Because the ordinances of the Christian church are so closely connected with the great gift of a loving Father to His earthly children, and because they commemorate the matchless love of a Saviour who held back naught that He had to bring about man's redemption, everyone must feel that their observance should be marked by both solemnity and befitting dignity.
Baptism is most generally recognized as a symbol of the believer's faith in Christ. Even in heathen countries this rite is understood to mean that the candidate has turned from his old god and professes faith in the "Christian's God." Experience both in America and in a mission field leads me to believe that a dignified observance of the ordinance of baptism frequently leaves a lasting favorable impression upon the minds of observers.
While in Burma, we had a Buddhist language teacher who was very much prejudiced against things Christian. She had come to us with the evident intention of resisting every Christian influence. After she had been in our home for some months, she attended a baptismal service. Upon returning to the house she said: "That was very solemn. I feel as though I had attended a funeral today." She repeated this expression or made similar ones several times that day, and referred to the service almost every day for a considerable period afterward.
On another occasion, baptism was administered in the private pool of a very wealthy Parsee, who remarked to me that the service had been very impressive; that he had seen the rite administered at other times, but that never before had he been so much impressed with it. At still another time, an English woman witnessed a baptismal service. When I returned home, she came to see me and said: "I could scarcely restrain myself. I felt like rushing down to the water and asking you to baptize me, I have attended christening and confirmation services all my life, but I never was moved before as I was today."
Any undue haste in the administering of the ordinance seems to detract somewhat from its solemnity. The preacher will do well to remember that, though he may officiate in the rite often, the candidate participates but once, and properly considers it one of the most solemn events of his life. Everything should be avoided that might detract from the solemnity of the occasion, and everything should be done in such a manner that it will leave a favorable impression.
A method of procedure I have observed and like is here suggested. The minister asks the candidate to grasp his left wrist with both hands. This gives the candidate a feeling of security if he is inclined to be nervous. As he is lowered into the water his shoulders rest on the preacher's right arm. This is much better than to be grasped by the top of coat or dress. Just before actual submergence, a handkerchief, in the preacher's left hand, is placed over the lower part of his face and the nostrils are closed, thus avoiding any possibility of strangling.
If some are inclined to be captious or critical, the use of the handkerchief can be justified by reference to the fact that in Scriptural times, people were buried with a cloth over their faces. (See John 11:44.)
A word of instruction to the candidate concerning keeping the knees stiff but otherwise allowing himself to be completely relaxed in the hands of the minister, contributes to the ease with which the rite is administered. The one officiating should take care to wipe the water from the candidate's face, preferably with a small towel furnished for each person, and in the absence of this with the handkerchief which has been used during the individual immersion. Assistance should be given to each one as he leaves the baptismal font, because the wet clothing sometimes interferes with free movements. One or more deacons or deaconesses should be ready to receive those coming from the water. Particularly if the service is held outdoors, a dry garment should be at hand to throw about the candidate as he goes to the dressing booth.
Washington, D. C.