J. M. Frost - 1916
J. M. Frost. Baptist Courier, Greenville, S. C., Oct. 28, 1915.
BAPTISM and the Supper - the Lord’s baptism and the Lord’s supper-appeal to us because they are his, both in themselves and in the order of their function and service. They are of his thought and heart. He put himself into them in a way to stir the deepest emotion of the soul with his own hand and use he set them in his original plan, and wrought them into his building process. They are embedded in the very heart of New Testament life and literature, and can scarcely be touched without touching our Lord at the point of his love and authority - tear them and you shed his blood afresh, honor them in remembrance of him, and you honor him as King and Saviour. ”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.”
Religious forms which God has appointed, whether law, ordinance, ceremony, symbol, or even memorial, are intended for the expression of spiritual life. ”The form of godliness” is for the outflow of godliness; with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, but with the mouth, in the form of speech, confession is made unto salvation. This is the great base line for ”law and order” in the kingdom of God, and throughout his moral government. As a principle of authority and reign, it is imperative and inevitable - as much so as the physical law in the physical domain, and our largest usefulness and happiness will be found in its observance. The law of gravitation is very inconvenient when we wish to lift a heavy weight, is fatal if we walk out of a fifth story window, and yet without this very law life is impossible, and it may serve to make our burdens lighter, and to contribute to our uplift in many and noble ways.
People sometimes chafe under the restrictions of law and form, forgetful that in these may flow the most devout spiritual life, that in these we may sound forth the most rapturous praises to God for the riches of his grace in Christ Jesus. For this large and fundamental reason, ”In keeping his commandments there is great reward.” The Hebrew system abounded in forms of worship and service - in the New Testament system, however, all is simplicity with the appeal to love and loyalty. But there is the same great principle, imperative and inevitable with the believer, for expressing his new spiritual life in form and ceremony-baptism at the beginning marking a new life from the dead, the supper frequently repeated through the years, symbolizing dependence on Christ for the upbuilding and enrichment of that life, but each ordinance in its order and to serve its own high ends, to the honor and glory of Christ.
In noble and exalted sense, therefore, baptism and the supper may be called the law and order of the gospel of grace, and are aglow with the Saviour’s love in every fresh observance. They are of great rank as ordinance, ceremony, symbol and memorial in Christian service. They could not be more commanding in character, more powerful and instructive in teaching, more tender and winsome in their appeal to our allegiance, loyalty and love. ”If ye love me” - that is where all else centers and is settled - ”If ye love me, keep my commandments.” ”If a man love me he will keep my words.” Obedience is the deepest and most powerful impulse of love. ”The love of Christ constraineth,” whether to the stake in heroic testimony of self-surrender, or to his service in the furtherance of the gospel, or to keeping his ordinances unspotted and without blemish in their integrity and order.
On the day of Pentecost and the days immediately following, these two ordinances - emblems of grace and testimonials of love-are seen in operation and in their relative order and significance for the first time, each in its own ceremonial purpose, sphere and service. When the spiritual tide was at its height, baptism, the ceremony of initiation, takes its place with commanding ease, and they that gladly received the word were baptized, about three thousand souls. Then followed the Lord’s Supper-an ordinance with the heart-beat of love, the memorial of his blood shed for many for the remission of sins, and in remembrance of him as the bread of life, which would sustain their spiritual life through the succeeding years. ”And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Disjointed and misfit these ceremonies would mar the beauty of the system, but in their place and serving each in its function, they tell their symbolic story with charm and power.
No contention or question arose at Pentecost as to their priority, of either their order or importance. The old system was passing out, as a vesture folded up and laid aside, the new was coming in with new meaning and power. Tremendous energies were moving, but orderly and without confusion. There was already a fixed relation for baptism and the supper, inherent in their meaning; and following their history and appointment, they came in their natural course, evangelizing - the word gladly received; baptized, union with the disciples in doctrine and fellowship; breaking of bread and prayers; this was the relation of the ordinances, both between themselves, and with other phases of the new life and method which had come in.
The experience of grace at the floodtide of rich, spiritual life, found ample channel for its outflow, prepared in advance for the new day. And the disciples ”continued daily with one accord in the temple . . . 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.” There were efficiency and conquest in the new order. The Holy Spirit was at work in evangelizing and saving. The new form and ceremony in their fitness and significance, in their beauty and simplicity, were adequate for the symbolic import of the new life and the expression of the new power and joy. And in their observance the people bore testimony to their new alignment and allegiance to their new King.
Though baptism and the supper had come through antecedent history of distinction, yet this was their first working together in the new order, and put tremendous emphasis on their ceremonial value in church service and doctrinal efficiency. With such introduction, under circumstances so auspicious and commanding, one would expect that they would never be thought of in succeeding years except in the greatness and richness of their meaning. In a sense, and without disparagement of other things, they were the crowning glory of Pentecost, and everywhere the signal of triumph for the cross and the risen Christ. And yet it comes to pass that modern Christianity in some of its following count them less. It is a strain and stain upon our church life that, notwithstanding their wonderful record, their’ place of genuine power and pathos in the heart and history of our Lord, these ordinances are sometimes treated with indifference by his followers, and sometimes disarranged and displaced in.their sphere and order of service, as if we had forgotten Pentecost and the glory of its achievements.
The ”Communion controversy,” its protest against ”close” and its clamor for ”open” comnmunion, means no good for these ordinances. It is clearly a factitious issue; has done untold harm in lowering New Testament standards and ideals, in breaking away from New Testament simplicity and order. It walks not in the way of Pentecost and of those early years. Its source is not in argument on principles but in personal preferences. It is led and governed by a sentiment which often chafes under form and order; is often more regardful of local conditions and social relations than for the law and love which reign in the kingdom of Christ and which manifest themselves in keeping his commandments.
A pastor was once besought by one of his members to invite her lady friend of another denomination to join with them in the approaching communion service of their church. He explained that it could not be done, except in violation of New Testament principles and practice. But she insisted that her friend was so exceptional in Christian character and walk he should make an exception in her case. ”Oh, I see,” said the pastor, ”your friend has become so good and pious that she does not need to keep her Master’s commandments, or observe his ordinances to do them as he said!” That is largely the issue; it sets up a new standard, and rivals the order and methods of Pentecost in which the first victories of the cross were won.
Much of the confusion and disregard for the ordinances in their proper relation come from inadequate views of baptism and a failure to recognize its larger and richer meaning. Even some who believe in immersion as the form of baptism seem to count the immersion all there is of it, and see nothing beyond of its significance and commanding import. One writer, indeed, only recently expressed willingness to give up baptism for the sake of ”Christian union.” But how can we give up this ordinance, except we also give up the New Testament? We will need to tear baptism from the very heart of the commission, to remove it from this commanding word of the risen Lord, for it is imbedded midway between his ”all authority” and his ”Lo, I am with you.” And besides all this, should we do away with baptism and decide to have no more of it, still if the New Testament be left, sooner or later some heroic, loyal soul would arise and demand baptism in obedience to Christ’s word. But why trifle and tamper with what is commanded? ”To obey is better than sacrifice,” and obedience, the living out of God’s law among men, is the supreme service.
Among professing Christians three phases of spirit and conduct may be found as attitudes toward the ordinances of the Lord’s house. They test the character and mark where one stands concerning the kingdom of God. ”It is largely a matter of sentiment,” but which sentiment? There is first the spirit of indifference. It counts both ordinances of no real value, and of little consequence for any purpose. It counts them ”mere forms and rites” which can be done away at will, and makes no response or recognition of their appeal to either the conscience or heart. It is a deadly sentiment, if indeed it can be called a sentiment, this spirit of indifference, deadly to the finer traits of Christian character, and contributes largely to the letting down and general looseness now more or less prevalent in Christian belief and practice. It is first hurtful within, and then sends its evil influence abroad to work its mischief with others.
Then there is the spirit of self-guidance, which does not regard ”form and order as essential” in the things commanded. It attempts to do things without doing them, displaces or abridges obedience with a supposed higher ”spiritual life and broader Christian fellowship,” is little concerned to walk in the ways of the Lord, and thinks form and ceremony narrow and restrictive of ”the freer and more fraternal spirit.” It ”throws logic to the wind and follows the lead of love.” Even the best men and women, perhaps these more than others, caught in this swirl of ”good sentiment,” will need constant care lest it degenerate into maudlin sentimentalism. It will mar the beauty and integrity of Christian character, and undermine its compactness and strength. This is one of the saddest and most common evils of the day. It will brook no objection, will hear no argument, but rushes on in its own chosen way for the ”broader things,” and is a law unto itself. It cannot be other than evil, and evil continually, and is largely responsible for breaking away from New Testament ideals and standards.
There is finally the spirit of obedience concerning the way of God and in what he wants done. This is the most exalted attitude possible in human hearts and lives, is the spirit indeed of those who wait and serve in the heavenly courts. It is the most pressing need of the day, pressing need all the while; and there are those who strive for its high standard, who make God’s ways their ways, his Word the man of their counsel and the lamp to their feet. It does not discriminate or choose between things where God has spoken. As one succeeds here he succeeds throughout the whole course of Christian ministries, his failure here will undermine and mar all else. This also is sentiment; but sentiment, however fervent and joyous, will not suffice except when made strong in sound principles, in right policy of conduct, and in heroic purpose of loyalty in doing the things commanded.
This gives emphasis to what was said at the first of this article, concerning God’s law, ordinances, ceremonies, symbols and memorials in their form and order. In these the obedient spirit has its expression in service, in royal conduct, and oftentimes with rapturous joy. There is a fellowship of believers in baptism, the fellowship of obedience and service to their King, a fellowship which precedes and should regulate fellowship in the communion service. In these ordinances, as memorials of his grace, Christ is honored in their larger meaning, and as they are kept in the form and order as they came from him. They are the heroic, triumphant signals of his victory, and stand for his achievement in human redemption. Even now, in every observance of their simple but beautiful ceremonial service, he is crowned King of kings and Lord of lords, - a momentous occasion it becomes with individual life and with the church assembled in holy service.