Washing and Sprinkling:

A Letter

To the Editor of "The Bible Treasury."

1882 188 My dear Brother, — For some time past my mind has been occupied with the subject of washing and sprinkling, and the doctrines connected with these acts respectively, and as inculcated in Scripture. How far a similar condition may have existed in other minds I cannot say, but in my own I have long been conscious of a sort of vagueness of apprehension on this point, which has caused me to look minutely and attentively into Scripture about it. The difficulty perhaps may not have occurred to many, either because they have throughout been more clear than I have been on the subject, or because it may not have presented itself as distinctly to their minds. In either case there can, I trust, be no objection to my submitting to you, and through the pages of "The Bible Treasury" to Brethren generally, what my difficulty has been, and the way in which, as I venture to think, the Lord has graciously removed it. If what is here said commends itself to their consciences. I shall be very thankful.

Doubtless many others besides myself have, in days gone by and in the systems around us, heard such teaching as that the believer was washed from his sins in the blood of Christ at his conversion, but that the daily and constant sprinkling of the blood is needed to cleanse us from our sins, as they are daily committed. No habitual readers of "The Bible Treasury" are in the least likely to hold such a doctrine as this. We all hold, and hold rightly, that the application of the precious blood of Christ occurs but once, — once for all, and for ever; but that it is the "washing of water by the word," which meets the defilement (as unfitting for communion) caused by our sins, as they are committed. However the very action above related gave rise to the following question in my own mind. If Scripture speaks both of our being washed from our sins in the blood of Christ, and of the application of His blood to us by sprinkling, what is the difference in meaning between them? For that washing and sprinkling, have mutually distinctive meanings in Scripture, is indisputable.

Moreover, that Scripture in both its parts speaks of the latter is clear and distinct, — the New Testament giving antitypical meaning of the collateral passages in the Old. Expiation is by the blood, as moral cleansing is by the water, and the application of the blood (in the power of the Spirit) is the application of this fact to the individual believer. The act is, according to Scripture, significative of the remission of his sins, Hebrews ix. 13-14; — by it his conscience is purged (cleansed); his heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience, Heb. x. 22. This being so, what could be the distinction in meaning between washing in the blood, and sprinkling with the blood? This has been the root of the vagueness of apprehension I have spoken of. The question is, does the teaching of Scripture as a whole, sustain the notion that there are two washings, one with the blood, and one with water? It appears to me that it does not.

In searching Scripture for an answer to this question, I was struck with the utter absence in the types or teaching of the Old Testament (so clearly referred to by the terms "washing" and "sprinkling") of anything resembling a washing in or with blood. Invariably the washing is with water. Continuing the search into the New Testament the same thing struck me; allusions to the washing with water frequent; — to washing in blood never here, till we came to Rev. i. and Rev. vii. 14. The latter however is not exactly a question of persons, but of robes. It will be observed that the construction in both these cases is en with the dative. In what sense then could the believer be said to wash his robes in the blood of the Lamb? No doubt* in a sense similar to that in which it is said "let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." It is not precisely, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean: from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you." The exhortation is to effort based on the known value of the blood of Christ to make good in practical life the efficacy and power of the precious blood of Christ which has removed the guilt and judgment of our sins. For we are justified from sins by blood, from sin by death. We are to do this in the power of the blood of Christ, its power as to the conscience, its power as to right feeling and right motive. Compare Matt. xvii. 21 as to prayer. But Rev i. 5 had long been a very familiar text with me, and for some time it held its ground in my mind even after I saw that its effect is in Scripture attributed to something else, viz. to sprinkling, and that it stands absolutely alone in seeming to attribute remission of sins to washing. For the figure of washing is in Scripture significative of the new nature; but sins have to do with the conscience and involve guilt, and this is in Scripture connected with the sprinkling of blood. No one of the inspired writers makes such frequent use of the figure of water, and of washing, as does the apostle John; yet Rev. i. 5 stands alone in his writings in making blood the element in or with which the believer is washed. Everywhere else it is water.

[*This has been and might be doubted by many intelligent saints. The note is therefore added that the reader may weigh our brother's thought as a suggestion. His main point is independent of it, and perhaps stronger without this view of Rev. vii. 14, with which the true text of Rev. xxii. 14 may be compared. Faith is the gift of God and of grace; yet the man is said to believe, and it is his faith; so that there is no more difficulty if Christ were said to wash the person himself than to wash his robe, in the same sense but in a different aspect — Ed.]

After weighing all this in my mind, I was at length forced to the conclusion that the alternative reading lusanti is the correct one in this text, and that the true rendering therefore is "has loosed (or freed) us from our sins by His blood." Unfortunately, in the authorised version of the Old Testament, different Hebrew words are translated by the same word "sprinkle." But sprinkling is not the sense or idea in the cases of the Burnt and Peace offerings (Lev. 5, Lev. iii. 2). It is rather to cast, or throw. The word properly rendered "to sprinkle" is hizzah (rhainein aspergare). This is the word used in reference to the Sin-offering in Lev. 14; the annual day of atonement, Lev. xvi. 14, 15; and in the case of the water of separation or of purification, Numbers xix. The same Greek verb (or in a slightly modified form) is used in Hebrews ix. 13, 19, 21; Hebrews x. 22. The spiritual connection then between these portions of the Divine word is evident. So likewise the Greek word for "sprinkling" in Heb. xiii 24; 1 Peter 1:2 is rhantismos. The last text of course alludes to Exodus xxiv. 8; so does, I suppose, Heb. xii. 24. But 1 Peter i. 19 is clearly the redemptive sacrifice of the Passover, whilst in 1 John i. 7 we have, I think, the sprinkled blood of the Scapegoat* (substitution), and in 1 John 2:2 the Lord's lot, — God's moral government.

Hoping these few observations may not be otherwise than acceptable to you, and willing thankfully to receive any further light upon this important subject, I am, my dear Brother,

Affectionately your's in Him who suffered for us, J. B. P.

[*In the scape-goat it was not a question of blood, but of the sins being confessed and laid on the head of the live animal sent away thereon into a land not inhabited. Of course the two goats are united really in the work of Christ; but propitiation is set forth in the slain goat whose blood was sprinkled before and upon the mercy-seat, and substitution in the scapegoat, with all the iniquities and transgressions confessed over him, dismissed into the wilderness. Ed.]