This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!

Unbreakable

A book review by Stuart Brogden

If there is one foundational problem within the professing body of believers it is too low a view of God, compounded with the attending view of man which is too high. The theme of almighty God, and the implications that biblical truth has for the salvation and preservation of sinful men is woven throughout this book by Bela C. Strickland. This brother has written about the golden chain of redemption found in Romans 8:28-30, a chain that was fashioned in the blood of Christ and gives comfort to those who have been purchased by the Lamb.

Unbreakable is divided into 7 chapters which are gathered into 2 parts; plus a conclusion that takes us through verse 39. Bela’s main concern is that those who profess Christ rightly understand Who saves who so God gets the glory and the saints gain confidence in Him.

Chapter 1 is titled, We Must Know. If there is truth about how a sinner is reconciled to holy God, we need to know it! For us to have sure footing as in Psalms 18:33, we must have the right view of Scripture. Bela tells us, “To find such solid footing in the truth of God’s Word, even while the ground is shifting under our feet, we need to avoid slipping into two unhealthy, unbiblical extremes: to obsess over what we can’t know about God, or to be apathetic about what we can know about God.” (page 10) To know the Word rightly takes work. The Spirit of God gives understanding to those who seek earnestly. We cannot live the Christian life on auto-pilot. What we must know is God Himself; such knowledge comes through the Word by the Spirit.

What We Do Know is the second chapter, with verse 28 as the focus. Our author points out a very important but often misunderstood aspect of this verse: “Paul doesn’t say that God causes all thing for good.” (page 19) The passage says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God.” This is not a promise to all, but only those “who love God and are called, according to His purpose.” Bela wisely counsels that this truth must be present in the minds and lives of the saints, especially in bad times. God will cause the worst thing you face to work out for good, if you are His child – trusting the faithful One to do what He has promised is a safe place, even if your world is crumbling. In our current day of hysteria, this is truth we must cling to.

Chapter 3 begins with verse 29, which opens with a statement that can only be rightly interpreted one way. God foreknew a people; it doesn’t say He foreknew everyone or things about them. Note this: in every instance in the New Testament where God’s foreknowledge is mentioned, it is a people, not events, that He foreknew. This knowledge is a personal, intimate knowledge as between a husband and wife; not the mere awareness of the existence of anyone. Certainly God knows about everyone and all that we think, say, and do; but He foreknew only some.

And those He foreknew, He predestined (chapter 4). Bela notes that many think God predestines people according to what He sees them doing or choosing during their lives. But the word, predestine, does not allow God to be influenced by history or the future; neither does His nature permit it. If God’s choosing of sinners for salvation was based on any part of the creature’s doing or choosing, the creature would be the one in charge! Strickland cites Psalm 139:16 in support of his view – God wrote in His book all the days He had ordained before David was conceived! If God is sovereign, the creature does not determine if or when he gets reconciled to God.

On page 46, Bela twice declares that the righteousness of God which is imputed to the elect is also “infused into” them, saying “We stand before God and live for God, in Christ, positionally being declared righteous and practically being made righteous.” I do agree that the Spirit works in us to sanctify us as we walk with the Lord, but I struggle with the concept of righteousness being infused to us – our flesh will not be made righteous in any degree until Jesus returns and we are glorified – our new bodies will be righteous. For now, our souls (which includes our minds) are being renewed daily and this the work of the Spirit.

In chapter 5, Bela reviews the call of God on those being saved (verse 30). He points out (page 51) how so many wrongly herald John 3:16 as a universalist passage, but he misses the opportunity to show the correct language behind the Greek, as the KJV is misunderstood and many translations use the KJV phrasing because it’s familiar to the reader – not because it’s accurate. In a nut-shell, John 3:16 reads more accurately like this: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, and all who are believing on Him will not perish but have life eternal.” The Greek work behind “so” is an adverb (as in John 3:14), not an adjective; it describes the manner in which something was done, not the degree or magnitude of the action. The English word “whosoever” has no Greek equivalent. The phrase in Greek is “the believing ones.” Lastly, as Bela points out, “whosoever” does not convey ability, it merely identifies a group. He later declares, rightly, “that Jesus died for people in spite of their hatred, not in response to their love.” (page 53), citing parts of Romans 5 as evidence.

Strickland (page 58) makes an assertion that “only the New American Standard Bible and the New King James Version bring through in translation” a nuance Paul intended us to grasp. Bela says only those two translations specify “those whom [God] foreknew, He also predestined,” rightly observing that only those specific people among the masses were called. A review of translations shows the vast majority of them bring out what Bela wants us to see. It makes no sense to me to call out two translations as unique when a) the NASB specifies “those whom” while the NKJV does not include “those,” and b) the NIV, ESV, CSB, Berean Literal, NET, and others agree with the specific emphasis our author wants us to see.

Bela properly brings lots of Scripture to bear in this chapter, to make sure his readers get the message: God calls men to salvation; man can do nothing to influence this.

Justification is covered in chapter 6 and while Bela and I are in agreement here (and throughout this book), I think he brings some confusion into the topic. Again, our brother emphasizes man’s inability at do anything that can reconcile him to God. When he gets into describing the sin that afflicts mankind, Bela says, “Sin is the rebellious breaking of God’s Law” – but he give no citation for this. To break a law of God is sin, even if it’s done in ignorance. But the definition of sin is not given in Scripture as the breaking of God’s Law, rebellious or not. Many run to 1 John 3:4, which does not state, “Whoever commits sin transgresses the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” It says, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” There is no reference to ‘Law’ or “transgressions’ in that verse – it was added by the Geneva Bible translators, and other translations (KJV, Jubilee 2000, American KJV) simply followed suit. The NIV, New KJV, ESV, Berean Literal, NASB, CSB, NET, NAS1977, ASV, ERV, Young’s Literal all agree: sin is lawlessness. That’s the biblical definition.

Bela’s case is further complicated in that in none of his references to “God’s Law” does he tell us what law he means. One more ambiguous mention of Law (capitalized in the book), page 82. “Having been justified, we can now live out His Law, rather than living without His Law.” Again, which law? There are many laws in Scripture that God gave to man at various times, to people in different covenants. Knowing which laws are for the saints in the New Covenant is critical, as people are just as willing today as they were in the first century to put the heavy yoke of Moses’ law on the backs of the saints.

The main point of this chapter is found on page 79; speaking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:20: “His point was to stress the hopelessness of external self-righteousness for entry into God’s kingdom, as well as the hope of exceeding, surpassing, righteousness for entry God’s kingdom, which they could have.” If they were given ears to hear, faith to believe, that righteousness would be theirs. This is the message of the Kingdom: God predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies.

The last chapter, 7, focuses on glorification. In this part of the book, our dear brother shines the light on Christ, contrasting the Christian’s hope with the hopelessness of other, false religions. “If you are jealous for the glory of God, that statement (“and these whom He justified, He also glorified”) should give you pause, especially in the awareness of so much man-exalting, God-diminishing doctrine.” AMEN! Contrary to those who lift up man with emotionally stimulating talks, Christians ought to see things differently: “So, with the statement that the effect of Christ’s resurrection and the end of all Christ’s redemptive work is the glorification of fallen man (and, primarily, I would add, the glorification of God Himself), you should expect a very careful, biblical, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting explanation.” AMEN!

“The hope of being raise by God comes only with the hope of being right with God. This hope of glory is only for those from whom He has removed the guilt of sin – these whom He has made perfectly righteous with the perfect righteousness of His Son – these whom He has made perfectly right with Himself, as His Son is perfectly right with Him.” This is the truth! Our union with Christ means EVERYTHING! There is no hope apart from Him; there is only sure hope if joined with Him.

Bela’s closing encourages the reader to stay focused on Christ and the truth recorded in Scripture. “There is no guarantee that you will always feel firm.” (page 117) We cannot trust our emotions or feelings – Jesus is trustworthy, He is worthy of our devotion, worship, and service. “When discouragement is threatening to crush your spirit, you must take courage in the truth of what Jesus has done for you and given to you.” (page 118) On that note, we close – thankful for the work our brother has done in this book to encourage and equip us to do just that.

Ill News From New England

History has not been kind to those who refuse to submit to a state-church. Even in this country, the USA, this monstrosity of a state-church ran roughshod over those who would not bow the knee.

In colonial America, three Baptists were arrested for speaking about their doctrine over supper at a boarding house near Boston. John Clark wrote his book, Ill News From New England in the mid-17th century. An edition with updated English (shorter sentences and paragraphs, word changes) is now available in paper and digital format.

You can read more at the following Amazon Link.

Uniquely Holy

Before the Throne

A review by Stuart Brogden

The subtitle of this book is Reflections on God’s Holiness. Allen Nelson takes us a quick-paced tour of different aspects of God’s holiness, grounded in two passages from God’s Word: Isaiah 6:1-7 and Revelation 4:5-11. One recurring theme is the remedy for what ails the saints and their local fellowships is found in the proper view of the Lord Jesus, not in “new methods” that fleshly ears and eyes always demand. The bottom line is that satisfaction for the soul of man can only be had on the person of Christ Jesus, not in entertainment with a wrapping of pious words from a speaker who presents Creator and Judge of all flesh as familiar spirit that only wants to make people feel good.

God is holy – He does not merely behave holy. His holiness – being set apart from creation, being complete and perfect in His being – defines Him. Twelve chapters explore God’s undoubtable, unspeakable, untamable, unchanging, unapproachable  – and more! – holiness. Our author labors to help us see God as He is: glorious, pure, complete, just, joyful, compassionate, and AWESOME.

Reader – if you are a believer bored or disaffected with your Savior, you are a self-contradiction! Nobody who even partially comprehends Who saves sinners and what sin is cannot be bored or disaffected with the One Who took the cup of wrath due us. Nelson’s book is a ready remedy for dull eyes, weary ears, sullen souls; our author bids us to see Christ more clearly, to behold His glory and be joyfully satisfied in Him.

In the opening chapter, Allen impresses upon us the importance of knowing God rightly, telling us, “When we fail to take seriously the holiness of God it affects everything in our lives. God is holy. Theology matters.” (page 21) Building on the words of Peter, who tells us in 2 Peter 3:18 to be growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, Nelson reminds us “We are still growing in our knowledge of who He is and we will do so for eternity.” He goes on to say, “I want you to hunger to know God better than you do now.” And, “We can’t understand God in an absolute way (He is infinite and we are finite). However, we can (and must) learn what He tells us about Himself in His Holy Bible.” (page 26). This idea is critical for everyone who names the name of Christ – satisfied with being in Him, never satisfied with our maturity as saints.

How should the holiness of God affect us? Our author has this: “The overwhelming concept of God’s holiness ought to lay a heavy weight on our souls. If you can meditate upon the unfathomable holiness of God without any occasions of fear and trembling in your core being, perhaps you’ve not understood it sufficiently.” (page 42). Recall the message from 2 Peter 3:18, and what he said in 2 Peter 1:12, that he intended to always remind us of what it means to be in Christ. Allen is a good friend, reminding us of something critical to our maturing in the Lord, pressing God’s truth upon us so that the reader will not easily be able to be self-satisfied. Contemplating on the response of Isaiah to seeing a vision of God’s holiness in chapter 6 of that gospel, Nelson observes, “The gospel changes “woe is me” to “worthy are You” because the penalty for transgressing God’s Holy Law has been atoned for in Christ. … Reflecting on God’s untamable holiness should ultimately drive us to Christ.” (pages 60 & 61) In a footnote on page 61 he says, “We can either distance ourselves from God through Moses, or draw near to God through Christ.” Works of the law take many forms, most of which are not directly connected to Moses or the law given through him to national Israel. The only way for a sinner to be reconciled to holy God is, as Allen quoted, to “draw near [to God through Christ] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)

In chapter 5, Nelson explores how this characteristic of God ought to inform and shape our corporate worship. This is one of my favorite parts of this excellent work. While we should be thankful for skilled musicians and singers (being careful, in my opinion, that they do not overwhelm the congregation), Nelson implores us “to listen to an important truth from the passages we’ve seen above [in this section] about facilitating worship: get out of the way.” He bids us to be intentional “in singing hymns that glorify Him instead of focusing on our own experience. We must gear all facets of our singing – words, style, arrangement and content – toward magnifying the unmatchable holiness of God. Holy, holy, holy.” (page 89) Elders should oversee the musical portion of worship as well as the preaching – the people will benefit when the songs are theologically aligned with the sermon.

As for the preaching, Nelson says, “Show me the Holy, and He will suffice. Show me His worthiness in His Word. Show me how His holiness permeates the universe and is glorious enough to exact unceasing praise from all creation. You are not a match for the holiness of God. It’s wicked and foolish to attempt to be. Step out of the way by pointing us to a Holy God and the work of Christ.”(page 92) Application of a passage has its place – and it’s important. But application without the glorious weight of the holiness of God in Christ being held up is a way to legalism. “The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if the surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.” (page 94, quoting John Piper)

Beholding the Lord in spirit and truth (only spiritual being can see Him as He is) transforms us. “We become like what we behold. Let us then behold the Lord and not you.” (page 95, speaking to the preacher). “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This is the drumbeat of this book: study to know Him; be bold in proclaiming Him; trust Him; exalt Him; hide behind Him. For YHWH alone is holy, all powerful, self-existent, and worthy of all praise, honor, and dominion. Whether in your personal walk, evangelism, or ministry in the local fellowship – Jesus is sufficient and nothing else will do.

Pick up this book and read. It will do your soul much good.

History of the Sabbath

Published in 1636, Peter Heylyn’s The history of the Sabbath: in two bookes details how man’s religion re-skinned the Jewish Sabbath and called it a Christian ordinance. I have edited it to modernize the English and eliminate most of the Latin in an attempt to make this work available and accessible to 21st century readers.

From the dawning of the New Covenant, Christians have struggled over how the Old Covenant Scriptures are to be applied to the lives of the saints. Acts 15 is one of several records showing how some Christians thought the Mosaic Covenant applied to Christians, claiming saints must be circumcised and follow the law of Moses (Acts 15:1 & 5). Peter rebuked these brothers, observing that the Mosaic Law (which was the centerpiece of the Old Covenant) was a yoke too heavy for man to bear and requiring this was putting God to the test (verse 10).  Jesus said His yoke was easy, that He would carry the burden of His sheep (Matt 11:30) and John tells us, This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden (1 John 5:2-3).

Despite this clear teaching, over time, many Christians began to teach that Christians must be “baptized” as infants and obey the law of Moses – specifically the 4th Word of the Decalogue.

Heylyn’s book shows the historical development of this Christian Sabbatarian practice and how those who taught this practiced it. We see the common tale of those who say, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Paul taught against this (Romans 2:21); it ought not be so within the body of Christ!

I pray this old booke helps open the eyes of those who are trying to carry a heavy yoke or burden other saints with such teaching. In paper and Kindle formats.

The Life and Theology of Paul

The Life and Theology of Paul

A review by Stuart Brogden

I was intrigued when I saw this book come available for review. I’ve reviewed this author’s commentary on Acts and was eager to see how he addressed Paul. This book will not disappoint the reader who truly wants to know the theology of Paul, which is to say, the theology of the Bible.  

Guy Water’s has organized this book into 12 chapters, covering Paul’s conversion and calling by God, his view of sin, justification, sanctification, the church, and the end of the age. In the introduction, Waters points out that Paul’s life stands as “a testimony to the gospel that he preached” – even while acknowledging what we can know about Paul’s life is found only in the Bible. But considering how much of the Bible Paul wrote, and what Luke wrote about him, we have more than enough material (inspired by God!) to know Paul very well. In summing up a nice, concise review of Paul’s life, our author tells us of two ways his life is still fundamental in the life of the church today. First, God prepared Paul “from the womb to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles.”” (page 10). We should consider our own lives as having been worked out by God for use to His people, trusting Him when we are not sure of our path. Secondly, although he was dramatically converted, the man was not transformed into someone else. Since God had prepared Saul for his role, it would overthrow all that preparation if the result was a different man. God’s preparation leads to His plans being fulfilled. When we look at ourselves, we should look unto the Lord, knowing He is faithful and trustworthy to equip us and keep us.

In his review of Saul’s conversion, Waters observes (page 15), “Saul, then, would serve as a pattern or model of what Jesus Christ would do in the lives of men and women who hear Saul’s witness to Christ.” He notes that not all who hear the gospel are saved, but that those who are saved are saved in the way Saul was. I’ve made note of this myself in much the same way and think people who claim man plays a role in his own conversion would benefit from chapter 2 and the biblical evidence our author marshals.

It has been said that the basis of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification. Waters quotes Martin Luther: “If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.” (page 49) Without a clear understanding of Who saves whom – and from Whom – the Christian will tend to drift into thinking too highly of self too lowly of Christ. Waters’ two chapters on justification follow his two chapters on sin. And following justification, we have three chapters on sanctification. I have been severely grieved of late by the number of Christians I’ve encountered who consider sanctification a one-time thing that is finished upon redemption. While I disagree with Waters on his interpretation of the man in Romans 7, his teaching in these chapters is very good and concludes on the high note that the “Christian life is one of unceasing dependence upon Christ” (page 89) and “Our ultimate good is our glorification in and with Christ.” (page 99). If we keep these biblical truths in front of us, we will do well.

Since justification is the hinge point of our faith, I think it best if we make sure we understand it. Waters quotes Romans 3:21, reminding us that “Paul has labored to argue that sinners lack the righteousness that God requires of human beings. Now, for the first time in this letter, Paul begins to describe the righteousness that God has accomplished in Christ and that He freely gives in the gospel to sinners (see Rom. 1:16-17)” (page 50). He then tell us of three important words used by Paul to define and describe this gift of righteousness: redemption, propitiation, and justification.

Redemption, we are told, has a rich history in the biblical story. In Exodus 6:6 and 2 Sam 7:23 God describes “His deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt” with this word. “In Isaiah’s prophecy, God often speaks of Himself as the Redeemer of His people,” (page 50) laying the foundation that God is the initiator and author of man’s redemption. To redeem mean to buy back something, such as a slave, by paying a ransom. In redeeming sinners, Christ Jesus has purchased us from the slave market of sin; the purchase price was His life. Waters points out that Paul connects our redemption to the shedding of Jesus’ blood in Eph 1:7.

Secondly, propitiation “is the turning aside or averting of wrath.” (page 51) Our author declares, “those for whom Jesus died have not only had their sins atoned for, but they have also had the Father’s wrath averted from them. Jesus has turned aside the wrath of God from His people because He exhaustively bore the wrath of God on their behalf at the cross.” (page 51) It has been well said that we are saved from God by God. Those who are perishing will not be separated from God in the complete sense – only as regards His benevolence. They will be personally experiencing His unending wrath for eternity as their sinful human frame is unable to atone for their sin against an infinitely holy God. This is why Paul wrote that “there is, therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1) – God’s wrath was satisfied in the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no wrath left, no sin debt unpaid, for those who are in Christ!

Regarding justification, Waters warns us about some who claim “justification carries the idea of inward transformation” (page 52), as the Roman Catholic Church does. To Paul we go to find out his view, as we see it as something brought to us once as a gift, and the alternative to condemnation (Rom 5:16; 8:33-34). “The opposite of justification is condemnation. This … confirms justification as a strictly forensic (that is, courtroom) reality.” (page 52) Justification, he says, “has in view two inseparable realities.” (page 52) Firstly, Rom 4:7-8 teaches that forgiveness is complete, none of the sins of the saints are unforgiven, as if the blood of Christ was not sufficient. Secondly, we are declared righteous. “In Justification, God does not clear our account of debt to Him and tell us to start over and do better this time. We are, rather, counted as righteous for Christ’s sake.” (page 53) This is a status that cannot be over turned – not by man, devil or God.

One point of strong disagreement I have with Waters comes to us on page 55 where read that the righteousness of Christ is “offered in the gospel and may be refused (see Rom. 9:30-10:4)” Nowhere in the Bible is the gospel an offer, something that can be refused. When a sovereign says, Come!, that is a command of a superior to an inferior, not a request. The grace that saves is a gift from God, but not a gift that CAN be refused. A proper understanding of redemption reveals that man is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and THEN given the faith needed to receive the grace to believe. John 6:44 sums up the actions and sequence: John 6:44 (HCSB) No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. Note the first act – God draws, or drags, the person who is dead in sins (Eph 2:1-2) to Himself. Everything else, though it cannot be disconnected from this, follows it. Being regenerated, the sinner now wants God where he was unable to before. No one being so changed would be able to refuse God, just as one not changed is not able to want God nor discern spiritual things (John 8:43; 1 Cor 2:15). Further, nothing in the Scripture noted by Waters (Rom 9:30 – 10:4) supports his assertion that sinners are offered salvation and can refuse that offer.

Wanting to finish this review on a positive note, overall Waters does very good, indeed. His third chapter on justification rests on our “union with Christ.” The bond we saints have with Christ Jesus is essential to our salvation and our standing with God. He rightly asserts, “if we are in Christ, this relationship and all that it carries are due entirely to the gracious initiative of God. … Our unity rests on nothing in ourselves, but entirely on our Savior and what He has done to rescue us from sin and death and bring us to eternal life.” (page 68) Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us just as our sin has been imputed to Christ. We have no righteousness or merit of our own; if not joined to Christ we have no hope. But we who are in Christ have security, we “have a certain glorious future and, therefore, hope for the present.” (page 68)

Reader – pick up this book and read. Your soul be edified.

Heroes of Courage

Many of our readers are parents or grandparents, and you understand that it is not easy to find reading material that exalts the Lord Jesus Christ. This is especially true of fiction type books.

For the last 4 years, I have been working on a set of stories that bring honor and glory to Christ alone. My goal is not to make a bunch of money with this project, but to use it to help provide good books as well as to provide additional funds for the work in Liberia, West Africa.

With that in mind, I am pleased to offer the first book in the “Heroes” series entitled, “Heroes of Courage.” This will soon be followed with “Heroes of Faith” and “Heroes of Hope.”

If you operate a small church-owned book table, are part of a homeschooling group or small group, etc. and would like a better rate than available through Amazon.com or CreateSpace.com, then please contact me directly and we can discuss a special pricing discount.

The Significance of Baptism

The following is from chapter 2 of my book, Captive to the Word of God, a Baptist look at theology and life in the local church. This is the last section on baptism.

The Significance. What does baptism mean? This is the reason we cannot compromise on the previous points, demands the most from our attention, and requires a redeemed mind to properly comprehend. The main reason baptism is given in Scripture is to point to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He said of His baptism I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50) By this, Jesus was not referring to John’s baptism of Him in the Jordan, though that is a type and shadow of the spiritual truth of what Jesus speaks of in Luke 12. The Lord’s true baptism was His punishment on the tree for our sins. This baptism is what caused the Lord of glory to be in great distress. Thinking forward to His punishment on the cross, suffering the spiritual punishment due us for our sins; this is what caused the King of kings to sweat drops of blood in the garden. No mortal man can stand where Jesus did, cursed by God for the sins of others. He laid His life down for us, knowing He would pick it back up again. Death could not contain Him, for Jesus, unlike the priests of Moses’ time, had no sin of His own. He saw beyond the cross to His glorification, knowing His Father was faithful and would vindicate His death by raising Him up to a glory surpassing that which He had from eternity past. His resurrection is what gives us the hope to not grow weary in well doing (1 Cor 15:20-28). When we baptize believers, we read from Romans 6:4, We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. This gives us a picture of what has been done (spiritually) to us, that as the Lord Jesus was put to death and raised up, so were we – spiritually. This is an important truth that we must never forget.

But I hope to open our eyes to the greater meaning of this simple ordinance and pray that we see together what a glorious picture has been given to us by our great and gracious Lord. The Lord’s life, death, and resurrection are the keystones of our faith.

Much support and insight for what follows was drawn from a small book by Baptist Pastor Hal Brunson, titled The Rickety Bridge and the Broken Mirror, a book of parables about baptism.

The baptism in Romans 6:4 gives us the active or present reality of the meaning of Christ’s death, and refers directly to the reality of the first resurrection, when we die to sin and are raised to new life in Christ. But this verse and the act of baptism also point back historically to His death and prophetically forward to the physical resurrection of all the saints when Christ returns to judge all flesh. Baptism is a multifaceted word picture that ought to remind us of far more than the glorious change wrought in the life of the redeemed sinner. One aspect of baptism that baby sprinklers cannot lay claim to is baptism as a picture of submersion into great waters, portraying the great waters of Divine judgment. We do see in Scripture several passages where great waters are graphic symbols of God’s judgment and wrath against sin – which Christ took upon His body as the Lamb sacrificed for our sin. He was submersed into the ocean of God’s wrath on our account, and raised up on the third day. We will look to God’s Word to learn more about this rich teaching on this simple ordinance, graphically presented in four word pictures:

  1. The flood of Noah.
  2. The sorrows of David, described as “great waters”.
  3. Jonah being cast into the sea.
  4. Jesus’ understanding of His death.

First, the flood as a picture of the death of Christ is portrayed in baptism. The Apostle Peter points to this great flood of the entire earth as a vivid picture of the believer’s baptism as well as a figure or type pointing to the suffering of Christ. In proclaiming (1 Peter 3:18) that Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, Peter then alludes to the flood and how only eight persons were saved in the ark, brought through the great waters of God’s judgment against sin. And Peter goes on in his first letter (3:21) to tell us that baptism corresponds to this – the flood of Noah, the outpouring of God’s wrath in judgment and the only refuge being in the ark which is Christ. Both the great flood and our baptism are types which point to the death of our Lord and His provision for our safety. In 2 Peter 2:6, the flood is listed with another well-known symbol of God’s wrath against sin: Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s wrath against sin is real, it is certain, it is final. We need a Savior, One Who can bear up under this wrath, One Who has no sin of His own to atone for. Not only did Christ provide refuge for the redeemed from God’s wrath, He was buried in God’s judgment as payment for sin – our sin. He is worthy of our praise.

The messianic prophet Isaiah, who told of the suffering servant who was crushed for our iniquities, brings us back to the flood in describing the covenant of peace the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:8) will bring.. This is the promise to all who are called, not a promise to the nation-state of Israel. Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, saves all who have been appointed unto eternal life, from every nation, tribe, and tongue. This redemption is as the waters of Noah to me, says the Lord of Hosts (vs 9). Brunson says:

this points backwards, not merely to the language and theology of the slaughtered and speechless Lamb, but even to the very moment at which God would impute the transgressions of His people to their Savior and His righteousness to them. “This”, God says, “is as the waters of Noah to me” – “this” – His being “despised and rejected of men”; “this is as the waters of Noah – His identity as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”; His “bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows”; the Savior “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted … wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, chastised for our peace, and striped for our healing” – “This is as the waters of Noah to me” – His oppression, His affliction, His slaughtering, His substitutionary imprisonment within the iron bars of injustice, His burial with the wicked in the grave of hell’s billows: “This”, says the Almighty, “is as the waters of Noah to me.8

And who is Noah other than a type for all who have found refuge in Christ? What is the ark other than a type of the everlasting covenant of redemption whereby God’s people rise above the waters of judgment? The flood of Noah is God’s judgment against sin. It portrays the suffering of Christ in payment for sin, securing the redemption of those chosen by God the Father. None but those so chosen and called could enter in the ark; God Himself shut the door to secure Noah and his family in and to keep all others out. None but those chosen were shielded from the wrath of God. The flood of Noah shows us how great the price our redemption, how great the Father’s wrath on sin; how helpless we are to secure that safety.

Briefly, let us talk about the ark, made of earthy things: wood and pitch. Christ, the second person of the Godhead came to us wrapped in earthy things: flesh and blood. The ark and the cross, both made of wood. Both signs of judgment and redemption. The ark covered with pitch, to waterproof it, just as in the day when baby Moses, like Noah, would ride upon dangerous waters in a vessel covered with pitch. This pitch was flammable and used as fuel, used by Isaiah as a metaphor for God’s judgment: For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch (Isaiah 34:8-9). The Hebrew term for pitch, kaphar, is usually translated not as pitch but is overwhelmingly interpreted as to atone, to purge, to reconcile, to forgive, to cover, and to propitiate. Can you see the glorious scene of how grand the picture is painted by the baptism of a child of God? Again, from Brunson: “The captain of our salvation may have gone to the depths for the salvation of His people, but the old ship of Zion rides the waves with linen sails unfurled, impervious to raging winds and roaring waves, speeding safely upon the scarlet billows of judgment to the soul’s desired haven.”9 We get a glimpse of what the Lord Jesus meant when He told the disciples that Moses and the prophets had written about Himself, and how glorious is this glimpse!

That is but a portion of what the great flood of Noah teaches us about baptism, but we must press on and look at what we are taught by the sorrows of David. This man after God’s own heart knew of his own sin and the despair of trusting in any mortal man for reconciliation with Holy God. David and other Psalmists described their deep sorrows as a kind of burial beneath the billows and waves of the Almighty. In Psalm 42:5 & 7 we read, Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? In this sorrowful lament with his soul, he describes his afflictions in terms that point to baptism – Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. Three images of water: waterfalls, breakers, and waves; all communicate the idea of a cascading waterfall pummeling the poet, with the brutal breakers and waves of an angry ocean violently washing over his head. These terrifying metaphors of his torment and anguish wash over him, drowning him in his sorrows. Carried along by the Spirit of God to write these things, perhaps the Psalmist knew not that he prophesied of the promised Messiah, but his words were given to him by God’s Spirit and anticipate the predestined sufferings and death of Christ as a kind of baptism. The word for deep in the psalm is used as a synonym for sheol, connecting to the death of Christ as a submersion into the deepest waters of the place of the dead. And the water metaphors in this psalm undoubtedly describe the suffering servant of God – As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10) This is widely recognized as prophecy of the Lord’s sword-pierced side and the cruel mockery of those who blasphemed while He hung on the cross.

David’s description of his soul’s suffering in deep water takes us more deeply into the sufferings of Jesus. “Like the high priest of Israel, we pass through the first veil, the holy place of Christ’s impeccable flesh, and gaze upon the physical sufferings of Christ; and then through the second veil into the holy of holies, to the very heart of Christ, where we gaze upon the innermost secrets of the Savior’s suffering soul”10 as He was put under the rod of God’s wrath. In Psalm 18 David wrote about his persecution at the hand of Saul; but the eternal message of redemption contained throughout Scripture portrays here the Savior’s passion, not merely David’s sorrow; death and hell as the persecutor of Christ, not merely Saul’s pursuit of David. The king of Israel describes his trials which have human and divine causes, in terms of sorrow, death, and hell; stark images of his soul’s baptism into the lesser sea of man’s wrath and the greater ocean of God’s wrath. David is immersed in human wrath; Saul’s rage is real. David’s words tell of God’s judgment on sin and care for His people:

Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. (Psalm 18:7-17)

Like the pitch on Noah’s ark, God’s judgment here invokes images of fire and water. But as God did not leave David’s soul in torment, neither would He suffer His Holy One to see corruption. Christ was not left buried beneath the sea of God’s wrath and the ocean of His judgment. As David cried out in his distress and called upon the Lord from beneath the deep waters of his sufferings, so also the Savior, as it were, from beneath the burning waters of the cross, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) As deep calls to deep, the Almighty heard the voices of David and David’s seed, and thus He bowed the heavens and came down, riding on a cherub and flying on the wings of the wind; God answered the cry of His Son and sent from above and drew Him out of many waters.

The sorrows of David and other psalmists resonate with all who suffer, but they ultimately point us to the One Who suffered what we deserve, to bring many sons and daughters to glory. The love of God for His elect caused the Son of God, David’s promised seed, to submit to the baptism of His Father’s wrath, so we who are called by His name would be reconciled to our Father and not left to our just deserts.

Let us now look at what we are taught by the casting of Jonah into the sea. This one is specifically called out by the Lord Himself as a type pointing to His death. Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:38-39) Two symbols of Jonah’s experience point to the death of Christ, and to baptism. The terrifying great fish and the deep waters – both of which swallowed up Jonah, and both of which point to baptism by immersion as the proper sign of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Consider what the prophet said from the belly of the fish: Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, [quoting the 18th Psalm] saying,I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.” (Jonah 2:1-6) Like David, Jonah testifies not only to his personal experience; he also prophesies of the death of Christ as a kind of submersion into deep waters. Like Jonah, our Lord was swallowed up by the jaws of death, buried in the heart of the earth, at the bottom of death’s sea. As by the decree of God the great fish could not hold Jonah, it was not possible that death should hold the Son of God. So baptism is not only of immersion but also of emersion – a coming out from the deep waters. Thus Jonah and the Son of God were not only submerged into the belly of the fish and the deep waters of death, they also emerged from leviathan’s jaws and the ocean’s depths. How can the sprinkling of a baby rightly convey this message? When the child of God is baptized by immersion, the testimony is not only the vicarious submersion with Christ into His death, but also our emersion from death by virtue of His resurrection.

Finally, we look to what the Lord Jesus understood about His death as an apocalyptic baptism, interpreting Scripture with Scripture. No tradition or imagination of man can bring us the light and truth that God has given us in His Word.

In the short gospel penned by Mark, we have this response from the Lord Jesus to the request from James and John to sit on either side of Him in glory. Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” (Mark 10:38-39). Other than the ten being indignant at these two, what might they have thought about the cup and the baptism? They would soon learn that this cup the Lord spoke of was not the cup of communion nor a water baptism. Jesus had spoken in terms that left his disciples uncertain, but we know from the record of Scripture that what He was speaking about was the cup of wrath and the baptism of death that awaited Him; of which He lamented: I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50) The disciples would be able to drink of His cup and be baptized with His baptism vicariously through Him. No mortal man can stand where Jesus did: cursed by God for the sins of others and lay His life down knowing He would pick it back up again. When we take communion, we are not drinking His cup, but we drink in remembrance of what He did – to cut the New Covenant in His blood to reconcile sinners to Holy God. When we are baptized, it is not merely following His example when John baptized Him in the Jordan. Paul asks, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3) And further he tells us, (1 Corinthians 12:13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. We were baptized into Christ’s death, the death He died for us, to break down what separates us from God and one another, to make one people that will bring honor and glory to His name.

Oh, the Savior’s love for His Father and all those He chose to redeem in Christ! Baptism: it’s an ordinance which shows how spiritually dead people have been raised to new life in Christ. But, oh my dear brothers and sisters, it is much, much more than that. I pray you have glimpsed a better, if incomplete, picture of the grand and glorious sacrifice of our Lord and Savior as prophesied and portrayed in various ways as a baptism into God the Father’s judgment. The price He paid and the suffering He took as He drank the cup of wrath due us, summed up the submersion and emersion as one is plunged beneath the waters of baptism and raised up from the deep as was our Savior. Let us never see baptism as the mere sprinkling of water over a little one who knows nothing and fears not the wrath of God, nor see it as only the celebration of a new-born brother in Christ. Let us always remember the One Who was baptized in a way you and I could never survive. Christ paid the price we could not pay. He drank the cup and underwent the baptism that we could not. Every time we see this ordinance, let us think on His sacrifice, His obedience, His submission. And let us be thankful we have a faithful God Who did not allow His Holy One to see corruption – that we would have the firm hope of life eternal. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Water baptism is a glorious picture of our Redeemer and a reminder of the spiritual baptism mentioned here, when we were raised up to walk in Christ!