Heidelberg Catechism Lesson 26

Q. 69. How art thou admonished and assured by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to thee?
 
Thus: That Christ appointed this external washing with water,[1] adding thereto this promise,[2] that I am as certainly washed by His blood and Spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water,[3] by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.
[1] Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38;  [2] Mark 16:16; Matthew 3:11; Romans 6:3;  [3] Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3.
 
 
Q. 70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?
 
It is to receive of God the remission of sins, freely, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us by His sacrifice upon the cross;[1] and also to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and unblamable lives.[2]
[1] Hebrews 12:24; 1 Peter 1:2;  [2] John 1:33; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:11.
 
 
Q. 71. Where has Christ promised us, that He will as certainly wash us by His blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism?
 
In the institution of baptism, which is thus expressed: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,”[1] and “he that believeth, and is baptised, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”[2] This promise is also repeated, where the Scripture calls baptism the washing of regeneration,[3] and the washing away of sins.[4]
[1] Matthew 28:19;   [2] Mark 16:16;  [3] Titus 3:5;  [4] Acts 22:16.

Commentary

Many years ago, when kneeling before the congregation awaiting to receive baptism, I thought that I would feel a tingling sensation down my spine or feel my heart strangely warm when the water is poured on my head. However, apart from feeling the coldness of the water running down my face and neck, I felt nothing. Sometime later I began to wonder if baptism is just an empty symbolic membership ritual that brings remembrance and provokes mental reaction akin to the initiation rites that boy scouts go through before they are allowed to wear the scarf. Does baptism have only mental significance?
 
The way in which Q. 69 is worded in the version of the Heidelberg Catechism we are using in this study series gives us the impression that baptism serves only to excite the mind concerning certain truths. This, however, does not give the whole truth concerning the Reformed doctrine of baptism. Another version of Q. 69 reads: “How is it signified and sealed unto you in holy baptism that you have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?” (see G.I. Williamson, The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide, 119). Though sounding more ambiguous, this version makes it clearer that baptism is more than symbolic. It not only signifies but seals, or as our Confession has it: “by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost” (WCF 28.6). This conferment is not tied to the moment of time when baptism is administered, but it does speak of a close connection (under ordinary circumstance) between the act (such as pouring) and symbol (water) and the reality symbolised.
 
The outward experience of being (symbolically) washed with water is tied to the inward spiritual reality of being washed by the blood of Christ and the Spirit of Christ. This spiritual washing is known as regeneration (Tit 3:5). In other words, baptism is a visible means and representation of Christ’s invisible work of regeneration in our heart. A person being baptised ought to be, by the sign, excited to remember what Christ did for him, and also be assured that Christ will regenerate his heart if He has not already done so. Baptism does not point to faith but to regeneration. This is why infants may be baptised too.