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Charles Hodge enters into eternity

Hodge’s death came on this day, June 19, in 1878. Then early in July of that same year on the pages of The Christian Observer, this brief note appeared under the title, “Calvinism and Piety,” :

The Christian Union, which has no friendship for Calvinism, closes its article on the death of Dr. Hodge, as follows:

Dr. Hodge, who was the foremost of the old Calvinists in this country, was, in character, one of the sweetest, gentlest and most lovable of men. His face was itself a benediction. We doubt whether he had any other than a theological enemy in the world. Curiously too, the peculiar tenets of his theology were reserved for the class-room and for philosophical writings. In the pulpit he preached a simple and unsectarian gospel; his favorite texts were such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” and his sermons were such as the most successful missionaries delight to preach in foreign lands. In Princeton he is regarded as without peer in the conduct of the prayer meeting. His piety was as deep and as genuine as his learning was varied and profound. The system of theology of which he was the ablest American representative seems to us, in some points, foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, but the life and personality of the man were luminous with the spirit of an indwelling Christ.

Words to Live By: May we all—those of us who name the name of Christ and who also claim that same biblical faith commonly called Calvinism—so find our maturity in Christ as to live in a similar way, luminous with the spirit of the indwelling Christ, pointing all men and women to the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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aubaff_1924The Auburn Affirmation was first issued on December 26, 1923, in response to the action of the 1923 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It was then published in its first edition in January of 1924. Affixed to that document were the names of 150 pastors and elders within the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. A subsequent printing issued on May 5, 1924 contained the final list of signators, numbering 1274 names.

The Affirmation was a thinly veiled attack upon core tenets of the Christian faith. By most accounts the Affirmation was a gauntlet thrown down in response to five fundamentals espoused originally in The Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910, a deliverance which was later reaffirmed by the PCUSA General Assemblies of 1916 and 1923. It was specifically the action of the 1923 Assembly that brought about the reaction that was the Auburn Affirmation.

Among those five key doctrines that the Doctrinal Deliverance sought to protect, the virgin birth of Christ was second on the list:

2. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. The Shorter Catechism states, Question 22: “Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.”

machen02It was this subject that J. Gresham Machen took up in in the December 1924 issue of The Bible Today, the house organ of The National Bible Institute, an evangelical school located in New York City. Given the issues at hand before the Church that year, Machen’s article would have to be considered one of the earliest replies to the Affirmation signatories, though he does not specifically mention the Affirmation by name in this first part of his discussion. And since we only have the first part of this article available to us, we will have to leave it stand at that, until some gracious donor comes forward with other issues of The Bible Today. We’re looking particularly for vol. 19, no. 4, January 1925. From another source we know that part two of this article appeared on pages 111-115 of that issue. (We’re also looking for any other issues of The Bible Today from the years before 1941). 

So, introduction aside, here is the text of “The Virgin Birth” by J. Gresham Machen (1924).

THE BIBLE TO-DAY, 19.3 (December, 1924): 75-79.

The Virgin Birth
By J. Gresham Machen, D.D.,
Assistant Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis in Princeton Theological Seminary

An address delivered at a National Bible Institute Bible Conference, New York City.

ACCORDING to the belief of all the historic branches of the Christian Church, Jesus of Nazareth was born without human father, being conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. In the present lecture we shall consider very briefly the origin of this belief. The belief of the Christian Church in the virgin birth of Christ is a fact of history which requires an explanation. And two kinds of explanation are possible. In the first place, the belief may be explained as being based upon fact. It may be held that the Church came to believe in the virgin birth because as a matter of fact Jesus was born of a virgin. Or in the second place it may be held that the belief arose in some other way. The task of the historian is to balance these two kinds of explanation against each other. Is it easier to explain the belief of the Church in the virgin birth on the hypothesis that it originated in fact or on the hypothesis that it arose in some other way?

I. Belief in the Virgin Birth Based on Fact

We shall first examine the former hypothesis—that the belief in the virgin birth is based upon fact. Of course, the most obvious thing to say is that this belief appears in the New Testament in the clearest possible terms. And most of our time will be taken up in examining the New Testament evidence. But before we come to examine the New Testament evidence it may be well to glance at the later Christian literature.

At the close of the second century, when the Christian literature outside of the New Testament becomes abundant, when we have full information about the belief of the Church at Alexandria, in Asia Minor, at Rome and in the West, we find that everywhere the virgin birth was accepted as a matter of course as one of the essential things in the Christian view of Christ. But this same kind of belief appears also at an earlier time; for example in the old Roman baptismal confession which was the basis of our Apostles’ Creed, in Justin Martyr at the middle of the second century, and in Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, at the beginning of the century. There were, it is true, denials of the virgin birth not only by opponents of Christianity but also by some who professed a kind of Christian faith.

But all of these denials look far more as though they were due to philosophical prepossession than to any genuine historical tradition. The plain fact is that the virgin birth appears just as firmly fixed at the beginning of the second century as at the end of it; it is quite impossible to detect any gradual establishment of the doctrine as though it had to make its way against opposition. Particularly the testimony of Ignatius and of the Apostles’ Creed shows not only that the virgin birth was accepted at a very early time, but that it was accepted as a matter of course and as one of the facts singled out for inclusion even in the briefest summaries of the most important things which the Christian needed to know about Christ. Even this evidence from outside the New Testament would suffice to show that a firm belief in the virgin birth existed in the Christian Church well before the close of the first century.

But still more important is the New Testament evidence, and to that evidence we now turn.

The virgin birth is attested in two of the New Testament books, the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke. The value which will be attributed to this testimony depends of course to a considerable extent upon the view which one holds of each of these two Gospels as a whole. Obviously it will not be possible to discuss these questions here; it would carry us too far afield to discuss the evidence for the early date and high historical value of the two Gospels in which the virgin birth appears. But one remark at least may be made in passing : it may at least be observed that the credit of the great double work, Luke-Acts, has been steadily rising in recent years even in circles which were formerly most hostile. The extraordinary strength of the literary evidence has led even men like Professor von Harnack of Berlin, Professor C. C. Torrey of Yale, and the distinguished historian Professor Eduard Meyer, despite their rejection of the whole supernatural content of the book, to accept the traditional view that Luke-Acts was actually written by Luke the physician, a companion of Paul. It will not be possible here to review that literary evidence in detail; but surely the evidence must be very strong if it has been able to convince even those whose presuppositions render the hypothesis of Lucan authorship so extremely uncomfortable.

But if the Third Gospel was really written by Luke, its testimony as to events in Palestine must surely be received with the greatest possible respect. According to the information derived from the use of the first person plural in the Book of Acts, Luke had been in contact with James, the Lord’s own brother, and with many other members of the primitive Jerusalem Church. Moreover he was in Palestine in A.D. 58 and appears there again two years later; so that presumably he was in the country during the interval. Obviously such a man had the fullest possible opportunity for acquainting himself, not only with events concerning the Gentile mission of Paul but also with events in the life of our Lord in Palestine. It is therefore a matter of no small importance that the virgin birth is narrated in the Third Gospel.

But the virgin birth is not merely narrated in the Third Gospel; it is narrated in a very peculiar part of that Gospel. The first two chapters of the Gospel are possessed of very remarkable literary characteristics. The hand of the author of the whole book has indeed been at work in these chapters, as the elaborate researches of von Harnack and others have clearly shown; but the author’s hand has not been allowed to destroy the underlying literary character of the narrative. And that underlying character is very strongly marked. The truth is that the first two chapters of Luke, with the exception of the typical Greek sentence in Luke 1:1-4, are in spirit and style, as well as in thought, nothing in the world but a bit of the Old Testament embedded in the midst of the New Testament. Nowhere is there a narrative more transparently Jewish and Palestinian than this. It is another question how the Palestinian character of the narrative is to be explained. Some have supposed that Luke used a written Palestinian source, which had already been translated into Greek or which he himself translated; others have supposed that without written sources he has simply caught the truly Semitic flavor of the oral information that came to him in Palestine. At any rate, however the Palestinian character of the narrative is to be explained, that Palestinian character itself is perfectly plain; in the first two chapters of Luke we are evidently dealing with a narrative that came from Palestinian soil.

That fact is of great importance for the question of the virgin birth. It shows that the virgin birth was narrated not merely in Gentile Christian documents but also in the country which was the scene of the narrated event. But there is still another reason why the Palestinian character of the narrative is important. We shall observe in the latter part of the lecture that the great majority of those modern scholars who reject the fact of the virgin birth suppose that the idea of the virgin birth was derived from pagan sources. But if that hypothesis be accepted, the question arises how a pagan idea came to be attested just by the most transparently Jewish and Palestinian portion of the whole New Testament. The Palestinian Judaism of the first century was passionately opposed to pagan influences, especially that loyal type of Palestinian Judaism which appears with such beautiful clearness in Luke 1:2. How could a pagan idea possibly find a place in such a narrative ?

The question is really unanswerable; and in order to attempt to answer it, many modern scholars have had recourse to a truly desperate expedient—they have maintained that the virgin birth was not originally contained in the Palestinian narrative found in the first two chapters of Luke but has been inserted later into that narrative by interpolation. This interpolation theory has been held in two forms. According to the more radical form the virgin birth has been interpolated into the completed Gospel. This hypothesis is opposed by the great weight of manuscript attestation, there being not the slightest evidence among the many hundreds of manuscripts containing the Gospel of Luke that there ever was a form of that Gospel without the verses narrating the virgin birth. A more cautious form of the interpolation theory has therefore sometimes been preferred. According to that more cautious form, although the words attesting the virgin birth formed an original part of the Third Gospel they did not form an original part of the Palestinian source which the author of the Gospel was using in the first two chapters, but were interpolated by the author himself into the source which elsewhere he was closely following.

The Interpolation Theory

What shall be said of this interpolation theory? Very often the best and only refutation of an interpolation theory is the refutation which a distinguished preacher is once said to have applied to theosophy. A lady is reported to have asked the preacher, after one of his lectures, to give her the strongest evidence against theosophy. “Madam,” he replied, “the strongest evidence against theosophy is that there is no evidence in its favor.” Similarly it may be said that the burden of proof is clearly against those who advance an interpolation hypothesis; if no clear evidence can be adduced in its favor the hypothesis must be rejected, and the narrative must be taken as it stands. Even such a consideration alone would be decisive against the interpolation theory regarding the virgin birth in the infancy narrative of the Third Gospel. The advocates of the theory have signally failed to prove their point. The virgin birth is not merely narrated with great clearness in Luke 1:34, 35, but is implied in several other verses; and no reason at all adequate for supposing that these portions of the narrative have been tampered with has yet been adduced. But as a matter of fact we are in the present case by no means limited to such a merely negative method of defense. The truth is that in the present case we can do far more than disprove the arguments for the interpolation hypothesis; we can also actually prove positively that that hypothesis is false. A careful examination shows clearly that the virgin birth, far from being an addition to the narrative in the first chapter of Luke, is the thing for which the whole narrative exists. There is a clear parallelism between the account of the birth of John and that of the birth of Jesus. Even the birth of John was wonderful, since his parents were old. But the birth of Jesus was more wonderful still, and clearly it is the intention of the narrator to show that it was more wonderful. Are we to suppose that while narrating the wonderful birth of John the narrator simply mentioned an ordinary, non-miraculous birth of Jesus? The supposition is quite contrary to the entire manner in which the narrative is constructed. The truth is that if the virgin birth be removed from the first chapter of Luke the whole point is removed, and the narrative becomes quite meaningless. Never was an interpolation hypothesis more clearly false.

But personally I am very glad that the interpolation hypothesis has been proposed, because it indicates the desperate expedients to which those who deny the virgin birth are reduced. The great majority of those who reject the virgin birth of Christ suppose that the idea arose on pagan ground, and admit that other derivations of the idea are inadequate. But in order to hold this view they are simply forced to hold the interpolation theory regarding the first chapter of Luke; for only so can they explain how a pagan idea came to find a place in so transparently Jewish a narrative. But the interpolation theory being demonstrably false, the whole modern way of explaining the idea of the virgin birth of Christ results in signal failure. The naturalistic historians in other words are forced by their theory to hold the interpolation hypothesis; they stake their all upon that hypothesis. But that hypothesis is clearly false; hence the entire construction falls to the ground.

The Virgin Birth in Matthew

So much then for the account of the virgin birth in Luke. Let us now turn to the Gospel according to Matthew. Here the virgin birth is narrated with a plainness which leaves nothing to be desired. Some men used to say that the first two chapters of the Gospel are a later addition, but this hypothesis has now been almost universally abandoned.

The value of this testimony depends of course upon the view that is held of the Gospel as a whole. But it is generally admitted by scholars of the most diverse points of view that the Gospel was written especially for Jews, and the Jewish character of the infancy narrative in the first two chapters is particularly plain.

If this lecture were being delivered under the conditions that prevailed some years ago it might be thought necessary for us to enter at length into the question of Matthew 1:16. Some time ago the textual question regarding this verse was discussed even in the newspapers and created a good deal of excitement. It was maintained by some persons that an ancient manuscript of the Gospels which was discovered in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai provided a testimony against the virgin birth. The manuscript referred to is the so-called Sinaitic Syriac, a manuscript of an ancient translation of the Gospels into the Syriac language. This manuscript is not, as has sometimes been falsely asserted, the most ancient New Testament manuscript; since it is later than the two greatest
manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, which also have the inestimable advantage of being manuscripts of the original Greek, not of a mere Syriac translation. But the Sinaitic Syriac is a very ancient manuscript, having been produced at about 400 A.D., and despite the fact that the extravagant claims made for it have now for the most part been abandoned, a few words about it may still be in place.

The Sinaitic Syriac Manuscript

The Sinaitic Syriac has a curious reading at Matthew 1:16. But the importance of this witness must not be exaggerated. In order to accept the witness of the Sinaitic Syriac against all other documents one must suppose (1) that this manuscript has correctly reproduced at the point in question the ancient Syriac translation from which it is descended by a process of transmission, (2) that this ancient Syriac translation (which was probably produced in the latter part of the second century) correctly represented at this point the Greek manuscript from which the translation was made, and (3) that that Greek manuscript correctly represented at this point the autograph of the Gospel from which it was descended by a process of transmission. All of this is exceedingly uncertain in view of the over-whelming mass of evidence on the other side. To accept one witness against all the other witnesses is a very precarious kind of textual criticism where the evidence is so exceedingly abundant as it is in the case of the New Testament.

But as a matter of fact the Sinaitic Syriac does not deny the virgin birth at all. It attests the virgin birth in Matthew 1:18-25 just as clearly as do the other manuscripts, and it implies it even in Matthew 1:16. The reading of the Sinaitic Syriac which has given rise to the discussion is (translated into English by Burkett) as follows : “Jacob begat Joseph. Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begat Jesus that is called the Messiah.” That would be self-contradictory if the word “begat” meant what it means in English. But as a matter of fact the scribe of the Sinaitic Syriac, if he thought of what he was doing and was not simply making a careless mistake, clearly used the word “begat” in the sense, “had as a legal descendant.” It is interesting to note that Professor F. C. Burkitt, the greatest British authority on the Syriac manuscripts, who certainly is far from being prejudiced in favor of the virgin birth, holds that even if the original text were simply “Joseph begat Jesus” (which as a matter of fact appears in no manuscript) it would be absolutely without significance as a testimony against the virgin birth; for it would only mean that Joseph had Jesus as his legal heir. The author of the First Gospel is interested in two things, in one of them just as much as in the other. He is interested in showing (1) that Jesus was the heir of David through Joseph and (2) that He was a gift of God to the house of David in a more wonderful way than would have been the case if He had been descended from David by ordinary generation.

Thus even if the Sinaitic Syriac did represent the original text, it would not deny the virgin birth. But as a matter of fact it does not represent the original text at all. The original text of Matthew 1:16 is exactly the text that we are familiar with in our Bibles.

Accordingly we have an unequivocal double witness to the virgin birth of Christ in the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke. These two witnesses are clearly independent. If one thing is clear to modern scholars—and to every common-sense reader—it is that Matthew has not used Luke and Luke has not used Matthew. The very difficulty of fitting the two infancy narratives together is, to the believer in the virgin birth, a blessing in disguise; for it demonstrates at least the complete independence of the two accounts. The unanimity of these two independent witnesses constitutes the very strongest possible testimony to the central fact about which they are perfectly and obviously agreed.

But at this point an objection is often made. The rest of the New Testament, we are told, says nothing about the virgin birth; Paul says nothing about it, neither does Mark. Hence the testimony in favor of it is often said to be weak; and men are often impressed with this argument from silence.

Argument from Silence

Now the argument from silence needs to be used with a great deal of caution. The silence of a writer about any detail is without significance unless it has been shown that if the writer in question had known and accepted that detail he would have been obliged to mention it.

But that is just exactly what cannot be shown in the case of the silence about the virgin birth. Paul, for example, does not mention the virgin birth, and much has been made of his silence. “What is good enough for Paul,” we are told in effect, “is good enough for us; if he got along without the virgin birth we can get along without it too.” It is rather surprising, indeed, to find the Modernists of today advancing that particular argument; it is rather surprising to find them laying down the principle that what is good enough for Paul is good enough for them, and that things which are not found in Paul cannot be essential to Christianity. For the center of their religion is found in the ethical teaching of Jesus, especially in the Golden Rule. But where does Paul say anything about the Golden Rule, and where does he quote at any length the ethical teachings of Jesus? We do not mean at all that the silence about such things in the Epistles shows that Paul did not know or care about the words and example of our Lord. On the contrary there are clear intimations that the reason why the Apostle does not tell more about what Jesus did and said in Palestine is not that these things were to him unimportant but that they were so important that instruction about them had been given at the very beginning in the churches and so did not need to be repeated in the Epistles, which are addressed to special needs. And where Paul does give details about Jesus the incidental way in which he does so shows clearly that there is a great deal else which he would have told if he had found occasion. The all-important passage in I Corinthians 15:3-8 provides a striking example. In that passage Paul gives a list of appearances of the risen Christ. He would not have done so if it had not been for the chance (humanly speaking) of certain mis-understandings that had arisen in Corinth. Yet if he had not done so, it is appalling to think of the inferences which would have been drawn from his silence by modern scholars. And yet, even if the occasion for mentioning the list of appearances had not happened to arise in the Epistles it would still have remained true that that list of appearances was one of the absolutely fundamental elements of teaching which Paul gave to the churches at the very beginning.

That example should make us extremely cautious about drawing inferences from the silence of Paul. In the Epistles Paul mentions very few things about the earthly life of Jesus; yet clearly he knew far more than in the Epistles he has found occasion to tell. It does not at all follow therefore that because he does not mention a thing in the Epistles he did not know about it. Hence the fact that he does not mention the virgin birth does not prove that the virgin birth was to him unknown.

Moreover, although Paul does not mention the virgin birth the entire account which he gives of Jesus as an entirely new beginning in humanity, as the second Adam, is profoundly incongruous with the view that makes Jesus the son, by ordinary generation, of Joseph and Mary. The entire Christology of Paul is a powerful witness to the same event that is narrated in Matthew and Luke; the religion of Paul presupposes a Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary.

The silence of Mark is of just as little importance as the silence of Paul. The Gospel according to Mark seems to have been pre-eminently the missionary gospel; it was not intended to give all the facts about Jesus, but simply those which needed to be given first to those who had not already been won to Christ. Reading the Second Gospel, you stand in astonishment like those who were in the synagogue at Capernaum in the scene described in the first chapter. You see the wonderful works of Jesus; you stand afar off looking at Him; you are not introduced to Him with the intimacy of detail which one finds in Matthew and Luke. The fact that Mark does not narrate the virgin birth does not prove that he does not believe in the virgin birth or that it is to him less important than other facts; but shows merely that the narration of the birth of Jesus in any form is quite contrary to the plan of his Gospel, which begins with the public ministry. The most important things that need to be said are not always the first things; and Mark is concerned with the first things that would make an impression even upon those who had not already been won to Christ.

The New Testament does indeed imply that the contemporaries of Jesus in Palestine were unaware of the story of the virgin birth, and perhaps it also “makes probable that the virgin birth formed no part of the earliest missionary preaching of the apostles in Jerusalem. But all that is just what would be expected even if the virgin birth was a fact. The virgin birth was a holy mystery which was capable of the grossest misunderstanding; certainly it would not be spoken of by a person like Mary whose meditative character is so delicately and so vividly depicted in the first two chapters of Luke. It would not be spoken of to the hostile multitude, and least of all would it be spoken of to the brothers of Jesus. Also it would certainly not be mentioned in the earliest public missionary preaching before the crowds in Jerusalem. Only at some time after the resurrection, when the miracle of the virgin birth had at last been vindicated by the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus would Mary breathe the mystery of Jesus’ birth to sympathetic ears. Hence it found its way into the wonderful narrative preserved by Luke and from there into the hearts of Christians of all the ages.

Such is the course of events which would be expected if the virgin birth was a fact. And the attestation of the event in the New Testament is just exactly what is suited to these antecedent probabilities. The attestation in the very nature of the case could not be equal to that of an event like the resurrection, of which there were many eye-witnesses; but it is just what it would naturally be if the event really occurred in the manner in which it is said to have occurred in Matthew and Luke.

But the full force of the New Testament evidence can be appreciated only if the accounts are allowed to speak for themselves. These narratives are wonderfully self-evidencing; they certainly do not read as though they are based on fiction; and they are profoundly congruous with that entire account of Jesus without” which the origin of the Christian religion is an insoluble puzzle.

(To be continued – that is, if we can locate that next issue from 1925!)

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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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Charles Hodge enters into eternity

hodgeCharles_grayEarly in July of 1878, on the pages of The Christian Observer,this brief note appeared under the title, “Calvinism and Piety,” :

The Christian Union, which has no friendship for Calvinism, closes its article on the death of Dr. Hodge, as follows:

“Dr. Hodge, who was the foremost of the old Calvinists in this country, was, in character, one of the sweetest, gentlest and most lovable of men. His face was itself a benediction. We doubt whether he had any other than a theological enemy in the world. Curiously too, the peculiar tenets of his theology were reserved for the class-room and for philosophical writings. In the pulpit he preached a simple and unsectarian gospel; his favorite texts were such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” and his sermons were such as the most successful missionaries delight to preach in foreign lands. In Princeton he is regarded as without peer in the conduct of the prayer meeting. His piety was as deep and as genuine as his learning was varied and profound. The system of theology of which he was the ablest American representative seems to us, in some points, foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, but the life and personality of the man were luminous with the spirit of an indwelling Christ.”

Words to Live By: May we all—those of us who name the name of Christ and who also claim that same biblical faith commonly called Calvinism—so find our maturity in Christ as to live in a similar way, luminous with the spirit of the indwelling Christ, pointing all men and women to the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Our post today is drawn from Richard Webster’s History of the Presbyterian Church.

wilsonJamesPatriot_02The son of Rev. Dr. Matthew* and Elizabeth Wilson, James Patriot Wilson was born at Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware, February 21, 1769. His father was eminent as a physician and clergyman, and his mother was deemed a model in all her domestic and social relations. He was graduated with high honor at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, Pa., in August of 1788. So distinguished was he in the various branches, included in his collegiate course, that at the time of his graduation it was the expressed opinion of the Faculty that he was competent to instruct his classmates. He was at the same time offered a place in the University as Assistant Professor of Mathematics, but as his health was somewhat impaired and the air of his native place was more congenial with his constitution, he became an assistant in the Academy at Lewes, taking measures to regain his health, and occupying his leisure with reading history. Having devoted himself for sometime to the study of the law he was admitted to the bar in Sussex County, Delaware, in 1790.

In June, 1792, he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of John and Hannah Woods, of Lewes, Delaware, with whom he lived but little more than three years, as she died in December, 1795. She had two children, but neither of them survived her.

Though he had acquired a reputation as a lawyer that was perhaps unsurpassed perhaps in Delaware at the time, yet it was not long before he gave up this profession and entered the ministry. The death of his first wife may well have been what contributed to this change of course.

He was licensed to preach the gospel in 1804 by the Presbytery of Lewes, and in the same year was ordained and installed as pastor over the united congregations of Lewes, Cool Spring, and Indian River—the very congregations which had for many years enjoyed the ministry of his father.

In May of 1806, he was called, upon the death of Dr. Benjamin Rush (who had been his early and constant friend), to the pastoral charge of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He accepted the call, under the encouragement of his Presbytery, and relocateded to Philadelphia that same year. In May of 1828, he retired to his farm, near Hartsville, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, about twenty miles from the city, on account of the infirm state of his health, preaching nevertheless to his congregation as often as his health permitted. His resignation of his pastoral charge was not accepted till the spring of 1830. In the course of that season he visited the city and preached for the last time to his people. He died at his farm in the utmost peace, on December 9, 1830, and was buried on the 13th, in a spot selected by himself in the grave-yard of Neshaminy Church. His remains lie near the tomb of the celebrated William Tennant, the founder of the “Log College.” The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by the University of Pennsylvania, in 1807.

Dr. Wilson was in person above the middle height, and had a countenance rather grave than animated, and expressive at once of strong benevolent feelings and high intelligence. He was affable and communicative, and generally talked so sensibly, or so learnedly, or so profoundly, that he was listened to with earnest attention.

About three years after the death of his first wife, he was married in May of 1798 to Mary, daughter of David and Mary M. Hall, and sister of the late Governor Hall, of Delaware. Mrs. Wilson later survived her husband by nine years, and died January 5, 1839. They had nine children, only two of whom survived into adulthood; one of which was the Rev. Dr. James P. Wilson, of Newark, New Jersey.

As an author Rev. Wilson published lectures upon some of the Parables and Historical Passages of the New Testament, in 1810; An Easy Introduction to the Knowledge of the Hebrew Language, 1812; Ridgely’s Body of Divinity, with Notes, 1814 ; A Series of Articles on The Primitive Government of the Christian Churches; also Liturgical Considerations (1833), along with many tracts and essays. For more on his various publications, see Annals of American Pulpit, by William B. Sprague, vol. 4, page 353.

[* A Memoir of Rev. Dr. Matthew Wilson can be found published in The Presbyterian Historical Almanac for 1863, on page 48.]

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