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Written by Sylvester Hassell   




In the June number of THE GOSPEL MESSENGER, Elder I. J. Clabaugh, of New Hampton, Mo., in a letter to me, says: “Please write for the MESSENGER an article on Acts ii. 38, with especial reference to the clear understanding of the word ‘for’ as there used in the construction of the sentence.”

In his work entitled “Religion in England from 1800 to 1850,” vol. 1, pp. 117 and 118, Mr. John Stoughton, speaking of Thomas Scott’s “Family Bible,” uses the language of Daniel Wilson, who says: “The capital excellency of this valuable and immense undertaking perhaps, consists in following more closely than any other, the fair and adequate meaning of every part of Scripture, without regard to the niceties of human sys­tems.” Sir James Stephens says: “Thomas Scott would have seen the labors of his life perish and would have perished with them rather than distort the sense of revelation by a hair’s breadth from what he believed to be its genuine meaning.” By this exact spirit of truth I wish that every Primitive Baptist was actuated in every article of doctrine and in every case of discip­line, no matter what the consequent sacrifice might be. The truth alone can be of real and lasting benefit to any of us; and if the Scriptures are not literally and perfectly true, we have no standard of faith and practice. Impressed with a solemn and implicit belief in the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, and looking to the unerring and gracious Spirit of truth for guidance, let us approach the examination of Acts ii. 38, with a simple and sincere desire to understand precisely what the Apostle Peter meant to teach us by this exhortation of his on the day of Pentecost:

“Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

In the first place, every intelligent and candid reader sees that the great central living truth in the second chapter of Acts, without which all the remainder of the narrative would be nothing, is the presence and power, and work of the Holy Ghost—” the grand blessing of the new covenant, which was to descend upon the church from the risen and glorified Savior”—“that signal event which was reserved to grace the Redeem­er’s triumphs, and to attest His resurrection and ascen­sion to heavenly glory.”—Isa. xliv. 3; Joel ii. 28, 29; Zeeh. xii. 10; John xiv. 16, 17, 26; xv. 26; xvi. 7, 8-14; Luke xxiv. 49; Acts i. 4-8.

I cannot do better than quote in this connection the language of Mr. Philip Schaff, in his “History of the Christian Church,” vol. 1, pp. 225-245:

“The ascen­sion of Christ to Heaven was followed ten days after­wards by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon earth and the birth of the Christian Church. The Pentecostal event was the necessary result of the Passover event. It could never have taken place without the preceding resurrection and ascension. It was the first act of the mediatorial reign of the exalted Redeemer in heaven, and the beginning of an unbroken series of manifesta­tions in fulfillment of his promise to be with his people alway, even unto the end of the world.’ For His ascension was only a withdrawal of His visible local presence and the beginning of His spiritual omnipres­ence in the church, which is ‘His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.’ The Easter (that is, the res­urrection) miracle and the Pentecostal miracle are con­tinued and verified by the daily moral miracles of regen­eration and sanctification throughout Christendom. We have but one authentic account of that epoch­making event, in the second chapter of Acts, but in the parting addresses of our Lord to his disciples the promise of the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) who should lead them into the whole truth, is very prominent, and the entire history of the apostolic church is illuminated and heated by the Pentecostal fire.” “The Pentecost in the year of the resurrection was the last Jewish (that is, typical) and the first Christian Pentecost. It became the spiritual harvest feast of redemption from sin and the birthday of the visible kingdom of Christ on earth. It marks the beginning of the dispensation of the Spirit, the third era in the history of the revelation of the triune God. On this day the Holy Spirit, who had hitherto wrought only sporadically and transiently, took up his permanent abode in mankind as the Spirit of truth and holiness, with the fullness of saving grace, to apply that grace thenceforth to believers, and to reveal and glorify Christ in their hearts, as Christ had revealed and glorified the Father.”

“While the apostles and disciples, about one hundred and twenty (ten times twelve) in number, no doubt mostly Galileans, were assembled before the morning devotions of the festal day, and were waiting in prayer for the fulfillment of the promise, the exalted Saviour sent from His heav­enly throne the Holy Spirit upon them, and founded His church upon earth. The Sinaitic legislation was accompanied by thunder and lightning and a thick cloud upon the mount, and .the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, and all the people that were in the camp trembled.’ The church of the new covenant was ushered into existence with startling signs which filled the spectators with wonder and fear. It is quite natural, as Neander remarks, that ‘the greatest miracle in the inner life of mankind should have been accompanied by extraordinary outward phenomena as sensible indi­cations of its presence.’ A supernatural sound, resembling that of a rushing mighty wind, came down from heaven, and filled the whole house in which they were assembled; and tongues like flames of fire distributed themselves among them, alighting for awhile on each head. These audible and visible signs were appropriate symbols of the purifying, enlightening and quickening power of the Divine Spirit, and announced a new spiritual creation. ‘AND THEY WERE ALL FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.’ This is the real inward miracle; the main fact, the central idea of the Pentecostal nar­rative. To the apostles, it was their baptism, confirma­tion and ordination, all in one, for they received no other (they were baptized with water by John, but Christian baptism was first administered by them on the day of Pentecost; Christ himself did not baptize, John iv. 2.) To them it was the great inspiration which enabled them hereafter to be authorative teachers of the gospel by tongue and pen?’

“But the communica­tion of the Holy Spirit was not confined to the Twelve: It extended to the brethren of the Lord, the mother of Jesus, the pious women who had attended his ministry, and the whole brotherhood of a hundred and twenty souls who were assembled in that chamber. They were ‘all’ filled with the Spirit, and all spoke with tongues, and Peter saw in the event the promised outpouring of the Spirit upon ‘all flesh,’ Sons and daughters, young men and old men, servants and handmaidens. The beginning was a prophetic anticipation of the end, and a manifestation of the universal priesthood and broth­erhood of believers in Christ in whom all are one, whether Jew or Greek, bond or free, male or female.”

“The Holy Spirit was certainly at work among the hearers as well as the speakers, and brought about the conversion of three thousand on that memorable day. In these first fruits of the glorified Redeemer, the typical meaning of the Jewish Pentecost was gloriously fulfilled. But this birthday of the Christian Church is in its turn only the beginning, the type and pledge, of a still greater spiritual harvest, and a universal feast of thanksgiving, when, in the full sense of the prophecy of Joel, the Holy Spirit shall be poured out on all flesh, when all the sons and daughters of men shall walk in his light, and God shall be praised with new tongues of fire for the completion of his wonderful work of redeeming love.”

As Mr. F. W. Farrar remarks: “This new dispensation was no exclusive consecration to a separate priesthood, no isolated endowment of a narrow apostolate. It was the consecration of a whole church—its men, its women, its children—to be all of them ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.’ This miracle was not merely transient, but is continuously renewed. It is not a rushing sound and gleaming light, seen perhaps for a moment, but it is a living energy and an increasing inspiration. It is not a visible symbol to a gathered handful of human souls in the upper room of a Jewish house, but a vivifying wind which shall henceforth breathe in all ages of the world’s history; a tide of light which is rolling and shall roll from shore to shore, until the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”—Isa. xi. 9; lxv. 17, 25; lxvi. 22, 23; Psalms lxv. 2; Acts iii. 21; Rom. viii. 21; Dan. ii. 35; vii. 14; 2 Peter iii. 13; Rev. xi. 15; xxi. 1.5.

Now, Peter and all the other apostles and disciples of Jesus had already been born of the Divine Spirit and on the day of Pentecost, they were additionally and specially endowed with that Spirit to be, unto all whom the Lord should call, effective wit­nesses for Jesus. After being thus endowed, Peter, on the day of Pente­cost, preached Jesus and the resurrection, the Gospel of the Son of God, with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven (Acts ii. 22 30; 1 Peter 1. 12). And thousands were pricked in their hearts and cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”—Acts ii. 37. They felt that they were murderers of their Lord and Messiah, and justly deserved his terrible vengeance (Acts ii. 23, 36, 19-21), and in sore distress they ask what they shall do. To these awakened, convicted, penitent and dis­tressed souls, Peter answers: “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; for the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”—Acts ii. 38, 39. From the testimony of the Scriptures, there is nothing more cer­tain than that the Holy Spirit, before Peter thus answered them, had already quickened and con­victed these inquirers of their sins (Zech. xii. 10; Ezek. xxxvii. 1—10; xxxvi. 26, 31; Jer. xxxi. 9; John xvi. 7-11); and Peter, being himself filled with the Holy Ghost, exhorts them to do what the Holy Ghost was already working in their hearts—to repent—to change their views and feelings and life toward Jesus of Nazareth; this gracious change already going on within them under the power of the Divine; and as the perfectly appro­priate and divinely commanded outward symbol of this inward spiritual change, he exhorts them, everyone of them to be baptized, immersed in water in or upon (as the preposition epi literally means) the name of Jesus Christ—resting entirely upon him, the Rock of Ages, upon which he builds His church, and not resting at all upon anyone or anything else for the remission or for­giveness of their sins; and then they should receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, some of them in His miracle-working power (Acts viii. 15-20; x. 44-48; xi. 17), but all of them in his comforting and sanctifying power (Acts iii. 19-26; John xiv. 16-28). Peter’s exhortation in Acts iii. 19, 20, 26, seems to me almost exactly equivalent in substance to that in Acts ii. 38-40; the word opos ren­dered when in Acts iii. 19, seems more properly rendered in the revised version, “that so.” Unless the inward baptism of the Holy Spirit precede, outward baptism in water is a mockery and delusion (Acts x. 47, 48); but if one has been inwardly and spiritually renewed, it is his bounden duty and highest privilege to be buried with Christ in the liquid grave and raised therefrom with Him, and he will enjoy more of the refreshing and saving presence of His Holy Spirit afterwards than before. The brightest and gladdest day of my life was that day on which I was baptized—publicly espoused to my Divine Bridegroom, my adorable Redeemer; and, as he hates putting away and never changes, and loves his own unto the end, His ready bride shall, at the close of the present dispensation, be welcomed to the eternal marriage supper of the Lamb.—Jsa. liv. 5; lxii. 4,5; Mal. ii. 16; John xiii. 1; Rev. xix. 9; xxi. 2.

The phrase rendered “for the remission of sins,” in Acts ii. 38, is, in the Greek original, eis aphesin amartion, and is rendered more literally in the revised version “unto the remission of sins.” Exactly the same orig­inal phrase is found in Matt. xxvi. 28; Mark i. 4; and Luke iii. 3. In the last two passages it is used in con­nection with John’s baptism; but in Matt. xxvi .28, it is used iii connection with the shedding of the blood of Christ. Now we know plainly from other Scriptures that “without shedding of blood there is no” real “remis­sion” of sins (Heb. ix. 22), no real “atonement for the soul” (Levit. xvii. ii.); and that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us really from all sin (1 John 1. 7. Ephes. i. 7; Cobs. i. 14; 1 Peter i. 18, 19; Rev. i. 5; viii 14), and therefore that the remission or washing away of sin by water baptism (in Acts ii. 38; iii. 19, and xxii. 16) is only symbolical and experimental. Just as in the other ordinance of the Christian Church, the Lord’s supper, when Christ says of the bread, “This is my body,” He means, “this is the symbol of my body,” and when He says of the wine, “This is my blood,” He means “this is the symbol of my blood;” and, when his Spirit is in our hearts while we partake of these emblems of His sufferings for our sins, our souls partake experi­mentally by faith of His broken body and shed blood, and the holy life of heaven, the Spirit of God, who is our life, pervades and purifies our inner being. Thus, and thus alone, do we die to sin and live to God; and “the life which we now live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us” (Gal. ii. 20); and we are “constrained by the love of Christ to live no longer unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again” (2 Cor. v. 14, 15)..

As for the expression in John iii 5 “Born of the water and the Spirit,” and in Titus iii. 5,” The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” John himself tells us (vii. 37-39) that the water means the Spirit, or is the symbol of the Spirit, of course, because of its indispensability to life, and its purifying and refreshing power, and so we might have easily gathered from Isa. xliv. 3; Ezch. xlvii. 1-12; Rev. xxii. 1, in con­nection with Matt. xxviii. 19. The word rendered and in John iii. 5, and in Titus iii. 5, is kai, and has two meanings, as Liddell and Scott tell us in the seventh edition of their Greek-English Lexicon, that of the Latin et, (and) is of the Latin etiam, (even). In the latter sense it may be used to explain what goes before, as it certainly is used in reference to “God, even the Father,” or “God and our Father,” in 2 Cor. i. 3; Gal. i.4; 1 Thes.i. 3. Ephes. i. 3.

The preposition eth rendered “for” or “unto” in Acts ii. 38, refers in different passages to place or time, measure or limit, relation to or towards, or an end, pur­pose or object. In Acts ii. 38, it has, I believe, this last meaning of an end, purpose or object, as shown by Acts iii. 19; and it signifies, I am sure, not the real, but the symbolical and experimental remission of Sins. For Peter, the speaker in both these passages, says in his first Epistle, iii. 21, that baptism is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” The conscience, made good or pure by baptism in the blood of Christ, answers or responds to that internal saving work of the Holy Spirit, by follow­ing Jesus in the order of water baptism.

The great importance of believers being baptized in water is shown by such Scriptures as the following: Matt. iii. 13-17; vii. 24-27; x. 32; xvi. 24; xxviii. 18-20; Mark xvi. 16; Acts ii. 38, 41; viii. 12,38; x. 47, 48; xvi. 33; xix. 5; xxii. 16; John x. 27; xiv. 23, 24; Rom. vi. 3-6; Cobs. ii. 12. But the fact that water baptism is not essential to eternal salvation is proved by such Scriptures as the following: Matt. v. 3-12; vi. 14; xxv. 31-46; Luke xxiv. 47; John i. 12, 13, 29; iii. 3, 6, 16; v.24, 25; vi. 40, 47-50; xi. 25,26; xvii. 3; Acts v.31; xvi. 31; Rom. iii. 23-26; v. 19-21; vi. 23; viii. 28-39; xi. 5, 6; Ephes. i.; ii.; 2 Tim. i. 9; 1 Peter i. 1-5; 1 John i.7; Rev. i. 5,6; xxi. 6; xxii. 17.

I will close with a very important additional proof of the correctness of my explanation of the phrase, “receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Jesus was begotten of the Holy Spirit (Matt. i. 18-23; Luke i. 35), and, in his youth, “the Grace of God was upon Him,” and He was “in favor with God” (Luke ii. 40, 52); but, after he had been baptized by John in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended visibly like a dove and lighted upon Him, and a voice came from Heaven saying, “Thou art my beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased” (Matt. iii. 16, 17; Luke iii. 22), and thenceforward Jesus was more fully and consciously “anointed with the Holy Ghost and power” (Isa. lx. 1-3; Luke iv. 1, 14,18,22; Acts x. 38). So it was with the apostles and disciples and their devout hearers (Acts ii. 5) on the day of Pentecost; they had already been born of the Holy Ghost; but, on that day they were more abundantly and consciously gifted or endowed with His heavenly power, illuminating, comforting, strengthening and sanctifying them; and the presence of the Divine Comforter was especially manifested to the hearers after their baptism (John xiv. 21, 23).    SYLVESTER HASSELL

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 September 2006 )
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