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greenJBJames Benjamin Green was born on May 10, 1871 to parents Curtis and Sarah Hammond Green, and died on September 8, 1967, at the age of 96. He had received his education at the Peabody Teachers College, Nashville, TN (1889-1891) and the University of Nashville (1891-1893, BA), with postgraduate  work there, (1895-96), followed by his preparation for the ministry at the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, 1898-1901.

He was both licensed and ordained in 1901 by Columbia Presbytery, and installed as pastor of the Frierson Memorial Presbyterian church in Columbia, Tennessee, serving there from 1901 through 1903. He then answered a call to serve as pastor of the church in Fayetteville, TN, 1903-1907. His third pulpit and longest pastorate was with the Presbyterian church in Greenwood, SC, where he labored from 1908 to 1921. From this pulpit he was then called to serve as professor of Systematic Theology at the Columbia Theological Seminary, 1921-1950. Announcing his intent to retire in 1946, he was that same year elected to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly (PCUS). Other honors awarded during his life included the Doctor of Divinity degree, conferred by the Presbyterian College of South Carolina (1914) and the Doctor of Letters degree, conferred by Southwest College (1940).

It was on this day, August 14, 1957, that The Southern Presbyterian Journal published an article by Dr. Green on the subject of baptism, which we take the liberty of reproducing here in full. Demand for the article was such that the Journal saw fit to issue it in tract form, publishing at least four editions in the years that followed. While this might be a longer post than you care to read right now, it would certainly be worth printing and filing away for future use.

WHY WE BAPTIZE BY SPRINKLING
by Rev. J. B. Green, D.D.
Columbia Theological Seminary Decatur, Ga.

We differ from our immersionist friends not only in our view of the mode, but also in our view of the meaning of baptism. They think  that baptism points to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We object to that in­terpretation:

  1. green_1957_sprinklingBecause it is generally agreed that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper refers to the death and resurrection of Christ. If baptism also signifies the death and resurrection of Christ, then we have two Sacraments which are signs and symbols of the same facts of the life of Christ. Why this double representation of these facts? In that case we have no sign and symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament it was not so. There the passover pointed to the work of Christ, but cir­cumcision pointed to the work of the Holy Spirit. For circumcision meant the putting away of carnality, the removal of the sinful flesh. This is the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit. Bap­tism means the same thing; it means the wash­ing away of sin. We object to the immersion- ist’s view of the meaning of baptism for another reason. The burial of Christ has no redemptive value. Christ would have saved the world if he had not been buried. Why should a rite be ordained to signify a fact which is not essen­tial to the accomplishment of salvation?

We think that baptism represents the work of the Holy Spirit. Why do we so think? For several reasons. There are three Bible symbols of the Holy Spirit. One is oil. In 1 Samuel 10:1-6 we have an account of the anointing of Saul by Samuel, setting him apart to the King­ship. The oil was poured on Saul’s head, and in connection with that anointing the Holy Spirit came upon him.

In I Samuel 16th chapter we have an account of the anointing of David by Samuel. The oil ’ was poured upon David’s head and the Spirit came upon him. These passages indicate that the anointing with oil is typical of the anoint­ing with the Holy Spirit.

Another symbol of the Spirit is water. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, the Lord Jehovah says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you . . . And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them.” The gift of the spirit is associated with the sprinkling with water. In Matthew 3:16, there is an ac­count of two baptisms. One with water, one with the Spirit. The water baptism was sym­bolic of the Spirit baptism. In John 7:37-38, Jesus stood and cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that be- lieveth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that be­lieve on him were to receive.”

The third symbol is fire. In Acts 2:3-4, we * have an account of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the first group of believers. “There appeared unto them tongues parting asunder like as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

These symbols point to the Spirit and his work, and not to Christ and his redemptive action.

Now by what mode were these symbols ap­plied? The oil was poured upon the head. The water, throughout the Jewish dispensation, was sprinkled or poured, and the fire descended upon the heads of the believers.

There is one other passage to which I must t direct your attention: 1 John 5:8, “There are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one.” These three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood agree, says the Apostle. In what re­spect? In meaning for one thing, they all signify cleansing. Do they not agree also in mode? The blood was always sprinkled. The water of puri­fication among the Jews was always sprinkled. And the Spirit, as we shall see, always descended upon.

It thus appears from Scripture that water bap­tism symbolizes the work of the Spirit. If so, it should not be supposed that the mode of baptism is by immersion.

But some — many — say that the question of mode is settled by the word baptizo, the Greek word which gives the name to the rite. We do not think so. The Greek word for the Lord’s Supper, the second Sacrament, does not settle the question of the mode of its administration. The Greek word for the Supper is deipnon, which signifies a full meal; a table spread with sufficient food to satisfy a man’s hunger. The Greek Christians at Corinth, perhaps reasoning from the meaning of that word, misobserved the Lord’s Supper; and the Apostle had to cor­rect them. 1 Corinthians 11:20-22. If reasoning from the literal meaning of the classic word for the second Sacrament leads to error, may not reasoning from the literal meaning of the word for the first Sacrament also lead to error? It not only may, but does.

In the Lord’s Supper we have not a physical feast, as the word for it suggests, but physical signs of a spiritual feast. In baptism we have not a physical bath, but a physical sign of a spiritual cleansing. A small quantity of bread and wine is sufficient to signify a spiritual ban­quet. And a little water is sufficient as a sign of spiritual purifying.

But it is contended by many that baptizo always means to dip, to plunge, etc. Not in the Bible.

At the beginning of my ministry in Tennessee I attended a debate on the subject of the mode of baptism between a Baptist minister and a min­ister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The Baptist brought many books of authority by which he intended to prove that baptizo always means to dip, to plunge, etc. The Cumberland Presbyterian brought only his Bible. He said he proposed to show that baptizo in the Bible does not mean to immerse. What he proposed to do, he did.

Some years ago a Baptist publishing house in the north requested Dr. Edmund B. Fairfield to prepare a book in defense of the Baptist view of the mode of baptism. This man had been a Baptist minister for more than a quarter of a century, and no man was more certain of being right than he was. He said he had no doubt on the subject. For two years he investigated the evidence relating to the mode of baptism. To his surprise, the farther he went in his investigation, the more he saw that the evidence was against the Baptist position. In the presence of his accumulated evidence, honesty required him to surrender his former view. He wrote a book, but it was on the other side of the question.

I will now give you instances of the use of the word in the New Testament where baptizo does not, cannot, mean to immerse. Luke 11:37-38: There we are told that a Pharisee asked Jesus to dine with him; and Jesus went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he mar­veled that he had not first bathed himself before dinner. The word there rendered bathed, is the word baptizo. Was the Pharisee surprised that Jesus did not first immerse himself before sitting down to meat? Impossible!

Hebrews: The author in the 9th chapter is describing the ordinances of divine service in the old sanctuary. “The priest offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot as touching the con­science make the worshipper perfect, being only (with meats, drinks, and divers washings) carnal ordinances.” The word rendered washing is baptizmois. These washings were called bap­tisms. There were many washings, purifyings, among the Jews, but no immersions.

The third instance of the use of the word bap­tizo, where it cannot mean immerse, is in the accounts of the baptisms with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptizer, (would you say John the Immerser?) says: “I indeed baptize you with water; but there cometh he that is mightier than I; . . .He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Was baptism with the Holy Spirit by im­mersion? Was anybody ever immersed in the Holy Spirit? The idea is foreign to Scripture, foreign to reason. The Spirit was always applied to the person, never the person to the Spirit. The same is true of water in the Bible. It is always applied to the person, and that by sprinkling. The immersionist applies the person to the water, we apply the water to the person, that is the Bible way, there is no exception.

The same is true of the use of blood in the Bible, as we have seen. There is a song we some­times sing:

“There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.”

I like the music, but not words of the first stanza. The words are thoroughly unscriptural. When was any sinner ever plunged beneath a flood of the blood!

Let Peter tell you how the blood was applied. His First Epistle addressed to the “elect . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit unto obedi­ence and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” And listen to the author of Hebrews: “Having a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water …” 10:21-22. The washing with pure water is a reference to water baptism. In the passage there are two cleansings, the cleansing of the body and the cleansing of the heart. It says that the heart was cleansed by sprinkling. Was the body cleansed by immersion?

Now all will agree that the greater, the better baptism, is the Spirit baptism. John says: “I baptize you with water, but he that cometh after me shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John’s baptism was typical of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit was the real, the important baptism. For the mode of it, read Joel’s prophecy: “It shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit in all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions and also upon the servants and the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.” 2.28-29. Now read the account of the fulfillment of that prophesy in Acts 2:3-4: “There came from heaven tongues parting asun­der like as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The tongues of fire and the Holy Spirit came from above, from heaven, upon the be­lievers.

In Acts, the 10th chapter, we are told that while Peter was yet speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word. That is the invariable rule, the Spirit always falls upon, descends upon, or is poured upon the subjects. If water baptism is to present a picture of Spirit baptism, it should be in mode like Spirit bap­tism. Well, if the mode is not given in the word which designates the rite, how are we to learn what the mode is? In two ways: 1. By the mean­ing of the rite in Scripture. I have dealt with that already. 2. By the examples of its admin­istration. The passages in the New Testament that relate to the administration of baptism are divided into three classes: First, those which taken by themselves seem to favor immersion. Matthew 3:16. The authorized version says that Jesus when he was baptized went up straightway out of the water. The revised version says that he went up straightway from the water. The preposition used is not ex, meaning out of, but apo, which means from the water. He could have gone up from the water without going up out of the water. In Acts 8:38-39, we have an account of the baptism of the eunuch by Philip. The record says that both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he bap­tized him. And when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip. The immersionist says that this language indi­cates that the baptism was by immersion, but t the passage, correctly read, indicates no such thing. If going into the water and the com­ing up out of it were parts of the baptism, then both Philip and the eunuch were baptized; for they both went down into the water and came up out of the water. The passage says that the Baptism took place between the going into the water and the coming up out of the water. And all the lawyers of Philadelphia cannot tell how the baptism was performed. No valid argument can be based on prepositions. In the 8th chapter of the Acts, the preposition en is used several times, but only in the account of the baptism of the eunuch is it translated into. Elsewhere in that chapter it is translated at, by, etc. So I say that this class of Scripture only seems to favor immersion.

Second, there is a second class of passages relat­ing to the administration of baptism from which the idea of immersion is excluded. Under this head belong the accounts of baptism with the Holy Spirit. With this class of passages we have dealt already.

Third, there is a third class of passages which, in themselves, are not decisive, but which are altogether favorable to baptism by sprinkling. First, the baptism of the 3,000 at Jerusalem. Was it by immersion? Where? In what water? Jerusalem’s water supply was mostly in cisterns under the ground, no river flowed by Jerusalem, only a little brook which was a wet weather branch, at other seasons its bed was dry. There was no large pool or lake at Jerusalem. If there had been, it would have been under the control of the Pharisees, who, of course, would have for­bidden it to those despised followers of the crucified pretender to Messiahship. It there had been a body of water sufficient for baptism by immersion and the Apostles had used it for that purpose, the whole body of the water would have been polluted, rendered unfit for use by any Jew fearing defilement. The facts of the situation in Jerusalem are dead against the notion that the 3,000 converts were baptized by immersion.

Take now the baptism of the case of the eunuch, which was down toward Gaza, which was desert. Some tourists were shown the place where it was said the eunuch was baptized. And what did they see? A little stream no bigger than your little finger flowing out of a rock. A Bap­tist in the party exclaimed, “Oh it didn’t take place here, it didn’t take place here, not enough water,” Exactly, not enough water for immer­sion, but a plenty for sprinkling.

Next, the case of Cornelius and his household. While Peter was yet speaking the Holy Spirit fell on all that heard the Word. Did Peter say, “Is there a baptistry here, or a pool convenient where these may be baptized?” No, he said, “Can any man forbid the water that these should not be baptized?” He then commanded them to be baptized then and there. Was it by immersion?

The case of the jailer at Philippi. His baptism took place without delay at midnight at the jail. Was it by immersion? The case of Paul is pe­culiarly clear and convincing. Ananias was sent to administer to Paul, then called Saul. Laying his hands on him, Ananias said, “Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight. And he arose and was baptized. Baptized then and there, standing up. Was it by immersion?

Two points more and I am done.

  1. According to our view of baptism there is unity and harmony in Scripture. There is one method of purification in Both Testaments and that is by sprinkling — sprinkling of water, sprinkling of blood.
  2. Baptism by sprinkling is universally ap­plicable. Universally applicable as to place. Wherever there is water enough to sustain life, there people can be baptized by sprinkling. In World War I there was a large military camp in Greenville, South Carolina. The Baptists complained that no provision was made for ad­ministering baptism by their mode. They seemed to think that the government should run a river into the camp, or create a lake for their con­venience. A distinguished Baptist minister, Dr. Norwood, pastor of City Temple, London, Eng­land, was a Chaplain at the battle front in France. He said the application of the rite of baptism by immersion was out of the question there. He said he did not repudiate that mode of baptism, he simply had no use for it in that situation. He could never again insist that the quantity of water was important in Baptism.

Baptism by sprinkling is universally applicable as to time. It can be safely administered in the frozen North in winter, as in the balmy South.

It is universally applicable as to people. It can be applied to infants as well as to adults; to the sick as well as to the healthy; to the dying as well as to the living.

Remember, according to the Bible, people were baptized with water, not in water; they were baptized with the Holy Spirit, not in the Holy Spirit. The water was applied to the per­son, not the person to the water. The Spirit was applied to the person, not the person to the Spirit. And believers were baptized immediately on the spot.

Reasoning from the use of baptizo in Scripture, from the meaning of the rite of baptism, and from the instances of its administration, we con­clude that baptism was, and should be now, by sprinkling or pouring.

“I will sprinkle clear water upon you,” sayeth the Lord, “and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” “Wherefore, let us all draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and having our bodies washed with clean water.”

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For today’s post, we have the Rev. Caleb Cangelosi, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Cookeville, TN, as our guest author, writing on one of the most renowned men of the old Southern Presbyterian Church.

It is a great honor to be elected as Moderator of the General Assembly of a Presbyterian denomination. Yet one man was given this honor twice. His name was William Swan Plumer, and though he has fallen out of general knowledge in our days, he was a titan of the nineteenth century Presbyterian church. Moses Drury Hoge, who served under Dr. Plumer for several years in Richmond, Virginia, had this to say about his mentor:

plumerws02Probably no man in our time was more widely known in these United States than Dr. Plumer. His reputation as a preacher secured for him great audiences wherever he went. Those who did not care for the ordinances of God’s house, and who rarely attended any place of worship, would flock to any church where it was known that he would officiate. He touched society at so many points and had so many ways of impressing himself on the public that his reputation extended far and wide. As an editor; as a contributor to the periodical press; writing for reviews, for magazines, for the publication boards of all denominations; as the author of commentaries on the Scriptures, and many religious books, some of which were republished in Europe, and others translated into German, French and Modern Greek; as a professor in two theological seminaries, which have sent forth hundreds of ministers, with his impress upon them, to labor in every part of the world; as a lecturer before literary institutions and benevolent associations; as a correspondent, writing innumerable letters, especially to those whom he knew to be afflicted and bereaved, letters full of sympathy and consolation; in all these and many other ways, he gained the eye, the ear and heart of the great public, by availing himself of every channel of communication and every avenue of usefulness.

Born on this day in 1802, Dr. Plumer passed into glory on October 22, 1880. Thus his life spanned nearly the entire nineteenth century, and his ministry traversed the high points of that century’s controversies. He was born in Greersburg, Pennsylvania, a small town northwest of Pittsburgh, to Presbyterian parents. His family eventually settled in Washington County, Ohio, along the banks of the Ohio River outside present day Marietta. His father was a river trader, and as he grew up he desired to obtain a liberal education and one day become a doctor.

Though he had grown up in a Presbyterian home, hearing the gospel from his earliest days, yet it was not until the age of 17 that the Lord saw fit to convert him, through the ministry of a Congregationalist minister serving in a Presbyterian Church under the 1801 Plan of Union. In Plumer’s own words, “I surrendered to God’s will & ways. I saw a beauty & fitness in the plan of salvation. I saw it was right that God should rule everywhere, in particular in me & over me. I at once desired to honor him in every possible way, &, in particular, if he would open the way, I desired to serve him in the ministry of the gospel. For my idol, medicine, I now cared nothing. I was not ashamed to let all the world know that I loved Christ.” His sense of call to the ministry accompanied his conversion, and he moved to Lewisburg, Virginia, to study at the classical school of Dr. John McElhenny. In 1822 he began attending Washington College, in Lexington, Virginia, and in 1825 he enrolled at Princeton Seminary. He completed his studies in September 1826, and was ordained as an evangelist in May 1827.

His ministry was primarily in the South. He planted several churches across Virginia and North Carolina, and after marrying in 1829 he became the Stated Supply of Briery Church in Prince Edward County, Virginia. In October 1830 he was, for the first time, installed as pastor of Tabb Street Presbyterian Church in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1834, he moved to First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, where he labored until 1846. It was during this pastorate that he cemented his reputation as a preacher, presbyter, and theologian. He was present as a commissioner at the 1837 General Assembly that saw the Plan of Union abrogated, and the Old School and New School split. In fact, though only 34 years old, he was one of the primary advocates for abrogation; William Henry Foote states that Plumer’s speech “changed the fate of the question,” swaying those on the fringe to vote against the Plan of Union. Upon returning home, and discovering that Amasa Converse and his Southern Religion Telegraph supported the New School, Plumer began the Watchman of the South, an Old School newspaper he edited until 1845. Due to Plumer’s sound theology and wide influence, the 1838 General Assembly elected him as Moderator at the young age of 35.

In 1847, Plumer was called to Franklin Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Here he began writing in earnest, and became what Moses Drury Hoge alluded to, one of the most prolific authors the Presbyterian Church in America has known. His writings were of a practical nature, yet they were filled with theological meat as well, as evidenced by his election in 1854 to the chair of Didactic and Pastoral Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. His Christ-centered and experientially-oriented piety is clearly seen in his Inaugural Address to the Seminary:

In proportion as men are truly pious, they make [Christ] the foundation and top-stone, the sum and substance and centre of all their hopes and rejoicings. He is believed on in the world, not merely because there is no other way of salvation, but because this way is so admirably adapted to all the necessities of sinners, and because it brings glory to God in the highest. The true believer not only trusts in Christ; he glories in him. He not only makes mention of him; he admits none into comparison with him…We sadly err, when we begin in the spirit, and end in the flesh; when we regard Christ as the author but not the finisher of faith. A legal spirit is the bane of piety. It is as great a foe to comfort as it is to gospel grace. Through the law believers are dead to the law that they might live unto God. This is the gospel plan. Here is the secret of growing conformity to God. Here is power, here is wisdom, here is life. We are complete in him.

Though nineteenth century Presbyterians, especially in the South, are well known for their reflection on ecclesiology, Plumer’s writings demonstrate that there was a breadth and depth to their theologizing that we often fail to see in them.

Plumer’s time at Western Seminary came to an end in 1862, as members of the Central Presbyterian Church (which he had pastored since 1855) became upset that he would not during corporate worship ask “God’s blessing upon the Government of our country in its efforts to suppress rebellion,” nor would he “give thanks to God for the victories which God has granted our armies.” Some have interpreted his inaction as due to pacifism. It is more likely that he was motivated by a conviction that the question of the war was a political question with which God’s ministers had nothing to do as such, coupled perhaps with Southern sympathies. Further research would be needed to discover the truth, but in any event, he resigned both pulpit and seminary chair, and five years later the Southern Presbyterian Church elected him to fill Dr. Thornwell’s chair of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. During those intervening years, Dr. Plumer continued to write. Some of his most familiar books, including treatises on the law of God, experimental piety, and a commentary on the Psalms, were produced during this time.

Till his final months he was actively involved in preaching, teaching, writing, pastoring God’s people, and participating in church courts. In 1871 he was elected for a second time as Moderator of the General Assembly, this time of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Commentaries on Romans and Hebrews, as his Helps and Hints in Pastoral Theology, came out during the last years of his life. Unfortunately, though, his time at Columbia ended on a low note, as he was embroiled in disputes with other seminary professors, and many became disillusioned with his pedagogical effectiveness. At the 1880 General Assembly he was, against his wishes, made Professor Emeritus. A few months later, following complications from kidney stone surgery, he died.

To our loss, no Life and Letters was ever written of Dr. Plumer, perhaps in part because he had only two daughters and no sons (though one of his grandsons was a minister in the Southern Presbyterian Church). Yet his life was full and useful, and his writings call for our perusal and digestion. Several of his last words close this brief survey of his life and work. Upon being asked, “Do you suffer much, Doctor?” he replied, “Not nearly as much as my Saviour did.” When a visitor exclaimed, “I am sorry to see you suffer so, Doctor!” he responded, “One who loves me better than you do put me here.” When the word submit was used, he said, “Perhaps acquiesce is a better word for the Christian to use. We may submit, because we are obligated to – but the Christian cheerfully, joyfully yields all to his Lord’s will.” These sayings show the heart of this servant of Christ, devoted in every way to our reigning King who suffered for our salvation.

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