Examine Yourselves — No. 3
In previous articles, we have been discussing the admonition of Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:5) to examine themselves relative to whether or not they were "in the faith." We have pointed out that their relationship with God was determined by Whether or not they believed what God said in his word and by their conformance thereto. We have shown that it is a matter of believing and obeying the truth (what God says in his word) or believing a lie (anything at variance with God's word).
At present, we are making some applications of this principle to some controversial Bible subjects, to assist us in conducting this self-examination. We have under consideration the subject of baptism, which we have divided into three parts, namely: (1) The design of baptism, (2) The subjects for baptism, and (3) The act of baptism. We now continue with a discussion of part number two.
The Subjects For Baptism
Who do you believe to be a fit subject for baptism? Just to believe in baptism is not enough. People believe different and conflicting things about who is a proper subject for baptism. Some believe that ONLY those who believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and are capable of making a confession of this belief; and who are penitent, to be proper subjects for baptism. Others believe that infants, who are incapable of belief, confession or repentance, to be fit subjects for baptism. One cannot believe both of these statements at the same time. The word, ONLY, in the first statement, makes this impossible. Only the word of God can determine which is true and which is false. Which ever statement is shown to be true, shows the other to be false. What the word of God reveals concerning this subject, will determine whether we believe the truth or believe a lie upon the subject.
Let us begin with the observation that there is not a command, example or necessary inference in the New Testament for the baptism of anyone who was not or is not a penitent believer, capable of confessing their faith in Christ. We wish to introduce several passages which show that baptism was commanded for and administered to ONLY those who were penitent believers. Then we will show the significance of the term, ONLY, in the above statement.
(Mark 16:15, 16): "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." This passage does not read, "Go ye into all the world and baptize every creature and he that is baptized shall be saved." This would leave out two important things: preaching the gospel and believing the preaching. The things stated in these two verses are inalterably related. The preaching of the gospel, commanded in verse 15, and the faith and baptism in verse 16, must be understood together or completely misunderstood. "He that believeth" — believeth what? What were the apostles commanded to preach? They were commanded to preach the gospel (the good news of salvation through Christ). Upon hearing this gospel, those who heard would react in either of two ways. They would either believe or disbelieve it. Since baptism was and is a part of this gospel (a command of Christ), would one submit himself for baptism who did not believe the gospel? And if he did not believe the gospel, and therefore did not submit himself for baptism, should he be taken and baptized by force? Who can believe it? Yet this is exactly what happens in infant baptism, except that an infant is no more capable of disbelieving the gospel than believing it; and is incapable of resisting forced baptism as an adult who disbelieved would resist it.
(Acts 2:37,38): "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." In considering these two verses, let us consider what led to the things contained in them. The apostles were preaching the gospel under the charge which we considered in the preceding paragraph. Represented here, are both classes we discussed above - those who believed and those who disbelieved. Those who believed wanted to know what they should do. Those who disbelieved did not ask. Those who believed were told to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Verse 41 tells us, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized:" This verse necessarily infers that those who were baptized, were penitent believers. Were there any infants present? We do not know. But if there were, they were not baptized for the following reasons: (1) They could not have comprehended the preaching of the apostles. (2) They could not have been pricked (convicted) in their heart or believed in Christ. (3) They could not have asked what to do. (4) They could not have exercised their wills in repentance. In short, they could not have received the word gladly, or any other way, in the sense mentioned here. And since only those who gladly received the word were baptized, there were no infants in the number.
(Acts 8:35-37): "Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at 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, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest, and he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." In this passage, we find the same order as in the other passages we have discussed. The preaching of the gospel, the understanding and belief of the gospel, and then baptism. Philip preached Jesus (the gospel of Christ) to the eunuch. The eunuch's reaction to the preaching was to ask the question, "what doth hinder me to be baptized?" Now, if there were no requirements necessary to make the eunuch a proper subject for baptism, Philip's answer would not have been what it was. His answer was, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." If the eunuch believed, the answer was affirmative. But, if the eunuch had not believed, the answer would have been negative. Putting it in the form of a negative answer, it would have been, "if thou believest not, thou mayest not." In addition to this, there is the matter of the preaching. In Rom. 10:14 we read, "how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" It was upon the eunuch's statement that he believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God that he was baptized.
(Acts 18:8): "And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized." In this passage we find the same order. (1) Hearing the gospel, (2) Believing the gospel, and (3) Baptized. It was necessary to hear the gospel of Christ in order to believe it. It was necessary to believe the gospel in order to be a fit subject for baptism.
To believe or advocate the baptism of anyone short of a penitent believer, whose faith and repentance has been produced by hearing and understanding the gospel, is to pervert and destroy everything the New Testament teaches about baptism. To baptize an infant, who can neither understand not believe the gospel, and who, when they grow to maturity, cannot remember that baptism was administered, is a mockery of everything the Bible teaches.
Some make an argument on circumcision of the Old Testament in which they claim that baptism takes the place of circumcision. Then, upon the basis of that assumption, they reason that since infants were circumcised, infants should be baptized. The fact is however, that circumcision is one thing and baptism is another thing. Too, that baptism takes the place of circumcision, is something which must be assumed because it cannot be proven. Circumcision was a mark of distinction between the fleshly descendants of Abraham and all other people — between Jew and Gentile. When Christ fulfilled the law in his death on the cross, he did away with the distinction and circumcision which stood as an ordinance of it. "Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world; But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;" Eph. 2: 11-15. "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." Gal. 5:6 In Col. 2:11,12 , the phrase, "circumcision made without hands, is used in a figurative sense with reference to baptism but this passage shows that circumcision in the flesh is one thing while baptism is an entirely different thing.
Examine yourself. Who do you believe to be a proper subject for baptism? If you believe that ONLY a penitent believer is a proper subject for baptism, you believe the truth upon the subject. If you believe that an infant, or anyone else who is incapable of understanding and believing the gospel, is a proper subject for baptism, you believe a lie upon the subject; regardless of how honest and sincere you may be in that belief. Remember, what we believe about this, or any other Bible subject, is vital to the salvation of our souls. "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believe not the truth," (1 Thess. 2:11, 12).