Remember Your Baptism

Thomas Ridgeley (1667-1734),
Body of Divinity, vol. 4, pp. 230-234.

Q. 167. How is baptism to be improved by us? [1]

A. The needful, but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long; especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others, by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein, by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to the grace of baptism and our engagements, by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament, by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace, and by endeavouring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ, and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit, into one body. [2]

In this answer we may observe:

I. The duty and the neglect of improving our baptism.

I. That our baptism, together with the engagements which we are therein laid under to be the Lord’s, is to be improved by us; though this duty be too much neglected. That it ought to be improved is evident, inasmuch as it is an ordinance, or means of grace, for our attaining spiritual blessings; therefore we are not only guilty of a sinful neglect, but we lose the advantage that might be expected thereby, if we do not improve it so as to answer the valuable end thereof; and when we consider it as a professed dedication to God, as has been before observed, or a bond and obligation laid on us, to be entirely, and for ever, his, it cannot but be reckoned the highest affront offered to the divine Majesty, and a being unsteadfast in his covenant, for us practically to disown the engagement, or, in effect, to deny his right to us. Now, it is farther observed, that this duty is much neglected, and the reason hereof is:

1. Because many have very low thoughts of this ordinance, and understand not the spiritual intent or meaning thereof, nor what it is to improve it. These reckon it no more than an external rite, established by custom, and commonly observed in a Christian nation, without duly weighing the end and design for which it was instituted, or what is signified thereby.

2. Others suppose, that there is nothing in it but a public declaration, that the person baptized is made a Christian, or has that character put upon him; but they know not what it is to be a Christian indeed, being utter strangers to the life and power of religion, and the spiritual blessings hoped for, or, through the grace of God, consequent upon our baptismal dedication.

3. Others have, indeed, right apprehensions of the sign and the thing signified thereby, yet through the prevalency of corruption, and the pride and deceitfulness of their hearts, they do not fiducially give up themselves to God, nor desire the spiritual and saving blessings of the covenant of grace. These therefore do not improve their baptism; and, it is to be feared, that this is the condition and character of the greatest number of professors. Which leads us to consider:

II. How to improve one’s baptism.

II. How baptism is to be improved by us, and that in several cases:

1. At another’s baptism.

1. When we are present at the administration of it to others. We are not, indeed, at that time, so immediately concerned in the ordinance, as the person who is publicly devoted to God therein. Nevertheless, we are not to behave ourselves as unconcerned spectators; and therefore,

(1.) We are to join herein with suitable acts of faith and prayer, as the nature of the ordinance calls for them, and to adore the persons of the Godhead whose name and glory is mentioned therein. And we are to apply ourselves to God, for the grace of the covenant, that is signified thereby, that he would be our God, as well as the God of the person who is particularly given up to him in baptism. We are also to bewail the universal depravity of human nature, and that guilt which we bring with us into the world, which is signified in infant-baptism; and this, together with the habits of sin, which we have contracted, is confessed by those who are baptized when adult, which we cannot but see a great deal of, in our daily experience. We ought also to entertain becoming thoughts of the virtue of the blood of Christ, and of the power of the Holy Ghost, which alone can take away the guilt of sin, and render this ordinance effectual to salvation; which we are not only to desire with respect to the person baptized, but that we ourselves may be made partakers of that grace, which we equally stand in need of.

(2.) We ought to confess before God, with sorrow and shame, how defective we have been, as to the improvement of our baptismal engagements; so that, though we have been devoted to him, our hearts and affections have been very prone to depart from him; and we ought to adore and acknowledge the goodness and faithfulness of God, in that, though we have been unsteadfast in his covenant, through the treachery and deceitfulness of our hearts; yet he has been ever mindful thereof, and made good the promises contained therein, to all his servants who have put their trust in him.

2. In Times of Temptation.

2. Our baptism is to be improved by us in the time of temptation, in order to our resisting it, and preventing our being entangled and overcome thereby.

(1.) If the temptation takes its rise from the world, or we are thereby induced to lay aside, or be remiss in our duty to God, from the prosperous circumstances in which we are therein, we should consider, that in having been devoted to God in our infancy, or given up ourselves professedly to him, when adult, it has been intimated and acknowledged, that he is our portion, better to us than all we can enjoy in the world; and therefore we ought to acquiesce in him as such, and say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee; and there is none, or nothing, upon the earth that I desire besides thee” (Psa. 73:25).

Moreover, if we are tempted to be uneasy, and repine at the providence of God, by reason of the many evils that befall us in the world, we ought to consider, that when we were given up to God, this implied in it an obligation to be content to be at his disposal, and to be satisfied with whatever he allots for us, as not questioning the care and justice of his providence, in which we were under an indispensable obligation to acquiesce. Therefore when God tries us, by bringing us under various afflictions, our baptismal engagement obliges us to say, It is the Lord, let him do with us what seemeth good in his sight.

(2.) If we are exposed to the temptations of Satan, or those inward suggestions, whereby sinful objects are presented to our thoughts, and a false gloss put upon them, to induce us to a compliance therewith, we are to improve our baptismal engagement, by considering that it contains a solemn acknowledgment of God’s right to us, exclusive of all others: therefore, we cannot but dread the thoughts of submitting to be vassals to Satan, which is, in effect, to disown that allegiance which we owe to God, and to say, that other lords shall have dominion over us. This will have a tendency to induce us to adhere steadfastly to God, as the result of our having been devoted to him in this ordinance.

And if we are afraid of being ensnared by those wiles and methods of deceit, which Satan often makes use of, that are not always discerned by us, we are to consider ourselves as having been devoted to Christ; and, pursuant thereunto, if we have, in any instance, improved this solemn transaction, we have given up ourselves to him, in hope of being under his protection, and interested in his intercession, so that though we are “sifted as wheat, our faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32).

Moreover, when we are assaulted, and, as it were, wounded with Satan’s fiery darts, whereby great discouragements are thrown in our way, the guilt of sin magnified, as though it were unpardonable, and the stain and pollution thereof such, as can never be washed away: And when we are ready to conclude from hence, that our state is hopeless, and the comforts we once enjoyed, irrecoverably lost; this is, indeed, an afflictive case. Nevertheless, our baptism is to be improved by us, as considering that remission of sins was the blessing desired and hoped for, inasmuch as it was signified thereby; so that we are to be sensible that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin; and that, as we were given up to him, in hope of obtaining this privilege, and have been enabled since then, to give up ourselves to him by faith, and therein to improve our baptismal engagement; we therefore trust, that he will appear for us, rebuke the adversary, establish our comforts, and enable us to walk as those, who desire to recommend his grace to others, that they may be encouraged to adhere to him, by the comfortable sense which we have of his love shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost.

3. Before and after conversion.

3. Our baptismal engagement is to be improved by us, before and after we are brought into a converted state.

(1.) Unregenerate persons are to improve it, as it should afford them matter of deep humiliation, that though they have been devoted to God, and thereby were called by his name, and made partakers of the external blessings of his covenant; yet they have been alienated from the life of God, and strangers to the internal saving blessings thereof. There was a profession made, in baptism, that they stood in need of Christ’s mediation, to deliver them from the guilt of sin, and of being cleansed from the pollution thereof, which is of a spreading nature; but they have, notwithstanding, given way to it; and, how pure soever they have been “in their own eyes, are not yet washed from their filthiness” (Prov. 30:12). Now such may take occasion from hence to plead earnestly with God for converting grace; which is the only means whereby they may know that he has accepted of their solemn dedication to him; or that they are not only born of water, but of the Spirit; and are made partakers of the thing signified in baptism, without which, the external sign will not afford any saving advantage. We may also plead with God, that as we are professedly his, he would assert his own right to us, overcome us to himself, and make us “willing in the day of his power” (Psa. 110:3).

(2.) Our baptismal engagement is constantly to be improved by us, if we are brought into a state of grace, in order to the growth and increase thereof; especially if we are sensible of great declension therein, or that it is not, in all respects with us, as it once was; if we are sensible of deadness and stupidity, in holy duties, and stand in need of being quickened, excited, and brought into a lively frame of spirit, or to be restored after great back-slidings; if we would have sin mortified, and the secret workings thereof in our heart subdued, we ought to consider, that having been baptized into Jesus Christ, we were baptized into his death; and that we are obliged hereby to “walk in newness of life;” therefore “sin should not reign in our mortal bodies” (Rom. 6:3-4, 12). And as we hope and trust, that we are made partakers of the saving blessings signified in this ordinance, we desire to improve the relation we stand in to Christ, as his people, as a matter of encouragement, that when we are oppressed, he will undertake for us.

If we are destitute of assurance of his love, and our interest in him, we are to improve the consideration of our being his, not only by professed dedication, but by a fiducial adherence to him; this will encourage us to hope that he will enable us to walk holily and comfortably before him, and lift up the light of his countenance upon us, as our reconciled God and Father.

And, in the whole course of our conversation it will be of use, for the promoting the life of faith, which consists in an entire dependence on him, as those who are sensible that we can do nothing without him, to consider, that when we were first devoted to him, it was acknowledged, and from the time, wherein we have been enabled to give up ourselves to him by faith, we have been always sensible that we stand in need of daily supplies of grace from him, as all our springs are in him. Moreover, our baptismal engagement is to be improved, as it is an inducement to us to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness; whereby practical religion will be promoted in all its branches, when we consider that we are not our own, and therefore dare not think of living as we list, or serving divers lusts and pleasures, but that we are obliged to make his revealed will (whose we are, and whom we desire to serve,) the rule of all our actions.

And lastly, we ought to walk in brotherly love, as being “baptized by the Spirit into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). They who are partakers of the saving blessings signified by baptism, have ground to conclude themselves members of Christ’s mystical body, or the invisible church, of which he is the head. This is a spiritual baptism, being the effect of divine power, and the special work of the Holy Ghost; and certainly this will be an inducement to all who are partakers thereof, to walk together in brotherly love, as those who are favoured with the same privileges, and hope to enjoy that complete blessedness, in which they, who are before devoted to Christ, shall be for ever with him.

[1] “By ‘improving’ our baptism, the catechism means using it to good purpose in our daily life; thus it means experiencing its meaning, and working out its implications, in actual life.” (J.G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, p. 480).

[2] Col. 2:11-12; Rom. 6:4, 6, 11; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 1:11-13; Rom. 6:2-3; Rom. 4:11-12; 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:22; Acts 2:38; 1 Cor. 12:13, 25-27.


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