How the Baptism with the
Holy Spirit Can Be Obtained
By R. A. Torrey
We have now come to a place where there is a deep sense that we must be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The practical question confronts us: how can we obtain this baptism with the Holy Spirit which we so sorely need? The Word of God also answers this question very plainly and very explicitly. There is pointed out in the Bible a path consisting of seven simple steps, which anyone who will, can take, and whoever takes these seven steps will, with absolute certainty, enter into this blessing. This statement may seem very positive, but the Word of God is equally positive regarding the outcome of taking these steps which it points out.
All seven steps are stated or implied in Acts 2:38: “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins: and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The three steps are brought out with special definiteness and distinctness in this verse. The others which are clearly implied in the verse are brought out more explicitly by other passages to which we shall refer later.
1. The first two steps are found in the word repent. What does “repent” mean? It means to change your mind. Change your mind about what? About God, about Christ, about sin. As to what the change of mind is about in any given case must be determined by the context. Here the first and most prominent thought is a change of mind about Christ. Peter has just brought against his hearers the awful charge that they had crucified Him whom God had made both Lord and Christ. “Pricked in their heart” by this charge, carried home by the power of the Holy Spirit, his hearers had cried out: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” “Repent,” Peter answered. Change your mind about Christ. Change from a Christ-hating and Christ-crucifying attitude of mind to a Christ-accepting attitude of mind. Accept Jesus as Christ and Lord. This then is the first step toward the baptism with the Holy Spirit: accept Jesus as Christ and Lord.
2. The second step is also found in the word repent. While the change of mind about Jesus is the first and prominent thought, there must also be a change of mind about sin a change of mind from a sin-loving or sin-indulging attitude to a sin-hating and sin-renouncing attitude. This is the second step: renounce sin, all sin, every sin.
Here we come upon one of the most common obstacles to receiving the Holy Spirit sin. Something is held on to that in our inmost hearts we more or less definitely feel to be not pleasing to God. If we are to receive the Holy Spirit, there must be very honest and very thorough heart searching. We cannot do satisfactory searching ourselves; God must do it. If we wish to receive the Holy Spirit, we should go alone with God and ask Him to search us thoroughly and bring to light anything that displeases Him (Ps. 139:23, 24). Then we should wait for Him to do it. When the displeasing thing is revealed, it should be put away at once. If, after patient and honest waiting, nothing is brought to light, we may conclude there is nothing of this kind in the way, and proceed to the further steps. But we should not conclude this too hurriedly. The sin that hinders the blessing may be something that appears very small and insignificant in itself.
Mr. Finney tells of a young woman who was deeply concerned regarding the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Night after night she agonized in prayer, but the desired blessing did not come. One night as she was in prayer there came up before her some matter of head adornment that had often troubled her before: putting her hand to her head she took the pins out and threw them away and immediately the blessing came. This was a small matter in itself, a matter that would not have appeared to many as sin, but yet a matter of controversy between this woman and God: and when this was settled the blessing came. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23), and it matters not how little the thing may be; if there are questions regarding it, it must be put away if we are to have the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The second step then toward the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to put away every sin.
The third step is found in this same verse: “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins. It was immediately after His baptism that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus (Luke 3:21, 22). In His baptism Jesus, though himself sinless, humbled himself to take the sinner’s place, and then God highly exalted Him by the giving of the Holy Spirit and by the audible testimony: “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” So we must humble ourselves to make open confession of our sin and renounce it and accept Jesus Christ in God’s appointed way, by baptism. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is not for the one who secretly takes his place as a sinner and believer in Christ, but for the one who does so openly. Of course, the baptism with the Holy Spirit may precede water baptism as in the case of the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:47). But this was evidently an exceptional case and water baptism immediately followed. I have little doubt that there have been those among Christians who did not believe in or practice water baptism as for example the Friends or Quakers “who have had and have given evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit, but the passage before us certainly presents the normal order.
4. The fourth step is clearly implied in the verse we have been studying (Acts 2:38), but it is brought out more explicitly in Acts 5:32: “The Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” The fourth step is obedience. What does obedience mean? It does not mean merely doing some of the things or many of the things or most of the things that God bids us do. It means total surrender to the will of God. Obedience is an attitude of the will lying back of specific acts of obedience. It means that I come to God and say: “Heavenly Father, here I am and all I have. Thou hast bought me with a price and I acknowledge Thine absolute ownership. Take me and all I have and do with me whatsoever Thou wilt. Send me where Thou wilt; use me as Thou wilt. I surrender myself and all I possess absolutely, unconditionally, forever to Thy control and use.”
It was when the burnt offering whole, no part held back was laid on the altar that “there came forth fire from before the Lord” and accepted the gift (Lev. 9:24), and it is when we bring ourselves, a whole burnt offering, to the Lord and lay ourselves thus upon the altar that fire comes and God accepts the gift. Here we touch upon the hindrance to the baptism with the Holy Spirit in many lives: there is not total surrender; the will is not laid down; the heart does not cry, “Lord, where Thou wilt, what Thou wilt, as Thou wilt.” One man desires the baptism with the Holy Spirit that he may preach or work with power in Boston, when God wishes him in Bombay. Another, that he may preach to popular audiences, when God wishes him to plod among the poor.
A young woman at a convention expressed a strong desire that someone would speak on the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The address went home with power to her heart. She had been for some time in deep travail of soul when I asked her what it was that she desired. “Oh, she cried. “I cannot go back to Baltimore until I am baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
“Is your will laid down?”
“I don’t know.”
“You wish to go back to Baltimore to be a Christian worker?”
“Are you willing to go back to Baltimore and be a servant girl if that is where God wishes you?”
“No. I am not.”
“Well, you will never get the baptism with the Holy Spirit until you are. Will you lay your will down?”
“Are you willing God should lay it down for you?”
“Well, then ask Him to do it.” The head was bowed in brief but earnest prayer. “Did God hear that prayer?”
“He must have; it was according to His will. He did.”
“Now ask Him for the baptism with the Holy Spirit.” Again the head was bowed and the brief, earnest prayer ascended to God. There was a short silence and the agony was over: the blessing had come when the will was surrendered.
There are many who hold back from this total surrender because they fear God’s will. They are afraid God’s will may be something dreadful. Remember who God is; He is our Father. Never an earthly father had so loving and tender a will regarding his children as God has toward us. “No good thing will be withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” There is nothing to be feared in God’s will. God’s will, will always prove in the final outcome the best and sweetest thing in all God’s universe.
5. The fifth step is found in Luke 11:13: “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?” The asking of this verse is the asking that springs from real and intense desire. This is brought out by the context: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Note also the parable of the importunate friend that immediately precedes. Evidently the asking that Christ has in mind is not the asking of a passing and halfhearted whim, but the asking of intense desire.
There is a very suggestive passage in Isaiah 44:3: “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty” I will pour my spirit upon thy seed.” What does it mean to be thirsty? When one is thirsty there is but one cry: “Water! Water! Water!” Every pore in the body seems to have a voice and cries out, “Water!” So when our hearts have one cry, “The Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit,” then it is that God pours floods upon the dry ground, pours His Spirit upon us. This then is the fifth step “intense desire for the baptism with the Holy Spirit. To what a pitch of longing the early disciples had been brought by the tenth day of their eager waiting, and their thirsty souls were filled that day when “Pentecost was fully come”! As long as one thinks he can get along somehow without the baptism with the Holy Spirit, as long as he casts about for something in the was of education or cunningly concocted methods of work, he is not going to receive it.
There are many ministers who are missing the fullness of power God has for them simply because they are not willing to admit the lack there has been all these years in their ministry. It is indeed a humiliating thing to confess, but that humiliating confession would be the precursor of a marvelous blessing. But there are not a few who, in their unwillingness to make this wholesome confession, are casting about for some ingenious device or exegesis to get around the plain and simple meaning of God’s Word, and thus they are cheating themselves of the fullness of the Spirit’s power that God is so eager to bestow upon them. And furthermore, they are imperiling the eternal interests of the souls that are dependent upon their ministrations that might be won for Christ if they had the power of the Holy Spirit which they might have.
There are others whom God in His grace has brought to see that there was a something their ministry lacked, and this something is nothing less than that all-essential baptism with the Holy Spirit, without which one is utterly unqualified for acceptable and effective service. And they have humbly and frankly confessed their lack; sometimes they have been led to the God-taught resolution that they would not go on in their work until this lack was supplied. They have waited in eager longing upon God the Father for the fulfillment of His promise, and the result has been a transformed ministry for which many have risen to bless God.
It is not enough that the desire for the baptism with the Holy Spirit be intense; it must also have the right motive. There is a desire for the baptism with the Holy Spirit that is purely selfish. There is many a one who has an intense desire for the baptism with the Holy Spirit simply that he may be a great preacher, or great personal worker, or renowned in some way as a Christian. It is simply his own gain or glory that he is seeking. After all, it is not the Holy Spirit whom he seeks, but his own honor and the baptism with the Holy Spirit is simply a means to that end. One of the most subtle and dangerous snares into which Satan leads us is seeking the Holy Spirit, this most solemn of all gifts, for our own ends.
The desire for the Holy Spirit must not be in order to make that sublime and divine person the servant of our low ends, but for the glory of God. It must arise from a recognition that God and Christ are being dishonored by my powerless ministry and by the sin of the people about me, against which I have no power, and that He will be honored if I have the baptism with the Spirit of God. One of the most solemn passages in the New Testament bears upon this point. When Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:18-24, ASV).
Here was a strong desire on Simon’s part, but it was entirely unhallowed and selfish, and Peter’s terrific answer is worthy of note and meditation. Is there not many a one today who, with equally unhallowed and selfish purpose, desires the baptism with the Holy Spirit? Each one, who is desiring and seeking the baptism with the Holy Spirit, would do well to ask himself why he desires it. If you find that it is merely for your own gratification or glory, then ask God to forgive you the thought of your heart and to enable you to see how you need it for His glory and to desire it to that end.
6. The sixth step is in this same verse (Luke 11:13). 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?” The sixth step is to ask “definite asking for a definite blessing. When Christ has been accepted as Savior and Master and confessed as such; when sin has been put away; when there has been the definite, total surrender of the will; when there is real and holy desire” then comes the simple act of asking God for this definite blessing. It is given in answer to earnest, definite, specific, believing prayer.
It has been earnestly contended by some that we should not pray for the Holy Spirit. They reason it out in this way: “The Holy Spirit was given to the Church at Pentecost as an abiding gift.” This is true, but what was given to the Church must be appropriated by each believer for himself. It has been well said on this point that God has already given Christ to the world (John 3:16), but that each individual must appropriate Him by a personal act to get the personal advantage of the gift; and so must each individual personally appropriate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to get the personal advantage of it. But it is argued still further that each believer has the Holy Spirit. This is also true in a sense. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). But as we have already seen, it is quite possible to have something, yes, much, of the Spirit’s presence and work in the heart and yet come short of that special fullness and work known in the Bible as the baptism or filling with the Holy Spirit.
In answer to all specious reasoning on this subject we present the simple statement of Christ: “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
At a convention at which the author was announced to speak on this subject, a man said to him. “I see you are to speak on the baptism with the Holy Spirit.”
“It is the most important subject on the program; now be sure to tell them not to pray for the Holy Spirit.”
“I shall certainly not tell them that: for Jesus said: ‘How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?'”
“Oh, but that was before Pentecost.”
“How about Acts 4:31? Was that before Pentecost or after?”
“After, of course.”
“Well, read verses 14-16. The verses was read: “Peter and John, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost; for as yet he was fallen upon none of them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” Against all inferences is this clear teaching of the Word, by precept and example that the Holy Spirit is given in answer to prayer. It was so at Pentecost; it has been so since. Those whom I have met, who give most evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power in their lives and work, believe in praying for the Holy Spirit. It has been the author’s unspeakable privilege to pray with many ministers and Christian workers for this great blessing, and after to learn from them or from others of the new power that had come into their service, none other than the power of the Holy Spirit.
7. The seventh and last step is found in Mark 11:24: “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” God’s most positive and unqualified promises must be appropriated by faith. In James 1:5 we read: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all members liberally, and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.” Now that is certainly positive and unqualified enough; but listen to what the writer says next: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. There must then be faith in order to make our own the most positive and unqualified promises of God, such as that found in Luke 11:13 and Acts 2:38 and 39. Here then we discover the cause of failure in many cases to enter into the blessing of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
The failure is because the last step is not taken the simple step of faith. Some do not believe, they do not confidently expect; and we have another instance of how men “entered not in because of unbelief” (Heb. 4:6). There are many, very many, who are kept out of this land of milk and honey just by this unbelief. It should be added that there is a faith that goes beyond expectation, a faith that just puts out its hand and takes what it asks. This is brought out very clearly by Mark in 11:24 (ASV): “All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for believe that ye received them, and ye shall have them.” I remember how greatly I was perplexed by this rendering when I first noticed it. On examining the Greek of the passage I saw that the ASV was correct, but what did it mean? It seemed like a singular confusion of the tenses. “Believe that ye [already] received them, and ye shall have them.”
This seeming enigma was solved long after, while studying I John. I read: “This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him” (5:14, 16, ASV). When I ask anything of God, the first thing to find out is this: Is this petition according to His will? When that is settled, when I find it is according to His will, when, for example, the thing asked is definitely promised in His Word then I know the prayer is heard, and I know further “I have the petition which I have asked of him.” I know it because He plainly says so, and what I have thus appropriated on simple, childlike faith in His naked Word I shall have in actual experience.
When one who has a clear title to a piece of property deeds it to me, it is mine as soon as the deed is properly executed and recorded, though it may be some time before I enter into the experimental joy of it. I have it in the one sense as soon as the deed is recorded. I shall have it in the other sense later. In like manner, as soon as we, having met the conditions of prevailing prayer, put up to God a petition for anything according to His will, it is our privilege to know that the prayer is heard, and that the thing which we have asked of Him in ours.
Now apply this to the baptism with the Holy Spirit. I have met the conditions for obtaining this blessing already mentioned. I simply, definitely ask God the Father for the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Then I stop and ask, “Was that prayer according to His will?” Yes, Luke 11:13 says so: “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?” Acts 2:38 and 39 says: “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him” (ASV).
It is clear that the prayer for the baptism with the Holy Spirit is “according to his will,” for it is definitely and plainly promised. I know then that the prayer is heard and that I have the petition which I have asked of him (I John 5:14, 15, ASV); that is, I have the baptism with the Holy Spirit. I have then the right to arise from my knees and say on the all-sufficient authority of God’s Word, “I have the baptism with the Holy Spirit”; and afterward I shall have in experimental enjoyment what I have appropriated by simple faith; for God has said, and He cannot lie, “All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them.”
If Christ has been accepted as Saviour and Lord and openly confessed as such in God’s way; if sin has been searched out and put away; if there has been total surrender of the will and of self to God; if there is a true desire, for God’s glory, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit if these conditions have been met, any reader may ask God to baptize him with the Holy Spirit. He can then say, when the prayer has gone up, “That prayer was heard; I have what I have asked; I have the baptism with the Holy Spirit”; and he has a right to get up and go out to his work assured that in that work he will have the Holy Spirit’s power.
But someone will ask. “Must I not know that I have the baptism with the Holy Spirit before I begin the work?” Certainly, but how shall we know? I know of no better way of knowing than by God’s Word. I would believe God’s Word before my feelings any day. How do we deal with an inquirer who has accepted Christ but who lacks assurance that he has eternal life? We do not ask him to look at his feelings, but we take him to some passage such as John 3:36. We tell him to read it and he reads: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”
“Who says that?” we ask.
“God says it.”
“Is it true?”
“Oh, certainly it is true; God says it.”
“Who does God say has everlasting life?”
“He that believeth on the Son.”
“Do you believe on the Son?”
“What have you then?”
“Oh, I don’t know; I don’t feel yet that I have eternal life.”
“But what does God say?”
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”
“Are you going to believe God or your feelings?”
We hold the inquirer right there until on the simple, naked Word of God, feeling or no feeling, he says. “I know I have eternal life because God says so.” and afterward the feeling comes. Deal with yourself in this matter of the baptism with the Holy Spirit just as you deal with an inquirer in the matter of assurance. Be sure you have met the conditions, and then simply ask, claim, act.
But someone will say. “Will it be just as it was before? Won’t there be any manifestation?” Most assuredly there will be some manifestation. “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal” (I Cor. 12:7, ASV). But what will be the character of the manifestation, and where shall we see it? It is at this point that many make a mistake. They have, perhaps, read the life of Mr. Finney or of Jonathan Edwards, and recall how great waves of electric emotion swept over these men until they were obliged to ask God to withdraw His hand lest they die from the ecstasy. Or they have gone to some meetings and heard testimonies to similar experiences, and they expect something like this.
Now I do not deny the reality of such experiences. I cannot. The testimony of such men as Finney and Edwards is to be believed. There is a stronger reason why I cannot deny them. But while admitting the reality of these experiences, I would ask, “Where is a single line of the New Testament that describes any such experience in connection with the baptism with the Holy Spirit?” Every manifestation of the baptism with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament was in new power in service. Look, for example, at I Corinthians 12 where this subject is treated in a most thorough way, and note the character of the manifestations mentioned. It is quite probable that the apostles had similar experiences to those of Finney and Edwards and others, but if they had, the Holy Spirit kept them from recording them. It is well He did, for if they had told of such things, we would have looked for these things rather than the more important manifestation power in service.
But another question will be asked: “Did not the apostles wait ten days and may we not have to wait?” The apostles were kept waiting ten days, but the reason is given in Acts 2:1: “When the day of Pentecost was now come” (literally, “was being fulfilled” ASV). In the eternal purposes and plans of God in the Old Testament types the day of Pentecost was set as the time for the giving of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit could not be given until the day of Pentecost was fulfilled to come. But we read of no waiting after Pentecost. In Acts 4:31 there was no waiting. “When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” In Acts 8 there was no waiting. When Peter and John came down to Samaria and found that none of the young converts had been baptized with the Holy Spirit, they “prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost”; and they did then and there (Acts 8:15, 17).
Paul of Tarsus was not obliged to wait (Acts 9). Ananias came in and told him of this wondrous gift, and laid his hands upon him and baptized him, and “straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:17, 20, ASV). There was no waiting in Acts 10. Before Peter had finished his sermon the baptism with the Holy Spirit came (Acts 10:44-46; cf. 11:15, 16). In Acts 19 there was no waiting. As soon as Paul had declared to the Ephesian disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the conditions were met, the blessing followed (Acts 19:6).
Men only have to wait when they do not meet the conditions, when Christ is not fully accepted, or sin is not put away, or there is not total surrender, or true desire, or definite prayer, or simple faith just taking the promise of the Word. The absence of some of these things keeps many waiting. But there is no need that anyone wait ten hours. You can have the baptism with the Holy Spirit now, if you will. A young man once came to me in great earnestness about this matter. “I heard of the baptism with the Holy Spirit some time ago,’ he said, “and have been seeking it, but have not received it.”
“Is your will laid down?”
“I am afraid that is the trouble.”
“Will you lay it down?”
“I am afraid I cannot.”
“Are you willing God should lay it down for you?”
“Ask Him to.” We knelt in prayer and he asked God to lay down his will for him. “Did God hear that prayer?”
“He must have; it was according to His will.”
“Is your will laid down?”
“It must be.”
“Then ask God for the baptism with the Holy Spirit.” He did this. “Was that prayer according to His will?”
“Was it heard?”
“It must have been.”
“Have you the baptism with the Holy Spirit?”
“I don’t feel it.”
“That is not what I asked you; read those verses again.”
The Bible lay open at I John 5:14, 15, and he read: “This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” In Acts there was no waiting (Acts 11:15, 16). “Wait a moment; was that prayer according to His will?”
“It certainly was.”
“Was it heard?”
“And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
“That we have the petitions we desired of him.”
“What was the petition?”
“The baptism with the Holy Spirit”
“Have you it?”
“I don’t feel it, but God says so and I must have.” A few days later I met him again and asked if he really had received what he took on simple faith. With a happy look on his face he answered, “Yes.” I lost sight of him for perhaps two years, and then found him preparing for the ministry and already preaching. God was honoring his preaching with souls being saved, and a little later used him with others as a means of great blessing to the theological seminary where he was studying. He had also decided to serve Christ on the foreign field. What he claimed in simple faith and received, anyone can claim and receive in the same way.
This article “How the Baptism with the Holy Spirit Can Be Obtained” was excerpted from: The Baptism with the Holy Spirit by R. A. Torrey. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”