Chapter V. — More Than Twenty Years after Pentecost

Believers who had not Received the Holy Ghost

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them: Unto what then were ye baptised? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptised with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptised in the Name of the Hard Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve. Acts 19:1-7.

"We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost." Acts 19:2.

Such was the amazing admission of these Ephesian disciples made in response to the Apostle's pointed question,

"Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" Acts 19:2.

At least three remarkable outpourings of the Holy Spirit had taken place since the days of John the Baptist under whose ministry they had been baptised. Within a comparatively short time the great Pentecostal outpouring had stirred the city of Jerusalem from centre to circumference, the more recent revival of signs and wonders at Samaria had been crowned with an outpouring, and since then the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the household of Cornelius at Caesarea. More astonishing still is the confession of the disciples, when we know that John himself had preached the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the light of these facts it is difficult to understand how they could have been ignorant of the personality and work of the third Person of the Trinity. Yet we who minister in our own privileged land know by experience that such is possible. We are continually coming into contact with professing Christians who do not even know that it is possible to enjoy the assurance of salvation, and, as for the work of the Holy Spirit, multitudes have openly confessed to have been as uninformed as the Ephesian disciples. In the last chapter we saw the difference between the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Certain teachers who have not seen this distinction declare emphatically that it is impossible to be regenerated and not have the Holy Spirit abiding within. The explanation of the Scripture we are now considering is furnished by some of them thus:

"These disciples had been baptised as followers of John the Baptist, not as followers of Christ. The Apostle, discerning their true condition, as unregenerate, wisely presented the Gospel to them in this form,

'Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?"' Acts 19:2.

It would be well for us to examine the Scripture carefully, and to weigh up the evidence in order to discover the true condition of these disciples before they received the Holy Ghost. If we can prove from the Word that there was an interval between the time of their regeneration and their receiving the Holy Ghost, the force of the above argument is destroyed. Five things are said with regard to them: —

(1)  They were disciples.

(2)  They had believed.

(3)  They had been baptised unto John's baptism.

(4)  They were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.

(5)  They received the Holy Ghost when hands were laid upon them.

This is exactly the order in which they are given. Admitting that disciples (which we know means followers) could be unregenerate, one cannot possibly admit the same of believing disciples. These believing disciples had been baptised unto John's baptism, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. All this before the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost is mentioned.

To maintain the idea that they were not regenerated until the Holy Ghost came upon them, one must conclude that those officiating at their baptismal service immersed un-regenerate disciples. Let us, at this juncture, endeavour to find what is meant by the term, "John's baptism.” In order to do this, we will consider the message that John preached and the conditions imposed upon those who, having accepted his message, passed through water baptism. The salient points in his message were:

(1)  Warning people to flee from the wrath to come.

(2)  Exhorting people to bring forth fruits meet for repentance.

(3)  Pointing people to Christ as the Sin-Bearer.

(4)  Commanding people to be baptised in water.

(5)  Promising through Christ the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

When we read the Acts of the Apostles carefully, we find that these were the salient points in the messages of the Apostles. If this be correct, and we believe it to be so, the Gospel that John preached was the identical Gospel proclaimed by them. Furthermore it is the same Gospel that is entrusted to every true preacher who will abide in the Apostles' doctrine. The difference between John the Baptist and the Apostles was that of position only. John pointed forward, whereas the Apostles pointed backward, to the crucified Christ.

The warning note concerning the wrath of God, sounded by John the Baptist, was as perspicuous as any like note in the Acts of the Apostles. He was fearless in his denunciations as he reminded his congregation of the dark cloud of Jehovah's wrath that must eventually burst over rejecters of the truth. His message falling upon the ears of Sadducees and Pharisees, must have caused much commotion. They were seemingly good people, wrapped up in the conspicuous garb of a formal religion! The class, you remember, who came under the woes of the Master Himself when He described them as whited sepulchres, full within of dead men's bones and uncleanness. The Baptist's command to flee was in the imperative, if they were to escape sore judgment.

In his exhortation to repentance he was as determined as Peter on the day of Pentecost, and as resolute as Paul on Mars Hill. Repentance to him meant all that the term means. It involved not only feeling sorry, losing tears, and bewailing the fact of past transgressions. It might include all that, but it was incomplete unless accompanied by action on the part of the penitents:

"Bringing forth fruits meet for repentance." Matthew 3:8.

Behind the flowing robes was the heart that needed cleansing. Long prayers and fasts were no sure evidence of real piety or of true repentance. All the ground is taken from under their feet. They were not allowed to stand even in the merits of Abraham their father. "Repent" was the trumpet note of this wilderness preacher. If the baptism of John meant anything at all, it meant an intelligent acceptance of God's way of salvation by those who, having confessed their sins and repented, were baptised.

It would be most unreasonable to suppose that John baptised unregenerate disciples. Let us turn in this connection to Acts 18:24, 25:

And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.

Apollos, knowing only the baptism of John, was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures. He was fervent in spirit and instructed in the way of the Lord, teaching and thus imparting to others the things pertaining to the spiritual realm. Was he a regenerate preacher? It would be difficult to find a reasonable person to affirm that he was not. Unregenerate preachers are not instructed in the way of the Lord. They must first of all enter into the Way, through the door of the new birth, before they can take their places even in the infants' class in God's school of instruction. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:11, 14, that a person must possess the Spirit of God before he can understand His things.

"For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. … The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." 1 Corinthians 2:11, 14.

In Apollos we have a preacher who gave unmistakable evidence of his own regenerated heart. He must have passed through the door into the spiritual realm in order to have such a grasp of its realities. He was emboldened by the Spirit to teach with all diligence the things he must have learned himself. His eloquent preaching, combined with fervency of spirit, supported by his deeply sanctified spiritual life, had appealed to his hearers. Would to God we had preachers like him today! A superabundance of eloquence, rhetoric, and logic will not suffice to reach and convince the masses, unless blended with other characteristics so prominent in the life and ministry of Apollos.

An empowered ministry is the need of our day, without such it is impossible to meet the challenge put forth by the science of the twentieth century. Again, such a ministry alone can deal effectively with the spirit of retrogression found in the present-day churches and missions. Apollos, like the disciples of Acts 19. knew only the baptism of John. He, like them, had gone on as far as he was able to understand the import of John's message. There was much more land to be possessed by him. There were higher heights to be attained, fresh revelations to be sought, and still deeper experiences through which he was destined to pass, — but he had already possessed the one thing needful: regeneration by the Holy Spirit — before he could explore further afield in the way of God. The pathway of spiritual blessings and experiences was further opened up to him by Aquila and Priscilla. What did they instruct him in? Did he, under their loving tuition, discover the truth concerning the baptism of the Holy Ghost? Was he led into the experience in a similar way to the disciples of Acts 19? In the spiritual seminary of Aquila and Priscilla we can well imagine the subject of the baptism of the Holy Ghost being the first item on the programme for discussion. We should not be at all surprised if such experienced monitors put the question to him,

"Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Acts 19:2.

Undoubtedly it was pointed out to him that it was the next step for him to take in the believer's pathway. There may be many of our readers who, having passed into the Kingdom, need a little further instruction along these lines. You might be fervent in the Spirit. You might be able to expound the Scriptures. You have wielded the sword of the Spirit fearlessly in the face of the most bitter opposition of the enemy. You have led many a weeping penitent to the foot of the Cross, and have brought comfort and blessing to many a suffering one. Still, it is our duty to ask you,

"Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed.” Acts 19:2.

We could call hundreds, if necessary, who would give testimony to the fact that they had all these experiences before they received the Holy Ghost. The ignorance that prevails concerning the great gift of the Holy Ghost is appalling. In our travels up and down the land, in Scandinavia, Canada and America, we have come across most earnest Christians who have, with astonishment, confessed, "We have never heard about the baptism of the Holy Ghost in this way before?7 The Holy Spirit had of ten been depicted to them as some mysterious influence, settling or resting upon church congregations in answer to the minister's prayer. The truth of a deep, real, experimental baptism for believers in this age was far beyond their conception. It seemed almost incredible that Christians of to-day could claim the like gift received by the disciples at Pentecost. The news came to them as a new revelation from God. Many a time have we been present when such received the baptism. The joyous notes of praise proceeding from them have enraptured the soul.

At the commencement of this chapter, we drew your attention to an interpretation of Acts 19:1-6, as given by some teachers. In the latter part of it we are given to understand that the Apostle's discernment of the lack of spirituality in these Ephesian disciples prompted him to put the Gospel to them in this fashion,

"Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed.” Acts 19:2.

If we are to accept this view, we would have to conclude that Paul, discerning their unregenerate state, asked them if they had received what was impossible for them to receive, being unsaved disciples. The Holy Spirit is God's gift to believers. He is never promised to unbelievers. Our Lord, speaking of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16, 17, settles this question once and for all.

"If ye love Me, keep My commandments, and I will pray the Gather, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of Truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him." John 14:16, 17.

We say again that if these Ephesians were unregenerate, they were of the world, and, as such, needed the essential qualification — the new birth — before they could become recipients of the Holy Spirit. We are persuaded that Paul, the scholarly saint, was incapable of making the huge mistake of presenting the Gospel to the unsaved in words that were impossible for them, being carnal, to understand. Paul recognised them as believers and knew that they were qualified to receive the further experience of the baptism in the Holy Ghost.

Let us for a few minutes further consider Paul's usual method of presenting the Gospel to sinners. At Antioch we find him declaring the truth with great authority, and after bringing conviction to bear upon the people, presenting the Gospel to them.

"Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins?” Acts 13:38.

We come to Athens, that grand but idolatrous city, where men of mighty intellectual power lay prostrate before gods of wood and stone. Paul is stirred within because of the sins of the people. He is emboldened to preach and declares that God will judge the world in righteousness, by that Man whom He hath ordained. Let us follow in the trail of the Apostles until we find ourselves in the gaol at Philippi; Paul and Silas are there, firmly fastened in the stocks. They are in the inner prison, with hands and feet securely fixed. The time passes by and they bear their sufferings patiently, not a murmur or a groan is heard. It is now midnight and full time for family worship. Paul whispers to Silas, "Let us have one of the Foursquare choruses” and they begin to sing praises to God. We do not know what was the actual chorus sung. It might have been

"There is power, power, wonder-working power, in the Blood of the Lamb."

The other prisoners are amazed, and would consider them the most extraordinary of all prisoners. What a difference there was between listening to heart-rending groans, the usual thing in the prison, and these lively choruses. But there are still greater things in store for them. The power of God descends, and the Apostles are shaken so mightily that they are freed from the stocks.

"And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's hands were loosed." Acts 16:26.

If ever there was a Pentecostal meeting, it was there. Such a manifestation of power brought conviction upon the gaoler resulting in his cry of distress,

"Sirs! what must I do to be saved!" Acts 16:30.

We cannot imagine Paul answering by saying,

"Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Acts 19:2.

The gaoler being a sinner, like those at Antioch and Athens, was introduced to the Saviour. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The Ephesian disciples being believers, were introduced by Paul to the Holy Ghost, with whom they could be empowered for service in the Christian life.