Receiving the Holy Spirit
August 14th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-14-77 8:15 a.m.
With infinite gladness we invite you, who are listening on radio and with the vast throng in God’s house in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, invite you to listen with your mind and understanding as well as with your heart. I do not think out of all of the sermons, the thousands of sermons I have ever prepared, I do not think I have ever delivered a sermon that has in it more meaning than the one this morning. There is pneumatological truth in it, hermeneutical truth in it, theological truth in it, soteriological truth in it, dispensational truth in it; there is hardly any message that brings to us an understanding of the Bible that has more in it than the message that is delivered at this hour. So listen the best that you can; with understanding and with mind, listen. And may God bless the exposition to our souls.
The title of the sermon is Receiving the Holy Spirit. And could I add to those other exclamations of its worth that I pray God will make to our souls: there’s not any message I’ve ever prepared that is more pertinent to this present moment in Christendom than this one.
Now, in our preaching through the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, we have come to verse 14. Tonight we’re going to preach about Simon Magus and simony in the church, serving God for a profit, for what you get out of it. That’s the passage before and after. Now in the center of it is this word, Acts 8, verse 14:
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit:
(For as yet He was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
Then laid they their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
What an amazing come to pass!
So we begin first with the narrative. The chapter begins with the persecution of the church at Jerusalem [Acts 8:1], that surrounded the martyrdom of Stephen; “Saul making havoc of the church [Acts 8:3]…and those that were scattered abroad in that persecution went every where preaching the word [Acts 8:4]. Then Philip,” now remember—and this is key to it all—he is a layman, he is a deacon, “Then deacon layman Philip, one of the seven [Acts 6:3-5], went down to the city, to a city of Samaria [Acts 8:5], and the people were visited from heaven with a great outpouring, a revival . And they were baptized, men and women, believing in the word of God and in the Lord Jesus” [Acts 8:6-12]. Now, when Jerusalem heard about that, this is an amazing and a new departure; for these Samaritans are half-breed Jews; and of course the Jews looked with infinite contempt upon a Samaritan. When word of that came to the ears of the church at Jerusalem, they were astonished! And they sent Peter and John down there to see what God had wrought [Acts 8:14]. Isn’t it unusual that John should be in that duet? Remember James and John came to the Lord Jesus when the city of Samaria had refused to entertain Him, let Him come into their town, and James and John said, “Lord, bid us command fire to fall down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did” [Luke 9:54; 2 Kings 1:10, 12]. Well, this is the same John. It’s Peter and John that are sent down there to see what God had done in this city in Samaria [Acts 8:14]. And when they came, they were filled with wonder and rejoicing and thanksgiving for what God had wrought. “And they prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: (For as yet He had come upon none of them.) And after they prayed, they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” [Acts 8:15-17].
Now how do you explain that? This is a new departure from anything you will ever read in the Bible. It’s unique and separate. How do you explain that? We’re going to look at five interpretations first. First: the interpretation of the Roman church, namely that the passage demonstrates the superiority of the bishop to the pastor, and certainly demonstrates the primacy of Simon Peter. That’s one interpretation. A second interpretation is that of the Anglican Church, the Church of England. Their interpretation is that this demonstrates their basic doctrine of apostolic succession and the validity of ordination, that only these successors of the apostles have the ableness to lay on hands, to ordain, and outside of that succession of bishops in ordination, there is no valid ordination, there is no valid ministry. A third interpretation can be found in all of the liturgical churches. This passage is the beginning of what came to be known as “confirmation.” A baby is sprinkled when it is christened, and then later on it is confirmed; the rite of confirmation. First the child is christened and sprinkled; then when the child comes to be of age, say twelve or thirteen, then the child is confirmed. And the basis for that doctrine of confirmation is found in this passage.
A fourth interpretation is presented by the Holiness churches. They say that there is a second work of grace: the first work is that of regeneration, salvation; then there is also a second work of grace, namely the infilling, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And their basis for that doctrine is the passage I have just read: these believed, then they had the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit, after the praying and laying on of hands of the apostles [Acts 8:15-17]. A fifth interpretation is that of the modern charismatics. They say that this passage shows that the sign of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the individual’s life is in speaking with tongues. Now there’s no such thing as that here, there’s no mention of speaking in tongues here, but that doesn’t bother them at all. This is a sign. They say this passage is a sign of the descent of the Holy Spirit into the believer’s life in the speaking with tongues.
Now you have five interpretations of millions and millions and millions of Christian people in the outline I have just made. Well, what is this thing that has happened here? And how are we to understand it? And much more implement it in the life of our church in its doctrinal life, in its pragmatic empirical practice life, and certainly in our own souls? What is the meaning of this passage? We’re going to look at it in its context and in the whole meaning and revelation of God; and when we do, it will be very plain and very simple.
What you have here is an illustration of the working of God according to a pre-announced and foreordained plan. When you look at God’s work in the universe, and when you look at God’s work in the Bible, whether in the book of nature or in the Book of the Scriptures, He works exactly alike: God always works by order, always, never by chaos, always by plan, and that very beautifully and carefully thought out and wrought out. There is no work of God without that purpose and that plan. You see it everywhere. Every flower that you ever look at, which is a bursting of the love of the beauty of God, every flower is made according to a plan, every one of them. Think of the billions and billions of snowflakes that have fallen into this world: there’s not one of them but that follows a beautiful plan. Think of a diamond: it has a molecular structure and atomic put together that makes it a diamond. Or these spheres in their orbits: every one of them swing in their great elliptical courses according to a definite plan. Everything that God does is just like that; and it is so in the Bible. It is never chaotic or disordered; it is always purposeful and planned. And the Lord will announce it beforehand. He will say what He is going to do and how He is going to do it. And when He announces it, He faithfully follows it just as He has prearranged it.
Now, it is so here in this text. So let’s begin with it. First of all, we have here a new dispensation, a new age. Look at it. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, you listen to the Lord as He speaks to His twelve apostles: Matthew 10, beginning with verse 5:
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Now isn’t that very plain? “Don’t go to Samaria, no! Don’t go into any city of the Samaritans, no! Don’t go to Samaria! Rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [Matthew 10:5-6]. That’s the old dispensation.
Now, I’m turning to the Book of Acts, chapter 1, verse 8: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” [Acts 1:8]. Something has changed; it’s a different world, it’s a different dispensation, it’s a different age. And you will never be able to understand the Bible, nor the beginning of its understanding, if you don’t place in that knowledge in your reading its dispensational truth; you’ll never do it.
In the old covenant, if a man sinned he was to bring a lamb, and sacrifice it for an expiation, a propitiation, a sin offering [Leviticus 4:27-32]. If I were to come here into the presence of the Lord with the blood of a lamb, it would be unthinkable! Why? Because I live in a new dispensation! I live in a new age. In the old covenant, sacrifice a bullock or a lamb, the poor a turtledove or a pigeon [Leviticus 5:5-10]; but in the new dispensation of grace, “He our Lord was sacrificed once for all for our sins: and unto us who look for Him shall He come again apart from sin unto salvation” [Hebrews 9:28]. What a glorious thing God hath done for us in the blessed Jesus! So when we read in the Bible, always God is moving. His creation is followed by redemption, and His redemption is followed by sanctification, and His sanctification is followed by glorification; always moving onward. So there is a change here in dispensations. In the old one, “Go not into Samaria” [Matthew 10:5-7]; in the new dispensation, in the new age, “Preach the gospel to those hated and despised Samaritans” [Acts 1:8]. And there they are doing it [Acts 8:5-25].
You see, the Book of Acts is a book of that transition from the old age to the new age, from the old dispensation to the new dispensation. That’s what the Book of Acts is. It is a presentation of this new age, this new dispensation. There is a change from the Jew to the Gentile [Acts 1:8]. There is a change from law to grace. There is a change from Judea to the whole world. It is a book of change. It is a book of transition. And it is spread out here before us in beautiful order how God once worked like this, and now in Christ He is working like this [Matthew 15:24-28; Acts 13:46-49].
Well, how is this work? How is it that God changes the dispensation from the Jew to the Gentile, from Judea to the ends of the earth, from law to grace? How does God do it? He does it exactly as He makes His flowers, as He makes His snowflakes, as He swings those spheres into orbit: He does it exactly according to a pre-announced and foreordained plan. Now what is that plan? We read it together this morning in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew. Now I reread it, Matthew 16:[18-19]:
I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church . . . And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth—
now here is a periphrastic future perfect, let me translate it exactly as the Lord said it—
And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
That is, “Simon Peter, when you act, when you do, according to the will of God, what you do is the thing that has been ordained in heaven.” “Binding and loosing” refers to the use of the keys of the kingdom: saving and condemning. “What you do under the leadership of the Holy Spirit is what has been ordained in heaven.” And that word is said to Simon Peter in Matthew 16:19; and in Matthew 18:18 He repeats the identical thing to the apostles, “I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” So God gives to Simon Peter and to the apostles the keys of the kingdom, binding and loosening, opening the doors of grace and salvation to these who are lost [Matthew 16:19].
Now, look at the Lord: He names three groups here in that Great Commission in Acts 1:8:
Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.
Now I want you to know until this week, that’s how long that thing has bothered me, until this week, the use of that word “both,” “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth?” [Acts 1:8]. How in the world do you use the word “both” to reply to Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth? “Both” is a conjunction of annexation; it refers to two, always to two, not three, not four, not five, “both.” And it always bothered me, and it’s in Greek just as it is here, en te. En, “in Jerusalem, and all Judea, and Samaria,” en and te; that little te is a conjunction of annexation, “both.” Well, now I understand it: God puts together here “both in Jerusalem and Judea,” that’s one, “both in Jerusalem and Judea,” that’s one; “in Samaria,” that’s the second great ethnic group; and the third is the Gentile world, “unto the ends of the earth” [Acts 1:8]. So, the Lord God is going to open the door of grace just exactly as He outlined it here: one, two, three; in Jerusalem and Judea, one; in Samaria, two; and to the uttermost parts of the earth, to the Gentiles, three—one, two, three. He is going to open the doors, He is going to use the keys of the kingdom in Simon Peter to open the doors of salvation to the whole world [Matthew 16:18-19]; and He is going to do it, one, two, three, just like that [Acts 1:8].
So we begin. First it says Simon Peter is to use the keys of the kingdom in opening the doors to the Jew in Jerusalem and in all Judea [Acts 1:8]. And in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, Simon Peter stands up and at Pentecost he addresses them, “Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell in Jerusalem” [Acts 2:14]. And Simon Peter is used of the Lord God to open the new dispensation and the new age in Jerusalem and in Judea, just as the Lord said in the Book [Acts 1:8]. And the Jew in Judea and Jerusalem is filled with the Spirit of God, and becomes a part of the precious kingdom of our Lord, and especially fellow members in the household of faith and in the church of Jesus Christ [Acts 2:14, 36-42]. He uses the keys, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, at Pentecost [Acts 2:14].
Then He said, “And in Samaria. And in Samaria” [Acts 1:8]. So in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, I read, “And in Samaria” [Acts 8:14]. Who is going to open the door of the kingdom in Samaria? Jesus said Simon Peter: not Philip, not one of the seven [Acts 6:3-5], but the new dispensation is to be introduced by Simon Peter and by the apostles [Matthew 16:17-19]. So, we see Simon Peter and John, another apostle, going down from Jerusalem to Samaria, and there the second time using the keys of the kingdom and opening the doors of the new dispensation of grace and the Holy Spirit to these in Samaria [Acts 8:14-25]. That’s number two.
All right, there is number three: the Gentiles [Acts 1:8]. And when I turn the pages of the Book of Acts—and we’ll be coming to it later—when I turn the pages of the Book of Acts and come to chapter 10 and chapter 11, God is using Simon Peter to use the keys of the kingdom for the third time. And in the household of Cornelius, who is a Gentile and a Roman centurion, he uses the keys the third time, and the new dispensation is introduced to the Gentile world; and that includes us [Acts 10:1-11:30]. And God did it exactly as He outlined: first to the Jew, second to the Samaritans, and third to the Gentiles, to us [Acts 1:8]. And He did it exactly as He said to Simon Peter, “I give unto thee the keys of the kingdom”—not to Philip. “I give unto thee the keys of the kingdom” [Matthew 16:18-19]. And Simon Peter is used by God to introduce the new dispensation of grace to the Jew first, then to the Samaritan second, and then to all of the Gentiles third [Acts 1:8]. And thereafter we have a new age, a glorious age, in which you and I live.
I want to show you that thing about Simon Peter: that God chose him to do it. You look at this. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, they’re all gathered in Jerusalem for the first Jerusalem conference. And it concerns the Gentiles coming into the kingdom of God and being fellow members of the household of faith. And they’re discussing that. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, can a Gentile, can you, believe, just by believing, can you be a child of God? You’re not a Jew, you’re not keeping the Mosaic legislation, you’re not bringing any lambs, you haven’t been circumcised, you are a Gentile. Can a Gentile be saved and not be a Jew? [Acts 15:1-6]. And in discussing that, you look at verse 7:
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as He did unto us.
It wasn’t Philip, it wasn’t Stephen, it wasn’t one of the seven [Acts 6:3-5]. Peter says, “Ye know how that God made choice among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word, should believe [Acts 15:7], and should receive the Holy Spirit” [Acts 15:8]. God was true to His foreordained plan: the new dispensation of the Holy Spirit, the age of grace in which you and I live, was introduced to the world by Simon Peter; first to the Jew in the Pentecostal Jerusalem [Acts 2:14, 36-42], second to the Samaritan in the Samaritan Pentecost [Acts 8:14-25], and third to the whole Gentile world in the Caesarean Pentecost [Acts 10:1-11:18]. This is the way God did it.
Now do we go back into that transitional age? No. The transition has been made, and the new age has been introduced, and we don’t go back to that introduction, that transition anymore: we have the Holy Spirit poured out upon us now. And it comes exactly as God said it would come. Listen to the Word of the Lord, “And they cried, saying,” in Acts 2:37, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? What shall we do?” And Simon Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you, e-i-s, eis, because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:38]. I receive the Holy Spirit of God when I trust in the Lord [1 Corinthians 12:13], when I look to Him in saving faith, and Jesus comes into my heart and I’m a Christian [Ephesians 2:8]. I’m saved when He comes in; He and the Holy Spirit are one. When Jesus comes in, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, comes in. And when I’m saved, I receive the Holy Spirit. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, eis, because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:38]. And I have all of Him, all of Him, all of Him.
Pastor, what about that passage in Acts 19:2, “And Paul said unto those disciples of,” supposedly of John, “Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed? And they said, We have not even heard so much whether there be a Holy Spirit.” What is that, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?” This is over here in the nineteenth chapter of Acts, and you say that the new dispensation has been introduced by Simon Peter in Jerusalem to the Jew [Acts 2:14, 36-42], in Samaria to the Samaritans [Acts 8:14-25], and in the household of Cornelius to the Gentiles [Acts 10:1-11:18]. Well, what does that mean there? “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” [Acts 19:2].
My brother, I don’t know why, but he wasn’t speaking English back there one thousand nine hundred fifty years ago; he was talking Greek. And the Greek is pisteusantes, it’s an aorist. And the translation is this: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you? Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” [Acts 19:2]. Because that is a sign of our salvation: that God gives us the Holy Spirit when we believe. This is the new age. This is the new dispensation. When I trust Christ as my Savior, He gives me the gift of the Holy Spirit, all of Him, all of Him [John 3:34]. My only problem is He comes and I have all of Him, but my problem is He doesn’t have all of me. I deny Him certain areas in my life, and I don’t give Him access to certain secrets and dreams of my heart; I shut Him out. And I’m weak, and I’m unhappy, and I’m not strong in the faith and in the Lord. But this is the experience of a true child of God. He doesn’t have us as He wants us. And we shut Him out and deny Him. But, any time I yield to the Holy Spirit of God some part of my life that I’ve been denying Him heretofore, I receive a blessing. And when I yield further, I receive a second blessing. When I yield further, I receive a third blessing. And when I yield still further, I receive a fourth blessing, and a fifth, and a sixth, infinitum. There’s no limit to the coming of the Holy Spirit of God in a man’s life. We never reach some plateau where God has nothing further for us; but always as we grow in grace, the Holy Spirit leads us and blesses us, and we’re filled again and again and again [Ephesians 5:18].
As I have so oft times quoted, “Lord, Lord, that there might be less and less and less and less of me, and more and more and more and more of God, until finally there be nothing of me and everything of Thee.” Oh, if I could just do it—Lord!—take hands, take my hands off of my life, and just commit it to God. And let the Lord lead me in the way.
Do you run a business? Let God tell you what to do, give you wisdom in it. Do you have a home? Let the Lord lead in the house. Do you have children? Let God give you wisdom in how to rear them; turn them over to the Lord. Are you sick? Ask God to be present and to heal. Are you cast down? Ask the Lord to lift you up. And the man who lives in the will and the wisdom and the presence of the Lord shall know what it is to be blessed by the Holy Spirit again, and again, and again, and again. Oh, what a wondrous thing God has done for us in this new age, toward which the whole creation and redemption did move, that we might be the heirs of the kingdom of God! [Romans 8:15-17].
We have spoken far too long. In a moment we shall stand and sing our invitation appeal. And while we sing that song, a family you, to give your heart and home to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13]; a couple you, giving your life to God; or just that one somebody you, “The Lord has spoken to me, pastor, and I’m coming; I’m on the way.” In the balcony, you, in the throng of people on this lower floor, you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle. “Here I am, pastor.” God bless you as you come, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.