21. HOUSEHOLD BAPTISM
We enter now upon another inquiry, namely, as to the subjects of baptism. There is question really only as to one point. We have seen that in the Christian form of the kingdom, as distinct from the Jewish, the national birthright title has failed with Israel's being (for the time) Lo-Ammi. The scanty proselyte entrance of those days is become now the rule,-discipling to the kingdom. But this raises immediate question: if in the old form, the children of proselytes were circumcised with their parents, and what we have called the grace of the law has become the rule in the kingdom of grace, must not the families of proselytes be received still with them, as of old they were, and the baptism of households be in this way the rule in Christianity?
Here reasonings perhaps do not count for much; nor do we desire them to count for more than they are worth; but it is well, surely, to compare the past with the present, and trace, if we may, the substantial unity of the divine plan all through. In the new form of the kingdom circumcision drops out and baptism takes its place. In accordance with the larger grace of the kingdom, male and female being but one in Christ, women are baptized as well as men. What as to households?
In the meaning of baptism is there any indication that families are to be shut out now, as they were formerly admitted? Circumcision had been, in the person of the one who first received it, a "seal of the righteousness of faith" (Rom. iv. ii); yet that did not hinder its application to the thirteen-year-old Ishmael, nor to the eight-day-old Isaac. Yet if baptism were a seal of life, a life now proclaimed spiritual and eternal, there might be still difficulty. But it is burial, the confession of death, and not of life, and so understood all is easy. Then notice that circumcision is the "putting off of the body of the flesh" (Col. ii. ii); the true circumcision "have no confidence in the flesh." (Phil. iii. 3.) How near this is to the "burial " of baptism! In both dispensations the entrance into the kingdom of God is marked by the renunciation of self as worthless, that He may have real supremacy.
That baptism is discipling is no difficulty; for in a school in which Christ is Master, who can tell how soon His grace may begin to teach? Of John the Baptist it was said, "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb." (Luke i. is.) Finally, if baptism is the putting on of Christ, even this does not necessarily imply any voluntary activity; for so it is said that "this corruptible puts on incorruption, and this mortal immortality;" and man in dying puts off his tabernacle.
Yet this is all only preparatory: we must have positive Scripture if we are to go further. Here, then, the baptism of households comes in to reassure us. In Acts xvi. we have Lydia and her household, the jailer and all his, baptized. Of Lydia's household we have no certain knowledge; but the baptism of her house is put as if it were part of her own faithfulness, which she pleads: "A certain woman named Lydia heard us, whose heart the Lord opened; and when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us saying, 'If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house.'" From the point of view already indicated, one would certainly conclude that her household was baptized upon her faith.
In the case of the jailer, who asks, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas answer with the assurance, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Here the salvation of his house is clearly put as the normal result of his own believing. Nor have we any thing of their faith in what follows, but only of his; though we are told that "they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." He was baptized, he and all his, straightway; and he rejoiced greatly, with all his house,- but this is an adverb, "domestically," - having believed in God. It is "he" rejoiced, "he" believed.
In chap. xviii. Crispus of Corinth believes with all his house; and the expression is quite different.
To the Corinthians Paul writes his first epistle, learning of divisions beginning among them, and thankful he had not baptized enough of them to form a party for himself. "Were ye baptized unto the name of Paul? I thank God I baptized none of you but Crispus and Gaius, lest any should say I had baptized unto my own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: for the rest, I know not that I baptized any other." (i Cor. i. 14-16.) Now the common thought is, that in the last statement Paul is correcting his first one. It was not just the truth that he had baptized only two of the assembly. He had baptized a family beside; perhaps more: he is not clear. But this would go some way toward upsetting the very thing he was thankful for. If we look closer we may find that there is no mistake at all. "None of you" is absolute, save Crispus and Gaius. Too small a number to make a party in the assembly. But what about the perhaps half-a-dozen more? They were not in the assembly; they were a baptized household, in the kingdom only, And so if he had baptized even others here, it was no matter at all. The distinction between household and individual, kingdom and assembly, clears up the difficulty and gives absolute consistency throughout.
However, we learn at the end of the same epistle that the house of Stephanas had addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints (chap. xvi. 15). Were these not in the assembly? Surely they were. But is not here, then, a contradiction to the former statement, and a certain proof that Stephanas' house were grown men ? Again, one must look more narrowly; and then it will be found that the Spirit of God uses for this word "house" or "household," two different words, although very near akin. Is it without a purpose? I, for one, cannot think so. In the first chapter of the epistle the word is olkos; in the last, oikia: differing only in the last two letters, but still differing.
A difference in meaning has been suggested by some, but which is not generally admitted, and must, therefore, be scrutinized with the more care. Greek has many dialects, and New Testament or Hellenistic Greek is not the classic. The Septuagint translation is well known to be for the most part the storehouse of New Testament words. In it oikos seems the word invariably used for a man's own family, the general thought indeed where "house " is used for the inmates. But there are exceptions: "house " seems also used in a wider sense, so as to include servants, and here we have the use of oikia. Thus in "the eldest servant of [Abraham's] house," "house" is olkia. And while at the passover they took every one a lamb according to the oikos of their fathers, yet (because the servants ate it with their masters) it is said, "a lamb for an "oikia," and "if the oikia be too little for the lamb." When Joshua says, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," it is again oikia: for those who serve him are to serve with him.
The passages, no doubt, are very few in which the word is used; but the use is none the less distinct, and in the New Testament it is exactly similar. Olkos is used for the "house of Jacob," "of Israel," "of David," "of Judah," and in the baptismal passages. Oikia is never used in this way. The lost rich man in hades would send Lazarus to his father's house: it is oikos; for he has five brethren. The bishop is to rule his own house (oikos) well, having his children in subjection with all gravity. Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house. And if five in one house are divided (Luke xii. 52, 53), they are father and mother and son and daughter and daughter-in-law.
Notice that Matthew and Mark speak of a house divided against itself, and here it is oikia; but there is nothing about the inmates in this way. Passages are much less numerous - again as in the Septuagint,- but we are told that "the servant abideth not in the house forever; and of him who left his house, and gave authority to his servants to watch; and of the saints that are of Caesar's household - clearly not his children; and under this word comes that household of Stephanas who have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints. Certainly in Scripture the distinction is maintained, which being confirmed, makes all clear as to the baptism of households. It is the family of the disciple that is baptized with the head,- not the servants: a distinction which in itself suggests that the relationship rules in this matter of reception into the kingdom in the Christian as in the legal dispensation.
22. "OF SUCH IS THE KINGDOM."
This might be by itself conclusive. It proves that there was a class of the baptized, at least, outside the Church altogether,- that baptism was not into the visible Church, and that the class consisted, in part at least, of the families of believers. We can go further, however, and show by the authority of the Lord Himself, that children belong to His kingdom. The words we are all familiar with, but their significance has been greatly disputed. It is, let us remind ourselves, when "there were brought unto Him little children, that He might put His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, 'Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'"
Mark adds that He was "much displeased ;" that He took them up in His arms, showing how little they were, and that He added the solemn words, "Verily I say unto you that whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein." (Matt. xix. 13, Mark x. 13-16.)
This last expression (which Matthew omits) is nevertheless believed by many to be the gist of the whole matter. It is "of such" as children that the kingdom is, but not of children themselves! We may well ask in wonder, Are not little children "such as" little children? Or when the apostle, after naming certain sins, declares that "they that do 'such' things shall not inherit the kingdom of God," does he mean that people might commit those things, but not others like them?
Why, too, should He give this as His reason for blessing those children, that people who resembled them were fit for the kingdom?
But one need not add arguments. We see at once now how this underlies the baptism of households, which is really Christ's blessing perpetuated for those who would still bring their children to Him and beseech His blessing. Here He sanctions fully what they do, and gives the little ones a special place under His own rule and teaching. We are thus bound, in Christianity, to bring them up in the nurture (or discipline) and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. Vi. 4),- that is, as disciples. For the word still holds, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." This is the practical faith, which, acting on the promises of God, secures the blessing.
And here we see why the Lord says "of such" simply. Not all children can be discipled: not because He has not love and desire, but because, if baptism imply such training, for the children of unbelievers it could mean nothing. Faith alone could realize the blessing.
23. NOW ARE THEY HOLY.
Thus we may see also why, going beyond the law, the children even of a marriage where one remains an unbeliever can be called by the apostle "holy." The words run thus (i Cor. vii. 13, 15) :- "And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by ("in") the wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband. Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy."
The use of the word "unclean" explains the corresponding word "holy." It is not vital holiness that he is thinking of, but external position. According to the law the children of such a marriage could claim none; but grace goes altogether beyond law. It is not said of the unbeliever that he or she is "holy," as the child is; merely sanctified in the believer. The child has an acknowledged place as " holy" or "clean;" and this he takes to show that the marriage stands; for if the children were unclean, the marriage itself would be. Baptism gives this acknowledged place, a place in the kingdom of God, which under different forms runs through the dispensations.
It remains only to add a few brief remarks upon some points not formally taken up as yet, but which it is hoped will not now present much difficulty.
As to the mode of baptism, that it should be by immersion results from the primary meaning of the word, connected with the thought of "burial" which we have plainly given to it. Yet that even sprinklings are called "baptisms" in Hebrews destroys that argument often made that only immersion can be called that. It is plain also that the word is used in other places where there was none, as at the Red Sea, and that the stress is laid not upon mode, but upon what it effects. It would be impossible, I believe, to prove in any single instance that immersion was the scriptural mode, much more to show that all depends upon this.
There is no command to all to be baptized, such as would render it imperative that every believer should for himself fulfill it. The universal command is only to the baptizer, leaving room for it to be differently applied in different cases. "Whosoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved" is added to the injunction to preach the gospel, which accounts for the form; but one baptized in infancy and believing afterwards, has both these requisites. That the force is on believing the gospel is plain by the close, that "he that believeth not shall be damned." No one would apply this to children.
That baptism is not into the church shows that it is not into the house of God, which is the church. It shows also why a difference of judgment as to it cannot exclude from the Lord's table, which is the sign of membership in the "one body" of Christ. (i Cor. x.17.) Baptism is individual: the Lord's Supper, a fellowship. May He give His people grace "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."