Receiving the Holy Spirit
August 14th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-14-77 10:50 a.m.
And a thousand times over again, it is our joy to share this service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas with a multitude of you who are listening on radio and on television. The title of the sermon is Receiving the Holy Spirit. It is an exposition of one of the most difficult passages in the Bible. But out of all of the sermons I have ever prepared, and out of all of the studies that I have ever made, there has never been one that meant more to me personally, nor one more filled with the doctrines of grace, than the message that is delivered this hour. In it are the doctrines of soteriology, pneumatology, redemption, dispensational truth, law and grace. There is hardly a foundational fact, teaching, doctrine of the Christian faith that is not included in the presentation this morning. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 8, and the reading of the passage begins at verse 14 through 17:
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 on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
This is one of the most difficult of all of the passages you will ever read in the Bible. But it has in it—in study, in context, in the revealed truth of God throughout the Book—it has in it a marvelous and precious and beautiful message. And you must listen this morning, not only with your heart, but you must listen with your mind, and ask God for the spirit of understanding as we expound the Word of the Lord.
The story briefly is this: in the persecution of the church in Jerusalem that arose around the martyrdom of Stephen, Saul made havoc of the church. And they that were scattered abroad—those Greek-speaking, Hellenistic Jews harried out of Jerusalem and Judea—they went everywhere, and wherever they went, they witnessed to the grace of God in Christ Jesus [Acts 8:1-4]. They preached the Word. Then one of those deacon-laymen by the name of Philip went down to Samaria and there in a city of Samaria began to preach Christ unto those half-breed Jews. And with one accord they turned to the Lord, and they accepted Him as their Savior, and they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus [Acts 8:5-12].
When tidings of that came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, they were astonished and amazed. Those despised and outcast Samaritans believed the gospel; received the word of truth preached by that deacon-layman, Philip. Even John, had said to the Lord, when a city in Samaria had not received him, John said, “Lord, let me call fire down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did in the years gone by” [Luke 9:54; 2 Kings 1:10, 12]. It was an astonishing thing that had happened, for these Samaritans had received the word of God and been baptized [Acts 8:5-6, 12-13]. So they sent Simon Peter and John down to that place in Samaria to see what had happened. And they rejoiced in the open heart of those despised, outcast Samaritans, in that they had turned and received Jesus as their Savior. Only they had not received the Holy Spirit; He had come upon none of them. They had just believed in the gospel and been baptized [Acts 8:14-16]. So Peter and John prayed and laid their hands upon the heads of those Samaritans; and when they did so, the Holy Spirit of refreshment, and wisdom, and power, and grace, and presence was poured out upon them [Acts 8:17]. What an amazing thing! And how do you interpret it and explain it?
Out of a multitude of interpretations, I choose five just briefly to summarize. One will be the interpretation of the Roman Church. They take the passage and they say that it teaches the superiority of the bishops over the pastors, and especially the primacy of Peter. The Anglican Church, the Church of England, says that this passage illustrates the validity of ordination. Only in the laying on of hands of the apostles and their successors is there validity of ordinations; all other ordinations, all other consecrations, laying on of hands, are of men. The only valid ordination is that of the apostles and their successors. The interpretation of the passage by practically all of the liturgical churches is this: this is the beginning of what they call “confirmation.” In those churches, a baby is sprinkled, baptized, christened, and then later on, when the child is say twelve or thirteen years of age, it is confirmed in the faith; confirmation. And the basis of that doctrine is found in this passage.
The Holiness, the fourth group that I have chosen to speak of, look upon this passage as an illustration of the second work of grace. The first work would be our regeneration, our salvation. But they say there is a second work of grace, and that is our sanctification; what they call “the second blessing.” And they use this passage as a definite confirmation of that theological persuasion. A fifth group of people would be the charismatics who would say that in the sign of the speaking in tongues the Holy Spirit enters into the individual life. Now, there is no speaking of tongues here, but they say there must have been just the same. And that sign of the speaking in tongues—which is not here at all, but they say it must have been—that sign of speaking in tongues is the sign of the descent of the Holy Spirit into the individual’s life. And so, on and on it goes. Men study that, look at that, and have the so divergent interpretations of it.
Well, what has happened here? What is this thing that these Samaritans believed, “received the word of God”? [Acts 8:14]. They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus [Acts 8:12], but they did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and only in the coming of Peter and John did they receive this promised Paraclete from heaven [Acts 8:14-17]. What is this and what is its meaning? Now, of course the message that is presented this day is one from your pastor. This is how he believes it; but he believes it with all of his soul, and heart, and mind, and understanding. And the message that I deliver is one from the Word of God. And as such, I think it is the truth of the Lord. So, using your mind now, think along with me, and we are going to see what God has done in this unusual thing that is come to pass in Samaria.
One of the observations that we make of the way God works is He always does His work according to purpose and to plan. There is never disorder or chaos in God. Everything that God does, He does according to a set plan. It is always pre-announced, it is always pre-delivered. It is written down in the Book, God reveals it beforehand. And He works exactly according to that pre-announced, foreordained plan. All of God’s work is done like that, in order and in plan. God never does any work aside from a purpose and a plan.
Whatever He does, He follows an order in it, follows a plan in it. If there is a flower, God will make it according to a plan. If there is a butterfly, He will make that butterfly according to a very definite plan. If there is a snowflake, and think of the billions and uncounted billions of snowflakes that have fallen in the earth; every one of them is made according to a meticulous and beautiful plan of the Lord. If there is a sparkling diamond, its molecular structure is always made identically according to a set plan. If there are planets that swing in their orbits through this universe, every one of them moves according to a definite plan of God. Whenever you read the book of God in nature, or read the Book of God in the revelation, He will be just the same. What He does, He does according to a set plan. Now this is one of those brilliant instances of the working of God according to a foreordained and pre-announced and pre-revealed plan [Acts 8:5-17].
You have come in this passage to a change of dispensations; you have come to a new era and a new age and God is moving according to a foreordained and pre-announced plan. Now let us look for a moment at the change in dispensations. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord chose His twelve apostles [Matthew 10:1-4]. Then beginning at verse 5, we read, “These twelve,” Matthew chapter 10, 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 rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Now that ought to be very plain. “Do not go to the Gentiles, and do not go into any city of the Samaritans, but go only to the Jew, to Israel.” Now that ought to be plain, isn’t it? “Do not go to any city of the Samaritans; do not go even unto the country of the Samaritans, and do not go to the Gentiles.” That is the old dispensation [Matthew 10:5-7]. Now, look at a new era, a new dispensation; Acts 1:8. In Acts 1:8, we are entering a new era, a new age, a new government, a new dispensation a new oikonomia. Acts 1:8: “But 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”—to the Gentiles!
We are entering a new dispensation, we are entering a new era, we are entering a new age. And this Book of Acts, out of which I am preaching, is a book of introduction to the new dispensation. It is an introduction to the new age. The Book of Acts is a book of transition. It is a book of transition from the Jew to the Gentile, from Judaism to Christianity, from Judea to the uttermost part of the earth, from law to grace. And my dear people, if you don’t study the Bible and read it according to its dispensational truth, you will never understand it and it becomes a chaotic conglomerate to you.
For example, in the old dispensation, in the old covenant, in the old age, if I sin, I am to take a bullock or a lamb—or if I am poor, a turtledove or a pigeon—and I am to come before the Lord and sacrifice its blood, and make expiation and atonement for my sins [Leviticus 4:1-5:13]. But I don’t live in that dispensation, I don’t live in that age and that government. I live in the age and dispensation of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, who was once offered for the sacrifice of sins; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation [Hebrews 9:28]. I bring my sins now and plead the blood of Jesus, and He makes expiation [2 Corinthians 5:21], and propitiation [Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2], and atonement for me [Romans 5:11], and I am forgiven in His suffering, in His blood, and in His cross [Matthew 27:26-50; Colossians 1:14]. I live in that day. I don’t live in that age, I live in this one. And when I read, I must always read remembering the age, the government, the dispensation in which God hath said these things. So in the old dispensation it was, “You are not to go to the Samaritan, and you are not to go to the Gentiles, preaching the kingdom of heaven; only to the Jew, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [Matthew 10:5-7]. But now there is a new day, a new age, a new introduction, a new transition, a new dispensation, and it is revealed here in the Book of Acts [Acts 8:1-8].
Now as I said, whenever God moves, He always moves purposefully. He moves according to a plan. He moves according to a foreordained and revealed outline. God always moves. He never stays, He moves. His creation is followed by redemption; His redemption is followed by sanctification; His sanctification is followed by glorification. God always moves, and He is moving here. Now He does this—the transitional age from the old covenant to the new covenant—He always moves according to a very definite and foreordained plan. Now what is that plan? He announced it to Simon Peter in the passage that you read this morning:
Verily, I say unto you—
That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church…
And I will give unto thee—
I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven:
and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth—
and here is what in grammar is called a periphrastic future perfect—
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
“Simon Peter, I give unto you the keys of the kingdom. And when you act according to the will and purpose of God, the door that you open shall have been the door that by sovereign, elective purpose was to be opened in heaven; and the door that you close shall have been closed according to the elective purpose of God in heaven. I give unto thee, Simon, the keys of the kingdom” [Matthew 16:19]. Then in the eighteenth chapter and the eighteenth verse of the Gospel of Matthew, He said that same thing to the apostles:
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth:
whatsoever door you open on earth, shall have been bound in heaven:
and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven
This has been given to Simon Peter and to the apostles. The keys of the kingdom were not given to Philip, the deacon-layman; the keys were not given to the seven in Jerusalem; the keys were not given to Saul of Tarsus, who later became Paul the apostle. The keys of the kingdom, to open the door of the new age and a new dispensation of grace and the Holy Spirit, those keys were given to Simon Peter and to the apostles, and to them alone [Matthew 16:18-19, 18:18].
So in this Book of Acts, this book of transition, entering a new era and a new dispensation, look how the Lord divides these ethnic groups: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and all Judea”—one: the Jew—“and in Samaria,” the half-breed Jew—“and to the uttermost part of the earth,” the Gentiles [Acts 1:8]. And it has been only this week that I have ever been able to understand the grammar and construction of that sentence. “Both—both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.” How in the world do you get “both” to apply to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth? “Both” always refers to two; never to three; never to four, as it is here. What did the Lord mean when HHe said “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth”? [Acts 1:8]. And it is surely “both” in Greek—en te, “in”—“in” just like our “in”; in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria—en and te. That is a conjunctive annexation, it is a conjunctive of addition—“both” means “this and this”—making two of them one, “Go to both.” So the Lord in this says, “You are to be My witnesses in this new age of the Holy Spirit, both in Jerusalem and Judea” [Acts 1:8]. He puts them together as one; that’s the ethnic group of the Jew. “And in Samaria,” that’s to the half-breed Jew. The third ethic group, “and unto the uttermost part of the earth,” that’s the third ethnic group; that is the Gentile [Acts 1:8].
So when I turn to the Book of Acts, I see that God has done that exactly as He announced; the opening of the new dispensation, the keys of the kingdom of heaven. This new age of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus; the opening of that is given to Simon Peter and to the apostles [Acts 1:8]. And according to the word of the Lord, they open those doors exactly as God outlined: first to the Jew, in Jerusalem and in Judea [Acts 2:14-42]; second to the Samaritans, in Samaria [Acts 8:5-17]; and third to the Gentiles, to the ends of the earth [Acts 10:1-11:30].
So as I go through the Book of Acts, following this outline of the Lord; this purpose of the Lord, following His plan, it is exactly as God said it would be. In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, Simon Peter uses the keys of the kingdom for the first time, and he addresses that Pentecostal audience in exactly this way. He says, “Ye men of Judea, and all of the dwellers at Jerusalem [Acts 2:14]—using the keys of the kingdom, opening the new dispensation for the Jew.
Second: the Lord said, “Jerusalem, and Judea, and in Samaria” [Acts 1:8]. So when I turn to the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, here it is Philip, a deacon and a layman who is preaching the gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus to the Samaritans [Acts 8:5-12]. But the Lord had said it is Simon Peter and the apostles who are to use the keys of the kingdom and open the new dispensation for the Samaritans [Matthew 16:19; Acts 1:8]. So it was only when Simon Peter and his friend John, his fellow apostle John, went down to Samaria that they received [Acts 8:14-17], and this is the second time the keys of the kingdom are used by Peter. And the new dispensation of grace and the fullness of the Spirit is granted to the Samaritans through the hands and the praying of Simon Peter [Acts 8:15-17].
But there is another ethnic group, not only to the Jew in Jerusalem and Judea; and not only to the Samaritans, but God said,“ and to the uttermost part of the earth,” to the Gentiles [Acts 1:8]. So I turn the pages in the Book of Acts, and I come to chapter 10 and chapter 11 [Acts 10:1-11:30]. And there God has sent Simon Peter, “I give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, the doors you close in earth shall have been closed indeed heaven. Whatsoever you open on earth, shall have been opened in heaven” [Matthew 16:19]. And Simon Peter uses the keys of the kingdom of heaven the third time. And the new dispensation is opened for the Gentiles. For in the household of Cornelius, who was a Roman centurion, the Holy Spirit came upon them in the preaching, in the delivering of the message of Simon Peter [Acts 10:34-48]. And God is following that program, that outline, that purpose, meticulously as He said in His Book [Acts 1:8].
Just as God makes everything according to a plan, so God introduced this dispensation according to a plan. And the plan was that in the hands of Simon Peter, this glorious opening of the new dispensation was to be made first to the Jew, and you have the Pentecostal Jerusalem [Acts 2:14-42]; second, to the Samaritan, and you had the Pentecost of Samaria [Acts 8:5-17]; and third, to the Gentiles, and Simon Peter opened the door according to the will and purpose of God to the whole Gentile world. And that includes us [Acts 10:1-11:30]. These are the purposes of grace as the Lord worked them out in this beautiful, incomparable book called the Book of Acts.
Now we have the Holy Spirit without measure [John 3:34]. No longer do we go back to that transitional period. It would be strange to have the beginning again and again and again. You don’t have the dispensation introduced here, and then you have it introduced again, and then you have it introduced again, and then you introduce it today. It is strange; it’s ridiculous; it’s folly. The transition has been made from law to grace, from Judaism to Christianity, from Jerusalem to the Gentiles and the ends of the earth. The keys of the kingdom have been used by Simon Peter, and the door is open, and the Holy Spirit has been given in all of His fullness; and it is just for us to possess Him and for Him to possess us [Romans 8:9; Ephesians 5:18].
“But pastor—but pastor, if that is true, if that is true, what means this in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts and the second verse? ‘And Paul said unto them,’ these twelve disciples at Ephesus, ’Have you received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?’ [Acts 19:2]. Why, pastor, that just negates what you say, that the new dispensation has been introduced by Simon Peter. And yet the apostle Paul asked these men who were supposed to have been baptized into the faith [Acts 19:1, 3-4]: ‘Have ye received the Holy Spirit since you believed?’ [Acts 19:2]. A second work of grace, surely.”
Oh, no; you see, they didn’t talk English back there. They were talking Greek, and this is written in Greek, and the Greek verb there is aoristic. And the exact translation of it is this, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? [Acts 19:2]. Did you? Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They did not, they never had heard of the Holy Spirit—they were not genuine converts. Then Paul preached the gospel to them, and they were marvelously saved. And upon their salvation, upon their repentance and acceptance of Christ, they were filled with the Holy Spirit of God [Acts 19:2-6]. The introduction of this was by Simon Peter. The Lord chose Simon Peter to be the instrument through whom this new dispensation should have been introduced [Matthew 16:18-19].
I know that also in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. There is the first Jerusalem conference, and they are discussing these Gentiles who have come into the Christian faith without being Jews. They do not observe the Mosaic legislation, they have not been circumcised, they are heathen Gentiles. And out of their Greek idolatry, they have come directly into the faith. And these Jewish fanatics at Jerusalem say, “That cannot be!” So they have a conference in Jerusalem concerning it in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. Now look at verse 7:
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them,
Men and brethren, you 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.
Do you see what Simon Peter says? God chose him out of all of those in this earth, God chose Simon Peter to be the instrument through whom the new dispensation should be introduced to the world [Acts 15:7-8], and Simon Peter faithfully followed. In Jerusalem he opened the door to the Jew—the new dispensation of the Christian faith to the Jew [Acts 2:14-42]. And some of these godly, consecrated, Jewish Christians are listening to me in this congregation this morning; and God is adding them to us all the time. The door is open to the Jew to be filled with the Spirit of God and to love Messiah Jesus; opened the door to the Jew.
Second: he opened the door to the Samaritans. Simon Peter—God chose him to be the instrument through which the new dispensation was introduced, and God opened the door to the Samaritans [Acts 8:5-17]. And in Samaria, I looked upon some of those godly Christian people who love Jesus in Samaria, just a little handful remaining.
And then God used Simon Peter to open the door of the new dispensation to the Gentiles, and that includes us [Acts 10:1-11:30].
What is it then, now to receive the Holy Spirit of God? We do not go back to the day of transition, for that is over; and the Holy Spirit, the ascension gift of Christ, has been poured out upon us all. And we received the Holy Spirit when we receive Jesus in our hearts. The great message of the gospel now, as in Acts 2:38, when those men cried in Acts 2:37: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” And Simon Peter replied, “Repent, turn, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” —E-I-S, eis—“because of the remission of sins in Him, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:38].
Now we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we turn, and when we believe, and when we receive the Lord Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus comes into our hearts when we accept Him, and we have all of Him—all of Him. He is a person; He is somebody; and when we receive Jesus, we receive all of Him [Acts 2:38]. The Spirit of Jesus and Jesus are one, like Jesus and His Father are one [John 10:30]. They are not three Gods; there is one God whose name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And when I receive Him, I receive all of Him—all of Him [Acts 2:38].
My only difficulty and problem is that He does not have all of me. The problem is not in Him, it is in me. And I keep back from Him and reserve from Him areas of my life and secret chambers of my heart; and I deny Him access into those secret areas, and I deny Him possession of certain things in my life. But when I yield to the Holy Spirit, I receive a blessing; and when I yield further, I receive a second blessing; and when I yield still further, I receive a third blessing; and when I yield still more, I receive a fourth blessing; and a fifth; and a sixth; and an seventh; and an eighth; and an ad infinitum of God’s goodness and glory.
And I am filled with the Holy Spirit as I give my life to Him and yield Him my members, and my thoughts, and my mind, and my heart, and my way. I am filled with the Holy Spirit one time; and then I am filled with the Holy Spirit a second time; and then I am filled with the Holy Spirit a third time…and then I am filled with the Holy Spirit a fifth time; and a time, and a time, and a time, and again, as I turn over to Him and give to Him the thoughts, and issue, and control of my life. It is like that saying we so oft quote, “That there might be less and less and less of me, and more and more and more of God, until there is nothing of me and everything of the Lord.”
What a wonderful way to live; more and more and more the Holy Spirit guiding us, and leading us, and possessing us in our life and in our work. Do you have a business? Let God be a partner with you in it; turn its decisions over to the Holy Spirit of God—He is yours without measure [John 3:34]—and God will work with you and guide you in your business. Do you have children? Are there little ones in your home? Are they growing up? Let God guide you in their direction; in their thinking and thoughts, give them to the Spirit of Jesus, and let the Lord possess them.
A thousand decisions you have to make, let the Spirit of God and infinite wisdom and presence help you make them. Do you have trouble in your life? Is there turmoil in your life? Take it to the Lord. Let Him answer. Are you sick? Are you crushed because of a disastrous illness? Take it to God. Let the Holy Spirit speak. Let Him heal, or let Him use the illness and the tragedy and sorrow for His glory [John 9:3; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10]. There is nothing in life that the Holy Spirit cannot sanctify, hallow, and bless, if we will just leave it in His care.
“Lord, Lord, possess my heart, and possess my life, and possess my down-sitting and my uprising, possess my walking, my coming in, and my going out. Bless Thou, Lord, the work of my hands. O Jesus, come into my soul.” And when you do, there’s a blessing, there’s a fullness of the Spirit of wisdom, and counsel, and guidance, and strength, and comfort, and healing. This is the dispensation in which we live; this is the age in which God hath cast our life and lot. And it was introduced to us in the Book of Acts [Acts 1:8], as Simon Peter used the keys of the kingdom [Matthew 16:19] in Jerusalem for the Jew [Acts 2:14-42]; in Samaria for the Samaritans [Acts 8:5-17]; and in Caesarea for the Gentiles who inhabit the ends of the earth [Acts 10:1-11:30].
O Lord, bless the exposition of that difficult passage. And help us seeing its great and eternal truth; to give ourselves to the call and will of God.
In a moment we’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, has the Lord spoken to you? A family, a couple, or just you, in a moment when we stand to sing our song of invitation, if God has spoken to you, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come and stand by us? “Pastor, this is my family, all of us are coming today.” Or, “This is my wife and the two of us…” or, “We’re two friends, we are both coming today.” Or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down an aisle. “Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God. I am opening my heart heavenward, and Christ-ward, and God-ward. I’m inviting Him to come into my life and here I am.” May angels attend you in your way while you come, as we stand and as we sing.