Joseph D. McPherson, “Adam Clarke’s Defense of Water Baptism”

, posted by Jon Gossman

The modern holiness movement has tended to place far less importance upon the sacrament of water baptism than did the New Testament Church. By so doing they have departed from a plain Scriptural pattern. In his “Treatise on Baptism,” John Wesley asserts that baptism was designed by Christ “to remain always in his Church. . . . It is the initiatory sacrament, which enters us into covenant with God . . . perpetually obligatory on all Christians . . . instituted in the room of circumcision.” Circumcision was the way of entering into the covenant God made with Abraham; baptism is now the way of entering into the new covenant.

On the one hand, sacramentalists have substituted water baptism for the new birth. On the other hand, the holiness movement came to emphasize Spirit baptism to the neglect of the water, then relegated Spirit baptism to a second experience. The reader is asked to take special note of Dr. Clarke’s mention of water as an “emblem of the Holy Spirit.”

Those who are dipped or immersed in water, in the name of the holy Trinity I believe to be evangelically baptized: those who are washed or sprinkled with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, I believe to be equally so; and the repetition of such a baptism I believe to be profane. Others have a right to believe the contrary if they see good. After all, it is the thing signified, and not the mode, which is the essential part of the sacrament.

To say that water baptism is nothing, because a baptism of the Spirit is promised, is not correct. Baptism, however administered, is a most important rite in the church of Christ. To say that sprinkling or aspersion [pouring] is no gospel baptism is as incorrect as to say immersion is none. Such assertions are as unchristian as they are uncharitable; and should be carefully avoided by all those who wish to promote the great design of the gospel, glory to God, and peace and good will among men. Lastly, to assert that infant baptism is unscriptural, is as rash and reprehensible as any of the rest. Myriads of conscientious people choose to dedicate their infants to God by public baptism. They are in right, and, by acting thus, follow the general practice of the Jewish and Christian church, a practice from which it is as needless as it is dangerous to depart.

But the water . . . [is] an emblem of the Holy Ghost. The soul was considered as in a state of defilement, because of past sin; now, as by that water the body was washed, cleansed and refreshed, so by the influences of the Holy Spirit the soul was to be purified from its defilement, and strengthened to walk in the way of truth and holiness.

When John came baptizing with water, he gave the Jews the plainest intimations that this would not suffice; that it was only typical of that baptism of the Holy Ghost, under the similitude of fire, which they must all receive from Jesus Christ. Therefore our Lord asserts that a man must be born of water and the Holy Spirit, that is of the Holy Ghost, which, represented under the similitude of water, cleanses, refreshes, and purifies the soul. Reader, hast thou never had any other baptism than that of water? If thou hast not had any other, take Jesus Christ’s word for it, thou canst not in thy present state enter into the kingdom of God. I would not say to thee merely, “Read what it is to be born of the Spirit,” but “pray, O pray to God incessantly till he give thee to feel what is implied in it!” Remember it is Jesus only who baptizes with the Holy Ghost.


From: McPherson, Joseph D. “Adam Clarke’s Defense of Water Baptism.” The Arminian: A Publication of the Fundamental Wesleyan Society, 1997, vol. 15, no. 1. Print.