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Baptism is a Holy Washing

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

CALL to mind, O faithful soul, the wonderful grace of God bestowed upon thee in holy baptism. Baptism is the washing of regeneration (Titus iii. 5); therefore he who hath been spiritually washed in the laver of baptism is no longer held, body and soul, under the power of a carnal nature, but because he hath been born again of God, through water and the Spirit (John iii, 5) he is a son of God, and if a son then an heir of eternal blessedness (Rom. viii. 17). As the Eternal Father, at the baptism of Christ, declared, “This is my beloved Son” (Matt. iii. 17), so all who believe and are baptized receive the adoption of sons. As the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, at Christ’s baptism, so He is also present at our baptism and gives it all its efficacy; nay, more, communicates Himself to believing souls in this holy ordinance, and so worketh in them that “they become wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. x. 16). As it was at the creation, so is it at our regeneration. For as at the creation of the world, the Spirit of the Lord moved upon the face of the waters (Gen. i. 2), and imparted to them a vital energy, so in the water of baptism the same Holy Spirit is present to render it efficacious for our regeneration. Our beloved Saviour, Christ Himself, submitted to baptism that he might make it plain that through baptism we are to be made members of His body. Often a remedy is applied to the head that other parts of the body may be healed; our spiritual head is Christ, and He submitted to holy baptism that the members of His mystical body might enjoy its saving benefits. Under the old economy God entered into covenant with His people by circumcision (Gen. xvii. 11); so in the new economy we are received into covenant relations with God by baptism (Col. ii. 11, 12), because baptism has superseded circumcision. Let not him who is in covenant with God fear the devil. Those who are baptized into Christ put on Christ (Gal. iii. 27), and thus the saints are said to have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. vii. 14). The perfect righteousness of Christ is the glorious robe of His saints; let not him therefore who is clothed in this robe fear the least spot of sin.

There was at Jerusalem, by the sheep market, a pool (John v. 2) into which at certain times an angel went down and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in, was made whole of whatever disease he had (John v. 4). The water of baptism is that pool, which heals us of the malady of sin, when the Holy Spirit descends into it and troubles it, as it were, with the blood of Christ, who gave Himself as a sacrifice for us, just as the sacrificial lambs were washed in that pool at Jerusalem. At Christ’s baptism the heavens were opened (Matt. iii. 16); so at our baptism the gates of heaven are opened to our souls. At the baptism of Christ all three persons of the adorable Trinity were present; so they are at our baptism. And so in that word of promise, which is united to the element of water, faith receives the grace of the heavenly Father who adopts us, the merit of the blessed Son who cleanses us from sin, and the efficacious working of the Holy Spirit who regenerates us.

Pharaoh and all his host perished in the Red Sea, while the Israelites passed over safely (Ex. xiv. 28); thus in baptism all our sins are destroyed, and the believing soul passes safely over to the promised inheritance of the heavenly kingdom. Baptism may be likened to that sea of glass like unto crystal which St. John saw in his wonderful vision (Rev. iv. 6); through it as through a glass the glory of the Son of Righteousness shines into our souls; but that sea was before the throne of the Lamb. That throne of the Lamb is the Church, in which alone the grace of baptism is deposited. The prophet Ezekiel in his vision saw waters issuing from under the temple (Ezek. xlvii. 1) which carried life and healing to all things (Ezek. xlvii. 9); so in God’s spiritual temple, the Church, the saving waters of baptism are still streaming forth into whose depths our sins are cast (Micah vii. 19), and whose streams bring spiritual healing and life unto all to whom they come. Baptism is that spiritual flood in which our sinful flesh is drowned: the foul raven, the devil departs, not to return, but the dove, the Holy Spirit, returns with the olive leaf, that is, with peace and quietness, to the weary soul. Call to mind, therefore, O faithful soul, this wonderful peace offered to thee in baptism, and for it give due thanks to God.

Moreover, the more richly blessed the baptismal grace bestowed upon thee, the more carefully thou shouldest guard it. “We are buried with Christ by baptism unto death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. v. 4). We have been made whole, therefore let us sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto us (John vi. 14). We have put on the righteousness of Christ, a garment of inexpressible preciousness; therefore let us not defile it with sin. Our old man was crucified and put to death in baptism; let the new man now live. We have been regenerated and renewed in the spirit of our mind in baptism (Eph. iv. 23); let not the flesh then rule the spirit! “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. v. 17), let not then the oldness of the flesh prevail over the newness of the Spirit. We have become the sons of God by our new spiritual birth; let us live worthily, therefore, of our Heavenly Father. We have become temples of the Holy Spirit; let us therefore prepare an abode that will be pleasing to such an honored Guest. We have been taken into covenant relation with God; let us take heed therefore that we do not serve the devil, and so deprive ourselves of the grace of this covenant.

O Thou most blessed Trinity, accomplish all this in our souls, we humbly pray Thee! O Thou One only God, who hast bestowed Thy grace upon us in baptism, help us, we beseech Thee, to preserve in that grace unto the end.

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