Baptism of the Holy Ghost

By Rev. Asa Mahan

Part 1

Chapter 6


"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:"—John xvi. 7-8.

"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?"—Luke xi. 13.

When our Saviour came to His disciples and breathed upon them, saying, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost," He did so, not because there was any virtue in that breath, or in the mere words spoken, or because the "gift of the Spirit" was then conferred as He had promised. A considerable period intervened between the time of the events here recorded, and that of the Pentecostal baptism. These events occurred (See John xx. 22) at the first meeting of Christ with His disciples after His resurrection; whereas the baptism of the Pentecost was quite forty days afterwards. What, then, was the object of our Saviour in what He then did and said? It was evidently this, to induce in their hearts that state of waiting expectation and inward preparation which are the necessary prerequisites to the reception of this all-crowning gift of God. The same object our Saviour had in view in His last promise and admonition to His disciples, "And behold I send the promise of My Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." "And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them." What was said and done here, and on the occasions above referred to, created the heart preparation, described by the words, "They were all with one accord in one place." To secure the same mental and spiritual preparation for the gift to be received, was the exclusive object of the apostles in the "laying of hands" upon those who sought this blessing at Ephesus.

Had this ceremony not secured a preparatory state in the recipients, it would have been dead and useless. This baptism was then frequently received, in connection with the ordinances of water baptism, the Lord's Supper, and special prayer. Hence the Church, in her departures from the living God, retained her belief that saving efficacy was in these and kindred ordinances, irrespective of the spiritual state of the administrator or subject. From this we see the origin of formalism. When the Church regains her primitive faith, we have no doubt that the same Divine influence will attend the ordinances as attended them at first. When we use the religious ordinances appointed by God, in which He promises to meet His people with His special presence, with the required inward preparedness, they should be to us means of receiving the baptism of this heavenly gift. But if our faith, go no farther than the ordinances, a blight will come over our spirits in the very place where we should be "filled with the Holy Ghost." The ordinances, however, are not our present theme, but that peculiar preparation of mind and heart which is necessary to the reception of this baptism.

If we carefully examine the cases in which this anointing has been given, we shall find this important fact, that prior to its bestowment the recipient was brought into a state of fervent desire, earnest seeking, importunate prayer, and waiting expectancy. The mind realizes a deep inward want, "an aching void," a soul-necessity, which must be met. At the same time it is assured of an available fullness in Christ to meet this great necessity of the soul. As a consequence, there arise an intense desire and a fixed purpose of heart to seek, to pray, and to wait until the promised blessing is vouchsafed. Our Methodist brethren formerly called this state "being convicted for sanctification." O that all the membership of all the churches were thus convicted! Then would Zion "arise and shine, her light being come, and the glory of the Lord being risen upon her." In cases in which this baptism was received without being specifically expected, this prerequisite state was induced. Cornelius, for example, after his conversion, became possessed with the deep consciousness of inward necessities which God only could meet. He had also the inward persuasion that through faith in God and prayer to Him, his necessities would be met from the Divine fullness. Hence his continuous fasting and prayer. The angel of God now appeared, and gave to the suppliant these directions:—"And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter; he lodgeth with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside; he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do." How adapted this message was to excite within him the intense desire and waiting expectation for the approaching blessing! The interval was consequently spent in heart and outward preparation for the coming of the Lord. When Peter arrived, this preparedness is thus announced by Cornelius:—"Now, therefore, are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." It is no matter of wonder that the discourse of Peter was so soon interrupted by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the listeners, there being such an inward preparedness in his congregation for the reception of this heavenly gift. Let us now consider some facts illustrative of the subject before us.

Take the case of Moses. We have already alluded to the special baptism which he received after Israel had sinned in the matter of the golden calf. We allude to that circumstance again for the purpose of disclosing the preparatory state of mind in which he was found when the new baptism of power was received. Having secured for the people deliverance from judgments impending over them on account of their great sin; having obtained the promise that God would continue with the people as their God; having received a special communication that he was to be their leader, ruler and revelator; and being deeply impressed with the consciousness of his own inadequacy for such responsibilities, his whole being became fixed and centered in one supreme desire to obtain from God a baptism of knowledge, wisdom, and power to the full measure of his necessities. We can now read with understanding and profit the following memorable statements: "And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp; but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. And Moses said unto the Lord, See, Thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people; and Thou hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now, therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight, and consider that this nation is Thy people. And He said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. And he said unto Him, If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us? So shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth. And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in My sight, and I know thee by name. And he said, I beseech Thee show me Thy glory." One addition to this intense desire and earnest prayer was needed—a state of waiting expectation and full preparation, such as our Saviour secured in His disciples prior to the scene of the Pentecost. This state was induced by the promise and direction which followed. The promise, among other things, contained these words, "I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee." Moses was then directed to hew out two tables of stone, like unto the first, "and when these were finished, to come up in the morning, unto Mount Sinai, to present himself there to God in the top of the mount." How all this tended to intensify desire, to bring the mind into a state of waiting expectation and interest, and to insure all inward and even outward preparation for the promised Divine manifestation! When that preparation was perfected, the power of the Spirit came upon him. Here we have the real meaning of the Divine declaration, "Ye shall seek Me and find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart." Those who do not value "the gift of the Spirit" enough thus to seek for it, will never receive, and those who know their privileges, and do not avail themselves of them, may well fear a final rejection as "reprobate silver.'

We are here reminded of the case of a little child, in the era of the great revivals in the days of President Edwards and the Tenants, a child so young, that none expected that she would be converted. Two facts in her appearance and conduct attracted, at length, the attention of her mother the fact that she spent most of her time alone in her bedroom, and the deep sadness upon her countenance whenever she came from that place. "What is it, my daughter," the mother inquired, "that makes you appear so sad?" "Why, mother," the child replied, "God won't come to me. I call to Him, and He won't come to me." A little time after the precious one came from her room, and with unspeakable joy upon her countenance exclaimed, "Mother, God has come. He comes to me now when I pray to Him." From that moment onward that child was "the wonder of many." In prayer especially, she had a freedom and power of utterance which old disciples could hardly equal. Nor did this distinct consciousness of the presence and light of God ever leave her, nor did the consequent savor of God cease to encircle her, until death, which occurred when she was upwards of sixty years of age, removed her within the veil. Reader, if God is not thus consciously present to you when you call upon Him, it is because you have not called to Him as that child did.

The case of Elisha presents an appropriate illustration of the subject before us. From the moment he became aware of the fact that he was to occupy the responsible place of being Israel's leading prophet, as successor to Elijah, he was most deeply impressed that without a full measure of the power of the Spirit that rested upon his predecessor, he would be wholly disqualified for his sacred mission. As a consequence, the reception of this baptism became to him the object of increasing intensity of desire. He was also impressed with the conviction that this anointing, if received at all, must be secured before Elijah was taken away from him. Hence his fixed determination not to be separated from him until the blessing was obtained. As the time "when the Lord would take up Elijah to Heaven by a whirlwind" drew on, the faith, and desire, and purpose of Elisha were put to the severest possible test. In three successive instances, Elijah said to him, "Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me" to such a place. To each entreaty the same answer was returned, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee." Then they came to Jordan, where the last miracle of Elijah occurred. As they passed over, or rather through, the divided river, the following memorable scene took place: "And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion (a full measure) of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing; nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so." (2 Kings ii.) This last condition secured the intensity of desire, the waiting expectation, and heart preparedness which were necessary prerequisites for the baptism of power which Elisha sought. Had his faith wavered, had his purpose faltered, had the intensity of desire slackened, or had the required waiting expectation and watchfulness relaxed at all, "the spirit of Elijah would not have rested on Elisha." Are you thus waiting, reader, for "the sealing and earnest of the Spirit?" In due time "you will reap, if you faint not." But if you draw back, God will "have no pleasure in you."

An aged minister. Several years since we met a very aged and venerable clergyman, who asked, on our first introduction, if we did not recognize him. On receiving a negative answer, he replied that years before, while we were at Oberlin, he, being then a ruling elder in a Presbyterian Church, heard of the work of God among us there. After reading for a time the Oberlin Evangelist, he determined to visit us, and know for himself what was the character of the work of which he heard so much. After conversing with Brother Finney, myself, and others, he became fully convinced that God was with us of a truth, and that the baptism which we had received was in reserve for him. He accordingly set his whole soul upon the attainment of that Divine anointing, with the determination never to cease seeking and praying until he was really and truly "endued with power from on high." After searching his heart, consecrating himself to Christ, and waiting in earnest prayer, and "strong crying and tears," for the promised blessing, he entered his closet one day, under the full assurance that then and there he might "receive the Holy Ghost." He accordingly determined never to leave that place until he should receive the gift of God, after which he was seeking. He had been in the place but a little time when he seemed to himself to be sinking down into infinite depths, into the bosom of God. Here the waters of life began to rise and overflow in his heart, and to the full extent of his capabilities he knew himself to be "filled with all the fulness of God." The glory, the love of Christ, and the infinite riches of His grace now occupied his whole being. He began to tell others of the good hand of God that was upon him, "of the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in believers, the hope of glory;" and such power everywhere attended his testimony, that he was urged to take out a license to preach. As he could not do so in his own church, he obtained one from another in his vicinity. As the results of a few years' labor, more than one thousand souls were gathered into the fold of Christ. So the Lord continued to bless his labors, until his voice and strength failed. As a consequence, he was then quietly waiting the time when his Divine Master should call him to the kingdom of light. The baptism which he had at first received was often renewed, and never had been diminished, as a life-imparting power. The same anointing, reader, is for you. If you would obtain it, however, you must appreciate its value, and "seek it with all your heart, and with all your soul," and never rest, and give God no rest, until the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

The circumstances in which Paul received, if not his first, yet a very special and abiding baptism of the Spirit, is given by himself, 2 Cor. xii. 7-12. After he had commenced his ministry, he found himself greatly embarrassed in his work by some visible natural infirmity, which operated as a hindrance, and a reproach from his enemies. That such a hindrance might be removed, he sought God in prayer, thrice "beseeching Him that it might depart from him." In each instance he received the same answer: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness." As this answer was repeated, the truth sounded in the depths of his soul, that what he needed was not the removal of natural infirmities, but the grace and strength of Christ to rest upon him. From that moment the fullness of Divine grace and strength became the central life of his soul, and natural infirmities and external obstacles became objects of joy and triumph to him: for whenever these were to be encountered, then and there would the grace and power of God be vouchsafed to him in superabundant measure. "Most gladly, therefore," he exclaims, "will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong." From that moment not only did the inward experience of Paul take a new and more triumphant direction, but his ministry took on forms of power which it did not possess before. In all his tribulations he not only himself received "everlasting consolation and good hope through grace," but was able to impart similar refreshings to all believers in all "the fiery trials" which came upon them. "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." 2 Cor. i.

It was under the influence of this specific baptism that he learned the wondrous lesson to which he refers in Phil. iv. 11-13; "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." We may learn two important lessons from the experience of Paul as it thus lies before us.

1. The manner in which the baptism of the Spirit is often given—viz., by the presentation of some great and essential truth of the gospel to the mind, in such form and vividness, as ever after becomes, an all-vitalizing principle in the soul, and a great central light, which renders all other forms of revealed truth equally luminous and self-imparting.

Luther tells us, for example, that from the hour when the truth embodied in the words, "The just shall live by faith," came home with such life-giving power to his mind, he "saw the precious and holy Scriptures with new eyes."

2. We may also learn from this experience of Paul to carry all difficulties which we meet with in the divine life directly to Christ. In that case they will be taken from us, or we shall receive such a revelation of the fullness of the Divine grace and strength of Christ, that with Paul we shall "most gladly glory in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon us."

We have before referred to Mr. Carpenter, the individual who exerted such wonderful power for the sanctification of believers and the conversion of sinners. We refer to his case again for the purpose of disclosing the state of mind in which he received such a baptism of power. He had become deeply impressed with the consciousness of moral and spiritual impotency, and of the absence of any assured hope, or settled confidence, or trust in God. He, consequently, set his whole heart upon attaining, through grace and the power of the Spirit, a permanent and settled faith, and assurance of hope, such as Abraham possessed. This became the fixed and continued theme of his thought, reading, desire, and importunate prayer. For a considerable time he gave himself and God "no rest, day nor night." At length he was drawn out into a distinct and conscious dedication of himself and family, and all his interests, to Christ. Then the baptism of power came upon him, the reason being that the conditional preparation was complied with. From that time his faith wavered not, the light of Heaven encircled him, and "he had power with God and with men."

The memory of J. B. Taylor, to all who knew him, and his memoir, to all who have read it, have been "as a sweet savor from God." No memoir published during the progress of the present century has been more extensively read, or has made a deeper impression upon the Church than his. His early Christian experience had the same characteristics as those of most converts—sinning and repenting, resolving and resolving, and making little or no progress. Arriving at length to the full conviction that "God has reserved some better things for us," he set his whole heart upon attaining to the "full liberty of the sons of God." The struggle and the victory which ensued he thus describes in a letter to a friend: "For some days I have been desirous to visit some friends who are distinguished for fervor of piety, and remarkable for the happiness which they enjoy in religion. It was my hope that, by associating with them, and through the help of their prayers, I might find the Lord more graciously near to my poor soul.

"My desire was that the Lord would visit me, and 'baptize me with the Holy Spirit;' my cry to Him was 'Seal my soul forever Thine;' I lifted up my heart in prayer that the blessing might descend. I felt I needed something which I did not possess. There was a void within which must be filled, or I could not be happy. My earnest desire then was, as it has been ever since I professed religion six years before—that all love of the world might be destroyed, all selfishness should be extirpated; pride banished, unbelief removed, all idols dethroned, everything hostile to holiness and opposed to the Divine will crucified: that holiness to the Lord might be engraven in my heart, and for evermore characterize my conversation.

"My mind was led to reflect on what would be my future situation. It occurred to me, I am to be hereafter a minister of the gospel. But how shall I be able to preach in my present state of mind? I cannot— never, no, never shall I be able to do it with profit, without great overturnings in my soul. I felt that I needed that for which I was then, and for a long time had been hungering and thirsting. I desired it not for my benefit only, but for that of the Church and the world."

Such was his ardency of desire for the baptism of the Spirit, and for consequent perfect moral and spiritual purification.

In another letter to an aged Christian sister, who enjoyed all the light and privileges of the higher life, he thus writes about this time: "O my friend! I feel tired of living by the halves. God says, 'Son, give Me thine heart.' I respond, 'Oh, for an entire surrender!' Of late my soul has panted more for complete deliverance from remaining corruption than ever before. Oh, for perfect love! Oh, for complete sanctification in soul, body, and spirit! I beg your earnest prayers. I believe it attainable, and my soul thirsts for it; and until I possess these qualifications, I feel I shall not be fit to be a minister of Jesus Christ." Such was his mental state of intense desire, earnest seeking, and fervent prayer.

Let us hear the result as detailed in the letter from which the first extract was taken. "At this juncture," he says, "I was most delightfully conscious of giving up all to God. I was enabled to say, Here, Lord, take me—take my whole soul, and seal me Thine—Thine now, and Thine forever! 'If Thou wilt Thou canst make me clean.' Then there ensued such emotions as I never before experienced; all was calm and tranquil, and a solemn heaven of love possessed my whole soul. I had a witness of God's love to me, and of mine to Him. Shortly after I was dissolved in tears of love and gratitude to our blessed Lord. The name of Jesus was precious to me. 'Twas music to the ear.' 'He came as King, and took full possession of my heart,' and I was enabled to say, 'I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.'"

On a subsequent occasion he thus speaks of the new form of life which resulted from this baptism: "People may call this blessing what they please—faith of assurance, holiness, perfect love, sanctification; it makes no difference to me whether they give it a name or no name, it continues a blessed reality, and thanks to my heavenly Father it is my privilege to enjoy it. It is yours also, and the privilege of all." How true are the words of the prophet, "Then shall ye seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart!"

The case of the Rev. A. Mahan. When "the hands of the Presbytery" had been laid upon me, and I found myself under a charge to "feed the flock of God," I soon felt myself pressed down under the consciousness of many great deficiencies, especially in respect to the sacred function of "building up believers in the most holy faith."

Under my ministry many, very many sinners were convicted, converted, and "led quite to Christ," in the matter of justification. But how after this to induce in the convert that form of the Divine life which I knew to be portrayed in the New Testament and foretold in the Old—here I felt myself "weighed in the balance and found wanting." The reason I knew to be the want of that life perfected in my own experience. Hence the subject of personal holiness became with me the great central object of thought, inquiry, reading, and prayer.

When alone with God one day in a deep forest, for example, I said distinctly and definitely to my heavenly Father that there was one thing that I desired above all else—the consciousness that my heart was pure in his sight; that if he would grant me this one blessing, I would accept of any providences that might attend me. This I said "with strong crying and tears."

In this state I came to Oberlin, as the President of that College. I had been there but a short time, when a general inquiry arose in the church after the Divine secret of holy living, and a direct appeal was made to Brother Finney and myself for specific instruction upon the subject, which induced in me an intensity of desire indescribable after that secret. Just as my whole being became centered in that one desire, the cloud lifted, and I stood in the clear sunlight of the face of God. The secret was all plain to me now, and I knew also how to lead inquirers into the King's highway.

Since that good hour "my sun has not gone down, neither has my moon withdrawn itself." Christ, reader, will never "write upon you His own new name," and give you "that new white stone, which no man knoweth but him that receiveth it," until you come to value above all price the possession of His moral image and likeness, and until you seek that image and likeness with immutable fixedness of desire and purpose. "Then shall ye seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart."

The memoirs of the Wesleys, Madame Guyon, and indeed all recorded cases of the baptism of the Spirit, present most impressive illustrations of the necessity of heart-preparation before this unspeakable gift is vouchsafed. How intense were "the hungerings and thirstings of the Wesleys after righteousness," how fervent their prayers for Divine illumination, and how teachable their spirit before "the Lord rose upon them, and His glory was seen upon them," and how did their righteousness and salvation shine forth after "the brightness of their rising!"

For a considerable period prior to her baptism, Madame Guyon was deeply impressed with the conviction that God intended for her some specific and special mission. With continuous fasting and prayer, reading and meditation, she sought to know what that mission was, and to receive "power from on high" for its fulfillment. At length the nature of that mission opened upon her mind with such distinctness and vividness, that she uttered the words aloud, "Sanctification by faith."

From that moment not a doubt rested upon her mind that to elucidate, exemplify, and proclaim this doctrine was her Heaven-given mission. That revelation also was attended with a baptism of such "power from on high," that only a few years passed before Europe felt the influence of her godly example, spiritual utterances, and holy writings.

We must recur here to a case which came under our observation years ago, "among the annals of the poor." A woman in poor health, poor in this world's goods, pressed down with the care of a large family, with the merest "name to live" in the Church, when moving about amid her domestic cares, had these specific reflections one day pass with wonderful impressiveness through her mind: "I shall die soon and stand in the presence of God. I do not desire to meet my God there on a short or slight acquaintance. I desire to know Him fully before that time. From this moment it shall be my supreme object 'to know God, understand His way, and find grace in His sight.'"

Without relaxation of fidelity in family duty, she set her whole heart upon knowing and walking with God. When about her daily cares, she would have her Bible open upon a shelf, so that as she passed around she could stop a moment and read a passage, and then make it the subject of meditation and prayer. With the same diligence she read the most spiritual works that she could obtain. In prayer her importunity would admit of no denial.

In a short time the baptism came, and visions of God filled her whole soul. She beheld "with open face the glory of the Lord," and truly her "fellowship was with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." As a consequence, her character became mildly and gloriously radiant through that whole community. Even infidels, and there were numbers of them in the place, confessed that there was Christian character in its genuineness and perfection of beauty.

In the revival of religion which followed, none had such power with the people as she. The sisters of the Church came together and did her fall and winter sewing, that she might visit from house to house. All the cavils of infidels, Universalists, and worldlings were silenced under the power of her appeals and the Divine radiance of her character.

Her pastor, who was a man of superior education, talents, and piety, said to us, that whenever he came into the presence of that woman, he felt that he, and not she, was the learner. At the same time he never saw an individual more humble and teachable than she was. In everything which pertains to "the life of God in the soul of man," he was conscious that her vision and experience far transcended his.

Our object in giving the above illustrations has been to impress this fact on the reader, that all who receive this Divine baptism do so in consequence of a previous compliance with the conditions on which God had promised the blessing; and that without it none can fulfill his life-mission, or be duly prepared for the kingdom of glory.

Speaking of this very gift, God says that "He will yet for this be inquired of by believers, to do it for them." If we do not thus inquire, and "search for God with all the heart, and with all the soul," we shall never find Him, or receive from Him "the gift of the Holy Ghost." "If the vision tarry," and we do not "wait for it," it will never come to us.

If Christ with the Father comes to us, manifests Himself to us, and makes His abode with us, it will be because we keep His Word, prepare His way before Him in our hearts, and wait and watch for His coming as "those who watch for the morning." If our "bodies become the temples of the Holy Ghost," if God shall "dwell in us and walk in us," and care for and bless us as His "sons and daughters," it will be because His indwelling presence has with us a priceless value, and is sought as the soul's supreme portion.

Some are strangers to this baptism, because they never seek it at all. Others seek, but not "with all the heart and with all the soul." Others begin right, run well for a time, and then relinquish the pursuit. Others, still, dedicate themselves fully to Christ, as they suppose, pray for the Spirit, and then wait to experience the effect. "If the vision then tarries," they become impatient, unbelieving, despondent, and give over further seeking and effort. This is a very common and fatal error. We are to wait in earnest seeking and prayer, until the promised baptism descends upon us. Look not backward, but forward, until you "behold with open face the glory of the Lord." "In due time you will reap, if you faint not."