Someone who just loves me to death and has fought tooth and nail for the observance of baptism by immersion in water as the only acceptable and biblical way to baptize new converts, asked me to read Ironside’s complete article on baptism and refute it point by point and not simply dismiss it out of hand. So, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
By Dr. H.A. Ironside
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION
Several years having elapsed since the first publication of this booklet, and a new edition being called for, I have considerably revised my former paper, though altering nowhere the teaching therein set forth.
Further study and experience have only confirmed what was first written, although I believe I see many kindred truths in a much fuller, broader way than I did some years ago.
The revision consists largely of additional matter which I hope may make clearer what is now sent out, and commended to the prayerful consideration of the people of God into whose hands it may fall.
The great essential is Christ, not baptism; but they who love His name will seek to keep His word. But in this it is well to remember that an unkind, critical spirit is far more to be deplored than divergent views and practices in regard to ordinances, however precious. (Emphasis added)
If the great essential is Christ (and I wholeheartedly agree), then no argument in favour of baptism by immersion in water being an essential part of Christian doctrine is feasible, let alone it being a sign of God’s approval, as Dr. Ironside later indicates in his dissertation on baptism.
We would do well to remind ourselves of God’s own testimony regarding his Son because that and that alone magnanimously proves that Christ is God’s “Great Essential.” Nothing else is needed.
For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
And this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:7-13)
Jesus’s earthly ministry was initiated by his baptism in water which served as a preliminary, anticipatory sign or symbol of the way in which He would accomplish man’s redemption through his blood, referring to his death by which his earthly work was terminated, and thereby accomplishing and fulfilling all righteousness. (Matthew 3:15).
Jesus’ baptism in water could never have been a fulfillment of all righteousness if He hadn’t been baptized (been wholly submerged and immersed in death). Hence his words in Luke 12:50: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!”
Several people have asked me: “Why was Jesus distressed until He was baptized when He had already been baptized in water by John the Baptist?”
Hadn’t He already been baptized by John the Baptist? Yes, He was. But this baptism, when the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended from heaven upon Him simply gave Him the mandate, authority and power to accomplish the essential baptism into death on the cross.
Hence John’s magnanimous words in 1 John 5:6 “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” Indeed, there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood.
To assert that a convert’s baptism is a testimony or a sign or a symbol of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is to suggest that God the Father’s own testimony regarding his Son is insufficient.
Yes, a saved and blood washed saint’s testimony is great but God’s testimony is much greater.
He has already fulfilled all righteousness in and through Christ Jesus who came by water and blood.
It is finished; nothing more in terms of God’s testimony in and through water and in and through blood is needed. What is required of a saint is to testify by word of mouth. What does the Bible say?
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11)
It is not a once-off ritual that testifies to our death, burial and resurrection with Christ.
It is the unsurpassed power of our daily spoken word (our verbal testimony) to the unsurpassed power of the blood of the lamb that testifies to our death, burial and resurrection with Jesus Christ.
A once-off ritual which has absolutely nothing to do with salvation is powerless.
Hence Paul’s exhortation in Romans 6 that our identification with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection is made effectual by our own cognitive reckoning (faith) that we have indeed been baptized (immersed) into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
I sincerely believe that the devil is using a ritual that has nothing to do with salvation as a tool and a ploy to divert the saints attention from the genuine and practical way to overcome the devil, our own fleshly nature and the world, and that is to use our God-given reasoning (reckoning) faculties to reckon that we have indeed been baptized into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
Although baptism was initially a Jewish ordinance and later used by John the Baptist and the early Christian church which was uniquely Jewish in the beginning, it has developed into a ritual accompanied by the speaking in tongues and slain in the spirit, both of which have become tools in the hands of Satan.
Dr Ironside then wrote:
Fruitvale, CA, March 1915
PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION
While, in the pages that follow, controversy has been so far as possible (consistently with the object of presenting what I believe to be the truth as to Baptism) sedulously avoided, yet it is hoped a careful perusal may prove helpful even to those who have been troubled by conflicting views.
The pamphlet presents the conclusions I have been obliged to come to after utterly denying for a number of years any present importance attaching to this ordinance, and after a careful study of what others have put forth on the subject, as well as much time spent, I trust before the Lord, over the word of God.
The apology for its publication, if such be needed, can be stated in a few words.
In going about, now for some years, seeking to “do the work of an evangelist,” I have been importuned again and again for a paper expressing my thoughts on this question.
Finding no publication that seemed to me altogether suitable (so few being at all full without being exceedingly controversial), I have tried to give as clearly and briefly as possible, what I believe to be the scriptural teaching upon it.
The query as to whether baptism brings its subject into the Kingdom of Heaven, the House of God, or the Body of Christ, has not really been touched.
Here I need only to say that I do not believe it brings one into any of the three.
To my mind the importance of it is not in regard to what it brings one into (and, as others have noted, Scripture NEVER says it brings one into anything), but in that it is the clearly expressed will of the Lord Jesus for His disciples, and therefore should possess marked interest for all who desire His approval.
I presume that those known as Friends, or Quakers, with numbers of other Christians who recognize no ordinances (though they assuredly lose much by such neglect), are yet in the Kingdom, the House and the Body.
At least, I know of no Scripture that teaches, directly or indirectly, otherwise. (Emphasis added)
Ironside happily concedes that baptism by immersion in much water has absolutely nothing to do with salvation, i.e. to bring the convert into the Kingdom of God, or the Body of Christ or the House of God.
Yet, he makes much ado about baptism being the expressed will of the Lord Jesus for his disciples and therefore should be of great interest to all who desire His approval. If this is true, then the one criminal who was crucified next to Jesus was allowed to enter into God’s Paradise without his approval. And guess why? Well, we all know that he wasn’t baptized by immersion into much water, which according to Ironside,. is a sign of God’s approval.
The most shocking thing about Ironside’s statement, “To my mind the importance of it is not in regard to what it brings one into (and, as others have noted, Scripture NEVER says it brings one into anything), but in that it is the clearly expressed will of the Lord Jesus for His disciples, and therefore should possess marked interest for all who desire His approval,” is that it distorts the meaning and purpose of God’s revealed will and therefore deceives the many who are captivated by his remarks.
If water baptism in lots of water gains God’s approval, then Paul of Tarsus was peculiarly lacking in God’s approval because he wrote:
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
Every single will or resolve of the Father expressed in the Bible has a purpose and ultimately a single-minded goal in view.
He never says: “OK you guys, listen up, this particular will or command of mine cannot benefit you in the very least. It has nothing to do with salvation or sanctification; it cannot bring you into my Kingdom; it cannot gain you access into the Body of Christ and it cannot bring you into the House of God. In fact it is completely impotent and cannot do anything for you. Nonetheless, you MUST obey it if you want to obtain my approval.” Really? REALLY???
A simple example will suffice. In 2 Peter 3:9 God expresses his will that none should perish but that all should come to repentance and be saved.
Any old Tom, Dick and Harry will tell you there is a magnanimously divine purpose in this.
His purpose is to grant everyone an opportunity to repent because it is his will that all of mankind, without exception, should enter into his Kingdom and the Body of Christ and the House of God.
No! saith the great Ironside, “To my mind the importance of it is not in regard to what it brings one into (and, as others have noted, Scripture NEVER says it brings one into anything), but in that it is the clearly expressed will of the Lord Jesus for His disciples, . . .”
But my dearest Lord Ironside, can’t you see that this was precisely why Jesus became man? “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8).
God’s entire plan, purpose and will for mankind is to get them all into his Kingdom and yet you demand that we adhere to a ritual that has absolutely no value whatsoever so that we may obtain his approval?
Even the most basic man-made command contained in a country’s constitution has a specific purpose and that is to benefit law abiding citizens and punish the lawbreakers.
But you, Mr. Ironside, demand that we keep a command that benefits no one. Really??? REALLY???
In that case we may as well desist from being baptised by immersion in water because it does not bring us into God’s Kingdom and neither does it bring us into hell.
What then is the expressed will of the Father and his only begotten Son?
Surely if their expressed will was the baptism by immersion in much water so that his disciples may obtain his approval (which replicates a works-based salvation, although many would deny it), then Luke 19:10 should rather read as follows, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost and to baptise them by immersion in great quantities of water so that they may obtain my Father’s approval.” Really? REALLY???
This borders on blasphemy because it denies the efficacy of Christ’s death on the cross, his burial and resurrection. Indeed, it suggests that you have to do something, albeit being baptised by immersion in water, to obtain his approval. Really? REALLY???
Fancy that, Ironside admits that baptism by immersion in water does not save but audaciously declares that it obtains God’s approval.
The result of his immoderate statement suggests that all who are not baptised by immersion in great quantities of water like rivers, dams, swimming pools and the likes, do not have God’s approval. Let’s briefly look more closely at the meaning of the word “approval.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus defines “approval” as follows:
- the belief that something or someone is good or acceptable : a good opinion of someone or something
- permission to do something : acceptance of an idea, action, plan, etc.
Adherents to baptism by immersion in water claim that converts who’d been washed in Christ’s blood (i.e. been saved) are the only approved candidates for baptism by immersion in water.
But wait a second. If salvation through the blood of Christ alone permits him/her entrance into the Kingdom of God, the House of God, and the Body of Christ because God deems them good and acceptable (suitable) for his Kingdom — through the blood of his Son, of course — what kind of approval does baptism by immersion in water offer the repentant sinner?
Is it a special kind of approval that surpasses and exceeds the approval repentant sinners receive who’d been washed and cleansed of all their sins in the blood of Christ? Let met put it this way. The blood of Jesus Christ’s gains God’s approval for repentant sinners to be “delivered . . . from the power of darkness, and . . . [to be] translated . . . into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13). However, God’s approval of the repentant sinner is only ratified the moment he or she is baptised by immersion in a lot of water in public, AFTER they had been saved. Surely, this gives the “whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” kind of baptism precedence over Jesus’ kind of baptism.
I hope you can see that, although the adherents to baptism by immersion in water proclaim that baptism has nothing to do with salvation, they are inadvertently or deliberately exalting baptism above salvation, because “it is the clearly expressed will of the Lord Jesus for His disciples (all those who’d already been saved), and therefore should possess marked interest for all who desire His approval.”
If baptism by immersion in large quantities of water, like a river, a large tub, a swimming pool or whatever, was the will of Jesus Christ for his disciples [including Judas), the Holy Spirit would at least have mentioned it somewhere in Scripture.
The fact is, however, that there is no record in Scripture that any of the disciples went to John the Baptist to be baptised in the Jordan. (John 4:1-2).
Some may argue that the disciples must have been baptised because they themselves baptised new converts (Acts 8:35:39).
As matter of interest; If the phrase “come up out of the water” meant that the convert must be immersed in water and then come up out of the water, it would follow that both Philip and the eunuch were baptised, because Acts 8:39 clearly says that they both came up out of the water.
Among his band of disciples only Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, not to set the example of how future converts should be baptised, but to fulfil everything which He had come to accomplish (Matthew 3:13-17).
The righteousness Jesus had to fulfil (completely accomplish the right thing) was to end the old of which John the Baptist was the last prophet and to bring in the new.
Dr Ironside continues to write:
Baptism certainly is connected with the sphere of profession; that is not disputed, but insisted on; only let there be profession and not infantile unconsciousness.
The Word is simple: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal.3:27).
This can only be true of professed believers, who, in this act, publicly put on Christ, or, in other words, acknowledge Him as their Lord.
That it is not, properly speaking, a Church ordinance, but a Kingdom ordinance, I also admit and teach, because, unlike the Lord’s supper, baptism had a place before the Church began, and will have one after it has been taken to heaven; but whether tribulation saints will enter into its import as Christians can is very questionable. (Emphasis added)
Paul often used traditional military and traditional Roman dress codes to illustrate Christian values and truths. Most Christians are thoroughly accustomed with Ephesians 6 where he uses Roman body armour to describe the spiritual armour of God.
He uses something similar when describing what it means to be clothed with Christ in Galatians 3:27.
When a youth came of age in Roman society he was given a special toga which demonstrated that he earned the full rights of his family to be honoured as an adult.
The entire nation of Israel were kept under the disciplinary teaching of the Law and as such were regarded as children being tutored to receive Christ as their Messiah (verse 24).
Jesus Christ, having fulfilled the law (including the old Jewish law of baptism as it was administered by John the Baptist), has given us the right to no longer be regarded as children under the Law but as adult sons through faith, never to be reckoned again as being under a Jewish slave-guardian.
Paul reminded the Galatians Christians that they no longer needed to be UNDER the Law but that they had been COMPLETELY ENVELOPED (covered, clothed) with Jesus Christ (who had fulfilled the Law) the moment they were baptized into Him spiritually by the Holy Spirit.
What we need to discern is whether Paul was referring to the ordinance of baptism by immersion in water or spiritual baptism with the Holy Spirit into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, i.e. salvation proper.
Ironside seems to think it refers to the ordinance of baptism subsequent to salvation since he says it can only “be true of professed believers, who in this act [baptism], publically put on Christ, or, in other words acknowledge Him as their Lord.”
The act of baptism by immersion in water in public is therefore equal to the putting on of Christ like a new garment. Whoa! That’s dangerous, very dangerous it suggests that water baptism itself is salvation proper.
A more careful and thorough reading of the passage shows that Paul did not maintain that the putting on of Christ like a new garment occurs in public when the professed believer acknowledges Him as Lord through baptism.
Paul simply said: The moment you were baptized into Christ, that was the moment when you put on Christ.” (Isaiah 61:10). The verse says it so plainly and clearly in the Amplified Bible:
For as many [of you] as were baptized into Christ [into a spiritual union and communion with Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah] have put on (clothed yourselves with) Christ.
Water baptism cannot possibly bring a repentant sinner into a spiritual union and communion with Christ, the Anointed One.
And yet Ironside seems to think so. Listen again carefully to what he says: “This (Galatians 3:27) can only be true of professed believers, who, in this act, publicly put on Christ, or, in other words, acknowledge Him as their Lord.”
He says in effect: “All who profess to believe in Jesus Christ (“infantile unconsciousness” cannot profess anything) can and will only put a stamp of approval on their professing faith (and thus obtain the aproval of God), and make it true when they publically put on Christ in this act (baptism by immersion in water) and thus declare Him to be their Lord.
Jesus Himself does not think too highly of people who profess to be believers and acknowledge Him as lord in public (Matthew 7:22).
I’m not suggesting that Ironside was lost. I am merely saying it is dangerous to propound something contrary to what Paul teaches in Galatians 3:27 because it can and does indeed mislead millions into an erroneous soteriology.
Paul never even once mentions that the putting on of Christ must of necessity take place in public.
Ironside sanctimoniously taps those who are guilty of eisegesis (to read something into the text that is not there) over the knuckles but fails to see his own eisegetical blunders.
Yes, of course, if the putting on of Christ is a baptismal ritual, then it must be done in the public eye, as all the adherents to baptism by immersion in water so demand.
However, if the putting on of Christ is salvation proper then it need not be in public. Most salvations occur in private where the repentant sinner is alone with God to reason with Him (Isaiah 1:18; Matthew 11:28).
Dr Ironside continues:
I am not wholly ignorant of what esteemed brethren? to whom I am indebted for much, have penned on “Household Baptism,” etc., though I remember that others, equally gifted and godly, have differed radically from them; so I would beware of following either unless I have a clear Scriptural basis for so doing.
I confess that while reading the books of the former, their theories seemed very plausible and had certain charms for me; but when I turned from their writings to the word of God I could not find the theories.
It seemed to me that they had read their teachings into Scripture, not out of it; rather eisegesis, than true exegesis. (Persons desirous of investigating the question of the baptism of children in households, in order to weigh what may be said for the practice, will find the leading arguments clearly and graciously stated in “Christian Baptism,” by Waiter Scott; “Reasons for my Faith as to Baptism,” and “A Review of Objections to Household Baptism,” by F.W.Grant. “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge.” The principle, at least, of this verse is doubtless applicable here.)
I ask an equally careful comparison of my statements in the following pages with the unerring guide, the Word of Truth. ” Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. ”
Oakland, CA, April, 1901
The “esteemed brethren” who “have penned on ‘Household Baptism” are those who argue that the household baptism of Cornelius and his family must have included infants. Whether “infantile unconsciousness” forbids infants to be baptised, remains to be seen in the next edition of my series on “The Importance of Spiritual Baptism.” – Thomas Lessing