S. E. Lee
1946 Synod Convention Essay
When World War II was over, we had hoped that veryY soon we would he able to return to normal conditions of living. But we find our nation today, almost a year after the cessation of hostilities, in a state of confusion. There are many who believe it is the business of the Church to find a solution for all the economic, political, and social problems that confront us. But this is definitely not the work of the Church; for the Lord has made it clear that He wants His Church to deal with spiritual matters only, those things which pertain to the welfare of immortal souls.
In spiritual matters there is also much confusion. The reason for this confusion is found in the warning that the Apostle Paul sounded to Timothy: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2 Tim. 4,3–4. When a minister in an Advent sermon goes so far as to give the names of two political figures who favor a strong international organization, then to tell his congregation that they may be divine voices crying in the wilderness, and also to state that “we cannot be sure that we know what the Lord’s way is”, we have an explanation for much of the confusion. When we behold the many and varied enemies who are trying to undermine the foundations of Christian faith, it is necessary for us to repeat again and again the simple truths of the infallible Word of God which give us in a world of confusion that calm certainty which the portals of hell cannot shake.
When Luther wrote: “The true treasure of the Church is the holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God”, he shows that he had reached a clear and definite conviction as to the most important treasure that God has given to His Church on earth. There is nothing that will take the place of a simple acceptance of the truth of the Scriptures as the first step in the proper relationship to God. Our Lord ,Jesus Christ began His public ministry with the words: “Repent and believe the Gospel.” And the same call goes forth throughout the Scriptures. Unless a person accepts the Word of God as the absolute truth and the one guide to salvation, he is hound to plunge into spiritual disaster.
The work of redemption was completed when Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world. But this work of Christ would he of no benefit to us unless there were definite means by which we could apprehend and appropriate to ourselves the forgiveness which Christ merited for us. In order to offer and convey to men the merits which Christ secured for the world by his death on the cross, God employs certain external, visible means through which the Holy Spirit works and preserves faith and thus accomplishes the sinner’s salvation. The Gospel, the message of salvation, the word of reconciliation, is a means of grace. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel, which I preached unto you, which ye also received, and wherein ye stand, by which also ye are saved.” 1 Cor. 15,1–2. To Timothy he writes: “That from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Tim. 3,15. To the Thessalonians: “When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” 1 Thess. 2,13. Perhaps the clearest passage of all stating that the Gospel is a means of grace, conveying to the human heart the power of the Spirit unto salvation, is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Rom. 1,16.
If men were not so subject to doubt and unhelief, it would, perhaps, have been sufficient to have only the Word as the one means of grace, which contains the full measure of the wonderful assurance of Jove and grace through the merits of the Savior. Tn the Gospel we have the message of salvation which most definitely and adequately assures us that God would have all men to he saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. But God knows the weakness of men and has anticipated their doubts. He not only gives us His Word with its assurance of grace and mercy, but he has added to this Word as it was given to men by proclamation and writing certain other means connected with His Word, by which He transmits the treasures of His love in such a direct manner that Tie makes it a very personal and individual matter.
A very simple illustration may serve to explain what we mean. A very wealthy man promises to present a sum of money to every person living in a certain city. An individual there may not doubt the ability and the willingness of the generous donor to make good his promise, but because the offer is somewhat general he may entertain the thought that he may be overlooked. But if this man were to come to him in person and present him with the money all doubt would at once be removed. Thus the Lord knowing the doubts that would arise in human hearts as the offers of grace are so freely proclaimed in the Gospel has given us the holy Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as additional means of grace. By these sacred acts He offers, gives, and seals unto us the forgiveness of sins which Christ has merited for us.
In order that we may be led every day to think of the great treasure of grace we have received in our Baptism we shall devote our attention to the subject of
Our Baptismal Grace
Baptism is of great value to us because
1) It is a divinely appointed means of grace.
2) lt is an everlasting covenant.
On the subject of Baptism, Luther writes in the Large Catechism: “It is of the greatest importance that we esteem Baptism excellent, glorious, and exalted, for which we contend and fight, chiefly, because the world is now so full of sects clamoring that Baptism is an external thing, and that external things are of no benefit. But let it be ever so much an external thing, here stands God’s Word and command which institute, establish, and confirm Baptism. But what God institutes and commands cannot be a vain, but must be a most precious thing, though in appearance it were of less value than a straw.”
The great importance of Baptism is clearly emphasized by Christ when He gave the command: “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Matt. 28,19: This may be literally translated: “Go ye and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them …” On the day of Pentecost when many were brought to a knowledge of their sins by the sermon Peter had preached and came asking what they should do, the answer was given. “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Acts 2,38. When Saul was brought to Damascus after having been changed from a persecutor to a defender of the Church, he was told by Ananias: “Arise, and be baptized.” Acts 22,16.
There are those who look upon Baptism as a mere ceremony or church rite. But according to the Scriptures it is a true means of grace by which God offers and conveys to men the merits of Christ. Therefore Luther says: “Baptism works forgiveness of sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” These words and promises are found in the last chapter of Mark where Christ says: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16,16. The Lord here connects faith and Baptism through which the sinner is saved. This thought is included in the words of Ananias in his appeal to Saul: “Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22,16. In the Epistle to the Ephesians the apostle says: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of the water by the word.” Eph. 5,25–26. When Nicodemus visited the Savior by night to inquire how he might he saved, Jesus told him: “Except a man he born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John 3,5. Peter states very clearly, “Baptism doth also now save us.” 1 Peter 3,21. Thus a person that is born again of the water and the Spirit enters into the kingdom of God. St. Paul writes to Titus: “According to His mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Titus 3,5. The blessings of Christ’s redemption are here ascribed to the water of Baptism. We also have the words of Paul to the Galatians: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Gal. 3,27. These are the principal passages which treat of the subject of Baptism. As we examine them carefully it is difficult to imagine that one who has implicit confidence in the Word and power of God would ever say that Baptism is a mere ceremony or church rite. They clearly teach that Baptism is much more than a mere sign or symbol but truly a means of grace, for the Savior, with the fulness of His redemption, is ours through Baptism.
In the sixteenth century the Anabaptists and the majority of the Reformed sects called into question the power of God in Holy Baptism. They insisted that the Sacrament was a mere external rite, a symbolical act, signifying the reception of a person into membership of the external Church. Let us look again at the expression in these passages. “Be baptized for the remission of your sins.” “Be baptized and wash away thy sin.” “Baptized into Christ”. By Baptism “put on Christ”. Christ designs to sanctify and cleanse the Church with “the washing of water by the Word.” “Washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The language in these passages is very plain. Any principle of interpretation, by which baptismal grace and regeneration can be eliminated from them, will overthrow every doctrine of our holy Christian faith.
The solid and impregnable Augsburg Confession made clear the position of the Lutherans. In Article II it confesses that the new birth by Baptism and the Holy Ghost delivers from the power and penalty of original sin. In Article IX it states: Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God; and that children are to be baptized, who, being offered to God through Baptism, are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the Baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.” All other confessional writings teach the same thing concerning Baptism as a means of grace.
The position of the Reformed sects in the 16th century is practically the same in the Reformed churches today. Baptism is looked upon by many as only a Church ceremony, without any particular blessing in it. Some regard it as merely a sign of an inner washing from sins. Infant Baptism is rejected not only by the Baptists but also by numerous other sects. Hand in hand with the rejection of infant Baptism goes also the rejection of original sin. In an address by Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam of the Methodist Episcopal Church, President of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, before the National Conference of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the following statement was made: “When rituals declare that a child is conceived in sin and born in iniquity, I say such declarations are themselves sinful and iniquitous.” But this statement does not agree with the teaching of Scripture. In Psalm 51, verse 5, we have the words of David: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Therefore in the ritual for the Baptism of infants we find the following: “Little children, though seemingly innocent, are by birth and nature sinful, and without forgiveness would be lost forever. We know that God gave His Son into death to atone for the sins of all, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. But as little children are as yet unable to understand the Gospel, faith cannot be worked in them by telling them of Christ. We can never sufficiently thank God, therefore, that He has made Baptism a means whereby He works in little children with His divine grace, turning their hearts to faith, cleansing away their sins, and receiving them into His Kingdom. The simple act of Baptism has such wonderful power because the Almighty God Himself works in it through His Word. ‘Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.’ The divine Word makes Baptism what Paul calls it, Titus 3, ‘The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.’ For this reason Christ says in the last chapter of Mark: ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’”
Several years ago a prominent Methodist minister in Minneapolis was approached by a man who desired to become a member of his church. However, there was one thing that troubled this man: he had never been baptized. This minister actually made a joke of what was a serious matter to this man by saying: “If you will not tell anyone, I will not either.” It is truly tragic to think of the many souls that are being misled by ministers who reject the clear words of Scripture on the subject of holy Baptism.
Perhaps the most dangerous and most vicious attacks against the Scriptural doctrine of Baptism are made by those who claim you must pass through a certain “experience” before you are born of the Spirit. Some years ago a minister in the American Lutheran Church was put out of that body because of his false teaching on the doctrine of Baptism. In his parish paper of March–April 1946 this minister tells of the “experience of new birth” which he claims took place ten years ago in his own life. He writes: “I know very well that many sincere people wonder about the new birth. Some are told, ‘You were born-again in baptism.’ Others are told ‘You were born-again in confirmation, by a public confession of Christ, etc.’ Let me hear witness here. I was baptized, confirmed, ordained, and publicly confessed Christ, but I was not born of the Spirit by any one of these.” (Italics our own). Here is a denial of the Scriptural doctrine of Baptism. It is true that we are not born again by confirmation, ordination, or publicly confessing Christ, but we are born again by Baptism because the Scriptures teach that Baptism is a divinely appointed means of grace. Let us not be misled by those who substitute their own teachings for the clear and unmistakable Word of God.
We have quoted from the Word of God the principal passages bearing on the subject of Baptism. We note that their meaning is uniform, clear, and strong. We learn that they have only one meaning, and that is that through Baptism we become new creatures in Christ Jesus and are in full possession of all the riches of His grace.
Our Baptismal Grace is an everlasting covenant. We are in danger of failing to make proper use of our Baptism. We deprive ourselves of much comfort and strength by neglecting to think of our Baptism every day. Sad to say, there are ever so many who know they have been baptized but fail to see what that has to do with their every-day life. As well as we are conscious of the temporal possessions we have every day, so we should think of the great spiritual treasure we possess in our Baptism. In our Baptism, God has given to us all the riches of Christ. There is nothing of grace that we receive in the Gospel and in the Lord ‘s Supper that we have not already received in our Baptism.
“For the mountains shall depart and the hills he removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” Is. 54,10. The things that we are apt to consider quite permanent and lasting will all depart and be removed. But not so with the covenant of God’s grace. That is everlasting. It is in holy Baptism that God speaks to the individual and says: “I will make an everlasting covenant with thee.” In infinite love God binds Himself by a solemn promise to be the God and Savior of one who has been baptized in His name. That promise will never be revoked nor ever become invalid, but will remain in force for all eternity. What a consolation to those who in times of grave doubts and severe trials of faith feel like crying, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath He in anger shut up his tender mercies?” Ps. 77,9. The covenant of God’s grace is of eternal validity because it is based on His own word — “saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” He that lays hold on this promise will not question nor waver, but rest his soul in this “Foundation, which unmoved shall stay, When earth and heaven pass away.”