es, you thought I forgot about the baptism thing, didn’t you? I cannot forget about baptism, people. It’s like a song I cannot get out of my head.
So that nobody thinks I’m shirking my agenda here, I was going to “do” Ignatius (c. AD 50 – 107?) next, but for those of you in the know, the references to “baptism” in his letters are all in the controversial longer versions and not in the more-traditionally accepted shorter versions.
Well, you know: except. Except in Ignatius’ epistle to Polycarp:
Chapter VI.—The duties of the Christian flock.It’s the highlighted part that is somewhat engrossing. Ignatius is here using the “full armor” metaphor, and perhaps composing one of the first versions of “Onward Christian Soldiers” – because he is exhorting the believers (to and thru Polycarp) to be soldiers who do not abandon their posts.
Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God. Please ye Him under whom ye fight, and from whom ye receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that ye may receive a worthy recompense. Be long-suffering, therefore, with one another, in meekness, as God is towards you. May I have joy of you for ever!
Do not be deserters, he says. And the first item on the list of supplies is . . . baptism! “Let Baptism endure as your arms,” he writes, and in that, we have to consider what he means by that. For example, it’s clear he means “arms” in the sense of “weapons” or “equipment of war”, and not merely your beefy pythons. But in that he calls on those submissive to the bishop to let this weapon “endure”.
The good Presbyterians reading this know already what this means because they are not ashamed to use with the phrase, “improve our baptism”. Warfield said it this way:
Thus we shall, as our fathers expressed it, "improve our baptism." We improve it "by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein: by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ, and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body." Surely, he who does these things shall never stumble, but shall be fully girded for entrance into that eternal Kingdom for which we are marked and sealed in our baptism.Now, given that we are reading the ECFs to gain an understanding of how they thought about baptism, I’m not sure the part, in yellow above, is of much help. We’re trying to figure out or deduce the meaning of baptism from the ECFs, so assuming it has one which is 20th-century Presbyterian in meaning is not quite inside the methodology. But it seems to me that the rest of this is exactly what Ignatius is talking about. That is: baptism is surely something more than a bath – it is a sign of something in which we stand. I think it does Ignatius no injustice to say it is a sign of the Gospel itself from which we may desert if we are not watchful. In that, it seems clear to me that Ignatius calls our baptism part of the equipment of our faith. But it is no mere device: it is our arms, something with which we can act to advance our cause.
Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 1, Edited by John E. Meeter, published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970. originally from a pamphlet of eight pages published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, 1920.
That’s an interesting affirmation as far as it goes.
Your turn: what’s Ignatius talking about here?