Mark 16:16. He that believeth. – That is, he that believeth the gospel (verse 15). It was to be preached in order that it might be believed, and belief, both on this account, and because it is, from the nature of the case, a prerequisite to repentance and obedience, is the first act of compliance with its demands,
and is baptized. – The collocation of the words, and the fact that baptism is an act of obedience, which could not be without faith, shows that baptism is to be preceded by faith, This commission both authorizes the apostles to baptize believers, and restricts them to believers as the subjects of baptism. No comment can make this clearer than it is made by the words of the commission itself. It is impossible, therefore, that the apostles could have found authority in their commission for baptizing infants, and it is equally impossible for modern Pedobaptists to find it (Comp. Matt. 28:19).
shall be saved. – To be saved is to be made safe. It implies that the person saved was in danger, or in actual distress, and that the danger or the distress is removed. When the term refers to the eternal state it includes the resurrection from the dead, and perpetual safety from sin and suffering. But death and all suffering are but the consequences of sin, and therefore to be made safe from sin exhausts the idea of the salvation provided in the gospel. When the term “saved” is used in reference to the state of the Christian in this world, as it frequently is (Acts 2:47; I Cor. 1:18, 15:2; Eph. 2:5; Tit. 3:5), it means that he is made safe from his past sins, which is effected by pardon and can be effected in no other way. If it be said that when a man is once saved he is saved forever, because he can not fall away, still it must be granted that the salvation affirmed of him includes the present forgiveness of his past sins. Consequently, in the statement, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” the salvation promised must include at least the forgiveness of sins, whatever it may be supposed to include in addition to this. It really includes no more than this, and is equivalent to the promise of pardon to all who believe and are baptized. If any man’s mind revolts at the idea of placing baptism in such a connection with salvation or the forgiveness of sins, let him remember that it is Jesus who has placed it in this connection, and that when our minds revolt at any of his words or collocation of words, it is not his fault but ours. It is always the result of some misconception on our part. If one should be tempted to say, True, he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes and is not baptized shall also be saved, let him ask himself why Jesus in this formal commission, says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” if the same is true of him who is not baptized. Men do not, on solemn occasions, trifle with words in this way. If the Executive of a State should say to the convicted thieves in the penitentiary, He that will make a written pledge to be an honest man, and will restore fourfold what he has stolen, shall be pardoned, there is not a man in any penitentiary who would expect pardon without the restitution required; and if it were ascertained that the Executive meant by these words to promise pardon to all who would make the pledge, whether they would, being able, make the restitution or not, he would be justly chargeable with trifling, and also with offering different conditions of pardon to the same class of criminals. So in the present case. If he that is not baptized, being capable of the act, is as certainly saved as he that is baptized, the Saviour spoke idle words in the commission, and he offers two plans of pardon to the same class of sinners, showing partiality by offering to release one on easier terms than another. Such is the absurdity in which we are inevitably involved if we allow not the words in question their proper and natural force. When the apostles went out to preach under this commission, they knew only from its terms to whom they should promise pardon, and consequently they never encouraged any person to hope for it previous to baptism, nor gave any unbaptized person reason to think that his sins had already been forgiven. If any of the unbaptized, therefore, are pardoned, it is because God has granted to them more than he has promised. This he may unquestionably do, if the circumstances of individuals shall make it right in his eyes to do so, but of these circumstances He alone can judge, who knows all things and whose judgments are guided by infinite wisdom.
he that believeth not shall be damned. – The term “damned’ has no more reference to the eternal state than the term “saved” in the preceding clause. They both have primary reference to the present state, and the former is the exact counterpart of the latter. The original term means “condemned,” and this should be its rendering. Condemnation already rests on those who believe not (John 3:19), but the apostles are here told that it shall especially rest on those who hear the gospel and believe it not. It rests on them now, and it must, of course, rest on them forever unless, at some subsequent period of life, they shall become believers. In this way the state of condemnation which now exists will reach forward into eternity, unless its cause be removed, in like manner as the state of salvation enjoyed by the baptized believer will reach into eternity, unless it be forfeited by subsequent apostasy. It has frequently been observed, that though Jesus says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” he does not, in stating the ground of condemnation, mention the failure to be baptized as part of it, but simply says, “He that believeth not shall be condemned.” Prom this it is again inferred that baptism is not one of the conditions of pardon. But the conclusion does not follow; for the fact that baptism is not mentioned in stating who shall be condemned, can never remove it from the place it occupies in stating who shall be saved. In the supposed case of the convicts above mentioned, if, after saying to all the convicted thieves, “He that will make a written pledge to be an honest man, and will restore fourfold what he has stolen, shall be pardoned,” the Governor had added, “but he that will not make this pledge shall serve out his time in prison,” none but a crazy thief could think that because restitution is not mentioned in the latter instance he would be pardoned without making restitution. Equally unreasonable is the conclusion in question. The leading thought in the commission is to state the ground on which men would be saved, and not that on which they would be damned. The apostles were to be concerned with saving men, not with damning them; consequently, Jesus tells them in detail on what ground they are promised salvation; but as damnation is his own work, not theirs, he speaks of that comprehensively by naming the one sin of unbelief which renders all acceptable obedience impossible, and is the chief cause of all condemnation. A man should come to the commission, then, not to learn how he may be damned, but how he may be saved; and this it teaches him right plainly.
The assertion, “He that believeth not shall be condemned,” implies that all who hear can believe-that no innate or acquired incredulity can justify unbelief of the gospel. This is asserting the highest possible claim in behalf of the evidences of Christianity, and he who makes the claim is He who will judge the world at the last day. If, in the face of this declaration, any man will venture to the judgment in unbelief, alleging that the evidence is not sufficient for him, he must settle the issue with Jesus Himself.”
BIBLE STUDY TEXTBOOK; THE GOSPEL OF MARK
by B. W. Johnson and Don DeWelt
A New Commentary, Workbook, Teaching Manual
College Press, Joplin, Missouri, Copyright 1965, Don DeWelt