Beckett: “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”: A Hymn of Confident Security

A talented and competent theologian, Rose, already wrote about the history and some of the theology of this hymn. This article is merely my own reflection upon this lovely baptismal hymn. To give a summation of Rose’s historical coverage of this hymn, it was composed by Erdmann Neumeister, born in May of 1671 in Uichteritz, Germany. Not only are the words of the poem/hymn rich in Scriptural references, but the words are also derived from Luther’s Small Catechism. It is no wonder, then, why this hymn resonates so well with Lutherans today. In this hymn, we rejoice in what God has accomplished in our Baptism, we take confidence in our identity and security in Baptism, and it reminds us that even though we face death and destruction, there is no sadness; for the hope of our baptismal life is not in the temporal world but the Paradise to come.

Verse 1, What God Accomplished in My Baptism

God’s own child, I gladly say it:
I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it,
Gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many?
I have one worth more than any
That brought me salvation free
Lasting to eternity!

LSB 594:1

What God accomplishes in the Christian’s Baptism is the source of his or her joy. It is true that we can gladly say we’re God’s child, for this designation comes from God Himself (1 John 3:1-3). We were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20)—the price of Jesus’ blood. The Apostle Paul describes us as slaves to sin before we were baptised; but being baptised into Christ, we become slaves of God (Romans 6:15-23).

As American Lutherans, this language of being slaves and being bought might be offensive to us because of our nation’s unfortunate history with slavery. Yet this Scriptural language Neumeister utilises is beautiful. Slaves do not belong to themselves; they belong to their taskmaster from whom they receive their identity. As slaves of sin and the Devil, our identity comes from him—evil, wicked, unclean, unrighteous. Also, as slaves, we can only be bought—we cannot set ourselves free.

The price for our souls was high. The price was blood, and Christ paid the impossible price for our souls with His own blood, setting us free from our bondage to sin and the Devil. Having bought us, therefore, we now belong to God—we are slaves of God. Yet to be a slave of God means to be His child. To be owned by God—the Lord of the universe, the Gardener of creation—is a thing to cause our rejoicing, indeed! Thus, we sing in this hymn: Do I need the abundant treasures of earth when I have the greatest treasure of all—that I am called God’s child? My treasure is not here on earth but in my heavenly identity that comes from above (Matthew 6:19-21).

Thus, I rejoice in the eternal salvation it brings (1 Peter 3:21), or as Luther describes its benefits, “forgiveness of sins, [rescue] from death and the devil, and… eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (SC, Baptism).

Verse 2, The Daily Remembrance of My Baptism

Sin, disturb my soul no longer:
I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort ever stronger:
Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood!

LSB 594:2

Whereas in verse 1 I rejoice in what God accomplished in my Baptism, here I have present confidence when I remember this work and promise of God. Because Christ has bought me from sin and the Devil and has made me His, sin can no longer disturb me. Even though I, with Paul, become conflicted with my continued struggle with sin (Romans 7:15-23), because I have been baptised into Christ I can nevertheless declare with Paul as well, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25)! Therefore, my guilty conscience cannot hold me captive since Christ has released me from sin and death in my Baptism. What have I to fear when I have been baptised into Christ (Romans 8:38-39; Psalm 118:6)?

The image of a flood is especially evocative. The Apostle Peter writes that Baptism corresponds to the Great Flood (1 Peter 3:18-21). God killed mankind and the rest of creation in the Flood while choosing to save mankind and creation through the one man Noah with two of every kind. Both death and salvation came through water. In the same way, this is what God has done to me in my own Baptism. Like a flood, the waters of Baptism rushed upon me and killed me in my sin; but from the calm waters, I rose anew into new life through the one man Christ (Romans 6:3-5).

In this verse, I do what Luther writes on the indication of baptising with water, “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (SC, Baptism).

Verse 3, The Devil is A Toothless Lion

Satan, hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me!

LSB 594:3

Because of the highly scientific and post-Enlightenment culture we live in, perhaps we Americans don’t take seriously enough the spiritual threats of the Devil. A long illness, for example, could just as well be a spiritual affliction as it also has physical causes. Even so, when we watch Hollywood movies and shows of exorcisms and helpless demonic possessions, we become terrified. Yet because of my Baptism, I have nothing to fear from the Devil—not his ugly accusations, not possession, and not even direct harm from him. In Baptism, I rise into new life in Christ, and perhaps I can also think of it as rising with the armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Christ has not only redeemed me from the Devil’s bondage; He has also equipped me to stand against him. The Devil may be a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), but he is a toothless lion against me.

This verse reminds me of a legend I heard about Martin Luther (I know not whether it’s true). The legend goes that Luther woke up one night and saw the Devil perched on his bed, to which he said, “Oh, it’s just you,” and rolled over and went back to sleep. Whether or not this story is true, the example is true of our Baptism. What can the Devil or any demon do against me? Naught, for I belong to Christ (Romans 8:37-39)!

Verse 4, Death is Not the End

Death, you cannot end my gladness:
I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness
To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes
Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine
To make life immortal mine.

LSB 594:4

Having been baptised into Christ, I not only have victory over the Devil but also over death. Everyone may not fear the Devil (i.e., unbelievers), but everyone—regardless of religious belief—is afraid of death. Some might even mask their fear with saying things such as, “Death is only natural.” Yet death is entirely unnatural in the order of creation. When God created the heavens, the earth, and everything in it, death did not exist. It was not until after man rebelled against God that death was introduced—we introduced death into the world. Death was not part of God’s original design; therefore, it is entirely unnatural to God’s original order.

The fact of the matter is: No one wants to die. Not even the Christian wants to die, but we all must (Romans 6:23). Yet ultimately I do not have to fear death because Christ has conquered death. Having been united into His death via Baptism, I have also been united into His resurrection, that is, life (Romans 6:8-10; Hebrews 2:14-15).

What is perhaps most interesting is Neumeister’s connection of Baptism to Paradise. As Neumeister was highly educated, he may or may not have been familiar with Saint Ephrem the Syrian, who connects Baptism to the two Edens—the paradise of Eden before the Fall and the eschatological Eden/Paradise to come. McDonnell explains Ephrem’s understanding of the Christian’s participation in Jesus’ Baptism when he or she is baptised:

Though the putting on of the robe [of Christ in Baptism] is real, it is incomplete; its full glory is revealed only at the end of time, at the general resurrection. So the Christian baptism places one in eschatological tension, the stress-point between what is given now, and its full flowering in paradise [a simul of our Baptism]. While the paradise lost and paradise regained stand in intimate relationship, what is regained is more glorious than what was lost. In paradise regained, God will give, with greater liberality, the divinity, which Adam and Eve tried to steal from the Tree of Life… The glory the baptized takes from the Jordan when one descends into the water is the glory of the Garden of Eden, and is the glory one ascends with into the eschatological paradise. The baptized stands poised between “two” paradises that are in fact one.

McDonnell, 146-147

According to Ephrem, there is a duality of simuls (simultaneity). The dual simul of our Baptism is that (1) in my Baptism the glory that was lost at the Fall in the previous paradise has not only been restored to me, but I shall also receive an even better and fuller glory in the Paradise to come; and (2) I have received the Paradise right now in my Baptism, but not yet in full, and I shall receive it in full when the Lord ushers in the Paradise upon His glorious return.

Because of this duality of simuls, Neumeister draws from Job 42:6 (“Though I lie in dust and ashes”). “Faith’s assurance brightly flashes” could be Job’s assurance of faith he had confessed earlier, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). This is the same faith our Baptism gives us and the faith we rejoice in this verse of the hymn. Death cannot end my gladness because I know that even though my flesh shall be destroyed, I shall see and stand with God in Paradise! My Baptism assures me of this! Though death shall take me, the Lord shall wake me.

Verse 5, To Wake from the Sleep of Death

There is nothing worth comparing
To this lifelong comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring:
Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising,
Still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ;
I’m a child of paradise!

LSB 594:5

This final verse of the hymn functions as a concluding summary of the previous four. Here, I sing again of the priceless treasure my Baptism is—no thing on earth can compare. Many deathly things in this world might be staring back at me—whether illness, pandemic, despair, or sin—but although my death shall eventually come, my death is only a sleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Just as Jesus said the dead girl was only sleeping before He raised her from the dead (Matthew 9:23-26), so He shall wake me up from the sleep of death and welcome me into Paradise! As a child of paradise, I shall once again live in the flesh, this time with Christ my Lord and a regained and better glory in the image of God!

Bibliography

Craig, Madelyn “Rose.” The Lutheran Column. “Hymns: God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It.” November 10, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2021. https://thelutherancolumn.com/2018/11/10/rose-hymns-gods-own-child-i-gladly-say-it/.

McDonnell, Killian. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: The Trinitarian and Cosmic Order of Salvation. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996.

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