvelously faithful, look—
I will be with you . . . even unto the end of the age. Amen.
As our Savior looked down through the corridor of the vista of the years that lay before Him, He saw in every age and in every generation thousands upon thousands standing in pools, and in ponds, and in creeks, and in rivers, and in ocean sides, and in baptisteries, and He saw other thousands looking upon that unusual ordinance. And down through the years and through the ages, there have been great outpourings of the Spirit of God, followed by the great baptismal services that join them to our Lord.
- For example, in the Book of Acts, chapter 2, we are told of three thousand who were baptized at Pentecost [Acts 2:41].
- In the nineteenth chapter of Acts we are told that all Asia turned to the Lord [Acts 19:10]; they were baptized in the communion and faith of the Lord Jesus.
- In 404 AD in Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, John Chrysostom, John “the golden-mouthed,” baptized three thousand soldiers on Easter.
- In 430 AD Patrick in Ireland baptized the king, his son, and twelve thousand men.
- Clovis, king of France, was baptized in 496 AD along with three thousand soldiers in his army.
- Augustine, the missionary to the Anglo-Saxons of England, in 597 AD in Canterbury baptized ten thousand men, each man baptizing the other one, and then the history book says, quote, “an infinite number of women and children.”
- Boniface, a martyred saint in 680 to 755 AD, the English missionary to the Teutonic tribes of Germany, baptized over one hundred thousand in his lifetime, and often many thousands at once.
- Vladimir of Kiev, the first czar of Russia between 980 and 1015 AD, himself being converted to the Christian faith, led hundreds of thousands of his subjects through the baptismal waters.
- Our great Anabaptist forefather Hubmaier, Balthazar Hubmaier, burned at the stake in Vienna the tenth of March in 1528, baptized from six to twelve thousand converts every year.
- In 1878 in India six missionaries baptized two thousand two hundred twenty-two Talukas in one day.
When I was last in South Korea, they asked me to stay over for the Lord’s Day. They were going to baptize one thousand four hundred South Korean soldiers and wanted me to speak to them. I had to begin a crusade in Hong Kong on Sunday and I couldn’t stay. I wish I could have seen it. In presiding over a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance, I listened to two Burmese pastors in that communist dominated land; speak of the thousands and the thousands that are being baptized today.
Our Lord, looking down through the vista of the years, saw those uncounted numbers in their generations coming into the faith through the baptismal waters, so meaningful to us who share it, and no less to us who look upon it. So as I look upon baptism, that holy and initial ordinance, I think of it in three great categories: one, its historical truth; second, its experimental truth; and third, its prophetic truth; its revealed past, its meaningful present, and its unfolding future.
First, its historical truth. For 400 years there was silence from heaven; no prophet appeared to the people of God. Then the startling appearance of John the Baptist and his strange rite administered in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:1-12]. And our Lord Jesus walked the sixty miles from Nazareth in Galilee down to the Jordan to be baptized of John in the Jordan River [Matthew 3:13-17]. And that was the first step of our Lord in His public, messianic ministry: to be baptized by the great prophet, John the Baptist. And for the first time in recorded revealed history, at the baptism of Christ, we see all three Persons of the Godhead actively presented: the voice from the Father from heaven, “This is My beloved Son” [Matthew 3:17]; the Holy Spirit, descending bodily in the form of a dove [Matthew 3:16]; and the Son of God, submitting to the rite [Matthew 3:13-15]. And in the part of our Savior, thus He pledged Himself for the redemption of our souls from sin [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:4-14; Romans 4:25].
In keeping with the promise prophetic in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, it is thus that our Savior gave Himself to make an end of sin and to be bring in everlasting righteousness [Daniel 9:24-27]. He said to John in Matthew 3:15, “Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness,” and in that holy ordinance the Lord pledged Himself to die for us, that we might be washed from our sins and to be raised from among the dead for our justification [Romans 4:25]. And in that tremendous beginning, we have the introduction of the dispensation of the age of grace. I know that because in the first chapter of Acts the qualification of an apostle is that he had to be baptized by John the Baptist [Acts 1:22]. This is the introduction of a new oikonomia [Matthew 3:13-17], a new dispensation, a new age of grace, the age of the preaching of the saving gospel of the Son of God; thus its historical past, full of deep, revealed meaning for us.
I speak now of the experimental present, the unfolding meaning in our own lives. The ordinance of baptism is something that we share in our hearts when we listen to the gospel message of Christ. It is our response, our first response in faith to the Lord. We have the same experience that the treasurer of Ethiopia had when he listened to Philip the evangelist in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 8:27-39]. Reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. And as the Ethiopian treasurer read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, he turned to the evangelist Philip and said:
Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?
And beginning at the same Scripture, Philip preached unto him Jesus.
And 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?
And Philip answered and said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he replied and said, I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. 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 he was come up out of the water, the Spirit of God drew away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
This is our response to the gospel. When I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, my first reply: “I want to be baptized. See, here is water; what doth hinder my following the Lord in baptism?” [Acts 8:36]. It is in baptism that we are joined to Him. We are made one with Him. Did you notice that little pronoun? “Thus it becometh us,” our Lord said to John the Baptist. “Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” [Matthew 3:15]. He includes us with Him, and He submits in an ordinance that we are to share alike. “Thus it becometh us.” We are united with our Lord in that holy ordinance [Matthew 3:13].
It’s a remarkable thing how the apostle Paul will write of that ordinance. In the tenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, he says:
My brethren, I would not that ye should be without knowledge,
how that 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]
They were joined, they were united with their great lawgiver and deliverer and leader. They were united with him in the baptism of the cloud and in the baptism of the sea. In the midst of the shekinah glory of God, and in the midst of the deliverance in the waters of the Red Sea they were one, Moses and his people [1 Corinthians 10:1-2]. Thus it is in our holy ordinance of baptism. We are joined to Christ, we are united with Him, we are one with Him in His death, in His burial, and in His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. Dead with Him, buried with Him, raised with Him; it is an experience of our own lives, our own souls, our own hearts. We feel it and we respond to it, and God says, “I am well pleased.”
In the days that I was in school, in college at Baylor, between Fourth Street, the street on the left-hand side of the school, and the Brazos River, there was a large slum area filled with poor and ragged people. While I was in school, every afternoon I took my Bible and I went down into that area of the city of Waco, and I went from house to house knocking from door to door. And I introduced myself to those that opened the door: “I’m a young minister in school. And I want to know, are you Christians here?” If they would say yes, I would say, “Then may I come in and read the Bible with you and pray?” If they would say, “No, we’re not Christians here,” I would ask, “May I come in and show you how to be saved?” I did that for the years, every afternoon that I was in school.
One of those afternoons as I returned to the campus, I was walking through the famous Oak Grove Cemetery. And I met a man in the cemetery who was finishing his assignments of the day. He worked in the cemetery and was on his way home. I began to talk to him. He was not a Christian, he was an infidel. And I expressed my amazement to him that in this great circle of the tokens of our mortality, the brevity of life, he should not believe. As I pled with him and spoke to him, we knelt in prayer on either side of a grave, and I poured out my heart to God for him. And as I prayed for him, I extended my hand across the grave and asked him if that moment, that day, he would receive Christ as his personal Savior. He warmly grasped my hand and replied, “I will.” And then I thanked God for him, and we stood up, and he went on his way to make a confession in the church and to follow the Lord in baptism.
In one of those strange coincidences that I could never explain, the grave was that of Dr. B. H. Carroll, the head of the Bible Department at Baylor and the founder of our Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also was an unbeliever and an infidel, a blatant one, a forensic, argumentative one. He had gone through the Confederate army in the Civil War; wounded, crippled, came out bitter and an infidel blaspheming the name of God. Then he was marvelously, wonderfully converted. I have never read a sermon that was more meaningful or moving than B. H. Carroll’s sermon entitled My Infidelity and What Became of It. He describes there how he turned from unbelief to faith, from the world to God, from darkness to light. And then he describes his baptism:
I will never forget the day I was baptized. Oh, dear friends, if you could ever know, God grant that you may never know it 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 reservation, 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 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 have 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 just 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—
the president of Baylor—
and that dear pupil of Dr. Burleson’s who was called the Spurgeon of Texas, W. W. Harris—
the first pastor of this church, and we have named that building the Spurgeon Harris Building—
and that dear pupil of Dr. Burleson’s who was called the Spurgeon of Texas, W. W. Harris—
the first pastor of this church—
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; when my body would be cold, when it would be put out of sight—
the grave over which I led that man to the Lord—
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 the water, and the old brethren gathered around me, oh, the joy of it! The glory of it, following Jesus.
[from Christ’s Marching Orders, B. H. Carroll, p.112]
It is an experiential truth, all of me baptized, not just a part, but all of me. As Paul writes, “My brethren, I beseech you that you sacrifice unto God your whole body” [Romans 12:1]. “All of me devoted to the Lord, all of me!” Did you notice what he said? “I give you my head to think for Thee, I give you my hands to work for Thee, I give you my feet to walk for Thee; all of me baptized, joined to Christ, united to Him. “
I think of something funny that happened in that baptistery right there. There was a man coming down for me to baptize him. And when he got down almost into the water, he stopped and said, “Oh, wait a minute, pastor. I forgot to take out my pocketbook.” I said, “Brother, come on down. All my life I’ve wanted to baptize a man’s pocketbook.”
“All of me, all of me joined to the dear Lord!” And Paul has a magnificent word to say about that in Galatians 3:27: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Like a man who is in an army, and he puts on the uniform of his country, and he marches under the flag and in the name of the nation that, God granting, is the home of his family, and the center of the devotion of his patriotic allegiance. Thus it is with us: as many of us as have been baptized into Jesus Christ have put on Christ; we are clothing ourselves with our blessed Lord [Galatians 3:27]. It is an experiential truth; it is something in our souls, in our lives, in our hearts, in our devotion, in our commitment.
Last: it is a prophetic truth; it is a commitment and a belief in a great miracle of the unfolding future. And that miracle is the physical resurrection of our bodies. It is an unusual thing: when you read these men who are so scholarly and learned, many of them say that the high watermark of all biblical revelation is the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians15]. That’s the great resurrection chapter of the Bible. Paul starts off, “For my brethren, I make known unto you, I declare unto you the gospel wherein ye stand, whereby ye were saved” [1 Corinthians 15:1, 2]. Then he says it, how that this is the gospel; when a man preaches the gospel, this is what he preaches; if you send out a missionary to China and he preaches the gospel, this is what he preaches: “My brethren, I make known, I define for you the gospel; namely, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried and the third day He was raised according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:1-4]. That’s what a man preaches when he preaches the gospel: Jesus died for our sins, He was buried [1 Corinthians 15:3-4], and He was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25].
Now do you notice the rest of that long, long chapter 15 in 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 15:5-58] is a presentation, a revelation of our physical resurrection from among the dead? That is an astonishing revelation! And I cannot hide from you, I stagger before it many times. I live in that kind of a world, a world of death and burial, of weeping, of heartache, of separation, of crying in tears and sorrow. If there is a death, I will be almost the first one told, and I share in so many of those memorial services. And when I see them lowered into the ground, into the heart of the earth, so still and silent; Lord, could it be that these dead shall live again? Shall rise from the dust of the ground; could it be?
Yet that is the heart of the gospel. What gave vitality, and viability, and power, and strength, and glory to the preaching of the gospel was, the third day He was raised from the dead, and He ascended into heaven [1 Corinthians 15:4; Acts 1:9-10]. And He is not our dead, but our living Lord, and some day coming again [Acts 1:11]. And because He lives, we shall live also. And “if we are buried with Him, we shall also be raised with Him” [Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:3-5].
That is a doctrine unique to the Christian faith; it is found nowhere else in the earth. All of the ancients believed in immortality of the soul. The Book of the Dead, the hieroglyphics that surround these that are buried in Egypt, tells about the life beyond. All of the ancient Greeks believed that beyond the dark River Styx there was some kind of a shadowy immortality. Even an American Indian was buried with his bow and arrow; he’d need it in the happy hunting ground. But the resurrection of the physical body; when Paul preached that before the Areopagus, the supreme court in Athens, the Epicureans scoffed out loud. They laughed [Acts 17:18-19, 31-32]. They were “atomic atheists”; they taught that the world was made up of atoms. Doesn’t that sound modern? Made up of atoms, and the coarser atoms were the human body, and it went back to the dust. And the finer atom was diffused; it was the soul into the world. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, they guffawed, they laughed to scorn. The Stoics were more genteel and gracious; they were pantheists, and they believed everything was a part of a world soul, and when we died we went back, we were dissolved back into that world soul. But the resurrection of a physical body was unthinkable to the Stoic philosopher, and he just quietly smiled and bowed away [Acts 17:31-32].
And as I preach the doctrine today, Lord, Lord, could it be? Is it possible to be, that these hands that decay in death will be recreated, immortalized, and they’ll serve Thee? These eyes that fall into disintegration and decay, that they’ll be resurrected and immortalized and see Thee? Could it be? Then I think of the great avowal of Job:
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth:
And though through my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom mine eyes shall behold, and not those of a stranger.
Lord, Lord, give me greater faith, give me greater commitment, give me greater consecration, Lord. And what a blessedness, and what a preciousness; that grave is not the end, and that corruption is not finis, and that darkness that lies beyond that life is not for ever midnight despair. But beyond the grave is resurrection, and beyond death there is life, and beyond the darkness there is light and immortality [1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. And it’s the gift of God in the resurrection of His dear Son [Acts 2:32], and I express that faith and that hope in my baptism. I am baptized, buried in the likeness of His death, and I am raised in the glorious hope of His and my resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].
May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, with what faith do we ask from Thy gracious hands a gift from God? Our human reasoning staggers at such a miracle. Was Christ raised from the dead? Does He live? Lord, when we die, shall we be raised from the dead—these corrupting bodies? Ah, Master, in that faith and in that persuasion have we given ourselves unto Thee [Romans 10:8-13], believing God hath prepared some better thing for us than that we be food for worms, turned back into the dust. O God, make us to shine for Thee, to be triumphant for Thee; in any providence, sickness, and finally death, to glorify Thee, knowing He is able to do for us above all that we ask or think, even raising us from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. And our Lord, in the expression that faith in our baptism, and in the living of that faith in our lives, may we be filled with the fullness of the joy of the glory of our Lord.
And in this moment that we pray and wait, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, in the balcony, down a stairway, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, today we have decided for God and here we come.” “Accepting the Lord as Savior, here I stand” [Romans 10:8-13]. “Putting my life in this dear church, here we come” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. “Following Jesus in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], I want to be baptized.” God bless you in the way as you come. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest in those that respond with their lives. In Thy saving name, amen. While we sing, come and welcome. “Here I am …”