Charles A. Stillman.

Sprinkling and pouring, spiritual modes of baptism: a sermon, preached by order of the Presbytery of Tuskaloosa, and published by their request online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryCharles A. StillmanSprinkling and pouring, spiritual modes of baptism: a sermon, preached by order of the Presbytery of Tuskaloosa, and published by their request → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



— §J0ffe









Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

Lyrasis Members and Sloan Foundation


toijjfopl JWss 4 §a$tt8ra.

< ■ <#> i >

<v Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and yo shall be clean ; from
nil your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart
will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you : and I will take
away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of
flesh."— Ezekiel sxxvi : 25, 26.

"And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit
upon all flesh." — Joel ii : 28, first clause.

We have chosen these two passages from the ancient
prophets, as the foundation of the present discourse, not
merely because they contain terms descriptive of certain
modes of baptism practiced by ourselves in common with the
great mass of the Christian church, but mainly because the} 7
set forth in such clear light that which is the essence of this
gospel ordinance. The prophet Ezekiel here foretells of that
great spiritual cleansing which God designed to perform
through the gospel of his Son. And the prophet Joel pre-
dicts that glorious and wide-spread "ministration of the
Spirit," which began on the day of Pentecost; by^he agency
of which sinners were then, and are now, cleansed from sin.
We are thus brought into contact with the very heart of
the gospel — its saving doctrines, influences and effects.
And it is here, brethren, we should ever go to learn the real
nature of the Christian religion — the spirit of its observ-
ances and the design and meaning, and as far as necessary,
the form of its ordinances. Instead of allowing the outwar I
form to control our views of the substance, we should reverse
the process. "We freely admit the necessity of outward forms
and ceremonies, in a religion designed for man, and that those
which God has appointed should be carefully and sacredly


observed. But where there exists any doubt in regard to
these, we insist that the proper method of removing it is to
learn their meaning and design — the spiritual truth or opera-
tion of which lies at their basis — the great idea which is
designed to be embodied iia these outward forms.

Hence we begin our inquiry, to-day, in regard to the mode
of baptism, by asking — What is its real meaning and design?
Baptism is defined in our standards to be " a sacrament of
the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for
the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible
church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the cove-
nant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration,
of remission of sins, and of his giving unto God, through
Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life." We use this not
as authority but as a convenient statement of what we
regard the word of God as teaching. Now while we find
here and in the Scriptures, several items included in Christian
baptism, yet we find one leading idea pervading them all, in
which we conceive exists the essence of this ordinance. This
idea is spiritual cleansing, or purification. But, inasmuch as
there are two parties, properly speaking, God and the subject,
the subject not merely receives the symbol of purification,
but is also consecrated — set apart — to the service of God.
Yet it is evident that this consecration depends upon the
spiritual cleansing — flows from it — is its practical result, and
its co-relative. If the cleansing is real, so will be the con-
secration : if only ceremonial or outward, there will be only
a professed consecration. The latter, therefore, is the second-
ary, while the former, i. e., spiritual cleansing, is the primary
and essential idea embodied in this sacrament. This view,
we believe, covers every instance in which baptism is spoken
of in the Bible ; whether relating to inward spiritual baptism
by the spirit and blood of Christ, the outward ordinance or
its figurative applications.

First, then, I remark, that as the initiatory ordinance of the
gospel, fitly and necessarily symbolizes a spiritual cleansing and
consecration. The gospel comes to man as a sinner, finds him
guilty and defiled; and it saves only by cleansing him from
sin. Therefore, when God enters into relations with him,
whether spiritual or outward, he can do so only by a transac-
tion which recognizes the great facts, that man needs to be
cleansed from sin and that the gospel provides that cleansing.
This is the grand idea of the gospel, and hence appropriately


of this gospel ordinance. Therefore, baptism is properly
called "a sign and seal of the covenant of grace;" it signifies
the essential facts and doctrines of that covenant on which
our salvation depends; and it seals its benefits to all who
take hold of it by faith.

Now, in accordance with this general view, I remark,
secondly, that the Scriptures repwsent baptism as symbolizing th
sinner's cleansing in /■<>/< neration by the Holy Spirit. For exam-
ple, Paul says (Titus iii: 5:) "He saved us by the washing
of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost." This
plainly refers to an outward or eermonial cleansing as a sym-
bol of the new birth, and yet in such a way as to exclude the
idea of baptismal regeneration. Again ; in Ephesians (v: 26 :)
"that he might sanctify and cleanse it (his church) with the
washing of water by the word." The word is the means; but
there is evident reference to baptism as the sign of this cleans-
ing. The same is true of what he says to the Corinthians :
" but ye are washed, ye are sanctified" In all these and simi-
lar passages the main thing spoken of is inward purification,
but there is also reference to an outward symbol of that

But furthermore, there can be no doubt that the agent and
cause of regeneration and sanctifkation by which the sinner is
el rnscd front depravity is the Holy Spirit. This is his peculiar
office and work. In the first verse of our text from Ezekiel
i promises to cleanse his people; in the second verse he
explains by promising them a new heart; and in the verse
following, he points out the agency by which this would be
effected, by promising to put his Spirit within them.
Throughout both the Old and New Testament, the Holy
Spirit is represented as the agent of this purification of men.
But the descent and operation of the Holy Spirit upon the
hearts of men are repeatedly called a baptism. From this it
follows inevitably that the leading idea of baptism is a spir-
itual cleansing. Thus, John the Baptist said of Civ
(Mark i : 8 :) " I indeed baptize you with water; but he shall
baptize you with the Holy Ghost." Now, when and how did
Christ do this? After his resurrection when he appeared to
his disciples, he referred to this prediction of John, and
added (Acts i: 15,) "but ye shall be baptized with the Holy
Ghost not many days hence." Accordingly, on the day of Pen-
tecost, the Holy Spirit desceuded upon the assembled disci-
ples and unon many others. :n .1 ihns w;js fulfilled the, iiredie-


tion in our text from Joel, as well as that which John the
Baptist uttered, as Peter declared on that occasion. Now, it
is true, that one of the grand results of this outpouring of
the Holy Spirit was to confer upon the disciples miraculous
gifts. But (1) even in reference to this it is appropriately
called a baptism, as being their full and final consecration to
the great work to which God called them. There is no
doubt, however, (2) that this pouring out of the Spirit was
attended by important moral or spiritual effects even upon
the disciples ; conferring a far higher degree of sanctification
than they previously possessed. But (3) in addition to this,
there were three thousand conversions on that day — showing
how extensively the Spirit carried on his work of cleansing by
regeneration. Surely, this was a part of his baptism.
(4.) When John predicted the baptism of the Spirit, he did
not confine it to the disciples, but spoke of it as something
which would be enjoyed by many of his hearers. Neither (5) was
it in fact confined to the disciples, nor to those who possessed
miraculous gifts. Thousands were converted to God under
this ministration of the Spirit who had no such gifts.
(6.) The text from Joel is an express prediction that the
Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh, and that, as we
have seen, began to be fulfilled by the spiritual baptism at
Pentecost. From these considerations, we see plainly, that
baptism with the Holy Spirit includes not only his extraordinary
gifts, but his ordinary work in the renewal and sanctification of

But regeneration and sanctification do not constitute the
entire cleansing needed by the sinner. He is guilty as well
as depraved. Hence he needs pardon as well as a new heart.
Accordingly we find, in the third place, that the Scriptures
represent baptism as symbolizing the cleansing of the sinner by the
blood of Christ. We need not show here that his actual
deliverance from guilt is secured by the atonement, but only
that this is signified by baptism. To see this, you need only
observe, (1st) that Ananias said to Saul, (Acts xxii : 16,)
"Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins." No man's
sins can be washed away, in fact, except by the blood of
Christ ; hence this baptism was designed to symbolize the
application of that blood. (2d.) Peter, addressing the mul-
titude at Pentecost, (Acts ii : 38,) said, "Repent and be
baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for


"The like figure whereunto even baptism, cloth also now
save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but
the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resur-
rection of Jesus Christ." Here the sign is outward baptism —
"the putting away the filth of the flesh." The thing signi-
fied is inward baptism — "the answer of a good conscience
toward God," — which is secured only by the forgiveness of
sin — showing plainly that the spiritual signification of this
ordinance includes cleansing from guilt by the blood of Christ,
Thus we find in the various instances in which the Scriptures
speak of Christian baptism, with direct reference to its sym-
bolical import, the view we have taken is fully sustained.

Even the baptism of John, though not Christian baptism,
contained chiefly, if not exclusively, this idea of spiritual
cleansing. It was always called the baptism of repentance.
All its subjects professed repentance for sin, which involved,
of course, a moral purification. In accordance with this, we
read in John iii: 25 — "Then there arose a question between
some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying," and
the context clearly shows that this dispute related to baptism;
thus establishing the meaning we have given to this rite.
And still further, as we have seen, John represented his bap-
tism as a prophetic symbol of purification by the Holy Spirit
by which Christ was to baptize.

But then we find the Lord Jesus Christ submitting to be
baptized by John. What did the rite signify in this case?
Certainly not purification in the ordinary sense of a cleansing
from sin — but, nevertheless, in a sense common in the Scrip-
tures — the sense of consecration — separation to a holy work —
often used synonymously with sanctification. Our Saviour
was just entering on his actual work, as the High Priest of
his people. He therefore " submitted to all righteousness " by
yielding a substantial compliance with the divine law for the
consecration of the High Priest. This is indeed the only
sense in which we can regard this ceremony as appropriately
performed upon the pure and spotless Pedeemer. But even
on the supposition, adopted by many, that by submitting to
this rite our Saviour designed to set an example to his follow-
ers, the symbolical import of his act would correspond with
the view we have presented of the leading idea of baptism.

It is in a sense similar to the above that our Saviour applied
the term baptism to his final sufferings in replying to the

nmViitirma vnrmoat q£ tli.i U\-n «mw nf r /r-1uvW " A TO vt> nhle


to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to he baptized
with the baptism that I am to be baptized with ?" It was by
his actual death that our Savior was fully set apart as both
the High Priest of God and also the sacrifice offered for siu.
He had indeed been the lamb of God slain from the founda-
tion of the world, and in like manner the High Priest to
offer that sacrifice. But now comes the consummation of
this whole transaction. He approaches the very altar. He
places himself thereon as the appointed, chosen and devoted
victim. The consecration thus becomes the great and terri-
ble reality. He experiences the baptism of blood. Hence
Paul says, (Hebrews, x: 29,) that Christ "-was sanctified by the
blood of the covenant." He was thus fully set apart as both the
Priest and Sacrifice to appear for us in the Heavenly Sanc-
tuary. It was with a similar meaning he said himself (John
xvii: 19:) "For their sakes 1 sanctify myself" which modern
expositors unanimously acknowledge refers to his sacrificial
death. (Oldshauseu in loco.) It is true our Savior told
these two disciples that they should experience a similar
baptism, and yet their violent deaths were not attended by the
same results; but it is also true, that by their baptism of blood
they completed their self-consecration to the service of God.

But we find this secondary idea of separation unto a holy
service, in other passages also; as, for example, where the
Israelites are said to have been " baptized unto Moses, in the
cloud and in the sea." By that cloud which was light to
them and dark to the Egyptians, and that sea which drowned
vast numbers of their enemies and then stood between them
and their remaining enemies, they were set apart and sepa-
rated to be God's people, under the leadership of Moses.
The reference is not to any mode of baptism but to its spir-
itual import, — and if to any mode, certainly not to immersion.
In like manner those passages which speak of Christians as
"baptized into Christ" and li into his body," and "into his death,"
refer to the spiritual meaning of baptism — that inward pro-
cess which it represents — separation from sin and the world —
regeneration and union with Christ. It is only in this view that
we can give to them any consistent interpretation.

This is specially true of the disputed passages in Romans and
Collossians, in which Christians are spoken of as "buried with
Christ in baptism." The reference here is not at all to the
mode of outward baptism, but to the effect of inward baptism.
The passage repels the infidel cavil that Christians will sin be-


cause grace abouucls. How docs Paul repel it ? He says Christ-
ians arc " dead to sin — how then can they live any longer there-
in ?" This is true only of true Christians ; not of all the outward-
ly baptized. But how have Christians become thus dead to sin?
He replies, " So many of us as were baptized into Jesus ( Ihrist,
were baptized into his death." Now, Christ died in order to
deliver his people from sin — not only its penalty but also its
power, so that they should be "dead to sin. By spiritual,
not by outward baptism, Christians are vitally united to
Christ and to all that Christ did and suffered; so that they
experience the results of his obedience and death. Thus
as Christ died, was buried was raised again, to show
the complete success of his atonement, all Christians are said
to be identified with him in this whole process, and they arc
made one with him by their spiritual baptism. And as
Christ, having died for their sins rose again for their justi-
fication, so they having died unto sin, now live again in
newness of life. The whole force of Paul's argument depends
upon giving to baptism a spiritual signification. To make it
refer to any mere form of this ordinance is to destroy its
force and pervert its meaning ; while to use those passages
to prove that baptism is a symbol of the death, burial and
resurrection of Christ is to go counter to the whole current
of Bible-teaching, as to the meaning of this gospel sacrament.
To be consistent with this view, its advocates are bound to
show a resemblance between immersion and crucifixion ; since
Christians are said to be crucified with Christ, in this same
connection and with reference to the same point.

Such, then, as we learn from God's word, is the real meaning
of Christian baptism. It is a symbol of spiritual cleansing and
it invoices on the part of its subjects a consecration to God the
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, in whose name they are baptized.

Now, the form of (Ids ordinance should, of course, express
this, its grand meaning. Accordingly, we find first of all,
that water is the i lement to be used — clean water — the universal
emblem of purification. No one doubts this ; and all must
sec how appropriate it is for an ordinance representing spir-
itual cleansing. Had baptism been a symbol of death and
burial, then earth or a care or sepulchre, would have been the
better emblem.

Again; this water must be applied to the subject in such a way
as to represent a cleansing. But there are several ways to do
this; and where the exact form is not, ovi.n.^lr ,1ntii,,.,l in


the Scriptures, any form is lawful which expresses the great idea
of the ordinance; while that is to be preferred which is most accord-
ant with the general current of scripture upon the subject. Follow-
ing this rule, our standards declare that — "Baptism is rightly
administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person."

It might seem that the more water used, and the more
generally it is applied to the person, the better it would be
suited to symbolize a cleansing. But this is only a partial
and human view, and does not accord with God's actual
method in regard to all symbols and ceremonies. He looks
upon man not merely as requiring outward forms in religion,
but also as universally prone to exalt, magnify and depend upon
outward forms, and thus to overlook and lose the substance.
"While, therefore, He meets the want of our nature, He takes
care to guard against its infirmity. Accordingly, we see this
'general law pervading all his ordinances — viz : The symbol
must be sufficiently plain and conspicuous, clearly to suggest
and set forth the great idea or meaning of the ordinance, in
distinction from all other ideas or meanings ; but at the same
time, not so conspicuous in form, not so imposing, not includ-
ing so much action and outward ceremony as to tempt men
to attach undue importance to the outward form — to rely
upon it — to put it in the place of the thing signified. There
must be enough of the external to aid and express faith; not
enough to encourage superstition ; enough to help us to see
the Saviour; not enough to tempt us to make a Saviour of it;
enough to give form to our spiritual obedience to Christ ; not
enough to make us feel that it is the obedience of Christ.

This law we find, not as a mere supposed analogy but as a
fact, pervading all of God's appointments of religious service
under both dispensations. We find it especially in those
which symbolize spiritual cleansing. For, though baptism is
peculiar to the aSTew Testament, the idea contained in it is as
old as the gospel itself. Nothing was so abundantly symbol-
ized under the old dispensation as man's cleansing from sin.
Both water and olood were used to express this. Now how
were these applied ? How did God symbolize tbe cleansing
of sinners under a dispensation which itself foreshadowed and
symbolized the gospel ? We are left in no doubt here. The
modes are here very minutely described. For example, when
a leper was cleansed, he was simply sprinkled with the blood
of a slain bird, mingled with water. This expressed suffi-


the leprosy itself had covered his whole body. True, he was
afterward washed, but he was pronounced ceremonially clean
immediately after the sprinkling, showing that to be the
essential part of the ceremony. So, when one was cleansed
from the defilement of a dead body sprinkling was the chief
ceremony. It was that which cleansed him, in the sight of
God ; for, though other applications of water were added,
yet it was expressly said of any one who remained defiled,
"the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him ;
he is unclean." Then, again, we have the comprehensive
statement of Paul in Hebrews : "For when Moses had spoken
every precept to the people, 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, saying this is the blood of
the covenant which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover,
he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels
of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged
with blood." Thus this mere sprinkling had the effect of
purging ceremonially all persons and things to which it was
applied. Hence David prayed, " Purge me with hyssop and I
shall be clean," referring to the little sprig or bush which was
dipped in the blood and then used to sprinkle that blood upon
the persons or things to be cleansed. This was considered
amply sufficient by an all-wise God. Not even all the blood,
though of the smallest victims, was used ; nor was the whole
person of the worshipper, nor the whole body of the altar or
tabernacle suffused with blood. A few drops symbolized the
required cleansing most fully. In like manner a Levite was
cleansed for the Lord's servi u by sprinkling. It is expressly said,
" And thus shalt thou do unto them to cleanse them ; sprinkle
water of purifying upon them." When Aaron was consecrated
the blood was put merely upon the tips of his right ear, of
his thumb, and of his great toe — and both the blood and the
anointing oil were sprinkled upon him: and yet his whole
person was duly consecrated to God's service.

That all these ceremonies represented spiritual cleansing
and consecration is clear, from the whole tenor of Scripture.
"We see it in the very terms used, and in all the subsequent
references to them both in the Old and New Testament.

Now, if we find this law or method of cleansing by only a
partial application of the element, pervading an economy
distinguished as ceremonial and external, much more must

■ — I — — —


an admirable illustration of it in the incident of our Savior's
washing the feet of the disciples. This, though not an ordi-
nance, was a symbolical action. It was both a lesson of
humility and a representation of spiritual cleansing, as the
narrative clearly shows. Peter having objected to receiving
such a service from his honored Master, Jesus told him it was
necessary, or he could have no part with him. Seeing so
much depended upon it, Peter, with his usual extravagance —
his disposition to overdo whatever he did heartily, and in
his proneness, at that time at least, to exalt and rely upon the
outward, sign, cried out — "Lord, not my feet only, but also
my hands and my head." As much as to say, I need an
entire cleansing; therefore, I need the symbol of it to be ap-
plied to my every part. Jesus replied, "He that is washed
needeth not, save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit."
This, though having no reference to baptism accords fully
with the view we have taken of symbolical actions, viz : that
application of water to one part sufficiently expresses the idea
of spiritual cleansing.

JSTow, there is only one other sacrament of the New Testa-
ment besides baptism. Let us see whether our view is sus-
tained by the form of that ordinance. The Lord's Supper
presents the provision of salvation through Christ, under the
idea of nourishment given and received for the life of the soul.
The bread represents the body of Christ. But must the loaf
equal in size the body of the Saviour in order to be a correct
symbol ? Or must there be a quantity of wine provided, and


Online LibraryCharles A. StillmanSprinkling and pouring, spiritual modes of baptism: a sermon, preached by order of the Presbytery of Tuskaloosa, and published by their request → online text (page 1 of 2)