|Baptized into your name most holy,|
|O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,||Matt. 28:19|
|I claim a place, though weak and lowly,|
|among your seed, your chosen host.||Jer. 2:21; Matt. 13:24; 1 Pet. 2:9|
|Buried with Christ and dead to sin:||Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:11|
|your Spirit e’er shall live within.||John 14:17|
|My loving Father, me you’ve taken||Rom. 8:15–17; 1 John 3:1|
|fore’er to be your child and heir;|
|my faithful Savior, me you’ve given|
|your righteous, holy life to share;||Gal. 2:20|
|O Holy Spirit, you will be|
|a comfort, guide, and help to me.||John 14:26|
|And I have vowed to fear and love you,||Deut. 11:13|
|and to obey you, Lord, alone;|
|because the Holy Spirit moved me,||Gal. 5:25|
|I dared to pledge myself your own,|
|renouncing sin to keep the faith|
|and war with evil unto death.|
|My faithful God, your Word fails never,||Ps. 105:8|
|your cov’nant surely will abide;||Gen. 17:7; Is. 54:10|
|oh, cast me not away forever,||Ps. 51:11|
|should I transgress it on my side!|
|Though I have oft my soul defiled,|
|in love forgive, restore your child.||1 Pet. 3:21|
|Yes, all I am and love most dearly|
|I offer now, O Lord, to you.||Rom. 12:1|
|Oh, let me make my vows sincerely,||Prov. 20:25|
|and what I say, help me to do.||1 John 3:18|
|Let naught within me, naught I own,||Deut. 6:5|
|serve any will but yours alone.||Matt. 6:24|
|And never let my purpose falter,|
|O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,|
|but keep me faithful to your altar,||Lev. 6:12; 1 Pet. 2:5|
|till you shall call me from my post.||1 Thess. 5:23–24|
|So unto you I live and die||Phil 1:21|
|and praise you evermore on high.|
According to Luther’s Small Catechism, the use of water in baptism 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.” Christian baptism is not an isolated event in our past but the sign and seal of an ongoing covenant, which has implications for every day of our lives. Johann J. Rambach’s hymn incites each congregant to meditate anew on those implications.
Because the covenant is between God and his people, Rambach first points our attention to the covenant community and the engrafting of a new member through his union with Christ. Since Christ himself defines baptism in the name of all three persons of the Trinity, Rambach uses a Trinitarian formula in stanza 1 and then invokes all three persons again in stanza 2: God the Father as a father (since baptism is primarily a sign to mark out the covenant family, the focus on adoption makes sense), God the Son because of his active obedience (when joined in everlasting covenant with God, we share in the obedience of Christ), and God the Spirit because he dwells within the hearts of God’s covenant people.
After stanzas 1–2 speak of the deeds of God, stanza 3 reminds us that covenants involve two parties. Although ours is the passive party here, we nevertheless agree to certain duties: exclusive worship and every effort to obedience. The third line of stanza 3 may seem parenthetical, but it serves as a helpful reminder that it wasn’t our own merits that drew us to the baptismal font. God in his divine election sent his Spirit to move us toward the waters.
Having established what is required of us, we are likely to become fearful, for who has been perfectly faithful to his baptismal vows? Thankfully, the fourth stanza turns to the permanence of God’s covenant with us (“My faithful God, your Word fails never”). Since the fulfilment of the baptismal promise depends on God and not us, we rest in the covenant with security. When we fail in our duties to God we can, on the basis of what was pictured in our baptisms, “appeal to God for a good conscience,” as the Apostle Peter puts it; so the second half of stanza 4 asks for forgiveness for sin.
Receiving forgiveness, the repentant Christian is to turn to newfound obedience in Christ, and in the fifth and sixth stanzas of this hymn the singer petitions God for improved obedience to his baptismal vows. Catherine Winkworth’s translation is beautiful, but, in her efforts to create a thoughtful paraphrase, she occasionally departed from Rambach’s original images. We see this in the last stanza with its allusion to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which is not present in Rambach’s German poem. Winkworth certainly must intend “altar” as a metaphor for Christ, and uses the word merely to create the image of a prayerful saint who serves Christ to the end.
The text, then, summarizes all the benefits and duties which come in baptism, addresses the reality that we both fail in those duties and are nevertheless held in covenant by the perfect obedience of Christ, and challenges us to new and steadfast obedience to those vows. Certainly, one of the purposes of a baptismal service is to recall to the minds of congregants their own baptism and this hymn does so successfully.
There is no tune universally associated with this text. The Trinity Hymnal (1990) uses NEUMARK/WER NUR DEN LIEBEN GOTT, which in both its duple-meter and triple-meter variants is widely linked in hymn-singers’ minds with the text for which it was composed: “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee.” In spite of this older association, the tune is more useful here, as a setting to this scripturally rich hymn on a difficult topic that is rarely addressed well in hymns.
The most striking thing about this minor-mode tune is the way it emphasizes the very features that make it minor. The opening gesture reverses direction, from ascent to descent, on B-flat—the third scale degree, which is a half-step lower than it would be in major mode. Then come three measures that play with the difference between F-sharp (the raised seventh scale-degree, with its upward tendency) and F-natural (the lowered seventh scale-degree, with its downward tendency). Particularly memorable here is the somewhat unexpected F-natural on “O Father.” A leap up to a note which we have only recently left in its raised form is the kind of gesture that normally stumps congregations. Almost miraculous however is the consistency with which congregations get that F-natural right. Such insistence on the most piquant elements of the minor mode makes the subsequent swing to major mode at “Buried with Christ and dead to sin” seem all the more expansive, even as it achieves the most important objective of any hymn tune: to impress itself on the singer’s memory.
Though not, perhaps, an energetic tune—it’s certainly not flashy—in its simplicity and distinctiveness, it serves its purpose here well. Reflecting on our own baptism requires great concentration and memory. The tune does not distract us from this work and, more positively, it sets the text in our mind so that we can think about it after the service is over.