Paschal Light Spiritual Foundation
Discourse 3: Redemption Explained
In our last discourse we saw how the Church acts in accordance with biblical teachings. Nevertheless some misunderstandings with regards to baptism do exist. Some say that the doctrine of regeneration by Baptism is not found in the Bible. Others say that while it is taught, both by the Scriptures and the Church, it is nevertheless part of the whole scheme of salvation; that it is not only the beginning of the Christian life, but is also the finishing and ending of everything required of someone for the salvation of their soul.
Now it must be obvious, that both of these views misrepresent the teachings of the Church. We have seen that the Bible teaches the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and that the Church follows its teaching. But because, as both the Bible and Prayer Book affirm that the sinner, in Baptism, is regenerated, and born anew of water and the Holy Spirit, because his or her condition, and character, and nature, are changed, does it therefore follow, as a necessary consequence, that every baptized person will certainly come to salvation? The Church does not teach this, nor does she learn this from the teaching of the Bible, especially with regard to those who, having become old enough, are able to know and understand the terms and conditions of their Christian covenant. In fact there is not, in the whole compass of the Word of God, nor in the standards of the Church, a single covenant or promise, that is not accompanied by conditions essential to its saving effectiveness.
Take, for example, the Baptismal Covenant. It is said that in Baptism, the recipient is ‘made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven’. And it is further said, that ‘the inward and spiritual grace’ in Baptism, is ‘a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness; for, being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace’. True, but then, in answer to the question: ‘What is required of persons to be baptized?’ these conditions are expressly demanded: ‘Repentance, whereby they forsake sin, and Faith, whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God, made to them in that sacrament.’ And it should also be remembered that the very article which plainly teaches the doctrine of baptismal regeneration also plainly sets out the conditions on which alone the grace imparted in the sacrament of Baptism, may become effectual to salvation. ‘Faith is confirmed,’ says this article, ‘and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God’.
We see, then, precisely what the Church does teach, on this great and important doctrine. No claim is made that any kind of grace is given in Baptism which may unconditionally secure the salvation of an individual. Baptism is not the completion of a process, it is only the beginning.
The Work of Redemption
Baptism lies at the very foundation of what the gospels teach as the scheme of salvation. It is the first act in conforming to what God requires of each individual. It is the initiatory or inductive sacrament, by which the promise of remission of sin is sealed to fallen man, ‘and by which he enters the Church of God, and becomes a partaker, by covenant, of the benefits of Redemption’. From this service, therefore, it seems proper that we should draw our first lessons of instruction.
Jesus told Nicodemus that none can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Spirit. (John 3:5) This theme of rebirth and new life dominates the baptismal liturgy. In the opening prayer the congregation is instructed to ‘call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ’, to grant to the persons presented at the font, ‘that which by nature they cannot have; that they may be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ’s holy Church, and be made lively members of the same’.
And the prayers which follow are framed in strict accordance with this direction. In the first collect (which is a short form of prayer) we find some beautiful and striking illustrations of the sentiment conveyed in the exhortation. The Church of God is compared to the Ark, by which Noah and his family were saved from perishing. The passing of the children of Israel through the Red Sea, is also said to have been a figurative representation of holy baptism; and further, that the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan, was a sanctification of water to the mystical washing away of sin; and so it is that these illustrations are summed up in humble prayer to God in this way: ‘We beseech thee for thine infinite mercies, that thou wilt mercifully look upon these, thy servants; wash them and sanctify them with the Holy Spirit, that they, being delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the Ark of Christ's Church; and being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally they may come to the land of everlasting life.’
Then in the second collect, the same sentiments are presented in a more condensed form: ‘We call upon Thee for these persons, that they, coming to Thy holy baptism, may receive remission of their sins by spiritual regeneration.’ And further, ‘that these persons may enjoy the everlasting benediction of thy heavenly washing, and may come to the eternal Kingdom which Thou hast promised by Christ our Lord’.
These illustrations, it will be noticed, are all founded on scriptural texts. But the Church does not rest here. In each of the offices for baptism, the very passages are cited in full which sustain these illustrations. In the office for the baptism for infants, the Gospel taken from St Mark is designed, as the rubric (or marginal instruction) declares, ‘for the better instructing of the people in the grounds of infant baptism’. This gives peculiar significance to the endearing language and action of our Saviour: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:14) And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. (Matt. 19:13) And in the office for adults, the Gospel taken from St John relates the conversation of the Saviour with Nicodemus, in which he declares explicitly: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3) And in further explanation of his meaning, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John. 3:5)
And besides these, the exhortation which follows this last Gospel alludes to other passages, designed to show the necessity of baptism, as well as the benefits to be derived from it. For example, the great commission bestowed upon the Apostles by the Saviour: Go out into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not, shall be damned. (Mark 16:16) And again, the language of the Apostle Peter, when on his first preaching of the Gospel, many were pricked in their hearts, and said to him and the rest of the Apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? He replied and said to them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Sustained in this way by the Scriptures the Church carries out the same sentiment through the whole baptismal service, and in all her other standards. In the short exhortation after baptism, the child or the adult is recognized as being ‘regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church’. And in the concluding thanksgiving, in the office for infants, the sentiment is fully and clearly expressed: ‘We yield Thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this infant with Thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for Thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into Thy holy Church.’ Also, in the other standards of the Church, she uses a plain and explicit language.
Again, in the Catechism, the child is taught to say that in baptism, he ‘was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven’. And further, that ‘the inward and spiritual grace’ in baptism is, ‘a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness; for, being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace’.
This gives rise to the question of whether baptism is effective or not and this will be considered in our next discourse.
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 3