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§ 54. Baptism.


The commentaries on Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; John 3:5; Acts 2:38; 8:13, 16, 18, 37; Rom. 6:4; Gal. 3:27; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21.

G. J. Vossius: De Baptismo Disputationes XX. Amsterdam, 1648.

W. Wall (Episcopalian): The History of Infant Baptism (a very learned work), first published in London, 1705, 2 vols., best edition by H. Cotton, Oxford, 1836, 4 vols., and 1862, 2 vols., together with Gale’s (Baptist)Reflections and Wall’s Defense. A Latin translation by Schlosser appeared, vol. I., at Bremen, 1743, and vol. II at Hamburg, 1753.

F. Brenner (R. Cath.): Geschichtliche Darstellung der Verrichtung der Taufe von Christus his auf unsere Zeiten. Bamberg, 1818.

Moses Stuart (Congregat.): Mode of Christian Baptism Prescribed in the New Testament. Andover, 1833 (reprinted 1876).

Höfling (Lutheran): Das Sacrament der Taufe. Erlangen, 1846 and 1848, 2 vols.

Samuel Miller (Presbyterian): Infant Baptism Scriptural and Reasonable; And Baptism By Sprinkling Or Affusion, The Most Suitable and Edifying Mode. Philadelphia, 1840.

Alex. Carson (Baptist): Baptism in its Mode and Subjects. London, 1844; 5th Amer. ed., Philadelphia, 1850.

Alex. Campbell (founder of the Church of the Disciples, who teach that baptism by immersion is regeneration): Christian Baptism, with its Antecedents and Consequents. Bethany, 1848, and Cincinnati, 1876.

T. J. Conant (Baptist): The Meaning and Use of Baptism Philologically and Historically Investigated for the American (Baptist)Bible Union. New York, 1861.

James W. Dale (Presbyterian, d. 1881): Classic Baptism. An inquiry into the meaning of the word baptizo. Philadelphia, 1867. Judaic Baptism, 1871. Johannic Baptism, 1872. Christic and Patristic Baptism, 1874. In all, 4 vols. Against the immersion theory.

R. Ingham (Baptist): A Handbook on Christian Baptism, in 2 parts. London, 1868.

D. B. Ford (Baptist): Studies on Baptism. New York, 1879. (Against Dale.)

G. D. Armstrong (Presbyterian minister at Norfolk, Va.): The Sacraments of the New Testament, as Instituted by Christ. New York, 1880. (Popular.)

Dean Stanley: Christian Institutions. London and Now York, 1881. Chap. I.

On the (post-apostolic) archaeology of baptism see the archaeological works of Martene (De Antiquis Eccles. Ritibus), Goar (Euchologion Graecorum), Bingham, Augusti, Binterim, Siegel, Martigny, and Smith and Cheetham (Dict. of Christ. Ant., I., 155 sqq.).

On the baptismal pictures in the catacombs see the works of De Rossi, Garrucci, and Schaff on the Didache, pp. 36 sqq.

1. The Idea of Baptism. It was solemnly instituted by Christ, shortly before his ascension, to be performed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It took the place of circumcision as a sign and seal of church membership. It is the outward mark of Christian discipleship, the rite of initiation into the covenant of grace. It is the sacrament of repentance (conversion), of remission of sins, and of regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit.678678    Mark 1:4 (βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, said of John’s baptism), 1:8, where John distinguishes his baptism, as a baptism by water (ὒδατι), from the baptism of Christ, as a baptism by the Holy Spirit (πνεύματι ἁγίῳ); Matt. 3:1; Luke 3:16; John 1:33 (ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίω–ϊͅ–ͅϊ); Acts 2:38 (the first instance of Christian baptism, when Peter called on his hearers: Μετανοήσατε, καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἒκαστος ὑμῶν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χρ. εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν, καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τους ἁγίου πνεύματος); 8:13; 11:16; 18:8 (ἐπίστευον καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο); Rom. 6:4 (βάπτισμα εἰς τ̀ον θάνατον); Gal. 3:27 (εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε). The μετάνοια was the connecting link between the baptism of John and that of Christ. The English rendering, "repentance" (retained in the Revision of 1881), is inaccurate (after the Latin paenitentia). The Greek means a change of mind, νοῦς (a transmentation, as Coleridge proposed to call it), i.e., an entire reformation and transformation of the inner life of man, with a corresponding outward change. It was the burden of the preaching of John the Baptist, and Christ himself, who began with the enlarged exhortation: Μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ, Mark 1:15. In the nature of the case it is to be received but once. It incorporates the penitent sinner in the visible church, and entitles him to all the privileges, and binds him to all the duties of this communion. Where the condition of repentance and faith is wanting, the blessing (as in the case of the holy Supper, and the preaching of the Word) is turned into a curse, and what God designs as a savor of life unto life becomes, by the unfaithfulness of man, a savor of death unto death.

The necessity of baptism for salvation has been inferred from John 3:5 and Mark 16:16; but while we are bound to God’s ordinances, God himself is free and can save whomsoever and by whatsoever means he pleases. The church has always held the principle that the mere want of the sacrament does not condemn, but only the contempt. Otherwise all unbaptized infants that die in infancy would be lost. This horrible doctrine was indeed inferred by St. Augustin and the Roman church, from the supposed absolute necessity of baptism, but is in direct conflict with the spirit of the gospel and Christ’s treatment of children, to whom belongs the kingdom of heaven.

The first administration of this sacrament in its full Christian sense took place on the birthday of the church, after the first independent preaching of the apostles. The baptism of John was more of a negative sort, and only preparatory to the baptism with the Holy Spirit. In theory Christian baptism is preceded by conversion, that is the human act of turning from sin to God in repentance and faith, and followed by regeneration, that is the divine act of forgiveness of sin and inward cleansing and renewal. Yet in practice the outward sign and inward state and effect do not always coincide; in Simon Magus we have an example of the baptism of water without that of the Spirit, and in Cornelius an example of the communication of the Spirit before the application of the water. In the case of infants, conversion, as a conscious act of the will, is impossible and unnecessary. In adults the solemn ordinance was preceded by the preaching of the gospel, or a brief instruction in its main facts, and then followed by more thorough inculcation of the apostolic doctrine. Later, when great caution became necessary in receiving proselytes, the period of catechetical instruction and probation was considerably lengthened.

2. The usual Form of baptism was immersion. This is inferred from the original meaning of the Greek βαπτίζειν ανδ βαπτισμός;679679    Comp. the German taufen, the English dip. Grimm defines βαπτίζω (the frequentative of βάπτω): ’immergo, submergo;’Liddell and Scott: ’to dip in or under the water.’But in the Sept. and the New Test. it has also a wider meaning. Hence Robinson defines it: ’to wash, to lave, to cleanse by washing.’See below. from the analogy of John’s baptism in the Jordan; from the apostles’ comparison of the sacred rite with the miraculous passage of the Red Sea, with the escape of the ark from the flood, with a cleansing and refreshing bath, and with burial and resurrection; finally, from the general custom of the ancient church which prevails in the East to this day.680680    The Oriental and the orthodox Russian churches require even a threefold immersion, in the name of the Trinity, and deny the validity of any other. They look down upon the Pope of Rome as an unbaptized heretic, and would not recognize the single immersion of the Baptists. The Longer Russian Catechism thus defines baptism: "A sacrament in which a man who believes, having his body thrice plunged in water in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, dies to the carnal life of sin, and is born again of the Holy Ghost to a life spiritual and holy." Marriott (in Smith and Cheetham, I., 161) says: "Triple immersion, that is thrice dipping the head while standing in the water, was the all but universal rule of the church in early time," and quotes in proof Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, Jerome, Leo I., etc. But he admits, on page 168 sq., that affusion and aspersion were exceptionally also used, especially in clinical baptism, the validity of which Cyprian defended (Ep. 76 or 69 ad Magnum). This mode is already mentioned in the Didache (ch. 7) as valid; see my book on the Did., third ed., 1889, pp. 29 sqq. But sprinkling, also, or copious pouring rather, was practised at an early day with sick and dying persons, and in all such cases where total or partial immersion was impracticable. Some writers suppose that this was the case even in the first baptism of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost; for Jerusalem was poorly supplied with water and private baths; the Kedron is a small creek and dry in summer; but there are a number of pools and cisterns there. Hellenistic usage allows to the relevant expressions sometimes the wider sense of washing, bathing, sprinkling, and ceremonial cleansing.681681    2 Kings 5:14 (Sept.); Luke 11:38; Mark 7:4 (βαπτισμοὺς ποτηρίων, etc.); Heb. 6:2 (βαπτισμῶν διδαχή); 9:10 (διαφόροις βαπτισμοῖς). Observe also the remarkable variation of reading in Matt. 7:4: ἐὰν μὴ βαπτίσωνται (except they bathe themselves), and ῥαντίσωνται (sprinkle themselves). Westcott and Hort adopt the latter in the text, the former in the margin. The Revision of 1881 reverses the order. The ’divers baptisms’ in Heb. 9:10 (in the Revision " washings") probably include all the ceremonial purifications of the Jews, whether by bathing (Lev. 11:25; 14:9; Num. 19:7), or washing (Num. 19:7; Mark 7: 8), or sprinkling (Lev. 14:7; Num. 19:19). In the figurative phrase βαπτίζειν ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ, to overwhelm, plentifully to endow with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16; Mark 1:8; John 1: 3; Acts 1:5; 11:16), the idea of immersion is scarcely admissible since the Holy Spirit is poured out. See my Hist. of the Apost. Ch., p. 569. Unquestionably, immersion expresses the idea of baptism, as a purification and renovation of the whole man, more completely than pouring or sprinkling; but it is not in keeping with the genius of the gospel to limit the operation of the Holy Spirit by the quantity or the quality of the water or the mode of its application. Water is absolutely necessary to baptism, as an appropriate symbol of the purifying and regenerating energy of the Holy Spirit; but whether the water be in large quantity or small, cold or warm, fresh or salt, from river, cistern, or spring, is relatively immaterial, and cannot affect the validity of the ordinance.

3. As to the Subjects of baptism: the apostolic origin of infant baptism is denied not only by the Baptists, but also by many paedobaptist divines. The Baptists assert that infant baptism is contrary to the idea of the sacrament itself, and accordingly, an unscriptural corruption. For baptism, say they, necessarily presupposes the preaching of the gospel on the part of the church, and repentance and faith on the part of the candidate for the ordinance; and as infants can neither understand preaching, nor repent and believe, they are not proper subjects for baptism, which is intended only for adult converts. It is true, the apostolic church was a missionary church, and had first to establish a mother community, in the bosom of which alone the grace of baptism can be improved by a Christian education. So even under the old covenant circumcision was first performed on the adult Abraham; and so all Christian missionaries in heathen lands now begin with preaching, and baptizing adults. True, the New Testament contains no express command to baptize infants; such a command would not agree with the free spirit of the gospel. Nor was there any compulsory or general infant baptism before the union of church and state; Constantine, the first Christian emperor, delayed his baptism till his deathbed (as many now delay their repentance); and even after Constantine there were examples of eminent teachers, as Gregory Nazianzen, Augustin, Chrysostom, who were not baptized before their conversion in early manhood, although they had Christian mothers.

But still less does the New Testament forbid infant baptism; as it might be expected to do in view of the universal custom of the Jews, to admit their children by circumcision on the eighth day after birth into the fellowship of the old covenant.

On the contrary, we have presumptive and positive arguments for the apostolic origin and character of infant baptism, first, in the fact that circumcision as truly prefigured baptism, as the passover the holy Supper; then in the organic relation between Christian parents and children; in the nature of the new covenant, which is even more comprehensive than the old; in the universal virtue of Christ, as the Redeemer of all sexes, classes, and ages, and especially in the import of his own infancy, which has redeemed and sanctified the infantile age; in his express invitation to children, whom he assures of a title to the kingdom of heaven, and whom, therefore, he certainly would not leave without the sign and seal of such membership; in the words, of institution, which plainly look to the Christianizing, not merely of individuals, but of whole nations, including, of course, the children; in the express declaration of Peter at the first administration of the ordinance, that this promise of forgiveness of sins and of the Holy Spirit was to the Jews "and to their children;" in the five instances in the New Testament of the baptism of whole families, where the presence of children in most of the cases is far more probable than the absence of children in all; and finally, in the universal practice of the early church, against which the isolated protest of Tertullian proves no more, than his other eccentricities and Montanistic peculiarities; on the contrary, his violent protest implies the prevailing practice of infant baptism. He advised delay of baptism as a measure of prudence, lest the baptized by sinning again might forever forfeit the benefit of this ordinance; but he nowhere denies the apostolic origin or right of early baptism.

We must add, however, that infant baptism is unmeaning, and its practice a profanation, except on the condition of Christian parentage or guardianship, and under the guarantee of a Christian education. And it needs to be completed by an act of personal consecration, in which the child, after due instruction in the gospel, intelligently and freely confesses Christ, devotes himself to his service, and is thereupon solemnly admitted to the full communion of the church and to the sacrament of the holy Supper. The earliest traces of confirmation are supposed to be found in the apostolic practice of laying on hands, or symbolically imparting the Holy Spirit. after baptism.682682    Acts 8:15; 19:6; Heb. 6:2.

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