THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
Baptism with Water and Spirit.
'John answered, saying, I indeed baptize you with water; but there oonieth He who is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.'—Luke iii. 16.
MAN has a twofold nature: there is the external and visible; there is the internal, unseen, spiritual. Sin brought both equally under the power of the curse. In redemption both are to be made partakers of the glorious liberty of the children of God: 'we wait for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body;' the whole man, body and spirit, is to be saved. All God's dealings, with us have respect to both sides of our nature; through the external He seeks to reach the inner man; the inner again is renewed that thence the blessing may stream out and take possession of the outer man.
It is on this ground that we have the twofold baptism of which our text speaks: the baptism with water, and the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The Baptist teaches us the relation existing between the two; the insufficiency of the baptism with water in itself, and its high value as the pledge and the preparation of what was to come. In his words, ministers and parents, through whom together the little ones receive their baptism of water, find the clearest light on their duty towards the baptized child, and on the spirit in which they themselves, and afterwards the child under their guidance, are to regard its baptism.
And first we note the faith which the baptism with water warrants and demands as a sign and seal of the baptism of the Spirit. It is a sign in which God sets forth the working of regeneration, the cleansing of our nature by the renewal of the Holy Spirit. It is also a seal, an assurance that, where God has given the water, He most certainly gives the Spirit too, to the faith that claims and takes it. When John had come, the coming of Christ was certain too; when John had baptized with water, the baptism with the Spirit was certain too. God gave the one to waken faith and expectation for the other. So intimate is the connection, that our Saviour did not hesitate to speak of being 'born of water and the Spirit;' thus closely doth He join and make them one.
God would teach us that what He hath meant to be one, and made one in promise, our faith can make one in reality. As in the whole economy of grace the connecting link between God's promise and His fulfilment is our faith, so here too. The promise of God is no empty word, though our unbelief may make it of none effect. In His purpose the water and the Spirit are inseparably united: 'what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder;' let not a parent's unbelief rest content with the water without the Spirit. Claim and accept with the most assured confidence the baptism of the Spirit for thy child; and in faith praise for it as the divinely-secured heritage of thy little one.
Let us now observe the work to which the baptism with water calls and pledges us. The whole history of John teaches us that the Spirit could not be received until the way had been prepared for Him. The Baptist knows how little his labours avail until the baptism of the Spirit is given. And yet he labours. He does the double work of preaching repentance of sin and faith in the Lamb of God. A most blessed lesson for the Christian parent. In some children the workings of the Spirit are given from the very birth. In others they become manifest at very different stages of later growth. But in all, the manifestation of the Spirit needs a parent's education in the lines of John's preaching. The child needs to be taught what sin is and what repentance is, what the giving up of everything that is not according to the will of God. And it needs to be pointed to Jesus, the Lamb of God, through faith in whom the full influx of the Spirit is to come. So that, just as in the parent there is to be the harmony of faith and work, so the child no less from its earliest youth has to be trained for a God who asks to be trusted and obeyed. It is by the obedience of faith that parent and child are prepared for the fulfilment of the promise.
Learn one more lesson from John. The secret of the wondrous union between faith and work in him you will find in his deep humility. His preaching had been with mighty power. A great revival of religion was taking place; all men were flocking to him; no prophet in Israel had ever preached as he had done. And yet he says, ' The latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose.' It is ever thus. The more the soul has received of the vision and the fellowship and the power of the Holy One, the deeper the sense of its utter nothingness and absolute dependence. But then, also, the deeper its confidence in the truth and power of Him whom it hath seen, and the greater its courage for His work, because it knows whence its help most surely comes. The thought might rise, or we might even hear others say it, that the assured confidence of the Spirit's being given to our children may lead to pride, or may slacken exertion in their behalf. He that understands what faith is knows the answer. True faith and deep humility are inseparable, because faith is the becoming nothing to let God be all. And so true faith and faithful labour are no less inseparable, because faith yields itself to God to use and to work through us. Let it be with the parent as with John; there is nothing makes us so strong to honour God as when we are bound by the threefold cord of strong faith, earnest effort, and deep humility.
Christian parent! hast thou accepted the promise of the Spirit with the water? Oh, hold that promise fast in a living faith. Praise God unceasingly for His gift to thy child, even when thou dost not yet see its fulfilment. Let in thy daily home-life everything be subordinated to the high destiny for which thy God hath entrusted a child to thee: he is to be a vessel filled with His Spirit. Labour earnestly and hopefully with this blessed prospect in view. As often as these labours teach thee thy impotence or thy unfaithfulness, look to Him whose servant thou art, and who has made thee the messenger of the Spirit. He will fit thee for the work He has given thee to do. Jesus has said, 'He that believeth in me, rivers of living water shall flow out of his belly.' Believe in Jesus! try again, and once again, and ever more again the unexhausted fulness of that word; live thy life by the faith of the Son of God. Through thee the Spirit will flow out to thy child. And each baptism thou witnessest will be the glad reminder of the riches of the inheritance of thy child too.
And, ye ministers of Christ,—if any such read these lines,—to whom is committed the ministration of this holy baptism, seek, oh, seek, like John, with every baptism to testify that He which hath sent you to baptize with water hath said to you that there is One coming after you to baptize with the Holy Spirit! Let us pray God to make all His servants indeed ministers of the Spirit, that they may have grace in all their ministrations to speak and act as men who have realized that the Spirit has been given to follow and to seal the message and the work of faith. And specially that they may have grace to lead and train both parents and children into the apprehension of that presence of the Holy Spirit in their home-life, through which the family can again take its place as God's first and choicest ordinance for the maintenance and the extension of the kingdom of heaven. It is as ministers and parents, as the whole Church, awakes to this truth, that the baptism of little children will no longer be, what it has too often been, a religious form, or a promise that is never fulfilled; but a sacrament, mighty and efficacious, of the presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church and in the home.
Gracious God! I thank Thee for the holy ordinance of baptism, with its Divine assurance of the baptism of the Spirit. And I thank Thee that as our little ones are with us children of the covenant and its spiritual promises, they also share in the seal of the covenant. And I thank Thee that their baptism is the token of their being holy to the Lord, and the heirs of the promise of the Spirit. Lord God! teach me, teach all believing parents, teach Thy Church, to believe that, wherever in Thy name the baptism of water is received, Thou waitest to fulfil Thy engagement to give the baptism of the Spirit too. In the great gift of Thy Son, Thou hast given us Him who baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.
Blessed Lord Jesus! I come to Thee with my children. I bring them to Thee. I claim for them the baptism of the Spirit. In faith I accept of it. In that faith I would train them to believe in Thee, that they may by faith in Thee come into the personal possession of what I have received for them. Yea, ere they can yet believe, I offer myself, that through me and the influence of my life Thy blessed Spirit may rest upon them.
Blessed Saviour! give me grace in this faith to train them wisely, and according to Thy will, preparing in them the way of the Lord. Amid the consciousness of unworthiness and impotence, may this be my one hope and aim, that my children may daily live under the rule of Thy Holy Spirit. Amen.