John Wesley’s View of Baptism

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

John Wesley is most noted as the Methodists and several denominations, including the Church of the Nazarene, derive their beliefs from his writings. While no mere man's writings establish the truth, it is interesting that his view of baptism was quite different from the denominations we find today.

"By baptism, we enter into a covenant with God, an everlasting covenant, are admitted into the church, made members of Christ, made children of God. By water as the means, the water of baptism, we are regenerated or born again." [John Wesley, A Preservative Against Unsettled Notions in Religion, p. 146-150, as quoted in Millennial Harbinger, Volume 1 by William Kimbrough Pendleton and Theological Writings on Various Subjects by Peter Nead].

Now Wesley did advocate infant baptism by making the false conclusion that if Jews entered the covenant at eight days, then Christians could also enter a covenant in infancy. Wesley missed that the Christian covenant is also based on a person's faith (Mark 16:16) and repentance from sins (Acts 2:38). However, it remains an interesting statement because today many denominations declare that baptism is completely unnecessary. If it is practiced at all, it is said to be merely for a show -- "an outward sign of an inward grace."

That baptism makes us a part of a covenant is seen in Colossians 2:11-13, "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses." Circumcision was the signed given to the Israelites to show that they were under a covenant with God. For Christians, this physical sign was replaced by baptism to signify that we too are under a covenant with God.

Baptism puts us into the kingdom of Christ as well. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:26-29). Being in Christ, we also become children of God. "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him" (I John 3:1).

That through the waters of baptism is taught by Paul. "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:4-5). Jesus had declared this earlier when he told Nicodemus, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).

It appears that John Wesley understood the importance and purpose of baptism better than many who wish to call themselves Christians; yet, who reject what Christ asked of them. How can they claim to love the Lord? "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). What he has asked of us is not hard. "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3). And what did our Lord command of his people? "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). Matthew followed that statement with a hearty "Amen!" (so be it!)

Do you love the Lord? While you submit to his rule and his commands? Then why follow the teachings of men? Do as the Lord commanded and enter into a covenant with him.

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