The Ordinance of Baptism
The Mode of Baptism
By Rev. William Cooke
Cooke, William.Christian Theology: Its Doctrines and Ordinances Explained and Defended.
IV. THE MODE of BAPTISM.-In deciding this question, we shall not bewilder the reader by introducing quotations from Jewish Rabbis to show the various modes of baptism among the Jews, nor by prolonged and elaborate criticisms as to the diversified meanings of the word baptize. All these have had our careful examination, but we are persuaded that the decision of this question lies much nearer to the reach of a common-sense view of the subject, aided by the obvious teaching of Holy Scripture, than is commonly supposed. To us it appears certain that, in apostolic times, the mode of administering baptism was not deemed a matter of importance, and that it was diversified-sometimes immersion, but more frequently sprinkling or pouring, being practiced by the apostles and primitive Christians; and assuredly this latter mode meets the requirements and realizes the design of the ordinance, and has clearly the sanction of both reason and Scripture. For
1. Baptism is a rite enjoined upon all nations, and sprinkling or pouring is adapted to all climates and countries, but immersion is not; for how could immersion be practiced in countries where, for six months in the year, every pond, stream, river, and ocean is converted into solid ice? And if immersion is not practicable because of natural impossibilities, how can it be obligatory ?
2. Baptism is a duty devolving upon persons of all ages and in all conditions of life- the infant and the hoaryheaded, the healthy and the infirm. Sprinkling or pouring is adapted to all ages and to all states of health, but immersing the whole body is not. Suppose a heathen to be converted when he is very old and infirm, or when reduced and enfeebled by sickness, so as to be near the approach of death, and he feels it a duty to be baptized : in such a case baptism by sprinkling is perfectly easy and safe; but baptism by immersion, or plunging the whole body under water, might cause instant death. If, therefore, such a mode is not practicable, how can it be required by God as a duty?
3. Sprinkling or pouring comports with decency and propriety; but, under some circumstances, the immersion of the whole body under water would not be becoming. Take the case of the thousands who must have been assembled together when there went out unto John "all the land of Judea and they were all baptized of him" -Mark 1:5; and, again, the still greater multitudes when our Lord, by the agency of his disciples, made and baptized more disciples than John.-John 4:1. The thousands who then went to be baptized must have consisted of mixed multitudes of men and women of various ages. We ask, Could those males and females, assembled together in the open air, have submitted to the exposure involved in the process of undressing and dressing, and being plunged under water in each other's presence? Could such a process be submitted to now in our own country? Would such a proceeding comport with English notions of propriety? If not, how could it in the Jewish nation, where the persons of females were far more private and reserved? How, then, could the pure and refined religion of Christianity require that as a duty which modesty forbids to be practiced?
4. In some recorded instances the process of baptism by immersion was not possible within the short time specified. Thus, on the day of Pentecost, there were three thousand persons baptized, besides the other exercises of prayer, preaching, exhortation, &c., and that after the day was part gone. Now, if we consider how long a time must necessarily have been pre-occupied in devotional services, in distinguishing and separating the candidates for baptism, in their preparatory inquiries, in suitable religious instructions and exhortations by the apostles, and then the process of undressing, preparing for baptism, and dressing again, we shall perceive it to have been impossible to perform the ceremony by immersion on three thousand persons during that day. Even sprinkling or pouring would occupy all the time; but the idea of so many people being immersed over head, one by one, in so short a time, requires more credulity than we have a conscience to demand. Besides, these people did not come prepared for bathing; they had no bathing dresses with them. Were they, then, plunged over head in their usual clothing ? If not, were they unclothed for the purpose, and that amid thousands of. spectators in a crowded city? Is not the supposition utterly forbidden by facts and by all propriety, especially by that religion which is the very essence of modesty ?
5. There is no command to administer the ordinance of baptism by immersion. The duty of baptizing with water is commanded; but, like the Lord's Supper, the mode of its administration is left undecided by any positive precept. Assuredly, the meanings of the words βαπτω and of its derivative βαπτιζω are too diversified to authorize any one to dogmatize as to the mode of this ordinance. True, the word means "to dip" or "to immerse;" but it means also "to stain a vesture with blood," Rev. 19:13; "to wet the body with dew," Dan. 4:25, in Sept. ver.; "to dye, tinge, or imbue;" "to wash the body by the affusion of water;" "to pour water on the hands;" and "to sprinkle." In various important passages the word cannot possibly mean to dip or plunge; but to sprinkle is evidently the meaning. Thus, the Pharisees are said to have held traditions from their fathers about the baptisms of cups, and pots, and beds, κλιυϖν .-Mark 7:4. Now, although a man might baptize a cup or a pot by dipping it into water, surely he would not baptize his bed by dipping it into water, especially if he had immediately after to lie down or recline upon it. Such ceremonies, indeed, being used for religious purification, and not as ordinary washings, required the use of only a few drops of water, and sprinkling was all that was needed. Thus again, Paul says that all the Israelites "were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." -I Cor. 10:2. Now, how were all the Israelites baptized in or by the cloud? Were they all plunged into it? Impossible: for they are all said by the Apostle to have, been "under the cloud" (υπο τηυ υε_ελην ). If, therefore, they were under the cloud, they must have been baptized by its dews or drops falling upon them, while it was spread like a canopy over their heads. How were all the Israelites baptized in the sea? Was it by being all plunged or immersed beneath its waters? Assuredly not; for the Lord divided the sea, in order that they might be saved from being dipped, and might go over as on dry ground. -Exod. 14. But though the Israelites were not dipped or plunged into the sea, they were doubtless sprinkled by the spray which the powerful wind raised from the surface of the crested waves, and in this sense they were baptized.
6. Baptism is a symbol of the Holy Spirit's influence, and the mode of administering the ordinance is evidently alluded to in the symbolic phraseology which the Holy Spirit itself had used. Now what is that symbolic phraseology? Is it dipping or plunging? No; but pouring, sprinkling, shedding, and washing. Thus: "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh;" "And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit." -Joel 2:28; Acts 2:18. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean." -Ezek. 36:25. "So shall he sprinkle many nations." -Isa. 52:15. Now here are allusions to several modes of using water for purification-pouring, shedding, and sprinkling-all emblematical of the Spirit's cleansing influence, and all conforming to the mode in which the Holy Spirit was actually given. He was not given by immersing, dipping, or plunging the disciples therein, but by descending, coming down, being shed upon them, and by resting on them, like sprinklings or quivering scintillations of fire. Even when "washing" is referred to as a symbol of the Spirit's influence, the "washing" is not set forth by immersion or dipping, but by "shedding" or "pouring." Thus we are said to be saved according to God's mercy " by the WASHING of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he SHED on us abundantly." -Titus 3:5, 6." Having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath SHED forth this, which ye now see and hear."-Acts 2:33. Hence it follows, that shedding, pouring, and sprinkling must be acceptable modes of baptism, for they are sanctioned by the Holy Spirit himself.
7. It is alleged by immersionists that John baptized in Jordan and Ænon, where there was much water. True; John exercised his ministry, not in the synagogues or the temple, but in the wilderness or open country near to Jordan; and if the multitudes of people must be baptized, they must, of course, go to the place where John was located. At Ænon also, John exercised his ministry; and the fact that there was much water there shows, not that he practised immersion, but that he chose a place adapted to his office, and to the multitudes who carne thither for baptism; for if he had chosen a place where there was no water, he could not have baptized at all; and if he had chosen a place where there was but little water, the many people he had to baptize would have caused the water to be exhausted, or to become too muddy for use. The place, therefore, where there was much water, or many waters-perhaps several streams-would be the best adapted for his ministry, though sprinkling or pouring were the mode of using it.
8. It is further alleged, that Jesus is set forth as being baptized in Jordan, and as afterwards coming up straightway out of the water; and it is inquired, Does not such a representation imply immersion? We think not. Such language expresses just nothing as to the mode of baptism. The preposition εις which is rendered "in," means "to" or "at," and is very often used in this sense. Thus, when it is said of Jesus that he went up into a mountain, the same preposition (εις) is used; but every one knows the meaning is, that Jesus went "to" or "on" the mountain, not into its inside. Nor need we contend for even this; for Jordan had an outer bank, and the bed of the river in the dry season was far within, and a person approaching the stream for any purpose might be said to be in Jordan; and, indeed, the Savior might be not only at the margin of the stream, but even standing within its waters, and yet not be immersed or plunged over head, for this position might naturally be used as the most convenient one for receiving the ordinance by sprinkling or affusion.
9. But is it not said that when Philip baptized the eunuch they both went clown into the water; and when the ceremony was completed, they came up out of the water? -Acts 8:38, 39. Of course, when they were both up in the chariot together, they must come down to get to the water; and if they got down to the water, which would naturally be in a low or hollow part, they must ascend when they returned from it. But the text does not say that they took off their clothes, as they must have done if they both plunged underneath the water. They went down to the water, and perhaps they stood in it, near its margin, for the sake of convenience (the same preposition-εις , to-is used in this instance); but as not a word is said about undressing before the ceremony, or of dressing again after it, we are left to presume there was no need for such operations, and that the ceremony was performed by sprinkling or pouring, in accordance with God's own words - "I will sprinkle clean water upon you," or, "I will pour out my Spirit upon you."
10. But, finally, is it not said by the Apostle Paul, "We are buried with him (Christ) by baptism into death?" &c. -Rom. 5:4. Certainly the Apostle does thus speak. Yet, in the next verse, the same Apostle speaks of believers being "planted together in the likeness of Christ's death," which has no resemblance to immersion; for planting implies an upright position, such as is used in receiving the ordinance by sprinkling or pouring. But, supposing that in the figure of our being "buried with Christ by baptism," there should be an allusion to the mode of baptism as having a resemblance to our Lord's lying in the tomb, it is probable that immersion was sometimes practiced in solitary cases of baptism even in apostolic times. If this be so, the facts before us show that we have allusions to three modes of baptism sprinkling, pouring, and immersion; and what is the rational conclusion from all the evidence before us? We think the following propositions are clear:
1. That any one of the three modes of administering the rite of baptism is lawful.
2. That sprinkling or pouring has the sanction of Scriptural authority, as a mode under which the holy Spirit represents his holy influences on the soul" I will sprinkle clean water upon you."
3. That in this mode of applying water, baptism answers the instructive purposes for which the ordinance was appointed.
4. That this mode is adapted to all ages, all countries, and all circumstances.
5. That probably this was the most frequent mode in which baptism was administered in apostolic times,especially when the great multitudes were baptized by John, by the Savior, and by the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
6. That, seeing several modes of baptism are lawful, the choice may be left to expediency or propriety, and that, therefore, all angry controversy on such a question should for ever cease.
"Peace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ." From the nature and the subjects of baptism, one or two reflections arise.
Baptism ought always to be administered in public; for, as it is designed by God to be a public proclamation of great truths, and a means of perpetuating them, we contravene God's purpose when we voluntarily practice baptism privately. Therefore, unless affliction or some special providence prevent, let the ordinance be always performed at a public service, in God's own sanctuary, on God's own day, and within the sight and hearing of the whole congregation of God's own people.
As both father and mother stand in the same relation to their children, and are bound by the same obligations and duties, and are under the same responsibilities to God, they ought both to be present before God and his people at the baptism of their offspring; and both ought to take part in this solemn profession of their faith in God and his covenant, and in the dedication of their children to God. It is pitiful to see the mother left alone in this ordinance, deserted by her husband, as if he were a heathen or an infidel, or else as if he were ashamed of publicly owning his family and his God.
The privilege of bringing our children to be baptized in God's name involves the duty of training them up for God. Having the sign and seal of God's covenant upon them, and being dedicated to God's service, they should be early instructed in the knowledge of God and his holy Word, and by a thoroughly religious education, a holy example, and earnest prayer, be brought, so soon as reason dawns, to the experimental enjoyment of salvation.
published to the net May 24, 2009