The Baptism of Fire
March 8th, 1964 @ 7:30 PM
THE BAPTISM OF FIRE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-8-64 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled The Baptism of Fire. In your Bible turn to the Gospel of Matthew, the First Gospel, chapter 3; we shall read out loud together the first twelve verses. This is a part of the message our choir has just sung. Matthew chapter 3, the first twelve verses. The Baptism of Fire. Last Sunday night I spoke on The Baptism in Water. This coming Sunday night, next Sunday night, I shall speak on The Baptism of the Holy Ghost. And tonight I speak on The Baptism of Fire. Now if your neighbor does not have his Bible, share it with him; and let’s all of us read the first twelve verses out loud together, everyone:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.
And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,
And were baptized of him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
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:
Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Three times he repeats that "fire." And the message tonight The Baptism of Fire: "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]. Three times repeated there, "and with fire"; and there are three parts to my message, The Baptism of Fire. I think it refers to three things, the first of which is the fiery ordeal of the discipleship of Jesus Christ.
The baptism of fire: to follow the Lord Jesus is to know a baptism of fire! He said to the two disciples, James and John, who came and wanted to sit on His right hand and on His left hand, He said, "You do not know what you ask. Can you drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" And they said, "We can." And Jesus says, "And ye shall. And ye shall. Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized withal!" [Mark 10:35-39]. The fiery ordeal of discipleship: and James, who asked that question of the Lord, was martyred; his head was cut off by Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:1-2]. And John was exiled to die in starvation and exposure on the lonely isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9] – the fiery ordeal of discipleship.
And the Lord said, again:
I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?…
Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on the earth? I tell thee, Nay; but rather division:
In the same household of five, three shall be against two, and two against three.
The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against the daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law.
The fiery ordeal of discipleship: when we enter the faith of our Christ, we are just enrolling in the army of the Lord, and baptism is a putting on of the uniform of Christ Jesus. The baptism of fire: the fiery ordeal of discipleship!
This is no strange or unique or isolated or peculiar thing. It is a characterization of the kingdom of God and the followers of Christ through all ages and all time. Jeremiah thought when he was called to be a preacher of the gospel that he would have honor and reception. But when he began to preach, they put him in the stocks, and made fun of him, and mocked his message; finally lowered him in a miry pit to die! [Jeremiah 38:6]. Jeremiah said, "I am not going to speak any more in His name, and the message He delivers to me, I am not going to deliver. Forever since I’ve been called to preach, it’s been nothing but harassment, and persecution, and mockery, and ridicule, and I’m not going to speak anymore!" Jeremiah said, "His word was like fire in my bones, and I could not but speak" [Jeremiah 20:9]; the fiery ordeal of discipleship.
Daniel they put in a lion’s den [Daniel 6:16-22]. And the three Hebrew children they thrust into a fiery furnace [Daniel 3:21-23]. And this great messenger of God, John the Baptist himself, he became the victim of the hate of a profligate woman, and the victim in blood of a vacillating king with a perverted sense of justice and honor; and he died, his head severed from his body [Mark 6:14-28]. "And He shall baptize you with fire" [Matthew 3:11]; the fiery ordeal of discipleship.
There’s no man of God that does not know it. In one of our great evangelistic conferences, I sat by one of the noblest preachers I’ve ever known in my life. He was a broken man: broken in his heart, broken in his spirit, broken in his life by the people of God, so-called; the fiery ordeal of discipleship.
There’s a man in this congregation who was wondrously and gloriously converted. And he came to me, and he said, "I can hardly bear this cross, pastor. I don’t kneel and pray but my unbelieving wife laughs and mocks and ridicules my bowing and my praying"; the fiery ordeal of discipleship!
One of the men came down the aisle, gave his heart to Jesus, and I baptized; and going out, as he had heretofore, a representative of a great company, calling on his customers, came back and said to me, "I’m losing half of my salary, and I’m losing half of my customers!" He said, "Now that I’ve become a Christian, I don’t tell dirty stories with them anymore, and I don’t laugh at their off-color jokes, and we don’t drink together anymore, and they don’t like me anymore. And I’m losing half of my customers. What shall I do?" I said, "You trust in God. You trust in God, and you stay just as you are. And when you go call, you witness for Christ, and you let it be known in word and gesture and life and deed that you’ve found Christ and you are a Christian, and you are magnifying His name." And the days passed, and it was hard; the fiery ordeal of discipleship. But there came a time when he visited me again, and he said, "Pastor, back there, remember, remember? Oh! it was difficult," he said. "But now," he said, "I have more business than any man who represents our great company." He said, "These buyers have come to believe that when I say a thing, that’s the way that thing is; and they trust me, and they believe in me, and they send for me. And I am the most affluent now of the representatives of our company"; the fiery ordeal of discipleship.
In the little church I one time pastored, there was a girl, a girl, her family farming people, untaught, uneducated, unlettered, but big farmers; had a big farm themselves, leased ground, plowed and sowed and reaped, big farmers, but unlettered. And the girl from our community, in which we had no high school, went to the county seat town. There there was a man who took advantage of her, and led her astray; and she became an unwed mother. And I went out to the family, and I stayed with them, and I visited with them, and I prayed with them, and I encouraged them. They dropped out of church. They dropped out of the community life. They lived in that big farm out there by themselves, ashamed. In those days it was such a tragedy, this attitude of the community when the girl made a mistake. And I went out there and finally, after much prayer and much visitation and love and encouragement, I got the family back to church. When I did, I was asked to be the dinner guest on Sunday of the horse doctor, the veterinarian. And after we had broken bread, I sat down by his side in the swing on the porch, and he said to me, he said, he said, "You’re going to get rid of that family out of this church, or I’m going to get rid of you out of this church, one or the other!" Why, I said, "Man, there never was a time to befriend a family, and there never was a time to befriend a girl, as this time with that family. And after prayer and tears and confession, this girl has come back. She has appeared before the church, she has asked God to forgive her. And the family is now back again." He was one of my best deacons. And I said, "You now are going to stand up in church meeting, and prepare charges against them, cast them out of the church?"
"Yes," he said. He says, "I’ve been watching you, and you’re upholding sin! And you’re going to ruin the young people of this generation. And you’ve got to go to the church and dismiss that family and withdraw fellowship from them." I said, "Doctor, you do your darndest and your blamedest! But to the last drop of my blood, I’ll be there defending that girl and defending that family."
Well, he did all he could, did all he could. I tell you, what a horse doctor can do in a small community is a whole lot to describe. He was our biggest citizen. He was Doctor So-and-So. It was vicious. It was hard. But we stayed with it. And there were enough godly people in the church to stand by the young preacher, though he was just a teenager, stand by the young preacher. And the days passed, and the days passed. And there came along a fine young man into that county, and he fell in love with that girl. And he married her, and he adopted as his own son the little baby that she had. And some years after, I visited again in the community. Her husband was a young deacon, and she was the teacher of the primary class in the church; the fiery ordeal of discipleship!
The Lord prophesied in the third chapter of [Malachi], "And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and He shall purify the sons of Levi" [Malachi 3:3]. The Lord puts us all through a burning crucible.
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
["How Firm a Foundation"; John Rippon]
Some through the waters, some through the flood
Some through the fire, but all through the blood
Some through great trials, but God gives a song
In the night season, and all the day long.
["God Leads Us Along"; George A. Young]
"He shall baptize you with fire"; the fiery ordeal of discipleship.
There is no counting and there’s no summing up the difficulties God’s sainted people have in these office buildings, around people that are worldly, and mock, and ridicule, and make fun; the fiery ordeal of discipleship. We couldn’t write in volumes of books that would cover the earth the troubles our teenagers have, who seek to live for Christ; and our young people by the scores, God help these who look up in faith to Jesus! "He shall baptize you with fire."
What is this fire? It is, second, the Spirit of burning, the Spirit of testimony. This passage here, there are no articles in it: "He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and with fire" [Matthew 3:11]. In Greek it’s just one thing, one symbol, one sign, one baptism: en pneumatic hagio kai pyri, in baptism and fire. To have one is to have the other: to have a baptism of the Holy Ghost is to have the baptism of fire, the Spirit of burning! Those who stand in the presence of God’s throne in glory flame and burn! In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, he "saw the Lord,high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1] and above he saw those glorious creations crying, Holy, holy, holy" [Isaiah 6:2-3], a trisagion of holiness. And Isaiah, not knowing what they were, he invented a name, and he called them "the burning ones" seraphim, "the burning ones" [Isaiah 6:6]. If you stand in the presence of God, you flame! You burn!
The burning bush [Exodus 3:1-2] on the back side of the desert did not flame more furiously than the word of God in the heart of Moses. And the fire that came down from heaven on Mt. Carmel and burned up the altar and the sacrifice and the wood and the water [1 kings 18:38] did not more furiously descend than the fire of God descended in the soul of Elijah the Tishbite. And the fire that flamed at Pentecost in those cloven tongues above the apostles [Acts 2:3] did not burn more brightly than the testimony of those apostles to the saving grace of the Son of God. And that flaming Syrian sun that struck Paul to the ground [Acts 9:3-4] did not burn half as brightly as the Spirit of burning in the soul of the apostle Paul.
Savonarola, the crowds thronging into the cathedral at Florence, and then his body burned in martyrdom in the city square; the fires that consumed him were not half as bright as the burning of this morning star of the Reformation, Savonarola.
William Carey, with his last on one side and his Bible and a map on the other, burning in his heart for the lost of God’s whole world: the baptism of fire, the Spirit of burning.
And if there is in us, if there is in us a drawing nigh to God, there is in us the Spirit of flaming and of fire!
Going to the Baptist World Alliance in 1955 in London, Mrs. Criswell and I went to Spurgeon’s tabernacle; wanted to attend the service in Spurgeon’s tabernacle. Burned out then, restored now, meeting in the basement, about a hundred twenty-five people gathered there. We were seated down to the front; came early. And while we were seated there, there were two old men who came and were seated back of us. One of them was very, very, very old, and the other one was an old, old man. And the old, old man said to the ancient man, he said, he said to him, "Did you ever hear Spurgeon preach?" And the ancient man said, "Huh? What’d you say?" And the old, old man said, "I said, did you ever hear Spurgeon preach?"
"Oh, yes," said that ancient man, "I heard him many times. He was my pastor." And the old, old man said to the ancient man, "Well, how did he preach? How was it?" And the ancient man said, "Huh? What’d you say?" And the old, old man said, "I said, how did Spurgeon preach? What was he like?" And the ancient man scratched his head, and he said, "Well, well," he said, "that’s kind of hard for me to say. But," he said, "I suppose, if you wouldn’t misunderstand, I’d answer like this." He said, "You know, my pastor now, I love him, and he’s a man of God." And he says, "I listen to all these preachers as they come here into this pulpit. But," he says, "as I listen to my pastor and these men," he says, "it seems to me that they’re kind of like Bible lecturers. They just talk. But," he said, "when Spurgeon stood up to preach, man, there was fire in it!"
Well, I jumped out of my seat! I wanted to turn around and pat him on the back, and say, "Old man, praise God for Charles Haddon Spurgeon!" There was fire in it! There was fire in it.
There is no evil that can mark a church like the evil by which God castigated the church at Ephesus: In your orthodoxy you are decorous, and in all of your ways you cannot stand heresy, but you have lost the fire, you have lost the flame, you have lost your first love [Revelation 2:4].
In my reading this week, I came across a preacher who said, "Man, we’ve got to stop complaining and analyzing, and start campaigning and evangelizing!" I like that. Sitting around here in knots and in groups – woebegone and malodorous and lugubrious in all of our attitudes – man, get out of it! And let’s start! Let’s start! Let’s do something for God – the Spirit of burning.
Set us afire, Lord, stir us, we pray!
While the world perishes, we go our way
Purposeless, passionless, day after day!
Set us afire, Lord, stir us, we pray!
[Ralph S. Cushman]
Baptism of fire: the Spirit of burning.
"And He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" [Matthew 3:11]. Last, third: it refers to the judgment of Almighty God. My text is in the center of a tri-representation of the work of Jesus. One: and in each instance it refers to the judgment of God. The first one: "Now the axe is laid at the root of the tree; and every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" [Matthew 3:10]. Now the third one: "Whose fan is His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" [Matthew 3:12]. And then in the middle, my text: "And He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" [Matthew 3:11]. It refers to the burning of the judgment of God in our lives and in our souls.
We build on the foundation of Christ wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, precious stones [1 Corinthians 3:11-13]; but there is coming a day when the fire shall try what a man does, and the things that can burn up will be burned up with unquenchable fire [1 Corinthians 3:15]. The judgment of Almighty God double-barreled; it’s an amazing thing, this baptism of fire. It’s twofold: the message of Christ is the savor of life unto life to those that believe; but it is the savor of death unto death to those who reject [2 Corinthians 2:16]; the baptism of fire.
The same burning column that shone baleful and baneful to the Egyptians gladdened the hearts of the Israelites: the same burning of God [Exodus 14:19-20]. The same ark that blessed the household of Obed-Edom [2 Samuel 6:10-11], cursed Dagon and the Philistines [1 Samuel 5:7]. And the same fire that fell from heaven that consumed the servants of the son of Jezebel, Ahaziah [2 Kings 1:9-12], was the same fire that took Elijah up to glory [2 Kings 2:11]; the burning of the judgment of Almighty God!
In the days of 30 AD, Israel made a great decision and rejected the Lord; and the fire and the fire leaped from house to house, and section to section, and block to block, and street to street and consumed Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple in 70 AD, like the Lord said. But those flames that were kindled at Pentecost [Acts 2:3] began to leap from house to house, and street to street, and city to city, and country to country until it covered the earth [Matthew 24:14]; the fire of Almighty God!
And that’s the fire of the judgment day of the Lord: the fire, the fire, the burning of the presence of Jesus. And to those who were not prepared, they cried for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them [Revelation 6:16], when like the lightning splits the bosom of the sky, the Lord appears in glory [Matthew 24:27]. But that same burning shall be the fire and the light of the presence of the Lord who shall save us to Himself forever and ever, amen [John 10:28].
Oh, my loving brother, when the world’s on fire,
Don’t you want God’s bosom for to be your pillow?
Oh, hide me over in the Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages, cleft for me.
[from "When the World’s on Fire"; Carter Family, 1930]
The baptism of fire [Matthew 3:11].
To those who believe, however the fiery trial may be, there’s a victory and a triumph for the overcomer. "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer," lift up your heart and your face, look God-ward, heavenward, Jesus-ward, for He said, "I have overcome the world" [John 16:33].
And you, you, somebody you tonight, looking in faith to Jesus, come and stand by me. "Pastor, I give you my hand; my heart I give to God." A family you, a couple you, a youth, a child, however God shall say the word and lead in the way, make it tonight. Make it tonight, while we sing our hymn of appeal. In the great throng of the balcony round, the press of people on this lower floor, down a stairway at the front or the back, into the aisle, here to the front, "Preacher, here I come, and here I am; I make the decision for God tonight. So help me, I come. I make it now." Do it, while we stand and while we sing.
BAPTISM OF FIRE
I. The fiery ordeal of discipleship
A. Our Lord’s own words
(Mark 10:35-38, Matthew 20:20-23, Luke 12:-53)
To accept God’s call is to accept a baptism of fire (Luke 22:31-32, Acts 9:16)
of followers of Christ through all ages
In the Bible (Jeremiah 20:9, Matthew 3:11)
True with us
puts us through a burning crucible (Malachi 3:3)
II. The Spirit of burning – holy unction
A. Linked together in
1. To have
baptism of Holy Ghost is to have baptism of fire
B. The heavenly
servants of God flame (Isaiah 6:2)
C. The earthly servants
of God flame
1. At Spurgeon’s
No evil more marked than the absence of the Spirit of burning (Revelation 2:4)
III. The judgment of God
A. Text in center of
tri-representation of the work of Jesus (Matthew
B. Judgment of God
double-barreled (1 Corinthians 3:13)
1. Savor of life
unto life, savor of death unto death (2 Corinthians
2. Same pillar of
fire gladdened hearts of Israel, shone baleful to Egypt
3. Same ark that
blessed Obed-edom, cursed Dagon and Philistines
4. Same fire from
heaven took up Elijah, consumed servants of Ahazaiah
C. The judgments and visitations