One's opinions are often strangely contradicted by his convictions. We inherit our opinions and we are very apt to contend sturdily for the doctrines we have received by this inheritance; but we receive our convictions from the Holy Ghost, and they often revolutionize our long-cherished opinions. It sounds like the irony of fate to confess that the first prize the writer of this paper ever received as a theological student was the sum of $Matthew00, won by him in a contest during his first year at the seminary, on the subject of baptism, in which he wrote a prize paper proving to his own satisfaction and that of his examiners that the Baptists were all wrong.
Later in life it pleased the Holy Ghost to show him in his own deepest spirit that he might have waited to get the Master's voice before so boldly exploiting his theological ideas. It was in the autumn of 1881, while cherishing no thought of any change in his theological views, but very earnestly looking out upon the fields, and asking, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" He was giving a course of lectures to his congregation in the City of New York, and he had come to that passage describing the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites under Moses. Earnestly inquiring of the Spirit of God what the deeper meaning of the Red Sea was in our spiritual life, he saw with great plainness that it represented our death to the old life of Egypt and the world. Along with this there was suddenly flashed into his mind that striking passage in 1Co_10:2 : "And they were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea," and like a vision there rose before him the picture of Israel's host passing through the flood, while at the same time the cloud, representing the Holy Spirit, fell upon them and covered them with its heavenly baptism. Thus there was a double baptism. They were baptized in the flood; they were baptized in the cloud. The water and the Spirit were both present. Somehow there came with it such a vision of Christian baptism in its deeper and spiritual import, leading us down into the flood of death and burial, and at the same moment bringing to us the open heavens and the descending Holy Ghost, that it fairly startled him.
Then simultaneously arose another vision that seemed to unfold as a panorama. It was that of Christ entering the valley of Jordan in baptism, and as He passed through that sacred rite and came forth like Israel crossing the Sea, in like manner the Spirit descended also upon Him and abode, and He received the double baptism of the water and the Spirit at the same moment, and from that hour went forth, no longer the Man of Nazareth, but the Son of God, clothed with the power of the Holy Ghost. Then a third vision seemed to arise. It was the multitude of Pentecost, heart-stricken and convicted by the power of God, and crying out under Peter's sermon, "Men and brethren, what must we do?" And then came the answer of our text: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." There again the water and the Spirit were inseparably linked. The outward baptism was but a stepping stone to the higher baptism of the Holy Ghost, and they were all expected to enter into both, as though neither was complete without the other. As these visions flashed across his mind there came to him such a restful and unalterable conviction that baptism was much more than he had dreamed, much more than the rite of initiation into the Christian Church, much more than the sign and seal of a hereditary conviction on the part of parents to their children; that it was the symbol of personal, intelligent, voluntary and profoundly earnest surrender of our life to God in self-crucifixion, and the act of dying with Christ, that we really pass out of our old life as truly as Israel crossed the Sea, and have such entering into a new world of life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ as came to them when they found themselves on the other side, and that this was to be sealed by the actual descent and infilling of the Holy Ghost coming to us as really as the cloud fell upon them, or as the Holy Ghost descended on the banks of the Jordan and abode upon the Person of Jesus Christ. The baptism of the Holy Spirit from that time had a new significance. And indeed there was but one baptism, for the water and the spirit were each but part of a greater whole and both were linked with divine appointment, the one as the sign and the other as the divine reality of a great crisis act by which we passed through death into resurrection life and became united through the Holy Ghost henceforth to the living God as the Source and Power of our new and heavenly life.
This passage led on to other and deeper teachings in the New Testament Epistles, where the spiritual significance of baptism as the type of our death and resurrection with Christ is so vividly unfolded. It is needless to say that the convictions thus supernaturally revealed through the Word of God became henceforth settled principles of faith and conduct, and that at the earliest possible moment the writer followed in obedience the steps of the Master and entered by baptism into a deeper death and life with the Lord. Some years before he had received the Holy Spirit, but God was pleased to use the symbol to deepen that experience and most profoundly reveal Himself in connection with it. All the circumstances attending it were strangely fitted to impress upon his mind and heart the new significance which baptism had assumed. It was, indeed, a death to all his past religious history and work. The very circumstances of his baptism were singularly humbling and trying. Not in some distinguished public temple did he follow his Lord through the gates of death, but in a humble little frame schoolhouse in the poorest district of New York, where a baptistry had been erected by a little company of believers who held occasional services there and loaned it for this occasion. It was a bitter autumn day when even the water was as cold as ice and the little schoolroom was as cheerless as winter, with no audience present but the wife of the humble evangelist that baptized him, no sympathy from a single human friend with his obedience to the dictates of his conscience, but a consciousness of being utterly alone, misunderstood, and condemned even by his dearest friends for an act of eccentric fanaticism that must surely separate him from all the associations of his Christian life and work. All this seemed to make only more real the fact that it was, indeed, a death to all the past, and that God did not want to spare him a single pang of its bitterness, that he might be even nearer to his Master in every stage of that journey to the cross. But after it was over, as he stood alone in that cheerless dressing room, shivering from that cold plunge in the icy fountain, the very evangelist that baptized him having hurried on and left him, and as hastily robing himself he threw himself upon his knees and thanked his Lord for the unspeakable privilege of following Him in full obedience into death, no language can ever express, and no subsequent experience can ever obliterate the unutterable joy that came sweeping into every sense of his soul and spirit, making even his body thrill with strange warmth and ecstatic delight as the Master seemed to say, "You have gone with Me into the death, now you shall come with Me into the resurrection." These are experiences into whose sacredness others cannot enter, except in so far as they have been repeated in their lives, and which we only dare to refer to in explaining the fact that this precious ordinance became spiritually so real that it has ever since seemed a pain to make it a mere matter of religious form or doctrinal controversy.
After this step of personal obedience it might be supposed that the next step would be uniting with the Baptist congregation, but this did not follow, and probably never will. The conviction came with great clearness that this was a matter of personal obedience to God, but not sufficient ground to justify one in separating himself in the communion of the Church of God from brethren who did not see it in the same light. To take the position of a close [sic] communion church, which made the ordinance of baptism by immersion a term of membership, and excluded from that communion table godly brethren who did not see it in this light, was a step the writer could not take. And while it has been his privilege to belong to the beloved Baptist body in a very sweet and spiritual sense, it has been his equal privilege to feel that he belongs likewise in every other evangelical denomination of Christians that hold the living Head, and love the Lord Jesus in sincerity, and that he can sit down with any of them at the communion table with the blessed sense of equal fellowship and Christian brotherhood.