J. M. Frost - 1916
J. M. Frost. The Convention Teacher, Nashville, Tenn., January, 1916.
”Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. . . Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer.” - Acts 2: 38, 41, 42.
PENTECOST was a signal day, the consummation of historic movements and a new start in God’s grace for human redemption. So gracious and glorious were its wonders that the very name, losing almost its glory in Hebrew history, became the synonym and symbol in Christian history for the demonstration and power of the Spirit. In the climax of the day’s wonders the baptismal ceremony is brought to the front, and then at the close of the day made to tell the magnitude of its achievements. For the ordinance to have place at all in such environment was remarkable, but to have such mention and use marks its commanding place in the Christian system.
The memory of Pentecost and its wonders of grace, wherever it stirs the soul of Christian people, should not fail to crown this simple Christian rite with distinction and honor. It shares in the renown of that day as an essential part of the wonderful service, and must be now of the same importance, nature and meaning. Its meaning then and now is largely a meaning of message, rather than of mystic efficacy or conveyor of grace. We have been so consumed in our discussion of what baptism may or may not do for man, we have largely overlooked its powerful word in symbol for God in his scheme of grace, for Christ in his atonement for sin, and for the evangelical faith set out in the New Testament and held largely in common by all Christian people.
Baptism was not a product of Pentecost, not something new introduced then for the first time. As an ordinance it had been appointed beforehand as part of the equipment. It came to the front with commanding ease, and served its purpose when the new condition broke with startling suddenness upon the little band in their season of prayer. This was the disciples’ first mention of the ordinance, and their first public service also since they were commissioned to the colossal task of world conquest. This fact was a new emphasis for baptism and magnified its place among the antecedents of Pentecost.
These antecedents were history, and baptism had been one of the most conspicuous factors. It had its rise with the ministry of John, whom God sent to baptize and whose baptism had its center and crown of distinction in his baptizing Jesus in the Jordan. Multitudes had flocked to John’s baptism, as a baptism from heaven and not of men, and were immersed in symbol of their repentance and remission of sins. With the emphasis of intervening events the ordinance had come to its place of command in the commission, and as an institution in the new system was well known by the disciples as part of their trust, during the days of their assembling with one accord for prayer-waiting for the coming of the promise.
This day was their new day. They had been under the ministry of Jesus, had seen him die on the cross and learned its new meaning, had seen his resurrection power and something of its glory, had come through those forty days of remarkable training - the risen Christ meanwhile coming and going among them and giving commandments through the Holy Spirit-had finally seen him ascend into heaven to take his place at the right hand of the Majesty on high for the fulfillment of his word. What a company they were, as they waited with their commission unused for making disciples, baptizing and teaching-but ready for use when they were in the sweep and joy of the heavenly power newly come.
This was the stated order, the one an experience of the heart Godward, the other an act of ceremonial obedience as its sign and symbol. ”Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” - was the commanding word to meet the crucial emergency in the stormlike sweep of Pentecost. It was a new emphasis for the greatness of the ordinance, while the ordinance itself took on a deeper and even richer meaning. It showed baptism a personal obligation preceded by a personal experience, a personal privilege and joy for such as have a new heart and declaration of personal allegiance and loyalty to Jesus, having died on the cross, but now risen from the dead and at the right hand of God as the Messiah of Israel and the Prince of Glory. It was a great hour in preaching the gospel, a new honor for the ordinance, and set a new standard for evangelizing the world.
It is not known by whom the apostle was baptized, or just how he came to ’his exalted and ripened view of its ceremonial beauty and power. He knew of repentance both by instruction and from bitter experience, had large share in the antecedents in which baptism came to Pentecost in the fullness and ripeness of its meaning, and withal ”spoke as the Spirit gave him utterance.” So when the climax came in a kind of spiritual cyclone, he was ready with his word in masterful composure, and set baptism over against repentance - an external ceremony to serve the noble purpose of expressing the deep things of the renewed heart.
In a certain sense it was a new day in preaching, for there was new power and larger opportunity, but no change of relation between spiritual conditions and their outward expression in symbolic form. Repentance is of the heart, is toward God, and means that the sinner who repents is the sinner already saved by grace through faith - with baptism to follow, not to complete his salvation, but to give ceremonial expression to the mighty changes which have taken place in the heart and in which one becomes a child of God.
These are great words and heart experiences. They precede baptism, and yet add to its significance and distinction. Though standing essentially in the order here named, regeneration, repentance and faith in Christ are coexistent, like ” the movement of spokes in a wheel, and are inseparable terms in the process of being saved. They must be considered in a group, whether as words or heart-exercises - not synonymous but synchronous, and presuppose each other. Salvation, the more comprehensive term, includes all of them, or may be expressed by either one taken alone-so that one born of God is saved, as one repenting of sin is saved, or one believing in Christ as Saviour is saved. What these words stand for must not be confused with conviction for sin which precedes, or with obedience in baptism which follows, each being essential in its own sphere and function in the fullness of Christian experience and life.
The driveways to a bridge - one approaching and the other leading away - would not be confused either with one another or with the bridge itself. The fruit of the tree is not the tree; there is a difference between the fountain and its outflowing stream, and a distinction between salvation and the ”things which accompany salvation.” And the apostle in his earnest appeal for repentance and baptism was but matching the upheaval of the heart with the outer expression in simple but wonderful ceremony, and shows almost a startling view of the ordinance which the Lord had commanded, in its symbolic import and power.
Pentecost brought the first fruitage of the commission, working out, under the stately movements of the day, the rounded and completed fullness of its meaning - making disciples, baptizing and teaching. But the modern theory would curtail or set it aside, at least in part. They pray for a return of Pentecost, but seem to want Pentecost not as it was, but as it may be fashioned to suit modern views and customs. What need now, they say, for an external ordinance, ”a mere form of religion,” when the spiritual power is so great, and the mighty Spirit himself is sweeping the heart like a tornado ? Not so, however, with the great apostle as leader in Christian conquest and himself in the full swing of the Spirit’s power and guiding. For then as now and now as then, the inner experience needs the outer expression; the spiritual, even at its ripest and fullest, will yet call for the external in religion, and will give power to ”the form of godliness” - the standard and ideal of New Testament symbols.
The following distinction may be observed, so far as we may venture in definition where everything is overwhelmingly great, and glorious beyond human thought. Regeneration is being born of God, repentance is the turning of the heart Godward in sorrow for sin and in seeking forgiveness, remission of sins is God’s gracious act in the sinner’s behalf, and one of the wonders of redemption. This word - this amazing word, remission of sin - tells of something done in the heavenly court, as the governor’s pardon issues from the executive office of state. It is the exercise of God’s mercy in which he ”abundantly pardons” and is in answer to the sinner’s prayer through faith in the atoning blood. Conspicuous as coming only through Christ in the shedding of blood, remission of sins is one of the glories of grace, and it becomes an experience in the sinner’s heart, an experience of grace, when he receives the glad news from heaven through God’s Spirit bearing witness with his Spirit.
This must be counted one of the wonders of Pentecost, and yet baptism, the simple Christian rite, has its place and relation to the heavenly transaction; gives it public declaration in symbolic form, is God’s own chosen form, so to speak, for its publication among men. Surely baptism came into company and environment of great honor on that day of wonders. Forthwith, simply as matter of speech, it became one of the great words of the New Testament and in subsequent Christian literature. And when we get back of the verbal frame work to the meaning and relation of the words, the significance is even greater. It has been sometimes overdone, sometimes painfully misplaced, but is always of commanding import.
The Hebrew system was passing away, as the stars fail before the rising sun. In the new order had come a simple rite, but charged with Christian thought and purpose. What had been given as an ordinance is seen at Pentecost to be also a ceremony of the Christian system, having the authority of an ordinance and the power of ceremonial expression. Baptism came as illustration and now gave fresh emphasis to the need and value of ceremonial service, and as a constant lesson of obedience in the things commanded.
For in the sense not of cause but of sequence and indicating the declarative character of baptism and its wonderful symbolic import. If one were sent to prison for crime, there could be no confusion as to which came first, the crime or the punishment. So with baptism for remission - repentance and remission being the cause and baptism the sequence. Though an immersion in water, it does not wash away sin, and though an act of obedience, it does not secure the remission of sin. It is the obedience of a saved person, shows in noble way his new relation to God, declares his allegiance to Christ as Saviour, and expresses his new hope in him as one raised from the dead.
We come, therefore, to baptism through Christ, and not to Christ through baptism. Remission is the cause of baptism and not baptism the cause of remission. It is an exalted privilege, and glorious in its purpose, not only making public God’s gracious pardon, but symbolizing its cause in the death and resurrection of Jesus, ”who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
As a ceremonial service, the great ordinance marks the heroic in a man’s faith, and often awakens songs of rejoicing. Like repentance, it is a paradox-tells in the one act not only of death and burial, but also of resurrection to a new life of joy and service. In repentance, often when tears of sorrow for sin flow down the face, the face itself is all radiant from a sense of God’s forgiving grace, like the glory of the sun shining in the dew of the morning. ”Repentance is word of ten letters and every letter a groan of the heart; a word of ten letters, and every letter a new doxology as a shout of triumphant joy.”
This was the order of that day of wonders - miracles, evangelizing, baptizing. And about three thousand souls were added to the company of a hundred and twenty. That is the trophy of Pentecost, as if the commission, as yet but recent, had like a flower burst forth all at once in full bloom. The day closed, but the sun set on a new order of things, with baptism having a new renown in the new system. The vast multitude, every one for himself, wore the new badge of distinction and honor, being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. ”And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and prayers.”
The disciples were equal to the new emergency. They had come into a larger experience, augmented in spiritual power, increased in numbers, and having a wider circle of service. They emerged from the upper room the same, and yet not the same, for Pentecost, with all its wonders, seems not to have added any new structural elements to what they already had in their organized character - only the new and larger life. The mission and glory of their task had of a sudden loomed large on the horizon.
”The breaking of bread” (as usually understood) refers to the memorial supper of our Lord - the tragic companion ordinance with baptism, but like its companion not a creation or product of Pentecost. Sacred already in the memory of the upper room, it forthwith became operative in the larger sphere, and was adequate for the larger needs which this day of wonders had brought in. It must have had strange meaning and pathos for those who came for the first time to its ceremonial ministry. They would learn, however, its marvelous story of suffering and atonement in the shedding of blood-even the blood of the Lamb shed for many for the remission of sins. These ordinances not new at Pentecost - not an afterthought - were of the original plan, and now served their function as that plan unfolded in purpose and aim.
”We do not know how much of ecclesiastical organization existed before the day of Pentecost when the one hundred and twenty were still assembled. Soon a great local church was a reality in Jerusalem, with deacons and elders besides the apostles.” But the record will justify the further word that the results of Pentecost, wonderful in themselves, were yet something added to something. We must not confuse or minify what was there with what was added. The glory of the one must not obscure the glory of the other. One went before, the other came after, and they wrought in conjunction to make Pentecost the exceptional day in Christian history.
The company of one hundred and twenty was sufficient in organized and orderly way to hold meetings of prayer with one accord, to handle and dispose of vital problems among themselves, and to set things in order for the coming of the Holy Spirit. While his coming in suddenness and stately power brought in new and larger life, there was no disorder or confusion, and no displacing of things already centered and fixed in the order as it was, but all marked by simplicity and efficiency as in the New Testament churches which came later.
There was of course development, rapid and powerful, with the incoming of the power from on high. The disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit. There was the mystic transforming-if the word may be ventured - of the company into a body, the organization into an organism, with baptism and the supper remaining, and having organific power to reproduce itself in fulfillment of its mission. The apostle himself, typical of the changes which had come, was as a man made over and a preacher of surpassing power. The sermon, too, so unique in structure, substance and effect, was a mighty factor in the day’s service, and a type for those who would have a ministry of converting and conquering power. But all this, inexpressibly great and glorious, was built on what was there, had its foundation in the remarkable company of the upper room, its subfoundation in the history which had gone before.
These ordinances then - baptism and the supper-had been factors in the Lord’s life, and came to their place in his process of building. They were of his thought when setting his church to its mission, and when after his resurrection he promised enduement of power from on high. They shared in what Pentecost meant, served each in its turn and function, and then remained as fixtures and permanent equipment in the church in what is undervalued in being called the local church. They are woven into its fabric and structure, essential if not to its life, yet certainly to the force and fullness of its mission - for the cultivation of the church in the interest of the kingdom. Their ministry is largely a ministry of teaching, while the church itself is set for education in Christian truth. It may be called Christ’s saving and educational agency, and is perhaps the greatest educational movement and organized propaganda in the world’s history. These ordinances are large factors in its process of education, for efficiency in the didactic function of the commission, and for instruction in the things commanded by our Lord and in things fundamental to his own mission and purpose in dying on the cross for human redemption.
They create fine atmosphere for teaching and have didactic power in their appeal to the heart, when in figure and symbol they present subjects which stir the soul in its richest emotions. In homely illustration, the ordinances may be called the blackboard paraphernalia of the churchmore fittingly, glorious pictures on its walls-to augment its efficiency in its exalted mission of teaching. But speaking more in accord with their greatness, baptism and the supper in their teaching power, are among God’s chosen means to make the church more fit as a plan for serving him, and more effective as an instrument and organized center for the expression and furtherance of his kingdom among men.
Making disciples - baptizing them - teaching them, ”with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” That is the connecting word which reaches through the intervening centuries, as our hope and joy. It shows God’s gracious work and purpose in the local church, and himself the chief factor in its process of growth whether at Pentecost or now. One may plant, another water, but increase must come from him.
Any adequate review of Pentecost and its wonders must include the church in its organic life, and its ordinances in their larger and richer service. And any study of the ordinances worth while and commensurate will surely bring within the field of our thinking the power and glory of that far-off day. The cry more or less prevalent against ”externalities in religion,” against ”mere forms and shadows,” has nothing in common with Pentecost, and means only harm to evangelical truth and to the efficiency of even spiritual forces. The Mississippi River, its water overflowing and sweeping large sections of the country with ruin, is power running riot without form; the same noble river is form without power, when flowing at low ebb with sandbars, shoals and snags appearing along its great length and endangering craft of every kind; but with its banks and mighty bed filled to the full, bearing the nation’s commerce to the sea, the great river shows us in noble figure ”the form of godliness” with the power thereof. This is our basal need, and infinite forces await our call, if we are to stand and withstand in the conflict for truth and righteousness, to see Christ and his cause triumphant.