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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From the Montreal Register. Taken from The Baptist Reporter, 1846
Some time since a friend of mine in the country was thus addressed by an influential Paedobaptist: "Those ignorant Baptists! Do you not know that no person well versed in the languages supports their views of baptism by immersion?" Now, sir, a statement so utterly false as this, requires to be exposed—a charge so unfounded, to be met and disproved.
The opinion of the Baptists as regards immersion, is supported:
I. By the concurrent testimony of the most ancient versions:
The Syriac and Latin versions of the second century, the Coptic of the third, the Ethiopic, and Gothic of the fourth, and the Armenian of the fifth, all employ words which signify immersion. Some, indeed, with a degree of recklessness and a want of thorough research, which speaks but little for their scholarship, have attempted to set this testimony aside, in defiance alike of Lexicons, and of the evidence afforded by the rituals, commentaries, and practice of those churches for which these versions were made. Such persons, forsooth, know Coptic better than the Copts, and Syriac better than the members of the Syriac churches! Peculiarly modest, this.
II. By the testimony of the early church, as contained in its rituals, in its acts of councils, and in the writings of its distinguished members:
Its rituals. That of the Nestorians, made probably in the seventh century, gives the following directions: "They bring them (the children) to the priest, who, standing on the western side of the baptistry, turns the face of the child to the east, and dips him in water." In the ritual of Severus, patriarch of Antioch, the following passages occur, "John mixed the waters of baptism, and Christ sanctified them, end descended that he might be baptized in them. Altitude and profundity imparted glory to him," —" Who hast immersed thy head in the waters."
The old Abyssinian ritual contains the following words, "And the priest shall take them and immerse them three times." The sacramentary of Gregory the Great directs that persons to be baptized should be immersed. All the ancient Greek rituals require immersion. In the Manuale ad usum Sarum, published in England in the twenty-first year of Henry the eighth, is a direction to the priest to take the child and dip him in the water. In the Smalcald articles, drawn up by Luther, it is said, "Baptism is nothing else than the word of God with immersion in water."
Its acts of councils. The Apostolic Constitutions, probably written in the fourth century, declare that, "immersion denotes dying with Christ, emersion a resurrection with him." So also in sect. iv. of the fourth council of Toledo, it is said, "Immersion is like a descent to the grave, and emersion from the water as a resurrection." The decretals of Leo speak of a trine immersion as resembling the three day's burial, and the emersion from the waters as a resurrection."
Its writers. Tertullian, who died A.D. 220, speaking of the mode of baptism in Africa, tells us that a baptized person is "let down into the water, and dipped between the utterance of a few words." "I do not see," confesses Professor Stuart, "how any doubt can well remain, that in Tertullian's time the practice of the African church, to say the least, as to the mode of baptism, must have been that of trine immersion." Gregory of Nyssa, says, "Coming into the water...we hide ourselves in it;" and Basil speaks of three immersions. Thus, then, in Asia Minor, for there these two bishops lived during the fourth century, the custom was like our own. Chrysostom, on the third chapter of John, informs us of the manner in which baptism was administered in Constantinople during the same century.
His words are, "We, as in a sepulchre, immersing our heads in water, the old man is buried, and sinking down, the whole is concealed at once; then, as we emerge, the new man rises again," Ambrose, archbishop of Milan at the same period, says, "Thou saidst, I believe, and thus wast immerged, that is, thou wast buried."
Cyril of Jerusalem, and Jerome in Bethlehem, likewise gave the same testimony. Thus, then, as late as the fourth century, immersion was still customary in Europe, Asia Minor, and Africa. The Oriental and Greek churches have always practised dipping, as they yet do. Even as late as the year 850, W. Strabo speaks of immersion as being general.
Nay, more, in the twelfth century Rupertus tells us that this was the custom in Germany; while the Episcopalian Wall confesses that, "in the times of Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century) and Bonaventure, immersion was in Italy the most common way." Such, according to Fuller, was the practice of the English church from the beginning, —a statement borne out by the language of Tyndale, who, at the eve of the Reformation, speaks of it as the general practice; and by the autobiography of bishop Chappell, who states that he was immersed, as was the custom in the parish in which he was born.
With respect to Scotland, we find the following language in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, "In this country, however, sprinkling was never used in ordinary cases till after the Reformation."
Well may Augusti say that this mode is "a thing made out;" and well may the upright and erudite Congregationalist Stuart, whose truthfulness contrasts most favourably with the blind zeal and incorrect statements of Dr. Miller, add, "So indeed all the writers who have thoroughly investigated this subject, conclude. I know of no one usage of ancient times, which seems to be more clearly or certainly made out. I cannot see how it is possible for any candid man who examines the subject to deny this."
III. By the testimony derived from the places in which baptism was anciently administered:
Clement of Rome speaks of a river, fountain, or the sea as suitable for the performance of this rite. Tertullian tells us that "it mattered not where a person was baptized, whether in the sea, or in standing or running water, in fountain, lake, or river." Subsequently, baptistries were built for immersion, large enough for ecclesiastical councils to be held in them, as indeed was sometimes the case. More recently still fonts were erected, that in them the subjects of baptism might be dipped. Hundreds of these fonts are yet in existence. The fathers, in speaking of the place of baptism, frequently call it "the bath." All these statements point to one result.
IV. By the testimony of the modern Greeks:
In an important Greek work, published 1757, the following statement occurs, "And again, the word baptism will not express any other thing besides dipping." Strong proof, this! The most able scholar among the modern Greeks, Dr. Cory, who dies 1834, in the "Synopsis of Orthodox Doctrine," published for the use of the schools in Athens, says that the baptized person is "plunged into the water." Indeed the members of the Greek church call those of the western churches "sprinkled christians," by way of ridicule. Pity that these Greeks had not the valuable assistance of one Canadian scholar. They might then perhaps better understand their own language.
V. By the testimony of the most celebrated scholars:
The Reformers Luther, Beza, and Calvin own that immersion was the practice of the primitive church. Luther's own words are," I would have those that are to be baptized, to be altogether dipped into the water, as the word doth sound, and the mystery doth signify." Milton, Seldon, and Johnson all confess the same. Seldon says, "In England, of late years, I ever thought the parson baptized his own fingers rather than the child."
he testimony of Bentley and Porson, the two most celebrated Greek scholars England ever produced, maybe cited in our favour. The former in his discourse on Free Thinking, defines baptism "dipping." The latter affirms that Bapto signifies "total immersion," and candidly confesses, "the Baptists have the advantage of us." Dr. Campbell's language is to the same effect, Dr. Chalmers, in his Lectures on Romans, states that "the original meaning of the word baptism is immersion." Allow me now to refer to the evidence afforded by German critics, who do not themselves practice immersion, and who are confessedly the masters of the world in matters of philology.
Schleusner, Bretschneider, and Wahl, the celebrated New Testament Lexicographers, limit baptism as a religious ordinance to immersion; while Rost and Passow, in their admirable classic Greek Lexicons, give information as much in our favour.
Binghem, Augusti, Winer, and Rheinwald, the most celebrated authors on Christian Antiquities, affirm that baptism was originally administered by dipping. Augusti expressly states that "the word baptism, according to etymology and usage, signifies to immerse, submerge," etc., and that "the choice of the expression betrays an age in which the custom of sprinkling had not been introduced."
Neander, Gieseler, and Guerike, confessedly the most learned church historians alive, all add their testimony to the foregoing. Neander says, "There can be no doubt whatever, that in the primitive times it (baptism) was performed by immersion." Even the Episcopalian historian Waddington has moral courage enough to avow the same thing.
The latest and best commentators are clear upon this point. Tholuck, on Romans vi. 4, says that "the candidate in the primitive church was immersed in water, and raised out of it again," and declares from the Professor's chair in Berlin, that "baptism always means immersion in the New Testament." Olshausen affirms the same in his commentary. Hahn, the celebrated editor of the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament, asserts that baptism takes place "through the immersion of the whole man." Knapp and a host of other equally learned men, state the same. Even the Episcopalian Bloomfield says, "I agree with Koppe and Rosenmuller, that there is reason to regret it (immersion) should have been abandoned in most Christian churches."
Indeed, to use Professor Sears' own language, "the reasoning adopted in this country by the abettors of sprinkling, is openly ridiculed in the German universities."
Now Sir, in view of all that has been said, what are we to think of our Canadian critic?
If we in this matter are "ignorant Baptists," the translators of the most valuable ancient versions of the Bible were ignorant, the most learned fathers of the church knew not the meaning of their own language, or the mode in which they administered their own rites, the most professed scholars of the present day are a set of ignoramuses! Alas! What a conclusion of the whole matter. Were it not better and safer, and more just, to regard our learned friend as being ignorant of "what he affirmeth?"
It is a source of consolation to us to know, that while we are suffering under the charge of ignorance at the ipse dixit of a pedant, there are some who, with the Bishop of Kentucky, believe "that God in his Providence has permitted the rise of the Baptist denomination, in order to restore, in America at least, the long lost primitive mode of immersion."
One of those "Ignorant Baptists."