October 23: WSC Q. 94 – What is Baptism?

This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Key Doctrine of the Presbyterian Church

The visitor was sincere in his offer to the pastor.  He could agree with every doctrine held by the Presbyterian church, except . . . except their teaching on Baptism in both the mode and the subjects of baptism.  But other than that small exception (his expression, not the pastor’s words),  he was prepared to be the best office that the church up to this point has seen.  He seemed most disappointed when the pastor turned him down. When urged to study it in the light of the whole counsel of God, he turned the pastor’s  offer down and stopped attending the church.

What is baptism?  We deal with this catechism answer as we find no historical person or incident in Presbyterianism for this October 23 date.  Question and answer 94 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reads, “Baptism is a Sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, does signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”

There are two sacraments instituted by Christ, of which this one of baptism is the first one in the order of holy ordinances.  The action which constitutes baptism is said by our Confessional Fathers to be that of “washing with water, in the name of” the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or Spirit.” You notice that our catechism does not explicitly state that the “washing with water” is by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Any one of these modes constitute baptism. One who comes into our Presbyterian and Reformed churches who have been baptized by any of these three modes in the name of the Triune God are considered baptized, and not in need of being baptized again.

The meaning of baptism are found in those words in the latter part of the answer which read, “does signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”

Baptism signifies union with Christ generally, and specifically, all of the spiritual benefits which Christ the Redeemer brings to His people.  It is a sign, a badge, an emblem of admission  into the visible church. (See Larger Catechism 165)

It speaks of “ingrafting” or being brought into a vital union with Christ, receiving all the spiritual nourishment and spiritual strength which is there for sons and daughters of God by faith alone.  Think of a twig being grafted into a tree, and allowed to become a branch of that tree, producing whatever fruit the farmer wishes to pick on that tree.

There is also a promise by the one baptized that he/she will, in the words of the Larger Catechism, profess “an open engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.”  This is essentially the meaning of the word “sacrament.”  While not a biblical word, it speaks of the pledge made by a soldier to be faithful to his commander-in-chief.  In baptism, we promise that we, as Christian soldiers,  will live as it becomes a follower of Christ.

For further study, see the Baptism section on the topical resource page, at the PCA Historical Center’s web site.

Words to live by:  One of the older writers (Thomas Vincent – 1674) tells us that, being engaged to be the Lord’s, speaks first of being wholly engaged, soul and body, with all or our faculties and members being used as instruments of righteousness and new obedience, and second, being wholly engaged as only the Lord’s and therefore renouncing  the service of that unholy trinity of  world, the flesh, and the devil, and fighting under Christ’s banner against these enemies of our souls, and His church.  This exhortation is just as applicable today in the twenty-first century as it was back in the seventeenth century.

Through the Scriptures:  Mark 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  Benefits of communion with Christ in glory on the day of judgment

WLC 90 — “What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?
A.  At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and for ever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the  Holy Spirit, to all eternity.  And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.”Z



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