committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

BAPTIST PRINCIPLES RESET

PART 1

CHAPTER 9.

Only Immersion is Baptism.

 

Admitting that baptism means immersion, and never sprinkling or pouring?that the apostolic baptism was immersion; that immersion was practiced, except in cases of supposed necessity, for several centuries, and that it was generally practiced till the beginning of the fourteenth century?it is maintained by some that it is not essential to the validity of the ordinance. The dispensation, it is said, is spiritual; ceremonies are of little importance; baptism is symbolic of a moral cleansing, and is equally expressive, whether the candidate lie immersed or water be applied to him in some other way. Immersion is good, but not better than sprinkling or pouring, as a sign of purification. We have not the work of Professor Moses Stuart on baptism before us; but, if our memory is not at fault, the above is substantially the ground which he occupied in regard to baptism.

In our view, this is the most plausible argument in favor of sprinkling or pouring. It is plausible, but not sound. The Greek language had a copious variety of words, denoting sprinkling, pouring, washing, purifying, wetting, and the like; and yet Jesus chose baptize, meaning, as conceded in the argument, immerse. Why did he select this word to signify the act required in the ordinance? There must have been a reason for it, and a good one. He was infinitely wise, and righteous, and kind, and comprehended perfectly the design of the institution, and all the abuses that would be made of it. It is noticeable, too, that neither evangelists nor apostles ever employ any other term but this or its cognates, with reference to the rite. Immersion, also, is suited to all climates, all countries, and all times. The notion that there are habitable countries so dry as to furnish no water for immersion, or that there are regions so cold that water can neither be found nor prepared for that use, is unworthy of refutation. Immersion may be inconvenient, and involve some expense and trouble; but what of that? Jesus traveled from Galilee to Judea, sixty or seventy miles, probably on foot, to be baptized of John in the river Jordan; and shall we set aside his command because it is not according to our convenience, or because we imagine that something else would suit us better?

Christ has made no provision for changing the ordinance. Neither churches, nor synods, nor general assemblies, nor ecumenical councils, nor pontiff s, nor any earthly power, have the shadow of authority for altering it. It is their province to obey, not to legislate. "Ye are my friends," said Jesus, "if ye do whatsoever I command you." Roman Catholics changed the rite from immersion to sprinkling?and, with their views of church power, acted consistently; but Protestants, or Christians who take the Bible as their standard of practice, can have no apology for making such an alteration.

Even supposing that churches had authority for changing the ordinance, why should they do it? Are they wiser than their Lord? Sprinkling and pouring, it is said, symbolize moral purification. Do they do it better than immersion? Cleansing is not all that is symbolized by baptism. It represents the death and the resurrection of Christ, and conversion under the idea of a resurrection. "Know ye not," says Paul, "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, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Rom. 6:3, 4). All commentators not writing in the defence of sprinkling and pouring agree with Archbishop Tillotson in their interpretation of this passage: "Anciently, those who were baptized were immersed, and buried in the water, to represent their death to sin; and then did rise up out of the water, to signify their entrance upon a new life. And to these customs the apostle alludes" (Star Book, page 29). Now, we ask whether sprinkling or pouring, by any stretch of the imagination, can be made to symbolize a death and resurrection. The only reason for changing the ordinance would be simply this: Christ deemed immersion proper, and commanded its observance; but we consider it inconvenient, if not indelicate?unsuited to the taste and refinement of the age?and, therefore, we "abridge somewhat its form."

We have a few plain and candid general remarks to make to sincere believers in Christ:

Immersion is certainly baptism. This has been conceded by all the Christian world, so far as we are informed, excepting a few Presbyterians of the present century. On this point they confront the learning and authority of Christendom. Roman Catholics and members of the Greek church, Protestants, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Calvinists, Methodists, Congregationalists?all sects, orthodox and heterodox, with the exception mentioned, not only concede that immersion is "permissible" baptism, but, at least, of equal validity with sprinkling or pouring. The Greek church, of more than 60,000,000, deny that sprinkling or pouring is baptism. The English church, with all its learning, enjoins dipping, and considers pouring, in exceptional cases, merely "permissible." All sects of Baptists maintain the exclusive validity of immersion. Roman Catholics, with perfect unanimity, accept sprinkling or pouring for baptism on a ground on which every consistent Protestant must reject it. Now, we ask any candid believer why he should receive sprinkling or pouring for baptism, of whose validity there is so much reason to doubt, and reject immersion, whose scripturalness is conceded by all Christendom, except a few modern polemics? In regard to his worldly interests; he would not so act. He would surely be governed by the commanding probability. Should he be less anxious to pursue the right course when the honor of his Master and the interests of his kingdom are at stake? We think not.

Baptism is not essential to salvation, and, therefore, it is maintained by some, the manner of its observance is of no great importance. We do not believe in the essentiality of baptism to salvation. On this point Baptists have been much misunderstood and misrepresented. In former times, they were censured for conceding the possibility of salvation without baptism; and in the present day, they are blamed for giving it undue prominence and importance. The rite may be over-estimated or under-estimated with facility. We should aim to give it the precise position that it holds in the Sacred Scriptures. While we admit that baptism is not essential to salvation, we maintain that obedience is. Christ is "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him"; and only unto such (Heb. 5:9). Baptism is a divine commandment, obligatory on all believers. It is enforced, not only by the supreme authority, but by the winning example of the Son of God. Of persons ignorant, or mis-instructed, or in doubt, or dilatory in regard to the ordinance, we say nothing. We leave them in the hands of a righteous Judge. Suppose, however, a person professing to trust in Christ believes immersion to be divinely commanded, and deliberately and persistently refuses to submit to it; call he be ?saved? We judge not. He will be lost, not for the lack of baptism, but because his disobedience will demonstrate his want of faith, and consequently his unregeneracy. His rejection of baptism proves his disloyalty to the King of kings.

On this point we do not speak from conjecture, but follow the teaching of the divine oracles. "The Pharisees and lawyers," we are told, "rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him" (John) (Luke 7:30). John?s baptism was "the counsel of God," and those who, in their pride and self-sufficiency, rejected it, set themselves in opposition to God. The guilt and danger of the rejection were doubtless proportionate to their light and obstinacy. Are they less guilty, and exposed to less peril, who willfully reject the baptism commanded by Christ, enforced by his example, and administered amid the wonders of the day of Pentecost? It is wisest and safest and best to obey Christ in all things.

We have never known a Baptist dissatisfied with the manner of his baptism. We have been acquainted with some who were troubled with doubts as to their fitness for the reception of the rite, and many more who had cause to lament that their lives had been so little in accord with the vows made in its reception; but not one, among the multitudes who, during a ministry of more than fifty years, have consulted us concerning their spiritual perplexities and troubles, has ever expressed any question as to the validity of immersion. Every pious Baptist knows that he has been baptized. He remembers the time, place, and circumstances of his baptism, and found in it "the answer of a good conscience toward God." With Pedobaptists the case is very different. Many of them are harassed with doubts and fears all their lifetime as to the validity of their infant sprinkling. Some are sensitive on the subject, and carefully avoid all discussion of it. Others seek relief from their troubles in reading treatises in favor of infant baptism and in listening to the reasonings of their pastors. Not a few, after enduring for years the accusations of an. tin-quiet conscience, break away from their early and loved religious associates and follow Christ into the Jordan.

We have a question to put to sprinkled believers. We do not use this term in disrespect. For many of them we entertain the highest regard, and shall continue that regard, whatever may be their course concerning baptism. Our question is this: If you knew that your salvation depended on your being baptized precisely according to the command and example of Christ, would you trust your sprinkling in infancy, or even in your mature age? Many, doubtless, would; but multitudes, we are persuaded, would not. We once conversed with a young lady, converted under our ministry, on the subject of baptism. She had been sprinkled in childhood; but her conscience was ill at ease. Before making up her mind as to her duty, she desired, very naturally, to see her pastor. After a few months, we saw her again, and inquired: "Miss, have you settled the question as to your baptism?" "I am perfectly satisfied with it," was her reply. "If your salvation," we added, "depended on your being baptized according to the will of Christ, would you be satisfied with it?" "I do not believe that my salvation depends on that," she promptly answered. "Very well," we said; "but suppose it did; would you be satisfied?" With increased emphasis, she repeated: "I do not believe that it does." It was quite clear, had she believed that her salvation depended on the exact conformity of her baptism to the will of Christ, she would not have been satisfied.

Baptists have great confidence that their views of baptism are plainly presented in the Scriptures. It is quite common for them to refer young converts to the Bible to learn their duty in regard to baptism. The common version of the New Testament, prepared by Pedobaptists, is the best book for guiding plain, honest inquirers in reference to the ordinance. Do the advocates of sprinkling ever direct inquirers for information on the subject of baptism to read the Scriptures? We have never heard of such a case. We doubt whether one can be cited. We judge that it would be decidedly impolitic and unsafe for the advocates of sprinkling and pouring to refer young converts to the Scriptures for the solution of their doubts and the guidance of their conduct in regard to the rite of baptism.

 
 
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