Various views on the nature of the sacrament of baptism have divided the Christian church for centuries. Is it necessary in order to be saved? Should it be administered to children as well as to adults? Beginning in Lord’s Day 26, the Heidelberg Catechism lays out a thorough Reformed blueprint of the nature and proper administration of baptism. It’s to this Lord’s Day that we turn now in our continuing series here on URC Psalmody.
69 Q. How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?
A. In this way:
Christ instituted this outward washing
and with it gave the promise that,
as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body,
so certainly his blood and his Spirit
wash away all my soul’s impurity,
in other words, all my sins.
70 Q. What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and spirit?
A. To be washed with Christ’s blood means
that God, by grace, has forgiven my sins
because of Christ’s blood
poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.
To be washed with Christ’s Spirit means
that the Holy Spirit has renewed me
and set me apart to be a member of Christ
so that more and more I become dead to sin
and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.
71 Q. Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?
A. In the institution of baptism where he says:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.”
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved;
but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism
the washing of regeneration and
the washing away of sins.
96, “O God, the God That Saveth Me” (Psalm 51)
“[H]is blood and his Spirit wash away all my soul’s impurity, in other words, all my sins.” Immediately the words of Psalm 51 come to mind: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (v. 7 ESV). Blue Psalter Hymnal number 96 sets two of the psalmist’s requests against each other: “Remove my guilty stains” and “Now open Thou my lips.” The second request comes after the first, much in the same way as baptism—the washing away of our sins—is followed in time by a public profession of faith.
O God, the God that saveth me,
Remove my guilty stains,
And I will sing Thy righteousness
In grateful, joyous strains.
O Lord, now open Thou my lips,
Long closed by sin and shame;
My mouth shall show before the world
The glory of Thy Name.
209, “Unto the Lord Lift Thankful Voices” (Psalm 105)
“God, by grace, has forgiven my sins because of Christ’s blood poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.” Psalm 105:7-11 has long been traditionally sung in Dutch Reformed churches at baptisms, but even in its entirety this psalm fits well with the Catechism’s explanation of this sacrament, calling us to praise the Lord for revealing his salvation to us.
Seek ye Jehovah and His power,
Seek ye His presence every hour.
His works, so marvelous and great,
Remember still, and meditate
Upon the wonders of His hands,
The judgments which His mouth commands.
Jehovah’s truth will stand forever,
His covenant-bonds He will not sever;
The word of grace which He commands
To thousand generations stands;
The covenant made in days of old
With Abraham he doth uphold.
The Lord His covenant people planted
In lands of nations which He granted,
That they His statutes might observe,
Nor from His laws might ever swerve.
Let songs of praise to Him ascend,
And hallelujahs without end.
278, “How Good and Pleasant Is the Sight” (Psalm 133)
“[T]he Holy Spirit has renewed me and set me apart to be a member of Christ so that more and more I become dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.” In addition to symbolizing the cleansing of our sins, baptism sets us apart as members of Christ’s body, the church. In its three short verses, Psalm 133 likens the fellowship of believers to a kind of anointing.
How good and pleasant is the sight
When brethren make it their delight
To dwell in blest accord;
Such love is like anointing oil
That consecrates for holy toil
The servants of the Lord.
Such love in peace and joy distils,
As o’er the slopes of Hermon’s hills
Refreshing dew descends;
The Lord commands His blessing there,
And they that walk in love shall share
In life that never ends.
134, “His Wide Dominion Shall Extend” (Psalm 72)
“‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’” Baptism is not only a covenant sign for children of the family of God, it is also a necessary result of evangelism and conversion. Psalm 72 reflects the continuing expansion of the kingdom of Christ in anticipation, as it were, of the Great Commission given by our Lord himself.
His wide dominion shall extend
From sea to utmost sea,
And unto earth’s remotest bounds
His peaceful rule shall be.
Yea, all the kings shall bow to Him,
His rule all nations hail;
He will regard the poor man’s cry
When other helpers fail.
The poor and needy He shall spare,
And save their souls from fear;
He shall redeem them from all wrong,
Their life to Him is dear.
So they shall live, and bring to Him
Their gifts of finest gold;
For Him shall constant prayer be made,
His praise each day be told.