The subject of baptism constitutes one of the primary and fundamental discussions between Baptists and other Christian denominations, and has reference to the form and uses of that ordinance. The following propositions set forth the nature and extent of the controversy, the proof of which propositions will amply justify the Baptist position on that subject.
Prop. I.—That the baptism which John administered, which Jesus received and enjoined, and which the Apostles practised, was an immersion, a dipping, an entire submergence of the person baptized, in water, on a profession of repentance and faith in Christ.
Prop. II.—That this same baptism of immersion was used by the Apostles and disciples of our Lord, and by the primitive churches, without any known exception, for more than two hundred years after Christ.
Prop. III.—That the first recorded departure from the practice of immersion in baptism was, about A. D. 250, in the case of Novatian, affuscd on his sickbed, being, as was supposed, incapable of baptism. No earlier instance is known to history.
Prop. IV.—That from this time pouring, or sprinkling, for baptism, was occasionally resorted to as substitutes, in cases of sick persons, called clinics; hence clinic baptism came into use in emergencies.
Prop. V.—That for more than thirteen hundred years immersion was the prevailing practice of Christian churches throughout the world in the administration of baptism.
Prop. VI.—That the Greek and other Oriental churches have never abandoned the primitive mode, but still practise dippinig, whether in the case of adults or of infants, in all climates, and at all seasons of the year.
Prop. VII.—That the substitution of aspersion for immersion was one of the corruptions of the Papal Church, transmitted to, and accepted by, the Protestant Christians in later times.
Prop. VIII.—That, after the Reformation, sprinkling for baptism came into general use among Protestant Christians in Europe, by whom it was transmitted to Protestant churches in America.
Prop. IX.—That the leading scholarship of the world declares that the meaning of the Greek word baptizo is to immerse, and that immersion was the original Scriptural baptism; while sprinkling and pouring are conceded substitutes, used for convenience only, and are without divine authority.
Prop. X.—That more than half the nominal Christians in the world still practise immersion in baptism, denying the validity of any other form, while all Christians, the world over, hold such baptism to be valid, primitive and Scriptural.
If these propositions be proven, it ought to end the controversy—certainly, with candid and unbiased minds. But the force of education, social relations and religious predilections are often more powerful to influence conduct than the combined energies of truth, judgment, and conscience. The injunction of our Lord was and still is: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Cotton Mather’s words could not have a more appropriate or emphatic application than to such a case: “Let a precept be never so difficult to obey, or never so distasteful to flesh and blood, yet if I see it is God’s command, my soul says, it is good; let me obey it till I die.”
Let it be distinctly understood, however, that all the eminent and learned authorities hereafter cited are Pedobaptists. Baptist witnesses are wholly omitted, not because they are less learned, or less valuable, but because we prefer to allow our opponents in this controversy to bear witness for us, rather than to testify in our own behalf. Possibly, also, the testimony of their own scholars may have more weight with our Pedobaptist brethren than would the testimony of ours, who might be thought interested witnesses in such a case.
What is Christian Baptism?
This is the greatest question that enters into the baptismal controversy, and the one in which Baptists take sides against the Pedobaptist world, both Papal and Protestant, so far, at least, as their practice is concerned. Other questions of moment arise in connection with this sacred rite; questions as to its mode, its purpose, and its efficacy. They have their importance, and a legitimate sphere of discussion. What shall precede baptism, or accompany it, or follow it? Whether salt or oil shall be used; whether a black robe or a white robe, or no robe at all shall be worn, by candidate or administrant; whether the candidate shall be dipped once, twice, or thrice, forward or backward, standing or kneeling—all these, and many others, which burdened mediaeval polemics, are mere accidents, having reference to mode, in which we have no special interest. But it is of primary importance to know what constitutes baptism itself. That point, once settled, will decide the form of its administration. To say it is a ceremony in which water is the element used, and by which persons are admitted to the Christian Church, does not answer the question. What is baptism? As a Gospel ordinance, the New Testament must define it.
Baptists answer the question by saying that baptism is the immersion or dipping of a candidate in water, on a profession of faith in Christ, administered in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.
Pedobaptists answer the question by saying it is either the sprinkling or pouring of water upon the person, touching the forehead with a wet finger, or the dipping of the candidate into water, in either case in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit; and that it may be administered to one on his own profession of faith, or to an unconscious infant on the professed faith of some other person. This would make four forms of the ordinance, administered to two classes of subjects.
Baptists hold to a unity in the ordinance, as in the faith, believing that as there is but one Lord and one Faith, so there is but one Baptism, and not four. And the one baptism is the immersion in water, in, or into the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. Neither pouring nor sprinkling water upon, nor any other application of water to a person, is baptism, though it may be called such ever so often, and ever so earnestly.
Meaning of Baptizo
The word ”baptize” is, properly speaking, a Greek word (baptizo), adapted to the English language by a change in its termination. This is the word used by the sacred writers to express and define the ordinance. What does this word mean as originally used? For it is certain that Divine Wisdom, in commanding an ordinance to be observed by believers of all classes, in all lands, and through all ages, would use a word of positive and definite import, and one whose meaning would admit of no reasonable doubt.
What, then, does “baptizo” mean? Let us ask Greek scholars—men familiar with and skilled in the use of Greek words. How do the dictionaries define it? What do lexicographers and scholars say?
Scapula says: “To dip, to immerse, as we do anything for the purpose of dyeing it.”
Schleusner says: “Properly, it signifies to dip, to immerse, to immerse in water.”
Schrevelius says: “To baptize, to merge, to bathe.”
Parkhurst says: “To dip, immerse, or plunge in water.”
Greenfield says: “To immerse, immerge, submerge, sink.”
Green says: “To dip, immerse, to cleanse or purify by washing.”
Donnegan says: “To immerse repeatedly into liquid, to submerge, to soak thoroughly, to saturate.”
Stevens says: “To merge or immerse, to submerge, or bury in the water.”
Alstidius says: “To baptize signifies only to immerse, not to wash, except by consequence.”
Passow says: “To immerse often and repeatedly, to submerge.”
Schottgen says: “To merge, immerse, to wash, to bathe.”
Stockius says: “Properly, it means to dip, or immerse in water.”
Robinson says: “To immerse, to sink.”
Liddell and Scott say: “To dip repeatedly.”
Sophocles says: “Baptize, to dip, to immerse, to sink.”
Anthon says: “The primary meaning of the word is to dip, to immerse.”
Cremer says: “Baptize, immersion, submersion, for a religious purpose.”
Grimm’s Lexicon of the New Testament, which in Europe and America stands confessedly at the head of Greek lexicography, as translated and edited by Prof. Thayer of Harvard University, thus defines baptizo: “(I.) To dip repeatedly, to immerse, submerge. (2.) To cleanse by dipping or submerging. (3.) To overwhelm. In the New Testament it is used particularly of the rite of sacred ablution; first instituted by John the Baptist, afterward by Christ’s command received by Christians and adjusted to the nature and contents of their religion, viz., an immersion in water performed as a sign of the removal of sin, and administered to those who, impelled by a desire for salvation, sought admission to the benefits of the Messiah’s kingdom. With eis to mark the element into which the immersion is made; en with the dative of the thing in which one is immersed.”
The noun baptisma, the only other word used in the New Testament to denote the rite, this lexicon thus defines: “A word peculiar to the New Testament and ecclesiastical writers; used (i) of John’s baptism; (2) of Christian baptism. This, according to the view of the Apostles, is a rite of sacred immersion commanded by Christ.”
Moses Stuart, one of the ablest scholars America has produced, says: ”Baptizo means to dip, plunge, or immerse into any liquid. All lexicographers and critics of any note are agreed in this.”—Essay on Baptism, p. 51; Bib. Repos., 1833, p. 298.
Rosenmuller says: “To baptize is to immerse or dip, the body, or part of the body which is to be baptized, going under the water.—Scholia, Matt. 3:6.
Wetstein says: “To baptize is to plunge, to dip. The body, or part of the body being under water is said to be baptized.”—Com. on Matt. 3:6.
Leigh says: “The native and proper signification of it is, to dip into water, or to plunge under water. “—Critica Sacra.
Turretin says: “The word ‘baptism’ is of Greek origin, which signifies to baptize, to dip into, to immerse.”—Inst. loc. 19, quest, ii.
Beza says: “Christ commanded us to be baptized, by which word it is certain immersion is signified.”—Annot. on Matt. 7:4: Acts19:3; Matt. 3:2.
Calvin says: “The word baptize signifies to immerse; and the rite of immersion was observed by the ancient Church.”—Institutes, B. IV., ch. 15, sec. 19.
Witsius says: “It cannot be denied that the native signification of the word baptism, is to plunge, to dip.”—Econ. Cove., B. IV., ch. 16, sec. 13.
Luther says: “The term baptism is a Greek word. It may be rendered a dipping, when we dip something in water, that it may be entirely covered with water.”—Cited by Du Veile on Acts 8:38.
Vossius says: “To baptize signifies to plunge.”—Discourses on Baptism Dis. I.
Wilson says: “To baptize, to dip one into water, to plunge one into the water.”—Christ. Dict., Art. Baptism.
Campbell says: “The word baptizein, both in sacred authors and in classical, signifies to dip, to plunge, to immerse; and was rendered by Tertullian, the oldest of the Latin fathers, tingere, the term used for dyeing cloth, which was by immersion.”—Translation Gospels. Note on Matt. 3:16.
Very many other competent scholars and critics familiar with the Greek language, might be cited to the same effect. Can there be any reasonable question that the true, indeed the only proper, meaning of baptizo is to dip, plunge, immerse, or bury in water? And if at any time it may have the secondary meaning of wash, cleanse, saturate, or dye, it is in consequence, and by reason of, the manner in which these acts are performed by immersion. As to the meaning of the word there can be no dispute. Both classic and sacred Greek are in harmony as to that. The New Testament decides its meaning as an ecclesiastical term applied to a Gospel ordinance.
Significant Use of the Word
Our Lord in commanding baptism, evidently used such words as conveyed His meaning in no doubtful terms. And the sacred writers in transmitting His command to posterity, as well as His Apostles in preaching His Gospel to the nations, chose from all the words of the Greek language that one which accurately and truthfully conveyed His meaning to those who should believe upon His name. The Greek language is rich in terms to express all positive ideas, and all varying shades of thought. Why was this one word, and no other, selected to describe an ordinance of great significancy, intended to be observed by all believers, to the end of the world?
Baptizo is found eighty times in the New Testament, and is a derivative from bapto. In nearly all it is used to designate this ordinance—and no other word is ever used for that purpose. Baptisma, a baptism, an immersion, is found twenty-two times, and baptismos, the act of baptizing, or immersing, four times, both formed from baptizo. Dr. Carson, Professor Stuart, and others, have abundantly proven that this word means to dip, plunge, or immerse; and that, primarily and properly, it means nothing else. Our Saviour, in leaving a command universally binding on His disciples, meant doubtless to express it so plainly and so positively, that none could misunderstand Him. Therefore, this particular word and no other has been used, because it means just what He intended, and nothing else.
Bapto is found three times in the New Testament, and also means to dip, but is never used to describe baptism. Why not? Because it has other meanings, as well as that of dipping; and with this word the nature of the ordinance might be misunderstood.
Louo is found six times, and means to wash; to wash the whole body; to bathe. If baptism means to wash, as some hold, here was just the word to express it. But this word is never applied to the ordinance; because washing is not baptism, and baptism is not washing.
Nipto is found seventeen times, and means also to wash, to wash the extremities, as the face, hands, or feet, as distinguished from bathing the entire body. But this word is never used to express baptism. Why not, if a little water applied to the face may be baptism, as some teach?
Breko is found seven times, and means to wet, to moisten, to rain upon, but is never used to designate the rite of baptism; therefore to touch or moisten the forehead with wet fingers is not baptism, though frequently declared to be such.
Rantizo is found four times, and means to sprinkle. If baptism could have been performed by sprinkling, as is at present so widely believed, this would have been the word above all others to describe the ordinance. But this word is in no case so used; simply because sprinkling is not baptism.
Keo is found many times in its various combinations, and means to pour, but is never used to designate baptism. But if baptism may be performed by pouring water on a candidate, why was not this word sometimes used to indicate the act?
Katharizo is found thirty times, and means to purify, but is never used to signify the act of baptizing. If the ordinance means to purify, as some claim, this word would have expressed it much better than the one used.
We again ask, why did the sacred writers, from all the words in the Greek language, select only and always that one which strictly means to dip or immerse, to express the act by which the sacred ordinance which Christ had commanded, and which His disciples administered, should be performed? The only consistent answer is, because baptism means immersion, and nothing else—and nothing but immersion is baptism.
The Baptism of Christ
Of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, it is said: “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.”—Matt. 3:16. Again it is recorded that Jesus, “was baptized of John in the Jordan; and straightway coming up out of the water.”—Mark l:9,10.
Does not the very fact of His going down into the water, so as to come up out of the water, show, if not positively, yet presumptively, that His baptism, was an immersion, or burial in the water? For to say He went down into the river for the purpose of having a small quantity of water poured, or a few drops sprinkled on Him, is quite too trifling to have weight with candid minds.
Bp. Taylor says: “The custom of the ancient churches was not sprinkling, but immersion: in pursuance of the sense of the word in the commandment, and the example of our blessed Savior.”— Com. Matt. 3:16.
Dr. Campbell says: “Jesus being baptized, no sooner rose out of the water, than heaven was open to Him.”—Trans. Gospels, Matt. 3:16.
MacKnight says: “Christ submitted to be baptized, that is, to be buried under water, and to be raised out of it again, as an emblem of His future death and resurrection.”—Epist. Rom. 6:3,4.
Lightfoot, the most distinguished and influential member of the Westminster Assembly, says: “That the baptism of John was the immersion of the body, in which manner both the ablutions of unclean persons and the baptism of proselytes was performed, seems evident from those things which are related of it; namely, that he baptized in the Jordan, and in Enon, because there was much water; and that Christ, being baptized, went up out of the water.”—On Matt. 3:6.
Poole says: “A great part of those who went out to hear John were baptized, that is, dipped in the Jordan. “—Annot. on Matt. 3:6.
Olshausen, on the baptism of Jesus, says: “The one part of the action—the submersion—represents the negative aspect, the taking away of the old man the other—the emersion—denotes its positive aspect, the appearance of the new man.”—Com. Rom.6:3,4.
Dean Stanley says: “The mode of John’s baptism has been, and still is much discussed, but the practice of the Eastern Church, and the very meaning of the word [baptizo] leave no sufficient ground for questioning that the original form of baptism was complete immersion in the deep baptismal waters.”—Hist. Eastern Church, p. 34.
Geikie says of John’s converts: “He led them in groups to the Jordan, and immersed each singly in the waters, after earnest and full confession of their sins.”—Life and Words of Christ, Vol. I., p. 403.
Dr. Dollinger says: “The Baptists are, however, from the Protestant point of view, unassailable, since, for their demand of baptism by submersion, they have the clear text of the Bible; and the authority of the Church and of her testimony is not regarded by either party.”—Kirche and Kirchen, 337.
Prof. Harnack says: “Baptizein undoubtedly signifies immersion. No proof can be found that it signifies any thing else in the New Testament, and in the most ancient Christian literature. The suggestion regarding a ‘sacred sense,’ is out of the question.”—In Independent, Feb. 19, 1885.
Much Water for Baptism
“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan, unto John, to be baptized of him.”—Matt. 3:13. “And John also was baptizing in Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there.”—John 3:23. Thoughtful persons will ask why should they have resorted to places expressly because these furnished large supplies of water, if baptism was performed by sprinkling? A very small quantity would have answered the purpose in that case. Let Pedobaptist scholars themselves answer the question as follows:
Calvin, whom Scaliger pronunced the most learned man in Europe, says: “From these words of John (ch. 3:23) it may be inferred that baptism was administered, by John and Christ, by plunging the whole body under the water.”—Comment. John 3:23.
Bengel says: “Many waters; so the rite of immersion required.”—Comment on John 3:23.
Poole says: “It is apparent that both Christ and John baptized by dipping the body in the water, else they need not have sought places where had been a great plenty of water.”—Annot. John 3:23.
Curcelleus says: “Baptism was performed by plunging the whole body into water, and not by sprinkling a few drops, as is now the practice. For John was baptizing in Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there.”—Relig. Ch. Inst., cited, Booth, Fed. Ex. ch. 4, p.50.
Whitby says: “Because there was much water there, in which their whole bodies might be dipped.”—Crit. Com. John 3:23.
Adam Clark says: “As the Jewish custom required the persons to stand in the water, and having been instructed, and entered into a covenant to renounce all idolatry, and take the God of Israel for their God, then plunged themselves under the water, it is probable that the rite was thus performed.”—Com. on John 3:23.
Geikie says: “John had to leave the Jordan as too shallow at its accessible parts for baptism, and go to another place—Enon near Salim—an unknown locality, where pools more suitable were yet to be had.”—Life and Words of Christ, p. 410.
Philip and the Eunuch
Why should Philip and the eunuch, or either of them, have gone down into the water, if a mere sprinkling or pouring of water, and not immersion in water, was to be used? “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 8:38,39.
Calvin says: “Here we perceive how baptism was administered among the ancients; for they immersed the whole body in water.”—On baptism, ch. 3, p. 56.
Dr. Towerson says: “For what need would there have been of Philip and the eunuch going into this [the water], were it not that the baptism was to be performed by immersion.”—Com. Acts 8:38.
Grotius, whom his biographer declared one of the most illustrious names in literature, politics and theology, says: “But that this customary rite was performed by immersion, and not by pouring, is indicated both by the proper signification of the word, and the places chosen for the rite.”—Annot. Matt. 3:6.
Venema says: “It is without controversy, that baptism in the primitive Church was administered by immersion into water, and not by sprinkling, seeing that John is said to have baptized in Jordan, and where there was such water, as Christ also did by His disciples in the neighborhood of those places. Philip, also, going down into the water, baptized the eunuch.”—Eccl. Hist., ch. 7, sec. 138. See Booth, Ped. Ex., ch. 4, sec. 76.
The Testimony of Expositors
The great question with every candid mind should be, “What is truth? What is right?” But as the Scriptures are our only and sufficient standard in matters of religious faith and practice, we ask, what do the Scriptures teach? In order to ascertain this point, we inquire of those pious men, eminent for learning and a devout study of the Bible, who have prepared able commentaries on the sacred text, as to what they understand to be the nature of baptism, and the form of its original administration. What do expositors say?
Zanchius, whose opinion, De Courcy declares, “is worth a thousand others,” says: “The proper signification of baptizo is to immerse, plunge under to overwhelm in water.”—Works, Vol. VL. p. 247. Geneva, 1619.
Witsius says: “It cannot be denied that the native signification of the word baptein, and baptizein, is to plunge or dip.”—Exon. Covenants, p. 1213.
Bp. Taylor says: “The custom of the ancient churches was not sprinkling, but immersion.”—Deut. Dubit. B. III., ch. 4, R. 15.
Luther, the great German reformer, says: “The term baptism is Greek; in Latin it may be translated immersio; since we immerse anything into water, that the whole may be covered with the water.”—Works, Vol. I., p. 74. Wit. Ed., 1382.
Melancthon says: “Baptism is immersion into water, which is made with this admirable benediction.”—Melanct. Catec.,Wit., 1580.
Cave, in his able work on Christian Antiquities, says: “The party to be baptized was wholly immersed, or put under water.”—Prim. Chris., P. I., ch. 10, p. 320.
Bp. Sherlock says: “Baptism, or an immersion into water, according to the ancient rite of administering it, is a figure of our burial with Christ, and of our conformity to His death.”—See Bloom. Crit. Dig., Vol. V., p. 537.
Beza says: “Christ commanded us to be baptized; by which word it is certain immersion is signified.”—Epis. ad. Thorn. Tillium, Annot. on Mark 7:4.
Poole says: “He seems here to allude to the manner of baptizing in those warm Eastern countries, which was to dip or plunge the party baptized, and, as it were, to bury him for a while underwater.”—Annot. on Romans 6:4.
Mede says: “There was no such thing as sprinkling used in the Apostles’ days, nor for many ages after them.”—Discourse on Titus 3:5.
Vitringa says: “The act of baptizing is the immersion of believers in water. This expresses the force of the word.”—Aphorism 884.
Grotius says: “That baptism used to be performed by immersion, and not pouring, appears by the proper signification of the word, and by the places chosen for the administration of this rite.”—Annot. Matt. 3:6; John 3:23.
Bp. Bossuet says: “To baptize signifies to plunge, as is granted by all the world.”—Stennett against Russen, p.174.
Diodati says: “Baptized—that is to say, ducked in the water, for a sacred sign and seal of the expiation and remission of sins.”—Annot. on Matt. 3:6.
Calvin says: “The word baptize signifies to immerse; and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient Church.”—Institutes, B. IV., ch. 15, sec. 19.
Samuel Clarke says: “In the primitive times the manner of baptizing was by immersion, or dipping the whole body into water.”—Exp. Ch. Catec., p. 294. Ed. 6.
Storr and Flatt say: “The disciples of our Lord could understand His command in no other way than as enjoining immersion, for the baptism of John, to which Jesus Himself submitted, and also the earlier baptism of the disciples of Jesus, were performed by dipping the subject into cold water.”—Bib. Theol., B. IV., sec. 109, par. 4.
Adam Clark says: “Alluding to the immersions practiced in the case of adults, wherein the person appeared to be buried under the water, as Christ was buried in the heart of the earth. “—Comment on Col. 2:12.
Bloomfield says: “There is here plainly a reference to the ancient mode of baptism by immersion.”—Greek New Test. Exp. Rom. 6:4.
Scholz says: “Baptism consists in the immersion of the whole body in water.”—Comment on Matt. 3:6.
Schaff says: “Immersion, and not sprinkling, was unquestionably the original form. This is shown by the very meaning of the words baptizo, baptisma and baptismos, used to designate the rite.”—Hist. Apos. Ch., p. 488. Merc, ed., 1851. See also Noel on Bap., ch. 3, sec. 8.
Prof. Browne says: “The language of the New Testament and of the primitive Fathers sufficiently point to immersion as the common mode of baptism.”—Smith’s Bib. Did., Art. Bap. Sup.
Dr. Jacobs says: “It only remains to be observed that baptism, in the, primitive Church, was evidently administered by immersion of the body in water—a mode which added to the significancy of the rite, and gave a peculiar force to some of the allusions to it.”—Eccl. Polity of the N. T., p. 258.
Neander says: “The usual form of submersion at baptism, practiced by the Jews, was passed over to the Gentile Christians. Indeed, this form was the most suitable to signify that which Christ intended to render an object of contemplation by such a symbol: the immersion of the whole man in the spirit of a new life.”—Planting and Training, p. 161.
To the same effect might be adduced many others from among the most able and distinguished of biblical scholars and commentators connected with the Pedobaptist communions.
The idea which Paul had of both the form and purpose of baptism is very manifest from the manner in which he refers to it in his Epistles. To the Romans he says: “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death.”—Rom. 6 : 4. To the Colossians, using nearly the same language, he says: ”Buried with Him in baptism.”—Col. 2:12.
His conception must have been that of a burying, a covering of the subject entirely in the water, by a sinking into it. No other form could have been true to the figure here used. And this fact has been generally acknowledged.
Abp. Tillotson, on these passages, says: “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.”—Works, Vol. I., p. 179.
Benson says: “Buried with Him by baptism—alluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion.”—Comment on Rom. 4:4.
Diodati says: “In baptism being dipped in water according to the ancient ceremony; it is a sacred sign unto us, that sin ought to be drowned in us by God’s Spirit.”—Annot. Rom. 4:4.
Turretin says: “And indeed baptism was performed in that age, and in those countries, by immersion of the whole body into water.”—Comment on Rom. 6:3,4.
Zwingle says: “When ye were immersed into the water by baptism, ye were ingrafted into the death of Christ.”—Annot. Rom. 4:4. See Conant’s Append. to Matt.
Whitby says: “It being so expressly declared that we are buriea with Christin baptism,by being buried underwater.”—Comment on Rom. 4:4.
John Wesley says: “Buried with Him—alluding to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion.”—Note on Romans 4:4.
Conybeare says: “This passage cannot be understood, unless it be borne in mind that the primitive baptism was by immersion.”—Life and Epist. St. Paul, Rom. 4:4.
Bloomfield says: “Here is a plain allusion to the ancient custom of baptizing by immersion; and I agree with Koppe and Rosen muller, that there is reason to regret it should ever have been abandoned in most Christian churches, especially as it has so evident a reference to the mystic sense of baptism.”—Recens. Synop. on Rom. 4:4.
Samuel Clarke says: “In the primitive times, the manner of baptizing was by immersion, or dipping the whole body into water. And this manner of doing it was a very significant emblem of the dying and rising again, referred to by St. Paul, in the above mentioned similitude.”—Expos. Church Cate., 294, ed. 6.
Olshausen says: “Particularly Paul (Rom. 6:4) treats of baptism in the twofold reference of that ordinance to immersion and emersion, as symbolizing the death and resurrection of Christ.”—Comment Matt. 18:1-15.
Fritzsche says: “But that, in accordance with the nature of the word, baptism was then performed not by sprinkling upon, but by submerging, is proved especially by Rom. 4:4.”—Com. on Matt., Vol. I., p. 120. See Conant’s Append. to Matt., p. 103.
Estius says: “For immersion represents to us Christ’s burial, and so also His death; since none but the dead are buried. Moreover, the emersion which follows the immersion has a resemblance to the resurrection.”—Com. on Rom. 6:3. Cited by Conant, Append, to Matt., p. 100.
Maldonatus says: “For in Greek to be baptized is the same as to be submerged.”—Com. On Matt. 20:22; Luke 12:50.
Whitefield says: “It is certain that in the words of our text (Rom.6: 3,4) there is an allusion to the manner of baptism, which was by immersion.”—Eighteen Sermons, p. 297.
Adam Clark says: “It is probable that the Apostle here alludes to the mode of administering baptism by immersion, the whole body being put under water.”—Comment on Rom.6:4.
Bishop Fell says: “The primitive fashion of immersion under the water, representing our death, and elevation again out of it, our resurrection or regeneration.”—Note on Rom.6:4.
Dr. Doddridge says: “It seems the part of candor to confess, that here (Rom. 6:4) is an allusion to the manner of baptizing by immersion, as most usual in those early times.”—Fam. Expos, on Rom. 6:4.
Assembly of Divines say: “In this phrase (Col. 2:12) the Apostle seemeth to allude to the ancient manner of baptism, which was to dip the parties baptized, and, as it were, to bury them under the water for a while, and then to draw them out of it, and lift them up, to represent the burial of our old man, and our resurrection to newness of life.”—Annot. on Matt. 3:6; Rom. 6:4.
Such opinions, expressed by these learned and pious men, do not surprise us. It is difficult to see how they could have expressed any others.
Many learned men have studied with care the early records of Christianity; have written histories of the doctrines and ceremonies of the churches during the times immediately succeeding the apostolic age. What do they say of the practice as to baptism in the first centuries of Christian history?
Barnabas, the companion of St. Paul, in an epistle ascribed to him, and which must have been written very early, whoever was the real author, speaks of baptism as a “going down into the water.” He says:
“We go down into the water full of sin and filth, but we come up bearing fruits in our hands.” Cath. Epist., sec. 9., cited by Broughton, Hist. Dict., Art. Baptism.
Hermas, writing about A.D. 95, in the ” Shepherd,” a work ascribed to him, speaks of the Apostles as having gone “down into the water with those they baptized,” and “come up again.” Stennett against Russen, p. 143.
Justin Martyr, writing about A.D. 140, speaks of those baptized as “washed in the water, in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.” Apology, sees. 79, 85, 86. Reeve’s Trans.; Orchard’s Hist. Bapt., sees. 1, 2, 3, 4.
Tertullian, about A.D. 204, says the person to be baptized “is let down into the water, and, with a few words said, is dipped.”—De Bapt., ch. 2.
Hippolytus, about A.D. 225, says: “For he who goes down with faith into the bath of regeneration, is arrayed against the evil one, and on the side of Christ. He comes up from the baptism bright as the sun, flashing forth the rays of righteousness.”—Dis. on the Theoph., 10. See Conant’s Append, to Matt.
Gregory, A.D. 360, says: “We are buried with Christ by baptism, that we may also rise with him.”—Stennett’s Reply, p. 144.
Basil, A. D. 360, says: “By three immersions the great mystery of baptism is accomplished;”—referring to trine baptism. Baronius’ Annals, v.; Binghatns Antiq., B. XL, ch. 11.
Ambrose, A.D. 374, says: “Thou saidst, I do believe, and wast immersed in water; that in thou wast buried.”—Bing. Ant., B. II., ch. 2. Stennett’s Reply to Kussen, p. 144.
Cyril, A.D. 374, says: “Candidates are first anointed with consecrated oils; they are then conducted to the laver, and asked three times if they believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; then they are dipped three times into the water, and retire by three distinct efforts.”—Dupin’s Eccl. Hist., ch. 6., sec. 2; Orchards Hist.Bap., p.43. Nash, ed., 1855.
Chrysostom, A.D. 398, says:””To be baptized and plunged into the water, and then emerge and rise again, is a symbol of our descent into the grave, and our ascent out of it.”—Horn. 40, on I Cor., p. 186; Bing. Christ. Antiq., B. XL, ch. 11. See also on all the Fathers, Conant’s Append, to Matt.
Salmasius says: “Baptism is immersion, and was formerly celebrated according to the force and meaning of the name. Now it is only rantism, or sprinkling, not immersion nor dipping.”—Wolf. Crit. Matt. 28:19; De Caes. Viro., p. 669.
Bingham says: “The ancients thought that immersion, or burying under water, did more lively represent the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, as well as our own death to sin, and rising again into righteousness.”—Christ. Antiq., B. XI., ch. 11.
Mosheim says: “In this century [the first] baptism was administered in convenient places, without the public assemblies, and by immersing the candidate wholly in water.”—Eccl. Hist., B. I., Cent. T. part II., ch. 4.
Neander says: “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, of being entirely penetrated by the same.”—Ch. Hist. Vol. I., p. 310. Also Hist. Plant, and Train., Vol. I., p. 222.
Waddington says: “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.”—Church Hist. ch. 2., sec. 3.
Schaff says: “Finally, so far as it respects the mode and manner of outward baptizing, there can be no doubt that immersion, and not sprinkling, was the original normal form.”—Hist.Christ. Ch., p. 488, Mercer, ed.
For Thirteen Centuries
Not only was immersion the original normal form of baptism, as received by Christ, administered by His Apostles, and practiced by the earliest Christians, but it was that form which was retained in use by all Christian churches, with few exceptions, for many centuries. Indeed, with a large portion of the so-called Christian world, it retains its position to this day.
Dr. Whitby says: “And this immersion being religiously observed by all Christians for thirteen centuries, and approved by our Church”—referring to the Church of England. Annotations on Rom. 6:4.
Dr. Stackhouse says: “Several authors have shown and proved that this manner of immersion continued, as much as possible, to be used for thirteen hundred years after Christ.”—History of the Bible, R. VIII., ch. I.
Bishop Bossuet says: “We are able to make it appear, by the acts of Councils, and by ancient rituals, that for thirteen hundred years baptism was thus administered [by immersion] throughout the whole Church, as far as possible.”—Stennett ad. Russen, p. 176; Booth’s Pedo, Ex., ch.4.
Dr. Brenner says: “Thirteen hundred years was baptism generally and orderly performed by the immersion of the person under water, and only in extraordinary cases was sprinkling, or affusion, permitted. These later methods of baptism were called in question, and even prohibited.”—Hist. Exhibit. Bapt., p.306.
Von Colln says: “Immersion in water was general until the thirteenth century among the Latins; it was then displaced by sprinkling, but retained by the Greeks.”—Hist. Doct., Vol. II., p. 303.
Hagenbach says: “From the thirteenth century sprinkling came into more general use in the West. The Greek Church, however, and the Church of Milano still retained the practice of immersion.”—Hist. Doct., Vol. II., p. 84, note 1.
Winer says: “Affusion was first applied to the sick, but was gradually introduced for others after the seventh century, and in the thirteenth became the prevailing practice in the West.”—Lects. Christ. Antiquity.
Augusti says: “Immersion in water was general until the thirteenth century, among the Latins; it was then displaced by sprinkling, but retained by the Greeks.”—Arches., Vol. V., p. 5; Vol. VII., p. 229.
Bingham says: “As this [dipping] was the original apostolical practice, so it continued the universal practice of the Church for many ages.”—Antiq. Christ. Church, B. XI., ch. II.
Van Oosterzee says: “This sprinkling, which seems to have first come generally into use in the thirteenth century, in place of the entire immersion of the body, in imitation of the previous baptism of the sick, has certainly this imperfection, that the symbol ical character of the act is expressed by it much less conspicuously than by complete immersion and burial under water.”—Christian Dogmatics, p. 749. N. Y. ed.
Coleman says: “The practice of immersion continued even until the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Indeed, it has never been formally abandoned.”—Ancient Christianity, ch. 19, sec. 12.
Encyclopedia Ecclesiastica says: “Whatever weight, however, may be in those reasons, as a defense for the present practice of sprinkling, it is evident that during the first ages of the Church, and for many centuries afterwards, the practice of immersion prevailed.”—Ency. Eccl., Art. Baptism.
While these testimonials do not exhaust historical evidence on this point, they are sufficient to satisfy unbiased minds as to the primitive and long continued use of immersion for baptism, in the Christian world.
These Pedobaptist scholars concede that for thirteen humdred years immersion was the prevailing form of baptism, departed from only in special and extraordinary, cases. And that even when abandoned by the Latin, or Romish Church, it was retained by the Greek, and other Oriental churches, which do to this day preserve the original form of that sacred rite.
Usage of the Greek Church
While it may not be an unanswerable argument in favor of the position taken by Baptists, that the Greek Church has always practised, and does still practises immersion, yet the fact is too significant to be overlooked. It constitutes collateral evidence of no mean character.
The Greek Church extends over Greece, Russia, Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Abyssinia, and other Oriental countries. Like the Romish Church, it has corrupted the primitive purity of Gospel doctrine and practice with many absurd glosses and superstitious rites. But as to the form of baptism, it holds the primitive custom of dipping the candidates.
Stourdza, the Russian scholar and diplomat, says: “The Church of the West [Rome] has, then, departed from the example of Jesus Christ; she has obliterated the whole sublimity of the exterior sign. Baptism and immersion are identical. Baptism by aspersion is as if one should say, immersion by aspersion; or any other absurdity of the same nature.”—Consid. Orthodox Ch., p. 87; Conant’s Append., p. 99.
Deylingius says: “The Greeks retain the rite of immersion to this day; as Jeremiah, the patriarch of Constantinople, declares.”—De Prud. Past., P. III., ch. 3., sec. 26.
Buddeus says: “That the Greeks defend immersion is manifest, and has been frequently observed by learned men; which Ludolphus informs us is the practice of the Ethiopians.”—Theol. Dogmat., B. v., ch. I., sec. 5.
Ricaut says: “Thrice dipping, or plunging, this Church holds to be as necessary to the form of baptism, as water is to the matter.”—State of Greek Church, p. 163.
Dr. Wall, whose learned and laborious re- searches into the history of baptism left little for others to discover, says: “The Greek Church in all its branches does still use immersion, and so do all other Christians in the world, except the Latins. All those nations that do now, or formerly did submit to the authority of the Bishop of Rome, do ordinarily baptize their infants by pouring or sprinkling. But all other Christians in the world, who never owned the Pope’s usurped power, do, and ever did, dip their infants in the ordinary use. All the Christians in Asia, all in Africa, and about one-third in Europe, are of the last sort.”—Hist. Inf. Bap., Vol. II, P. 316: ed. 3.
Dr. Whitby says: “The observation of the Greek Church is this, that he who ascended out of the water must first descend into it; baptism, therefore, is to be performed, not by sprinkling, but by washing the body, and, indeed, it can be only from ignorance of the Jewish rites that this can be questioned.”—Critical Com. on Matt. 3:16.
Dr. King says: “The Greek Church uniformly practices the trine immersion, undoubtedly the most primitive manner.”—Rites and Cerem. Greek Church, p. 192.
Coleman says: “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.”—Ancient Christ. Exemp., ch. 19., sec. 12.
Broughton says: “The Greek Church differs from the Romish, as to the rite of baptism, chiefly in performing it by immersion, or plunging the infant all over in the water.”—Hist. Dict., Art. Bap. Also Ricaut’s Greek Church.
The Pantalogia says: The Greek Church is “that part of the Christian Church which was first established in Greece, and is now spread over a larger extent of country than any other established Church. Amid all their trifling rites, they practice trine immersion, which is unquestionably the original manner.”—Article Greek Church.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says: “The Greek Church differs from the Romish, as to the rite of baptism, chiefly in performing it by immersion, or plunging the infant all over in the water.”—ArticleBaptism.
The Greek Church, like the Latin, has departed from scriptural usage in baptizing unconscious infants, and in many other matters; but has retained the true form of baptism. The Romish Church claims the right to change and abolish ordinances. For that reason, and on that ground alone, they have abolished immersion, and use aspersion in its stead. And this aspersion the Protestant Pedobaptist churches have accepted, with other ecclesiastical perversions, from that corrupt source. Why will they not go back to primitive purity, and scripture teaching? Would they but discard rantism and adopt baptism according to the command of Christ and the practice of the Apostles, it would do more to secure Christian unity among Protestants than all other proposed schemes combined.
The Testimony of Baptistries
It will cast some further light on this subject to know what places were resorted to for a convenient administration of this ordinance during the early ages of Christianity. They never would have frequented rivers, pools, cisterns, and other large bodies of water, for the mere purpose of sprinkling the candidates.
We know that John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus resorted to the Jordan for the purpose of baptizing, and to Enon, near to Salim, “because there was much water there.”
Tertullian says: “There is no difference whether one is baptized in the sea or in a lake, in a river or in a fountain; neither was there any difference between those whom John baptized in Jordan, and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber.”—De Bapt., ch. 4; Bing. Antiq., B. VIII., ch. 8, sec. 1.
Dr. Doddridge says: “John was also at the same time baptizing at Enon; and he particularly chose that place because there was a great quantity of water there, which made it very convenient for his purpose.”—Fam. Expositor on Matt. 3:16.
As Christianity spread and converts multiplied, in many places, especially in large cities, there were few opportunities for the convenient and agreeable administration of the ordinance. Other cities were not so well supplied with pools as was Jerusalem. Then began to be erected baptisteries, expressly designed for this use. These, at first, were constructed in the simplest manner; but, in process of time, large, costly and imposing edifices were built for this purpose.
Mosheim says: “For the more convenient administration of baptism, sacred fonts, or baptisteria, were erected in the porches of the temples. This was in the fourth century.”—Eccl. Hist. Cent. 4, B. II., p. II., ch. 4, sec. 7.
Broughton says: “The place of baptism was at first unlimited, being some pond or lake, some spring or river, but always as near as possible to the place of public worship. Afterward they had their baptisteries, or (as we call them) fonts, built at first near the church, then in the church porch, and, at last, in the church itself.” “The baptistery was, properly speaking, the whole house or building in which the font stood, which latter was only the fountain or pool of water in which the immersion was performed.”—Hist. Dict., Arts. Baptism and Baptistery.
Dr. Murdock says: “The baptisteries were, properly, buildings adjacent to the churches, in which the catechumens were instructed, and where were a sort of cistern, into which water was let at the time of baptism, and in which the candidates were baptized by immersion.”—Mosh. Eccl. Hist., Vol. I., p. 281, note 15.
Dr. Schaff says: “In the fourth century special buildings for this holy ordinance (baptism) began to appear, either entirely separate, or connected with the main church by a covered passage. The need of them arose partly from the still prevalent custom of immersion.”—Hist. Chr. Ch., Vol. II., p. 558-9, sec. 108.
Cave says: “These baptisteries were usually very large and capacious, not only that they might comport with the general custom of those times—of persons baptized being immersed or put under water; but because the stated times of baptism returning so seldom, great multitudes were usually baptized at the same time.”—Prim. Christ., P. I., ch. 10, p. 312.
Bingham says: “In the apostolic age, and some time after, before churches and baptisteries were generally erected, they baptized in any place where they had convenience, as John baptized in Jordan, Philip baptized the eunuch in the wilderness, and Paul, the jailor, in his own house.”—Christ. Antiq., B. XI., ch. 6, sec. II.
Hagenbach says: “That baptism in the beginning was administered in the open air, in rivers and pools, and that it was by immersion we know from the narratives of the New Testament. In later times there were prepared great baptismal fonts or chapels. The person to be baptized descended several steps into the reservoir of water, and then the whole body was immersed under the water.”—Hist. Christ. Church, ch. 19, p. 324.
Coleman says: “The first baptistery, or place appropriated to baptism, of which any mention is made, occurs in a biography in the fourth century, and this was prepared in a private house.”—Ancient Christ. Exemplified, ch. 19, sec 10.
The term “baptistery” was applied properly to the pool or font of water, but was also used to designate the building in which the pool was placed.
Brande says: “A building destined for the purpose of administering the rite of baptism. The baptistery was entirely distinct from the church up to the end of the sixth century; after which period the interior of the church received it.”—Dict. Arts, Sci,, and Lit., Art. Baptistery.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says: “In the ancient Church it was one of the exedra, or buildings distinct from the church itself. Thus it continued till the sixth century, when the baptisteries began to be taken into the church porch, and afterward into the church itself.”—Article Baptistery.
Some of these structures are still preserved, and others are well known to have existed—as that of Florence, Venice, Pisa, Naples, Bologna, and Ravenna. That of the Lateran, at Rome, is considered the oldest now existing, having been erected A.D. 324.
That at Pisa was completed A.D. 1160, the entire structure being one hundred and fifteen feet in diameter, by one hundred and seventy-two feet in height, and of a circular form. That at Florence is an octagonal building, ninety feet in diameter, with a lofty dome. That of St. Sophia, at Constantinople, erected by Constantine, A.D. 337, was capable of accommodating a numerous Council, whose sessions were held in it. Most of these structures are large, elaborate, and costly edifices.
The baptistery proper, or pool for baptizing, was an open cistern in the center of the large hall, or main part of the building.
Can any one suppose these buildings would have been provided if sprinkling and not immersion had been the manner of administering baptism?[For a full account of Baptisteries, see Robinson’s History of Baptism, ch. 12, where, with much labor, the author has collected a large amount of information on the subject. Also Duncan’s Hist. Baptists, ch. 5, sec. 3. Also Crystal’s History of the Mode of Baptism.]
The Design of Baptism
What was baptism intended to represent and teach? As an outward rite, it must be a type, or sign, of some religious truth, or spiritual fact, meant to be taught or enforced by its observance. And the form of the rite, the manner of its administration, must be such as properly to express its design and meaning. If the form be so changed that its symbolic force is lost, and its design no longer seen in its administration, then, manifestly, it is no longer baptism in form or fact; its teaching is not under- stood, and its chief purpose fails.
Now, it is not difficult to ascertain from the New Testament what was intended by baptism. It was clearly this: to show forth the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. And every candidate who receives the ordinance professes thereby faith in the merits of Christ’s death as the ground of his own hope and salvation, fellowship also with His sufferings, and a declaration of his own death to sin, and arising to newness of life in Christ. It also typifies the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and declares the candidate’s hope of a resurrection from the dead, even as Christ, into the likeness of whose death he is buried, was raised up by the glory of the Father.
That immersion alone can teach this is evident; which view the following testimonies abundantly confirm:
Tyndale says: “The plunging into the water signifieth that we die and are buried with Christ, as concerning the old life of sin. And the pulling out again signifieth that we rise again with Christ in a new life full of the Holy Ghost.”—Obedience of a Christ. Man, 143, cited by Conant, Append., p. 93.
Adam Clark says: “But as they received baptism as an emblem of death, in voluntarily going under the water, so they receive it as an emblem of the resurrection unto eternal life, in coming up out of the water.”—Bap. For the dead. Com. on I Cor. 15:29.
Bp. Newton says: “Baptism was usually performed by immersion, or dipping the whole body under water, to represent the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ together, and therewith signify the person’s own dying to sin, the destruction of its power, and his resurrection to a new life.”—Prac. Expos. Catechism, p. 297.
Frankius says: “The baptism of Christ represented His sufferings, and His coming up out of the water His resurrection from the dead.”—Programme,14, p. 343.
Pictetus says: “That immersion into and emersion out of the water, practiced by the ancients, signify the death of the old man, and the resurrection of the new man.”—Theol. Christ., B. XIV., ch. 4, sec. 13.
Buddeus says: “Immersion, which was used in former times, was a symbol and an image of the death and the burial of Christ.”—Dogmatic Theol., B. V., ch. 1, sec. 8.
Saurin says: “The ceremony of wholly immersing us in water, when we were baptized, signified that we died to sin.”—Sermons, Vol. III., p. 171. Robinson’s Trans.
Grotius says: “There was in baptism, as administered in former times, an image both of a burial and a resurrection, which in regard to Christ was external, in regard to Christians internal.” —Annot. Rom. 4:4. Col. 2:12.
Olshausen says: “As believers are in Christ’s death dead with Him, and in baptism buried with Him, so they are now also risen with Him in His resurrection.”—Comment on Col. 2:12.
Macknight says: “He submitted to be baptized, that is, to be buried under the water by John, and to be raised up out of it again, as an emblem of His future death and resurrection.”—Comment on Rom. 6:4.
Baxter says: “In our baptism we are dipped under the water, as signifying our covenant profession, that as He was buried for sin, we are dead and buried to sin.”—Para. Rom. 6:4. Col. 2:12.
Abp. Leighton says: “Buried with Christ. . .where the dipping into water IS referred to as representing our dying with Christ, and the return thence, as expressive of our rising with Him.”—Com. I Pet. 3:21.
Dr. Barrow says: “The action is baptizing, or immersing into water.” “The mersion also in water, and emersion thence, doth figure our death to the former, and our reviving to a new life.”—Doct. Sacra. Works, Vol. III. , p. 43.
Dr. Cave says: “As in immersion there are, in a manner, three several acts—the putting the person into water, his abiding there for a little time, and his rising up again—so by these were represented Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection; and in conformity thereunto our dying unto sin, the destruction of its power, and our resurrection to a new course of life.”—Prim. Christ., p. I., ch. 10, p. 320.
Dr. Hammond says: “It is a thing that every Christian knows, that the immersion in baptism refers to the death of Christ. The putting the person into the water denotes and proclaims the death and burial of Christ.”—Comment on Rom.6:3.
Dr. Wall says: “The immersion of the person, whether infant or adult, in the posture of one that is buried and raised up again, is much more solemn, and expresses the design of the sacrament and the mystery of the spiritual washing much better than pouring a small quantity on the face.”—Hist. Inf. Bap., pp. 404-408.
Dr. Schaff says: “All commentators of note (except Stuart and Hodge) expressly admit, or take it for granted, that in this verse the ancient prevailing mode of baptism by immersion and emersion is implied, as giving additional force to the idea of the going down of the old and the rising up of the new man.”—Note in Lange on Rom. 6:4.
Bp. Bloomfield says: “There may also be (as the ancient commentators think) an allusion to the ancient mode of baptism by immersion; which, while typifying a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness, also had reference to the Christian’s communion with his Lord, both in death and resurrection from the dead.”—Greek N. Test, on I Cor. 15:29. Bap. for the dead.
Dr. Towerson says: “Therefore, as there is so much the more reason to represent the rite of immersion, as the only legitimate rite of baptism, because the only one that can answer the end of its institution, and those things which were to be signified by it; so, especially, if, as is well known, and undoubtedly of great force, the general practice of the Primitive Church was agreeable thereto, and the practice of the Greek Church to this very day. For who can think that either one or the other would have been so tenacious of so troublesome a rite, were it not that they were well assured, as they of the Primitive Church might well be, of its being the only it instituted and legitimate one?”—On Sacra. Bapt., Part III., pp. 31-38.
Canon Liddon, on the likeness to Christ’s resurrection, said: “Of this, the Apostle traced the token in the ceremony, at that time universal, of baptism by immersion. The baptismal waters were the grave of the old nature, while through those waters Christ bestowed the gift of the new nature. As Jesus, crucified and dead, was laid in the grave, so the Christian, crucified to the world through the body of Christ, descends, as into the tomb, into the baptismal waters. He was buried beneath them; they closed for a moment over him; he was ‘planted,’ not only in the likeness of Christ’s death, but of His burial. But the immersion is over; the Christian is lifted from the flood, and this is evidently as correspondent to the resurrection of Christ, as the descent had been to His burial. Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him.”—Easter Sermon in St. Paul’s, June, 1889.
Such are the opinions of candid Pedobaptist divines, as to the design of baptism. Immersion alone can meet this demand, and serve its purpose. Sprinkling, or pouring water on a candidate, has no force in the direction of this sacred symbolism. It cannot show the death, burial, or the resurrection of Christ; nor the disciple’s death to sin, and his rising to a new life. If immersion, therefore, be abandoned, the entire force of the ordinance will be destroyed, and its design obliterated.
Sprinkling sets forth no great doctrine of the Gospel. Only when the disciple is buried beneath the water, and raised up again, do the beauty, force, and meaning, which divine wisdom intended, appear in that sacred ordinance.
The Water Supply
Among the weak arguments used, and the indefensible positions assumed by the advocates of sprinkling, is this—one of the weakest, and least defensible—that the Jordan had not sufficient depth of water for immersing the multitudes said to have been baptized by John and the disciples of Jesus; and that there were no conveniences in Jerusalem for immersing the large number of early converts who were baptized there. Consequently, they say, those converts must have had water sprinkled on them instead.
Puerile as may seem this objection, it has been seriously put forth by not a few of the advocates of aspersion, even in the face of Scripture testimony, and against scholarship and history. Such assertions indicate the ignorance or the recklessness of those who make them, and show how prejudice may unfit even good men for a just discussion of grave subjects. The objection is too trifling to merit serious regard; and yet the testimony on this point is so abundant, and so conclusive—and that, too, from Pedobaptist sources—as to make it both pleasant and fitting to adduce some of it in this connection.
Prof. Edward Robinson, in 1840, made a careful survey of Palestine, including the Jordan river. His statements corroborate those of others, as to the abundant supply of water both in the Jordan and in the city of Jerusalem itself He cites the earlier but well-known travelers whose published works are familiar to the reading public: Seetzen, who visited the country in 1806; Burckhardt, who explored it in 1812; Irby and Mangles, in 1818, and Buckingham, who traveled through it at about the same time. These distinguished explorers published the results of their travels, which can be consulted.—Roh. Bih. Resear., Vol. II., pp. 257-267.
Lieut. Lynch, of the United States navy, was, in 1848, sent out by his government in charge of an expedition to explore the river Jordan and the Dead Sea. This, of course, had no connection with polemic discussions, and least of all was it to settle the baptismal question. It was done for antiquarian research, and for the advancement of science.
The expedition passed down the entire length of the Jordan, in boats, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea; made frequent and careful surveys, which were accurately recorded and officially published.
The river was found to vary in width from seventy-five to two hundred feet; and in depth from three to twelve feet. At Bethabara, where tradition has fixed the place of our Saviour’s baptism, and where John baptized the multitudes, Lieut. Lynch gives the width as one hundred and twenty feet, and the greatest depth as twelve feet. There certainly is no lack of water there, since one quarter of twelve feet would be sufficient for burying converts in baptism.
It is a well-known fact that thousands of Christian pilgrims from adjacent countries visit this spot at a certain season annually to bathe in the waters, held sacred by them because of Christ’s baptism there. The expedition witnessed one of these scenes, and had their boats in readiness to prevent accidents, which it was feared might occur in so great a crowd of fanatical devotees, in so great a depth of water. Had the advocates of sprinkling been present they might have found an argument as perilous as it would have been convincing for a sufficient depth of water for the immersion of Christian believers. Scarcely an occasion of this kind transpires without some fatal accidents by drowning in the deep and rapid current. —Lynch, chs. 10, 11.
Dean Stanley, a distinguished divine and scholar of the English Church, made the tour of the Holy Land in 1853, explored the Jordan valley, witnessed the bathing of the pilgrims, and recorded this remark touching the baptism of John:
“He came baptizing, that is, signifying to those who came to him, as he plunged them under the rapid torrent, the forgiveness and forsaking of their sins.” “There began that sacred rite which has since spread throughout the world; through the vast baptisteries of the Southern and Oriental churches, gradually dwindling to the little fonts of the North andWest.”—Stanley’s Syria and Palestine, ch. 7, pp. 306-7.
Dr, Thomson, for a quarter of a century missionary in Syria and Palestine, and very familiar with the Holy Land, traversed it in 1857, visited the Jordan in the vicinity of Jericho, and witnessed the bathing of the Greek pilgrims, as described by Lieut. Lynch and others. Of this singular and exciting scene he gives a graphic description. He says: “The men ducked the women somewhat as the farmers do their sheep, while the little children were carried and plunged under water, trembling like so many lambs.”
Being Pedobaptists, these Oriental fanatics may not have performed their rites with becoming propriety. But there was an abundance of water, and they believed in a thorough immersion. He adds: “The current is astonishingly rapid, and at least ten feet deep.” “Two Christians and a Turk, who ventured too far, were drowned without the possibility of a rescue.” A perilous depth of water certainly, “At the bathing-place it was twenty rods wide.” “Boats could do nothing in such a current, and it is too deep to ford.”—The Land and the Book, Vol. II., pp. 443-446.
Prof. Osborne, who in 1857 made the tour of Palestine for scientific research, makes this note of a bath taken in the Jordan: “The current was too strong to permit of swimming across, though washing in its waters completely freed me from the clammy sensation which was the consequence of my previous bath in the Dead Sea.”—Palestine, Past and Present, p. 476.
Lord Nugent says of the Jordan: “Its general breadth is between fifty and sixty yards, perhaps a little wider; and in most parts it is too deep, within a few feet out (when thus high), to allow any but swimmers to trust themselves out of arm’s reach of the brink, and its drooping branches and tall reeds. The pilgrims who come thither in crowds at Easter, bathe in this way. Some of us tried to make way against the current, but were carried several yards down before reaching even the full strength of it.”—Travels, Vol. II., p. 100.
The city of Jerusalem was abundantly supplied with water, to a large extent by pools and cisterns, many of which were of great size. Outside, but near the city, were others of still larger dimensions. These were constructed in part for the purpose of furnishing water for the ordinary uses of life, and in part to supply conveniences for the many ablutions enjoined by the Mosaic law.
These pools were abundant in our Savior’s time, and some of them still remain, containing water, and even now affording admirable conveniences for the administration of baptism in its primitive form. Others, now in a ruined state, distinctly reveal their original form and magnitude. The greater part of them were in good repair, and continued to be used for hundreds of years after Christ.
Dr. Edward Robinson visited Jerusalem in the prosecution of his researches, and made careful and extensive investigations touching the topography and antiquities of the Holy City. The results, published in his “Researches” in 1841, have been fully corroborated by other and more recent surveys. They are as follows:
The Pool of Bethesda is three hundred and sixty (360) feet long, one hundred and thirty (130) feet wide, and seventy-five (75) feet deep. When full, it was a considerable pond, covering more than an acre of ground. The Pool of Siloam is fifty-three (53) feet long, eighteen (18) feet wide, and nineteen (19) feet deep; it now holds two or three feet of water, which can readily be increased to a much greater depth. The Upper Pool is three hundred and sixteen (316) feet long, two hundred and eighteen (218) feet wide, and eighteen (18) feet deep, covering an acre and a half of ground. The Pool of Hezekiah is two hundred and forty (240) feet long, and one hundred and forty-four (144) feet wide, and is partly filled with water. The Lower Pool, or Pool of Gihon, is five hundred and ninety-two (592) feet long, two hundred and sixty (260) feet wide, and forty (40) feet deep, covering more than three and a half acres of ground. This pool is now dry; but so lately as the time of the Crusaders was fully supplied with water, and free to the use of all. Several other pools existed, either in or in the immediate vicinity of the city. They were all constructed with; sides gradually sloping inward and downward, so as to make a descent into the water to any required depth safe and easy, and were, doubtless, in daily use for purposes of ablution, as constantly practised by the Jews.
Dr. Barclay, who spent many years in missionary labor in Jerusalem, and who, so far as that city is concerned, is perhaps the most competent and reliable of all authorities, substantiates the above statements by his own testimony.—City of the Great King. See also, Prof. Chase’s Design of Baptism, with Dr. Sampson’s Article, p. 113.
Dr. Thomson, in his efforts to identify the place where Philip baptized the eunuch, says: “He would then have met the chariot somewhere south-west of Latron. There is a fine stream of water, called Murubbah, deep enough even in June to satisfy the utmost wishes of our Baptist friends.”—The Land and the Book, Vol. II., p. 310.
Good testimony that is, from a most competent and reliable source, and from one who did not think immersion essential to baptism.
How fully such testimony from well informed sources vindicates the views held by Baptists, let any one judge. And how futile are all objections urged against immersion as the scriptural mode of baptism, on the ground of an insufficient supply of water for such a purpose, is manifest. And this testimony comes from those who have no doctrinal sympathy with Baptists.
Aspersion for Immersion
We may now properly inquire when and why was sprinkling introduced and accepted as a substitute for the original scriptural form of dipping in baptism? Why and when did a human device supersede a divine institution? The question has its interest and its importance, and is fully and satisfactorily answered by Pedobaptists themselves. We accept their testimony as a complete justification of our position in respect to this ordinance.
For two hundred and fifty years after Christ we have no evidence of any departure from the primitive practice of immersion—the first authenticated instance of such a departure being about the middle of the third century, or A. D. 250. This was in the case of Novatian. Eusebius, the historian, gives this case, and no earlier instance could be found by Dr. Wall in his laborious researches. Good evidence that none earlier existed. What he failed in this direction to discover, it would be difficult for any other one to find.
Novatian was dangerously ill, and believing himself about to die, he greatly desired to be baptized, not having as yet received that ordinance. As the case seemed urgent, and he was thought too feeble to be immersed, it was decided to try a substitute as nearly resembling baptism as possible. Water was poured profusely over him as he lay on his bed, so as to resemble as much as possible a submersion. The word used to describe this action (perichutheis, perfusus) has usually been rendered, besprinkle; it rather means, to pour round about, or upon and over one. This was, doubtless, the action in the case of Novatian, and such a profuse overwhelming with water, it was thought, might serve the purpose, especially as the necessity was so great. See this case treated in Dr. Chase s Design of Baptism, p. 53.
Eusebius, in his history, quoting from Cornelius, bishop of Rome, gives the following accounts of this case—a case which claims the more regard as being the first recorded departure from apostolic usage in the matter of baptism:
“He fell into a grievous distemper, and, it being supposed that he would die immediately, he received baptism—being besprinkled with water on the bed whereon he lay, if that can be termed baptism.”—Eccl. Hist., B. VI., ch. 43. Cambridge ed. 1683. Also Bing. Christ. Antiq., B. XL, ch. 11, sec. J. Also B. IV., ch. 3, sec. 11.
The historian himself seemed doubtful as to the validity of such a rite.
Valesius makes the following comment on the passage: “This word, perichutheis, Rufinus very well renders besprinkled (perfusus). For people who were sick, and baptized on their beds, could not be dipped in water by the priest, but were besprinkled by him. This baptism was thought imperfect, and not solemn, for several reasons. Also, they who were thus baptized were called ever afterward Clinici; and by the twelfth canon of the Council of Neocesarea, these Clinici were prohibited priesthood.”—Cited by Booth, Pedo-ex. ch. 7, ref. 2. Also, Chase’s Design of Baptism, p. 53. Bing. Antiq., B. IV., ch. 3, sec. 11.
Dr. Wall, the able historian and defender of infant baptism, makes the following statement respecting the case of Novatian: “Anno Domini 251 Novatian was, by one part of the clergy and people of Rome, chosen Bishop of that Church, in opposition to Cornelius, who had before been chosen by the major part, and was already ordained. Cornelius does, in a letter to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, vindicate his right, showing that Novatian came not canonically to his orders of priesthood, much less was capable of being chosen Bishop; for that all the clergy, and a great many of the laity, were against his being ordained presbyter; because it was not lawful, they said, for one that had been baptized in his bed in time of sickness, as he had been, to be admitted to any order of the clergy.”—Euseb. Eccl. Hist., B. VI, ch. 43. Walts Hist. Inf. Bap., p. II., ch. 9, p. 463.
It is evident that such a substitute for baptism was, at the time, generally considered as unscriptural and improper. But, having been introduced, and by some accepted, from that time the practice of affusion or aspersion was resorted to in cases of sickness; hence, denominated “clinic baptism,” from clina, a couch or bed, on which it was received.
Bishop Taylor says: “It was a formal and solemn question made by Magnus to Cyprian whether they are to be esteemed right Christians, who are only sprinkled with water, and not washed or dipped.—Duct. Dubit., B. III., ch. 4, r. 15.
Dr. Towerson says: “The first mention we find of aspersion in the baptism of the elder sort, was in the case of the Clinici, or men who received baptism upon their sick beds.”—Sacra. Bap., p. III, P. 59.
Venema says: “Sprinkling was used in the last moments of life, on such as were called Clinics.”—Eccl. Hist., Vol. IV., ch. 4, sec 110.
Salmasius says: “The Clinics only, because they were confined to their beds, were baptized in a manner of which they were capable; thus Novatian, when sick, received baptism, being besprinkled, not baptised.”—De Vita Martini, ch. 15. Cited by Witsius, B. IV., ch. 16, sec. 13.
Grotius says: “The custom of pouring or sprinkling seems to have prevailed in favor of those that were dangerously ill, and were desirous of giving up themselves to Christ, whom others called Clinics.”—Comment on Matt. 3:6.
In the Roman Church pouring for baptism was tolerated in the eighth century, and in the sixteenth century generally adopted as a matter of convenience, that hierarchy presumptuously arrogating the right to change ordinances.
Dr. Wall says: “France seems to have been the first country in the world where baptism by affusion was used ordinarily to persons in health, and in the public way of administering it.”—Hist. Inf. Bap., p. 11, ch. 9, p. 470.
The same learned author states that Calvin pre- pared for the Genevan Church, and afterward published to the world, “a form of administering the sacraments,” in respect to which he adds, ” for an office, or liturgy of any Church, this is, I believe, the first in the world that prescribes aspersion absolutely.”—Hist. Inf. Bap. See above.
Dr. Wall adds: “And for sprinkling, properly called, it seems it was, at A.D. 1645, just then beginning, and used by very few.” ” But sprinkling for the common use of baptizing was really introduced (in France first, and then in other popish countries) in times of popery.”—Hist. Inf. Bap., p. 11., ch. 9, p. 470.
Of England, he says: “The offices and liturgies did all along enjoin dippings without any mention of pouring or sprinkling.” About1550, however, aspersion began to prevail, being used first in the case of “weak children,” and “within the space of half a century, from 1550 to 1600, prevailed to be the more general.” The English Churches finally came to imitate the Genevan and casting off the dominion of the pope, bowed to the authority of Calvin, and adopted pouring in the place of dipping.—Wairs Hist. Inf. Bap., p. 11., ch. 9, pp. 463-475.
The Assembly of Divines, in Convocation in 1643, voted by one majority, mainly through the influence of Dr. Lightfoot, probably the most influential member of the Assembly, against baptizing by immersion, and the year following Parliament sanctioned their decision, and decreed that sprinkling should be the legal mode of administering baptism. Both immersion and sprinkling had been in common use. This action ruled out immersion and made sprinkling sufficient. The following is the form finally decided and fixed by the Assembly for the minister to use in baptism: “He is to baptize the child with water, which, for the manner of doing, is not only lawful, but also sufficient and most expedient to be by pouring or sprinkling water on the face of the child without any other ceremony.”—Putman and Lightfoot’s Works, Vol. XIII. , p. 300. Cited in Debates of Camp, and Rice, pp. 241-2.
The Edinburgh Encyclopedia gives the following account of the rise of sprinkling: “The first law to sanction aspersion as a mode of baptism was by Pope Stephen II., A.D. 753. But it was not till the year 1311 that a Council held at Ravenna declared immersion or sprinkling to be indifferent. In this country (Scotland), however, sprinkling was never practiced in ordinary cases till after the Reformation; and in England, even in the reign of Edward VI. (about 1550), immersion was commonly observed.”—Article Baptism.
But during the reign of the Catholic Mary, who succeeded to the throne on the death of Edward VI., 1553, persecution drove many of the Protestants from their homes, not a few of whom, especially the Scotch, found an asylum in Geneva, where, under the influence of John Calvin, they imbibed a preference for sprinkling.—Edinb. Ency., Art. Baptism.
“These Scottish exiles,” says the last quoted authority, “who had renounced the authority of the pope, implicitly acknowledged the authority of Calvin; and returning to their own country, with John 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.”
It was not authorized in England until, as above stated, the action of the Westminster Assembly in 1643, and confirmed by Parliament in 1644.
The Encyclopedia Britannica states the case, much to the same effect, as follows: “What principally tended to confirm the practice of affusion or sprinkling, was that several of our Protestant divines, flying into Germany and Switzerland during the bloody reign of Queen Mary, and coming home when Queen Elizabeth came to the crown, brought back with them a great zeal for the Protestant churches beyond the sea, where they had been received and sheltered. And having observed that at Geneva, and some other places, baptism was administered by sprinkling, they thought they could not do the Church of England a greater service than by introducing a practice dictated by so great an oracle as Calvin.”—Ency. Britan., Article Baptism.
Thus we have given, briefly, but accurately, the rise, progress, and final prevalence of this perversion—the substitution of sprinkling for immersion, in the administration of Christian baptism.
Edward Hiscox (1814-1901) was an American Baptist pastor and theologian. He was converted to Christ in 1834 and began to preach the gospel four years later. He served as the pastor for several congregations, including the Stanton Street Baptist Church, New York (1852). He is best known for authoring the “Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” (1890) and the “New Directory for Baptist Churches” (1894).