Westminster XXVIII: Of Baptism

1. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19), not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church (1 Cor. 12:13); but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace (Rom. 4:11; Col. 2:11–12), of his ingrafting into Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:5), of regeneration (Tit. 3:5), of remission of sins (Mark 1:4), and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life (Rom. 6:3–4). Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world (Matt. 28:19–20).

We have discussed sacraments generally. We now come to discuss the two sacraments specifically, in turn. Baptism is one of the sacraments of the new covenant. It was ordained by Jesus Christ as a sacrament in the words of the Great Commission. He told His disciples that the mark of His disciples was to be baptism. Disciple the nations, He said, baptizing them. The signification of baptism is two-fold, that is, it points in two directions. The first is the solemn recognition that the one baptized has been admitted into the visible Church of Christ. At the same time, the baptism also points away from the person, to the objective meanings of baptism. Baptism means: the one baptized has a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, the one baptized has been grafted into Christ, regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and the obligation to walk in newness of life. This sacrament is perpetual in history.

The two “meanings” of baptism which are not assigned here to the one baptized are regeneration and forgiveness. The baptism means these things, but there is a difference between saying baptism means regeneration and baptism means my regeneration. It does not automatically mean these things. At the same time, it is intended to mean them. It is “to be unto him a sign and seal . . . of regeneration.”

2. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto (Matt. 3:11; John 1:33; Matt. 28:19–20).

The essence of water baptism is found in the application of water to an individual in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This should be done by a minister of the gospel, lawfully ordained. As discussed in the last chapter, this last requirement is perhaps too strict. The minister and elders are responsible for all the baptisms, and consequently, should oversee them, and ordinarily perform them, but this is not essential.

3. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person (Heb. 9:10, 19–22; Acts 2:41; 16:33; Mark 7:4).

Dipping, or immersion, is certainly permitted, but scripturally it cannot be insisted upon. Baptism is also administered correctly when the water is poured or sprinkled upon the person. Ironically, for many Baptists this is the place where they should begin rethinking their views of baptism. The notion is that “baptizo means immersion” is very widespread, and it really cannot be defended. Consequently, when Baptists have this demonstrated to them, it may bring about a new openness when talking about the subjects of baptism.

4. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ (Mark 16:15–16; Acts 8:37–38), but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized ( Gen. 17:7, 9; Gal. 3:9, 14; Col. 2:11–12; Acts 2:38–39; Rom. 4:11–12; 1 Cor. 7:14; Matt. 28:19; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15).

No disagreement exists over the propriety of baptizing pagans upon their profession of faith in Christ, along with their expressed willingness to follow and obey Him. But in addition to this, not only such people should be baptized, but also the infants (or dependent children) of such converts are to be baptized. This is the case even where only one of the parents is converted.

5. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance (Luke 7:30; Exod. 4:24–26), yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it (Rom. 4:11; Acts 10:2, 4, 22, 31, 45, 47): or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated (Acts 8:13, 23).

Neglect of baptism is a great sin, but not an unforgivable sin. We are to consider baptism and regeneration together, but we are not to treat this as an absolute. In other words, some who are not baptized will be saved, and not all who are baptized are saved. But the ordinary pattern is to see the two together.

6. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered (John 3:5, 8); yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time (Gal. 3:27; Tit. 3:5; Eph. 5:25–26; Acts 2:38, 41).

Baptism is efficacious. But the efficacy of the sacrament is not tied to the moment when it is administered. This efficacious grace is conferred on the elect at the appropriate time, the time of their conversion, and what happens in that moment is the applied grace of their baptism. For someone baptized in infancy in a covenant home, and who was converted as an adult, the Confession teaches that their conversion was due to the efficacy of their baptism. When someone under such circumstances is not converted, we obviously cannot speak of the saving efficacy of their baptism. But when such a person is converted, it is beyond all question that the Confession teaches that their baptism was efficacious, taking the grace promised in baptism, and “really exhibiting and conferring” it. It is common for many contemporary Presbyterians to depart from the Confession here by saying that the two sacraments are genuine means of grace, but that they are means of sanctifying grace only, and not saving grace. This is out of conformity with the Confession at this point—it is not heresy, but it is plainly out of conformity with the Confession, and those who hold to this position need to take an exception to the Confession. We may summarize this section as saying that “the Holy Ghost uses as His instrument a right use of the ordinance of baptism to really exhibit and confer the saving grace promised in that baptism to those elect who are the rightful beneficiaries of that grace.”

7. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person (Tit. 3:5).

This being the case, baptism is not to be administered over and over. If it were only efficacious based on the timing of it, then it would have to be administered over and over. But fortunately, it is not. To administer baptism again is therefore to deny that the first baptism was Christian baptism.

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