I am currently reading a book which was highly recommended by Spurgeon – “A Body of Divinity” by Thomas Watson. It is a study and exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith – the first major doctrinal statement of the early Presbyterians. It was produced about thirty years after the King James Bible, and the quality of the men involved in both were about the same. But despite the presence of a few Anglicans, Puritans and Independents, there were no Baptists. And yet…
One of the leading members of the Westminster Assembly was Dr. John Lightfoot, who kept a journal of the proceedings. To quote Thomas Armitage, Lightfoot’s “entry for August 7, 1644, speaks of a ‘great heat’ in the debate of that day when the Assembly was framing the ‘Directory’ for baptism, as to whether dipping should be reserved or excluded, or whether ‘it was lawful and sufficient to besprinkle!’ Coleman, called ‘Rabbi Coleman’ because of his great Hebrew learning, contended with Lightfoot that tauveleh, the Hebrew word of dipping, demanded immersion ‘over head;’ and Marshall, a famous pulpit orator, stood firmly by him in the debate, both contending that dipping was essential ‘in the first institution.’ Lightfoot says that when they came to the vote, ‘so many were unwilling to have dipping excluded that the vote came to an equality within one, for the one side was twenty-four, and the other twenty-five; the twenty-four for the reserving of dipping, and the twenty-five against it.’ ‘The business was recommitted,’ and the next day, (this day in 1644) after another warm dispute, it was voted that ‘pouring or sprinkling water on the face’ was sufficient and most expedient.”
How did a bunch of Protestant Presbyterians come to within a whisker of saying that baptism should be by immersion? The answer is that some of them knew the scriptures well-enough to know that dipping is the Biblical method. And they were all well-aware that immersion was still commonly practiced, even among the English Protestants.
Undoubtedly influenced by the Westminster Confession, immersion died out in England sometime during the middle of the 17th century – except in those churches where Christ was the Head and the Bible was taught.