J. M. Frost - 1916
J. M. Frost. Biblical Recorder, Raleigh, N, C., 0ct. 27, 1915.
”As they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, for he went on his way rejoicing.” - Acts 8:36-39.
THE trusted official from the royal court of Ethiopia, having been converted while traveling the highway homeward, left his chariot for the distinguished service and ceremony of being baptized. It was in token of his new experience of grace, his pledge of allegiance and loyalty to his Saviour newly found, Jesus Christ the Lord. A happy convert this, as he met the first duty at the threshold of his new life - finding at the very start a new joy in walking the Lord’s appointed ways. For in this act he was following his Lord, whose baptism in the Jordan gave to the ordinance distinction and honor, and who set his signet for all who should come after; ”thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”
The present purpose is a study of this baptism administered in the halt of travel, but marking somewhat a typical baptism of the New Testament period, when historical Christianity was in the making and the gospel of the cross was winning its first victories. It should not fail to command attention, for though simply set in the frame-work of this remarkable incident, there is yet in its quiet observance an emphasis and marks of distinction all its own. To know this narrative aright, to set its lessons for our guide, and to follow its great lines of procedure, would go far toward solving many problems of modern Christianity.
This incident is our inspiration and example in winning the lost to the Saviour, shows the New Testament emphasis for the great ordinance, and its commanding place as a didactic ceremonial service.
What is told of Philip and the man of Ethiopia can hardly be more than an outline of what was said and done. There is, however, muchof detail in the narrative, while the outline itself is wide of scope and large in perspective. And it may in no small degree be filled in with what is known of New Testament life and literature. But the baptism itself is so conspicuous and commanding in the record, so boldly set in the perspective, that it cannot be displaced or marred in its relation to what is written, no matter how much may be even rightly read into the account. While not first either in the record or in importance, and though secondary, the baptismal occasion has its permanent place of prominence and standing in the incident, and as a ceremonial service was the crowning finish of what had gone before.
Had the narrative closed with the omission of our text, for example, all the Christian world to this day would be left wondering what became of the chariot ride. Preacher and hearer had met, teacher and pupil had come face to face, brought together under auspicious circumstances, and had matters for discussion of supreme moment. But what of the result? This is answered when in this ride they come to ”a certain water,” and the gracious work comes to its flower in the eunuch’s request and Philip’s response. The sequel is told in the baptism that followed. ”They both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” They came up out of the water and were separated, each going his way, but after such a meeting as brings new joy to the human heart and awakens the songs which the angels sing. The official from Ethiopia, having put On Christ in baptism, went his way wearing the new badge of distinction and honor.
Except for this condition going before, the baptism would be without meaning or even occasion. It was the answer of a renewed conscience - a new man seeking an expression of his new life. This is the chief point of emphasis both in the narrative and throughout the New Testament concerning the great ordinance - first conversion or salvation through faith in Christ, and then baptism to follow as its public expression. There is nothing in the ordinance for the unsaved who seek through its means the pardon of sin, nothing for the infant who is incapable of believing, and no place for the sponsor who would stand for the child. It is for the believer only, as his personal act of privilege and responsibility. Repentance, faith, baptism - each of them is personal. Every one must give account unto God for himself.
Philip and the Ethiopian are a fine example of one winning one to Christ, and securing obedience to him in the things which he has commanded. It was a signal victory for the cross and the risen Christ; a striking illustration, too, of the commission in individual effort. Great principles are here at work, yielding rich returns with one meeting one, no less than with the thousands at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And it came through processes, seemingly commonplace, but really signal and extraordinary. A great work had just been wrought in the city of Samaria, where the people believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, and ”were baptized both men and women,”
And now with that work finished, Philip was directed by the ”angel of the Lord” in the way that goes down to Gaza, and by ”the Spirit” to join himself to the passing chariot. A chance meeting, the world would say, but mighty superintending forces in evangelistic work were bringing preacher and seeker after truth face to face. What a chariot ride that was on the common highway of the country. What holy forces superintended and guided! What great and gracious themes with momentous issues, for thought, and heart-to-heart talk! The scripture read at the time by the nameless man from the royal court, was the starting point for Philip in preaching Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of whom the prophet had written but who is now offered for sin, atonement and salvation.
There is no means of knowing, and imagination would hardly venture to lift the curtain on the scene, how far Philip went in telling the story of redemption through the cross, or how much the eunuch already knew of things which in the recent years had come to pass-of the wonderful life of our Lord and what followed, of the great Pentecost with its wonders and glorious results, of the new Cause now rising, triumphant everywhere and the occasion of common report, and even of the recent meeting which had brought great joy to the city of Samaria. The result, too, is meager in the telling, much more meager than we could wish, but no doubt there was something much like what is omitted from the new version but contained in the old on grounds more or less justifiable with the earlier translators - ”See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? - If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest - I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God - he commanded the chariot to stand still” - and the baptismal pool waited for the coming of the preacher and his distinguished candidate.
”Both went down into the water, both Philip and the eununch and he baptised him” - and ”they came up out of the water.” The great ordinance is described here in detail, as to its physical act, more fully than any other case in the New Testament - resembling somewhat the account of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. In each case they went into the water, were baptised, came out of the water, the eunuch following the example of his Lord. In each case the word - baptized - tells what was done; the baptism of Jesus was an immersion in the river, the baptism of the eunuch was an immersion in ”a certain water” which lay in the way to Gaza - the latter being more emphatic than the former, but both being so manifest as to make the act clear to every obedient heart seeking to walk in the way of the Lord and to follow his example.
Bishop Ellicott, one of the foremost of Greek expositors and of the Church of England, commenting on this text, says: ”The Greek preposition might mean simply unto the water, but the universality of immersion in the practice of the early church supports the English Version.”
Even John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterians, says of the passage: ”Here we see how baptism was administered among the ancients for they immersed the whole body in water.” And in his Institutes he says: ”The word baptise signifies immerse, and it is certain that the rite of immersion was observed by the ancient church.” Literally volumes have been filled with quotations of similar import taken from lexicons, commentaries, encyclopedias and other publications whose authors represent all denominations of Christians. Centuries have passed since the great Calvin spoke his word, but that word has been confirmed and given greater emphasis, if possible, by every succeeding generation since, and is the last strong word of modern scholarship with absolutely no room to gainsay its meaning.
Learning and scholarship are in agreement with the common mind in reading the simple account of this baptismal service, and both alike see immersion in the significant act. But baptism is more than a physical act, though the physical act of immersion is its essential form, essential in its observance and in symbolizing its larger and richer meaning. In its sphere and function baptism is essential, requires for its integrity proper spirit, form and purpose, and is given here great emphasis in its spiritual meaning as described in this incident of New Testament history. For this baptism in a marked and earnest way was sought from an obedient spirit - the spirit of conversion - and was observed in the spirit of obedience; the immersion of a saved man seeking to follow and honor his Saviour.
”He baptised him,” is the simple word, but the act in its symbol goes very far in what it says in behalf of the eunuch, and in telling us what was done, and what its wonderful meaning. There was immersion and emergence, burial and resurrection, typical of the change wrought in his heart - ”buried therefore with Christ through baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.” This is the greatness and glory of baptism, then and to this day. And the man honored in the royal family of Ethiopia found here a new honor and entered on his risen life in Christ Jesus.
It is not known whether others witnessed this baptismal ceremony, whether some, passing in the common travel, paused to look on this service, new and so out of the ordinary - an act admin istered in the name of high heaven. But surely it is not far-fetched to suppose that ”the angel of the Lord” was in attendance as when he turned Philip into the road which leads down to Gaza, and that ”the Spirit of the Lord” was present and guiding as when he directed Philip to join himself to the chariot. There had been in the earlier days something like this at the baptism in the Jordan. Then the heavens opened as if to let the angels witness the lowly yet august scene; and the Holy Spirit descended in dovelike form for a signal to John of the Messiahship of Jesus. The preacher and his charge were certainly walking the heavenly way.
The baptismal service ended, immediately ”the Spirit of the Lord” caught away Philip for new fields of labor - the scene closing abruptly as it began, but not out of keeping with its lofty and dignified character throughout. Nothing is known of the man from Ethiopia, except what appears in the record, ”of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to Jerusalem to worship.” Whether a proselyte of the Jewish faith or a Hebrew brought up in a foreign court, we have no means of knowing; but a devout worshiper, diligent in searching the Scriptures, and finding more than he had dreamed of.
He had met his ”Lord even Jesus” in the way as he journeyed, as surely as did Saul of Tarsus, en route to Damascus. Without the midday vision of glory he had yet its blessing in richness and fullness. Nothing is known of his return or what message he bore back to his home country. His chariot had driven into the scene unannounced, as the curtain was raised, and now passes out with no ado as the curtain falls. But only this word, ”he went on his way rejoicing,” and it is the last we hear of him, - nothing of his after life - homeward bound with a new joy in his heart, and a new song to make the world better and brighter.
”Oh, how happy are they,
Who their Saviour obey,
And have laid up their treasure above!
Tongue can never express
The sweet comfort and peace
Of a soul in its earliest love.”