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Dr. N. L. Rice [Presbyterian] and Immersion
By James M. Pendleton, 1855
      I noticed some weeks ago that Dr. Rice in his "Historical Discourse," delivered in Nashville, was represented as saying "immersion was never considered essential to baptism till the sixteenth century." I charitably supposed the reporter had done Dr. R. injustice, and hence concluded to make no comments on the strange declaration attributed to him until sufficient time had elapsed for him to correct the statement. He has now had sufficient time, and the statement, so far as I know, remaining unmodified, I infer that Dr. R did make it. and still adheres to it. I understand him, then, as asserting that "immersion was never considered essential to baptism till the sixteenth century."

      I will do Dr. R. justice. He does not say immersion was not practiced till the sixteenth century, but was not considered essential to baptism, &c. Here I join issue with Dr. R. I affirm that immersion was considered essential to baptism before the sixteenth century. And I may say at once, that as immersion is more inconvenient than pouring or sprinkling wherever it is practiced, there is no weak proof that it is regarded essential to baptism. All who immerse exclusively do of course, consider immersion essential to baptism. And when immersion is administered by Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, though the administrators may no think it essential to baptism, the candidates for baptism evidently do, for otherwise they would give the preference to affusion as more convenient. It follows, therefore, that wherever immersion is practiced, it is considered, either by the administrator and the subject, or at any rate, by the subject essential to baptism. And if this is the case now, why was it not the case before the sixteenth century? Why was immersion practiced then at all, if it was not thought essential to baptism, when it is never practiced now unless it is so considered? Can Dr. R. tell?

      I now adduce some testimony in favor of immersion from the days of the apostles.

      Robert Hall (our opponents cannot object to him for they often make him a witness) says: "With respect to the mode we prefer, that of immersion none will contend that this was not the primitive mode." [Hall's Works, vol. iv, p. 491.]

      Calvin in his Commentary on Acts 8:33 says: "Here we see the rite used among the men of old time in baptism, for they put all the body into the water." "The word baptize means to immerse, and the rite of immersion was practiced by the ancient church."

      Chalmers, in his "Lectures on Romans," (Lecture xxx) says: "The original meaning of the word baptism, is immersion, and though we regard it as a point of indifferency, whether the ordinance so named be performed in this way, or by sprinkling, yet we doubt not that the prominent style of the of the administration in the apostles' days, was by actual submerging of the whole body under water."

      Dr. Whitby, in his Commentary on Romans 6:4 says, "It being so expressly declared here and Colossians 2:12, that we are 'buried with Christ in baptism,' by being buried under water, and the argument to oblige us to a conformity to his death by dying to sin, being taken hence, and this immersion being religiously observed by all Christians for thirteen centuries, and approved by our church, and the change of it into sprinkling, even without any allowance from the author of the institution, or any license from any council of the church, being that which the Romanist still urgeth to justify his refusal of the cup to the laity, it were to be wished that this custom might be again of general use, and aspersion only permitted, as of old, in the case of the Clinici [?], or in present danger of death. "

      Prof. Stuart, quoting Augustin, who refers to the ancient practice of immersion as "a thing made out," says: "So indeed, all the writers who have thoroughly investigated the subject, conclude. I know of no one usage of ancient times which seems to be more clearly and certainly made out. I cannot see how it is possible for any candid man who examines the subject, to deny this."

      Again: "The mode of baptism by immersion, the Oriental Church has always continued to preserve, even down to the present time. The members of the church are accustomed to call the members of the Western churches, sprinkled Christians by way of ridicule and contempt. They maintain that baptizo can mean nothing but immerse, and that baptism by sprinkling is as great a solecism as immersion by aspersion." [Stuart on Baptism, pp. 75, 76.]

      Coleman, in his recent work entitled "Ancient Christianity Exemplified," referring to immersion, says: "In the primitive church, immediately subsequent to the age of the apostles, this was undeniably the common mode of baptism. The utmost that can be said of sprinkling in that early period is, that it was, in case of necessity, permitted as an exception to a general rule. This fact is so well established that it were needless to adduce authorities in proof of it."

      Again: "It is a great mistake to suppose that baptism by immersion was discontinued when infant baptism became generally prevalent. The practice of immersion continued even until the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Indeed, it has never been formally abandoned; but is still the mode of administering baptism in the Greek Church and in several of the Eastern churches." [pages 395, 396]

      I had thought of quoting from Dr. Wall, Neander, and others, but I am unwilling to make my article too long. And what is the use of more quotations? He that believes not these, would not believe a thousand witnesses. All from whom I have quoted are Pedobaptists, except Robert Hall.

      In view of the fact that Calvin and Chalmers (Presbyterians) say that in apostolic times "all the body," "the whole body" was put under water, will Dr. Rice say that "immersion was never essential to baptism till the sixteenth century?" While Dr. Whitby (Episcopalian) says, "immersion was religiously observed by all Christians for thirteen centuries," will Dr. R. venture to say it was not "considered essential to baptism till the sixteenth century?" Observed 1300 years as baptism, was it, before it was deemed essential to baptism! This is too absurd.

      While the Oriental Church has always continued to preserve immersion and uses the phrase 'sprinkled Christians, by way of ridicule and contempt,' Maintaining 'that baptize can mean nothing but immerse, and that baptism by sprinkling is as great a solecism as immersion by aspersion," will Dr. R persist in saying that "immersion was not considered essential to baptism till the sixteenth century?" He would come much nearer the historical fact in the case, if he would say that immersion was generally considered essential to baptism till the sixteenth century, during which century Calvin drew up a "Liturgy," "the first in the world," says Dr. Wall, "that prescribes affusion absolutely." I will notice, ere long, some other things Dr. Rice says.
      J. M. P.

[From the Tennessee Baptist, August 18, 1855, p. 2, from CD edition of microfilm. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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