J. M. Frost - 1916
J. M. Frost. Western Recorder, Louisville, Ky., July 29, 1915.
VIEWED as symbol, sign or picture, or simple ceremonial service, baptism makes a powerful plea, and apologetic for the Cross and the Risen Christ, Like the cross itself, the beautiful ordinance is a paradox, representing at once defeat and triumph, death and resurrection-two pictures in one. ”As oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup,” as oft also as ye baptize, ”ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”
This article gives in outline the substance of the lesson we had on ”Easter Sunday” in my class - an Adult Bible Class in the Sunday school of the First Baptist church, Nashville, Tenn. The title in part and largely the thought were borrowed from a unique and remarkably fine sermon preached by Dr. Howard Lee Jones, president now of Coker College, but then pastor of Citadel Square Baptist church, Charleston, S. C. The sermon was published at the time in the Baptist Courier, but recently re-published by the Sunday School Board, with a collection of articles in a small book called ”Christian Union Relative to Baptist Churches.” I care nothing for Easter, am averse to it as a calendar day in the ”church year.” The title, however, is attractive, the conception is beautiful and impressive, deserving to be perpetuated and passed around.
The regular Uniform Lesson for that morning was, ”The Rebuke from Samuel and the Rejection of Saul for His Failure to Carry Out the Word of the Lord,” emphasizing obedience as the supreme service. This great lesson in the regular course was not set aside for the special lesson, but was emphasized by being made the background of the picture. For baptism, whatever else it may have or teach, is primarily an act of obedience which Christ requires of those who love him - the obedience of the saved man in honor of his Saviour. And in baptism, as in other things, to obey is better than sacrifice and all burnt offering.
1. This picture of baptism has for its frame the environment in which it is administered. The great original was in the Jordan, and the august occasion of the baptism of Jesus. The frame is not the picture itself, but may add much to mar or to set out its beauty and significance. Some of the most beautiful pictures in my memory are baptismal scenes-in baptistries of more or less attractiveness, in beautiful streams of running water, in the pool out in the open woodlandall aiming to copy as near as may be the great original in spirit, form and purpose.
The masterpieces of art in their originals are kept for the most part in the great art galleries of the world, but copies of them are carried almost broadcast. We demand precision in the reproduction, whatever its frame, being sure always that we have the picture-an immersion in water with the best possible environment.
2. A picture requires a good light, with right reflection, to be seen in its real power of touch and beauty. This is imperative, or the mightiest pieces of art count for nothing. There must be a right eye and a right light,, or nothing is seen. The light of the open heavens was upon the original of our picture and the occasion was made glorious in the Father’s presence and approval.
The glory of God has been upon every right baptism to this day, and in a great sense sufficient to awaken awe, reverence and worship. Administered into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, this simple ceremony becomes sublime as an act of worship, is glorified in the glory of the Godhead. This far-off copy of the original is ablaze with heavenly splendor-if only we have eyes to see and a heart to respond to its touch.
I recall a baptism late one afternoon. It was in a beautiful stream and the sun hung low in the western sky. The rays fell upon the water where the preacher stood and was so reflected, that from my position the whole scene was transfigured into a sheen of sunlit splendor-beautiful indeed, and remindful of the Jordan. We are buried with Christ in baptism, that like as he was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, so we also being risen with him should walk in newness of life.
Moreover, light from the Scriptures as the more sure word of prophecy is absolutely needful for a right study and interpretation of this wonderful picture. In an art gallery one carries a catalogue as his guide, and before this picture the Bible is your only guide. A good woman called at my study on one occasion, much disturbed and even distressed about her baptism, with serious and almost painful misgiving about what she had received in infancy as baptism. As she led on in the conversation, I ventured to ask, ”But, in reading the Scriptures, what do you do with those passages which tell of baptism?” Her answer was very prompt and serious: ”Oh, I skip them!” The reply was significant and told a sad story of a soul in struggle and doubt as to personal duty.
If you really want to see this picture in its true and wonderful meaning, let the light of the Word of God shine upon it in fullness. That will settle all questions and give this New Testament ordinance the place of rank and distinction which it should hold among those who follow our Lord.
3. But the chief charm of a picture as an element of power and commanding hold on public attention is, after all, its subject and substance. This, indeed, is what makes the picture, whether of imaginative creation, or of some real event or person. A poor piece of art may yet be a great picture in its power to hold and stir the human heart, if only it represents some commanding historic character, or some deed of heroic daring, or some achievement that has startled the world and awakened a glad song in the history of human events.
Here baptism, this simple New Testament service, comes to its full as a picture of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Oh, that wonderful word, if only its mighty meaning be gotten - ”We are buried with him in baptism, wherein also we are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
This is the event which baptism as a picture puts before our very eyes, as the mightiest and most triumphant event in human history, not indeed on canvas, however charming that might be, but in simple, beautiful, powerful action. Here, the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, empty of its holy treasure, is laid bare before our eyes-even the resurrection event - and we are asked again and again, ”Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
And yet, baptism, however wonderful it is, needs supplementing as a picture and finds its supplemet in the companion picture of the Lord’s Supper. There are four elements to be presented concerning Christ; namely, his death, his burial, his resurrection, his resurrection life. The Lord’s Supper shows his death and risen life, baptism his burial and resurrection-each a paradox and a picture of double meaning. Dr. Sanday, of the Church of England, in his Commentary on Romans, says strikingly and beautifully: ”Baptism corresponds to the three acts of Christ’s atonement; namely, Immersion equals death; Submersion equals burial, or the ratification of death; Emergence equals resurrection.”
This, moreover, is the only picture, indeed the only symbol in all art or nature, of his resurrection from the grave. Change the form of the great ordinance, and its meaning has gone. The master paintings in the art galleries of the world express in their form the thought and meaning of the artist. Change the form of the picture in color, or shading, or shape, and you destroy the picture.
Herein is the drawing power of the baptismal picture, showing in one act how Christ died for our sins and was raised again for our justification, and now reigns as the risen Christ. One may know nothing of art, but he will call that a great picture which makes him laugh or weep, or moves his heart to rapturous joy. He may not know why, but the spell of the picture is on him. The language of the new-born soul is, ”See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized,” wanting to walk in the will and the way of his Lord, and to do the things that he has commanded.
I once heard a Christian man who did not believe in immersion admonish his good wife, who was expressing the wish to see a baptism: ”Don’t go near there, for if you do, you will surely want to go down in that pool.” How little he realized the deep philosophy he was expressing of Christian experience and life! The pull of the picture is the measure of its power; its appeal to the new heart for a new life is its unchangeable testimony of pathos and power for the cross and the risen Christ.
4. This picture of the resurrection of Jesus has one element in a marked way, that I venture to call the heroic, the daring, such as you can seldom find in art. The world’s great pictures of Christ have their elements of power, but can hardly be said to show the heroic. The Sistine Madonna subdues us with the appeal of the quiet, beautiful, dignified face, the transfiguration scene has a mighty appeal in its heavenly splendor and glory, the descent from the cross almost breaks the heart as one looks on it, but none of these carry the elements of the heroic and the daring.
But baptism is wonderful in what I want to call the unerring accuracy of its word and the dauntlessness of its testimony and sign-making power. It shows in living form before a gainsaying and materialistic world, nothing daunted, the resurrection of Jesus, the spiritual resurrection of the believer, the final resurrection at the last day. These are the things which perhaps are the severest tests of faith, and yet baptism never once wavers in setting them forth in strong and beautiful pictorial power. Its word at all times is the word of triumph and of unquestioning eertainty - like the old fashion guide-post that stands at the crossing of the roads and points its way, whether by day or night, whether in storm or sunshine.
This is the heroic, the daring, in this picture. How it does appeal to us and strengthen our faith in the risen Christ and awaken afresh our hope of the coming triumph over death and the grave. The glory of the past and the greater glory of the future center here to awaken our song of rejoicing. This is the surpassing beauty and power of the picture-standing by itself among pictures so simple, and yet so sublime, in its meaning and message.
5. Its custody is in the hands of those who love our Lord - a ”baptized people following a baptized Saviour. They are its custodians for his sake. With jealous care the keeper watches the great art galleries of the world for the protection of the art treasures of the world. One may go in and see to his delight, but he must first leave on the outside whatever in any way might injure or mar the great pictures.
In my book, ”Our Church Life,” the following paragraph occurs in the chapter (page 81) on the Church and its Ordinances:
”No one surely would enter a great cathedral and mar the beauty of its finish or spoil the pictures on its walls. But what of God’s building, and what of these mighty pictures which he holds up before the world? To spoil baptism by perversion in any way, is like spoiling the new tomb in the garden; the disfiguring of the Lord’s Supper by misrepresentation is almost like disfiguring the cross on which the Prince of Glory died, or in some way marring or even mocking that awful tragedy which has been the wonder of the world for two thousand years. And yet these great ordinances are sometimes so changed and disfigured that there is no resemblance to burial or the empty tomb, no resemblance either to the cross or to the atonement which came in the shedding of blood as the purchase price of redemption.”
This should concern us deeply. It is our high obligation and loyalty to our Lord, to preserve these great pictures in their spirit, form and purpose. To have in our keeping, such pictures gives renown and glory to our trust, and is a challenge to our faithfulness. We dare not delegate this trust to another, but count our responsibility for their keeping, as individual Christians and churches, our joy and crown of rejoicing.
Their keeping as committed to us is our highest honor, and almost our strongest word for the cross and the Risen Christ. Had not Christ come and taught, there would be no Christianity; had not Christ died on the cross for sin and salvation, there would be no church with its baptism and supper; had not Christ risen from the dead, there would be no Christendom.