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Only Immersion is Baptism.


Another proof of our proposition may be derived from the incidental and figurative references to baptism in the Scriptures. Several of these claim our notice.

Baptism is a burial. "We are," says Paul, "buried with him (Jesus Christ) by baptism into death" (Rom. 6:4). This language is figurative; but it must have reference to the import of the word "baptism." There is a resemblance between immersion and a burial, clear to every intelligent mind. In either case the body is covered, concealed. A burial by sprinkling is a thing unknown. It would, indeed, be possible to bury a body by the sprinkling of earth; but how could it be buried by the sprinkling of water? A conception so unnatural and grotesque surely never found a lodgment in the brain of the pupil of Gamaliel. A burial by pouring water is little less wild and improbable; while a burial by washing or cleansing is a simple absurdity. But, supposing?what Dr. Doddridge says it is the part of candor to admit?that there is in the language "an allusion to the manner of baptizing by immersion,, as most usual (universal, as we maintain) in these early times," the figure is plain, striking, and impressive.

It is asserted by some, in their efforts to weaken the argument drawn from this text in favor of immersion, that the baptism referred to was not literal, but spiritual. Our only present use for the text is to prove that baptism is immersion. It serves our purpose quite as well whether it be interpreted literally or spiritually. Paul, who was a master of language, and guided by the Spirit of inspiration, called baptism a burial; which figure is clear, pertinent, and instructive, if baptism means immersion, but forced, meaningless, and misleading, if it signifies sprinkling, pouring, or cleansing.

Washing is an effect of baptism. "Arise," said Ananias to Saul of Tarsus, "and be baptized, and wash away thy sins" (Acts 22:16). Washing is not an effect of sprinkling. The conception of washing by sprinkling is unnatural. It may be used to moisten or soften, but not to wash. Washing may be an effect of pouring; but the text cannot be construed in harmony with this term. It is an obvious absurdity to say: "Arise, and be poured, and wash away thy sins." A man can be poured upon, but only liquids or solids in dust or grains can be poured. The language, "Arise, and be immersed, and wash away thy sins," is in perfect harmony with our conceptions of the effect of immersion. We immerse for the purpose of washing. The removal of filth is the usual consequence of immersion.

Baptism denotes overwhelming distress and suffering. "I have," said Jesus,. "a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened (or pained) till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:50). It is evident from the context that the Saviour had reference in this language to his approaching sufferings and death. He calls them, figuratively, a baptism?an immersion. The figure is natural, common, and impressive. We speak of overwhelming sufferings, of being drowned in sorrow, and of being immersed in cares. Everybody perfectly understands the language. Jesus called his sufferings a baptism because of their severity. The same conception of sufferings is expressed by the Psalmist in different language: "Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul; then the proud waters had gone ever our soul" (Ps. 124:4, 5). Dr. Campbell, the learned Pedobaptist already referred to, thus translates the text: "I have an immersion to undergo; and how am I pained till it be accomplished!" The thought is solemn and affecting. The Saviour said, in anticipation of his sufferings on the cross: "I have an immersion to undergo"?I am to be overwhelmed in sorrow and in sufferings; and I am "pained"?filled with anxiety and grief?till the fearful trial is over. How tame and unmeaning, not to say incongruous, does the text become, if it be rendered: "I have a pouring, or sprinkling, or cleansing to undergo." Who would think of representing the sufferings of the Saviour by sprinkling a few drops of water on the face., or pouring a cupful of water, on. the head? To call the sufferings of Christ a washing or cleansing, would be a grievous offence against taste.

Some writers, to evade the force of this passage in favor of immersion, have maintained that the Saviour was baptized by his own sweat and blood. His sufferings are, in several passages of Scripture, described as the shedding of his blood (Matthew 26:28; Heb. 9:22). By a common figure of speech, a part is put for the whole, or the effect for the cause. The shedding of Christ?s blood was a notable part of his sufferings, and the cause, or one of the causes, of his death. It would not have been strange, if, in anticipation of his sufferings, he had described them as a blood-shedding; but to call them a sprinkling or a pouring has no sanction, so far as we are informed, from analogy, and greatly weakens and obscures the sense of the passage. How much more in accordance with its intent and force is the comment of Lange: "To be baptized?An image of the intensity of his suffering, like a baptism performed by immersion."

Baptism is a covering. "Our fathers . . . were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:2). This was not a literal, but a figurative baptism. There was a resemblance between the passage of the children of Israel through the Red Sea and immersion. It is plain to every discerning mind. In both cases there was a covering up, a shutting in. Dr. Whitby, an Episcopalian, who cannot be suspected of any partiality for Baptist views, describes it: "They were baptized unto Moses in the cloud; i.e., into the doctrine taught by Moses; for the cloud was not only for direction but for a covering over them, according to the words of the Psalmist, ?He spread out the cloud for a covering? (Ps. 105:29). And in the sea?for they were covered with the sea on both sides (Ex. 14:22). So that both the cloud and the sea had some resemblance to our being covered with water in baptism. Their going into the sea resembled the ancient rite of going into the water."

Dr. McKnight, the learned Scotch commentator, though less explicit in his language than Dr. Whitby, evidently put the same interpretation on the passage. He says: "In the cloud and in the sea. Because the Israelites, by being hid from the Egyptians under the cloud, and by passing through the Red Sea, were made to declare their belief in the Lord and in his servant Moses (Ex. 14:31), the apostle very properly represents them as ?baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.?"

This sense of the passage commends itself to the enlightened and impartial mind. Another interpretation, however, is given to it, in the interest of sprinkling or pouring. The Israelites, it is maintained, were baptized by the sprinkling or pouring of water from the cloud, and by spray from the sea. This exposition demands the change of the common rendering of the Greek preposition en from in to by?a change which it admits, but which is sanctioned by no translator within our reach. This change, however, will avail the advocates of sprinkling but little. The interpretation is inconsistent with the history of the case. God wrought a miracle to deliver his people from the power of the Egyptians. "The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night" (Ex. 13:21). The cloud and fire were a symbol of the divine presence, designed to cover and guide, and not to sprinkle, the escaping Israelites. Nor were they moistened by the spray of the sea. "The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided" (Ex. 14:22). It would certainly have derogated from the completeness of the miracle and the glory of God, had they reached the eastern shore of the sea drenched with showers and bedraggled with mud. The miracle was dishonored by no such imperfection. "The children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left" (v. 29). This was undoubtedly a dry baptism, but a figurative one. The person who can find sprinkling, pouring, or cleansing in this baptism will have no difficulty in finding it anywhere. The servant of James Hervey, the author of "Meditations Among the Tombs," said his master could make a sermon out of a pair of tongs, and no doubt he could. It does not, however, require half the ingenuity to make a sermon on a pair of tongs that is demanded to extract water baptism from the pillar of a cloud and the sea walls that protected the Israelites in their escape from Egypt.

We will notice a passage, of the class of Scriptures under consideration, relied on by many in the defence of sprinkling or pouring. "He (Jesus) shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire" (Matthew 3:11). Nothing, beyond a fair translation, is needed for the understanding of this text. The attentive reader has already seen that Dr. Campbell not only renders the language "in the Holy Ghost and fire;" but expresses his surprise that the translators of King James should have abandoned the ordinary sense of the preposition (en), which they were compelled to accept in the 6th verse. The best, we think, that can be said in favor of the common version is that the particle may be rendered with. In the first ten chapters of Matthew, en occurs about ninety-five times. In seventy-four places it is rendered in, or by terms of equivalent import; in sixteen passages it is translated by other words, and only in five places by with. The almost uniform import of the preposition seems to have made it obligatory on the translators not to depart from it without necessity. In the 11th verse the necessity did not exist. Lange, in his commentary, agrees with Dr. Campbell as to its proper rendering. He says: (v. 11), "He shall baptize, or immerse, you in the Holy Ghost and in fire."

The language is figurative; but its import is clear. When it is affirmed that a man is immersed in cares, or politics, or debt, or trouble, nobody has any doubt as to the meaning of the words. A man is immersed in cares when they absorb his thoughts and occupy his time. A man is immersed in the Spirit when he is fully under the influence of the Spirit?is enlightened, strengthened, guided, and endowed with extraordinary gifts by him. Baptism in the Spirit denotes that wonderful communication of the Spirit by which the apostles and their colaborers were fitted for their important mission.

It is maintained by the advocates of pouring and sprinkling that the baptism of the Holy Ghost was by pouring. In support of this view, several passages are quoted: "Having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he (Jesus) hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2:33). "On the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 10:45). "The Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). These expressions, "shed forth," "poured out," and "fell on," denote the manner of the copious communication of the Spirit and his gifts; but they do not describe the baptism of the Spirit. That was the result of this abundant communication of the Spirit. He was "shed forth," "poured out," "fell," in such great measure that those who received the gift were not only filled with the Spirit, but immersed in him?brought entirely under his influence, as a body covered with water is saturated with it. The baptism of the Holy Ghost has no reference to the manner of his communication, whether it be by shedding, pouring, or falling; but to his abundant influence. The apostles were immersed in the Holy Spirit just as a guinea would be immersed in a vessel filled by water poured into it.

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