Paschal Light Spiritual Foundation
Discourse 4: A Change In Life
We have seen that baptism is concerned with the conversion from an old life to a new one but what does this new life involve? What is meant by the prayer, that the old Adam, in the baptized person, may be so buried, that the new man may be raised up in him? That all sinful affections may die in him, and that all things belonging to the Spirit, may live and grow in him?
Changing Moral Values
These expressions in the baptismal service are designed to teach the necessity of that moral change, without which no one can enter into the kingdom of God. They are founded on a variety of Scriptural passages, of which our present text is an example. Here, this change is enumerated among the fruits of the atonement of Christ. Who, says the Apostle, quoting from the prophet, his own self, bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live to righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going astray; but are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Isa. 53:6, 1 Pet. 2:25) And in every case, either in the Bible or Prayer-Book, where this change is mentioned, the strongest figures of speech are used to show that the change is a complete and radical transformation of the whole person from sin to holiness.
The ‘old Adam’ is only another name for what the Article calls that ‘fault and corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam.’ And the ‘new man’ is the renovated and regenerated being who is born anew in Christ Jesus. This old Adam—this is the meaning of the language—must be dead, buried, extinguished—while the new man must be raised up, as by a resurrection, or new creation. This is what is meant by the prayer, that all sinful affections may die in the baptized person, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him. And the same idea is carried out, not only in the baptismal service, but in the other standards of the Church.
The figure is adopted in the last prayer in the office for baptism: ‘And humbly we beseech thee to grant that he, being dead unto sin, and living unto righteousness, and being buried with Christ in his death, may crucify the old man, and utterly abolish the whole body of sin; and that, as he is made partaker of the death of thy Son, he may also be partaker of his resurrection.’ And again, in the exhortation, where we are charged to remember ‘that baptism doth represent unto us our profession; which is, to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him; that, as he died, and rose again for us, so should we, who are baptized, die from sin, and rise again unto righteousness’. In the Catechism also, the spiritual grace signified in baptism, is said to be ‘a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness’. And to give a single example from the Liturgy, in the Collect for Easter Eve, the idea is expressed in language of inimitable beauty: ‘Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections, we may be buried with him; and that, through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.’
It must be admitted, that the language used in this way by the Church to represent that moral change, without which no one can enter into the kingdom of God, is remarkably strong and forcible. And it plainly indicates that this change is a complete and radical transformation of the whole person from sin to holiness. However a little examination shows that the strongest figures of speech used here, are in perfect correspondence with the language of Scripture, and that, in teaching the necessity of this change, the Prayer-Book aims at nothing more than to teach the doctrine of the Bible.
We have already seen how the Apostle represents this change, in enumerating the fruits of the Saviour’s mediation. And it will be observed that he derives the sentiment which he so eloquently expresses from an ancient prophet. Isaiah describes, in his own peculiar style, this death and burial of the old man, and this raising up of the new man, as a work of moral reformation, effected through the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. And other prophets express the same idea, sometimes in highly figurative, and sometimes in more simple language. Ezekiel, for example, in his remarkable vision of the valley of dry bones; and then, again, in the plain, practical precept, Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed; and make you a new heart, and a new spirit. (Ez. 18:31)
David also, while lamenting his own inherent corruption and immorality, offers up his impassioned supplication for this moral renovation: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (Ps. 51:10) Many similar examples could be cited. But instead of drawing farther from the Old Testament Scriptures, we prefer to confine ourselves to a single passage from the New Testament, where the doctrine taught in the Prayer-Book, and especially in the Baptismal Service, is presented and illustrated in the most striking and satisfactory manner.
Effectiveness of Baptism
In Paul’s letter to the Romans he clearly explains the significance of baptism. You may have heard or read this passage many times before but have you really analysed it? If not, do so now and consider it in the light of what we have been discussing.
Do you not know, that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that, just 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, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin. For he that is dead has freed from sin. Now, if we are dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more, death has no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives, he lives to God. Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:3-11)
We think that we have now said enough to show what the Church means by that prayer in the baptismal liturgy, that the old Adam in the baptized person may be so buried that the new man may be raised up in them. That all sinful affections may die in them, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in them. Yet does this really happen?
All too often the importance of baptism is not truly felt and the responsibilities of this sacrament sits all too lightly on the recipients. They come to baptism, they listen to the exhortations of the Church, they make the solemn vows and promises required of them, and they join, supposedly at least, in the prayers.
They specifically invoke the God of all power and grace, that the old Adam may be buried, that the new man may be raised up, that all affections for sin may die in them, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in them. Then they go their way and, to all appearance, think no more of the matter. Now, it is this widespread insensibility that gives rise to so much complaining and scepticism on the subject of baptism. One will say, I do not perceive the great importance of this ordinance. Another, I do not believe in baptismal grace. And another, that in the life and conduct there is no perceptible difference between the baptized and the unbaptized. And so, the inconsistency of individuals is brought up as an argument to deride the institutions of God.
Yet consider these things. That God has instituted the sacrament of baptism cannot be denied, and that he has promised to bless and sanctify the ordinance, as a means of grace, is equally true. That the Church prays for the fulfilment of this promise is apparent from her ritual. But, says the sceptic, this is all a matter of form without efficacy. If this is so, whose fault is it? You would not denunciate the truth of God, nor would you deny the divine mission of the Church.
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 4