From beginning to end, the divine Word everywhere represents our God as a most loving, gracious, compassionate and tender Being. The tenor of the whole record is, that He delights in showing mercy, forgiving iniquity, and bestowing the Grace that bringeth salvation. He only punishes when justice absolutely demands it, and then reluctantly. It is not His will that any should perish.
Beyond controversy, God is willing to save the little helpless sufferers from sin, by making them subjects of His kingdom of Grace here, and thus of His kingdom of glory hereafter.
But can He? Is He able to reach down to that unconscious little child, apply to it the benefits of the atonement, impart to it the Grace of the new life, subdue the power of sin, and remove entirely its guilt? We are almost ashamed to ask such questions. And yet the humiliating fact is, that day by day, in every village and on every highway of our land, we can hear men and women, professing to be Christians and calling themselves members of Christ's Church, gravely asserting that their Redeemer cannot so bless a little child as to change its sinful nature! If hard pressed, these persons, so wise in their own conceits, may admit that He can change a child's nature if He so wills, but they still feel certain that he cannot do so through His own sacrament, instituted for that very purpose! Thus would they limit the Holy One of Israel, and say to Omnipotence: "Hitherto canst Thou come, but no farther."
With such people, wise above what is written, knowing better than Christ, practically, even if not intentionally, charging the Son of God with folly, we desire no controversy. Let them overthrow the very foundations of redemption if they will. Let them argue that all things are not possible with God if they dare. We still prefer to believe that the Spirit of God can change, renew and regenerate the new-born child. In Matt. iii.9, we read; "For I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham," i.e., as the connection shows, spiritual children of Abraham, true children of God.
We may not be able to understand the process by which God could change the rough, hard stones of the field into true children of God, but we believe it, because the Word says so. And believing that, it is not hard for us to believe that He can impart His own divine life to the heart of the child, and thus make it a new creature in Christ Jesus.
He could, if it so pleased Him, do it without any means. By a mere act of His will, God could recreate the human soul. He could do so by a word, as He created the universe. Without the contact of any outward means, without the bringing of His word to them in any way, Christ healed the ruler's son and the daughter of the Syro-Phenician woman. But if He can do this without means, who will say that He cannot do the same thing through means? Since, then, He can accomplish his own purposes of Grace either with or without means, it only remains for us to inquire, in what way has it pleased God to work? Does He in the present dispensation work mediately or immediately? It will scarcely be disputed that the present is a dispensation of means -- that even in the domain of nature, and much more in the realm of Grace, He ordinarily carries out His purposes through means. He chooses His own means. They may sometimes seem foolishness to man, especially in the operations of His Grace.
Our Saviour, in working miracles, used some means that must have struck those interested as very unsuitable. When He healed the man blind from his birth, He mixed spittle and clay, and with this strange ointment, anointed and opened his eyes. Well might the blind man have said: "What good can a little earth mixed with spittle do?" Yet it pleased our Lord to use it as a means, in working that stupendous miracle. When Jesus asked for the five barley loaves and two small fishes, to feed the five thousand, even an apostle said: "What are these among so many?" Yes, what are they? In the hands of a mere man, nothing -- nay, worse than nothing; only enough to taunt the hungry thousands and become a cause of strife and riot. But in the hands of the Son of God, with His blessing on them, taken from His hands, and distributed according to His Word, they became a feast in the wilderness.
A poor woman, a sufferer for twelve years, craves healing from our Lord. With a woman's faith, timid though strong, she presses through the crowd close to Jesus, and with her trembling bony fingers touches the hem of His garment. Jesus perceives that virtue is gone out of Him. The woman perceives that virtue, healing and life are come into her. There was a transfer from Christ's blessed life-giving body, into the diseased suffering body of the woman. And what was the medium of the transfer? The fringe of His garment -- a piece of cloth. Yes, if it so pleases the mighty God, the everlasting Saviour, He can use a piece of cloth as a means to transfer healing and life from Himself to a suffering one.
The same divine Saviour now works through means. He has founded a Church, ordained a ministry, and instituted the preaching of the Word and the administration of His own sacraments. Christ now works in and through His Church. Through her ministry, preaching the Word, and administering the sacraments, the Holy Spirit is given. (Augsburg Confession, Article 5.) When Christ sent forth His apostles to make disciples of all nations, He instructed them how they were to do it. The commission correctly translated, as we have it in the Revised New Testament reads thus: "Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Here then is the Saviour's explicit instruction. The Apostles are to make disciples. This is the object of their mission. How are they to do it? By baptizing them into the name of the triune God, and teaching them to observe all Christ's commands. This is Christ's own appointed way of applying His Grace to sinful men, and bringing them out of a state of sin into a state of grace.
And this is the Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church. We begin with the child, who needs Grace. We begin by baptizing that child into Christ. We, therefore, lay much stress on baptism. We teach our people that it is sinful, if not perilous, to neglect the baptism of their children. The Lutheran Church attaches more importance to this divine ordinance than any other Protestant denomination. While all around us there has been a weakening and yielding on this point; while the spirit of our age and country scorns the idea of a child receiving divine Grace through baptism; while it has become offensive to the popular ear to speak of baptismal Grace, our Church, wherever she has been and is true to herself, stands to-day where Martin Luther and his co-workers stood, where the confessors of Augsburg stood, and where the framers of the Book of Concord stood.
The world still asks: "What good can a little water do?" We answer, first of all: "Baptism is not simply water, but it is the water comprehended in God's command, and connected with God's Word." (Luther's Small Catechism.) The Lutheran Church knows of no baptism that is only "a little water." We cannot speak of such a baptism. Let it be clearly understood that when we speak of baptism, we speak of it as defined above, by Luther. We cannot separate the water from the Word. We would not dare to baptize with water without the Word. In the words of Luther, that would be "simply water, and no baptism." Let it be kept constantly in mind that whatever benefits and effects we ascribe to baptism, in the further forcible words of Luther's Catechism: "It is not the water, indeed, that produces these effects, but the Word of God which accompanies and is connected with the water, and our faith which relies on the Word of God connected with the water." If now the question is further asked: What good can baptism as thus defined do? we will try to answer, or, rather, we will let God's Word answer. "What saith the Scripture?"