Importance of Spiritual Baptism (Part 2)

Important, please read:  (Part 1)

Someone who 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.” Here now follows part two in this series.



By Dr. H.A. Ironside wrote:

Introductory So much has been said and written on this subject, so various and conflicting have been the opinions expressed, so widely divergent are the meanings even, given by scholars to the very word baptism, that one naturally hesitates to write on such a theme. But a verse in the only Book that is authority in the matter says: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). With such a word as this before us, who, really anxious to know the mind of the Lord on any question, need fear to search for himself, in humble dependence on Him whose word it is?

The context of James 1:5 is not baptism or anything else but the very difficult paradox between joy and trials (James 1:2-5). Note carefully, James is not speaking about knowledge but wisdom. Knowledge is easily required through the diligent study and reading of the Bible. Wisdom is something God alone gives you when you ask Him for it. Hence, it is was quite wrong of Dr Ironside to point his readers to the Bible to gain wisdom with regard to baptism.

Why would God demand that we ask Him for knowledge (not wisdom) in regard to baptism when we already have all the answers in his Word? It would have been better for Dr Ironside if he had quoted Paul who said: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The word for study is “spoudazo” and means to make a concerted effort to study the Word of God so that the servant of God may be able to rightly divide (handle it) with circumspection and not haphazardly rip single passages of Scripture out of their context. Wisdom, as I said, is a completely different kettle of fish. Unlike knowledge where there are no conditions to be met in order to gain it, except a keenness and willingness to study the Word, God stipulates several provisions before He grants his servants wisdom.

  1. He must believe and not doubt (vacillate between doubt and faith)
  2. He must evidence hope. The believer must see eternal advantages regardless of his monetary position.
  3. He must not fail in his love for God despite his circumstances.

A classic example is Psalm 73. Asaph could not understand why he had to suffer so much while the rich and the wicked dwelt safely and carelessly in their affluent homes. This is what he said.

“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Psalm 73:13-17).

God did not say a word until Asaph in dire desperation entered God’s sanctuary (prayed) and asked Him to explain the perplexing paradox between joy and trials, suffering and persecution. It was then that he understood the eternal consequences of trials and suffering he personally experienced in his life. The trials and suffering spoken of in James 1 is a very personal matter. God’s purposes in his dealings with individuals during trials and suffering are not always the same.

In some cases God allows it to purify the saint’s faith, in others He may allow it to teach the saint a lesson or to wean him of his/her sinful or worldly lifestyle. In each situation the saint needs to ask God why He allows particular trials and suffering in each personal situation because He alone knows. (Romans 8:28). No degree or amount of study, reading God’s word, inquiring into commentaries, treatises, theses, analyses etc. etc. can provide the saint with the appropriate answer.

God alone can provide the correct answer, on one condition and one condition only – and that is to ask Him. Knowledge about, for instance baptism, does not fall into this category and therefore it was wrong of Dr Ironside to use James 1 as an example to glean from God the truth about baptism. Indeed, we must turn to his Word to learn the truth about baptism but it does not fall in the category of wisdom as I explained.

Dr Ironside continues to say:

Let us then turn to the pages of the blessed volume which alone can thoroughly furnish “the man of God unto all good works” (2 Tim.3:16,17), and of which we are told, “The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Ps. 119:130). A similar word comes to encourage us from Ps. 19:7; “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (last clause).

Dr Ironside’s choice of Scripture is brilliant. Note carefully how he plays on his reader’s emotions by quoting verses that contain the word “simple,” suggesting that those who are not simple are haughty, arrogant, proud and stiff-necked. Who are they that are thus described? Well, if we take into account what he discusses in his booklet – baptism – it is not so difficult to see what he aims to bring across to his reader, i.e. that everyone who dismisses baptism as an essential part of the Christian doctrine is haughty, arrogant, proud and stiff-necked.

Dr Ironside then writes:

Simple though we are, then (perhaps the simpler, the easier taught), we need not fear to turn for the time from every human channel to the great river of divine instruction itself, and ask, “What saith the Scripture on Baptism?” That it has much to say upon the subject is evident. It cannot therefore be to the glory of God to ignore it. Where He has spoken He would have us reverently listen and obey.

Please note again Dr Ironside’s brilliant use of the word “simple when he says “Simple as we are (perhaps the simpler, the easier taught).” Closer inspection reveals what he actually meant: “Simple though we (who believe in the ordinance of baptism by immersion in water) are, “we need not fear to turn for the time from every human channel to the great river of divine instruction itself, and ask, “What saith the Scripture on Baptism?” The word for “simple” in the Old Testament refers to someone who is easily seducible. In Psalm 19:7 the context is the Law and God’s witness or testimony regarding his Law. In the Old Testament it was God’s Law (Ten Commandment) that gave the simple (the easily seducible) wisdom as to how not to be deceived.

Dr Ironside continues to write:

And first, I would desire to press on the reader the former part of the verse last quoted, as it brings before us the great subject of Conversion to God “The law (doctrine, see margin) of the Lord is perfect, CONVERTING THE SOUL.” One who does not know what it is to have truly turned to God, in other words, one who has not been born again (John 3:3), need not expect enlightenment in divine things. Scripture plainly declares of such that they “have the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph.4:18); and again, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom.3:11). See the first twenty verses of the chapter.

Why does Dr Ironside elaborate on the fact that unbelievers cannot be enlightened on divine things because they have not been converted by the law while his entire booklet involves a Christian doctrine? Is it necessary to remind his readers, whom I assume was written for believers and not unbelievers, that the unconverted cannot understand the divine things of God?

Even though it is true that the unconverted cannot understand the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:-17), it is simply not true that they cannot understand divine things such as salvation, unless Ironside believed, like all Calvinists do, that man is so totally depraved and dead like a corpse in sin and transgression that he is completely inept to understand anything the Word says about salvation. Although Ironside denounced Calvinism, it is strange to see him quote the very same verses they usually put forward to substantiate their doctrines of grace (Ephesians 4:18 and Romans 3:11).

I sincerely believe that Dr Iornside is not referring to the unconverted per se but to those who profess to be Christians. He is doing his level best to prove that those who do not believe that baptism by immersion in water is an essential Christian doctrine are merely professing Christians and therefore unable to understand divine things such as the ordinance of baptism. Their professed Christianity supposedly disqualifies them from a correct and divine understanding of baptism.

Although Dr Ironside categorically states that sinners must be born of the spirit in order to be saved in the next few paragraphs, and refutes the notion that baptism is essential for salvation, he leaves his readers with the impression that those who do not adhere to baptism by immersion are disobedient rebels and therefore merely professing Christians. In this way he very discreetly says that baptism is essential for salvation or at least that salvation is essential for a correct understanding of baptism. There is no difference between “salvation is essential for baptism” and “you cannot expect enlightenment in divine things if you are unsaved or a professing Christian.” In other words, you must be saved in order to understand the divine ordinance of baptism.

He writes:

Has my reader ever been truly converted to God? If such is your profession how was it brought about? On what are you now resting for salvation? Are you at this moment a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, or do you just believe what the Gospels tell us about Him? Do you know the joy of forgiveness, of justification from all things’ (Acts 13:38, 39). Can you truthfully say: “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God?” (Rom.5:1, 2).

If this be a knowledge foreign to you — something your soul has never yet entered into — if these questions must all be answered in the negative, I entreat you to consider for a moment your solemn condition in the presence of God. If unsaved, you are by nature a sinner (Rom.3:19), by practice a transgressor (Prov.13:15); by nature a child of wrath (Eph.2:3), by practice a son of disobedience (Eph.2:2, N.T.); by nature an alien (Eph.2:12), because born at a distance from God; by practice alienated (Col.1:21) and an enemy to God. You are lost  by nature (Matt.18:10,11) because of a lost race; lost also by practice, because of having deliberately wandered away from God (Lk.19:10).

Terrible, then, is your situation, awful your condition, and do what you will, you are absolutely helpless in yourself to retrieve it. Baptism will not assist you here; church membership will avail you nothing; to partake of the communion is but to eat and drink judgment to yourself (1 Cor.11:27-29); religious efforts are all in vain. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), and it can never rise above its own level. Cultured, it is only cultured flesh; religionized, it is but religious flesh; no amount of care and cultivation can change it into “spirit.” Just as flesh is born of the flesh, “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

There must be a new birth. Without it there is no hope, no salvation, no heaven; for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Cor.15:50). One alone can meet your case, and that One, the Eternal Son of God, of whom it is written: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not; but as many as received Him to them gave He power (the right, or authority) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).

Here is hope for you, and here alone. Godly parentage will not insure salvation– “not of blood.” Good resolutions and well meaning professions will avail nothing– “nor of the will of the flesh.” Ordinances, by whomsoever administered, will never save, but only mock– “nor of the will of man.” The Holy One, who has been so grossly sinned against and rejected so long, alone can save and bring about the new birth– “but of God.” “The Word become flesh” (John 1:14) told a religious doctor that, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God ” (John 3:5). That is, the word of God, likened to water,* from its cleansing efficacy (Eph.5:26) is that by which new birth is brought about (James 1:18; 1 Pet.1:23-25).

This word is applied by the Spirit, and the believing sinner is born anew. (* I am aware that many have fancied the Lord here was referring to baptism. That such was by no means the case I think the following note, from the pen of an honored servant of Christ, will make plain to anyone who carefully weighs the facts pointed out: “CHRISTIAN BAPTISM– * * * Is not that rite intended here by the water?

Let us clear this point. 1st: Christian baptism was not instituted till after the Lord’s resurrection; and signified burial with Him unto death (Rom.6:4; Col.2:12). Obviously that could have no meaning nor effect till the Lord had died. Now the Lord was speaking of life through birth, and of a blessing THEN to he enjoyed, not of burial unto death. 2nd: Before His death the kingdom of God was preached, and men were pressing into it (Lk.16:16). 3rd:

The apostles were made clean by the Lord before His death, through the word which He had spoken to them (John 15:3), and so before the institution of Christian baptism, of which the Twelve and others had no need, and to which they never submitted. Of a vital work in the Foul the Lord spoke to Nicodemus, and not of a sacramental rite to which the person is now subjected. Of the soul, and not of the body, have we teaching here.” –C.E.Stuart in “Tracings from the Gospel of John”

Dr Ironside is correct in saying that John 3:5 does not refer to water baptism but is completely wrong in his assessment of C.E Stuart’s view of baptism which is also totally wrong. Let us briefly summarize C.E. Stuart’s description of baptism.

  1. It was instituted after the Lord’s resurrection.
  2. It signifies burial with Him in death.
  3. Baptism’s significance and effect was established only after the Lord had died.
  4. The Lord was speaking of life through birth and of a blessing THEN to be enjoyed, not of burial unto death.

In short, Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 have no connection whatsoever to the institution of water baptism. If it had, water baptism would have had a potency or effectiveness equal to that of salvation because true baptism, which is a spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, occurs at the moment of a repentant sinner’s rebirth but also throughout the Christian’s entire life.

It is this baptism to which Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 refer. None of these verses mention water which means that those who read into them the presence of water are busying themselves, not with exegesis but eisegesis. Jesus Himself spoke of this baptism in Luke 12:50, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Jesus accomplished the real meaning of water baptism in his death on the cross which John the Baptist’s baptism had already signified in a preliminary and anticipatory way. No, saith C.E. Stuart, baptism by immersion in water took on meaning and true efficacy only after Christ’s death.

What kind of meaning and effect is he talking about? If water baptism had meaning and effect only after Christ death, then John the Baptist’s baptism had no meaning and no effect. Jesus did not seem to think so because He acknowledge that John’s baptism was personally instituted by God (Matthew 21:25). The meaning of John’s baptism is very profound in the sense that the Jews who had openly rejected Christ had now changed their minds for the better (“metanoia”) and in public acknowledged (through baptism) that he is indeed their Messiah. It proved that they had become willing to accept and receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Repentance in itself is not salvation; it must be ratified by baptism (not in water) but into the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

A name in biblical terms embraces the entire character of the person and everything he stands for. Therefore, to be baptized into the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is to be immersed into the character, the whole personality of the Trinity. Immersion in water cannot accomplish this; only the Holy Spirit is able to baptize repentant sinners into the character of the Trinity. To illustrate, let us carefully read the well-known verse in Matthew 28 where Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of the nations. It does not say: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19). Jesus did not separate “teach” from “baptize” by an “and” but used the continuous present tense “baptizing.”

The making of disciples is not limited to a once-off repentance and a once-off immersion in water. It is a process. The word “baptizing” is in the continuous present tense and forms part of the whole process of making disciples. It means that new converts are to be immersed into or to be fully identified with the character of the Trinity though teaching and proper tuition in the doctrines of God. Matthew 28:19-20 is a characteristic case of Hebrew parallelism.

The second statement does not stand alone but follows the first sequentially. It amplifies and further explains the first statement. Such a way of teaching is foreign to our Western way of thinking, but was one of the primary ways Middle Eastern teachers and thinkers taught in Biblical times. Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi, wasn’t He?

Yes, it is the Holy Spirit that immerses new converts into the Trinity but not without his co-workers, his disciples. The phrase “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is another way of saying, “teaching them fully about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, helping them to understand Who God is and to live more like God in their lives.” I sincerely believe that’s the reason why Paul does not mention water in Romans 6 but advises and encourages God’s children to reckon themselves dead to sin, themselves, and the world.

For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. (Romans 6:10-13)

This is the true and only way to make disciples, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Yes, that is true, the advocates of baptism by immersion in water might say. It is merely a sign of Christ’s accomplished baptism into death on the cross and must be administered in public as a witness to the fact that the new converts have been baptized into Christ Jesus. This, once again, is poor eisegesis because none of these versus (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12) hint in the very slightest that baptism in water is a sign of Christ’s death. Dr Ironside continues to write:

I might add that the way the Lord Jesus Himself speaks of “the water that I shall give him,” in John 4:14, is, to my mind, proof conclusive that in neither the third nor fourth chapters does He refer to an ordinance, but to “well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Have you, then, believed God’s word? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God ” (John 3:16-18). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” (John 9:35). If so, then to you, as a believer, the remaining pages are addressed.

Dr, Ironside’s quote from John 9:35 and his statement “If so, then to you, as a believer, the remaining pages are addressed” is loaded with subtle innuendos. He actually says: “if you are not a professing Christian who does not believe in the indispensability of water baptism, you have the right and my explicit blessing to read the rest of my booklet on the subject of baptism.

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Tom Lessing (Discerning the World)

Tom Lessing is the author of the above article. Discerning the World is an internet Christian Ministry based in Johannesburg South Africa. Tom Lessing and Deborah Ellish both own Discerning the World. For more information see the About this Website page below the comments section.

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