This section of Baxter (I.I.I.II) is of particular use to Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians (which includes me)–in short, anyone who believes that not only should believers be baptized, but also their households. Having come to paedo convictions some time ago, I can bear witness to the blessings of raising kids as members of the covenant community. But it has some hazards as well, and we’d be wise to keep watch. Are you a baptist? There is still some love here for you too, in that I hope to provide a bit of a “decoder ring” so you will not be dismayed when talking to your paedo friends, and they start saying things that make you twitch.
Remember that Baxter intends to write a book covering everything. Everything, that is, that has to do with living out the Christian faith. And he means it. As we saw previously, it is quite the project–and to reach the goal he wrote the equivalent of one 50,000 word book per month for a period of two years (except it was not twenty-five small books, but one, huge, 1.25 million word beast of a practical theology text). One can imagine when Baxter finished, his fingers being frozen permanently around his pen. His evenings moonlighting at the piano lounge were gone forever. His fingers were on strike.
Baxter begins by pointing those who do not know God, and have not experienced the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, to the remedy. Since the Bible teaches that we are, “dead in our trespasses and sins,” and by nature, “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1ff), God must intervene if man is to be saved. He must give life, or we stay spiritually dead. Baxter is writing to the dead, who think they are alive. Think of how many people this describes! Who, after all, being spiritually dead, knows it? (And how much closer you are to salvation if you do!). This is because with death comes numbness. Spiritual death brings spiritual numbness, and Baxter labors over the next several “Directions” to rub some feeling back in.
His focus, now, is on unsaved Christians. Isn’t this a misnomer? Aren’t Christians, by definition, those who are saved? As you read, note Baxter’s assumptions:
“It is very true that you were sacramentally regenerate in baptism, and that he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved, and all that are the children of promise, and have that promise sealed to them by baptism, are regenerate. The ancients taught that baptism puts men into a state of grace; that is, that all that sincerely renounce the world, the devil, and the flesh, and are sincerely given up to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, according to the covenant of grace, and profess and seal this by their baptism, shall be pardoned, and made the heirs of life. But as it is true, that baptism thus saveth, so it is also true, that it is not the “outward washing only the filth of the flesh: that will suffice, but the “answer of a good conscience towards God” 1 Pet. 2:21; and that “no man can enter into the kingdom of God, that is not born of the Spirit, as well as of water” John iii.5; and that Simon Magus and many another have had the water of baptism, that never had the Spirit, but still remain in the “gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity, and had no partner lot in that business, their hearts not being right in the sight of God,” Acts viii:13, 21, 23.” CD I.I.I.II; P. 13.
His assumptions. Right. Baxter believes that those who are baptized are “Christians” in the external sense, but not necessarily the internal, saving sense. “The ancients taught that baptism puts men into a state of grace…” Water baptism actually effects something. It moves you into a new category of person. Objectively speaking, you are now a Christian, part of the family of God, and called by his name. This is true for adults, but also for the short, mac-and-cheese scarfing set as well.
But remember, here he is writing to “unsaved Christians.” He doesn’t use the term directly, but that is exactly who his audience is. And he raises just the right concern. You can objectively be a Christian, be baptized, attend church, live a life free of scandal (except for the scandal of being so steeped in truth, but not heeding it), and still hear those awful words from Jesus, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Remember the sons of Eli, the High Priest during Samuel’s day? They were functioning “religious professionals,” no doubt they could pass their theology exams. And yet they “did not know the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:12).
What does Baxter mean by “sacramentally regenerate”? He can’t mean “regenerate” in the same way the term is used now–as someone with a new nature, who has been “made alive in Christ.” He is actually distinguishing “sacramental regeneration” from regeneration of the heart. My take is that Baxter is arguing that baptism objectively brings someone into the church–but it does not effect an automatic change of nature.
So Baxter is addressing the sin of covenant presumption. This is the sin of assuming, on the basis of your baptism, that all is copacetic, regardless of how you live. But the thing about treachery is that it can only be committed by citizens. Baptism brings you in to the covenant community, but it points to a greater baptism, that of the Spirit, without which we are lost. His urges us in this section to know the difference between those who are only “sacramentally regenerate” and those who are born of the Spirit.
So water baptism brings us into the covenant, but we keep covenant by faith in Jesus Christ alone. And this faith is, itself, a gift. Before, behind, and round about, salvation is by the grace of God alone.