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Robert A. Mattke, B.D., M.A.
(Associate. Prof. Bible and Theology, Houghton College , Buffalo Campus)


Source: Wesleyan Theological Journal

Wesley Center Online





In the process of building the Christian Church, there appears to be ample evidence in the Scriptures that Jesus Christ was much concerned with that critical period immediately following His crucifixion. Knowing that His disciples were approaching a crisis of faith, He sought to instruct them by speaking of the necessity of His going away. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth,” says He, “for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7).

The encouragement Jesus gave to His disciples for those perilous days was stated in terms familiar to any Jew for He spoke of a forthcoming baptism. His words are these: “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). Jesus is here reiterating a soon-to-be-fulfilled promise which was made by John the Baptist at Bethabara on the occasion of Jesus’ own baptism when it was said:


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 (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8 ; Luke 3:16 ; John 1:26 –27).


John in his prophetic role takes his turn in projecting the promise of the Father another step in the on-going history of the Christian Church. Evidently Jesus repeated this promise frequently, for Luke records that this was done “until the day in which he was taken up” (Acts 1:2). When the one hundred and twenty received their fulfillment of the promise on the Day of Pentecost, Peter had no difficulty tracing the promise (all the way) back to that which was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16).

Lest the disciples accept John’s baptism as a premature fulfillment of the promise, John the Baptist made it explicitly clear that his baptism was but an initial or introductory rite. It was but a prelude to the baptism which was to be administered by Jesus Christ. In the terminology of Paul, John’s baptism might be spoken of as “the earnest of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). Luke expresses this forward thrust of John’s baptism when he describes the Day of Pentecost as a day “fully come” (Acts 2:1).

F. F. Bruce says of John’s baptism that it was “a baptism of expectation rather than one of fulfillment as Christian baptism now was.”[1] He adds a further comment concerning those apostles who had been baptized with John’s baptism.

It appears that their Pentecostal enduement with the Spirit transformed the preparatory significance of the baptism which they already received into the consummative significance of Christian baptism.[2]

While emphasizing the superiority of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, care must be taken not to minimize John’s baptism. It fills a very important place in God’s redemptive plan. Jesus’ submission to John’s baptism is a testimony to its own merit and validity. It must not be discounted or depreciated.

As important as John’s baptism is in its own right, the truth remains that it is not the ultimate in baptisms; it is not the final baptism in God’s redemptive order. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the baptism of baptisms; it is the one baptism spoken of by Paul in company with “One Lord, one faith . . . One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:5,6; 1 Corinthians 12:13).




When the Scriptures so distinctly and positively declare the importance and reality of such a baptism it is difficult to understand why there is so little emphasis placed upon this phase of Jesus’ teaching. Ralph Earle writes:


It is difficult to understand the almost universal neglect in the Christian Church of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. There was nothing particularly unique about John’s method of water baptism. Judaism baptized new converts with water. Water baptism is thus not distinctively a Christian rite. The only distinctive and utterly unique Christian baptism is the baptism with the Holy Spirit. That cannot be duplicated by any other religion. It is peculiarly Christ’s: “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[3]


A careful examination of history seems to indicate that the Church has always had difficulty coming to grips with the essential significance of baptism, and certainly our own day is no exception. The whole concept of baptism has either been neglected or subjected to peculiar perversions, and as a consequence it has produced its share of theological deviations.

It appears that from the very beginning the baptism of John was misunderstood because Jesus asked the chief priests and the scribes “was it from heaven, or of men?” (Luke 20:14). The rumor that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John evidently did not contribute to the tranquility of Judea (John 4:1). The controversial nature of baptism is suggested by the writer to the Hebrews when he mentions, among other things, that the doctrine of baptisms must be resolved in the pursuit of perfection (Hebrews 6:2).

Evidently baptism made its contribution to the Corinthian problem. Paul asks, “Were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). With considerable relief he expresses his thanks that he baptized none but Crispus and Gaius (1 Corinthians 1:14).

To the heresies which plagued the church during the first four centuries, baptism was a contributing factor of sizeable significance. As a result of the Diocletian persecution in the third century, the Donatists came into being with their belief in baptismal regeneration. One of the characteristics of the Montanists was that they rigidly maintained the invalidity of heretical baptism. It is interesting to note that Stephen, a bishop in Rome, in 253 sought to stigmatize the Montanists by calling them “Anabaptists.”

In the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, the following terms of reproach are some of those which were indiscriminately applied by Lutherans, Swinglians and Catholics to all whom they considered to be radicals: “rebaptizers,” “Anabaptists,” “anti-pedobaptists” and “cata-baptists.”

When we turn to the Evangelical Revival in the eighteenth century, we find that the Wesley brothers and John Fletcher refer to baptism rather sparingly. Worthy of consideration is the suggestion that Wesley did not want to enter the controversies associated with this terminology. As he charted a course between Pietism on the one hand and Anglicanism on the other, the use of such a vocabulary did not suit his purpose of stressing the practical aspects of perfect love in the life of a Christian.

In his prolific writings on the work of the Holy Spirit, Wesley appears to be cautious about labeling any experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit by the use of this particular expression. Dr. Mildred Wynkoop offers the following word of explanation:


Among the very many terms he used for entire sanctification, never did he call it the baptism of the Holy Spirit or any like term because of the danger of seeking the Holy Spirit for some accompanying gift or emotion instead of seeking Christ and His will. Wesley’s ethical insights are seen in the fact that he does not point us to the gifts of the Spirit but to the fruits of the Spirit.[4]


Charles E. Brown has likewise noted the absence of any significant reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in early Wesleyan literature. He says, “Even the early Wesleyan theologians were so far misled by the technical theologians that they failed to put proper emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”[5]

In our contemporary situation, it would appear that we who support the Wesleyan -Arminian theological position are found somewhere between two extremes: namely, between the evangelicals who generalize the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the pentecostalists who particularize this aspect of the Spirit’s work. While there seems to be no problem as to the fact of this baptism, theologians do have difficulties identifying the time when this baptism occurs, describing the nature of it and finding a suitable terminology that is generally understood.




The majority of writers in the holiness movement who follow the Wesleyan tradition substantially agree that the baptism of the Holy Spirit takes place when a believer is entirely sanctified. The following Scriptures, among others, are used to document this position. In the revival at Samaria, many were baptized in water, both men and women. However, subsequently they were baptized with the Holy Spirit.


Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized In the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:14–17).


The apostle Paul was converted on his way to Damascus , but subsequently in the city,


Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 9:17).


At Ephesus Paul asked the believers,


Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Jesus Christ. When they heard this, they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied (Acts 19:3–6).


It seems evident enough that they were believers who obediently waited for the Day of Pentecost, and it is said of these people,


There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:3–4).


In all of these instances, there is convincing evidence that the persons thus baptized with the Holy Ghost were previously converted—were truly regenerated believers[6] Jack Ford in the J. D. Drysdale Memorial Lectures entitled, What Holiness People Believe, accounts for


the grounds on which the holiness groups hold their view that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is but another aspect of the work of entire sanctification, and that we are sanctified wholly by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which applies the merits of Christ’s atonement to the believing heart.[7]


Charles E. Brown says that there has been a recognition of this interval of time between water baptism (symbolic of regeneration) and the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the historic Christian Church for nineteen hundred years. In the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, there is an evident time span between water baptism and confirmation. Brown points out:


This ceremony of the reception of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church is called confirmation, following the statement of Paul in 2 Corinthians: “Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (l:2l–22).[8]


As previously pointed out, Wesley was seemingly reticent about referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of a baptism. Thus, the search through his writings for a positive identification of the baptism with the Holy Spirit with the crisis of entire sanctification has been rather fruitless. Jack Ford says,


There is little in Wesley’s writings that can be quoted in this respect. He depreciates calling “the second change” whereby we are “Saved from all sin and perfected in love” the “receiving of the Holy Ghost, for,” he says, “we ‘receive the Holy Ghost’ when we are justified.” But in their manual of his teaching, entitled Scriptural Holiness as Taught by John Wesley, Page and Brash state that in his writings “there is no trace of the doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit as a blessing distinct from that of perfect love.”[9]


Leo Cox defends Wesley’s position by saying,


Apparently Wesley feared that using the term “receiving the Holy Ghost” exclusively for the second experience would lessen its meaning for regeneration. Never did Wesley want to lower the content of regeneration to make room for entire sanctification.[10]


John Fletcher is much more explicit in his explanation of the Holy Spirit’s work in both regeneration and entire sanctification when he makes the following distinction: In regeneration he calls the Holy Spirit a “Monitor” and in entire sanctification he calls the Holy Spirit a “comforter.” The following are his words:


If you mean a believer completely baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire, in whom he that once visited as a Monitor now fully resides as a Comforter, you are right; the enmity ceases, the carnal mind and body of sin are destroyed, and “God is all in all” to that just man “made perfect in love.”[11]


That John Fletcher more properly identifies the baptism of the Holy Spirit with entire sanctification is seen in his discussion of the degrees of spiritual life. There are six degrees in his list and the sixth degree is stated as follows:


The still more abundant life, the life of the adult or perfect Christian, imparted to him when the love of God, or power from on high, is plentifully shed abroad in his believing soul, on the day that Christ baptized him with the Holy Ghost and with fire, to sanctify him wholly and seal him unto the day of redemption.[12]


Theologies which do not include an emphasis upon the second crisis aspect of entire sanctification naturally place the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion. The theology of Leon Morris would be representative when he comments on l Corinthians 3:1.


The baptism in question obviously refers not to a supreme experience somewhere along the Christian way, but to the very beginning of Christian experience. In the words of Rene Pache, it is “the act whereby God gives to the believer his position in Jesus Christ . . . All that we subsequently become and receive springs from that position in Christ, which the Spirit’s baptism confers upon us.”[13]


Another representative in this school of thought would be Donald Grey Barnhouse, who says,


No one may ask a believer whether he has been baptized with the Spirit. The very fact that a man is in the body of Christ demonstrates that he has been baptized of the Spirit, for there is no other way of entering the body.[14]


To sum up our findings with regard to the time when the baptism of the Holy Spirit takes place, those who adhere to the reformed theological position (would) say that it happens at the time of conversion. Traditionally, Wesleyan-Arminians have identified this baptism with the second crisis experience. There may be further evidence that we in the Holiness Movement have at times over-emphasized the crisis aspect of entire sanctification at the expense of the process of sanctification. Is it not within the realm of possibility that the Holy Spirit initiates a baptism in regeneration which is consummated in entire sanctification? Or as it is sometimes stated, all Christians are born of the Holy Spirit; all may be baptized or filled with the Spirit, subsequently.




In relating the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the work of entire sanctification, it soon becomes evident that there is not only a bifurcation as to when the respective experience occurs in the Christian life but also as to the precise accomplishment of that experience. In those circles where the term “entire sanctification” is used the predominant emphasis is upon the cleansing of the heart from all sin. Where the baptism of the Holy Spirit is stressed, the result expected is largely that of power for service.

R. A. Torry says unequivocally that


The Baptism with the Holy Spirit has no direct reference to cleansing from sin. It has to do with gifts for service rather than with graces of character. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not in itself either an eradication of the carnal nature or cleansing from an impure heart. It is the impartation of supernatural power or gifts in service, and sometimes one may have rare gifts by the Spirit’s power and few graces.[15]


It appears that it was this kind of polarization of which Wesley was fearful and for this reason he chose his words carefully. He was genuinely afraid of gifts exercised apart from the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

On the positive side, it is well to remember that the terminology Wesley developed in preaching the doctrine of entire sanctification resulted from a very penetrating insight into the nature of sin. Consequently, he amassed a considerable amount of scriptural evidence that the sin in believers could be cleansed.

It is quite unlikely that there was the same ambivalence between cleansing and power in Wesley’s time that exists in our own day. It is most unfortunate that this kind of tension has been building up through the years. Both Reformed and Wesleyan-Arminian scholars must share the responsibility for neglecting the law of complementarity.

Speaking to this point, Paul S. Rees recently said of Thomas Carlyle that


He discerned that in much of life it is dangerous to settle for an either/or position. It is the insight of both/and that is authentic. To exclude one or the other is to miss the wholeness of things.[16]


John Fletcher, likewise, was sensitive to this possibility and wrote:


Mankind are prone to run into extremes. The world is full of men who always overdo or underdo. Few people ever find the line of moderation, the golden mean; and of those who do, few stay long upon it. One blast or another of vain doctrine soon drives them east or west from the meridian of pure truth.[17]


Cannot the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the work of entire sanctification be at peace within our theological vocabularies? Do not these terms refer to a work of God in the soul which includes both a cleansing from sin and an enduing with power? The Pentecostal symbols of fire and wind give an affirmative answer.




When it comes to developing an effective terminology for communicating the gospel we are humbled in the presence of our human limitations. It is difficult enough to put ideas and concepts into words but it is a more demanding task when we attempt to verbalize the action of God in the human soul.

This conclusion is reinforced by this limited study of two terms commonly used in theological discussion. In the process of relating them, we have found them to be scriptural terms having a historical tradition. As is frequently the case, tradition has a tendency to weaken the total impact that God’s word would make upon us.

In the light of this fact, necessity is laid upon us to constantly keep our traditions under surveillance. At the same time we need to be discerning but teachable and charitable with others whose terminology comes out of a tradition different from our own.

Another necessary task is that of sharpening our own definitions. For instance, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is oftentimes equated with the scripture phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit.” These two phrases as they appear in Scripture do not always have the same meaning. After acknowledging his indebtedness to Daniel Steele, Delbert Rose says, “There were fulnesses of the Spirit before the Day of Pentecost, but these were not the Pentecostal baptism with the Holy Spirit.”[18]

The first example is that of a “Charismatic Fulness” which preceded the Day of Pentecost. The angel said of John the Baptist, “He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Luke writes that both Elizabeth and Zacharias were “filled with the Holy Ghost” (1:41, 67) in a pre-Pentecost sense.

A second type is called an “Ecstatic Fulness.” This is a temporary emotional fulness which is characterized by a fulness of joy such as Jesus mentioned in John 16:24. Luke records that the Christians at Antioch in Pisidia “were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (13:52).

The “fulness” which Daniel Steele equates with the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an “Ethical Fulness.” When Peter reports the Jerusalem-Pentecost and the Caesarean-Pentecost he emphasizes the fact that in both cases the result of the baptism was the “purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8–9).

Diligent study by the help of the Holy Spirit does aid us to perfect our terminologies to the point where our words can relate the message of salvation. Luke tells us that “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22).

This truth needs to be complemented with a further word from the Apostle Paul, “and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).


[1] F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, “The New International Commentary on the New Testament.” (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p.386.


[2] Ibid.


[3] Ralph Earle, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), p.30.


[4] Mildred B. Wynkoop, Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p.112.


[5] Charles E. Brown, The Meaning of Sanctification (Anderson, Indiana: The Warner Press, 1945), p.114.


[6] The following authors hold to this position: Asbury Lowrey, Possibilities of Grace (Chicago: The Christian Witness Co., 1884), pp.344–49; D. Shelby Corlett, The Meaning of Holiness Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1944), pp.70–72; 5. A. Keen, Pentecostal Papers (Chicago: Christian Witness Co., 1885); J. A. Wood, Purity and Maturity (Boston: Christian Witness Co., 1899), pp. 72–73; E. T. Curnick, A Catechism on Christian Perfection ( Chicago : The Christian Witness), pp. 58–611.


[7] Jack Ford, What the Holiness People Believe (Birkenhead, Cheshire : Emmanuel Bible College and Missions), p.43.


[8] Brown, op. cit., pp.112-13.


[9] Ford, op. cit., p.43. also see: Wesley’s Works XII, 416; VI, 10–11; Sangster, Path to Perfection, (Nashville, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1943), p.83.


[10] Cox, op. cit., p.124.


[11] Fletcher’s Works, 4 vols. (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1851), I, 167.


[12] Ibid., I, 160.


[13] Leon Morris, Spirit of the Living God (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1960), pp. 91–92.


[14] Ibid., p.92.


[15] Rueben A. Torrey, What the Bible Teaches (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1898-1933), p.273.


[16] Paul S Rees, “The Myth of Exclusivism, “World Vision Magazine, Vol.12, No.9, p.48.


[17] Fletcher, op. cit., I, p.274.


[18] Delbert R. Rose, “What the Fulness of the Spirit Really Means,” The Herald, Vol.80, No.20, p.9.