In light of the recent posts concerning paedo baptism, I thought this little excerpt from Charles Hodge might be enlightening to the conversation. I added some comments and questions at the end.
In either view we are said to be cleansed (whether from guilt or pollution) by baptism. What does this mean? How does baptism in either of these senses wash away sin? The Protestant and scriptural answer to this question is, that baptism cleanses from sin just as the word does. We are said to be saved by the truth, to be begotten by the truth, to be sanctified by the truth. This does not mean:
That there is any inherent, much less magic, power in the word of God as heard or read to produce these effects.
Nor that the word always and everywhere, when rightly presented, thus sanctifies and saves, so that all who hear are partakers of these benefits.
Nor does it mean that the Spirit of God is so tied to the word as never to operate savingly on the heart except in connection with it. For infants may be subjects of regeneration, though incapable of receiving the truth.
In like manner when the Scriptures speak of baptism as washing away sin (Acts 22:16); or as uniting to Christ (Gal. 3:27); or as making Christ's death our death (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12); or as saving us (1 Pet. 3:21); they do not teach:
That there is any inherent virtue in baptism, or in the administrator, to produce these effects; nor
That these effects always attend its right administration; nor
That the Spirit is so connected with baptism that it is the only channel through which he communicates the benefits of redemption, so that all unbaptized will perish.
These three propositions, all of which Romanism and Ritualism affirm, are contrary to the express declarations of Scripture and to universal experience. Multitudes of the baptized are unholy; many of the unbaptized are sanctified and saved.
How then is it true that baptism washes away sin, unites us to Christ, and secures salvation? The answer again is, that this is true of baptism in the same sense that it is true of the word. God is pleased to connect the benefits of redemption with the believing reception of the truth. And he is pleased to connect these same benefits with the believing reception of baptism. That is, as the Spirit works with and by the truth, so he works with and by baptism, in communicating the blessings of the covenant of grace. Therefore, as we are said to be saved by the word, with equal propriety we are said to be saved by baptism; though baptism without faith is as of little effect as is the word of God to unbelievers.
The scriptural doctrine concerning baptism, according to the Reformed churches is:
That it is a divine institution.
That it is one of the conditions of salvation. "Whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). It has, however, the necessity of precept, not the necessity of a means sine qua non. It is in this respect analogous to confession. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:10). And also to circumcision. God said, "The uncircumcised male child-should be cut off from his people" (Gen. 17:14) Yet children dying before the eighth day were surely not cut off from heaven. And the apostle teaches that if an uncircumcised man kept the law, "his uncircumcision was counted to him for circumcision" (Rom. 3:26).
Baptism is a means of grace, that is, a channel through which the Spirit confers grace; not always, not upon all recipients, nor is it the only channel, nor is it designed as the ordinary means of regeneration. Faith and repentance are the gifts of the Spirit and fruits of regeneration, and yet they are required as conditions of baptism. But if faith, to which all the benefits of redemption are promised, precedes baptism, how can those benefits be said to be conferred, in any case, through baptism? Just as a father may give an estate to his son, and afterwards convey it to him formally by a deed. Besides, the benefits of redemption, the remission of sin, the gift of the Spirit, and the merits of the Redeemer, are not conveyed to the soul once for all. They are reconveyed and reappropriated on every new act of faith, and on every new believing reception of the sacraments. The sinner coming to baptism in the exercise of repentance and faith, takes God the Father to be his Father; God the Son, to be his Saviour; and God the Holy Ghost to be his Sanctifier, and his word to be the rule of his faith and practice. The administrator then, in the name and by the authority of God, washes him with water as a sign of the cleansing from sin by the blood of Christ, and of sanctification by the Holy Spirit; and as a seal to God's promise to grant him those blessings on the condition of the repentance and faith thus publicly avowed. Whatever he may have experienced or enjoyed before, this is the public conveyance to him of the benefits of the covenant, and his inauguration into the number of the redeemed. If he is sincere in his part of the service, baptism really applies to him the blessings of which it is the symbol.
Infants are baptized on the faith of their parents. And their baptism secures to them all the benefits of the covenant of grace, provided they ratify that covenant by faith; just as circumcision secured the benefits of the theocracy, provided those circumcised by infancy kept the law. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration, that is, the doctrine that inward spiritual renovation always attends baptism rightly administered to the unresisting, and that regeneration is never effected without it, is contrary to Scripture, subversive of evangelical religion, and opposed to universal experience. It is, moreover, utterly irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Reformed churches. For that doctrine teaches that all the regenerated are saved. "Whom God calls them he also glorifies" (Rom. 8:30). It is, however, plain from Scripture, and in accordance with the faith of the universal church, that multitudes of the baptized perish. The baptized, therefore, as such, are not the regenerated.
The foregoing remarks are intended to show in what sense the Reformed understand this and similar declarations of Scripture. Christ purifies his church by baptism. That is the initiatory rite; which signifies, seals, and applies to believers all the benefits of the Redeemer's death. The apostle is speaking of the church, the body and bride of Christ, and of the effect of baptism on those who constitute that church, not of its effect on those who are not included in the covenant and are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.
This quote comes from Charles Hodge (1797 – 1878) in his commentary on Ephesians (pgs 320 and following). I am just wondering if it sounds as confusing to others as it does to me.
Let me ask some questions. For instance, where in the New Testament does it teach that “infants are baptized on the faith of their parents?” Where does the Scripture teach that the covenant is “ratified by faith”? How can it be said that baptism “secures to them [infants] all the benefits of the covenant of grace” and then add that there must be a ratifying in order for that to be “secure”?
Hodge goes on to state, “The baptized, therefore, as such, are not the regenerated.” So the question for me becomes, “Then why should we baptize those who are clearly unregenerate?” At least from the Baptistic standpoint we have a profession of faith by the individual, which we see all throughout Scripture, rather than by an individual’s parents on their behalf, which we never see in Scripture (Note: This statement concerns baptism, not circumcision).
Notice that he ends with this: “The foregoing remarks are intended to show in what sense the Reformed understand this and similar declarations of Scripture. Christ purifies his church by baptism. That is the initiatory rite; which signifies, seals, and applies to believers all the benefits of the Redeemer's death.” But can it be said of all who are baptized? Absolutely not, and he said that earlier. So it appears, at least to me, that Hodge really doesn’t show these “declarations from Scripture”, but rather follows after the Reformed “tradition” (yes, there are traditions in the Reformed community as well).
Finally, could someone tell me where in the Scripture baptism applies to believers all the benefits of the Redeemer’s death? I’m sorry, that sounds very Romanist to me, and I’m being gracious:)