William The Baptist

by James M. Chaney

Part VII



W. -- "I have taken the trouble to read the account of the administration in several cases, and I think they are as clear and definite as I could give an account of immersion as now administered at any of our baptizings, and your time will be lost in attempting to convince me to the contrary. I cannot but think, if language is to be trusted, we must believe that Jesus was immersed by John the Baptist in the Jordan; and the eunuch was immersed by Philip."

P.-- "And are these all the examples or cases of its administration recorded in the New Testament?"

W.-- "They are all that I examined, and they are enough.

P.-- "Before considering any of these cases of its administration, let us distinctly understand each other as to the method of proceeding."

W.-- "Will you please explain your meaning?"

P.-- "I mean that we are now about to examine these cases to see what light, if any, they throw on the question of mode."

W.-- "This is my understanding."

P.-- "The evidence thus adduced is what is called probable or circumstantial evidence. And in thus examining the recorded cases, it will be necessary to exclude every other kind of evidence. I mean it will be necessary for both of us, for the sake of argument, to admit that the evidence from the meaning of the word and the significance of the rite is equal on both sides. In other words, we are to suppose we have no kind of evidence as to the mode, except what is derived from the circumstances and facts recorded in connection with each case."

W.-- "That would be the only fair way to proceed in such an investigation."

P.-- "Then we are ready to proceed. It was my intention to introduce the subject in a manner somewhat different; but as your mind seems filled with thoughts of the cases you mentioned, perhaps it will be well to consider them at once."

W.-- "If you please; if it makes no special difference to you, I would like for you to take up the case of the immersion of Jesus in the Jordan by John."

P.-- "Perhaps it would be well to say the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan."

W.--"Just as you please; they are both the same to me."

P.-- "May I ask you why John baptized, and what was the nature or object of his baptism?"

W.--" John baptized because God sent him to baptize, as John himself tells us. As to the object of his baptism, he said, 'I baptize you with water unto repentance.' "

P.-- "And what does 'unto repentance' mean?"

W.-- "I suppose the meaning is, that baptism was to show them that they were sinful, needed cleansing, and should repent of their sins."

P.-- "And how was it with Jesus?"

W.-- "Of course, in his case, it was different. He, himself, tells us why he was baptized, and the object of it. 'Thus,' said he 'it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.' "

P.-- "And what does he mean by 'righteousness.' "

W.--"I think I am prepared to answer that question, as I have just been studying the first five chapters of Romans, where this word frequently occurs. Dora and I were very much interested it it. I had occasion to study this word particularly. It is a legal term, and divers from holiness, as the latter relates to inward purity, and the former has reference to our relation to the law; doing what the law directs."

P.-- "I admire your skill in interpretation. I do not see how your answer could be improved. It would seem, then, that there was some law making it necessary for Christ to he baptized."

W.-- "It would seem so from this language; but I never examined into the matter, and I am not very familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures."

P.-- "The baptism of Jesus is interesting and important for other reasons, different from those for which we are now examining it. As some of these facts are necessary for a clear understanding of this, I will mention them: Jesus is, emphatically, our Great High Priest. He is the only real priest that was ever in the world. Aaron's priesthood was typical of his, so that Aaron and his descendants may be called typical priests, and Christ the real priest. The Aaronic priesthood all pertained to the tribe of Levi, and were the descendants of Aaron. But Jesus belonged to another tribe, 'of which,' as Paul says, 'no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe, Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood.' Heb. vii. 13, 14, and in verse twelve, he says, 'For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.' Now, when the Aaronic priesthood was first instituted, the tribe to which it pertained was, in a formal manner, consecrated, set apart to this high calling. Whether, in subsequent ages, every priest was thus set apart, as he entered on his priestly office, it does not appear. But when so great a change occurred as Paul speaks of, a change to another tribe of which Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood, then the law of consecration should be complied with; and it was to this law that Jesus referred in the language used by him."

W.-- "Your statements are interesting and instructive, and I see very clearly that it was to such a law that he referred when he said, 'Thus it becometh me to fulfill all righteousness.' "

P.-- "If the means or mode of consecration in that first instance could be ascertained, it would afford light on the second; I. e., the consecration of Jesus, his conforming to the law, and thus fulfilling all righteousness.' "

W.-- "I wish it had been given in detail. It would have thrown light upon, and perhaps settled this question, that has caused so much wrangling among the people of God."

P.-- "That is a good wish; and I am happy to inform you that the method of consecration has been carefully preserved in the sacred records. Will you please turn to Numbers 8:5-7, and read?"

W.-- " 'And the Lord spake unto Moses, Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them. And thus shalt thou do unto them to cleanse them: SPRINKLE WATER OF PURIFYING UPON THEM.

P.-- "That is the law which Christ said he must obey to fulfill all righteousness."

W.-- "Is it certain that he had reference to this law?"

P.-- "It is CERTAIN, according to his own words, that there was some law with which he must comply." "Again, it is CERTAIN that in complying with the law, it involved the use of water.

"Again, it is CERTAIN that he felt that he must comply with that law, because he was about entering upon his priestly work, not as a descendant of Aaron, or of the tribe of Levi, but as a member of another tribe -- Judah.

"Again, it is CERTAIN that the law quoted was for the very purpose for which Jesus wished to be baptized.

"Again, it is CERTAIN that if this is not the law to which referred, then no such law was in existence.

"Again, it is CERTAIN that if there was no such law on record, there would have been no propriety in Jesus saying it was necessary for him to be baptized to comply with the law.

"And the seventh thing CERTAIN is, that he referred to this law."

William listened very attentively to the pastor as he enumerated, with deliberation, these certainties.

He was silent and thoughtful for some time. At last he said:

W.-- "I confess your reasons seem to render it very certain that the law I read from Numbers is the same to which Jesus referred in his language to John. But there is one difficulty in the way of my believing that that is the law."

P.-- "And what is that?"

W.-- "The gospel history declares that Jesus was immersed."

P.-- "That is an assumption. It does not say so."

W.-- "In the first chapter of Mark, it says, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descending upon him."

P.-- "In which statement do you find the immersion?"

W.-- "It says he was baptized 'in Jordan,' and he 'came up out of the water.' "

P.-- "Does it say that John put him down into or under the waters?"

W.-- "No; but Jesus went down into the water, and came up out of it."

P.-- "And did not John do the same?"

W..-- "Well, yes."

P.-- "And was he, too, immersed?"

W.-- "No; but he did not go into the water to be immersed."

P.-- "But your only evidence that Jesus was immersed, from circumstantial evidence, is that he did just what John did."

W.-- "If John did not immerse him, I do not know why he took him into the water."

P.-- "To baptize him."

W.--"But the fact that he went into the water shows that he was immersed."

P.-- "Must every one that goes into the water go under it? I have seen scores of men go into the water at the same time, to bathe, or wash, or cleanse themselves, and not one-fourth of them go under it, or immerse themselves. It has been my custom for many years to go into the water to bathe or wash; but only when a boy did I immerse myself, and then not as a mode of cleansing, but for amusement. For bathing I prefer shallow water, a running brook, though it were but a few inches in depth."

W.-- "But if they went into the water, they were partly immersed."

P.-- "Very true; but is this what you insist on as the immersion?"

W.-- "No; but in performing a rite, I do not see why they would go into the water unless they would immerse."

P.-- "And I do not see why they should immerse when they went into it."

W.-- "Then why would they go into it?"

P.-- "Not, very certainly, for absolute or literal cleansing [though if that had been the object, immersion need not have followed; and, if it had, it would have been an accidental circumstance]; but to use water in some way to represent cleansing. Now, laying aside all preconceived notions of immersion, is it reasonable to take it for granted that Jesus was immersed?"

W.-- "I have always so taken it for granted. According to your own statement of its object, that is, to represent cleansing, it would certainly be accomplished by immersion, that is, to represent complete cleansing."

P.-- "I fear that, too, is taken for granted."

W.-- "I do not understand you. Laying aside your preconceived notions, will you not admit that immersion will better represent complete cleansing than simply applying a small quantity of water?"

P.-- "The question is pointed and fair, but I will let God himself and Jesus answer it. I might ask you if it was not the purpose of God, in the consecration of the Levites, to give a rite that would represent their complete cleansing? But for that purpose God was satisfied that a small quantity of water should be sprinkled upon them. Scores of such examples could be given from the Old Testament ablutions, or, as Paul, in Hebrews, calls them, baptisms. But I will refer you, for further answer to your question, to the language of Jesus, in the thirteenth chapter of John."

W.-- "I do not recollect it. Will you state it?"

P.-- "After the institution of the supper, on the night of the betrayal, Jesus took a towel and girded himself. After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet. When he came to Peter, Peter declined to submit to it. But Jesus said, 'If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.' Peter' then said, 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.' But the reply of Jesus was, 'He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, BUT IS CLEAN EVERY WHIT. Does this answer your question?"

W.-- "It would seem that it ought to be sufficient. But I do not see why they would go to the river and to where there was much water, if they did not immerse."

P.-- "If you consider the facts, it would be strange if they had not gone to such places."

W.-- "Why so?"

P.-- "The history tells us that immense multitudes flocked to John, and were baptized by him. They regarded him as the forerunner of the long promised and now expected Messiah. 'Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, confessing their sins.' Anticipating such crowds to attend on his ministry and to be baptized by him -- and required by the nature of his mission and Old Testament prophecies to go into the wilderness -- to what place should he go to find water, not only for baptizing but for the wants of the multitude and their animals?"

W.-- "I suppose you think John did not immerse any of those who came to him?"

P.-- "Not only do I suppose he did not, but that he would not have done so, had any requested it of him. It would fail to meet one great object of his baptism. Said he, 'I indeed baptize you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.' He regarded his baptism as typical of that by the Spirit: and the Spirit descended on men; they were not dipped into it."

W.-- "We are examining cases of the administration of the rite in the light of circumstantial evidence; what is there -- of this kind -- that warrants you in denying that it was by immersion?"

P.-- "If I was to be tried for my life on circumstantial evidence half as clear, I would expect to be hung. John's ministry lasted about six months. From the passage already quoted, telling of the multitudes who came to him and were baptized by him, the number baptized, at a moderate estimate, was two or three hundred thousand, or an average of from one thousand to fifteen hundred per day."

W.-- "But how could he baptize so many?"

P.-- "Not at all, if the rite had been by immersion; but very easily as he performed the rite."

W.-- "And how was that?"

P.-- "The history does not inform us; but we are safe in concluding that it was like the baptism of the Old Testament economy. Heb. 9:19, will assist in answering your question. Will you please read it?"

W.-- " 'For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people."

P.-- "From the passage just read, and from many similar ones in the Old Testament, it is probable that John baptized by means of a hyssop branch, a shrub frequently used for that purpose in olden times, and peculiarly adapted to such use. By such means he could have baptized many thousands in a day without extraordinary effort."

W.-- "Then I suppose you think the three thousand were thus baptized in Jerusalem in the one day."

P.-- "Very much in the same manner. The surrounding circumstances were somewhat different. There was no river in or near Jerusalem. The great mass of the Jews, and their leaders, all were the enemies of the Christians, and if the rite had been by immersion, there would have been two obstacles in the way:

"First, In finding any place for such wholesale immersion.

"Second, In being permitted to perform the rite in that way, had they found a place.

"Both these difficulties are fatal to the notion that it may have been by immersion. It would be difficult to find a city in the world, even among those that have rivers running near or through them, where, so promptly, with so little searching, and so little preparation, so many immersions could take place. It was nine o'clock when Peter began his sermon. How long he preached we are not informed. A portion of his sermon is given. In the 40th verse it is said, 'And with many other words did he exhort and testify, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.' The whole account of the baptism is given in the next verse; 'Then they that gladly received his word were baptized. And the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.' This would be a wonderful manner of disposing of a work of such magnitude as the immersion of a multitude in such a place as Jerusalem, and in so short a time. The account accords entirely with the Old Testament mode of administering the rite. According to the method given in Heb. ix. 19, two hours would have sufficed for procuring the water and baptizing the whole number by the apostle."

W.-- "I confess that the immersion of those three thousand in one day has sometimes given me some trouble. But I have seen it stated that, from calculations, the thing is possible."

P.-- "Did you ever make the calculation for yourself?"

W.-- "No, sir, I never did."

P.-- "Will you make it? I would like to see it."

W.-- "Well, taking all the circumstances into the account, I suppose we may give them five hours."

P.-- "That is a good allowance; but give them six.

W.-- "There were twelve apostles, which would give, in all, seventy-two hours. This would assign about forty-two per hour to each apostle, or about ninety seconds for each immersion."

P.-- "This supposes that the water was at hand; that everything was in readiness, and that there was no delay. How does it strike you?"

W.-- "I was thinking that three minutes for each immersion would have been speedy work to perform the rite in a becoming manner. But then it would have required more than twelve hours. I do not know how the calculation was made."

P.-- "Let us apply the rule to this case, and judging from circumstantial evidence, on which side does the evidence preponderate?"

W.-- "To say nothing of the meaning of the word, or of the significance of the rite, I would have to admit that the theory of immersion finds very little sympathy from circumstantial evidence in those three thousand baptisms in one day."

P.-- "The case of the three thousand is a digression. I scarcely know how we got astray to consider it. We were considering the baptism of Jesus and the multitudes that came to John. Returning to the latter, and applying the rule of circumstantial evidence, how does the case stand?"

W.-- "To admit the numbers you say were baptized, of course it is absolutely certain they were not immersed. But I would not admit there were so many."

P.-- "Very well; I think two hundred thousand would be a fair estimate. Shall we divide that number by two?"

W.-- "That is still too high. Five would not be too large a divisor."

P.-- "That would bring the number down to forty thousand. And now, to see how the matter would stand, let us divide it again by four, and we have ten thousand. Suppose, then that during his ministry of six months, he spent four days of each week in administering this rite. This would allow one hundred days, and give him an average of one hundred immersions for each day. At three minutes for each immersion, this would require him to stand in the water five hours per day. How close it appear when thus viewed?"

W.-- "I scarcely know what to say."

P.-- "Do you think flesh and blood could endure such labors?"

W.-- "They would be exhausting."

P.-- "It is almost certain that no man could continue such labors for the half of one month. It is doubtful if he could endure it for four days; and to put the numbers at a fair estimate, we see the conclusive force of the circumstantial evidence. But to return to the case of Jesus, what verdict shall we record?"

W.-- "I scarcely know. That was one of my strongest passages. If we decide according to the rule we adopted, and lay aside the idea of a burial, also the meaning of the word, and decide from circumstances alone, and in the light of the law he was to comply with, the case seems to be a hard one for me. I confess there is but little circumstantial evidence in the facts that point to immersion."

P.-- "I thought we could dispose of these cases of the administration of the rite in one evening. But I see we cannot. You can meditate on those already considered, and, if convenient, return tomorrow evening."

Texts Scanned and Edited by Michael Bremmer

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