Comes this blessedness then on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also?…
Rightly have all Protestant churches maintained, as against Romanist, that there are only two sacraments, "symbolic acts, instituted by Christ Himself, and enjoined upon all His followers to the end of time." Baptism takes the place of circumcision as the rite of initiation into the Church — it is "the circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11, 12). And the eucharist succeeds to the passover, in connection with that redemptive act to typify which the passover was instituted (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8). The eucharist itself has become a sacrifice to be offered up by priestly hands. Note —
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE AND EFFICACY OF CHRISTIAN BAPTISM AS IT STANDS RELATED TO CIRCUMCISION.
1. Circumcision did not confer on Abraham the righteousness of faith, nor was it a pre-required condition of it; it was simply given as "a sign" and for "a seal" of a righteousness which was already in possession. And so of baptism. This does not itself wash away sin; it is not a condition pre-required in order to this; but it is given as "a sign" and for a Divine "seal" of the fact that, for all believers, sin has been put away by the sacrifice of Christ.
2. But the following texts may be cited in opposition: Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3; John 3:5. All this is quite true. But the water referred to is the water of which the water in baptism is but the outward sign; which really washes away sin, and secures the answer of a good conscience towards God. What this water is, of which that in baptism is but a type (1 Peter 3:21); of which the prophet Ezekiel declared that by the sprinkling thereof Jehovah would cleanse His people from all their filthiness and from all their idols (Ezekiel 36:25); in respect to which David made earnest request (Psalm 51:7); may be sought for in that "water of purification" which was provided by mixing with clear water from a running brook the ashes of the burnt red heifer. The great reality will be found in that mingled stream of "blood and water" which flowed on Calvary (John 19:34; 1 John 5:6-8). That "fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness" was the atonement completed. To be "born of water" is to have the atonement effectually applied. We maintain that the water and the Spirit, in regeneration, are distinct, and produce distinct results; that the water in baptism is significant, not of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, but of the forgiveness and purgation of sin; and moreover that the purgation always precedes the renewing. And so baptism with water is always associated with the remission of sins, as that which shall remove out of the way the fatal obstruction to the incoming of the quickening Spirit (cf. Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38, and Acts 22:16).
3. Baptism does not itself wash away the sin. It is not the medium through which the real Divine washing is imparted. But it is a "sign" that the washing is needed, and has been provided for; and, to all believers, it is a "seal," given by Christ Himself, that the iniquity is purged. As circumcision was to Abraham, so is baptism to the believer in Jesus — he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he already had before he was circumcised.
II. THE BEARING OF THIS ON INFANT BAPTISM.
1. It is maintained that the Lord Jesus gave no authority for the baptism of any but actual adult believers. It is at once admitted that, when an assembly of adult Jews or Gentiles heard the preached gospel for the first time, the rite of baptism was only to be administered to those amongst them who were prepared intelligently to make this confession of faith. But it does not follow that the children of such individuals were not to be admitted with them to this sacred rite. We know that children were so admitted into the kingdom of God amongst the Jews; as we know also that all Hebrew-born male infants were required, by Divine command, to be circumcised when eight days old. And the apostles, being Jews, would doubtless continue to act as Jews, unless expressly forbidden so to act by the Master. We know of no such prohibition. Jesus encourages the little ones to be brought to Him, for that "of such is the kingdom of God." St. Paul addresses children in the church assemblies as if they, as a matter of course, constituted part of such assemblies (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20). And when we read of the apostles baptizing whole households, we are not told that the infants were excluded.
2. But is not this the word of the Master, "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved"? Truly. And is it not manifest that tender infants cannot believe? Certainly. But what follows? That infants ought not to be baptized, because they cannot believe? Must it then also follow that infants, dying in infancy, cannot be saved, because that they cannot believe, and because it is written, "He that believeth not shall be damned"? But in whose right, then, do they come to inherit eternal life? In their own? What then did Jesus mean when He said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," etc., "Ye must be born again"? According to that teaching, not even infants can enter into the kingdom of God, except they be born of water and of the Spirit. But if they need the thing signified by baptism; if that thing has been provided for them through the great Mediator; if, though they cannot personally believe, they are graciously susceptible of that thing; and if all who die in infancy do really become participators in it, then who is he that "shall forbid water," that they should not be baptized?
3. But "they ought not to be baptized, because they cannot make a personal profession of faith." Could then the infant children of Abraham and his descendants make a personal profession of faith? Clearly not. And yet, by God's own appointment, the "sign" and "seal" of "the righteousness of faith" was to be put upon every one of them when eight days old. Yet the children of Christian parents are as capable of the righteousness of faith as were the children of Hebrew parents.
4. The principle on which some Christians proceed is to exclude as many as possible from the Church. That of the Lord and His apostles was to include as many as possible. The former said, in respect to the "little children, of such is the kingdom of God"; and in respect to earnest adult workers in the cause of righteousness, "He that is not against us is on our part." And one of the latter states that "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the (believing) wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the (believing) husband"; and he adds, "Else were your children unclean; but now they are holy" (1 Corinthians 7:14). Now, children who may be pronounced "holy" must be proper subjects of baptism. Why may they not have been consecrated and sealed as holy in baptism? But, assuming that both parents and children, admitted into the Church of Christ by baptism, are present in the Church assembly, while his pastoral is being read, the apostle would have them to remember that the fact that they are thus admitted and present, even though it be through the bath of baptism, does not do away with their reciprocal obligations, but renders them still more urgently imperative. Therefore the loving words of exhortation to both (Ephesians 6:1-4).
Parallel VersesKJV: Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.