Author: Bishop Hay of Edinburgh

Source: Works of the Right Rev. Bishop Hay of Edinburgh

Published in 1871

Is baptism necessary for our salvation?​

It is doubtless the most necessary of all the sacraments, because without it we are incapable of receiving any other sacrament, and because it is ordained by Jesus Christ as the only means of receiving the first grace of justification, by which alone we can be delivered from original sin, and partake of the merits of Christ’s sufterings, so as to become members of His body.

How does this appear from Scripture?​

From the following testimonies :

  1. Our Saviour, in His conversation with Nicodemus, declares, that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God;” and a little after He shows how this new birth is bestowed upon us:; “Verily, verily, I say to thee. Except a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John 2:3,5. Here we see that this new birth, absolutely necessary for salvation, is bestowed upon us by water; that by the use of this outward rite the Spirit of God comes to our souls to operate in us that spiritual birth; and that these two, the outward rite and the inward regeneration, are, by the appointment of God, so connected, that if the rite be not used, the new birth will not be bestowed, and that, therefore, without that sacred rite of baptism, we can never see the kingdom of God.
  2. When our Saviour gave His apostles their commission to teach and baptize all nations. He immediately adds: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned,” Mark 16:16; in which words we observe that our Saviour here, in the same breath, commands the apostles to teach and to baptize all nations; consequently He requires that all nations should believe the truths taught by the apostles and be baptized. And in fact He promises salvation not to faith alone, but to faith and baptism together, which evidently shows the necessity of the one as well as of the other. It is true in what He adds, “He that believeth not shall be condemned,” He mentions faith alone; but the reason is, He is here speaking only of adults, or those who are of an age capable of being instructed, in whom actual faith, or the positive belief of the truths taught by the apostles, is pre-required as a disposition absolutely necessary for baptism. The want of baptism, then, is necessarily included in their not believing; and these words in their full sense run thus: He that believeth not, and of consequence is not baptised, shall be condemned.
  3. The Jews who were converted at St Peter’s first sermon believed what he had delivered to them concerning Jesus Christ, and consequently had true faith; they had also compunction in their hearts — that is, at least a beginning of repentance; but when they asked, “Men and brethren, what must we do?” St Peter answered, “Do penance and be baptized every one of you, for the remission of your sins,” Acts 2:38. He saw they believed in Jesus Christ, therefore he made no mention of faith, but he declares they must give proof of the sincerity of their repentance by doing penance for their sins, and then apply to baptism as the means ordained by God for giving us the grace of justification for the remission of our sins, insomuch that where it can be had, neither faith nor repentance will suffice without it. St Paul, on his conversion, had true faith in Jesus Christ, was thoroughly converted, and gave himself up wholly to Jesus Christ, saying, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” continued three days doing penance in praying and fasting; and yet, after all this, when Ananias came to him, he said, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins,” Acts 22:16. In which words is evidently shown the absolute necessity of baptism for our justification, and also that neither faith nor repentance, nor prayer nor fasting, will suffice without it, where it can be had.

Why do you say where it can he had? Is it possible in any case to be justified without baptism ?​

Properly speaking, it is impossible to be justified without baptism, as all the above texts clearly prove; for where it cannot actually be had, it must at least be in desire. Now there are two cases in which a man may be justified and saved without actually receiving the sacrament of baptism; first, if an infidel should become acquainted with the true faith of Christ, and embrace it, but in such circumstances that it was not in his power to be baptized, notwithstanding his earnest desire of that sacrament, if this desire be accompanied with a perfect repentance for his sins, founded in the love of God above all things, this would supply the want of actual baptism, and a person dying in such dispositions would certainly be saved. Secondly, If any person shall suffer martyrdom for the faith of Christ, before he has been able to receive baptism, this will also supply the want of the sacrament. In this case the person is baptized in his own blood; in the other case, he is said to be baptized in desire.

What becomes of young children who die without baptism?​

If a young child were put to death for the sake of Christ, this would be to it the baptism of blood, and carry it to heaven; but, except in this case, as such infants are incapable of having the desire of baptism, with the other necessary dispositions, if they are not actually baptized with water, they cannot go to heaven, our Saviour’s words being perfectly clear and express, — “Except a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John 3:5. As to what becomes of such unbaptized children, divines are divided in their opinions — some say one thing, some another; but as God Almighty has not been pleased to reveal it to His Church, we know nothing with certainty about it.

As baptism is of such absolute necessity for salvation, can a person receive it more than once?​

By no means; and it would be a sacrilege to attempt it; for the great end of baptism is to free us from original sin, and make us Christians, imprinting the sacred character of a Christian on our souls. Now, when we are freed from original sin we are freed from it forever; when that sacred character of a Christian is imprinted on the soul, it remains there for ever, and can never be effaced. Therefore the effects of the sacrament of baptism can never be produced in our soul a second time.

What dispositions are required for receiving this sacrament?​

In young children no dispositions are required, because they are incapable of any; but in adults, the dispositions required for receiving the graces of baptism are:

  1. That the person be willing to receive it;
  2. That he have faith in Jesus Christ; and
  3. That he have true repentance of his sins.