BAPTISM, derived from the Greek verb Bror '144,, to dip or tinge, is the initiatory rite in the Christian religion. Though the words of our Sa viour, recorded in Matti). xxiii. 19. are allowed to be the foundation of this ordinance, yet various opi nions have been entertained respecting its origin. Whilst some maintain, that it was never practised before the mission of John the Baptist, others affirm, that we ought to look for its origin among the an cient ceremonies of the Jews. Without entering the barren field of controversy, we may be allowed to remark, that as the baptism of Christ differed from that of John, so both differed, perhaps still more, from the washings which were called bap tisms by the Jews. It is, however, highly probable, that a ceremony prevailed at the initiation of prose lytes into the Jewish church, which bore a striking resemblance to baptism, and which, from its being known to the people to whom his religion was first proposed, might not only the idea to our Saviour, but also induce him to adopt it. If bap tism had been altogether unknown to the.Jews, they would have contemplated John's conduct with that astonishment which novelty always excites. But they were so far from expressing any surprise, that they spoke of baptism as a familiar rite, and said to him, " Why baptizest thou then, if thou be neither Christ nor Elias ?" John i. 25. Nor is it difficult to trace the source of their ideas of baptism. Not only was Moses commanded to wash Aaron and his sons at their consecration, but no person, who had tracted ceremonial impurity, was admitted into the sanctuary till it was -removed by washing. This law must have extended to the Gentiles, who became proselytes of righteousness, and who must have been introduced into the Jewish church by washing as well as circumcision. But though Arian, who calls one of the Jewish proselytes baptized, and the Mishna, composed about the beginning of the third century, prove that this was then practised ; yet the silence of Philo and Josephus, and the Tar gums, written about the close of the first century, has been adduced to prove, that it was unknown ir. the time of our Saviour. Had this been the case, however, we can never imagine that the inveterate pre judices of the Jews would allow them to have borrow ed that ceremony from his religion. Nor can it be said, that allowing baptism to have prevailed before John, yet as it was not expressly commanded by God, it was unworthy of our Saviour's attention.
For, though it is not mentioned by Moses, yet Ezekiel's allusion, xxxvi. 24, 25. gives it almost a divine sanction, and the conduct of Christ in the in stitution of his supper would correspond to his con duct• upon this occasion. As the Jews, without any command from God, concluded their passover by giving to every person a piece of bread and a cup of wine, our Saviour set aside, as the nature of his of fice required, the rites enjoined by Moses in that or dinance which he had then been commemorating, and retained the bread and cup added by the Jews. In the same manner, when instituting the initiatory rite of his religion, our Saviour set aside circumcision ap pointed by Moses, and retained the washing or bap tism added by the Jews. Impartiality, thetefore, leads us to conclude, that though the washing of proselytes in the Jewish church was different in some circumstances from baptism, yet it resembled it so far as to be a proper foundation on which our Sa viour might raise a nobler edifice.
Baptism, in the apostolic age, was performed by immersion. mmersion. Many writers of respectability main tain, that the Greek verb isx7r1ni;w, as well as its He brew synonyme, sometimes denotes sprinkling ; but the various passages to which they appeal, will lead every candid mind to a different conclusion. The circumstances recorded concerning the first admini stration of baptism are, likewise, incompatible with ' sprinkling. Had a small quantity of water been suf ficient, the inspired historian would never have said, that John baptized in the river Jordan, and in Enon, because there was much water there. The admini strators and the subjects of baptism are always de scribed as descending into the water, and again ascend ing out of it. When Paul affirms that we are bu ried with Christ in baptism, and raised again, he not only alludes to immersion, but, upon any other i supposition, there would be no propriety in the me taphor which he employs. We are likewise said to be saved by as. xisrea, the washing, or, by the bath, of regeneration ; where there is a manifest reference to baptism performed by immersion. Immediately af ter the apostolic age, however, trine immersion was introduced, either to signify the three persons of the Trinity, or the three days that Christ lay in the grave. But as the Arians, who arose in the fourth century, maintained that this implied that the three persons were three distinct substances, ,it was laid.. aside, for a short time, by the orthodox..