Do the Scriptures say that no one can be saved without baptism, or is it only an inference? If an inference, are not all creeds founded on inferences? I have been reading your paper [The Gospel Advocate] for some time, and I like it very well.
Inferences are of different degrees of certainty. A necessary inference is regarded but little, if any, short of a positive declaration or command. Whatever is necessary to the attainment of an end is necessarily inferred as embraced in the command. It is a necessary inference that he must do all these things requisite to obtain an end because the thing commanded cannot be done without doing these necessary things. We, on the other hand, infer things on slight unnecessary grounds. Nothing save a necessary inference should be regarded as authoritative. While it is not said in the Scriptures no one can be saved without baptism, it is true that the only plan for saving sinners that God has revealed leads through baptism. And I do not know why the clause, 'that he has revealed,' should be thrown in, for I do not believe he has an unrevealed plan. The declaration of the Savior is: 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.' Here the road to salvation as marked by the Savior leads through baptism. The fact that lack of baptism is not repeated as a condition of damnation has no bearing because baptism has been connected with faith and is the outgrowth of it; and in calling up faith in the last clause, all that has been connected with it must be understood.
The commission as given by Matthew is: 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' 'Neither is there salvation in any other [name]: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' (Acts 4:12.) This is a plain declaration that men can be saved only in the name of Christ. But men must enter into that name before they can be saved in it. This commission by Matthew says men must be taught, then baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They cannot be saved without coming into the name of Christ. They are baptized into that name. Of the same force is the idea we are saved 'in Christ.' In him, we find remission, salvation, redemption, and sanctification. It is in him these can alone be found. Then whatever is necessary to an entrance into Christ is necessary to the attainment of salvation, redemption, sanctification, and all blessings found in him. Paul says: 'So many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death.' (Romans 6:3.) Again: 'Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.' (Galatians 3:26-27.) We enter into Christ and enter his death by being baptized into him. We become children of God by faith in Christ, by being baptized into Christ, and so 'put on Christ.' Now, if baptism is essential to entrance into Christ, it is necessary to the enjoyment of all blessings found only in him. It is a necessary inference, then, that inasmuch as we enter Christ in baptism, baptism is a condition of the enjoyment of all blessings found in Christ. The Spirit said on the day of Pentecost: 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.' Now, the remission of sins is the same as salvation from sin, on which future salvation depends. Take it 'for remission of sins' or 'into the remission of sins,' as our Baptist friends now say it ought to be translated, and we have repentance and baptism as means of reaching remission of sins. All means or acts necessary to reach remission of sins are necessary conditions of obtaining and enjoying remission of sins. Hence, if an inference, it is a necessary inference and authoritative as a condition of the promised blessing. So, too, Ananias said to Saul: 'Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.' This admonition grows out of the two facts that baptism is a condition on which God cleanses from sin and baptism is a washing. Then if baptism in this sense washes away sins, we cannot be cleansed from these sins without the washing. It is a necessary inference here that without the washing in which God cleanses we cannot be cleansed from sin.
Peter declares that Noah and his family 'were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.' Baptism saves us from our sins in the same manner that water saved Noah and his family from the destruction of the sin-defiled world that is, water is the medium through which in baptism we pass from a state of sin and condemnation into a state of acceptance and favor with God. If this be so, we cannot reach that state of favor and salvation without baptism, any more than Noah and his family could reach the new world without passing to it by means of water. If it is an inference that no one of the antediluvians was saved without water, it is an inference that no one can be saved without baptism. If an inference at all, it is a necessary inference from so many and so different standpoints that it has all the force and assurance of a clear and distinct declaration. It only means that God has seen fit to pardon man's sins on condition that he believes in Christ, our Savior, and so embodies that faith as to be buried out of self into Christ, the Redeemer. Baptism is the act in which we deny ourselves, are buried out of ourselves, and enter into Christ.
This is God's order as plainly revealed as any truth of the Bible, and it is useless and sinful for man to try to set aside or avoid the plain commands of God.
Questions Answered By Lipscomb and Sewell being a compilation of Queries and Answers by D. Lipscomb and E.G. Sewell, covering a period of forty years of their joint editorial labors in the Gospel Advocate, M.C. Kurfees, ed. (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1963), pp. 38-40.