committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs










Baptism the Door to the Lord's Supper.



It is my purpose to consider in this paper the proposition that all Christians ought to be baptized before they come to the Lord?s supper. Since baptism is the immersion of a believer "into the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," the proposition may take another verbal form, and affirm that all Christians ought to be immersed before they come to the Lord?s supper. Some of my brethren proceed further, and teach that, not only immersion, but membership in a Baptist church, is prerequisite. Some proceed even further than this, and require membership in the particular Baptist church by which the supper is announced. To consider all these propositions would demand more space than I have at my disposal, and hence I limit myself to the first. This, after all, is the decisive one. If it is left in doubt, the others must fall; if it is established, they will occasion but little difficulty, and will be treated as questions of administration, to be decided in the affirmative or in the negative without affecting the essential principle that baptism should precede the Lord?s supper. Dr. Norman Fox has given me an additional reason for the limitation of my study to the one proposition in his recent statement ("The Invitation to the Breaking of Bread," page 13) that "it has never really been discussed among Baptists," by whom "it has been thought sufficient to say, ?All other churches hold this view."?

The Nature of the Evidence.

If I say that the evidence in favor of the proposition is inferential, I do not disparage it. Inferential evidence is often of the strongest kind; it is that circumstantial evidence upon which the gravest cases in our courts of law are decided. Many great truths of our religion are known to us only by inference. The Christian Sabbath, as distinguished from the Mosaic, is known to us only by inference. The doctrine of the Trinity is proved only by inference. The argument of our Lord against divorce (Matthew 19:3-6) is purely Inferential. So, also, is his proof of the resurrection (Matthew 12:26, 27). That there should be a Lord?s supper at all, as distinguished from the common meal, is proved only by inference.

The Baptist is not alone when he consults inferential evidence to ascertain who may properly partake of the Lord?s supper; he has the entire Christian world with him, as all denominations appeal exclusively to this evidence. If we shall make any proposition whatsoever concerning the terms of admission, we shall be compelled to support it solely by inferential evidence, for there is no other that can be produced. Three pastors?one a Baptist, another a Presbyterian, and the third a Methodist?once conversed on this subject somewhat as follows:

Presbyterian to Baptist?"What passage of Scripture commands you to limit your invitation to the supper to baptized believers?"

Baptist?"There is no explicit command:?

Presbyterian?"I do not think that there should be any limitation for which a ?Thus saith the Lord? cannot be adduced."

Methodist to Presbyterian?"I quite agree with you." .

Baptist to Presbyterian?"What invitation do you give?"

Presbyterian?"I invite all members of evangelical churches."

Baptist "And where do you find?"Thus saith the Lord? for that?"

Methodist, after a moment of silence?"But I invite all who love Christ, whether they are members of evangelical churches or not."

Baptist?"And where do you find a ?Thus saith the Lord? for that?"

Baptist, after some moments of silence?"It appears that each of you establishes a limitation, and that neither of you can find an express warrant in scripture for the limitation which he establishes. If either of you should attempt to support his limitation, his argument would be inferential. It is the same with the Baptist, except that his Inferential evidence is cogent, while that which could be adduced for either of the limitations you have mentioned would be feeble and easily set aside."

This parable may suffice to convey my thought concerning the nature of the arguments with which I shall support the proposition that all Christians ought to be baptized before they come to the Lord?s table.

The Argument From the Importance of Baptism

If baptism were an ordinance of small importance, it might not be worth while to maintain its position as a prerequisite to the Lord?s supper. Granting that it appears in this honorable station in the New Testament, this might have been the result of chance, or of temporary convenience, or of some conception peculiar to the apostolic age, and of no permanent value. But when we observe the vast importance which the New Testament attaches to baptism, and the vast importance of the function of baptism in the history of the individual soul, and hence of the church, we perceive at once that the position of precedence assigned to it in the New Testament cannot be the result of accident or of passing circumstances.

Our Lord was baptized at the very beginning of his ministry, and at the very close of his ministry he left a formal command to baptize every disciple; and thus he interwove the ordinance with his solemn inauguration as the suffering Messiah, and again with his solemn inauguration as the reigning Messiah. The heavens were opened to approve his baptism, and immediately after his proclamation of the law of baptism they were, opened. again to receive him up into glory, thus making his last words more impressive than any others. When the Holy Spirit distinguished the day of Pentecost with the overwhelming display of his regenerating grace, all those who repented under his influence were baptized, and the work of the Spirit began, as the work of Christ had begun, in the observance of this rite. The New Testament often speaks of baptism in such an emphatic manner as almost to identify it with the work of God in the soul, of which it is a symbol; that is, with spiritual washing, with death to sin and resurrection from it, and with the removal of guilt by pardon. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5). "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins" (Acts 22:16). "He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5). "Which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 3:21). If we find any difficulty with these expressions, is it not because we have accustomed ourselves to regard baptism as a mere ceremony, a vague emblem, setting forth certain indefinite phases of the divine life, but not ministering nourishment to it?

Thus in every way the New Testament affirms the importance of baptism, and does so even at the risk of creating the impression in some minds that the rite contains an occult spiritual power to save the soul, a danger which the Holy Spirit of inspiration evidently deemed less hurtful than that of undervaluing the ordinance.

It is sometimes said that the apostle Paul esteemed baptism lightly, and his statement to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:17) that "God sent him to preach, and not to baptize," is offered in evidence. This opinion is always heard, when it is heard at all, from persons who belong to denominations which have reduced baptism to a drop of water applied to the forehead of an infant as a symbol of the desire of the parents and friends that it may be saved. As these persons reduce baptism to a rite without much meaning or utility, it is natural for them to attribute their low estimate of it to the apostle, whose bodily infirmities may well have compelled him to arrange that it should be administered by his assistants. Christ himself baptized by the hands of his disciples, and yet, as we have seen, he assigned to the ordinance a lofty position in his example and his instructions to his church; and if the apostle Paul, under the compulsion of infirmity, had baptism administered by his assistants, he thought as little as did his Master of disparaging the holy ordinance. The apostle does not say that those to whom he wrote had not been baptized; indeed, the contrary is implied; and he merely expresses his gratification that as events had turned out, the ordinance had been administered by others, lest some of the Christians at Corinth, in the heat of partisan strife, should declare that he had baptized into his own name. So far is the apostle Paul from depreciating baptism, that he exalts it as few other writers of the New Testament do. "Are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried, therefore, with him through baptism into death; that, like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3, 4). "Having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col. 3:12). It will be observed that in these passages the apostle, who is supposed to think lightly of baptism, associates it not only with the greatest truths of the gospel, the death and resurrection of Christ, but also with the greatest duty of the believer, to live in a manner worthy of his holy calling.

But why is baptism exalted in the Scriptures to this lofty position? God is infinite reason, and he has not done this thing arbitrarily. He is infinite love, and his reasons for this act have reference to the salvation of men.

The lofty position conferred upon baptism by Christ and his apostles and by the Spirit of inspiration is explained when we consider the functions of the ordinance in the history of the individual soul, and hence of the church.

1. As a means of publishing the gospel to the world, it is excelled only by the living preacher. Wherever it is administered, it proclaims the great central truths of our religion. First, in an emotional picture, in an action of incomparable appropriateness and beauty, it sets forth the Saviour of mankind in the two moments around which thought and feeling chiefly cluster; in the moment of his burial, deserted by his disciples, and rescued from nameless indignities only by the intervention of one who had not been numbered with them, and in the moment of his resurrection?the first a moment the contemplation of which plunges us into tears, the second a moment the contemplation of which exalts us to a heaven of joy and triumph. But, next, the ordinance sets forth the death of the soul to sin and its resurrection to a new life of holiness. If the first truth is the greatest of all concerning Christ, the second is the greatest of all concerning the Christian. But, still further, the ordinance sets forth our assurance of a future resurrection after death has done its worst against us. If the first and second truths are the greatest concerning Christ and the Christian, the third is the greatest of which we can think in connection with our destiny after our earthly career is closed. Now, these are the central truths of our religion. They are mighty when they are proclaimed by a faithful ministry, but they receive additional might when they are illustrated in the graphic action of baptism. Hence many thousands of happy Christians attribute their first favorable impressions of Christianity to the overwhelming influence of baptism, as they have witnessed its administration to others.

2. Not only the world, but also the church, has need of this preaching. Sometimes her living teachers err. They may lay the chief emphasis upon the incarnation of Christ and remand his cross to a secondary position. They may deny the reality of his resurrection. They may deny the essential sinfulness of the soul and its need of a radical change in regeneration. They may deny the future resurrection of the body. But baptism, where it is faithfully preserved and administered, continues to proclaim these great central truths, and to admonish those who forget them by its silent, but impressive, witness. Hence any perversion of it is a calamity. The church which substitutes effusion for it rules out of court a volume of testimony to the chief doctrines of the gospel which Christ himself has produced, and thus renders the task of its misleaders far more easy.

3. Baptism is of inestimable value to the disciple just born again and just entering upon a new course of life. His old habits of thought and feeling and action are broken, but not destroyed. He has within him a celestial life, but it is only pushing its shoots above the soil, and is exposed to drought and frost and the trampling of herds, and it needs nourishment and shelter. At the beginning of any new and trying course of life, a moving ceremony, which surrounds the opening of the pathway with strong and attractive associations, which can never be forgotten, is a ministering angel. Every student of the mind recognizes the wisdom of making the greatest possible impression upon it when it forsakes some evil and determines to practice some virtue hitherto untried. Thus Bain ("The Emotions and the Will," page 453) says: "If we can only strike a blow with such power as to seize possession of a man?s entire thoughts and voluntary dispositions for a certain length of time, we may succeed in launching him on a new career, and in keeping him in that course until there is time for habits to commence, and until a force is arrayed in favor of the present state of things able to cope with the tendencies and growth of the former life." James ("Psychology," I., p. 123) refers to this passage, and adds: "We must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reinforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, develop your resolution by every aid you know."

If this teaching of the psychologists needs any further confirmation, let us consider that we are accustomed to start men on new and trying courses of life with solemn ceremonies. Thus we have an inaugural ceremony when a civil officer assumes his new position, and we cannot doubt that kings and presidents and judges are often aided to bear faithfully their heavy burdens and to live above the temptations which plead with them to swerve from the highway of honor, at least a little and in secret, by calling to mind the oath which they swore in the beginning and the assembled multitudes of spectators who witnessed it. Nor can we doubt that the care which we lavish upon the marriage ceremony aids the young husband and wife, but partially adapted to each other, and but partially fitted for their new duties and responsibilities, to have patience, and to acquire those habits of yielding and unselfishness which the home demands. They look back at the marriage service, and picture the faces of friends gathered together to hear their vows of love and fidelity, and grow ashamed of the petty and exacting tempers which might mar their peace or destroy it altogether. Our Savior, who created the soul and knows it perfectly, did his first miracle to aid in rendering a marriage service successful. As he began his ministry by putting the supreme seal of his approval on the ceremony of baptism, so he began his miracles by putting the supreme seal of his approval on the ceremony of marriage. He performed this divine act in order to approve the married life and the home. But let us not pause when we have said this. The most obvious feature of the act was .the solicitude of Christ to bless the ceremony itself and to make it complete, so that his young friends, when they should remember it in after years, should not associate it with distress and humiliation, but should find in it a source of toy and a sweet constraint to all the domestic virtues. We are following Christ when we make the ceremony of marriage impressive and helpful. Let us imagine a society in which it should be reduced to a few cold words or should be wholly abolished. Such a society would be either angelic, and in no need of aid to overcome sin, or else bestial, incapable of gentleness, and unrestrained by love or conscience from the indulgence of all base passions.

We are now prepared to understand in some small measure the divine utility of holy baptism. In saving the soul, God works both directly and indirectly, both by the immediate contact of the Holy Spirit and by mediate external agencies. Hence we speak not only of the sovereignty of grace, but also of the means of grace. Were the means of grace unimportant, we might dispense with preaching, with the study of the Bible, with the counsels of Christian friends, and with the hallowed associations of the church. Now, baptism, a powerful depiction of the burial and resurrection of Christ, of the death and resurrection of the soul, and of our future blessed resurrection, standing at the very beginning of the new life, is a most precious means of grace. Its n,, its mighty appeal to the intelligence, to the imagination, to the emotions, and thus to the will, render it most effectual in producing the greatest possible initial impression, which, the psychologists tell us, is so necessary at the beginning of a new course. To apply it in unconscious infancy, or to alter its form and thus to blot out its testimony concerning the great central truths of Christianity, is to render it nugatory.

4. But more than this should be said. Baptism is a much-needed aid to the disciple, not merely because it is a moving ceremony. It is an act of faith on his part, "the interrogation of a good conscience toward God." Now, every act of faith leads to a gracious manifestation of God to the soul. The highest acts of faith-like those of the martyrs, for example?often lead to overwhelming manifestations of God to the soul, and hence many Christians who have "given their bodies to be burned" have broken forth into singing in the midst of the flames. Among the most decisive acts of faith we must reckon this holy ordinance, in which the new disciple puts on Christ before an assembled world. It is common, therefore, for new disciples to receive in it a vast influx of spiritual power. The Holy Spirit responds to faith and communicates abundance of peace and joy and power, testifying of cleansing and pardon, of the gracious smiles of the Heavenly Father, sand of the inheritance of glory, and giving unusual influence to the words and deeds with which the soldier of the cross, but just enlisted in the service, seeks "to destroy the works of the devil."

So common is this experience that, when I was a pastor, I counted upon it as one of my most valuable auxiliaries, and never in vain. In every community there are good, but discouraged, Christian people who, humbly conscious of their faults, hesitate to enter the church as members. All who know them hold them to be Christians, though of the timid and shrinking class, but they themselves stand in doubt, "waiting for the waters to be moved," with some emotional assurance that they are accepted. I was accustomed to promise these excellent and modest children of God that they would receive the light for which they longed, if they would obey Christ and be baptized; I led many of them into the church, and I never knew my prediction to fail. Their act of faith was met by the Holy Spirit with a corresponding act of grace.

Let no one misrepresent this view by calling it sacramentarianism. It is as far from sacramentarianism as the east is from the west. Sacramentarianism affirms that the sacraments are channels of grace; but I affirm that faith is the sole channel of grace. Sacramentarianism affirms that, since the sacraments are channels of grace, the reception of them is the usual condition upon which grace is conferred; but I affirm that faith is the sole condition upon which grace is conferred. After having guarded myself in this manner, I may surely insist, without being misunderstood, that baptism is an act of faith, and hence a means of grace, and that, as it was appointed for all his followers by the Son of God, the Spirit of God honors it by conferring light and comfort and strength on those who receive it in faith.

These are some of the effects of baptism in the economy of grace. To the Baptists chiefly has been granted the honor of restoring this holy ordinance to the Christian world. Were it a mere form, it would not matter whether it was placed before or after the Lord?s supper. But it is an agency of infinite practical value in launching the new disciple upon his new way, and its place of utility is at the beginning of his discipleship; and, since infinite wisdom has assigned it this position, the Baptists should keep it there. Nor should they recognize as baptism the christening of infants, or sprinkling or pouring administered to older persons?ceremonies containing nothing of the signifcance and power of the Christian ordinance. But unrestricted communion is a recognition of these ceremonies as baptism, and a recognition in action, which is far more decisive and impressive than any words. It would be vain for the Baptists to hope to bring baptism back to the place from which these ceremonies have thrust it, if they should practice unrestricted communion. in spite of all verbal protests, they would be understood to recognize Infant christening and sprinkling and pouring as valid baptism, and in the end they themselves would come to feel that these ceremonies are in some sense valid. This would not be a misfortune if baptism were a light thing; but, since the New Testament has charged it with the weightiest meanings and appointed it to the weightiest functions, the Baptists have no right to pursue a course which would silence its voice and smite its beneficent power with paralysis.

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved