Posts Tagged 'Baptism'

Lord’s Day 27: The Mark of the Covenant

Catechism and Psalter

I embarked on my journey on Friday, July 5, at 10 pm with the other members of my youth group from the West Sayville church parking lot, and arrived with them back at the church parking lot on Friday, July 26, at 10 pm.  In the course of that time period of exactly three weeks, an incredible number of exciting and edifying things took place, some of which I may write about later.  For now, however, it’s time to catch up on some sadly-neglected areas of URC Psalmody, beginning with our series journeying through the Heidelberg Catechism.

We left off in our series on the Heidelberg Catechism with Lord’s Day 26, which introduced the first of the two Biblical sacraments: baptism.  Lord’s Day 27 delves deeper into the nature of baptism with words of comforting instruction.

72 Q.  Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

A.  No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit
cleanse us from all sins.

73 Q.  Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?

A.  God has good reason for these words.
He wants to teach us that
the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away our sins
just as water washes away dirt from our bodies.

But more important,
he wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign,
that the washing away of our sins spiritually
is as real as physical washing with water.

74 Q.  Should infants, too, be baptized?

A.  Yes.
Infants, as well as adults
are in God’s covenant and are his people.
They, no less than adults, are promised
the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s blood
and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.

Therefore, by baptism, the mark of the covenant,
infants should be received into the Christian church
and should be distinguished from the children of unbelievers.
This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision,
which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.

Suggested Songs

210, “O Praise the Lord, His Deeds Make Known” (Psalm 105)

“[H]e wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that the washing away of our sins spiritually is as real as physical washing with water.”  The Reformed faith emphasizes baptism primarily as a covenant sign and seal, marking believers and their children as belonging to God and not to the world.  Thus, while Psalm 105 says nothing specific regarding baptism or circumcision, it is perfectly appropriate as it calls us to behold the words and works of our covenant God.

Ye children of God’s covenant,
Who of His grace have heard,
Forget not all His wondrous deeds
And judgments of His word.
The Lord our God is God alone,
All lands His judgments know;
His promise He remembers still,
While generations go.

While yet our fathers were but few,
Sojourners in the land,
He sware that Canaan should be theirs,
And made His covenant stand.
He suffered none to do them wrong
In all their pilgrim way;
Yea, for their sake were kings reproved
And covered with dismay.

At their request He sent them quails,
And bread of heaven bestowed;
And from the rock, to quench their thirst,
The living waters flowed.
His sacred word to Abraham
He kept, though waiting long,
And brought His chosen people forth
With joy and thankful song.

150, “Let Children Hear the Mighty Deeds” (Psalm 78)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Infants, as well as adults are in God’s covenant and are his people.  They, no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.”  Without a doubt, infant baptism is one of the most controversial doctrines in the Reformed faith, and a theological treatise on it is far beyond the scope of this blog.  But it is profitable to note the correlation between the practice of infant baptism and the intergenerational nature of God’s covenant, as spoken of in Psalm 78:

Let children hear the mighty deeds
Which God performed of old,
Which in our younger years we saw
And which our fathers told.
He bids us make His glories known,
The works of power and grace,
That we convey His wonders down
Through every rising race.

Our lips shall tell them to our sons,
And they again to theirs;
And generations yet unborn
Must teach them to their heirs;
Thus shall they learn, in God alone
Their hope securely stands;
That they may not forget His works,
But honor His commands.

222, “O Give the Lord Whole-hearted Praise” (Psalm 111)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

The baptism of an infant or adult is a joyous occasion for many reasons, but most of all it points to the continuation of God’s covenant with his people as he calls them out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Psalm 111 is a song of praise in response to the Lord’s covenant faithfulness.

O give the Lord wholehearted praise,
To Him thanksgiving I will bring;
With all His people I will raise
My voice and of His glory sing.

His saints delight to search and trace
His mighty works and wondrous ways;
Majestic glory, boundless grace,
And righteousness His work displays.

The wondrous works that God has wrought
His people ever keep in mind,
His works with grace and mercy fraught,
Revealing that the Lord is kind.

God’s promise shall forever stand,
He cares for those who trust His word;
Upon His saints His mighty hand
The wealth of nations has conferred.

His works are true and just indeed,
His precepts are forever sure;
In truth and righteousness decreed,
They shall forevermore endure.

From Him His saints’ redemption came;
His covenant sure no change can know;
Let all revere His holy Name
In heaven above and earth below.

In reverence and in godly fear
Man finds the gate to wisdom’s ways;
The wise His holy Name revere;
Through endless ages sound His praise.

–MRK

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Lord’s Day 26: Washed with Christ’s Blood and Spirit

Catechism and Psalter

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.

Suggested Songs

96, “O God, the God That Saveth Me” (Psalm 51)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“[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)

(Sung by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

“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)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY)

“[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.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 25: Holy Signs and Seals

Catechism and Psalter

With Lord’s Day 25 of the Heidelberg Catechism we move into a study of the sacraments, a key aspect of  the Christian life.  Writing in an atmosphere dominated by the numerous extra-biblical and unbiblical rites of the Roman Catholic Church, the authors of the Catechism took special pains to delineate the nature of the only true sacraments instituted by Christ: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  For the next several weeks in this URC Psalmody series we’ll be considering the connection between the psalms and the sacraments.

65 Q.  You confess that by faith alone you share in Christ and all his blessings: where does that faith come from?

A.  The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts
by the preaching of the holy gospel,
and confirms it
through our use of the holy sacraments.

66 Q.  What are sacraments?

A.  Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see.
They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
the promise of the gospel,
and might put his seal on that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise:
to forgive our sins and give us eternal life
by grace alone
because of Christ’s one sacrifice
finished on the cross.

67 Q.  Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?

A.  Right!
In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us
and through the holy sacraments he assures us
that our entire salvation
rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.

68 Q.  How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?

A.  Two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Suggested Songs

164, “Lord, My Petition Heed” (Psalm 86)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“The Holy Spirit produces [faith] in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments.”  More than anything else, Psalm 86 is a prayer for faith.  Admitting that he is “poor and needy,” David cries out for the Lord to gladden his soul; he turns to declare, “you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”  Then the psalmist prays:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.

–Psalm 86:11 (ESV)

Psalm 86 concludes with another prayer whose language echoes the imagery of the sacraments as signs and seals: “Show me a sign of your favor” (v. 17).  Or, as the blue Psalter Hymnal versifies it:

Show me Thy mercy true,
Thy servant’s strength renew,
Deliverance send;
To me Thy goodness show,
Thy comfort, Lord, bestow;
Let those that hate me know
Thou art my Friend.

202, “Mindful of Our Human Frailty” (Psalm 103)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

Sacraments “were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise.”  How weak and dull-minded we are, how slow to comprehend what God has done for us.  One of the URCNA’s new forms for the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper contains this wonderful admonition:

Do not allow the weakness of your faith or your failures in the Christian life to keep you from this table.  For it is given to us because of our weakness and because of our failures, in order to increase our faith by feeding us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  As the Word has promised us God’s favor, so also our Heavenly Father has added this confirmation of his unchangeable promise.

Psalm 103:14-18 speaks eloquently of our “human frailty” and the “changeless mercy” of our Lord:

Mindful of our human frailty
Is the God in whom we trust;
He whose years are everlasting,
He remembers we are dust.

Changeless is Jehovah’s mercy
Unto those that fear His Name,
From eternity abiding
To eternity the same.

All the faithful to His covenant
Shall behold His righteousness;
He will be their strength and refuge,
And their children’s children bless.

109, “O God, Regard My Humble Plea” (Psalm 61)

“[T]his is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross.”  In times of trouble and distress it is all too easy to forget that we are God’s own children, yet the sacraments are powerful reminders of our identity in Christ.

In Thee my soul has shelter found,
And Thou hast been from foes around
The tower to which I flee.
Within Thy house will I abide;
My refuge sure, whate’er betide,
Thy sheltering wings shall be.

For Thou, O God, my vows hast heard,
On me the heritage conferred
Of those that fear Thy Name;
A blest anointing Thou dost give,
And Thou wilt make me ever live
Thy praises to proclaim.

Before Thy face shall I abide;
O God, Thy truth and grace provide
To guard me in the way;
So I will make Thy praises known,
And, humbly bending at Thy throne,
My vows will daily pay.

54, “How Great the Goodness Kept in Store” (Psalm 31)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and through the holy sacraments he assures us that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.”  The latter half of Psalm 31 calls us to praise the Lord for the goodness he has shown to his elect.  These blessings he seals to us through the preaching of the Word and the faithful administration of the sacraments.

How great the goodness kept in store
For those who fear Thee and adore
In meek humility.
How great the deeds with mercy fraught
Which openly Thy hand has wrought
For those who trust in Thee.

Secured by Thine unfailing grace,
In Thee they find a hiding-place
When foes their plots devise;
A sure retreat Thou wilt prepare,
And keep them safely sheltered there,
When strife of tongues shall rise.

Ye saints, Jehovah love and serve,
For He the faithful will preserve,
And shield from men of pride;
Be strong, and let your hearts be brave,
All ye that wait for Him to save,
In God the Lord confide;
In God the Lord confide.

–MRK


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