By Aaron Hills
This is a subject that has been strangely prolific in controversial literature, largely because there is a tendency in human nature to magnify rites and forms and ceremonies. Spiritual realities are lost in symbols. People get their eyes on the visible thing, rather than their thoughts on the spiritual experience signified. We are compelled to investigate the subject, each for himself in the light of revealed truth. It will be proper to discuss the subject under the following heads: I. The nature of baptism; II. The mode of baptism; III. The import of baptism; IV. The subjects of baptism.
I. The Nature of Baptism. Baptism may be defined as application of water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as an outward sign of an inward work of grace. It is also the initial rite of entrance into the Christian Church, and a divinely appointed method confessing faith in Christ before the world.
We may conclude from the above the Obligation of Baptism. There are some branches of the Christian Church who are disposed to deny that we are under any obligation to observe this rite or, indeed, any sacrament under the Christian dispensation. They base their views on Heb. 9: 10, "Only with meats and drinks, and divers washings (baptisms), carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation." The term "washings" in the Greek is (baptismous), baptisms; but it by no means follows that the Gospel sacrament of baptism is referred to. The Apostle in the context is referring to the ceremonial baptisms of the Jewish Church. These were, indeed, all set aside by the Gospel. But as the Apostles practiced Christian baptism after the ascension of Christ, it is perfectly manifest that those inspired men did not include baptism among the things that were done away.
Others conclude that baptism is set aside from the words of John the Baptist: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." From this passage the inference is drawn that under the Christian dispensation water baptism is supplanted by the baptism with the Holy Spirit. It may be that John's baptism as a sign of repentance was set aside or, at least, was only a type and forerunner of the coming baptism to be administered by Jesus; but still it does not prove that Christian baptism is set aside.
That baptism is of perpetual obligation may be argued,
(1.) From the command of Christ. His parting charge to His disciples was: "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28: 19). Here is specific direction with regard to the spreading of the Gospel and kingdom of Christ until "the end of the world," and water baptism is included among the helps to that end. So plain a command of Jesus, uttered at such a time, concerning such an important work, we dare not lightly set aside.
(2) From Apostolic practice. Those Apostles surely knew the teaching of Christ about this rite. They heard His plain directions. He could not have left them in any doubt about the meaning of His command. Only a brief ten days after His ascension came the Pentecost, when, under the most potent illumination and manifestation of the Holy Spirit power the world has ever seen, they baptized three thousand converts in one afternoon. If their purpose to baptize was wrong, would not the Holy Spirit have told them? And if they had all made a mistake and misinterpreted the words of Jesus, could He not have set them right when He afterward indoctrinated St. Paul in the meaning of the Gospel, and set him up to be the great Christian teacher of the ages? But nothing of the kind ever took place. So far as we can learn from the brief records, baptism kept pace with the progress of the church so long as the Apostles lived, and on through the succeeding centuries. One or two characteristic verses will show what seems to have been the universal custom: "But then they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8: 12). "And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his immediately" (Acts 16:33). "Then answered Peter, can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10: 47). Here the Holy Spirit fell upon the believers first, and the water baptism followed, by the administration of the Apostle, Peter. This proves that water baptism was not superseded by the baptism with the Holy Ghost. The two went together. It makes it certain that water-baptism is a divine institution appointed by Christ, and is to believers a perpetual obligation.
II. The Mode of Baptism. Those who call themselves "Baptists" and those who strenuously contend for immersion make five distinct claims. 1. That the word, baptize, means nothing but immerse: 2. That nothing but immersion is, or can be, Christian baptism: 3. That only adults are the proper subjects of baptism: 4. That Christian baptism is a type of the death and resurrection of Christ: 5. That the baptism of infants is a modern innovation without any support in the Word of God. We shall show that in all these contentions they are quite mistaken.
The precise question comes before us: Is immersion essential to Christian baptism? The question is not, is immersion a proper mode of baptism; but is it the only mode of baptism? We decidedly take the negative of the question.
1. Then consider the meaning of the word (baptizo). It may be thought that the question turns wholly on the meaning of this word which Jesus used in the great commission (Matt. 28: 19), "baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." It might be urged that if the word means, "immersing," and that only, then all must immerse to obey. If Christ meant "sprinkle," then Baptists are wrong, and all must sprinkle. But if the word means "ceremonial cleansing," or "ritual purification by water," then any mode is right, and the Baptist theory falls to the ground.
Even granting that the word in classic Greek means always to immerse (which we do not grant), that does not at all decide the meaning if the word in the lips of Christ and His Apostles, theos, Christos, Metanoia, agape, pistis, sarx, ouranos, deipnon, pneuma,- all meant different ideas to the classic Greek than to a Christian Apostle. The words were spiritualized and immeasurably exalted when adopted into sacred literature.
Bapto had a secondary meaning given to it even by classic Greeks. First it meant to dip or immerse; then to dye without reference to mode. Homer in the Battle with Frogs and Mice, tells of a mouse that "fell and breathed no more and the lake was dyed with blood." Surely a lake was not immersed in the blood of a mouse."
Baptizo in classic Greek meant to dip in milk, vinegar, oil, water, honey, wax, fire, or ointment. Yet to immerse in oil or milk, would not be Christian baptism, although Christ said nothing about water in the command to baptize. The classic meaning does not at all hint at the Scriptural meaning. There is no water in the classic baptizo; but there is in the New Testament use. An immersion in desert sand might strongly typify to a Baptist Christ's death and resurrection, but it would not be Christian baptism.
Rev. Edmund Fairfield, D. D., for years president of a Baptist College, and then Chancellor of a State University, was one of the bright lights of his denomination, and a Baptist minister for a quarter of a century. So recognized was his scholarship and ability that a Baptist publishing house requested him to prepare a book in defense of Baptist views. He started in to write a book, as he supposed, in favor of immersion that nobody could answer. He examined the whole subject anew; but did not read a single book written against immersion, but critically read very many in favor of it. He made a journey to Palestine to study the question there. This is what he writes of his experience: "I found tower after tower of my Baptist fort tumbling down. Month after month for more than two years did I labor to maintain my old ground, but to no avail. There were too many and solid facts against me. I was convinced of my error. Immersion was not the only baptism. The word 'baptizo' did not mean 'immerse,' in the New Testament. I saw it clearly." What did he do? He wrote an unanswerable argument against immersion, and like an honest man left the Baptist denomination and joined the Congregationalists. Against the convictions of a lifetime, he was forced to conclude that there is not one passage in the Bible that necessarily involves or requires immersion. He said: "After most laborious research, in spite of the beliefs of twenty-five years to combat, I am compelled to say that baptizo in the New Testament neither means to immerse, to sprinkle, nor to pour. It conveys the general idea of ceremonial purification by water by all of these methods, but limited to none." We shall incorporate the substance of his argument in the following discussion, making free use of the evidence he gathered, and also draw freely from other writers. Of our indebtedness to whom, we now make full acknowledgment. As the argument proceeds, it will be perfectly apparent to the observant student why Dr. Fairfield concluded that the Baptist theory is wholly untenable, and immersion is not essential to Baptism.
1. The testimony from the Lexicons. Immersionists assert that "all lexicographers define Baptizo to man to immerse, to dip, and to plunge; not one to sprinkle or to pour." Whether this assertion is true or false we will leave to be determined by the lexicographers themselves. They shall decide the question.
Schrevelius, the great master of the Greek language whose Lexicon has been a standard authority for about two hundred years, defines Baptizo by mergo, abluo, lavo; that is to immerse, to wash, to sprinkle or wet. The same definitions are given by Scapula, and Hendericus. Only one of the words denotes exclusive immersion, the others signifying the application of water by other modes.
Schleusner, in his Lexicon of the New Testament, a work of the highest authority, defines Baptizo:
1. to immerse in water: 2. to wash, sprinkle or cleanse with water: 3. to baptize: 4. to pour out largely." Only one of these definitions restricts the meaning to immersion. Three of them denote the application of water by affusion.
Cole defines Baptizo: "to baptize, to wash, to sprinkle."
Suidas defines Baptizo by "mergo, madefacio, lavo, abluo, purgo, mundo; that is to immerse, moisten, sprinkle, wash, purge, cleanse.
Passor defines it "to immerse, to wash, to sprinkle."
Conlor defines it by "mersione, ablutione, etaspersione"; that is, immersion, washing, sprinkling or wetting.
Robinson defines: "to wash, to lave, to cleanse by washing." "In reference to the rite of baptism, it would seem to have expressed not always simply immersion but the more general idea of ablution or affusion." He then proceeds through a whole column to prove that it could not always mean immersion, and must mean in many places pouring or sprinkling" (pp. 118, 119).
Grove defines it "to dip, plunge, immerse, wash, wet, moisten, stain, sprinkle, steep, imbue, dye, or color."
On the testimony of the Lexicographers, then the theory of immersionists or Baptists falls.
2. We now turn to the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, and the Apochryphal books. This translation was made perhaps B. C. 280. It proves that the word was used long before Christ, to convey the idea of ceremonial cleansing, by the use of water. Bapto, and its derivative Baptizo were often so employed as to convey the idea of affusion, or sprinkling, and to exclude the idea of immersion.
(1) We read, Leviticus 14: 6, "As for the living bird he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip (or tinge) them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water." Here it is evident that bapsei, the future of bapto, cannot mean to immerse, for it is impossible that the "living bird, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet and the hyssop," should all have been totally immersed in the blood of one bird.
(2) It is found in Septuagint, 2 Kings 5: 14, in the case of Naaman, a translation of the Hebrew "tawbal," which is translated fourteen times by bapto, but here by (baptizo) because it expressed not the dipping, but the resultant ceremonial cleansing of Naaman. Seven gave the idea of completeness to the Hebrew mind.
(3) In Daniel 4: 33, it is recorded that Nebuchadnezzar's body (ebaphe) was wet with the dew of heaven. Now what is the action which in here expressed by elmphe an inflection of bapto? If we allow the Scriptures to explain their own phraseology, they will determine this to be a clear case of affusion or sprinkling, and not of immersion. Thus, "The dew fell upon the camp in the night" (Num. 11:9). "His heavens drop down dew" (Deut. 33:28). "As the dew falleth on the ground" (2 Sam. 17: 12).
(4) The next case is in the book of Judith, and shows conclusively that baptizo was used to express the general idea of ritual purification, in a case where immersion is excluded with absolute certainty. Judith 12: 6, 7, 9. She "purified herself" (ebaptizeto) at the fountain, not in it, and entered into her tent pure (katharos). It was in a camp of soldiers, under the eye of a guard, at a spring (epi????). A hard pressed Baptist writer suggests that she might have found a horse-trough large enough to immerse herself in. It only shows to what silly lengths men will go to force an argument, when they make "at a spring," mean "in an imaginary horse-trough!" The purification of a Jew was almost always by sprinkling, and with running water.
(5) The next and only other use of (baptizo) in Septuagint is in Ecclesiasticus or Son of Sirach, 34: 25, and is in itself enough to settle the whole question. "He that is purified (baptizomenos) from a dead body and touches it again, what does his cleansing profit him?" To see how it was done, read Numbers 19: 13, 16, 19. A clean person took a bunch of hyssop and dipped it in running water and sprinkled the unclean. See the New Testament references to the same ceremony in Heb. 9: 13, 14, and Heb. 10: 22. The whole process of cleansing was by sprinkling, and yet in the passage above quoted, and in Heb. 9: 10, it is called baptism. It is absolutely conclusive.
Josephus, referring to this, wrote 250 years later. Baptizing by these ashes put into spring water, they sprinkled on the third day and seventh day (Josephus, Book 4, chapter 4).
These passages clearly show that baptizo had been used by Jewish Greeks to represent the idea of ceremonial cleansing by water for at least two or three centuries before Christ. Christ never explained the word, and it was in this sense therefore that He used it. It was so used when the entire cleansing was by sprinkling. Mr. Carson, the Baptist, translates the passage, "immersed on account of a dead body." This does violence to the Mosaic Law, and also to the meaning of "apo," which means "from" and not on account of. Such a rendering would not be thought of but to save a needy theory.
(6) Here we may remark that Baptist writers assume that "washing" and "bathing," imply immersion. It is a groundless assumption. Dr. Smith in his Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities says: "It would appear from the description of the bath administered to Ulysses in the palace of Circe that the vessel did not contain water itself, but" was only used for the bather to sit in, while the water was poured over him." "On ancient vases in which persons are represented as bathing we never find anything corresponding to a modern bath; but there is always a round or oval basin resting on a stand by the side of which those who are bathing are represented as standing undressed and washing themselves."
Plutarch says: "Some give orders to throw the water on cold; others warm."
Wilkinson speaks of a painting in an old tomb of Thebes which represents a lady at bath with an attendant pouring water from a vase over her head" (Ancient Egyptians, Vol. Ill, p. 328). Even when they went to a river, it was not to immerse, but to get to running water. This will show why "pouring" is spoken of in the Bible (Joel 2:28).
3. We come now to the New Testament.
(1) We consider John's baptism of the people and of Jesus. Baptists are fond of telling how John baptized in Jordan, and how Jesus went down into the water and came up out of the water, thinking that the English prepositions "into" and "out of" settle the whole question. They settle nothing. Matt. 3: 6, we are told that John baptized (in) the river Jordan. 1. Remember that the Jews sought living water; 2. That the preposition (in) is translated "at" 102 times in the New Testament, and it may as well be translated "He baptized at the Jordan"; 3. The expression "In the river Jordan" applies to the whole river-bed, which is very much wider than the stream. Travelers today speak of pitching their tents "in the river Jordan," meaning within the outer banks of course, not in the water.
Moreover it says that, "All Jerusalem, and all Judea and all the region round about, came to be baptized of John." It is popular language. It does not mean everybody; but it doubtless does mean a vast number, perhaps 200,000. It was a vast popular movement that continued a large part of a year. Now what about the probability of John standing in the cold Jordan water, within 200 miles of the snow-capped Lebanon, waist-deep, baptizing in summer and through a winter, countless thousands of people, baptizing eight or ten hours a day? Two weeks of such an experience would kill any man living. Dr. Fairfield says: "As I stood on the banks of the furious, foaming, dashing river, and the words, 'what will you do in the swellings thereof?' occurred to me. I replied inwardly, I do not know; but certainly I would not undertake to baptize anybody by immersion unless I wish to bury him by baptism into death." I would as soon have thought of performing immersion in the Niagara, half a mile above the Cataract as at the Fords of the Jordan in March, 1864" (p. 235).
But it may be asked why John went to the riverside, or to Aenon, near to Salim, (John 3: 22, 23) because there was much water there. Answer: It was for the accommodation of the vast multitudes to drink and cook with, and to water their animals like any modern camp meeting ground today, where there are ten or twelve thousand attendants. It was not because of water to immerse in. Aenon means "fountains" or "springs." The translation should be "many waters," as in the margin of revised version. The springs are there yet, but no body of "much water," is there, and nothing to indicate that there ever was." We have seen two such campgrounds, one at Hollow Rock, Ohio, and one in South West Michigan, gushing springs forming a good stream in each case; but the water was for the people, and the horses. There were no immersions at either of them.
Matt. 3:11, "I baptize you (en) in water" is translated "with" more than a hundred times in the New Testament. In 1 Cor. 5: 8 it is so translated three times. In the companion passage of Luke 3: 16 to Matt. 3: 11, the en before the dative of water is omitted, and must be rendered, "I baptize you 'with water,' "-the dative of means or instrument, and so it should be translated in both verses."Immerse could not be the proper translation of Luke 3: 16 for no one would say, "I immerse you with water."
Matt. 3: 16, He went up straight way out of (apo) the water. This preposition is used 600 times in the New Testament. Only 40 times in the old version was it translated "out of," and almost never in the New Version. Even the Baptist translation of the American Bible Union, translates it but six times "out of," to save their doctrine. It should be translated "from," its true meaning, as it is in the Revised Version, "He went up straight way from the water."
Mark 1: 9-10, Jesus was baptized of John in (eis) the Jordan, and coming up out of (apo) the water. Here may be as en, simply in the Jordan bed, at the Jordan. Eis is translated "to," five hundred times, in the New Testament, and also "towards," upon, up to, until, in, into, as to, in respect to, concerning, in accordance with, conformably to, unto, and many more meanings. We are not shut up to the one translation "into" to accommodate immersionists. It would be proper to translate this passage, in harmony with others -"He was baptized at the Jordan, and coming up from the water. Dr. Fairchild: "Jesus certainly went to the water and came up from the water. That is all that we are certain of. Even if He went into Jordan, as Mark might indicate, (it would not prove immersion). There is an ancient picture in the Catacombs of Rome made in the first century which represents Jesus as standing in the water ankle deep, and the Baptist pouring water from the palm of his hand upon His head. Remembering the way priests were inducted into office by applying water publicly, and the meaning of baptizo and the utter impossibility of John's immersing people month after month, it is, to my mind certain that Jesus was not baptized by immersion. And if He was not, there was not a case in the New Testament."
John 1: 31. "I knew Him not, but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water" (both versions). Jesus asked to be baptized that He might fulfill all righteousness. What righteousness? He had no sins. It was to fulfill the ritual law, as our great High Priest, about to enter upon His work. He was talking to John, the son of a priest, who knew the law about priests being inducted into office thus for 1,500 years, which law Jesus came to fulfill. Exodus 29: 1-4 gives the ceremony. "And this is the thing thou shalt do to hallow them to the priest's office. Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the congregation and wash (rachats) them with water." This is not the Hebrew word for dip (tawbal), and there was no chance for immersion. John says he came to manifest Jesus to Israel. When Jesus explained that He wished to be set apart ritually by John the appointed fore-runner, he at once baptized Him with the ritual application of water. The probability is immense that Jesus would not radically alter the performance of the rite by being immersed. There is not a single prophecy that foretells that either John or Jesus would immerse anybody, but plenty that speak of them as purifiers. "He shall purify the sons of Levi." "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you." "So shall he sprinkle many nations."
Another argument against the necessity of immersion can be made from the fact that if it had been essential to baptism, and the only allowable mode of it, the Bible writers could easily have made it certain that all went into the water to be baptized, viz., by compounding the preposition eis with the verb and then repeating it before the noun. A fine illustration of this is found in John 20: 3, 4, 6, 8. (v. 3) Peter and the other disciple came to the sepulcher. The preposition eis is before the noun, but is not compounded with the verb, (v, 4) The other disciple came first to the sepulcher, but did not go into it; and the preposition eis is used but once before the noun, but is not compounded with the verb. He stooped down and looked in, but did not go into. (v. 6) Then cometh Simon Peter and went into the sepulcher. Here the preposition is both compounded with the verb and again repeated before the noun. It is "eiselthen eis to mnemeion." (v. 8) then entered in also that other disciple. Here again the preposition is used twice. This unequivocal method of expressing the idea of going into is never used of going into water for baptism. This all means that the Bible might have taught the fact and the necessity of immersion; but it didn't.
(2) We proceed to show from other passages of Scripture the utter impossibility of "baptize" and "baptism," meaning only immersion. Mark 7: 4, "When they come from the marketplace except they baptize themselves (baptisontai) they eat not; and many other things which they have received to hold,-washings of cups and pots and brazen vessels, and tables or couches. The word washings is "baptismous." Now who can believe that they immersed themselves every time they came from the market before they ate; and also immersed their couches on which they reclined? Incredible! Going to the market they might unknowingly have touched some leper or some one that had touched a dead person or an unclean beast; and when they got back they performed a ceremonial cleansing which was performed by sprinkling (Lev. 14: 7). And this is called "baptismous" baptisms in this passage. Immersion would not be thought of. It must always be by living water, or water in motion. Such a thing as immersion in still water in a baptistery or a pond or lake for religious cleansing would be abhorrent to a Jew of all ages. It is so in the Orient today. Still water represents death and corruption. The tables or couches could not be immersed from their very size. Besides there is not a single case of immersion required by the Mosaic Law (see Lev. 14: 17; 8: 6; Num. 19: 13-17).
Luke11: 38. "When the Pharisee saw it he marveled that He had not first baptized Himself (ebaptisthe). Who can believe that the host expected Jesus to immerse Himself just before sitting down to the table? Jesus had been teaching in a crowd, and might have touched some unclean person,"-and the Pharisee thought Jesus should have cleansed Himself ceremonially before eating. It was done by sprinkling, but it is called "baptized Himself."
John 2: 6 and John 3: 25, 26. "And there were set there six water pots, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews." Where they ceremonially sprinkled themselves, or a servant poured water upon them. But nothing, not even the hand, was immersed; for the water was left clean for drinking, and Jesus turned it into wine and it was drunk. John 3: 26, "And there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying" (same Greek word used in John 2:6). They appeal to John. (v. 27) "Rabbi, - he to whom thou bearest witness, behold the same baptizeth, and all men come to him." So the "purifying" question turns out to be a discussion about baptism! And where and how did they "purify" themselves? By sprinkling themselves at the water pots, at the front door. And it was baptism!! Such passages make it absolutely certain that baptize does not mean immerse, and immersion is not essential to baptism.
Now we come to Pentecost. Acts 1: 5 and chapter 2. "John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." Peter explained it as follows: "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (2: 28). "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh." They were not immersed in the Spirit: he was "poured out upon them." Other prophets spoke about this baptism as follows: Isaiah 32: 15, "Until the Spirit be poured out." Ezek. 39: 29, "For I have poured out my Spirit." Ezek. 36: 25, 27, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you; from all your filthiness will I cleanse you ... and I will put my Spirit within you." Isa. 44: 3, "I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed." Zech. 12: 10, "I will pour upon the house of David the Spirit of grace and supplication; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only Son!" What a picture of Pentecost! Isa. 52: 14, 15, "As many were astonied at thee (his visage was so marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men). So shall he sprinkle many nations." Representatives of fourteen different nations were baptized on .the day of Pentecost both with water and with the Spirit.
Now here are seven prophecies of the wonderful scene; two speak of sprinkling, and five of pouring, and not one hints at immersion! And Jesus called it "baptism with the Holy Spirit." Yet the Baptist writers try to claim even Pentecost. "But the attempt is most painful to contemplate." Says Dr. Fairfield.
Dr. Carson ((pp. 109-111) talks about the immersion of the disciples in "wind and fire." "The house was filled with wind that the disciples might be baptized in it. Their baptism consisted in being totally surrounded with wind." Further on he says: "They were surrounded by the wind and covered by the fire above. They were therefore buried in wind and fire." Still further-for he must defend immersion through thick and thin at all hazards, he says: 'They were literally covered with "the appearance of wind and fire!"
Immersed in wind! Immersed In wind and fire! Immersed in the appearance of wind and fire!' What can such language mean? It hasn't any meaning. Had not the noble doctor been confused by the desperation of his cause, he would have noticed that it was not wind that filled the house, but "a sound as of a wind." To have been exact, he should have said, "They were immersed in a sound." But that would have been still more transparently absurd. But I forbear, only remarking that it is a weak cause that requires a defense so sad and painful from a Christian scholar!" (See Fairfield on Baptism, pp. 197-200.)
The baptism of 3,000. The three thousand were chiefly strangers at Jerusalem. They had no expectation of baptism; were provided with no change of apparel; they were twenty miles from the Jordan. There were no facilities in or about Jerusalem for immersion, except in the reservoirs of water used for drinking or cooking. To believe that these were used is preposterous. Decency and health would forbid it. Moreover these reservoirs were under the control of the deadly enemies of Jesus,-the city officials who had just put Him to death. They would not have allowed their best friends to be immersed there much less these hated Christians. "I have studied this subject in Jerusalem," says Dr. Fairfield, "and I cannot see how anyone familiar with the city, and conditions of the times, can for a moment accept the belief that the three-thousand were immersed, there being no natural body of water to furnish facilities, and no reservoirs to which access would not have been utterly impossible."
Dr. Godbey, after visiting Palestine, and having himself, like Dr. Fairfield, been immersed, gives similar testimony to the incredibility of these people being immersed. Edward Robinson, D. D., LL. D., says in his Lexicon of New Testament: "In Acts 2:41, three thousand persons are said to have been baptized at Jerusalem, apparently in one day at the season of Pentecost in June; and in Acts 4:4 the same rite is necessarily implied in respect to five thousand more. Against the idea of full immersion in these cases there lies a difficulty, apparently insuperable, in the scarcity of water. There is, in summer, no running stream in the vicinity of Jerusalem, except the mere rill of Siloam, a few rods in length; and the city is and was supplied with water from its cisterns, and public reservoirs. From neither of these sources could a supply have been well obtained for the immersion of 8,000 persons. The same scarcity of water forbade even the use of private baths as a general custom" (p. 119).
The great missionary to the Sandwich Islands, Titus Coan, baptized 1,700 converts in one day. He had them seated in lines, and he went along sprinkling them with a sponge, pronouncing the baptismal formula as he went. Most likely in some such way the multitudes at Jerusalem were baptized, with a hyssop dipped in water.
Baptism of the Eunuch. (Acts 8: 38, 39) "They both went down to (eis so translated 500 times in common version) the water. . . . And when they came up from (ek, translated "from" 170 times, and only 140 times "out of" in the New Testament) the water." The certain way of stating that one went out of a thing is by compounding this preposition ek with the verb, and then repeating it with the noun. It is so used in Mark 5: 8, "Come out of the man, thou unclean Spirit," and Mark 7: 31, "He went out from the borders of Tyre." (R. V.) Luke 4: 35, "Come out of him ... and when the devil had thrown him down in the midst, he came out of him. In the first instance in this verse ek is repeated; in the second instance, both ek and apo, are used, making it emphatic. But this repetition of ek, or apo is never found in the New Testament when referring to baptism. "Therefore there is no certain evidence in the New Testament that any one either went into the water or came out of it in connection with baptism."
The Eunuch was riding across the country in his chariot, not expecting immersion or apparelled for it, and came to a little rill of water, and the eunuch proposed baptism. What made him think of baptism at all? Because in the very passage in Isaiah, which Philip expounded, just seven verses before the verse which the Eunuch inquired about, Isaiah said: "So shall he sprinkle many nations" (52: 15). The probabilities are more than a thousand to one that the Eunuch was sprinkled. Travelers tell us that there is no spot on that road where a man could possibly be immersed the greater part of the year.
Dr. Godbey says: "The Bible is a self-interpreter. Hence my only appeal is to the Bible itself. That the solution may be close, clear and conclusive. I take the same author (Luke) and let him explain himself. He tells us in Acts that Jesus did the same thing with the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:5) that Philip did to the Eunuch; but he tells me Jesus poured the Spirit on them (Acts 2: 17). So I have the Bible answer that Philip poured the water on the Eunuch. (Sprinkle and pour are both affusion and the same.) Bloomfield, Jameson, Faussett and Brown, Olshausen and Baumgarten, the great lights of exegesis, corroborate this interpretation. There is no assurance in the original Greek that they either went into the water or came out of it. They went down to the water and came up from the water." The same preposition eis is used in Matt. 17: 27, where Jesus told Peter to "go to the sea, and cast a hook and take the fish that first cometh up." Are we compelled to believe that Peter had to dive into the sea and fasten the hook into the mouth of the fish?
Acts 9: 18. The Baptism of Saul. The whole story of the Apostle's baptism is told by three Greek words (kai anastas ebaptisthe) "and having arisen he was baptized." There is no intimation, and not the slightest probability that he left the room or moved one step from where he sat. He had been three days without sight, or food, or drink, v. 9. He was in a condition of utter physical prostration, and he was baptized before being "strengthened with nourishment." There is not the slightest indication or probability that he was immersed.
Acts 10: 47. Baptism of Cornelius. "While Peter was yet speaking, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the Word, v. 44. Then Peter said: "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" This sounds very much as if water was to be brought, just as it has been brought many times in a bowl to us to perform a household baptism. They were sitting in a private house, and there is no indication that they left the house to go off to some living stream to immerse.
Godbey says: "Now what is the revelation on the mode of baptism? It is clear as the meridian sun. Jesus baptizes, Peter's congregation while he is yet preaching to them; and what was the mode? "The Holy Ghost fell on them." When Peter saw his Savior had baptized his congregation, he immediately said he would do the same with water. And so the inspired historian said he did. Remember Peter uses the same word baptize to describe what he did with water and what Jesus did with the Holy Ghost. So we are coerced to conclude he did the same thing. "Fell on them," reveals the mode of baptism both by Spirit and water. "The whole narrative shows that they were baptized by affusion there in the house" (Baptism, pp. 27, 28).
Acts 16: 15. Baptism of Lydia and her household. "And when she was baptized and her household." The location was not unfavorable for immersion, but there is no hint of any delay to provide herself and others with a change of apparel. The simple natural interpretation precludes any such supposition. There is nothing about the word or the story that requires immersion or hints at it.
Godbey gives it as his opinion, that such was the temper of the times and the spirit of persecution and opposition to Christianity when it was first introduced, that if the apostles had immersed the mob would have assaulted them. "If Paul at Philippi had undertaken to immerse Lydia in the River on whose bank she was converted; her friends would have rallied and flogged him more terribly than they ever did for preaching. The very fact that they never persecuted them on account of their baptisms is unanswerable negative proof that their baptisms were not immersions, but simple affusions, so unostensible as to be passed over unnoticed by their enemies. They never would have permitted them to immerse their women" (p. 34).
Acts 17: 33. Baptism of the jailer. "And he took them, the same hour of the night and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately." In the prison, at the dead of night, the apostles not at liberty to leave the prison, nor the jailer to take them out, there is not one probability in a million that immersion was even possible. We have Paul's veracity for it, that he did not and would not go out of the jail until the cruel, law-breaking magistrates brought them out. John Wesley, Witseus, Baumgarten, and Moses Stuart give it as their opinion that Paul took from the same water brought to "wash their stripes" and baptized the jailor, and his household. The supposition of a tank all ready for immersion is absurd, and is a bald invention to get rid of a difficulty, and prop up a theory wholly unreasonable.
We see from the above that in the New Testament, men were baptized just where they happened to be converted, and at once, three thousand in the heart of Jerusalem. Saul in a private room in Damascus, the Eunuch in a dry and sandy desert. Cornelius and his family in his sitting room. Lydia out by the river side, and the jailor in the prison! How different from all this would have been the performance of baptism by immersion. We do not find now-a-days that there happens to be a tank full of water wherever a man happens to be converted, whether in a parlor or a jail. On the whole, the assertion that in any case mentioned in the New Testament, baptism was certainly performed by immersion is a bald assumption, unsupported by a single fact.
Rom. 6: 4-6. "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism, into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him by the likeness of His death, we shall also be by the likeness of His resurrection." Here we will let Dr. Fairfield speak: "It was the meaning of their baptism, and not the mode of it that Paul would burn into the minds of these Christians of Rome. The key to the passage is in the second verse; "How shall we, who died to sin, live any longer therein? All that follows goes to enforce the idea of the utter inconsistency of a Christian profession with a continued living in sin. The very purpose for which Christ died was to put an end to the dominion of sin. Our consecration to Him is a consecration to all that His death signified. We were crucified with Him. We have become utterly dead and buried to the old life, and have been raised from the dead to a new life. This did our consecration to Him (made in our baptism) signify. It is therefore utterly preposterous to talk of our continuance in sin, "that grace may abound," or for any other reason.
The whole argument of the Apostle rests, not on the mode of the outward, ordinance, but upon the meaning of it as the beginning of an entirely new life. "Buried into death," is a peculiar form of expression which seems to be equivalent to our expression-"dead and buried"; that is dead beyond any question.
I call attention in this connection to two other points:
1. That all argument for immersion, drawn from the word "buried" depends upon the conception of a literal burial in the water of baptism. But when we bear in mind that the death spoken of in both of these passages is not a literal death, but figurative; that the crucifixion spoken of is not literal, but figurative; that the resurrection in like manner is not literal, but figurative, - is it not plain violation of every law of language to understand the burial alone as literal?
2. To what seems to me to be a manifest belittling of the apostle's whole argument by the interpretation, which the Baptist theory gives it. I cannot help feeling that an appeal to the cknowledged import of baptism as an act of entire consecration of soul, body and spirit to the crucified yet ever-living Christ would be far more impressive than any reference to a mere external form. The latter would seem to me to be trivial as compared with the grandeur and majesty of the former" (pp. 188-190).
Dr. Godbey makes the similar point on this passage: "The falsity of the interpretation consists in its application to water-baptism. All I have to do to refute the immersion, argument is to prove the pure spirituality of the passage to the eleventh verse. Verse 2: "Dead to sin"-spoken of the soul, not the body. Verse 3: "Were baptized into Jesus Christ?" Is your body baptized into Christ? The very idea is materialistic, idolatrous and blasphemous. Verse 4: "Buried with Him by baptism into death." Is your body buried with the body of Christ? You know it is not, Hence it is a spiritual burial. Verse 5: "Planted together," should have been translated "grown together." The Bible represents every Christian as a branch growing from Christ the living Vine. Our salvation depends on our being grafted into Christ. Now this is not physical but spiritual. Verse 6: "Old man crucified . . . destroyed." Is the "Old man" your body? Is your body "crucified and destroyed" in water baptism? You know it is not. How preposterous the application. Verse 7: "He that is dead is freed from sin." Is that physical? Then whenever a man is converted his body dies. Verse 11: "Reckon yourselves dead unto sin." Is that your body? Then Christianity is for the dead and not for the living, for a man can never be a Christian while his body lives. So you see the utter falsity of the physical interpretation.
Water baptism is for the physical man. Hence it can't be water baptism. This is the most elaborate, clear and beautiful description of sanctification in the Bible. It is a great pity, to have this scripture so perverted by immersionists. It is no more applicable to a man's body than to his horse. The "Old Man" must be crucified, buried into death, i. e., into the atonement, i. e., utterly destroyed.
It is to be deplored that the immersion dogma throws a dark shadow over this pre-eminently important scripture, deceives the people, and keeps them from seeking the experience described, without which they never can enter heaven. The baptism is not represented here as a burial, but as the burier, i. e., "buried by baptism." Baptism is the agent of crucifixion, burial and resurrection. ... Burial is not the baptism, but one of the important spiritual effects of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I here arraign my immersion brethren for contradicting St. Paul in the following points:
First. When you immerse a man you bury him alive, whereas Paul's man in burial is crucified, i. e., and dead before he is buried. Now tell me by what authority you bury a man alive. You respond, O! his body is not dead but his spirit. Then let us have a spiritual burial and we all agree. The thing buried is dead. But you bury them all alive, and flatly contradict Paul.
Second Antagonism: You bury the man into water, whereas, the "Old Man," in the text is buried into "death" (of Christ).
Third Antagonism: You raise up the same body you bury, whereas, in the text the "Old Man," the son of the devil, is buried and left buried forever, i. e., utterly destroyed.
Fourth Antagonism: "You raise the man by your own physical power, whereas the man in the text is raised, "through faith of the operation of God," i. e., by the power of God, through faith, i. e., the crucifixion, interment, and resurrection are all, like everything else we get from God, simply through faith.
So you see, Rom. 6, is absolutely irreconcilable with the immersion. When you immerse a man you antagonize the Apostle Paul throughout. I would insist that you cease to mar that glorious description of sanctification, i. e., and full salvation, without the experience of which you people will all go to hell. When you immerse people, do like I do, immerse them for accommodation because I believe it will do for baptism; but don't pervert and destroy the force of God's Word in the vain attempt to prove something which is entirely unknown in the Bible. Every word in the chapter proves the baptism to be spiritual (pp. 40-43).
Col. 2: 12. "Buried with Him in baptism wherein also you are risen through the faith of the operation of God." The previous verse speaks about putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.
The same thought of dying to sin in Rom. 6: 3-6, occurs also here, and the rising to holiness. The remarks on that passage need not be repeated here. There is but one difference. In Romans it is "dead and buried"; in Colossians it is simply "buried,"-the burial implying the death, and simply a shorter form of expression. It is death and burial to sin, and not a burial in water that the Apostle is urging.
Acts 22: 16, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Here is Paul's account of his conversion, and baptism. Again two simple words (anastas baptisai). There is not a hint that he left the room, or walked a step from where he was sitting. Certainly there is no suggestion of immersion here. But this passage is valuable in another direction. It is one of many passages, in which baptism is connected with the word "wash," showing that it was understood to be a symbol of purity, not of death and resurrection.
If baptism is a rite symbolizing death and resurrection, as Baptists claim, why was it not said to Paul: "Arise and be baptized and so represent the burial and resurrection of thy risen Lord"? There never could have been a more natural occasion. But it was not said, simply because that is not the meaning of the rite. Dr. Godbey says on this passage, "Water baptism is the emblem of spirit baptism. Paul's sins were on his soul; water could not touch them, unless you adopt the Pagan, Popish and materialistic heresy of baptismal regeneration and conclude that Paul's sins were washed away by the water. Five versions of the New Testament, namely, Wickliff, Tyndale, Crunmer, Geneva and Rheims, all render this passage, "wash away thy sins by calling on the name of the Lord," i. e., by prayer. There is no trouble about it. Paul's sins were symbolically washed away by the water, but really and actually washed away by the blood of Christ, the only elixir of purgation, applied by the Holy Ghost. Could you conclude that the man who said, "Christ sent me a water-regenerationist; Paul's commission, under which he preached all his life had no water in it"? (Acts 26: 18).
1 Pet. 3: 20, 21. "The longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, wherein few that is eight souls were saved by water; the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." The immersionists make the ark a figure of Baptism; as that was surrounded by water, so we are in immersion. There is a fatal grammatical objection to this theory. "The figure whereunto," is in Greek, "the antitype to which, and the pronoun "to which" cannot refer to "ark" because it is of a different gender. Water is the antecedent, and the Apostle says: "Water baptism, as a ceremony of cleansing finds its type in the water that cleansed the old world; not, because it cleanses the flesh but because it fulfills a good conscience in obeying God, - Christ through the power of the resurrection being our only Savior" (Fairfield, pp. 200-202).
On this complicated passage, Dr. Godbey is very strong: "The clause in this Scripture, 'Baptism saves us,' has been wonderfully vociferated by water-regenerationists (Papists and Campbellites). We don't deny that "baptism saves." But what baptism? Let Peter answer. The adjective and noun is but one word in Greek, namely, antitupon, i. e., antitype. Throughout the Bible water is a type and the Holy Spirit the antitype. So here Peter says the antitype baptism, i. e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit now saves us. Peter fortifies himself against the very misconstruction the waterists have foisted on him by inserting the parenthetical clause exegetical of his meaning, "Not putting away the filth of the flesh," i. e., "not water baptism, for the design of water baptism in both Testaments is to remove ceremonial defilement and effect ceremonial purity, while its substantial counterpart (Holy Ghost baptism) removes spiritual defilement and effects spiritual purity. So Peter refutes this heresy by stating, "not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God," i. e., the baptism of the Holy Ghost, in which the Spirit applies the atoning blood, washes the heart, makes it whiter than snow (Ps. SI: 7). This Holy Ghost baptism is God's answer to a good conscience, in which He speaks to your soul and tells you that your conscience, i. e., your heart is pure; you are gloriously "saved to the uttermost." This is salvation by baptism sure enough. It is none of your buncomb water-works." So be sure to get the "antitype baptism," which Peter says, "saves us." That is the Holy Ghost baptism saves us, and not the type (water) (pp. 60, 61).
Acts 2: 38. "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." On these other words of Peter, Dr. Godbey makes a similar striking comment: "I am happy to observe the Revised Version of 1881, omits the Popish phrase, "for remission" involving conditionality, and very correctly gives "unto remission," i. e., with reference to or pointing to, as water baptism refers to, points to and emblematizes the baptism of the Holy Ghost, by which we are saved.
Peter here enforces the baptism of the Holy Ghost as the salient matter, and so exhorts in verse 39: "For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." As Dean Alford and all the authorities certify that water baptism here is the outward and visible sign of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, he preached Holy Ghost baptism essential, and water the symbol referring to it.
These water-regenerationists grossly misrepresent Peter as preaching the essentiality of water baptism, while he lays all the emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which they, in order to enthrone their water-God, discard altogether; thus ejecting God from the plan of salvation altogether. The water-regeneration of this passage antagonizes all the Bible. Peter's commission, under which he preached (Luke 24: 47) promising remission of sins on condition of repentance, had no water in it. When Peter preached to the house of Cornelius, the whole congregation were converted, pardoned, regenerated, and baptized with the Holy Ghost and saved, without a drop of water, (before a drop of water had touched them).
The cases are parallel. Peter says (Acts 15: 8, 9) on both occasions their hearts were "purified by faith." That is the Gospel, Jesus baptizes and saves, not the preacher.
The water-regenerationists who have debated with me have uniformly denied the baptism of the Holy Ghost altogether since the Apostles, thus dethroning Jesus, and enthroning the water-God. And all this in the face of Peter in their favorite Scripture (Acts 2: 39) asserting that it is for everybody and essential to salvation. Why don't they obey Peter, and when they baptize with water pray cm until Jesus baptizes with the Holy Ghost? They deify the shadow and reject the substance. So their water baptism is solemn mockery, farcical and blasphemous (pp. 56-58).
John 3:5. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Water-regenerationists make much of this passage, and other churches very unwisely put it in their baptismal liturgy. There is no reference here to baptism in all probability. Doubtless, it was a well-known phrase referring to child-birth. See Isaiah 48: 1. "Born of, the waters of Judah." This is why Nicodemus made the turn on it which he did, and thus asked for further explanation; and Jesus gave it to him. There are two births in the third verse, and two in the fifth; and two in the sixth verse and seventh, and they are all the same. The first birth is of the mother, called in the fifth verse, "born of water," and in the sixth "born of flesh," (sarx) "human nature";-and the other birth is, "born from above," "born of the Spirit," repeated in verse 6. If this is not the correct interpretation, then we have three births in the passage,-born of the mother, born of water and born of the Spirit,-one too many; and Jesus should have said to Nicodemus, "You must be born twice more or you cannot see the kingdom of God."
Dr. Fairfield writes: "To my mind there is no more allusion to baptism in this verse than to the planet Mars or the French Revolution. It is simply natural birth that is spoken of. Being "born of water" was without doubt a well-known form of speech, which Christ used in that sense. . . . There never was a more fanciful exegesis known to the Middle ages, (than this finding of baptism here). The reading of a single volume upon obstetrics would have suggested to the commentators the true meaning of this passage upon which so many of them have stumbled on the interpretation of this verse. I will put the doctors of medicine against the doctors of divinity, and they will vote them down by an overwhelming majority, and tell them that, this expression was undoubtedly a well-known mode of speaking of natural birth and nothing else" (pp. 171-176).
Heb. 9: 10. "And divers baptisms" (baptismois). Dr. Fairfield says: "Here I thought I should find my Baptist views sustained. To my astonishment I found 'purifyings,' 'divers' of them, but 'immersions' not one! I did not find one instance in which anybody was required to immerse himself or be immersed by another. Naaman did it of choice but was not required to. There was not an instance of required immersion from Genesis to Malachi. Yet the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the "divers baptisms," of the old dispensation, and not one immersion, but plenty of ceremonial water cleansing. It was the purifying and cleansing of Heb. 9: 6-14. A reference Bible consulted will show to what the writer to Hebrews was referring.
"My previous notion that baptism always meant immersion received at this point another staggering blow" (pp. 99-101).
We have now examined as critically as our space would permit, the passages of the New Testament which relate to baptism, or throw any light on the mode of its performance. We have seen that none of them require immersion or teach it. And in most cases the use of that mode is overwhelmingly improbable. Dr. Owen, one of the greatest and best of men, says, "No one instance can be given in Scripture in which the word 'baptize' necessarily signifies to dip or plunge"
Prof. Wm. G. Williams, LL. D, of Ohio Wesleyan University, well says: "The interpreters, who declare that the primitive Christian baptism was by immersion, have invented their facts, to suit their erroneous explanation of the word buried, in Rom. 6, verse 4. There is in the Apostle's words here, no allusion whatever to immersion as the apostolic mode of baptism. The sense of the whole passage as well as of the several words does not hinge in the slightest degree on the mode of baptism. The usage of the Apostolic Church was precisely the same as that of the Jews for centuries before the Christian era, (sprinkling) the same as that of the larger part of the Christian Church for all the centuries since; any ritual application of water met all the requirements of the case. We may concede that apostolic baptism was possibly administered sometimes by immersion, though this is in doubt; yet certainly it was also administered by sprinkling, or pouring and this is not in doubt. The cumulative evidence for this conclusion, from Scripture and from history, long ago amounted to almost a demonstration. But if not thus settled before, the recent "find" of "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" puts it now beyond gainsaying. This book which was recovered at Constantinople in 1884 dates certainly, as early as the year A. D. 120, and some critics think it is earlier than A. D. 90. In chapter VII, of "The Teaching," it says: "Baptize into the name (profession) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water; (that is, in running water, compare John 4: 10). hut if thou have not living water, (going) unto other water (a standing pool), baptize; but if thou canst not in cold (water), then in warm, But if thou have neither (of these out-of-door opportunities), pour water upon the head thrice in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,' The baptism here enjoined in the first two alternatives of "living water" or of "other water" is not to be explained on the assumption that it was done by immersion, but like the baptism of the Jews, and the Baptist, and of the apostles, it was done in the open air, in natural supplies of pure water, not everywhere accessible. The third alternative of pouring water on the head from the hand or from a vessel was then offered for their wants; and this baptism, too, was probably in the open air. But baptism by pouring may equally have been the usage by the side of the running brook or the standing pool. (Baptism, pp. 19-22.) In fact, no change has taken place in the form of administration of Christian baptism. The Church began with sprinkling; and then lapsed for a time into the gross ritualism of immersion; but now has come back to the ancient and simple form in which the Apostles baptized their converts" (p. 25).
How, then, some may ask, did the practice of immersion in the early church become so common? The answer is very simple. It became general in precisely the same way that the false doctrines and unscriptural rites of the Roman Catholic Church became general. Froude observes that "As the stream of piety lowers, the ice of formality and ritualism forms along its banks." The further the church got from the events of the Gospel and the Apostles and from the simplicity and purity and deep spirituality of the early Church, the more they multiplied rites and ceremonies and doctrines and sacraments.
This tendency toward ritualism made St. Paul unceasing trouble during his later years. This, disposition it was that fostered immersion. They first stepped into the water to be sprinkled or poured. Then they were immersed; then they were immersed three times; then they used consecrated water; anointing with oil, and making the sign of the cross; then they clothed in white garments; finally they stripped men and women perfectly naked for baptism to denote their moral nakedness.
The very people who practiced immersion practiced these fooleries, and defended them as Apostolic. E. G. Romanus, in his book, "Ancient Rites," published at Frankfort, A. D. 1681, contends that the use of consecrated water was handed down from the Apostles, touching nose, and ears, etc. He then gravely informs us that females stripped themselves for baptism, and came out of the water in a state of nudity, and that they were not permitted to consult the timidity and modesty of their sex. The reason on which this practice was grounded was this: "that Christ suffered naked, and that females as well as others must imitate Christ," precisely as it is argued now that we must imitate Christ in immersion, Romanus quotes Cyril as exclaiming: "O admirable spectacle! ye were naked in the sight of all and were not ashamed. So you imitate Adam who was naked in Paradise and was not ashamed. Yea, you imitate Him who was naked on the cross, even Christ." To such shameful foolishness can poor human nature descend when it gets away from the spirituality of the Gospel, and begins to magnify the importance of the mode of performing a rite.
After going over the passages in the New Testament, very carefully many times, and reading the arguments on both sides, we do not believe there is a case of immersion in the New Testament, not even one. We do not believe God ever gave the rite in that form, and for many reasons. I will let Dr. Fairfield state them. He writes: "Some years ago, while I was still in the Baptist ministry, but after I had ceased to preach on baptism, and in my own mind, had ceased to insist on immersion, I met a Baptist clergyman, who was an entire stranger to my own thoughts and who said to me, "Has it never occurred to you that the great Head of the Church in establishing an ordinance for all time, and for all seasons of the year, would not be likely to give the Church one that is so utterly un-physiological as immersion? Now I have studied medicine and practiced as a physician fifteen years, and I know that what I say is true-it is contrary to all the laws of life and health, either for the baptized or for the administrator. I was at first quite startled to hear such words from a Baptist minister. But after a moment, I confessed my own thoughts and my own experience. For on several occasions, I had been ill for days, after baptizing a large number of persons in the spring, following a winter of special revival. I was present in Spurgeon's church in the summer of 1873, on the occasion of the baptism of ten persons. Spurgeon was present and preached, and was as well as usual; but another minister performed the ceremony because Mr. Spurgeon felt that his health did not justify him in doing it." I have heard my father tell of a neighbor of his who was immersed, and from the effects of it, she never walked a step for twenty-five years. We have read of two converts being drowned in baptism. On each occasion the preacher became so chilled by the icy water that he could not hold the candidate, and the current carried her under the ice and she was drowned. Dr. Godbey names two ministers who were killed from baptizing in cold water, and of two candidates who died in the very act of being immersed, and of a third who fell dead on the bank. The number of such cases, if they could all be gathered up, would be appalling. Godbey adds: "Jesus said, 'He came not to destroy men's lives, but to save, them,' Immersion destroys life. Hence it is not the institution of Jesus" (pp. 32, 33).
Christianity is a religion for our globe. Godbey says: "Our Savior commands us to baptize all the people in the world. He commands nothing impossible or unreasonable. We can baptize every body, but we can't immerse everybody. We are commanded to baptize the millions of people living around the North Pole. To immerse them would kill both the subject and the administrator" (p. 31, 32). In climes where men have no water in winter but from ice melted over an oil lamp, and in dry and thirsty lands and deserts where immersion would be impossible. Baptism is a rite to be applied immediately after conversion, to young and old, to the sick and the delicate, and the feeble. Is it at all probable that Jesus gave a universal rite to the church, and insisted on a mode of performing it so unreasonable, often so impractical, and so perilous? We are free to say, we do not believe it.
Universal immersion is impractical, even in Jesus' own land. Dr. Fairfield says: "In the spring of 1864, I spent a month in Palestine. I was then a Baptist and expected to remain so. It was in the month of March, and as the latter rain had just ceased, it would be a favorable time for finding suitable conveniences for immersion, if there were any. Yet, aside from the Mediterranean Sea, and the Sea of Galilee, I found only one or two where immersion would have been practicable. It was not oftener than once in four days on the average, that we could have baptized the Eunuch in that method, had we fallen in with him, and had he so required. The Jordan was one of them, and that at the Fords was like the Niagara half a mile above the cataract" (p. 235).
There are four commands in the commission, "go," "Disciple," "Baptize," and "teach." Nothing is said about the mode of going, or discipling, or teaching, or baptizing. The New Testament never insists on the form or mode, but only on things. It teaches worship, but not the form of worship. It teaches observance of the Sabbath, but not the form of observance. It teaches the celebration of the Lord's Supper, but not the form of celebration. It teaches baptism, but not the form of baptism. No rite is more important than the Lord's Supper. But Jesus left it all indefinite. "This do in remembrance of me." But whether bread be leavened or unleavened, eaten standing, sitting, kneeling, or reclining on a couch, as Jesus did, at breakfast, dinner or supper, in the early evening or about midnight, as Jesus did; with females present, or absent, as Jesus did; once a Sabbath, or once a month, when, where, or how is of no significance. Such is baptism. The quantity of water is unimportant, and to teach that it is, is absurd. It is simply a symbol of spiritual cleansing, and a few drops, or a handful is as significant as a tank full, or an ocean full. And yet we say, let any one be immersed who prefers to be, even though it is not the Scripture mode. It is still baptism.
III. The Import of Baptism. We have naturally and necessarily anticipated this part of our discussion in occasional sentences. It was unavoidable. We will now discuss it at sufficient length.
1. Baptism is initiatory. The Church of Christ is an institution. As such it must have some mode of admitting members. While all true gospel Churches insist that people must be regenerated to be fit subjects for church-membership, yet we cannot accurately judge of the state of the heart. So there must be some visible act, of admission. We have no other but baptism, which is of Divine appointment. It has been regarded as the initiatory rite from the earliest ages of Christianity. To deny it is to affirm that Christianity has no such ordinance. So our Lord connected it with the great commission to disciple all nations. As men were baptized in the name of Christ, they were united to his church.
2. It is a mode of profession. Jesus asks us to confess or profess Him before men. Baptism is a confession of our faith in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for what each promises to do for us. It is looked upon by the world as an open avowal of Jesus as our Savior and Lord. The heathen all so understand it, when one of their number steps out from among them and accepts Christian baptism. They look upon him as lost to their fellowship and idolatry forever.
3. Baptism is a sign. It represents visibly to our view all the provisions of the Atonement for the cleansing of the soul from sin. It is a recognition of the cleansing efficacy of the blood of Christ, and the regenerating and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
Baptists contend that baptism always means immersion, and always is a type of death and resurrection. So argues Campbell, Carson, Ripley, Hinton and others. But neither Scripture nor Church History bears them out in this. Over and over again, it is a sign of our Spiritual purification by the Holy Spirit. "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed and my blessing upon their offspring" (Isa. 44: 3). The first clause is explained by the second. "I will sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. ... I will put my Spirit within you . . . and I will save you from all your uncleannesses" (Ezek. 36: 25-29). "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2: 28). This is called in Acts the "Baptism with the Holy Ghost." The fulfillment of Matt. 3: 11 and Acts 1:5. Baptism in its true mode of sprinkling or pouring is eminently the sign of the pouring out of the Spirit, the descending of the Spirit, and the falling of the Spirit upon men, "cleansing their hearts by faith."
4. Baptism is a seal. It is the seal of a covenant between us, and God. On God's part it is a visible assurance appointed by Himself, that He will be faithful to His covenant engagements. He has condescended to bind Himself by a perpetual ceremony that He will do all that He can wisely do for our salvation, or the salvation of those whom we bring to Him in the rite of baptism. But it is our seal also. It is the seal of our covenant to trust in God, and walk with Him with a holy heart, and do what we can to secure our own salvation, and the salvation of the children, whom we have thus given to God. We "set to our seal that God is true," and we pledge ourselves to believe in God for salvation, and live for Him, and keep His commandments, and forever put away sin.
Dr. Fairfield observes: "There has been a substantial oneness of the church from the beginning. There has been but one plan of salvation, but one way of pardon, but one system of truth, from Abraham down. Under the old dispensation there were two ordinances, Circumcision and the Passover. Under the new dispensation there are two, baptism and the Lord's Supper. The two great doctrines of both dispensations are the same. Justification, and sanctification, forgiveness and holiness, pardon and purity. . . . The Lord's Supper shows forth the Lord's death till the end of time, and commemorates our deliverance by the blood of sprinkling. Both speak of pardon.
Circumcision symbolized purity, the putting away of the filthiness of the flesh and spirit. Many passages so represent: "Circumcise, therefore the foreskin of your heart": "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter" (see also Col. 2: 9-11). Now, if baptism under the New Testament Dispensation is also ceremonial cleansing, the unity is complete; but if it is burial, and not purification, the unity is broken. This is a strongly presumptive argument showing that baptism means cleansing and not immersion. The unity is not broken, by such a rite and such an interpretation" (pp. 146-148).
Even the Fathers of the Church prove our position that sprinkling was a proper mode of baptism, and that it symbolized spiritual cleansing, and not the death and resurrection of Christ.
1. Justin Martyr, - born while the Apostle John was yet alive, says: "We make known baptism which he proclaimed, which is alone able to cleanse those who repent. For what is the benefit of that cleansing (baptism) which makes bright the flesh and the body only? (Fairfield on Baptism, p. 212).
2. Hippolytus, about the year 200, after quoting Isa. 1: 16-19, "Wash you make you clean," etc.: "Thou sawest beloved, how the prophet foretold the cleansing of the holy baptism." . . . Certainly, this preacher understood baptism to mean cleansing, not burial (p 212).
3. Cyprian, about A. D. 250, in answer to a question that had been proposed to him as to the validity of baptism performed without 'immersion during sickness, says: "The divine favors are so maimed or weakened, because these sick people have nothing but an affusion or sprinkling; Ezekiel says: 'Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.' And let not such, if they recover of their sickness, think it needful that they should be baptized again. For in baptism the pollution of sin is not washed away as the pollution of the body is washed away, in an external physical bath; far otherwise is the heart of the believer washed."
The whole discussion proves that he thought baptism signified cleansing, and not burial, and that sprinkling was baptism. No Baptist would write such a letter today, for it would give away his whole position.
4. Athanasius, about A. D. 328, wrote: "It is proper to know that in like manner with baptism, the fountain of tears cleanses man. Wherefore many who have defiled the holy baptism by offences have been cleansed by tears and declared just. . . . Three baptisms, purgative of all sin whatever, God has bestowed on the nature of men. I mean that of water, and again that by the witness of one's own blood; and thirdly, that by tears, in which also the harlot was cleansed." (Question LXXII.) A plainer case to prove that the word means "cleansings" and not "immersions," it would be difficult to conceive. Is a martyr immersed in his own blood, or a harlot in her own tears? They might so be sprinkled, but never immersed. And the passage proves that the author looked upon baptism as a type of cleansing, and not of burial.
5. Constantine the Great was sprinkled in A. D, 337.
6. Chrysostom, about A. D. 350, speaking of Christ's cup and baptism, says: "Here calling His cross and death, a cup and a baptism: a cup because He drank it with pleasure; a baptism because by it He cleansed the world."
The same writer, in his discourse on St. Lucian, the Martyr, says: "Wonder not if I call the martyrdom a baptism. For here also the Spirit hovers over with great fullness, and there is a taking away of sins and a cleansing of the soul, wonderful and strange; and as the baptized are cleansed by water, so are the martyrs by their own blood." Here is "cleansing" but no thought of burial, and sprinkling, but no thought of immersion, and it is "baptism."
7. Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, A. D. 412, wrote: "For we have been baptized, not with mere water; but neither with the ashes of a heifer, have we been sprinkled for the cleansing of the flesh alone, as says the blessed Paul; but with the Holy Spirit, and a fire that is divine, destroying the filth of the vileness in us." Again we have sprinkling as baptism, and cleansing, but no burial. In no one of these writings of the early Fathers is baptism regarded as an emblem of burial, and resurrection; and nowhere is immersion represented as the essential form of it. "It seems to me," says Dr. Fairfield, "that an appeal to the Fathers of the first ten centuries, subsequent to the Apostolic Age, is against the Baptist Theory and not in favor of it" (pp. 212-229).
And what shall le said of, the Campbellite theory that immersion is necessary to salvation? It is a monstrous perversion of truth. Dr. Godbey says: "In debating with me, Elder Briney argued, that when God converted a man, still he was not pardoned till he was immersed for the remission of his sins. You see this is a full endorsement of popery, elevating the Pope or the preacher above God. For after God has converted the man, He must still go to hell, unless the preacher immerses him. So Jesus doesn't save him in conversion, but the preacher saves him in immersion! ... A man would a thousand times better never receive water-baptism than to receive it as a saving ordinance; for in that case, it becomes a rival of Jesus. You worship everything to which you impute salvation. If you look to baptism as a saving ordinance in any sense, you deify it and become an idolater. If you go to the water imbued with this heresy, that God has promised to remit your sins in water baptism, you come away unpardoned, and so remain until you abandon the water-God, and take Jesus. The only condition on which Jesus will save, is to abandon everything, i. e., the water, the preacher, and everything else, and take Him alone and trust Him to save you" (Baptism, pp. 48, 4?).
A few months ago a Congregational Deacon told us this incident, which well illustrates the fanaticism of the Campbellite, or Christian or Disciple preachers on this subject: "I was recently riding on the train to Oklahoma City, and sat behind two Campbellite preachers, one a young man just beginning his ministry, and the other a prominent evangelist of that denomination. Said the younger: "I was asked the other day this question. Suppose a person was being immersed, and he went all under but his nose, would he be saved? 'Well,' said the evangelist, 'what answer did you give?' 'I had never heard it put in that way, said the youth, but I answered, 'no.' 'You were right, you were right,' said the elder, 'a man would never be saved, with such a baptism!' "Could anything be a more stupid or a more harmful perversion of the Gospel? We dare to live in the serene faith that the infinite Christ and the omnipotent Holy Spirit are quite able to get a penitent and believing man to heaven, with his nose out of water, all the way. What about the thief on the cross?
IV. The Subjects of Baptism. It still remains for us to consider who are the proper subjects of Baptism. This has been a great source of controversy. We affirm without any hesitation that believers in Christ and the infant children of believing parents are the proper subjects of baptism.
We have already shown that as soon as adults or youth savingly believe, they should on the first opportunity confess Christ in baptism. But the following objections are vigorously urged against infant baptism.
(1) That infant baptism has no express warrant in the word of God. This statement may be questioned. But if it were admitted, to draw this conclusion is to assume the principle that whatever is not expressly enjoined in the Word of God ought not to be done. If so, then females ought not to be admitted to the Lord's Supper, for there is no express warrant for female communion. In the same way we ought not to keep the First Day of the week as a holy Sabbath, for there is no express command to do it. And the same possibly might be said of family prayer. The objection tries to prove too much, and proves nothing.
(2) That infants cannot believe, and therefore should not be baptized. Faith is indeed the proper condition of adult baptism. When Abraham was circumcised, it was "a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had" previously exercised; but when Isaac was to be circumcised, no faith was required of him because he was incapable of it. It is so with baptism. Faith is only required of those capable of exercising it, while their infant children become proper subjects of the ordinance because of the faith of their parents. The objection is, therefore, worthless. But in addition, it proves as much against the salvation of infants, as against their baptism. They cannot believe, and people must believe to be saved, therefore infants will be damned!! Again the argument proves too much, and proves nothing!
(3) Infants should not be bound by this ordinance because they cannot consent to the covenant of which it is the seal. But parents have a right to bind their children by covenants and do it continually. Every time a man deeds a property, he binds himself, his heirs, and assigns forever. But sacred history also refutes the objections. Moses said: "Ye stand this day all of you, before the Lord your God; your Captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water; that thou shouldst enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into His oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day" (Deut. 29: 10-12). Here the parents made a covenant which included their "little ones," and bound them to the Lord. The obligations of religion do not depend on our voluntary, consent, but on the essential nature of our being.
(4) It is often objected, and with a sneer, "what good does it do to baptize a baby?" We may answer solemnly, with another question: "What good did it do for little Isaac and every other Jewish child to be circumcised, by the command of God?" We would reverently suggest that we can never know how much more God can wisely do for the salvation of those children who have been given to Him by parents in a solemn covenant than He can do for others not given to Him. The infinite, covenant-keeping God is quite able to bring special blessings to such children. Of all objections to (infant baptism, this contemptuous one is the most flimsy, and the most common. Suppose we cannot see how it does the children any good, our ignorance is not the measure of our duty, when it comes to the appointments of God, and the dedication of our children to Him in this solemn rite. We are not obliged to believe in baptismal regeneration, nor to fear the damnation of unbaptized infants, in order to feel the importance of infant baptism.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF INFANT BAPTISM
I. From the admission of children to the Church under the Abrahamic Covenant.
Let it be understood that the Church of God took its visible form in the covenant made with Abraham, God said to him: "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12: 3). "Walk before me and be thou perfect, and I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. . . . And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee" . . . And this is my covenant which ye shall keep. Ye shall be circumcised. . . . And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you. Every male throughout your generations" (Gen. 17: 1-12).
It will be observed that circumcision was the seal of the covenant. We shall show that baptism has taken the place of circumcision and is to the Christian Church what circumcision was to the former covenant.
St. Paul interpreted the covenant promise made to Abraham as follows: "The promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the Father of us all," that is, of all believers (Rom. 4: 10, 11; Gal. 3: 14).
This covenant with Abraham was to be everlasting in its duration and universal in its blessing. "I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations for an everlasting covenant" (Gen. 17: 7). "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 22: 18). St. Paul attaches this to the Christian Church as follows: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed. So, then, they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham" (Gal. 3: 8, 9). Hence this covenant, in its highest sense, is carried out in the Gospel dispensation, and Abraham is the Father of all true believers (Rom. 4: 10, 11).
Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, joins the ancient and modern Church, in the following words: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He has visited and redeemed his people. ... To perform the mercy which He promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant the oath which He sware to our father Abraham, that He would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life" (Luke 1: 68-75). Now this Abrahamic Covenant was not annulled by the promulgation of the Gospel; but God saw fit to change the seal of the covenant from circumcision to baptism. The two are coupled together in these words of St. Paul: "And ye are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power; in whom ye are also circumcised in the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism." Here baptism is made the initiatory rite of the new dispensation. By it the Colossians were joined to Christ, in whom they are said to be "complete," and this baptism is called "the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2: 10-12). And again: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, 'for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's (by thus being baptized and putting on Christ) then, are ye Abraham's seed" (Gal. 3:27-29). All these facts show that the Church is one, in the old and new dispensation, and that baptism is now the sign and seal and initiatory rite, as circumcision once was. From these premises, it follows that as infant children of believing parents, under the Old Testament were proper-subjects of baptism.
What a standing objection it would have made for the Jews against Christianity, if no provision had been made for the children to have some visible relation to the church of God I It would have raised a storm of opposition, on the ground, that the children were cast off, and unprovided for. But Church History reveals no such contention; the simple reason is that the children were provided for, by infant baptism.
II. From Scripture Testimony.
Mark 10: 14. "Suffer the little children to come unto me; forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God," etc. We do not argue that Christ baptized these children, or anybody else. But "it is unequivocal testimony that children belong to the kingdom of God." This simply cannot be explained away. It cannot mean less than that children have some real and vital relation to the kingdom of Christ on earth; and to prohibit infants from entering into God's covenant by baptism, is a gross usurpation of authority which belongs only to God, since He always permitted them to enter it by circumcision, and has never repealed the right.
III. From Apostolic Practice.
There are in the New Testament four cases of household baptism, the household of Lydia (Acts 16: 15), the household of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16: 33), the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1: 16), and perhaps of Crispus (v. 14). It does not say expressly that there were young children in each household; but the story reads just as if there were younger members who were baptized on the strength of the faith of the head of the house. It makes a strong presumption in favor of infant baptism. The accounts are worded precisely as we would expect in such a case. There is no fact or command against infant baptism in the New Testament; the relation of little children to the Church is taught; and believers and their households were baptized.
IV. From the History of the Church.
It cannot be denied that infant baptism has been practiced from the earliest days of Christianity. There is no record of its being introduced into the Church. There was never any controversy about it. This is enough to refute the notion that the custom grew up subsequent to the days of the Apostles. It makes it altogether probable, therefore, that the custom Fests on Apostolic authority.
Justin Martyr, born before St. John's death, speaking of the Church of his day, says: "There were many of both sexes, some sixty and some seventy years old, who were made disciples to Christ in their infancy" In no other way could this have been done but by infant baptism.
Origen, born of Christian parents about the year 184, and a man of more information than any other of his day says: "Infants are baptized for the remission of sins." And again: "The Church hath received the tradition from the Apostles, that baptism ought to be administered to infants."
Fidus and Cyprian. In the middle of the third century, Fidus, an African bishop, applied to Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, to know if children might be baptized before the eighth day. The question was referred to a council of sixty-six bishops met at Carthage, who decided unanimously that they might be baptized at any time. This proves two things, (1) That baptism took the place of circumcision;
(2) That infant baptism was universally practiced.
Augustine, who lived in the fourth century, says: "The whole Church practices infant baptism. It was not instituted by councils, but was always in use." Again, "I do not remember to have read of any person, whether Catholic or heretic, who maintained that baptism ought to be denied to infants."
Pelagius, a man of great learning, in the fourth century, after having traveled through France, Italy, Egypt, and Africa, says: "I never heard of even an impious heretic who asserted that infants are not to be baptized."
Dr. Wall, who examined this subject more extensively, perhaps, than any other man, sums up his history thus: "First, during the first four hundred years from the formation of the Christian Church, Tertullian only urged the delay of baptism to infants, and that only in some canes; and Gregory only delayed it perhaps, to his own children. But neither any society of men, nor any individual, denied the lawfulness of baptizing infants. Secondly, In the next seven hundred years, there was not a society nor an individual, who even pleaded for this delay; much less any who denied the right or the duty of infant baptism. Thirdly, In the year 1120, one sect of the Waldenses denied baptism to infants, because they supposed them to be incapable of salvation. But the main body of that people rejected the opinion as heretical, and the sect which held it soon came to nothing. Fourthly, The next appearance of this opinion was in year 1522."
We think it impossible to account for these testimonies, on rational principles, without admitting that the practice of infant baptism has come down to us from the days of the Apostles" (Wakefield's Theology, pp. 572, 573).