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Dr. Whitsitt's Last Deliverance

An Unpublished Article on Baptism
The Baptist World, February 23, 1911.

     Since the death of Dr. William H. Whitsitt many secular papers have circulated erroneous statements regarding his views on the subject of immersion. During the celebrated controversy a great deal was said by secular papers and sometimes by others which was wholly without warrant as to Dr. Whitsitt's views on the subject of immersion. The impression was made that he did not hold that the Scriptures teach immersion, but that immersion was adopted for the first time in 1641. All those who have read what Dr. Whitsitt has written on the subject know that is not a correct representation of his view. Dr. Whitsitt never for a moment doubted the scripturalness of immersion and never taught anything else.

     A very interesting fact has come to light since his death. President E. Y. Mullins is one of the editors of a Bible dictionary which is to be published in the not distant future. He requested Dr. Whitsitt to write an article on the subject of baptism from the Baptist point of view. Dr. Whitsitt's health was so

[p. 143]
bad that it was impossible for him to complete the article. He did, however, make a first draft and a partial presentation of the subject. He was not able to complete it, and hence it will not be possible for it to appear in the encyclopedia. We have secured from Dr. Mullins a copy of this article, which was furnished him by Mrs. Whitsitt at his request. We are sure our readers will be interested in reading one of the last things Dr. Whitsitt ever wrote on the subject of baptism, and they will be equally gratified to note how very clear is his note on the subject of immersion. Dr. Whitsitt used to say of himself that he was a "strenuous Baptist," meaning that he was a strict Baptist. And this article shows that his claim was not ill-founded. The extracts from the article are as follows:
"Baptist Position Concerning Immersion.

"1. Is immersion essential to Christian baptism? Yes, if we are to respect the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus was immersed in the river Jordan (Matthew 3:13-15). Moreover, we should all consider the emphasis which he placed upon immersion when he declared, 'Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.' It is essential to reverence the example and the character of Jesus.

"2. Is immersion essential to Christian baptism?

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Yes, if we wish to obey the divine command of our Saviour. When he was passing into the skies he left his disciples the following command: 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19). The word, baptizing, in the above paragraph signifies immersing. In the light of modern science and research, there can be no just doubt of the correctness of this fact.

"Upon these two arguments, namely, the example of Jesus and the direct divine command of Jesus, Baptists might be willing to rest their cause. In their opinion, the Lord Jesus is a divine man, transcending all other men who have figured in the world. His example and his command would appear to decide the argument.

"3. The Apostle Paul, in the epistle to the Romans, has buttressed about the example and the command of Jesus by an argument based upon symbolism. He says (Romans. 6: 4), 'Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father even so we also should walk in newness of life.' These words furnish an invaluable addition to the argument which Baptists have drawn from the example and command of our Saviour.

"Upon the basis of these facts and Scripture

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teachings immersion prevailed as the mode of baptism for many ages in the Christian church. The Greek Christians practiced it, though with less strenuous interest than the early Latin Christians. Perhaps neither of them was as strenuous as we could desire. Nevertheless, under the authority of Christ and his holy example, buttressed about and supported by the symbolism of Paul, immersion held its own for many centuries. It may be conceded that there were many cases of the 'Baptism of necessity,' but immersion held its own in spite of these.

"4. In the thirteenth century Thomas Aquinas arose, who made a large breach in the symbolism of Paul. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that he substituted, in the place of the symbolism of Paul, based upon burial, a new symbolism of his own, based upon washing. The new symbolism of washing became very popular and overthrew the cause of immersion in the western part of the Christian world. It is a gratifying circumstance that the symbolism of Thomas produced no effect in the eastern portion of the Christian world. There immersion was retained and is still retained.

"The symbolism of Thomas is found in his 'Summa Theologlae,' part 3, question 66, article 7: "On the contrary, Hebrews 10:22 says, 'Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from

[p. 146]
an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.'"

"The conclusion of Aquinas is that since water is employed in baptism for the cleansing of the body, baptism may be performed not only by immersion, but also by aspersion or effusion of water; nevertheless it is safer (because this is the more usual custom) to baptize by the mode of immersion."

Louisville, Ky.


[From The Baptist Message, SSB / SBC, 1911, pp. 142-146. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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