The Special Work Of The Messiah
We all know that Christ brings salvation to the world, that men in the Old Testament dispensation were saved by faith in a Christ to come, as they are in the present dispensation saved by faith in a Christ who has come. A prospective faith once, a retrospective faith now, brings pardon to the sinner. Christ has always been the Door of Salvation; the Light, the Truth, the Way of Life to the nations of the world.
But in addition to this and other blessings of the atonement, there is to be recognized running through prophecy allusions to some gracious work the Saviour was to do for his Church and people. In lofty imagery and plain statement the prophets said that he would do certain things for the world, but a special thing for Zion or the Church. More than one agreed that this was to be his distinguishing mark or sign. We were to know him by this special and peculiar work.
It is significant that Zechariah bids Jerusalem rejoice, for “behold, thy King cometh unto thee.”
Malachi declares the same fact, that the Messiah’s first coming and movement should be in his temple; that his work would be like refiner’s fire, that he would sit as a purifier of silver, and that his work should be wrought upon the sons of Levi, his own servants and people.
In Isaiah lxi. 3 this gracious work to be done in Zion (not the world) appears again. “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”
Next is the testimony of the angel Gabriel. It is remarkable that when he announced to Mary the coming birth of the Messiah he passed over the other works of Christ, and mentioned this one to the wondering virgin: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Let the reader mark the passage. The author read it for years before he saw the precious truth that glittered like a gem down in the plain, familiar statement. The word is not that he will save sinners, but “his people from their sins.”
After this is heard the voice of John the Baptist witnessing to the same truth in the words that the Saviour had come to “thoroughly purge his floor,” and again, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
Paul speaks of it in the words: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” The Revised Version puts it: “That he might sanctify it, having cleansed it,” etc. So the second work is made clear, and it is, as stated everywhere in the Scriptures, in and upon the Church.
The Saviour himself repeatedly spoke of it, and prepared his disciples for it. Luke says that he “commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.” It was so important that he had often spoken of the coming blessing to them.
In the next verse he said to his disciples: “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” At another time during the forty days of the resurrection life he said: “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”
What was this work or blessing?
Not pardon or regeneration, for the Church had known this experience all along. Abraham, Jacob, David, and countless multitudes were called God’s children. “These all died in the faith,” says Paul. Besides this the promise here of a peculiar work, grace, or blessing is made to the Church.
If after these prophesies, the utterances of the Saviour, and the emphatic statement of John the Baptist that the Messiah had a baptism of fire for his people; if after all this, when it finally came, as it did come on Pentecost, and proved to be only regeneration, the whole body of disciples would have been disappointed, the prophets could be shown to have uttered foolish and false statements, and the Baptist shown to be guilty of deceiving his hearers.
Suppose a father promised his children an unusually excellent morning meal, and when the hour arrived and all sat down full of expectancy they discovered before them the same old breakfast! What a mockery it would have been to the people, after all the glowing promises of John about a baptism of fire that they were to receive at the hands of the Saviour, when it was at last realized, to find that it was nothing more than what they had experienced before.
It is folly to call this blessing that we are speaking of regeneration, as some do in order to deny and get rid of a second work. There are overwhelming reasons why it is not possible to call it regeneration.
One is that this peculiar work of Christ is called a baptism, while regeneration we all understand is a birth. In addition to this we know that a birth and baptism are not only different things, but cannot take place at the same moment. The child is born, and, subsequently, baptized. So God’s child is born first, and baptized with the Holy Ghost afterwards.
Secondly, Christ calls it an enduement of power, while regeneration is an impartation of life.
Thirdly, it is likened to “fire,” and fire is never used as a symbol of regeneration. Water is the type of regeneration, and fire stands for holiness. “Our God is a consuming fire;” and when he sanctified his tabernacle and altar he did it with fire, and when he sanctified his disciples he did it with holy fire.
A fourth reason for knowing that this “baptism of fire” was not regeneration is evidenced from the fact that it fell upon believers.
Again, this promised work of the Messiah was not a recovery from backsliding.
This would belittle the prophecy. Moreover, the terms will not allow such an interpretation. The disciples were not backsliders when they received this blessing. It is true that they had forsaken Christ and fled, the night of his arrest, but all had been forgiven and restored, even doubting Thomas. Peter had been recommissioned on the banks of Galilee, and Christ had breathed the Holy Ghost upon them prior to his ascension and the descent of this blessing.
Nor was this work of Christ to be a simple effusion or outpouring of the Spirit in a transitory way.
It stands to reason that the prophets would not uplift their voices for ages about a distinguishing blessing that meant only a cupful of happiness for an hour or a day to the individual when it came. Reason and Scripture both alike forbid such a thought.
Nor was it simply an anointing for work of the apostles alone. Instead of the twelve receiving, we read that it came upon one hundred and twenty disciples, composed not only of men, but of women.
Nor was it a work to end on the morning of Pentecost, and with the one hundred and twenty.
Peter, standing up and addressing the wondering inhabitants of Jerusalem and strangers from every nation, said: “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Moreover, it could not and cannot as a work be regarded as simply a greater measure of the Spirit given to the child of God.
It is this and more. Peter forever settles that question in Acts xv. 8, 9, where, in identifying what had been done to Cornelius with what had happened to the disciples on Pentecost, he said that in the baptism of the Holy Ghost their hearts were purified. He put no difference, he says, between us and them, “purifying their hearts by faith.” These words prove several things: first, that regeneration is not purity; secondly, that purity does not come by growth or development; and, thirdly, that there is another work of grace in the heart subsequent to regeneration.
Let the reader consider these facts, and then turn to the Scripture statements, “He shall come to his temple,” “shall purify the sons of Levi,” “shall save his people from their sins,” “shall purge his floor,” “shall baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire;” and he is compelled to say that here is a great uplifting, purifying blessing to come upon the Church, and it is to come as the personal work of the Son of God. If the promise had never been fulfilled, the fact remains as taught by these and other words of prophecy that another grace or blessing distinct from pardon, different from regeneration, remains for the people of God.
Thousands in the centuries that have gone by have discovered the blessing through a humble, attentive study of the Bible. It exists for the child of God, whether he ever obtains it or not.
But some one will ask: “When was this blessing received by any one in the Bible?”
The reply is: First at Pentecost. What was the wonderful occurrence in the upper room but the first glorious and general fulfillment of the long-prophesied work and blessing of the Messiah. The long-promised, long-expected second blessing or work of grace had come at last. It came as narrated in the book of Acts four distinct times, and, thank God, has been coming ever since, and will continue to come with increasing frequency to the end of the world.
It fell first in Jerusalem, next in Samaria, the third time in Cesarea, and the fourth in Ephesus. First, on the Jews; secondly, on the Samaritans; thirdly, on the Romans, and fourthly, on the Greeks. All this being in perfect harmony with the words of Peter, “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and unto all that are afar off.”
The first time it came upon the disciples in Jerusalem. It was obtained by a congregation of believers, of whom Christ had said they were “not of the world,” were “branches of the true vine,” and their “names were in the Book of Life;” and it came after they had been seeking, praying, and waiting for it ten days. The second chapter of Acts gives a full account of the blessed occurrence.
The second time it fell upon believers in Samaria who had been converted under the preaching of Philip. No unprejudiced mind can read the account of the revival held by Philip in Samaria when the people “received the word of God,” “believed,” and were “baptized,” and there was great joy in that city,” without seeing that the subsequent blessing of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which fell upon them under the teaching of Peter and John, came upon converted men and women.
The third time it came upon a devout man and his believing household in Cesarea.
To escape the plain teaching of the second work of grace in the tenth chapter of Acts a number have set themselves to believe that Cornelius was a heathen sinner needing conversion, and received that blessing under the preaching of Peter.
But God’s description of the centurion was that he was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.” The Book also says that these prayers and alms had been accepted of God; that he was of “good report among all the nations;” that he practiced fasting and seems to have been so spiritual that the instant Peter met him he at once saw that he was a man accepted of God.”
Some have supposed that the difficulty with Cornelius was that he had never heard the gospel, but this is completely refuted in the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh verses, where Peter, in speaking to the Roman captain, said: “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ, that word, I say, ye know.”
Peter’s mission to Cornelius was to declare the special work of Christ upon the believer–viz., the baptism of the Holy Ghost. So the Word says: “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the Word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.”
Here was not remission of sins received, but the forty-fifth verse says: “The gift of the Holy Ghost.” In the next chapter Peter tells the disciples in Jerusalem that it was the same blessing that they themselves had obtained at Pentecost: “As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” Here Peter identifies the blessing Cornelius received with what came upon them on the morning of Pentecost. It was a blessing received by believers and disciples.
The fourth recorded time that “the baptism” fell was in Ephesus. It came, as always, upon believers. Twelve “disciples” and “believers” they were called. Paul asked them: “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Their remarkable answer, according to the King James translation, was: “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” Commentators and other scholars have long ago seen that this is an incorrect translation. The Revised Version puts it properly: “We did not so much as hear whether the Holy Ghost was given.”
The truthfulness of this last translation is seen from the fact that these men said that they were the disciples of John the Baptist; and if so, must have heard of the Holy Ghost, for the Baptist emphasized the fact to the people that while he baptized with water Christ would “baptize with the Holy Ghost.” So to be the followers of John, and to have received his baptism, was to have heard of the Holy Ghost. But they had not heard that “the Holy Ghost was given.”
Christ had already commenced baptizing with the Holy Ghost in Jerusalem, Samaria, and Cesarea, but this was far away in Asia Minor, and there were no telegraph wires and steam railways, and news traveled slowly. They had not heard that the Holy Ghost had been given or poured out.
Now let the reader say what it was that they immediately received under the instruction of Paul. If pardon, the verse should read “then they received the remission of sins.” Instead of that, the Scripture says: “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” Just exactly what was seen at Pentecost, for it was the same blessing.
These facts show conclusively that the long-promised blessing to be brought by the Messiah to the Church is not regeneration that he gives to the repenting world, but something altogether different, inasmuch as it is for the Church, and is a work wrought in the hearts of believers. In a word, the God-man, the New Man, has come to destroy the “old man,” and so impart to his people the blessing of sanctification or holiness.
Christ knew, and the Church is steadily finding out, through the ages, that time, Christian work, growth in grace, repression of sin, old age, and sorrow are all alike powerless to produce heart purity or holiness.
It is the blood of Jesus alone that can cleanse from all sin. It is his power alone that can destroy inbred sin and create clean hearts. And so he has come to his Church with this great blessing. He has a diadem of beauty for her head. He has beautiful garments of purity for her form. He has a blessing for her that will make her arise, shine, rejoice, and take the world for him. It is the distinguishing blessing of the Messiah. He comes first to his temple, though there be many houses in the world. He will “purify the sons of Levi,” said Malachi. He will “save his people from their sins,” said the angel. “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” said John. “He will sanctify his Church,” said Paul. And then what? Well, in the might, beauty, and glory of the second work, the Church will sweep out of Jerusalem over Judea, through Samaria, unto the uttermost parts of the earth, carrying light, life, salvation, and holiness everywhere.
This is the second work of grace. Pardon and peace is the first; purity and power is the second. God for Christ’s sake gives the former in salvation, but Christ brings the latter in the baptism of fire.
“He shall baptize you” (not the Holy Ghost), “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” And lo! when it came upon the disciples, Peter explaining to the wondering Jews, cried out: “This Jesus .. being by the right-hand of God exalted, … hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.”
O that every Christian and Church would get ready for this blessed grace and work of the Son of God which destroys the “old man,” enthrones the New Man, purifies and empowers the people of God, and sends forth the Church singing, shouting, victorious, and irresistible to the conquest of the world.
O that it now from heaven might fall, And all my sins consume! Come, Holy Ghost, for thee we call, Spirit of burning, come.