WHAT IS THIS BAPTISM?
An article in three parts exploring the true nature of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
What is this Baptism? More than any of us can understand, that is for sure! Greater than the greatest statements that have been made about it, that too is certain. Something that causes controversy in Christian circles wherever it is introduced, that is also true. Shall we add to the confusion by another article? Is it possible to rid ourselves of all prejudice and come in simplicity of heart to the Scriptures of truth and see that they say to us concerning this vital matter? Prejudice withers those who give way to it; they miss hid treasure thereby. Let the hungry gather and be fed, let us all lay aside every narrowing thing that would keep us from having from God all that He would give us.
RARITY IMPLIES VALUE
The phrase “Baptism in/with the Holy Spirit is rarely found in the Scriptures. What a discovery this is considering the way in which it is peddled around so freely in certain circles. Could it be that this blessed thing (whatever it is), is so precious, so valuable, that the Lord whispers it but infrequently lest it should become profane? “You must be born again” is another phrase equally rare, if not more so. Something has gone wrong, that things so precious have become like toys, played around with by children who know not what they handle. In this way the jewels of great worth in spiritual value are treated like cheap glass marbles in a children’s playground. Is this what we have done with precious truth from God? In some cases such profaning of truth may be done unconsciously but it is nonetheless grievous to God and misleading to both saints and seekers alike.
NO BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?
Just to confirm our statement concerning preciousness and rarity, look into the Scriptures. Look at the Old Testament first. You will not find our phrase mentioned there at all. More than two-thirds of the Bible, spanning millennia and no mention? Here is an amazing fact. There are allusions though; inferences, metaphorical statements, promises concerning something ‘to come.’ All concerning the baptism in the Holy Spirit was future as far as the Old Testament was concerned. No one was baptised in the Holy Spirit in those centuries, not Elijah, nor Isaiah, not a man nor a woman, no matter how godly and precious they were. Yet many a person in Old Testament days experienced something of the Holy Spirit. What happened to them then, if it was not the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit?’ Special distributions of the Spirit of God were given to them. These equipped them to fulfil the special functions unto which they had been chosen and called by God. That was wonderful, but that was all, whether they were prophets or artificers chosen to build the tabernacle; whether Samson or David, the Spirit was distributed to them unto specific ministerial ends which could only be fulfilled ‘by the Spirit.’ But none were BAPTISED in the Holy Spirit, God was saving the best till last!
THE PLAIN ANNOUNCEMENT
When we open the pages of our New Testament at last we find some explicit mention of our subject. Within a page or two of the beginning of the ‘gospel’ we find the phrase. John the Baptist was the first human being ever to say these words. That is salutary as we recall to mind what manner of man he was. He himself was a baptist but water was the medium he used. This in itself was new, but how much more his announcement concerning the Baptism in the Holy Spirit which was to come. Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16 and John 1:33 are the relevant scriptures. Only once do we find the Lord Jesus mentioning this baptism directly in a phrase; it is after His resurrection whilst speaking to His disciples in Acts 1:5. Notice the fact that at this point the phrase is still in the future tense; still no one had been baptised in the Holy Spirit by the Lord Jesus. Evidently there was that which yet had to take place both in the Lord Jesus and in heaven before He could fulfil the promise. Peter is the only other person to use the phrase in its straightforwardness. He mentions the Spirit baptism in Acts 11:16. He is referring back to the statement Jesus had made and using it in connection with the amazing happenings in the household of Cornelius. Peter states that (amongst other things), those in Cornelius’ household were “Baptised in the Holy Spirit.’ “God gave to them the like gift as He did unto us” (Acts 11:17) says Peter. Now, when we realise that this event in the house of Cornelius took place at least three or four years after Pentecost those that affirm a belief that there was only one ‘baptism in the Spirit’ and it took place on the day of Pentecost lose credibility for their case. This act of God called by this name is clearly not only something with God did once, an inaugural move bringing the church into being. It IS that, but it is much more; it can happen to Gentiles also, to soldiers, servants, all sorts of people at any time in this ‘day of grace’ in which we live, providing certain necessary criteria are met with.
Here then is the extent of the usage of this phrase in its simple clarity in the New Testament. Paul does mention something like it in 1 Corinthians chapter twelve. “By One Spirit are we all baptised into one body.” He is obviously talking about the same thing, but is not so definite in using the phrase we seek. This means that we only find the phrase three times in scripture; once by John Baptist, once by the Lord Jesus and once by the apostle Peter. Isn’t this amazing? I find it so. Let us tread carefully on from this point and examine this truth lest we should be like the children in the playground mentioned earlier.
A HELPFUL HERMENEUTIC
Hermeneutics, here is a good word. What does it mean, especially in connection with our subject? It is a term used in reference to laws of Bible interpretation. Though there is some variation of opinion among them, most theological scholars recognise about thirty laws of Bible hermeneutics. One of these laws will help us in the pursuit of our study. It is generally known as, “the law of the first mention.” Simply stated, this law says that the first of mention of any subject in the Scriptures contains with it all the essential elements of the truth pertaining to that subject. This is an important principle – bear it in mind as we go ahead and examine carefully the first mention of our subject. There we shall find EVERYTHING basic to the baptism in the Holy Spirit, every essential element will be present just as everything essential to the later growth of a plant is contained within the seed sown. It is true that branches, leaves, buds and fruit will growth forth from that seed, but they were all there at the beginning!
THE FIRST MENTION
The first mention of this subject is from John the Baptist. In each of the gospels the statement is recorded. This repetition lends emphasis. God is really wanting to say something; it is important, let every open heart hear it. Other events and teachings recorded by all four gospel writers deal with matters essential to entry into and continuance in spiritual life. If we bring together the four accounts of the words of John Baptist we arrive at this statement – “He shall baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Contained in these ten words are the essential elements of what this baptism is, who does it, in what element it is done and to whom. Scripture continues in the text adding, “whose fan is in His hand and He will throughly purge His floor and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Here is the expected result of this baptism, it is unto fruitfulness for God’s garner and the destruction of all that is not fruit unto God. If a man would be fruitful unto God, one whom the Lord shall gladly gather into His garner, then he must be baptised in the Holy Spirit and continue in the life and ability thus imparted. Now let us attempt something very simple; an examination of each of these ten words as they occur in the text. They are specific, surely as we look briefly into each of them we can gather at least some of that truth God wants us to know concerning the baptism in the Holy Spirit. We must not detract from nor underemphasise that which is written, neither should we add to it but understand it as it was given.
Who is the “He” of the text? Everyone who is familiar with the scripture will know. Let us confine ourselves to the contextual answer. Firstly John the Baptist calls Him “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29 & 36). Secondly John states that He is “preferred before me for He was before me (John 1:30). Thirdly, “He” is the One upon whom the Spirit of God descended and remained (John 1:33). Fourthly, John states “He” is the Son of God” (John 1:34). Fifthly, in Luke 3:16 “He” is described by John as being “mightier than I.” Sixthly we find “He” is the owner of that which has been growing, owner of the land, owner of the threshing floor. Note the repetitive statement that it is “HE” who will baptise, the fan is in “HIS” hand, the floor is “HIS,” and finally, the garner is “HIS” too. I love the way that the Lord Jesus is introduced in this manner by John. Gathering these statements together we find that “HE” who baptises with the Holy Spirit is the Lamb of God who knows intimacy with the dove-alike Holy Spirit. “HE” came to take away sin, not merely cover it as the sacrifices of the Old Testament time had done. “HE” is the pre-existent One who was before John and indeed all others. It seems that the whole context is full of the greatness of “HIM.”
How often people seem to make a serious mistake right at this first word. They get a hunger for “the baptism” but not for “HIM.” The quest to obtain begins. Some go after ‘power,’ effectiveness and all kinds of phenomena. They go to this meeting and to that, seeking the ministry of this man and that so that they can ‘get’ the Spirit. All sorts of phrases are used, laying on of hands is employed. Sincerity may well pervade all hearts concerned, but so often folk fail to receive that which they seek because they have not gone to “HIM.” This baptism is inextricably linked with “HIM.” Through it those who find, find “HIM.” Though people may seek “HIM” FOR the baptism in the Spirit, when they receive from Him they discover that in fact they have truly found “HIM,” they have really received “HIM” (John 1:12). When the thirsting heart truly comes to “HIM” it shall surely receive. “HE” alone has the Spirit to give. It is wonderful that He employs men and women as His channels but they are not the source. People get fixed on the channels and miss Him who is the Living Stream. Perhaps this is an error particularly prevalent in our day. It is an age of ‘stars:’ pop stars, movie stars, sports stars, stars of every type seem to fill the mental firmament of so many people. Such attitudes spill over into the churches. Folk run hither and thither to this or that spiritual ‘star’ whether preacher or musician or prophet and all the while the Lord Jesus is whispering, “seek ye MY face.” It was Oswald Chambers who stated that he had become firmly convinced of the fact that the last thing people will do is to come in simplicity of heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. They would pray, weep, seek the help of anyone who appeared to have somewhat to offer, but to come to the Lord Himself and drink was at once the hardest and yet the simplest thing of all. The Lord Jesus never fails. He shall baptise in the Spirit whose who come to Him. He is Lord, He is Master, He is the Son of God, He is also the Lamb Who knows the communion of the Holy Spirit. When this Lord Jesus baptises with the Holy Spirt it is man being brought into intimate relationship with this One Who is greater than all, the One who is before all, the One who takes away sin; man meets God as Lamb and Dove. Is it possibly that this baptism has become demeaned in current day usage? It is very possible, indeed, almost certain.
“He shall…” In the days John the Baptist spoke these words this wondrous baptism was referred to as in something to occur in the future. The blessing was ‘not yet’ save in the mind and intention of God. It was not yet available. John’s water baptism was available, the sacrificial system in the temple was functional, the devout heart that sought to please God could avail itself of these. But the Baptism in the Holy Spirit had yet to be created, it had yet to burst forth. This great immersion was yet in store, like the waters both above and beneath the earth waiting in the day of Noah (2 Peter 3:5-7). As we know, the waters of Noah’s time had to be released. They were kept in place and it needed the word of God to make the breach to that they could pour forth and do their work of sweeping away the old with all its sin and enabling the new to come to pass. Even so in God had been stored up grace such as man has hardly dreamed of There was to be an immersion in the Holy Spirit for man but all was intact and sealed until the Word should come creating a breaking. The Lord Jesus Christ was and is that Living Word. Jesus the Baptiser in the Holy Spirit had to be prepared and in Him the way had to be opened through which the Spirit could be poured out. When something is stored up, there needs to be a time of release. A bottle of wine will need to be opened, the Spirit of God is the wine of God and Calvary was the time of opening. Christ became THE way IN EVERY way. The way back to God for man, the way for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon man. Whilst Jesus walked upon the earth He could never baptise with the Holy Spirit, all was still in store in those days, it needed the breaking of Calvary, the spilling of His spotless blood, His death, resurrection, ascension into heaven and Him being seated there with the Father before the Spirit should be shed forth from on High. John had to speak of the baptism as future but there would be a day when that which should come would come, and blessed are those who live in the day of its availability and who receive the promise. “He shall,” not maybe, or perhaps, but HE SHALL! Here is certainty of promise: from it He will never turn.
The word “baptise’ is not common in the Scriptures. We have already pointed out that fact. In our text it is used in the future tense, because it was something yet to take place in the lives of those hearing its announcement, provided they qualified to receive it. If we take careful note that the word is only used in reference to two events we shall immediately learn something vital concerning it. The words of John Baptist and those of Jesus in Acts 1:8 without doubt refer to that which took place on the day of Pentecost. Peter’s statement in Acts 11: 16 also refers to Pentecost and we also deduce that the event in Cornelius’ household was of the same order. These are the sole occasions of the mention of the baptism in the Holy Spirit by name in all Scripture. Referring as they to to these two events, we may certainly grasp that this baptism has to do with (1) the inauguration of the Church and (2) initiation into the life of Christ the Head of the church.
Pentecost is generally known as the ‘birthday’ of the church. It was the beginning for the one hundred and twenty who received the Holy Spirit baptism in the upper room in Jerusalem, this is their own admission and confession (Acts 11:15). Pentecost was the inauguration of the Church and took place in those coming from a Jewish background. In the household of Cornelius those being brought into the Church were Gentiles by background. ‘Inauguration’ means “to make a public exhibition for the first time,” (Chambers Dictionary). At Pentecost God publicly exhibited the fact that His church was now a historical fact, it was in being and men and women from a Hebrew background had been placed into it. In Acts chapter ten God again publicly exhibited the fact of His church and this time, He made it plain that He was now including and incorporating Gentiles into the number that make up His church. We may gain this lesson from this fact, namely that the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” must take place in a person’s life in order for them to be publicly exhibited to be included by God among the number of those in His church. Whether or not the experience is called by this name is not the fact under examination, but the thing itself must take place. Praise God that He is not limited to phraseology and does perform this operation in the lives of those who come to Him, though they may understand it in other terms. However, this should not prevent us from holding clearly the statement of truth using proper terms it we by His grace have come to see their TRUE use and value.