By Adam Clarke
IN what form baptism was originally
administered, has been deemed a subject worthy of serious dispute.
Were the people dipped or sprinkled? for it is certain Βαπτω and
Βαπτιζω mean both. "They were all dipped," say some.
Can any man suppose that it was possible for John to dip all the
inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea, and of all the country round
about the Jordan? Were both men and women dipped? for certainly both
came to his baptism. This could never have comported either with
safety or with decency. Were they dipped in their clothes? This
would have endangered their lives, if they had not with them change
of raiment: And as such a baptism as John's (however administered)
was, in several respects, a new thing in Judea, it is not at all
likely that the people would come thus provided. But suppose these
were dipped, which I think it would be impossible to prove, does it
follow that in all regions of the world men and women must be
dipped, in order to be evangelically baptized? In the eastern
countries bathings were frequent, because of the heat of the
climate, it being there so necessary to cleanliness and health; but
could our climate, or a more northerly one, admit of this with
safety, for at least three fourths of the year? We may rest assured
that it could not. And may we not presume that if John had opened
his commission in the north of Great Britain, for many months of the
year, he would have dipped neither man nor woman, unless he could
have procured a tepid bath? Those who are dipped or immersed in
water, in the name of the holy Trinity, I believe to be
evangelically baptized: those who are washed or sprinkled with
water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Ghost, I believe to be equally so; and the repetition of such a
baptism I believe to be profane. Others have a right to believe the
contrary if they see good. After all, it is the thing signified, and
not the mode, which is the essential part of the sacrament.
Though "little children," they were capable of receiving Christ's blessing. If Christ embraced them, why should not his church embrace them? Why not dedicate them to God by baptism?—whether that be performed by sprinkling, washing, or immersion; for we need not dispute about the mode: on this point let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind. I confess it appears to me grossly heathenish and barbarous, to see parents who profess to believe in that Christ who loves children, and among them those whose creed does not prevent them from using infant baptism, depriving their children of an ordinance by which no soul can prove that they cannot be profited, and through an unaccountable bigotry or carelessness withholding from them the privilege of even a nominal dedication to God; and yet these very persons are ready enough to fly for a minister to baptize their child when they suppose it to be at the point of death! It would be no crime to pray that such persons should never have the privilege of hearing "My father!" or "My mother!" from the lips of their own child.
It is easy to carry things to extremes on the right hand and on the left. In this controversy there has been much asperity on all sides. It is high time this were ended. To say that water baptism is nothing, because a baptism of the Spirit is promised, is not correct. Baptism, however administered, is a most important rite in the church of Christ. To say that sprinkling or aspersion is no gospel baptism is as incorrect as to say immersion is none. Such assertions are as unchristian as they are uncharitable; and should be carefully avoided by all those who wish to promote the great design of the gospel, glory to God, and peace and good will among men. Lastly, to assert that infant baptism is unscriptural, is as rash and reprehensible as any of the rest. Myriads of conscientious people choose to dedicate their infants to God by public baptism. They are in the right!—and, by acting thus, follow the general practice of the Jewish and Christian church—a practice from which it is as needless as it is dangerous to depart.
Baptism is a standing proof of the divine authenticity of the Christian religion, and a seal of the truth of the doctrine of justification by faith, through the blood of the covenant.
To the baptism of water a man was admitted when he became a proselyte to the Jewish religion; and in this baptism he promised in the most solemn manner to renounce idolatry, to take the God of Israel for his God, and to have his life conformed to the precepts of the divine law. But the water which was used on the occasion was only an emblem of the Holy Ghost. The soul was considered as in a state of defilement, because of past sin; now, as by that water the body was washed, cleansed, and refreshed, so by the influences of the Holy Spirit the soul was to be purified from its defilement, and strengthened to walk in the way of truth and holiness.
When John came baptizing with water, he gave the Jews the plainest intimations that this would not suffice; that it was only typical of that baptism of the Holy Ghost, under the similitude of fire, which they must all receive from Jesus Christ. Therefore our Lord asserts that a man must be born of water and the Holy Spirit, that is, of the Holy Ghost, which, represented under the similitude of water, cleanses, refreshes, and purifies the soul. Reader, hast thou never had any other baptism than that of water? If thou hast not had any other, take Jesus Christ's word for it, thou canst not in thy present state enter into the kingdom of God. I would not say to thee merely, "Read what it is to be born of the Spirit;" but "pray, O pray to God incessantly till he give thee to feel what is implied in it!" Remember it is Jesus only who baptizes with the Holy Ghost.