I. THERE are three things to be considered in baptism: - 1.
The action commanded to be done; - 2. The subject specified; - 3. The meaning
or design of that action. Jesus commanded a certain character to be
the subject of a certain action, for a certain specific purpose or
design. The questions, then, are, What that action? What that subject?
What that design?
OF THE ACTION.
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II. The action is indicated by a word as definite, clear, and unequivocal,
as any word in any language ever spoken by the many-tongued sons of Adam.
Besides, in all laws and institutions, and more especially in those that
are of a positive, rather than a moral nature, all words having
both a literal and a figurative meaning, a common and a special signification,
are to be understood in their literal and common, and not in their figurative
and uncommon import and acceptation. So have decided all the judges of law
and language, from time immemorial.
III. That definite and unambiguous word, as almost universally known in these
days of controversy, is baptisma, or baptismos, anglicised,
not translated, baptism. The primary means by which the meaning of
this word is ascertained are the following:
1. The ancient lexicons and dictionaries; - 2. The ancient and modern
translations of the New Testament; - 3. The ancient customs of the church;
- 4. The place and circumstances of baptizing, as mentioned in the New Testament;
- and 5. The allusions to this ordinance and the expositions of it in the
apostolic epistles. To each of these we shall do little more than simply
advert on the present occasion.
1. The ancient lexicons with one consent give immersion as the natural,
common, and primary sense of this word. There is not known to us a single
exception. Nor is there a received lexicon, ancient or modern, that does
ever translate this word by the terms sprinkling or pouring.
And as there are but three actions allowed to be Christian baptism;
and as the original words, both verbs and nouns are translated immerse
and immersion, in all lexicons, and never sprinkle or
pour; follows it not then, that neither sprinkling, nor pouring is
Christian baptism? The question is not, whether these words are ever, like
other words, used figuratively: whether they may not metonymically
mean, wetting or washing; for these may be the effects of either
sprinkling, pouring, or dipping. The question is not, whether these words
may be so used: but the question is, whether the action commanded in
baptizo, be sprinkling, pouring, or immersing a person. All authorized
Greek dictionaries, ancient and modern, with one consent, affirm that action
to be immersion; and not sprinkling or pouring.
2. All Latin, English, German and French versions which we have seen, and
we believe on the testimony of others, all that we have not seen, sometimes
translate these words, their derivatives, or compounds, by words equivalent
to immersion: but on no occasion ever translate them by sprinkling,
or pouring, or any other word equivalent to these terms. This is an evidence
of great moment: for if these versions, have nineteen times in twenty been
made by those who practise sprinkling or pouring in the name of the Lord;
and if these words occur about one hundred and twenty times in the New Testament,
is it not very singular that never once have such translators rendered the
words by sprinkling, or pouring? a decisive proof in our judgment that it
could not be so translated. Indeed, a mere English scholar, who has only
heard that baptism is a Greek word, may indubitably ascertain that
it means neither sprinkling nor pouring, by substituting the definition of
the term, and trying its sense in all places where the ordinance is spoken
of. This is an infallible canon of interpretation. The proper definition
of a term substituted for it will always make as good sense as the term
itself. Now, if an English reader will try sprinkling or
pouring in those places where he finds the word baptism, he
will soon discover that neither of these words can possibly represent it,
if the above canon be true. For instance, we are told, that all Judea and
Jerusalem went out to John and were baptized of him in the Jordan.
Sprinkled them in the Jordan! poured them in the Jordan! immersed
them in the Jordan. Can any doubt, which of these truly represents the original
in such passages? I may sprinkle or pour water upon a person; but to sprinkle
or pour them into water is impossible. It is not said he baptized water upon
them, but he baptized them in water, in the river.
3. The ancient church, it is admitted on all hands, practised immersion.
It did so, Roman, Greek and English historians being worthy of any credit.
4. The places where baptism was anciently administered, being rivers, pools,
baths, and places of much water, show that it was not sprinkling or pouring.
They went down into the water, and came up out of it, etc.
And John baptized where there were many waters or much water. And even Paul
and Silas went out of the Philippian jail to baptize the jailor at night,
rather than send for a cup of water!
5. It is also alluded to and explained under the figure of a burial and
resurrection, as relating to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus,
etc. Rom. vi. and Col. ii.
From these topics many clear and conclusive arguments may be drawn, on which
it is not now our business to dwell. If, indeed, any one of these five topics
be correct, the action that Christ commands is forever decided. How much
more, when they all concur in asserting the same interpretation! There is,
then, but one baptism, and not two under the Christian administration.
THE SUBJECT OF BAPTISM.
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IV. Characters, not persons, as such, are the subjects of baptism.
Penitent believers - not infants nor adults, not males nor females,
not Jews nor Greeks; but professors of repentance towards God, and faith
in Jesus Christ are the proper subjects of this ordinance. "To as many as
received him, to them he granted privilege of becoming the sons of God, to
them that believed on his name, which were born not of flesh, nor of blood,
nor of the will of man, but of God." "He that believeth, and is baptized
- not he that is baptized and believeth, shall be saved." "Many of the
Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized," not many of the Corinthians
were baptized and then believed, and finally heard the Gospel! "for without
faith it is impossible to please God," etc.
THE MEANING OF BAPTISM.
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V. "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
the baptism of repentance, for the remission of sins." "And Jesus said that
repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all
nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Therefore, Peter said to the penitent
Pentecostians, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of
the Lord Jesus, for the remission of sins." Again, "As many of you as have
been baptized or immersed into Christ, have put on Christ, have been immersed
into his death;" "have risen with him."
VI. Baptism is, then, designed to introduce the subjects of it into the
participation of the blessings of the death and resurrection of Christ; who
"died for our sins," and "rose again for our justification." But it has no
abstract efficacy. Without previous faith in the blood of Christ, and deep
and unfeigned repentance before God, neither immersion in water nor any other
action can secure to us the blessings of peace and pardon. It can merit nothing.
Still to the believing penitent it is the means of receiving a formal,
distinct, and specific absolution, or release from guilt. Therefore, none
but those who have first believed the testimony of God and have repented
of their sins, and that have been intelligently immersed into his death,
have the full and explicit testimony of God, assuring them of pardon. To
such only as are truly penitent, dare we say, "Arise and be baptized, and
wash away your sins, calling upon the name of the Lord;" and to such only
can we say with assurance, "You are washed, you are justified, you are sanctified
in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God." But let the reader
examine with care our special essay on the Remission of
Sins, in which this much debated subject is discussed at considerable