We have now completed the three chief articles of the common Christian doctrine. Besides these, it remains yet for us to speak of our two Sacraments, instituted by Christ, concerning which every Christian should have at least some general information, since there can be no Christian without them; although, alas! hitherto nothing has been taught concerning them. We shall, in the first place, however, take up the subject of Baptism, through which we are first taken into the community of Christians. But in order that it may be clearly understood, we shall treat it in regular order, and adhere to that alone which is necessary for us to know. For the manner in which it is to be maintained and defended against heretics and factions, we shall commit to the learned.
In the first place, it is above all things necessary to be well acquainted with the words upon which Baptism is founded, and to which may be referred all that is to be said about it, namely, where Christ, the Lord, Matt. 28, 19, says:Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Again, in the last chapter of Mark:He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.
Mark 16, 16.
You should in the first place observe, that in these words the command and institution of God are embraced, so that no one may doubt Baptism to be a divine ordinance, not devised or invented by men. For as I can declare with certainty, that no man has produced the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer out of his own imagination, but God himself has revealed and given them; so I can likewise assert without hesitation, that Baptism is not a human device, but an institution of God himself; and besides, it is earnestly and strictly commanded, that we must permit ourselves to be baptized, or we shall not be saved; lest any one should think it a thing so light as the putting on of a new scarlet garment. For it is of the utmost importance to maintain Baptism in its exalted and invaluable character, for which we mostly strive and contend, since the world is now so full of sects, who exclaim, Baptism is an external thing, and an external thing is useless. But let an external thing be as it may, here stand the word and command of God, however, by which Baptism is instituted and confirmed; and whatever God institutes and commands to be done, can certainly not be a useless thing, but it must be exceedingly precious, even if it were in appearance less than a mite of straw. If the Pope's distributing indulgences with his letters and bulls, or confirming altars or churches by them, could hitherto be esteemed highly, for the sake of the letter only and the seal; on this account we should esteem Baptism much higher and more precious, because God has commanded it, and because it is administered in his name; for thus read the words: Go, and baptize,– not in your name, but in the name of God.
To be baptized in the name of God, is not to be baptized by man, but by God himself. For this reason, even if it is administered through the hand of man, it is nevertheless truly God's own work; hence each one can easily conclude for himself, that it is much more sublime than any work done by a saint or by any other man. For what work can be performed that is greater than the work of God? But here the devil is most carefully occupied in deceiving us with false appearances, and of leading us from the work of God to our own performance. For it seems to be much more splendid and precious if a Carthusian friar performs many great and laborious works, and all of us esteem our own works and merits much more than those of God. But the Scripture teaches, that even if all the works of the monks were collected in a mass, no matter how precious they might appear, they would still not be as noble and good as if God should lift up a mite of straw. Why? Because the person is nobler and better. Now, here we must not estimate the person according to the works, but the works according to the person, from whom they must receive their dignity and value. But human reason will not thus regard Baptism; and because it does not shine like the works which we perform, we imagine it must avail nothing.
Learn, then, from these remarks to form a proper view of this matter, and, to the question, What is Baptism? to reply thus:– It is not merely simple water, but it is water embraced in the word and command of God, and through this it is sanctified, so that it is nothing else but divine water; not that the water in itself is better than other water, but because it is connected with the word and command of God. For this reason, it is nothing but the illusion of the devil, that our innovators at the present day, for the purpose of degrading Baptism, separate from it the word and institution of God, and view but the water which is dipped out of the fountain, and then exclaim with foaming lips:– "How can a handful of water help the soul?" Yes, beloved friend, who does not know that if it is taken by itself, water is water? But how dare you thus commit violence on the order of God, and tear from it the most valuable treasure, with which God has connected it, and which he will by no means have separated from it? For the word or command of God, and the name of God, constitute its essential quality,– a treasure which is greater and nobler than heaven and earth.
In this manner, then, learn to discern that the water of Baptism is quite a different thing from all other water, not on account of the natural substance, but because here something more noble is connected with it. For God himself honors it with his name, and confirms it with his power and authority. For this reason, it is not only natural water, but divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water, for it cannot be extolled to highly, all for the sake of the word, which is a heavenly, holy word, which no one can praise sufficiently; for it possesses all that is God's; hence it receives its essence also, entitling it to the appellation of Sacrament, as St. Augustine also has taught: Accedat verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum; that is, when the word comes to the element or the natural object, it becomes a sacrament, that is, a holy ordinance– a divine testimony.
Therefore, we ever teach that the sacraments and all external things, which God orders and institutes, should be viewed, not according to the gross external forms, as we look upon the hull of a nut, but according to the manner in which the word of God is included in them. For thus we speak in reference also to parents, and civil magistrates. If we view these, merely as having eyes, noses, skin, hair, flesh, and bones, we see that they resemble Turks and heathens; and some one might come, and say: "Why shall I hold these higher in estimation than others?" But since the commandment says: Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, we thus see another person, vested and adorned with the majesty and glory of God. This commandment, I say, is the golden chain which he wears around his neck; yes, the crown upon his head, which shows me how and why I shall honor this flesh and blood.
In like manner and still more should you honor and esteem Baptism, for the sake of the word,– an institution which God himself has honored both with words and deeds, and which he has confirmed, besides, with visible miracles from heaven. For, do you suppose that it was a jest, when Christ permitted himself to be baptized, that the heavens opened, the Holy Ghost descended visibly, and every thing glowed with divine glory and majesty? I therefore again admonish, that the word and the water not be separated. For if the word is separated from the water, it is not different from that used for ordinary purposes, and it may well be styled a common ablution; but when it is connected with the word, as God has ordained it, it is a sacrament, and it is called Christian Baptism. So much concerning the nature and value of this holy sacrament.