Friday, June 5, 2015

As many of you as have been baptized...

From John Calvin's commentary on Galatians 3:27. 

"The greater and loftier the privilege is of being the children of God, the farther is it removed from our senses, and the more difficult to obtain belief. He therefore explains, in a few words, what is implied in our being united, or rather, made one with the Son of God; so as to remove all doubt, that what belongs to him is communicated to us. He employs the metaphor of a garment, when he says that the Galatians have put on Christ; but he means that they are so closely united to him, that, in the presence of God, they bear the name and character of Christ, and are viewed in him rather than in themselves. This metaphor or similitude, taken from garments, occurs frequently, and has been treated by us in other places.

"But the argument, that, because they have been baptized, they have put on Christ, appears weak; for how far is baptism from being efficacious in all? Is it reasonable that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be so closely linked to an external symbol? Does not the uniform doctrine of Scripture, as well as experience, appear to confute this statement? I answer, it is customary with Paul to treat of the sacraments in two points of view. When he is dealing with hypocrites, in whom the mere symbol awakens pride, he then proclaims loudly the emptiness and worthlessness of the outward symbol, and denounces, in strong terms, their foolish confidence. In such cases he contemplates not the ordinance of God, but the corruption of wicked men. When, on the other hand, he addresses believers, who make a proper use of the symbols, he then views them in connection with the truth -- which they represent. In this case, he makes no boast of any false splendor as belonging to the sacraments, but calls our attention to the actual fact represented by the outward ceremony. Thus, agreeably to the Divine appointment, the truth comes to be associated with the symbols.

"But perhaps some person will ask, Is it then possible that, through the fault of men, a sacrament shall cease to bear a figurative meaning? The reply is easy. Though wicked men may derive no advantage from the sacraments, they still retain undiminished their nature and force. The sacraments present, both to good and to bad men, the grace of God. No falsehood attaches to the promises which they exhibit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Believers receive what is offered; and if wicked men, by rejecting it, render the offer unprofitable to themselves, their conduct cannot destroy the faithfulness of God, or the true meaning of the sacrament. With strict propriety, then, does Paul, in addressing believers, say, that when they were baptized, they "put on Christ;" just as, in the Epistle to the Romans, he says,
"that we have been planted together into his death, so as to be also partakers of his resurrection."(Romans 6:5.)
"In this way, the symbol and the Divine operation are kept distinct, and yet the meaning of the sacraments is manifest; so that they cannot be regarded as empty and trivial exhibitions; and we are reminded with what base ingratitude they are chargeable, who, by abusing the precious ordinances of God, not only render them unprofitable to themselves, but turn them to their own destruction!"


  1. begs the question---is "baptism into the death" the "external symbol"? If Galatians 3:27 is not talking about any "external symbol" (and this should not be assumed, for there is no need for us to claim continuity with some "catholic church" which we need to 'reform"), then there is no need at all to find any connection between 'external symbol" and God's agency in joining us to Christ's death and to Christ's body.

    5 But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

    There is absolutely no reason to think that an "external symbol" has baptized us into Christ. And there is no reason to think that, now that faith has come, we are still in the same covenant that commanded circumcision. Instead of telling the Galatians that the "external symbol" of circumcision had been fulfilled (and also brought to an end) by another "external symbol", Paul in Galatians point to fulfillment in Christ's death, the external bloody satisfaction which has now happened (once for all time) in redemptive history.

  2. "union between sign and the thing signified" is not in the Galatians 3 text, or the Romans 6 or the I Peter 3. And even though the gift of the Holy Spirit shows up in Galatians, the specific verses are not at all talking about the Spirit putting us into Christ, or even about Christ giving the Spirit. Those God has baptized into Christ "have put on Christ like a garment". In Christ, in His death....

  3. Mark, I don't understand your concern re: Gal. 3:27. You seem to be saying in a literalist's way that if a verse doesn't specifically say something or use a certain word then any valid inferences drawn from previously taught truths cannot be understood as applicable.

    Does Christ operate separately or unrelatedly from the Holy Spirit? Does God (the Father) operate independently from the Holy Spirit? If the Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned in a verse concerning the work of God or Christ does that mean the Spirit is uninvolved, sitting off somewhere on the sidelines? A mystery -

    "but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."

    I know you're saying that you are rightly reading the verses as presented and I'm not, and yet I can't help but think your underlying objections have to do mainly with debunking what you understand as the Reformed doctrine of baptism (which I'm not sure you do get but I don't want to argue that). I think I understand your objections but maybe I'm missing something. I think a strict reading which allows 'baptism' to refer to water baptism only if the word water is present is an overly literal approach to Scripture. Now maybe that isn't how you're approaching it but that is how I hear your argument. And I would say that in many if not most cases 'baptism' is used as a synecdoche, the water signifying or pointing to God's saving work in Christ to those who believe.

    Let me say the physical act of water baptism in and of itself effects nothing. Yet God has attached to that ordinance his gospel in some real way, so much so that Peter can say to the Pentecost crowd whose hearts have been pricked with his message:

    "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

    Baptism, Christ, the Holy Spirit...

    Peter is referring to water baptism. And yet the water doesn't save. Water doesn't give the Holy Spirit. Faith in Christ as presented in the gospel saves. Yet Peter doesn't say repent and believe (which he could have and does in other places), but he says 'repent and be baptized." Water baptism is linked closely to the promise of salvation in the gospel in some significant way or this passage doesn't make sense. Of course you could say Peter is talking about only a spiritual baptism, yet Luke writes a few verses later that the new converts were baptized which only makes sense as water-baptism pointing back to Peter's original call to repent and be baptized:

    "41 They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls."