William The Baptist

by James M. Chaney

Part IV


W. -- "EXCUSE me for making my appearance so early, but my curiosity has not abated. I saw Mr. R., and told him of my interview with you. He made a suggestion to me, which I had thought of before, and of which I had before spoken to my wife. I ask you for your opinion, and hope, in giving it, you will lay aside all prejudice, remembering that the religious interests of myself and wife are involved in it; remember that it is a matter that should rise above denominational preferences. I will say nothing more to my wife about it unless you agree with me that it is proper. It is this, that it would require less sacrifice on the part of my wife to go with me to the Baptist church, than for me to become a Presbyterian, especially as you refuse to immerse me."

P.-- "I am glad you came so early, and equally glad that your interest is not abated. The suggestion of Mr. R. affords an opportunity of showing how inexcusably blind some people choose to be. I thank you for your confidence in my ability to express an opinion in the light of those interests which are immeasurably above denominational preferences. I will answer you as I believe my Master would have me answer. You believe your wife to be an honest, intelligent Christian woman?"

W.-- "Without a superior in all these respects."

P.-- "As an intelligent member of the Presbyterian Church, she believes that she has been baptized according to the command of Christ. Let me put a case in many respects analogous, that will serve as an illustration. Some twelve years ago Mr. L, a nominal Catholic, was united in marriage to Miss D., a member of the Presbyterian Church. The ceremony was performed by a Presbyterian minister. Matters went on smoothly for some three or four years, till Mr. L. became a very zealous Catholic. After he came entirely under the control of the priest, the latter told him that he was not lawfully married, and that he was committing a great sin to continue in that state. The poor man was in great trouble. The priest insisted that he should be married according to the laws of the church. The wife was informed of the trouble, and asked to assent to the arrangement. Her answer was prompt and emphatic. It was, 'NO, NEVER!' She saw that it would, in a most aggravating manner, cast contempt on the claims of her own church. It would be acknowledging that it was an apostate church, and its ministers impostors, without any authority to solemnize a marriage. It would be a confession that she had, for these years, been living in adultery. What think you of her conclusions and her answer?"

W.-- "She was a noble, honest, Christian woman."

P.-- "And what would be the confession of your wife, should she heed the suggestion of Mr. R., and apply to the Baptist Church for admission, and by him be immersed? It would be a confession of one or the other of these things: 1st, That her church is no church, and its ministers without any authority to administer the sacraments, and thus pour contempt on those she was leaving; or 2nd, If she held no such views as these, she would, by her act, pour contempt on the sacrament of baptism, regarding it as a thing so common, of so little worth, that it could be prostituted to the low work of ministering to the whims of a man she loved."

W.-- "I see how I was blinded. I see how grievous would be my wife's offence to take that step I so desire her to take. I would not give my consent for her to make the change, unless her views on the subject of baptism should undergo a radical change."

P.-- "I am rejoiced to hear you so express yourself. Before proceeding to the task before us, let us have a clear understanding of the work to be done. Allow me to ask what you understand by baptism, or immersion?"

W.-- "It is very simple. It is putting the person down into the water, and taking him up out of the water, all in the name of the Father, the Son, and and the Holy Ghost."

P.-- "Very good. Another question. Would it meet the requirement if a quantity of water sufficient to cover the person should be poured upon hint?"

W.-- "Not at all. The action would be wanting. There would be no immersion; no putting down into, and taking up out of."

P.- -- "Of course your answer is correct. The whole difference between us and immersionists is not in the element to be employed; in this we agree; nor in the quantity to be employed, but in the action or in the use or application of the element. With immersionists it is, the individual must be put into the element; with us it is, the element must be applied to the individual. The difference is radical. Both cannot be right, because they are logical contraries. Now, I suppose, we can enter upon the consideration of the question?"

W.-- "Yes, sir; with the distinct understanding that the Bible only is to be brought forward as a witness. No Greek, no commentaries, no doubtful historical tomes. But I suppose this is your understanding, as I see you are provided with a single volume, and that, I presume, is the Bible."

P.-- "Pardon me, sir, but I fear you have misinterpreted my statement. I said nothing about the Greek. I proposed to confine myself exclusively to the Bible. A portion of the Scriptures was written in the Greek language, and the whole Bible was in that language when the Saviour was on earth, and received His sanction. The meaning of the word employed to designate the rite is to be determined by its use in the Bible, and that cannot be done without some reference to the original text."

W.-- "My meaning was that you would not bother me with learned citations from classic Greek authors, and long disquisitions on Greek prepositions."

P.-- "And that was my meaning also. The only proper way to ascertain the meaning of a word of frequent occurrence in any volume is to note carefully how it is used in the several places where it occurs."

W.-- "I do not believe I understand you. It seems to me that the best way to ascertain the meaning of a word in any language is to appeal to the dictionaries of acknowledged authority in that language. Or, if a derivative, to take advantage of this to get at its meaning."

P.-- "By the latter method we might be led into error. Our word 'prevent' will serve as an illustration. It is derived from the Latin preposition 'prae,' meaning 'before,' and 'venire,' 'to come.' The word then should mean 'to come before.' But in this sense it has long been obsolete. Words undergo very material changes in their meaning. The word 'telegraph' may be cited as an example of such changes. Its meaning now is distinctly understood by all. To use it as it was understood forty years ago, very few would understand it. Then it meant to communicate at considerable distances by beacons. As to dictionaries, allow me to ask you how their compilers obtain their information? Take any standard dictionary of our own language; examine and see by what means the definitions are obtained. Here is Webster's Unabridged; examine any important word."

W.-- "I see an illustration of your meaning in the definition given to the word 'presence.' Definitions are given, and following each are quotations from Milton, Shakespeare, Bacon, Dryden, and Collier. I see the same in many other definitions. I had often noticed such quotations, but their peculiar use had never struck me."

P.-- "If you would take the trouble to examine a dictionary of any dead language, you would find a still greater use of this method. The lexicographer assigns a particular meaning to a word. In proof that such is its meaning, he quotes from some standard author a passage in which the word occurs. That the author so employed the word, is to be ascertained from the context and circumstantial evidence."

W.-- "That certainly is a legitimate conclusion; confine yourself to that, and prove that the disputed word does not mean immerse, and I am satisfied."

P.-- "In such an investigation, of course, we need examine only those passages where the context, or attending circumstances will throw some light on the meaning of the word as used by the writer. Thus, in the commission, 'Go ye therefore and teach all nations, BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,' though the word occurs, yet the context affords no clue to its meaning. Again, there are many passages where the word occurs from which no conclusion can be drawn without involving a long and tedious discussion as to the signification of certain Greek prepositions. A few examples will suffice, 'John verily baptized WITH water.' The meaning of the word, as here used, depends on the signification of the preposition translated 'with.' The inference from the English would be that the water was applied to them. Again, 'Jesus was baptized of John in Jordan.' The simple fact here stated determines nothing as to the meaning of the word. They may have gone into the water, and then performed the rite either by dipping or sprinkling. Such passages must be examined under another head."

W.-- "Do not the circumstances attending the baptism of Jesus -- a part of which you quoted -- and the passage giving an account of the baptism of the Eunuch, all point to immersion?"

P.-- "After we have considered the meaning of the word, we propose to examine the most important cases of its administration, reaching a conclusion as to the mode from the attending circumstances. Our present object is to look for passages where the use of the word clearly indicates its meaning. Will you turn to Daniel, 4:25?"

W.-- "It says that Nebuchadnezzar shall be wet with the dew of heaven."

P.-- "The word translated wet is similar to the word used to designate the rite of baptism. Here, as the context will show you, Nebuchadnezzar was in the field, eating grass as a beast, making the open field his abiding -- his lodging place, as did the cattle. Yet here he was to be baptized; and the method is given; it should be by the dew of heaven.

"Another passage is Mark, 7:4: 'And when they come from the market, except they baptize, they eat not. And many other things there be which they have received to hold, as the baptism of cups and pots, and brazen vessels and tables.' Here the very word used to designate the rite of baptism is employed -- 1st, In reference to the Jews themselves; 2nd, In reference to articles of house-hold furniture, tables or couches. In the first case it is declared, every time they came from the market they baptized. It is conceivable that they might have immersed themselves, but it requires an effort of the imagination to regard it as probable. Manifestly, what they desired to accomplish was to purify, cleanse themselves. This we know they were in the habit of doing."

W.-- "You acknowledge that it is conceivable that they may have immersed themselves. Then I do not see how the word, as it occurs, can serve your purpose."

P.-- "If you will turn to John 2:6, you will find an account of the provision they made for these purifications. We have here a detailed account of Christ's miracle, turning water into wine, at the marriage in Cana. In the 6th verse we read, 'and there were set there six water-pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.' According to some, these water-pots held about ten gallons each. The very highest is twenty-seven gallons each. According to the first, Christ made about one hogshead of wine; according to the largest estimate, he made nearly three hogsheads. If we take the largest estimate, i.e., twenty-seven gallons each, such a vessel could not by any means have met the requirements for immersion."

W.-- "I will take a note of this. I confess the comparison of these passages presents a point to which my attention has never before been called."

P.-- "The case of the 'tables' or 'couches' is very conclusive; for it would require a power of imagination possessed by a few to conceive that they were immersed. Two facts render it certain that they were not immersed: 1st, Their size. It matters not whether we understand the word to refer to tables on which food was placed, or to couches on which they reclined when eating. In either case they were so cumbersome as to render it morally certain that housewives were not in the habit of immersing them. 2nd, No sensible reason can be assigned why they would want to immerse them. Simple immersion is not a method of cleansing anything. True, housewives do sometimes immerse 'cups' and 'pots' in the process of cleansing; but such immersion is a mere accidental circumstance; the method commonly employed is the free application of water and rubbing them, or by partial dipping; but in cleansing chairs, or benches, or tables, who ever heard of immersing them?"

W.-- "I freely admit that in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, and in the example quoted from Mark's Gospel, there was no immersion proper. I do not suppose any one would for a moment contend there was. But I certainly lose nothing by such a concession, for I know your good sense and honesty will compel you to make a concession that will fully counterbalance mine."

P.-- "I thank you for your expressions of confidence in me."

W.-- "Admitting that these were not cases of literal, real immersion; yet was not Nebuchadnezzar, so to speak, enveloped in or with the moisture? And were not the tables or couches, being washed all over, in a like manner enveloped? And might not this, in a figurative sense, be denominated a baptism or immersion? The end was attained, at least figuratively, that is, their envelopment."

P.-- "I will readily make the concession you desire, on one condition, that is, that we regard this as one point fixed, agreed upon, and to which we may both refer as established."

W.-- "The condition is a fair one, and I accept it."

P.-- "Allow me to call your attention to one of your definitions. I urged you to define immersion, as without such definition all discussion would be useless."

W.-- "I intended my definition to apply to the administration of the rite, or to real immersion."

P.-- "And our object now is to find out the meaning of the word used to designate the rite. It would seem, then, that the word is used in the Bible to designate an action very different from putting down in and taking up out of."

W.-- "You make a point that I will have to think about. I am not now prepared to express an opinion."

P.-- "Well, think about it, and let me make another point, which you may perhaps associate with it for company. Allow me to apply to you the expressions of honesty and good sense by which you honored me. If the dew of heaven could baptize Nebuchadnezzar, and the application of water to tables could baptize them, as you say, figuratively, then you will acknowledge that should I take a hyssop branch, or my hand, and sprinkle a bountiful supply of water over an individual, so that he would, so to speak, be enveloped thereby, this would also be figurative immersion or baptism."

W.-- "This, verily, looks like a fit companion to the other point. Perhaps I was hasty in that agreement."

P.--"You are at liberty to regard it as null and void."

W.-- "But I do not see that I would gain anything thereby."

P.-- "Why not?"

W.-- "Because I would then be driven to the necessity of acknowledging that real baptism, according to the Bible use of the word, could be performed when there is no immersion, but only the application of water to the person or thing to be baptized."

P.-- "I am glad you see the point so clearly, and thank you for saving me the trouble of pressing it. I could not have made it better."

W.-- "I confess, sir, that I am greatly perplexed. From my early boyhood I have taken a deep interest in this question : I have discussed it, heard it discussed, read about it, and my mind was so fixed that I did not think it possible that anything that could be advanced could cause any hesitation or wavering on my part. I scarcely know why I sought these interviews with you. It was not certainly from any thought that you could convince me that my views are erroneous. I rather secretly indulged the hope that I could convince you of error, and at least induce you to immerse me. But why is it that I have never seen these points presented as they have been by you?"

P.-- "I suppose it is because your reading has all been on one side of the question, or because you would not attend to anything on the opposite side."

W. -- "Do not understand me as acknowledging for one moment that my views on this subject are erroneous. Whatever may be true of the occasional use of the word in a figurative sense, yet the cases of immersion recorded in the New Testament, and the fact that it is called a burial, are sufficient to settle the question with me."

P.-- "Those cases of its administration are yet to be considered; also the passages which you claim as a warrant for believing it to symbolize a burial. But let us consider one thing at a time. We are now considering the use of the word in passages that clearly indicate its signification."

W.-- "I am satisfied it is sometimes used in a figurative sense, as you have shown, and other examples will not make that more apparent; and besides, I am impatient to hear what you have to say of baptism as a burial."

P.-- "We will examine that to your satisfaction in its proper place and time. As to the use of the word, it is true one clear example is as conclusive as a score. But I want you to see that we are not confined to a single obscure passage to ascertain the Bible use of the word. In Matt. 20:22, Jesus, in answer to the request of two of his disciples, to sit the one on his right hand and the other on his left in his kingdom, asked, 'Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that 1 am baptized with? And when they said they were able, he said, 'Ye shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.' "

W.-- "Another figurative use of the word."

P.-- "Very true. But it shows how the sacred writers were accustomed to use the word. To what, think you, did the Saviour refer by this baptism?"

W.-- "Manifestly to his sufferings."

P.-- "And is there an immersion here ?"

W.-- "I think you are unfortunate in the selection of this passage for your purpose, for I have often heard of the expression 'immersed in business, immersed in trouble.' I think it a very proper use of the term as referring to the troubles about to come upon him. Jesus was, so to speak, overwhelmed with trouble."

P.-- "I think I understand you. You mean that trouble did not come on him in drops, but in a shower, or rather in a torrent."

W.-- "That last word expresses the idea."

P.-- "Then we are more nearly agreed in our views than we seemed to be at first. We do not differ as to the mode of baptism, but simply as to the quantity of the element that is to be employed."

W.-- "I see you will give me no rest about my definition of immersion."

P.-- "At the outset we were agreed as to the element, and I wanted to know just wherein we differed; whether it was in reference to the quantity to be applied, or in the action. Will you now amend your answer?"

W.-- "I would prefer to go to the consideration of the significance of the rite, and hear what you have to say about baptism as a burial."

P.-- "As you seem so anxious for the consideration of that subject, I will now forewarn you that I will not leave a four-penny nail to hold your scaffolding together when we come to consider the significance of the rite. I will not insist on an answer to my question, because I know you can give no definition of baptism by which you can stand.

"It has always been the practice of immersionists, in their interpretations of those passages where the word occurs, to swing backwards and forwards from action to quantity, and from quantity to action, just as it suited them. In the passages to which I have called your attention, they very clearly see immersion -- that is, envelopment; that is, an extra quantity descending upon, but no action. If they would stick to this, we might make some compromise, and agree to the use of a greater quantity of the element, enough to represent an envelopment. But no sooner do we make a suggestion of such compromise than they tell us it is not quantity, but action; there must be a putting down into, and a taking up out of -- a burial. Allow me to trouble you with another passage, found in Luke 11:38. Will you please read it?"

W.-- "And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed (baptized) before dinner."

P.-- "The word here used is the very same applied to the rite of baptism. I will not trouble you to compare it with Mark 7:2, 3, although a strong argument might easily be drawn from such comparison. In all candor ask yourself what could have been meant by the statement you have just read."

W.-- "Candor compels me to admit that it could not have been used to indicate immersion. There could have been no use in it, and I imagine that it would have been practically impossible."

P.-- "You take a common-sense view of it. We keep up the same practice in reference to the first meal of the day. Except we baptize, we eat not our morning meal. I would like also to call your attention to a use of the word as found in Heb. 9:10, from which a similar conclusion could be drawn. Also I Cor. 10:1, 2, where baptism is used to designate simply consecration, and no immersion can be found. But as you seem satisfied on this point, we will dismiss it, and pass to the consideration of that in which you seem to manifest so much interest; that is, the significance of the rite. But we must adjourn to another evening for the consideration of this."

Texts Scanned and Edited by Michael Bremmer

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