Foy E. Wallace Jr.
The commission according to Luke commanded the apostles to preach remission of sins in the name of Christ to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Under this deputation four things were to be done: 1. Remission of sins should be preached; 2. It should be preached in the name of Christ; 3. It should begin at Jerusalem; 4. The same things should be preached to all nations. The disciples appointed to the task were ordered “not to depart from Jerusalem” until plenary power as divine delegates had been received. The Lord said: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8) and Pentecost came. The twelve were together in one place waiting. With startling suddenness in the eventful moment the room resounded with the divine presence and overwhelmed the apostles and filled them. Bearing the credentials of heaven, the inspired commissioners were ready in obedience to the divine fiat to begin preaching remission of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.
How did the remission of sins begin to be preached at Jerusalem? Upon this question hangs the entire new Testament story; for the apostles either preached the same thing everywhere they went or they disobeyed the commission. The second chapter of Acts is the answer. The keynote gospel address on Pentecost, by the man authorized by Christ and qualified by the Holy Spirit to announce and bind the terms of remission commands sinners to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” This being the design of baptism and the terms of remission as defined by inspiration, the came design and terms must be understood in all other places where they are not specifically mentioned being informed in one place of the design of the Lord’s Supper, everywhere it is mentioned afterward it carries the same design—if not expressed, that design must be understood. So when remission of sins and the design of baptism were defined in the beginning, when and wherever thereafter the people received remission we know the terms upon which it was received; and when people were baptized we know why they were baptized.
Philip in Samaria (Acts 8)
“And Philip went down unto the city of Samaria, and proclaimed unto them the Christ…but when they believed Philip preaching the good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ “they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 1:5, 12). The case of Philip and the Samaritans shows plainly that wherever Christ was preached, baptism was preached. Since the commission commanded that remission of sins should be preached in the name of Christ, “beginning at Jerusalem,” when Philip preached the name of Christ, and salvation through it, he either preached the same thing in Samaria that was preached in Jerusalem or he disobeyed the commission. Hence the people of Samaria were baptized for the same purpose, and received remission of sins on the same terms, as on the day of Pentecost. The proposition stands that the design of baptism being defined on Pentecost (Acts 2:38), its design must be understood in all other places where baptism occurs though the design be not specifically mentioned.
Immediately following the great Gospel meetings in Samaria, an angel of the Lord directed Philip southward into the desert region between Jerusalem and Gaza. Here is recorded the most simple narrative of conversion in all the chronicles of conversion. An honest sinner and an inspired preacher meet. The result is a Gospel sermon and prompt obedience to it. The gist of the sermon was put in one sentence: “and he preached unto him Jesus.” The scope of the sermon was indicated by the question of the hearer: “Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to—be baptized?” Why this asked for baptism as they approached the place where there was water, seeing that Philip had preached nothing but Jesus? Simply because preaching Jesus included all that the apostles were commanded to preach “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” The proposition stands, that wherever Christ was preached, baptism was preached; and wherever baptism is stated without the design expressed the design must be understood, having been defined at Jerusalem in the beginning. So when “they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him,” the eunuch’s baptism was the same as defined in Acts 2:38 on Pentecost. It is a significant statement that after they came up out of the water (not before they went down into it) the eunuch rejoiced. He had no experience of grace to relate before baptism; he had no confession of pardon received before baptism: remission was beyond baptism, and that is why, after baptism, he went on his way rejoicing.
Cornelius (Acts 10, 11)
Sectarians cling tenaciously to the case of Cornelius as an example of salvation before baptism. They assert that Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before baptism and must therefore have been saved before he was baptized. That proves too much. According to Peter’s account of the case in 11, the Holy Spirit fell on house of Cornelius before he believed. It should by observed that there are two records of the events connected with this conversion—the record of Luke in Acts 10 and the record of Peter himself in Acts 11. Luke does not claim that his account was given in the order of events but he does say that Peter “expounded the matter unto them in order” (Acts 11:4). Hence, Peter’s own account of the happenings “to those of the circumcision” at Jerusalem represents the order of occurrence. In the order of occurrence Peter said that the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius before he believed. Does that prove that he was saved before he believed? No denominationalist will allow that it does; hence, their argument is lost. The fact is that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the house of Cornelius did not effect his salvation nor affect the issues involved in it.
The elements entering the conversion of Cornelius are set forth in three passages in the record. First, the angel said to Cornelius: “Send to Joppa, and fetch Simon, Whose surname is Peter; who shall speak unto thee words whereby thou shalt be saved” (Acts 11:14). Second, Peter said to Cornelius: “To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:45). Third, Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). The casual reader cannot fail to observe that remission of sins was promised to Cornelius in the name of Christ; and that he was commanded to be baptized in the name of Christ, and that remission of sins in the name of Christ began at Jerusalem as defined in Acts 2:38; and that the same thing that began at Jerusalem should be preached to all the nations—all of which means, because it must mean, that Cornelius received the same remission in the same name, and on the same terms as stated in Acts 2:38 on Pentecost. Since baptism in the name of Christ is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and Cornelius was commanded to be baptized in the name of Christ (Acts 10:48) it follows that Cornelius was baptized for the remission of sins. Indeed, remission of sins in the name of Christ, and baptism in the name of Christ for remission of sins, represent one process.
The Philipian Jailor (Acts 16)
The question “What must I do to be saved?” asked by the jailor, and the answer “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved,” given by Paul and Silas, has been the chief stock in trade of sectarian revivalists—from the frothing holiness and shouting Methodists on up the scale through the unconventional Billy Sunday type of evangelists to the frocked and formal dignitary—who fervidly exhorts supplicants for salvation to “only believe.” They aver that Acts 16:31 is the answer—the one and only answer to the question what to do to be saved. True, they have not explained why Peter, Ananias, and others equally inspired gave other answers, but they cannot be bothered with troublesome explanations. “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved”—that, and that alone, we are told, is all that is necessary to the sinners salvation. When reminded that this answer does not mention repentance, with a slight hitch we are assured that repentance must be included. Believing on the Lord Jesus can be stretched to include repentance, which is not named in the connection, but its elasticity gives out before it gets to baptism, which is named in the immediate connection!
When Paul and Silas told the jailor to “believe on the Lord Jesus,” without even a break in the story the narrator states that “they preached unto him the word of the Lord.” He evidently had not believed upon merely being told to; He must be told what to believe—or, in what believing on the Lord Jesus consisted. Having heard the word preached, the jailor washed their stripes (repentance, change of attitude), was baptized the same hour, and rejoiced with his house, “having believed in God.” When had he believed in God? When he had done all that the Gospel narrative tells, including his baptism, then he had “believed in God.” So baptism in the case of the jailor has the same.
Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9, 22)
The 16th verse of the 22nd chapter of Acts is Paul’s own statement of his baptism in Damascus. And now why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.” This was Ananias’ answer to Saul’s question, “What shall I do, Lord?” and to which the Lord replied: “Arise, and go into the city and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9). But with some people the word must appears to have degrees in meaning. The word in Heb. 11:6, “must believe;” means that faith is essential. But in Acts 22:16. when Ananias tells Saul what he “must do”commands him to be baptized—the word loses most of its must, and deprived of its absoluteness it degrades into a meaningless, empty, vacant nonessential.
When was Saul saved? If he was saved before Ananias came to him, he was a miserable saved man—blind, fasting, shut-up, praying—a miserable saved man, indeed! If he was saved when Ananias laid hands on him, he was saved before he was told what to do to be saved. If he was saved before he was baptized, he was saved before his sins were washed away, for he was commanded to “arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins.” In short, if he was saved in the flash of the light on the road, as the sectarian preachers dogmatize, then he was saved when he did not know it, for he asked what to do; and he was saved when Ananias did not know it. Who came to tell him what to do; and he was saved when the Lord did not know, for the Lord sent him unto Damascus to be told what to do; and if he was saved then, he was saved contrary to all the so called experiences of grace required by these preachers themselves, before peace came to his soul, and while yet in his misery. What a strange conversion and a peculiar salvation the preachers make of it!
In the precept of Ananias three commands are, joined together by the copulative and “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins.” No matter in what sense the word wash is used, the fact stands out that baptism stands squarely between the sinner and the washing away of sins. The question of efficacy does not change it. If it be urged that water cannot literally wash away sins, neither can blood literally wash away sins. Whatever washing away of sins may be, or wherever it takes place, the passage plainly puts baptism before the washing away of sins.
In a final effort to escape the plain statement of the passage some objections are resorted to. It is said that Ananias addressed Saul as a brother—“Brother Saul” hence, he must have been saved when so addressed. But Peter addressed the murderers of Christ in Acts 3:19 as “brethren” when he told them to repent. Were they saved at the time they were so addressed? Saul, like those whom Peter addressed, was a brother Jew, according to the flesh—that is all. Again it is urged that Saul received the Spirit before be was baptized. But the text does not say it—it does not mention the time of the Spirit’s reception at all—but merely states that he would receive it. Whether before or after baptism the passage does not state. Granting the miracle of the Spirit’s reception, however, still would not change or alter, the command. It would only make the miraculous part of it special, having no bearing on the thing commanded. Still further, it is claimed that “the scales fell from his eyes” before he was baptized as evidence that he received salvation before baptism. But the scales fell from his eyes—not his heart. That affected only his blindness—not his salvation. ‘
When was Saul saved? There is only one answer, “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.” When did a sectarian preacher, under any circumstance, give this answer to any candidate for salvation? Yet it is written down in the eternal record of conversion.