A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Holy Baptism

This is part 25 of 26 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Large Catechism

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
    in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
    I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’” Selah

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
    your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
    Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
    and awesome above all who are around him?
O Lord God of hosts,
    who is mighty as you are, O Lord,
    with your faithfulness all around you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
    when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
    you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
    the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
12 The north and the south, you have created them;
    Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13 You have a mighty arm;
    strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
    steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
    who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,
16 who exult in your name all the day
    and in your righteousness are exalted.
17 For you are the glory of their strength;
    by your favor our horn is exalted.
18 For our shield belongs to the Lord,
    our king to the Holy One of Israel.

19 Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said:
    “I have granted help to one who is mighty;
    I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found David, my servant;
    with my holy oil I have anointed him,
21 so that my hand shall be established with him;
    my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him;
    the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
    and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him,
    and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
    and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the firstborn,
    the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
    and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29 I will establish his offspring forever
    and his throne as the days of the heavens.
30 If his children forsake my law
    and do not walk according to my rules,
31 if they violate my statutes
    and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
    and their iniquity with stripes,
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love
    or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant
    or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
    I will not lie to David.
36 His offspring shall endure forever,
    his throne as long as the sun before me.
37 Like the moon it shall be established forever,
    a faithful witness in the skies.” Selah

38 But now you have cast off and rejected;
    you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
    you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have breached all his walls;
    you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him;
    he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes;
    you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 You have also turned back the edge of his sword,
    and you have not made him stand in battle.
44 You have made his splendor to cease
    and cast his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth;
    you have covered him with shame. Selah

46 How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
    How long will your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how short my time is!
    For what vanity you have created all the children of man!
48 What man can live and never see death?
    Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah

49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
    which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
50 Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked,
    and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations,
51 with which your enemies mock, O Lord,
    with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.

52 Blessed be the Lord forever!
Amen and Amen.

(Psalm 89)

 

IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.

First.

What is Baptism?–Answer.

Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

Which is that word of God?–Answer.

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Secondly.

What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer.

It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God? Answer.

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Thirdly.

How can water do such great things?–Answer.

It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

Fourthly.
What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.
It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?–Answer.
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

 

Holy Baptism

1] We have now finished the three chief parts of the common Christian doctrine. Besides these we have yet to speak of our two Sacraments instituted by Christ, of which also every Christian ought to have at least an ordinary, brief instruction, because without them there can be no Christian; although, alas! hitherto no instruction concerning them has been given. 2] But, in the first place, we take up Baptism, by which we are first received into the Christian Church. However, in order that it may be readily understood, we will treat of it in an orderly manner, and keep only to that which it is necessary for us to know. For how it is to be maintained and defended against heretics and sects we will commend to the learned.

3] In the first place, we must above all things know well the words upon which Baptism is founded, and to which everything refers that is to be said on the subject, namely, where the Lord Christ speaks in Matthew 28:19:

4] Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Likewise in St. Mark 16:16: 5] He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

6] In these words you must note, in the first place, that here stand God’s commandment and institution, lest we doubt that Baptism is divine, not devised nor invented by men. For as truly as I can say, No man has spun the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer out of his head, but they are revealed and given by God Himself, so also I can boast that Baptism is no human trifle, but instituted by God Himself, moreover, that it is most solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we cannot be saved, lest any one regard it as a trifling matter, like putting on a new red coat. 7] For it is of the greatest importance that we esteem Baptism 8] excellent, glorious, and exalted, for which we contend and fight chiefly, because the world is now so full of sects clamoring that Baptism is an external thing, and that external things are of no benefit. But let it be ever so much an external thing, here stand God’s Word and command which institute, establish, and confirm Baptism. But what God institutes and commands cannot be a vain, but must be a most precious thing, though in appearance it were of less value than a straw. 9] If hitherto people could consider it a great thing when the Pope with his letters and bulls dispensed indulgences and confirmed altars and churches, solely because of the letters and seals, we ought to esteem Baptism much more highly and more precious, because God has commanded it, and, besides, it is performed in His name. For these are the words, Go ye, baptize; however, not in your name, but in the name of God.

10] For to be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore, although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own work. From this fact every one may himself readily infer that it is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work greater than the work of God can we do?

11] But here the devil is busy to delude us with false appearances, and lead us away from the work of God to our own works. For there is a much more splendid appearance when a Carthusian does many great and difficult works; and we all think much more of that which we do and merit ourselves. 12] But the Scriptures teach thus: Even though we collect in one mass the works of all the monks, however splendidly they may shine, they would not be as noble and good as if God should pick up a straw. Why? Because the person is nobler and better. Here, then, we must not estimate the person according to the works, but the works according to the person, from whom they must derive their nobility. 13] But insane reason will not regard this, and because Baptism does not shine like the works which we do, it is to be esteemed as nothing.

We have now dealt with the three chief parts of Christian doctrine.  Now, we move on to the Sacraments. We as Lutherans acknowledge 2 or 3 Sacraments, depending on definition, while the Roman Catholics say there are 7.  For further discussion on the numbering of the Sacraments see the Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XIII (VII).

Recall, also, the definition of the Church given by Augsburg Confession VII.  Without the Sacraments, a Church is not Christian. Thus, any church that does not practice the Sacraments is not Christian, even though some people in that church may be Christians.  The Sacraments are essential for a Christian. They are the objective means of grace that God has given to us to deliver the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

First, we will start with Holy Baptism.  We are received into the Church via Baptism.  Christ commands the Church to baptize and teach (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:14-20).

We must baptize, as the Lord has commanded us. Baptism is not a human invention or work.  Rather, it is God Himself acting. Thus, we should not mock it or use it lightly. This is far more than an outward act or sign.  It is also not an empty act. Baptism is a precious gift of God and should be used.

We baptize in the name of God, the Holy Trinity.  While the outward work is done by men, Baptism is all God’s doing as He attaches His name to the person being baptized.  After all, God’s name cannot be attached to places where He has not ordained it.

14] From this now learn a proper understanding of the subject, and how to answer the question what Baptism is, namely thus, that it is not mere ordinary water, but water comprehended in God’s Word and command, and sanctified thereby, so that it is nothing else than a divine water; not that the water in itself is nobler than other water, but that God’s Word and command are added.

15] Therefore it is pure wickedness and blasphemy of the devil that now our new spirits, to mock at Baptism, omit from it God’s Word and institution, and look upon it in no other way than as water which is taken from the well, and then blather and say: How is a handful of water to help the soul? 16] Aye, my friend, who does not know that water is water if tearing things asunder is what we are after? But how dare you thus interfere with God’s order, and tear away the most precious treasure with which God has connected and enclosed it, and which He will not have separated? For the kernel in the water is God’s Word or command and the name of God, which is a treasure greater and nobler than heaven and earth.

17] Comprehend the difference, then, that Baptism is quite another thing than all other water; not on account of the natural quality but because something more noble is here added; for God Himself stakes His honor, His power and might on it. Therefore it is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water, and in whatever other terms we can praise it,-all on account of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word, that no one can sufficiently extol, for it has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do [since it has all the virtue and power of God comprised in it]. 18] Hence also it derives its essence as a Sacrament, as St. Augustine also taught: Accedat verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum. That is, when the Word is joined to the element or natural substance, it becomes a Sacrament, that is, a holy and divine matter and sign.

19] Therefore we always teach that the Sacraments and all external things which God ordains and institutes should not be regarded according to the coarse, external mask, as we regard the shell of a nut, but as the Word of God is included therein. 20] For thus we also speak of the parental estate and of civil government. If we propose to regard them in as far as they have noses, eyes, skin, and hair, flesh and bones, they look like Turks and heathen, and some one might start up and say: Why should I esteem them more than others? But because the commandment is added: Honor thy father and thy mother, I behold a different man, adorned and clothed with the majesty and glory of God. The commandment (I say) is the chain of gold about his neck, yea, the crown upon his head, which shows to me how and why one must honor this flesh and blood.

21] Thus, and much more even, you must honor Baptism and esteem it glorious on account of the Word, since He Himself has honored it both by words and deeds; moreover, confirmed it with miracles from heaven. For do you think it was a jest that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Ghost descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty?

22] Therefore I exhort again that these two, the water and the Word, by no means be separated from one another and parted. For if the Word is separated from it, the water is the same as that with which the servant cooks, and may indeed be called a bath-keeper’s baptism. But when it is added, as God has ordained, it is a Sacrament, and is called Christ-baptism. Let this be the first part, regarding the essence and dignity of the holy Sacrament.

Baptism is not just mere water, but God’s Word and promise are attached to water (Ephesians 5:25-33).  Thus it is the height of blasphemy to disdain baptism or to say that it does nothing or is not a work of God.  When the new spirits (i.e. enthusiasts) reject Baptism, they reject God and His Word.  The water in Baptism becomes holy water due to God’s Word (Isaiah 55:1-13).

The mundane outward act we see is not how we are to judge the Sacraments, but rather by the power of God’s Word to do what He says.  See the example of “Honor your father and your mother”. It is not due to any outward grace or appearance that you do this, but because God’s Word says they are to be honored.  So we see that God has ordained and set them apart.

Even more, Christ has honored Baptism as well.  It is here that Baptism is made into a sacred thing and set apart.  Christ descends into the Jordan, takes up our sins and purifies all Baptismal Waters.  This both signifies the beginning of His public ministry but also sanctifies all waters for use in Baptism no matter how plain (Luke 3:1-22).

We should not and cannot separate the water and the Word.  Otherwise, the water is just plain water. But with the Word, the water is a Sacrament.

23] In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is, and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted; that is, what it profits, gives, and works. And this also we cannot discern better than from the words of Christ above quoted: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. 24] Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit, and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare, that he be saved. 25] But to be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live with Him forever.

26] Here you see again how highly and precious we should esteem Baptism, because in it we obtain such an unspeakable treasure, which also indicates sufficiently that it cannot be ordinary mere water. For mere water could not do such a thing, but the Word does it, and (as said above) the fact that the name of God is comprehended therein. 27] But where the name of God is, there must be also life and salvation, that it may indeed be called a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water; for by the Word such power is imparted to Baptism that it is a laver of regeneration, as St. Paul also calls it, Titus 3:5.

So what does Baptism do?  It does exactly what Scripture says, it saves us (Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Colossians 1:9-14, John 3:5, Titus 3:1-11).  Since Baptism saves, we should greatly treasure this gift.  For in Baptism we now have God’s saving name on us (Psalm 54).

28] But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. 29] But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it. Now, if I believe this, what else is it than believing in God as in Him who has given and planted His Word into this ordinance, and proposes to us this external thing wherein we may apprehend such a treasure?

30] Now, they are so mad as to separate faith, and that to which faith clings and is bound, though it be something external. Yea, it shall and must be something external, that it may be apprehended by the senses, and understood and thereby be brought into the heart, as indeed the entire Gospel is an external, verbal preaching. In short, what God does and works in us He proposes to work through such external ordinances. Wherever, therefore, He speaks, yea, in whichever direction or by whatever means He speaks, thither faith must look, and to that it must hold. 31] Now here we have the words: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. To what else do they refer than to Baptism, that is, to the water comprehended in God’s ordinance? Hence it follows that whoever rejects Baptism rejects the Word of God, faith, and Christ, who directs us thither and binds us to Baptism.

Faith alone does save, but Baptism is not some mere outward act as previously established.  Faith must have something to cling to (2 Timothy 1:3-18, Titus 1:5-16, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Faith clings to the waters of Baptism as an objective act done to you, for you (Mark 4:1-9).

The enthusiasts disdain outward objective signs.  Rather they point to inward moves.  However, God wants us to cling to the objective Word—not our subjective thoughts, emotions, or feelings (Romans 10:5-21, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  Thus we take Christ at His Word:  “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”  Mark 16:16

32] In the third place, since we have learned the great benefit and power of Baptism, let us see further who is the person that receives what Baptism gives and profits. 33] This is again most beautifully and clearly expressed in the words: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. That is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive profitably the saving, divine water. For, since these blessings are here presented and promised in the words in and with the water, they cannot be received in any other way than by believing them with the heart. 34] Without faith it profits nothing, notwithstanding it is in itself a divine superabundant treasure. Therefore this single word (He that believeth) effects this much that it excludes and repels all works which we can do, in the opinion that we obtain and merit salvation by them. For it is determined that whatever is not faith avails nothing nor receives anything.

35] But if they say, as they are accustomed: Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what, then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper’s baptism). God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. 36] For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it.

37] Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith. Therefore they do us violence by exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.

Who receives Baptism?  Those who believe.  The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is so powerful that it even creates the faith that holds it.  With Baptism the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts to believe.

If there is no faith, Baptism is useless (Romans 10:5-13).  We can reject Baptism, even if it is outwardly done to us.  Thus, the distinction between a passive faith which believes in Baptism and receives its gifts, and an active rejection of the works of God.

God’s works are necessary for salvation.  It is not the mere act of Baptism that saves. But it is God’s Word working in the act that saves. The faith the Holy Spirit creates in Baptism is not an act of will but rather a trust in the promises of God (Ezekiel 36:22-38).  There is no work by man done here. Just like the cross was Jesus’ work alone, likewise, Baptism is God’s work.

So, we do not preach against faith when we teach about Baptism. Rather, Baptism is the means by which God grants faith. Baptism creates the very faith that holds on to the promise of God in Baptism.

38] Thus we have these three parts which it is necessary to know concerning this Sacrament, especially that the ordinance of God is to be held in all honor, which alone would be sufficient, though it be an entirely external thing, like the commandment, Honor thy father and thy mother, which refers to bodily flesh and blood. Therein we regard not the flesh and blood, but the commandment of God in which they are comprehended, and on account of which the flesh is called father and mother; so also, though we had no more than these words, Go ye and baptize, etc., it would be necessary for us to accept and do it as the ordinance of God. 39] Now there is here not only God’s commandment and injunction, but also the promise, on account of which it is still far more glorious than whatever else God has commanded and ordained, and is, in short, so full of consolation and grace that heaven and earth cannot comprehend it. 40] But it requires skill to believe this, for the treasure is not wanting, but this is wanting that men apprehend it and hold it firmly.

41] Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practise all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts. 42] In short, it is so transcendent that if timid nature could realize it, it might well doubt whether it could be true. 43] For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one’s door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive.

44] Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body. 45] For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism, namely, that the body, which can apprehend nothing but the water, is sprinkled, and, in addition, the word is spoken for the soul to apprehend. 46] Now, since both, the water and the Word, are one Baptism, therefore body and soul must be saved and live forever: the soul through the Word which it believes, but the body because it is united with the soul and also apprehends Baptism as it is able to apprehend it. We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul, for by it we are made holy and are saved, which no other kind of life, no work upon earth, can attain.

Let this suffice respecting the nature, blessing, and use of Baptism, for it answers the present purpose.

So here we have Baptism, which is given for us, to us, as a gift.  We trust God and baptize as God commands and promises. This is a glorious gift of grace and faith given to us by God (Acts 2:14-41).

We look to Baptism for our surety when doubt and the devil assail us. This is why we cross ourselves as a remembrance of our Baptism. It is also a reminder that we are saved in both body and soul (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).

Baptism saves us.  Nothing else in the world can do this.  For God has put His promise on nothing else.

Of Infant Baptism.

47] Here a question occurs by which the devil, through his sects, confuses the world, namely, Of Infant Baptism, whether children also believe, and are justly baptized. Concerning this we say briefly: 48] Let the simple dismiss this question from their minds, and refer it to the learned. But if you wish to answer, 49] then answer thus:-

That the Baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ is sufficiently proved from His own work, namely, that God sanctifies many of them who have been thus baptized, and has given them the Holy Ghost; and that there are yet many even to-day in whom we perceive that they have the Holy Ghost both because of their doctrine and life; as it is also given to us by the grace of God that we can explain the Scriptures and come to the knowledge of Christ, which is impossible without the Holy Ghost. 50] But if God did not accept the baptism of infants, He would not give the Holy Ghost nor any of His gifts to any of them; in short, during this long time unto this day no man upon earth could have been a Christian. Now, since God confirms Baptism by the gifts of His Holy Ghost, as is plainly perceptible in some of the church fathers, as St. Bernard, Gerson, John Hus, and others, who were baptized in infancy, and since the holy Christian Church cannot perish until the end of the world, they must acknowledge that such infant baptism is pleasing to God. For He can never be opposed to Himself, or support falsehood and wickedness, or for its promotion impart His grace and Spirit. 51] This is indeed the best and strongest proof for the simple-minded and unlearned. For they shall not take from us or overthrow this article: I believe a holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.

Infant Baptism is God-pleasing  We know this because there are a great many Christians who were baptized as infants.  If Infant Baptism were displeasing to God, this would not be the case.  We also know that we only come to faith by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, if infants cannot be saved, neither can we (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).

52] Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God. 53] This now is perhaps somewhat acute, but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is, when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word.

54] For even though a Jew should to-day come dishonestly and with evil purpose, and we should baptize him in all good faith, we must say that his baptism is nevertheless genuine. For here is the water together with the Word of God, even though he does not receive it as he should, just as those who unworthily go to the Sacrament receive the true Sacrament, even though they do not believe.

55] Thus you see that the objection of the sectarians is vain. For (as we have said) even though infants did not believe, which, however, is not the case, yet their baptism as now shown would be valid, and no one should rebaptize them; just as nothing is detracted from the Sacrament though some one approach it with evil purpose, and he could not be allowed on account of his abuse to take it a second time the selfsame hour, as though he had not received the true Sacrament at first; for that would mean to blaspheme and profane the Sacrament in the worst manner. How dare we think that God’s Word and ordinance should be wrong and invalid because we make a wrong use of it?

56] Therefore I say, if you did not believe then believe now and say thus: The baptism indeed was right, but I, alas! did not receive it aright. For I myself also, and all who are baptized, must speak thus before God: I come hither in my faith and in that of others, yet I cannot rest in this, that I believe, and that many people pray for me; but in this I rest, that it is Thy Word and command. Just as I go to the Sacrament trusting not in my faith, but in the Word of Christ; whether I am strong or weak, that I commit to God. But this I know, that He bids me go, eat and drink, etc., and gives me His body and blood; that will not deceive me or prove false to me.

57] Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err.

58] Therefore they are presumptuous, clumsy minds that draw such inferences and conclusions as these: Where there is not the true faith, there also can be no true Baptism. Just as if I would infer: If I do not believe, then Christ is nothing; or thus: If I am not obedient, then father, mother, and government are nothing. Is that a correct conclusion, that whenever any one does not do what he ought, the thing in itself shall be nothing and of no value? 59] My dear, just invert the argument and rather draw this inference: For this very reason Baptism is something and is right, because it has been wrongly received. For if it were not right and true in itself, it could not be misused nor sinned against. The saying is: Abusus non tollit, sed confirmat substantiam, Abuse does not destroy the essence, but confirms it. For gold is not the less gold though a harlot wear it in sin and shame.

60] Therefore let it be decided that Baptism always remains true, retains its full essence, even though a single person should be baptized, and he, in addition, should not believe truly. For God’s ordinance and Word cannot be made variable or be altered by men. 61] But these people, the fanatics, are so blinded that they do not see the Word and command of God, and regard Baptism and the magistrates only as they regard water in the brook or in pots, or as any other man; and because they do not see faith nor obedience, they conclude that they are to be regarded as invalid. 62] Here lurks a concealed seditious devil, who would like to tear the crown from the head of authority and then trample it under foot, and, in addition, pervert and bring to naught all the works and ordinances of God. 63] Therefore we must be watchful and well armed, and not allow ourselves to be directed nor turned away from the Word, in order that we may not regard Baptism as a mere empty sign, as the fanatics dream.

Baptism is not dependent on the person being baptized, or even on the person doing the baptizing.  Rather, it depends entirely on God’s Word tied to the water (Ephesians 5:26).  This is analogous to the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper is not invalid because someone who is not worthy receives it.

To doubt the power of Baptism is to doubt God’s Word and blaspheme God.  If you were to think that at the time you were baptized you were unworthy, have no doubt now. Your Baptism was efficacious and did exactly what God said it does.

Thus, we believe in One Baptism (Ephesians 4:1-16).  We baptize once and only once. We have the conviction that God will do what He says so we do not need to rebaptize anyone who has been properly baptized (Titus 1:2).

Those who question Infant Baptism are arrogant as they claim that God cannot grant faith to an infant.  God’s Word is more powerful than our unbelief. The fact that someone can unworthily receive something proves that it actually does something.  So those who say that infants should not be baptized cannot also claim that Baptism is not efficacious.  The devil lurks in the words of those who deny Baptism, especially Infant Baptism.  So we must not allow anyone to think this is an empty sign (Jeremiah 23:9-40).

64] Lastly, we must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God has ordained just such external sign and ceremony for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian Church. 65] But the act or ceremony is this, that we are sunk under the water, which passes over us, and afterwards are drawn out again. These two parts, to be sunk under the water and drawn out again, signify the power and operation of Baptism, which is nothing else than putting to death the old Adam, and after that the resurrection of the new man, both of which must take place in us all our lives, so that a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For this must be practised without ceasing, that we ever keep purging away whatever is of the old Adam, and that that which belongs to the new man come forth. 66] But what is the old man? It is that which is born in us from Adam, angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, yea, unbelieving, infected with all vices, and having by nature nothing good in it. 67] Now, when we are come into the kingdom of Christ, these things must daily decrease, that the longer we live we become more gentle, more patient, more meek, and ever withdraw more and more from unbelief, avarice, hatred, envy, haughtiness.

68] This is the true use of Baptism among Christians, as signified by baptizing with water. Where this, therefore, is not practised, but the old man is left unbridled, so as to continually become stronger, that is not using Baptism, but striving against Baptism. 69] For those who are without Christ cannot but daily become worse, according to the proverb which expresses the truth, “Worse and worse-the longer, the worse.” 70] If a year ago one was proud and avaricious, then he is much prouder and more avaricious this year, so that the vice grows and increases with him from his youth up. A young child has no special vice; but when it grows up, it becomes unchaste and impure, and when it reaches maturity, real vices begin to prevail the longer, the more.

71] Therefore the old man goes unrestrained in his nature if he is not checked and suppressed by the power of Baptism. On the other hand, where men have become Christians, he daily decreases until he finally perishes. That is truly to be buried in Baptism, and daily to come forth again. 72] Therefore the external sign is appointed not only for a powerful effect, but also for a signification. 73] Where, therefore, faith flourishes with its fruits, there it has no empty signification, but the work [of mortifying the flesh] accompanies it; but where faith is wanting, it remains a mere unfruitful sign.

Baptism is the drowning of the old Adam and rising of the new man to life (Romans 6:1-14). For a wonderful illustration of this, see Luther’s Flood Prayer.  As such, the Christian life is a Baptismal Life. Daily, we are to die to sin and to rise in Christ.

Christians who live in their Baptismal promise see good works increase in their life.  Though they still sin and continue to sin till death. Without Baptism, though, we would fall deeper into sin (Romans 8:12-17).

74] And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, 75] as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. 76] For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.

77] Therefore our Baptism abides forever; and even though some one should fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access thereto, that we may again subdue the old man. 78] But we need not again be sprinkled with water; for though we were put under the water a hundred times, it would nevertheless be only one Baptism, although the operation and signification continue and remain. 79] Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism, that we repeat and practise what we began before, but abandoned.

80] This I say lest we fall into the opinion in which we were for a long time, imagining that our Baptism is something past, which we can no longer use after we have fallen again into sin. The reason is, that it is regarded only according to the external act once performed [and completed]. 81] And this arose from the fact that St. Jerome wrote that repentance is the second plank by which we must swim forth and cross over after the ship is broken, on which we step and are carried across when we come into the Christian Church. 82] Thereby the use of Baptism has been abolished so that it can profit us no longer. Therefore the statement is not correct, or at any rate not rightly understood. For the ship never breaks, because (as we have said) it is the ordinance of God, and not a work of ours; but it happens, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if any one fall out, let him see to it that he swim up and cling to it till he again come into it and live in it, as he had formerly begun.

83] Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God’s own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man; and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.

84] For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. 85] For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians. 86] But if any one fall away from it, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts also remain. If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man about our neck.

Confession and Absolution is also part of Baptism.  While we are baptized once, the benefits of Baptism are continual.  The gift of Holy Absolution is a return to the gift of adoption and forgiveness given at your Baptism (Ezekiel 36:25-26, Hebrews 10:22).

Here, St. Jerome is either wrong or misunderstood.  Baptism never fails us.  Thus, we should value Baptism as our daily dress.  We should remain in our Baptism until our death brings to completion what Baptism started, namely the new life eternal with Christ in our resurrected flesh (Galatians 3:15-29, Romans 3:21-31).

1 To Jordan came our Lord, the Christ,
To do God’s pleasure willing,
And there was by St. John baptized,
All righteousness fulfilling;
There did He consecrate a bath
To wash away transgression,
And quench the bitterness of death
By His own blood and passion,
He would a new life give us.

2 So hear ye all, and well perceive
What God doth call a Baptism,
And what a Christian should believe
Who error shuns and schism:
That we should water use, the Lord
Declareth it His pleasure,
Not simple water, but the Word
And Spirit without measure;–
He is the true Baptizer.

3 To show us this He hath His word
With signs and symbols given;
On Jordan’s banks was plainly heard
The Father’s voice from heaven:
“This is My well-beloved Son,
In whom My soul delighteth;
Hear Him!” Yea, hear Him, every one,
When He Himself inviteth;
Hear and obey His teaching!

4 In tender manhood God the Son
In Jordan’s water standeth;
The Holy Ghost from heaven’s throne
In dove-like form descendeth;
That thus the truth be not denied,
Nor should our faith e’er waver,
That the Three Persons all preside,
At Baptism’s holy laver,
And dwell with the believer.

5 Thus Jesus His disciples sent
Go, teach ye every nation,
That, lost in sin, they must repent,
And flee from condemnation;
He that believes and is baptized
Shall thereby have salvation,
A new-born man he is in Christ,
From death free and damnation,
He shall inherit heaven.

6 Who in this mercy hath not faith
Nor aught therein discerneth,
Is yet in sin, condemned to death
And fire that ever burneth;
His holiness avails him not,
Nor aught which he is doing;
His inborn sin brings all to naught,
And maketh sure his ruin;
Himself he cannot succor.

7 The eye of sense alone is dim,
And nothing sees but water;
Faith sees Christ Jesus, and in Him
The Lamb ordained for slaughter;
With the dear blood of Jesus,
Which from the sins, inherited
From fallen Adam, frees us,
And from our own misdoings.

(ELH 401/LSB 406)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

Comments

A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Holy Baptism — 3 Comments

  1. “Baptism is the means by which God grants faith.”

    Didn’t those of us who were baptized as adults have faith before baptism?

  2. Large Catechism: “That the Baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ is sufficiently proved from His own work, namely, that God sanctifies many of them who have been thus baptized, and has given them the Holy Ghost.”

    I have never understood the line of reasoning in this “proof”. Could God not choose to bestow his grace and Holy Spirit richly even if the practice of infant baptism were in error? Don’t we ourselves acknowledge that God is evidently working saving faith in churches where errors in some points of doctrine persist?

    And if the proof of what is “pleasing to Christ” is in how the faith of the baptized develops after infancy, then could we not by that reasoning conclude that because “many who have been thus baptized” fall away, then the practice is not “pleasing to Christ”?

  3. So to your first comment, certainly faith comes from the Word of God and can happen apart from Baptism. After all it is the Word that makes Baptism efficacious in the first place. The Word by itself can convert as well as the Holy Spirit uses the Word where and when He pleases. In fact infants certainly can believe prior to Baptism as well (see St. John the Baptist in the womb). Our Lord is superabundant when it comes to His gifts.

    As to the second comment, I’m sure in Luther’s day it was more convincing when you had both major churches having always done Infant Baptism. He is certainly railing against the Anabaptists who made such arguments and Luther points out the absurdity, namely the church had always done Infant Baptism so if it was false why did the Church survive. An easier argument to make in his day to be sure. I’m sure there is some additional context that he is specifically responding to but I’m not enough of a historian on that topic to say further.

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