Some Factors About Spirit Baptism
By Fred O. Blakely
As is the case with some other highly-moot questions which have troubled the church for centuries, that concerning the current baptism of the Spirit for believers cannot be conclusively determined by Scripture. By inference, a very strong case, indeed, can be made out to the effect that it was confined to the first century—even to the two instances where it is clearly identitled: the Day of Pentecost and the house of Cornelius (Acts 2:14; 10:44-48). However, it seems that, as to final settlement, the matter has purposely been left in a state of uncertainty, that men may not presumptuously dogmatize in an area so closely involving the prerogatives of God.
It Is Not An Object of Prayer. Because of the contemporary rage about the Holy Spirit and the excesses to which many are being carried thereby, it appears both fitting and necessary to point out some of the scriptural factors, which at least ought to prompt second thoughts on the subject. Chief among these is the consideration that Holy Spirit baptism does not seem to be a proper object of prayer by the one to be so baptized. It is true that our Lord encouraged His disciples to pray for the Holy Spirit (Lk. 11:13), but whether this gift includes the measure of the divine Presence denoted by Scripture's use of the concept of baptism therein is one of the ambiguities to which we have referred.
One thing is certain: There is no scriptural precedent for an individual praying for Holy Spirit baptism for himself. That it was promised to the Apostles, is quite clear (Lk. 24:46-49; Acts 1:4-5; 2:33). It is equally certain that nothing is recorded of their having, by prayer, sought this experience for themselves.
The Apostles prayed that the Samaritans might receive the Spirit, before laying hands on them to confer that gift (Acts 8:15-17), but that is quite another matter. The absence of scriptural example of prayer for personal baptism with the Spirit should give definite pause to those today who make so much of seeking that experience. Such obsession itself could well account for the achievement of a state of self-induced emotional ecstasy, which in turn is attributed to the Spirit. (Many serious students of the tongues' speaking phenomenon believe this is precisely how it happens. It should be particularly noted that the two scripturally. authenticated cases of baptism with the Spirit were unsolicited.
The Apostles had not asked for Him when He fell in immersive measure upon them on the Day of Pentecost. He was "poured forth" by the exalted Christ at His own discretion (Acts 2:33, ASV). It was the same at the house of Cornelius. The Spirit came upon them while Peter was yet proclaiming Christ as Lord and Savior, complete with the gift of tongues (Acts 10:44-46). Peter later expressly identified the Caesarean out-pouring of the Spirit as the baptism therewith, saying it was the fulfillment of Christ's promise for such baptism (Acts 11:16; cf. ch. 1:5).
Its Special Enduements Restricted. What appears to be a thoroughly-valid inference regarding the bestowment of the Spirit’s special powers is also calculated to check today's wave of reveling in the pursuit and claimed possession of those powers. That inference, based squarely upon scriptural representations, is that the conferment of such gifts, even in the first century, was only by the laying on of the hands of the Apostles or of those to whom the Apostles had given the power of such bestowment.
Although Philip himself was full of the Spirit and wrought many notable miracles (Acts 8:6-7), he does not seem to have possessed the ability to confer the Spirit on others. This appears from the fact that in Samaria it was necessary for the Apostles Peter and John to come down from Jerusalem, pray for the brethren after they had believed, and lay their hands on them in order for them to receive what seems to have been the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). Simon perceived on that occasion what the Spirit enthusiasts nowadays have not grasped: That it was "through laying on of the Apostles' hands" that “the Holy Ghost was given" in miracle-working measure (v. 18).
Confirming this as the case is Paul’s remark to the Romans: "I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift" (ch. 1:11). If such gifts could have been obtained by the individual's seeking them from God, or by any other means than the imposition of apostolic hands, this remark by the Apostle would appear to have been quite absurd. Timothy, it will be recalled, was endued with a special gift by "the putting on" of Paul's hands (II Tim. 1:6; cf. I Tim. 4:14).
Its Function Fulfilled. The case for the restriction of special enduements to the apostolic age is further strengthened by another vital factor. It is the circumstance that those enduements had a specific function, the fulfillment of which would seem to have obviated their continuance. Scripture is very clear concerning the purpose of special manifestations. In the instance of our Lord's miracles, they were to establish His identity as the Son of God (Jn. 20:30-31; Acts 1:3; Rom. 1:4). With the Apostles, miraculous powers were to confirm the Word which they preached, or to attest to the authenticity of the new covenant promulgated by them (Mk. 16:14-20; Heb. 2:3-4). With ample confirmation in these two cases having been provided, it is inferable that the special workings of the Spirit ceased.
This conclusion is given added credibility by recognition of yet another factor which is everywhere apparent in Scripture. That is the fact that at no time has God been extravagant in the bestowment on men of supernatural power. Throughout the history of His relationship to the race, a certain rigid economy is evident in this area. Hence, it seems logical to reason that with the need for special enduements having been adequately met, God would not persist in conferring them upon people.
Its Currency Impliedly Negated. As we have said, none of these considerations in themselves are positively decisive of the question of Spirit baptism, with the accompaniments of speaking in tongues, miraculous knowledge, the gifts of healing, etc. They are of such weight, however, that they certainly ought to exert very heavy restraint on those inclined to intemperance in such matters.
On occasion, God pours forth the Spirit in measures “according to His own will" (Heb. 2:4). It surely is not for us to try to dictate to Him at this point, or any other. If He chooses to baptize someone with the Spirit today and endow them with miraculous powers, we most certainly shall not fight against Him. But we do reserve the right to try those who claim such experiences and powers by the written Word, using sanctified reason in application of that Word to the case. And we are firmly persuaded that the implications of the Word tend to discourage rather than foster the contemporary claims of special spiritual manifestations.
The "More Excellent Way." It is far better that we major on the unquestionable verities of the kingdom, instead of troubling the church with "doubtful disputations" (Rom. 14:1). This, as Paul would say, is "the more excellent way" (I Cor. 12:32). We know that God has promised the gift of the blessed Spirit, in His sanctifying, strengthening, guiding, upholding, and fructifying power, to all who believe in His Son and are baptized with water in His Name (Acts 2:37-40). There are no ambiguities whatever here. Clearly, this is the will of God for "all men everywhere," and can be the experience of all (Acts 17:30). Let us, therefore, attend to this, and leave to God, as did the first-century saints, our reception of any further measure of the Spirit which He may have for us or our fellows.