As long as a man preaches that baptism is administered by immersing the entire body under water, the whole world admits the action is right. So far as I know, there is not any religious body on earth which believes in baptism at all who will deny or challenge the Scripturalness of immersion. Until a very few years ago the Southern Presbyterian Church did indeed forbid immersion, but not because they thought it contrary to Bible teaching. They acknowledged that the Bible taught it, but declared that the practice of immersion seemed to give “too much emphasis” to a “form”, hence forbade immersion. About twenty years ago, however, they revised their creed on that point; and now permit immersion.
Historians of the world are agreed that immersion was the invariable practice of the apostolic church. They do not deny, but rather confirm, that the very first case of an individual’s being sprinkled which can be historically verified is to be dated from about the year 250 A.D. In this instance a famous heretic, Novation, thinking he was on his death-bed, and never having been baptized, had water sprinkled (or rather copiously poured) upon him, his bed, and over the whole floor of the sick room. Upon recovering from his serious illness, he refused to be immersed, and continued to the end of his life with the “clinic” or sick-room baptism. Only in extremely rare and scattered cases, and then only in cases that were considered desperate emergencies was this form of “baptism” administered. It was generally frowned upon even by the developing Romish church for over a thousand years. And it was not until the Council of Ravenna, in 1311 A.D., that this “clinic baptism” was finally adjudged by the Roman church to be an acceptable substitute for immersion. Even then it was not very widely practiced. The prevailing form of baptism continued to be an immersion until long after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
There is not a single passage in the Bible, of course, which teaches that plain, clean water, unmixed with any other substance, is ever commanded to be sprinkled upon anybody for any purpose. Such teaching simply is not there. Those who advocate sprinkling often refer to Ezk. 36:15, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean.” But the man who advocated sprinkling can not use this passage without at the same time condemning his doctrine concerning the NECESSITY or PURPOSE of baptism. He can NOT make the statement of Ezekiel refer to baptism for the simple reason that he does not believe baptism has anything to do with “making clean” the person who receives it! Ezekiel plainly connected the “sprinkling” and the “making clean”, and made the latter conditional on the former. But not so with the modern advocates of sprinkling. They hold to the very opposite view, and contend that baptism (sprinkling) does not make clean at all. Actually this passage from Ezekiel has nothing to do with baptism at all. The water that is here referred to is “clean water” or “water of cleansing.” It was to be sprinkled upon those who had become ceremonially unclean or defiled. Israel had been in Babylonian captivity, and had become defiled by their contact with idolaters and other unclean things. God had ordained that in such cases the “water of cleansing” should be sprinkled on those who were to be made ceremonially clean. This “water of cleansing” is described in Numbers chapter 19, verses 17 through 19. It was to be prepared by taking the ashes of a red heifer, mixing them with running water, and having the mixture in a vessel from which it was sprinkled with hyssop. This is the “sprinkling” about which Ezekiel prophesied. He was foretelling the return from the Babylonian captivity; God had promised to gather Israel up, bring her back from her bondage, and when this happened, He would “sprinkle” them with the “water of cleansing.” This does not refer to unmixed water, but rather to the ceremonial water.
The Hebrew writer contrasts the use of unmixed water in the New Testament with the sprinkling of the water of cleansing. He declares, “having our bodies washed with pure water, and having our heart sprinkled from an evil conscience.” (Heb. 10:22). It is the heart that is to be sprinkled, not the body; furthermore, the heart is to be sprinkled with the blood of Christ. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13,14). Just as the sprinkled blood upon the doorpost of the Israelite home in ancient Egypt protected that family when the angel of death passed over the land, so the blood of Christ, sprinkled upon the heart, will protect the sinner from the con- sequences of his sin. The blood of Christ is sprinkled upon the heart, but the body is washed (not sprinkled) with pure water — that is, water which is NOT “mixed with the ashes of a heifer.” Leave out the ashes of the red heifer, leave out the scarlet wool and hyssop; take nothing but water, and let the body be WASHED in that water, and you have the New Testament act of baptism. Sprinkling is not baptism in either the Old Testament or the New. It comes by human authority, not divine; it is a substitute for what God commanded.