Pouring Water On A Duck’s Back

By Osamagbe Lesley Egharevba | Lagos, Nigeria

To “pour water on a duck’s back” is an expression that is usually used when a person’s action is seen as having no effect. The water droplets literally roll off of duck’s back when you pour water on it. Thus, one is seen as pouring water on a duck’s back if one does or attempts something futile which does not bring physical result. If you have ever observed a duck, you may have noticed that no matter how often the duck dives under the water, it comes back up looking quite dry. This is because of the kind of feathers they have. One popular American preacher, Barton W. Stone (1772 – 1844) had used this phrase at a point during his lifetime. After preaching the Biblical doctrine of baptism for the remission of sins for some years, he decided to quit and stop preaching it because majority of the people of his time were not accepting the teaching even though what he was teaching is true and scriptural. Frank Richey (2022) gives the narrative thus:

“In 1803, Barton Stone came to the conclusion the necessity of baptism for remission of sins, and he taught it, but over the years quit. The doctrine regained popularity in the late 1820’s when a young man named Benjamin Franklin Hall began to teach baptism for remission of sins. In 1826, while traveling through Kentucky, he stopped at the cabin of some friends on Line Creek at Gamaliel, Kentucky. The family was not home, so Hall entered the cabin to wait for their return. While there, he saw a copy of the Campbell-McCalla debate. When he read Campbell’s statement about the necessity of baptism for remission of sins, he immediately determined to preach it. Hall went to see Barton Stone and asked him why he did not preach this doctrine, and Stone replied that he had preached the doctrine twenty-five years before, but stopped because it was like “pouring water on a duck’s back.” He said the people rejected the doctrine so he quit preaching it.”

Here is one man who was so zealous about preaching the truth that he just discovered and here is another individual, an experienced preacher of at least 25 years who had preached this same truth before but decided to dump it since he seems not to be getting the desired result. While it is true that rejecting a preacher and his message could be discouraging, that should not be a reason to stop preaching the truth. God told Ezekiel in Ezekiel 2:5-7: 

[5] “As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse—for they are a rebellious house—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them.” [6] “And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house. [7] You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious.”

It is not the job of gospel preachers to force people to accept the truth. Gospel preachers are simply to speak the true Word of God at all times (II Timothy 4:2) regardless of the opposition and/or the level of reception of the message by people. We must not make the mistake of thinking that our effort is futile when people do not accept the truth we are proclaiming. This is because Paul said that the labour of those who are always abounding in the work of the Lord is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58). As God told Ezekiel, we must continue to preach the truth to the people whether they hear or whether they refuse. They will have no excuse on the last day and they can never be bold to say to you; “You never mentioned Him to me.” We must fulfill our obligation and be pleasing to God.

At this point, it is important to commend and emulate the effort of Benjamin Franklin Hall (1803-1873). He was a courageous young man with great zeal to preach the truth and help others receive it. He was able to meet and discuss this issue with Barton Stone and got him back to teaching the truth. Hall was just a young boy of about 23 years in 1826 while Stone was about 54 years of age. What that means is that Stone had been preaching this truth regarding baptism which he now dumps even before Hall was born. Hall was not discouraged neither was Stone too proud to accept correction. In fact, Hall’s consistent effort of preaching this truth led to the conversion of many other great men. In the words of Richey (2022):

“Hall, in the same year, made a trip into North Alabama, preaching in Jackson, Madison, and Lauderdale counties. In Lauderdale County he preached a sermon at the church on Cypress Creek. In this sermon he preached baptism for remission of sins. Four young people responded to the sermon. Among them was Tolbert Fanning who became editor of the Gospel Advocate and president of Franklin College where he taught David Lipscomb and T. B. Larimore, one of the most in demand preachers in the last part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Alan Kendrick was also baptized at this meeting. Kendrick baptized 6,000, including his brother Dr. Carroll Kendrick, who became a preacher and is believed to have baptized about thirty thousand. Perhaps the greatest influence to come from this gospel meeting was from James A. Matthews who was preaching in the area but had not preached baptism for the remission of sins. Upon hearing Hall, Matthews determined to preach this doctrine and wrote Stone in his journal, Christian Messenger, three articles concerning this doctrine, urging Stone to once again teach the necessity of baptism for remission of sins. The articles, titled “The Gospel Plan of Saving Sinners,” appeared on pages 125-129, 150-154, and 211-213 of the 1829 Christian Messenger. They advanced simple biblical authority for belief, and repentance and baptism for remission of sins, as opposed to various sectarians. As a result of these articles, Stone once again took the position that baptism was necessary for remission of sins.”

For some people, they think that older and more experienced people are better qualified to teach the truth and make converts than younger people but this is not always true. I have heard of congregations that would not allow young people to mount the pulpit simply because they are “young.” Some congregations will even refuse to engage a preacher simply because he is “too young;” and most people will look down on the truth simply because the person preaching it is “too young.” All of these are wrong mindsets that could be detrimental to anyone who is carried away by them. Truth should always be appreciated regardless of whoever is saying it; and rather than be a discouragement to anyone because of their age, it is best to encourage them to do more wonderful work in the kingdom of God. 


Richey, F. (2022). Alexander Campbell’s Controversial Membership In The Baptist Church. The Restoration Reader And Review. 4(3) pp. 1 – 5

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