Alexander Campbell
The Bath of Regeneration

The Christian System,
2d. ed. (1839)

In this way the new birth and regeneration are used indiscriminately by commentators and writers on theology, and by a figure of speech, it is justified on well established principles of rhetoric. This leads us to speak particularly of


By 'the bath of regeneration' is not meant the first, second, or third act; but the last act of regeneration, which completes the whole; and is, therefore, used to denote the new birth. This is the reason why our Lord and his Apostles unite this act with water. Being born of water, in the Saviour's style, and the bath of regeneration, in the Apostles' style, in the judgement of all writers and critics of eminence, refer to one and the same act--viz: christian baptism. Hence it came to pass, that all the ancients (as fully proved in our first Extra on Remission) used the word regeneration as synonymous in signification with immersion. In addition to the numerous quotations made in our Essay on Remission, from the creeds and liturgies of Protestant churches, we shall add another from the Common Prayer of the Church of England, showing unequivocally that the learned Doctors of that church used the words regeneration and baptism as synonymous. In the address and prayer of the minister after the baptism of the child, he is commanded to say,--

"Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ's church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits, and with one accord make our prayer unto him that this child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning."
"Then shall be said, all kneeling--"
"We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy church. And humbly we beseech thee to grant that he, being dead unto sin, and living unto righteousness, and being buried with Christ in his death, may crucify the old man, and utterly abolish the whole body of sin; and that as he is made partaker of the death of thy Son, he may also be partaker of his resurrection; so that finally, with the residue of the holy church, he may be an inheritor of thine everlasting kingdom, through Christ our Lord. Amen!"

Eusebius, in his life of Constantine, page 628, shows that St. Cyprian, St. Athanasius, and, indeed, all the Greek Fathers, did regard baptism as the consummating act; and therefore they call it teliosis, the consummation. These authorities weigh nothing with us; but, as they weigh with our opponents, we think it expedient to remind them on which side the Fathers depose in the case before us. By these quotations we would prove no more than that the ancients understood the washing of regeneration, and indeed used the term regeneration, as synonymous with baptism.

But were we asked for the precise import of the phrase, 'washing or bath of regeneration,' either on philological principles, or as explained by the Apostles, we would give it as our judgment, that the phrase is a circumlocution or periphrasis for water. It is loutron, a word which more properly signifies the vessel that contains the water, than the water itself; and is, therefore, by the most learned critics and translators, rendered bath, as indicative either of the vessel containing the fluid or of the use made of the fluid in the vessel. It is, therefore, by a metonymy, the water of baptism, or the water in which we are regenerated. Paul was Hebrew, and spoke in the Hebrew style. We must learn that style before we fully understand the Apostle's style. In other words, we must studiously read the Old Testament before we can accurately understand the New. What more natural for a Jew accustomed to speak of 'the water of purification,' of 'the water of separation,' to speak of 'the bath of regeneration?' If the phrase 'water of purification' meant water used for the purpose of purifying a person--if 'the water of separation' meant water used for separating a person, what more natural than that 'the bath of regeneration' should mean water used for regenerating a person?

But the New Testament itself confirms this exposition of the phrase. We find the word loutron once more used by the same Apostle, in the same connexion of thought. In his letter to the Ephesians, he affirms that Jesus has sanctified (separated, purified with the water of purification,) the church by a loutron of water--'a bath of water, with the word'--'having cleansed it by a bath of water, with the word.' This is still more decisive. The king's translators, so fully aware that the sense of this passage agrees with Titus iii. 5. have, in both places, used the word washing, and Macknight the term bath as the import of loutron. What is called the washing or bath of regeneration, in the one passage, is, in the other, called 'the washing' or 'bath of water.' What is called 'saved' in one, is called 'cleansed' in the other; and what is called 'the renewal of the Holy Spirit' in the one, is called 'the word' in the other; because the Holy Spirit consecrates or cleanses through the word. For thus prayed the Messiah, 'Consecrate them through the truth: thy word is the truth.' [John 17:17]. And again, 'You are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you.' [John 15:3]

To the same effect, Paul, to the Hebrew Christians, says 'Having your hearts sprinkled from a guilty conscience, and your bodies washed with pure water' [Hebrews 10:22]--the water of purification, the water of regeneration: for the phrase 'pure water' must be understood not of the quality of the water, but metonymically of the effect, the cleansing, the washing, or the purifying of the person--'having your bodies, or persons washed with pure water,' or water that purifies or cleanses.

No one, acquainted with Peter's style, will think it strange that Paul represents persons as saved, cleansed, or sanctified by water; seeing Peter unequivocally asserts that 'we are saved' through water, or through baptism, as was Noah and his family through water and faith in God's promise. 'The antitype immersion does also now save us.' [1 Peter 3:21].

Finally, our great Prophet, the Messiah, gives to water the same place and power in the work of regeneration. For when speaking of being born again--when explaining to Nicodemus the new birth, he says, 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." [John 3:5]. May not we, then, supported by such high authorities, call that water of which a person is born again, the water or bath of regeneration?