The Two Baptisms Part 2 of 4 Matthew 3:11

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

A more effectual baptism was called for—a baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire. This would carry with it a deep and supernatural change. Fire is an element which has always affected the human mind with peculiar awe. It is in every way so strange and mysterious and, as it were, preternatural. Whether glowing on the hearth, or racing in forked darts across the heavens, or carrying all before it in a hurricane of flame, it is always weird and wonderful. And accordingly, from the first, man has felt towards it a fear and dread with which he does not regard any other force whatsoever in nature. In primitive times, as he saw it crawl out of the dry sticks he rubbed together and writhe about his fingers like a live thing, or was dazzled by the splendour of it in the midday sky, he even found a god in it and worshipped it; and where his religious conceptions have ceased to be so crude as this, he has nevertheless taken it as the most natural of all emblems under which to speak of the Divine. In the Old Testament itself every one will remember how very often fire is associated both with the real and with the visionary appearances of God to man. It is from the burning bush that Moses is commissioned to undertake the deliverance of the people. It is a pillar of fire (and cloud) that leads them through the wilderness. Long after, when rival worships have been set up in Israel, and the controversy between them is to be finally decided, it is by the falling of fire from heaven upon the faithful prophet's sacrifice that the people are constrained to cry, “Jehovah, he is God; Jehovah, he is God.” Later still, when the prophetic spark kindles the heart of an exile by the river Chebar he can find no better words in which to describe the Awful One who has appeared to him, than these: “Behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself.” And, finally, in the New Testament, where, however, such language has at last become frankly metaphorical, you have such a statement as this: “Our God is a consuming fire.” So closely has this unaccountable, uncontrollable, and everyway mysterious element associated itself in men's minds with the nature and operations of the Deity, that they have felt instinctively that existence furnished them with no more apt or suggestive figure under which to think and speak of Him.

When, therefore, it is said of Jesus that He “baptizes with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” we see what is implied. It is implied that the influence He sheds around Him is something more than natural. The spiritual power He exerts, the inspiration He gives, the communication of inward life He makes is altogether different from the ordinary. It does not belong to the common sphere of resources which are at the command, or of powers which are within the gift, of man. It is superhuman, supernatural, Divine.

In course of a letter to Lady Welby, Bishop Westcott writes: “The full thought of God as Love and Fire on which you dwell is that which is able to bring hope and peace to us when we dare in faith to look at the world as it is. Again and again the marvellous succession rises: God is spirit—light—love: our God is a consuming fire.”1 [Note: Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott, ii. 72.]

Fire represents the Divine nature as it flames against sin to consume it (Heb_12:29). This is the fire of God's anger. But there is also the fire of His love. We may have the fire of sunshine, or the cheery fire of the hearth, or the fire which melts away the dross, as well as the fire of the conflagration which burns and destroys. It is this beneficent ministry of fire which symbolizes the Spirit of God. The emblem speaks to us of the Divine love kindled in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, the love that purifies and cleanses. The very same word is used (Act_2:33) to describe the outpouring of the Spirit which is employed (Rom_5:5) to express His shedding abroad of love in our hearts: evidently the gift of the Spirit and of love are one and the same. As St. Augustine says: “The Spirit is Himself the love of God: and when He is given to a man He kindles in him the fire of love to God and his neighbour.” So Charles Wesley speaks of the “flame of sacred love,” and likens “all-victorious love” to the refining fire of the Holy Spirit. “The same idea is expressed by the common phrases of every language. We talk about the warmth of affection, the blaze of enthusiasm, the fire of emotion. Christians are to be set on fire of God”—that is, the celestial flame of love is to burn intensely in their hearts. The Spirit's baptism of fire is His baptism of love.2 [Note: J. H. Hodson, Symbols of the Holy Spirit, 35.]

to be continued