In 1855, a young man was born again and gave his life in service to the Lord. He was fervent and zealous in his work, starting children’s ministries and preaching to thousands. He started a church and traveled to other countries sharing the gospel. Many were saved because of his efforts. He poured himself into his ministry so much that he was beginning to feel burned out from all the personal effort and striving he put in.
One evening, at the close of one of his messages, two women approached him and told him that they were praying for him. This occurred several of the evenings that followed, and finally he became a little perturbed about it. “Why do you pray for me? Why don’t you pray for these unsaved?” he asked.
They told him that they were praying for him to receive power. He didn’t know what they meant, but those words kept bothering him, so finally he went back to them and asked what they were talking about. They told him that he needed the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. After they explained what they were talking about, he said he wanted to pray with them rather than they just praying for him. He prayed fervently for this baptism and power. He continued to pray for it on his own.
Not long after that, he was walking the streets of New York and his prayer was answered. In the midst of all the hurried flurry of the city street, he felt the power of God coming upon him. He rushed to a friend’s house nearby and asked to have a room to himself. He stayed in that room for hours and the Holy Spirit came upon him, “filling his soul with such joy that at last he had to ask God to withhold His hand, lest he die on the spot from very joy. He went out from that place with the power of the Holy Ghost upon him”.1
Dwight L. Moody then went on to be a more effective evangelist who no longer struggled on his own strength. He preached to crowds of tens of thousands and led many more to Christ but without the striving of his earlier days. In his own words, “The sermons were no different, and I did not present any new truths and yet hundreds were converted. I would not be placed back where I was before that blessed experience.” 2
Most of us know who Dwight L. Moody is, but this is a story many of us don’t ever hear about. Moody was known to preach about “a baptism of the Holy Spirit” regularly after that experience. He was known for saying, “The Holy Spirit in us is one thing, and the Holy Spirit on us for service is another.”3
He taught that all believers had the Holy Spirit within them, but that it was entirely another thing to have the Holy Spirit fall upon you “with power from on high”. He urged his listeners to seek a filling of the Holy Spirit saying, “We all need it [the filling of the Holy Spirit] together, and let us not rest day nor night until we possess it; if that is the uppermost thought in our hearts, God will give it to us if we just hunger and thirst for it and say, ‘God helping me, I will not rest until endued with power from on high.’”4
Sometimes teachers would come to argue with Moody about it. R.A. Torrey writes about one of those times when he and Moody had one of these encounters in Torrey’s book, Why God Used D.L. Moody.
“…fine men, all of them, but they did not believe in a definite baptism with the Holy Ghost for the individual. They believed that every child of God was baptized with the Holy Ghost, and they did not believe in any special baptism with the Holy Ghost for the individual. Mr. Moody came to me and said: “Torrey, will you come up to my house after the meeting tonight and I will get those men to come, and I want you to talk this thing out with them.”
Of course, I very readily consented, and Mr. Moody and I talked for a long time, but they did not altogether see eye to eye with us. And when they went, Mr. Moody signaled me to remain for a few moments. Mr. Moody sat there with his chin on his breast, as he so often sat when he was in deep thought; then he looked up and said: ‘Oh, why will they split hairs? Why don’t they see that this is just the one thing that they themselves need? They are good teachers, they are wonderful teachers, and I am so glad to have them here; but why will they not see that the baptism with the Holy Ghost is just the one touch that they themselves need?’”
The Still Quiet Influence of the Holy Spirit?
The above story is, admittedly, outside of our Anabaptist comfort zones. It goes against our beliefs. We may not really know much about the Holy Spirit, but we’ve been told that we don’t believe in a separate baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit that might take place after conversion.
So what do we believe? Or more importantly, what does the Bible tell us about the “baptism” or “filling” of the Holy Spirit? Are our beliefs lined up with Scripture?
In Acts 1 and 2, we read of 120 people gathered waiting and praying for the promise of the Holy Spirit baptism.
“..for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit..” Acts 1:5
“..But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you..” Acts 1:8
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4
These three verses are all speaking of the same happening, and yet it is described in different ways. “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”.
So we can conclude that when we read these phrases in relation to the Holy Spirit throughout Acts that they are talking about the same thing.
When Peter preached in Acts 2, the multitude was “cut to the heart” and asked what they should do. Peter said to repent, be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 4, after Peter and John had been arrested, questioned, and released by the religious leaders, they went back to the believers and reported what had happened. They responded by praying and in verse 31 it says, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Wait. They had already been baptized with the Holy Spirit and yet here they are getting filled again. And this was not just an awareness of a quiet influence. The Holy Spirit came again in such an evident way that the place they were gathered in was shaken.
In Acts 8, Philip is preaching to Samaria. Both men and women believed and were baptized. When the apostles heard of this, they sent Peter and John to pray for them that they would receive the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them. (Verses 14-16)
This story seems a little different. They believed and were baptized, so why did the Holy Spirit not automatically fall on them? Philip had apparently received empowerment of the Holy Spirit because signs and great miracles were performed while he was evangelizing. And yet the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit when they believed the message he brought.
When an account in the Bible seems a little different than the rest, there is often something that we are supposed to gather from it. What stands out to me is that the Holy Spirit did not just automatically come when they believed and were baptized. And since the apostles did not always lay hands and pray for people to receive the Holy Spirit, we can’t draw the conclusion that they always had to do this. So the conclusion I draw is that the Holy Spirit does not show up in the exact same way every time. Every situation is different.
He is God. He does not do things according to man-made standards and expectations.
Another thing that stands out to me is that there was something very definite and evident about the receiving of the Holy Spirit. They knew whether they had received the Holy Spirit or not. In Acts 19, Paul asks in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” He expects them to be able to tell if they had or not.
Another story of the Holy Spirit coming in an unusual way is found in Acts 10. Peter was preaching to the Gentiles and while he was still preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on the crowd and they began speaking in tongues and extolling God. They hadn’t even been baptized yet, nor did anyone pray over them! Even the believers who were with Peter were amazed.
I don’t know. Being filled with the Holy Spirit throughout Acts just doesn’t seem to synchronize with our “Quiet Influence Only” beliefs within our Anabaptist circles. There is no doubt that sometimes He is a still, quiet influence, but that is not how it was when we read about people receiving a filling of the Holy Spirit.
“But that was only for the early church. It’s not for today.”
Acts 2:38-39, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (emphasis mine)
Why should it look any different today than it did then? Is the Holy Spirit any less powerful today than He was when the early church began? Can we really claim that we need Him less today so that is why we don’t see Him move in our lives?
Why did Jesus send the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?
The Holy Spirit falling on the believers was not for regeneration nor to bring them forgiveness of sins. When Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promise, He was speaking to the men that He had previously told were “clean”. “‘…And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For He knew who was to betray Him” (John 13:10-11).
Again in John 15:3, we hear Him repeating those words, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”
The same could be said of the previous example I gave in the account about Samaria in Acts 8. They believed and were baptized, then received the Holy Spirit later. They were regenerate believers though they had not yet received the Holy Spirit.
So we can conclude that the filling of the Holy Spirit is not to regenerate sinners. These baptized believers and regenerate people had not yet had the Holy Spirit fall on them, but yet each believer was given opportunity to then have this filling of the Holy Spirit.
Being filled with the Spirit is not a one time “once and for all” thing. Galatians 5:16 says “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” In Acts we read of both Peter and Paul being filled with the Holy Spirit more than once (Acts 4:8, 31, 13:9, 13:52). Paul tells the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), though the Holy Spirit had already fallen on the believers there. (Acts 19). It is apparent that it is not a one time thing.
So why then do we need the filling of the Holy Spirit? In Jesus’ words, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. (Acts 1:8) Over and over, passages that speak of a filling of the Holy Spirit are connected with and for the purpose of empowerment in testimony and service. (Acts 2:4-8, Acts 4:7-8, 31, 33, Eph. 3:16, )
This filling is not for cleansing us from sin, nor is for making us perfect Christians who will never sin again. It is an empowering for doing whatever God is calling us to do. And it does not always look the same in everyone because God does not call us to the same work. 1 Cor. 12:4-7 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
But don’t all believers have the Holy Spirit?
All believers have the Holy Spirit in them when they become believers. But that is still different than the empowerment that happened at Pentecost. Did Jesus’ disciples have the Holy Spirit in them before Pentecost? In John 20:22, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Did they not receive what He was giving them? And yet they still had to wait in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit.
Many people are skeptical of any teaching about being filled with the Holy Spirit because they assume it is just part of the Pentecostal movement. But teaching about this was around long before the Pentecostal movement began, and it continues even with others who are not part of the charismatic movement. It’s not something Satan likes people to find out about. After all, why would he want us to be filled by the very Spirit that empowers us to a greater ministry?
I challenge you to research some history of some of the greatest preachers and evangelists. Read about their experiences of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the accounts of the Spirit falling on crowds while they preached. A.J. Gordon, Reuben A. Torrey, Dwight Moody, Charles Finney, Billy Graham, Lloyd Jones, Jonathon Edwards, etc.
For those who have never experienced any sort of manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and have only known Him as a barely noticed, quiet influence; it is easy to dismiss it all as nonsense. But when you have an experience, there is such a joy (Acts 13:52), refreshing (Acts 3:19), and comfort (Acts 9:31) that you know without a shadow of a doubt that something is different now.
I would not have written any of this ten years ago, and if I would have read anything like this, I would have dismissed it as nonsense because I had never experienced it. I would have ardently claimed that the Holy Spirit is a barely noticeable, quiet influence because I had never experienced anything else. But when you experience a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit, you can’t deny that there is something more that you were missing before– even though you may have been trying to serve Him to the best of your knowledge.
Jonathon Edwards says it like this, “Have they not condemned such vehement affections, such high transports of love and joy, such pity and distress for the souls of others, and exercises of mind that have such great effects, merely, or chiefly, because they knew nothing about them by experience? Persons are very ready to be suspicious of what they have not felt themselves. It is to be feared that many good men have been guilty of this error, which however does not make it the less unreasonable.” 5
From my personal experience and in hearing the testimony of others, having the Holy Spirit come upon you is an experience of indescribable joy. Rather than crossing our arms in suspicion and judgment, perhaps we should instead ask God to show us if we are lacking something.
3. Dwight L. Moody, Secret Power, chapter 2
5. Works of Jonathon Edwards, Volume One, Sect. II http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.ix.ii.ii.html
Being Filled with the Holy Spirit first appeared on Another Radical Reformation, and the writer, Simon Fry, graciously agreed to let me republish it. For more quotes on the filling of the Holy Spirit, read this post on his blog. The article is actually the third of a series on the Holy Spirit, and you can find the first one here.
If you haven’t already, check out Simon Fry’s writings on baptism, communion, and other important issues. Fry’s writing is both reasonable and challenging, and is well worth your time to read if you want an out-of-the-box perspective on many Biblical doctrines.
Have you experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit? If so, how has it affected you? If not, is it something you long for, or is it too scary for you to think about? I’d love to hear your thoughts.