Also, Native Americans make an appearance.
Baptism is the act of immersing or submerging the body in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. It is an ancient custom to which the Lord himself submitted as He sojourned here on earth to fulfill (1) the will of His father and to set us an example worthy of our imitation. How proud the river Jordan must have been to have been allowed to receive into its embracing floods a person as exalted as the Son of God.
This holy and solemn ordinance was presented by John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea as a means for the remission of the sins of the people. A multitude of men and women recognized the correctness of his teaching; they sincerely confessed their sins and afterwards descended into the waters of Jordan by the hand of this strange but holy prophet of God.
Our blessed Lord not only taught the necessity of each person’s submission to this ordinance, but also affirmed it in the most definite terms. His own words are: “If someone is not born again of the water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” And on another occasion, He again said about baptism: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be damned.” Baptism is therefore an important condition for the forgiveness of sins, for our Lord said to the apostle Peter: “Whose sins you forgive, I will also forgive them”; and Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost, and bearing the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, rejoiced greatly to be able to say to the questioning Jews: “Repent and be baptized everyone in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” So if Peter promised the people forgiveness of sins under such conditions, there is no doubt that the Lord forgave them under the same conditions.
We do not want this to be understood as saying that the water alone has the power to cleanse us from the stains of sin. A piece of blank paper alone is by itself of very little value, but if it has received the banker’s stamp, assurance and signature for 500 florins, it is of just the same value. (2) The same is true of water baptism, and according to the Savior’s assurance, we must regard it as a remission of sins, provided that it is performed by a person authorized by God to do so.
We do not baptize anyone unless he has arrived at the age of reason and has recognized for himself that he has sinned against his God. We consider this course of action to be in complete accordance with the content of the Bible; it is only expounded more clearly and exactly in the ancient records of America, of which we have already written at the beginning of this book. That is why we cannot consider baptizing, or rather sprinkling children with water in any other light than as a merely human ordinance or rather a perversion of the ancient practice, which was introduced in the church long ago when the lamp of direct inspiration was extinguished. (3) It seems to me that this modern innovation took into account the convenience of practice more than the word or spirit of the true and living God.
Although this latter manner has long been practiced and has been almost universally introduced, and has even been affirmed by great and learned men, I have read concerning a man greater than all of them that He descended into the River Jordan and there was baptized. It should be noted here that the long practice and universal introduction of an incorrect principle so little sanctifies it or transforms it into a truth as a sin is sanctified through universal practice or transformed into a principle of righteousness before God.
The same earth that we inhabit was first baptized in water to cleanse it from sin and defilement – and one day it will be baptized again, although not with water, but with fire and the Holy Ghost. (4) It will be freed from the consequences of its fall to become a paradise again where the Lord himself will dwell with all the meek when there will be no one to molest or make afraid. Then they will receive the promised inheritance, for: “Blessed are the meek, for they will possess the earth.” The waters of the flood served Noah as a highway that brought him from the ancient world that was doomed to destruction for the sake of its sins and corruption, into a world cleansed and purified from evil upon which Heaven poured out its blessings and gave the promises of sowing and harvest and the time of day and night. While this venerable patriarch and father of a new world was marveling at the scenes around him and contemplating the important and mighty deeds of Jehovah, the triumphal arch appeared in the clouds, resplendent with all the different hues of the rainbow as a good omen and a felicitation for the earth upon its receiving its new monarch.
The apostle Peter says about this: “In the same way, baptism redeems us.” It leads us out of the world and brings us into the kingdom of God, where the promises of eternal life spring up around us and scatter their heavenly fragrances to refresh and strengthen us on our journey through life.
Whenever a person dies, the friends of the deceased immediately prepare to offer him the final service of their benevolence by burying him in the earth. And it is rare for the tears of love to fall upon his grave without being mixed with the hope that he might rise again after death to receive a place of rest in his time, beyond the grave.
So it is with a person who truly believes in Christ and sincerely repents of his sins. He may be considered dead, that is, dead to sin, and the service of friendship that we can offer him afterwards is that we bury him in the water of baptism with the blessed hope that he will not only rise from this watery grave as a new creature, alive in Christ, but that he will also rise from the dead on the day of the resurrection of the just, to be received with them into the heavenly paradise, where he will forever enjoy the fruits of his obedience to the decrees of Heaven.
A few years ago some American missionaries, who were stationed among our Western Indians to instruct and civilize them if possible, undertook to translate a certain part of the New Testament into their language.(5) Several Indians believed in it, as a consequence of which the priests suggested to them that they be should baptized. The necessary arrangements were made accordingly, and a basin with water was procured. As soon as the Indians saw it, they asked, Why is this water here? The priest answered: To baptize you with it. What! said the poor Indians, Are you intending to put us into this basin? Oh no! answered the ministering priest, I just want to sprinkle you with it. Immediately the Indians went and got the same translation from the scriptures and said to the priest: “Then you have given us the wrong book, because this one here says that we must be buried with Christ in baptism.”
I have added this anecdote here only to show the impression the scriptures made on the unprejudiced spirit of these native-born sons of the forest. And in consequence of the numerous examples recorded in the scriptures where the ancient Christians gathered in droves on the banks of the river to practice this sacred custom, and went to where there was much water and then descended and were buried in the water – I cannot understand how people who have read their Bible come to a different conclusion regarding this topic than to the one the poor Indians came to. St. Paul said (Rom. 6:4-5): “For we are buried with him through baptism to death, so that, just as Christ rose from the dead, through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in a new life.”
“If we are planted together (with him) in resemblance of his death, we will also be so in resemblance of the resurrection.”
* * *
(1) Folsom (13) calls vollfüllen and its derivatives a mistake motivated by English fulfill instead of erfüllen. But the word and its derivatives are in fact found in nineteenth-century German sources.
(2) Hyde seems entirely unconcerned with the gold standard.
(3) This is a stark view of the Great Apostasy, but may not have been unusual.
(4) I’m familiar with the first part of this comparison, but I don’t recall previously seeing the end of the world compared to a baptism with fire, although I suspect it isn’t original to Hyde.