To Fulfil All Righteousness
Three Aspects of Baptism
The priest before being inducted into office was first washed in the great "Laver" in the Court of the Tabernacle. In that simple act and the consecration ceremony which succeeded it we have the principles upon which acceptance with God is achieved. Cleansing—Anointing—Sacrifice; that was the order of things in the duty of priests in Israel and the same order prevails among Christians now.
Repentance and belief in Christ brings justification by faith. That is the first step. That is cleansing. That is the truth lying behind Paul’s word to the Ephesians when he declares that Christ gave himself for his followers, the Church, "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word" (Eph.5:26) and his declaration to Titus that Jesus saves us "by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Tit.3:5). The washing must come before the renewing. That is only one aspect of the true baptism that lies behind the symbol, the ceremonial.
The second aspect is that which follows the initial justification, and is best expressed in the words of Paul to the Romans (Rom.6:4‑5) "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..." Here is a theme that has nothing to do with cleansing but everything to do with the dedication of life to death that out of death there might come eternal life. It has to do with the going into death of the few, following the One Who first went into death alone, that out of that death all might be received into life. And that in turn harks back to a truth that was first enunciated in New Testament days by Peter on the Day of Pentecost itself, that this coming of man into eternal life is really a restoration of that which existed at the first. "Times of Restitution of all things" he calls the day when this new life is to be extended to all men, for there was a day at the very beginning when man, newly created by the hand of God, had eternal life within his grasp.
It is because the surviving records of those far‑off days are so scanty that we are not able completely to trace this aspect of the doctrine of baptism back to its probable origin in the days of the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head (Gen.3:15). The Apostle Paul, whose knowledge of ancient lore was almost certainly far more profound than we today can easily realise, referred to something of this when he wrote in 1 Cor.10:2 of Israel, passing through the Red Sea, being "baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea". That was not a baptism of cleansing; it was a baptism of separation, of dedication to the purposes of God that they might be a chosen people, a Royal Priesthood, ultimately to become an instrument in God’s hand for the reconciliation of fallen man to Himself and the accomplishment of His purposes with them. To accomplish that end they must of necessity pass through the waters that separate between fallen man in a sinful world and the eternal life that can only be achieved in God’s world.
Peter must have seen something of that when he likened Christian baptism to the historical incident of the Flood. In the days of the Ark, he says, a few were saved by water—were carried through the water and saved when all others perished—"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us...by the resurrection of Jesus Christ". (1 Peter 3:21). He meant something very much akin to Paul’s words about Israel’s baptism in the Red Sea. Noah and his family were forever separated from an evil world, where sin reigned, by the waters of the Deluge, and they came forth into a new world which to them was a world of new and Divine life, a world where the Spirit of God could have full scope for the exercise of beneficent power and the righteous live according to the dictates of their own pious hearts with none to make them afraid. The fact that in after days the world relapsed again into evil does not spoil the picture of the new, renovated world into which Noah and his family entered when they emerged from the Ark, nor of the fact that we who by baptism are separated just as surely from a doomed and dying world come forth to a new order of things which is ultimately to become the "desire of all nations". (It is interesting again to note that the great Laver in Solomon’s Temple is called in the Old Testament by this very name of "sea". (1 Kings 7:23‑44; 2 Chron.4:2‑15)).
There we have what may be the foundation of this second and so much more important aspect of baptism. We who are buried with Christ by baptism into his death are forever separated from the world and its aims and interests; we have elected to follow Christ whithersoever He may lead—and He leads into those symbolic waters and beneath those waters and then out of those waters into a new life. Like as Christ was raised from the dead, so we also rise to walk in newness of life. That new life is lived in this world, here and now, but because of that new life we are no longer of this world. We have become citizens of the perfect world, the Paradise of righteousness which lies beyond the waters, the Paradise to which all men will attain when at last the waters are done away—they in the earthly phase of that Paradise, and those who went through the waters in the spiritual, heavenly phase.
That then is the vision before us as we go down into the symbolic baptismal waters, when by the One Spirit we, individually, are baptized into the One Body (1 Cor.12:13). We, here, are still in the world of death and suffering and all manner of evil. Over there, on the other side of the water, there is the glorious world of the future, Eden restored, the River of Life and the Trees of Life, and the Holy City, New Jerusalem, waiting to come down from God to man. But Eden cannot be restored to man, much as man needs it and, maybe, longs for it, until Christ’s consecrated followers have followed Him into those waters and been planted together in the likeness of His death. Only then can they emerge also in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom.6:5). The world must wait until that has become an accomplished fact and the consecration of earthly life which is the real baptism has been consummated in actual death of the human frame and a glorious resurrection to spiritual being. "We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. " (1 John 3:2). Until then "the earnest expectation of the creature (creation) waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God" (Rom.8:19).
It is after consecration has become an established thing with us that we enter into the third aspect of baptism. The true baptism is not only cleansing; it is not only separation to holy things; it is also an entry into suffering. Suffering is an essential factor in the Divine Plan. We may not know—we do not know—just why that is so and just what redemptive or reformatory power is inherent in suffering, but the Scriptures show clearly that it is so. Our Lord’s death on the Cross provided the Ransom for man, but his life of suffering was the offering for sin by means of which man will ultimately be reconciled to God. Both are necessary in the Divine Plan. And with those who are Christ’s consecrated followers, seeking to become joint‑heirs with him of the Kingdom and associated with him as his "Bride" in the glory of all future ages, the fact that they are dead to the world and are ready to lay down life itself for the Lord and the Truth is not the only fruit of their lives that God can use for the salvation of mankind. He can, and will, also use the fruit of every act of sacrifice and every pang of suffering that there has been throughout those consecrated lives. We realise, and say, at times, that suffering and sacrifice plays an important part in the development of character. Perhaps we could never approach conformity to the Divine likeness without it. We do know that our Lord was made perfect through suffering, and the disciple is not greater than his Lord.
Therefore our baptism is, beside a baptism of cleansing and a baptism of separation, a baptism of suffering. It was so with Jesus. "I have a baptism to be baptized with" He said "and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:50). When the mother of Zebedee’s children, John and James, asked that her sons be given the chief places of honour in the Kingdom, Jesus asked them if they were able to be baptized with the baptism that He was baptized with. They assured Him that they were able. What innocent confidence they had, knowing not what the future held for them of suffering and persecution and death! Jesus knew. "Ye shall indeed be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with." Perhaps he knew also that they would be faithful and come through triumphant at the end.
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