ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A. J. Gordon (1836-1895) was born in New Hampshire to devout Christian parents. At about age fifteen, he was converted; one year later he expressed his desire to prepare for the ministry. In 1856 he attended Brown University, and in 1860 entered Newton Theological Seminary. Upon graduation in 1863, he accepted a pastorate at Jamaica Plain, New Boston. After six successful years there, he accepted a call to pastor Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston, which was in a poor spiritual condition. In 1877, evangelist Dwight L. Moody came to Boston. When Moody, as Henry Drummond said, “laid one hand on America and one on Britain and moved them toward God,” he more than moved A. J. Gordon and his church. Dr. Gordon remained there for more than 25years, seeing the church completely transformed into one of the most spiritual and aggressive churches in America. Gordon’s Spirit-filled life and deeply spiritual books have had a powerful influence around the world. The following article is taken from The Ministry of the Spirit by A. J. Gordon, first published in 1896 by the American Baptist Publication Society.
NOTE: This article appears in The Spirit of Holiness and Power by Ralph I. Tilley
WE HAVE MAINTAINED … that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was given once for all on the day of Pentecost when the Paraclete came in person to make his abode in the church. It does not follow, therefore, that every believer has received this baptism. God’s gift is one thing; our appropriation of that gift is quite another thing.
Our relation to the second and third persons of the Godhead is exactly parallel in this respect. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). “But as many as received him to them gave he the right to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1: 12). Here are the two sides of salvation, the divine and the human, which are absolutely co-essential.
There is a doctrine somewhat in vogue, not inappropriately denominated redemption by incarnation, which maintains that since God gave his Son to the world, all the world has the Son, consciously or unconsciously, and that therefore all the world will be saved. It need not be said that a true evangelical teaching must reject this theory as utterly untenable since it ignores the necessity of individual faith in Christ. But some orthodox writers have urged an almost identical view with respect to the Holy Spirit. They have contended that the enduement of the Spirit is “not any special or more advanced experience, but simply the condition of everyone who is a child of God’’; that “believers converted after Pentecost, and living in other localities, are just as really endowed with the indwelling Spirit as those who actually partook of the Pentecostal blessing at Jerusalem.”1
Every Believer’s Privilege
On the contrary, it seems clear from the Scriptures that it is still the duty and privilege of believers to receive the Holy Spirit by a conscious, definite act of appropriating faith, just as they received Jesus Christ. We base this conclusion on several grounds. Presumably, if the Paraclete is a person, coming down at a certain definite time to make his abode in the church, for guiding, teaching, and sanctifying the body of Christ, there is the same reason for our accepting him for his special ministry as for accepting the Lord Jesus for his special ministry. To say that in receiving Christ we necessarily received in the same act the gift of the Spirit, seems to confound what the Scriptures make distinct.2 For it is as sinners that we accept Christ for our justification, but it is as sons that we accept the Spirit for our sanctification: “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6).
Thus, when Peter preached his first sermon to the multitude after the Spirit had been given, he said: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’’ (Acts 2:38). This passage shows that logically and chronologically, the gift of the Spirit is subsequent to repentance. Whether it follows as a necessary and inseparable consequence, as might seem, we shall consider later. Suffice that this point is clear, so clear that one of the most conservative as well as ablest writers on this subject, in commenting on this text in Acts, says:
Therefore it is evident that the reception of the Holy Spirit, as here spoken of, has nothing whatever to do with bringing men to believe and repent. It is a subsequent operation; it is an additional and separate blessing; it is a privilege founded on faith already actively working in the heart…. I do not mean to deny that the gift of the Holy Spirit may be practically on the same occasion, but never in the same moment. The reason is quite simple too. The gift of the Holy Spirit is grounded on the fact that we are sons by faith in Christ, believers resting on redemption in him. Plainly, therefore, it appears that the Spirit of God has already regenerated us.3
Examining the Scriptures
Now, as we examine the Scriptures on this point, we shall see that we are required to appropriate the Spirit as sons, in the same way that we appropriated Christ as sinners. “As many as received him, even to them that believe on his name,” is the condition of becoming sons, as we have already seen, receiving and believing being used as equivalent terms. In a kind of foretaste of Pentecost, the risen Christ, standing in the midst of his disciples, “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ “The verb is not passive, as our English version might lead us to suppose, but has here as generally an active signification just as in the familiar passage in Revelation: “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Twice in the Epistle to the Galatians, the possession of the Holy Spirit is put on the same grounds of active appropriation through faith: “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith ?’’ (3:2). “That you might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (3:14). These texts seem to imply that just as there is a “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” for salvation, there is a faith toward the Holy Spirit for power and consecration.
If we turn from New Testament teaching to New Testament example, we are strongly confirmed in this impression. We begin with that striking incident in the nineteenth chapter of Acts. Paul, having found certain disciples at Ephesus, said unto them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? And they said unto him, ‘No, we did not so much as hear whether there is a Holy Spirit.’”
This passage seems decisive as showing that one may be a disciple without having entered into possession of the Spirit as God’s gift to believers. Some admit this, who yet deny any possible application of the incident to our own times, alleging that it is the miraculous gifts of the Spirit which are here under consideration, since, after recording that when Paul had laid his hands upon them and “the Holy Spirit came upon them,” it is added “that they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” All that need be said upon this point is simply that these Ephesian disciples, by the reception of the Spirit, came into the same condition with the upper room disciples who received him some twenty years before, and of whom it is written that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” In other words, these Ephesian disciples on receiving the Holy Spirit exhibited the traits of the Spirit common to the other disciples of the apostolic age.
Whether those traits—the speaking of tongues and the working of miracles—were intended to be perpetual or not, we do not here discuss. But that the presence of the personal Holy Spirit in the church was intended to be perpetual, there can be no question. And whatever relations believers held to that Spirit in the beginning, they have a right to claim today.
We must withhold our consent from the inconsistent exegesis, which would make the water baptism of the apostolic times still rigidly binding but would relegate the baptism in the Spirit to a bygone dispensation. We hold indeed that Pentecost was once for all, but equally that the appropriation of the Spirit by believers is always for all, and that the shutting up of certain great blessings of the Holy Spirit within that ideal realm called “the apostolic age,” however convenient it may be as an escape from fancied difficulties, may be the means of robbing believers of some of their most precious covenant rights.4
Let us transfer this incident of the Ephesian Christians to our own times. We need not bring forward an imaginary case, for, by the testimony of many experienced witnesses, the same condition is constantly encountered. Not only individual Christians, but whole communities of disciples are found who have been so imperfectly instructed that they have never known that there is a Holy Spirit, except as an influence, an impersonal something to be vaguely recognized. Of the Holy Spirit as a Divine Person, dwelling in the church, to be honored and invoked and obeyed and implicitly trusted, they know nothing. Is it conceivable that there could be any deep spiritual life or any real sanctified energy for service in a community like this?
And what should a well-instructed teacher or evangelist do on discovering a church or an individual Christian in such a condition? Let us turn to another passage of the Acts for an answer:
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God they sent unto them Peter and John, who when they were come down prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen upon none of them; only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).
Here were believers who had been baptized in water. But this was not enough. The baptism in the Spirit, already bestowed at Pentecost, must be appropriated. Hear the prayer of the apostles “that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” Such prayer we deem eminently proper for those who today may be ignorant of the Comforter. And yet such prayer should be followed by an act of believing acceptance on the part of the willing disciple: “O Holy Spirit, I yield to You now in humble surrender. I receive You as my Teacher, my Comforter, my Sanctifier, and my Guide.” Do not testimonies abound on every hand of new lives resulting from such an act of consecration as this, lives full of peace and power and victory among those who before had received the forgiveness of sins but not the enduement of power?
Christ our Pattern
We conceive that the great end for which the enduement of the Spirit is bestowed is our qualification for the highest and most effective service in the church of Christ. Other effects will certainly attend the blessing: a fixed assurance of our acceptance in Christ, and a holy separateness from the world. But these results will be conducive to the greatest and supreme end, our consecrated usefulness.
Let us observe that Christ, who is our example in this as in all things, did not enter upon his ministry till he had received the Holy Spirit. Not only so, but we see that all his service from his baptism to his ascension was wrought in the Spirit. Ask concerning his miracles, and we hear him saying: “I by the Spirit of God cast out devils” (Mt. 12:28). Ask concerning that death which he accomplished at Jerusalem, and we read “that he through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot unto God” (Heb. 9:14). Ask concerning the giving of the great commission, and we read that he was received up “after that he through the Holy Spirit had given commandments unto the apostles” (Acts 1:2). Thus, though he was the Son of God, he acted ever in supreme reliance upon him, who has been called the “Executive of the Godhead.”
Plainly we see how Christ was our pattern and exemplar in his relation to the Holy Spirit. He had been begotten of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin and had lived that holy and obedient life which this divine nativity would imply. But when he would enter upon his public ministry, he waited for the Spirit to come upon him, as he had hitherto been in him. For this anointing, we find him praying: “Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him” (Luke 3:22). Had he any “promise of the Father” to plead, as he now asked for the anointing of the Spirit, if as we may believe this was the subject of his prayer? Yes; it had been written in the prophets concerning the rod out of the stem of Jesse: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord’’ (Isa. 11:2). “The promise of the sevenfold Spirit,” the Jewish commentators call it. Certainly, it was literally fulfilled upon the Son of God at the Jordan, when God gave him the Spirit without measure. For he who was now baptized was in turn to be baptizer: “Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). “I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that comes after me is mightier than I … he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt. 3:11). And now being at the right hand exalted, and having “the seven spirits of God” (Rev. 3:1), the fullness of the Holy Spirit, he will shed forth his power upon those who pray for it, even as the Father shed it forth upon himself.
- Rev. E. Boys, Filled with the Spirit, p. 87.
- It is assumed by some that because those that walked with Christ of old received the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire at Pentecost, more than eighteen hundred years ago, therefore all believers now have received the same. As well might the apostles, when first called, have concluded that because of his baptism, the Spirit like a dove rested upon Christ; therefore, they had equally received the same blessing. Surely the Spirit has been given, and the work in Christ wrought for all; but to enter into possession, to be enlightened and made partakers of the Holy Spirit, there must be a personal application to the Lord, etc.—Andrew Jukes, The New Man.
- William Kelly, Lectures on the New Testament Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p. 161.
- It is a great mistake into which some have fallen, to suppose that the results of Pentecost were chiefly miraculous and temporary. The effect of such a view is to keep spiritual influences out of sight; and it will be well ever to hold fast the assurance that a wide, deep, and perpetual spiritual blessing in the church is that which above all things else was secured by the descent of the Spirit after Christ was glorified. —Dr. J. Elder Cumming, Through the Eternal Spirit.