1 Corinthians 15:29
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
The words, "baptized for the dead," do not, either necessarily or naturally, imply (in the original) a vicarious baptism: the "for" is "in behalf of," rather than "instead of" — at the utmost "for the benefit of," whatever sense may be given to it — as champions or advocates, rather than as proxies or substitutes.
I. St. Paul speaks (we venture to think) not of a caprice, and not of a superstition — not of a local custom, not of a human invention, not of a pious fancy, and not of a morbid and perilous addition to the faith and rule of the Churches: he speaks, we believe, of THE ORDINANCE OF BAPTISM as the risen and departing Saviour instituted it, and he unfolds to us here in brief, as elsewhere in detail, the connection of that ordinance with the foundation-fact of the resurrection. Every Christian baptism is a baptism for the dead. Not only is the resurrection of the dead one of the articles of the apostles' creed which the person to be baptized professes himself to believe — as says, commenting upon this passage, "When we are about to baptize, we bid the man say, "I believe in the resurrection of the dead,' and after this confession he is plunged in the sacred fountain" — not only is there this connection between the sacrament and the doctrine — but also, as the same great writer goes on to explain, the very immersion in, and emergence from, the baptismal waters, is a symbol of the burial and the resurrection that shall be — it is an insertion into the Saviour dead and risen, it is the typical foreacting of that funeral and that revival, the anticipation of which is the saint's life, the realisation of which is the saint's glory. To be "baptized for the dead" is to vindicate, by our baptism, the sure hope of the dead — namely (to use again St. Paul's words), that, as we believe that Christ died and rose again, even so "them also which have been laid to sleep through Jesus shall God bring with Him." If there is no such hope — "if the dead rise not at all" — what shall they do, which way shall they turn themselves, who have been subjected, on becoming believers, to that Christian baptism, which is, being interpreted, the assertion of the right of the dead, not only to immortality in a world of spirits, but, definitely and specifically, to a resurrection of the body? "Why," he adds, "if there be no such hope, are the generations of the faithful thus 'baptized for the dead'?"
II. The saying opens to US A NEW REGION OF DUTY. We are apt to imagine that death breaks all ties. Certainly it breaks some. Ties of office — ties of courtesy — ties of parentage and wedlock — death breaks these — as to their form. But not even these, surely, as to their substance. What shall we say of the son whose heart does not burn within him at the slighting mention of a dead father — what shall we say of the patriot who has no sense of shame at the ridicule of a great statesman departed, or of the subject who is capable of no resentment when he reads some cowardly outrage upon the memory of a dead sovereign? Yes — "cowardly" I call it, if it concerns the dead. The characters of the dead are the heirlooms of the living. To disparage a dead man is like injuring a child or insulting a woman. If you must calumniate the departed, begin on the day of the funeral — while at least there may be some one to answer you — son, brother, friend — some one to call you to the reckoning — some one to challenge you to the proof. These, indeed, are more or less personal matters. They affect but a few — generally the more famous, the more illustrious, of mankind. But St. Paul tells us that there is an honour, and by consequence a dishonour, which may be done to all the dead. There is way in which we can disparage, or in which we can vindicate them, as a class. We may be baptized for them. And when he explains himself he says, We may either assert for them, or doubt for them, or deny to them, a resurrection — which is, in other words, an immortality of complete being. Let us not forget that we ourselves shall soon have gone across from this world to that. "Baptized for the dead?" then, baptized for ourselves. Let us cling now to that Easter which shall be our all then!
1. Let us thank God for the gospel. The gospel is true or not true — but at least it is clearly defined and very simple. Christ died for our sins, and was buried, and the third day rose. In Him we live — He is the Resurrection and the Life. Let us settle these matters. To live in suspense about Jesus Christ is to live in a trance, incapable of true speech or true action. Settle that question — and let it settle all else. I can recognise no plea for waiting. That which will be true at your death is true to-day. If true, it involves duties. Amongst others — and of that the text speaks —
2. A duty towards the departed. How often have we turned back from the open grave, as from a closed book or a career ended! Anxieties we have silenced by a peradventure, unuttered but tolerated, that all may be well because all may be nothing. Prayers for the dead are un-Protestant — the dead are in the hands of God. Duties to the dead are ended — neglected or done, they are of the past. Let them rest in peace. Nay, we have still to be their champions. We have still to think of them as being and to be — as members of the Church, as possessors of the Spirit. We have still to be in communion with them — meeting them when we pray — meeting them when we worship — meeting them when we communicate. We have still to feel, when we bring a little child to baptism, we are standing up for the dead. We are asserting the resurrection of the body.
Parallel VersesKJV: Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?