The baptism of the Apostles in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was not for their special good; but it enabled them to be of service to others. They were baptized in the Holy Spirit to enable them to fulfill their mission as apostles. Through them the Holy Spirit revealed the gospel, speaking, when occasion demanded it, in languages the apostles did not know. It seems that they did not always understand what the Spirit said through them. As God is not now calling and sending out apostles, no one is now baptized in the Holy Spirit. And yet it seems that some preachers talk more about “Holy Ghost baptism” than they do about Jesus the Christ. But the Holy Spirit, in His first sermon spoken through the apostles, preached Christ, and said nothing about “Holy Ghost baptism” or any other direct operation of the Spirit. Follow up the activities of the apostles and other inspired men, and you will see that these inspired men never told sinners that they could neither believe nor obey till regenerated by a direct work of the Holy Spirit. There is a striking difference between their preaching and much of the preaching of today. One wonders what would happen to the preacher and his hearers if in the midst of the sermon the Holy Spirit should suddenly take possession of the vocal organs of the preacher and do the preaching!
After the incidents of Acts 2 the next recorded sermon is found in Acts 3. When a lame man had been healed, a crowd came together. Peter preached to them, and again reminded them that they had killed the Christ. The Holy Spirit was speaking through Peter. He did not tell them they must have “Holy Ghost baptism” or must be regenerated by a direct work of the Spirit, or must be born of the Spirit; neither did he tell them they could do nothing. But he did say “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” If they did what the Holy Spirit commanded, they were led by he Holy Spirit.
Now read Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. It is said of Stephen that he was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” “And Stephen, full of grace and power, wrought great wonders and signs among the people.” “And they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:5, 8, 10). These verses show that Stephen had the power of the Holy Spirit upon him, and that the Holy Spirit spoke through him. His sermon was really a sermon spoken by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit depended on words to convict the people. In the sermon nothing was said about regeneration by a direct work of the Holy Spirit. It was said—“Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye.” And the next verse shows that their fathers resisted the Holy Spirit by persecuting and killing the prophets through whom the Spirit spoke; and the council was resisting the Holy Spirit in the same way. And they proceed to demonstrate the truth of Stephen’s statement, for they proceeded at once to kill him. People resist the Holy Spirit by resisting his words, nor could they resist him in any other way. No man could resist a direct impact of Almighty Power.
Read Acts 8:1-13. When the disciples were driven out of Jerusalem by a great persecution, Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ to the people. Nothing is said about the Holy Spirit regenerating the people to enable them to believe; but Luke does say, “But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Philip preached, the people believed, and were baptized. So far as the record shows the gospel was the only power brought to bear on them. The signs he performed attracted the attention of the people, and confirmed the preaching; but the preaching produced faith, and led to obedience. One thing is certain, and that is, these Samaritans had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit, or received any direct operation of the Holy Spirit before they were baptized; they did not receive any direct operation of the powers of the Holy Spirit bill some days later when Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and laid hands on them.
In the conversion of the eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) an angel told Philip to “go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza.” When he reached the designated point, there came into view a man of Ethiopia, the treasurer of the queen of Ethiopia. He was reading a portion of the prophet Isaiah. An angel had directed Philip to this point. Now the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” Philip said to the man, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” And he said, “How can I, except some one shall guide me?” Had Philip been imbued with the doctrine of total depravity he would have informed the eunuch that he could not understand what God says until he was regenerated, or made alive by a direct work of the Spirit; but fortunately Philip was under the influence of the Holy Spirit, not total depravity doctrine. So he guided the eunuch to an understanding by beginning from the scripture the eunuch was reading, and preaching to him Jesus, with such force and clearness that the eunuch said, “Behold, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?” What hinders any to be baptized? Philip did not ask him, “Have you been regenerated by a direct work of the Spirit?” A lack of faith is the only thing that hinders anyone to be baptized. Philip had preached to him to produce faith; he believed and was baptized. Then he rejoiced.
Luke records the conversion of Saul in Acts 9:1; 19. Saul, or Paul, gives an account of his conversion in Acts 22:1-16; 26:1-19. The student should read and compare these three accounts. Equipped with letters of authority from the chief priests, Saul was on his way to Damascus to bring bound to Jerusalem all the disciples in that city. As he neared Damascus about noon a great light shone about him, so intensely bright that it blinded him and he fell to the earth. A voice said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the goads.” And Paul said, “Who art thou, Lord?” He fell to the earth, because he knew he was in the presence of a heavenly being, though he did not know who it was. Back in the days when many of the denominations thought of conversion as a sort of convulsion, they said Saul was struck down. One preacher said, “Saul was knocked clean off his horse” (he was not riding). Recently a preacher said Saul was born again on the highway, because Paul said, “and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also” (1 Cor. 15:8). Now is there, can there be, such a thing as an untimely spiritual birth? The thought is absurd. The meaning is that the Lord’s appearing to him was untimely. It had been a number of years since he had appeared in person to any one. He was not saved when he saw the light. It was not spiritual light shining in his heart-shone round about him a light brighter than the sun. If he were saved—born again—at that moment, he was saved before he knew the Lord, or even believed In him; for he said, “Who art thou, Lord?” Neither had he received the Holy Spirit; for in Damascus Ananias said to him, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” But one preacher recently said, “Ananias called Saul brother; he was a brother in Christ when Ananias came to him.” Such talk does not appear to be honest. Paul addressed as “brethren and fathers” the mob that had been trying to kill him (Acts 22:21). See also such passages as Acts 2:29, 37; 3:17; 7:2; 13:15; 26:38; 23:11, and other passages. Paul considered all Jews as his kinsmen and brethren. Neither the brilliant light nor Saul’s blindness converted him, but that experience put him in a proper frame of mind to give heed to what he heard. He could not believe till the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” He believed, on that testimony—his faith came by hearing, and not by having it put into his heart by some mysterious operation. Then Saul said, “What shall I do, Lord?” The Lord said, “Arise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Notice the emphatic must do. In the city he was three days without sight, and so great was his distress of mind that he neither ate nor drank. Ananias came and said to him, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.” “And he arose and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened.” Only then was his mind at ease, and his heart glad. If he had been saved on the highway, he would have gone into Damascus happy, even though he was blind; but he went into the city dejected and sad, blind both physically and spiritually, and remained so till Ananias led him into the light.
In the case of Cornelius (Acts 10; 11:1-18) he was divinely guided to send for Peter. The angel said to Cornelius, “Send to Joppa, and fetch Simon, whose surname is Peter, who shall speak unto thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house.” While Peter spoke to Cornelius and those with him, the Holy Spirit fell on them with miraculous power; but that was not to save him, for they were to be saved by the words which Peter spoke to them. Peter told them what to do to be saved, and set motives before them to induce them to act. The Gospel is God’s power to save, and that was the power that was brought to bear on them.
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas “entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake that a great multitude of Jews and of Greeks believed.” The miracles and signs performed through them confirmed the truthfulness of their preaching, but it was their preaching that caused many to believe (Acts 14:1-3). No matter how many other things may happen to a person, he cannot believe in Jesus Christ if he has never heard of him (Rom. 10:14-17).
And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there and she constrained us (Acts 16:13-15).
To get the whole story of Lydia’s conversion in mind, consider some things that led up to Paul’s preaching in Philippi. After leaving Iconium the Spirit of the Lord kept Paul and his company on a direct course to Troas. Here “a vision appeared to Paul in the night.” There was work committed to them. These points are plainly stated in 2 Cor. 8:18-20. Christ’s chosen ambassadors were acting on his behalf, persuading men to be reconciled to God. Said Jesus, “He that heareth you heareth me” (Luke 10:16). And Jesus sent Paul to open the eyes of people, and to turn them from darkness to light (Acts 26:16-18). Paul tells the Ephesians that they had formerly had the eyes of their heart enlightened (Eph. 1:18). Hence, to open the heart is to open the eyes of the heart. That was done by preaching, for that was the only way Paul could open the eyes of people. Lydia was a worshipper of God, but did not know Christ; through Paul’s preaching Lydia’s heart was opened. Before it is said that the Lord opened her heart, it is said that she “heard us.” Denominational preachers assume that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart by a direct operation of the Spirit, and a direct work of the Spirit; then why did not the Spirit operate on those who shamefully treated Paul and Silas? They certainly needed regenerating.
Notice Paul’s work at Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). He preached three Sabbath days in the synagogue of the Jews, proving to them Jesus is the Christ. Notice verse 4: “And some of them were persuaded.” His preaching persuaded them to obey the Gospel. They were not so depraved that they could not be persuaded to accept Jesus as the Christ. Christ gives life to those who come to him, and sinners are not so dead that they cannot come. On one occasion Jesus said to some dead sinners, “Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life” (John 5:40). These people would not be persuaded to come to Christ, that they might have life; but many at Thessalonica were persuaded to come to Christ, that they might have life. They did not have life, and then come; they came, that they might have life.
Now read Acts 17:10-12). The Bereans “received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believe.” Notice the force of therefore. They believed because they received the word with all readiness of mind. They did not believe because they had received a direct work of the Spirit, but because they received the word of God.
Of Paul’s labors at Corinth it is said, “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was constrained by the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” The result is stated in verse 8: “And Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” To these Corinthians Paul preached Jesus as the Christ; he did not preach inherited depravity or the direct operation of the Spirit in regeneration. “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified…And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:2-4). “Demonstration of the Spirit and of power” was not an invisible operation, but a demonstration—a proof—that his preaching was from God. He conferred spiritual gifts and worked miracles. To this church he wrote, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Cor. 12:12). But these were demonstrations—proof— that Paul’s preaching was from God, but only Paul’s preaching gave life. “For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). That settles one thing—spiritual life was not generated in them by a direct operation of the Spirit.
Inspired preachers did not tell sinners that they were so depraved by nature that they could not obey the Gospel till they were made alive by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, or that they must first have an experience of grace, or that they must be baptized in the Holy Spirit. If they did, Luke failed to record it; yet it is the main burden of a lot of preaching these days. In fact, some preachers talk more about the Holy Spirit than about the Savior. The Holy Spirit in God’s chosen preachers did not preach Himself, but Christ Jesus. In preaching through these chosen preachers, the Holy Spirit depended on the Gospel to convert sinners; and He Himself said through Paul that the Gospel is God’s power unto salvation.