The Biblical Doctrine of Baptism Part 3 of 4


Part Three of Four


The covenant of circumcision made with Abraham was absolute if one was to be counted as part of the Hebrew Nation.  “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.”  (Gen. 17:10)  If one was not circumcised, his soul would be cut off from his people and be deemed a breaker of the Covenant of God.  “And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant”.  (Gen. 17:14)  The females escaped the sentence of being cut off from the People and the Covenant.  Why and how this took place is speculation in the extreme.  That God had a Holy Purpose we know to be in Perfect accord with His will and glory.

There are brethren  that hold to the view, that baptism is the replacement of circumcision and to them we doubt not that their view of the Covenants of God have lead them to this conviction.  It is not our design to be disrespectful in any way.  If in any way there is unkindness or repugnance, please grant forgiveness.  Much is owed to these our brothers in Christ Jesus the Lord.  However, one must take exception with them on the doctrine that baptism is the New Testament version of circumcision.

It is noteworthy that circumcision was a token of the covenant.  “And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”  (Gen. 17:11)  Both parties had to fulfill obligations.  It was to be performed on the eighth day.  Whether he be Hebrew, or one bought with money, he must be circumcised on the eighth day.  (Gen. 17:12-13)

It becomes very clear that baptism and circumcision are not equal in any manner.  All believers seen in Scripture were saved before they were baptized.  Not so with the covenant of Circumcision made with Abraham.  Neither baptism nor circumcision has any redemptive efficacy.  The difference being the correct form of baptism is an act of saving faith.  Circumcision was obligatory for participation in the Hebrew family and Covenant.  Saving faith was not even considered.

To suggest that Baptism is the replacement of Circumcision is to say the least the reintroduction of the dispute which was settled in Acts chapter 15. This Pharisaical command, Verse 5  (“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”) was denounced sharply by the apostles in Verse 24 (“Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law:  to whom we gave no such commandment.”)  “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”

“The ordinance of baptism was not enjoined by our Sovereign Lord upon believers in the place of circumcision; it was not so instituted, but, on the contrary, the literal circumcision of the flesh was replaced by the spiritual circumcision ‘made without hands.’  It was to be a circumcision of the heart in the spirit and not in the letter.  Hence, the literal circumcision of the flesh, like all the ceremonies of the Mosaic law, was a figure for the ‘time then being’ which was to be ‘done away.’  Hence, in order for a right comprehension of the Scriptural teaching, it must be remembered that circumcision, with all the other accompanying figures, simply shadowed forth that new or spiritual covenant under the dispensation of the Gospel. 

Baptism is not only for a particular race, but for all mankind who confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God.  Since the glorious redemptive work of our Lord received its crowning act, baptism has been the one Divinely-appointed ordinance for both Jew and Gentile who believe on His name, confessing their sins, because there is ‘no difference, for all have sinned.’  Hence, the first covenant, to which poor sin-imbruted human nature was at the beginning constituted and adapted, had its foundation in moral law, and its terms and conditions were,  ‘Do this and thou shalt live.’ 

The new and better covenant of mercy, so gloriously designed to meet all the conditions of the poor sinner, was grounded not upon external cutting off of the flesh, but in the atoning sacrifice, whose stipulation is,  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’

Baptism was not substituted for circumcision, for if it were we should baptize exactly the class of persons on which circumcision had been previously enjoined.  The Scripture in clear and emphatic language states that the male child shall be circumcised.  (Genesis 17)

The Lord of Hosts, with His chosen servant, Abraham, entered into this covenant, which evidently included temporal advantages to his posterity, but there is no reference in the word of any such an agreement relative to baptism, neither is the ordinance of baptism mentioned in the word of God as a covenant, nor does the Scripture reveal to us that it is a ‘sign in the flesh.’  But the Scripture does refer to circumcision as being a ‘sign in the flesh.’

The entire Scriptural teaching in its enjoining baptism to believers does not contain a single reference to the ordinance of baptism as being a substitute of the old Jewish rite of circumcision.

The covenant of circumcision is not the covenant of grace. 

There is no Scriptural teaching that baptism was a substitute for circumcision; its very silence would forbid the suggestion.”  (Joshua E. Wills)

There is a great distinction between ‘law’ and ‘grace’.

“Failure to distinguish between the law and grace only blinds men’s eyes to real truth.  This legalism and the denial of grace results only in confusion, bondage and uncertainty…Now remember, a covenant of grace is a covenant which God makes with Himself in the interest of another.  A covenant of grace is always an unconditional covenant, and depends for its complete fulfillment upon the faithfulness of God alone and is in no way dependent upon the faithfulness or behavior of man for whom the covenant has been made.  There are no ‘ifs’ in the covenant of grace.  The moment a single condition is added which man must fulfill, it ceases to be of grace and becomes immediately a covenant of works….Now a covenant of works depends upon the faithfulness of man for its blessing while the covenant of God’s grace depends on the faithfulness of God.  For this very reason a covenant of works always fails, while a covenant of grace can never fail.  The moment the blessing depends on man’s behavior or faithfulness it immediately breaks down.  God made a covenant of works with Adam in the Garden of Eden and Adam failed.  God made a covenant of works with Israel on Mt. Sinai and we know Israel failed. . .A covenant of grace cannot be broken because it depends upon the faithfulness of God and not man’s faithfulness.”  (M. R. De Haan)

All covenants which insist upon man doing what God has commanded for justification are not referred to as covenants of grace.  The Law of God, (the two tables of stone as glorious as they are, “HOLY, JUST, and GOOD”) is still a covenant of works.

“The tables of stone thus put into the Ark, written on by the finger of God, were the expression of God’s righteous demands of man, but they only ended in the ministration of death.  For the law found man a sinner by nature, and it had no power to alter that nature.  It found him dead, and it could not give life…It declared what man ought to be, but it communicated no power to enable him to be what it required.  It demanded, and threatened, and denounced, but it could not give.  It could condemn, but it could not save…”The commandment” was found by the apostle “to be unto death.”  (Rom. 7: 10)  (Henry W Soltau)

God’s dealing with the promises is built on grace, circumcision was a covenant of works, and as such has an altogether different demand than does baptism which is the answer of grace bestowed.  Not males only, not on the eight day, not on unconscious infants, but rather on “the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  (1 Peter 3: 21)

“God had dealt with Abraham upon the sure ground of unconditional promise, therefore on the sure ground of grace; for unconditional promise and grace ever go together.  Promise is the simple expression of God’s own will and intentions, and its accomplishment rests alone upon God’s own ability and unchangeableness:   it requires, therefore, nothing on man’s part.”  (Henry W. Soltau)

“As to circumcision, to which the Jews attached so much importance, the apostle shows that it could avail nothing, except on condition of obedience to the law or covenant to which it belonged.” (Romans 2: 25.)  If the law be broken, circumcision is worthless.  On the other hand, if the law is obeyed, the want of circumcision will not prevent a blessing.  All this proves that an external rite can, in itself, have no saving power; because God is a Spirit, and requires and regards spiritual obedience alone.

Paul therefore teaches that circumcision had no inherent magical efficacy; that it had no value beyond that of a sign and seal; that it secured the blessings of the covenant to those who kept the covenant; but to the transgressors of the law, it was of no avail.

The one proposition flows from the other; for if circumcision is in itself nothing, its presence cannot protect the guilty; its absence cannot invalidate the claims of the righteous…It is only putting the truth in this verse into different words to say, ‘the unbaptized believer shall condemn the baptized unbeliever.’

The circumcision of the heart is then effected by the Spirit, and not by the letter, i.e., in obedience to the prescriptions of the law….What, therefore, he teaches of the worthlessness of external circumcision, without internal purity, and of the possibility of the external sign being received without the internal grace, is no less true of baptism.

Religion and religious services, to be acceptable to God, must be, of the heart.  Mere external homage is of no account.”  (Charles Hodge)

Circumcision and infant baptism have one thing in common, saving faith is not required.

“Great care should be exercised to distinguish between the covenant promises of God, and in this men unfortunately have tried to merge all the covenants into one which, unhappily, has led to great confusion.

The covenant of God with His chosen servant Abraham was a most comprehensive and blessed one, but the covenant with His only begotten Son, who was able to keep it, was of more glorious import.  The riches of mercy embraced all the blessings vouchsafed in the covenant of grace.” (Joshua E. Wills)

Righteousness was imputed to Abraham years before the Covenant seen in Genesis chapter 17.  Also see Romans 4: 7-14 which reads in part: “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.  For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.”  Abraham was 75 years old when The Gospel was preached unto him Genesis 12: 1 and Galatians3: 8. He was 99 years old when the Covenant of circumcision was delivered to him by God, Genesis 17.

“Hence in the matter of justification and of the faith that was unto justification circumcision was no factor at all, not even in the sense of a conditioning circumstance.   It is more than the question of temporal sequence; it is that circumcision had nothing whatever to do with Abraham’s faith or justification…And it is the steps of Abraham’s ‘uncircumcision-faith’, a faith that receives no conditioning or efficacy from the fact of circumcision.  Circumcision is not an excluding factor and neither is it a contributing factor to that by which we become the children of Abraham.  All who are of faith ‘these are the sons of Abraham’ (Galatians 3:7, John Murray)

Ephesians  1:13  declares that after trusting in the finished work of Christ believers are sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.  In circumcision they had a sign in the flesh.  It simply comes to this, “no saving faith, no seal of promise”.  CIRCUMCISION WAS A FAITHLESS ACTION OF THE ONE BEING CIRCUMCISIED.  The same must be said with respect to the baptism of infants.

The Apostle Paul in writing to the Galatian Churches reported that the circumcised ones were debtors to do the whole law.  (Galatians 5:3)  In baptism there is no debt, but rather a declaration that the finished work of Jesus Christ has made the believers “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.”  (Rom. 8:17)

One covenant commands and condemns if not fulfilled perfectly.  The other brings forth the eternal effectiveness in the Divine purpose of redemption.  In fact the three verses in this chapter, Galatians 3: 2-4, draw the sharpest contrast between circumcision and baptism.  Verse 2.  “. . . if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.”  In verse 4, Paul writes, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”  Circumcision was a Law Covenant.  (Genesis.17: 10-14)  There is no grace involved in a covenant of law deeds. 

If it can be thought that circumcision was replaced by baptism one would hardly think the author of the book of Acts would refer to circumcision as a subverting the souls of the believers.  (Acts 15:24)  It cannot be possible that a covenant of grace could be subversive.

That there is no Scriptural reference for baptism coming in the stead of circumcision, and no verses granting the baptism of unbelievers.  The brethren that use this argument find themselves in a rather large dilemma.  They get around this problematic difficulty by the introduction of another non-biblical procedure, that of sponsorial baptism, or, parental faith, or federal relationship.  To reiterate again, there is not one verse of scripture stating any circumstance relative to baptism replacing circumcision.  

Hebrews chapter eight reveals the insufficiency of the first covenant, circumcision being part of that covenant.  “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old.  Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”  (Heb. 8:13)

“Our reformed brethren are in the habit of insisting that baptism has come in the place of circumcision, or that it is the Christian circumcision.  But this is a most groundless figment, for which there is no plausible foundation in the word of God.  Yet the thing is so generally received, that it is taken for granted as a first principle.  To overturn this position nothing more is necessary than to call for its proof.  Colossians 2:11-12, is usually appealed to as giving some countenance to the idea….Let it speak for itself:  “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:  Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”…. If it is circumcision made without hands.  It cannot, then, be baptism; for it is not without hands.  This passage clearly shows us what came in the room of circumcision.  The circumcision made without hands, came in the room of the circumcision made with hands; the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh came in the room of the cutting off the foreskin; the circumcision of Christ came in the room of the circumcision of Moses.  All Christians are circumcised in heart, as all Jewish males were circumcised in the flesh.” (Alexander Carson)

“The infinite difference between the Theocracy and the Christian Church, measured the wide stretch between circumcision and baptism.  Admission into the first was by birthright without choice, the subject being ‘born of blood and of the will of man.’  Men entered the second, by bowing the heart and will to Christ, by the personal abandonment of sin for his sake, and by personal choice of him as their Saviour.”  (Thomas Armitage)

“What takes the place of circumcision is not baptism but regeneration. Circumcision placed the infant male child into the fleshly family of Abraham, whereas regeneration places the believer in the spiritual family of Abraham.  “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham…So they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”  (A.H. Strong)

 “A Christian circumcision is ‘made without hands,’ therefore it cannot be water baptism.  It implies faith, and a putting off of the carnal nature; therefore it cannot be predicated of infants…All the teaching of this passage is in favour of our doctrine, that a soul must be conscious of regeneration before it can ask the privilege of following Christ in His baptism. . . Baptism avowedly sets forth truths in which infants can have no conscious participation.  It implies in its recipient’s faith, repentance, the answer of a good conscience, deliberate acceptance of Christ as Saviour and as an exemplar life.  Surely the inference from these facts more than outweighs the amiable but legalist presumption that the Christian Church is, in outward things, a continuation of the Church of the Old Covenant.”  (T. G. Rooke)

“Circumcision was for Jews only, for males only, and in the Old Testament only; while baptism is for every believer in Christ, whether Jew or Greek, bond or free, male or female (Gal. 3: 28).  Christ made no reference to circumcision.  The council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) said nothing about baptism taking the place of circumcision, and they would have settled the matter if it had been a question.  The meaning of the two ceremonies is totally dissimilar, and any effort to link them is simply a desperate attempt to do away with believer’s burial-baptism.  It is like putting a piece of new cloth upon an old garment, the result of which is a worse-than-useless patchwork (Matt. 9: 16).  If the Word of truth is handled aright no one will mix Judaism with Christianity.”  (Stanley Edwin Anderson)

The major dispute concerning circumcision is not a post reformation debate, it started in the days of the apostles   Albeit very obvious those at this present time who embrace baptism as the replacement of circumcision do not infer that one must be baptized in order to be saved, as did the Jews in the early church with respect to circumcision.  (Acts 15:1)

John the Baptist rejected the covenant of Circumcision to those who came to him to be baptized. The Baptist sought proof of repentance and the fruits thereof.  Natural privilege was not a factor.  “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:  And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father:  for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”  (Matthew 3: 7-9)

Because baptism is the result of saving faith through the effectual working of Christ Jesus, it cannot possibly lend itself to a covenant that in and of its nature is faithless for the infant being circumcised or baptized. 

Let it be settled, that if God commands, believers must obey those commands.  There cannot be addictions or subtractions.  “See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.”   (Hebrews 8: 5)  “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.”  Then the Lord declared the Great Commission and how it was to be administered and to whom it was to be administered.  (Matthew 28: 16-20)

The last part in these articles will be “Household Baptisms.”

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