Although we have already quoted briefly from the words of John the Baptist in his Jordan ministry we turn deliberately back for a larger view of his declarations. We do so because what he says is so significant in the unfoldings of divine purpose and redemption. And besides this, the statement of John in the third chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is the very first utterance relative to the definite work of the Holy Ghost. “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” (Matt. 3:11).
In this very first New Testament statement regarding the actual work of the Holy Spirit, when He is come, some facts become apparent upon a simple surface reading of this record, The first fact is that the baptism with the Holy Ghost is a step beyond repentance and can follow only after repentance and moral readjustment through regeneration has come to pass. To attempt to tie together the work of the Spirit in repentance and regeneration with that of His baptism as one work is such a strained assumption that it is needless to consider it at all in this brief presentation. One precedes and the other follows as distinct crises just as the sun hidden behind the hills brings full-fledged day. Another passing observation merits comment.
John clearly implies that just as much greater as Jesus was than he, in the same way the work that Jesus would do for the believer would surpass the work of John’s ministry. They cannot be separated for one is, in the largest sense, an integral part of the other in the plan of God. But the baptism with the Holy Ghost is a work of larger consummation than the foundational work of repentance and faith, issuing into larger spiritual accomplishments and fullness of life. It more nearly approximates the eventual purpose of grace in the final restoration of the human personality. Thus the work that Jesus would do, and will yet do for the believer by the gift of the Holy Ghost, outdistances and exceeds the work of repentance that John taught on the threshold of grace. Just as the room is larger than the threshold and the full possession than the beginning so is Jesus’ work greater than that of John.
But the heart of this scripture drives far deeper than this. The thought hinges about the word baptism. And this word is an interesting one because it stands fresh in its meaning and literally unchanged from its original thought. When the translators reached this word they faced such a difference of viewpoint in their particular interpretation that they left the word unchanged save forgiving it a proper English ending. Thus we have the word baptize standing fresh in its meaning and unchanged in original thought. The word comes from the Greek baptidzo which had to do with the dyeing of cloth, It was a common household word, a most common term in wifely vernacular. Should a housewife meet another with whom she had formerly talked of a certain dress or fabric that was to be colored with a different hue she would ask, “Have you baptized that dress yet?” The implication, then, of the meaning of the baptism with the Holy Ghost is not hard to find. What does dyeing imply?
It means the saturating of that cloth with a distinct shade of coloring until every particle of the warp and woof was impregnated with that color; until every fragment of the goods bears a particular identity with the purpose of the one who does the work. And so it is. The baptism with the Holy Ghost by Jesus in the life of the believer, who will have it so, is the actual saturating of that personality with divine presence until the very warp and woof of life takes on a divine cast and from then on identifies its relationship with Deity. It was Doctor Bresee, we understand, who frequently used to pray, “Lord, souse us with liquid glory.” By no means afar-fetched thought. This is the work of the Holy Ghost in the life of the Christian. His life, though Christian in intent and purpose, has been spotted and from time to time somewhat inconstant. There have been parts of the life where the divine presence and coloring have been dimmed by failures. There has been lacking a consistency of definite divine shading as well as a penetrating of the entire personality all through with the power of God. But now, the personality having been baptized with the Holy Ghost, the whole thing is touched and identified with Deity.