Subjects and Design of Baptism

John L. Dagg



Repentance and faith are associated graces in the hearts of the regenerate, each of them implying the existence of the other. Sometimes one of them is particularly mentioned as a qualification for baptism, and sometimes the other. They manifest themselves by confession of sin; by profession of dependence on Christ, and subjection to his authority; and by holy obedience.

John the Baptist required repentance, with its appropriate fruits, in those whom he admitted to baptism. It has been denied that the rite which he administered was identical with Christian baptism; but, for our present purpose, nothing more is necessary than to satisfy ourselves, that John did not require more spiritual qualifications for his baptism, than were required by Christ and his apostles. . If he proclaimed repentance to be necessary because the kingdom of heaven was at hand, it could not be less necessary after the kingdom was established. That John did require repentance, as a qualification for baptism, the following Scriptures testify: "Repent you, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand . . . and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." "Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance; and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father."

During the personal ministry of Christ, he made and baptized disciples. "There he tarried and baptized." "The Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John." Those only were baptized by Christ, who were made disciples; and discipleship implies repentance and faith.

The commission which Christ gave to his apostles, connects faith and discipleship with baptism as qualifications for it: "Go, preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes, and is baptized, shall be saved." "Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them."

In executing the commission of Christ, the apostles and their fellow-laborers required repentance and faith as qualifications for baptism. Several passages in the Acts of the Apostles clearly indicate this: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ. . . . Then they that gladly received the word were baptized." "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." "And the eunuch said, See, here is water; what does hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If you Believe with all your heart, you may." "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we." "Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized." "He was baptized, he and all his straightway . . . and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." . . . `` Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized."

In the Epistles of the New Testament, baptism is mentioned in such connections as prove that all the baptized were believers in Christ: "Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death." Buried with him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with him through faith." "You are all the children of God by faith; for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." "Baptism does now save us, . . . the answer of a good conscience toward God."

All these quotations from Scripture harmonize perfectly with each other, and incontrovertibly establish the truth, that repentance and faith are necessary qualifications for baptism. This is universally admitted with respect to adult persons; but a special claim is urged in behalf of infants, and the practice of administering the rite to them has prevailed very extensively. The arguments in its defense will be examined in the Chapter on Infant Membership.




The religion of Christ was intended for the whole world, and it is made the duty of his followers to propagate it. Men are required not only to receive, but also to hold forth the word of life. The lepers who found abundance of food in the Syrian camp, could not feast on it by themselves while their brethren in the city were famishing; and, if any one thinks that he can enjoy the blessings of religion, and shut up the secret in his own breast, he mistakes the nature of true Christianity. The light kindled within must shine, and the Spirit of love in the heart must put forth efforts to do good.

Profession is, in general, necessary to salvation. With the heart, man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation. Divine goodness may pardon the weakness of some, who, like Joseph of Arimathea, are disciples secretly through fear; but it nevertheless remains a general truth, that profession is necessary. Christ has made the solemn declaration, "Whoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Profession is the appointed public outset in the way of salvation The apostles exhorted, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." The world lies in wickedness, and under the curse of God. They who would be saved, should escape from it, as Lot escaped from Sodom. God calls: "Come out from among them, and be you separate." This call is obeyed, when converted persons separate themselves from the ungodly, and publicly devote themselves to the service of Christ. They then set out in earnest to flee from the wrath to come. The resolution to flee must first be formed in the heart; but the public profession may be regarded, in an important sense, as the first manifest step in the way of escape.

The profession of renouncing the world, and devoting ourselves to Christ, might have been required to be made in mere words addressed to the ears of those who hear; but infinite wisdom has judged it better that it should be made in a formal and significant act, appointed for the specific purpose. That act is baptism. The immersion of the body, as Paul has explained, signifies our burial with Christ; and in emerging from the water, we enter, according to the import of the figure, on a new life. We put off the old man, and put on the new man: "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ."

The place which baptism holds in the commission, indicates its use. The apostles were sent to make disciples, and to teach them to observe all the Savior's commands; but an intermediate act is enjoined, the act of baptizing them. In order to make disciples, they were commanded, "Go, preach the gospel to every creature." When the proclamation of the good news attracted the attention of men, and by the divine blessing so affected their hearts, that they became desirous to follow Christ, they were taught to observe his commandments, and first to be baptized. This ceremony was manifestly designed to be the initiation into the prescribed service; and every disciple of Christ who wishes to walk in the ways of the Lord, meets this duty at the entrance of his course.

The design of baptism is further indicated by the clause "baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The rendering of our version, "in the name of," makes the clause signify that the administrator acts by the authority of the Trinity; but the more literal rendering "into the name of," makes it signify the new relation into which the act brings the subject of the rite. He is baptized into a state of professed subjection to the Trinity. It is the public act of initiation into the new service.

The design of baptism proves its importance. The whole tenor of the gospel forbids the supposition that there is any saving efficacy in the mere rite: but it is the appointed ceremony of profession; and profession, we have seen, is, in general, necessary to salvation. As the divine goodness may pardon disciples who fear to make public profession, so it may, and we rejoice to believe that it does pardon those, who do not understand the obligation to make ceremonial profession, or mistake the manner of doing it. But God ought to be obeyed; and his way is the right way, and the best way. Paul argues from the baptism of believers, their obligation to walk in newness of life. The ceremony implies a vow of obedience, a public and solemn consecration to the service of God. The believing subject can feel the force of the obligation acknowledged in the act, and Paul appeals to this sense of obligation: "Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" Though it is an outward ceremony, it is important, not only as an act of obedience, but as expressing a believer's separation from the world, and consecration to God, in a manner intelligible and significant, and well adapted to impress his own mind and the minds of beholders.

The faith which is professed in baptism, is faith in Christ. We confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead. If the doctrine of the resurrection be taken from the Gospel, preaching is vain, and faith is vain. So, if the symbol of the resurrection be taken from baptism, its chief significancy is gone, and its adaptedness for the profession of faith in Christ, is lost. Hence appears the importance of adhering closely to the Savior's command, "immersing them."

The obligation to make a baptismal profession of faith, binds every disciple of Christ. Some have converted the Eucharist into a ceremony of profession; but this is not the law of Christ. Baptism was designed, and ought to be used, for this purpose. If infant baptism be obligatory, the duty is parental; and if it be a ceremony in which children are dedicated by their parents to the Lord, it is a different institution from that in which faith is professed. He who has been baptized in infancy, is not thereby released from the obligation to make a baptismal profession of faith in Christ. If it be granted, that his parents did their duty in dedicating him to God, he has, nevertheless, a personal duty to perform. The parental act of which he has no consciousness, cannot be to him the answer of a good conscience toward God. Had it left an abiding mark in the flesh, an argument of some plausibility might be urged against the repetition of the ceremony. But the supposed seal of God's covenant is neither in his flesh, nor in his memory, and his conscience has no Scriptural release from the personal obligation of a baptismal profession.