the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Spirit (Holy), Baptism of
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Spirit (Holy), Baptism Of
The bestowment of the Divine Spirit upon faithful men — which is simply God's spiritual access to and abiding with his believing and obedient ones — is a promise for all times and dispensations of the Church, of the fulfilment of which promise the Divine Word is the perpetual record. It was the consolation and guide of the patriarchs; the inspiration of the prophets, and the light and life of the Old Test. Church. That which is now given to believers and to the aggregate Church differs from the former in degree and in some of its modes of manifestation rather than in its substance or kind. Indeed, as the Church has been; and is, essentially the same under all its dispensations, having the same precious faith, with the one atoning Sacrifice as its object and end, so the animating Spirit that guided and sustained the faithful ones of the earlier Church is the same with that which we recognize and worship, and in which we rejoice in this our day of the fullness of Gospel grace. It is evident, however, that, for obviously good reasons, a special and peculiar manifestation of the Spirit was given to the apostles — first on the day of Pentecost, and afterwards continuously, though evidently with steadily decreasing outward manifestations, till it finally entirely ceased with the apostolic age. But though its "signs" failed from the Church, as did the power of working miracles, its substance and reality, with all its blessed results, continued as Christ's perpetual legacy to his disciples all down through the ages, and will do so till the great consummation of his kingdom.
1. The term "baptism," used in the New Test. to designate the bestowment of the Holy Ghost, is probably simply an accommodation of the idea of John's baptism, and is used to indicate the substance of which that ceremony was but the shadow and type; and, therefore, it should not be made to signify anything in respect to the method of the impartation of its grace, nor conversely anything as to the mode and form of the initial Christian ordinance. It is enough that we are assured that the Holy Ghost shall be given. The gift of the Holy Spirit was promised by Christ to his disciples under circumstances calculated to impress them with a deep sense of its value and importance. In his last and singularly tender interview with them (John 16), he represented the promised Comforter as more than equivalent to his own personal presence; and after his resurrection, because of its importance and necessity for them, he charged them not to enter upon their great commission until they should receive this promised endowment (Luke 24:40). Its original bestowment on the day of Pentecost is recorded with unusual detail (Acts 2), and its possession is frequently referred to in both the earlier and later Scriptures in such emphatic terms as to leave no doubt of its cardinal character in the Christian scheme. Nevertheless, it would seem to have been strangely overlooked in many ages and sections of Christendom, and its distinctive features have not seldom been imperfectly apprehended even by those who have cordially embraced it as a doctrine and personally experienced its power. A careful looking into the subject may therefore not be without its practical utility.
The great importance of this matter to the Christian ministry is all along, and with great emphasis, set forth in the New Test. The same truth plainly appears from the altered complexion of the apostles' language and conduct after their reception of this gift. Peter, the self confident and yet timid disciple, was immediately transformed into the bold but dignified champion of his Lord. The whole eleven, who had before been such weak believers and such dull scholars, at once rose to a just comprehension of the evangelical scheme. The resistless power with which Stephen spoke before his murderers (Acts 2:10) was but a sample of that with which all were endued.
But we greatly err if we suppose that this gift was limited to the apostles or to preachers. In the account of the first effusion it is explicitly stated that all present partook of it (Acts 2:4); namely, the entire number of the one hundred and twenty disciples, including men and women (Acts 1:14-15). The universality of the gift appears in the case of the Samaritans converted under Philip's preaching (ch. 8), and likewise in the family of Cornelius (Actz Acts 10:44). The four unmarried daughters of Philip, "which did prophesy" (Acts 21:9), were doubtless enabled to do so through this gift. Indeed, none of the prophecies of this endowment, whether in the Old Test. or the New, limit it to a particular class. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, quoted the prediction of Joel as applying to "all flesh," servants and handmaids alike (Joel 2:17-18); and Jesus himself had already referred John the Baptist's declaration of the higher baptism to the same event (Joel 1:5). This gift, then, is the universal privilege of Christians. The "all power" (Matthew 28:18) abides in the aggregate Church and in each individual believer.
2. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between the ordinary and the extraordinary features of this divine gift as exhibited in the apostolic days. There were certain peculiarities then present, such as the power to work miracles, to speak with languages that had not been learned, which history shows have not been permanent in the Church. These special gifts or miraculous endowments seem to have been symbolized — by the "cloven tongues like as of fire" that sat upon each of the primitive recipients. They were, in the first instance, directly conferred by God himself — namely, on the day of Pentecost, as was obviously proper, and, we may say, necessary; but after that event they were invariably, so far as we know, imparted through the instrumentality of the apostles. The only exception to this is in the case of Cornelius, where a special lesson was to be taught concerning the admission of Gentiles into the Church by God himself; and even here an apostle's presence seems to have been requisite. In all other examples recorded the imposition of apostolic hands seems to have been an essential condition to the conferment (see Acts 8:17-18; Acts 19:6; Romans 1:11). The miraculous power once imparted seems to have been permanent with each individual; but none except the apostles had the right or ability of communicating the Holy Ghost to another person. Hence after the death of the apostles the power itself became extinct. This was no doubt a principal one of their peculiar functions. We commend this fact to the consideration of those who claim to be their lineal successors. The ordinary and exclusively spiritual endowment, which is the perpetual heritage of the Christian Church and the privilege of all true believers, we understand to be still conferred, as it always was, directly by God in answer to prayer, without any intermediation or human instrumentality being necessary, though such may be of use by way of preparing the subjects to expect and appreciate the sacred gift. In point of fact, the gift of the Spirit, in its ordinary function, is found to attend personal intercourse with individuals of deep Christian experience.
Many questions, curious rather than profitable, are sometimes raised respecting these supernatural endowments; but we must here pass them by as a thing of history and speculation, and of very little personal interest. The manifestations of the Spirit evidently differed widely in individual cases, and were altogether of an arbitrary and abnormal character. The principal information concerning them is contained in 1 Corinthians 12-14, respecting the proper meaning of which Scripture commentators and exegetes are by no means agreed among themselves. (See SPIRITUAL GIFTS).
One example, however, of the experience of this bestowment, recorded in Holy Writ, is of so marked and instructive a character that we must note it somewhat at length. It occurs in Acts 19:1-7. During Paul's third missionary tour he visited Ephesus, where Apollos had previously labored. The apostle there found twelve men who had become converts to John's baptism, possibly under the preaching of Apollos, prior to the superior enlightenment of the latter by the more spiritual instructions of Aquila and Priscilla. These men had not, therefore, received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, when questioned on the subject, they averred that they "had not so much as heard whether there be any [a] Holy Ghost." By this they could not have meant an utter ignorance of such a divine being, nor of his office work upon human hearts,; for not only is the Old Test., with which they must have been familiar, full of allusions to the Holy Spirit, but John had expressly taught his disciples to look for the long-predicted baptism. We cannot suppose that the Hebrew saints had been destitute of that heavenly influence without which no genuine religious fruit can possibly grow in the human heart; for the very heathen owed all their real piety to the unconsciously anticipated virtue of the incarnate Redeemer. The same Spirit which brooded over the primeval deep (Genesis 1:2) was the Spirit of Christ (John 1:3), without which none are his (Romans 8:9). It was he, as the Jehovah, Logos, who wrought all the wonders of the Mosaic dispensation (1 Corinthians 10:3). The inspiration, whether personal or official, of all the Old Test. characters proceeded, by their own acknowledgment, from this source. The seventy elders (Exodus 24:10) stood on the same spiritual platform with the beloved disciple in Patmos (Revelation 4). Abraham, entering into God's covenant, symbolized by the lamp and the smoking furnace (Genesis 15:17), rejoiced to behold Christ (John 8:56). Jacob's ladder (Genesis 28:12) was a lively type of Christ (John 1:51), the sole medium of intercourse with heaven. David and the prophets abound with recognitions of the Holy Spirit's presence and power in religious experience. Most of the above instances seem to indicate, in respect to their subjects, unusual frames of mind and special inspirations, but some of them speak the ordinary language of private devotion. The Ephesian converts, therefore, must obviously have meant that they did not expect for themselves what they were entirely familiar with in past history as the privilege of a few favored individuals, or, at most, that they did not look for an immediate fulfilment of the Baptist's announcement concerning the Spirit, of which probably they had as yet only very inadequate appreciation. Their experience then and after this was, of course, similar to that of their fellow Christians.
3. We come, therefore, to the difficult task of discriminating the perpetual from the transient manifestations of this precious gift of Christ to his Church in its bearing upon ordinary religious experience. We must clear the way for the discussion by a few preliminary considerations, which we will treat with as little metaphysical abstraction as possible.
All the functions of the Holy Spirit are in one sense preternatural — that is, they are outside of, and superior to, our natural faculties; and the spiritual capabilities with which they invest us are in that sense supernatural. But a miracle is more than this. It is not only beyond and above nature, but still within the realm of nature. The gift or gifts of the Holy Spirit to which we now allude are not opposed to our essential nature, but they come from beyond its sphere, yet often become supplemental, auxiliary, or recuperative to it. This is in accord with another important truth which we are apt to overlook. Our Lord, in his discourse to Nicodemus, declared that as "the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). The operations of the Spirit are inscrutable, even to the subject of them, as to their mode of action; consciousness reveals to us only the fact, not the manner nor the origin, of our religious experiences. These last we must learn from some other criterion or source. The apostle, therefore, very properly exhorts us to "try the spirits [both in ourselves and in others, by means of the written Word and their fruits] whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). If we had, like the apostles, the inspired gift of "discerning spirits," perhaps we might, to some extent, dispense with these accessory tests. Now the reason why we are unable to distinguish by any infallible internal mark or quality the author or tendency of our cognitions, impulses, or emotions, even when they are really due to the influence of the Holy Spirit, is because these divine influences, however genuine or powerful, all lie in the plane of our own proper mental faculties, appearing to the consciousness as of subjective origin. They, in fact, use these faculties as their channel or vehicle, just as the electric current runs along the telegraphic wire precisely the same whether the thunderstorm or the magnetic machine give the impulse, and whether the telegram be from friend or foe, a truth or a lie. It is a great and dangerous error, alike unscriptural and unphilosophical, to assume for any one that he is directly conscious of any divine influence as such. Whether it is God himself or Satan that is operating the wires in his soul, he can only tell for a certainty by a comparison of the character and bearing of the message with some external rule or standard.
It follows from this law that, aside from the miraculously inspired experience of prophets strictly so called which no sound Christian now claims, and of which we could only speak theoretically — we are to expect no ecstatic, frenzied, or extravagant demonstration as the essence, concomitant, or mark of the spiritual endowment which we are considering. We say this not from any sympathy with such a Quietism as Upham has learned from Madame Guyon, which teaches that no influence of the Holy Spirit tends to flutter, disturb, or agitate the soul. Unquestionably some terribly disquieting convictions often reach the bosom of the penitent, and many distressing emotions sometimes invade the peace even of the believer; and we are far from dissociating God's Spirit from these. We only mean that fantasy, rhapsody, and spiritual transcendentalism are no more signs of the religious endowment which we are considering than is catalepsy, vociferation, or glee. All these may thrill the nerves; and so may music or poetry or a landscape. It is only when God plays upon the keyboard that the divine harmony is wakened, and only when he speaks that the sacred whispers of soul respond. It is said that some of Mr. Wesley's most impressive sermons were delivered with wonderful calmness. There was more power because more pathos in the "still, small voice" which spoke to the despondent prophet at Horeb than in all the "thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud" at Sinai. Both in physical extravagancies and mental transports heathen devotees have often excelled, and Mohammedan dervishes are adepts in these unprofitable bodily exercises.
4. But we must give a positive, and not merely a negative, statement of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This involves a somewhat close analysis of religious states and processes, in the formulation of which Christian denominations are not fully at one, though the agreement may be more nearly complete than it sometimes seems.
The acts on God's part in conversion are essentially two, justification, or the pardon of sin, which takes place in the divine mind; and regeneration, which is also an initial sanctification, and takes place in the human soul. These two coordinate elements are inseparable from the very beginning of any true religious life in the Bible sense, and they are, therefore, characteristic of every genuine believer, whether in the Old or the New Economy. Thus Saul, the first Hebrew king, was "turned into another man" when he met the company of the prophets (1 Samuel 10:6), although he afterwards fell from grace; and Saul, the first chief persecutor of the infant Church, received the same change on the way to Damascus, and continued steadfast in it to his life's end. Jacob experienced a similar spiritual transformation as he wrestled with the angel — for be it carefully noted that his vision of the ladder resulted only in a conditional promise of future consecration to God (Genesis 28:20-21); but the apostles were no doubt converted men long before the day of Pentecost, for Judas could not otherwise have been an apostate (John 17:12). Both these acts — forgiveness and the new birth — are necessarily instantaneous and complete at once, because they are acts, and divine ones. They are not processes, but each is a fact, which must be perfected whenever their conditions are met, matured, or perfected. Sanctification, on the other hand, is the outcome of a progressive work, begun at conversion and completed, whether gradually or instantaneously, at a subsequent stage. Possibly it might have been completed at conversion, had the subject possessed adequate intelligence and faith, and it might be perfectly attained at any other point of the Christian's career on the concurrence of the same requisites; but this all conquering faith is itself a divine endowment. In point of fact, it is usually deferred till fatal sickness or utter decrepitude has weaned the heart from earth, or it is even postponed to the hour of dissolution, if, indeed, it be granted — as is generally assumed, we think rightly that the saved soul entering Paradise must be, in the fullest sense, "cleansed of all sin." At whatever moment this great change may be fully achieved, it is, of course, entirely the work of God — that is, of the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Now there are two other and more special offices of the Holy Spirit which it is the privilege of Christians to experience, accessory to, but not necessarily implied in, any of the three acts or operations already specified. It is these that are the distinctive features of Christianity as a personal religion. They were not known, at least not in this precise form, to the Old Test. saints. They are very nearly allied to each other, and have strong affinities, especially to regeneration; but they have some peculiar features in both these aspects. They are the witness of the Spirit and the baptism of the Spirit. The former is the seal of adoption, and the latter the earnest of the inheritance. They are both very clearly set forth in Paul's writings, especially in the Epistle to the Romans. They are not identical. The." witness" is objective and conclusive; it looks to our relation as children of God, and is incapable of growth, although it may occasionally be somewhat obscured. The "baptism" is subjective and cumulative; it drinks in the luxury of the divine communion, and expands by successive impartations. The one is a recognition of our relation to God, the other our enjoyment of him. The apostle seems to have expressed their mutual correlation in an admirable figure — "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
We have said that these two great blessings properly attend the conversion of the soul. We think they would always accompany it simultaneously if the subject were duly instructed to expect them. But in point of fact there often is an interval, sometimes a considerable one, between that event and these. We are not sure that the "witness" and the "baptism" may not themselves be occasionally separated by a longer or shorter interval of time. Certainly many believers do not immediately enter into the assurance of adoption, and it is quite as certain that very many know little, if anything, for a long time or for all their lives, of the true baptism of the Spirit.
5. It is proper that we should, if possible, discriminate a little more closely still. In describing, as well as we may, in a last analysis, this "baptism," we premise, of course, that only by actual experience can it be truly apprehended. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14), and only they who are taught of God by the Holy Ghost can understand the deep things of the Spirit. In the gracious economy of the Gospel this gift is the common privilege of believers, giving fervor to the heart, earnestness to the life, and unction to the words in divine things. By virtue of this endowment, prayer is changed from a cold and formal routine to a living and spontaneous intercourse; heaven becomes a present reality, instead of a dim prospect; Christ dwells in the heart, and not merely reigns over it. There is a glow, a joy, a freedom, in all the feelings, looks, and acts of the possessor of this gift that shows he has found peace, rest, and satisfaction. The emotions may not always rise to rapture; they may at times be even depressed to grief; but there will be a sweetness in sorrow itself, and a gladness in the very humiliation, for the company of Jesus will still be realized. In one word, it is the sunshine of the elder brother's presence in the soul that makes all the difference between the spiritually unbaptized servant of God and the baptized son. This baptism is especially evident in season of revival, to which, indeed, it often holds the double relation of cause and effect, not only enabling believers to enjoy such "refreshing from the presence of the Lord," but especially qualifying them for useful labors at such times. A word uttered under the inspiration of such a baptism is often more effectual in reaching the heart both of believers and unbelievers than a sermon without it. Indeed, the success of all human efforts in this line depends almost wholly upon the presence and extent of this power.
6. It will not be inferred, as has already been intimated, that such baptisms are limited to any special times or places or occasions. They may come in the solitary and silent meditation of the closet; but we believe that they are more frequently experienced in the social exercises of "the communion of saints." They are various in both form and degree, and may often be repeated, until the soul at length becomes "full of glory and of God."
This baptism is neither the same with entire sanctification, nor is the latter the invariable result of the experience of the former. Some may have, perhaps unwittingly, but not therefore harmlessly, confounded the two under the vague name of "the second blessing." This is rather the doorway, the roadway, to that exalted attainment. Multitudes, it must be believed, are walking in its light and peace and joy who are, nevertheless, conscious of numerous spiritual failings, who may even, though not of necessity, be overcome by temptation and fall into momentary — never into deliberate — sin. But if they abide in the Spirit, they are enabled by divine grace immediately to take hold upon the Great Restorer, and to taste anew the "mystic joys of penitence," and to rejoice anew in the power of saving grace. All those who thus faithfully hold on to Christ by the Spirit will at length prove completely victorious, and will be enabled to shout on earth as well as in heaven their triumph over every inward and outward foe. (See SPIRITUAL GIFTS).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Spirit (Holy), Baptism of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​s/spirit-holy-baptism-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.