(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

This is a tricky passage of Scripture. Two issues are raised about which there is much controversy in the church and which, sadly, have led to deep divisions. The two issues are: baptism by the Holy Spirit and baptism by water.

In considering baptism with the Holy Spirit I have been helped by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book, 'Joy unspeakable.' I agree with much, but not all, of what he writes. On the subject of baptism by water the good doctor is unable to accept the plain teaching of the New Testament!

(B) The Ephesus twelve were genuine Christians.

The twelve may have been converted to Christianity through the preaching of Apollos. Apollos needed to be shown the way of God more adequately but his faith in Jesus was never questioned. He taught about Jesus accurately.

Paul does not question the Ephesian disciple's belief. He assumes that they have believed. The fact that all of them were immediately ready to be baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus suggests that they were devoted to him.

Now it must be accepted that all genuine believers become so through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." John3v5. It is also true that every Christian is given the Holy Spirit as Comforter or Counsellor. Jesus promised: "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever - the Spirit of truth." John14v15. The apostle John returns to this matter in his epistle: And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 1John3v23and24. Paul wrote: The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Rom3v16.

It is impossible to be a Christian without receiving the Holy Spirit.

(C) So what did Paul mean by his question?

Paul asked the Ephesus twelve: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" He was not questioning their belief or discipleship but their experience of the Holy Spirit. Yet Paul knew that no-one believed without receiving the Spirit.

Paul asked this question because he expected most Christians to have a Pentecostal experience of the Holy Spirit. A baptism of the Spirit such as occurred at Pentecost is not the same thing as the gift of the Spirit that all Christians receive. The people baptised by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost were all believers. Jesus had already breathed on the disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." John20v23.Something spectacular happened at Pentecost that strongly affected the way the first believers felt and made a visible difference to their spirits.

When Philip preached in Samaria many believed and were baptised. It was later, after the arrival of Peter and John, that the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that the Samaritan converts did not get the Spirit when they believed but they did not receive it in Pentecostal fullness. It is quite obvious that when the Samaritans were baptised by the Spirit it affected their emotions. They were very happy; so happy that Simon the Sorceror could see the difference and wanted the ability to give the Spirit by laying on hands. He offered Peter and John money to acquire the knack of making people ecstatic.

There is no set pattern for being baptised with the Spirit. Saul was converted and only received the Spirit when Ananias place hands upon him. His baptism by water followed. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius, his friends and family, even as Peter preached Christ to them. Peter and his friends were astonished to hear the congregation in the house of Cornelius speaking in tongues and praising God. Acts10v46. Once again it was very obvious that something pretty dramatic had happened to them. There was no doubt in Peter's mind that Cornelius and company had enjoyed a Pentecostal blessing.

Baptism by the Spirit was the norm in the early church. It had a huge impact upon the churches Paul founded. The church at Corinth could not have been more different from my own Grace Baptist Church at Brockley. It was a growing, vibrant and unruly fellowship where the members excercised their supernatural gifts with exuberance. It was hard to keep people quiet during the services. Everyone wanted to talk or pray at once. Needless to say my church is not a bit like that. But the Brockley church is not without dedicated Christian men and women.

Peter wrote: Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. 1Pet1v8. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asks, "Of how many Christians in the UK is this true?" Inexpressible and glorious joy cannot be hidden. It is the emotion engendered by a Pentecostal baptism of the Spirit - something felt and something shown.

So we are now, at last, in a position to answer the question posed at the beginning of this section. Paul asked the believers at Ephesus if they received the Spirit when they believed because their lives lacked the visible evidence of a Pentecostal experience. They lacked joy, assurance, confidence, boldness and effectiveness. I lack all of these too! If someone had asked me 40 years ago when I was baptised by water whether I had received the Holy Spirit I would have been as puzzled as the Ephesus twelve. I have always found it quite hard to come to terms with Jesus' words to Nicodemus: "I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. ...... The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." John3v5and8. I never had a dramatic conversion experience. I hardly know when I became a Christian - so I was scarcely much different after becoming a Christian. Nor have I ever been baptised by the Spirit like those early disciples.

We must not forget that the Holy Spirit is like the wind. At Pentecost the Spirit came like a mighty rushing wind. Toward the end of that glorious resurrection day Jesus appeared to his disciples in a room whose doors were locked and breathed upon them saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Even when the Spirit comes as a gentle breath he makes a difference. In the old story God did not appear to Elijah in the violent wind, the earthquake or the fire but in a gentle whisper.

The words of the hymn are true:

          He came in tongues of living flame,
          To teach, convince, subdue;
          All-powerful as the wind He came-
          As viewless too.

          And His that gentle voice we hear,
          Soft as the breath of even,
          That checks each fault, that calms each fear,
          And speaks of heaven.

(D) Have times of Pentecostal blessing departed for ever?

The short answer to this question is: No. Whenever revival occurs then it is usual for the leaders of the revival and many of those converted in the revival to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given in the same extravagant way as at Pentecost and produces the same sort of effects as it did then.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones deals in his book with the experience of John Wesley, Charles Simeon, Jonathan Edwards and D.L. Moody all of whom played a prominent part in revivals. Each of these men had a Pentecostal baptism of the Spirit.

This is what happened to Charles Finney in his lawyer's office on Oct. 10th 1821 described in his own words:

But as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without my recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed, it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. And yet it did not seem like water by rather the breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings; and it seemed to me, as these waves passed over me, that they literally moved my hair like a passing breeze.

No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after another, until I recollect I cried out, "I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me." I said, "Lord, I cannot bear any more": yet I had no fear of death.

When Finney started work as an evangelist he saw the Holy Spirit operating in Pentecostal power. One day Finney preached in a schoolroom three miles from Antwerp in New York State. After he had preached a short time, Charles noticed 'an awful solemnity' covering the people. This is what he later recalled:

The congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction, and cried for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand, I could not have cut them off their seats as fast as they fell. Indeed nearly the whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate, I should think, in less than two minutes from this first shock that fell upon them. Every one prayed for himself, who was able to speak at all.

This sort of thing happened frequently during the revival in northeastern USA in the 1820s and 1830s. It hasn't happened in Britain for nearly 100 years.

I also believe that there are instances of Christians being baptised with the Holy Spirit between revivals. I don't think it happens as commonly as the charismatic wing of the church suggests but it does occur.

I used to attend Pioneer Camp with Jim Jones who was the leader of the St Giles Mission, London. Jim was a steady, stable individual - not given to exaggeration or self-dramatisation. He told me of a time he was quietly praying by his bedside. He wasn't praying for a baptism of the Spirit or even for help with a special problem. He was just praying - until something happened to him. He experienced wave after wave of liquid love! He felt a warm gladsome glow. Jim lost all sense of time. He never wanted the experience to stop. He was on his knees for hours speaking ecstatically in tongues. He had a Pentecostal blessing.

I accept that Charles Finney and Jim Jones were baptised by the Spirit in a way that I have never been. I cannot deny them their experience.

(E) Why isn't revival continuous?

It is here that I take issue with Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He states in his book that the experience of the early church was the norm. It is what we should expect. The low state of the church in Western Europe is abnormal.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed that all Christians should be longing and praying for a baptism of the Spirit with accompanying revival. He rather suggests that an outpouring of God's Spirit is conditional upon us praying for it. In this he resembles Charles Finney who claimed that if certain conditions were fulfilled - such as prolonged and passionate prayer - God had to send revival. He could do no other.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones is very sceptical about arguing from experience. Scripture alone must guide us! However, the Doctor does argue from experience when it suits his purpose. He refers to the change brought about in John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards and D.L. Moody by the baptism of the Spirit. He should also take into account the testimony of millions of fruitful Christians who have never had a Pentecostal blessing.

I do not agree that what happens in time of revival is the ideal state of the church. The periods between revivals at any one place are much longer than the revivals themselves.

It is not true, either, that by praying long and hard for a baptism of the Spirit a man will receive it. I knew two men in my youth, Mr Mason and Mr Staff. They were both very involved with Bury Youth for Christ. The one thing these two men desired and prayed for incessantly was a baptism of the Spirit. They never, to their intense regret and bitter disappointment, had a Pentecostal experience.

Cornelius and his friends, the Samaritan converts and the Ephesus twelve did not have to do anything to be baptised with the Spirit. They did not have to pray for it or long for it. They were baptised by the Spirit unconditionally. So was Charles Finney; he had never heard of any such thing!

When I was a boy we had an open coal fire in the home. The bellows were only used in two circumstances. They were used just after the fire was lit to get it going and when it had died down and needed reviving. The ideal state of the fire was during the period that the bellows were never in use. If the fire was burning quietly but cheerfully there was no need for the bellows. That was its normal condition.

If the bellows were used the whole time the fire would roar away and set light to the chimney. It would not be long before the fuel ran out!

Continual revival in a church cannot be sustained. Eventually Christians would succumb to spiritual exhaustion. People cannot cope with a high level of excitement and emotional turmoil for too long. Charles Finney had to ease up after a few years and take on a settled ministry in a New York church.

We see the danger of too much excitement in the church at Corinth. The Christians there had undoubtedly been baptised by the Spirit. The Corinthians were undisciplined, disrespectful of authority, obsessed with spiritual gifts, guilty of licentious behaviour, gullible and lacking in judgment. They needed to calm down a bit. It was not the ideal state of affairs.

Paul re-baptises the twelve Ephesians in the name of Jesus.

It is important to be baptised properly. Perhaps, Apollos should have been re-baptised but Aquila and Priscilla lacked the authority of Paul.

Nowhere does Jesus explain to his followers why they should be baptised. Baptism may symbolise that the believer's old life has been dead and buried and that he has been raised up to new ness of life in Christ. We were therefore buried with him (Jesus) through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Rom6v4. It may also indicate that we have been washed clean of sin. Ananias said to Saul of Tarsus, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name." Acts22v16.

Essentially baptism is something we agree to because we believe in Jesus. He told us to be baptised. So when we are baptised we show that we accept Christ's authority over us. It is also something done to the Christian on behalf of Jesus to show that he has accepted the believer into his church. Baptism is part of the Great Commission Jesus gave his followers - to make more disciples, to baptise them in the name of the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit and to teach those believers to obey Jesus.

Anyone who has been baptised as an infant has not been baptised as a believer. The Great Commission is not fulfilled unless it is the disciples of Jesus who are baptised. Anyone who has not been baptised on coming to faith in Jesus should be baptised again. Any other baptism is not the baptism of Jesus.

Paul lays hands on the Ephesus twelve and the Holy Spirit came on them.

After the Holy Spirit fell upon the Ephesus twelve they were obviously different. They spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Leaders of charismatic churches in our day may invite anyone who wants to be baptised by the Spirit to exercise faith. An elder will put his hands upon such a person and impart the Spirit. If the Christian desirous of a Pentecostal blessing says, "I don't feel much different;" they will be told to exercise faith and to exercise the supernatural gift given by the Spirit. Of course the easiest gift to have a shot at is speaking in tongues!

I am obviously very doubtful about this. Paul did not invite the Ephesian Christians to exercise faith. He put his hands on all of them regardless of their faith or expectations and the Holy Spirit was poured out. They definitely felt different. So did Charles Finney, John Wesley, D.L. Moody and Jonathan Edwards. Paul expected the twelve to be baptised with the Spirit because it was happening all the time during his ministry. It isn't happening all the time in Britain now.

I believe the ideal state of a church is like the brightly burning fire. Air is continuously being fed into the fire as it burns but not with the ferocity of active bellows. A church where the believers have received the Spirit but not in Pentecostal power may see a steady stream of converts, joyful baptisms and Christian lives conforming to the teaching of Christ. I suppose this was the characteristic of many Grace Baptist churches between 1920 and 1960.

However, I must admit that the present state of many British churches is no longer ideal. They are not brightly burning fires but rather pitifully small piles of barely smouldering embers. In such circumstances it is legitimate to long for the bellows. It is right to cry out in desperation for a baptism of the Spirit because unless something dramatic happens soon the fires will all go out.

See also exposition on Luke12v49to53.