“Many Christians while seeking to hold fast to the Scripture and to be guided by their expression have unconsciously fallen into serious error through not discerning the dispensational changes that came about when the favor to the Jewish nation ended at the death of Christ, and when a new dispensation, a new age under new conditions, was then ushered in.
The baptism of John, the baptism to which our dear friends so frequently refer, was never meant for the Christian age. John, as our Lord declares, was the last of the prophets, and was sent to the Jewish people and preached to them alone, and his message would not have been appropriate to any others.
Let us review the situation. The Jews did not practice baptism. The whole nation was recognized as baptized into Moses in the sea and in the cloud. John’s mission in the end of their age was to prepare for Messiah, to arouse the people to thought on the subject, to lead them to a renouncement of their sins against the law, and to a reformation of life. He did not go to sinners, in the ordinary sense of that term, those outside the pale of divine influence, but he appealed to the sinner class, the renegade class, of the Jews, “publicans and sinners,” who, although baptized unto Moses in the sea and in the cloud, and children of the promises, and related to God through that law covenant, had been living carelessly.
John’s announcement was, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand; believe the good news and repent,” and get ready for it, for if you do not get ready you can have no share as a member of that kingdom for which our whole nation has been waiting for centuries. Those of you who acknowledge that you have been living in neglect of the Law of Moses should now repent of the same and come back into harmony with that law, and should show your repentance and reformation by a washing away of your sins — a cleansing of yourselves.
Numbers of the Jews were influenced by John’s preaching, and were baptized — not the “Israelites in-deed,” but those who conceded that they had been living in open sin. Thus we have no record that John himself was ever baptized, nor that his disciples were baptized. When Jesus went to him for baptism John at first declined, declaring that he had no sins and that if either of the two needed to confess sin and to profess a washing away of sin it would be John himself rather than the Master. It was only after Jesus had assured him that His baptism meant something different and that he could not at the time explain the difference that John performed the service for Him.
The baptism of John was not appropriate to any but Jews. Gentiles could not repent or come back again into harmony with Moses’s law, because Gentiles were never under the law of Moses, but were counted as aliens, strangers and foreigners, without hope and without God in the world, (Eph 2:12.) We remember that the first Gentile convert was Cornelius, and that his baptism was three years after our Lord’s death, and his baptism was not John’s baptism, but of a different kind, as we shall show presently.
As illustrating what I have just said, namely, that the baptism practiced by the Christian denomination is John’s baptism and not Christ’s baptism, and that there is quite a distinction between the two, which our dear friends have not recognized, I call your attention to the record of Acts 19:1-7 where we are informed that a certain Jew, named Apollos, had made converts amongst the Ephesians, 12 in number, and that when St. Paul was passing through Ephesus he became acquainted with these, but noted that they were deficient as respects the evidences of their discipleship. The evidence of discipleship at that time consisted in miraculous “gifts” of the spirit, as, later and since, the evidence of discipleship has been the possession and manifestation of the “fruits of the spirit” — love, joy, peace, etc.
The Apostle inquired respecting their deficiency and said, “Into what, then, were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then said Paul, “John verily baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe upon Him which should come after him; that is, Christ Jesus. When they heard this they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” I quote this as evidencing the fact that there is a decided difference between John’s baptism of repentance and Christ’s baptism.
The various Scriptures which my opponent has quoted as proving the necessity for repentance and, washing away of sins, etc., we agree with fully, but we call to his attention the fact that all these persons who thus “washed away their sins” and practiced baptism for the “remission of sins” were Jews who were already baptized into Moses in the sea and in the cloud,” who were already children of God and heirs of the covenants and promises, and their washing away of their sins means their coming near again to God and into closer touch with all the promises and the blessings thereof.
The Abrahamic Olive Tree
Never is it said of any Gentile that he was baptized unto repentance and remission of sins that he got back into Moses and in accord with the law. On the contrary, the Apostle shows that we, and all spiritual Israelites coming from among the Gentiles, come into Christ in a different way from that in which the Jews became related to him. I call your attention to the Apostle’s argument in Rom 11:17-24 where he uses an olive tree as a symbol or picture. He tells us that that olive tree was primarily the Jewish nation; that its root was the Abrahamic promise; its branches were the individual Jews. It was to those branches that John preached the baptism of repentance. Many of them were deified, living in sin, and he urged them to repent and be washed, cleansed; that otherwise they would be broken off. And so it was when Messiah was manifest, the prepared ones, Israelites indeed, in who was no guile, were ready for Him, received Him, and He received them and they continued to be branches of that olive tree.
But the great mass of the branches, as the Apostle goes on to explain, were broken off because they did not receive our Lord, because they were not in the right condition of heart, not “Israelites indeed, without guile.”
In the harvest time of the Jewish age that tree, that nation, was transferred from Moses to Christ, and those branches which were permitted to remain were thenceforth branches or members of Christ, and did not need to be baptized into Christ. Or, according to the figure, they did not need to be en-grafted into the tree, for they were in it already, and merely the new name came to them, the name of Christ as instead of Moses — Christ the antitypical Moses. And the other branches were all broken off from relationship with this antitypical Moses, Christ, whom the tree now represented.
It is into that tree that you and I and all Christians of this Gospel age are invited to be baptized, or, in this figure, en-grafted. The Apostle explains this, and says that by nature we were wild olives, and had no part or lot in this tree, but that God in great mercy has permitted us to be en-grafted, to be united to our Lord, and with him, and with those faithful Israelites of the Jewish nation, we are permitted now to have the blessing that comes from the root of this tree, the Abrahamic promise, In other words, we are the children of Abraham, or, as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we belong to the Lazarus class, the little flock, who have come to be inheritors of the blessing of God provided through Him as the father of the faithful.
I trust, dear friends that this, the Apostle’s illustration, helps us to grasp the fact that a great change of dispensation occurred at the time of our Lord’s first advent. But all of the Jews were not broken off at once, and hence, wherever the apostles went preaching the Gospel throughout Galatia, etc., they went to the Jews first, saying: “That it was necessary that the Gospel should be first preached to you, but seeing ye cast it from you, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”
(Extracts taken from the Pastor Russell’s remarks concerning Baptism during the Russell / White debate as found in the 1908 Cincinnati Ohio Bible Students Convention Report)