Among the many enquiries contained in the letter to sister DuVal, which will be found in this issue, there is one addressed to us, asking how we understand the words of the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:29. “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?”
The grand object and figurative import of Christian baptism is to set forth the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead; and all the saints who have been baptized according to the order and design of that ordinance, have thereby signified their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; and have therefore been baptized for the dead, or to signify their faith and hope which are founded on his death and resurrection.
Secondly, in baptism they signify that they as members of Christ, in his person, met the demands of the law, were “crucified with him,” “buried with him by baptism into death,” were quickened together with him, and raised up together with him, as partakers of his resurrection life and immortality, and are to walk in newness of life.
Thirdly, by their baptism they also show that they have personally and experimentally been slain by the commandment, or law, as was the apostle, when “sin revived and he died,” and raised up from that state of death, darkness and despair, by a revelation made to them by the Spirit of Christ, as their resurrection and life.
Fourthly, the doctrine of the final resurrection and conformation to the perfect likeness of their risen and glorified Savior, and ultimate participation in the reserved glory and happiness of all the saints, is most clearly and beautifully set forth in the ordinance of baptism. In all these respects we understand that the baptized disciples of Christ were all baptized for the dead; and if it were not for the setting forth the doctrine of life from the dead in a resurrection from the one state to the other, baptism would be an unmeaning and useless rite. As a figure it would represent or describe absolutely nothing, and the apostle might well demand, as he has, “Why then are they baptized for the dead?” The apostle Peter informs us in I Peter 3:21 that baptism is a like figure to that of the salvation of Noah and his family in the ark. They were saved from the waters of the deluge, and borne in the ark upon the surface of the waters, passed out of the old antediluvian into the new, or post-diluvian world, as in Christian baptism our death and separation from the elements of this world, and deliverance from the wrath and dominion of the law, and passage thence into the organization, order, fellowship and provisions of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ are set forth, as by the ark, the same element which destroyed the ungodly bore up the ark, and wrought the salvation of those who were in it; it is a figure pointing to the spiritual deliverance and complete salvation of all whom God has shut up in his Ark (the church), who are by what Christian baptism signifies delivered from wrath.
We know of no other sense in which any are baptized for the dead than that which we have alluded to; but in all these particulars, all who were scripturally baptized were and are manifestly baptized for the dead.
The baptism of John, which was unto repentance, in which the subjects of grace among the Jews were formally separated from Judaism, and the ministration of death, by the baptism of repentance, came out of that legal dispensation and were ushered into the life and liberty of the gospel; their baptism set forth a resurrection, or passage from a ministration of death into the gospel, which is the ministration of life. They were therefore, in the sense of the apostles’ words, baptized for the dead, and in rising from their burial of baptism signified a resurrection to newness of life.
The peculiar form of the expression rendered, “Else what shall they do,” is relieved from seeming obscurity by what follows in the verse. “If the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead?” Or to express the same, as if it were written, If the dead rise not, why are persons baptized in a manner describing death, burial and resurrection?
There would be no resemblance of death, burial and resurrection in any of the numerous perversions of this beautiful and expressive ordinance. The apostle connects it with burial, planting, and like illustrations, all of which would be totally lost if sprinkling, pouring, or any other form were substituted for burying. No figure can be changed in form, and retain the same figurative import; and when the Holy Ghost has given a figure, how daringly presumptuous for any to presume to change its form or signification. With as much propriety may we change the words which God has spoken on the plea that there is no special virtue in the words, and other words than such as God has spoken will be equally pleasing to him, as to change an ordinance which he has given both by precept and by example, on the plea that in the opinion of men a little water is as good as a fountain, or unconscious infants as proper subjects as believers.
We judge that no extraordinary amount of sagacity is required to perceive that the alteration of a figure given by divine inspiration would change its analogy to the thing intended to be represented. Sprinkling, pouring, or crossing can by no possibility represent death, burial and resurrection.
As the further inquiries of our sister are addressed to brother Durand, we will leave him to reply as his mind may be led, but we will however say that all those passages in which Christ is spoken of as the first-born, first-begotten from the dead, etc., we understand those Scriptures to speak of his resurrection from the dead. We know of no sense in which he was born of the Spirit except, first, that his conception and birth of the Virgin Mary were produced by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost; and secondly, that having been put to death in the flesh, he was quickened by the Spirit. He was not, like his members, first born of the flesh, and then born again by the quickening operation of the Spirit; for as the Second Adam, he himself is the Quickening Spirit, as he is the Lord from heaven. As the Quickening Spirit he is the progenitor and everlasting Father of all his spiritual seed. And as his Spirit was in the prophets and all the Old Testament saints, they were born of it. He said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Abraham saw his day, and his kingdom was seen by Isaiah, and other prophets and Old Testaments saints.
February 1, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 131 – 133