Rev. William MacIntyre



The nature and design of baptism have been already incidentally indicated to a considerable extent. But partly to meet a rationalistic objection brought by our opponents against infant baptism, and partly to exhibit the practical bearing of the paedobaptist doctrine and to enforce the obligations that attach to the corresponding practice, we shall now add a few remarks under this head.

The objection which we seek to repel is conveyed in such questions as these, what good does baptism do to infants? What are they the better for it? Do not baptised infants grow up in sin the same as unbaptised infants? We have heard similar questions asked with respect to other ordinances, as, for example, what are those who partake of the Lord’s Supper better than we who do not partake of it? What are many of those who go to church better than we do who do not go to it? Are they more upright in their dealings or more humane, more just or more generous? Such questions are an appeal from revelation to reason. Revelation prescribes the observances against which they are directed, and this prescription, they imply, is very well, but, still, are the prescribed observances sufficiently recommended to reason? Thus, we are fully justified in describing the objection conveyed in such questions as rationalistic; and our opponents in urging it act the part of rationalists.

But, if the appeal is to be made to reason, let it be made fairly; and, that it may be fairly made, the point submitted must be, not what effects actually attend the observance of the ordinance against the claims of which the appeal is directed, but what are the effects to the production of which, from the nature and design of the ordinance, the observance of it is fitted to conduce, and with which, it may be warrantably expected, the due observance of it will be attended. It may be true, and so far as it is true it is much to be deplored, that in multitudes of instances infant baptism is attended with no beneficial results, the subjects of it being as much neglected and growing up as ungodly as any unbaptised infants. But this fact in no way affects the claims of infant baptism; for its claims, as already stated, are determined, not by the actual results in given cases and in certain circumstances, but by the results to the production of which it is fitted to conduce. From these the actual results may be entirely different, such actual results being due to influences extraneous to the ordinance and antagonistic to its design.

What, then, is the legitimate influence of infant baptism on the spiritual interests of the subjects of it? This is the point to be decided in an appeal from revelation to reason with respect to the claims of infant baptism.

We have already seen that baptism signifies and represents spiritual blessings, union to Christ and participation in the benefits of his death; and, when applied to infants, it signifies and represents such blessings as capable of application to infants, and as tendered to them through their parents or tendered to their parents for them. Will any one say that, as regards design and tendency, it is no advantage to infants that God deals thus with their parents on their behalf, that he calls upon their parents, affords them encouragement, and lays them under obligation, to desire and expect for them, and to desire and expect for them, while they are yet infants and incapable of acting for themselves in this momentous matter, all the blessings of that well ordered and sure covenant of which baptism is the token? Beautiful and beneficent arrangement? How like God, and how grateful to the heart of the pious parent! We seem to hear in it the Saviour’s words, uttered by him anew, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Yes, suffer them to come to the loving compassionate Saviour. Let the Church suffer them to come to him by admitting them to baptism; let their parents suffer them to come to him by bringing them to be baptised; let both suffer them to come by pleading on their behalf earnestly and in faith the glorious promise to which baptism is attached (Acts 2:39, Gen. 16:7-10), “travailing in birth until Christ be formed in them,” (Gal. 4:19), and by discharging towards them their respective but concurrent obligations. If parents and the church proceed thus, we shall have fewer impugners of infant baptism, and such as may still impugn it will not venture to represent it as useless.

In this ordinance God says to parents, “I will be a God unto your children.” He thus calls upon them and imposes upon them a solemn obligation to lay hold on this promise on behalf of their children, and, clinging to it, pleading it, and expecting the fulfilment of it, to use with diligence and perseverance all the means of obtaining the fulfilment of it which he has prescribed. And, if parents respond aright to this call and discharge this obligation, shall they do so in vain? Will not God, in that case, fulfil his promise, and be indeed a God unto their children? To infants, to whom, while they are yet infants, or subsequently, such a blessing flows from baptism, is baptism useless? But at present we are concerned with the design of baptism and not with the actual result of the administration of it; and, inasmuch as God, by means of baptism, deals with parents on behalf of their children in the manner we have indicated, this ordinance, it is evident has the most advantageous bearing on the eternal interests of the infants to whom it is applied.

And God deals in like manner with the church on behalf of infants, and lays it under a similar obligation, when he directs it to administer baptism to them. He requires of it that it give to them the full benefit of its solicitude, its prayers, and its ministrations, desiring and expecting for them the fulfillment of the great promise “that he will be a God unto them.” Thus, again, baptism has the most advantageous bearing on the eternal interests of the infants to whom it is applied.


The advocates of immersion, who hold, let it be remembered, not merely that immersion is a legitimate mode of baptism, but that it is the only legitimate mode of baptism, are in the habit of parading, in support of their dogma, a long list of quotations from some of the most distinguished of their opponents. To this method of maintaining their position there is, at the outset, the obvious objection, on logical grounds, that such quotations, presenting only at the best what uninspired men have said, are not evidence in the case. Though they were fully to the effect that immersion is the only legitimate mode of baptism, as the adducing of them in support of this position implies they are, they would be no proof that immersion is the only legitimate mode of baptism, and would furnish no ground for our believing that it is. But they are not to the effect that immersion is the only legitimate mode of baptism; and, therefore, to adduce them as supporting this view is disingenuous and disgraceful. What! Such men as Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Hervey, Doddridge, Whitefield, John Wesley, and Chalmers, and these and others are quoted, testifying and, therefore, holding that immersion is the only legitimate mode of baptism, and yet, in the face of this conviction, administering baptism themselves otherwise than by immersion! This is palpably a foul slander. Such men were incapable of acting such a part; of acting it, and that they did so is the implied allegation, deliberately, uniformly, to the close of their lives, and in a matter so solemn as the administration of a divine ordinance.

But the dishonesty of the procedure on which we are remarking does not consist merely in adducing, as witnesses for immersion as the only legitimate mode of baptism, men who testified by their practice and taught that it is not the only legitimate mode of baptism. The following instance affords painful proof that it is carried still further. One of the witnesses cited is Thomas Scott, the commentator; and his testimony, as quoted, is, “immersion is doubtless baptism.” Now, it is true that Scott uses these words, [Life of Rev. Thomas Scott by Rev. John Scott. p. 167. London. 1822.] but, then, they do not bear the meaning which the immersionist in quoting them expects will be attached to them. Scott does not say that baptism is immersion; that is, that baptism is, always and in every instance, immersion, this and nothing else; and, yet, our opponents adduce him as bearing this testimony. What he says is that immersion is baptism, and this, though we are required by those who quote his words to think so, in no way implies that sprinkling is not baptism. They propose the question, “Is baptism immersion or sprinkling?” and they adduce Scott as testifying that it is immersion, and not sprinkling, while his words even, as quoted by themselves, have, as we have just shown, no such meaning. But what will the reader think when we inform him, and this is the point to which we wish to call special attention, that after the words which they quote, “immersion is doubtless baptism,” Scott immediately adds, “and so is sprinkling or pouring.” This part of his evidence they suppress, and by a quotation thus garbled, which even when garbled does not assert their doctrine, they endeavour to gain the support of a name deservedly held in high estimation. The cause must indeed be wretched that imposes upon its advocates the necessity, a necessity, however, which ought not to be accepted, of resorting to such expedients.

The preceding specimen might suffice; but we will adduce another instance of similar dishonesty of quotation. The following garbled quotation is given from Ewing’s Greek and English Lexicon. “Baptizo, in its primary and radical sense, I cover with water. It is used to denote, first, I plunge, or sink completely under water.” By this quotation Mr. Ewing is represented as stating that “the primary and radical” meaning of baptizo is immerse, and thus, by inference, that immersion is the only legitimate mode of baptism. But to make the quotation serve this purpose, the omission of a clause is necessary, and, as if a Papist and not a Protestant conducted the operation, the necessary omission is quietly made. The reader is led to believe, shameful deception! that Mr. Ewing in defining baptizo, expressed himself thus, “in its primary and radical sense, I cover with water,” and on this point added no more; but he does add more, and adds what he himself regarded as being, and what really is an essential part of his definition. After the words quoted, “in its primary or radical sense, I cover with water,” he proceeds, “or some other fluid, in whatever manner this is done, whether by immersion or affusion, wholly or partially, permanently or for a moment.” Thus, while, by the deliberate mutilation and garbled quotation of his definition, he is made to testify that of the Greek word for baptise the primary meaning is immerse, the testimony which he actually bears is, that immerse is not the primary meaning of it. To speak plainly, for the case demands plain speaking, can those who thus grossly abuse the confidence which they claim to be reposed in them as faithful reporters of what they profess to quote, and abuse it for such a purpose, be regarded in any other light than as practising deception and uttering falsehood? For our part we emphatically say, “No.” And we say further that those who circulate, as we understand some do, publications, in which the vile artifice now exposed is employed, make themselves parties to the deception and falsehood which it involves.

This falsifying of testimony presents also other forms. Of one of these we will give an example. At the close of the array of quotations, of which we have just submitted a specimen, it is stated, “the names of Adam Clarke, Burkitt, and a host of others, might be added.” Now let the reader judge from the following bona fide ungarbled quotation whether Adam Clarke, for example, can be honestly referred to as testifying that “immersion” is “the only christian baptism.” We quote from his note on Matt. 3:6. “In what form baptism was originally administered has been deemed a subject worthy of serious dispute. Were the people dipped or sprinkled? for it is certain bapto and baptizo mean both. They were all dipped, say some. Can any man suppose that it was possible for John to dip all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea, and of all the country round about Jordan? Were both men and women dipped, for certainly both came to his baptism? This could never have comported either with safety or with decency. Were they dipped in their clothes? This would have endangered their lives if they had not with them change of raiment; and, as such a baptism as John’s, however administered, was, in several respects, a new thing in Judea, it is not at all likely that the people would come thus provided.” Farther on he says, “those who are dipped or immersed in water, in the name of the Holy Trinity, I believe to be evangelically baptised, those who are washed or sprinkled with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, I believe to be equally so; and the repetition of such a baptism I believe to be profane.” Such is Adam Clarke’s deliberate testimony, and, yet, immersionists refer to him as testifying that “immersion” is “the only christian baptism.”

The following extract from a pamphlet entitled, “Confessions of a convert from baptism in water to baptism with water,” of which a reprint has been recently issued in Sydney, will form an appropriate supplement to Dr. Clarke’s remarks on John’s baptism:

“Having satisfied myself on this point,” that the population of Judea, at the period which immediately preceded our Lord’s ministry, was not less than a million and a half, and that at least one-third of this number, or half a million, were baptised by John, “I proceeded to compute the period which must have been consumed in their immersion. From having frequently witnessed the practice, I knew that baptism by this mode could not be administered to an individual, with suitable deliberation and gravity, in less time than two minutes, and with the utmost despatch consistent with decorum, that more than thirty could not be immersed in an hour. Assuming this to be the average rate at which John performed the service, and supposing that he thus spent ten hours every day, I was conducted to the conclusion that he might baptise two thousand weekly, or about one hundred thousand in a year: from which it was evident, that had he spent no part of this time in travelling, preaching, or other employments, but continued almost without intermission in the water, he must have devoted five years of labour to this single work. I was confounded at the result of this calculation, for I knew, from previous thought and reading, that his public ministry could not have exceeded a year, and was probably restricted to a still less period. This enquiry shook my previous faith in the Divine authority of immersion; and it also recalled to my recollection a conversation which I had heard, a few months before, between my uncle and my father on the subject of John’s baptism, in which the question was proposed, whether, supposing that John’s disciples were immersed, they submitted to this process in their usual dress or naked; or, if not, whether they had brought changes of raiment with them for the purpose, and had constructed sheds or pitched tents on the banks of the river, in which they could privately prepare for the service? My excellent parent perceived the difficulty in which he would be involved by adopting either of these hypotheses; and, therefore, like the Pharisees, when pressed with another perplexing question respecting the same baptism, he prudently replied that he could not tell. My uncle, however, would not be satisfied with this evasion, and proceeded to show that each of the suppositions was equally improbable. He added, moreover, what struck me at the time, that as there must have been women as well as men who crowded at John’s ministry, nothing could be more unlikely, more contrary to the usage of the country and the people, or more revolting to the feelings and habits of Eastern females, than to have consented to be publicly plunged by a man in the presence of a gazing multitude.”

Permission to republish The Token of the Covenant has been granted by © 1984 Free Presbyterian Publications, 133 Woodlands Road, Glasgow G3 6LE. Copyright laws apply.

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