Baptists claim that baptism by immersion is the only valid mode of baptism. Baptizo, the Greek word for baptize, can supposedly only refer to immersion, never to sprinkling or pouring. Those on the other side agree that baptizo can mean to immerse, and often does mean to immerse. But they contend that it can also mean to pour or sprinkle.
Who's right and who's wrong?
While surfing the web, I came across a very provocative article entitled: CHRISTIAN BAPTISM and ITS MODE, written by Dr. Thomas Ralston and edited by Mr. Trent Corbett. The entire article can be found at:
Let me paraphrase and summarize Dr. Ralston's findings.
Baptists strenuously contend that immersion is essential to baptism. They have closed the door of their communion against all unimmersed Christians, refusing to recognize them as members of the visible church. Ralston sees the Baptist position as "extreme," producing a "painful and pernicious schism in the body of Christ." Ralston believes that since there has long been a fierce conflict waged upon the mode of baptism, we should conclude that this is one of those minor questions which "divine inspiration has not seen proper to furnish us explicit and positive testimony." I agree with Ralston that there is profound wisdom and Christian charity in allowing each Christian to come to their own conclusion on this issue. After all, if the greatest Christian minds of the past few centuries are divided on this issue, why should Christians be forced to violate their conscience on a matter that is so ambiguous? Quoting Ralston: "Let every adult person and the parents of every child to be baptized have the choice either of immersion, sprinkling, or pouring."
Ralston affirms that "it must be admitted by the candid and unprejudiced mind that, after close and thorough investigation, no explicit and positive testimony can be found in the Scriptures prescribing either immersion, sprinkling, or pouring, as the only proper mode of water baptism. We may find a large preponderance of probably or presumptive evidence in favor of one particular mode derived from facts, circumstances, analogies, allusions, etc.; and this may rationally satisfy the mind, and give to one mode a decided preference, but we cannot find positive and undoubted proof that either immersion, sprinkling, or pouring, is the only proper mode for the administration of the ordinance."
According to Ralston, the Scriptural arguments on both sides are derived from the following sources:
I. The meaning of the Greek words used to express baptism.
II. The Scriptural instances of baptism.
III. Scripture's allusions to baptism.
I. Greek words used to express baptism
The word employed in the Greek Testament to express the action of baptism is baptizo, which comes from the root bapto. It is contended by immersionists that these words and their derivatives used in Scripture for baptism always express immersion, and can never signify sprinkling or pouring. On the other hand, Pedobaptists maintain that the words in question, though they frequently do express immersion, yet often signify sprinkling or pouring. From this it is clear that, if either party could establish their own position to the satisfaction of their opponents, the controversy would be ended; for the positions here assumed by the respective parties are perfectly conclusive on the question when satisfactorily sustained. Observe, the point at issue is not whether baptism means immersion, or whether immersion is its primary meaning; but is immersion the only meaning of baptism?
To decide this question, so far as the words referred to in the Greek New Testament are concerned, an array of Greek lexicons has been paraded. Scapula, Hedericus, Schleusner, Schrevellius, Parkhurst, Suidas, Wahl, Robinson, Groves, Greenfield, Donnegan, and others, have been quoted. The immersionists have very satisfactorily proved by the testimony of all these witnesses that baptizo means to immerse, and by several of them that to immerse is its primary meaning; but this has not ended the dispute. Indeed, as contended by Pedobaptists, the point at issue has not been reached. We farther inquire of these witnessing lexicons whether baptizo has any other meaning besides immersion. They all respond in harmony; "Yes, it has several meanings." What are they? we demand. Several of them speak at once: "It means to wash, to wet, to moisten, to dye, to tinge, to purify, to cleanse, to sprinkle." We noticed, as these witnesses were deposing, that a few remained silent while some of the definitions were pronounced; but in uttering the definition "to wash," every voice was heard in full and perfect harmony. "Enough!" cried the Pedobaptist, "it means to wash. You all agree in this; then it cannot always mean to immerse."
Allow us to add that a moment's reflection will show that to immerse expresses a specific action which cannot be performed by pouring or sprinkling, but to wash expresses a generic action which may be performed alike by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling; hence we conclude that, as all the lexicons agree that the Greek word baptizo not only means to immerse but also to wash, and as washing may properly be performed by sprinkling or pouring as well as by immersion, therefore we can derive no evidence from the mere import of the Greek term used in the New Testament for that ordinance that immersion is the only proper mode of administering it.
It should also be remembered in connection with this etymological argument, that there are several places in the New Testament in which the Greek word for baptize and its derivatives cannot mean immersion.
"And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not." Mark 7:4. Here the word rendered "wash" is baptize a variation of baptizo. Who believes that the Jews immersed themselves habitually before eating? "And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner." Luke 11:38. Here the word for "washed" is he washed, from baptizo. Surely no one supposes that the Pharisee expected our Lord to immerse himself, but simply to wash his hands.
The fact that the "baptism of the Holy Ghost" was unquestionably performed, not by immersion, but by pouring, as we shall fully show in its proper place, is an unanswerable refutation of the position that baptizo always means immersion, and nothing else.
II. Scripture instances of baptism
1. First, we call attention to the baptism of the "fathers unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea," spoken of by St. Paul (1 Cor. 10:1,2). On turning to the account of this baptism, as recorded by Moses, we find that, when the Israelites crossed the sea, it was on "dry land" - they passed over it upon "dry ground;" hence the notion that they were there and then immersed is utterly preposterous. In what mode, then, could they have been baptized? If we had no clue to the solution of this question farther than the Mosaic history, we might feel that we were involved in perplexity. But how admirably does one scripture often explain another! The Prophet Asaph has left us a comment on the record of Moses. He explains that "the clouds poured out water" upon the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea (Ps. 77:17); hence, whatever may be our conclusion as to the mode of Christian baptism, it is certain that this Mosaic baptism was administered by pouring. Such is the testimony of the Bible; for "the clouds poured out water;" and this demonstrates also that baptism does not always mean immersion. We may conjecture and speculate as much as we please about "the clouds being above the Israelites, and the sea, as wall, on each side enveloping them, as it were, in an immersion;" but still the Scripture affirms that they were on "dry ground," and that they were baptized by pouring. From these facts there is no escape. Surely, to find immersion in this case will exhibit a wonderful feat of imagination.
2. "The baptism of John" is also appealed to by immersionists as furnishing proof that there is no proper baptism but immersion.
The argument is this: "John baptized in Jordan, and also in Enon near to Salim, because there was much water there;" hence it is concluded he must have baptized by immersion.
That the Greek preposition en, here translated in, always means in will not be contended. In may mean at, by, with, or near to; and the context must determine the sense. In Matthew 3:6, it is said that John "baptized in Jordan;" but in the eleventh verse of the same chapter, John says: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, ... he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." Here the same preposition en is used both before "water" and "Holy Ghost," and our translators have rendered the preposition, in both instances, with instead of in; hence nothing as to the mode can be proved by the preposition. But an argument of much force may be derived from the manner in which John connects his water baptism with our Saviour's baptism of the Holy Ghost. These baptisms are here presented in such connection that, in the absence of proof to the contrary, to conclude that both were not administered in the same mode would be most unwarranted. But the baptism of the Holy Ghost was unquestionably performed by pouring; therefore the rational inference is that John baptized in the same way. As the disciples were not dipped, plunged, or immersed, into the Holy Ghost, but the Holy Ghost descended or fell upon them, even so we may conclude that John did not dip, plunge, or immerse, the multitudes into the water, but that he poured or sprinkled the water upon them. As in the baptism of the Holy Ghost the influence descended upon or was applied to the subjects, even so, if there is any analogy in the case, in the baptism of John the water, or element, was applied to the subject of baptism, and not the subject to the element.
In John 1:28, we read: "These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing." Here the same preposition en is used before "Bethabara;" but Bethabara was not a river but a house--the word means a house of passage--and that house was not in the River Jordan, but "beyond Jordan." Now if en before Jordan proves that John baptized in Jordan, and therefore must have immersed, according to the same logic, en before Bethabara would prove that John baptized in a house, and therefore not by immersion. The truth is, the preposition proves nothing on either side as to the mode. The true sense of the preposition here is probably at or near to; and then John baptized at or near to Jordan, and at or near to Bethabara. The probability is that Bethabara was the house at which he made his home while baptizing, and that he selected a position thus contiguous to the River Jordan for the convenient accommodation of the great multitudes of people and their beasts, and that he baptized them in the house, in the yard, in the neighborhood, "in the wilderness," or at, or near to, or in the river, as circumstances might render it convenient.
But it is said John baptized "in Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there."
"Enon" signifies the fountain of On-a mere spring, sending forth a rivulet; or probably such springs were numerous in that vicinity; for the words hudria pollos, rendered "much water," mean many waters-that is, there were many springs, or rivulets, in that region. This was necessary for the comfort of the multitudes, by whatever mode they may been baptized. And as "much water," or many waters, would have been a comfort and convenience sufficient to induce John to select that locality as the theater of his operations, independently of immersion, or even that of baptism in any form, surely it must be very inconsequential reasoning to infer from this fact alone that John immersed. So far as the text is concerned, he may or may not have immersed.
But an overwhelming proof of immersion, in the estimation of Baptists, is found in the record of our Lord's baptism by John "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water." Matt. 3:16.
The whole argument for the immersion of our Saviour in this passage depends upon the meaning of the Greek preposition apo, here rendered "out of." Now it cannot be denied that the primary meaning of apo is from instead of "out of," and that, in very many instances, it is so translated in the New Testament; thus: "A certain man went down (apo) from Jerusalem." Luke 10:30.
"When he was come down (apo) from the mountain." Matt. 8:1. Our Saviour may have been immersed, for any thing we certainly know to the contrary; but nothing can be more fallacious than the attempt to prove it by this passage. "Coming up from the water," would be the most literal and natural translation.
But if there was any connection between the baptism of water and the descent of the Holy Ghost immediately following it, this would furnish an argument against immersion; for the Saviour was not immersed in to the Holy Spirit, but the "Spirit of God" was seen "descending like a dove, and lighting upon him."
3. The Pentecostal baptism is the next instance to which we refer.
But here we find a twofold baptism--that of water, and that of the Holy Ghost. The latter, being not only the first in importance, but, in this instance, the first in occurrence, shall be first considered.
(1) John says of Christ: "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." Matt. 3:11. Before his ascension, our Lord said to his apostles: "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." Acts 1: 5. In the second chapter of The Acts we find the record of this glorious baptism; but by what mode was it administered? This is the question now before us.
St. Peter testifies on the occasion, saying: "This is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh." Again, he adds: "He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear." And, in speaking of the descent of the Holy Ghost on that occasion, St. Luke records that "it say upon each of them." In speaking of the baptism of the Holy Ghost at the house of Cornelius, St. Peter says: "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost." Acts 11:15, 16. In giving the history of this baptism, St. Luke uses the same form of words: "The Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word." Acts 10:44.
We here find several forms of speech used expressive of the mode in which baptism was administered: the Holy Ghost "say upon them," it was "poured out" upon them, and it "fell on them." It is never once intimated that they were dipped, plunged, or immersed, into the Holy Ghost. Indeed, it is certain that this baptism was not by immersion, but by pouring. This is the united testimony of the Prophet Joel, of St. Luke, and of the Apostle Peter. It is one of the striking exhibitions of the strange power of prejudice in favor of a darling theory, that any may of common understanding, with there palpable Scripture proofs before his eyes, can have the temerity to stand up and contend that this baptism was administered by immersion. And how passing strange must we view the fat that, after perusing this combination of inspired testimony, setting forth, as explicitly as it is in the power of language to do, that this baptism was performed by pouring, some persons without a blush can attempt to argue that "baptism always means immersion, and can mean nothing else!"
We are apprised of but two methods resorted to by immersionists to ward off the force of the argument we have just presented.
First, an effort is made to prove that the Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Ghost was an immersion, because the "sound filled all the house" where the disciples "were sitting;" hence it is argued that, as the sound filled the house, and as the disciples were in the house, therefore they were immersed in the sound. This pleas is rendered perfectly ridiculous when it is remembered that the disciples were not said to be baptized with the sound, but with the Holy Ghost. Surely the sound was not the Holy Ghost. The sound filled the house, but the Holy Ghost "sat upon" the disciples; hence this effort to prove immersion only exhibits the desperate shifts to which the advocates of an erroneous theory may be driven.
Secondly, failing to prove immersion by an argument founded on the fact that the sound filled the house, the next effort is to set imagination to work to conjure up a kind of figurative immersion. We are told that "the apostles were so entirely overwhelmed and surrounded by the influence of the Holy Ghost, which came so abundantly upon them that it might be called an immersion." Wonderful logic! That is, the pouring out of the Spirit was so abundant that it was not poured at all; the disciples were dipped, plunged, or immersed into it. The plain truth is that the Scriptures, in so many words, declare that the "baptism of the Holy Ghost" was performed by pouring. We may imagine and explain as much as we please, but it would certainly be wiser, as well as more modest, to suspect that our theory may be wrong than flatly to contradict the Bible.
(2) We next notice the Pentecostal baptism of water. All we learn of this baptism we derive, first, from the fact that Peter commanded them to "repent and be baptized," connecting therewith the "gift" or baptism "of the Holy Ghost;" secondly, the historian informs us that "they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls."
It is admitted that there is no positive proof here against immersion; but it must be admitted that there is no proof of any kind whatever for it. But we think there are, in the circumstances connected with this baptism, several strong presumptive arguments against immersion.
Look at the intimate manner in which water baptism is connected with that of the Holy Ghost--the one promised upon the condition of the proper reception of the other, and then following it in immediate succession. Remember, farther, how constantly water is used in both Testaments as an emblem of cleansing, or moral purification. Look upon these facts, and who can help believing that the water of baptism is an emblem, or sign, of that moral cleansing effected by the influence of the Holy Ghost? But if water baptism is an emblem of spiritual baptism, would we not, in the absence of truth to the contrary, expect both to be administered in the same mode? That the baptism of the Holy Ghost was not by immersion, but by pouring, is put beyond a doubt; therefore the reasonable conclusion is that water baptism was administered in the same way.
Again, look at the shortness of the time allowed for this baptism, and all the circumstances connected with it, and the probabilities will appear greatly against immersion. From the third hour of the day, or nine o'clock in the forenoon, to the ninth hour, or three o'clock in the afternoon, was all the time that could have been allowed for both preaching and the baptizing; for three in the afternoon was the settled hour for the regular public prayer. At this the apostles attended, and we may be assured that this great solemnity was not neglected on this occasion. Not more than six hours, then, could have been occupied by the wonderful evens recorded in the second chapter of The Acts. Peter preached a long discourse, using "many other words" beside what we have on record. The other apostles also preached to the thronging crowds. Fifteen nations are named, who all heard the gospel, "every man in his own tongue, wherein he was born." After this, time must be allowed for each convert to make his confession to the satisfaction of the apostles; then the believers must be separated from the multitude; the place for immersion must be sought out; permission must be obtained to use that place-pool, pond, river, or whatever it was. Taking all the difficulties of the case into the account (many more than we have taken time to name), is it probable that the apostles could have immersed the "three thousand" in so short a time? or, if they could, is it reasonable to suppose that all the necessary arrangement, preparation, marching to the place of immersion, etc. would occur, and no account be taken of it? And yet we here not one word in regard to the immersion, the preparation, the place, or any thing else about it; and why this silence about a matter that must have produced a great commotion? The most rational conclusion is, that no immersion was performed, but that the apostles sprinkled the people, or poured the water, after the manner of Jewish priestly purification, and in the easiest and most convenient method. That these "three thousand" were then and there immersed involves too many improbabilities to be accredited without evidence, but of that there is none; hence we conclude that this baptism can furnish us no proof of immersion.
4. The baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch has generally been relied on by immersionists as one of their most conclusive proofs on the subject.
"And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip." Acts 8:36-39.
The evidence here claimed for immersion is based entirely upon the expressions-"they went down into the water," and "when they were come up out of the water."
If the Greek preposition eis, here rendered "into," and ek, rendered "out of," do not imply immersion, it is plain we can find no proof of that mode in this text. It will not be contended that eis always means into, or that ek always means out of; and if such be not their invariable import, it may not be in this case; hence the evidence for immersion founded upon this source cannot be conclusive. As Mr. Watson has observed: "eis is spoken of place, and properly signifies at, or it indicates motion toward a certain limit; and for any thing that appears to the contrary in the history of the eunuch's baptism, that limit may just as well be placed at the nearest verge of the water as in the middle of it."
That eis frequently, in the New Testament as well as elsewhere, means to cannot be denied by any candid scholar. Peter is commanded to "go (eis) to the sea, and cast a hook." Matt. 17:27. Surely he was not to go into, or under, the water. Our Lord, it is written, "went up (eis) to a mountain." Did he go into its heart, or under it?
But it is only wasting time to delay with criticisms about these Greek prepositions. Allow, for the sake of argument (which is far from being true), that eis always means into, and ek out of, allow that in the instance before us eis can mean nothing but into, or even allow that it means under, what can the cause of immersion gain by this admission? It would be as destitute of proof as ever. Indeed, if immersionists could prove that the preposition here mean into, or under, in the sense of immersion, they would most effectually overturn their own cause. They would clearly demonstrate that Philip did not baptize the eunuch by immersion. The text reads: "They went down both into the water, both Philip and eunuch." Now mark, all this was done before the act of baptizing commenced. Whatever the act of baptizing was, it was something neither synonymous nor simultaneous with the "going down to, unto, or into, the water." Now, if "going down into the water" implies immersion, then it follows that "both Philip and the eunuch" were already immersed, or under the water, before the act of baptizing commenced: consequently, if baptism means immersion, they were already baptized--that is, if "going down into the water" means immersion, then the eunuch was immersed before he was immersed, which is a contradiction, or immersion is not baptism, which destroys the immersionist's doctrine. The immersionist must either admit that "going down into the water" is not immersion, or that immersion is not baptism; for it is certain that the act of baptizing was performed after they had gone "down into the water." Surely it must be plain that, as the baptizing was an act subsequent to the going to the place at which it was performed, neither the method of going to the place nor the character of the place, whether it was in a house or in a river, in a wilderness or in a city, in a palace or in a pool, can determine any thing as to the mode of baptism. I may go up into a house, and then proceed to baptize, either by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion. The fact of my being in the house would not of itself decide the question as to the mode of the baptism. Even so Philip, with the eunuch, "went down to, unto, or into, the water; and he baptized him." But how he performed this act--whether he dipped the water up in his hand or in a cup, and whether he poured or sprinkled it upon him, or whether he immersed him once, twice, or three times, and whether he did it backward or face foremost--these are questions concerning which the text gives us no information.
There are, however, one or two circumstances connected with this transaction which furnish some presumptive evidence against immersion. The eunuch, at the time Philip entered the chariot with him, was reading a certain portion of Isaiah's prophecy concerning the Messiah. In connection with the paragraph he was reading are these words: "So shall he sprinkle many nations," etc. It is said: "Philip began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus." Now, it is clear Philip must have instructed him concerning the duty of baptism, or he would not have asked it at the hands of Philip; and if so, we can find nothing in the scripture under review so likely to lead to discourse on that subject as the verse referred to, "So shall he sprinkle many nations," etc. This passage doubtless depicts the sanctifying grace of the gospel with which the nations were to be blessed, and which is sacramentally symbolized by the baptismal water. But in reference to this subject the prophet does not speak of immersion, but of sprinkling. If the prophet had used immerse instead of sprinkle, and written "So shall he immerse many nations," how many immersionists would now clap their hands over it as a proof of the eunuch's immersion! But as it is, it furnishes presumption in favor of sprinkling.
Again, the manner in which the eunuch requested baptism is worthy of notice. It is said: As they went on their way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" Now the report of all travelers is, that that region of country is exceedingly dry, and that there is no stream to be found in the route more than ankle deep. Connect this fact with the eunuch's exclamation, "See, here is water," or, as it is in the Greek, "Behold, water," and who can help believing that the eunuch had suddenly discovered a spring, or small branch, and with emotion called the attention of the apostle to the fact, and demands the ordinance of baptism? It is not probable that there was any stream, or pool, there of sufficient depth for immersion, and of course the probabilities here apparent are against that mode.
5. Next, we notice the baptism of Saul. This transaction is thus recorded by St. Luke: "And he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized." Acts 9:18. St. Paul, in relating the history of the matter, represents Ananias as coming into his presence and addressing him, saying: "And now why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
Now, we venture the assertion that if a hundred unprejudiced persons, who had never heard of any controversy as to the mode of baptism, were, for the first time, shown these scriptures, and asked for a verdict as to the attitude of Saul when he received baptism, every one of them would arise from the perusal and exclaim, "He was standing on his feet in the room, where Ananias found him." Circumstantial as the account is, recording the fact of his rising to his feet, and then partaking of refreshments, and being "strengthened" in his weak condition of body, yet there is not a word of their going to one of "the rivers of Damascus" in search of a place for immersion! Whether he walked, rode, or was carried-whether they traveled one, two, or three miles, or only a few furlongs-whether Saul endured well the fatigue, or fainted by the way--not a hint or syllable about any of these things do we hear! Why this silence? The natural and rational conclusion is, that no such journey was undertaken or thought of. Right on the spot, in the house, where he arose and stood, then and there he was baptized. This is the rational conclusion from the New Testament history of the affair. The word anistemi, used in both the recitals of the baptism, literally signifies the act of rising up, or standing up, and, plainly as language can express it, denotes the bodily attitude in which the baptism was received. Hence, if our opinion is to be founded on the Bible account, we must set this down as a case in which the probabilities, amounting almost to positive proof, are against immersion.
6. Cornelius, and "his kinsmen and near friends," in the city of Cesarea, furnish us the next instance of baptism to be considered. The account is related thus: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word." "Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." Acts 10:44-48.
We cannot help perceiving a most striking correspondence between this, the first great Gentile baptism, and the Pentecostal baptism of the Jews, already noticed. In the one, St. Peter had opened the gospel kingdom to the Jews; in the other, he opened it to the Gentiles. In both cases the baptism of water and that of the Holy Ghost are so intimately connected as plainly to indicate that there is an important relation between them. In both instances the Holy Ghost was poured out, or fell, upon them. Upon any principle of symbolism, the hypothesis of immersion is inadmissable. The purifying Spirit is poured out, which would expressly indicate the application of purifying water in the same way. But look at the brief history of the case. Peter demands, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" None daring to object, "he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." Is there any suggestion to leave the room occupied? Is there any suggestion about a pool, bath, pond, river, or any thing of the sort? There must be water, for without it there can be no baptism; but is there the slightest hint that there must be water enough to immerse them else they cannot be baptized? Is there any hesitation, any delay, any confusion, by reason of a sudden and unforseen demand on Cornelius for a large and deep body of water? Or does not the irresistible impression of the scene indicate a demand for a small portion of water for instant use? Is there any intimation of any spectacle, any procession through the streets of Cesarea--the Roman centurion with near friends, his kindred, his devout soldiers, and his domestic servants, led by Peter and six Jews from Joppa--to a public immersion, all speaking strange tongues, and all Cesarea filled with wonder? Nothing of the sort-nothing that can be tortured into correspondence with any such ideas. They are the growth of other ages-the product of a state of mind far different from that of the apostles of the Lord. However great, perhaps unexpected, may be the issue of this Gentile baptism, it is plainly the will of God that it should be celebrated; and it is done--done there, then, with water, not into it. (Dr. R. J. Breckinridge.)
All the circumstances of the case seem rationally to preclude the idea of immersion. But when we consider the manifest connection in this case between the baptism of the Holy Ghost and that of water, the one cleansing the soul from the pollutions of sin, and the other symbolizing the same by an application of water, and when we also remember that the mode of this spiritual baptism was pouring, not immersion--when we consider all these things, the argument against immersion is little short of demonstration.
7. The baptism of the Philippian jailer is the last Scripture instance of the ordinance we shall notice. The account of this is recorded in the sixteenth chapter of The Acts.
1. It is important to notice that the jail here consisted of two apartments; for the apostles were "thrust into the inner prison;" hence there was an outer prison. 2. The jailer's own residence was connected with the prison so closely that from his sleeping chamber he could see when the doors were open into the "inner prison;" for as soon as he awoke he saw that the prison doors were all open. 3. The jailer, springing in with a light, brought the apostles from the inner to the outer prison. Here the apostles preached, here the jailer was converted, and here, it seems, the apostle's stripes were washed, and the jailer received baptism.
But the question is, by what mode was this baptism administered? In the absence of all testimony to that effect, it is certainly unreasonable to suppose that in this pagan prison there was any pool or tank ready prepared for immersion. Hence, if there was any immersion in the case, they must have left the prison and gone out in quest of some river or pond. Some of the presumptions against this supposition may be briefly stated.
1. It is unreasonable to suppose that the jailer, just recovered from his terrible alarm about the supposed escape of his prisoners, could have been induced, so soon afterward, in violation of law, to lead these same prisoners through the city and to the suburbs, or neighborhood, in search of river, pool, or pond, for the administration of an ordinance of which, till that hour, he had never heard.
2. It is unreasonable to suppose that the inspired Paul, who so strictly enjoined upon all to be "subject unto the higher powers," and "to obey magistrates," would have been accessory to so palpable a violation of law as this night-excursion, on the part of the jailer, would have involved.
3. When, in the morning, "the magistrates sent the sergents saying, "Let those men go," and Paul was informed of the fact, he replied, "They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? Nay, verily, but let them come themselves and fetch us out." Nor did the apostles consent to leave the prison till the magistrates came and legally released them. Then "they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia."
Now, we demand, can this conduct of the apostles, amid the light of the morning, be consistent with the supposition that they had already, under the dark cover of midnight, not only left the prison, but wandered off, none can tell how far, in search of a place for immersion? However men may convict themselves of absurdity in defense of a theory, let them beware how they thus involve the holy apostles in hypocrisy and crime! Relying on the Bible statements alone, we conceive it scarcely possible that the jailer was immersed.
III. SCRIPTURE ALLUSIONS TO BAPTISM
1. That all the dispensations of true religion, the patriarchal and the Mosaic, no less than the Christian, referred to and centered in Christ, and were intended to develop, with more or less distinctness, the Messianic kingdom, cannot be doubted. In the Mosaic economy, where scarce a single ceremony or service was without an important significance in connection with the glorious revealments of the plan of gospel salvation, who can suppose that the constant and habitual use of water and blood was either accidental or unmeaning? For the ratification of the Sinaitic law, half the blood of the sacrificial offerings was sprinkled upon the altar, and the rest upon the people. In the performance of this sprinkling, Moses said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord had made with you." By express statute, the ceremonially unclean Jews were sprinkled with the water of purification. Upon the great day of atonement the high priest sprinkled blood upon the mercy-seat over the ark.
In addition to all this, look at the striking symbolic announcements of the prophets in reference to Messiah's reign. Hear the language of Isaiah: "So shall he sprinkle many nations." Listen to the yet more graphic strain of Ezekiel: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; form all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you." Viewing all these things together, may we not expect to find, under the gospel, something of which they were lively symbols? If the legal purification, under the formal dispensation, was manifested by the sprinkling of water upon the people, and the sprinkling of blood upon the altar, how appropriate that, under the gospel, the sanctification of the heart should be procured through the "sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," made efficacious by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and that the outward symbol of this should be the baptismal water!
Conformable to the same prominent idea are the teachings of the New Testament. St. Paul says: "Ye are come--to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." Heb. 11:22, 24.
If, then, all through the law, we find the sprinkling of blood and of water so familiarly connected with purification, and, under the gospel, the baptism of water so directly associated with the baptism of the Holy Ghost, how could a Jew, in the absence of direct precept to the contrary, fail to conclude that water baptism was intended to symbolize that moral cleansing which is effected by the affusion of the Holy Ghost and the "sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ?" Equally manifest must it be that if the one baptism is constantly represented by sprinkling or pouring, the other should be administered in the same way. There should be a correspondence between the symbol and the substance--the external sign and the internal grace. Admitting that water baptism is administered by affusion, how striking the harmony between the covenant spiritual blessings of redeeming grace and the external ceremony by which they are symbolized! Discard sprinkling and pouring, and institute immersion as the only proper baptism, and how can we fail to perceive that much of the harmony and beauty, symmetry and coherence, of the external forms and internal grace of the gospel system are destroyed, and the types and shadows of the law shorn of their efficacy and despoiled of their significance as adumbrations of "good things to come"!
2. The next Scripture allusion to which we refer is that in which it is contended that baptism is presented as emblematic of the burial of Christ.
This has been prominently urged by immersionists as one of their strongholds. The text referred to are the following:
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin; for he that is dead is freed from sin. Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him." Rom. 6:3-8.
The same apostle again says: "In whom also ye are circumcised with 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, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." Col. 2:11, 12.
We have been thus full in our quotations of these texts that the connection may at once be the more distinctly seen; for it is only necessary to observe closely the connection, and the sense will be obvious. The first inquiry here to be made is this: To which does the apostle, in these passages, refer--water baptism or spiritual baptism? We take the position that so to construe these texts as to make them refer to water baptism is one of the most glaring perversions of Scripture of which we can conceive. Such a construction would turn the apostle's beautiful argument and illustration into a perfect medley of nonsense and confusion. That this may be at once apparent, let us inquire what are the specific effects of this baptism?
(1) It produces "death"-"buried with him by baptism into death." Now, does water baptism produce death? If so, it must be either the death of the body, or the death of the soul "unto sin." If we say the former, then the body must be drowned; if the latter, then water will supersede the blood of Christ and Spirit's influence.
(2) This baptism enables us to "walk in newness of life." "Even so we also should walk in newness of life." Now, we ask, are we enabled thus to walk by water baptism? Nay, but by spiritual baptism.
(3) This baptism so plants us in "the likeness of Christ's death," as to cause us to be in "the likeness of his resurrection." Can water baptism do this? Can it cause us to die to sin as Christ died on the cross, or to lead a new life of obedience, resembling our Saviour's resurrection from the tomb to die no more?
(4)This baptism crucifies "our old man" (or carnal nature) "with Christ." Is this the effect of water baptism? Who can believe it?
(5)This baptism destroys "the body of sin." Is this the effect of water baptism? Surely it is the "renewing of the Holy Ghost"--spiritual baptism--and not water which can accomplish this work.
(6)This baptism releases us from the service of sin. "That henceforth we should not serve sin." What but spiritual baptism can effect this deliverance?
(7)This baptism produces the circumcision of the heart. "Ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands. Now, will any one contend that immersion can circumcise or change the heart?
(8)This baptism "puts off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;" that is, in this baptism all past sin is pardoned through faith in Christ--not by water baptism, but by the influence of the Spirit.
(9)From this baptism we are raised "through the faith of the operation of God;" but from water baptism, by the hands of the minister.
(10)In this baptism we are raised "quickened together with (or through) Christ, and we gain the "forgiveness of all our trespasses"--effects which can result only from spiritual baptism.
Let any reflecting mind ponder seriously upon the effects here enumerated compare them with the scriptures quoted, and mark how explicitly it is taught that they all result from the baptism spoken of, and then determine whether or not these are the effects of water baptism. He who can believe that water baptism can effect all this mighty moral and spiritual renovation may dispense with the "blood of atonement" and the "renewing of the Holy Ghost," and trust in the water alone as his redeemer and sanctifier. To what perversion of Scripture may the devotees of error be driven!
Nothing can be plainer than the fact that in these passages the apostle was discoursing of the "burial" of the "body of sin" by the "baptism of the Holy Ghost," and not the burial of our bodies in water baptism. Of the effects enumerated as resulting from the baptism of which the apostle discourses, not the first one can be produced by water baptism, but every one of them results from spiritual baptism; hence it is not the former, but the latter (which was by pouring), of which it is written, "We are buried with him by, or in, baptism." And thus this boasted proof of immersion is shown to be imaginary; for it can only appear when Scripture is perverted, and so construed as to do violence to its proper connection and obvious import.
3. When driven from his strongholds, the immersionist, as a last resort, turns upon his opponent and charges him with the error of holding to and practicing three baptisms--sprinkling, pouring, and immersion; while the Bible teaches, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Eph. 4:5. "Now," exclaims the Baptist, "if immersion be baptism, then neither sprinkling nor pouring can be baptism; and if pouring be baptism, neither immersion nor sprinkling can be baptism; and if sprinkling be baptism, then neither immersion nor pouring can be baptism; and he who practices pouring, sprinkling, and immersion, practices three baptisms; whereas the Bible allows but one."
This charge of inconsistency may seem plausible, but it is, in reality, perfectly groundless. It is founded upon a perversion of the text referred to. The object of the apostle was not to teach any thing concerning the mode of baptism; his object was to inculcate the duty of Christian fellowship and brotherly love. "Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This is the practical lesson he is enforcing, and he urges it on the ground of a sevenfold unity which pervades the Christian system. His argument is this, because there is "one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God," therefore "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
There is but one baptism. Ye have not been baptized in the profession of different religions, nor yet in the name of different Lords. One of you was not baptized in the name of Paul, another in the name of Cephas, and another in the name of Apollos; but all have been baptized in the name of the same Lord--"in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Ye have all this one baptism; therefore "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." As to the mode of the ordinance, however we may prefer the one to the others, as the Scriptures have not explicitly prescribed one to the exclusion of all others, let each one "have the choice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion."