A Laymen’s Commentary on the Smalcald Articles: Baptism

Part III, Article V. Of Baptism.

1] Baptism is nothing else than the Word of God in the water, commanded by His institution, or, as Paul says, a washing in the Word; as also Augustine says: Let the Word come to the element, and it becomes a Sacrament. 2] And for this reason we do not hold with Thomas and the monastic preachers [or Dominicans] who forget the Word (God’s institution) and say that God has imparted to the water a spiritual power, which through the water washes away sin. 3] Nor [do we agree] with Scotus and the Barefooted monks [Minorites or Franciscan monks], who teach that, by the assistance of the divine will, Baptism washes away sins, and that this ablution occurs only through the will of God, and by no means through the Word or water.

4] Of the baptism of children we hold that children ought to be baptized. For they belong to the promised redemption made through Christ, and the Church should administer it [Baptism and the announcement of that promise] to them.

Baptism is God’s Word joined to water.  It gives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  It regenerates the soul and makes us heirs with Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33).

We agree with St. Augustine about the definition of a Sacrament, namely that a Sacrament is the Word joined to a physical element given for the forgiveness of sins. We disagree with Thomas Aquinas and others who say that the water apart from the Word is efficacious.  We also disagree with John Duns Scotus and the Barefooted Monks (Franciscan Monks) who say that it is God’s will without the Word or water.  As some evangelicals will even confess.

We also affirm, along with the Roman Catholics, the Baptism of infants.  As Scripture clearly declares (Acts 2).  Thus we reject all those who say that children should not be Baptized.

Christ our Lord to the Jordan came,
For thus His Father willed it,
John’s baptism for Himself to claim,
And thus the Son fulfilled it.
Thereby He drew for us a bath,
To wash us of transgression,
And drowned He also bitter death,
Through His own blood and passion;
A new life thus availeth.

So mark ye well and all perceive
What God Himself calls Baptism,
And what a Christian should believe
Lest heresy deceive him.
Though lowly water, plain and clear,
Is His good will and pleasure,
His holy Word is also here,
His Spirit without measure;
He does Himself baptize us.

Such hath He made clear as can be,
With signs both shown and spoken.
The Father’s voice was openly
Heard loud upon the Jordan.
He said: This Man is My dear Son
In whom I am delighted.
I now command you, every one,
That ye, through Him invited,
Should follow all His teachings.

The Son of God Himself here stands
In tender human nature;
The Holy Ghost on Him descends,
Clad in a dove’s fair vesture.
We therefore should not doubt at all,
When to the font we’re wending,
That all three Persons us do call,
To earth in grace descending,
With us to make their dwelling.

To His disciples spake the Christ:
Go hence, the whole world teaching,
The lost, for whom I’ve paid the price,
Repenting through your preaching.
He who believes and is baptized
Shall be thereby most blessèd
And born anew in heav’nly wise,
No more by death oppressèd;
He shall inherit heaven.

He who rejects this gen’rous grace,
Sin still his soul possesses.
He is condemned t’eternal death
Deep in hell’s dark recesses.
No help is his own holiness,
His deeds have not availed him,
Turned by that sin to worthlessness
Which from his birth assailed him;
He can’t himself deliver.

The eye doth naught but water see,
Plain men the water pouring;
But from this blindness faith is free,
Christ Jesus’ blood adoring.
It is for faith a flood of red,
By Christ’s own blood thus tinted,
For all our sin and weakness shed
Which Adam has transmitted,
And we too have committed.

(LSB 406)

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