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Is Holy Spirit Baptism Subsequent to Conversion?

by J. A. McConnelee (1868-1942)

J A McConneleeThe Apostle Paul, speaking through the Holy Spirit, says, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant." It was evidently very needful in those days for God's people to be able to distinguish the true things of the Spirit from the false. Is this not equally necessary today, if not more so? There are among these times those who call themselves "Pentecostals," or "Latter Rain Saints," or members of "Assemblies of God," who place special emphasis on spiritual "gifts and manifestations." These are most earnest in seeking what they consider the higher things, and for their earnestness we commend them.

But with reference to "spiritual gifts" many questions arise, such as— Were these gifts intended for all believers, or only for certain chosen saints? Were they merely for the apostolic age, or may we expect to find them in the Church of the present day? Especially, are we to look for the "sign gifts," namely, "working of miracles," "tongues," "interpretations," and "healings," at the present time? Are these "sign gifts" the special evidence of the enduement of the Spirit, and are we to conclude that no one is really "endued" who is without these signs?

The name "Pentecostal" implies that this belief claims special connection with the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit at the beginning of the Christian era. This body of Christians insists that no believer should be satisfied until he obtains "his Pentecost," or, to put this matter in the words of one of their own books, "What God gave to His Church on her birthday was intended to be the normal experience of her every member." Within this experience they include not only (1) the being filled with the Spirit, but also (2) what they claim to be the one Pentecostal and Scriptural evidence of that fullness, namely, the speaking in tongues.

They call the fulness the "baptism" of the Spirit, doing this evidently with the object of linking up with Pentecost the experience of Cornelius and his household and the experience of the disciples at Ephesus, which is recorded in Acts 19, so that they may have a basis for their teaching that all believers of this dispensation should receive the Holy Spirit "as at the beginning."

Are Fulness and Baptism the Same?

But is it legitimate for us to call the fulness of the Spirit by the term "baptism"? Is this the way Scripture teaches us to use this term for believers of the present day? This Holy Spirit baptism is definitely mentioned only seven times in the New Testament, namely, in Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; Jn. 1:33; Acts 1:5, 11:16; and 1 Cor. 12:13. Six out of these seven passages refer to the prophecy of John the Baptist that the Christ was who He would "baptize in the Holy Spirit," while reference to Acts 1:5 clearly shows that it was at Pentecost that this blessing of the Holy Spirit actually came into the experience of the Apostles and their fellow-believers.

But we must not overlook the fact that, as McConkey in his masterful book, "The Threefold Secret of the Holy Spirit," clearly points out, "the Apostles lived before Christ came, while He walked the earth, and after He left it. Wherefore the experience that matches ours is not so much that of the Apostles, who had also believed on Jesus before the gift of the Holy Ghost, as that of the Apostles' converts, who believed on Him exactly as we do, after the work of Christ was finished and after the Holy Ghost was given." Indeed, the Scriptures distinctly state that the Apostles were believers before Pentecost, but that they did not, and could not, receive the Holy Spirit til that "day" was "fully come." "But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). This giving and this receiving of the Spirit, it should be added, was that feature of the Spirit's coming of which Christ spoke when He said, "and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever" (John 14:16).

Though there are evidences to show that the Apostles were the objects of many ministries of the Spirit, yet the only legitimate conclusion from these words of Christ is that it was at Pentecost they actually received the Holy Spirit Himself as an ever-present indwelling power. But it is not so with us as to our believing and our receiving of the Spirit. It is an impossibility for anyone to be a believer in the present time without receiving the Holy Spirit. ["...Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9).] As Scofield says, "The Holy Spirit indwells every believer during this dispensation. There is no such thing as a believer who has not received the Holy Spirit." Wherefore, to argue that the experience of the Apostles at Pentecost should be the norm for believers of the present age is beside the point.

Apostolic Experience Is Not Ours

In other words, we cannot take the experience of the Apostles as a guide in determining what the baptism of the Spirit is for us. But we can, and we should, take the experience of their converts as a determining factor, as well as the direct apostolic instruction on this point:

(1) On the very first day of the Church's life, when in answer to the cry of the convicted multitude, "What shall we do?" the apostolic direction was to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we find light on subject before us. The Apostle Peter said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off..."(Acts 2:38,39).

Now what is this promise which is called "the promise"? It is mentioned in the 33rd verse of this second chapter of the Acts, where it is said that the exalted Jesus received "the promise" from the Father (see also Luke 24:29). But, going back still farther in the Acts we find it mentioned again in Chapter 1:4, 5, from which it can easily be seen that this promise is the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Hence the answer of the Apostle Peter to the multitude was virtually: Repent, and acknowledge Christ as your Saviour (water baptism is but the outward sign of this acknowledgment), "and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."

Now without question the repentance and faith which the Apostle demanded of the Jerusalem multitude are the prerequisites to salvation, that is, to a man being born unto eternal life. So we come at once to the conclusion that the baptism in the Spirit is that operation of the Holy Spirit which results in regeneration.

(2) This conclusion is confirmed when we look at the conversion of Cornelius and his household. It is distinctly said of these that they were "baptized in the Spirit." The Apostle Peter, in reporting what took place at Caesarea, said, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 11:15,16).

When did this baptism take place? Some time after they were converted? No, but at the very time of their conversion. How is it described? Just after the Apostle made the above quotation from the sayings of the Lord regarding this baptism of the Spirit, he adds, "Forasmuch then as God gave them [Cornelius and his household] the like gift [the gift of the Spirit] as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ [that's regeneration]; what was I, that I could withstand God?" Acts 11:17.

Baptism When United To Christ

The baptism, then, is the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10:47 this coming of the Spirit is described as the receiving of the Holy Spirit. That is, on God's part it is a "giving," but on the believer's part it is a "receiving." Now the Holy Spirit is always received at regeneration. It may be that the fulness or power or some enduement of the Spirit may not then be obtained, but the Spirit Himself comes at that time to take up His abode in the believer's heart. He enters then once and for all never to leave the "temple" which his holy presence hallows. The Apostle Paul asked the Ephesian disciples the very significant question in Acts 19:2, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since [having believed, because of the fact that...] ye believed?" This question clearly implies that the Apostles expected men to receive the Holy Spirit at conversion. Since, therefore, the receiving of the Spirit is the same as the baptism of the Spirit, it follows that the baptism of the Spirit is that coming of the Spirit which takes place at regeneration.

The conclusion the Jerusalem Christians reached regarding the reception of Cornelius and his household is significant. After hearing Peter rehearse the story of his going in unto the Gentiles, of his preaching, and of the consequent descent of the Spirit in baptism, they said, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). They did not speak of any enduement, of any manifestation of signs or powers or wonders. They did not mention anything of any "second blessing"; but they spoke of the great primal blessing. They received the Spirit upon believing (Acts 15:7-9.)

(3) Let us now look at 1 Corinthians 12:13. In this verse the Apostle Paul says that those Corinthian believers were "all baptized in the Spirit." Now this statement of the Apostle concerning those Corinthians cannot refer to the enduement or fulness of the Spirit. For this body of "the baptized in the Spirit" contained "carnal" Christians and those who "were weak in the faith" (1 Cor. 3:1; 8:11, 12) and surely no one would assert that such were filled the Spirit. That congregation contained some who had not broken entirely with idolatry, but were still eating meats sacrificed to idols; contained, also, many who were given to litigation and who were "defrauding one another." It could not be said that any such were full of the Holy Spirit, and yet it is written that they "were all baptized in the Spirit." This baptism, then, is not the fulness of the Spirit.

But the verse says further that it was this baptism which brought those Corinthians "into the body," that is, into the Church. The Apostle says not merely that "in one Spirit were 'they' all baptized," but also "were baptized into one body." The baptism of the Spirit, then, can be nothing else than the new birth. "Except ye be born again ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." This is the one and only entrance to the company of believers.

The Apostle's use of the past tense in telling of the "baptism in the Spirit" of those Corinthians adds further light. He says not that they were to be, but that they were baptized. At the same time, it should be noted that he was especially anxious that they should become "spiritual" (1 Cor. 3:1). If then, he meant by the term "baptism" the fulness of the Spirit, why did he not urge them to seek the baptism? But no; he asserts that they already possessed this blessing. It would seem that about all that could be predicted of the majority of those Corinthians was that they were born again. They were but "babes in Christ." They had gone nothing beyond that initial experience of the new birth. Hence we are again brought to the conclusion that the baptism in the Spirit is that operation of the Spirit which results in regeneration.

Not Subsequent to Salvation

(4) In full accord with the foregoing conclusion is the uniform teaching in all the Epistles of the New Testament.. Mark you, these Epistles were written to believers, and in none of them is there a single hint that the baptism in the Spirit is a blessing which the readers did not possess, and one which they should seek. Believers are enjoined to be filled with the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, pray in the Spirit; but never once to be baptized in the Spirit. And the very evident reason is that they already possess this blessing. Nowhere do the Epistles give countenance to the teaching that the baptism in the Spirit is a blessing which the believer may obtain subsequent to his conversion.

What, then, shall be said about the teaching that Christians must tarry and seek and agonize for the baptism of the Spirit? It is, indeed, true that many more than our Pentecostal friends use the term "baptism" to describe the fulness of the Spirit, but surely such a use of the word is unwarranted. The writer would not in the least minimize the need of seeking and striving for the fulness of the Spirit. This duty should lie heavily on many more of God's people than it does, and let nothing that is here written hinder any anyone from more earnestly seeking this all-needful blessing.

But let not the fulness be confused with the baptism of the Spirit. Biblical terms should never be confused. Any careless handling of the Word should be avoided. Such a procedure cannot but lend itself to the propagation of error, of which the teaching under discussion is an outstanding example., which by the misapplication of Scripture has plunged many a seeking soul into spiritual darkness and satisfied others with its will-o-the-wisp lights. Let us be sure of this, that the Word of God does not warrant any believer to tarry and seek and pray for the baptism of the Spirit. Every believer already has this great primal blessing.

From The King's Business, vol. 18, no. 10 (October, 1927), published by Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Lightly edited.
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