The Two Baptisms Part 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

The baptism of fire imparts to the life an unmistakable glow and ardour and enthusiasm. This certainly is one very prominent trait in the life of Jesus Himself. The spirit of holiness in Him included a great zeal in the service of the Father. Once at least it blazed up even fiercely—when the desecration of the Temple had stung Him to the quick, and in wrath He overthrew the money-changers' tables and drove the offenders before Him. But it was not only in an instance so dramatic as this that “the zeal of his Father's house” was apparent in Him. It was the habit of His life and it appears all through. The holy enthusiasm—if we may use the word reverently of Him—in which He had given Himself at the first to the work that brought Him here never flagged during all the years He was engaged in it. Occasionally we see it manifesting itself in short-lived gleams of thankfulness at what has been accomplished for the Kingdom or of anticipation of its future triumph. Oftener it takes the form rather of a quiet, invincible, sustaining power that enables Him to hold on His way. It comforts His heart under the disappointments He meets with, strengthens Him under His heavy burden, and carries Him through all opposition; so that, because of His zeal for the truth and the kingdom and the glory of God, He did not fail nor was discouraged till He had set judgment in the earth.

What is greatly to be desired is that, in the lives of those who follow Jesus, there should be a large measure of the enthusiasm that glowed in His own—a serious, intelligent, glowing sympathy with God, a supreme thankfulness because of the purposes of grace He entertains towards our race, and a great readiness to spend and be spent in the carrying on of these so far as opportunity offers to every man. That is Christian enthusiasm—Christ's own enthusiasm, which He shares with all in whom His influence has free play. As for the forms it will take, they will be endless; for men are endlessly different, nor is there any need why any man should violate his own nature in order to serve God faithfully. In the world there are all sorts of men and women, possessed of all sorts of temperaments and dispositions, and in the work of building up God's Kingdom on earth there is a place and a work for every one of them. What is imperative is that at the bottom of all our hearts there should be this deep, unchanging, burning desire to help that great work on for Jesus' sake.

Suppose we saw an army sitting down before a granite fort, and they told us that they intended to batter it down: we might ask them, “How?” They point to a cannon-ball. Well, but there is no power in that; it is heavy, but if all the men in the army hurled it against the fort, they would make no impression. They say, “No; but look at the cannon.” Well, there is no power in that. A child may ride upon it, a bird may perch in its mouth; it is a machine, and nothing more. “But look at the powder.” Well, there is no power in that; a child may spill it, a sparrow may peck it. Yet this powerless powder and powerless ball are put into a powerless cannon; one spark of fire enters it—and then, in the twinkling of an eye, that powder is a flash of lightning, and that ball a thunderbolt, which smites as if it had been sent from heaven. So is it with our Church machinery at this day: we have all the instruments necessary for pulling down strongholds, and oh for the baptism of fire!1 [Note: William Arthur, The Tongue of Fire, 309.]

1. Passionate religious enthusiasm attaches itself to a person; and the more near and real our intercourse with the person, the more beautiful will be our holiness, and the more fiery-hearted will be our service and devotion. Just think for a moment what magnificent import this revelation in the Person of Jesus had for those Jews who became His disciples. The religion of the Jews had become an obedience to precept and law. The germ of their national faith is to be found in those ten laws which we call the Ten Commandments. But to these ten laws the Rabbis had made countless additional laws—petty, trying, and irritating laws, which had come to be regarded as of equal importance with the original ten. To the earnest Jew, the warm, loving purpose of God had become buried in a mountainous mass of man-made traditions. It was no longer God with whom the Jew was dealing, but this vast dead-weight of Rabbinical law. God had become to them an earth-born system, a burdensome “ism,” a heavy and smothering tradition. Then came the Christ, and the first thing He did was to tear these miles of wrappages away.

Christ gives fervour by bringing the warmth of His own love to bear upon our hearts through the Spirit, and that kindles ours. Where His great work for men is believed and trusted in, there, and there only, is excited an intensity of consequent affection to Him which glows throughout the life. It is not enough to say that Christianity is singular among religious and moral systems in exalting fervour into a virtue. Its peculiarity lies deeper—in its method of producing that fervour. It is kindled by that Spirit using as His means the truth of the dying love of Christ. The secret of the gospel is not solved by saying that Christ excites love in our souls. The question yet remains—How? There is but one answer to that: He loved us to the death. That truth laid on hearts by the Spirit, who takes of Christ's and shows them to us, and that truth alone, makes fire burst from their coldness.

In the times of the Crusaders a band of valiant knights traversed the sunny plains of France, to sail from Marseilles for the Holy Land. There, along with others who were bound on the same enterprise, they embarked on the stately vessel that was to carry them across the sea. But, eager as they were to do, day after day they lay helplessly becalmed. The hot sun beat upon them, and was flashed back from the unbroken surface of the waves. They lounged wearily upon the deck; they scanned the heavens in vain for the signs of an approaching breeze. It seemed as though some adverse fate resolved to hold them back. But in the stillness of an even tide, from a group of warriors assembled at the prow, there rose the swelling strains of the Veni Creator Spiritus—“Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire.” And straightway a breath came upon them from the dying sun; the smooth, shining surface of the sea was ruffled, the cordage rattled, the sails were filled, and the vessel sped joyously over the dancing waves. Whether the story is true or not, it contains a very grand truth. Without the Spirit of
Love all is dark and dead.
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
And lighten with celestial fire.

2. This enthusiasm needs nurture. There is a danger that the wide divergences of our interests in modern life diminish and impoverish the intensity of our devotion. How did our fathers keep the fire burning? There are some words found very frequently in their letters, and diaries, and sermons, which awaken similar feelings to those aroused by types of extinct species that are sometimes unearthed from the deposits of a far-off and unfamiliar age. Here are two such words, “meditation” and “contemplation”—words which appear to suggest an unfamiliar day, when the world was young, and haste was not yet born, and men moved among their affairs with long and leisurely strides. Our fathers steeped their souls in meditation. They appointed long seasons for the contemplation of God in Christ. And as they mused the fire burned. Passion was born of thought. What passion? The passion which Faber so beautifully describes as the desire which purifies man and glorifies God:—

But none honours God like the thirst of desire,
Nor possesses the heart so completely with Him;
For it burns the world out with the swift ease of fire,
And fills life with good works till it runs o'er the brim.

Let us muse upon the King in His beauty, let us commune with His loveliness, let us dwell more in the secret place, and the unspeakable glory of His countenance shall create within us that enthusiastic passion which shall be to us our baptism of fire, a fire in which everything unchristian shall be utterly consumed away.

Oh then wish more for God, burn more with desire,
Covet more the dear sight of His Marvellous Face;
Pray louder, pray longer, for the sweet gift of fire

To come down on thy heart with its whirlwinds of grace.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, 224.]