Acts 22:16: Rise and be baptised

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Isaac Backus was a faithful American pastor who walked a long road to obeying Christ’s command to believe and be baptised. Isaac Backus was converted during the First Great Awakening in America, this awakening was full of the preaching of men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and the Tennant brothers. Backus sat in the midst of these revivals and found his own heart hard and unaffected by the many that were being save around him. The Lord used this hardness of heart to awaken Isaac to His sinfulness and need for Christ. 1He writes:

‘People were greatly affected and many hopefully converted, while I grew worse and worse in my own view. Powerful preaching, and the sight of many in distress or joy, while I remained a hardened sinner, caused such anguish as words cannot express. Yet hereby God laid open to me the plague of my own heart and the folly of seeking life by my own doings. My tears were dried up and I could find no good in me. Instead of this I felt inclined to quarrel with the sovereignty and justice of God, and the freeness of His grace, a grace so free that He was not obliged to have mercy upon me after all my doings. A sight of these corruptions increased my distress and filled me with confusion before God.’

A waning in his experience of conviction of sin distressed him even further. However, one day God seized him in the field and gave him a sight of the total sinfulness of his life, he writes:

‘Divine justice appeared clear in my condemnation, and I saw that God had a right to do with me as He would. My soul yielded all into His hands, fell at His feet, and was silent and calm before Him. And while I sat there, I was enabled to by divine light to see the perfect righteousness of Christ and the freeness and riches of His grace, with such clearness, that my soul was drawn forth to trust in Him for salvation. And I wondered that others did not also come to Him who had enough for all. The Word of God and the promises of His grace appeared firmer than a rock, and I was astonished at my previous unbelief. My heavy burden was gone, tormenting fears were fled, and my joy was unspeakable.’

Backus ended up leaving his church because it taught that the Lord’s Supper was a converting ordinance. He then became a minister of a separatist church. Soon however, the church got caught up in the baptism debate. There were people in his church saying only believers should be baptised, and others saying that believer’s children were entitled to baptism as well. At this point Backus was not baptised as a believer and still held to infant baptism and sprinkling. He studied the issue and after hearing a minister and witnessing believer’s baptism by immersion he recognised that he had been in error and was himself baptised biblically. On account of the new conviction that baptism should precede partaking of the Lord’s Supper, there was animosity in his church and so he went on to plant a Baptist church.

This is one example of thousands of someone who is converted and saved, but there is a delay in baptism as confusing issues are sorted out and the different views overcome by the teaching of Scripture. Today we have a baptismal service and I would like us to consider Paul’s baptism and the words spoken to him in Acts 22:16 when the Lord sent Ananias to speak to and baptise him. ‘And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptised and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ From this verse we will look at three things, the necessity of baptism, the promptness of baptism and the significance of baptism.