Recently gave thanks for the 33rd anniversary of my baptism into the visible church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The terminology will probably sound funny to most of us today, but at one point in Christian history it was a profoundly meaningful matter to give thought to the "improvement" of your baptism.
Consider this question from the Westminster Large Catechism: "How is our baptism to be improved by us?"
How would you answer that question? Or does the question even make sense to us?
The wonderfully rich answer that the pastors and theologians of the mid-1600's gave us was this:
The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.Wonderfully rich. So rich, in fact, that you'll have to read through it slowly & carefully, reflecting on each phrase, to grasp the fullness of it.
Those same pastors & theologians offer you this guidance in understanding the gracious gift of baptism:
I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, or his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.
II. The outward element to be used in the sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.
III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.
IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.
V. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
VI. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time.
VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered to any person.