“Why Baptism?” by Dr. W. Robert Godfrey

I recently had the privilege and joy of baptizing my daughter. Whenever I baptize someone I always read some new literature or re-read some old literature on the topic just to remember the significance of baptism afresh. Here is a great, succinct, pastoral summary of the Reformed view of baptism by Dr. W. Robert Godfrey. It’s probably my favorite article on the subject that I have read so far. I have read it and re-read it just about every time I am about to have the privilege of baptizing someone. I have also passed it out in my church membership class and given it to people as a starting point for the Reformed view on baptism. I hope that by reading it you will have a greater appreciation for God’s commitment to you that is signified and sealed unto you in your baptism.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

This pledge comes to us with God’s promise, and the promise of God in our Baptism is that we are cleansed, forgiven, and renewed. Calvin says that in Baptism we have represented to us that by the blood of Christ our sins are forgiven and we are justified and that by the Holy Spirit we are introduced into newness of life and are sanctified. All of this is represented and promised to us in Baptism. Hence, Calvin continues, the great function of Baptism is that it assures us of God’s will individually, because it comes to us individually. Even in the preaching of the Word there is a possibility for people to say, “Well, that’s true in general, but it may not be true for me.” So God comes to each with the water of Baptism, that visible Word of his, and says to each of us in our Baptism, “I have a promise for you, not just for ‘y’all,’ but for you.” . . .

. . .We need to remember the perpetual profit of Baptism. The promise that God makes to us in our Baptism, his pledge, is not just the pledge of a mechanical relationship, like a train on a downhill track, so that all we need to do is get it started and it will run irresistibly to the bottom of the grade. Our Christian life is too often conceived in those terms. In reality, our relationship to God is not mechanical; it is vital and growing. The reformers stressed that Baptism is crucial in that developing relationship.

Baptism that marks the beginning of our Christian life goes with us as we live it. Luther called it “a daily garment” that we must wear by faith, meaning that it is with us every day in our relationship with God (Larger Catechism, Part IV). Calvin called it the “shield to repel doubt” (cited by Marcel, p. 172). We need a shield to repel doubt-doubt about whether God can really love such sinful people as we, doubt of the modern age that impinges on us from every side: Is there a God? Is there meaning to life? Can Christianity’s outrageous claims to be the only truth be credited? And in the midst of these doubts, problems, wrestlings, and temptations, Baptism is a shield. Baptism is that visible word in which God says, “Yes, I am your God and you are mine; that water Baptism is my pledge to you that you can live by faith.”


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