BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET
Immersion is Baptism.
The word "immerse"
and its derivatives may be substituted for "baptize" and
its derivatives in every place where they occur in the New Testament,
making good sense, without the slightest incongruity or violence to the
language and this is not true of the term "sprinkling.
pouring, washing, or cleansing."
When we insert a key in a lock,
and it fits every ward and easily turns the bolt, we know that we have the right
key. Just so it is in the definition of a word. If it is properly defined, the
definition may be put in every place in which the word is rightly used, without
force or bad taste; but, if the definition is incorrect, while it may be
substituted in many sentences for the original term without obvious inaccuracy,
it cannot be so substituted in an extensive use of the term without bad taste,
ambiguity, or nonsense. To this principle of language, so far as we know, there
is no exception. Let us subject the definitions of the word "baptize"
to this test. The process may lead to the repetition of statements made in
preceding articles; but its importance will justify the operation.
"And were all baptized of
him in the river Jordan." (Mark 1:5). It is obvious that pouring
candidates in the river is not good English. That word must stand aside.
"Buried with him in
baptism" (Col. 2:12). Buried in sprinkling, or in pouring, or in
washing, or in cleansing, are all barbarisms. These substitutes for baptism must
be ruled out.
"Be baptized and wash away
thy sins" (Acts 22:16). To be sprinkled for the purpose of washing is
incongruous; but to be washed or cleansed for that object is simply
"By one Spirit are we all
baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). "As many of you as have been
baptized into Christ" (Gal. 3:27). To be sprinkled, or poured, or washed,
or cleansed into a body, or into Christ, is language that no scholar, or writer
of clear conceptions, would employ.
By the laws of language,
sprinkling, pouring, washing, and cleansing are equally excluded as substitutes
for baptism. Immersion is the key that fits all the wards of the philological
lock, by which so many commentators and critics have been needlessly perplexed.
Immersion and its cognates will substitute baptism and its cognates, through all
their moods, tenses, and declensions, without obscurity, confusion, or the
slightest violence to the prepositions and other terms used in connection with
them. On this point the reader may find conclusive evidence in the Revised
Version of the New Testament, published by the American Bible Union.
Immersion was so evidently
practiced by the early Christian churches, except in cases of sickness or of
supposed necessity, it seems strange that an intelligent person should deny it.
Any number of credible witnesses on this point might easily be furnished; but it
will be sufficient to present two or three quotations?which, for the sake of
convenience, we copy from the "Star Book," a valuable little treatise
Mosheim: "In this century
[the first], baptism was administered in convenient places, without the public
assemblies, and by immersing the candidates wholly in water."
Neander: "In respect to the
form of baptism, it was, in conformity with the original institution and the
original import of the symbol, performed by immersion, as a sign
of entire baptism into the Holy Spirit, and of being entirely penetrated by the
Waddington: "The sacraments
of the primitive church were two?that of baptism and the Lord?s supper. The
ceremony of immersion, the oldest form of baptism, was performed
in the name of the three persons of the Trinity."
Schaff: "Finally, so far as
it respects the mode and manner of baptizing, there can be no doubt that immersion,
and not sprinkling, was the original normal form." Star Book,
pages 37, 38.
Not only was immersion practiced
by the early Christian churches, but it has been continued by the Greek church,
next to the Roman Catholic, the largest of all the Christian sects, and
containing the people who have inherited the language in which the New Testament
was written, down to the present time. Every well-informed person is acquainted
with this fact; but we will quote a single testimony in proof of it:
Coleman: "The Eastern church
has uniformly retained the form of immersion as indispensable to the
validity of the ordinance; and repeat the rite, whenever they have received to
their communion persons who have been baptized in another manner." Star
Book, page 45.
The Greek church practices Trine
Immersion, which we consider a corruption of the apostolic baptism;
but this fact does not weaken its testimony in favor of immersion. The
repetition of the act might easily grow out of an erroneous interpretation of
the command, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"; but we see
no reason for changing sprinkling into immersion. All the motives of
convenience, comfort, and taste draw in the opposite direction.
The Roman Catholic church
continued immersion, except in extreme cases, to the close of the thirteenth
century. On this point the most abundant testimony can be furnished. We need
quote but two authorities:
Dr. Brennen: "Thirteen
hundred years was baptism generally and originally performed by the immersion
of the person. under water, and only in extraordinary cases was sprinkling
or affusion permitted. These latter methods were called in question, and even
Augusti: "Immersion in
water was general until the thirteenth century among the Latins. It was
then displaced by sprinkling, but retained by the Greeks." Star Book,
pages 40, 41.
The English Episcopal church, in
its rubric on baptism, strictly enjoins that the child shall be dipped,
unless it be duly certified that it is sickly or weak and unable to endure
dipping; and in that case, pouring or sprinkling may suffice.
The baptisteries still
preserved in Italy and in the East furnish conclusive evidence that immersion
was the practice of the early Christian centuries. These
buildings, some of them dating as far back as the third or fourth century, were
erected at great expense, and were furnished with ample conveniences for
immersing adults, as well as infants. The fonts are in the center of the
buildings, circular in form, three or four feet deep, and sufficiently spacious
for the immersion of half a dozen adults at one time. These structures furnish
proof, not only that immersion was practiced, but of the great importance
attached to it. No modern church or sect has furnished proof of their zeal for
immersion comparable in strength with that given by the early Christians in the
erection of their baptisteries.
If sprinkling was not the
primitive baptism, it may very properly be asked when and how was it introduced.
On this subject we quote from the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia,. which cannot be
suspected of any partiality for Baptists:
"It is impossible to mark
the precise period when sprinkling was introduced. It is probable, however, that
it was invented in Africa, in the second century, in favor of clinics. But it
was so far from being approved by the church in general that the Africans
themselves did not account it valid. The first law for sprinkling was obtained
in the following manner: Pope Stephen III., being driven from Rome by Astulphus,
king of the Lombards, in 753, fled to Papin, who, a short time before, had
usurped the crown of France: Whilst he remained there, the monks of Cressy, in
Brittany, consulted him whether, in a case of necessity, baptism performed by
pouring water on the head of the infant would be lawful. Stephen replied that it
would. But, though the truth of this fact should be allowed, which some
Catholics deny, yet pouring or sprinkling was only admitted in cases of
necessity. It was not till 1311 that the legislature, in a council held at
Ravenna, declared immersion or sprinkling to be indifferent. In this country
(Scotland), however, sprinkling was never practiced, in ordinary cases, until
after the Reformation; and in England, even in the reign of Edward VI. trine
immersion?dipping first the right side, secondly the left side, and last the
face of the infant?was commonly observed. But, during the persecution of Mary,
many persons, most of whom were Scotsmen, fled from England to Geneva, and there
greedily imbibed the opinions of that church. In 1556, a book was published at
that place, containing ?The form of prayers and ministration of the
sacraments, approved by the famous and godly learned man, John Calvin,? in
which the administrator is enjoined to take water in his hand and lay it upon
the child?s forehead. These Scottish exiles, who had renounced the authority
of the Pope, implicitly acknowledged the authority of Calvin; and, returning to
their own country, with Knox at their head, in 1559, established sprinkling in
Scotland. From Scotland this practice made its way into England, in the reign of
Elizabeth, but was not authorized by the Established church. In the Assembly of
Divines, held at Westminster in 1643, it was keenly debated whether immersion or
sprinkling should be adopted. Twenty-five voted for sprinkling and twenty-four
for immersion; and even this small majority was obtained at the earnest request
of Dr. Lightfoot, who had acquired great influence in that assembly. Sprinkling
is, therefore, the general practice of this country. Many Christians, however,
especially the Baptists, reject it. The Greek church universally adhere to
The origin of sprinkling and
pouring for baptism is of historical interest, and tends to confirm the position
that "only immersion is baptism." They are clearly of post-apostolic
origin. Our chief reliance, however, for the support of immersion is on the
import of the word "baptize," as its meaning is disclosed in the
Scriptures and confirmed by the highest lexicographical authority. If, as Moses
Stuart says?and this country has produced no scholar more eminent than he
was?"all lexicographers and critics of any note are agreed" that
"baptizo (baptize) means to dip, plunge, or immerse into any
liquid," then to baptize by sprinkling or pouring is a gross solecism. The
incongruity of the language appears, if we substitute immerse for baptize. To
immerse by sprinkling is an absurdity. To immerse by pouring is equally
impossible, if the pouring is not sufficiently. copious to overwhelm. How can a
man be immersed by pouring a cup of water on his head?
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved