The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

By Lewis Willis

I know of no subject that is more misunderstood or is less studied than that of the Holy Spirit. We are taught in the scripture that “secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever.” (Deut. 29:29.) There are many things about the Holy Spirit which are not revealed. Contrary to this, there are some things which have been revealed and these things should be given proper consideration by man. I am aware that many faithful men have spent years in study of the subject at hand and I would not be so pre-sumptuous as to even think I know as much as these. However, the Bible contains many lessons on the subject of the Spirit and surely our Father would not have said so much to us on a subject of which he intended us to remain altogether ignorant. Hence, we will examine the subject of the baptism of the Spirit in the hope that we may, at least, acquire a sufficient knowledge of what is taught concerning it to enable us to enjoy its God appointed influence on our lives.

John the Baptist said to those who came to be baptized of him, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” (Mat. 3:11.) With this in mind, recall that Paul told Timothy to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15.) This admonition certainly should be applied to this subject. If we can rightly divide and apply the word to this subject, we will be aided tin our attempt at an understanding of it.

That God promised the baptism of the Holy Spirit to certain persons, through John the Baptist, is not disputed by anyone. The matter in controversy with some is whether or not the baptism thus promised was to be perpetual. The only way properly to examine the subject is to notice the passages that relate to it.

Joel 2:28-30

Peter, on Pentecost, quoted a passage from Joel 2: 28-30: “And it shall come to pass afterwards that I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants, and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out of my Spirit; and they shall prophecy: and I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth.” Peter, on Pentecost, quotes this passage as being fulfilled in the events of that day. (Acts 2.) There is little doubt that the passage makes reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As it is here stated that the Spirit shall be poured out upon all flesh, it is insisted that those living now are a part of all flesh, and hence, it requires all time to fulfill this prophecy. But are there any restrictions of the expression, “all flesh”? If not, the passage proves entirely too much. Paul tells us that “all flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes a n d another of birds.” (1 Cor. 15:39.) Therefore, if the phrase “all flesh” is not to be limited, we not only have man baptized by the Holy Spirit, but also all beasts, birds and fish. Some will say then that this means all human flesh.” This would still prove too much for this would include the most wicked man of the earth as well as the most faithful Christian. If these conclusions are not only justified but demanded, is it possible that there can be more restrictions?

Notice that Joel said the sons and daughters who were the subjects of this baptism were to prophecy, the old men were to dream dreams and the young men were to see visions. Do we see these things exhibited by all Christians today? It not, the phrase “all flesh” must be pruned down even further until it embraces such, and only such, as can do the things spoken of. When Peter said, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2: 16), the disciples were prophesying, speaking in tongues, and doing the things spoken of by Joel. Therefore, it seems that we are authorized to restrict the phrase all flesh” to such as exhibited the signs predicted in the prophecy. Since there are no men now doing this, we must conclude that the argument drawn from this prophecy to support the notion that persons are now baptized with the Holy Spirit is evidently defective. (Space does not permit the proof that men who say, they speak in tongues are performing great deception before unlearned. innocent people.)

Matt: 3:11

The language of John the Baptist claims our attention next. He said to those who came to the Jordan to be baptized of him. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes T am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” (Matt. 3:11.) Does this mean that we today are baptized with the Holy Spirit? If this does prove the point, it must do so in one of two ways. First, it must be that the language used directly includes us, or the principle taught must be applicable to us. But first, let us inquire, who were the persons represented by the pronoun “you” in the sentence “he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost?” That the word could not have been inclusive of all John’s audience is clear from the fact that there were wicked people there, comparable to the chaff that is burned with unquenchable fire. (vs. 12.) But even if it did embrace all to whom he spoke, it would require very elastic rules of interpretation to make it embrace the man of our time. We have a rule of grammar that says:

“Pronouns must agree with the nouns for which they stand in gender, number and person.” If we respect this rule at all, how can we make the second part of the passage, “he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost,” mean man today and refuse to apply the first part of the passage, “I indeed baptize you with water…” to man today? Someone is ready to say that it is foolish to say that we today are baptized by John. Keeping in mind the aforementioned rule of grammar, it therefore follows that those who were here promised the baptism of the Holy Spirit were among those baptized by John in water. If we apply this promise to other persons, we must derive authority for doing so from other sources than the passage employed, for evidently it is not there.

Then, is there a principle taught here which is applicable to us? If so, I cannot see it. The passage was a promise made to certain persons, to be fulfilled to them, and when so fulfilled, there was no general principle remaining which would apply to any man today. I do not wish to be understood to say that no other person was ever baptized with the Holy Spirit. We know that others were so baptized, but this is not the passage that proves it. We have been testing the passage in Matt. 3 to see if it proves the doctrine in question.

We know that this passage is relied on to sustain the theory and we have sought for the extent of its application and the time of its fulfillment.

In three recorded accounts of John’s statement concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we have no specific allusion to the time of its fulfillment. When Jesus was assembled with the apostles just prior to his ascension, he “commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which saith he, ye have heard of me; for John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts 1:4, 5) As the Lord here associates this promise of the Father with John’s baptism, it seems certain that he here refers to the same promise which God made by John. This being so, we see that it is easy to recognize its fulfillment on the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem, where they were commanded to wait for it. Therefore, when we connect these passages, it is difficult to look beyond the day of Pentecost for the complete fulfillment of the promise from the Father regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

We are told that Peter quoted this passage at the house of Cornelius as being applicable to the Gentiles, saying, “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.) This statement of Peter regarding the conversion of Cornelius is sufficiently like the language of Acts 1:4, 5, to make it probable that both passages refer to the same conversation of the Lord. As God baptized the disciples with the Holy Ghost when the Gospel was first proclaimed to the Jews, it is proper that he should attend its introduction to the Gentiles by the like gift. But if the baptism of the Holy Spirit was then bestowed upon all converts, as we are told it now is, why did Peter associate it with the beginning? Why did he not say, “As I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell on them as on all others converted?” Some such style would have been appropriate. Many thousands had been converted since the events of Pentecost. However, the language employed is of such a nature as to make the impression that such an event had not come to their attention since the beginning, when the Gospel was first preached.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit was a miracle performed by the Lord. If, therefore, all converts of our day are baptized with it, it follows that there is a miracle performed every time a conversion takes place, and that miracles will continue as long as there is a person converted to God. This would require that the conversion of every man be suspended upon the performance of a miracle over which he has not the slightest control. Suppose that this is actually the picture. Man could do nothing until God enables him to do it by baptizing him with the Spirit. What then? If God has to administer it, and man can do nothing until it is done, and it is never done at all, who is to blame for it? Will God sentence the sinner to hell and there punish him forever for not obeying the Gospel, when it was no fault of his own that he did not do it?

One Baptism

Paul informs us that there is “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.” (Eph. 4:5.) I believe that we will all admit that this one baptism is for the remission of sins. All agree that the one Body, Spirit, Hope, Lord, Faith, Baptism and God, spoken of in this connection by the apostle to the brethren of Ephesus, are essential to the remission of sins, spiritual growth and unity, and final happiness of all men. Those who oppose the worth of baptism in water, though, always insist that this one baptism is Holy Spirit baptism. If it is possible to convert the thoughts of men in regard to this, much would be done to destroy opposition to water baptism.

First, we would inquire of those who advocate the theory, and believe themselves to have received this one baptism of the Holy Spirit, why do they still submit to baptism in water in any form? Surely if they have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, (that is, if this is the one baptism), and add this a baptism in water, they have not one but two baptisms. Hence, Paul should have said, “There is one Lord, one faith, and two baptisms.” We are, however, told that Cornelius was baptized with the Holy Spirit and subsequently baptized with water, in obedience to the command of God through Peter. Does this prove that we may have two baptisms? If this is true, would such persons as think this help Paul in escaping the dilemma he is in, for he said, “there is one baptism.” If such a one is willing to accept and say with us that the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the house of Cornelius was a miracle, such as has not occurred from that time to the present (of which we have any record), there is no difficulty between the “one baptism” taught by Paul, and the Holy Spirit baptism promised by the Lord.

Paul also says that “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor. 12:13.) Although this passage was written in connection with Paul’s explanation of the miraculous gift of the Spirit, yet we are willing to admit the principle taught in it to be applicable to Christians in general. However, this passage falls short of proving that they, or any man, were baptized with the Holy Spirit.

“By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” There is one body (Eph. 4:4); this is the church. (Col. 1: 18.) There is one baptism (Eph. 4:5), by which we enter this one body. Therefore, notice the importance of the passage. By (the teaching of the) one Spirit (the Holy Spirit which revealed the message of the New Testament) are we all baptized (in water) into one body (the church). This seems to be the obvious meaning of the passage and is in harmony with the whole of the Spirit’s teaching on the subject. This allows but one baptism, hence, no difficulty.


In conclusion, we want to call to your attention the striking difference in the forms of speech used in reference to water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism. “Go teach all nations, baptizing them…” (Matt. 28:19.) “Preach the Gospel to every creature, he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mk. 16: 15, 16.) Every creature, among all nations, who is capable of hearing and believing the Gospel, may be baptized with the baptism connected with faith as a condition of salvation.

How different the style when speaking of Holy Spirit baptism!!! “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” When speaking of that baptism coming down to us and designed to be perpetual, the style is all nations, every creature; but when speaking of Holy Spirit baptism, it is “you,” “ye,” and this is the extent of it. Does this not seem significant to you??? “In oral discourse, the persons indicated by pronouns of the 2nd person, (such as “you” and “ye,” LW) are always present with the speaker.” This rule knows no exceptions. Applying this rule to the events surrounding John’s statement; we see even more clearly, that John was addressing an audience “in oral discourse” and he addressed his audience with a second person pronoun, which indicates their presence with him. How could these pronouns of the second person embrace any persons not present before John when he used them? This helps to see the distinction between the style used in reference to water and to Holy Spirit baptism. It is my prayer that this will help you to understand the subject better.

Truth Magazine VI: 12, pp. 7-10
September 1962