By Cecil Willis
The last lesson was the final one in our series on repentance. It is our prayer that all who participated with us in that short study have a deeper understanding of the subject. This week we are beginning a study on the subject of baptism.
This great theme has occupied the efforts of some of the greatest minds and pens of men since the apostles. It is our intention to try to approach the subject just as though there had never been anything written on it, except that penned by inspired writers, and just as though we know nothing about the subject. With open minds we shall diligently investigate the writings of inspired authors, honestly seeking their teaching. From strictly a human standpoint, it does not matter what the conclusion is as to the essentiality or inessentiality of baptism. Baptism is not a difficult command to obey. Therefore one should be able to openly and fairly survey God’s teaching, seeking for the truth, with the sincere intention of doing exactly what the Bible tells him to do. But from the standpoint of one’s relation to God, if it is seen that baptism is a commandment of God, it is a very vital theme, and whether one obeys this command or not is of grave consequence.
In this lesson we want to devote our study to the different kinds of baptisms in the New Testament. Every time the word “baptism” occurs in the New Testament, it does not necessarily refer to the same baptism, since there are several mentioned.
Baptism of John
The first baptism we want to reflect upon is the baptism of John the Baptist. John’s baptism was one that was preached to prepare the people for the reception of Christ, His kingdom and baptism. When one responded to the preaching of John, he was baptized unto the remission of sins. Matthew says, “Then went out unto him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about the Jordan; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:5, 6). The purpose of the baptism administered by John seems to be to get the people to repent, and to receive the remission of their sins by being baptized, in order that they might be ready to flock to the Lord at the appropriate time. It might be worthwhile to point out that when these men were baptized they confessed their sins, and not their righteousness. When men are baptized today, they are asked by denominational preachers if they have had their sins remitted. They must testify that they have already been saved, and then if they have, they may be baptized. Men under John’s baptism confessed their sins, and were then baptized in order to have their sins remitted, and not because they were already saved.
The baptism of John was not something that one could participate in or not’, and still please the Lord just as well. Men say that one can be baptized if he wants to, but if one should decide that he does not want to be baptized, all is as well. To them, baptism is optional. With the baptism of John, it was a matter of obeying, by being baptized, or perishing. There was no option to it. Luke speaks of certain ones that refused to be baptized like this: “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him” (Lk. 7:30). Luke says that when these men were not baptized, they were not rejecting John, but they were rejecting God. If one can be saved while he rejects God, then he can be saved without being baptized. To reject the baptism of God was equal to rejecting the counsel of God.
From the baptism of John, one further can see the nature of baptism. The Gospel according to John says, “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized” (Jno. 3:23). The act of baptism required much water, and therefore John did his baptizing in an area where this much water could be had.
Baptism of Jesus by John
Another baptism mentioned in the New Testament is the baptism of Jesus at the hand of John the Baptist. The record reads: “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John would have hindered him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? But Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffereth him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water: and lo, the heavens were. opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him; and lo, a voice out of the heavens saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13-17). Jesus was baptized, though reluctantly, by John the Baptist. Sometimes we think that Jesus was baptized just like all the rest that were baptized of John’s baptism, but instead of receiving John’s baptism, Jesus received an exception of it. Our Lord is described as having been “tempted in all points like as we, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and as Him “who did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (I Pet. 2:22). Since Christ -could not have been baptized for the remission of sins for He had no sin, and John’s baptism was for the remission of sins, then it follows, that even though the immersion was performed by John the Baptist, Jesus did not receive the same baptism as did the others baptized by John. He received an exception of John’s baptism.
It may also be seen by implication from Christ’s baptism, that baptism is immersion, for He came up straightway from the water. Christ was immersed, but we will leave that particular point for a further discussion.
Baptism of Fire
The next baptism that we shall briefly study is the baptism of fire. We are referring to Matt. 3:10-12: “And even now the axe lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.” Some time ago I heard of a church that was named after the baptism of fire. They maintain that this prophecy of the baptism of fire found its fulfillment on the day of Pentecost when the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit. They read the passage in Acts 2 where it says, “And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them,” and from this they conclude that this was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Matt. 3:10-12. If one will notice the statement in Matt. 3, he will see that the Lord promised two baptisms, one of the Holy Spirit, and one of fire. On the day of Pentecost when the apostles were baptized of the Holy Spirit, one finds a partial fulfillment of the prophecy, but what occurred on Pentecost was not a baptism of fire. The tongues that appeared unto the apostles, and that sat upon them were not of fire, but they were “like as of fire.” If one will but study the context of Matt. 3, he will see that the speaker, John the Baptist, was making two classifications. He spoke of the tree that bore good fruit, and of the tree that did not bring forth good fruit. The useless tree is hewn down and is cast into the fire. Then he also speaks of the wheat’s threshing. The wheat is good, but the chaff is to be burned with unquenchable fire. This baptism of fire is the punishment of hell, or the casting into the lake of fire, and is therefore a baptism that each of us must shun.
Baptism of Suffering
There also was another baptism, which we shall call the baptism of suffering. This baptism is not called the baptism of suffering in the Scripture, but his certainly is that to which it refers. Jesus Christ had long since been baptized of John’s baptism, and then He referred to another baptism that would come upon Him. He was thinking about the things that were before Him, in the way of physical pain and suffering. “Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worhiping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and one my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given by them for whom it is prepared of my Father” (Matt. 20:20-23, K.J.V.). Christ was about to endure the pain and suffering of a death on the cross, and he told these two disciples that they may also be baptized with the same baptism with which he was to be baptized. So we see that there is another New Testament baptism which refers to the sufferings and agonies of our Lord on the cross.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
We now come to discuss a baptism probably referred to more times by denominational preachers of today than all these other baptisms combined. This baptism, of course, is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was the promise of Christ unto His disciples. It should be remembered that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always a promise, and is never a command. It is impossible to find one single individual who was ever commanded to be baptized of the Holy Spirit. Some where told that they would be, but none was ever commanded to be baptized of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than 1, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire” (Matt. 3:11). While the Lord was yet on earth, but was preparing for the ascension, he promised the apostles that he would send them a comforter. “But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you” (Jn. 14:26). Further Christ said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come” (Jn. 16:13). The Holy Spirit baptism was a special gift of Christ to the apostles, that was to help them in their deliverance of His teaching to the whole world. Thy Holy Spirit was to guide them in all truth, and to bring to their remembrance all that he had said unto them. The apostles were not to begin their preaching until they receive power from on high (Lk. 24:49) and they were to receive the power “after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1:8), and so when the Holy Spirit came upon them on the day of Pentecost, they all began to “speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The Holy Spirit, promised to them by Christ, before His ascension, had come and was doing the very thing for which He had been sent. Holy Spirit baptism was restricted to the apostles, and possibly to the household of Cornelius. The purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was never to save anyone. People who claim to have the baptism of the Holy Spirit completely misunderstand His mission when He did come upon the Apostles.
Baptism Commanded by Jesus
We further want to mention the baptism as commanded by Christ. We have mentioned but briefly these last two baptisms, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the baptism commanded by Christ, for we shall give them further consideration in following articles, the Lord willing. Christ was baptized by John, but then He later gave a baptism of His own. After His death, and just prior to His ascension into heaven, Christ charged the disciples that they were to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He then informed them what they were to preach, and what they were to do. Matthew says, “And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:18-20). Mark reads, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15, 16). Christ commanded that they preach to every man, baptizing all those who believed for the remission of sins. This is the baptism that we shall study considerably in the weeks before us.
Truth Magazine XX: 34, pp. 531-534
August 26, 1976