J. A. Trench.
Article 34 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
Question. — Kindly explain the relation of baptism to the remission of sins and the subsequent gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38 and 22:10)
The great truth involved in the reply of Peter to those who were convicted under his address and asked, "Men, brethren, what shall we do?" was that that day, by the descent of the Holy Ghost, God had taken up His dwelling-place amongst the redeemed. Thenceforward His habitation on earth was to be found in the assembly of those who professed Christ's name. They were to repent, therefore, and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. These two were the first of the characteristic blessings of that place. Baptism as the normal confession of His name was the door of entrance therein: he who was baptised was received outwardly into the house of God as set up in the world; entering by faith in Christ's name, he got the forgiveness of sins as administered there, and was thereupon made a recipient of the Holy Ghost.
The fact of the house of God being here may be difficult to discern now, as from early times, through the failure of everything in which man has his part; the reality of God's building has been obscured by the wood, hay, and stubble of man's work. But, even if defiled, it is the dwelling-place and temple still. (1 Cor. 3) The house of God, the assembly of the living God, has the responsible place of being the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), which is to be found, not in Judaism, or heathenism, or Mohammedanism, but only in Christendom. Judgment, too, will begin at "the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17), because of its failure to answer to its privileged place as such. Thus it may be terribly corrupted; but till God judges it, it is still the place where His blessings are found, and baptism is the formal admission therein.
That it was regarded as a privilege to be conferred we may see from the Ethiopian official in Acts 8, who, having heard from Philip the glad tidings of Jesus, sought at once to be identified with His name, "What doth hinder me to be baptised?" Thus also in the case of Cornelius and his company. Who could refuse to receive them amongst professing Christians whom God had already marked as His by the gift of the Holy Ghost? It is the same great truth that leads Ananias in Acts 22:16 to call upon Paul to arise and be baptised, and so enter where administratively his sins might be washed away; baptism being the symbol of that to which the death and resurrection of Christ was available.