I’ve done some reading off and on about this subject over the years, but the old question of baptism by immersion vs sprinkling popped up on my radar again, so I decided to read this very short little book that had somehow ended up on my shelf.

It’s very short, but immensely helpful.

It was written in 1884, by presumably a Presbyterian Minister – though all we’ve got is his initials and last name to go by – W.A. Mackay. While I’m not sure of the exact circumstances surrounding this book’s publication – the situation is remarkably similar to our own time.

Basically, as the author states in his opening section, you could go 20 or 30 years in a Presbyterian / Reformed church and never once hear a sermon on why we baptise by sprinkling or pouring vs immersion. Meanwhile, the Baptists of the day (the same as now) were making it quite clear to the Christian world that they didn’t consider anything other than an adult immersion baptism as a valid baptism. And considering that is the sign of being a Christian (according to Baptist theology), it’s a serious charge to level.

So Mackay sets out to finish the issue. The book is divided into two parts – the first half is dealing with the sprinkling vs immersion issue. The immersion section was excellent, because it looked at the the original Hebrew/Greek words (which is ultimately where you need to go) and also highlighted some of the reasons why Baptists were misunderstanding the Reformers’ position (which is also important). The section on infant baptism was good as well, but I still prefer the book Children of the Promise by Randy Booth for the best discussion on that particular topic. (However, the Booth book doesn’t touch immersion vs sprinkling, so the Mackay is still a great one-volume treatment.)

After reading this, I went and had a flick through the Baptist book I’d read back when my eldest daughter was little. At the time, I hadn’t been convinced by the Baptist argument, and I’m still not.

I understand how they arrive at their position, and I understand why it makes sense to them. I also believe that it’s not the make-or-break point of Christianity. But I’d encourage everyone – Baptist or Reformed alike – to make sure they understand the theology behind this sacrament, because if there’s one thing you can’t ignore – it’s that baptism is an important sign.

To try to ignore it and pretend that it doesn’t really matter is missing out on a really spectacular ritual that God has given to us.

5 out of 5.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Impotent Argument Against Biblical Baptism (W.A. Mackay)

  1. Brother, this book is excellent. I remember reading it after being a Presbyterian for several years. I was raised Baptist and found Mackay’s arguments highly cogent and lucid. He was right on target and I agree with your statement that his comments seem to be ironically applicable to many of the same arguments we hear today. It is indeed true there is no new heresy!

    I happen to be the graphic designer that put it all together and renamed the book. This was an effort that several of us in my church attempted to put together for the sole purpose of getting his work out there.

    Did you notice the artwork on the cover?? I used an engraving of the Egyptians being “immersed” in the Red Sea as a point of argument that this was one of the only clear examples of immersion in the bible.

    There are more available at http://www.zionpres.com if anyone’s interested. We’re looking for distribution channels for this book and a few others.

  2. Hi Chuck,

    Thanks for dropping by the blog! I did quite like the the old engraving, and it was great to see a book like that laid out nicely.

    Seeing as you are the graphic designer, if it’s all right – can I make one suggestion if there’s ever a reprint? The book splits itself nicely into dealing with immersion in the first half and then infant baptism in the second half. But the change from the one topic to the other isn’t marked in the book. One minute you’re halfway through a section on immersion and then in the next paragraph, he’s started his section on infant baptism.

    I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment, but I’m happy to send it through if you want.

    Will definitely check out your other books for sale as well.

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