In the third place, since we perceive the great benefit and efficacy of Baptism, let us proceed to inquire who is the person that receives the gifts and benefits of Baptism; and this is also most beautifully and clearly expressed even in these words: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." That is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive this heavenly, sacred water beneficially. For since this blessing is proffered and promised here in the words, by and with the water, it cannot be received otherwise than by our believing it from our hearts. Without faith Baptism is of no benefit, although in itself it is a divine, inestimable treasure. Upon these few words,– He that believeth,– so much therefore depends, that they exclude and reject all works which we can do with a view to merit and obtain salvation through them. For it is irrevocably decreed, that whatever is not faith, profits nothing in obtaining salvation, nor can it receive any blessing.
But if they exclaim, as they are accustomed to do: "Baptism itself is a work, and you say works are of no consequence in obtaining salvation, wherein then does faith consist?" Reply:– Yes, it is true, our works do nothing towards salvation; but Baptism is not our work, it is the work of God; (for you must, as already said, draw a wide line of distinction between the Christian baptism and common ablution;) but the works of God are salutary and essential to salvation, not excluding, but requiring faith; for without faith we could not comprehend them. For, by permitting the water to be poured over you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner as to benefit you; but it becomes of saving effect to you, if you permit yourself to be baptized under the persuasion that it is according to the order and command of God, and besides, receive it in his name, so that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, neither the hand nor the body and do this, but the heart must believe. Thus you perceive clearly, that here there is no work performed by us, but a treasure received which God gives us, and which faith apprehends; even as Christ the Lord on the Cross is not a work, but a treasure included in the word, and presented to us through it, and received through faith. Therefore, they do us injustice, who cry out against us that we preach in opposition to faith, when at the same time we insist upon it alone, as being so essentially necessary, that without it we can neither receive nor enjoy any thing whatever.
Thus we have the three parts, which are necessary to be known concerning this sacrament, especially that God's ordinance is to be held in all due honor, which alone would be sufficient to move us to its observance, even if it were wholly an external thing; just as the commandment, Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother– referring only to external flesh and blood, and which we observe not in consideration of this flesh and blood, but with reference to the commandment in which they are included, and for the sake of which this flesh is called father and mother. Thus in like manner, even if we had nothing more than these words: Go and baptize, &c., we should even then accept it, and do as the order of God directs. Now, here we have not only the command and precept of God, but also the promise; for which reason Baptism is far more excellent than that which God has commanded and ordered at other places. In a word, it is so full of consolation and grace, that heaven and earth are unable to reach its sublimity. But this requires an active faith, in order to believe it to be true,– not that the treasure is inadequate, but that we are deficient in embracing and retaining it.
Every Christian, therefore, has enough to learn and to practice in Baptism during his life; for he must ever exert himself to maintain a firm faith in what it promises and brings him, namely, triumph over the devil and death, the remission of sins, the grace of God, Christ with all his works, and the Holy Ghost with all his gifts. In short, the blessings of Baptism are so great, that if feeble nature could but comprehend them we might justly doubt their reality. For, imagine to yourself a physician, who possessed an art preventing persons from dying; or, even if they died, immediately restoring them to life so as to live eternally afterwards, how the world would rush and flock around him with money, while the poor, prevented by the rich, could not approach him! And yet here in Baptism, every one has such a treasure and medicine gratuitously brought to his door– a medicine which abolishes death, and preserves all men to eternal life.
Thus we should view Baptism, and appropriate it to ourselves, so that by it we may strengthen and console ourselves when our sins or our consciences oppress us, and say: "I am, nevertheless, baptized, and if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved, and that I shall have eternal life, both in soul and body." For it is on this account that Bpatism embraces these two things– the application of water, and the pronunciation of words which are apprehended by the soul. Now, since both water and word constitute one baptism, it follows that both body and soul must also be saved, and live eternally: the soul through the word, in which it believes; the body, however, because it is united with the soul, and also apprehends Baptism as it is able to apprehend it. For this reason, we have nothing more precious in our bodies and souls; for through Baptism we become holy and happy,– a condition which otherwise no course of life, no works on earth, can attain.
Let this suffice, then, with respect to the nature, benefit, and use of Baptism, it being considered at sufficient length for the present occasion.